Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Comes Viae Vitaeque Dulcis et Utilis
How many bookmen have wished a favourite book to go with them into oblivion I have no means of knowing, but that there are many I have no doubt: among them, certainly, is Sir Thomas Browne, who expressed such a wish in his will: On my coffin when in the grave I desire may be deposited in its leather case or coffin my Elzevir's Horace, 'Comes Viae Vitaeque dulcis et utilis', worn out with and by me.3For the love I bear to Horace and Sir Thomas Browne, I wish this anecdote were true, but it isn't, at least not entirely.
3Qt., Life of Osler. Cushing. ii, 681.
Harvey Cushing, The Life of Sir William Osler (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925), is unavailable to me, but from a snippet view in Google Books it appears that Osler referred to Sir William Browne (1692-1774), not Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682). See "Will of Sir William Browne, Knight, M.D., dated 11 February, 1772," in John Willis Clark, Endowments of the University of Cambridge (Cambridge: The University Press, 1904), pp. 98-101 (at 98):
On my Coffin, when in the Grave, I desire may be deposited in its Leather Case or Coffin my Pocket-Elzivir-Horace comes viae vitaeque dulcis et utilis, worn out with, and by me.
Update: Thanks to Eric Thomson for sending me the following excerpt from [William Warburton], Letters from a Late Eminent Prelate to One of his Friends, 2nd ed. (London. T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1809), pp.404-405 (Letter CXCIX, Prior-Park, November 8, 1767):
When you see Dr. Heberden, pray communicate to him an unexpected honour I have lately received. The other day, word was brought me from below, that one Sir William Browne sent up his name, and should be glad to kiss my hand. I judged it to be the famous Physician, whom I had never seen, nor had the honour to know. When I came down into the drawing-room, I was accosted by a little, round, well-fed gentleman, with a large muff in one hand, a small Horace, open, in the other, and a spying glass dangling in a black ribbon at his button.Related post: Funeral of a Lover of Horace.
After the first salutation, he informed me that his visit was indeed to me; but principally, and in the first place, to Prior-Park, which had so inviting a prospect from below; and he did not doubt but, on examination, it would sufficiently repay the trouble he had given himself of coming up to it on foot. We then took our chairs; and the first thing he did or said, was to propose a doubt to me concerning a passage in Horace, which all this time he had still open in his hand. Before I could answer, he gave me the solution of this long misunderstood passage: and, in support of his explanation, had the charity to repeat his own paraphrase of it, in English verse, just come hot, as he said, from the brain. When this and chocolate were over, having seen all he wanted of me, he desired to see something more of the seat; and particularly what he called the monument, by which I understood him to mean, the Prior's tower, with your inscription. Accordingly I ordered a servant to attend him thither; and, when he had satisfied his curiosity, either to let him out from the park above into the down, or from the garden below into the road. Which he chose, I never asked; and so this honourable visit ended. Hereby you will understand that the design of all this was, to be admired. And, indeed, he had my admiration to the full; but for nothing so much, as for his being able, at past eighty, to perform this expedition on foot, in no good weather, and with all the alacrity of a boy, both in body and mind.
Labels: typographical and other errors