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merce had not yet filled the nation with nominal riches. But it happened to him, as to many others, to be made poorer by opulence; for his mother foon married fir Thomas Dutton, probably by the inducement of her fortune; and he was left to the rapacity of his guardian, deprived now of both his parents, and therefore helpless and unprotected.
He was removed in the beginning of the year 1623 from Winchefter to Oxford, and entered a gentleman-commoner of Broadgate-Hall, which was foon afterwards endowed, and took the name of Pembrokecollege, from the earl of Pembroke, then chancellor of the University. He was admitted to the degree of Bachelor of Arts, January 31, 1626-7; being, as Wood remarks, the first man of eminence graduated from the new college, to which the zeal or gratitude of thofe that love it moft can with little better than that it may long proceed as it began.
Having afterwards taken his degree of mafter of arts, he turned his ftudies to phyfick †, and practifed it for fome time in Oxfordshire; but foon afterwards, either induced by curiofity, or invited by promises, he quitted his fettlement, and accompanied his father-inlaw, who had fome employment in Ireland, in a vilitation of the forts and caftles, which the ftate of Irelandthen made neceffary.
He that has once prevailed on himfelf to break his connections of acquaintance, and begin a wandering life, very cafily continues it. Ireland had, at that tine, very little to offer to the observation of a man of letters he, therefore, paffed § into France and Italy;
* Wood's Athene Oxonienfes.
‡ Life of fir Thomas Browne. § Ibid.
made fome stay at Montpellier and Padua, which were then the celebrated fchools of phyfick; and, returning home through Holland, procured himself to be crea ted doctor of phyfick at Leyden.
When he began his travels, or when he concluded them, there is no certain account; nor do there remain obfervations made by him in his paffage through any thofe countries which he vifited. To confider, therefore, what pleasure or inftruction might have been received from the remarks of a man fo curious and diligent, would be voluntarily to indulge a painful reflection, and load the imagination with a wifh, which, while it is formed, is known to be vain. It is, however, to be lamented, that those who are most capable of improving mankind, very frequently neglect to communicate their knowledge; either because it is more pleafing to gather ideas than to impart them, or because, to minds naturally great, few things appear of fo much importance as to deferve the notice of the publick.
About the year 1634*, he is fuppofed to have returned to London; and the next year to have written his celebrated treatise, called Religio Medici, "The religion of a physician," which he declares himself never to have intended for the prefs, having composed it only for his own exercife and entertainment. It, indeed, contains many paffages, which, relating merely to his own perfon, 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
Letter to fir Kenelm Digby, prefixed to the Religio Medici, folio edition.
performance, not to think that it might please others as much; he, therefore, communicated it to his friends, and receiving, I fuppofe, that exuberant applause with which every man repays the grant of perusing a manuscript, he was not very diligent to obftruct his own praise by recalling his papers, but fuffered them to wander from hand to hand, till at last, without his own confent, they were in 1642 given to a printer.
This has, perhaps, fometimes befallen others; and this, I am willing to believe, did really happen to Dr. Browne: but there is furely fome reason to doubt the truth of the complaint fo frequently made of furreptitious editions. A fong, or an epigram, may be easily printed without the author's knowledge; because it may be learned when it is repeated, or may be written out with very little trouble: but a long treatise, however elegant, is not often copied by mere zeal or curiofity, but may be worn out in paffing from hand to hand, before it is multiplied by a tranfcript. It is easy to convey an imperfect book, by a distant hand, to the prefs, and plead the circulation of a falfe copy as an excufe for publishing the true, or to correct what is found faulty or offenfive, and charge the errors on the tranfcriber's depravations.
This is a stratagem, by which an author panting for fame, and yet afraid of feeming to challenge it, may at once gratify his vanity, and preserve the appearance of modefty; may enter the lifts, and fecure a retreat: and this candour might fuffer to pafs undetected as an innocent fraud, but that indeed no fraud is innocent; for the confidence which makes the happiness of fociety is in fome degree diminished by every man, whose practice is at variance with his words.
The Religio Medici was no fooner published than it excited the attention of the publick, by the novelty of paradoxes, the dignity of fentiment, the quick fucceffion of images, the multitude of abftruse allusions, • the subtlety of difquifition, and the strength of language.
What is much read will be much criticised. The earl of Dorset recommended this book to the perufal of fir Kenelm Digby, who returned his judgement upon it, not in a letter, but a book; in which, though mingled with some positions fabulous and uncertain, there are acute remarks, just cenfures, and profound fpeculations; yet its principal claim to admiration is, that * it was written in twenty-four hours, of which part was spent in procuring Browne's book, and part in reading it.
Of thefe animadverfions, when they were yet not all printed, either officiousness or malice informed Dr. Browne; who wrote to fir Kenelm with much softness and ceremony, declaring the unworthiness of his work to engage fuch notice, the intended privacy of the compofition, and the corruptions of the impreffion; and received an answer equally genteel and refpectful, containing high commendations of the piece, pompous profeffions of reverence, meek acknowledgements of inability, and anxious apologies for the haftiness of his remarks.
The reciprocal civility of authors is one of the most risible scenes in the farce of life. Who would not have, thought, that these two luminaries of their age had ceased to endeavour to grow bright by the obfcuration of each other? yet the animadverfions thus weak, thus precipitate, upon a book thus injured in the *Digby's letter to Browne, prefixed to the Religio Medici, fol.
tranfcription, quickly paffed the prefs; and Religio Medici was more accurately published, with an admonition prefixed "to those who have or fhall perufe the "obfervations upon a former corrupt copy;" in which there is a fevere cenfure, not upon Digby, who was to be used with ceremony, but upon the obfervator who had ufurped his name: nor was this invective written by Dr. Browne, who was fupposed to be satisfied with his opponent's apology; but by fome officious friend, zealous for his honour, without his confent.
Browne has, indeed, in his own preface, endeavoured to fecure himself from rigorous examination, by alleging, that " many things are delivered rhetorically, many expreffions merely tropical, and therefore many things to be taken in a soft and flexible sense, "and not to be called unto the rigid teft of reason.” The first glance upon his book will indeed discover examples of this liberty of thought and expreffion: "I "could be content (fays he) to be nothing almoft to "eternity, if I might enjoy my Saviour at the laft.” He has little acquaintance with the acutenefs of Browne, who fufpects him of a ferious opinion, that any thing can be almost eternal," or that any time beginning and ending, is not infinitely lefs than infinite dura
In this book he speaks much, and, in the opinion of Digby, too much of himself; but with fuch generality and concifenefs as affords very little light to his biographer: he declares, that, befides the dialects of different provinces, he understood fix languages; that he was no ftranger to Aftronomy; and that he had feen feveral countries: but what most awakens curiofity is," his folemn affertion, that "his life has been a miracle