Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sir Thomas Browne

'He could not help feeling surprise at a coincidence so singular and unexpected. " Does the devil mingle in the dance, to avenge himself for our trifling with an art said to be of magical origin? Or is it possible, as Bacon and Sir Thomas Browne admit, that there is some truth in a sober and regulated astrology, and that the influence of the stars is not to be denied, though the due application of it, by the knaves who pretend to practise the art, is greatly to be suspected ?"—A moment's consideration of the subject induced him to dismiss this opinion as fantastical, and only sanctioned by these learned men, either because they durst not at once shock the universal prejudices of their age, or because they themselves were not altogether freed from the contagious influence of a prevailing superstition. Yet the result of his calculations in these two instances left so unpleasing an impression upon his mind, that, like Prospero, he mentally relinquished his art, and resolved, neither in jest nor earnest, again to practise judicial astrology.' ...'

The text above is from Walter Scott's "Guy Mannering, or the Astrologer".  The reference for today is to Sir Thomas Browne, who was born and died on the same day (October 19), seventy-seven years apart.  Browne was born in 1605, not long after James I took the throne of England.  His thinking was influenced, in part, by Francis Bacon, who Scott also includes in his text.  Browne lived well past the Restoration, passing in 1682.

His first publication was Religio Medici (1643), which discussed his Christian faith, and delved into arcane subjects such as alchemy and astrology.  This work was very influential, not only in its own time, but current with Walter Scott, with such literary figures as Lamb and Coleridge.


  1. Browne's intellectual position towards the esoteric is extremely ambivalent ! In 'Religio Medici' he states 'I have often admired the mystical way of Pythagoras and the secret magic of numbers'. By 'Christian Morals' (circa 1670) he advises 'Burden not he back of Aries, Leo or Taurus with thy faults....yet still conceding that Astrology 'speaks great things.'

  2. Interesting. Thanks for the post.