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LIFE AND WRITINGS
SIR THOMAS BROWNE.*
Sir THOMAS BROWNE was born at London on the nineteenth of October, 1605.
His father was merchant, of an ancient family at Upton in Cheshire. Of his childhood or youth there is little known, except that he lost his father very early, that he was defrauded by one of his guardians, and that he was placed for his education at the school of Winchester.
His mother, having taken three thousand pounds as the third part of her husband's property, left her son, by consequence, six thousand, a large fortune at that time for man destined to learning. But it happened to him, as to many others, to be made poorer by opulence; for his mother soon married Sir Thomas Dutton, probably by the inducement of her
* The following Memoir is an abstract of Dr. John. son's Life of Browne.
fortune; and he was left to the rapacity of his guardian, deprived now of both his parents, and therefore helpless and unprotected.
He was removed in the beginning of the year 1623 from Winchester to Oxford, and entered a gentleman-commoner of Broadgate-Hall, which was soon afterwards endowed, and took the name of Pembroke College, from the earl of Pembroke, then chancellor of the University. He was admitted to the degree of bachelor of arts, January 31, 1626-7, being, as Wood remarks, the first man of eminence graduated from the new college.
Having afterwards taken his degree of master of arts, he turned his studies to physic, and practised it for some time in Oxfordshire : but soon afterwards, either induced hy curiosity or invited by promises, he quitted his settlement, and accompanied his fatherin-law, who had some employment in Ireland, in a visitation of the forts and castles, which the state of Ireland then made necessary.
He that has once prevailed on himself to break his connexions of acquaintance, and begin a wandering life, very easily continues it.
Ireland had, at that time, very little to offer to the observation of a man of letters. He therefore passed into France and Italy; made some stay at Montpellier and Padua, which were then the celebrated schools of physic; and, returning home through Holland, procured himself to be created doctor of physic at Leyden.
About the year 1634 he is supposed to have returned to London, and the next year to have written his celebrated treatise, called “ Religio Medici;
“The Religion of a Physician,” which he declares himself never to have intended for the press, having composed it only for his own exercise and entertainment. It indeed contains many passages which, relating merely to his own person, can be of no great importance to the public ; but when it was written, it happened to him as to others, he was too much pleased with his performance, not to think that it might please others as much. He therefore communicated it to his friends, and receiving, I suppose, that exuberant applause with which every man repays the grant of perusing a manuscript, he was not very diligent to obstruct his own praise by recalling his papers, but suffered them to wander from hand to hand, till at last, without his own consent, they were, in 1642, given to a printer.
The “Religio Medici” was no sooner published than it excited the attention of the public, by the novelty of paradoxes, the dignity of sentiment, the quick succession of images, the multitude of abstruse allusions, the subtlety of disquisition, and the strength of language.
What is much read will be much criticized. The earl of Dorset recommended this book to the perusal of Sir Kenelm Digby,* who returned his judgment
*“ Sir Kenelm Digby," says Lord Clarendon, a person very eminent and notorious throughout the whole course of his life from his cradle to his grave, a man of very extraordinary person and presence, which drew the eyes of all men upon him; of a fair reputation in arms; in a word, possessing all the advantages that nature and art could give him.”
upon it, not in a letter, but a book; in which, though mingled with some positions fabulous and uncertain, there are acute remarks, just censures, and profound speculations ; yet its principal claim to admiration is, that it was written in twenty-four hours, of which part was spent in procuring Browne's book, and part in reading it.
The success of this performance was such as might naturally encourage the author to new undertakings. A gentleman of Cambridge, whose name was Merryweather, turned it not inelegantly into Latin; and from his version it was again translated into Italian, German, Dutch, and French ; and at Strasburg the Latin translation was published with large notes, by Lenuus Nicholas Molifarius. Of the English Annotations, which in all the editions from 1644 accompany the book, the author is unknown.
The peculiarities of this book raised the author, as is usual, many admirers and many enemies; but we know not of more than one professed answer, written under the title of “Medicus Medicatus," by Alexander Ross, which was universally neglected by the world.
At the time when this book was published, Dr. Browne resided at Norwich, where he had settled in 1636, by the persuasion of Dr. Lushington, his tutor, who was then rector of Barnham Westgate in the neighbourhood. It is recorded by Wood, that his practice was very extensive, and that many patients resorted to him. In 1637 he was incorporated doctor of physic in Oxford.