Chap. VIII.

A brief enumeration of Authors.

NOW for as much as we have discoursed of Authority, and there is scarce any tradition or popular error but stands also delivered by some good Author; we shall endeavour a short discovery of such, as for the major part have given authority hereto: who though excellent and useful Authors, yet being either transcriptive, or following common relations, their accounts are not to be swallowed at large, or entertained without all circumspection. In whom the ipse dixit, [1] although it be no powerful argument in any, is yet less authentick then in many other, because they deliver not their own experiences, but others affirmations, and write from others, as later pens from them.

1. The first in order, as also in time shall be Herodotus of Halicarnassus. An excellent and very elegant Historian; whose Books of History were so well received in his own days, and at their rehearsal in the Olympick games, they obtained the names of the nine Muses; and continued in such esteem unto descending ages, that Cicero termed him, Historiarum parens.[2] And Dionysius his Countryman, in an Epistle to Pompey, after an express comparison, affords him the better of Thucydides; all which notwithstanding, he hath received from some, the stile of Mendaciorum pater. His authority was much infringed by Plutarch, who being offended with him, as Polybius had been with Philarcus for speaking too coldly of his Countrymen, hath left a particular Tract, De malignitate Herodoti. But in this latter Century, Camerarius and Stephanus have stepped in, and by their witty Apologies, effectually endeavoured to frustrate the Arguments of Plutarch, or any other. Now in this Author, as may be observed in our ensuing discourse, and is better discernable in the perusal of himself, there are many things fabulously delivered, and not to be accepted as truths: whereby nevertheless if any man be deceived, the Author is not so culpable as the Believer. For he indeed imitating the Father Poet, whose life he hath also written, and as Thucydides observeth, as well intending the delight as benefit of his Reader, hath besprinkled his work with many fabulosities; whereby if any man be led into error, he mistaketh the intention of the Author, who plainly confesseth he writeth many things by hear-say, and forgetteth a very considerable caution of his; that is, Ego quæ fando cognovi, exponere narratione mea debeo omnia: credere autem esse vera omnia, non debeo.[3]

2. In the second place is Ctesias the Cnidian, Physitian unto Artaxerxes King of Persia, his Books are often recited by ancient Writers, and by the industry of Stephanus and Rhodomanus, there are extant some fragments thereof in our days; he wrote the History of Persia, and many narrations of India. In the first, as having a fair opportunity to know the truth, and as Diodorus affirmeth the perusal of Persian Records,[4] his testimony is acceptable. In his Indian Relations, wherein are contained strange and incredible accounts, he is surely to be read with suspension. These were they which weakned his authority with former ages; for as we may observe, he is seldom mentioned, without a derogatory Parenthesis in any Author. Aristotle besides the frequent undervaluing of his authority, in his Books of Animals gives him the lie no less then twice, concerning the seed of Elephants.[5] Strabo in his eleventh Book hath left a harder censure of him. Equidem facilius Hesiodo & Homero, aliquis fidem adhibuerit, itémque Tragicis Poetis, quam Ctesiæ, Herodoto, Hellanico & eorum similibus.[6] But Lucian hath spoken more plainly then any. Scripsit Ctesias de Indorum regione, deque iis quæ apud illos sunt, ea quæ nec ipse vidit, neque ex ullius sermone audivit.[7] Yet were his relations taken up by some succeeding Writers, and many thereof revived by our Countryman, Sir John Mandevil, Knight and Doctor in Physick; who after thirty years peregrination died at Liege, and was there honourably interred.[8] He left a Book of his Travels, which hath been honoured with translation of many Languages,[9] and now continued above three hundred years; herein he often attesteth the fabulous relations of Ctesias, and seems to confirm the refuted accounts of Antiquity. All which may still be received in some acceptions of morality, and to a pregnant invention, may afford commendable mythologie; but in a natural and proper exposition, it containeth impossibilities, and things inconsistent with truth.

