But to subsist in
bones, and be but pyramidically extant, is a fallacy in
Vain ashes which in the
of names, persons, times, and sexes, have found unto themselves
a fruitless continuation, and only arise unto late posterity,
as emblems of mortal vanities, antidotes against pride, vainglory,
and maddening vice. . . .
And therefore, restless unquiet for the diurity of our
memories unto present consideration seems a vanity almost
out of date, and superannuated piece of folly. We cannot
hope to live so long in our names, as some have done in their
persons. One face of Janus holds no proportion to the other.
'Tis too late to be ambitious. The great mutations of the
world are acted, or time may be too short for our designs.
To extend our memories by monuments, whose death we daily
pray for, and whose duration we cannot hope, without injury
to our expectations in the advent of the last day, were a
contradiction of our beliefs. We whose generations are ordained
in this setting part of time, are providentially taken off
from such imaginations; and being necessitated to eye the
remaining particle of futurity, are naturally constituted
unto thoughts of the next world, and cannot excusably decline
the consideration of that duration, which maketh pyramids
pillars of snow, and all that's past a moment.
. . . There is no antidote
against the opium of time, which temporally considereth
all things: our fathers find
their graves in our short memories, and sadly tell us how
we may be buried in our survivors. Gravestones tell truth
scarce forty years. Generations pass while some trees stand,
and old families last not three oaks. . . .But the iniquity
of oblivion blindly scattereth her poppy, and deals of the
memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity.
Who can but pity the founders of the pyramids?
Thomas Browne, "Chapter Five." Hydriotaphia,
Seventeenth-Century Prose and Poetry. Ed. Alexander
M. Witherspoon and Frank J. Warnke. 7th edition.
San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1982.
Click here to return to the list of sample
passages for style.