Copyright
Thomas Browne.

Religio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and the Letter to a Friend online

. (page 13 of 15)
Online LibraryThomas BrowneReligio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and the Letter to a Friend → online text (page 13 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


concern of his death, yet could not but take notice that

* "Monstra contingunt in medicina." Hippoc. - "Strange
and rare escapes there happen sometimes in physick."
+ Matt. iv. 23.

he died when the moon was in motion from the meri-
dian; at which time an old Italian long ago would per-
suade me that the greatest part of men died: but herein
I confess I could never satisfy my curiosity; although
from the time of tides in places upon or near the sea,
there may be considerable deductions; and Pliny* hath
an odd and remarkable passage concerning the death of
men and animals upon the recess or ebb of the sea.
However, certain it is, he died in the dead and deep
part of the night, when Nox might be most apprehen-
sibly said to be the daughter of Chaos, the mother of
sleep and death, according to old genealogy; and so
went out of this world about that hour when our blessed
Saviour entered it, and about what time many conceive
he will return again unto it. Cardan hath a peculiar
and no hard observation from a man's hand to know
whether he was born in the day or night, which I con-
fess holdeth in my own. And Scaliger to that purpose
hath another from the tip of the ear:+ most men are
begotten in the night, animals in the day; but whether
more persons have been born in the night or day, were
a curiosity undecidable, though more have perished by
violent deaths in the day; yet in natural dissolutions
both times may hold an indifferency, at least but con-
tingent inequality. The whole course of time runs out
in the nativity and death of things; which whether
they happen by succession or coincidence, are best com-
puted by the natural, not artificial day.


* "Aristoteles nullum animal nisi aestu recedente expirare
affirmat; observatum id multum in Gallico Oceano et duntaxat
in homine compertum," lib. 2, cap. 101.

+ "Auris pars pendula lobus dicitur, non omnibus ea pars,
est auribus; non enim iis qui noctu sunt, sed qui interdiu,
maxima ex parte." - Com. in Aristot. de Animal. lib. 1.

That Charles the Fifth was crowned upon the day
of his nativity, it being in his own power so to order
it, makes no singular animadversion: but that he
should also take King Francis prisoner upon that
day, was an unexpected coincidence, which made the
same remarkable. Antipater, who had an anniversary
feast every year upon his birth-day, needed no astro-
logical revolution to know what day he should die on.
When the fixed stars have made a revolution unto the
points from whence they first set out, some of the
ancients thought the world would have an end; which
was a kind of dying upon the day of its nativity. Now
the disease prevailing and swiftly advancing about the
time of his nativity, some were of opinion that he
would leave the world on the day he entered into it;
but this being a lingering disease, and creeping softly
on, nothing critical was found or expected, and he died
not before fifteen days after. Nothing is more common
with infants than to die on the day of their nativity, to
behold the worldly hours, and but the fractions thereof;
and even to perish before their nativity in the hidden
world of the womb, and before their good angel is con-
ceived to undertake them. But in persons who out-
live many years, and when there are no less than three
hundred and sixty-five days to determine their lives in
every year; that the first day should make the last,
that the tail of the snake should return into its mouth
precisely at that time, and they should wind up upon
the day of their nativity, is indeed a remarkable
coincidence, which, though astrology hath taken witty
pains to salve, yet hath it been very wary in making
predictions of it.*

In this consumptive condition and remarkable exten-

* According to the Egyptian hieroglyphic.

uation, he came to be almost half himself, and left a
great part behind him, which he carried not to the
grave. And though that story of Duke John Ernestus
Mansfield* be not so easily swallowed, that at his death
his heart was found not to be so big as a nut; yet if
the bones of a good skeleton weigh little more than
twenty pounds, his inwards and flesh remaining could
make no bouffage, but a light bit for the grave. I
never more lively beheld the starved characters of
Dante+ in any living face; an aruspex might have read
a lecture upon him without exenteration, his flesh
being so consumed, that he might, in a manner, have
discerned his bowels without opening of him; so that
to be carried, sexta cervice# to the grave, was but a
civil unnecessity; and the complements of the coffin
might outweigh the subject of it.

