Thomas Browne.

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

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virtue, - for I am of a constitution so general that it
consorts and sympathizeth with all things; I have no
antipathy, or rather idiosyncrasy, in diet, humour, air,
anything. I wonder not at the French for their dishes
of frogs, snails, and toadstools, nor at the Jews for locusts
and grasshoppers; but, being amongst them, make
them my common viands; and I find they agree with
my stomach as well as theirs. I could digest a salad
gathered in a church-yard as well as in a garden. I
cannot start at the presence of a serpent, scorpion, lizard,
or salamander; at the sight of a toad or viper, I find in
me no desire to take up a stone to destroy them. I feel
not in myself those common antipathies that I can dis-
cover in others: those national repugnances do not
touch me, nor do I behold with prejudice the French,
Italian, Spaniard, or Dutch; but, where I find their
actions in balance with my countrymen's, I honour, love,
and embrace them, in the same degree. I was born in
the eighth climate, but seem to be framed and constel-
lated unto all. I am no plant that will not prosper out
of a garden. All places, all airs, make unto me one
country; I am in England everywhere, and under any
meridian. I have been shipwrecked, yet am not enemy
with the sea or winds; I can study, play, or sleep, in a
tempest. In brief I am averse from nothing: my con-
science would give me the lie if I should say I abso-
lutely detest or hate any essence, but the devil; or so
at least abhor anything, but that we might come to
composition. If there be any among those common
objects of hatred I do contemn and laugh at, it is that
great enemy of reason, virtue, and religion, the mul-
titude; that numerous piece of monstrosity, which,
taken asunder, seem men, and the reasonable creatures
of God, but, confused together, make but one great
beast, and a monstrosity more prodigious than Hydra.
It is no breach of charity to call these fools; it is the
style all holy writers have afforded them, set down by
Solomon in canonical Scripture, and a point of our faith
to believe so. Neither in the name of multitude do I
only include the base and minor sort of people: there
is a rabble even amongst the gentry; a sort of plebeian
heads, whose fancy moves with the same wheel as these;
men in the same level with mechanicks, though their
fortunes do somewhat gild their infirmities, and their
purses compound for their follies. But, as in casting
account three or four men together come short in account
of one man placed by himself below them, so neither
are a troop of these ignorant Doradoes of that true
esteem and value as many a forlorn person, whose con-
dition doth place him below their feet. Let us speak
like politicians; there is a nobility without heraldry, a
natural dignity, whereby one man is ranked with
another, another filed before him, according to the
quality of his desert, and pre-eminence of his good parts.
Though the corruption of these times, and the bias of
present practice, wheel another way, thus it was in the
first and primitive commonwealths, and is yet in the in-
tegrity and cradle of well ordered polities: till corrup-
tion getteth ground; - ruder desires labouring after that
which wiser considerations contemn; - every one having
a liberty to amass and heap up riches, and they a licence
or faculty to do or purchase anything.

