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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 lists the diverse reading material he engaged upon in his lifetime as well as some of the sources for his encyclopaedia Pseudodoxia Epidemica more commonly known as Vulgar Errors. It went through no less than six editions from 1646 to 1672; was translated into French, Latin and Dutch, and established Browne's name as one of the leading intellects of seventeenth 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 seventeenth century. It also records the omnivorous reading material and bibliophilia which Browne engaged upon over a half century; 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.

The following titles represent approximately 15% of the total volume of Sir Thomas Browne's library.

Greek literature

Roman literature

Arabic

  • Alhazen Opticae Thesaurus Libri X, Basle 1572

Contemporary science

Philosophy

  • Francis Bacon, Advancement of Learning, 1628
    • Natural History, 1628
    • Opuscula Philosophica, 1658
  • Bellarmine, Apologia pro Jure Princip., 1611
  • René Descartes, Discourse on Method , 1637, 1st edition
    • Méditations, 1644
    • Meditationes de prima Philosophia, Amsterdam 1644
    • Principia Philosophia, Amsterdam 1656
    • Lettres, Paris 1657
    • de la Lumière &c., Paris 1664
    • les Passions de l'âme, Amsterdam 1650
    • Compendium of Musick, London 1653
    • Of a Method for the well-guiding of Reason, London 1649
  • Thomas Hobbes, Elementorum Philosophiae Sectio Secunda de Homine, 1658
    • Elementa Philosophica de Cive 2nd edit., Amsterdam 1647
  • Justus Lipsius, Opera, 4 Tomi in 3 vol., Antwerp 1637
  • Jan Gruter, Inscriptiones antiquae totius orbis Romani, 2 vols. Heidelberg 1603
  • Machiavelli, History of Florence, Strasbourg 1610
  • Blaise Pascal, Pensées 1670
    • Discours sur les mêmes Pensées, 1672
  • Marsilio Ficino, Theologia Platonica de Immortalitate Animorum, Paris 1559

Theology

Medical

  • Avicenna Opera, 2 vols. 1608 Venice
  • Thomas Bartholin Anatomia Reformata, Leyden 1651
    • de Medicina Danorun Domestica, Hannover 1666
    • de Luce Animalium, Leyden 1647
    • Historiar. Anatomic. rarior. Cent. VI, 3 vol. Hannover 1654
    • de Pulmonum Substantia et Motu, Hannover 1663
    • de Lacteis Thoracicis, London 1652
    • de Ovariis Mulierum & Generat. Historia, 1678
  • Gerolamo Cardano Opera, 10 vol. Leyden 1663
  • Pedanius Dioscorides Opera, 1598
    • Parabilia, 1598
  • Charles Estienne De dissectione Corporis humani, 1545
  • Hieronymus Fabricius Opera Anatomica, Paris 1625
    • De Visione, Voce & Auditu, Venice 1600
    • Ab Aquapendente Opera Chirurgica, Venice 1619
  • Fallopius, Opera, Frankfurt 1600
  • Jean Fernel, Cosmotheoria, 1528
  • Galen, Opera, 5 books in 3 vols. Basle 1538
  • Pierre Gassendi,Vita Epicuri, Leiden 1647
    • de apparente magnitudine solis humilis et sublimis, Paris 1642
    • Instit. Astronomia item Galileo et Kepler, 1683
    • Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus, 1648
  • Francis Glisson, De ventriculo & Intestinis, London 1677
    • de Rachitide, London 1650
  • Jonathan Goddard, Unhappy condition of Practice of Physick in London, 1670
  • Johannes Goropius Becanus Origines Antwerpianae 1569
  • William Harvey, De Generatione , London 1651
  • Hippocrates Opera 1624
    • Aphorismi & Prognost in Greek and Latin, ed. Jo. Butino 1625
    • Coacae Praenotiones, notes by John Johnson, Amsterdam 1660
    • de Morbis Mulierum, Paris 1585
    • Praenotiones, Paris 1585
  • Marcello Malpighi De viscerum structura, London 1669
    • de formatione Pulli in Ovo, London 1673
    • de Viscerum Structura, London 1669
  • Jan Swammerdam, Uteri Muliebris Fabrica, London 1680
    • of Respiration, Leiden 1667
  • Thomas Sydenham, Observationes Medical., London 1676
    • de Podagra & Hydrope, London 1683
    • Schedula Monitoria de nova Febris Ingressu, London 1686
    • Epist. duae de Morbis Epidem. & de Lue Venera, London 1680
  • Dissertatio Epistolaris, London 1682
  • Walter Charleton, Enquiries into Human Nature, 1680
    • Darkness of Atheism dispelled by Nature's Light, 1652
  • Henry Martini,Anatomia Urinae Galeno-Spagyrica, Frankfurt 1659
  • George Ent, Apolog. pro Circulatione Sanguinis adv. et Parisanum, London 1641
  • Franz de la Boe a.k.a. Franciscus Sylvius
  • Thomas Willis, Opera varia, 5 vols. London 1664
    • Cerebri Anatome cum fig., London 1664
  • Richard Lower, De Corde: item de motu & colore sanguinis, London 1670
  • Julius Caesar Scaliger, On Insomnia, Geneva 1610
  • Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica 8 Books 1555
  • Jacques Dubois aka Jacobus Sylvius de Signis omnib. Medicis Paris 1630

