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Others, rather than be lost in the uncomfortable night of nothing, were content to recede into the common being, and make no particle of the publick soul of all things, which was no more than to return into their unknown and divine original again. Egyptian ingenuity was more unsatisfied, contriving their bodies in sweet consistences, to attend the return of their souls. But all was vanity, feeding the wind, and folly. The Egyptian mummies, which Cambyses, or time hath spared, avarice now consumeth. Mummy has become merchandise, Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharaoh is sold for balsams.
“ In vain do individuals hope for immortality, or any patent from oblivion, in preservations below the moon; men have been deceived even in their flatteries above the sun, and studied conceits to perpetuate their names in heaven. The various cosmography of that part hath already varied the names of contrived constellations; Nimrod is lost in Orion, and Osyris in the Dog-star. While we look for incorruption in the heavens, we find they are but like the earth—durable in their main bodies, alterable in their parts : whereof beside comets and new stars, perspectives begin to tell tales. And the spots that wander about the sun, with Phæton's favour, would make clear conviction.”
Sir Thomas Browne has been contrasted with Bishop Jeremy Taylor, who like him wrote on death, and delighted to contemplate the symbols of man's decay. But no two things can be more opposite than their modes of treating the sacred theme. Jeremy Taylor broods only over the surface of the subject, and tinges it with roseate hues. He enters not the recesses of the grave, but moralizes at its entrance. While Sir Thomas Browne rakes among the bones for some strange relic in the deep bed of mortality; the most Christian of bishops gently gathers the sweet flowers which peep forth on the green above it. The former ransacks antiquity, and the hidden corners of strange learning for his illustrations; the latter steals the ready smile of some sleeping child, or the modest bloom of a virgin cheek. The imagination of Sir Thomas Browne reflects the faded forms of old, half-forgotten things; that of Jeremy Taylor is overspread with the blushing tints of aërial beauty, like a lake beneath the sweetest sky of evening, in which the very multitude of lovely shadows prevent any one clear and majestic image from appearing unbroken. The first carries us out of ourselves into the grand abstractions of our nature; the last touches the pulses of individual joy, and awakens delicious musings and indistinct emotions of serious delight, such “as make a chrysome child to smile.” In the works of Browne, we hear “ ancestral voices;" in those of Taylor, we listen to the sweet warblings of the angelic choir. Sir Thomas Browne does not shed sweet radiance on the stream of life—but he fathoms its most awful deeps, and thence discovers, that it rises not within the horizon of sense, but hath its source in other worlds, and will continue its mystic windings far beyond the shadows of death, which limit our present vision.
ART. VIII. Hieronymi Cardani Mediolanensis de Propria Vita
Liber. Amstelædami, Apud Joannem Ravesteinum. 1654. 12mo. pp. 288.
We cannot conceive a more interesting or more appropriate employment for a man in the decline of life, than to sit down to write the history of his own actions, his feelings, his thoughts, and his adventures-to think over the early time of his youth—to call back the recollection of companions and friends, dead, distant, or nearly forgotten--to trace his designs in their origin and progress, their completion or disappointment, and compare himself with himself in the several changeful acts of his existence. This is seldom done. Specimens of auto-biography are rare, and valuable as rare. Yet old age is proverbially garrulous; and the desire of being remembered after death is as universal as man himself. To counteract the effect of dispositions so likely to produce communications as these, there must operate some powerful and general causes—which may probably, in some small measure, be found in a very common indisposition in men, who are not accustomed to commit their thoughts to writing, or who are not authors by profession, to put pen to paper in the way of formal composition. If this be the feeling which prevents men from amusing and instructing either their peculiar progeny, or posterity in general, by an account of their own lives, it is to be lamented that they cannot be convinced of the fact, that all the beauties that this kind of writing would absolutely require, are the natural and unbought charms that accompany a plain unvarnished tale--the emotions of the heart, the movements of the mind in peculiar situations, the personal adventure, or the critical emergency, need only the simple language which spontaneously clothes the thought as it grows. Few men there are, however chequered or busy the scenes of their active life may be, who do not frequently reflect upon their circumstances, and review, with intense consciousness, the map of their past existence—who do not sometimes turn an eye of ardent curiosity into the internal operations of their own minds and wills; this practice becomes more frequent, and of longer duration, as a man advances towards the latter end of his life--when the old man is established, at
the decline of day, by his fire-side, or when walking about his garden in the early morning.
To render auto-biography interesting and amusing, we think is no difficult task, presuming, of course, a fair foundation to build upon; but for a man so completely to divest himself of vanity and self-love, that the relation of himself shall be impartial and trustworthy, would be a very uncommon and singular occurrence; that an individual, in addition to this, should be bitter against himself—that he should make himself appear even worse than he may be, that he should unnaturally point his own actions with evil motives, and aggravate his own feelings, is a case of such remarkable morbidity, as to deserve a particular account. The life of Cardan, the subject of the present article, is nearly such a case. • There are stern task-masters of their own consciences, who would not shrink to take their conduct to pieces, and subject its parts to a rigid examination-whose austere love of truth would enable them to look into the vital operations of their own hearts, without flinching ; but very few, if any, who could bring themselves to hold up the account to the eye of the world. It cannot be expected: the best heart would wither at the idea of such an exhibition. Had the Mandeville of Mr. Godwin been a real being, would he ever have been induced to send to the press that awful account of the workings of his soul ? Certainly not. Yet how instructive, how intense an interest would such a relation have exacted, could we have relied on the precedent; had it been a reported case, of authority to be quoted in the court where a man sits in judgment upon himself-that awful tribunal, where the judge is master of the fact and the law—where the witness convicts himself, and the punishment awarded is, the gnawing “worm that never dies.”
