Thomas Browne

Thomas Browne

Overview
Sir Thomas Browne was an English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 author of varied works which reveal his wide learning in diverse fields including medicine
Medicine
Medicine is the science and art of healing. It encompasses a variety of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of illness....

, religion
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

, science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 and the esoteric.

Browne's writings display a deep curiosity towards the natural world, influenced by the scientific revolution of Baconian
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Albans, KC was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, author and pioneer of the scientific method. He served both as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England...

 enquiry, while his Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 faith exuded tolerance and goodwill towards humanity in an often intolerant era. A consummate literary craftsman, Browne's works are permeated by frequent reference to Classical
Classics
Classics is the branch of the Humanities comprising the languages, literature, philosophy, history, art, archaeology and other culture of the ancient Mediterranean world ; especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during Classical Antiquity Classics (sometimes encompassing Classical Studies or...

 and Biblical
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 sources and to his own highly idiosyncratic personality.
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Quotations

Many from the ignorance of these Maxims, and an inconsiderate zeal unto Truth, have too rashly charged the troops of error, and remain as Trophies unto the enemies of Truth: A man may be in as just possession of Truth as of a City, and yet be forced to surrender.

Pt. I, Sec. 6

I love to lose myself in a mystery, to pursue my reason to an O altitudo.

Pt. 1, Sec. 9

I have often admired the mystical way of Pythagoras, and the secret Magic of numbers.

Pt. I, Sec. 12

The severe Schools shall never laugh me out of the Philosophy of Hermes, that this visible world is but a picture of the invisible.

Pt. I, Sec. 12

Rich with the spoils of nature.

Pt. I, Sec. 13

We carry with us the wonders, we seek without us: There is all Africa, and her prodigies in us; we are that bold and adventurous piece of nature, which he that studies, wisely learns in a compendium, what others labour at in a divided piece and endless volume.

Pt. I, Sec. 15

All things are artificial, for nature is the Art of God.

Pt. I, Sec. 16

Obstinacy in a bad cause, is but constancy in a good.

Pt. I, Sec. 25

Persecution is a bad and indirect way to plant Religion.

Pt. I, Sec. 25

Thus is man that great and true Amphibium, whose nature is disposed to live not only like other creatures in divers elements, but in divided and distinguished worlds.

Pt. I, Sec. 34
Encyclopedia
Sir Thomas Browne was an English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 author of varied works which reveal his wide learning in diverse fields including medicine
Medicine
Medicine is the science and art of healing. It encompasses a variety of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of illness....

, religion
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

, science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 and the esoteric.

Browne's writings display a deep curiosity towards the natural world, influenced by the scientific revolution of Baconian
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Albans, KC was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, author and pioneer of the scientific method. He served both as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England...

 enquiry, while his Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 faith exuded tolerance and goodwill towards humanity in an often intolerant era. A consummate literary craftsman, Browne's works are permeated by frequent reference to Classical
Classics
Classics is the branch of the Humanities comprising the languages, literature, philosophy, history, art, archaeology and other culture of the ancient Mediterranean world ; especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during Classical Antiquity Classics (sometimes encompassing Classical Studies or...

 and Biblical
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 sources and to his own highly idiosyncratic personality. His literary style varies according to genre resulting in a rich, unusual prose
Prose
Prose is the most typical form of written language, applying ordinary grammatical structure and natural flow of speech rather than rhythmic structure...

 that ranges from rough notebook observations to the highest baroque eloquence. Although he was described as suffering from melancholia
Melancholia
Melancholia , also lugubriousness, from the Latin lugere, to mourn; moroseness, from the Latin morosus, self-willed, fastidious habit; wistfulness, from old English wist: intent, or saturnine, , in contemporary usage, is a mood disorder of non-specific depression,...

, Browne's writings are also characterised by wit and subtle humour.

