Chap. IV.

Of the Ring-finger.

AN opinion there is, which magnifies the fourth Finger of the left Hand; presuming therein a cordial relation, that a particular vessel, nerve, vein or artery is conferred thereto from the heart, and therefore that especially hath the honour to bear our Rings. Which was not only the Christian practice in Nuptial contracts, but observed by Heathens, as Alexander ab Alexandro, Gellius, Macrobius, and Pierius have delivered, as Levinus Lemnius hath confirmed, who affirms this peculiar vessel to be an artery, and not a Nerve, as Antiquity conceived it; adding moreover that Rings hereon peculiarly affect the Heart; that in Lipothymies or swoundings he used the frication of this Finger with saffron and gold: that the ancient Physitians mixed up their Medicines herewith; that this is seldom or last of all affected with the Gout, and when that becometh nodous, Men continue not long after. Notwithstanding all which we remain unsatisfied, nor can we think the reasons alleadged sufficiently establish the preheminency of this Finger.

For first, Concerning the practice of Antiquity, the custom was not general to weare their Rings either on this Hand or Finger; for it is said, and that emphatically in Jeremiah, Si fuerit Jeconias filius Joachim regis Judæ annulus in manu dextrâ meâ, inde evallam eum; Though Coniah the son of Joachim King of Judah, were the signet on my right Hand, yet would I pluck thee thence. So is it observed by Pliny, that in the portraits of their Gods, the Rings were worn on the Finger next the Thumb; that the Romans wore {them also upon their little Finger, as Nero is described in Petronius;[1] some wore} them on the middle Finger, as the ancient Gaules and Britans; and some upon the fore-Finger, as is deduceable from Julius Pollux: who names that Ring Corionos.

Again, That the practice of the ancients, had any such respect of cordiality or reference unto the Heart, will much be doubted, if we consider their Rings were made of Iron; such was that of Prometheus, who is conceived the first that brought them in use. So, as Pliny affirmeth, for many yeares the Senators of Rome did not wear any Rings of Gold: but the slaves wore generally Iron Rings until their manumission or preferment to some dignity. That the Lacedemonians continued their Iron Rings unto his daies, Pliny also delivereth, and surely they used few of Gold; for beside that Lycurgus prohibited that mettal, we read in Athenæus, that having a desire to guild the face of Apollo, they enquired of the Oracle where they might purchase so much Gold, and were directed into Cræsus King of Lydia.

Moreover whether the Ancients had any such intention, the grounds which they conceived in vein, Nerve or Artery, are not to be justified, nor will inspection confirm a peculiar vessel in this Finger. For as Anatomy informeth the Basilica vein dividing into two branches below the cubit, the outward sendeth two surcles[2] unto the thumb, two unto the fore-finger, and one unto the middle finger in the inward side; the other branch of the Basilica sendeth one surcle unto the outside of the middle finger, two unto the Ring, and as many unto the little fingers; so that they all proceed from the Basilica, and are in equal numbers derived unto every one: In the same manner are the branches of the axillary artery distributed into the Hand; for below the cubit it divideth into two parts, the one running along the Radius, and passing by the wrest or place of the pulse, is at the Fingers subdivided into three Branches; whereof the first conveyeth two surcles unto the Thumb, the second as many to the fore-Finger, and the third one unto the middle Finger; the other or lower division of the artery descendeth by the ulna, and furnisheth the other Fingers; that is the middle with one Surcle, and the Ring and little Fingers with two. As for the Nerves, they are disposed much after the same manner, and have their original from the Brain, and not the Heart, as many of the Ancients conceived; which is so far from affording Nerves unto other parts, that it receiveth very few it self from the sixth conjugation, or paire of Nerves in the Brain.

