Worthy and Honoured Friend



When the Funerall pyre was out, and the last valediction was over, men took a lasting adieu of their interred Friends, little expecting the curiosity of future ages should comment upon their ashes, and having no old experience of the duration of their Reliques, held no opinion of such after-considerations.

But who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? who hath the Oracle of his ashes, or whether they are to be scattered? The Reliques of many lie like the ruines of Pompeys1, in all parts of the earth; And when they arrive at your hands, theses may seem to have wandred far, who in a direct2 and Meridian Travell, have but few miles of known Earth between your self and the Pole.

That the bones of Theseus should be seen again3 in Athens, was not beyond conjecture, and hopeful expectation; but that these should arise so opportunely to serve your self, was an hit of fate and honour beyond prediction.

We cannot but wish these Urnes might have the effect of Theatrical vessels, and great Hippodrome4 Urnes in Rome; to resound the acclamations and honour due unto you. But these are sad and sepulchral Pitchers, which have no joyful voices; silently expressing old mortality, the ruines of forgotten times, and can only speak with life, how long in this corruptible frame, some parts may be uncorrupted; yet able to out-last bones long unborn, and noblest pyle5 among us.

We present not these as any strange sight or spectacle unknown to your eyes, who have beheld the best of Urnes, and noblest variety of Ashes; Who are your self no slender master of Antiquities, and can daily command the view of so many Imperiall faces; Which raiseth your thoughts unto old things, and consideration of times before you, when even living men were Antiquities; when the living might exceed the dead, and to depart this world, could not be properly said, to go unto the greater number.6 And so run up your thoughts upon the ancient of days, the Antiquaries truest object, unto whom the eldest parcels are young, and earth it self an Infant; and without Ægyptian account7 makes but small noise in thousands.

We were hinted by the occasion, not catched the opportunity to write of old things, or intrude upon the Antiquary. We are coldly drawn unto discourses of Antiquities, who have scarce time before us to comprehend new things, or make out learned Novelties. But seeing they arose as they lay, almost in silence among us, at least in short account suddenly passed over; we were very unwilling they should die again, and be buried twice among us.

Beside, to preserve the living, and make the dead to live, to keep men out of their Urnes, and discourse of humane fragments in them, is not impertinent unto our profession; whose study is life and death, who daily behold examples of mortality, and of all men least need artificial memento’s, or coffins by our bed side, to minde us of our graves.

’Tis time to observe Occurrences, and let nothing remarkable escape us; The Supinity of elder days hath left so much in silence, or time hath so martyred the Records, that the most industrious heads8 do finde no easie work to erect a new Britannia.

’Tis opportune to look back upon old times, and contemplate our Forefathers. Great examples grow thin, and to be fetched from the passed world. Simplicity flies away, and iniquity comes at long strides upon us. We have enough to do to make up our selves from present and passed times, and the whole stage of things scarce serveth for our instruction. A compleat peece of vertue must be made up from the Centos of all ages, as all the beauties of Greece could make but one handsome Venus.

When the bones of King Arthur were digged up9, the old Race might think, they beheld therein some Originals of themselves; Unto these of our Urnes none here can pretend relation, and can only behold the Reliques of those persons, who in their life giving the Laws unto their predecessors, after long obscurity, now lye at their mercies. But remembring the early civility they brought upon these Countreys, and forgetting long passed mischiefs; We mercifully preserve their bones, and pisse not upon their ashes.

In the offer of these Antiquities we drive not at ancient Families, so long out-lasted by them; We are farre from erecting your worth upon the pillars of your Fore-fathers, whose merits you illustrate. We honour your old Virtues, conformable unto times before you, which are the Noblest Armoury. And having long experience of your friendly conversation, void of empty Formality, full of freedome, constant and Generous Honesty. I look upon you as a Gemme of the Old Rock,10 and must professe my self even to Urne and Ashes,

May 1.

Your ever faithfull Friend,

and Servant,

Thomas Browne.


1. Pompeios juvenes Asia, atque Europa, sed ipsum terra tegit Libyos. [Pompey's sons are covered by the soils of Asia and Europe; Pompey himself by that of Africa.]

2. Little directly, but Sea between your house and Greenland.

3. Brought back by Cimon. Plutarch. [Cimon VIII.6.]

4. The great Urnes in the Hippodrome at Rome conceived to resound the voices of people at their shows

5. Worthily possessed by that true Gentleman Sir Horatio Townshend, my honored friend. [Raynham Hall in Norfolk, now famous for its ghost.]

6. Abiit ad plures. [Petronius, Satyricon 42.]

7. Which makes the world so many years old.

8. Wherein M. Dugdale hath excellently well endeavored, and worthy to be countenanced by ingenuous and noble persons.

9. In the time of Henry II, Cambden.

From Camden’s Britannia, as englished by Philemon Holland (pp. 227-):

But, before I return from hence, I will briefly set downe unto you that, which Giraldum Cambrensis an eie-witnesse of the thing, hath more at large related touching Arthurs Sepulchre in the Churchyard there.

When Henrie the Second Kind of England, tooke knowledge out of the songs of British Bards, or Rhythmers, how Arthur that most noble Worthy of the Brtains who by his Martial prowesse, had many a time daunted the fury of the English Saxons, lay buried heere betweene two Pyramides, or sharpe-headed pillars,, hee caused the Bodie to be searched for: and scarcely had they digged seven foot deepe in to the earth, but they lighted upon a Tomb or Grave-stone, on the upper face whereof was fastened a broade Crosse of lead grossly wrought: which being taken forth shewed an inscription of letters: and under the seid stone almost nine foot deeper, was found a Sepulchre of oake made hollow, wherin the bones of that famour Arthur were bestowed, which Inscription or Epitaph, as it was sometimes exemplified, and drawn out of the first Copie in the Abbey of Glascon, I thought good for the antiquitie of the characters here to put downe. The letters being made after a barbarous manner, & resembling the Gothish Character, bewray plainely the barbaritie of that age, when ignorance (as it were) by fatall destinie bare such way, taht there was none to be found, by whose writings the renowne of Arthur might be blazed, and commended to posteritie. A mater and argument doubtlesse, meet to have beene handled by the skill and eloquence of some right learned man, who in celebrating the praises of so great a prince, might have wonne due commendation also for his owne wit. For, the most valiant Champion of the British Empire, seemeth even in this behalfe onely, most unfortunate, that hee never met with such a trumpeter, as might worthily have sounded out the praise of his valour. But behold the said Crosse and Epitaph therein.

Arthur's Cross

10. Adamas de rupe veteri præstantissimus.

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