Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pseudodoxia Epidemica 1658




I acquired this copy of Sir Thomas Browne's Pseudodoxia Epidemica: or, Enquiries into Very many Received Tenents, and commonly Presumed Truths (first edition 1646) via an ebay auction in March 2006. It cost $500, its provenance was Charleston, Carolina U.S.A. Although no first editions of Browne's 1658 Discourses Urn-Burial and The Garden of Cyrus survive, they are appended to this fourth edition of Pseudodoxia Epidemica published in 1658. It's of particular note that the running order consists of the two dedicatory epistles following each other, strong evidence that its author intended the two Discourses to be read, viewed and meditated upon as one whole.

Pseudodoxia Epidemica
was in fact one of the earliest, if not the first, European encyclopedia and contributed to the 17th century scientific revolution. Although to us today with our vastly increased scientific knowledge, Pseudodoxia Epidemica can be seen to contain many errors itself, nonetheless it prepared a readership for much of the scientific journalism subsequently published in England.

Pseudodoxia Epidemica was a best-seller which found a place upon the shelves of many English households. Published in no less than six editions (1646,1650,1658 twice,1659 and 1672) it was translated into several European languages. It even found its way to America.

Included appendiced to Browne's encyclopaedia is a so-called Alphabetical Table. In all probability this index was compiled by Browne himself. It has never previously before been published in any edition of Browne's works, so is available here for the very first time.

As Jorge Louis Borges once declared -'To write vast books is a laborious nonsense, much better is to offer a summary as if those books actually existed'. A quick scroll down the page of An Alphabetical Table reveals the full scope of the breadth and depth of Browne's curiosity, knowledge and scientific investigation.

An Alphabetical Table lists many of Browne's main sources under 'authors commended', it includes mention of his many experiments as well as the astronomical, historical, biblical and zoological queries which preoccupied him . Queries range from the cosmological such as 'Cosmographers, why they divide their Globe into East and West', to the theological - 'whether our B. Saviour ever laughed', to the aesthetic '-Beauty- Determined chiefly by opinion, or the several apprehensions of people', to the medical '-Drunkenness, or to be drunk once a month, whether it be healthful', to the revealing esoteric entry ,'-Philosophers Stone, not improbable to be procured' . However entries such as, 'Abilities, (scientifical especially,) ought to be improved' and 'Candle, one discharged out of a Musket through an inch board', are indicative of the empirical and Baconian nature of Browne's quest.

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