Omnibonus Ferrarius in mortal dysenteries of chil-
dren looks for a spot behind the ear; in consumptive
diseases some eye the complexion of moles; Cardan
eagerly views the nails, some the lines of the hand, the
thenar or muscle of the thumb; some are so curious as
to observe the depth of the throat-pit, how the pro-
portion varieth of the small of the legs unto the calf,
or the compass of the neck unto the circumference of
the head; but all these, with many more, were so
drowned in a mortal visage, and last face of Hippocra-
tes, that a weak physiognomist might say at first eye, this
was a face of earth, and that Morta$ had set her hard seal
upon his temples, easily perceiving what caricatura||

* Turkish history.
+ In the poet Dante's description.
# i.e. "by six persons."
$ Morta, the deity of death or fate.
|| When men's faces are drawn with resemblance to some
other animals, the Italians call it, to be drawn in caricatura.

draughts death makes upon pined faces, and unto what
an unknown degree a man may live backward.

Though the beard be only made a distinction of sex,
and sign of masculine heat by Ulmus,* yet the
precocity and early growth thereof in him, was not
to be liked in reference unto long life. Lewis,
that virtuous but unfortunate king of Hungary,
who lost his life at the battle of Mohacz, was
said to be born without a skin, to have bearded at
fifteen, and to have shown some grey hairs about
twenty; from whence the diviners conjectured that he
would be spoiled of his kingdom, and have but a short
life; but hairs make fallible predictions, and many
temples early grey have outlived the psalmist's period.+
Hairs which have most amused me have not been in the
face or head, but on the back, and not in men but
children, as I long ago observed in that endemial
distemper of children in Languedoc, called the mor-
gellons,# wherein they critically break out with harsh
hairs on their backs, which takes off the unquiet symp-
toms of the disease, and delivers them from coughs and
convulsions.
The Egyptian mummies that I have seen, have had
their mouths open, and somewhat gaping, which afford-
eth a good opportunity to view and observe their teeth,
wherein 'tis not easy to find any wanting or decayed;
and therefore in Egypt, where one man practised but
one operation, or the diseases but of single parts, it
must needs be a barren profession to confine unto that of
drawing of teeth, and to have been little better than tooth-

* Ulmus de usu barbae humanae.
+ The life of man is threescore and ten.
# See Picotus de Rheumatismo.

drawer unto King Pyrrhus,* who had but two in his head.

How the banyans of India maintain the integrity of
those parts, I find not particularly observed; who not-
withstanding have an advantage of their preservation by
abstaining from all flesh, and employing their teeth in
such food unto which they may seem at first framed,
from their figure and conformation; but sharp and
corroding rheums had so early mouldered these rocks
and hardest parts of his fabric, that a man might well
conceive that his years were never like to double or
twice tell over his teeth.+ Corruption had dealt more
severely with them than sepulchral fires and smart
flames with those of burnt bodies of old; for in the
burnt fragments of urns which I have inquired into,
although I seem to find few incisors or shearers, yet the
dog teeth and grinders do notably resist those fires.

In the years of his childhood he had languished
under the disease of his country, the rickets; after
which, notwithstanding many have become strong and
active men; but whether any have attained unto very
great years, the disease is scarce so old as to afford good
observation. Whether the children of the English
plantations be subject unto the same infirmity, may be
worth the observing. Whether lameness and halting do
still increase among the inhabitants of Rovigno in Istria,
I know not; yet scarce twenty years ago Monsieur du
Loyr observed that a third part of that people halted;
but too certain it is, that the rickets increaseth among
us; the small-pox grows more pernicious than the great;
the king's purse knows that the king's evil grows more
common. Quartan agues are become no strangers in

* His upper jaw being solid, and without distinct rows of teeth.
+ Twice tell over his teeth, never live to threescore years.

Ireland; more common and mortal in England; and
though the ancients gave that disease* very good words,
yet now that bell+ makes no strange sound which rings
out for the effects thereof.

