Sir Thomas Browne: The World Proposed

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Sir Thomas Browne: The World Proposed. Edited by Reid Barbour & Claire Preston. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, Pp. 368. $120.)

Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) was a true Renaissance figure: a physician, linguist, scientist, antiquarian, natural historian, and master of English prose. Among his writings are Religio Medici, Hydriolaphia, Urn Burial, The Garden of Cyrus, A Letter to a. Friend, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, and Christian Morals. Writers influenced by Browne include Samuel Johnson, Thomas De Quincey, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Lamb, Herman Melville, Virginia Wolfe, and Jorge Luis Borges. His was the age of great stylists such as Launcelot Andrewes, John Donne, Richard Burton, Jeremy Taylor, John Milton, and Thomas Hobbes. Other notable authors also appreciated Browne's writing, including Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, E. M. Forster, Willie Morris, William Styron, American natural historian Stephen Jay Gould, and Scottish psychologist R. D. Liang.

This book is a compendium of sixteen essays by scholars on dimensions of Browne's life and works. The first essay, '"Speake, that I may see thee': The Styles of Thomas Browne," by Sharon Cadman Seelig, shows that although Browne was a member of the Church of England, his Religio Medici was widely appreciated by an audience including disparate believers from Roman Catholics to Quakers. Another angle on Browne is provided by Debora Shugar in her essay entitled "The Laudian Idiot." At the time of the English Civil War and the radical Puritans, Browne had affinities with the beliefs of high church Caroline divine and archbishop, William Laud (1573-1645). This was particularly true in his love of ceremonial worship.

Browne was a remarkably learned man and to more fully appreciate the writings the reader needs be equally inquisitive and open to new learning. Browne's writings include many references from ancient texts, more so than his contemporaries. But as much as Browne admired the ancients, his own experience was used as a balance. …