Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gnome in the Snow

Gnomes are hardy creatures and can endure the most severe conditions,  rarely grumbling at the weather no matter how adverse.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Woodlands Snow # 2

Snow is so very photogenic, I just couldn't resist one more post now that a fresh fall has arrived.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Woodland Snow

The first snow before Christmas in 17 years has arrived in England. It's strange to see snow while leaves still remain on trees. Whether it's a sign of global warning which produces extremes of weather is debatable. Actually 'Snow stopped play' is the big surprise tactic England Cricket team may employ in order to win the Ashes in Australia.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sir Thomas Browne on America

Because America accounts for  approximately  40% of visitors to  this Sir Thomas Browne centred blog, I thought it would be a nice gesture to record a few facts about his interest in America.

It’s an extraordinary fact and testimony to his curiosity that each of Sir Thomas Browne's major writings makes mention of America. It was during Browne’s lifetime that mass emigration to America from Europe began. According to Wikipedia, itself a great American success story, the first successful English settlements were the Virginia colony in Jamestown in 1607 and the Pilgrim’s’ Plymouth Colony in 1620. The 1628 chartering of the Massachusetts Bay Colony resulted in a wave of migration; by 1634, New England had been settled by some 10,000 Puritans. Between the late 1610’s and the American Revolution, about 50,000 convicts were shipped to Britain's American colonies. Another source of early American settlers, were those known as religious dissenters. Because England’s King Charles  believed that his rule was a God-given right he felt justified in persecuting those who disagreed with him. Waves of repression led to the migration of about 20,000 Puritans to New England between 1629 and 1642, where they founded multiple colonies.

It was against this historical background, one of political and religious ferment in England under Charles I’s rule that the newly qualified medical doctor Thomas Browne penned his Religio Medici, a Montaigne-like discourse upon the Christian virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. In its labyrinthine digressions, he made the zoological query -

'How America abounded with beasts of prey, and noxious Animals, yet contained not in it that necessary creature, a Horse, is very strange'.

In fact America was the home of the horse until its eventual extinction in the last Ice Age. Not until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century was the horse re-introduced to the continent of America. Today,  a little more than a quarter (28%) of the entire world's horses are stabled in the USA.

Throughout his life Browne was a keen geographer, botanist and zoologist; it was therefore inevitable that he would lend an eager ear to the numerous reports about the New World which sporadically arrived in England. In his encyclopedic endeavor Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646-76) he refers to America on several occasions. Indeed its very opening address describes his painstaking labors in not only compiling an encyclopedia but also in debunking common fallacies as - 'but oft-times fain to wander in the America and untravelled parts of truth'.

Throughout his encyclopedia Browne includes reports from America, including mention of the giant phalanges spider, speculation as to why the skin-pigmentation of American natives differs from African natives as well as making a geographical comparison of the Gulf of California to the Red Sea. Browne also noted in Pseudodoxia Epidemica that the Swiss alchemist-physician Paracelsus symbolically equated America as the hind-quarters of the world noting-

'…of the Geography of Paracelsus, who according to the Cardinal points of the World, divideth the body of man; and therefore working upon humane ordure, and by long preparation rendering it odiferous, he terms it Zibeta Occidentalis, Western Civet; making the face the East, but the posteriors the America or Western part of his Microcosm'. 

Browne’s encyclopedia was a European best-seller, translated into several languages and reprinted with additions and amendments no less than six times in his life-time. His refutation of common or ‘vulgar errors’ found itself upon the book-shelves of many educated English families. Its  work-in-progress  nature paved the way for the reception of future scientific journalism.

Throughout his life Browne kept abreast of the latest developments in scientific enquiry. Although not credited for making any significant scientific discovery himself, he did however coin many new technical words useful to scientific and medical debate. The words ‘electricity’ ‘pathology’ and ‘hallucination’ for example, are just a few of the many neologisms he introduced into the English language. Indeed, a careful scrutiny of the Oxford dictionary reveals that Browne’s name occurs as the source or first usage of a word in the English language more than any other author. His informed reading also made him an appreciative supporter of William Harvey's recent medical discovery. In correspondence to a young student he wittily advised -

'be sure you make yourself master of Dr Harvey's piece De Circul. Sang (Of the circulation of the blood); which discovery I prefer to that of Columbus, (i.e. that of America)'.

