Democratizing Sir Thomas Browne: Religio Medici and Its Imitations

By Daniela Havenstein | Go to book overview
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Religio Medici and Grubstreet

Benjamin Bridgwater, the (nominal) author of Religio Bibliopolœ. In Imitation of Dr. Browns Religio Medici. With a Supplement to it ( 1691), eulogizes in his preface:

The Reader upon the first View will find this Treatise to be an imitation of that exquisite Piece of Dr. Brown, call'd Religio Medici, however without the least Presumption of reaching so brave an Original, tho not without the hopes of very nearly Resembling him in some of his Noblest Flights and Excellencies.1

Bridgwater's intentions to capitalize on the popularity of his famous predecessor are quite obvious. Forty-eight years after the first authorized edition of Religio Medici, the trade in Religios of various kinds was well established. This trade coincides with the emergence of a popular print culture in England against which the publication of Religio Bibliopolœ must be considered. Bridgwater would have been dismayed at the little attention his sales strategies have raised among twentieth-century critics of Religio Medici. The relationship between Browne's and Bridgwater's works has met with even less interest than that between Religio Medici and Religio Stoici.2 This is regrettable, as Religio Bibliopolœ presents a particularly interesting

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1
( London, 1691). Religio Bibliopolœ will consistently be abbreviated to RB and references will be inserted in the text.
2
Religio Bibliopolœ is mentioned in Keynes Bibliography, 242. Almonte C. Howell article, "'John Dunton and an Imitation of the Religio Medici,'" SP29 ( 1932): 442-62, makes a convincing case for the co-authorship of John Dunton and Benjamin Bridgwater. Yet his title is somewhat misleading as he hardly addresses the question of imitation of Religio Medici but rather concentrates on a discussion of authorship. Donovan, Hartley Herman's , and Ann E. Imbrie, Sir Thomas Browne and Robert Burton: A Reference Guide, 13, claims: 'A very close imitation of Religio Medici in language, syntax and topics discussed, though the author sometimes differs from Browne's positions. At times it approaches mockery of Religio, but the general intent is a tolerant presentation of the authors' religious and philosophical ideals'. No proof of, or further elaboration on, these assertions is provided. Stephen Parks in his John Dunton and the English Book Trade: A Study of His Career with a Checklist of His Publications ( London, 1976) deals briefly with Religio Bibliopolœ, cf. esp. 47, 48, 49. Gilbert D. McEwen mentions Religio Bibliopolœ as an imitation of Religio Medici in a footnote. Cf. his The Oracle of the Coffee House: John Dunton's Athenian Mercury ( San Marino, Calif, 1972), 32 n. 5.

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