Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Sir Thomas Browne at Norwich
By Walter Pater (18391894)
THEIR house at Norwich, even then an old one, it would seem, must have grown, through long years of acquisition, into an odd cabinet of antiquitiesantiquities properly so called; his old Roman, or Romanised British urns, from Walsingham or Brampton, for instance, and those natural objects which he studied somewhat in the temper of curiosity-hunter, or antiquary. In one of the old churchyards of Norwich he makes the first discovery of adipocere, of which grim substance a portion still remains with him. For his multifarious experiments he must have had his laboratory. The old window-stanchions had become magnetic, proving, as he thinks, that iron acquires verticity from long lying in one position. Once we find him re-tiling the place. It was then, perhaps, that he made the observation that bricks and tiles also acquire magnetic alliciencyones whole house, one might fancy! as indeed he holds the earth itself to be a vast lodestone.
The very faults of his literary work, its desultoriness, the time it costs his readers, that slow Latinity which Johnson imitated from him, those lengthy leisurely terminations which busy posterity will abbreviate, all breathe of the long quiet of the place. Yet he is by no means indolent. Besides wide book-learning, experimental research at home, and indefatigable observation in the open air, he prosecutes the ordinary duties of a physician; contrasting himself indeed with other students, whose quiet and unmolested doors afford no such distractions. To most persons of mind sensitive as his, his chosen studies would have seemed full of melancholy, turning always, as they did, upon death and decay. It is well perhaps that life should be something of a meditation upon death: but to many, certainly, Brownes would have seemed too like a lifelong following of ones own funeral. A museum is seldom a cheerful placeoftenest induces the feeling that nothing could ever have been young; and to Browne the whole world is a museum; all the grace and beauty it has being of a somewhat mortified kind. Only, for him (poetic dream, or philosophic apprehension, it was this that never failed to evoke his wonderful genius for exquisitely impassioned speech), over all those ugly anatomical preparations, as though over miraculous saintly relics, there was the perpetual flicker of a surviving spiritual ardency, one day to reassert itselfstranger far than any fancied odylic gravelights!