Chap. XIX.

Of some Relations whose truth we fear.

LASTLY, As there are many Relations whereto we cannot assent, and make some doubt thereof, so are there divers others whose verities we fear, and heartily wish there were no truth therein.

1. It is an unsufferable affront unto filiall piety, and a deep discouragement unto the expectation of all aged Parents, who shall but read the story of that barbarous Queen; who after she had beheld her royall Parents ruin, lay yet in the arms of his assassine, and carowsed with him in the skull of her father.[1] For my part, I should have doubted the operation of antimony, where such a potion would not work;[2] 'twas an act me thinks beyond Anthropophagy, and a cup fit to be served up only at the Table of Atreus.[3]

2. While we laugh at the story of Pygmaleon, and receive as a fable that he fell in love with a statue; we cannot but fear it may be true, what is delivered by Herodotus concerning the Egyptian Pollinctors, or such as annointed the dead; that some thereof were found in the act of carnality with them.[4] From wits that say 'tis more then incontinency for Hylas to sport with Hecuba,[5] and youth to flame in the frozen embraces of age, we require a name for this: wherein Petronius or Martial cannot relieve us.[6] The tyrannie of Mezentius7 did never equall the vitiosity of this Incubus, that could embrace corruption, and make a Mistress of the grave; that could not resist the dead provocations of beauty,[8] whose quick invitements scarce excuse submission. Surely, if such depravities there be yet alive, deformity need not despair; nor will the eldest hopes be ever superannuated, since death hath spurs, and carcasses have been courted.[9]

3. I am heartily sorry and wish it were not true, what to the dishonour of Christianity is affirmed of the Italian; who after he had inveighed his enemy to disclaim his faith for the redemption of his life, did presently poyniard him, to prevent repentance, and assure his eternal death.[10] The villany of this Christian exceeded the persecution of Heathens, whose malice was never so Longimanous11 as to reach the soul of their enemies; or to extend unto the exile of their Elysiums. And though the blindness of some ferities have savaged on the bodies of the dead, and been so injurious unto worms, as to disenter the bodies of the deceased;[12] yet had they therefore no design upon the soul: and have been so far from the destruction of that, or desires of a perpetual death, that for the satisfaction of their revenge they wisht them many souls, and were it in their power would have reduced them unto life again. It is a great depravity in our natures, and surely an affection that somewhat savoureth of hell, to desire the society, or comfort our selves in the fellowship of others that suffer with us; but to procure the miseries of others in those extremities, wherein we hold an hope to have no society our selves, is me thinks a strain above Lucifer,[13] and a project beyond the primary seduction of hell.

4. I hope it is not true, and some indeed have probably denied, what is recorded of the Monk that poysoned Henry the Emperour, in a draught of the holy Eucharist.[14] 'Twas a scandalous wound unto Christian Religion, and I hope all Pagans will forgive it, when they shall read that a Christian was poysoned in a cup of Christ, and received his bane in a draught of his salvation.[15] Had he beleived Transubstantiation, he would have doubted the effect;[16] and surely the sin it self received an aggravation in that opinion. It much commendeth the innocency of our forefathers, and the simplicity of those times, whose Laws could never dream so high a crime as parricide:[17] whereas this at the least may seem to out-reach that fact, and to exceed the regular distinctions of murder. I will not say what sin it was to act it; yet may it seem a kind of martyrdom to suffer by it. For, although unknowingly, he died for Christ his sake, and lost his life in the ordained testimony of his death. Certainly, had they known it, some noble zeales would scarcely have refused it; rather adventuring their own death, then refusing the memorial of his.[18]

