« PreviousContinue »
not only on religious, but also on a variety of fanciful points, besides affording the reader many glimpses into the eccentricities of his personal character. The language of the work is bold and poetical, adorned with picturesque imagery, but frequently pedantic and obscure. His next publication, entitled Pseudodoxia Epidemica or Treatises on Vulgar Errors, appeared in 1640. It is much more philosophical in its character than the 'Religio Medici,' and is, perhaps, the most solid and useful of all his productions. The title of the work sufficiently indicates its topics. In 1658 he published his Hydriotaphia, or Urn Burial; a Discourse on the Sepulchral Urns Lately Found in Norfolk, a work not inferior, in ideality of style, to the 'Religio Medici.' Here the author's learning appears in the details which he gives concerning the modes in which the bodies of the dead have been disposed of in different ages and countries; while his reflections on death, oblivion, and immortality, are, for solemnity and grandeur, probably unsurpassed in English literature. The occasion which called forth this work was the following:
In a field at Walsingham were dug up between forty and fifty urns, containing the remains of human bones, some small brass instruments, boxes, and other fragmentary relics. Coals and burnt substances were found near the same plot of ground, and hence it was conjectured that this was the Ustrina, or the place of burning, or the spot whereon the Druidical sacrifices were made. Furnished with such a theme for his philosophical musings, he comments, first on that vast charnel-house, the earth, and then successively describes and comments upon the different modes of interment and decomposition observed by various nations at different periods. Among the beauties of expression with which this work abounds may be noticed the following eloquent definition: 'Nature is not at variance with art, nor art with nature-they being both servants of his providence. Art is the perfection of nature. Were the world now as it was the sixth day, there were yet a chaos. Nature hath made one world, art another. In belief, all things are artificial, for nature is the art of God.'
To the Hydriotaphia' Browne appended a small treatise, called The Garden of Cyrus; or the Quincunical Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, Artificially and Mystically Considered. This is written in a similar style, and displays much of the author's whimsical fancy and propensity to laborious trifling. One of the most striking of these fancies, though often quoted, we can but repeat. Wishing to denote that it is late, or that he was writing at a late hour, he says, that the Hyades (the quincunx of heaven) run low-that we are unwilling to spin out our awaking thoughts into the phantasms of sleep-that to keep our eyes open longer were but to act our antipodes that the huntsmen are up in America-and that they are already past their first sleep in Persia.' This is fantastic, but it is still the offspring of genius. Browne lived in a world of ideal contemplation, but before he surrendered himself up to his reveries, he had stored his mind with vast and multifarious learning. Among his posthumous pieces is a collection of aph
orisms entitled Christian Morals, to which Dr. Johnson prefixed a life of the author. He left also various essays on antiquarian and other subjects. In 1671, he was knighted by Charles the Second at Norwich, and died on his birthday, October the nineteenth, 1682, having just completed the seventyseventh year of his age.
In the writings of Sir Thomas Browne, the practice of employing Latin words with English terminations, is carried to such excess, that, to persons acquainted with their native tongue only, many of his sentences must be nearly unintelligible. Thus, speaking in his 'Vulgar Errors' of the nature of ice, he remarks: Ice is only water congealed by the frigidity of the air, whereby it acquireth no new form, but rather a consistence or determination of its diffluency, and emitteth not its essence, but condition of fluidity. Neither doth there any thing properly conglaciate but water, or watery humidity; for the determination of quicksilver is properly fixation, that of milk coagulation, and that of oil and unctious bodies only incrassation.' Such words as delucidate, ampliate, manuduction, indigitate, reminiscential, evocation, farraginous, advenient, ariolation, and lapifidical, occur on almost every page of his writings; and all who are acquained with Dr. Johnson's style, will at once perceive the resemblance, particularly in respect to the abundance of Latin words, which it bears to that of Sir Thomas Browne. Indeed there can be no doubt that the author of the 'Rambler' acquired much of his fondness for pompous and high-sounding expressions from the writings of the learned knight of Norwich. From this interesting author we have only space for the following brief extracts:—
For my life it is a miracle of thirty years, which to relate were not a history, but a piece of poetry, and would sound to common ears like a fable. For the world I count it not an inn but a hospital, and a place not to live but to die in. The world that I regard is myself; it is the microcosm of my own frame that I can cast mine eye on-for the other I use it but like my globe, and turn it round sometimes for my recreation. * * The earth is a point not only in respect of the heavens above us, but of that heavenly and celestial part within us. That mass of flesh that circumscribes me, limits not my mind. That surface that tells the heavens it hath an end, can not persuade me I have any. * Whilst I study to find how I am a microcosm or little world, I find myself something more than the great. There is surely a piece of divinity in us-something that was before the heavens, and owes no homage to the sun. Nature tells me I am the image of God as well as Scripture. He that understands not thus much, hath not his introduction or first lesson, and hath yet to begin the alphabet of men.
