Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Part of Address to Reader
By Sir Thomas Browne (16051682)
From Pseudodoxia Epidemica
OUR first intentions, considering the common interest of truth, resolved to propose it unto the Latin republick and equal judges of Europe, but, owing in the first place this service unto our country, and therein especially unto its ingenuous gentry, we have declared ourselves in a language best conceived. Although I confess the quality of the subject will sometimes carry us into expressions beyond mere English apprehensions. And, indeed, if elegancy still proceedeth, and English pens maintain that stream we have of late observed to flow from many, we shall, within few years, be fain to learn Latin to understand English, and a work will prove of equal facility in either. Nor have we addressed our pen or style unto the people (whom books do not redress, and who are this way incapable of reduction), but unto the knowing and leading part of learning. As well understanding (at least probably hoping) except they be watered from higher regions, and fructifying meteors of knowledge, these weeds must lose their alimental sap, and wither of themselves. Whose conserving influence could our endeavours prevent, we should trust the rest unto the scythe of time, and hopeful dominion of truth.
We hope it will not be unconsidered, that we find no open tract, or constant manuduction in this labyrinth, but are oft-times fain to wander in the America and untravelled parts of truth. For though, not many years past, Dr. Primrose hath made a learned discourse of Vulgar Errors in Physick, yet have we discussed but two or three thereof. Scipio Mercurii hath also left an excellent tract in Italian, concerning Popular Errors; but, confining himself only unto those in physick, he hath little conduced unto the generality of our doctrine. Laurentius Joubertus, by the same title, led our expectation into thoughts of great relief; whereby, notwithstanding, we reaped no advantage, it answering scarce at all the promise of the inscription. Nor, perhaps (if it were yet extant), should we find any further assistance from that ancient piece of Andreas, pretending the same title. And, therefore, we are often constrained to stand alone against the strength of opinion, and to meet the Goliah and giant of authority, with contemptible pebbles and feeble arguments, drawn from the scrip and slender stock of ourselves. Nor have we, indeed, scarce named any author whose name we do not honour; and if detraction could invite us, discretion surely would contain us from any derogatory intention, where highest pens and friendliest eloquence must fail in commendation.
And therefore also we cannot but hope the equitable considerations, and candour of reasonable minds. We cannot expect the frown of theology herein; nor can they which behold the present state of things, and controversy of points so long received in divinity, condemn our sober enquiries in the doubtful appertinences of arts, and receptaries of philosophy. Surely philologers and critical discoursers, who look beyond the shell and obvious exteriours of things, will not be angry with our narrower explorations. And we cannot doubt, our brothers in physick (whose knowledge in naturals will lead them into a nearer apprehension of many things delivered) will friendly accept, if not countenance, our endeavours. Nor can we conceive it may be unwelcome unto those honoured worthies who endeavour the advancement of learning; as being likely to find a clearer progression, when so many rubs are levelled, and many untruths taken off, which passing as principles with common beliefs, disturb the tranquillity of axioms which otherwise might be raised. And wise men cannot but know that arts and learning want this expurgation; and if the course of truth be permitted unto itself, like that of time and uncorrected computations, it cannot escape many errors, which duration still enlargeth.
Lastly, we are not magisterial in opinions, nor have we dictator-like obtruded our conceptions; but, in the humility of enquiries or disquisitions, have only proposed them unto more ocular discerners. And therefore opinions are free; and open it is for any to think or declare the contrary. And we shall so far encourage contradiction, as to promise no disturbance, or re-oppose any pen, that shall fallaciously or captiously refute us; that shall only lay hold of our lapses, single out digressions, corollaries, or ornamental conceptions, to evidence his own in as indifferent truths. And shall only take notice of such, whose experimental and judicious knowledge shall solemnly look upon it; not only to destroy of ours, but to establish of his own; not to traduce or extenuate, but to explain and dilucidate, to add and ampliate, according to the laudable custom of the ancients in their sober promotions of learning. Unto whom notwithstanding, we shall not contentiously rejoin, or only to justify our own, but to applaud or confirm his maturer assertions; and shall confer what is in us unto his name and honour; ready to be swallowed in any worthy enlarger;as having acquired our end, if any way, or under any name, we may obtain a work, so much desired, and yet desiderated, of truth.