Page images
PDF
EPUB

of the civil war-neither High Church nor Puritan, but yet decidedly a spirit of attachment both to the essential doctrines of Christianity and to the peculiar system of the Established Church. It was a state of feeling which in more excited times would be called lukewarm; but it was sincerely opposed to all licentiousness or irregularity both of conduct and opinion, and was firmly though not passionately both moral and Christian. It was in short the sort of religious feeling natural to tranquil and tolerably prosperous times; and Feltham's work is an exact representative of its character and the extent of its views. The work therefore was fortunate in hitting the reigning taste or fashion; but it was also a work of remarkable ability-not indeed presenting the subtle inquisition and large speculation in which the Essays of Bacon abound, but still full of ingenious and sagacious remarks, always clearly, sometimes strikingly, expressed. Like all writers who have ever been long popular, indeed, Feltham owed half his success to his style-to a shaping of his thoughts which set their substance off to the best advantage, or at the very least enabled what of justness or worth was in them to be most clearly and readily apprehended. There is little or nothing, however, of poetry or picturesqueness in Feltham's writing; it is clear, manly, and sufficiently expressive, but has no peculiar raciness or felicity. Another preceding work that still more resembles Fuller's is the little volume entitled Microcosmography, or a Piece of the World Discovered, in Essays and characters, which in recent times has been usually ascribed to Dr. John Earle, who after the Restoration was made bishop, first of Worcester and then of Salisbury, though it does not appear upon what sufficient evidence. All that we can gather upon the point from Dr. Bliss's excellent modern edition (8vo. Lon. 1811) is that the editor of the previous edition of 1786 states himself to have lately discovered that the work was written by Bishop Earle, “ from very good authority.” “I regret extremely,” says Dr. Bliss, in a note, “ that I am unable to put the reader in possession of this very acute discoverer's name.” The work, by a mistake originating with Langbaine, in his Dramatic Poets, had formerly been attributed to Edward Blount, its first publisher, who was a bookseller in St. Paul's Churchyard, and also a man of letters. He was, to the honour, as Dr. Bliss observes, of his taste and judgment, one of the partners in the first edition of the plays of Shakespeare. Earle is the author of a Latin version of the Eikon Basilike, published at the Hague in 1649; he is said to have also translated Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity into the same language ; he appears to have had in early life a high reputation both for classic learning and skill in English verse; but, with the exception of the Microcosmography, his only other performances that are now known to exist are three short elegies, which Dr. Bliss has printed. He died in 1665, and was probably born about the beginning of the century. The Microcosmography was first printed in 1628; a second edition, “much enlarged,” came out in 1629, printed for Robert Alcot, the publisher of the second (1632) folio edition of Shakespeare; the next mentioned by Dr. Bliss is a sixth, also printed for Alcot, in 1633; there was a seventh in 1638; after which the demand for the book seems to have been interrupted by the national confusions ; but an eighth edition of it appeared in 1650. The style of the Microcosmography is much more antique and peculiar than that of Feltham's Resolves; and the subjects are also of more temporary interest, which may account for its having earlier dropt into comparative neglect. It is not only highly curious, however, as a record of the manners and customs of our ancestors, but is marked by strong graphic talent, and occasionally by considerable force of satire and humour. The characters are seventy-eight in all, comprising both general divisions of men, and also many of the most remarkable among the official and other social distinctions of the time. As a specimen we will transcribe that of an Alderman, which is one of the shortest :

He is venerable in his gown, more in his beard, wherewith he sets not forth so much his own as the face of a city. You must look on him as one of the town gates, and consider him not as a body, but a corporation. His eminency above others hath made him a man of worship, for he had never been preferred but that he was worth thousands. He oversees the commonwealth as his shop, and it is an argument of his policy that he has thriven by his craft. He is a rigorous magistrate in his ward ; yet his scale of justice is suspected, lest it be like the balances in his warehouse. A ponderous man he is, and substantial, for his weight is commonly extraordinary, and in his preferment nothing rises so much as his belly. His head is of no great depth, yet well furnished ; and, when it is in conjunction with his brethren, may bring forth a city apophthegm, or some such sage matter. He is one that will not hastily run into error; for he treads with great deliberation, and his judgment consists much in his pace. His discourse is commonly the annals of his mayoralty, and what good government there was in the days of his gold chain, though the door-posts

VOL. II.

were the only things that suffered reformation. He seems most sincerely religious, especially on solemn days; for he comes often to church, to make a show, and is a part of the quire hangings. He is the highest stair of his profession, and an example to his trade what in time they may come to. He makes very much of his authority, but more of his satin doublet, which, though of good years, bears its age very well, and looks fresh every Sunday ; but his scarlet gown is a monument, and lasts from generation to generation.

