Page images


cism, with which inquisitive minds are frequently harrassed, than that which Browne declares himself to have taken: "If there arise any doubts in my way,

I do forget them; or at least defer them, till my

better settled judgment and more manly reason be able to resolve them: for I perceive, every man's reason is his best Oedipus, and will, upon a reasonable truce, find a way to loose those bonds, wherewith the subtilties of error have enchained our more flexible and tender judgments.”

The foregoing character may be confirmed and enlarged, by many passages in the Religio Medici; in which it appears, from Whitefoot's testimony, that the author, though no very sparing panegyrist of himself, has not exceeded the truth, with respect to his attainments or visible qualities.

There are, indeed, some interior and secret virtues, which a man may sometimes have without the knowledge of others; and may sometimes assume to himself, without sufficient reasons for his opinion. It is charged upon Browne by Dr. Watts, as an instance of arrogant temerity, that, after a long detail of his attainments, he declares himself to have escaped “the first and father-sin of pride.” A perusal of the Religio Medici will not much contribute to produce a belief of the author's exemption from this father-sin: pride is a vice, which pride itself inclines every man to find in others, and to overlook in himself.

As easily may we be mistaken in estimating our own courage, as our own humility; and, therefore, when Browne shews himself persuaded, that “he could lose an arm without a tear, or with a few groans be quartered to pieces,” I am not sure that he felt in himself any uncommon powers of endurance; or, indeed,


thing more than a sudden effervescence of imagination, which, uncertain and involuntary as it is, he mistook for settled resolution.

“That there were not many extant, that in a noble way feared the face of death less than himself,” he might likewise believe at a very easy expence, while death was yet at a distance; but the time will come to every human being, when it must be known how well he can bear to die; and it has appeared, that our author's fortitude did not desert him in the great hour of trial.

It was observed by some of the remarkers on the Religio Medici, that “the author was yet alive, and might grow worse as well as better:” it is, therefore, happy, that this suspicion can be obviated by a testimony given to the continuance of his virtue, at a time when death had set him free from danger of change, and his panegyrist from temptation to flattery.

But it is not on the praises of others, but on his own writings, that he is to depend for the esteem of posterity; of which he will not easily be deprived, while learning shall have any reverence among men: for there is no science, in which he does not discover some skill; and scarce any kind of knowledge, profane or sacred, abstruse or elegant, which he does not appear to have cultivated with success.

His exuberance of knowledge, and plenitude of ideas, sometimes obstruct the tendency of his reasoning, and the clearness of his decisions : on whatever subject he employed his mind, there started


immediately so many images before him, that he lost one X by grasping another. His memory supplied him with so many illustrations, parallel or dependent notions, that he was always starting into collateral considera



[ocr errors][merged small]

tions: but the spirit and vigour of his pursuit always

gives delight; and the reader follows him, without c

reluctance, thro' his mazes, in themselves flowery and pleasing, and ending at the point originally in view.

To have great excellencies, and great faults, magnoe virtutes nec minora vitia, is the poesy,” says our author, “ of the best natures." This poesy may be properly applied to the style of Browne: It is vigorous, but rugged; it is learned, but pedantick; it is deep, but obscure; it strikes, but does not please; it commands but does not allure: his tropes are harsh, and his combinations uncouth. He fell into an age, in which our language began to lose the stability which it obtained in the time of Elizabeth; and was considered by every writer as a subject on which he might try his plastic skill, by moulding it according to his own fancy. Milton, in consequence of this encroaching licence, began to introduce the Latin idiom: and Browne, though he gave less disturbance to our structures and phraseology, yet poured in a multitude of exotick words;

many indeed, useful and significant, which, if rejected, X must be supplied by circumlocution, such as “commen

sality' for the state of many living at the same table; but many superfluous, as ‘a paralogical' for an unreasonable

doubt; and some so obscure, that they conceal his meanx ing rather than explain it, as ‘arthritical analogies' for

parts that serve some animals in the place of joints.

His style is, indeed, a tissue of many languages; a mixture of heterogeneous words, brought together from distant regions, with terms originally appropriated to one art, and drawn by violence into the service of another. He must, however, be confessed to have augmented our philosophical diction; and in defence of his uncommon words and expressions, we must

[ocr errors]

consider, that he had uncommon sentiments, and was not content to express in many words that idea for which any language could supply a single term.

But his innovations are sometimes pleasing, and his temerities happy: he has many “verba ardentia,forcible expressions, which he would never have found, but by venturing to the utmost verge of propriety; and flights which would never have been reached, but by one who had very little fear of the shame of falling

There remains yet an objection against the writings of Browne, more formidable than the animadversions of criticism. There are passages, from which some have taken occasion to rank him among deists, and others among atheists. It would be difficult to guess how any such conclusion should be formed, had not experience shewn that there are two sorts of men willing to enlarge the catalogue of infidels.

It has been long observed, that an atheist has no just reason for endeavouring conversions; and yet none harrass those minds which they can influence, with more importunity of solicitation to adopt their opinions. In proportion as they doubt the truth of their own doctrines, they are desirous to gain the attestation of another understanding; and industriously labour to win a proselyte, and eagerly catch at the slightest pretence to dignify their sect with a celebrated name.*

The others become friends to infidelity only by unskilful hostility: men of rigid orthodoxy, cautious conversation, and religious asperity. Among these,

Therefore no hereticks desire to spread
Their wild opinions like these epicures.
For so their stagg'ring thoughts are computed,
And other men's assent their doubts assure.


it is too frequently the practice, to make in their heat concessions to Atheism, or Deism, which their most confident advocates had never dared to claim or to hope. A sally of levity, an idle paradox, an indecent jest, an unseasonable objection, are sufficient, in the opinion of these men, to efface a name from the lists of Christianity, to exclude a soul from everlasting life. Such men are so watchful to censure, that they have seldom much care to look for favourable interpretations of ambiguities, to set the general tenor of life against single failures, or to know how soon any slip of inadvertency has been expiated by sorrow and retractation; but let fly their fulminations, without mercy or prudence, against slight offences or casual temerities, against crimes never committed, or immediately repented.

The infidel knows well, what he is doing. He is endeavouring to supply, by authority, the deficiency of his arguments; and to make his cause less invidious, by shewing numbers on his side: he will, therefore, not change his conduct, till he reforms his principles. But the zealot should recollect, that he is labouring, by this frequency of excommunication, against his own cause; and voluntarily adding strength to the enemies of truth. It must always be the condition of a great part of mankind, to reject and embrace tenets upon the authority of those whom they think wiser than themselves; and, therefore, the addition of every name to infidelity, in some degree invalidates that argument upon which the religion of multitudes is necessarily founded. Men may

differ from each other in many religious opinions, and yet all may retain the essentials of Christianity; men may sometimes eagerly dispute,

« PreviousContinue »