3.[10] There is a Book De mirandis auditionibus, ascribed unto Aristotle; another De mirabilibus narrationibus, written long after by Antigonus, another also of the same title by Phlegon Trallianus, translated by Xilander, and with the Annotations of Meursius, all whereof make good the promise of their titles, and may be read with caution. Which if any man shall likewise observe in the Lecture of Philostratus, concerning the life of Apollonius, and even in some passages of the sober and learned Plutarchus; or not only in ancient Writers, but shall carry a wary eye on Paulus Venetus,[11] Jovius,[12] Olaus Magnus, Nierembergius, and many other: I think his circumspection is laudable, and he may thereby decline occasion of Error.

4. Dioscorides Anazarbeus, he wrote many Books in Physick, but six thereof De Materia Medica, have found the greatest esteem: he is an Author of good antiquity and use, preferred by Galen before Cratevas, Pamphilus, and all that attempted the like description before him; yet all he delivereth therein is not to be conceived Oraculous. For beside that, following the wars under Anthony, the course of his life would not permit a punctual Examen in all; there are many things concerning the nature of Simples, traditionally delivered, and to which I believe he gave no assent himself. It had been an excellent Receit, and in his time when Saddles were scarce in fashion of very great use, if that were true which he delivers, that Vitex, or Agnus Castus held only in the hand, preserveth the rider from galling.[13] It were a strange effect, and Whores would forsake the experiment of Savine, if that were a truth which he delivereth of Brake or female Fearn, that onely treading over it, it causeth a sudden abortion.[14] It were to be wished true, and women would idolize him, could that be made out which he recordeth of Phyllon, Mercury, and other vegetables, that the juice of the male Plant drunk, or the leaves but applied unto the genitals, determines their conceptions unto males. In these relations although he be more sparing, his predecessors were very numerous; and Galen hereof most sharply accuseth Pamphilus. Many of the like nature we meet sometimes in Oribasius, ætius, Trallianus, Serapion, Evax, and Marcellus, whereof some containing no colour of verity, we may at first sight reject them: others which seem to carry some face of truth, we may reduce unto experiment. And herein we shall rather perform good offices unto truth, then any disservice unto their relators, who have well deserved of succeeding Ages; from whom having received the conceptions of former Times, we have the readier hint of their conformity with ours, and may accordingly explore and sift their verities.

5. Plinius Secundus of Verona;[15] a man of great Eloquence, and industry indefatigable, as may appear by his writings, especially those now extant, and which are never like to perish, but even with learning it self; that is, his Natural History. He was the greatest Collector or Rhapsodist of the Latines, and as Suetonius observeth, he collected this piece out of two thousand Latine and Greek Authors. Now what is very strange, there is scarce a popular error passant in our days, which is not either directly expressed, or diductively contained in this Work; which being in the hands of most men, hath proved a powerful occasion of their propagation. Wherein notwithstanding the credulity of the Reader is more condemnable then the curiosity of the Author: for commonly he nameth the Authors from whom he received those accounts, and writes but as he reads, as in his Preface to Vespasian he acknowledgeth.[16]

6. Claudius ælianus, who flourished not long after in the reign of Trajan,[17] unto whom he dedicated his Tacticks; an elegant and miscellaneous Author, he hath left two Books which are in the hands of every one, his History of Animals, and his Varia Historia. Wherein are contained many things suspicious, not a few false, some impossible; he is much beholding[18] unto Ctesias, and in many uncertainties writes more confidently then Pliny.

7. Julius Solinus, who lived also about this time: He left a Work entitled Polyhistor, containing great variety of matter, and is with most in good request at this day. But to speak freely what cannot be concealed, it is but Pliny varied, or a transcription of his Natural History; nor is it without all wonder it hath continued so long, but is now likely, and deserves indeed to live for ever; not onely for the elegancy of the Text, but the excellency of the Comment, lately performed by Salmasius, under the name of Plinian-Exercitations.

