The investigation into the history of Religio Medici over the course of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries as reflected in the history of Religio writing reveals the centrality of Browne's book in this period. The responses to one of the period's favourite books were complex and came from a widely differing readership: clergymen, doctors, lawyers, economists, natural philosophers, antiquaries, lexicographers, booksellers, writers, and hacks alike read what Browne himself called rather dismissively his 'little piece'.
Clearly, Browne's predilection for 'impossibilities in faith', his occasional 'hyperbolic strains', his wit, and the private character of his book met with growing criticism as the seventeenth century progressed. This is, in part, due to the cultural, historial, and religious developments over the course of this period. Yet Browne's contemporaries, such as Digby and Ross, had also attacked Religio Medici in this manner. Some of these criticisms must, therefore, be considered as more intrinsically related to its character and cannot simply be attributed to changing historical circumstances. Similarly, its attractions seem to have remained the same for sympathetic readers, both at the beginning and the end of the century. Whether Browne's book pleased, or incited criticism, however, it continued to be read and to provoke responses. Whatever the verdict of the twenty- first century on Browne's political lethargy in his turbulent times will be, my study has opened up new, and perhaps complementary, contexts for the interpretation of Browne. The history of Religio Medici's reception, however, has not yet been completed. A broadening of the scope of the investigation would, I am sure, reveal further interesting links between Browne's 'little piece' and both well- established figures, such as, for instance, the Cambridge Platonists, and the legion of obscure writers on religion. Such an investigation could also shed interesting light on the question of Religio Medici's genre in a more wide-reaching sense than discussed in this study.
In the light of new evidence the myth of Browne as the isolated Norwich physician, who stands apart from his time, has proved to be
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Publication information: Book title: Democratizing Sir Thomas Browne:Religio Medici and Its Imitations. Contributors: Daniela Havenstein - Author. Publisher: Oxford University. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1999. Page number: 198.