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than the following speculations on human life; entering into the deepest solemnities of our mortal being, and daring to take advantage of those riddles of humanity, which meaner moralists scarce venture to imagine ?
"If the nearness of our last necessity brought a nearer conformity unto it, there were a happiness in hoary hairs, and no calamity in half senses. But the long habit of living indisposeth us for dyingwhen avarice makes us the sport of death, when even David grew politickly cruel, and Solomon could hardly be said to be the wisest of men. But many are too early old, and before the date of age. Adversity stretcheth our days, misery makes Alcmena's nights, [one night as long as three and time hath no wings unto it. But the most tedious being is that which can unwish itself, content to be nothing, or never to have been, which was beyond the mal-content of Job, who cursed not the day of his life, but his nativity; content to have so far been, as to have a title to future being; although he had lived here but in a hidden state of life, and as it were an abortion.
" What song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzzling questions, are not beyond all conjecture. What time the persons of these ossuaries entered the famous nations of the dead, and slept with princes and counsellors, might admit a wide solution. But who were the proprietors of these bones, or what bodies these ashes made up, were a question above antiquarism-not to be resolved by man, nor easily perhaps by spirits, except we consult the Provincial Guardians, or Tutelary Observators. Had they made as good provision for their names as they have done for their reliques, they had not so grossly erred in the art of perpetuation; but to subsist in bones, and be but pyramidally extant, is a fallacy in duration. Vain ashes, which in the oblivion of names, persons, times, and sexes, have found unto themselves a fruitless continuation, and only arise unto late posterity, as emblems of mortal vanities; antidotes against pride, vain glory, and madding vices. Pagan vain glories which thought the world might last for ever, had encouragement for ambition, and finding no Atropos unto the immortality of their names, were never dampt with the necessity of oblivion. Even old ambitions had the advantage of ours, in the attempts of their vain-glories, who acting early and before the probable meridian of time, have by this time found great accomplishment of their designs, whereby the ancient heroes have already out-lasted their monuments, and mechanical preservations. But in this latter scene of time we cannot expect such mummies unto our memories, when ambition may fear the prophecy of Elias, and Charles the Fifth can never hope to live within two Methuselahs of Hector.”
He proceeds to argue against the passionate desire of fame, from the slender relics which it usually embalms of its followers. “ To be read by bare inscriptions, like many in Gruter; to hope for eternity by enigmatical epithets, or first letters of our names; to be studied by antiquaries, who we
were, and have new names given to us like some of the mummies, are cold consolations unto the students of perpetuity, even by everlasting languages.” He unmasks the frigid ambition of those, who desire merely to be known as having been. “ Who,” he demands, “ cares to submit like Hippocrates's patients, or Achilles' horses in Homer, under naked nominations, without deserts or noble acts, which are the balsam of our memories, the Entelechia and soul of our subsistences ? To be nameless in worthy deeds, exceeds an infamous history.” What moral sublimity is here! And with how noble a glimpse into the night of forgotten things,--a half-lifting of the veil of oblivion,-does he ask, “who knows whether the best of men be known? or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot, than any that stand remembered in the known account of time? Having, with farther richness of illustration, and quaint philosophy, shewn the uncertainty of all human memorials of the dead, he holds a question with man's immortality after death, and retaining all reverential belief in future life, yet seems to hesitate whether God hath promised a duration absolutely endless. From this high speculation, he recalls himself to the nobleness of man, as evinced by the solemnities of burial, taking the grave stone for his faith to lean on, and for his hope's moveless resting place—“ But man is a noble animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave, solemnizing nativities and deaths with equal lustre, and not omitting ceremonies of bravery in the infamy of his nature.”
How stupendous is the following moralizing on human afflictions, on the Pythagorean phantasies, on Egyptian contrivances for preservation of the earthly frame, and on the vain hopes of men to perpetuate their memories in the changeless movements of the stars.
Darkness and light divide the course of time, and oblivion shares with memory a great part even of our living beings; we slightly remember our felicities, and the smartest strokes of affliction leave but short smart upon us. Sense endureth no extremities, and sorrows destroy us or themselves. To weep into stones are fables. Adictions induce callosities, miseries are slippery, or fall like snow upon us, which notwithstanding is no unhappy stupidity. To be ignorant of evils to come, and forgetful of evils past, is a merciful provision in nature, whereby we digest the mixture of our few and evil days; and our delivered senses not relapsing into cutting remembrances, our sorrows are not kept raw by the edge of repetitions. A great part of antiquity contented their hopes of subsistency with a transmigration of their souls—a good way to continue their memories; while having the advantage of plural successions, they could not but act something remarkable in such variety of beings, and enjoying the fame of their passed selves, make accumulation of glory into their last durations. Others, rather than be lost in the uncomfortable night of nothing, were content to recede into the common being, and make no particle of the publick soul of all things, which was no more than to return into their unknown and divine original again. Egyptian ingenuity was more unsatisfied, contriving their bodies in sweet consistences, to attend the return of their souls. But all was vanity, feeding the wind, and folly. The Egyptian mummies, which Cambyses, or time hath spared, avarice now consumeth. Mummy has become merchandise, Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharaoh is sold for balsams.
“ In vain do individuals hope for immortality, or any patent from oblivion, in preservations below the moon; men have been deceived even in their flatteries above the sun, and studied conceits to perpetuate their names in heaven. The various cosmography of that part hath already varied the names of contrived constellations; Nimrod is lost in Orion, and Osyris in the Dog-star. While we look for incorruption in the heavens, we find they are but like the earth-durable in their main bodies, alterable in their parts: whereof beside comets and new stars, perspectives begin to tell tales. And the spots that wander about the sun, with Phæton's favour, would make clear conviction.”
