Copyright
Thomas Browne.

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

. (page 9 of 15)
Online LibraryThomas BrowneReligio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and the Letter to a Friend → online text (page 9 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


I perceive a man may be buried alive, and behold his
grave in his own issue.

Sect. 15. - I conclude therefore, and say, there is no
happiness under (or, as Copernicus* will have it, above)
the sun; nor any crambe in that repeated verity and
burthen of all the wisdom of Solomon: "All is vanity
and vexation of spirit;" there is no felicity in that the
world adores. Aristotle, whilst he labours to refute
the ideas of Plato, falls upon one himself: for his
summum bonum is a chimaera; and there is no such
thing as his felicity. That wherein God himself is
happy, the holy angels are happy, in whose defect the
devils are unhappy; - that dare I call happiness: what-

* Who holds that the sun is the centre of the world.

soever conduceth unto this, may, with an easy metaphor,
deserve that name; whatsoever else the world terms
happiness is, to me, a story out of Pliny, a tale of Bocace
or Malizspini, an apparition or neat delusion, wherein
there is no more of happiness than the name. Bless
me in this life with but the peace of my conscience,
command of my affections, the love of thyself and my
dearest friends, and I shall be happy enough to pity
Caesar! These are, O Lord, the humble desires of my
most reasonable ambition, and all I dare call happiness
on earth; wherein I set no rule or limit to thy hand or
providence; dispose of me according to the wisdom of
thy pleasure. Thy will be done, though in my own
undoing.

HYDRIOTAPHIA.

URN BURIAL; OR, A DISCOURSE OF THE SEPULCHRAL URNS
LATELY FOUND IN NORFOLK.



TO MY WORTHY AND HONOURED FRIEND,

THOMAS LE GROS,
OF CROSTWICK, ESQUIRE.

WHEN the general pyre was out, and the last
valediction over, men took a lasting adieu of
their interred friends, little expecting the
curiosity of future ages should comment upon their
ashes; and, having no old experience of the duration
of their relicks, held no opinion of such after-considera-
tions.

But who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he
is to be buried? Who hath the oracle of his ashes, or
whither they are to be scattered? The relicks of many
lie like the ruins of Pompey's,* in all parts of the earth;
and when they arrive at your hands these may seem to
have wandered far, who, in a direct and meridian travel,+

* "Pompeios juvenes Asia atque Europa, sed ipsum terra
tegit Libyos."
+ Little directly but sea, between your house and Green-
land.

have but few miles of known earth between yourself
and the pole.

That the bones of Theseus should be seen again in
Athens* was not beyond conjecture and hopeful expecta-
tion: but that these should arise so opportunely to serve
yourself was an hit of fate, and honour beyond prediction.

We cannot but wish these urns might have the effect
of theatrical vessels and great Hippodrome urns+ in
Rome, to resound the acclamations and honour due unto
you. But these are sad and sepulchral pitchers, which
have no joyful voices; silently expressing old mortality,
the ruins of forgotten times, and can only speak with
life, how long in this corruptible frame some parts may
be uncorrupted; yet able to outlast bones long unborn,
and noblest pile among us.

We present not these as any strange sight or spectacle
unknown to your eyes, who have beheld the best of
urns and noblest variety of ashes; who are yourself no
slender master of antiquities, and can daily command
the view of so many imperial faces; which raiseth your
thoughts unto old things and consideration of times
before you, when even living men were antiquities;
when the living might exceed the dead, and to depart
this world could not be properly said to go unto the
greater number.# And so run up your thoughts upon
the ancient of days, the antiquary's truest object, unto
whom the eldest parcels are young, and earth itself an
infant, and without Egyptian$ account makes but small
noise in thousands.

* Brought back by Cimon Plutarch.
+ The great urns at the Hippodrome at Rome, conceived to
resound the voices of people at their shows.
# "Abiit ad plures."
$ Which makes the world so many years old.

We were hinted by the occasion, not catched the
opportunity to write of old things, or intrude upon the
antiquary. We are coldly drawn unto discourses of
antiquities, who have scarce time before us to compre-
hend new things, or make out learned novelties. But
seeing they arose, as they lay almost in silence among
us, at least in short account suddenly passed over, we
were very unwilling they should die again, and be
buried twice among us.

