Thomas Browne.

Religio medici, A letter to a friend, Christian morals, Urn-burial, and other papers online

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The Writings


Sir Thomas Browne.




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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1861, by


in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.

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Second Edition.

Caubridok, Mass. :

Welch, B i o k l o w , and Company,

Printers to the University.



Biographical Sketch of the Author .


Religio Medici i

A Letter to a Friend .... 157
True Christian Morals . . . 183
Hydriotaphia. Urn-Burial . . . 275
From the Garden of Cyrus . . 353

From Vulgar Errors 375

Fragment on Mummies .. . . . 409

On Dreams 416

Letters 424

Resolves 430

Biographical Sketch of

The Author.

f^'OR a more detailed account of the
life of Sir Thomas Browne, the
reader is referred to his Biography
W^^ri by Dr. Johnson, and the Supple-
mentary Memoir by Simon Wilkin, Esq., both
included in the London edition of the Complete
Works, in four volumes. Coleridge, Lamb,
Hazlitt, Hallam, Bulwer, and other distinguished
writers, have put on record their estimate of
his genius, and Cowper W3.s so imbued w^ith
the spirit and beauty of the thought in the
Religio Medici and other w^ritings of Browne,
that numerous resemblant passages in the Task
have been frequently pointed out. The present
Editor will content himself with giving a few
dates of the principal occurrences in the author's
life, and adding to these some interesting pas-
sages written by one who was for thirty years


Sir Thomas Browne's intimate friend. It is to
be regretted that Mr. Whitefoot did not carry
out his intention of writing an extended memoir
of his well-beloved companion, for what he has
left to us is conceived in so attractive a manner,
we cannot but lament his original design was
not fully completed. How much he valued Sir
Thomas's friendship may be gathered from his
remark, that he " ever esteemed it a special fa-
vour of Divine Providence to have had a more
particular acquaintance with this excellent per-
son, for two thirds of his life, than any other
man that is now (1682) left alive."

Sir Thomas Browne was born in London on
the 19th of October, 1605, and died on his
birthday, at Norwich, in 1682. His father
came of an ancient Upton family, in Cheshire,
and enjoyed a good name as an honest mer-
chant. A daughter of Sir Thomas has recorded
of this worthy man an act very touching in its
pious significance. She says, in a memorandum
in her own hand, appended to a brief account of
her distingushed parent, "his father used to open
his breast when he was asleep, and kiss it in
prayers over him, as 't is said of Origen's father,
that the Holy Ghost would take possession
there." This excellent person dying when his
son Thomas was yet a lad, the boy was de-
frauded by one of his guardians, but found his


way to the school of Winchester for his educa-
tion. In 1623 he went to Oxford, entering as a
gentleman-commoner, and graduated from the
newly named Pembroke College in 1626 — 7.
Turning his attention to physic after taking his
degree of Master of Arts, he practised in his
profession some time in Oxfordshire. He after-
wards travelled into France and Italy, visiting
Montpellier and Padua, then celebrated schools
of physic, and, returning home through Holland,
was created Doctor of Medicine at Leyden. In
1634 he is supposed to have returned to London,
and to have written his " Religio Medici " *
during the next year. This celebrated treatise
was not printed till 1642, when, without his
consent, the book was published. It at once
attracted great attention, and was criticised in
a volume by Sir Kenelm Digby, " who," says
Lord Clarendon, " was a person very eminent
and notorious throughout the whole course of
his life, from his cradle to the grave." The
" Religio Medici " was very soon translated into
Latin, Italian, German, Dutch, and French.