The demands of his medical profession and the need to provide an income to support his large family allowed Browne little leisure-time for writing, yet in the decade of the 1650’s, under the newly-established Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, he once more put pen to paper to produce his celebrated literary work, the two Discourses of 1658, ‘Urn-Burial’ and ‘The Garden of Cyrus’. The two Discourses were fully intended to be one whole literary work, their polarity in theme, imagery, symbolism  and  epistemology makes this abundantly clear, yet modern publishers continue to divide and print them separately; an act initiated by the Victorians love of the stoicism and funereal pomp of ‘Urn-Burial’, but wholly against the artistic intentions of their creator  yet modern publishers erroneously perpetuate this error.

 The opening lines of Hydriotaphia, also known as, ‘Urn Burial or a brief discourse upon the sepulchrall Urnes lately found in Norfolk’, notes how America was undetected by European explorers for centuries, comparing its 'discovery' to that of an archaeological find.

'That great antiquity America lay buried for a thousand years; and a large part of the earth is still in the Urn unto us'.

In the dedicatory epistle of The Garden of Cyrus (1658) Browne with characteristic subtle humour remarks to his patron upon the great volume of printed information on American botany which was being published at the time, joking thus-

'you who know that three full Folio's are yet too little, and how New Herballs fly from America upon us, from persevering enquirers'.

It’s also in ‘The Garden of Cyrus’ that Browne employs proper-place names as highly evocative symbols; for example, the place-name of Persia is invariably employed to symbolize pagan antiquity, in contrast, the proper-place name of America is used to represent the new,  unknown and exotic. At the conclusion of the Discourse Browne contemplates the fact that the world consists of time-zones and prophetically connects Persia (modern-day Iran ) with America thus:

'The Huntsmen are up in America, and they are already past their first sleep in Persia'.

‘The Garden of Cyrus’ has been likened as a work of prophecy, and compared to the Biblical Book of Revelation by the American literary scholar, Frank Huntley. Indeed it has been American scholarship which has fruitfully interpreted Browne throughout the 20th century, notably by the aforementioned Frank Huntley, along with Jeremiah Finch, Dean Emeritus of Yale University whose life-long study of Browne included an introduction to the facsimile of the 1711 Sales Auction catalogue of Browne’s library. In addition, Browne’s major works have been made available online via the University of Chicago. 

It was sometime in the 1670’s when introduced to the prophecies of Nostradamus that Browne made his most astounding observations and predictions upon America’s future.  In his miscellaneous tract – ‘A prophecy concerning the future State of Several Nations’ (Miscellaneous Tract 12) a quasi-oracular pastiche style of the Lyons physician's barely intelligible predictions, Browne questioned the morality of the growing Slave-trade, almost two centuries before the eventual abolition of slavery, declaiming-

'When Africa shall no longer sell out its Blacks to be Slaves and drudges to the American Tracts'.

Equally remarkable Browne 'predicted’ in his ‘prophecy’ that sometime in the future America would protect its wealth to be a Nation vigorously pursuing happiness, employing the highly-original phrase, ‘American Pleasure’.

'When America shall cease to send out its treasure but employ it instead in American Pleasure'.

Ever the helpful assistant for his perplexed reader Browne added the explanatory note:

'That is when America shall be better civilized, new policied and divided between great Princes, it may come to pass that they will no longer suffer their Treasure of Gold and Silver to be sent out to maintain the Luxury of Europe and other parts: but rather employ it to their own advantages, in great Exploits and Undertakings, magnificent Structure, Wars, or Expeditions of their own'.

But perhaps most extraordinary of all, at a time when America was only a fledgling colony Browne prognosticated  it would one day become an economic equal of Europe-

'When the New World shall the old invade, nor count them their Lords but their Fellows in Trade'.

Once more helpfully expounding his ‘prophecy’ with the foot-note-

'That is, When America shall be so well peopled, civilized and divided into Kingdoms, they are likely to have so little regard of their Originals, as to acknowledge no subjection unto them: they may also have a distinct commerce between themselves, or but independently with those of Europe, and may hostilely and pyratically assault them, even as the Greek and Roman Colonies after a long time dealt with their Original Countries'.

And here one must include Browne, who was a devout Christian, thoughts upon war, which remains humanity’s greatest inhumanity against humanity. In correspondence to his youngest son, Browne, moralises upon why all wars begin- 

'The cause of this war was that of all wars, excess of prosperity. As wealth arises spirits rise, and lust and greed of power appear; thence men lose their sense of moderation, look with distaste on the prosperity of others, revolve disquiet in their mind, and throw over all settlement, for fear lest their enemies’ wealth be firmly established, they put their own to risk; and finally (as happens in human affairs) fall into slavery when they seek to impose it, and earnestly courting good fortune, experience disaster'.

