'PSEUDODOXIA' (BOOK I)
IN 1646, three years after the authorized edition of Religio Medici, Sir Thomas Browne published Pseudodoxia Epidemica: or Enquiries into very many received Tenets, and commonly presumed Truths: the work usually known, in his own day and in ours, as Vulgar Errors. He had found an admirable subject for the deployment of his gifts and one which offers the modern reader an insight into his mind and into contemporary currents of thought. As he displays for the reader's enlightenment examples of the vast range of human error he is often amused and ironical, but he is also basically serious and wise. He was convinced that the world was created by God and that the better we know and understand it the more we shall honour the Creator. Consequently, it is with a sense of high purpose that he indulges that indefatigable curiosity which he shared with his contemporaries, the members of Gresham's College. By 1645, the year in which Browne finished writing his book, they were meeting weekly to discuss all fields of knowledge, excepting only theology and affairs of State. In 1660 they were to be incorporated as the Royal Society of London. But whereas they met together and co-operated in their endeavours to discover facts and dispel erroneous beliefs, Browne undertook his self-imposed task alone. This was inevitable because his professional duties tied him to Norwich.
In his Address to the Reader he admits his temerity in undertaking so large a work by himself: 'a work of such concernment unto truth and difficulty in itself, did well deserve the conjunction of many heads'. For the modern reader, however, his 'single and unsupported endeavours' are of far greater value than could have been the work of any team. We no longer read Vulgar Errors to find out the facts about phenomena, but to enjoy the company of