Autobiography


On 14 March 1673, Browne sent a short autobiography to the antiquarian John Aubrey
John Aubrey
John Aubrey FRS, was an English antiquary, natural philosopher and writer. He is perhaps best known as the author of the collection of short biographical pieces usually referred to as Brief Lives...

, presumably for Aubrey's collection of Brief Lives
Brief Lives
Brief Lives is a collection of short biographies written by John Aubrey in the last decades of the seventeenth century. Aubrey initially began collecting biographical material to assist the Oxford scholar Anthony Wood, who was working on his own collection of biographies...

, which provides an introduction to his life and writings.
...I was born in St Michael’s Cheap
Cheapside
Cheapside is a street in the City of London that links Newgate Street with the junction of Queen Victoria Street and Mansion House Street. To the east is Mansion House, the Bank of England, and the major road junction above Bank tube station. To the west is St. Paul's Cathedral, St...

 in London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, went to school at Winchester College
Winchester College
Winchester College is an independent school for boys in the British public school tradition, situated in Winchester, Hampshire, the former capital of England. It has existed in its present location for over 600 years and claims the longest unbroken history of any school in England...

, then went to Oxford, spent some years in foreign parts, was admitted to be a Socius Honorarius of the College of Physicians in London, Knighted September, 1671, when the King Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

, the Queen and Court came to Norwich
Norwich
Norwich is a city in England. It is the regional administrative centre and county town of Norfolk. During the 11th century, Norwich was the largest city in England after London, and one of the most important places in the kingdom...

. Writ Religio Medici
Religio Medici
Religio Medici is a book by Sir Thomas Browne, which sets out his spiritual testament as well as being an early psychological self-portrait. In its day, the book was a European best-seller and brought its author fame and respect throughout the continent...

in English, which was since translated into Latin, French, Italian, High and Low Dutch.
Pseudodoxia Epidemica
Pseudodoxia Epidemica
Pseudodoxia Epidemica or Enquries into very many received tenets and commonly presumed truths, also known simply as Pseudodoxia Epidemica or Vulgar Errors, is a work by Thomas Browne refuting the common errors and superstitions of his age. It first appeared in 1646 and went through five subsequent...

, or Enquiries into Common and Vulgar Errors
translated into Dutch four or five years ago.
Hydriotaphia
Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial
Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial, or a Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns lately found in Norfolk, is a work by Sir Thomas Browne, published in 1658 as the first part of a two-part work that concludes with The Garden of Cyrus....

, or Urn Buriall.
Hortus Cyri
The Garden of Cyrus
The Garden of Cyrus or The Quincunciall Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, naturally, artificially, mystically considered is a Discourse written by Sir Thomas Browne. It was first published in 1658, along with its diptych companion, Urn-Burial...

, or de Quincunce.
Have some miscellaneous tracts which may be published...


(Letters 376)

Biography


The son of a silk merchant from Upton
Upton, Cheshire
Upton by Chester is a civil parish and a large suburb on the outskirts of Chester, in the Borough of Cheshire West and Chester and the ceremonial county of Cheshire in England. It includes the villages of Upton and Upton Heath. At the 2001 Census the population was recorded as...

, Cheshire
Cheshire
Cheshire is a ceremonial county in North West England. Cheshire's county town is the city of Chester, although its largest town is Warrington. Other major towns include Widnes, Congleton, Crewe, Ellesmere Port, Runcorn, Macclesfield, Winsford, Northwich, and Wilmslow...

, he was born in the parish of St Michael, Cheapside, in London on October 19, 1605. His father died while he was still young and he was sent to school at Winchester College
Winchester College
Winchester College is an independent school for boys in the British public school tradition, situated in Winchester, Hampshire, the former capital of England. It has existed in its present location for over 600 years and claims the longest unbroken history of any school in England...

