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it too little, if they threw not the earth thrice upon the interred body. That in strewing their tombs the Romans affected the rose, the Greeks amaranthus and myrtle; that the funeral-pyre consisted of sweet fuel, cypress, fir, larix, yew, and trees perpetually verdant, lay silent expressions of their surviving hopes; wherein Christians which deck their coffins with bays have found a more elegant emblem-for that it seeming dead, will restore itself from the root, and its dry and exsuccous leaves resume their verdure again; which if we mistake not, we have also observed in furze. Whether the planting of yew in church yards hold not its original from ancient funeral rites, or as an emblem of resurrection, from its perpetual verdure, may also admit conjecture."
Young, in one of his cold conceits, exclaims, " How populous, how vital is the grave!" in reference merely to the obvious truth, that the number of the dead exceeds that of the living. Sir Thomas Browne, by his intense earnestness and vivid solemnity, seems really to endow the grave itself with life. He does not linger in the valley of the shadow of death, but enters within the portals, where the regal destroyer keeps his awful state; and yet there is nothing thin, airy, or unsubstantial -nothing ghostly or shocking-in his works. He unveils, with a reverent touch, the material treasures of the sepulchre; he describes these with the learning of an antiquary; moralizes on them with the wisdom of a philosopher; broods over them with the tenderness of an enthusiast; and associates with them sweet and congenial images, with the fancy of a poet. He is the laureat of the king of terrors; and most nobly does he celebrate the earthly magnificence of his kingdom. He discovers consolations not only in the hopes of immortality, but in the dusty and sad ornaments of the tomb. How richly does he speak of the liquors found in old sepulchres, as if death were the chief butler of time, and preserved patriarchal flavours within his vaults!
"Some find sepulchral vessels containing liquors, which time hath incrassated into gellies. For beside these lachrymatories, notable lamps, with vessels of oils and aromatical liquors, attended noble ossuaries. And some yet retaining a vinosity and spirit in them, which if any have tasted they have far exceeded the palates of antiquity. Liquors not to be computed by years of annual magistrates, but by great conjunctions and the fatal periods of kingdoms. The draughts of consulary date were but crude unto these, and opimian wine but in the must unto them."
How intense is the following passage, relative to the mingling of bones in the same urn!
"Some finding many fragments of sculls in these urns, suspected a mixture of bones; in none we searched was there cause of such con
jecture, though sometimes they declined not that practice. The ashes of Domitian were mingled with those of Julia: of Achilles with those of Patroclus. All urns contained not single ashes; without confused burnings they affectionately compounded their bones, passionately endeavouring to continue their living unions. And when distance of death denied such conjunctions, unsatisfied affections conceived some satisfaction to be neighbours in the grave, to lie urn by urn, and touch but in their names. And many were so curious to continue their living relations, that they contrived large and family urns, wherein the ashes of their nearest friends and kindred might successively be received, at least some parcels thereof, while their collateral memorials lay in minor vessels about them."
Never surely by any other writer was sentiment thus put into dry bones. Ashes here seem endowed with living passion. The imagination rests satisfied with the neighbourhood of bodies in the grave, and with the mere touching of names. Sir Thomas Browne ennobles and consecrates whatever he touches. He makes us feel that magnitude is not necessary to venerableness, for in his works, things which before appeared insignificant, impress us with an awful grandeur. He requires not a vast or gigantic object to stir and affect him. He perceives the high attributes of the smallest things-the antiquity and the consecration which they share with the mightiest-and renders an urn or a pyramid equal to the mind. His power, like that of death, levels distinctions; for he looks into the soul of things, instead of contemplating merely their external forms. Can any thing be said of the ruins of Babylon equal to the following celebration of a few sepulchral urns? "Now since these dead bones have already outlasted the living ones of Methuselah, and in a yard under ground, and thin walls of clay, outworn all the strong and spacious buildings above it; and quietly rested under the drums and tramplings of three conquests: what prince can promise such diuturnity unto his reliques, or might not gladly say,
"Sic ego componi versus in ossa velim ?"
Time, which antiquates antiquities, and hath an art to make dust of all things, hath yet spared these minor monuments." Thus, by shewing that the lowliest things have consecrating associations equal to the stateliest, he vindicates to Nature and Time, those regalities which we are prone to attribute to stupendous remains of human skill, as if they appertained to them as inherent properties, and were not merely shed on them by hallowing years.
But Sir Thomas Browne finds matter of deeper speculation in the regions of the grave, than any to which we have yet particularly alluded. He derives the nobleness of our na
ture, even from its mortality on earth. In the most opposite ceremonials, he traces the spirit of a higher and more perfect life. Thus he treats the disregard of interment, as evincing a sense that the frame was but the shell of a finer essence, and the solemnities of burial as proving that man, in extending his cares beyond death, displays the instinct of future being. Every thing with him has a profound and sacred meaning. He embodies the abstractions of humanity in the stateliest forms, elevating even the brevity of existence into a distinct being, and endowing it with venerable attributes. Past and Present, Life and Dissolution, Time and Immortality, seem to meet in his works, as in a fane, " for festal purpose decked with unrejoicing berries!" He thus immortalizes transitoriness, and
makes oblivion sublime:
"Oblivion is not to be hired: the greater part must be content to be as though they had not been, to be found in the register of God, not in the record of man. Twenty-seven names make up the first story, and the recorded names ever since contain not one living century. The number of the dead long exceedeth all that shall live. The night of time far surpasseth the day, and who knows when was the æquinox? Every hour adds unto that current arithmetick, which scarce stands one moment. And since death must be the Lucina of life, and even pagans could doubt whether thus to live were to die; since our longest sun sets at right descensions, and makes but winter arches, and therefore it cannot be long before we lie down in darkness, and have our light in ashes; since the brother of death daily haunts us with dying mementos, and time that grows old itself, bids us hope no long duration diuturnity is a dream and folly of expectation."