Many other accounts like these we meet sometimes in history,19 scandalous unto Christianity, and even unto humanity; whose verities not only, but whose relations honest minds do deprecate. For of sins heteroclital, and such as want either name or president, there is oft times a sin even in their histories. We desire no records of such enormities; sins should be accounted new, that so they may be esteemed monstrous. They omit of monstrosity as they fall from their rarity; for, men count it veniall to err with their forefathers, and foolishly conceive they divide a sin in its society. The pens of men may sufficiently expatiate without these singularities of villany; For, as they encrease the hatred of vice in some, so do they enlarge the theory of wickedness in all. And this is one thing that may make latter ages worse then were the former; For, the vicious examples of Ages past, poyson the curiosity of these present, affording a hint of sin unto seduceable spirits, and soliciting those unto the imitation of them, whose heads were never so perversly principled as to invent them. In this kind we commend the wisdom and goodness of Galen, who would not leave unto the world too subtile a Theory of poysons; unarming thereby the malice of venemous spirits, whose ignorance must be contented with Sublimate and Arsenick. For, surely there are subtiler venenations, such as will invisibly destroy, and like the Basilisks of heaven.[20] In things of this nature silence commendeth history; 'tis the veniable part of things lost; wherein there must never rise a Pancirollus,21 nor remain any Register but that of hell.

And yet, if as some Stoicks opinion, and Seneca himselfe disputeth, these unruly affections that make us sin such prodigies, and even sins themselves be animals; there is an history of Africa and story of Snakes in these. And if the transanimation of Pythagoras or method thereof were true, that the souls of men transmigrated into species answering their former natures: some men must surely live over many Serpents, and cannot escape that very brood whose sire Satan entered. And though the objection of Plato should take place, that bodies subjected unto corruption, must fail at last before the period of all things, and growing fewer in number, must leave some souls apart unto themselves; the spirits of many long before that time will find but naked habitations: and meeting no assimilables wherein to react their natures, must certainly anticipate such natural desolations.


Primus sapientiæ gradus est, falsa intelligere.



* [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 [This is the version of the story given by Browne's source, Grosius. The Lombard king Alboin was killed in 572, traditionally by his wife, Rosamund. Wilkin, quoting from Lardner's Cyclopædia; Europe during the Middle Ages, gives a different version:

"Few dynasties have been so unfortunate as that of the Lombards. Alboin, its founder, had not wielded the sceptre four years, when he became the victim of domestic treason: the manner is worth relating, as characteristic of the people. During his residence in Panonia, this valiant chief had overcome and slain Cunimond, king of the Gepidæ, whose skull, in conformity with a barbarous custom of his nation, he had fashioned into a drinking cup. Though he had married Rosamond, daughter of Cunimond, in his festive entertainments he was by no means disposed to forego [sic] the triumph of displaying the trophy. In one held at Verona, he had the inhumanity to invite his consort to drink to her father, while he displayed the cup, and, for the first time, revealed its history in her presence. His vanity cost him dear: if she concealed her abhorrence, it settled into a deadly feeling. By the counsel of Helmich, a confidential officer of the court, she opened her heart to Peredeo, one of the bravest captains of the Lombards; and when she could not persuade him to assassinate his prince, she had recourse to an expedient, which proves, that in hatred as in love, woman knows no measure. Personating a mistress of Peredeo, she silently and in darkness stole to his bed; and when her purpose was gained, she threatened him with the vengeance of an injured husband, unless he consented to become a regicide. The option was soon made: accompanied by Helmich, Peredeo was led to the couch of the sleeping king, whose arms had been previously removed; and, after a short struggle, the deed of blood was consummated. The justice of heaven never slumbers: if Alboin was thus severely punished for his inhumanity, fate avenged him of his murderers. To escape the suspicious enmity of the Lombards, the queen and Helmich fled to Ravenna, which at this period depended on the Greek empire. There the exarch, coveting the treasures which she had brought from Verona, offered her his hand, on condition she removed her companion. Such a woman was not likely to hesitate. To gratify one passion she had planned a deed of blood — to gratify another, her ambition, she presented a poisoned cup to her lover, in the bath. After drinking a portion, his suspicions were kindled, and he forced her, under the raised sword, to drink the rest. The same hour ended their guilt and lives. Peredeo, the third culprit, fled to Constantinople, where a fate no less tragical awaited him." ]

2 [Cups made of antimony were used to provoke vomiting.]