STUDY OF GOD'S WORKS.
The world was made to be inhabited by beasts, but studied and contemplated by man; it is the debt of our reason we owe unto God, and the homage we pay for not being beasts; without this, the world is still as though it had not been, or as it was before the sixth day, when as yet there was not a creature that could conceive or say there was a world. The wisdom of God receives small honour from those vulgar heads that rudely stare about, and with a gross rusticity admire his works; those
highly magnify him whose judicious inquiry into his acts, and deliberate research into his creatures, return the duty of a devout and learned admiration.
But to return from philosophy to charity: I hold not so narrow a conceit of this virtue, as to conceive that to give alms is only to be charitable, or think a piece of liberality can comprehend the total of charity. Divinity hath wisely divided the acts thereof into many branches, and hath taught us in this narrow way many paths unto goodness: as many ways as we may do good, so many ways we may be charitable; there are infirmities, not only of body, but of soul and fortunes, which do require the merciful hand of our abilities. I can not contemn a man for ignorance, but behold him with as much pity as I do Lazarus. It is no greater charity to clothe his body, than apparel the nakedness of his soul. It is an honourable object to see the reasons of other men wear our liveries, and their borrowed understandings do homage to the bounty of ours. It is the cheapest way of beneficence, and, like the natural charity of the sun, illuminates another without obscuring itself. To be reserved and caitiff in this part of goodness, is the sordidest piece of covetousness, and more contemptible than pecuniary avarice. To this (as calling myself a scholar) I am obliged by the duty of my condition: I make not, therefore, my head a grave, but a treasure of knowledge; I intend no monopoly, but a community in learning; I study not for my own sake only, but for theirs that study not for themselves. I envy no man that knows more than myself, but pity them that know less. I instruct no man as an exercise of my knowledge, or with an intent rather to nourish and keep it alive in mine own head, than beget and propagate it in his; and in the midst of all my endeavours, there is but one thought that dejects me, that my acquired parts must perish with myself, nor can be legacied among my honoured friends. I can not fall out, or contemn a man for an error, or conceive why a difference in opinion should divide an affection: for controversies, disputes, and argumentations, both in philosophy and in divinity, if they meet with discreet and peaceable natures, do not infringe the laws of charity. In all disputes, so much as there is of passion, so much there is of nothing to the purpose; for then reason, like a bad hound, spends upon a false scent, and forsakes the question first started. And this is one reason why controversies are never determined; for though they be amply proposed, they are scarce at all handled, they do so swell with unnecessary digressions; and the parenthesis on the party is often as large as the main discourse upon the subject.
We have now brought our remarks upon the literary era of Elizabeth and James to a close; but before we entirely dismiss the subject, we must briefly notice the few Scottish prose writers which this period produced. The principal of these were Knox, Calderwood, Melvil, Lesley, and Spotiswood.
JOHN KNOX, the celebrated reformer, was born at Haddington, in 1505. Though educated at the university of St. Andrews, and bred a friar, still he early embraced the doctrines of the Reformation, and while disseminating them, was, in 1547, carried prisoner to France as a punishment for his offence. Being set at liberty two years afterward, he returned to England, and there continued to preach till the accession of Mary, in 1553, when he retired to the continent, and, for some time, resided alternately at Geneva, and Frankfort. In 1555, he visited Scotland, and by his exertions in Edinburgh, greatly strengthened the Protestant cause; but at the earnest solici
tation of the English congregation at Geneva, he, in 1556, once more took up his abode in that city. At Geneva he published The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, directed chiefly against Mary of England, and the Queen-regent of Scotland. In 1559, Knox returned to Scotland, and continued his exertions in behalf of Protestantism, which, by the aid of an English army, triumphed in the following year. He died on the twenty-fourth of November, 1572, and when laid in his grave, was characterized by the Earl of Morton, as one 'who never feared the face of man.'
