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

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vention nor solicited my affection unto any of these; -
yet even those common and quotidian infirmities that
so necessarily attend me, and do seem to be my very
nature, have so dejected me, so broken the estimation
that I should have otherwise of myself, that I repute
myself the most abject piece of mortality. Divines pre-
scribe a fit of sorrow to repentance: there goes indigna-
tion, anger, sorrow, hatred, into mine, passions of a con-
trary nature, which neither seem to suit with this action,
nor my proper constitution. It is no breach of charity
to ourselves to be at variance with our vices, nor to
abhor that part of us, which is an enemy to the ground
of charity, our God; wherein we do but imitate our
great selves, the world, whose divided antipathies and
contrary faces do yet carry a charitable regard unto the
whole, by their particular discords preserving the com-
mon harmony, and keeping in fetters those powers,
whose rebellions, once masters, might be the ruin of all.

Sect. 8. - I thank God, amongst those millions of vices
I do inherit and hold from Adam, I have escaped one,
and that a mortal enemy to charity, - the first and
father sin, not only of man, but of the devil, - pride; a
vice whose name is comprehended in a monosyllable,
but in its nature not circumscribed with a world, I have
escaped it in a condition that can hardly avoid it. Those
petty acquisitions and reputed perfections, that advance
and elevate the conceits of other men, add no feathers
unto mine. I have seen a grammarian tower and plume
himself over a single line in Horace, and show more
pride, in the construction of one ode, than the author
in the composure of the whole book. For my own part,
besides the jargon and patois of several provinces, I
understand no less than six languages; yet I protest I
have no higher conceit of myself than had our fathers
before the confusion of Babel, when there was but one
language in the world, and none to boast himself either
linguist or critick. I have not only seen several coun-
tries, beheld the nature of their climes, the chorography
of their provinces, topography of their cities, but under-
stood their several laws, customs, and policies; yet
cannot all this persuade the dulness of my spirit unto
such an opinion of myself as I behold in nimbler and
conceited heads, that never looked a degree beyond
their nests. I know the names and somewhat more of
all the constellations in my horizon; yet I have seen
a prating mariner, that could only name the pointers
and the north-star, out-talk me, and conceit himself a
whole sphere above me. I know most of the plants of
my country, and of those about me, yet methinks I do
not know so many as when I did but know a hundred,
and had scarcely ever simpled further than Cheapside.
For, indeed, heads of capacity, and such as are not full
with a handful or easy measure of knowledge, think
they know nothing till they know all; which being
impossible, they fall upon the opinion of Socrates, and
only know they know not anything. I cannot think
that Homer pined away upon the riddle of the fisher-
men, or that Aristotle, who understood the uncertainty
of knowledge, and confessed so often the reason of man
too weak for the works of nature, did ever drown him-
self upon the flux and reflux of Euripus. We do but
learn, to-day, what our better advanced judgments will
unteach to-morrow; and Aristotle doth but instruct us,
as Plato did him, that is, to confute himself. I have
run through all sorts, yet find no rest in any: though
our first studies and junior endeavours may style us
Peripateticks, Stoicks, or Academicks, yet I perceive
the wisest heads prove, at last, almost all Scepticks,
and stand like Janus in the field of knowledge. I have
therefore one common and authentick philosophy I
learned in the schools, whereby I discourse and satisfy
the reason of other men; another more reserved, and
drawn from experience, whereby I content mine own.
Solomon, that complained of ignorance in the height of
knowledge, hath not only humbled my conceits, but
discouraged my endeavours. There is yet another con-
ceit that hath sometimes made me shut my books, which
tells me it is a vanity to waste our days in the blind
pursuit of knowledge: it is but attending a little longer,
and we shall enjoy that, by instinct and infusion, which
we endeavour at here by labour and inquisition. It is
better to sit down in a modest ignorance, and rest con-
tented with the natural blessing of our own reasons,
than by the uncertain knowledge of this life with sweat
and vexation, which death gives every fool gratis, and is
an accessary of our glorification.