Beside, to preserve the living, and make the dead to
live, to keep men out of their urns, and discourse of
human fragments in them, is not impertinent unto our
profession; whose study is life and death, who daily
behold examples of mortality, and of all men least need
artificial mementos, or coffins by our bedside, to mind us
of our graves.

'Tis time to observe occurrences, and let nothing
remarkable escape us: the supinity of elder days hath
left so much in silence, or time hath so martyred the
records, that the most industrious heads do find no easy
work to erect a new Britannia.

'Tis opportune to look back upon old times, and con-
template our forefathers. Great examples grow thin,
and to be fetched from the passed world. Simplicity
flies away, and iniquity comes at long strides upon us.
We have enough to do to make up ourselves from
present and passed times, and the whole stage of things
scarce serveth for our instruction. A complete piece of
virtue must be made from the Centos of all ages, as all
the beauties of Greece could make but one handsome
Venus.

When the bones of King Arthur were digged up,* the
old race might think they beheld therein some originals


* In the time of Henry the Second.

of themselves; unto these of our urns none here can
pretend relation, and can only behold the relicks of
those persons who, in their life giving the laws unto
their predecessors, after long obscurity, now lie at their
mercies. But, remembering the early civility they
brought upon these countries, and forgetting long-passed
mischiefs, we mercifully preserve their bones, and piss
not upon their ashes.

In the offer of these antiquities we drive not at
ancient families, so long outlasted by them. We are
far from erecting your worth upon the pillars of your
forefathers, whose merits you illustrate. We honour
your old virtues, conformable unto times before you,
which are the noblest armoury. And, having long
experience of your friendly conversation, void of empty
formality, full of freedom, constant and generous
honesty, I look upon you as a gem of the old rock,*
and must profess myself even to urn and ashes. - Your
ever faithful Friend and Servant,

THOMAS BROWNE.

NORWICH, May 1st.

* "Adamas de rupe veteri praestantissimus."


HYDRIOTAPHIA.


CHAPTER I.

IN the deep discovery of the subterranean world
a shallow part would satisfy some inquirers;
who, if two or three yards were open about
the surface, would not care to rake the bowels of Potosi,*
and regions toward the centre. Nature hath furnished
one part of the earth, and man another. The treasures
of time lie high, in urns, coins, and monuments, scarce
below the roots of some vegetables. Time hath endless
rarities, and shows of all varieties; which reveals old
things in heaven, makes new discoveries in earth, and
even earth itself a discovery. That great antiquity
America lay buried for thousands of years, and a large
part of the earth is still in the urn unto us.

Though if Adam were made out of an extract of the
earth, all parts might challenge a restitution, yet few
have returned their bones far lower than they might
receive them; not affecting the graves of giants, under

* The rich mountain of Peru.

hilly and heavy coverings, but content with less than
their own depth, have wished their bones might lie
soft, and the earth be light upon them. Even such as
hope to rise again, would not be content with central
interment, or so desperately to place their relicks as to
lie beyond discovery; and in no way to be seen again;
which happy contrivance hath made communication
with our forefathers, and left unto our view some parts,
which they never beheld themselves.

Though earth hath engrossed the name, yet water
hath proved the smartest grave; which in forty days
swallowed almost mankind, and the living creation;
fishes not wholly escaping, except the salt ocean were
handsomely contempered by a mixture of the fresh
element.

Many have taken voluminous pains to determine the
state of the soul upon disunion; but men have been
most phantastical in the singular contrivances of their
corporal dissolution: whilst the soberest nations have
rested in two ways, of simple inhumation and burning.

That carnal interment or burying was of the elder
date, the old examples of Abraham and the patriarchs
are sufficient to illustrate; and were without com-
petition, if it could be made out that Adam was buried
near Damascus, or Mount Calvary, according to some
tradition. God himself, that buried but one, was pleased
to make choice of this way, collectible from Scripture
expression, and the hot contest between Satan and the
archangel about discovering the body of Moses. But
the practice of burning was also of great antiquity, and
of no slender extent. For (not to derive the same from
Hercules) noble descriptions there are hereof in the
Grecian funerals of Homer, in the formal obsequies of
Patroclus and Achilles; and somewhat elder in the
Theban war, and solemn combustion of Meneceus, and
Archemorus, contemporary unto Jair the eighth judge
of Israel. Confirmable also among the Trojans, from
the funeral pyre of Hector, burnt before the gates of
Troy: and the burning of Penthesilea the Amazonian
queen: and long continuance of that practice, in the
inward countries of Asia; while as low as the reign of
Julian, we find that the king of Chionia* burnt the
body of his son, and interred the ashes in a silver urn.