The theological works of Knox are numerous; but his most important literary production is a History of the Reformation of Religion within the Realm of Scotland, published after his death. Although, from having been written at intervals, and amid the distractions of a busy life, much of the work is in a confused and ill-digested state, yet it still maintains its value as a chief source of information in the ecclesiastical history of the eventful period during which the author lived; and though sometimes inaccurate, and the production of a partisan, its statements have, in the main, been confirmed by the researches of later historians.
DAVID CALDERWOOD, another zealous Presbyterian divine, wrote in the early part of the reign of James the Sixth, a work similar to that of Knox, but on a much more extensive scale, more minute, and involving many important public documents. The original production, in six folio volumes of manuscript, reposes in the library of Glasgow, but an abridgment has been printed under the title of The True History of the Church of Scotland. Thy style of this performance deserves little commendation; but, though deeply tinged with party feeling, it has always been highly valued as a repertory of historical facts. The date of Calderwood's birth is not known, but his death occurred in 1657.
SIR JAMES MELVIL, privy councillor and gentleman of the bed-chamber to Mary Queen of Scots, was born at Hall-hill, Fifeshire, in 1530, and died in 1606. He left in manuscript an historical work, which for a considerable time lay unknown in the castle of Edinburgh, but having at length been discovered, was published in 1683, under the title of Memoirs of Sir James Melvil of Hall-hill, containing an Impartial Account of the Most Remarkable Affairs of State during the Last Age, not mentioned by other Historians; more particularly Relating to the Kingdoms of England and Scotland under the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scots, and King James. In all which Transactions the Author was Personally and Publicly Concerned. This work, for the simplicity of its style, and as the sole authority for the history of many important events, is very highly es
JOHN LESLEY, bishop of Ross, was born in 1527, and educated at the
university of Aberdeen. He was a zealous partisan of Queen Mary, and actively exerted himself in her behalf during her imprisonment in England. In consequence of being identified with various conspiracies against the life of Elizabeth, he was obliged to flee to the continent, where he was made, in 1593, bishop of Constance, and in that situation employed his wealth and influence in founding three colleges for the instruction of his countrymen— one at Rome, one at Paris, and one at Douay. Being, however, far advanced in life, he soon after resigned the mitre, and retired to a monastery in the Netherlands, where he died on the thirty-first of May, 1596.
Lesley's principal works are a Treatise in Defence of Queen Mary, and Her Title to the English Crown; a Description of Scotland and the Scottish Isles; and a work on the Origin, Manners, and Exploits of the Scotch. All these are in Latin; the last two forming a volume which he published at Rome, in 1578. He wrote also, in the Scottish language, a History of Scotland from 1436, to 1561, of which a Latin translation was published by himself; the original, however, was published in Edinburgh in 1830. In 1842 a work appeared entitled Vestiarium Scoticum, the body of which consisted of a catalogue of the tartans peculiar to Scottish families, composed by Bishop Lesley in the Scottish language, and which had long been preserved in manuscript in the college of Douay.
JOHN SPOTISWOOD, the last of these writers whom we shall notice, and who was successively archbishop of Glasgow, and of St. Andrews, was born in 1565. A strenuous and active promoter of the schemes of James the First of England to establish Episcopacy in Scotland, he stood high in the favor of that king, as well as of Charles the First, by whom he was made chancellor of Scotland, in 1635. His death occurred in 1639, in London, whither the popular commotions had obliged him to retire.
Spotiswood wrote, at the command of James, a History of the Church of Scotland, from 203 to 1625. When the king, in expressing his desire for the composition of that work, was told that some passages might possibly bear too hard upon the memory of his mother, he desired Spotiswood to 'write and spare not.' The history was published in London, in 1655, and is considered to be, on the whole, a faithful and impartial narrative of the events of which it treats.