Can any thing be more ingenious, yet more solemn, more quaint, yet more impressive, than the following dissuasive from anxiety for earthly renown?
"Restless inquietude for the diuturnity of our memories unto present considerations, seems a vanity almost out of date, and superannuated piece of folly. We cannot hope to live so long in our names, as some have done in their persons; one face of Janus holds no proportion unto the other. 'Tis too late to be ambitious. The great mutations of the world are acted, or time may be too short for our designs. Tɔ extend our memories by monuments, whose death we daily pray for, and whose duration we cannot hope, without injury to our expectations in the advent of the last day, were a contradiction to our beliefs. We whose generations are ordained in this setting part of time, are providentially taken off from such imaginations. And being necessitated to eye the remaining particle of futurity, are naturally constituted unto thoughts of the next world, and cannot excusably decline the consideration of that duration, which maketh pyramids pillars of snow, and all that's past a moment."
What reflections can be more strange, yet more familiar,
than the following speculations on human life; entering into the deepest solemnities of our mortal being, and daring to take advantage of those riddles of humanity, which meaner moralists scarce venture to imagine?
"If the nearness of our last necessity brought a nearer conformity unto it, there were a happiness in hoary hairs, and no calamity in half senses. But the long habit of living indisposeth us for dyingwhen avarice makes us the sport of death, when even David grew politickly cruel, and Solomon could hardly be said to be the wisest of men. But many are too early old, and before the date of age. Adversity stretcheth our days, misery makes Alcmena's nights, [one night as long as three] and time hath no wings unto it. But the most tedious being is that which can unwish itself, content to be nothing, or never to have been, which was beyond the mal-content of Job, who cursed not the day of his life, but his nativity; content to have so far been, as to have a title to future being; although he had lived here but in a hidden state of life, and as it were an abortion.
"What song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzzling questions, are not beyond all conjecture. What time the persons of these ossuaries entered the famous nations of the dead, and slept with princes and counsellors, might admit a wide solution. But who were the proprietors of these bones, or what bodies these ashes made up, were a question above antiquarism-not to be resolved by man, nor easily perhaps by spirits, except we consult the Provincial Guardians, or Tutelary Observators. Had they made as good provision for their names as they have done for their reliques, they had not so grossly erred in the art of perpetuation; but to subsist in bones, and be but pyramidally extant, is a fallacy in duration. Vain ashes, which in the oblivion of names, persons, times, and sexes, have found unto themselves a fruitless continuation, and only arise unto late posterity, as emblems of mortal vanities; antidotes against pride, vain glory, and madding vices. Pagan vain glories which thought the world might last for ever, had encouragement for ambition, and finding no Atropos unto the immortality of their names, were never dampt with the necessity of oblivion. Even old ambitions had the advantage of ours, in the attempts of their vain-glories, who acting early and before the probable meridian of time, have by this time found great accomplishment of their designs, whereby the ancient heroes have already out-lasted their monuments, and mechanical preservations. But in this latter scene of time we cannot expect such mummies unto our memories, when ambition may fear the prophecy of Elias, and Charles the Fifth can never hope to live within two Methuselahs of Hector."
He proceeds to argue against the passionate desire of fame, from the slender relics which it usually embalms of its followers. "To be read by bare inscriptions, like many in Gruter; to hope for eternity by enigmatical epithets, or first letters of our names; to be studied by antiquaries, who we
were, and have new names given to us like some of the mummies, are cold consolations unto the students of perpetuity, even by everlasting languages." He unmasks the frigid ambition of those, who desire merely to be known as having been. "Who," he demands, "cares to submit like Hippocrates's patients, or Achilles' horses in Homer, under naked nominations, without deserts or noble acts, which are the balsam of our memories, the Entelechia and soul of our subsistences? To be nameless in worthy deeds, exceeds an infamous history." What moral sublimity is here! And with how noble a glimpse into the night of forgotten things,—a half-lifting of the veil of oblivion,--does he ask, " who knows whether the best of men be known? or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot, than any that stand remembered in the known account of time? Having, with farther richness of illustration, and quaint philosophy, shewn the uncertainty of all human memorials of the dead, he holds a question with man's immortality after death, and retaining all reverential belief in future life, yet seems to hesitate whether God hath promised a duration absolutely endless. From this high speculation, he recalls himself to the nobleness of man, as evinced by the solemnities of burial, taking the grave stone for his faith to lean on, and for his hope's moveless resting place—“ But man is a noble animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave, solemnizing nativities and deaths with equal lustre, and not omitting ceremonies of bravery in the infamy of his nature."
How stupendous is the following moralizing on human afflictions, on the Pythagorean phantasies, on Egyptian contrivances for preservation of the earthly frame, and on the vain hopes of men to perpetuate their memories in the changeless movements of the stars.
Darkness and light divide the course of time, and oblivion shares with memory a great part even of our living beings; we slightly remember our felicities, and the smartest strokes of affliction leave but short smart upon us. Sense endureth no extremities, and sorrows destroy us or themselves. To weep into stones are fables. Afflictions induce callosities, miseries are slippery, or fall like snow upon us, which notwithstanding is no unhappy stupidity. To be ignorant of evils to come, and forgetful of evils past, is a merciful provision in nature, whereby we digest the mixture of our few and evil days; and our delivered senses not relapsing into cutting remembrances, our sorrows are not kept raw by the edge of repetitions. A great part of antiquity contented their hopes of subsistency with a transmigration of their souls-a good way to continue their memories; while having the advantage of plural successions, they could not but act something remarkable in such variety of beings, and enjoying the fame of their passed selves, make accumulation of glory unto their last durations.