Sect. 2. - This general and indifferent temper of mine
doth more nearly dispose me to this noble virtue. It is
a happiness to be born and framed unto virtue, and to
grow up from the seeds of nature, rather than the
inoculations and forced grafts of education: yet, if we
are directed only by our particular natures, and regulate
our inclinations by no higher rule than that of our
reasons, we are but moralists; divinity will still call us
heathens. Therefore this great work of charity must
have other motives, ends, and impulsions. I give no
alms to satisfy the hunger of my brother, but to fulfil
and accomplish the will and command of my God; I
draw not my purse for his sake that demands it, but his
that enjoined it; I relieve no man upon the rhetorick
of his miseries, nor to content mine own commiserating
disposition; for this is still but moral charity, and an
act that oweth more to passion than reason. He that
relieves another upon the bare suggestion and bowels of
pity doth not this so much for his sake as for his own;
and so, by relieving them, we relieve ourselves also.
It is as erroneous a conceit to redress other men's
misfortunes upon the common considerations of merciful
natures, that it may be one day our own case; for this
is a sinister and politick kind of charity, whereby we
seem to bespeak the pities of men in the like occasions.
And truly I have observed that those professed eleemo-
synaries, though in a crowd or multitude, do yet direct
and place their petitions on a few and selected persons;
there is surely a physiognomy, which those experienced
and master mendicants observe, whereby they instantly
discover a merciful aspect, and will single out a face,
wherein they spy the signature and marks of mercy.
For there are mystically in our faces certain characters
which carry in them the motto of our souls, wherein he
that can read A, B, C, may read our natures. I hold,
moreover, that there is a phytognomy, or physiognomy,
not only of men, but of plants and vegetables; and is
every one of them some outward figures which hang as
signs or bushes of their inward forms. The finger of
God hath left an inscription upon all his works, not
graphical, or composed of letters, but of their several
forms, constitutions, parts, and operations, which, aptly
joined together, do make one word that doth express
their natures. By these letters God calls the stars by
their names; and by this alphabet Adam assigned to
every creature a name peculiar to its nature. Now,
there are, besides these characters in our faces, certain
mystical figures in our hands, which I dare not call
mere dashes, strokes a la volee or at random, because
delineated by a pencil that never works in vain; and
hereof I take more particular notice, because I carry
that in mine own hand which I could never read of nor
discover in another. Aristotle, I confess, in his acute
and singular book of physiognomy, hath made no
mention of chiromancy: yet I believe the Egyptians,
who were nearer addicted to those abstruse and mysti-
cal sciences, had a knowledge therein: to which those
vagabond and counterfeit Egyptians did after pretend,
and perhaps retained a few corrupted principles, which
sometimes might verify their prognosticks.

It is the common wonder of all men, how, among so
many millions of faces, there should be none alike:
now, contrary, I wonder as much how there should be
any. He that shall consider how many thousand
several words have been carelessly and without study
composed out of twenty-four letters; withal, how many
hundred lines there are to be drawn in the fabrick of
one man; shall easily find that this variety is necessary:
and it will be very hard that they shall so concur as to
make one portrait like another. Let a painter carelessly
limn out a million of faces, and you shall find them all
different; yes, let him have his copy before him, yet,
after all his art, there will remain a sensible distinction:
for the pattern or example of everything is the perfectest
in that kind, whereof we still come short, though we
transcend or go beyond it; because herein it is wide,
and agrees not in all points unto its copy. Nor doth
the similitude of creatures disparage the variety of
nature, nor any way confound the works of God. For
even in things alike there is diversity; and those that
do seem to accord do manifestly disagree. And thus is
man like God; for, in the same things that we resemble
him we are utterly different from him. There was
never anything so like another as in all points to
concur; there will ever some reserved difference slip
in, to prevent the identity; without which two several
things would not be alike, but the same, which is