Browne’s observations upon the New World’s botany, zoology, geography and its political future are remarkable for their extreme earliness in history; from reports of the superabundance of her natural resources, geographical size and the sheer determination of her founding settlers, one seventeenth century European thinker, although far away in his Norwich study,  he perceived America to be a land with a bright future.

See also -

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Tenant

Recently I watched Roman Polanski’s  film, ‘The Tenant’  (1976) based upon a novel by Roland Torpor. It’s the last in a trilogy of  Polanski's  so-called ‘Apartment’ films which includes  'Repulsion' (1965) and ‘Rosemary’s  Baby' (1968).

Unusually the central role is acted by Polanski himself who plays the part of  Trelkowski,  a polite and introverted young man  who rents an apartment in Paris with a disturbing history. When first viewing the apartment, the concierge (Shelley Winters) informs him that the apartment is only available because the previous tenant, Simone Chou jumped  from the fourth floor in a suicide attempt and is now critically injured in hospital. When Trelkowski visits Simone he discovers that she is bandaged from head to toe. He also meets Simone's friend Stella (Isabelle Adjani) at the hospital. However, when Simone sees Trelkowski, she emits a loud, blood-curdling scream.

Trelkowski soon comes to believe the various residents in the large apartment block are conspiring against him, subtly attempting to change him into the previous tenant Simone, no less; thus when asking for Gauloise cigarettes at a cafe he is repeatedly handed  a packet of Malboro, the choice of the previous tenant. Trelkowski soon comes to realise that the terms and conditions in renting his new Parisian apartment are near unendurable. Although he lives a quiet life neighbours constantly complain of his making noise, an evening entertaining his friends is curtailed by the Landlord who disapproves of his activities. Trelkowski becomes convinced that strange occurrences are happening in the large block of flats. He discovers a tooth embedded in the wall having recently lost a tooth himself and notices that various tenants stand transfixed and motionless in the bathroom opposite his flat for long periods.

Trelkowski's basic good nature is highlighted when Rufus, a young man who had a romantic attachment to Simone visits him. Rufus breaks down when informed that Simone attempted suicide and  has died as a result of her injuries, however, Trelkowski spends a long evening consoling and drinking with him. The two part company at  dawn at a Metro station  with Rufus pleading eternal gratitude for Trelkowski's kindness.

It's when Trelkowski comes home one day to discover his flat has been burgled and many valuable items gone that he begins to break down. Convinced that the residents are attempting to make him change into Simone and commit the same act of suicide, he buys a wig and dresses in clothes left by her in the wardrobe. He then sits  out the night in his cross-dressing clothes waiting for his would-be assailants.

‘The Tenant’ is a film of pure Kafkaesque nightmare and hallucinatory paranoia as it draws to its inexorable conclusion. The genius of Polanski’s direction ensures that the viewer is never completely sure as to how much the conspiracy  Trelkowski believes is happening  to him is in his imagination and how much is for real.

Some critics have called 'The Tenant' a slow and clumsy film, however Polanski’s  more than competent acting, ably supported by  a very young Isabelle Adjani, who becomes his lover too late to rescue him from his fate, ensures that ‘The Tenant’ is as disturbing to view now as when first screened in 1976.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Haydn Symphonies

Throughout this year I've been listening to Joseph Haydn's complete cycle of 104 symphonies recorded  on 33 CD’s in total. In doing so I've gained a new insight into his important contribution to the development of the symphony and acquired a much better understanding of Haydn's genius. 

But first no discussion upon Haydn's symphonies can be made without mention of the recently deceased musicologist, the American-born H. C. Robbins Landon (March 6, 1926 – November 20, 2009). Robbins Landon dedicated his life to the study and appreciation of Haydn's music and was quite simply the most authoritative writer on Haydn in the 20th century.  My following small essay is very much in the shadow of his scholarship.

In many ways Joseph Haydn was the original working-class hero of the classical music world. Born in 1732 the son of a wheelwright, he reached the heights of European fame through sheer industriousness.  When he began writing symphonies, the genre was little more than a simple, pleasant diversion, a celebration of the sheer joy of having any leisure-time whatsoever to listen to music. However, by the end of an approximately thirty-five year period of composition from roughly 1760-95 Haydn almost single-handedly, made the symphony into a musical genre which appealed to listeners of all levels of society and was capable of serious philosophical and political expression.

