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mas Browne, the celebrated author of the “Religio Medici,’ published in 1642; the “Pseudodoxia Epidemica, or Inquiries into Vulgar and Common Errors,’ in 1646; and the “Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial, or a Discourse on the Sepulchral Urns found in Norfolk;’ and “The Garden of Cyrus, or the Quincuncial Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, Artificially, Naturally, Mystically Considered,’ which appeared together in 1658. Browne died in 1682, at the age of seventy-seven; but he published nothing after the Restoration, though some additional tracts found among his papers were given to the world after his death. The writer of a late spirited review of Browne's literary productions, and the characteristics of his singular genius, has sketched the history of his successive acts of authorship in a lively and striking passage:– “He had no sympathy with the great business of men. In that awful year when Charles I. went in person to seize five members of the Commons’ House,_when the streets resounded with shouts of ‘Privilege of parliament,’ and the king's coach was assailed by the prophetic cry, ‘To your tents, O Israel,”—in that year, in fact, when the civil war first broke out, and when most men of literary power were drawn by the excitement of the crisis into patriotic controversy on either side,-appeared the calm and meditative reveries of the Religio Medici. The war raged on. It was a struggle between all the elements of government. England was torn by convulsion and red with blood. But Browne was tranquilly preparing his Pseudodoria Epidemica; as if errors about basilisks and griffins were the paramount and fatal epidemic of the time; and it was published in due order in that year when the cause which the author advocated, as far as he could advocate anything political, lay at its last gasp. The king dies on the scaffold. The Protectorate succeeds. Men are again fighting on paper the solemn cause already decided in the field. Drawn from visions more sublime, forsaking studies more intricate and vast than those of the poetical Sage of Norwich,-diverging from a career bounded by the most splendid goal,—foremost in the ranks shines the flaming sword of Milton: Sir Thomas Browne is lost in the quincunx of the ancient gardens; and the year 1658 beheld the death of Oliver Cromwell, and the publication of the Hydriotaphia.” “ The writings of Sir Thomas Browne, to be relished or rightly appreciated, must of course be read in the spirit suited to the species of literature to which they belong. If we look for matterof-fact information in a poem, we are likely to be disappointed; and so are we likewise, if we go for the passionate or pictured style of poetry to an encyclopaedia. Browne's works, with all their varied learning, contain very little positive information that can now be accounted of much value; very little even of direct moral or economical counsel by which any person could greatly profit; very little, in short, of anything that will either put money in a man's pocket, or actual knowledge in his head. Assuredly the interest with which they were perused, and the charm that was found to belong to them, could not at any time have been due, except in very small part indeed, to the estimation in which their readers held such pieces of intelligence as that the phoenix is but a fable of the poets, and that the griffin exists only in the zoology of the heralds. It would fare ill with Browne if
the worth of his books were to be tried by the amount of what they contain of this kind of information, or, indeed, of any other kind of what is commonly called useful knowledge; for, in truth, he has done his best to diffuse a good many vulgar errors as monstrous as any he had corrected. For that matter, if his readers were to continue to believe with him in astrology and witchcraft, we shall all agree that it was of very little consequence what faith they might hold touching the phoenix and the griffin. Mr. Hallam, we think, has, in a manner which is not usual with him, fallen somewhat into this error of applying a false test in the judgment he has passed upon Browne. It is, no doubt, quite true that the Inquiry into Vulgar Errors “scarcely raises a high notion of Browne himself as a philosopher, or of the state of physical knowledge in England;” * that the Religio Medici shows its author to have been “far removed from real philosophy, both by his turn of mind and by the nature of his erudition;” and likewise that “he seldom reasons,” that “his thoughts are desultory,” that “sometimes he appears sceptical or paradoxical,” but that “credulity and deference to authority prevail” in his habits of thinking.f Understanding philosophy in the sense in which the term is here used, that is to say, as meaning the sifting and separation of fact from fiction, it may be admitted that there is not much of that in Sir Thomas Browne; his works are all rather marked by a very curious and piquant intermixture of the two. Of course, such being the case, what he writes is not to be considered solely or even principally with reference to its absolute truth or falsehood, but rather with reference to * Lit. of Eur, iv. 94. .# Id. iii. 346. .
its relative truth and significance as an expression of some feeling or notion, or other idiosyncracy of the very singular and interesting mind from which it has proceeded. Read in this spirit, the works of Sir Thomas Browne, more especially his “Religio Medici' and his “Urn Burial,’ will be found among the richest in our literature— full of uncommon thoughts, and trains of meditation leading far away into the dimmest inner chambers of life and death—and also of an eloquence, sometimes fantastic, but always striking, not seldom pathetic, and in its greatest passages gorgeous with the emblazonry of a warm imagination. Out of such a writer the rightly attuned and sympathising mind will draw many things more precious than any mere facts.
SIR. JAMES HARRINGTON.
We can merely mention Sir James Harrington's political romance entitled ‘Oceana,’ which was published in 1656. Harrington's leading principles are, that the natural element of power in states is property; and that, of all kinds of property, that in land is the most important, possessing, indeed, certain characteristics which distinguish it, in its natural and political action, from all other property. “In general,” observes Mr. Hallam, “it may be said of Harrington that he is prolix, dull, pedantic, yet seldom profound; but sometimes redeems himself by just observations.”* This is true in so far as respects the style of the “Oceana;' but it hardly does justice to the ingenuity, the truth, and the importance of certain of Harrington's views and deductions in the philosophy of politics. If he has not the merit of absolute originality in his main propositions, they had at least never been so clearly expounded and demonstrated by any preceding writer.
* Lit. of Eur. iv. 367.
It has lately been satisfactorily shown that the three newspapers entitled ‘The English Mercurie,” Nos. 50, 51, and 54, preserved among Dr. Birch's historical collections in the British Museum, professing to be “published by authority, for the contradiction of false reports,” at the time of the attack of the Spanish Armada, on the credit of which the invention of newspapers used to be attributed to Lord Burleigh, are modern forgeries.* Occasional pamphlets, containing foreign news, began to be published in England towards the close of the reign of James I. The earliest that has been met with is entitled ‘News out of Holland,’ dated 1619; and other similar papers of news from different foreign countries are extant which appeared in 1620, 1621, and 1622. The first of these news-pamphlets which came out at regular intervals appears to have been that entitled ‘The News of the Present Week,” edited by Nathaniel Butler, which was started in 1622, in the early days of the Thirty Years' War, and was continued, in conformity with its title, as a weekly publication. But the proper era of English newspapers, at least of those containing domestic intelligence, commences with the Long Parliament. The earliest that has been discovered is a quarto pamphlet of a few leaves, entitled ‘The Diurnal Occurrences, or Daily Proceedings of Both Houses, in this great and