Dr. Browne settled in Norwich, where his
practice became very extensive, many patients

* "This book paints certain parts of my moral and intellectual
being (the best parts, no doubt) better than any other book I
have ever met with ; — and the style is throughout delicious." —
S. T. Coleridge.



coming from a distance to consult so eminent a
physician, now made more famous by the pub-
lication of so admirable a book. In 1641, he
married Mrs. Mileham, a most excellent lady,
whose graces both of mind and body well fitted
her to become the partner of her distinguished
husband. They lived together forty-one years,
and with their ten children formed a household
singularly happy in all its relations. In 1646
Dr. Browne printed his " Enquiries into Vulgar
and Common Errors"; in 1658, his "Hydriota-
phia, or Urn Burial," adding to the treatise his
" Garden of Cyrus." His other writings were
published after his death, many of them being
left corrected for the press by his own hand.
Charles the Second conferred on him the honor
of knighthood in 1671, while on a tour to Nor-
wich ; and Evelyn, who went down at that time
to join the royal party, having, as he says, "a
desire to see that famous scholar and physitian,
Dr. T. Browne," paid him a visit. He makes
eulogistic mention of Sir Thomas's home, and
tells us that " his whole house and garden was a
paradise and cabinet of rarities, and that of the
best collections, especially medails, books, plants,
and natural things." So the good physician's
days passed onward, filled with high reputation,
and devoted to constant usefulness in his pro-
fession, till in his seventy-sixth year he fell ill


and died. Submission to the will of God and
fearlessness of death were among the expressions
last on his lips. His burial-place is in the
Church of St. Peter, Mancroft, in Norwich,
where a mural monument on the south pillar
of the altar records his learning and his virtues.

The Rev. John Whitefoot, who lived so
many years the constant friend and neighbour
of Sir Thomas, was requested to draw up some
" minutes " after the death of his old compan-
ion. He complied in these fitting and worthy-
to-be-remembered words.

" For a character of his person, his complex-
ion and hair were answerable to his name ; his
stature was moderate, and habit of body neither
fat nor lean, but eva-apKo^.

" In his habit of clothing, he had an aversion
to all finery, and affected plainness both in the
fashion and ornaments. He ever wore a cloak,
or boots, when few others did. He kept him-
self always very warm, and thought it most safe
so to do, though he never loaded himself with
such a multitude of garments as Suetonius re-
ports of Augustus, enough to clothe a good

"The horizon of his understanding was much

larger than the hemisphere of the world. All

that was visible in the heavens he comprehended


so well, that few that are under them knew so
much. He could tell the number of the visible
stars In his horizon, and call them all by their
names that had any \ and of the earth he had
such a minute and exact geographical knowl-
edge, as if he had been by Divine Providence
ordained surveyor-general of the whole terres-
trial orb, and its products, minerals, plants, and
animals. He was so curious a botanist, that,
besides the specifical distinctions, he made nice
and elaborate observations, equally useful as

" His memory, though not so eminent as that
of Seneca or Scaliger, was capacious and tena-
cious, insomuch that he remembered all that was
remarkable in any book that he had read, and
not only knew all persons again that he had ever
seen at any distance of time, but remembered
the circumstances of their bodies, and their par-
ticular discourses and speeches.

" In the Latin poets he remembered every-
thing that was acute and pungent. He had read
most of the historians, ancient and modern,
wherein his observations were singular, nor
taken notice of by common readers. He was
excellent company when he was at leisure, and
expressed more light than heat in the temper of
his brain.

" He had no despotical power over his affec-


tions and passions, (that was a privilege of original
perfection, forfeited by the neglect of the use of
it,) but as large a political power over them as
any Stoic or man of his time j whereof he gave
so great experiment, that he hath very rarely
been known to have been overcome with any
of them. The strongest that were found in
him, both of the irascible and concupiscible,
were under the control of his reason. Of ad-
miration, which is one of them, being the only
product either of ignorance or uncommon knowl-
edge, he had more and less than other men, upon
the same account of his knowing more than oth-
ers ; so that, though he met with many rarities,
he admired them not so much as others do.

" He was never seen to be transported with
mirth, or dejected with sadness ; always cheer-
ful, but rarely merry, at any sensible rate ; sel-
dom heard to break a jest ; and when he did,
he would be apt to blush at the levity of it. His
gravity was natural, without affectation.

" His modesty was visible in a natural, habit-
ual blush, which was increased upon the least
occasion, and oft discovered without any observ-
able cause.