Haydn's good fortune was to be commissioned in 1766 as composer in residence to Prince Esterhazy at his new palace at Eisenstadt located in the Hungarian marshes. Being relatively isolated from the influence of major compositional trends, life at the Esterhazy palace gave Haydn the liberty to develop his own ideas. The Prince's demand to hear new musical works also meant that Haydn was obliged to be extremely inventive with the orchestral resources available to him.

The musical influences upon Haydn are numerous and varied. These include the folk music of eastern European nations, in particular Croatian folk music with its steady beat and witty melody, gypsy music and Viennese street music.  Although he was geographically isolated from major musical trends and fashions there was however one composer who Haydn studied closely and with great interest, Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach (1714-88) the eldest son of the great Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).

Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach's influence upon Haydn cannot be over-estimated. Although Johann Sebastian Bach had several sons who composed music, the music of his eldest son C.P.E. Bach is generally considered to be the most original and influential. In complete contrast to his father's music of sacred and civic utility, baroque ornateness, well-ordered harmony and cosmic, contrapuntal dance, the music  of C.P.E. Bach is often moody and changeable,  impassioned and introverted. With its jagged, lop-sided themes, abrupt silences obliging the listener to attentiveness, C.P.E. Bach's music is a fine example of the German movement of Sturm and Drang (Storm and Stress) with its emphasis upon  Empfindsamkeit (Sensitivity); its  range includes music even of a negative emotional nature such as anger encompassed within individual sensibility. No more so than in his short three movement symphonies which  explode  with tense dynamic phrases, syncopated  rhythms, sudden silences and  abrupt tempo changes into tranquil and calm slow movements.   The  E minor symphony of C.P.E. Bach  (WQ178) is often credited as an early Sturm und Drang symphony. From its very opening bars the listener is thrown into a world where nothing is predictable or certain and in which sudden and startling  phrases erupt from no-where. Its  opening movement  is set at a frantic tempo which persists throughout its five minute duration. In sharp contrast its adagio is one of utter calm before a final resolving short movement. If Haydn is credited as  'the father of the symphony', C.P.E. Bach is in many ways the grandfather of the symphony.

Haydn’s early symphonies are simple, three movement divertimenti before eventually opting  to include the popular dance movement  all the rage throughout Europe, the minuet. Among those still regularly performed are those influenced by the so-called Sturm und Drang movement. They are characterized by the use of minor keys and expressions of angst and passion. Indeed one of Haydn's symphonies during this time is entitled La Passione.  Haydn's Sturm and Drang symphonies although containing future elements of his symphonic development are  in many ways utterly uncharacteristic of the path in which he was follow in composing symphonies,  it is however worthwhile looking at what the artistic movement of Sturm and Drang was exactly.

Sturm and Drang   was an artistic movement  in which individual subjectivity and extremes of emotion were given free expression Much of this new found artistic sensibility was  a kind of 'rage against the Machine' and a reaction by artists against the constraints of the dominant philosophy of the era, namely  rationalism, imposed upon the Arts by the Enlightenment movement and  as a protest for the emotions of the individual  to be recognised.  In many ways it is the precursor to the much more important artistic movement of early Romanticism. In England this new irrational and dark artistic movement  is characterized  by Horace Walpole's novel 'The Castle of Otranto' (1764) which is  often considered the first ever Gothic novel.

The German literary work of this period which reflects 'Empfindsamkeit' or sensitivity best  is Goethe's 1773 novella, 'The sorrows of young Werther' a work  of  teenage angst, doomed love and suicide. It's been proposed that Goethe's romantic novella influenced the 17 year-old Mozart when writing his own impassioned 'Sturm and Drang' symphony, the so-called 'little' G minor symphony of 1773, K183. Mozart's teenager temper-tantrum symphony stands quite apart from his other symphonic compositions, it was not until 1788 that he employed the use of a minor key in a symphony, using the key of G minor once more in his much better-known symphony K550. Its rewarding to compare Mozart’s early G minor symphony of 1771 whose opening  bars became better-known through their use in the curtain-raising sequence of Milos Foreman's 1984 film 'Amadeus'  to Haydn's own G minor symphony no.39 of 1768.

The use of minor keys in the concert-hall  in the first half of the 18th century was considered   socially unacceptable for the 'negative' emotions which they express,  however, a prime artistic concern of the Sturm and Drang movement was to rouse the audience, to even startle or shock, keeping the listener in a state of anticipation and attentiveness.

