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Religio Medici and Urne-Buriall (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – August 7, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“The iniquity of oblivion blindly scatters her poppy seed and when wretchedness falls upon us one summer’s day like snow, all we wish for is to be forgotten. These are the circles Browne’s thought’s describe.” —W. G. Sebald, author of The Rings of Saturn

“Sir Thomas Browne, the wonderful 17th century baroque prose stylist and Borgesian speculative essayist whose works (such as Urne-Burial and Religio Medici) are inimitable idiosyncratic classics on the order of the Anatomy of Melancholy and Tristram Shandy.” —New York Observer
“How does one recommend to the modern reader a writer whose two masterpieces are a rambling mediation about faith and human variety, and a study of burial customs? Yet Browne is one of the greatest of our prose writers, religious and at the same time intensely rational, and he observed the details of human life like the physician he was.” —The Observer (London)
“Browne is a cracked archangel.” —Herman Melville
“Browne is one of the great English prose stylists—the very greatest, some critics have even said and in certain respects he is the prose equivalent to the great ‘Metaphusicals’ in verse.” —The Irish Times
“Browne has paved the way for all psychological novelists, autobiographers, confession-mongers, and dealers in the curious shades of our private life. He it was who first turned from the contacts of men with men to their lonely life within. . . . He is the first of the autobiographers.”  —Virginia Woolf
“The iniquity of oblivion blindly scatters her poppy seed and when wretchedness falls upon us one summer’s day like snow, all we wish for is to be forgotten. These are the circles Browne’s thought’s describe.” —W. G. Sebald, author of The Rings of Saturn
“Scholars and polymaths come and go, but for sheer idiosyncrasy few could beat Sir Thomas Browne the 17th century doctor, botanist, naturalist, theologian, historian and mystic whose work comprises one of the most fascinatingly esoteric bodies of knowledge in English.” —Tim Martin, The Times (London)
Praise for Urne-Buriall:
“One of the most celebrated examples of 17th century prose.” —The New York Times
“It smells in every word of the sepulchre.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Like Hamlet, it is full of quotes . . . Browne is a miniaturist, and elegant raiser of ideas and a provoker of ideas in other: it was in a long note made in his copy by Coleridge that the very word ‘marginalia’ was invented. You can dip in and out of Urne-Burial: ‘genially ambling prose,’ as Terry Eagleton characterized Browne’s generous, inquisitive style. It is the most soothing of mement mori.” —The Guardian (London)
Praise for Religio Medici:

“A literary and medical classic.” —Irish Times
“No desert island would be all bad that had upon it copies of Sir Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici and Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.” —The Age (Melbourne)
“Perhaps the two greatest meditations on ageing in English, Sir Thomas Browne’s Religo Medici and Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.” —Sunday Times (London)
“One of the masterworks of English prose” —Sunday Times (London)

About the Author

Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682) was the son of a prosperous London merchant who died while his son was still young. Browne attended Winchester College and Oxford, then spent several years studying medicine at Montpellier, Padua, and Leiden, before receiving his MD in 1633. In 1637 he settled in Norwich where he practiced medicine and lived for the rest of his life. Religio Medici was first published in 1642, without the author’s consent; a year later he approved a new printing (with some of the controversial material removed), and the book became a best seller, subsequently translated into several European languages (and placed on the Papal Index). Browne’s eccentric encyclopedia, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, was first published in 1646 and went through six editions. His last work to be published in his lifetime, Urne-Buriall, appeared in 1658. Browne was knighted in 1671, when King Charles II, his queen, and his court came to Norwich.

Stephen Greenblatt is one of the founders of New Historicism, and the author of many books, including Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare and The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize). He is the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard.

Ramie Targoff is the author of Common Prayer: The Language of Public Devotion in Early Modern England; John Donne: Body and Soul; and the forthcoming Posthumous Love: Eros and the Afterlife in Renaissance England. She is the Jehuda Reinharz Director of the Mandel Center for the Humanities and a professor of English at Brandeis.