The generality of auto-biographers, however, it must be confessed, do not feel this responsibility to be of so deep a nature: they skim the surface of their lives, and only catch the reflection of their actions in a flattering point of view; they think highly of themselves, magnify their good deeds, and dilute the confession of a fault to a sweet insipid mixture of mistaken virtue and pardonable vice. Such men publish in their life-time, and would be well with their contemporaries. It is not to such works as these, that we have been chiefly alluding, though they may be sufficiently amusing, and, when read with discrimination, highly useful. We refer to the dusty and neglected manuscript volume, which is dragged by executors or descendants from forgotten heaps of papers, tattered and worm-eaten, in the bottom of an old chest, and written in many different-looking hands—the pro
VOL. I. PART 1.
duction of many a gloomy hour, when the soul was at mortal strife with its own nature.
It has been said, that self-knowledge is a science of such difficult attainment, that men “ deceive themselves, and say that they have no sin;" that actions appear to the actors of them in so favourable a light, that a writer, de seipso, cannot unravel the truth. We apprehend there is a good deal of error in this opinion: the yvõibe OEQŰTOV is not so difficult a task as has been imagined-it is not that men cannot, but that they will not, see the reality. A man always knows, or easily could know, if he would give himself the trouble, the sterling quality of his own deeds ; should he, however, be disinclined to enter into the examination, and to throw a sop to his conscience, we readily acknowledge the powerful effect of the casuistry which is ever at hand to gloss over, misrepresent, and soften down; but this is only when there is a traitor in the bosom, and no effort or attempt at resistance
is maderome dered as writteost an
Jerome Cardan was the most remarkable, and, at the time, considered one of the greatest men of the sixteenth century. More was written and said about him, and he himself wrote more, than almost any other writer of the age. He was consulted as one who had preternatural information; by some, he was almost adored as a demi-god; by others, he was hated as an impostor and a villain ; and by others, pitied or despised as a madman. His bitterest antagonist, the elder Scaliger, confessed that at times he wrote as one inspired, and at others as an idiot. Artists frequently came from distant parts of the country, that they might take his portrait. He was a mathematician, and is celebrated as the inventor of one of the most important rules in Algebra, which goes by his name. He was a physician, and his advice was requested from all parts. He was invited by the King of Denmark to reside in his dominions, and, being sent for from Italy to Scotland, cured the Archbishop of St. Andrews of a disorder which had bidden defiance to the most skilful physicians in the country: he is hence mentioned as a magician by the Scotch historians. He was an astronomer, and yet he believed in astrology; and at the same time, an eminent metaphysician and moral philosopher. He was called a polypus of science-cut off one head, and a score sprang up-refute him in one department, yet his fame and reputation stood upon the footing of half a dozen others. He was as singular in his birth and death as in his life: in the womb, his mother attempted to destroy him by means of deleterious drugs, and he was ushered into the world with fearful signs :
“ The raven rook'd her on the chimney's top,
of his mind will proceed to con, did not thinnot begin withe
During his life he was afflicted with the pains of poverty, and the miseries of professional authorship, but these have happened to many men; his misfortunes were peculiar-a wandering and unsettled mode of existence, and the being charged with theft and all sorts of dishonesty, moral and literary, were nothing to his family anxieties; his eldest son was ignominiously executed for the murder of his wife, and he himself was compelled more than once to imprison his youngest son, who was an unprincipled knave, and whom he was compelled to disinherit and disown. It has been mentioned that Cardan was an astrologer; he, it is said, predicted his own death at a particular time, and starved himself to prove the truth of the prophecy. The events, however, of the life of this singular personage are not so remarkable as the portrait of his mind which he has left us in the book, of the contents of which we will proceed to give an account.
Cardan, in this production, did not think proper to follow the ordinary mode of biography; he does not begin with his birth and his infancy, and thus narrate in order the incidents of his life. The manner of the book is as singular as the matter. He divides all the qualities and properties incidental to man under different heads, which he affixes to the beginning of a chapter, and proceeds to describe his own individual peculiarities under each; as for instance, de Statura et Forma corporis; de Valetudine; de Moribus et Animi Vitio, et Erroribus. Thus giving, as it were, a regular inventory of his whole effects, intellectual, moral, and personal. His life is like the statistical statement of the surveyor of a parish-every thing connected with him has its separate and peculiar notice, down to his very food, his clothes, and his exercise. He takes the height and breadth, and marks, of his person, as a curious traveller would measure the pyramids. The interest of narrative never entered into his mind; his book is a record of facts, which he felt he was called upon to make, before so singular a being disappeared from the face of the earth. A naturalist would thus describe an animal he had never met with, and never expected to see again. A mineralogist, in stringing together an account of the external appearances, the component parts and different uses of a mineral, would be just as accurate and just as jejune. It is, perhaps, the most difficult book to get through that was ever written, which contained so many remarkable circumstances. He writes as if he were giving evidence in a court of justice, and every sentence was an answer
of a chapter neach; as for initias et Animi Vitthis whole