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fidence which makes the happiness of society is in some degree diminished by every man whose practice is at variance with his words.
The Religio Medici was no sooner published than it excited the attention of the publick, by the novelty of paradoxes, the dignity of sentiment, the quick succession of images, the multitude of abstruse allusions, the subtilty of disquisition, and the strength of language.
What is much read will be much criticised. The earl of Dorset recommended this book to the perusal of sir Kenelm Digby, who returned his judgment upon it, not in a letter, but a book; in which, though mingled with some positions fabulous and uncertain, there are acute remarks, just censures, and profound speculations; yet its principal claim to admiration is, that* it was written in twenty-four hours, of which part was spent in procuring Browne's book, and part in reading it.
Of these animadversions, when they were yet not all printed, either officiousness or malice informed Dr. Browne; who wrote to Sir Kenelm with much softness and ceremony, declaring the unworthiness of his work to engage such notice, the intended privacy of the composition, and the corruptions of the impression; and received an answer equally genteel and respectful, containing high commendations of the piece, pompous professions of reverence, meek acknowledgments of inability, and anxious apologies for the hastiness of his remarks.
* Digby's letter to Browne, prefixed to the Religio Medici, folio edition.
The reciprocal civility of authors is one of the most risible scenes in the farce of life. Who would not have thought, that these two luminaries of their age had ceased to endeavour to grow bright by the obscuration of each other? yet the animadversions thus weak, thus precipitate, upon a book thus injured in the transcription, quickly passed the press; and Religio Medici was more accurately published, with an admonition prefixed s to those who have or shall
peruse the observations upon a former corrupt copy;" in which there is a severe censure, not upon Digby, who was to be used with ceremony, but upon the observator who had usurped his name : nor was this invective written by Dr. Browne, who was supposed to be satisfied with his opponent's apology; but by some officious friend, zealous for his honour, without his consent.
Browne has, indeed, in his own preface, endeavoured to secure himself from rigorous examination, by alleging, that “many things are delivered rhetorically, many expressions merely tropical, and therefore many things to be taken in a soft and flexible sense, and not to be called unto the rigid test of reason." The first glance upon his book will indeed discover examples of this liberty of thought and expression: “I could be content (says he) to be nothing almost to eternity, if I might enjoy my Saviour at the last.” He has little acquaintance with the acuteness of Browne, who suspects him of a serious opinion, that any thing can be “almost eternal,” or that any time beginning and ending is not infinitely less than infinite duration.
In this book he speaks much, and, in the opinion
of Digby, too much of himself; but with such generality and conciseness as affords very little light to his biographer: he declares, that, besides the dialects of different provinces, he understood six languages; that he was no stranger to astronomy; and that he had seen several countries; but what most awakens curiosity is, his solemn assertion, that “his life has been a miracle of thirty years; which to relate were not history, but a piece of poetry, and would sound like a fable.”
There is undoubtedly a sense in which all life is miraculous, as it is an union of powers of which we can image no connexion, a succession of motions of which the first cause must be supernatural; but life, thus explained, whatever it may have of miracle, will have nothing of fable; and, therefore, the authour undoubtedly had regard to something, by which he imagined himself distinguished from the rest of mankind.
Of these wonders, however, the view that can be now taken of his life offers no appearance. The course of his education was like that of others, such as put him little in the way of extraordinary casualties. A scholastick and academical life is very uniform ; and has, indeed, more safety than pleasure. A traveller has greater opportunities of adventure; but Browne traversed no unknown seas, or Arabian deserts: and, surely, a man may visit France and Italy, reside at Montpellier and Padua, and at last take his degree at Leyden, without any thing miraculous. What it was that would, if it was related, sound so poetical and fabulous, we are left to guess; I believe without hope of guessing rightly. The wonders probably were transacted in his own mind; self-love, cooperating with an imagination vigorous and fertile as that of Browne, will find or make objects of astonishment in every man's life: and, perhaps, there is no human being, however hid in the crowd from the observation of his fellow-mortals, who, if he has leisure and disposition to recollect his own thoughts and actions, will not conclude his life in some sort a miracle, and imagine himself distinguished from all the rest of his species by many discriminations of nature or of fortune.
The success of this performance was such as might naturally encourage the author to new undertakings. A gentleman of Cambridge *, whose name was Merryweather, turned it not inelegantly into Latin; and from his version it was again translated into Italian, German, Dutch, and French ; and at Strasburg the Latin translation was published with large notes, by Lenuus Nicholaus Molifarius. Of the English annotations, which in all the editions from 1644 accompany the book, the author is unknown.
Of Merryweather, to whose zeal Browne was so much indebted for the sudden extension of his renown, I know nothing, but that he published a small treatise for the instruction of young persons in the attainment of a Latin style. He printed his translation in Holland with some difficulty t. The first printer to whom he offered it carried it to Salmasius, “who laid it by (says he) in state for three months,” and then discouraged its publication; it was afterwards rejected by two other printers, and at last was received by Hackius.
* Life of Sir Thomas Browne.
† Merryweather's letter, inserted in the Life of Sir Thomas Browne.
The peculiarities of this book raised the author, as is usual, many admirers and many enemies; but we know not of more than one professed answer, written under * the title of Medicus Medicatus, by Alexander Ross, which was universally neglected by the world.
At the time when this book was published, Dr. Browne resided at Norwich, where he had settled in 1636, byt the persuasion of Dr. Lushington his tutor, who was then rector of Barnham West. gate in the neighbourhood. It is recorded by Wood, that his practice was very extensive, and that
many patients resorted to him. In 16371 he was incorporated doctor of physick in Oxford.
He married in 1641 & Mrs. Mileham, of a good family in Norfolk; "a lady (says Whitefoot) of such symmetrical proportion to her worthy husband, both in the graces of her body and mind, that they seemed to come together by a kind of natural magnetism.”
This marriage could not but draw the raillery of contemporary wits || upon a man, who had just been wishing in his new book, “that we might procreate like trees, without conjunction;" and had | lately declared, that “the whole world was made for man, but only the twelfth part of man for woman;" and, that “man is the whole world, but woman only the rib or crooked part of man.”
Whether the lady had been yet informed of these contemptuous positions, or whether she was pleased with the conquest of so formidable a rebel,
* Life of Sir Thomas Browne.