Sect. 3. - But, to return from philosophy to charity, I
hold not so narrow a conceit of this virtue as to con-
ceive that to give alms is only to be charitable, or think
a piece of liberality can comprehend the total of charity.
Divinity hath wisely divided the act thereof into many
branches, and hath taught us, in this narrow way, many
paths unto goodness; as many ways as we may do good,
so many ways we may be charitable. There are in-
firmities not only of body, but of soul and fortunes,
which do require the merciful hand of our abilities. I
cannot contemn a man for ignorance, but behold him
with as much pity as I do Lazarus. It is no greater
charity to clothe his body than apparel the nakedness
of his soul. It is an honourable object to see the
reasons of other men wear our liveries, and their
borrowed understandings do homage to the bounty of
ours. It is the cheapest way of beneficence, and, like
the natural charity of the sun, illuminates another
without obscuring itself. To be reserved and caitiff
in this part of goodness is the sordidest piece of covetous-
ness, and more contemptible than the pecuniary avarice.
To this (as calling myself a scholar) I am obliged by
the duty of my condition. I make not therefore my
head a grave, but a treasure of knowledge. I intend no
monopoly, but a community in learning. I study not
for my own sake only, but for theirs that study not for
themselves. I envy no man that knows more than
myself, but pity them that know less. I instruct no
man as an exercise of my knowledge, or with an intent
rather to nourish and keep it alive in mine own head
than beget and propagate it in his. And, in the midst
of all my endeavours, there is but one thought that
dejects me, that my acquired parts must perish with
myself, nor can be legacied among my honoured friends.
I cannot fall out or contemn a man for an error, or
conceive why a difference in opinion should divide an
affection; for controversies, disputes, and argumenta-
tions, both in philosophy and in divinity, if they meet
with discreet and peaceable natures, do not infringe the
laws of charity. In all disputes, so much as there is of
passion, so much there is of nothing to the purpose; for
then reason, like a bad hound, spends upon a false scent,
and forsakes the question first started. And this is one
reason why controversies are never determined; for,
though they be amply proposed, they are scarce at all
handled; they do so swell with unnecessary digressions;
and the parenthesis on the party is often as large as the
main discourse upon the subject. The foundations of
religion are already established, and the principles of
salvation subscribed unto by all. There remain not
many controversies worthy a passion, and yet never any
dispute without, not only in divinity but inferior arts.
What a [Greek omitted] and hot skirmish is betwixt S.
and T. in Lucian! How do grammarians hack and
slash for the genitive case in Jupiter! How do they
break their own pates, to salve that of Priscian! "Si
foret in terris, rideret Democritus." Yes, even amongst
wiser militants, how many wounds have been given and
credits slain, for the poor victory of an opinion, or
beggarly conquest of a distinction! Scholars are men
of peace, they bear no arms, but their tongues are
sharper than Actius's razor. their pens carry farther,
and give a louder report than thunder. I had rather
stand the shock of a basilisko than in the fury of
a merciless pen. It is not mere zeal to learning, or
devotion to the muses, that wiser princes patron the
arts, and carry an indulgent aspect unto scholars; but
a desire to have their names eternized by the memory
of their writings, and a fear of the revengeful pen of
succeeding ages: for these are the men that, when they
have played their parts, and had their exits, must step
out and give the moral of their scenes, and deliver unto
posterity an inventory of their virtues and vices. And
surely there goes a great deal of conscience to the
compiling of an history: there is no reproach to the
scandal of a story; it is such an authentick kind of
falsehood, that with authority belies our good names to
all nations and posterity.

Sect. 4. - There is another offence unto charity, which
no author hath ever written of, and few take notice of,
and that's the reproach, not of whole professions, mys-
teries, and conditions, but of whole nations, wherein by
opprobrious epithets we miscall each other, and, by an
uncharitable logick, from a disposition in a few, con-
clude a habit in all.

Le mutin Anglois, et le bravache Escossois
Le bougre Italien, et le fol Francois;
Le poltron Romain, le larron de Gascogne,
L'Espagnol superbe, et l'Alleman yvrogue.

St Paul, that calls the Cretians liars, doth it but in-
directly, and upon quotation of their own poet. It is
as bloody a thought in one way as Nero's was in
another. For by a word we wound a thousand, and
at one blow assassin the honour of a nation. It is as
complete a piece of madness to miscall and rave against
the times; or think to recall men to reason by a fit of
passion. Democritus, that thought to laugh the times
into goodness, seems to me as deeply hypochondriack
as Heraclitus, that bewailed them. It moves not my
spleen to behold the multitude in their proper humours;
that is, in their fits of folly and madness, as well under-
standing that wisdom is not profaned unto the world;
and it is the privilege of a few to be virtuous. They
that endeavour to abolish vice destroy also virtue; for
contraries, though they destroy one another, are yet
the life of one another. Thus virtue (abolish vice) is
an idea. Again, the community of sin doth not dis-
parage goodness; for, when vice gains upon the major
part, virtue, in whom it remains, becomes more excel-
lent, and, being lost in some, multiplies its goodness in
others, which remain untouched, and persist entire in
the general inundation. I can therefore behold vice
without a satire, content only with an admonition, or
instructive reprehension; for noble natures, and such
as are capable of goodness, are railed into vice, that
might as easily be admonished into virtue; and we
should be all so far the orators of goodness as to protect
her from the power of vice, and maintain the cause of
injured truth. No man can justly censure or condemn
another; because, indeed, no man truly knows another.
This I perceive in myself; for I am in the dark to all
the world, and my nearest friends behold me but in a
cloud. Those that know me but superficially think
less of me than I do of myself; those of my near ac-
quaintance think more; God who truly knows me,
knows that I am nothing: for he only beholds me, and
all the world, who looks not on us through a derived
ray, or a trajection of a sensible species, but beholds the
substance without the help of accidents, and the forms
of things, as we their operations. Further, no man can
judge another, because no man knows himself; for we
censure others but as they disagree from that humour
which we fancy laudable in ourselves, and commend
others but for that wherein they seem to quadrate and
consent with us. So that in conclusion, all is but that
we all condemn, self-love. 'Tis the general complaint
of these times, and perhaps of those past, that charity
grows cold; which I perceive most verified in those
which do most manifest the fires and flames of zeal;
for it is a virtue that best agrees with coldest natures,
and such as are complexioned for humility. But how
shall we expect charity towards others, when we are
uncharitable to ourselves? "Charity begins at home,"
is the voice of the world; yet is every man his greatest
enemy, and as it were his own executioner. "Non occides,"
is the commandment of God, yet scarce observed by any
man; for I perceive every man is his own Atropos, and
lends a hand to cut the thread of his own days. Cain
was not therefore the first murderer, but Adam, who
brought in death; whereof he beheld the practice and
example in his own son Abel; and saw that verified in
the experience of another which faith could not per-
suade him in the theory of himself.