. In 1623 Browne went to Oxford University. He graduated from Pembroke College, Oxford
Pembroke College, Oxford
Pembroke College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England, located in Pembroke Square. As of 2009, Pembroke had an estimated financial endowment of £44.9 million.-History:...

 in 1626 after which he studied medicine at various Continental universities, including Leiden, where he received an MD
Doctor of Medicine
Doctor of Medicine is a doctoral degree for physicians. The degree is granted by medical schools...

 in 1633. He settled in Norwich
Norwich
Norwich is a city in England. It is the regional administrative centre and county town of Norfolk. During the 11th century, Norwich was the largest city in England after London, and one of the most important places in the kingdom...

 in 1637 where he practiced medicine and lived until his death in 1682.

His first well-known work bore the Latin title Religio Medici
Religio Medici
Religio Medici is a book by Sir Thomas Browne, which sets out his spiritual testament as well as being an early psychological self-portrait. In its day, the book was a European best-seller and brought its author fame and respect throughout the continent...

(The Religion of a Physician). This work was circulated in manuscript among his friends, and it caused Browne some surprise when an unauthorised edition appeared in 1642, since the work contained a number of religious speculations that might be considered unorthodox. An authorised text with some of the controversial matter removed appeared in 1643. The expurgation did not end the controversy; in 1645, Alexander Ross
Alexander Ross (writer)
Alexander Ross was a prolific Scottish writer and controversialist. He was Chaplain-in-Ordinary to Charles I.-Life:He was born in Aberdeen, and entered King's College, Aberdeen, in 1604. About 1616 he succeeded Thomas Parker in the mastership of the free school at Southampton, an appointment which...

 attacked Religio Medici in his Medicus Medicatus (The Doctor, Doctored) and in fact the book was placed upon the Papal index of forbidden reading for Catholics in the same year. In Religio Medici, Browne had confirmed his belief in the existence of witches. It is known that in later life he attended the 1662 Bury St. Edmunds witch trial, where his citation of a parallel case in Denmark played some part in confirming in the jury's minds the guilt of the accused, two women who were subsequently executed for the crime of witchcraft. The record of this trial remained unpublished until 1731 but speculation exists that it was used by the magistrates at the Salem witch trials
Salem witch trials
The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings before county court trials to prosecute people accused of witchcraft in the counties of Essex, Suffolk, and Middlesex in colonial Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693...

 to prove the acceptability in court of spectral evidence
Spectral evidence
Spectral evidence is a form of evidence based upon dreams and visions. It was admitted in court during the Salem witch trials by the appointed chief justice, William Stoughton. The booklet A Tryal of Witches taken from a contemporary report of the proceedings of the Bury St...

.

In 1646, Browne published the encyclopaedia, Pseudodoxia Epidemica
Pseudodoxia Epidemica
Pseudodoxia Epidemica or Enquries into very many received tenets and commonly presumed truths, also known simply as Pseudodoxia Epidemica or Vulgar Errors, is a work by Thomas Browne refuting the common errors and superstitions of his age. It first appeared in 1646 and went through five subsequent...

, or, Enquiries into Very many Received Tenets, and commonly Presumed Truths
, whose title refers to the prevalence of false beliefs and "vulgar errors." A sceptical work that debunks a number of legends circulating at the time in a paradox
Paradox
Similar to Circular reasoning, A paradox is a seemingly true statement or group of statements that lead to a contradiction or a situation which seems to defy logic or intuition...

ical and witty manner; it displays the Baconian
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Albans, KC was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, author and pioneer of the scientific method. He served both as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England...

 side of Browne—the side that was unafraid of what at the time was still called "the new learning". The book is significant in the history of science, because its arguments were some of the first to cast doubt on the widely-believed hypothesis of spontaneous generation
Spontaneous generation
Spontaneous generation or Equivocal generation is an obsolete principle regarding the origin of life from inanimate matter, which held that this process was a commonplace and everyday occurrence, as distinguished from univocal generation, or reproduction from parent...

 or abiogenesis
Abiogenesis
Abiogenesis or biopoesis is the study of how biological life arises from inorganic matter through natural processes, and the method by which life on Earth arose...

