Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Baucis and Philomen

Evidence that Sir Thomas Browne appreciated the artistry of Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens(1577-1640) and also possessed a poetic sensibility, notably when he was far from the city !

Inspired by the good folk of bootiful Norfolk, the following verse, originally written in Latin, can be found in his commonplace notebooks-

'Being in the country a few miles from Norwich, I observed a handsome bower of honey-suckle over the door of a right good man; which bower I fancied to speak as followeth:

I would rather cheer a humble healthy yeoman here,
Than cherish noble noses
And nostrils foul with the plague and contagion...
Nor do I seek to cleanse stinking throats and perjured mouths
With a decoction of my leaves.
Nor do I wreathe the hard lintels of the great,
Compared to whom Cerberus would be a lamb.
But I adorn the kindly door of my master and mistress,
A house where enters neither force nor guile.
Such, if the gods came down to earth from heaven,
Is the cottage which Jupiter and Mercury would enter.*

Adding this footnote-

*Alluding to the fable in Ovid of Baucis and Philemon entertaining Jupiter and Mercury in their cottage; whereof hangs in my parlour from a draught of Rubens'.

Browne must be writing of some kind of reproduction here, perhaps a printed etching, surely not the original oil-painting of Baucis and Philomen (above) attributed to the collective workshop of Peter Paul Rubens (circa 1620-5)

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