Sect. 9. - I was never yet once, and commend their
resolutions who never marry twice. Not that I dis-
allow of second marriage; as neither in all cases of poly-
gamy, which considering some times, and the unequal
number of both sexes, may be also necessary. The
whole world was made for man, but the twelfth part of
man for woman. Man is the whole world, and the
breath of God; woman the rib and crooked piece of
man. I could be content that we might procreate like
trees, without conjunction, or that there were any way
to perpetuate the world without this trivial and vulgar
way of coition: it is the foolishest act a wise man com-
mits in all his life, nor is there anything that will more
deject his cooled imagination, when he shall consider
what an odd and unworthy piece of folly he hath com-
mitted. I speak not in prejudice, nor am averse from
that sweet sex, but naturally amorous of all that is
beautiful. I can look a whole day with delight upon a
handsome picture, though it be but of an horse. It is
my temper, and I like it the better, to affect all harmony;
and sure there is musick, even in the beauty and the
silent note which Cupid strikes, far sweeter than the
sound of an instrument. For there is a musick wher-
ever there is a harmony, order, or proportion; and thus
far we may maintain "the musick of the spheres:" for
those well-ordered motions, and regular paces, though
they give no sound unto the ear, yet to the understand-
ing they strike a note most full of harmony. Whatso-
ever is harmonically composed delights in harmony,
which makes me much distrust the symmetry of those
heads which declaim against all church-musick. For
myself, not only from my obedience but my particular
genius I do embrace it: for even that vulgar and tavern-
musick which makes one man merry, another mad,
strikes in me a deep fit of devotion, and a profound
contemplation of the first composer. There is some-
thing in it of divinity more than the ear discovers: it is
an hieroglyphical and shadowed lesson of the whole
world, and creatures of God, - such a melody to the ear,
as the whole world, well understood, would afford the
understanding. In brief, it is a sensible fit of that
harmony which intellectually sounds in the ears of God.
I will not say, with Plato, the soul is an harmony, but
harmonical, and hath its nearest sympathy unto musick:
thus some, whose temper of body agrees, and humours
the constitution of their souls, are born poets, though
indeed all are naturally inclined unto rhythm. This
made Tacitus, in the very first line of his story, fall upon
a verse;* and Cicero, the worst of poets, but declaim-
ing for a poet, falls in the very first sentence upon a

* "Urbem a Romam in principio reges habuere."

perfect hexameter.* I feel not in me those sordid and
unchristian desires of my profession; I do not secretly
implore and wish for plagues, rejoice at famines, revolve
ephemerides and almanacks in expectation of malignant
aspects, fatal conjunctions, and eclipses. I rejoice not
at unwholesome springs nor unseasonable winters: my
prayer goes with the husbandman's; I desire everything
in its proper season, that neither men nor the times be
out of temper. Let me be sick myself, if sometimes the
malady of my patient be not a disease unto me. I
desire rather to cure his infirmities than my own neces-
sities. Where I do him no good, methinks it is scarce
honest gain, though I confess 'tis but the worthy salary
of our well intended endeavours. I am not only
ashamed but heartily sorry, that, besides death, there
are diseases incurable; yet not for my own sake or that
they be beyond my art, but for the general cause and
sake of humanity, whose common cause I apprehend as
mine own. And, to speak more generally, those three
noble professions which all civil commonwealths do
honour, are raised upon the fall of Adam, and are not
any way exempt from their infirmities. There are not
only diseases incurable in physick, but cases indissolv-
able in law, vices incorrigible in divinity. If general
councils may err, I do not see why particular courts
should be infallible: their perfectest rules are raised
upon the erroneous reasons of man, and the laws of one
do but condemn the rules of another; as Aristotle oft-
times the opinions of his predecessors, because, though
agreeable to reason, yet were not consonant to his own
rules and the logick of his proper principles. Again, -
to speak nothing of the sin against the Holy Ghost,

* "In qua me non inferior mediocriter esse." - Pro Archia
whose cure not only, but whose nature is unknown, - I
can cure the gout or stone in some, sooner than divinity,
pride, or avarice in others. I can cure vices by physick
when they remain incurable by divinity, and they shall
obey my pills when they contemn their precepts. I
boast nothing, but plainly say, we all labour against our
own cure; for death is the cure of all diseases. There
is no catholicon or universal remedy I know, but this,
which though nauseous to queasy stomachs, yet to pre-
pared appetites is nectar, and a pleasant potion of im-