.

Browne's last publication during his life-time (1658) was two philosophical Discourses which are intrinsically related to each other; the first Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial
Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial
Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial, or a Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns lately found in Norfolk, is a work by Sir Thomas Browne, published in 1658 as the first part of a two-part work that concludes with The Garden of Cyrus....

 or a Brief Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns lately found in Norfolk
, occasioned by the discovery of some Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

 burials in earthenware vessels found in Norfolk
Norfolk
Norfolk is a low-lying county in the East of England. It has borders with Lincolnshire to the west, Cambridgeshire to the west and southwest and Suffolk to the south. Its northern and eastern boundaries are the North Sea coast and to the north-west the county is bordered by The Wash. The county...

 inspired Browne to meditate upon the funerary customs of the world and the fleetingness of earthly fame and reputation.

Urn-Burial's "twin" discourse is The Garden of Cyrus
The Garden of Cyrus
The Garden of Cyrus or The Quincunciall Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, naturally, artificially, mystically considered is a Discourse written by Sir Thomas Browne. It was first published in 1658, along with its diptych companion, Urn-Burial...

, or, The Quincunciall Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, Artificially, Naturally, and Mystically Considered
, whose subject is the quincunx
Quincunx
A quincunx is a geometric pattern consisting of five points arranged in a cross, that is five coplanar points, four of them forming a square or rectangle and a fifth at its center...

, the arrangement of five units like the five-spot in dice
Dice
A die is a small throwable object with multiple resting positions, used for generating random numbers...

, which Browne uses to demonstrate that evidence of the Platonic forms and intelligent design
Intelligent design
Intelligent design is the proposition that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection." It is a form of creationism and a contemporary adaptation of the traditional teleological argument for...

 existing throughout Nature.


1671 Knighthood to death


In 1671 King Charles II, accompanied by the Royal Court, visited Norwich
Norwich
Norwich is a city in England. It is the regional administrative centre and county town of Norfolk. During the 11th century, Norwich was the largest city in England after London, and one of the most important places in the kingdom...

. The courtier John Evelyn
John Evelyn
John Evelyn was an English writer, gardener and diarist.Evelyn's diaries or Memoirs are largely contemporaneous with those of the other noted diarist of the time, Samuel Pepys, and cast considerable light on the art, culture and politics of the time John Evelyn (31 October 1620 – 27 February...

, who had occasionally corresponded with Browne, took good use of the Royal visit to call upon the learned doctor of European fame and wrote of his visit:
His whole house & garden is a paradise and Cabinet of rarieties & that of the best collection, amongst Medails, books, Plants, natural things.

During his visit to Norwich, King Charles II visited Browne's home. A banquet was held in the Civic Hall St. Andrews for the Royal visit. Obliged to honour a notable local, the name of the Mayor of Norwich was proposed to the King for knighthood. The Mayor, however, declined the honour and proposed the name of Browne instead.

Sir Thomas Browne died on 19 October 1682, his 77th birthday. His skull became the subject of dispute when in 1840 his lead coffin was accidentally re-opened by workmen. It was not re-interred until 4 July 1922 when it was registered in the church of Saint Peter Mancroft as aged 316 years.

Literary works

  • Religio Medici
    Religio Medici
    Religio Medici is a book by Sir Thomas Browne, which sets out his spiritual testament as well as being an early psychological self-portrait. In its day, the book was a European best-seller and brought its author fame and respect throughout the continent...

    (1643)
  • Pseudodoxia Epidemica
    Pseudodoxia Epidemica
    Pseudodoxia Epidemica or Enquries into very many received tenets and commonly presumed truths, also known simply as Pseudodoxia Epidemica or Vulgar Errors, is a work by Thomas Browne refuting the common errors and superstitions of his age. It first appeared in 1646 and went through five subsequent...