Esoteric

Natural History

  • Georg Agricola, de Re Metallica, Basle 1621
    • de Ortu & Causis Subterraneor, Basle 1558
  • Ulissi Aldrovandi, Museum Metallicum cum fig, Bologna 1648
    • Serpentium and Draconum historia cum fig., Bologna 1640
    • Ornithtologia sive de Avibus Historia, cum fig., Frankfurt 1610
    • Quadrupedum Bisulcorum Historia, cum fig Bologna 1642
    • de Quadrupedib. Digitatis Viviparis & Oviparis 1637
    • de Quadupedib. Animalibus & Piscibus Frankfurt 1610
    • Monstror. Historia, cum fig. Bologna 1642
  • Prospero Alpini, de Medicina Medicae, Patav. 1611
    • de Plantis Egypti, Patav. 1640
    • de Medicina Egypti, 1646
    • de praesagienda Vita & Morte Aegrotantium, Venice 1601
  • J. Bauhin, Historica Plant., 3 Vols. 1650
    • Hist. Fontis & Balnei Bollenis, Montpellier 1598
  • C. Bauhin, Prodomus Theatri Botanici, Frankfurt 1620
    • Pinax Theatri Botanici, Basle 1623
    • de Hermaphroditor. Natura, 1614
  • J.J. Becher, Physica Subterranea, Frankfurt 1669
  • Pierre Belon, Histoire de la Nature des Oiseaux avec leurs Descriptions & naises traits retirez du Naturel, Paris 1555
  • Conrad Gessner, Opera, 4 vols. Zurich 1551
    • de Avibus, cum fig. illuminatus
    • Epistolae Medicinales Zurich 1577
  • John Ray, Catalogus Plantar. Angliae, London 1670
    • Historia Plantarum, London 1670
  • Guillaume Rondelet De Piscibus Marinis 1554
  • Nicolas Steno, Concerning Solids naturally contained within solids, 1671
    • Elementor Myologiae Specimen, cum fig., Amsterdam 1669
    • Observationes Anatomicae cum fig., Leiden 1662
    • de Cerebri Anatome, Leiden 1671
  • Francis Willughby, Ornithologia, cum fig. London 1676
  • Olaus Wormius, Museum Wormianum, Leyden 1655

Literature

Miscellaneous

  • Thomas Fuller, A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine with maps, 1650
  • James Howell, Of the Precedency of Kings, 1664
    • Of the Kingdom of Naples, 1654
    • Of the Signorie of Venice, 1651
    • Of Hungary and Transylvania, 1664
    • Instructions for Foreign Travels, 1642
  • Valentin Schindler, Lexicon Hebraic., Chaldic., Syrian., Arabic., 1612
  • Of the cause of purple rain in Brussels, 1648
  • Artificia Hominum, Miranda Naturae, in Sina & Europa, 1655

Source

  • A Facsimile of the 1711 Sales Auction Catalogue of Sir Thomas Browne and his son Edward's Libraries. Introduction, notes and index by J.S. Finch (E.J. Brill: Leiden, 1986)

References

  • Music, mysticism and Magic - A sourcebook ed. Joscelyn Godwin pub. Arkana 1986
  • The Strategy for Truth - Leonard Nathanson Chicago University Press 1967
  • The greatest benefit to Mankind. A medical history from antiquity to the present. Roy Porter Harper and Collins 1999
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