Sect. 10. - For my conversation, it is, like the sun's,
with all men, and with a friendly aspect to good and
bad. Methinks there is no man bad; and the worst
best, that is, while they are kept within the circle of
those qualities wherein they are good. There is no
man's mind of so discordant and jarring a temper, to
which a tuneable disposition may not strike a harmony.
Magnae virtutes, nec minora vitia; it is the posy of
the best natures, and may be inverted on the worst.
There are, in the most depraved and venomous disposi-
tions, certain pieces that remain untouched, which by
an antiperistasis become more excellent, or by the
excellency of their antipathies are able to preserve them-
selves from the contagion of their enemy vices, and
persist entire beyond the general corruption. For it is
also thus in nature: the greatest balsams do lie en-
veloped in the bodies of the most powerful corrosives.
I say moreover, and I ground upon experience, that
poisons contain within themselves their own antidote,
and that which preserves them from the venom of them-
selves; without which they were not deleterious to
others only, but to themselves also. But it is the cor-
ruption that I fear within me; not the contagion of
commerce without me. 'Tis that unruly regiment
within me, that will destroy me; 'tis that I do infect
myself; the man without a navel yet lives in me.
I feel that original canker corrode and devour me: and
therefore, "Defenda me, Dios, de me!" "Lord, deliver me
from myself!" is a part of my litany, and the first voice
of my retired imaginations. There is no man alone,
because every man is a microcosm, and carries the whole
world about him. "Nunquam minus solus quam cum
solus,"* though it be the apothegm of a wise man is yet
true in the mouth of a fool: for indeed, though in a
wilderness, a man is never alone; not only because he
is with himself, and his own thoughts, but because he
is with the devil, who ever consorts with our solitude,
and is that unruly rebel that musters up those disordered
motions which accompany our sequestered imaginations.
And to speak more narrowly, there is no such thing as
solitude, nor anything that can be said to be alone, and
by itself, but God; - who is his own circle, and can sub-
sist by himself; all others, besides their dissimilary and
heterogeneous parts, which in a manner multiply their
natures, cannot subsist without the concourse of God,
and the society of that hand which doth uphold their
natures. In brief, there can be nothing truly alone,
and by its self, which is not truly one, and such is only
God: all others do transcend an unity, and so by con-
sequence are many.

Sect. 11. - Now for my life, it is a miracle of thirty
years, which to relate, were not a history, but a piece of
poetry, and would sound to common ears like a fable.
For the world, I count it not an inn, but an hospital;
and a place not to live, but to die in. The world that I
regard is myself; it is the microcosm of my own frame

* "Cic. de Off.," I. iii.