8. Athenæus, a delectable Author, very various, and justly stiled by Casaubon, Græcorum Plinius. There is extant of his, a famous Piece, under the name of Deipnosophista, or Coena Sapientum, containing the Discourse of many learned men, at a Feast provided by Laurentius. It is a laborious Collection out of many Authors, and some whereof are mentioned no where else. It containeth strange and singular relations, not without some spice or sprinkling of all Learning. The Author was probably a better Grammarian then Philosopher, dealing but hardly with Aristotle and Plato, and betrayeth himself much in his Chapter De Curiositate Aristotelis. In brief, he is an Author of excellent use, and may with discretion be read unto great advantage: and hath therefore well deserved the Comments of Casaubon and Dalecampius. But being miscellaneous in many things, he is to be received with suspition; for such as amass all relations, must erre in some, and may without offence be unbelieved in many.[19]

9. We will not omit the works of Nicander, a Poet of good antiquity: that is, is Theriaca, and Alexipharmaca, Translated and Commented by Gorræus: for therein are contained several Traditions, and popular Conceits of venemous Beasts; which only deducted, the Work is to be embraced, as containing the first description of poysons and their antidotes, whereof Dioscorides, Pliny, and Galen, have made especial use in elder times; and Ardoynus, Grevinus, and others, in times more near our own. We might perhaps let pass Oppianus, that famous Cilician Poet. There are extant of his in Greek, four Books of Cynegeticks or Venation, five of Halieuticks or Piscation, commented and published by Ritterhusius; wherein describing Beasts of venery and Fishes, he hath indeed but sparingly inserted the vulgar conceptions thereof. So that abating the annual mutation of Sexes in the Hyæna, the single Sex of the Rhinoceros, the Antipathy between two Drums, of a Lamb and a Wolfes skin, the informity of Cubs, the venation of Centaures, the copulation of the Murena and the Viper, with some few others, he may be read with great delight and profit. It is not without some wonder his Elegant Lines are so neglected. Surely hereby we reject one of the best Epick Poets,20 and much condemn the Judgement of Antoninus, whose apprehensions so honoured his Poems, that as some report, for every verse, he assigned him a Stater of Gold.

10. More warily are we to receive the relations of Philes, who in Greek Iambicks delivered the proprieties of Animals, for herein he hath amassed the vulgar accounts recorded by the Ancients, and hath therein especially followed ælian. And likewise Johannes Tzetzes, a Grammarian,[21] who besides a Comment upon Hesiod and Homer, hath left us Chiliads de Varia Historia; wherein delivering the accounts of Ctesias, Herodotus, and most of the Ancients, he is to be embraced with caution, and as a transcriptive Relator.[22]

11. We cannot without partiality omit all caution even of holy Writers, and such whose names are venerable unto all posterity: not to meddle at all with miraculous Authors, or any Legendary relators, we are not without circumspection to receive some Books even of authentick and renowned Fathers. So are we to read the leaves of Basil and Ambrose, in their Books entituled Hexameron, or The Description of the Creation; Wherein delivering particular accounts of all the Creatures, they have left us relations sutable to those of ælian, Plinie, and other Natural Writers; whose authorities herein they followed, and from whom most probably they desumed their Narrations.[23] And the like hath been committed by Epiphanius, in his Physiologie: that is, a Book he hath left concerning the Nature of Animals. With no less caution must we look on Isidor Bishop of Sevil; who having left in twenty Books, an acurate work De Originibus, hath to the Etymologie of Words, superadded their received Natures; wherein most generally he consents with common Opinions and Authors which have delivered them.

12. Albertus Bishop of Ratisbone, for his great Learning and latitude of Knowledge, sirnamed Magnus. Besides Divinity, he hath written many Tracts in Philosophy; what we are chiefly to receive with caution, are his Natural Tractates, more especially those of Minerals, Vegetables, and Animals,[24] which are indeed chiefly Collections out of Aristotle, ælian, and Pliny, and respectively contain many of our popular Errors. A man who hath much advanced these Opinions by the authority of his Name, and delivered most Conceits, with strict Enquiry into few. In the same Classis may well be placed Vincentius Belluacensis,[25] or rather he from whom he collected his Speculum naturale, that is, Guilielmus de Conchis; and also Hortus Sanitatis, and Bartholomeus Glanvil, sirnamed Anglicus, who writ De proprietatibus Rerum. Hither also may be referred Kiranides, which is a Collection out of Harpocration the Greek, and sundry Arabick Writers; delivering not onely the Natural but Magical propriety of things; a Work as full of Vanity as Variety; containing many relations, whose Invention is as difficult as their Beliefs, and their Experiments sometime as hard as either.

