« FöregåendeFortsätt »
in a light of his own; reading nature neither by sun, moon, nor candle-light, but by the light of the fairy glory around his own head; that you might say, that nature had granted to him in perpetuity, a patent and monopoly for all his thoughts. Read his Hydriotaphia above all, and, in addition to the peculiarity, the exclusive Sir Thomas Browness of all the fancies and modes of illustration, wonder at, and admire, his entireness in every subject which is before him. He is totus in illo, he follows it, he never wanders from it, and he has no occasion to wander; for whatever happens to be his subject, he metamorphoses all nature into it. In that 'Hydriotaphia,' or treatise on some urns dug up in Norfolk-how earthy, how redolent of graves and sepulchres is every line! You have now dark mould; now a thighbone; now a skull; then a bit of a mouldered coffin; a fragment of an old tombstone, with moss in its hic jacet; a ghost, a winding sheet; or the echo of a funeral psalm wafted on a November wind and the gayest thing you shall meet with shall be a silver nail, or gilt anno domini, from a perished coffin top!-The very same remark applies in the same force to the interesting, though far less interesting, treatise on the Quincuncial Plantations of the Ancients,' the same entireness of subject! Quincunxes in heaven above; quincunxes in earth below; quincunxes in deity; quincunxes in the mind of man; quincunxes in tones, in optic nerves, in roots of trees, in leaves, in every thing! In short, just turn to the last leaf of this volume, and read out aloud to yourself the seven last paragraphs of chapter 5th, beginning with the words, More considerable.' But it is time for me to be in bed. In the words of Sir T. Brown (which will serve as a fine specimen of his manner,) 'But the quincunxes of Heaven (the hyades, or five stars about the horizon, at midnight at that time) run low, and it is time we close the five parts of knowledge; we are unwilling to spin out our waking thoughts into the phantoms of sleep, which often continue precogitations, making cables of cobwebs, and wildernesses of handsome groves. To keep our eyes open longer, were to act our antipodes? The huntsmen are up in Arabia; and they have already passed their first sleep in Persia.' Think you, that there ever was such a reason given before for going to bed at midnight; to wit, that if
we did not, we should be acting the part of our antipodes! And then, 'THE HUNTSMEN ARE UP IN ARABIA,'-what life, what fancy! Does the whimsical knight give us thus the essence of gunpowder tea, and call it an opiate ?*
Jeremy Taylor was a writer as different from Sir Thomas Brown as it was possible for one writer to be from another. He was a dignitary of the church, and except in matters of casuistry and controverted points, could not be supposed to enter upon speculative doubts, or give a loose to a sort of dogmatical scepticism. He had less thought, less "stuff of the conscience," less "to give us pause," in his impetuous oratory, but he had equal fancy-not the same vastness and profundity, but more richness and beauty, more warmth and tenderness. He is as rapid, as flowing, and endless, as the other is stately, abrupt, and concentrated. The eloquence of the one is like a river, that of the other is more like an aqueduct. The one is as sanguine, as the other is saturnine in the temper of his mind. Jeremy Taylor took obvious and admitted truths for granted, and illustrated them with an inexhaustible display of new and enchanting imagery. Sir Thomas Brown talks in sum-totals: Jeremy Taylor enumerates all the particulars of a subject. He gives every aspect it will bear, and never cloys with sameness." His characteristic is enthusiastic and delightful amplification. Sir Thomas Brown
* Sir Thomas Brown has it, "The huntsmen are up in America," but Mr. Coleridge prefers reading Arabia. I do not think his account of the UrnBurial very happy. Sir Thomas can be said to be "wholly in his subject,” only because he is wholly out of it. There is not a word in the Hydriotaphia' about "a thigh-bone, or a skull, or a bit of mouldered coffin, or a tombstone, or a ghost, or a winding-sheet, or an echo," nor is "a silver nail or a gilt anno domini the gayest thing you shall meet with." You do not meet with them at all in the text; nor is it possible, either from the nature of the subject, or of Sir T. Brown's mind, that you should! He chose the subject of Urn-Burial, because it was "one of no mark or likelihood," totally free from the romantic prettinesses and pleasing poetical common-places with which Mr. Coleridge has adorned it, and because, being "without form and void," it gave unlimited scope to his high-raised and shadowy imagination. The motto of this author's compositions might be-" De apparentibus et non existentibus eadem est ratio. He created his own materials: or to speak of him in his own language, "he saw nature in the elements of its chaos, and discerned his favourite notions in the great obscurity of nothing!"
gives the beginning and end of things, that you may judge of > their place and magnitude: Jeremy Taylor describes their qualities and texture, and enters into all the items of the debtor and creditor account between life and death, grace and nature, faith and good works. He puts his heart into his fancy. He does not pretend to annihilate the passions and pursuits of mankind in the pride of philosophic indifference, but treats them as serious and momentous things, warring with conscience and the soul's health, or furnishing the means of grace and hopes of glory. In his writings, the frail stalk of human life reclines on the bosom of eternity. His 'Holy Living and Dying' is a divine pastoral. He writes to the faithful followers of Christ, as the shepherd pipes to his flock. He introduces touching and heart-felt appeals to familiar life; condescends to men of low estate; and his pious page blushes with modesty and beauty. His style is prismatic. It unfolds the colours of the rainbow; it floats like the bubble ** through the air; it is like innumerable dew-drops that glitter on the face of morning, and tremble as they glitter. He does not dig his way underground, but slides upon ice, borne on the winged car of fancy. The dancing light he throws upon objects is like an Aurora Borealis, playing betwixt heaven and earth— "Where pure Niemi's faery banks arise,
And fringed with roses Tenglio rolls its stream."
