Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
A Providence in Fortune
By Sir Thomas Browne (16051682)
From Religio Medici
THIS is the ordinary and open way of His providence, which art and industry have in a good part discovered; whose effects we may foretell without an oracle. To foreshew these is not prophecy but prognostication. There is another way, full of meanders and labyrinths, whereof the devil and spirits have no exact ephemerides; and that is a more particular and obscure method of His providence; directing the operations of individual and single essences: this we call fortune; that serpentine and crooked line, whereby He draws those actions His wisdom intends in a more unknown and secret way: this cryptic and involved method of His providence have I ever admired; nor can I relate the history of my life, the occurrences of my days, the escapes, or dangers, and hits of chance, with a bezo las manos1 to Fortune, or a bare gramercy to my good stars. Abraham might have thought the ram in the thicket came thither by accident: human reason would have said, that mere chance conveyed Moses in the ark to the sight of Pharaohs daughter. What a labyrinth is there in the story of Joseph! able to convert a stoick. Surely there are in every mans life certain rubs, doublings, and wrenches, which pass a while under the effects of chance; but at the last, well examined, prove the mere hand of God. Twas not dumb chance that, to discover the fougade, or powder-plot, contrived a miscarriage in the letter. I like the victory of 88 the better for that one occurrence which our enemies imputed to our dishonour, and the partiality of fortune; to wit the tempests and contrariety of winds. King Philip did not detract from the nation, when he said, he sent his armada to fight with men, and not to combat with the winds. Where there is a manifest disproportion between the powers and forces of two several agents, upon a maxim of reason we may promise the victory to the superior: but when unexpected accidents slip in, and unthoughtof occurrences intervene, these must proceed from a power that owes no obedience to those axioms; where, as in the writing upon the wall, we may behold the hand, but see not the spring that moves it. The success of that petty province of Holland (of which the grand Seignior proudly said, if they should trouble him, as they did the Spaniard, he would send his men with shovels and pickaxes, and throw it into the sea) I cannot altogether ascribe to the ingenuity and industry of the people, but the mercy of God, that hath disposed them to such a thriving genius; and to the will of His providence, that dispenseth His favour to each country in their preordinate season. All cannot be happy at once; for, because the glory of one state depends upon the ruin of another, there is a revolution and vicissitude of their greatness, and must obey the swing of that wheel, not moved by intelligences, but by the hand of God, whereby all estates arise to their zenith and vertical points, according to their predestinated periods. For the lives, not only of men, but of commonwealths and the whole world, run not upon a helix2 that still enlargeth; but on a circle, where, arriving to their meridian, they decline in obscurity, and fall under the horizon again.