Chap. VI.

Of Swimming, and Floating.

THAT Men swim naturally, if not disturbed by fear; that Men being drowned and sunk, do float the ninth day when their gall breaketh; that Women drowned, swim prone, but Men supine, or upon their backs: are popular affirmations, whereto we cannot assent. And first, that Man should swim naturally, because we observe it is no lesson unto other Animals, we are not forward to conclude; for other Animals swim in the same Manner as they go, and need no other way of motion for natation in the water, then for progression upon the land. And this is true whether they move per latera, that is two legs of one side together, which is Tollutation or ambling; or per diametrum, lifting one foot before, and the cross foot behind, which is succussation or trotting; or whether per frontem or quadratum as Scaliger terms it, upon a square base, the legs of both sides moving together, as Frogs and salient Animals, which is properly called leaping. For by these motions they are able to support and impell themselves in the water, without alteration in the stroak of their legs, or position of their bodies.

But with Man it is performed otherwise: for in regard of site he alters his natural posture and swimmeth prone, whereas he walketh erect.[1] Again, in progression the arms move parallel to the legs, and the arms and legs unto each other; but in natation they intersect and make all sorts of angles, And lastly, in progressive motion, the arms and legs do move successively, but in natation both together; all which aptly to perform, and so as to support and advance the body, is a point of Art, and such as some in their young and docile years could never attain. But although swimming be acquired by art, yet is there somewhat more of nature in it then we observe in other habits, nor will it strictly fall under that definition; for once obtained, it is not to be removed; nor is there any who from disuse did ever yet forget it.

Secondly, That persons drowned arise and float the ninth day when their gall breaketh, is a questionable determination both in the time and cause. For the time of floating, it is uncertain according to the time of putrefaction, which shall retard or accelerate according to the subject and season of the year; for as we observed, Cats and Mice will arise unequally, and at different times, though drowned at the same. Such as are fat do commonly float soonest, for their bodies soonest ferment, and that substance approacheth nearest unto air: and this is one of Aristotles reasons why dead Eels will not float, because saith he, they have but slender bellies, and little fat.

As for the cause, it is not so reasonably imputed unto the breaking of the gall as the putrefaction or corruptive fermentation of the body, whereby the unnatural heat prevailing, the putrifying parts do suffer a turgescence and inflation, and becoming aery and spumous affect to approach the air, and ascend unto the surface of the water. And this is also evidenced in Eggs, whereof the sound ones sink, and such as are addled swim, as do also those which are termed hypenemia or wind-eggs; and this is also a way to separate seeds, whereof such as are corrupted and steril, swim; and this agreeth not only unto the seed of plants lockt up and capsulated in their husks, but also unto the sperm and seminal humor of Man; for such a passage hath Aristotle upon the Inquisition and test of its fertility.

That the breaking of the gall is not the cause hereof, experience hath informed us. For opening the abdomen, and taking out the gall in Cats and Mice, they did notwithstanding arise. And because we had read in Rhodiginus of a Tyrant, who to prevent the emergency of murdered bodies, did use to cut off their lungs, and found Mens minds possessed with this reason; we committed some unto the water without lungs, which notwithstanding floated with the others. And to compleat the experiment, although we took out the guts and bladder, and also perforated the Cranium, yet would they arise, though in a longer time. From these observations in other Animals, it may not be unreasonable to conclude the same in Man, who is too noble a subject on whom to make them expressely, and the casual opportunity too rare almost to make any. Now if any should ground this effect from gall or choler, because it is the lightest humor and will be above the rest; or being the fiery humor will readiest surmount the water, we must confess in the common putrescence it may promote elevation, which the breaking of the bladder of gall, so small a part in Man, cannot considerably advantage.

Lastly, That Women drowned float prone, that is, with their bellies downward, but Men supine or upward,[2] is an assertion wherein the hoti or point it self is dubious; and were it true, the reason alledged for it, is of no validity. The reason yet currant was first expressed by Pliny, veluti pudori defunctorum parcente naturâ,[3] nature modestly ordaining this position to conceale the shame of the dead, which hath been taken up by Solinus, Rhodiginus, and many more. This indeed (as Scaliger termeth it) is ratio civilis non philosophica, strong enough for morality or Rhetoricks, not for Philosophy or Physicks. For first, in nature the concealment of secret parts is the same in both sexes, and the shame of their reveal equal: so Adam upon the tast of the fruit was ashamed of his nakedness as well as Eve. And so likewise in America and Countries unacquainted with habits, where modesty conceals these parts in one sex, it doth it also in the other; and therefore had this been the intention of nature, not only Women, but Men also had swimmed downwards; the posture in reason being common unto both, where the intent is also common.

Again, While herein we commend the modesty, we condemn the wisdom of nature: for that prone position we make her contrive unto the Woman, were best agreeable unto the Man, in whom the secret parts are very anteriour and more discoverable in a supine and upward posture. And therefore Scaliger declining this reason, hath recurred unto another from the difference of parts in both sexes; Quod ventre vastro sunt mulieres plenoque intestinis, itaque minus impletur & subsidet, inanior maribus quibus nates præponderant: If so, then Men with great bellies will float downward, and only Callipygae, and Women largely composed behind, upward. But Anatomists observe, that to make the larger cavity for the Infant, the hanch bones in Women, and consequently the parts appendant are more protuberant then they are in Men. They who ascribe the cause unto the breasts of Women, take not away the doubt; for they resolve not why children float downward, who are included in that sex, though not in the reason alleadged. But hereof we cease to discourse lest we undertake to afford a reason of the golden tooth,4 that is to invent or assign a cause, when we remain unsatisfied or unassured of the effect.

That a Mare will sooner drown then a Horse, though commonly opinion'd, is not I fear experienced: nor is the same observed, in the drowning of Whelps and Kitlins. But that a Man cannot shut or open his eyes under water, easie experiment may convict. Whether Cripples or mutilated Persons, who have lost the greatest part of their thighs, will not sink but float, their lungs being abler to waft up their bodies, which are in others overpoised by the hinder legs; we have not made experiment. Thus much we observe, that Animals drown downwards, and the same is observable in Frogs, when the hinder legges are cut off. But in the air most seem to perish headlong from high places; however Vulcan thrown from heaven, be made to fall on his feet.[5]


* [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}. Ross answers this chapter in Arcana Microcosmi

1 [Ross, Arcana Microcosmi, in a rare moment of clarity, writes "This is no reason; for Man alters his natural posture when he crawls; will it follow, therefore, that this motion is not natural to Man?"]

2 [Cf. Huckleberry Finn; "I knowed mighty well that a drownded Man don't float on his back, but on his face. So I knowed, then, that this warn't pap, but a woman dressed up in a Man's clothes." Pseudodoxia not infrequently get turned upside down or inside out as they make their way through time. And why not? If not true, there's no reason to have it one way rather than another.]

3 [NH vii (77), which has (more reasonably) defunctarum; Englished by Holland. ]

4 Of the cause whereof much dispute was made, and at last proved an imposture. [Said to have grown naturally in the mouth of a Flemish boy in the late sixteenth century.]

5 [Although Vulcan is not actually said to have landed on his feet, it is perhaps implied by the consequent lameness. It's a little surprising, given the number of felines who seem to have been sacrificed in pursuit of the questions raised in this chapter, that Browne didn't try throwing some of them off a roof.]

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