Some think there were few consumptions in the old
world, when men lived much upon milk; and that the
ancient inhabitants of this island were less troubled
with coughs when they went naked and slept in caves
and woods, than men now in chambers and feather-beds.
Plato will tell us, that there was no such disease as a
catarrh in Homer's time, and that it was but new in
Greece in his age. Polydore Virgil delivereth that
pleurisies were rare in England, who lived but in the
days of Henry the Eighth. Some will allow no diseases
to be new, others think that many old ones are ceased:
and that such which are esteemed new, will have but
their time: however, the mercy of God hath scattered
the great heap of diseases, and not loaded any one
country with all: some may be new in one country
which have been old in another. New discoveries of
the earth discover new diseases: for besides the common
swarm, there are endemial and local infirmities proper
unto certain regions, which in the whole earth make no
small number: and if Asia, Africa, and America, should
bring in their list, Pandora's box would swell, and there
must be a strange pathology.

Most men expected to find a consumed kell, empty
and bladder-like guts, livid and marbled lungs, and a
withered pericardium in this exsuccous corpse: but some
seemed too much to wonder that two lobes of his lungs
adhered unto his side; for the like I have often found

* [Greek omitted], securissima et facillima. -
Hippoc.
+ Pro febre quartana raro sonat campana.

in bodies of no suspected consumptions or difficulty of
respiration. And the same more often happeneth in
men than other animals: and some think in women
than in men: but the most remarkable I have met
with, was in a man, after a cough of almost fifty years,
in whom all the lobes adhered unto the pleura, and
each lobe unto another; who having also been much
troubled with the gout, brake the rule of Cardan,* and
died of the stone in the bladder. Aristotle makes a
query, why some animals cough, as man; some not, as
oxen. If coughing be taken as it consisteth of a
natural and voluntary motion, including expectoration
and spitting out, it may be as proper unto man as
bleeding at the nose; otherwise we find that Vegetius
and rural writers have not left so many medicines in vain
against the coughs of cattle; and men who perish by
coughs die the death of sheep, cats, and lions: and
though birds have no midriff, yet we meet with divers
remedies in Arrianus against the coughs of hawks.
And though it might be thought that all animals who
have lungs do cough; yet in cataceous* fishes, who have
large and strong lungs, the same is not observed; nor
yet in oviparous quadrupeds: and in the greatest
thereof, the crocodile, although we read much of their
tears, we find nothing of that motion.

From the thoughts of sleep, when the soul was con-
ceived nearest unto divinity, the ancients erected an
art of divination, wherein while they too widely ex-
patiated in loose and in consequent conjectures, Hippo-
crates+ wisely considered dreams as they presaged

* Cardan in his Encomium Podagrae reckoneth this among
the Dona Podagrae, that they are delivered thereby from the
phthisis and stone in the bladder.
+ Hippoc, de Insomniis

alterations in the body, and so afforded hints toward
the preservation of health, and prevention of diseases;
and therein was so serious as to advise alteration of
diet, exercise, sweating, bathing, and vomiting; and
also so religious as to order prayers and supplications
unto respective deities, in good dreams unto Sol,
Jupiter coelestis, Jupiter opulentus, Minerva, Mer-
curius, and Apollo; in bad, unto Tellus and the
heroes.

And therefore I could not but notice how his female
friends were irrationally curious so strictly to examine
his dreams, and in this low state to hope for the
phantasms of health. He was now past the healthful
dreams of the sun, moon, and stars, in their clarity and
proper courses. 'Twas too late to dream of flying, of
limpid fountains, smooth waters, white vestments, and
fruitful green trees, which are the visions of healthful
sleeps, and at good distance from the grave.
And they were also too deeply dejected that he should
dream of his dead friends, inconsequently divining, that
he would not be long from them; for strange it was not
that he should sometimes dream of the dead, whose
thoughts run always upon death; beside, to dream of
the dead, so they appear not in dark habits, and take
nothing away from us, in Hippocrates' sense was of good
signification: for we live by the dead, and everything
is or must be so before it becomes our nourishment.
And Cardan, who dreamed that he discoursed with his
dead father in the moon, made thereof no mortal in-
terpretation; and even to dream that we are dead, was
having a signification of liberty, vacuity from cares,
exemption and freedom from troubles unknown unto
the dead.
Some dreams I confess may admit of easy and femi-
nine exposition; he who dreamed that he could not see
his right shoulder, might easily fear to lose the sight of
his right eye; he that before a journey dreamed that
his feet were cut off, had a plain warning not to under-
take his intended journey. But why to dream of lettuce
should presage some ensuing disease, why to eat figs
should signify foolish talk, why to eat eggs great trouble,
and to dream of blindness should be so highly com-
mended, according to the oneirocritical verses of As-
trampsychus and Nicephorus, I shall leave unto your
divination.
He was willing to quit the world alone and altogether,
leaving no earnest behind him for corruption or after-
grave, having small content in that common satisfaction
to survive or live in another, but amply satisfied that
his disease should die with himself, nor revive in a pos-
terity to puzzle physic, and make sad mementoes of their
parent hereditary. Leprosy awakes not sometimes before
forty, the gout and stone often later; but consumptive
and tabid* roots sprout more early, and at the fairest
make seventeen years of our life doubtful before that
age. They that enter the world with original diseases
as well as sin, have not only common mortality but sick
traductions to destroy them, make commonly short
courses, and live not at length but in figures; so that a
sound Caesarean nativity+ may outlast a natural birth,
and a knife may sometimes make way for a more last-
ing fruit than a midwife; which makes so few infants
now able to endure the old test of the river,# and many

