Browne, Thomas (1605-1682)

Browne, Sir Thomas, author of the Religio Medici, was born in London, October 19, 1605, and educated at Winchester College and at Broadgate Hall (now Pembroke College), Oxford. He next studied medicine, travelled in Ireland, France, and Italy, continued his medical studies at Montpellier and Padua, graduated as Doctor of Medicine at Leyden and at Oxford, and settled in 1637 at Norwich. He lived calmly throughout the troubles of the Civil War, maintained an active correspondence with antiquaries and scientists, and was knighted by Charles II. on his visit to Norwich in 1671. He died October 19, 1682, and was buried in the church of St Peter's Mancroft, whence in 1840 his skull was ' knav'd out of its grave' and placed in the hospital-museum. His greatest work is his earliest, the Religio Medici, written about 1635—a kind of confession of faith, revealing a deep insight into the dim mysteries of the spiritual life. The surreptitious publication of two editions in 1642 obliged him to issue an authorised edition in 1643 ; it was translated into Latin, and had the honour of insertion in the Index Expurgatorius. Pseudodoxia Epidemica, or Enquiries into . . . Vulgar and Common Errors (1646), a strange and discursive amalgam of humour, acuteness, learning, and credulity, is by far the most elaborate of his works. Hydriotaphia; Urn Burial (1658), mainly a discussion of burial-customs, shows all the author's vast and curious learning set in language of rich and gorgeous eloquence. The Garden of Cyrus (1658), the most fantastic of Browne's writings, aims to show that the number five pervaded not only all the horticulture of antiquity, but that it recurs throughout all plant-life, as well as the ' figurations' of animals. After his death appeared Miscellany Tracts (1683), Letter to a Friend (1690), and Christian Morals (1716), an incomplete work, evidently intended to be a continuation of the Religio Medici. Browne's works are unsystematic and unequal: his thought is strikingly original, often expressed with quaint humour or searching pathos. His favourite theme is ever the mystery of death. His style is too idiomatic and difficult to be popular, and his studied brevity often falls into obscurity. Charles Lamb boasted that he was the first 'among the moderns' to discover Sir Thomas Browne's excellences, De Quincey ranks him with Jeremy Taylor as the most dazzling of rhetoricians, and Lowell calls him 'our most imaginative mind since Shakespeare.5 There are editions of the works by Simon Wilkin (4 vols. 1835-36), and Sayle (3 vols. 1904-7). See Greenliill's editions of the Religio and Hydriotaphia (1881 and 1896), and Gosse's monograph (' Men of Letters,' 1905).
References
1. Chamber's Biographical Dictionary, Philadelphia, 1926, page 140.

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