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (August 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590174887
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590174883
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #421,820 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Noverre to go on August 8, 2012
Format: Paperback
Publishers and editors continue to dissect Browne's diptych discourses of 1658, an act totally against the author's intentions. While this may be a new edition of 'Religio Medici' it is also an incomplete representation of Browne's artistic vision in its omission of the other diptych half of the 1658 discourses. Greenblatt has therefore in this new edition proved himself unsympathetic, maybe even uncomprehending in his disservice and misrepresentation of Browne's artistic vision; only when the 1658 discourses are read TOGETHER, in tandem can the full impact of Browne's diptych be fully appreciated; imagery of darkness, the epistemology of the unknowingness of the human condition, death and the chaotic in URN-BURIAL is answered and mirrored by imagery of Light, scientific certainty, life and growth and the patterned order of nature in THE GARDEN OF CYRUS . In the light of modern understanding of the tenets of hermetic philosophy and Browne's own inclination of 'binary' concepts there really is no excuse for this edition, but it would be interesting to hear Greenblatt's justification of going against Browne's own literary intentions. Perhaps he is unsympathetic to Browne's hermetic inclinations in 'The Garden of Cyrus' more likely the usual American culprit of 'dumbing-down' in favour of not alienating readership and sales is suspected.

It is now over fifty years since the American scholar Frank Huntley stressed the inter-relationship between Browne's discourses stating -

'the first essay cannot be read without the second for the two pieces are purposefully antithetical and correlative. The first is death; the second, life. The first is guess-work, the second science. The first is accident; the second its opposite, design.
Read more ›
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Margaret Thompson on August 9, 2012
Format: Paperback
As one reviewer has noted, we turn to Browne for our "desire to be steeped in imagination." The reading brings you into a dialog -- between you, brown, and all the world. This is no book for mere self-discovery or self-experience. It brings the reader into a kind of communion -- the self does not dissolve, but becomes integrated into a greater and multivarious sphere. And this integration is not static but with vast and intricate movement alike. As Virginia Woolf writes of Browne's prose: "Here, as in no other English prose except the Bible the reader is not left to read alone in his armchair but is made one of a congregation." We depart our isolation, and enter only by "by leaving our muddy boots on the threshold."

The writing is incredibly rich. As Woolf describes, "Flowers and trees, spices and gems load the pages with all kinds of colour and substance. The whole is kept fresh by a perpetual movement of rhythm which gives each sentence its relation to the next and yet is of huge and cumulative effect. A bold and prodigious appetite for the drums and tramplings of language is balanced by the most exquisite sense of mysterious affinities between ghosts and roses."

Browne experience of life is spiritual, aesthetic, and aware of the common life of all that exists. He writes, "Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible sun within us... For my conversation, it is like the sun's, with all men, and with a friendly aspect to good and bad."

This volume is for those with an unquenchable thirst for words that convey meaning, significance, and mysterious belonging. Equally rewarding either for fans of Parlett's THE Book of Word Games or of Borges' Labyrinths.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 1, 2013
Format: Paperback
I first encountered the writings of Sir Thomas Browne in a quotation that turns out to be one of his many famous ones: "But the long habit of living indisposeth us for dying." It stuck in my head, and even though I told myself from this one sentence that Browne was someone I wanted to read more, that was decades ago, and the reading never happened until now. New York Review Books has published a new volume containing his two most famous works. _Religio Medici_ ("The Faith of a Doctor") is from 1643 and _Hydriotaphia, or Urne-Buriall_ ("hydriotaphia" is one of Browne's many coinages, and means the deposition of bodily ashes in urns) is from 1658. Browne has shown up in my reading before I got to hear from him in his originals. "What Song the Syrens sang," he wrote in _Urne-Buriall_, "or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzling Questions, are not beyond all conjecture." If you have read Poe's "Murder in the Rue Morgue," you encountered this as the epigraph. It is also one of the things Stephen thinks about in Ulysses. If you are familiar with Moby Dick, you have encountered Melville's quotations of Browne, for he wrote about whales (among countless other things); Melville must have loved Browne's antiquated language and tendency to coin new, often strange words (though some, like "hallucination," have become standard). This edition is edited by the husband-and-wife scholar team of Stephen Greenblatt and Ramie Targoff, who have clarified Latin or obscure English phrases, provided notes and a glossary, and given an introduction, with a brief biography and appreciation.Read more ›
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