Sir Thomas Browne: A Man of Achievement in Literature

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IN 1658, twelve years after the first edition of Pseudodoxia, Hydriotaphia and The Garden of Cyrus were published in one volume. The volume included two dedicatory epistles, one for Hydriotaphia addressed to Thomas le Gros, and one for The Garden of Cyrus addressed to Nicholas Bacon. Both are dated 1 May. Internal evidence, however, indicates that Urne-Buriall was written two years earlier, in 1656. No reader of Religio Medici and Pseudodoxia can doubt that Sir Thomas Browne enjoyed writing; he must have rejoiced when, ten years after he had completed his magnum opus, the discovery of the urns at Old Walsingham offered him a subject so appropriate to his interests and his gifts; the work strikes a buoyant note despite the funereal subject; it conveys his delight in speculation and in the craft of writing, and its central theme is not death but immortality and the manifold follies of men as revealed in their burial customs.

The work concludes with a paragraph towards which he had been moving, with many undulations, in five chapters; the paragraph is among the often-quoted passages upon which his fame as a great prose stylist rests.

To subsist in lasting Monuments, to live in their productions, to exist in their names, and praedicament of Chymera's, was large satisfaction unto old expectations and made one part of their Elyziums. But all this is nothing in the Metaphysicks of true belief. To live indeed is to be again our selves, which being not onely an hope but an evidence in noble beleevers, 'tis all one to lie in St. Innocent's Church-yard, as in the Sands of, Ægypt: Ready to be anything, in the extasie of being ever, and as content with six foot as the Moles of Adrianus.

This is indeed splendid rhetoric, but the modern reader who contents himself with the sounds and the verbal associations may miss


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Sir Thomas Browne: A Man of Achievement in Literature


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