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been produced by learning and genius exercised upon subjects of little importance. It seems to have been in all ages the pride of wit, to show how it could exalt the low, and amplify the little. To speak not inadequately of things really and naturally great, is a task not only difficult but disagreeable ; because the writer is degraded in his own eyes by standing in comparison with his subject, to which he can hope to add nothing from his imagination : but it is a perpetual triumph of fancy to expand a scanty theme, to raise glittering ideas from obscure properties, and to produce to the world an object of wonder to which nature had contributed little. To this ambition, perhaps, we owe the frogs of Homer, the gnat and the bees of Virgil, the butterfly of Spenser, the shadow of Wowerus, and the quincunx of Browne.
In the prosecution of this sport of fancy, he considers every production of art and nature in which he could find any decussation or approaches to the form of a quincunx ; and as a man once resolved upon ideal discoveries seldom searches long in vain, he finds his favourite figure in almost every thing, whether natural or invented, ancient or modern, rude or artificial, sacred and civil, so that a reader, not watchful against the power of his infusions, would imagine that decussation was the great business of the world, and that nature and art had no other purpose than to exemplify and imitate a quincunx.
To show the excellence of this figure he enumerates all its properties; and finds in it almost every thing of use or pleasure: and to show how readily he supplies what he cannot find, one instance may be sufficient : “though therein (says he) we meet not with right angles, yet every rhombus containing four angles equal unto two right, it virtually contains two right in every
The fanciful sports of great minds are never without some advantage to knowledge. Browne has interspersed many curious observations on the form of plants, and the laws of vegetation ; and appears to have been a very accurate observer of the modes of germination, and to have watched with great nicety the evolution of the parts of plants from their seminal principles.
He is then naturally led to treat of the number Five; and finds, that by this number many things are circumscribed; that there are five kinds of vegetable productions, five sections of a cone, five orders of architecture, and five acts of a play. And observing that five was the ancient conjugal or wedding number, he proceeds to a speculation which I shall give in his own words; “the ancient numerists made out the conjugal number by two and three, the first parity and imparity, the active and passive digits, the material and formal principals in generative societies.” : These are all the tracts which he published. But many papers were found in his closet : “some of them, (says Whitefoot,) designed for the press, were often transcribed and corrected by his own hand, after the fashion of great and curious writers.
Of these, two collections have been published ; one by Dr. Tennison, the other in 1722 by a nameless editor. Whether the one or the other selected those pieces which the authour would have
preferred, cannot be known: but they have both the merit of giving to mankind what was too valuable to be suppressed; and what might, without their interposition, have perhaps perished among other innumerable labours of learned men, or have been burnt in a scarcity of fuel like the papers of Peirecius.
The first of these posthumous treatises contains Observations upon several Plants mentioned in Scripture. These remarks, though they do not immediately either rectify the faith, or refine the morals of the reader, yet are by no means to be censured as superfluous niceties, or useless speculations; for they often show some propriety of description, or elegance of allusion, utterly undiscoverable to readers not skilled in oriental botany; and are often of more important use, as they remove some difficulty from narratives, or some obscurity from precepts.
The next is, of Garlands, or Coronary and Garland Plants; a subject merely of learned curiosity, without
any other end than the pleasure of reflecting on ancient customs, or on the industry with which studious men have endeavoured to recover them.
The next is a letter, On the Fishes eaten by our Saviour with his Disciples, after his Resurrection from the Dead; which contains no determinate resolution of the question, what they were, for indeed it cannot be determined. All the information that diligence or learning could supply consists in an enumeration of the fishes produced in the waters of Judea.
Then follow, Answers to certain Queries about Fishes, Birds, and Insects; and A Letter of Hawks and Falconry, ancient and modern: in the first of
which he gives the proper interpretation of some
In two more letters he speaks of the Cymbals
“O Deus, æternæ stationis conciliator;" AUSONIUS.
His next attempt is, On Languages, and parti-
appear very unlikely to a man that considers the Spanish terminations; and Howel, who was eminently skil
ful in the three provincial languages, declares that after many essays he never could effect it.
The principal design of this letter is to show the affinity between the modern English and the ancient Saxon; and he observes, very rightly, that “though we have borrowed many substantives, adjectives, and some verbs, from the French; yet the great body of numerals, auxiliary verbs, articles, pronouns, adverbs, conjunctions, and prepositions, which are the distinguishing and lasting parts of a language, remain with us from the Saxon.”
To prove this position more evidently, he has drawn up a short discourse of six paragraphs, in Saxon and English ; of which every word is the same in both languages, excepting the terminations and orthography. The words are, indeed, Saxon, but the phraseology is English ; and, I think, would not have been understood by Bede or Elfric, notwithstanding the confidence of our author. He has, however, sufficiently proved his position, that the English resembles its parental language more than any modern European dialect.
There remain five tracts of this collection yet unmentioned; one, Of artificial Hills, Mounts, or Barrows, in England; in reply to an interrogatory letter of E, D. whom the writers of the Biographia Britannica suppose to be, if rightly printed, W. D. or sir William Dugdale, one of Browne's correspondents. These are declared by Browne, in concurrence, I think, with all other antiquaries, to be for the most part funeral monuments. He proves, that both the Danes and Saxons buried their men of eminence under piles of earth, “ which admitting (says he) neither ornament,