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Religio Medici. .




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When and where Religio Medici was written-Surreptitiously printed in 1642—

Two impressions of that edition in the same year-Authorized edition of 1643— Observations by Sir K. Digby-Ross's Medicus MedicatusAnnotations on the obscure Passages-Supposed author of the Annotations-Subsequent Editions of Religio Medici — Translations into Latin, Dutch, French, German, &c.--Present edition-Imitations and Works with a similar title.

So few particulars have been transmitted to us of the earlier years of Sir Thomas Browne's life, that it is not easy to determine precisely at what period he composed his Religio Medici, or where he resided at the time. Dr. Johnson seems to have supposed that it was written in London ;-but internal evidence exists to disprove this. Dr. Watson, in his History of Halifax,' mentions that "he was said to have fixed himself, as a physician, in his juvenile years, in the parish of Halifax, and to have written his Religio Medici, in 1630,4 at Shipden-Hall, near Halifax.” This date, however, must be incorrect he did not receive his diploma till 1633, and can scarcely, even in common parlance, be said to have fixed himself in any place as a physician, three years before that event. Besides, the period named is otherwise disposed of in the accounts we have of his life ;- for some time after he took his degree of master of arts (June, 1629), he is said to have resided in Oxfordshire, and thence to have proceeded on his travels, first in Ireland, with his father-in-law Sir Thomas Dutton, and afterwards on the continent, till 1633, when he received his degree of Doctor of physick at Leyden, just before his return. His residence near Halifax, then, must be supposed subsequent to his return; and, as it is clear from several passages in Religio Medici that it was written, also, after his travels, we may perhaps safely venture to assign the same period to both;--and conclude that he composed this celebrated treatise, in the seclusion of Shipden-Hall, as a relaxation in the intervals of his professional occupation in that neighbourhood, between the years 1633 and 1635 ;-after his wanderings had terminated, and some time before his residence at Norwich commenced.

1 Watson (Rev. John) History and Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax, in Yorkshire, 4to. Lond. 1775, p. 458.

2 Wright says, About the year 1630, he lived at Shipden Hall, &c." Antiquities of the Town of Halifax, in Yorkshire. Leedes : 1738. 12mo. p. 152.

There seems no sufficient reason to question the sincerity of Browne's declaration, that this piece was composed for his private exercise and satisfaction, and not intended for publication. Some years had elapsed since its completion—and his attention very probably was already occupied in collecting materials for a larger undertaking---when the appearance, in 1642, of an anonymous and surreptitious edition of his first work, together with the notice it attracted from the Earl of Dorset and Sir Kenelm Digby, determined him to acknowledge and revise it for the press. Johnson, in his notice of this circumstance, seems to suspect the author (though he professes to acquit him) of having contrived the anonymous publication of the work, in order to try its success with the public; observing, (in allusion to the author's complaint that the “broken and imperfect copy" he had lent had suffered " by frequent transcription,") that " a long treatise, however elegant, is not often copied by mere zeal or curiosity.” No one, however, acquainted with Browne's character would hesitate to repel this insinuation :-it cannot for a moment be admitted that he was capable of using such means to obtain literary fame ;-and certainly, if he had, he would not have risked his character on an edition so incorrect as to deserve immediate suppression. In reply to the alleged improbability of transcription, may be pleaded the fact that there is ample proof of the work having been repeatedly transcribed, while in manuscript:— two complete copies are in my own possession ;-a third exists in the Bodleian, and part of a fourth in the British Museum: none of them transcripts of an existing edition. One of these ( MS. W.), though so nearly approaching the edition of 1612, as to lead to the belief that they had

a common origin, is clearly not a copy from it: MSS. W. 2 and R. differ from it still more widely, but resemble each other sufficiently to be considered as the descendants of a second original manuscript: the other (MS. L.) unfortunately is a fragment, but it is interesting, both as possessing a date three years earlier than the spurious edition (1639), and as containing some curious variations from every other manuscript and edition. I am, therefore, perfectly satisfied that Sir Thomas Browne had several originals written by his own hand, differing from each other. This opinion is confirmed,—by the information of those who knew him, “ that it was his constant practice to make repeated copies of his compositions,”—as well as by an examination of his remaining manuscripts. There are, in his common-place books, many pages occupied by

3 A brief description of these MSS, follows.-MS. W. is in foolscap 8vo. 83 pp. beautifully and closely written in a very small hand, the poetry and italics in a taller, Italian hand:-about 40 lines in a page. It has the title Religio Medici,” in the same hand.

MS. W. 2. is in 4to. pp. 186:--written in a much larger hand--and originally without title.- In a different hand, at the head of the first page, is Religio Medici: and the following notice, in the same hand, occupies the preceding fly-leaf :

Relligio Medici. Authore Medico quodam Anonymo, Anglo, vel Scoto, in


Authorem hunc fuisse natione Scotum perhibent rumores quorumdam eiusdem gentis qui libellum hunc cuidam magnati Anglo loco muneris obtulerunt. Præterea, chaTacter genij & morum scriptoris in hoc eodem opere expressus non alium fuisse Scotum suadet quam Doctorem Read medicum Londinensem, hominem non ignotum, aut ignobilem, lectorem (or, as it is written on a slip of paper pasted over the last three words, nec ignobilem, sed prælectorem] Anatomiæ in eadem civitate, atq. non ita pridem, defunctum, nimirum, ao Aeræ Christianæ 1641. Cæterum, ex aduerso, linguæ Anglicana erquisita facundia ab omnibus Scotismis libera, tam in versu quam in oratione soluta, prodit authorem esse Anglum; atq. hoc ipsum confirmatur ex ea quod se doctrinæ Ecclesiæ Anglicana addictissimum &, quasi iuratum profitetur, quorum, tamen, neutrum in homine Scoto facilè reperies : ob quas causas Anglum fuisse verosimilius iudico, & confirmatur, tandem, hæc nostra coniectura oculato teste et omni erreptione maiori, ita vt deinceps fas amplius non sit ea de re, vel minimum, dubitare, quod autem ad nomen Authoris attinet, cum satis cognitum sit, id suo tempore adijcere stituimus.

From this MS. note, it is evident that the work was widely circulated while in manuscript, some years earlier than 1641: or it could not have been attributed to Dr. Read, who died in that year.

MS. R. is in 4to. (very similar to the preceding,) preserved in the Rawlinson Collection, at the Bodleian, and having the following note in the Dr’s. hand:-" This Copy of the Religio Medici by Sir Thomas Browne, Kt. is very different from all printed.

MS. L. is a copy, preserved in the British Museum, among the Lansdowne MSS. (No. 489) of the first Eighteen Sections. It has not the title, but " Mr. Browne, Guv Oã 1639,” at the beginning.- It differs very much from all the others.


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