13. We had almost forgot Jeronimus Cardanus that famous Physician of Milan, a great Enquirer of Truth, but too greedy a Receiver of it. He hath left many excellent Discourses, Medical, Natural, and Astrological; the most suspicious are those two he wrote by admonition in a dream, that is De Subtilitate & Varietate Rerum. Assuredly this learned man hath taken many things upon trust, and although examined some, hath let slip many others. He is of singular use unto a prudent Reader; but unto him that onely desireth Hoties,[26] or to replenish his head with varieties; like many others before related, either in the Original or confirmation, he may become no small occasion of Error.

14. Lastly, Authors are also suspicious, not greedily to be swallowed, who pretend to write of Secrets, to deliver Antipathies, Sympathies, and the occult abstrusities of things; in the list whereof may be accounted, Alex. Pedimontanus, Antonius Mizaldus, Trinum Magicum, and many others. Not omitting that famous Philosopher of Naples, Baptista Porta; in whose Works, although there be contained many excellent things, and verified upon his own Experience; yet are there many also receptary, and such as will not endure the test. Who although he hath delivered many strange Relations in his Phytognomonica, and his Villa; yet hath he more remarkably expressed himself in his Natural Magick, and the miraculous effects of Nature.[27] Which containing various and delectable subjects, withall promising wondrous and easie effects, they are entertained by Readers at all hands; whereof the major part sit down in his authority, and thereby omit not onely the certainty of Truth, but the pleasure of its Experiment.

Thus have we made a brief Enumeration of these Learned Men; not willing to decline their Works (without which it is not easie to attain any measure of general Knowledge,) but to apply themselves with caution thereunto. And seeing the lapses of these worthy Pens, to cast a wary eye on those diminutive, and pamphlet Treaties daily published amongst us. Pieces maintaining rather Typography then Verity, Authors presumably writing by Common Places, wherein for many years promiscuously amassing all that makes for their subject, they break forth at last in trite and fruitless Rhapsodies; doing thereby not onely open injury unto Learning, but committing a secret treachery upon truth. For their relations falling upon credulous Readers, they meet with prepared beliefs; whose supinities had rather assent unto all, then adventure the trial of any.

Thus, I say, must these Authors be read, and thus must we be read our selves; for discoursing of matters dubious, and many controvertible truths; we cannot without arrogancy entreat a credulity, or implore any farther assent, then the probability of our Reasons, and verity of experiments induce.


* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}.

1 [1672: ipse dixiit]

2 [Cic. De legibus I.5 (c. 52 B.C.) "patrem historiæ"]

3 [7.152.3:"As for myself, although it is my business to set down that which is told me, to believe it is none at all of my business".]

4 ["In his account of the origin of the Assyrian empire, however, which he professes to have derived from the regal archives of the Medes, he differs considerably from Herodotus, who must be regarded, in this case, as by far the most authentic historian; and he also attributes to the conquests of Ninus and Semiramis an extent towards the west, which is absolutely incompatible with the Jewish and Egyptian history of the same periods." Brayley (Br.) in Wilkin]

5 [Which, Ctesias asserts, hardens into a substance like amber.]

6 [Strabo XI.6. See also Book I.]

7 [The translation given in Stephanus's edition of Herodotus, to which the fragments of Ctesias are appended, p. 706; in this case, as a comment on a fragment preserved in Pliny, HN xxxvii.39:

CTESIAS, Ctesiochi filius Cnidios, conscripsit de Indorum regione, deque iis quæ apud illos sunt, ea quæ nec ipse vidit, nec ex ullius sermone audivit.]

