Monday, April 09, 2007

That middle frame that links

One of my favorite 17th century writers is Sir Thomas Browne, whose Religio Medici (The Religion of a Doctor) was published in 1643. Urne-Buriall and The Garden of Cyrus are also great. Browne's prose style is characterized by run-on and digressive sentences, which he will swirl in and out of each other, magnificently drawing out and then rejoining various threads. He's an excellent model of the plasticity of sentences for anyone seeking such an example to analyze. There's so much to be learned from him about syntactical displacement, syntactical pivoting, and complexity.

Here's a sample of his prose from Religio Medici:

. . . we are onely that amphibious piece betweene a corporall and spirituall essence, that middle frame that linkes those two together, and makes good the method of God and nature, that jumps not from extreames, but unites the incompatible distances by some middle and participating natures; that wee are the breath and similitude of God, it is indisputable, and upon record of holy Scripture; but to call our selves a Microcosme, or little world, I thought it onely a pleasant trope of Rhetorick, till my nearer judgement and second thoughts told me there was a reall truth therein: for first wee are a rude masse, and in the ranke of creatures, which only are, and have a dull kinde of being, not yet priviledged with life, or preferred to sense or reason; next we live the life of plants, the life of animals, the life of men, and at last the life of spirits, running on in one mysterious nature those five kinds of existences, which comprehend the creatures not of the world, onely, but of the Universe; thus is man that great and true Amphibium, whose nature is disposed to live not onely like other creatures in divers elements, but in divided and distinguished worlds . . . .

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