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OR a more detailed account of the
life of Sir THOMAS BROWNE, the reader is referred to his Biography
by Dr. Johnson, and the Supplementary Memoir by Simon Wilkin, Esq., both included in the London edition of the Complete Works, in four volumes. Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, Hallam, Bulwer, and other distinguished writers, have put on record their estimate of his genius, and Cowper was so imbued with the spirit and beauty of the thought in the Religio Medici and other writings of Browne, that numerous resemblant passages in the Task have been frequently pointed out. Editor will content himself with giving a few dates of the principal occurrences in the author's life, and adding to these some interesting passages written by one who was for thirty years
The present Sir Thomas Browne's intimate friend. It is to be regretted that Mr. Whitefoot did not carry out his intention of writing an extended memoir of his well-beloved companion, for what he has left to us is conceived in so attractive a manner, we cannot but lament his original design was not fully completed. How much he valued Sir Thomas's friendship may be gathered from his remark, that he “ever esteemed it a special favour of Divine Providence to have had a more particular acquaintance with this excellent person, for two thirds of his life, than any other man that is now (1682) left alive.”
Sir Thomas Browne was born in London on the 19th of October, 1605, and died on his birthday, at Norwich, in 1682. His father came of an ancient Upton family, in Cheshire, and enjoyed a good name as an honest merchant. A daughter of Sir Thomas has recorded of this worthy man an act very touching in its pious significance. She says, in a memorandum in her own hand, appended to a brief account of her distingushed parent, “his father used to open his breast when he was asleep, and kiss it in prayers over him, as 't is said of Origen's father, that the Holy Ghost would take possession there.” This excellent person dying when his son Thomas was yet a lad, the boy was defrauded by one of his guardians, but found his
way to the school of Winchester for his education. In 1623 he went to Oxford, entering as a gentleman-commoner, and graduated from the newly named Pembroke College in 1626–7. Turning his attention to physic after taking his degree of Master of Arts, he practised in his profession some time in Oxfordshire. He afterwards travelled into France and Italy, visiting Montpellier and Padua, then celebrated schools of physic, and, returning home through Holland, was created Doctor of Medicine at Leyden. In 1634 he is supposed to have returned to London, and to have written his “Religio Medici”* during the next year. This celebrated treatise was not printed till 1642, when, without his consent, the book was published. It at once attracted great attention, and was criticised in a volume by Sir Kenelm Digby, “who,” says Lord Clarendon, “was a person very eminent and notorious throughout the whole course of his life, from his cradle to the grave.” The
Religio Medici” was very soon translated into Latin, Italian, German, Dutch, and French.
Dr. Browne settled in Norwich, where his practice became very extensive, many patients
* “This book paints certain parts of my moral and intellectual being (the best parts, no doubt) better than any other book I have ever met with; and the style is throughout delicious.” S. T. Coleridge.
coming from a distance to consult so eminent a physician, now made more famous by the publication of so admirable a book. In 1641, he married Mrs. Mileham, a most excellent lady, whose graces both of mind and body well fitted her to become the partner of her distinguished husband. They lived together forty-one years, and with their ten children formed a household singularly happy in all its relations. In 1646 Dr. Browne printed his “Enquiries into Vulgar and Common Errors”; in 1658, his “Hydriotaphia, or Urn Burial,” adding to the treatise his “Garden of Cyrus." His other writings were published after his death, many of them being left corrected for the press by his own hand. Charles the Second conferred on him the honor of knighthood in 1671, while on a tour to Norwich ; and Evelyn, who went down at that time to join the royal party, having, as he says, “a desire to see that famous scholar and physitian, Dr. T. Browne,” paid him a visit. He makes eulogistic mention of Sir Thomas's home, and tells us that “his whole house and garden was a paradise and cabinet of rarities, and that of the best collections, especially medails, books, plants, and natural things.” So the good physician's days passed onward, filled with high reputation, and devoted to constant usefulness in his profession, till in his seventy-sixth year he fell ill