" They that knew no more of him than by
the briskness of his writings, found themselves
deceived in their expectation when they came
in his company, noting the gravity and sobriety


of his aspect and conversation, — so free from
loquacity or much talkativeness, that he was
something difficult to be engaged in any dis-
course, though when he was so, it was always
singular, and never trite or vulgar. Parsimoni-
ous in nothing but his time, whereof he made
as much improvement with as little loss as any
man in it ; when he had any to spare from his
drudging practice, he was scarce patient of any
diversion from his studies ; so impatient of sloth
and idleness, that he would say he could not do
nothing. ^

" Sir Thomas understood most of the Euro-
pean languages ; viz. all that are in Hutter's
Bible, which he made use of. The Latin and
Greek he understood critically. The Oriental
languages, which never were vernacular in this
part of the world, he thought the use of them
would not answer the time and pains of learning
them ; yet had so great a veneration for the
matrix of them, viz. the Hebrew, consecrated
to the oracles of God, that he was not content
to be totally ignorant of it, though very little
of his science is to be found in any books of
that primitive language. And though much is
said to be written in the derivative idioms of that
tongue, especially the Arabic, yet he was satis-
fied with the translations, wherein he found
nothing admirable.


" In his religion, he continued in the same
mind which he had declared in his first book,
written when he was but thirty years old, his
' Religio Medici,' wherein he fully assented to
that of the Church of England, preferring it
before any in the world, as did the learned Gro-
tius. He attended the public service very con-
stantly when he was not withheld by his practice,
never missed the sacrament in his parish if he
were in town, read the best English sermons he
could hear of with liberal applause, and delighted
not in controversies. In his last sickness, where-
in he continued about a week's time, enduring
great pain of the colic, besides a continual fever,
with as much patience as hath been seen in any
man, without any pretence of stoical apathy,
animosity, or vanity of not being concerned
thereat, or suffering no impeachment of happi-
ness, — ' Nihil agis, dolor.'

" His patience was founded upon the Chris-
tian philosophy and a sound faith of God's
providence, and a meek and holy submission
thereunto, which he expressed in few words.
I visited him near his end, when he had not
strength to hear or speak much ; the last words
which I heard from him were, besides some ex-
pressions of dearness, that he did freely submit
to the will of God, being without fear. He had
often triumphed over the king of terrors in


others, and given many repulses in the defence
of patients ; but when his own turn came, he
submitted with a meek, rational, and religious

" He might have made good the old saying of
' Dat Galenus opes,' had he lived in a place that
could have afforded it. But his indulgence and
liberality to his children, especially in their trav-
els, two of his sons in divers countries, and
two of his daughters in France, spent him more
than a little. He was liberal in his house-enter-
tainments and in his charity. He left a comfort-
able but no great estate, both to his lady and
children, gained by his own industry.

" Such was his sagacity and knowledge of all
history, ancient and modern, and his observations
thereupon so singular, that it hath been said by
them that knew him best, that if his profession
and place of abode would have suited his ability,
he would have made an extraordinary man for
the Privy Council, not much inferior to the fa-
mous Padre Paolo, the late oracle of the Vene-
tian state.

" Though he were no prophet, nor son of a
prophet, yet in that faculty which comes nearest
it he excelled, i. e. the stochastic, wherein he
was seldom mistaken as to future events, as well
public as private, but not apt to discover any
presages or superstition."


Dr. Johnson affirms that " it is not on the
praises of others, but on his own writings, that
Sir Thomas Browne is to depend for the es-
teem of posterity ; of which he will not easily
be deprived while learning shall have any rever-
ence among men ; for there is no science in
which he does not discover some skill, and scarce
any kind of knowledge, profane or sacred, ab-
struse or elegant, which he does not appear to
have cultivated with success " : and he also
declares that " there is scarcely a writer to be
found, whose profession was not divinity, that
has so frequently testified his belief of the sacred
writings, has appealed to them with such unlim-
ited submission, or mentioned them with such
unvaried reverence."