3 [Who served Thyestes' children to their father.]

4 [Herodotus, II.89, where he says that the bodies of women were held three or four days to prevent any such occurrence.]

5 [That is, for young men to court old women.]

6 [The word "necrophilia" or "necrophilism" seem to be coinages of the late 19th century. Petronius and Martiall are rich sources of words relating precisely to certain sexual relations and sex-related occupations, although perhaps Catullus should have been thrown in as well, but they seem to have shied away from this particular area. The argument is perhaps, like much of the chapter, intended as mild humor, given Browne's perfect willingness to coin words.]

7 Who tied dead and living bodies together. [Virgil, VIII.481ff:

Hanc multos florentem annos rex deinde superbo
imperio et saevis tenuit Mezentius armis.
Quid memorem infandas caedes, quid facta tyranni
effera? Di capiti ipsius generique reservent!
Mortua quin etiam iungebat corpora vivis
componens manibusque manus atque oribus ora,
tormenti genus, et sanie taboque fluentis
complexu in misero longa sic morte necabat.]

8 [Wren: "Provocations of dead beauty", which though seemingly more logical misses the parallel with "quick invitements".]

9 ["You know, if I were a single man, I might ask that mummy out. That's a good-looking mummy!" — Bill Clinton (1996), quoted in Time. The comment provoked outrage in Peru, where there had already been opposition to the shipment of the mummy "Juanita" to the United States; one Peruvian anthropologist remarked, "Maybe it would have been better if a man as public as Clinton had not handled the thing is such a tacky manner, so crudely".]

10 [Browne says in Religio Medici that he cannot believe this story.]

11 Long-handed.

12 [Recalling the Civil Wars and related excesses; cf. Hydriotaphia, Book I: "Others pretending no natural grounds, politickly declined the malice of enemies upon their buried bodies. Which consideration led Sylla unto this practise; who having thus served the body of Marius, could not but fear a retaliation upon his own; entertained after in the Civill wars, and revengeful contentions of Rome."]

13 [Who whatever his powers may be will yet remain in Hell with the damned.]

14 [Henry VII (c. 1270-1313), on St. Bartholomews Day, August 24, 1313. Modern biographies say that he was "suddenly stricken ill", certainly a more likely (and more wholesome) story.]

15 [Some believe that Clement XIV, who dissolved the Jesuit order in 1773, was poisoned thus, although an autopsy revealed no evidence of poison; Wilkin cites a story from the Universal Magazine of 1776 giving an account of a case of poisoning of sacramental wine in Zurich which killed several people.]

16 [You may read (lots) about the doctrine of Transubstantiation (and the heresy of Consubstantiation) in the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Real Presence in the Eucharist.]

17 [According to Plutarch in Romulus: "This, too, is observable as a singular thing in Romulus, that he appointed no punishment for real parricide, but called all murder so, thinking the one an accursed thing, but the other a thing impossible; and, for a long time, his judgment seemed to have been right; for in almost six hundred years together, nobody committed the like in Rome; and Lucius Hostius, after the wars of Hannibal, is recorded to have been the first parricide. Let this much suffice concerning these matters." It should be remembered that under later (than Romulus) Roman law, the pater had extreme power over his family, power which could not be broken or escaped except by his death, and power which amounted to owning his children. Which doesn't mean that parricide did not occur earlier; recall the anti-homosexuality laws of Britain, which did not include lesbianism allegedly because Queen Victoria thought it "a thing impossible". ]

18 [Wren: It had been a very foolish zeale, and little less than selfe murder to have taken that sacramentall, wherein they had known poyson to have been put. The rejection of that particular cup had not been any refusal of remembring his death. This therefore needs an index expurgatorius, and a deleatur, and so we have accordingly cancelled it.]

19 Hujus formæ multa in historia horribili.

20 [Presumably the baleful influence of heavenly bodies, comets or stars or planets or meteorites, which, like the basilisk, destroy at a distance.]

21 Who writ de Antiquis deperditis, or of inventions lost.

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