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most capable of improving mankind, very frequently neglect to communicate their knowledge; either because it is more pleasing to gather ideas than to impart them, or because to minds naturally great, few things appear of so much importance as to deserve the notice of the publick.
About the year 1634,* he is supposed to have returned to London; and the next year to have written his celebrated treatise, called Religio Medici,3 “the religion of a physician,”+ which he declares himself never to have intended for the press, having composed it only for his own exercise and entertainment. It, indeed, contains many passages, which, relating merely to his own person, can be of no great importance to the publick: but when it was written, it happened to him as to others, he was too much pleased with his performance, not to think that it might please others as much; he, therefore, communicated it to his friends, and receiving, I suppose, that exuberant applause with which every man repays the grant of perusing a manuscript, he was not very diligent to obstruct his own praise by recalling his papers, but suffered them to wander from hand to hand, till at last, without his own consent, they were in 1642 given to a printer.
This has, perhaps, sometimes befallen others; and this, I am willing to believe, did really happen to Dr.
* Biographia Britannica.
+ Letter to Sir Kenelm Digby, vol. ii, p. xxvii.
Religio Medici.) Dr. Kippis deems would be 1636; which is contradicted by himself to have proved, in his note B, another passage in Religio Medici, (p. 60,) p. 628, that Religio Medici was written in which Browne says he was not thirty in 1635. His argument is drawn from years old, whereas in 1636 he was older. a comparison of the date of Browne's I think it, however, very possible that Letter to Digby, (March 3, 1642,) with the true reading of the passage at p. xxxi, a passage in his Epistle to the Reader, vol. ii, is “above seven years," which (p. xxxi, vol. ii,) stating that it was would justify Dr. Johnson's date. See written about seven years ago." But the point spoken of in the Preface to Rethis is inconclusive; because the true ligin Medici, and in the Supplementary date of the letter being 1642-3, the result Memoir.
Browne: but there is, surely, some reason to doubt the truth of the complaint so frequently made of surreptitious editions. A song, or an epigram, may be easily printed without the author's knowledge; because it may be learned when it is repeated, or may be written out with very little trouble: but a long treatise, however elegant, is not often copied by mere zeal or curiosity, but may be worn out in passing from hand to hand, before it is multiplied by a transcript.* It is easy to convey an imperfect book, by a distant hand, to the press, and plead the circulation of a false copy as an excuse for publishing the true, or to correct what is found faulty or offensive, and charge the errors on the transcriber's depravations.
This is a stratagem, by which an author panting for fame, and yet afraid of seeming to challenge it, may at once gratify his vanity, and preserve the appearance of modesty; may enter the lists, and secure a retreat: and this, candour might suffer to pass undetected as an innocent fraud, but that indeed no fraud is innocent ; for the confidence 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 subtlety 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
a transcript.] See remarks on this point in the Preface to Religio Medici.
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 gentle 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.
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 “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
* Digby's Letter to Broune, vol. ii, p. xxix. nor was this invective, &c.] Yet as that of the advertisement relating to the style of this admonition would justify Nature's Cabinet Unlocked, which Dr. our ascribing it to Browne, quite as much Johnson considers to have been his.
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,
Asays he. Religio Medici, i, p. 11.
thus explained, whatever it may have of miracle, will have nothing of fable; and, therefore, the author 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
• Life, fr.