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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 humor. 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
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 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
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,
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.
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 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
1 “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, closelyfolded 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 favorite Bible of the Puritans : and these small copies were the “little pocket Bibles, with gilt leaves,” their quotations from which Sel. den used to hint to his brethren of the Westminster Assembly might not always be found exactly conformable to the original Greek or Hebrew.
Microcosmography, has enumerated and given an account of fiftysix 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.
6. He had no sym
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, 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
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: pathy 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 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 phenix 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 may hold touching the phonix 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
1 Article in Edinburgh Review for October, 1836; No. 129, p. 34. (Understood to be by Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton.)
physical knowledge in England ;” 1 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. 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. 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 its relative truth and significance as an expression of some feeling or notion or other idiosyncrasy 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 sympathizing 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
1 Lit. of Eur. iii. 461.
2 Id. iii. 153.