Thomas Browne.

The works of Sir Thomas Browne (Volume 1) online

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own person, can be of no great importance to the publick : but
when it was written, it happened to him as to others, he was too
much pleased with his performance, not to think that it might
please others as much ; he, therefore, communicated it to his
friends, and receiving, I suppose, that exuberant applause with
which every man repays the grant of perusing a manuscript, he
was not very diligent to obstruct his own praise by recalling his

{)apers, but suffered them to wander from hand to hand, tUl at
ast, without his own consent, they were in 1642 given to a
printer.

This has, perhaps, sometimes befallen others ; and this, I am
willing to believe did really happen to Dr. Browne : but there is
surely some reason to doubt the truth of the complaint so fre-
quently made of surreptitious editions. A song, or an epigram,
may be easily printed without the author's knowledge ; because
it may be learned when it is repeated, or may be vrritten out
with very little trouble : but a long treatise, however elegant, is
not often copied by mere zeal or curiosity, but may be worn out
in passing from hand to hand, before it is multiplied by a
transcript." It is easy to convey an imperfect book, by a dis-
tant hand, to the press, and plead the circulation of a false
copy as an excuse for pubUshing the true, or to correct what is
found faulty or offensive, and charge the errors on the tran-
scriber's depravations.

This is a stratagem, by which an author panting for fame, and
yet afraid of seeming to challenge it, may at once gratify his
vanity, and preserve the appearance of modesty ; may enter the
lists, and secure a retreat : and this, candour might suffer to pass
undetected as an innocent fraud, but that indeed no fraud is
innocent ; for the confidence which makes the happiness of
society, is in some degree diminished by every man, whose
practice is at variance with his words.

The Religio Medici was no sooner published than it excited
the attention of the publick, by the novelty of paradoxes, the
dignity of sentiment, the quick succession of images, the multi-
tude of abstruse allusions, the subtlety of disquisition, and the
strength of language.

What is much read will be much criticised. The Earl of
Dorset recommended this book to the perusal of Sir Keuelm
Digby, who returned his judgment upon it, not in a letter, but a

" a trcmscript.'] See remarks on this point in the Preface to R(li



Online LibraryThomas BrowneThe works of Sir Thomas Browne (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 60)