* Tabes maxime contingunt ab anno decimo octavo and trigesi
mum quintum. - Hippoc.
+ A sound child cut out of the body of the mother.
# Natos ad flumina primum deferimus saevoque gelu dura
mus et undis.

to have feeble children who could scarce have been mar-
ried at Sparta, and those provident states who studied
strong and healthful generations; which happen but
contingently in mere pecuniary matches or marriages
made by the candle, wherein notwithstanding there is
little redress to be hoped from an astrologer or a lawyer,
and a good discerning physician were like to prove the
most successful counsellor.

Julius Scaliger, who in a sleepless fit of the gout could
make two hundred verses in a night, would have but
five* plain words upon his tomb. And this serious per-
son, though no minor wit, left the poetry of his epitaph
unto others; either unwilling to commend himself, or
to be judged by a distich, and perhaps considering how
unhappy great poets have been in versifying their own
epitaphs; wherein Petrarch, Dante, and Ariosto, have
so unhappily failed, that if their tombs should outlast
their works, posterity would find so little of Apollo on
them as to mistake them for Ciceronian poets.

In this deliberate and creeping progress unto the
grave, he was somewhat too young and of too noble a
mind, to fall upon that stupid symptom observable in
divers persons near their journey's end, and which may
be reckoned among the mortal symptoms of their last
disease; that is, to become more narrow-minded, miser-
able, and tenacious, unready to part with anything,
when they are ready to part with all, and afraid to want
when they have no time to spend; meanwhile physi-
cians, who know that many are mad but in a single
depraved imagination, and one prevalent decipiency;
and that beside and out of such single deliriums a man
may meet with sober actions and good sense in bedlam;

* Julii Caesaris Scaligeri quod fuit. - Joseph. Scaliger in vita
patris.

cannot but smile to see the heirs and concerned relations
gratulating themselves on the sober departure of their
friends; and though they behold such mad covetous
passages, content to think they die in good understand-
ing, and in their sober senses.

Avarice, which is not only infidelity, but idolatry,
either from covetous progeny or questuary education,
had no root in his breast, who made good works the
expression of his faith, and was big with desires unto
public and lasting charities; and surely where good
wishes and charitable intentions exceed abilities, theori-
cal beneficency may be more than a dream. They build
not castles in the air who would build churches on
earth; and though they leave no such structures here,
may lay good foundations in heaven. In brief, his life
and death were such, that I could not blame them who
wished the like, and almost to have been himself;
almost, I say; for though we may wish the prosperous
appurtenances of others, or to be another in his happy
accidents, yet so intrinsical is every man unto himself,
that some doubt may be made, whether any would
exchange his being, or substantially become another
man.

