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majesty of the soul, arises from its contrast with the perishableness of our mortal nature. We do reverence to that within us which is eternal. We find no perfection, no completeness in pleasure, except when the feeling of eternity blends with, and consecrates the joy. Thus the delights of innocent and deep-hearted love are the sweetest we can know in this world; because its fleeting enjoyments are heightened by sentiments which cannot die; because there are some pulses of rapture in its delights, which death cannot bid to pause; because it unites the spirit of both worlds, the delicacies of earth, with the pure and far-reaching emotions of Heaven. Frequent use, therefore, hath been made of the mortality of man by poets and sages. They have delighted to shew the superiority of the soul over its mortal destiny. They have consecrated this world by representing it as the vestibule of one which shall endure for ever. They have taught us to listen to echoes from beyond the grave, and have shed over our earthly path" glimpses which may make us less forlorn." But they have, for the most part, regarded death only as the barrier between the shadows of this world and the invisible realities of another. They have not taken the awful subject as the sole or chief ground of their contemplations. They have rather sought to soften it away-to represent it as a general slumber or to make us feel it but as the dividing streak between our visible horizon and that more clear and unstained hemisphere, on which the sun of human existence rises, when it dips behind the remotest hills of earthly vision with all its livery of declining glories.
But Sir Thomas Browne, in the work before us, hath dared to take the grave itself for his theme. He deals not with death as a shadow, but as a substantial reality. He dwells not on it as the mere cessation of life-he treats it not as a terrible negation-but enters on its discussion as a state with its own solemnities and pomps. Others who have professed to write on death, have treated merely of dying. They have fearfully described the rending asunder of soul and body-the last farewell to existence-and the state of the spirit in its range through new and untried scenes of rapture or of woe. Some have individualized the theme, and written of death in relation only to particular persons or classes who become its victims. Those who regard it more universally and intensely-as Blair and Young-yet look but on its surface. They are conversant only with cypresses, yew trees, and grave stones, or hint at superstitions which endow the dead with life, and endue the tomb with something of vitality. Sir Thomas Browne alone treats of death
as one subdued to its very essence. He encounters the tyrant, and "plucks out the heart of his mystery." He speaks not of the agonies of dissolution; but regards the destroyer only when he is laden with his spoils, and the subjects of his victory are at rest. The region of his imagination is that space beneath the surface of the world, where the bones of all generations repose. His fancy works beneath the ground its way from tomb to tomb, rests on each variety of burial, ennobles the naked clay of the peasant, expands in the sepulchres of kings, and, skimming beneath the deepest caverns of the sea, detects the unvalued jewels " in those holes which eyes did once inhabit." The language of his essay is weighty, yet tender, such as his theme should inspire. We can imagine nothing graver. His words are sepulchral-his ornaments are flowers of mortality. If his essay were read by Mr. Kemble, it would have appropriate voice, breathed forth in the tenderest of sepulchral tones, with cadences solemn and sweet as the last tremblings of good men's lives.
The immediate occasion which called forth the deep and noble effusion we are now to contemplate, is thus related by its author:
"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, distinguishable in skulls, ribs, jaws, thigh-bones, and teeth, with fresh impressions of their combustion. 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 substances, 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 aræ and altars unto the gods and heroes above it."
Thus inspired, he pours forth, without particular order or design, his richest treasures of imagery and thought. These may be divided into two classes- those learned commentaries which relate to modes of interment, and those intense reflections which he makes on death, life, and duration.
He opens the subjects with a general survey or map of the earthy region through which he is about to conduct us:
In the deep discovery of the subterranean world, a shallow part would satisfy some enquirers; who, if two or three yards were open about the surface, would not care to rake the bowels of Potosi, and
regions towards the centre. Nature hath furnished one part of the earth, and man another. The treasures of time lie high, in urns, coyns, 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 a thousand years; and a large part of the earth is still in the urn unto
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 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 reliques 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."
Here his genius seems to make its way through the softened mould. We feel as if we could be delighted to grope all our lives about the roots of vegetables for the treasures of time which lie so near us. How sublimely does he, in his antiquarian zeal, represent America as when undiscovered "a buried antiquity," and expand his subject to the limits of the world! With what rich conceit does he allude to the solemnities of our frame, and, with what a placid and smiling allusion does he insinuate our hopes of rising from the tomb! When he discusses modes of burial, instead of dwelling with fondness on one of them, he dignifies them all. He treats burial superstitions, however fantastic, as most holy. Assuming with a philosophic charity, that "all customs were founded on some bottom of reason," he finds traces of noble imagination, or deep wisdom, in the most opposite rites and ceremonials. "Some," says he,
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 composition.
"Some apprehended a purifying virtue in fire, refining the grosser commixture, and firing out the ethereal 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."
VOL. I. PART I,
"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 therefore the poet emphatically implieth the total destruction in this kind of death, which happened to Ajax Oileus."
The following appears to us some of the most beautiful moralizing ever drawn from funereal solemnities.
"Men have lost their reason in nothing so much as their religion, wherein stones and clouts make martyrs; and since the religion of one seems madness unto another, to afford an account or rational of old rites, requires no rigid reader. That they kindled the pyre aversely, or turning their face from it, was an handsome symbol of unwilling ministration; that they washed their bones with wine and milk, that the mother wrapt them in linen, and dried them in her bosom, the first fostering part, and place of their nourishment; that they opened their eyes toward heaven, before they kindled the fire, as the place of their hopes or original, were no improper ceremonies. Their last valediction, thrice uttered by the attendants, was also very solemn, and somewhat answered by christians, who thought 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 conjecture, though sometimes they declined not that practice. The ashes of Domitian were mingled with those of Julia; of Achilies with those of Patroclus. All urus 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