The same practice extended also far west; and
besides Herulians, Getes, and Thracians, was in use
with most of the Celtae, Sarmatians, Germans, Gauls,
Danes, Swedes, Norwegians; not to omit some use
thereof among Carthaginians and Americans. Of
greater antiquity among the Romans than most opinion,
or Pliny seems to allow: for (besides the old table laws+
of burning or burying within the city, of making the
funeral fire with planed wood, or quenching the fire
with wine), Manlius the consul burnt the body of his
son: Numa, by special clause of his will, was not burnt
but buried; and Remus was solemnly burned, according
to the description of Ovid.#

Cornelius Sylla was not the first whose body was
burned in Rome, but the first of the Cornelian family;
which being indifferently, not frequently used before;
from that time spread, and became the prevalent
practice. Not totally pursued in the highest run of
cremation; for when even crows were funerally burnt,
Poppaea the wife of Nero found a peculiar grave in-

* Gumbrates, king of Chionia, a country near Persia.
+ XII. Tabulae, part i., de jure sacro, "Hominem mortuum
in urbe ne sepelito neve urito."
# "Ultima prolata subdita flamma rogo," &c. Fast., lib.
iv., 856.

terment. Now as all customs were founded upon some
bottom of reason, so there wanted not grounds for this;
according to several apprehensions of the most rational
dissolution. Some being of the opinion of Thales, that
water was the original of all things, thought it most
equal to submit unto the principle of putrefaction, and
conclude in a moist relentment. Others conceived it
most natural to end in fire, as due unto the master
principle in the composition, according to the doctrine
of Heraclitus; and therefore heaped up large piles,
more actively to waft them toward that element,
whereby they also declined a visible degeneration into
worms, and left a lasting parcel of their composi-
tion.

Some apprehended a purifying virtue in fire, refining
the grosser commixture, and firing out the aethereal
particles so deeply immersed in it. And such as by
tradition or rational conjecture held any hint of the
final pyre of all things; or that this element at last
must be too hard for all the rest; might conceive most
naturally of the fiery dissolution. Others pretending
no natural grounds, politickly declined the malice of
enemies upon their buried bodies. Which consideration
led Sylla unto this practice; who having thus served
the body of Marius, could not but fear a retaliation
upon his own; entertained after in the civil wars, and
revengeful contentions of Rome.

But as many nations embraced, and many left it in-
different, so others too much affected, or strictly de-
clined this practice. The Indian Brachmans seemed
too great friends unto fire, who burnt themselves alive
and thought it the noblest way to end their days in
fire; according to the expression of the Indian, burning
himself at Athens, in his last words upon the pyre
unto the amazed spectators, "thus I make myself im-
mortal."*

But the Chaldeans, the great idolaters of fire, ab-
horred the burning of their carcases, as a pollution of
that deity. The Persian magi declined it upon the
like scruples, and being only solicitous about their bones,
exposed their flesh to the prey of birds and dogs. And
the Persees now in India, which expose their bodies
unto vultures, and endure not so much as feretra or
biers of wood, the proper fuel of fire, are led on with such
niceties. But whether the ancient Germans, who burned
their dead, held any such fear to pollute their deity of
Herthus, or the earth, we have no authentic conjecture.

The Egyptians were afraid of fire, not as a deity, but
a devouring element, mercilessly consuming their
bodies, and leaving too little of them; and therefore
by precious embalmments, depositure in dry earths, or
handsome inclosure in glasses, contrived the notablest
ways of integral conservation. And from such Egyp-
tian scruples, imbibed by Pythagoras, it may be con-
jectured that Numa and the Pythagorical sect first
waived the fiery solution.

The Scythians, who swore by wind and sword, that
is, by life and death, were so far from burning their
bodies, that they declined all interment, and made their
graves in the air: and the Ichthyophagi, or fish-eating
nations about Egypt, affected the sea for their grave;
thereby declining visible corruption, and restoring the
debt of their bodies. Whereas the old heroes, in
Homer, dreaded nothing more than water or drowning;
probably upon the old opinion of the fiery substance of
the soul, only extinguishable by that element; and


* And therefore the inscription on his tomb was made ac-
cordingly, "Hic Damase."

therefore the poet emphatically implieth* the total
destruction in this kind of death, which happened to
Ajax Oileus.

