Thomas Browne

Kevin Killeen

in British and Irish Literature

ISBN: 9780199846719
Published online February 2016 | | DOI:
Thomas Browne

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Thomas Browne (b. 1605–d. 1682) was many things: natural philosopher, physician, religious writer, essayist, and prose stylist. His most important writing was published between 1643 and 1658, during which time he was a physician in Norwich and its Norfolk environs, in a period of tumultuous civil war and the uneasy calm of the interregnum. His first work, Religio Medici, published in 1643, following an unauthorized edition the previous year, was a digressive, occasionally dazzling, and sometimes frustrating meditation on more or less anything, from church and its orthodox forms, heresies and “ayery subtilities” in religion, time and eternity, the microcosm and atheism, biblical improbabilities, the human as fleshy anatomical object, the nature of death, the physics of hell and of resurrection; it goes on in its second part to deal with schism, charity and uncharitableness, autobiography and the vagaries of the self. It both puzzled and impressed contemporaries and set the digressive and encyclopedic tone for his subsequent works. Pseudodoxia Epidemica was published in 1646, a work that established Browne’s reputation as polymath. With a mixture of intellectual eccentricity, stylistic aplomb, and studied pedantry, together with a breadth of learning that remains startling, Browne’s “Vulgar Errors,” as its running title has it, was received as a work of scholarly and scientific importance, going through six editions in his lifetime. In 1658 he published Hydriotaphia, or Urne-Buriall and The Garden of Cyrus, which are some of the most original and strange writings to appear in the 17th century. Both of them in their different ways are works of unearthly meditation, containing the best of Browne’s impressive descants on God and earth and human brevity.

Article.  16778 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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