His exhortations to piety and virtue are a gay memento mori. He mixes up death's-heads and amaranthine flowers; makes life a procession to the grave, but crowns it with gaudy garlands, and "rain's sacrificial roses" on its path.. In a word, his writings are more like fine poetry than any other prose whatever; they are a choral song in praise of virtue, and a hymn to the Spirit of the Universe. I shall give a few passages, to show how feeble and inefficient this praise is.
The Holy Dying' begins in this manner :
"Man is a bubble. He is born in vanity and sin; he comes into the world like morning mushrooms, soon thrusting up their heads into the air, and conversing with their kindred of the same production, and as soon they turn into dust and forgetfulness; some of them without any other interest in the affairs of the world, but that they made their parents a little glad, and very sorrowful.
Others ride longer in the storm; it may be until seven years of vanity be expired, and then peradventure the sun shines hot upon their heads, and they fall into the shades below, into the cover of death and darkness of the grave to hide them. But if the bubble stands the shock of a bigger drop, and outlives the chances of a child, of a careless nurse, of drowning in a pail of water, of being overlaid by a sleepy servant, or such little accidents, then the young man dances like a bubble empty and gay, and shines like a dove's neck, or the image of a rainbow, which hath no substance, and whose very imagery and colours are fantastical; and so he dances out the gaiety of his youth, and is all the while in a storm, and endures, only because he is not knocked on the head by a drop of bigger rain, or crushed by the pressure of a load of indigested meat, or quenched by the disorder of an ill-placed humour; and to preserve a man alive in the midst of so many chances and hostilities, is as great a miracle as to create him; to preserve him from rushing into nothing, and at first to draw him up from nothing, were equally the issues of an Almighty power."
Another instance of the same rich continuity of feeling, and transparent brilliancy in working out an idea, is to be found in his description of the dawn and progress of reason:
"Some are called at age at fourteen, some at one-and-twenty, some never; but all men late enough; for the life of a man comes upon him slowly and insensiby. But as when the sun approaches towards the gates of the morning, he first opens a little eye of heaven, and sends away the spirits of darkness, and gives light to a cock, and calls up the lark to matins, and by-and-by gilds the fringes of a cloud, and peeps over the eastern hills, thrusting out his golden horns, like those which decked the brows of Moses, when he was forced to wear a veil, because himself had seen the face of God; and still, while a man tells the story, the sun gets up higher, till he shows a fair face and a full light, and then he shines one whole day, under a cloud often, and sometimes weeping great and little showers, and sets quickly; so is a man's reason and his life."
This passage puts one in mind of the rising dawn and kindling skies in one of Claude's landscapes. Sir Thomas Brown has nothing of this rich finishing and exact gradation. The genius of the two men differed, as that of the painter from the mathematician. The one measures objects, the other copies them. The one shows that things are nothing out of themselves, or in relation to the whole: the one, what they are in themselves and in relation to us. Or the one may be said to apply the telescope of the mind to distant bodies; the other looks at nature in its infinite minuteness and glossy splendour through a solar microscope.
In speaking of Death, our author's style assumes the port and
withering smile of the King of Terrors. scattered passages on this subject.
The following are
"It is the same harmless thing that a poor shepherd suffered yesterday or a maid-servant to-day; and at the same time in which you die, in that very night a thousand creatures die with you, some wise men, and many fools; and the wisdom of the first will not quit him, and the folly of the latter does not make him unable to die."
"I have read of a fair young German gentleman, who, while living, often refused to be pictured, but put off the importunity of his friends' desire by giving way that after a few days' burial, they might send a painter to his vault, and if they saw cause for it, draw the image of his death unto the life. They did so, and found his face half eaten, and his midriff and back-bone full of serpents; and so he stands pictured among his armed ancestors."
"It is a mighty change that is made by the death of every person, and it is visible to us, who are alive. Reckon but from the sprightfulness of youth and the fair cheeks and full eyes of childhood, from the vigorousness and strong flexure of the joints of five-and-twenty, to the hollowness and dead paleness, to the loathsomeness and horror of a three days' burial, and we shall perceive the distance to be very great and very strange, But so have I seen a rose newly springing from the clefts of its hood, and at first it was fair as the morning, and full with the dew of heaven, as the lamb's fleece; but when a ruder breath had forced open its virgin modesty, and dismantled its too youthful and unripe retirements, it began to put on darkness and to decline to softness and the symptoms of a sickly age, it bowed the head and broke its stalk, and at night, having lost some of its leaves, and all its beauty, it fell into the portion of weeds and out-worn faces. So does the fairest beauty change, and it will be as bad with you and me; and then what servants shall we have to wait upon us in the grave? What friends to visit us? What officious people to cleanse away the moist and unwholesome cloud reflected upon our faces from the sides of the weeping vaults, which are the longest weepers for our funerals?"
"A man may read a sermon, the best and most passionate that ever man preached, if he shall but enter into the sepulchres of kings. In the same Escurial where the Spanish princes live in greatness and power, and decree war or peace, they have wisely placed a cemetery where their ashes and their glory shall sleep till time shall be no more: and where our kings have been crowned, their ancestors lie interred, and they must walk over their grandsires head to take his crown. There is an acre sown with royal seed, the copy of the greatest change from rich to naked, from ceiled roofs to arched coffins, from living like gods to die like men. There is enough to cool the flames of lust, to abate the heights of pride, to appease the itch of covetous desires, to sully and dash out the dissembling colours of a lustful, artificial, and imaginary beauty. There the warlike and the peaceful, the fortunate and the miserable, the beloved and the despised princes mingle their dust, and pay down their symbol of mortality, and tell all the world that when we die, our ashes shall be equal to kings, and