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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From ‘A Letter to a Friend’
By Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682)
 
HE was willing to quit the world alone and altogether, leaving no earnest behind him for corruption or after-grave, having small content in that common satisfaction to survive or live in another, but amply satisfied that his disease should die with himself, nor revive in a posterity to puzzle physic, and make sad mementos of their parent hereditary….  1
  In this deliberate and creeping progress unto the grave, he was somewhat too young and of too noble a mind to fall upon that stupid symptom, observable in divers persons near their journey’s end, and which may be reckoned among the mortal symptoms of their last disease; that is, to become more narrow-minded, miserable, and tenacious, unready to part with anything when they are ready to part with all, and afraid to want when they have no time to spend; meanwhile physicians, who know that many are mad but in a single depraved imagination, and one prevalent decipiency, and that beside and out of such single deliriums a man may meet with sober actions and good sense in Bedlam, cannot but smile to see the heirs and concerned relations gratulating themselves on the sober departure of their friends; and though they behold such mad covetous passages, content to think they die in good understanding, and in their sober senses.  2
  Avarice, which is not only infidelity but idolatry, either from covetous progeny or questuary education, had no root in his breast, who made good works the expression of his faith, and was big with desires unto public and lasting charities; and surely, where good wishes and charitable intentions exceed abilities, theorical beneficency may be more than a dream. They build not castles in the air who would build churches on earth; and though they leave no such structures here, may lay good foundations in heaven. In brief, his life and death were such that I could not blame them who wished the like, and almost to have been himself: almost, I say; for though we may wish the prosperous appurtenances of others, or to be another in his happy accidents, yet so intrinsical is every man unto himself that some doubt may be made whether any would exchange his being, or substantially become another man.  3
  He had wisely seen the world at home and abroad, and thereby observed under what variety men are deluded in the pursuit of that which is not here to be found. And although he had no opinion of reputed felicities below, and apprehended men widely out in the estimate of such happiness, yet his sober contempt of the world wrought no Democratism or Cynicism, no laughing or snarling at it, as well understanding there are not felicities in this world to satisfy a serious mind; and therefore, to soften the stream of our lives, we are fain to take in the reputed contentions of this world, to unite with the crowd in their beatitudes, and to make ourselves happy by consortion, opinion, or co-existimation: for strictly to separate from received and customary felicities, and to confine unto the rigor of realities, were to contract the consolation of our beings unto too uncomfortable circumscriptions.  4
  Not to be content with life is the unsatisfactory state of those who destroy themselves; who, being afraid to live, run blindly upon their own death, which no man fears by experience: and the Stoics had a notable doctrine to take away the fear thereof; that is, in such extremities, to desire that which is not to be avoided, and wish what might be feared; and so made evils voluntary and to suit with their own desires, which took off the terror of them.  5
  But the ancient martyrs were not encouraged by such fallacies, who, though they feared not death, were afraid to be their own executioners; and therefore thought it more wisdom to crucify their lusts than their bodies, to circumcise than stab their hearts, and to mortify than kill themselves.  6
  His willingness to leave this world about that age when most men think they may best enjoy it, though paradoxical unto worldly ears, was not strange unto mine, who have so often observed that many, though old, oft stick fast unto the world, and seem to be drawn like Cacus’s oxen, backward with great struggling and reluctancy unto the grave. The long habit of living makes mere men more hardly to part with life, and all to be nothing, but what is to come. To live at the rate of the old world, when some could scarce remember themselves young, may afford no better digested death than a more moderate period. Many would have thought it an happiness to have had their lot of life in some notable conjunctures of ages past; but the uncertainty of future times hath tempted few to make a part in ages to come. And surely, he that hath taken the true altitude of things, and rightly calculated the degenerate state of this age, is not like to envy those that shall live in the next, much less three or four hundred years hence, when no man can comfortably imagine what face this world will carry; and therefore, since every age makes a step unto the end of all things, and the Scripture affords so hard a character of the last times, quiet minds will be content with their generations, and rather bless ages past than be ambitious of those to come.  7
  Though age had set no seal upon his face, yet a dim eye might clearly discover fifty in his actions; and therefore, since wisdom is the gray hair, and an unspotted life old age, although his years came short, he might have been said to have held up with longer livers, and to have been Solomon’s old man. And surely if we deduct all those days of our life which we might wish unlived, and which abate the comfort of those we now live, if we reckon up only those days which God hath accepted of our lives, a life of good years will hardly be a span long; the son in this sense may outlive the father, and none be climacterically old. He that early arriveth unto the parts and prudence of age is happily old without the uncomfortable attendants of it; and ’tis superfluous to live unto gray hairs, when in a precocious temper we anticipate the virtues of them. In brief, he cannot be accounted young who outliveth the old man. He that hath early arrived unto the measure of a perfect stature in Christ, hath already fulfilled the prime and longest intention of his being; and one day lived after the perfect rule of piety is to be preferred before sinning immortality.  8
  Although he attained not unto the years of his predecessors, yet he wanted not those preserving virtues which confirm the thread of weaker constitutions. Cautelous chastity and crafty sobriety were far from him; those jewels were paragon, without flaw, hair, ice, or cloud in him: which affords me a hint to proceed in these good wishes and few mementos unto you.  9
 
 
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