Chap. IX.

Of the same.

THERE are beside these Authors and such as have positively promoted errors, divers others which are in some way accessory; whose verities although they do not directly assert, yet do they obliquely concur unto their beliefs. In which account are many holy Writers, Preachers, Moralists, Rhetoricians, Orators and Poets; for they depending upon Invention, deduce their mediums from all things whatsoever; and playing much upon the simile, or illustrative argumentation: to induce their Enthymemes[1] unto the people, they took up popular conceits, and from traditions unjustifiable or really false, illustrate matters of undeniable truth. Wherein although their intention be sincere, and that course not much condemnable; yet doth it notoriously strengthen common Errors, and authorise Opinions injurious unto truth.

Thus have some Divines drawn into argument the Fable of the Phoenix, made use of that of the Salamander, Pelican, Basilisk, and divers relations of Plinie; deducing from thence most worthy morals, and even upon our Saviour. Now although this be not prejudicial unto wiser Judgments, who are but weakly moved with such arguments, yet it is oft times occasion of Error unto vulgar heads, who expect in the Fable as equal a truth as in the Moral, and conceive that infallible Philosophy, which is in any sense delivered by Divinity. But wiser discerners do well understand, that every Art hath its own circle; that the effects of things are best examined, by sciences wherein are delivered their causes; that strict and definitive expressions, are alway required in Philosophy, but a loose and popular delivery will serve oftentimes in Divinity. As may be observed even in holy Scripture, which often omitteth the exact account of things; describing them rather to our apprehensions, then leaving doubts in vulgar minds, upon their unknown and Philosophical descriptions. Thus it termeth the Sun and the Moon the two great lights of Heaven. Now if any shall from hence conclude, the Moon is second in magnitude unto the Sun, he must excuse my belief; and it cannot be strange, if herein I rather adhere unto the demonstration of Ptolomy, then the popular description of Moses. Thus is it said, Chron. 2. 4, That Solomon made a molten Sea of ten Cubits from brim to brim round in compass, and five Cubits the height thereof, and a line of thirty Cubits did compass it round about. Now in this description, the circumference is made just treble unto the Diameter; that is, as 10. to 30. or 7. to 21. But Archimedes demonstrates,2 that the proportion of the Diameter unto the circumference, is as 7. unto almost 22. which will occasion a sensible difference, that is almost a Cubit. Now if herein I adhere unto Archimedes who speaketh exactly, rather then the sacred Text which speaketh largely; I hope I shall not offend Divinity: I am sure I shall have reason and experience of every circle to support me.

Thus Moral Writers, Rhetoricians and Orators make use of several relations which will not consist with verity. Aristotle in his Ethicks takes up the conceit of the Bever, and the divulsion of his Testicles. The tradition of the Bear, the Viper, and divers others are frequent amongst Orators. All which although unto the illiterate and undiscerning hearers may seem a confirmation of their realities; yet is this no reasonable establishment unto others, who will not depend hereon otherwise then common Apologues: which being of impossible falsities, do notwithstanding include wholsome moralities, and such as expiate the trespass of their absurdities.

The Hieroglyphical doctrine of the Ægyptians (which in their four hundred years cohabitation some conjecture they learned from the Hebrews) hath much advanced many popular conceits. For using an Alphabet of things, and not of words, through the image and pictures thereof, they endeavoured to speak their hidden conceits in the letters and language of Nature. In pursuit whereof, although in many things, they exceeded not their true and real apprehensions; yet in some other they either framing the story, or taking up the tradition, conducible unto their intentions, obliquely confirmed many falsities; which as authentick and conceded truths did after pass unto the Greeks, from them unto other Nations, and are still retained by symbolical Writers, Emblematists, Heralds, and others. Whereof some are strictly maintained for truths, as naturally making good their artificial representations; others symbolically intended, are literally received, and swallowed in the first sense, without all gust of the second. Whereby we pervert the profound and mysterious knowledge of Ægypt; containing the Arcana's of Greek Antiquities, the Key of many obscurities and ancient learning extant. Famous herein in former Ages were Heraiscus, Cheremon, Epius, especially Orus Apollo Niliacus: who lived in the reign of Theodosius, and in Ægyptian language left two Books of Hieroglyphicks, translated into Greek by Philippus, and a large collection of all made after by Pierius. But no man is likely to profound the Ocean of that Doctrine, beyond that eminent example of industrious Learning, Kircherus.

Painters who are the visible representers of things, and such as by the learned sense of the eye endeavour to inform the understanding, are not inculpable herein, who either describing Naturals as they are, or actions as they have been, have oftentimes erred in their delineations. Which being the Books that all can read, are fruitful advancers of these conceptions, especially in common and popular apprehensions: who being unable for farther enquiry, must rest in the draught and letter of their descriptions.

Lastly, Poets and Poetical Writers have in this point exceeded others, trimly advancing the Ægyptian notions of Harpies, Phoenix, Gryphins, and many more. Now however to make use of Fictions, Apologues, and Fables, be not unwarrantable, and the intent of these inventions might point at laudable ends; yet do they afford our junior capacities a frequent occasion of error, setling impressions in our tender memories, which our advanced judgments generally neglect to expunge. This way the vain and idle fictions of the Gentiles did first insinuate into the heads of Christians; and thus are they continued even unto our days. Our first and literary apprehensions being commonly instructed in Authors which handle nothing else; wherewith our memories being stuffed, our inventions become pedantick, and cannot avoid their allusions; driving at these as at the highest elegancies, which are but the frigidities of wit, and become not the genius of manly ingenuities. It were therefore no loss like that of Galens Library,3 if these had found the same fate; and would in some way requite the neglect of solid Authors, if they were less pursued. For were a pregnant wit educated in ignorance hereof, receiving only impressions from realities; upon such solid foundations, it must surely raise more substantial superstructions, and fall upon very many excellent strains, which have been jusled off by their intrusions.


* [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 [An argument based more on the appearance of truth than on demonstration; a rhetorical argument.]

2 In his Cyclometria.

3 [In the great fire of Rome, 292]

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