    (1646–72)
  • Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial
    Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial
    Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial, or a Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns lately found in Norfolk, is a work by Sir Thomas Browne, published in 1658 as the first part of a two-part work that concludes with The Garden of Cyrus....

    (1658)
  • The Garden of Cyrus
    The Garden of Cyrus
    The Garden of Cyrus or The Quincunciall Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, naturally, artificially, mystically considered is a Discourse written by Sir Thomas Browne. It was first published in 1658, along with its diptych companion, Urn-Burial...

    (1658)
  • A Letter to a Friend
    A Letter to a Friend
    A Letter to a Friend , by the 17th century philosopher and physician Sir Thomas Browne is a medical treatise of case-histories and witty speculations upon the human condition.-External links:*...

    (1656; pub. post. 1690)
  • Christian Morals
    Christian Morals
    Christian Morals is a work in prose written by the physician Sir Thomas Browne as advice for his eldest children. It was published posthumously in 1716. It is a companion piece to his earlier Religio Medici, and consists, as its title implies, of meditations upon Christian values and conduct...

    (1670s; pub. post. 1716)
  • Musaeum Clausum
    Musaeum Clausum
    Musaeum Clausum , also known as Bibliotheca abscondita, is a tract written by Sir Thomas Browne first published posthumously in 1684. The book contains short descriptions of supposed, rumoured or lost books pictures and objects...

    Tract 13 from Miscellaneous Tracts first pub. post. 1684
  • See also Library of Sir Thomas Browne
    Library of Sir Thomas Browne
    No single document gives better evidence of the erudition of Sir Thomas Browne, physician, philosopher and encyclopedist than the 1711 Sales Auction Catalogue of the Library of Sir Thomas Browne...


Literary influence


Browne is widely considered one of the most original writers in the English language. Though by no means free from credulity, the freshness and ingenuity of his mind invested everything he touched with interest; while on more important subjects his style, if frequently rugged and pedantic, often rises to the highest pitch of stately eloquence. His paradox
Paradox
Similar to Circular reasoning, A paradox is a seemingly true statement or group of statements that lead to a contradiction or a situation which seems to defy logic or intuition...

ical place in the history of ideas, as both a promoter of the new inductive science, as an adherent of ancient esoteric learning as well as a devout Christian have greatly contributed to his ambiguity in the history of ideas. For these reasons, the literary critic Robert Sencourt succinctly assessed him as "an instance of scientific reason lit up by mysticism in the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

".

Added to this are the complexity of his labyrinthine thought and his ornate language, along with his many allusions to the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

, Classical learning and to a variety of esoteric authors. These factors combine to account for why Browne remains obscure, little-read and much-misunderstood. However, the influence of his literary style spans four centuries.
  • In the eighteenth century, Samuel Johnson
    Samuel Johnson
    Samuel Johnson , often referred to as Dr. Johnson, was an English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer...

    , who shared Browne's love of the Latinate, wrote a brief Life in which he praised Browne as a faithful Christian
    Christian
    A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

    , but gave a mixed reception to his prose:


  • In the nineteenth century Browne's reputation was revived by the Romantics
    Romanticism
    Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

    . Thomas De Quincey
    Thomas de Quincey
    Thomas Penson de Quincey was an English esssayist, best known for his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater .-Child and student:...

    , Samuel Taylor Coleridge
    Samuel Taylor Coleridge
    Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, Romantic, literary critic and philosopher who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. He is probably best known for his poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla...

    , and Charles Lamb (who considered himself the rediscoverer of Browne) were all admirers. Carlyle was also influenced by him.

  • The seminal American novelist Herman Melville
    Herman Melville
    Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd....

    , heavily influenced by his style, deemed him "a cracked archangel
    Archangel
    An archangel is an angel of high rank. Archangels are found in a number of religious traditions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Michael and Gabriel are recognized as archangels in Judaism and by most Christians. Michael is the only archangel specifically named in the Protestant Bible...

    ."