The author of the Microcosmography is more decidedly or undisguisedly anti-puritanical than Feltham. One of his severest sketches is that of a She precise Hypocrite, of whom, among other hard things, he says

She is a non-conformist in a close stomacher and ruff of Geneva print, and her purity consists much in her linen .... Her devotion at the church is much in the turning up of her eye, and turning down the leaf in her book when she hears named chapter and verse. When she comes home she commends the sermon for the Scripture and two hours. She loves preaching better than praying, and, of preachers, lecturers; and thinks the week-day's exercise far more edifying than the Sunday's. Her oftest gossipings are Sabbath-day's journeys, where (though an enemy to superstition) she will go in pilgrimage five mile to a silenced minister, when there is a better sermon in her own parish. She doubts of the Virgin Mary's salvation, but knows her own place in heaven as perfectly as the pew she has a key to. She is so taken up with faith she has no room for charity, and understands no good works but what are wrought on the sampler. ..... She rails at other women by the names of Jezebel and Delilah ; and calls her own daughters Rebecca and Abigail, and not Ann but Hannah. She suffers them not to learn on the virginals, because of

1 “ It was usual for public officers to have painted or gilded posts at their doors, on which proclamations, and other documents of that description were placed, in order to be read by the populace. ..... The reformation means that they were, in the language of our modern church wardens, 'repaired and beautified' during the reign of our alderman."Bliss.

2 " Strict devotees were, I believe, noted for the smallness and precision of their ruffs, which were termed in print, from the exactness of the folds. .... The term of Geneva print probably arose from the minuteness of the type used at Geneva. . . . It is, I think, clear that a ruff of Geneva print means a small, closely-folded ruff, which was the distinction of a non-conformist,”- Bliss. The small Geneva print referred to, we apprehend, was the type used in the common copies of the Geneva translation of the Bible (Coverdale's second version, first published in 1560), which were adapted for the pocket, and were of smaller size than any other edition. This was the favourite Bible of the Puritans : and these small copies were the “little pocket Bibles, with gilt leaves,” their quotations from which Selden used to hint to his brethren of the Westminster Assembly might not always be found exactly conformable to the original Greek or Hebrew.

their affinity with organs; but is reconciled to the bells for the chimes' sake, since they were reformed to the tune of a psalm. She overflows so with Bible, that she spills it upon every occasion, and will not cudgel her maids without Scripture. It is a question whether she is more troubled with the devil, or the devil with her : she is always challenging and daring him, and her weapon is The Practice of Piety. Nothing angers her so much as that women cannot preach, and in this point only (she] thinks the Brownists erroneous; but what she cannot at the church she does at the table, where she prattles more than any against sense and Antichrist, till a capon's wing silence her. She expounds the priests of Baal reading ministers, and thinks the salvation of that parish as desperate as the Turks'. She is a main derider, to her capacity, of those that are not her preachers, and censures all sermons but bad ones. ....

Many other books of characters were published in the seventeenth century. Dr. Bliss, in an Appendix to his edition of the Microcosmography has enumerated and given an account of fifty-six that appeared between 1600 and 1700, besides one, Harman's Caveat for Common Cursitors, which has been reprinted in our own day, and which was first published in 1567.

Sir Thomas BROWNE.

Another of the most original and peculiar writers of the middle portion of the seventeenth century is Sir Thomas 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, Umn 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 well-known review of Browne's literary productions, and of 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 prophetio 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 Pseudodoxia 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 matter-of-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 encyclopædia. 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

* Article in Edinburgh Review for October, 1836; No. 129, p. 34. (Understood to be by Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton.)

« PreviousContinue »