The old Balearians had a peculiar mode, for they
used great urns and much wood, but no fire in their
burials, while they bruised the flesh and bones of the
dead, crowded them into urns, and laid heaps of wood
upon them. And the Chinese without cremation or
urnal interment of their bodies, make use of trees and
much burning, while they plant a pine-tree by their
grave, and burn great numbers of printed draughts of
slaves and horses over it, civilly content with their
companies in effigy, which barbarous nations exact unto
reality.

Christians abhorred this way of obsequies, and though
they sticked not to give their bodies to be burnt in their
lives, detested that mode after death: affecting rather a
depositure than absumption, and properly submitting
unto the sentence of God, to return not unto ashes but
unto dust again, and conformable unto the practice of
the patriarchs, the interment of our Saviour, of Peter,
Paul, and the ancient martyrs. And so far at last de-
clining promiscuous interment with Pagans, that some
have suffered ecclesiastical censures,+ for making no
scruple thereof.

The Mussulman believers will never admit this fiery
resolution. For they hold a present trial from their
black and white angels in the grave; which they must
have made so hollow, that they may rise upon their
knees.

The Jewish nation, though they entertained the old
way of inhumation, yet sometimes admitted this

* Which Magius reads [Greek omitted].
+ Martialis the Bishop.

practice. For the men of Jabesh burnt the body of
Saul; and by no prohibited practice, to avoid contagion
or pollution, in time of pestilence, burnt the bodies of
their friends.* And when they burnt not their dead
bodies, yet sometimes used great burnings near and
about them, deducible from the expressions concerning
Jehoram, Zedechias, and the sumptuous pyre of Asa.
And were so little averse from Pagan burning, that the
Jews lamenting the death of Caesar their friend, and
revenger on Pompey, frequented the place where his
body was burnt for many nights together. And as
they raised noble monuments and mausoleums for their
own nation,+ so they were not scrupulous in erecting
some for others, according to the practice of Daniel, who
left that lasting sepulchral pile in Ecbatana, for the
Median and Persian kings.#

But even in times of subjection and hottest use, they
conformed not unto the Roman practice of burning;
whereby the prophecy was secured concerning the body
of Christ, that it should not see corruption, or a bone
should not be broken; which we believe was also pro-
videntially prevented, from the soldier's spear and nails
that passed by the little bones both in his hands and
feet; not of ordinary contrivance, that it should not
corrupt on the cross, according to the laws of Roman
crucifixion, or an hair of his head perish, though observ-
able in Jewish customs, to cut the hair of male-
factors.

* Amos vi. 10.
+ As in that magnificent sepulchral monument erected by
Simon. - 1 Macc. xiii.
# [Greek omitted], whereof a Jewish
priest had always custody until Josephus' days. - Jos. Antiq.,
lib. x.

Nor in their long cohabitation with Egyptians, crept
into a custom of their exact embalming, wherein deeply
slashing the muscles, and taking out the brains and en-
trails, they had broken the subject of so entire a resur-
rection, nor fully answered the types of Enoch, Elijah,
or Jonah, which yet to prevent or restore, was of equal
facility unto that rising power able to break the fascia-
tions and bands of death, to get clear out of the cerecloth,
and an hundred pounds of ointment, and out of the
sepulchre before the stone was rolled from it.

But though they embraced not this practice of burn-
ing, yet entertained they many ceremonies agreeable
unto Greek and Roman obsequies. And he that ob-
serveth their funeral feasts, their lamentations at the
grave, their music, and weeping mourners; how they
closed the eyes of their friends, how they washed,
anointed, and kissed the dead; may easily conclude
these were not mere Pagan civilities. But whether
that mournful burthen, and treble calling out after
Absalom, had any reference unto the last conclamation,
and triple valediction, used by other nations, we hold
but a wavering conjecture.

Civilians make sepulture but of the law of nations,
others do naturally found it and discover it also in
animals. They that are so thick-skinned as still to
credit the story of the Phoenix, may say something for
animal burning. More serious conjectures find some
examples of sepulture in elephants, cranes, the sepul-
chral cells of pismires, and practice of bees, - which
civil society carrieth out their dead, and hath exequies,
if not interments.


