883G Sir Thomas Browne 1605-1682

The Works of the learned Sr Thomas Brown, Kt. Doctor of Physick, late of Norwich.containing I. Enquiries into Vulgar and Common Errors. II Religio Medici: With Annotations and Observations upon it. III. Hydriotaphia; or, Urn-Burial: Together with The Garden of Cyrus. IV. Certain Miscellany Tracts.


London: Printed for Tho. Baffet, Ric. Chiswell, Tho. Sawbridge, Charles Mearn, and Charles Brome, 1686                                  $1,900

Large Folio 18.5 x 31 cm      A6, (a)4, B-Z4, Aa-Zz4, Aaa-Iii4, KKK6, LLL-QQQ4, RRR6-Zzz4, Aaaa-Dddd4, Eeee2        First Edition. This copy is nicely bound in older calf and rebaked about 100 years ago.

“Browne was born in London and educated at Winchester and Oxford. After a brief period of professional work he continued his medical studies at Montpellier, Padua, and Leyden. For a time he lived in Yorkshire, where he wrote Religio Medici. In 1637 he settled at Norwich to practice his profession. In spite of his wish that mankind might procreate like trees- a wish not endorsed by Sir Kenelm Digby and James Howell- Browne married and had a dozen children. He followed with paternal and scientific interest the travels and medical researches of his son Edward, an upon ‘honest Tom,’ who sojourned in France and then entered the navy, he lavished advice ranging from underwear to the heroic examples ‘in your beloved Plutark.’ Browne was the physician and friend of Joseph Hall, Bishop of Norwich in 1641-1647.

Browne corresponded with Henry Power, Evelyn, Ashmole, Lilly, Dugdale, Oldenburg, Aubrey, and others. Why he did not become a member of the Royal Society we do not know. Although a royalist in sympathy, Browne never let public disturbances interrupt his varied studies and experiments, the collecting of books and rarities, and meditations on all things below and above the moon. […] Browne was knighted in 1671, on the occasion of a royal visit to Norwich, the uniquely generous mayor effacing himself in favor of the town’s most illustrious citizen.” (quoted from D. Bush, page 272, English Lit. in the Earlier 17th C.)“[Thomas Browne’s] affluence and established residence (the transport of a collection containing many folio volumes is not lightly to be undertaken) enabled him to build up in ten years or so the substantial scholarly library which provided the materials for his dsc_0178longest work,
Pseudodoxia Epidemica or Enquiries into very many Received Tenets and Commonly Presumed Truths. First published in 1646, it was revised and expanded in successive editions up to the sixth in 1672. In it Browne took up a suggestion by Bacon in his Advancement of Learning that there should be compiled a list of erroneous beliefs held at that time in the fields of the natural sciences and general knowledge. Browne went further, and, by combining in his disquisition on each topic the testimonies of authority, reason, and experiment, endeavored to dispose once for all of some hundreds of fallacies. The work, executed with wide learning, wit, and characteristic style, immediately established his reputation as a savant, remaining popular at home and abroad for at least a century.” (quoted from page xv of the preface of Robin Robbins’ edition of Religio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and The Garden of Cyrus) “Browne is more scientific than Bacon when he discusses some notions already touched in Sylva Sylvarum: for instance, that coral is soft under water and hardens in the air; that a salamander can live in and extinguish fire (if ancient tradition is true, says Bacon, the creature has a very close skin and some very cold ‘virtue’); that the chameleon lives on air (Bacon makes air its ‘principall Sustenance’ but admits flies as well). In the examination of these and other arresting items in his encyclopedia, Browne appeals to critical authority, reason, and experience; of these criteria only the last is strictly Baconian.   But Browne was in fact a tireless observer and experimenter. And when a whale was thrown upon the coast of Norfolk he verified his notion of spermaceti; in later years he was able, through his son, to test the belief that ‘the Ostridge digesteth Iron’ -after swallowing a nugget the bird died ‘of a soden.’ But in the settling of a more commonplace problem, the reputed inequality of the badger’s legs, the mere report of the senses appears, happily for readers, to count less than abstract and almost metaphysical logic. Many exotic and ‘occult’ traditions were less readily verifiable by experience, and in this un-Baconian realm Browne of necessity relied upon reason and the weighing of authorities. Over many years he had gathered bits of strange learning from countless books, both the standard ones and, preferably, the remote and unfamiliar, and his antiquarian instinct could enjoy what his scientific reason denied.” (Bush page 273)


dsc_0165“Hydriotaphia is the leisurely excursion of a scholarly mind into the burial customs of past nations, and The Garden of Cyrus a pursuit of a number and form through art, nature, and philosophy. The two pieces are not devoid of deeper meaning, nor are they presented together by chance: the First is predominantly a meditation on death, the second life. As in The Winter’s Tale, there are things dying and things new-born, with the emphasis- by positioning -on the hope to be vested in the latter against the former’s heavy message.“Hydriotaphia has been considered by George Williamson as a dissertation on human identity and the quest for its immortal retention. Its sections develop from the initial ease of identifying the purpose of the relics discussed, through a consideration of their failure to achieve this purpose -in that it is difficult to date such relics, let alone put a name to them- to the orthodox Christian consolation of expected resurrection, and the vanity by contrast of all earthly monuments.“The movement of thought in The Garden of Cyrus is not so simply charted: the title-page promises a systematic treatise, that the quincunx is to be ‘artificially, naturally, mystically considered,’ but within the broad classes of artifacts, plants and animals, and philosophical ideas, Browne intertwines many heterogeneous observations. The general progression, however, as in Hydriotaphia, is from the concrete to the abstract, the last section, as it draws to a close, proliferating in abstruse queries which express the boundlessly questing life of Browne’ s mind, while acknowledging at the end the limiting humanity of his body, oppressed by the call of sleep.”dsc_0170“Likewise, The Garden of Cyrus is no horticultural handbook: rather, its pentatonic groves and thickets are a musical score transposed into verbal imagery, a reading of ‘that universal and public manuscript’ of the great Platonic Idea, of ‘that harmony which intellectually sounds in the ears of God.’” (Robbins xvi-xvii)

dsc_0175In Certain Miscellany Tracts it is easy to understand why” Thomas Browne is considered a fine stylist and master of English prose. Some of the bizarre images in the Miscellany tracts are reminiscent of some of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story ideas in Hawthorne’s Notebooks, e.g. page 208 (of the Miscellany Tracts) – “An handsome Piece of Deformity expressed in a notable hard Face”; page 212 – “The Skin of a Snake bred out of the Spinal Marrow of a Man”. The assortment of tracts in this volume include “An Answer to certain Queries relating to Fishes, Birds, Insects”; “Of Hawks and Falconry, ancient and modern”; Of Artifical Hills, Mounts or Boroughs in many parts of England: what they are, and to what end raised, and by what Nations”; “A Prophecy concerning the future state of several Nations; in a Letter written upon occasion of an old Prophecy sent to the Author from a Friend, with a request that he would consider it.” The Miscellany Tracts were published fairly soon after the death of Browne in 1682. “The Papers from which these Tracts were printed, were, a while since, deliver’d to me by, those worthy persons, the Lady and Son of the excellent Authour. He himself gave no charge concerning his Manuscripts, either for the suppressing of the publishing of them. Yet, seeing he had procured Transcripts of them, and had kept those Copies by him, it seemeth profitable that He designed them for publick use.” – from “The Publisher to the Reader” (Thomas Tenison).


The Musæun Clausum is one of my favorite tracts’s it is a list of lost or never existing rarities!


Wing B-5150