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all the learned languages; by the help of which, an excellent tutor, and his unintermitted study, he had made the subtilty of all the arts easy and familiar to himself, and useful for the discovery of such learning as lay hid from common searchers. So that by these, added to his great reason, and his industry added to both, he did not only know more of causes and effects ; but what he knew he knew better than other men. And with this knowledge he had a most blessed and clear method of demonstrating what he knew, to the great advantage of all his pupils (which in time were many), but especially to his two first, his dear Edwin Sandys, and his as dear George Cranmer: of which there will be a fair testimony in the ensuing relation.
This for his learning. And for his behaviour, amongst other testimonies, this still remains of him, that in four years he was but twice absent from the chapel prayers; and that his behaviour there was such as showed an awful reverence of that God which he then worshipped and prayed to; giving all outward testimonies, that his affections were set on heavenly things. This was his behaviour towards God; and for that to man, it is observable, that he was never known to be angry, or passionate, or extreme in any of his desires ; never heard to repine or dispute with Providence, but, by a quiet gentle submission and resignation of his will to the wisdom of his Creator, bore the burthen of the day with patience; never heard to utter an uncomely word: And by this, and a grave behaviour, which is a divine charm, he begot an early reverence unto his person, even from those that at other times and in other companies, took a liberty to cast off that strictness of behaviour and discourse that is required in a collegiate life. And when he took any liberty to be pleasant, his wit was never blemished with scoffing, or the utterance of any conceit that bordered upon or might beget a thought of looseness in his hearers. Thus innocent and exemplary was his behaviour in his College; and thus this good man continued till death; still increasing in learning, in patience, and in piety.
But turn out of the way a little, good scholar, towards yonder high honeysuckle hedge; there we'll sit and sing whilst this shower falls so gently upon the teeming earth, and gives yet a sweeter smell to the lovely flowers that adorn these verdant meadows.
Look, under that broad beech-tree, I sat down, when I was last this way a-fishing, and the birds in the adjoining grove seemed to have a friendly contention with an echo, whose dead voice seemed to live in a hollow tree, near to the brow of that primrose-hill; there I sat viewing the silver streams glide silently towards their centre, the tempestuous sea; yet sometimes opposed by rugged roots, and pebble-stones, which broke their waves, and turned them into foam: and sometimes I beguiled time by viewing the harmless lambs, some leaping securely in the cool shade, whilst others sported themselves in the cheerful sun; and saw others craving comfort from the swollen udders of their bleating dams. As I thus sat, these and other sights had so fully possessed my soul with content, that I thought as the poet hath happily expressed it:
I was for that time lifted above earth;
SIR THOMAS BROWNE.
SIR THOMAS BROWNE was born in St. Michael's, Cheapside, in the year 1605. He was sent to Winchester School, and studied and graduated in Arts at Oxford. Afterwards he practised medicine in the counties surrounding the University. He travelled in Ireland, France and Italy, and returning through Holland, became Doctor of Medicine at Leyden. He was later in life made Physician to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and died at the mature age of seventy-seven.
His writings are numerous, and generally desultory. The most remarkable and the best known are The Religion of a Physician, Religio Medici, and a treatise on Vulgar or Common Errors, Pseudodoxia Epidemica. The Religio Medici is noteworthy for liberality of sentiment and freedom from prejudice, and the latter work, the Pseudodoxia, as well for the strangeness of the errors as the quaintness of the refutations.
Sir Thomas Browne's style is flowing, rich with illustrations, and here and there poetical. It is marred by a want of uniformity. The reader is surprised by eccentric changes from polished thoughts to the most uncouth ideas.
If he combated errors he resisted innovations, not accepting the motion of the earth around the sun. Being a devout Christian, he spoke with candour of the hard things of his faith, and so was deemed by some an atheist; and since he was a firm believer, with others he passed as superstitious. He was in truth, a thoughtful and cultivated man, fearless in maintaining what he believed, desirous of attaining to truth; indifferent to blame; and in gentle charity with all men.
1. God in nature. Thus there are two books from whence I collect my divinity; besides that written one of God, another of his servant nature, that universal and public manuscript, that lies expans'd unto the eyes of all; those that never saw him in the one, have discovered him in the other. This was the Scripture and theology of the heathens; the natural motion of the sun made them more admire him, than its supernatural station did the children of Israel; the ordinary effect of nature wrought more admiration in them, than in the other all his miracles; surely the heathens knew better how to join and read these mystical letters, than we Christians, who cast a more careless eye on these common hieroglyphics, and disdain to suck divinity from the flowers of nature. Nor do I so forget God, as to adore the name of nature; which I define not with the schools, the principle of motion and rest, but that straight and regular line, that settled and constant course the wisdom of God hath ordained the actions of his creatures, according to their several kinds. To make a revolution every day, is the nature of the sun, because that necessary course which God hath ordained it, from which it cannot swerve, by a faculty from that voice which first did give it motion. Now this course of nature God seldom alters or perverts, but like an excellent artist hath so contrived his work, that with the self same instrument without a new creation he may effect his obscurest designs. Thus he sweeteneth the water with a wood, preserveth the creatures in the Ark, which the blast of his mouth might have as easily created: for God is like a skilful geometrician, who when more easily and with one stroke of his compass he might describe, or divide a right line, had yet rather do this in a circle or longer way;
according to the constituted and forelaid principles of his art: yet this rule of his he doth sometimes pervert, to acquaint the world with his prerogative, lest the arrogancy of our reason should question his power, and conclude he could not; and thus I call the effects of nature the works of God, whose hand and instrument she only is; and therefore to ascribe his actions unto her, is to devolve the honour of the principal agent, upon the instrument; which if with reason we may do, then let our hammers rise up and boast they have built our houses, and our pens receive the honour of our writing. I hold there is a general beauty in the works of God, and therefore no deformity in any kind or species of creature whatsoever: I cannot tell by what logic we call a toad, a bear, or an elephant, ugly, they being created in those outward shapes and figures which best express those actions of their inward forms. And having past that general visitation of God, who saw that all that he had made was good, that is, conformable to his will, which abhors deformity, and is the rule of order and beauty; there is no deformity but in monstrosity, wherein notwithstanding there is a kind of beauty, nature so ingenuously contriving the irregular parts, as they become sometimes more remarkable than the principal fabric. To speak yet more narrowly, there was never any thing ugly, or misshapen, but the chaos; wherein, notwithstanding, to speak strictly, there was no deformity, because no form, nor was it yet impregnant by the voice of God. Now nature is not at variance with art, nor art with nature; they being both the servants of his providence: art is the perfection of nature. Were the world now as it was the sixth day, there were yet a chaos: nature hath made one world, and art another. In brief, all things are artificial, for nature is the art of God.