Lastly, These propagations being communicated unto both Hands, we have no greater reason to weare our Rings on the left, then on the right; nor are there cordial considerations in the one, more then the other. And therefore when Forestus for the stanching of blood makes use of Medical applications unto the fourth Finger, he confines not that practice unto the left, but varieth the side according to the nostril bleeding. So in Feavers, where the Heart primarily suffereth, we apply Medicines unto the wrests of either arm; so we touch the pulse of both, and judge of the affections of the Heart by the one as well as the other. And although in indispositions of Liver or Spleen, considerations are made in Phlebotomy respectively to their situation; yet when the Heart is affected, Men have thought it as effectual to bleed on the right as the left; and although also it may be thought, a nearer respect is to be had of the left, because the great artery proceeds from the left ventricle, and so is nearer that arm; it admits not that consideration. For under the channel bones the artery divideth into two great branches, from which trunk or point of division, the distance unto either Hand is equal, and the consideration also answerable.

All which with many respective Niceties, in order unto parts, sides, and veines, are now become of less consideration, by the new and noble doctrine of the circulation of the blood.[3]

And therefore Macrobius discussing the point, hath alleadged another reason; affirming that the gestation of Rings upon this Hand and Finger, might rather be used for their conveniency and preservation, then any cordial relation. For at first (saith he) it was both free and usual to weare Rings on either Hand; but after that luxury encreased, when pretious gems and rich insculptures were added, the custom of wearing them on the right Hand was translated unto the left; for that Hand being lesse imployed, thereby they were best preserved. And for the same reason they placed them on this Finger; for the Thumb was too active a Finger, and is commonly imployed with either of the rest: the Index or fore-Finger was too naked whereto to commit their pretiosities, and hath the tuition of the Thumb scarce unto the second joint: the middle and little Finger they rejected as extreams, and too big or too little for their Rings, and of all chose out the fourth, as being least used of any, as being guarded on either side, and having in most this peculiar condition that it cannot be extended alone and by it self, but will be accompanied by some Finger on either side. And to this opinion assenteth Alexander ab Alexandro, Annulum nuptialem prior ætas in sinistrâ ferebat, crediderim ne attereretur.

Now that which begat or promoted the common opinion, was the common conceit that the Heart was seated on the left side; but how far this is verified, we have before declared. The Egyptian practice hath much advanced the same, who unto this Finger derived a Nerve from the Heart; and therefore the Priest anointed the same with precious oyls before the Altar. But how weak Anatomists they were, which were so good Embalmers, we have already shewed.[4] And though this reason took most place, yet had they another which more commended that practice: and that was the number whereof this Finger was an Hieroglyphick. For by holding down the fourth Finger of the left Hand, while the rest were extended, they signified the perfect and magnified number of six. For as Pierius hath graphically declared, Antiquity expressed numbers by the Fingers of either Hand: on the left they accounted their digits and articulate numbers unto an hundred; on the right Hand hundreds and thousands; the depressing this Finger, which in the left Hand implied but six, in the right indigitated six hundred. In this way of numeration, may we construe that of Juvenal concerning Nestor,

       Qui per tot sæcula mortem
Distulit, atque suos jam dextrâ computat annos.

And however it were intended, in this sense it will be more elegant what is delivered of Wisdom, Prov. 3. Length of daies is in her right Hand, and in her left Hand riches and honour.

As for the observation of Lemnius an eminent Physitian, concerning the Gout; however it happened in his Country, we may observe it otherwise in ours; that is, that chiragricall persons5 do suffer in this Finger as well as in the rest, and sometimes first of all, and sometimes no where else. And for the mixing up medicines herewith; it is rather an argument of opinion, then any considerable effect; and we as highly conceive of the practice in Diapalma, that is in the making of that plaster, to stir it with the stick of a Palm.


* [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 [Jeremiah 22; Pliny xxxiii, where there's more about rings and their Roman history than you would ever want to know; Petronius Satyr. xxxii; "Nero" also wears a smaller ring on the fourth or ring finger (as well as more jewelry). Chicago aldermen of a certain stripe also wear rings on their little fingers. 1672 mangles this passage by skipping the line marked in {brackets}, yielding "the Romans wore them on the middle Finger, as the ancient Gaules and Britans".]

2 [1672 has circle in this passage; other editions the more usual (i.e., "correct") surcle.]

3 [This paragraph, naturally enough, not in 1646.]

4 [Here and there, as in Book III, Chapter III.]

5 Hand-Gouty persons.

This page is dedicated to the memory of Boo the Cat.

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