the trepidations of time and mortality vexing, at secular intervals, the everlasting sabbaths of the grave.

February 23, 2012 § 2 Comments

He may have not been particularly impressed by my reading from Thomas Browne last night, but I must say I’m pleased that Kevin Faulkner stopped by to say so. For not only did I learn of his blog, Aquarium of Vulcan, a trove of things Browne and baroque, but he also put me yet again on the trail of Thomas De Quincey’s treatise on Rhetoric.

In my copy of this work, I found the following marked, but cannot for the life of me recall if it was I or one of its previous owners who found it originally notable. It matters not:

Milton, however, was not destined to gather the spolia opima of English rhetoric. Two contemporaries of his own, and whose literary course pretty nearly coincided with his own in point of time, surmounted all competition, and in that amphitheatre became the Protagonistæ. These were Jeremy Taylor and Sir Thomas Browne; who, if not absolutely the foremost in the accomplishments of art, were undoutedly the richest, the most dazzling, and, with reference to their matter, the most captivating, of all rhetoricians. In them first, and perhaps . . . in them only, are the two opposite forces of eloquent passion and rhetorical fancy brought into an exquisite equilibrium, — approaching, receding, — attracting, repelling, — blending, separating, — chasing and chaased, as in a fugue, — and again lost in a delightful interfusion, so as to create a middle species of composition, more various and stimulating to the understanding than pure eloquence, more gratifying to the affections than naked rhetoric. Under this one circumstance of coincidence, in other respects their minds were of the most opposite temperament: Sir Thomas Browne, deep, tranquil, and majestic as Milton, silently premeditating and “disclosing the golden couplets,” as under some genial instinct of incubation; Jeremy Taylor, restless, fervid, aspiring, scattering abroad a prodigality of life, not unfolding but creating, with the energy and the “myriad-mindedness” of Shakspere. Where but in Sir T. B. shall one hope to find music so Miltonic, an intonation of such solemn chords as are stuck in the following opening bar of a passage in the Urn Burial — “Now, since these bones have rested quietly in the grave under the drums and tramplings of three conquests,” &c. What a melodious ascent as of a prelude to some impassioned requiem breathing from the pomps of earth, and from the sanctities of the grave! What a fluctus decumanus of rhetoric! Time expounded, not by generations or centuries, but by the vast periods of conquests and dynasties; by cycles of Pharaohs and Ptolemies, Antiochi and Arsacides! And these vast successions of time distinguished and figured by the uproars which revolve at their inaugurations; by the drums and tramplings rolling overhead upon the chambers of forgotten dead — the trepidations of time and mortality vexing, at secular intervals, the everlasting sabbaths of the grave.

§ 2 Responses to the trepidations of time and mortality vexing, at secular intervals, the everlasting sabbaths of the grave.

  • Hi Brad,

    sorry to have sounded harsh, may just be my prejudice of hearing Browne read with an American accent !

    Have you ever encountered Sir T.B’s miscellaneous tract 12 entitled-
    A prophecy ? He ‘predicts’ some remarkable future events about America and often employed the word ‘America’ as a highly-loaded symbol in his writings. Glad you like the blog, there’s plenty of original material there, scroll down to the bottom of page for a paper I delivered 10 years ago now on Brown’e relationship to alchemy.

    Sorry if I came across as a bit protectionist towards my home-City’s most famous son, it’s just, well, I am !

  • Brad Johnson says:

    No offense taken by me. Protect away, I say. Not all prejudices are of equal demerit. That one seems reasonable to me.

    I am aware of his prophecy/conjecture text. His is, at the very least, a better track record than Nostradamus.

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