Library of Sir Thomas Browne

Library Of Sir Thomas Browne

No single document gives better evidence of the erudition of Sir Thomas Browne, physician, philosopher and encyclopedist than the 1711 Sales Auction Catalogue of the Library of Sir Thomas Browne. It also provides an insight into the proliferation, distribution and availability of books printed throughout 17th century Europe which were purchased in increasing numbers by the intelligentsia, aristocracy, priestly, physician or educated merchant-class.

Browne graduated from the University of Leiden in 1633 having previously studied at the Universities of Montpellier and Padua for his medical degree. Upon his establishment in Norwich as a physician he was able to begin a lifetime's bibliophilia, building a private library, acquiring and no doubt reading many of an estimated 1,500 titles. Browne was adept in no fewer than five contemporary languages: French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Danish; these languages as well as Greek and Hebrew and the predominant written form of the Renaissance, namely Latin, are all represented in his Library.

The 1711 Sales Auction Catalogue reflects the wide scope of Browne's amateur hobbies and diverse interests. It also includes many of the sources of his encyclopaedia Pseudodoxia Epidemica which went through no less than six editions (1646 to 1672); and established Browne's name as one of the leading intellects of 17th century Europe.

Browne's erudite learning is reflected in the fact that the Classics of antiquity as well as history, geography, philology, philosophy, anatomy, theology, cartography, embryology, medicine, cosmography, ornithology, mineralogy, zoology, travel, law, mathematics, geometry, literature, both Continental and English, the latest advances in scientific thinking in astronomy, chemistry as well as esoteric topics such as astrology, alchemy, physiognomy and the Kabbalah are all represented in the Catalogue of his library contents. It was however not until 1986 that the Catalogue was first made widely available when the American scholar Jeremiah Stanton Finch, Dean Emeritus at Princeton University, completed the indexing of the books of Sir Thomas and his son Edward Browne's libraries, "after many years in many libraries". Finch noted that the Catalogue advertised books of sculpture and painting, which somehow never made it to the auction. In the event, the auction held upon January 8-10th, 1711 was attended by Jonathan Swift and buyers working on behalf of Sir Hans Sloane. Thus an unknown percentage of books auctioned from the Library of Sir Thomas Browne subsequently formed the foundation for the future British Library.

The 1711 Sales Catalogue permits a rare glimpse into the "distinguished and divided" spheres of science, religion and the arts in the 17th century. It also records the omnivorous reading material and bibliophilia which Browne engaged upon over fifty-plus years; as Leonard Nathanson (Chicago 1967) once remarked:

to the student of the history of ideas in its modern sense of the inter-relationship between philosophy, science, art and philosophy, Browne is of great importance.

Read more about Library Of Sir Thomas Browne:  Greek Literature, Roman Literature, Arabic, Contemporary Science, Philosophy, Theology, Medical, Esoteric, Natural History, Literature, Geography and History, Miscellaneous, Source

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