CHAPTER II.


THE solemnities, ceremonies, rites of their cremation
or interment, so solemnly delivered by authors, we
shall not disparage our reader to repeat. Only the last
and lasting part in their urns, collected bones and ashes,
we cannot wholly omit or decline that subject, which
occasion lately presented, in some discovered among us.

In a field of Old Walsingham, not many months past,
were digged up between forty and fifty urns, deposited
in a dry and sandy soil, not a yard deep, nor far from
one another. - Not all strictly of one figure, but most
answering these described; some containing two pounds
of bones, and teeth, with fresh impressions of their com-
bustion; besides the extraneous substances, like pieces
of small boxes, or combs handsomely wrought, handles
of small brass instruments, brazen nippers, and in one
some kind of opal.

Near the same plot of ground, for about six yards
compass, were digged up coals and incinerated sub-
stances, which begat conjecture that this was the ustrina
or place of burning their bodies, or some sacrificing
place unto the Manes, which was properly below the
surface of the ground, as the arae and altars unto the
gods and heroes above it.

That these were the urns of Romans from the common
custom and place where they were found, is no obscure
conjecture, not far from a Roman garrison, and but five
miles from Brancaster, set down by ancient record under
the name of Branodunum. And where the adjoining
town, containing seven parishes, in no very different
sound, but Saxon termination, still retains the name of
Burnham, which being an early station, it is not im-
probable the neighbour parts were filled with habitations,
either of Romans themselves, or Britons Romanized,
which observed the Roman customs.

Nor is it improbable, that the Romans early possessed
this country. For though we meet not with such strict
particulars of these parts before the new institution of
Constantine and military charge of the count of the
Saxon shore, and that about the Saxon invasions, the
Dalmatian horsemen were in the garrison of Brancaster;
yet in the time of Claudius, Vespasian, and Severus, we
find no less than three legions dispersed through the
province of Britain. And as high as the reign of
Claudius a great overthrow was given unto the Iceni,
by the Roman lieutenant Ostorius. Not long after, the
country was so molested, that, in hope of a better state,
Prastaagus bequeathed his kingdom unto Nero and his
daughters; and Boadicea, his queen, fought the last
decisive battle with Paulinus. After which time, and
conquest of Agricola, the lieutenant of Vespasian, pro-
bable it is, they wholly possessed this country; ordering
it into garrisons or habitations best suitable with their
securities. And so some Roman habitations not im-
probable in these parts, as high as the time of Vespasian,
where the Saxons after seated, in whose thin-filled maps
we yet find the name of Walsingham. Now if the Iceni
were but Gammadims, Anconians, or men that lived in
an angle, wedge, or elbow of Britain, according to the
original etymology, this country will challenge the
emphatical appellation, as most properly making the
elbow or iken of Icenia.

That Britain was notably populous is undeniable, from
that expression of Caesar.* That the Romans themselves
were early in no small numbers - seventy thousand,
with their associates, slain, by Boadicea, affords a sure
account. And though not many Roman habitations
are now known, yet some, by old works, rampiers,
coins, and urns, do testify their possessions. Some urns
have been found at Castor, some also about Southcreak,
and, not many years past, no less than ten in a field at
Buston, not near any recorded garrison. Nor is it
strange to find Roman coins of copper and silver among
us; of Vespasian, Trajan, Adrian, Commodus, Anto-
ninus, Severus, &c.; but the greater number of Dio-
clesian, Constantine, Constans, Valens, with many of
Victorinus Posthumius, Tetricus, and the thirty tyrants
in the reign of Gallienus; and some as high as Adrianus
have been found about Thetford, or Sitomagus, mentioned
in the Itinerary of Antoninus, as the way from Venta or
Castor unto London. But the most frequent discovery
is made at the two Castors by Norwich and Yarmouth
at Burghcastle, and Brancaster.

Besides the Norman, Saxon, and Danish pieces of
Cuthred, Canutus, William, Matilda, and others, some
British coins of gold have been dispersedly found, and
no small number of silver pieces near Norwich, with a
rude head upon the obverse, and an ill-formed horse
on the reverse, with inscriptions Ic. Duro. T.; whether


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryThomas BrowneReligio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and the Letter to a Friend → online text (page 9 of 15)