Sir Thomas Browne has been contrasted with Bishop Jeremy Taylor, who like him wrote on death, and delighted to contemplate the symbols of man's decay. But no two things can be more opposite than their modes of treating the sacred theme. Jeremy Taylor broods only over the surface of the subject, and tinges it with roseate hues. He enters not the recesses of the grave, but moralizes at its entrance. While Sir Thomas Browne rakes among the bones for some strange relic in the deep bed of mortality; the most Christian of bishops gently gathers the sweet flowers which peep forth on the green above it. The former ransacks antiquity, and the hidden corners of strange learning for his illustrations ; the latter steals the ready smile of some sleeping child, or the modest bloom of a virgin cheek. The imagination of Sir Thomas Browne reflects the faded forms of old, half-forgotten things; that of Jeremy Taylor is overspread with the blushing tints of aërial beauty, like à lake beneath the sweetest sky of evening, in which the very multitude of lovely shadows prevent any one clear and majestic image from appearing unbroken. The first carries us out of ourselves into the grand abstractions of our nature; the last touches the pulses of individual joy, and awakens delicious musings and indistinct emotions of serious delight, such “as make a chrysome child to smile.” In the works of Browne, we hear “ ancestral voices ;' in those of Taylor, we listen to the sweet warblings of the angelic choir. Sir Thomas Browne does not shed sweet radiance on the stream of life--but he fathoms its most awful deeps, and thence discovers, that it rises not within the horizon of sense, but hath its
source in other worlds, and will continue its mystic windings far beyond the shadows of death, which limit our present vision.
Art. VIII. Hieronymi Cardani Mediolanensis de Propria Vita
Liber. Amstelædami, Apud Joannem Ravesteinum. 1654. 12mo. pp. 288.
We cannot conceive a more interesting or more appropriate employment for a man in the decline of life, than to sit down to write the history of his own actions, his feelings, his thoughts, and his adventures—to think over the early time of his youth-to call back the recollection of companions and friends, dead, distant, or nearly forgotten—to trace his designs in their origin and progress, their completion or disappointment, and compare himself with himself in the several changeful acts of his existence. This is seldom done. Specimens of auto-biography are rare, and valuable as rare. Yet old age is proverbially garrulous; and the desire of being remembered after death is as universal as man himself. To counteract the effect of dispositions so likely to produce communications as these, there must operate some powerful and general causes—which may probably, in some small measure, be found in a very common indisposition in men, who are not accustomed to commit their thoughts to writing, or who are not authors by profession, to put pen to paper in the way of formal composition. If this be the feeling which prevents men from amusing and instructing either their peculiar progeny, or posterity in general, by an account of their own lives, it is to be lamented that they cannot be convinced of the fact, that all the beauties that this kind of writing would absolutely require, are the natural and unbought charms that accompany a plain unvarnished tale-the emotions of the heart, the movements of the mind in peculiar situations, the personal adventure, or the critical emergency, need only the simple language which spontaneously clothes the thought as it grows. Few men there are, however chequered or busy the scenes of their active life may be, who do not frequently reflect upon their circumstances, and review, with intense consciousness, the map of their past existence—who do not sometimes turn an eye of ardent curiosity into the internal operations of their own minds and wills; this practice becomes more frequent, and of longer duration, as a man advances towards the latter end of his life-when the old man is established, at
the decline of day, by his fire-side, or when walking about his garden in the early morning.
To render auto-biography interesting and amusing, we think is no difficult task, presuming, of course, a fair foundation to build upon; but for a man so completely to divest himself of vanity and self-love, that the relation of himself shall be impartial and trustworthy, would be a very uncommon and singular occurrence; that an individual, in addition to this, should be bitter against himself—that he should make himself appear even worse than he may be, that he should unnaturally point his own actions with evil motives, and aggravate his own feelings, is a case of such remarkable morbidity, as to deserve a particular account. The life of Cardan, the subject of the present article, is nearly such a case.
There are stern task-masters of their own consciences, who would not shrink to take their conduct to pieces, and . subject its parts to a rigid examination—whose austere love of truth would enable them to look into the vital operations of their own hearts, without flinching; but very few, if any, who could bring themselves to hold up the account to the eye of the world. It cannot be expected: the best heart would wither at the idea of such an exhibition. Had the Mandeville of Mr. Godwin been a real being, would he ever have been induced to send to the press that awful account of the workings of his soul? Certainly not. Yet how instructive, how intense an interest would such a relation have exacted, could we have relied on the precedent; had it been a reported case, of authority to be quoted in the court where a man sits in judgment upon himself-that awful tribunal, where the judge is master of the fact and the law-where the witness convicts himself, and the punishment awarded is, the gnawing “worm that never dies.”
The generality of auto-biographers, however, it must be confessed, do not feel this responsibility to be of so deep a nature: they skim the surface of their lives, and only catch the reflection of their actions in a flattering point of view; they think highly of themselves, magnify their good deeds, and dilute the confession of a fault to a sweet insipid mixture of mistaken virtue and pardonable vice. Such men publish in their life-time, and would be well with their contemporaries. It is not to such works as these, that we have been chiefly alluding, though they may be sufficiently amusing, and, when read with discrimination, highly useful. We refer to the dusty and neglected manuscript volume, which is dragged by executors or descendants from forgotten heaps of papers, tattered and worm-eaten, in the bottom of an old chest, and written in many different-looking hands--the pro
VOL 1. PART I.