Sunday, February 26, 2012

Inward Optics

Behold thyself by inward Optics and the Crystalline of thy Soul. Strange it is that in the most perfect sense there should be so many fallacies, that we are fain to make a doctrine, and often to see by Art. But the greatest imperfection is in our inward sight, that is, to be Ghosts unto our own Eyes, and while we are so sharp-sighted as to look through others, to be invisible unto our selves; for the inward Eyes are more fallacious than the outward. The Vices we scoff at in others laugh at us within our selves. Avarice, Pride, Falsehood lay undiscerned and blindly in us, even to the Age of blindness: and therefore, to see our selves interiorly, we are fain to borrow other Men's Eyes; wherein true Friends are good Informers, and Censurers no bad Friends. - C.M.Part 3:15

If Sir Thomas Browne had ever only been known as the author of  Christian Morals his name in English literature would have been  celebrated. As it is, his late work remains the least-known of his literary oeuvre. But it seems we're are lucky to even have the text of the late advisory moralistic essay  at all, the preface to the 1716 posthumously published work informing the reader that, 'The Reason why it was not Printed sooner is, because it was unhappily Lost, by being Mislay'd among Other MSS'. One shudders to think what else of Browne's writings may have been lost or mislaid due to haphazard  literary executorship.

Written from the vantage-point of a life-time's experience as a doctor, the entire essay is an  advisio on how to live a sound Christian life. Highly original optical imagery is employed in the essay along with many of the symbols and images which fascinated the Norwich physician throughout his life. Browne may well have had Luke 6:42 in mind - developing and expanding upon the scripture verse with typical profound psychological insight and artistry. 

How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. - Luke 6:42

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