that I cast mine eye on: for the other, I use it but like
my globe, and turn it round sometimes for my recrea-
tion. Men that look upon my outside, perusing only
my condition and fortunes, do err in my altitude; for I
am above Atlas's shoulders. The earth is a point not
only in respect of the heavens above us, but of the
heavenly and celestial part within us. That mass of
flesh that circumscribes me limits not my mind. That
surface that tells the heavens it hath an end cannot
persuade me I have any. I take my circle to be above
three hundred and sixty. Though the number of the
ark do measure my body, it comprehendeth not my
mind. Whilst I study to find how I am a microcosm,
or little world, I find myself something more than the
great. There is surely a piece of divinity in us; some-
thing that was before the elements, and owes no homage
unto the sun. Nature tells me, I am the image of God,
as well as Scripture. He that understands not thus
much hath not his introduction or first lesson, and is
yet to begin the alphabet of man. Let me not injure the
felicity of others, if I say I am as happy as any. Ruat
coelum, fiat voluntas tua," salveth all; so that, what-
soever happens, it is but what our daily prayers desire.
In brief, I am content; and what should providence
add more? Surely this is it we call happiness, and this
do I enjoy; with this I am happy in a dream, and as
content to enjoy a happiness in a fancy, as others in a
more apparent truth and reality. There is surely a
nearer apprehension of anything that delights us, in our
dreams, than in our waked senses. Without this I were
unhappy; for my awaked judgment discontents me,
ever whispering unto me that I am from my friend, but
my friendly dreams in the night requite me, and make
me think I am within his arms. I thank God for my
happy dreams, as I do for my good rest; for there is a
satisfaction in them unto reasonable desires, and such
as can be content with a fit of happiness. And surely
it is not a melancholy conceit to think we are all asleep
in this world, and that the conceits of this life are as
mere dreams, to those of the next, as the phantasms of
the night, to the conceits of the day. There is an equal
delusion in both; and the one doth but seem to be the
emblem or picture of the other. We are somewhat
more than ourselves in our sleeps; and the slumber of
the body seems to be but the waking of the soul. It is
the ligation of sense, but the liberty of reason; and our
waking conceptions do not match the fancies of our
sleeps. At my nativity, my ascendant was the watery
sign of Scorpio. I was born in the planetary hour of
Saturn, and I think I have a piece of that leaden planet
in me. I am no way facetious, nor disposed for the
mirth and galliardise of company; yet in one dream
I can compose a whole comedy, behold the action, ap-
prehend the jests, and laugh myself awake at the con-
ceits thereof. Were my memory as faithful as my
reason is then fruitful, I would never study but in my
dreams, and this time also would I choose for my devo-
tions: but our grosser memories have then so little hold
of our abstracted understandings, that they forget the
story, and can only relate to our awaked souls a con-
fused and broken tale of that which hath passed. Aris-
totle, who hath written a singular tract of sleep, hath
not, methinks, thoroughly defined it; nor yet Galen,
though he seem to have corrected it; for those noctam-
bulos and night-walkers, though in their sleep, do yet
enjoy the action of their senses. We must therefore say
that there is something in us that is not in the juris-
diction of Morpheus; and that those abstracted and
ecstatick souls do walk about in their own corpses, as
spirits with the bodies they assume, wherein they seem
to hear, see, and feel, though indeed the organs are
destitute of sense, and their natures of those faculties
that should inform them. Thus it is observed, that men
sometimes, upon the hour of their departure, do speak
and reason above themselves. For then the soul begin-
ning to be freed from the ligaments of the body, begins
to reason like herself, and to discourse in a strain above

Sect. 12. - We term sleep a death; and yet it is wak-
ing that kills us, and destroys those spirits that are the
house of life. 'Tis indeed a part of life that best ex-
presseth death; for every man truly lives, so long as he
acts his nature, or some way makes good the faculties
of himself. Themistocles therefore, that slew his soldier
in his sleep, was a merciful executioner: 'tis a kind of
punishment the mildness of no laws hath invented; I
wonder the fancy of Lucan and Seneca did not discover
it. It is that death by which we may be literally said
to die daily; a death which Adam died before his mor-
tality; a death whereby we live a middle and moderat-
ing point between life and death. In fine, so like death,
I dare not trust it without my prayers, and an half
adieu unto the world, and take my farewell in a col-
loquy with God: -

The night is come, like to the day;
Depart not thou, great God, away.
Let not my sins, black as the night,
Eclipse the lustre of thy light.
Keep still in my horizon; for to me
The sun makes not the day, but thee.
Thou whose nature cannot sleep,
On my temples sentry keep;
Guard me 'gainst those watchful foes,
Whose eyes are open while mine close.
Let no dreams my head infest,
But such as Jacob's temples blest.
While I do rest, my soul advance:
Make my sleep a holy trance:
That I may, my rest being wrought,
Awake into some holy thought,
And with as active vigour run
My course as doth the nimble sun.
Sleep is a death; - Oh make me try,
By sleeping, what it is to die!
And as gently lay my head
On my grave, as now my bed.
Howe'er I rest, great God, let me
Awake again at last with thee.
And thus assured, behold I lie
Securely, or to wake or die.
These are my drowsy days; in vain
I do now wake to sleep again:
Oh come that hour, when I shall never
Sleep again, but wake for ever!

This is the dormitive I take to bedward; I need no other
laudanum than this to make me sleep; after which I
close mine eyes in security, content to take my leave of
the sun, and sleep unto the resurrection.

