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The majesty of the Judge, and the terrors of the judgment, shall be spoken aloud by the immediate forerunning accidents, which shall be so great violences to the old constitutions of nature, that it shall break her very bones, and disorder her till she be destroyed. St Jerome relates out of the Jews' books, that their doctors used to account fifteen days of prodigy immediately before Christ's coming, and to every day assign a wonder, any one of which, if we should chance to see in the days of our flesh, it would affright us into the like thoughts which the old world had, when they saw the countries round about them covered with water and the divine vengeance; or as these poor people near Adria and the Mediterranean Sea, when their houses and cities were entering into graves, and the bowels of the earth rent with convulsions and horrid tremblings The sea, they say, shall rise fifteen cubits above the highest mountains, and thence descend into hollowness and a prodigious drought; and when they are reduced again to their usual proportions, then all the beasts and creeping things, the monsters and the usual inhabitants of the sea, shall be gathered together, and make fearful noises to distract mankind : the birds shall mourn and change their song into threnes and sad accents ; rivers of fire shall rise from east to west, and the stars shall be rent into threads of light, and scatter like the beards of comets; then shall be fearful earthquakes, and the rocks shall rend in pieces, the trees shall distil blood, and the mountains and fairest structures shall return into their primitive dust; the wild beasts shall leave their dens, and shall come into the companies of men, so that you shall hardly tell how to call them, herds of men or congregations of beasts; then shall the graves open and give up their dead, and those which are alive in nature and dead in fear shall be forced from the rocks whither they went to hide them, and from caverns of the earth where they would fain have been concealed; because their retirements are dismantled, and their rocks are broken into wider ruptures, and admit a strange light into their secret bowels ; and the men being forced abroad into the theatre of mighty horrors, shall run up and down distracted, and at their wits end ; and then some shall die, and some shall be changed ; and by this time the elect shall be gathered together from the four quarters of the world, and Christ shall come along with them to judgment.
SIR THOMAS BROWNE: 1605-1682.
Sir Thomas Browne was a medical practitioner at Norwich. His chief work,
Hydriotaphia, or Urn-burial, a discourse on sepulchral urns found in Norfolk, contains reflections on death, oblivion, and immortality, which for solemnity and grandeur are probably unsurpassed in English literature. His other works are Religio Medici (The Religion of a Physician) and a Treatise on Vulgar Errors.
ON OBLIVION. From Hydriotaphia.
There is no antidote against the opium of time, which temporally considereth all things. Our fathers find their graves in our short memories, and sadly tell us how we may be buried in our survivors. Grave-stones tell truth scarce forty years. Generations pass while some trees stand, and old families last not three oaks. To be read by bare inscriptions, 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 us, like many of the mummies, are cold consolations unto the students of perpetuity, even by everlasting languages.
But the iniquity of oblivion blindly scattereth her poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity: who can but pity the founder of the pyramids ? Herostratus1 lives that burned the temple of Diana; he is almost lost that built it:2 time hath spared the epitaph of Adrian's horse ; confounded that of himself. In vain we compute our felicities by the advantage of our good names, since bad have equal durations ; and Thersites is like to live as long as Agamemnon, without the favour of the everlasting register. 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? Without the favour of the everlasting register, the first man had been as unknown as the last, and Methuselah’s long life had been his only chronicle.
1 An Ephesian, who, from a desire of fame, set fire to the temple of Diana. He suffered a painful death, and capital punishment was decreed to be inflicted upon any one who should mention his name; a decree which produced an effect directly the reverse of what had been intended.
? It was built by Chersiphron, an architect of Cnossus, in Crete.
Oblivion is not to be hired : the greatest part must be content to be as though they had not been ; to be found in the register of God, not in the record of man. Twenty-seven names make up the first story before the Flood; and the recorded names ever .since contain not one living century. The number of the dead long exceedeth all that shall live. The night of time far surpasseth the day, and who knows when was the equinox ? Every hour adds unto that current arithmetic which scarce stands one moment. And since it cannot be long before we lie down in darkness, and have our lightl in ashes; since the brother of death daily haunts us with dying mementoes, and time, that grows old in itself, bids us hope no long duration ; diuturnity is a dream, and folly of expectation...
