Marginalia, no.137

Cato who doted upon cabbage might find the crude effects thereof in his sleep, wherein the Aegyptians might find some advantage by their superstitious abstinence from onions.

~ Sir Thomas Browne, Notebooks

Within the past week: My wife adopted a pet tiger she insisted could survive on cheese; I discovered a subterranean basement below the bathtub; I saved my daughter from drowning at sea.  Then my home was invaded by birds: long-necked hawks, brightly colored owls, shoe-billed ducks and tiny songbirds that built nests atop the framed pictures hanging on the walls.  If dreams are determined by digestion, then all this seems to have started with a dish of baked fennel and parmesan.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Marginalia, no.137

  1. Jonathan

    A very vivid set of dreams indeed! I too have had odd dreams about birds setting up shop inside the house – but it’s always my childhood house and the birds are very large.

  2. Just to keep the record straight, this quotation originates in fact from a short tract by Browne entitled ‘On dreams’ .

    It includes many examples of waking preoccupations effecting a dream’s characteristics.

    Food, more accurately digestion, is often the suspect origin of a weird dream!

  3. Ian Wolcott

    Perhaps you can clarify for me, Mr Faulkner: my edition of Browne (a dog-eared Anchor Classics paperback) includes “On Dreams” with the title printed in brackets, which had led me to believe that it was not a title given by Browne himself, but by a later editor. Was it ever published in Browne’s lifetime?

  4. Hi!

    Literary editing post death was pretty lax in 17th c. ‘On Dreams’ may not have been published until as late as 1834 with a title added.

    However, the tract ‘On Dreams’ is just that, a miscellaneous tract, which I believe has been translated and published in French recently.

    I only make this distinction in terms of reference to help others locate your quote as there is a large volume of jottings by Browne under the heading ‘Commonplace note-books’ quite separate from miscellaneous tracts, but it’s really great that so many American Bloggers in particular find Browne an inspiration and spring-board for their own thoughts.

    I shall hopefully post a short piece upon Browne’s interest on America soon, including commentary on those great lines from the Prophecy (Tract 12)

    When America shall cease to send out its Treasure
    but employ it instead in American Pleasure

  5. Sorry but I forgot to mention that this humorous image must have been significant to Browne for it also occurs in the dedicatory Epistle to the 1658 Discourse ‘The Garden of Cyrus’ thus-

    Some commendably affected Plantations of venomous vegetables, some confined their delights unto single plants, and Cato seemed to dote upon Cabbage.

    Pretty good for a royalist to retain a sense of humour during the bleak years of Cromwell’s Commonwealth!

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