Crooked Piece of Man. Or, Odd Saint: Sir Thomas Browne

Sir Thomas Browne was born in 1605 in London’s Cheapside. He went to Oxford, became an apprentice-physician, but stayed invested in religion and what it meant to be a religious practitioner of the healing arts. He ponders—often thoughtfully and sanely—his own temptation to follow typically “Catholic” conventions, like kneeling or removing his cap in church, praying for the dead, etc. He believes in witches and has quite lovely things to say about friendship and teaching. I feel I should mention too that his Religio Medici is the book Harriet Vane pulls out of Peter’s pocket and peruses while he sleeps after their day of punting.

I give you a few utterly unfair highlights from the Religio Medici that deal with (among other things) marriage and Saturn’s return.

On Sex:

The whole world was made for man, but the twelfth part of man for woman. Man is the whole world and the breath of God, women the rib and crooked piece of man. I could be content that we might procreate like trees, without conjunction, or that there were any way to perpetuate the world without this trivial and vulgar way of coition. It is the foolishest act a wise man commits in all his life, nor is there anything that will more deject his cooled imagination when he shall consider what an odd and unworthy piece of folly he hath committed.

On Marriage:

I was never yet once, and commend their resolution who never marry twice; not that I disallow of second marriage, as neither in all cases of polygamy which, considering some times and the unequal number of both sexes may be also necessary.

On Turning Thirty:

Some divines count Adam thirty years old at his creation because they suppose him created in the perfect age and stature of man.

Earlier: If there be any truth in astrology, I may outlive a jubilee; as yet I have not seen one revolution of Saturn, nor hath my pulse beat thirty years…

And Finally:

Then shall appear the fertility of Adam and the magic of that sperm that hath dilated into so many millions.

Again, this is admittedly the cruel Bartlett’s version of Browne. I’ll have kinder things to say about him later.