He had wisely seen the world at home and abroad,
and thereby observed under what variety men are de-
luded in the pursuit of that which is not here to be
found. And although he had no opinion of reputed
felicities below, and apprehended men widely out in the
estimate of such happiness, yet his sober contempt of the
world wrought no Democratism or Cynicism, no laugh-
ing or snarling at it, as well understanding there are not
felicities in this world to satisfy a serious mind; and
therefore, to soften the stream of our lives, we are fain
to take in the reputed contentations of this world, to
unite with the crowd in their beatitudes, and to make
ourselves happy by consortion, opinion, and co-existi-
mation; for strictly to separate from received and cus-
tomary felicities, and to confine unto the rigour of
realities, were to contract the consolation of our beings
unto too uncomfortable circumscriptions.

Not to fear death,* nor desire it, was short of his re-
solution: to be dissolved, and be with Christ, was his
dying ditty. He conceived his thread long, in no long
course of years, and when he had scarce outlived the
second life of Lazarus;+ esteeming it enough to approach
the years of his Saviour, who so ordered his own human
state, as not to be old upon earth.

But to be content with death may be better than to
desire it; a miserable life may make us wish for death,
but a virtuous one to rest in it; which is the advantage
of those resolved Christians, who looking on death not
only as the sting, but the period and end of sin, the
horizon and isthmus between this life and a better, and
the death of this world but as a nativity of another,
do contentedly submit unto the common necessity, and
envy not Enoch or Elias.

Not to be content with life is the unsatisfactory state
of those who destroy themselves,# who being afraid to
live run blindly upon their own death, which no man
fears by experience: and the Stoics had a notable doc-

* Summum nec metuas diem nec optes.
+ Who upon some accounts, and tradition, is said to have
lived thirty years after he was raised by our Saviour. -
Baronius.
# In the speech of Vulteius in Lucan, animating his soldiers
in a great struggle to kill one another. - "Decernite lethum,
et metus omnis abest, cupias quodcunque necesse est." "All
fear is over, do but resolve to die, and make your desires meet
necessity." - Phars.iv.486.

trine to take away the fear thereof; that is, in such ex-
tremities, to desire that which is not to be avoided, and
wish what might be feared; and so made evils voluntary,
and to suit with their own desires, which took off the
terror of them.

But the ancient martyrs were not encouraged by such
fallacies; who, though they feared not death, were afraid
to be their own executioners; and therefore thought it
more wisdom to crucify their lusts than their bodies, to
circumcise than stab their hearts, and to mortify than
kill themselves.

His willingness to leave this world about that age,
when most men think they may best enjoy it, though
paradoxical unto worldly ears, was not strange unto
mine, who have so often observed, that many, though
old, oft stick fast unto the world, and seem to be drawn
like Cacus's oxen, backward, with great struggling and
reluctancy unto the grave. The long habit of living
makes mere men more hardly to part with life, and all
to be nothing, but what is to come. To live at the rate
of the old world, when some could scarce remember
themselves young, may afford no better digested death
than a more moderate period. Many would have
thought it an happiness to have had their lot of life
in some notable conjunctures of ages past; but the
uncertainty of future times have tempted few to make
a part in ages to come. And surely, he that hath taken
the true altitude of things, and rightly calculated the
degenerate state of this age, is not like to envy those
that shall live in the next, much less three or four hun-
dred years hence, when no man can comfortably imagine
what face this world will carry: and therefore since
every age makes a step unto the end of all things, and
the Scripture affords so hard a character of the last
times; quiet minds will be content with their genera-
tions, and rather bless ages past, than be ambitious of
those to come.

Though age had set no seal upon his face, yet a dim
eye might clearly discover fifty in his actions; and
therefore, since wisdom is the grey hair, and an un-
spotted life old age; although his years come short, he
might have been said to have held up with longer
livers, and to have been Solomon's* old man. And
surely if we deduct all those days of our life which
we might wish unlived, and which abate the comfort of
those we now live; if we reckon up only those days
which God hath accepted of our lives, a life of good
years will hardly be a span long: the son in this sense
may outlive the father, and none be climacterically
old. He that early arriveth unto the parts and pru-
dence of age, is happily old without the uncomfortable
attendants of it; and 'tis superfluous to live unto grey
hairs, when in precocious temper we anticipate the
virtues of them. In brief, he cannot be accounted
young who outliveth the old man. He that hath early
arrived unto the measure of a perfect stature in Christ,


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15

Online LibraryThomas BrowneReligio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and the Letter to a Friend → online text (page 13 of 15)