In arranging this edition, the notes and read-
ings adopted by several other editors of Sir
Thomas Browne's writings have been largely
consulted. Especial use has been made of the
labors of Henry Gardiner, M. A. of Exeter
College, Oxford, and of the late Rev. Alexan-
der Young, D. D., of Boston. It is hoped that
the endeavor to supply a more perfect text than
has hitherto appeared has been a successful
effort on the part of the Editor and of those
friends who have kindly aided him with their
corrections and annotations.



The portrait which accompanies this vol-
ume is newly engraved from the head in the
folio of 1686, the original painting of which is
at Oxford.

J. T. F.

Boston, December, 1861.







2r|)fs Volume




Religio Medici

■^ )

To THE Reader.

ERTAINLY that man were greedy
of life, who should desire to live
when all the world were at an end ;
and he must needs be very impa-
tient, who would repine at death in the society
of all tilings that suffer under it. Had not
almost every man suffered by the press, or were
not the tyranny thereof become universal, I had
not wanted reason for complaint : but in times
wherein I have lived to behold the highest per-
version of that excellent invention, the name of
his Majesty defamed, the honour of Parliament
depraved, the writings of both depravedly, an-
ticipatively, counterfeitly imprinted ; complaints
may seem ridiculous in private persons ; and
men of my condition may be as incapable of
affronts, as hopeless of their reparations. And


truly had not the duty I owe unto the importu-
nity of friends, and the allegiance I must ev
acknowledge mito truth, prevailed with me ; the
inactivity of my disposition might have made
these sufferings continual, and time, that brings
other tilings to light, should have satisfied me in
the remedy of its oblivion. But because thmgs
evidently false are not only printed, but many
things of truth most falsely set forth ; in this
latter I could not but think myself engaged : for
though we have no power to redress the former,
yet in the other the reparation being witliin our-
selves, I have at present re-presented mito the
world a full and intended copy of that piece,
wliich Avas most imperfectly and surreptitiously
published before.

This I confess, about seven years past, ^vith
some others of affinity thereto, for my private
exercise and satisfaction, I had at leisurable
hoiu's composed ; wliich being communicated
unto one, it became common unto many, and
w^as by transcription successively corrupted, until
it arrived in a most depraved copy at the press.
He that shall peruse that work, and shall take
notice of sundry particularities and personal
expressions therein, will easily discern the inten-
tion was not publick : and being a private exer-


-"ise directed to myself, what is delivered therein
'S rather a memorial unto me than an example
or rule mito any other : and tlierefore, if there
be any singularity therein coiTespondent unto
the private conceptions of any man, it doth not
advantage them ; or if dissentaneous thereunto,
it no way overthrows them. It was j^enned in
such a place, and ^\dth such disadvantage, that
(I protest) from the first setting of pen unto
paper, I had not the assistance of any good book,
whereby to promote my invention, or relieve my
memory ; and therefore there might be many real
lapses therein, wliich others might take notice
of, and more that I suspected myself. It was
set down many years past, and was the sense of
my conceptions at that time, not an immutable
law mito my advancmg judgment at all tunes ;
and therefore there might be many tilings there-
in plausible unto my passed apprehension, which
are not agreeable unto my present self. There-
fore are many things delivered rhetorically, many
expressions therein merely tropical, and as they
best illustrate my intention ; and therefore also
there are many things to be taken in a soft and
flexible sense, and not to be called unto the rigid
test of reason. Lastly, all that is contained
therein is in submission unto maturer discern-


ments ; and as I have declared, shall no further
father them than the best and learned judgments
shall authorize them : under favour of which
considerations, I have made its secrecy publick,
and committed the truth thereof to every ingen-
uous Reader.


Religio Medici.

(fv OR my religion, though there be sev- our Phy-
eral circumstances that might per- christian.
suade the world I have none at all,
-« as the general scandal of my pro-
fession, the natural course of my studies, the
indifferency of my behaviour and discom'se
in matters of religion, neither violently de-
fending one, nor with that common ardour and
contention opposing another ; yet in despite
hereof I dare, without usurpation, assume the
honourable style of a Christian. Not that I
merely owe this title to the font, my educa-
tion, or clime wherein I was bom, as being
bred up either to confirm those principles my
parents instilled into my unwary understand-
ing, or by a general consent to proceed in
the religion of my country ; but having, in
my riper years and confirmed judgment, seen


and examined all,* I find myself obliged by tlie
principles of grace, and tlie law of mine own
reason, to embrace no otlier name but tins :
neither dotli herein my zeal so far make me
forget the general charity I owe mito humanity,
as rather to hate than pity Turks, infidels, and
(what is worse) Jews ; rather contenting my-
self to enjoy that happy style, than maligning
tliose who refuse so glorious a title.

