Saturday, February 28, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 45 (Sir Thomas Browne)

The Major Works
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Browne, Sir Thomas
The Major Works

Purchased at the Niagara Falls outlet mall discount book store for $3.50. Never read, and already the pages are yellowing. I think Samuel Delany, in a class I took with him in grad school, mentioned that he thought Sir Thomas Browne was one of the great prose stylists of all time, which is probably what planted the seed to my purchase of this book. I hope to read it some day, really I do.

Meantime, here's an excerpt from Hydrotaphia, or Urn-Burial, which goes a long way toward proving Delany's point:

WHEN the general pyre was out, and the last valediction 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 relicks, 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 whither they are to be scattered? The relicks of many lie like the ruins of Pompey's, in all parts of the earth; and when they arrive at your hands these may seem to have wandered far, who, in a direct and meridian travel, have but few miles of known earth between yourself and the pole.

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

We cannot but wish these urns might have the effect of theatrical vessels and great Hippodrome urns 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 ruins of forgotten times, and can only speak with life, how long in this corruptible frame some parts may be uncorrupted; yet able to outlast bones long unborn, and noblest pile among us

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