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Browne, Thomas

1. Dates
Born: London, 19 Oct. 1605
Died: Norwich, 19 Oct. 1682
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 77
2. Father
Occupation: Merchant
Thomas Browne was a silk merchant, who died when our Thomas Browne was eight years old. Our Thomas Browne was the only son.
At the very least, the father was clearly prosperous. A contemporary source says that he left a "plentiful Fortune." Sir Thomas Browne went to Oxford as a Gentleman Commoner and had enough money to spend four years beyond his M.A. studying medicine on the continent. Add to this the fact that the widow remarried, to Sir Thomas Dutton, who had an estate in Ireland. The more I look at the evidence, the more I become convinced that "wealthy" is a better word to describe the circumstances in which Sir Thomas Browne grew up.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Oxford, M.D.; Leiden, M.D.; Montpelier, Padua
Winchester College, 1615-1623.
Oxford University, 1623-9; Pembroke College, B.A. 1626; M.A., 1629.
Studied medicine at Montpellier, Padua and Leiden,
1630-3; M.D. at Leiden, 1633.
M.D. at Oxford, 1637.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
He remained steady in his loyalty during the entire Interregnum.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural History
Pseudodoxia epidemica: or Enquiries into Very Many Received Tenents, and Commonly Presumed Truths, 1646, was the only scientific work (or presumably scientific) that Browne published. Although it contains a chapter on magnetism, and discussions of optics and astronomy, natural history is nevertheless its primary focus. Browne kept notes on birds and fish found in Norfolk; he had an extensive collection of birds' eggs. He was also as good botanist.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine
Browne may have practised near Oxford for a time after his M.A.
Medical practice in Yorkshire, 1633-7; Keynes (in DSB) suggests that he may have practised in Oxfordshire during this period. There is no doubt that he moved to Norwich in 1637 and practised there until his death. There are references to a thriving practice.
At least one source suggests that Browne spent his inheritance on his education, and this seems plausible.
8. Patronage
Type: Court
When Charles II visited Norwich in 1671, he was anxious to knight someone. The mayor declined, and rather hastily (as I understand it) they decided that Browne should be the one. This is as tenuous patronage as I care to recognize. Browne never paid court on the King, and no continuing relation developed. Nevertheless, the act conferred status.
Other than this, it is hard to find anything that smells seriously of patronage in Browne's life. In 1637 three men from Norwich who may have known Browne at Oxford, Sir Nicholas Bacon, Sir Justinian Lewyn, and Sir Charles le Gros, sollicited him to move to Norwich to practise. As far as I can understand the transaction, they were more concerned to have a competent physician in Norwich than to bestow a favor on Browne. Apparently Browne remained on friendly terms with them, especially with Bacon, and the only two dedications he made of books are to Nicholas Bacon and Thomas le Gros, who I take to be the sons of the men above. I have read the dedications; they sound more like prefaces and have very little indeed of the standard rhetoric of patronage.
Browne clearly prospered in his profession, and did not seek patronage. Religio medici went through eight editions during his life (in addition to the original pirated ones); none carries a dedication. Pseudodoxia epidemica went through six editions, all likewise without dedications.
Browne received a dedication, a tract of 1662 on tumors by the physician Robert Bayfield.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Medical Practice
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Medical College
Informal Connections: correspondence with Henry Oldenburg, John Ray, C. Merrett, J. Evelyn and others. Volume four of Browne's Complete Works, ed. Geoffrey Keynes, (London, 1964) publishes what survives of his correspondence.
Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, 1664-82.
Sources
  1. J. Bennett, Sir Thomas Browne, (Cambridge, 1962). PR3327 .Z5B4 Biographia Britannica, 2nd ed. (London, 1778-93), 2, 627-38.
  2. Lilly library Jeremiah Finch, Sir Thomas Browne: A Doctor's Life of Science and Faith, (New York, 1950).
  3. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-1950), 3, 64-72. Geoffrey Keynes, A Bibliography of Sir Thomas Browne, (Cambridge, 1924).
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. F.L. Huntley, Sir Thomas Browne, (Ann Arbor, 1962).
  2. L. Nathanson, The Strategy of Truth: A Study of Sir Thomas Browne, (Chicago, 1967).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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1995 Al Van Helden
Last updated
 
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