Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From ‘A Fragment on Mummies’
By Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682)
WISE Egypt, prodigal of her embalmments, wrapped up her princes and great commanders in aromatical folds, and, studiously extracting from corruptible bodies their corruption, ambitiously looked forward to immortality; from which vainglory we have become acquainted with many remnants of the old world, who could discourse unto us of the great things of yore, and tell us strange tales of the sons of Mizraim and ancient braveries of Egypt. Wonderful indeed are the preserves of time, which openeth unto us mummies from crypts and pyramids, and mammoth bones from caverns and excavations; whereof man hath found the best preservation, appearing unto us in some sort fleshly, while beasts must be fain of an osseous continuance.  1
  In what original this practice of the Egyptians had root, divers authors dispute; while some place the origin hereof in the desire to prevent the separation of the soul by keeping the body untabified, and alluring the spiritual part to remain by sweet and precious odors. But all this was but fond inconsideration. The soul, having broken its…, is not stayed by bands and cerecloths, nor to be recalled by Sabæan odors, but fleeth to the place of invisibles, the ubi of spirits, and needeth a surer than Hermes’s seal to imprison it to its medicated trunk, which yet subsists anomalously in its indestructible case, and, like a widow looking for her husband, anxiously awaits its return….  2
  That mummy is medicinal, the Arabian Doctor Haly delivereth, and divers confirms; but of the particular uses thereof, there is much discrepancy of opinion. While Hofmannus prescribes the same to epileptics, Johan de Muralto commends the use thereof to gouty persons; Bacon likewise extols it as a stiptic, and Junkenius considers it of efficacy to resolve coagulated blood. Meanwhile, we hardly applaud Francis the First of France, who always carried mummies with him as a panacea against all disorders; and were the efficacy thereof more clearly made out, scarce conceive the use thereof allowable in physic, exceeding the barbarities of Cambyses, and turning old heroes unto unworthy potions. Shall Egypt lend out her ancients unto chirurgeons and apothecaries, and Cheops and Psammitticus be weighed unto us for drugs? Shall we eat of Chamnes and Amosis in electuaries and pills, and be cured by cannibal mixtures? Surely, such diet is dismal vampirism, and exceeds in horror the black banquet of Domitian, not to be paralleled except in those Arabian feasts, wherein Ghoules feed horribly.  3
  But the common opinion of the virtues of mummy bred great consumption thereof, and princes and great men contended for this strange panacea, wherein Jews dealt largely, manufacturing mummies from dead carcasses and giving them the names of kings, while specifics were compounded from crosses and gibbet leavings. There wanted not a set of Arabians who counterfeited mummies so accurately that it needed great skill to distinguish the false from the true. Queasy stomachs would hardly fancy the doubtful potion, wherein one might so easily swallow a cloud for his Juno, and defraud the fowls of the air while in conceit enjoying the conserves of Canopus….  4
  For those dark caves and mummy repositories are Satan’s abodes, wherein he speculates and rejoices on human vainglory, and keeps those kings and conquerors, whom alive he bewitched, whole for that great day when he will claim his own, and marshal the kings of Nilus and Thebes in sad procession unto the pit.  5
  Death, that fatal necessity which so many would overlook or blinkingly survey, the old Egyptians held continually before their eyes. Their embalmed ancestors they carried about at their banquets, as holding them still a part of their families, and not thrusting them from their places at feasts. They wanted not likewise a sad preacher at their tables to admonish them daily of death,—surely an unnecessary discourse while they banqueted in sepulchres. Whether this were not making too much of death, as tending to assuefaction, some reason there is to doubt; but certain it is that such practices would hardly be embraced by our modern gourmands, who like not to look on faces of mortua, or be elbowed by mummies.  6
  Yet in those huge structures and pyramidal immensities, of the builders whereof so little is known, they seemed not so much to raise sepulchres or temples to death as to contemn and disdain it, astonishing heaven with their audacities, and looking forward with delight to their interment in those eternal piles. Of their living habitations they made little account, conceiving of them but as hospitia, or inns, while they adorned the sepulchres of the dead, and, planting thereon lasting bases, defied the crumbling touches of time and the misty vaporousness of oblivion. Yet all were but Babel vanities. Time sadly overcometh all things, and is now dominant, and sitteth upon a sphinx, and looketh unto Memphis and old Thebes, while his sister Oblivion reclineth semisomnous on a pyramid, gloriously triumphing, making puzzles of Titanian erections, and turning old glories into dreams. History sinketh beneath her cloud. The traveler, as he paceth amazedly through those deserts, asketh of her, Who builded them? and she mumbleth something, but what it is he heareth not.  7
  Egypt itself is now become the land of obliviousness, and doteth. Her ancient civility is gone, and her glory hath vanished as a phantasma. Her youthful days are over, and her face hath become wrinkled and tetric. She poreth not upon the heavens; astronomy is dead unto her, and knowledge maketh other cycles. Canopus is afar off, Memnon resoundeth not to the sun, and Nilus heareth strange voices. Her monuments are but hieroglyphically sempiternal. Osiris and Anubis, her averruncous deities, have departed, while Orus yet remains dimly shadowing the principle of vicissitude and the effluxion of things, but receiveth little oblation.  8

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.