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 past selves, make accumulation of glory unto their last durations. Others, rather than be lost in the uncomfortable night of nothing, were content to recede into the common being, and make one particle of the public 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 is become merchandise, Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharaoh is sold for balsams.
To subsist in lasting monuments, to live in their productions, to exist in their names, and predicament of chimeras, was large satisfaction unto old expectations, and made one part of their Elysiums. But all this is nothing in the metaphysics of true belief. To live indeed is to be again ourselves, which being not only a hope, but an evidence in noble believers, it is all one to lie in St Innocent's? churchyard, as in the sands of Egypt; ready to be any thing in the ecstasy of being ever, and as content with six foot as the moles 3 of Adrianus.
1 The Jews placed a lighted candle in a pot of ashes by the corpse. 2 In Paris, where bodies soon consume. 3 The mausoleum built by Adrianus in Rome.
Milton began, at the commencement of the Civil War, to write against the
Established Church, and continued throughout the ensuing troublous period to devote his pen to the service of his party. In 1649 he became Latin secretary to Cromwell. His principal prose writings in English, for he wrote several in Latin, are his History of England to the Norman Conquest, a Tractate on Education, and Areopagitica, a Speech for the Liberty of Unlioensed Printing, one of the noblest pieces of eloquence in the language.
THE VALUE OF A BOOK. From Areopagitica.
I DENY not but that it is of greatest concernment in the church and commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye how books demean themselves, as well as men; and thereafter to confine, imprison, and do sharpest justice on them as malefactors; for books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a progeny of life in them, to be as active as that soul whose progeny they are ; nay, they do preserve, as in a vial, the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous dragon's teeth ;1 and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet, on the other hand, unless wariness be used, as good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image ; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life. It is true no age can restore
1 The fable is that Cadmus, the founder of Thebes, having killed a dragon, sowed its teeth, which grew up armed men, who slew each other.
a life, whereof, perhaps, there is no great loss; and revolutions of ages do not oft recover the loss of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole nations fare the worse. We should be wary, therefore, what persecution we raise against the living labours of public men, how we spill that seasoned life of man, preserved and stored up in books; since we see a kind of homicide may be thus committed, sometimes a martyrdom ; and if it extend to the whole impression, a kind of massacre, whereof the execution ends not in the slaying of an elemental life, but strikes at the ethereal and fifth 1 essence, the breath of reason itself, slays an immortality rather than a life.
LIBERTY OF THE PRESS. From Areopagitica. Behold, now, this vast city, a city of refuge, the mansion-house of liberty, encompassed and surrounded with God's protection; the shop of war hath not there more anvils and hammers working to fashion out the plates and instruments of armed justice in defence of beleaguered truth, than there be pens and heads there sitting by their studious lamps, musing, searching, revolving new notions and ideas wherewith to present, as with their homage and their fealty, the approaching reformation : others as fast reading, trying all things, assenting to the force of reason and convincement. . ... It is a lively and cheerful presage of our happy success and victory. For as in a body when the blood is fresh, the spirits pure and vigorous, not only to vital, but to rational faculties, and those in the acutest and the pertest operations of wit and subtlety, it argues in what good plight and constitution the body is ; so, when the cheerfulness of the people is so sprightly up as that it has not only wherewith to guard well its own freedom and safety, but to spare, and to bestow upon the solidest and sublimest points of controversy and new invention, it betokens us not degenerated, nor drooping to a fatal decay, by casting off the old and wrinkled skin of corruption, to outlive these pangs, and wax young again, entering the glorious ways of truth and prosperous virtue, destined to become great and honourable in these latter ages. Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks; methinks I see her as an eagle, mewing her
i Quintessence, the pure essential part of a thing, was a term used in alchemy for the fifth or last and highest essence of power in a natural body.