Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) and his famous works

Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) was an English author and physician. He was born in the parish of St Michael, Cheapside, in London. He was sent to school at Winchester College. He graduated from Oxford in January 1627. Then studied medicine at Padua and Montpellier universities, Browne completed his studies at Leiden, where he received a medical degree in 1633. Browne was knighted in September, 1671, when King Charles II, accompanied by the Royal Court, visited Norwich.

He was a great scholar and studied science and natural phenomena with great care and diligence. Although he was well versed in science and had specifically an aptitude for natural sciences, he did never set aside the popular matters of interest of his age. He had a taste for miracles and a bright sense of humour.

He is noted particularly for his two great works Religio Medici and Urn Burial. Religio Medici, meaning the religion of a physician, is a highly original work. It treats religious faith, without any religious bias, and remains singular in its queer mixture of religious devotion and scientific scepticism. Browne’s other work Hydriotaphia, Urne-Buriall, or, A Discourse of the Sepulchrall Urnes lately found in Norfolk, considered commonly to be his masterpiece, contains his reflections on human vanity and mortality. The entire conception of the work, suggested by the discovery of certain Roman burial urns at Walsingham, is quite novel. Browne’s other works include The Garden Cyrus, a quite enjoyable treatise on the quincunx, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, or, Enquiries into Very many received Tenets, and commonly presumed truths (1646), often known as Browne’s Vulgar Errors, an intellectual probe into popular superstition, and Christian Morals, a didactic work on Christian morality. A smaller work of great beauty and subtlety, entitled A Letter to a Friend, Upon occasion of the Death of his Intimate Friend, was published posthumously in 1690.

Browne’s subjects are quite serious – philosophical as well as theological – but his treatment nowhere appears to be dry and colourless. The artist in him is found superior to the thinker in him. The writer in him possesses an admirable prose style which is, no doubt, ornate but has the cadence of poetry in it. In the making of a felicitous style in English prose, his role is, indeed, immensely significant.

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