  • The epigraph
    Epigraph (literature)
    In literature, an epigraph is a phrase, quotation, or poem that is set at the beginning of a document or component. The epigraph may serve as a preface, as a summary, as a counter-example, or to link the work to a wider literary canon, either to invite comparison or to enlist a conventional...

     of Edgar Allan Poe
    Edgar Allan Poe
    Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective...

    's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue
    The Murders in the Rue Morgue
    "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe published in Graham's Magazine in 1841. It has been claimed as the first detective story; Poe referred to it as one of his "tales of ratiocination". Two works that share some similarities predate Poe's stories, including Das...

    " (1841) is from Browne's Hydriotaphia.

  • The English author Virginia Woolf
    Virginia Woolf
    Adeline Virginia Woolf was an English author, essayist, publisher, and writer of short stories, regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century....

     wrote essays upon him and observed in 1923,


"Few people love the writings of Sir Thomas Browne, but those that do are the salt of the earth."

In the twentieth century those who have admired the English man of letters include:
  • The American natural historian and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould
    Stephen Jay Gould
    Stephen Jay Gould was an American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation....

    .
  • The theosophist Madame Blavatsky
    Madame Blavatsky
    Helena Petrovna Blavatsky , was a theosophist, writer and traveler. Between 1848 and 1875 Blavatsky had gone around the world three times. In 1875, Blavatsky together with Colonel H. S. Olcott established the Theosophical Society...

    .
  • The Scottish
    Scotland
    Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

     psychologist R. D. Laing, who opens his work The Politics of Experience with a quotation by him.
  • The composer William Alwyn
    William Alwyn
    William Alwyn, CBE, born William Alwyn Smith was an English composer, conductor, and music teacher.-Life and music:...

     wrote a symphony
    Symphony
    A symphony is an extended musical composition in Western classical music, scored almost always for orchestra. A symphony usually contains at least one movement or episode composed according to the sonata principle...

     in 1973 based upon the rhythmical cadences of Browne's literary work Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial
    Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial
    Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial, or a Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns lately found in Norfolk, is a work by Sir Thomas Browne, published in 1658 as the first part of a two-part work that concludes with The Garden of Cyrus....

    .
  • The American author Armistead Maupin
    Armistead Maupin
    Armistead Jones Maupin, Jr. is an American writer, best known for his Tales of the City series of novels, based in San Francisco.-Early life:...

     includes a quote from Religio Medici in the preface to the third in his Tales of the City
    Tales of the City
    Tales of the City refers to a series of eight novels written by American author Armistead Maupin. The stories from Tales were originally serialized prior to their novelization, with the first four titles appearing as regular installments in the San Francisco Chronicle, while the fifth appeared in...

     novels, Further Tales of the City, first published in 1982.
  • The American author Tony Kushner
    Tony Kushner
    Anthony Robert "Tony" Kushner is an American playwright and screenwriter. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1993 for his play, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, and co-authored with Eric Roth the screenplay for the 2005 film, Munich.-Life and career:Kushner was born...

     in 1987 wrote a play upon Browne whose title is Hydriotaphia.
  • The Canadian physician William Osler
    William Osler
    Sir William Osler, 1st Baronet was a physician. He was one of the "Big Four" founding professors at Johns Hopkins Hospital as the first Professor of Medicine and founder of the Medical Service there. Sir William Osler, 1st Baronet (July 12, 1849 – December 29, 1919) was a physician. He was...

     (1849–1919), the "founding father of modern medicine", was a well-read admirer of Browne.
  • The German
    Germany
    Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

     author W.G. Sebald wrote of Browne in his semi-autobiographical novel The Rings of Saturn
    The rings of saturn
    The Rings of Saturn is a novel by W. G. Sebald and was published in English in 1998.The second novel of W. G. Sebald to be translated into English, The Rings of Saturn is the account of the narrator, also named W. G. Sebald, on a walking tour of Suffolk...