8 ["Though spoken of by Sale (in his Preliminary Discourse, p. 177, note), by Parkhurst (Heb. Lex. p. 259, third edition) and by Chalmers as entitled to more credit than has been usually assigned him, Mandeville's work is pronounced by Dr. Hugh Murray to be a 'pure and entire fabrication'. Chalmers remarks 'that Sir John honestly acknowledges that his book was made partly of hearsay, and partly of his own knowledge; and that he prefaces his most improbable relations with some such words as these, thei seyne, or men seyn, but I have not sene it': — and concludes that 'there does not appear to be any very good reason why sir John should not be believed in any thing that he relates on his own observation'. He further observes that some of his improbabilities have been since verified; e.g., his hens that bore wool, &c. &c. Murray on the other hand asserts that Mandeville, not content with transplanting the fictions of Oderic and other writers into his narrative, declares himself to have actually seen what they had only heard of. He is quite of opinion that Sir John compiled the greater and the most valuable part of his travels from Oderic, Carpini, Rubruquis, &c., and that what he has added of his own consists, quite exclusively, of monstrous lies." Wilkin.]

9 [Print editions in eight languages by 1650. The travels are available on line at Project Gutenberg Edition of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville as well as in various HTML-ized versions. as for instance Travels of Sir John Mandeville.]

10 [The paragraph 3. is unnumbered in 1672.]

11 [Marco Polo]

12 [Paolo Giovio; since he is from Venice, he too is sometimes called "Paulus Venetus"]

13 ["Yet that is true which hee sayes, that persicaria bruised, and layd under ye sadle, cures a galled horse in the jornye." Wren in Wilkin]

14 A like opinion there is now of Elder. [Browne relied on a (mis) translation; "tread" should be "take". Savine, a poison derived from the dried tops of the juniper Juniperus sabinus, a strong emmenagogue and anthelmintic that causes, according to Mrs. Grieve, "gastro enteritic collapse and death", in addition to abortion.]

15 [Br. in Wilkin, quoting Thomson's History of Chemistry; "The only exception to this general neglect and contempt for all the arts and trades [among ancient authors], is Pliny the Elder, whose object, in his Natural History, was to collect into one focus every thing that was known at the period when he lived. His work displays prodigious reading, and a vast fund of erudition. It is to him that we are chiefly indebted for the knowledge of the chemical arts that were practised by the ancients. But the low estimation in which these arts were held appears evident, from the wonderful want of information which Pliny so frequently displays, and the erroneous statements which he has recorded respecting these processes. Still a great deal may be drawn from the information which has been collected and transmitted to us by this indefatigable natural historian."]

16 [Pliny's Epistle to Vespasian: Latin or englished by Holland.]

17 [The natural history of ælianus is later, about fifty years after Trajan.]

18 [Johnson dislikes this use, common in Browne, preferring "beholden"; Wilkin defends it with the argument that Browne "probably means" looking into.]

19 [Wr. in Wilkin: "Wee need have noe great suspition of him, going under the garde of these learned men; who will not suffer you to bee led by him, into any knowne or suspected error."]

20 That write Hexameters, or long verses.

21 [Wren: Tzetzes ventosissimus. Other commentators have similar opinions, less succinctly put.]

22 [Wren: N.B. justissimam censuram]

23 [Basil's Hexameron is not particularly rich in this sort of falsehood; but see Homily 9, wherein vipers are said to bite their way out of their mother's womb; bears to claw their way out of their mother's womb; the elephant, it is implied, has no joints in its "foot", which seems to correspond with the leg, among other spurious information.]

24 [Frequently printed in English as The Book of Secrets, along with The Book of Marvellous Things; not by Albertus Magnus. The reader may learn therein such useful tricks as how to appear to have a dog's head, or three heads, how to make ink that appears only in the dark, how to make a man feel as though he is crawling with lice, and so on.]

25 [That is, Vincent of Beauvais]

26 [Wren: "i.e. the quiddities of things, for τό ὅτι, in Greek, signifies the quiddity, that is, the essential or formal cause of every thing in nature". We must jump in here and point out that Wren and Browne do not agree on the meaning of the word; clearly Browne has in mind something on the lines of "factoids of any sort, true or false". Both definitions are etymologically possible.]

27 [Porta's Natural Magic is on line.]

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