Sect. 13. - The method I should use in distributive
justice, I often observe in commutative; and keep a
geometrical proportion in both, whereby becoming
equable to others, I become unjust to myself, and
supererogate in that common principle, "Do unto
others as thou wouldst be done unto thyself." I was
not born unto riches, neither is it, I think, my star to
be wealthy; or if it were, the freedom of my mind, and
frankness of my disposition, were able to contradict and
cross my fates: for to me avarice seems not so much a
vice, as a deplorable piece of madness; to conceive our-
selves urinals, or be persuaded that we are dead, is not
so ridiculous, nor so many degrees beyond the power of
hellebore, as this. The opinions of theory, and posi-
tions of men, are not so void of reason, as their practised
conclusions. Some have held that snow is black, that
the earth moves, that the soul is air, fire, water; but
all this is philosophy: and there is no delirium, if we
do but speculate the folly and indisputable dotage of
avarice. To that subterraneous idol, and god of the
earth, I do confess I am an atheist. I cannot persuade
myself to honour that the world adores; whatsoever
virtue its prepared substance may have within my
body, it hath no influence nor operation without. I
would not entertain a base design, or an action that
should call me villain, for the Indies; and for this only
do I love and honour my own soul, and have methinks
two arms too few to embrace myself. Aristotle is too
severe, that will not allow us to be truly liberal with-
out wealth, and the bountiful hand of fortune; if this
be true, I must confess I am charitable only in my
liberal intentions, and bountiful well wishes. But if
the example of the mite be not only an act of wonder,
but an example of the noblest charity, surely poor men
may also build hospitals, and the rich alone have not
erected cathedrals. I have a private method which
others observe not; I take the opportunity of myself
to do good; I borrow occasion of charity from my own
necessities, and supply the wants of others, when I am
in most need myself: for it is an honest stratagem to
take advantage of ourselves, and so to husband the acts
of virtue, that, where they are defective in one circum-
stance, they may repay their want, and multiply their
goodness in another. I have not Peru in my desires,
but a competence and ability to perform those good
works to which he hath inclined my nature. He is
rich who hath enough to be charitable; and it is hard
to be so poor that a noble mind may not find a way to
this piece of goodness. "He that giveth to the poor
lendeth to the Lord:" there is more rhetorick in that
one sentence than in a library of sermons. And indeed,
if those sentences were understood by the reader with
the same emphasis as they are delivered by the author,
we needed not those volumes of instructions, but might
be honest by an epitome. Upon this motive only I
cannot behold a beggar without relieving his necessities
with my purse, or his soul with my prayers. These
scenical and accidental differences between us cannot
make me forget that common and untoucht part of us
both: there is under these centoes and miserable
outsides, those mutilate and semi bodies, a soul of the
same alloy with our own, whose genealogy is God's as
well as ours, and in as fair a way to salvation as our-
selves. Statists that labour to contrive a commonwealth
without our poverty take away the object of charity;
not understanding only the commonwealth of a Chris-
tian, but forgetting the prophecy of Christ.*

Sect. 14. - Now, there is another part of charity, which
is the basis and pillar of this, and that is the love of
God, for whom we love our neighbour; for this I think
charity, to love God for himself, and our neighbour for
God. And all that is truly amiable is God, or as it were a
divided piece of him, that retains a reflex or shadow of
himself. Nor is it strange that we should place affec-
tion on that which is invisible: all that we truly love
is thus. What we adore under affection of our senses
deserves not the honour of so pure a title. Thus we

* "The poor ye have always with you."

adore virtue, though to the eyes of sense she be in-
visible. Thus that part of our noble friends that we
love is not that part that we embrace, but that insen-
sible part that our arms cannot embrace. God being
all goodness, can love nothing but himself; he loves us
but for that part which is as it were himself, and the
traduction of his Holy Spirit. Let us call to assize the
loves of our parents, the affection of our wives and
children, and they are all dumb shows and dreams,
without reality, truth, or constancy. For first there is
a strong bond of affection between us and our parents;
yet how easily dissolved! We betake ourselves to a
woman, forgetting our mother in a wife, and the womb
that bare us in that which shall bear our image. This
woman blessing us with children, our affection leaves
the level it held before, and sinks from our bed unto
our issue and picture of posterity: where affection holds
no steady mansion; they growing up in years, desire
our ends; or, applying themselves to a woman, take a
lawful way to love another better than ourselves. Thus

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Online LibraryThomas BrowneReligio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and the Letter to a Friend → online text (page 8 of 15)