    (1995).
  • The Argentinian
    Argentina
    Argentina , officially the Argentine Republic , is the second largest country in South America by land area, after Brazil. It is constituted as a federation of 23 provinces and an autonomous city, Buenos Aires...

     writer Jorge Luis Borges
    Jorge Luis Borges
    Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo , known as Jorge Luis Borges , was an Argentine writer, essayist, poet and translator born in Buenos Aires. In 1914 his family moved to Switzerland where he attended school, receiving his baccalauréat from the Collège de Genève in 1918. The family...

     alluded to Browne throughout his literary writings, from his first publication, Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923) until his last years. He described Browne as "the best prose writer in the English language". Such was his admiration of Browne as a literary stylist and thinker that late in his life (Interview April 25, 1980) he stated of himself alluding to his self-portrait in "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
    Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
    "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" is a short story by the 20th century Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. The story was first published in the Argentine journal Sur, May 1940. The "postscript" dated 1947 is intended to be anachronistic, set seven years in the future...

    " (1940):

  • In his short story "The Celestial Omnibus
    The Celestial Omnibus
    The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories is the title of a collection of short stories by E. M. Forster, first published in 1911. It contains stories written over the previous ten years, and together with the collection The Eternal Moment forms part of Forster's Collected Short Stories...

    ", published in 1911, E. M. Forster
    E. M. Forster
    Edward Morgan Forster OM, CH was an English novelist, short story writer, essayist and librettist. He is known best for his ironic and well-plotted novels examining class difference and hypocrisy in early 20th-century British society...

     makes Browne the first "driver" that the young protagonist encounters on the magical omnibus line that transports its passengers to a place of direct experience of the aesthetic sublime reserved for those who internalize the experience of poetry, as opposed to those who merely acquire familiarity with literary works for snobbish prestige. The story is an allegory about true appreciation of poetry and literature versus pedantry.

  • In North Towards Home, Willie Morris quotes Sir Thomas Browne's Urn Burial from memory as he walks up Park Avenue with William Styron: "'And since death must be the Lucina of life, and even Pagans could doubt, whether thus to live were to die; since our longest sun sets at right descensions, and makes but winter arches, and therefore it cannot be long before we lie down in darkness and have our light in ashes…' At that instant I was almost clipped by a taxicab, and the driver stuck his head out and yelled, 'Aincha got eyes in that head, ya bum?'"

  • William Styron prefaced his 1951 novel Lie Down In Darkness with the same quotation as noted above in the remarks about Willie Morris's memoir. The title of Styron's novel itself comes from that quotation.

  • Spanish writer Javier Marías
    Javier Marías
    Javier Marías is a Spanish novelist. He is also a translator and columnist.-Life:Javier Marías was born in Madrid. His father was the philosopher Julián Marías, who was briefly imprisoned and then banned from teaching for opposing Franco...

     translated two works of Browne, Religio Medici and Hydriotaphia.

Portraits of Sir Thomas Browne



The National Portrait Gallery in London has a fine contemporary portrait of Sir Thomas Browne and his wife Dorothy, Lady Browne (née Mileham). More recent sculptural portraits include Henry Albert Pegram
Henry Albert Pegram
Henry Alfred Pegram was a British sculptor, an exponent of the New Sculpture movement.- Life :Pegram was born in London and received his first artistic education at the West London School of Art. Already in 1881 and in 1883 he won prizes at the National Art Competitions...

's statue of Sir Thomas contemplating with urn in Norwich. This statue occupies the central position in the Haymarket beside St. Peter Mancroft, not far from the site of his house. It was erected in 1905 and moved from its original position in 1973. In 2005 Robert Mileham’s small standing figure in silver and bronze was commissioned for the 400th anniversary of Browne's birth.

Sources

  • Reid Barbour and Claire Preston (eds), Sir Thomas Browne: The World Proposed (Oxford, OUP, 2008).



External links