 Significantly Haydn is noted as the composer whose works contain more silence than any other composer. The use of silence often has a deep physiological and psychological effect upon the listener.  Haydn uses the dramatic effect of silence in his symphonies in a number of different ways, primarily to stimulate alertness and anticipation but more often for comic effect. Haydn's symphonies demonstrate him to be the master of silence in music. In  his symphony no. 39  however silence creates an eerie, spooky effect, unsettling to the listener.

Joseph Haydn was famed for his sense of humour  fittingly for someone born on April 1st (All Fool’s day). A sense of humour pervades his symphonic compositions. In fact, he is the only composer who has ever made me laugh out loud. In his 'Farewell' symphony  the members of the orchestra leave the stage two-by-two, a hint to the Prince that even musicians need a holiday. In the  ‘Surprise’ symphony  a loud chord crashes suddenly out of nowhere to wake the audience up, and throughout his symphonies there are trick and false endings in which the music suddenly stops and starts again , soft-loud phrases, sudden accelerations, out-of-step soloists and compostional  devices guaranteed to grab the attention of the inattentive concert-goer. In symphony no. 60 entitled Il distratto (The Distracted One) Haydn’s famous sense of humour is shown to full effect. Not only does the symphony include an unprecedented 6 movements but it momentarily plunges into quoting an earlier Haydn symphony before remembering itself while its final movement instructs the first violinists to re-tune in its opening bars.

 By the time  of  the adagio of symphony number 76 in E flat some quite modern features occur, anticipating the symphonies of his most famous pupil, Ludwig van Beethoven and paving the way for Romantic composers such as Schubert and Schumann.  In the Adagio of symphony 76 the listener is lulled into a cosy  mood of  intimacy only to be awakened by a truly startling, war-like, strutting second theme bursting onto the scene, which in turn slowly  fades back to the original mood of calm cosiness.

Just as no two games of Chess are ever completely identical no  two Haydn symphonies are really the same. Although their exposition, development and resolution often conform to a strict formula, in effect the miracle of Haydn's symphonies is their sheer inventiveness.  Written over a thirty year period  Haydn’s symphonies demonstrate the plastic and  protean nature  of the four movement symphonic structure.  The sheer variety and inventiveness in which he bends and shapes his material along with his original orchestration and overall effect, hopping from one musical key to another to explore the full potential of tonality, shuffling varied combinations of instruments and ensembles, using trick devices  such as silence to keep the listener alert and in anticipation,  Haydn's symphonies grow  in size, stature, volume and power throughout the decades of the 1770's and 1780's to the culminate in the magnificent last 12  symphonies  first performed in London in the 1790's. 

Like the German-born composer Handel before him, Haydn recognised that in the absence of any serious composer of their own,  the English were willing to commission and pay good money to hear fine musical compositions. Many of Haydn's symphonies have nick-names and the 12  London symphonies are no exception. Included amongst them are the 'Oxford', the 'Surprise' ,'The Drum-roll' ,the Military and the 'London.' A contemporary review from The Times dated 17th February 1792 stated of Haydn's music-

‘Novelty of idea, agreeable caprice, and whim combined with all Haydn’s sublime and wonton  grandeur, gave additional consequence to the soul and feelings of every individual present.

And indeed an appreciative and perceptive review of Haydn’s ‘Military’ symphony No.100 which is well worth reading  from the Proms season of 2009 can be found here.
Haydn is credited as the father of the symphony  for his development of its form, demonstrating the infinite variety of expression available within its four movement form. Alongside this development he also explored the dimensions of tonality and the various effects which could be achieved using   varied combinations of instruments, in effect, the development of orchestration.

 Often beginning the symphony with an brisk-paced, witty and inventive movement, though  in  later symphonies  opening  with a short, brooding adagio, Haydn's symphonies  progress with a second movement, usually in a contrasting  key and mood in the form of  an intimate, deeply expressive, leisurely adagio. The third movement   invariably is  a minuet, a light-hearted, toe-tapping   invitation to the dance.  Haydn's symphonies often conclude with  an exciting last movement of orchestral brilliance and technical wizardry, thematically related to the opening movement.