Sect. 5. - There is, I think, no man that apprehends
his own miseries less than myself; and no man that so
nearly apprehends another's. I could lose an arm
without a tear, and with few groans, methinks, be
quartered into pieces; yet can I weep most seriously
at a play, and receive with a true passion the counter-
feit griefs of those known and professed impostures. It
is a barbarous part of inhumanity to add unto any
afflicted parties misery, or endeavour to multiply in
any man a passion whose single nature is already above
his patience. This was the greatest affliction of Job,
and those oblique expostulations of his friends a deeper
injury than the down-right blows of the devil. It is
not the tears of our own eyes only, but of our friends
also, that do exhaust the current of our sorrows; which,
falling into many streams, runs more peaceably, and is
contented with a narrower channel. It is an act within
the power of charity, to translate a passion out of one
breast into another, and to divide a sorrow almost out
of itself; for an affliction, like a dimension, may be so
divided as, if not indivisible, at least to become in-
sensible. Now with my friend I desire not to share or
participate, but to engross, his sorrows; that, by mak-
ing them mine own, I may more easily discuss them:
for in mine own reason, and within myself, I can com-
mand that which I cannot entreat without myself, and
within the circle of another. I have often thought
those noble pairs and examples of friendship, not so
truly histories of what had been, as fictions of what
should be; but I now perceive nothing in them but
possibilities, nor anything in the heroick examples of
Damon and Pythias, Achilles and Patroclus, which,
methinks, upon some grounds, I could not perform
within the narrow compass of myself. That a man
should lay down his life for his friend seems strange to
vulgar affections and such as confine themselves within
that worldly principle, "Charity begins at home." For
mine own part, I could never remember the relations
that I held unto myself, nor the respect that I owe unto
my own nature, in the cause of God, my country, and
my friends. Next to these three, I do embrace myself.
I confess I do not observe that order that the schools
ordain our affections, - to love our parents, wives, chil-
dren, and then our friends; for, excepting the injunc-
tions of religion, I do not find in myself such a neces-
sary and indissoluble sympathy to all those of my blood.
I hope I do not break the fifth commandment, if I
conceive I may love my friend before the nearest of my
blood, even those to whom I owe the principles of life.
I never yet cast a true affection on a woman; but I
have loved my friend, as I do virtue, my soul, my God.
From hence, methinks, I do conceive how God loves
man; what happiness there is in the love of God.
Omitting all other, there are three most mystical
unions; two natures in one person; three persons in
one nature; one soul in two bodies. For though, in-
deed, they be really divided, yet are they so united, as
they seem but one, and make rather a duality than two
distinct souls.

