THERE are only two more works sufficiently continuous, complete and of human interest to count among the literary remains of Sir Thomas Browne. These are Christian Morals, and A Letter to a Friend upon Occasion of the Death of his Intimate Friend. Both were published posthumously, and composed, Sir Geoffrey Keynes thinks, in the early 1670's, when Sir Thomas was over seventy years old. They neither of them suggest continuous composition or that they had reached their final form; they are made up of separate passages, sometimes paragraphs, sometimes brief essays which would have been susceptible of additions, removals or transpositions. A Letter to a Friend has slightly more continuity in that it keeps returning to its occasion (real or ostensible), the recent death of his patient, the friend of his correspondent.
There are three possible accounts that might be given for the existence of this letter among Browne's posthumous papers. (1) That it was a copy of a real letter that had been sent to the friend of a deceased patient; (2) that it was a literary composition in a traditional form; (3) that it originated as a real letter and developed into a literary composition. I incline to the third view; there seem to me to be indications of an actual event, details hardly to be accounted for in a wholly conventional letter about disease and death. If this view is correct the opening paragraph could be part of the originating letter; it appears to be written in answer to an inquiry:
Give me leave to wonder that News of this nature, should have such heavy Wings, that you should hear so little concerning your dearest Friend, and that I must make that unwilling Repetition to tell you,
Ad portam rigidos calces extendit,
that he is Dead and Buried, and by this time no Puny among the mighty Nations of the Dead; for tho he left this World not very many