Like his greatest pupil Beethoven, Haydn's symphonies are not famed  for having memorable and lyrical  melodies as much as exhibiting dazzling  organising  and inventive skills in their arranging and developing of  musical material. Haydn recognised the potential within each of the four  individual movements of the symphony's structure to express different aspects and characteristics of the composer's sensibility which he fully developed and exploited. Indeed, Mozart is quoted as once saying  of Haydn that there was no one else, 'who can do it all - to joke and to terrify, to evoke laughter and profound sentiment - and all equally well'.

 In the Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov’s view  Haydn was the greatest of all orchestrators . His influence can be discerned notably in his most famous pupil Beethoven's smaller  scale symphonies numbers 4 and 8 and homage is made to him  by 20th century composers, notably in the back to basics, scaled down in size and scope of Prokofiev's  first symphony (1917) in D major, the so-called 'Classical' symphony and even in Shostakovich's 9th symphony (1953) in its mood  of light-hearted jollity and humour.

In many ways listening to a Haydn symphony is like being  cordially invited by a master horologist to inspect the inside workings of a clock. All the pieces matter! Those who complain that his symphonies sound all the same simply are not listening. To be sure original melodies may be far and few, but  if today Haydn is seen as a little four square, with his level-headed calmness, sobriety and jovial good humour, its an indication of just  how far removed from a sane, at ease and harmony with the world,  the modern listener has become. 

Here's a useful list of the dates of the most famous of  Haydn's symphonies for reference. They are all great to listen to,  but especially those with a nickname. I've also added the dates of the most important Mozart symphonies in bold type for comparative reference. 

No.22 The Philosopher (1764); no. 26 in D minor, Lamentations,  nos.27-29 (1765);  
no. 30 in C ,Alleluja,  no. 31 in D Hornsignal ,  nos. 32-42 (c.1768) includes no. 39 in G minor,
Mozart Symphony no. 25 in G minor K183 (1773)
 no.43 in E flat Mercury (1772);  no. 44 in E minor, Trauersinfonie (1772);  no. 45 in F sharp minor Farewell  (1772) 

no.49 in F minor,La Passione (c.1768) no.52-52 (1773);  nos. 54-59 (1774);  no.60 Il Distratto (1774);
 nos. 61-72 (c.1779);  no.73 La Chasse (1782); 

Mozart 'Linz' Symphony no. 36 in C major (1783)

nos.74-81  (1781-84); 

Paris Symphonies nos 82 -87 -  no.82 in C, The Bear, no.83 in G minor, The Hen, no.84 in E flat, no.85 in B Flat, La Reine, no.86 in D, no.87 in A (1785-86): no.88 in G, no. 89 in F, no.90 in C, no 91 in E flat (1787-88);

 W.A Mozart - Symphonies 39-41 K549-551 (1788)  

London Symphonies  (1791-95)
no.92 in G The Oxford (1789); nos. 93-104  
no.94 in G  The Surprise,
no.95 in C minor,
no.96 in D  The Miracle, no 97 in C, no. 98 in B flat, no.99 in E flat,
no.100 in G The Military, no.101 in D The Clock, no.102 in B flat,
no.103 in E flat The Drumroll, no.104 in D The London.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Defeating the mischief intended by the Elephants

And therefore it was remarkably singular in the battle of Africa, that Scipio fearing a rout from the Elephants of the Enemy, left not the Principes in their alternate distances, whereby the Elephants passing the vacuities of the Hastati, might have run upon them, but drew his battle into right  order, and leaving the passages bare, defeated the mischief intended by the Elephants.

The event which Browne alludes to in chapter two of his Discourse  'The Garden of Cyrus'  is the Battle of Zama  in North Africa, modern-day Tunisia, which was fought in 202 BCE between the Roman army led by Scipio Africanus and the Carthaginian forces of Hannibal. The battle ended in the decimation of Hannibal's army and Carthage losing the Second Punic War, effectively establishing Rome's total control of the Mediterranean sea.

Scipio's fame in esoteric literature is due  to  the sixth book of Cicero's De Republica  describing Scipio's journey through the planetary spheres and  his hearing the celestial music of the spheres. The  Neoplatonic philosopher Macrobius (395 - 425 CE) wrote a commentary upon Scipio's dream which became well-known in the Middle ages. The 15 year old Mozart composed a one act opera named Il sogno di Scipio K. 126 using a libretto by Metastastio which was based upon the Roman text.

Browne's figure of speech 'defeated the mischief intended by the Elephants',  in particular, linking 'mischief'  with  'Elephants' seems  a fine example of his subtle  humour. 

Painting by Guilo Romano (1492-1546)  The Battle of Zama