Sir Thomas Browne: A Man of Achievement in Literature

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THE letters between Sir Thomas Browne and his family allow us an intimate knowledge of his domestic relationships; they also throw light by contrast upon the conscious art of his published prose. He did not write these letters for posterity and most of them are singularly artless; only rarely is there anything in their style to recall the master of English prose who wrote Religio Medici, Urne-Buriall and The Garden of Cyrus. He may admonish his sons about spelling and punctuation, telling Edward, 'Write not sceleton with a K' [Letter 150], and Tom, 'Remember to make Commas as, and full points at the end of the sentance thus.' [Letter 9]. Nevertheless, his own punctuation is, by modern standards, as erratic as his own spelling. The advice just quoted follows, without full-stop, immediately after:

. . .; you may goe from Orleance to Paris by Coach, and from Paris to Rouen by Coach; you must intrust yr trunk with Mr Bendish at Rochell or with Mr Dade at Bourdeaux to be sent by the Vintage Ships to Yarmouth, and must travail only with a Portmanteaux or Valis and one sute of Cloths, for it will be hard to carry more; be directed herein by some English friend; have a Care of yr Draughts and observations, remember . . .,

etc., and the only full-stop is the exemplary one, quoted above. Not only is Browne here using the semi-colon, not the full-stop, to separate his sentences, but he is paying no attention to balance or harmony of phrasing. Furthermore, topics follow one another just as they happen to arise in his mind. In another letter to Tom political news is followed, without full-stop, by: 'Good boy do not trouble thyself to send us anything, either wine or Bacon.' Then the boy's offer of presents calling to mind his probable shortage of money, his father goes straight on with: 'I would


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Sir Thomas Browne: A Man of Achievement in Literature


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