**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


by [?]

About the year 1634 [72], he is supposed to have returned to London; and the next year to have written his celebrated treatise, called Religio Medici, “the religion of a physician [73],” which he declares himself never to have intended for the press, having composed it only for his own exercise and entertainment. It, indeed, contains many passages, which, relating merely to his own person, 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 performance, not to think that it might please others as much; he, therefore, communicated it to his friends, and receiving, I suppose, that exuberant applause with which every man repays the grant of perusing a manuscript, he was not very diligent to obstruct his own praise by recalling his papers, but suffered them to wander from hand to hand, till, at last, without his own consent, they were, in 1642, given to a printer.

This has, perhaps, sometimes befallen others; and this, I am willing to believe, did really happen to Dr. Browne: but there is, surely, some reason to doubt the truth of the complaint so frequently made of surreptitious editions. A song, 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 curiosity, but may be worn out in passing from hand to hand, before it is multiplied by a transcript. It is easy to convey an imperfect book, by a distant hand, to the press, and plead the circulation of a false copy, as an excuse for publishing the true, or to correct what is found faulty or offensive, and charge the errours on the transcriber’s depravations.

This is a stratagem, by which an author, panting for fame, and yet afraid of seeming to challenge it, may at once gratify his vanity, and preserve the appearance of modesty; may enter the lists, and secure a retreat; and this candour might suffer to pass undetected, as an innocent fraud, but that, indeed, no fraud is innocent; for the confidence which makes the happiness of society is, in some degree, diminished by every man whose practice is at variance with his words.

The Religio Medici was no sooner published than it excited the attention of the publick, by the novelty of paradoxes, the dignity of sentiment, the quick succession of images, the multitude of abstruse allusions, the subtilty of disquisition, and the strength of language.

What is much read will be much criticised. The earl of Dorset recommended this book to the perusal of sir Kenelm Digby, who returned his judgment upon it, not in a letter, but a book; in which, though mingled with some positions fabulous and uncertain, there are acute remarks, just censures, and profound speculations; yet its principal claim to admiration is, that it was written in twenty-four hours [74], of which part was spent in procuring Browne’s book, and part in reading it.

Of these animadversions, when they were yet not all printed, either officiousness or malice informed Dr. Browne; who wrote to sir Kenelm, with much softness and ceremony, declaring the unworthiness of his work to engage such notice, the intended privacy of the composition, and the corruptions of the impression; and received an answer equally genteel and respectful, containing high commendations of the piece, pompous professions of reverence, meek acknowledgments of inability, and anxious apologies for the hastiness 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 obscuration of each other? yet the animadversions thus weak, thus precipitate, upon a book thus injured in the transcription, quickly passed the press; and Religio Medici was more accurately published, with an admonition prefixed, “to those who have or shall peruse the observations upon a former corrupt copy;” in which there is a severe censure, not upon Digby, who was to be used with ceremony, but upon the observator who had usurped his name; nor was this invective written by Dr. Browne, who was supposed to be satisfied with his opponent’s apology; but by some officious friend, zealous for his honour, without his consent.