Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 07.djvu/72

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

personally procure the publication of the anonymous editions, he took no active steps to hinder it. A Latin translation of 'Religio Medici' (from the edition of 1643), by John Merriweather, was published in 1644. It immediately passed through two editions at Leyden, and was twice reprinted in the same year at Paris. From an interesting letter (dated 1 Oct. 1649) of Merryweather to Tirowne it appears that there was considerable difficulty in finding a publisher for the translation. In the first instance Merryweather offered it to a Leyden bookseller named Haye, who submitted it to Salmasius for approbation. Salmasius kept it for three monUis, and then retiu^ed it with the remark that 'there were indeed in it many things well said, but that it contained many exorbitant conceptions in religion, and would probably find but frowning entertainment, especially amongst the ministers ; 'so Have refused to undertake the publication. Finally, after it had been offered in two other quarters, it was accepted by Hackius. In 1645 Alexander Ross published 'Medicus Medicatus : or the Physician's Religion cured by a Lenitive or Gentle Potion,' in which he attacked both Browne and Digby — the former for his application of 'rhetorical phrase' to religious subjects, fot his leaning towards judicial astrology, and generally on the score of heresy: the latter for his Romanism and metaphysics. Browne did not reply to this attack, but issued in the same year a new edition of his treatise. A Latin edition, with prolix notes by 'L. N. M. E. M.,' i.e. Levinus Nicolaus Moltkius (or Moltkenius) Eques Misniensis (or Mecklenbergensis or Megalopolitanius), was published in 1652. To an English edition, published in 1656, were appended annotations by Thomas Keck. The title-page of the annotations has the date 1659, but the preface is dated March 1654. Dutch, French, and German translations appeared respectively in 1665, 1668, and 1680. Merry weather's version contributed to make the book widely known among continental scholars. Guy Patin (Lettres, 1683, Frankfort, p. 12), in a letter dated from Paris 7 April 1645, writes : 'On fait icy grand étât du livre intitulé "Religio Medici." Get auteur a de l'esprit. Il y a de gentilles choses dans ce livre,' &c. Browne's orthodoxy was vigorously assailed abroad for many years, and vigorously defended. The editor of the Paris edition (1644) of Merryweather's translation was convinced that Browne, though nominally a protestant, was in reality a Roman catholic; but the papal authoiities judged otherwise, and placed the treatise in the 'Index Expurgatorius.' Samuel Duncon, a quaker residing at Norwich, conceived the hope of inducing Browne to join the Society of Friends. It is not surprising that such divergence of opinion should have existed in regard to the purport of Browne's speculations; for the treatise appears to have been composed as a tour deforce of intellectual agility, an attempt to combine daring scepticism with implicit faith in revelation. At the beginning of the treatise the author tells us that he was 'naturally inclined to that which misguided zeal terms superstition,' and that he 'could never hear the Ave Mary bell without an elevation.' After stating that he subscribes to the articles and observes the constitutions of the church of England, he adds : 'In brief, where the Scripture' is silent the church is my text ; where that speaks, 'tis but my comment ; where there is a Joint silence of both, I borrow not the rules of my religion from Home or Geneva, but the dictates of my own reason.' He deprecates controversies in matters of religion, asserting that he has 'no taint or tincture' of heresy; after which announcement ho proceeds with evident relish to discuss seeming absurdities in the scriptural narrative. In the course of the treatise he tells us much about himself. He professes to be absolutely free from national prejudices : 'all places, all airs, make unto me one countrv ; I am in England everywhere and under any meridian.' The one object that excites his derision is the multitude, 'that numerous piece of monstrosity, which, taken asunder, seem men and the reasonable creatures of God, but, confused together, make but one great beast and a monstrosity more prodigious than Hydra.' For the sorrows of others he has quick sympathy, while he is so little afflicted by his own sufferings that he 'could lose an arm without a tear, and with a few groans be Quartered into pieces.' He understands six languages, besides the patois of several provinces ; he has seen many countries, and has studied their customs and politics ; he is well versed in astronomy and botany; he has run through all systems of philosophy, but has found no rest in any. As 'death gives every fool gratis' the knowledge which is won in this life with sweat and vexation, he counts it absurd to take pride in his achievements. Like other great men of his time, Browne believed in planetary influence : 'At my nativity my ascendant was the waterj' sign of Scorpius ; I was born in the planetary hour of Saturn, and I think I have a piece of that leaden planet in me.' He is not 'disposed for the mirth and galliardise of company,' yet in one dream he