Sect. 6. - There are wonders in true affection. It is a
body of enigmas, mysteries, and riddles; wherein two
so become one as they both become two: I love my
friend before myself, and yet, methinks, I do not love
him enough. Some few months hence, my multiplied
affection will make me believe I have not loved him at
all. When I am from him, I am dead till I be with
him. United souls are not satisfied with embraces, but
desire to be truly each other; which being impossible,
these desires are infinite, and must proceed without a
possibility of satisfaction. Another misery there is in
affection; that whom we truly love like our own selves,
we forget their looks, nor can our memory retain the
idea of their faces: and it is no wonder, for they are
ourselves, and our affection makes their looks our own.
This noble affection falls not on vulgar and common
constitutions; but on such as are marked for virtue.
He that can love his friend with this noble ardour will
in a competent degree effect all. Now, if we can bring
our affections to look beyond the body, and cast an eye
upon the soul, we have found out the true object, not
only of friendship, but charity: and the greatest happi-
ness that we can bequeath the soul is that wherein we
all do place our last felicity, salvation; which, though
it be not in our power to bestow, it is in our charity and
pious invocations to desire, if not procure and further.
I cannot contentedly frame a prayer for myself in par-
ticular, without a catalogue for my friends; nor request
a happiness wherein my sociable disposition doth not
desire the fellowship of my neighbour. I never hear
the toll of a passing bell, though in my mirth, with-
out my prayers and best wishes for the departing spirit.
I cannot go to cure the body of my patient, but I forget
my profession, and call unto God for his soul. I can-
not see one say his prayers, but, instead of imitating
him, I fall into supplication for him, who perhaps is no
more to me than a common nature: and if God hath
vouchsafed an ear to my supplications, there are surely
many happy that never saw me, and enjoy the blessing
of mine unknown devotions. To pray for enemies, that
is, for their salvation, is no harsh precept, but the practice
of our daily and ordinary devotions. I cannot believe
the story of the Italian; our bad wishes and uncharit-
able desires proceed no further than this life; it is the
devil, and the uncharitable votes of hell, that desire our
misery in the world to come.

Sect. 7. - "To do no injury nor take none" was a prin-
ciple which, to my former years and impatient affections,
seemed to contain enough of morality, but my more
settled years, and Christian constitution, have fallen
upon severer resolutions. I can hold there is no such
things as injury; that if there be, there is no such injury
as revenge, and no such revenge as the contempt of an
injury: that to hate another is to malign himself; that
the truest way to love another is to despise ourselves.
I were unjust unto mine own conscience if I should say
I am at variance with anything like myself. I find
there are many pieces in this one fabrick of man; this
frame is raised upon a mass of antipathies: I am one
methinks but as the world, wherein notwithstanding
there are a swarm of distinct essences, and in them
another world of contrarieties; we carry private and
domestick enemies within, public and more hostile ad-
versaries without. The devil, that did but buffet St
Paul, plays methinks at sharp with me. Let me be
nothing, if within the compass of myself, I do not find
the battle of Lepanto, passion against reason, reason
against faith, faith against the devil, and my conscience
against all. There is another man within me that's
angry with me, rebukes, commands, and dastards me.
I have no conscience of marble, to resist the hammer of
more heavy offences: nor yet so soft and waxen, as to
take the impression of each single peccadillo or scape of
infirmity. I am of a strange belief, that it is as easy to
be forgiven some sins as to commit some others. For
my original sin, I hold it to be washed away in my
baptism; for my actual transgressions, I compute and
reckon with God but from my last repentance, sacra-
ment, or general absolution; and therefore am not
terrified with the sins or madness of my youth. I thank
the goodness of God, I have no sins that want a name.
I am not singular in offences; my transgressions are
epidemical, and from the common breath of our corrup-
tion. For there are certain tempers of body which,
matched with a humorous depravity of mind, do hath
and produce vitiosities, whose newness and monstrosity
of nature admits no name; this was the temper of that
lecher that carnaled with a statua, and the constitution
of Nero in his spintrian recreations. For the heavens
are not only fruitful in new and unheard-of stars, the
earth in plants and animals, but men's minds also in
villany and vices. Now the dulness of my reason, and
the vulgarity of my disposition, never prompted my in-

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Online LibraryThomas BrowneReligio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and the Letter to a Friend → online text (page 7 of 15)