Quousque patiere, bone Jesu !

JudsBi te semel, ego scepius cinicifixi;
nii in Asia, ego in Britannia,

Gallia, Germania;
Bone Jesu, miserere mei, et Judjeorum !

His belief jj^ j^^^^ bccause tlic name of a Christian is

defined. p • i i

become too general to express our faith, there
being a geography of religion as well as lands,
and every clime being distinguished not only
by their laws and limits, but circumscribed by
their doctrines and rules of faith ; to be par-
ticular, I am of that reformed new-cast religion,
wherein I dislike nothing but the name ; of the
same belief our Saviour taught, the apostles
disseminated, the fathers authorized, and the
martyrs confirmed ; but by the sinister ends of
princes, the ambition and avarice of prelates,
and the fatal conniption of times, so decayed,

* According to the Apostolical precept, "Prove all things:
hold fast that which is good." 1 Thess. v. 21.


impaired, and fallen from its native beauty, that
it requii'ed the careful and charitable hands of
these times to restore it to its primitive integ-
rity. Now the accidental occasion whereon, the
slender means whereby, the low and abject con-
dition of the person by whom so good a work
was set on foot, which in our adversaries begets
contempt and scorn, fills me with wonder, and
is the very same objection the insolent Pagans
first cast at Christ and his disciples.

III. Yet have I not so shaken hands with Differences
those desperate resolutions, (who had rather neeTn^t*^
ventm^e at large their decayed bottom, than separate

, . -, . , . ^ ' ^ 1 ^ Christians.

bnno; her m to be new trimmed m the dock :
who had rather promiscuously retain all, than
abridge any, and obstinately be what they are,
than what they have been,) as to stand in di-
ameter and sword's point Avith them : we have
reformed from them, not against them ; for omit-
ting those improperations, and terms of scurrility
betAvixt us, which only difference our affections,
and not our cause, there is between us one com-
mon name and appellation, one faith and neces-
sary body of principles common to us both ; and
therefore I am not scrupulous to converse and
live with them, to enter then' churches in de-
fect of ours, and either pray with them, or for
them. I could never perceive any rational
consequence from those many texts which pro-


liibit the children of Israel to pollute themselves
with the temples of the heathens ; we being all
Christians, and not divided by such detested
impieties as might profane our prayers, or the
place Avherein we make them ; or that a resolved
conscience may not adore her Creator anywhere,
especially in places devoted to liis service ;
where, if their devotions oflPend him, muie may
please him ; if theirs profane it, mine may hal-
low it. Holy-water and crucifix (dangerous to
the common people) deceive not my judgment,
nor abuse my devotion at all : I am, I confess,
naturally inclined to that which misguided zeal
terms superstition. My common conversation I
do acknowledge austere, my behaviour full of
rigour, sometimes not without morosity ; yet at
my devotion I love to use the civility of my
knee, my hat, and hand, with all those outward
and sensible motions which may express or pro-
mote my invisible devotion. I should violate
my own arm rather than a church ; nor willing-
ly defiice the memory of saint or martyr. At
the sight of a cross or crucifix I can dispense
Avith my hat, but scarce with the thought or
memory of my Saviour. I cannot laugh at,
but rather pity, the fruitless journeys of pil-
grims, nor contemn the miserable condition of
friars ; for though misplaced in circumstances,
there is something in it of devotion. I could


never hear the Ave Mary bell * without an ele-
vation ; or thmk it a sufficient warrant, because
they erred in one circumstance, for me to err
in all, that is, in silence and dumb contempt :
whilst therefore they directed their devotions