Tuesday, April 19, 2011


'Lobsters in great number about Sheringham and Cromer from whence all the country is supplied.'

 Sir Thomas Browne was a  significant  natural historian so it's not too surprising that The Project Gutenberg EBook has recently  reproduced his  'Notes and Letters on the Natural History of Norfolk'.

 First published in 1902 by Jarrolds of London, Browne's 'Notes and Letters upon the Natural History of Norfolk more especially on the birds and fishes', is a valuable document  inasmuch as it provides evidence not only of Browne's  keen-sighted observations  and  his willingness to assist  the ornithologist Christopher Merritt, but also to the abundance and decline throughout the intervening centuries of particular species in Norfolk. However, those expecting to read highly-stylized 'vast undulations of sound' as exemplified in  the poetic Discourses of 1658 will be sorely disappointed, for it is Browne at his most scientific  note-book prose encountered in his natural history notes.

The county of Norfolk is described by Browne as having a 'great number of rivers, rivulets & plashes of water', elsewhere in his notes he writes of its 'broad waters' which may well be from where the term 'Norfolk Broads' originates. I've written before upon Browne as an ornithologist here's the link.

Thomas Southwell in the 1902  introduction to Browne's notes, 'emphasises the originality which pervades all  Browne's observations, a characteristic so conspicuously absent in the work of most of his predecessors'.

Southwell also laments-

'It may be truly said of Sir Thomas Browne that a prophet hath no honour in his own country; the writings of this remarkable man are little known in the city of his adoption, and a recent movement to erect a monument to his memory has hitherto met with feeble support'.

Although a statue of Browne was in fact erected in his honour upon the tercentenary of his birth  in 1905 by the citizens of Norwich,  it remains true a full century later that, 'the writings of this remarkable man are little known in the city of his adoption'.


kevin andrew said...

Have to say hardly surprising that his writings are still little known generally. Sad but not surprising. As you are out and about in Norwich how well is he known?

Hydriotaphia said...

It's the relentless march of progress which grounds down all English literature into virtual obscurity, Kev. Truth is readers swiftly reject any text which requires any level of application and literacy these days, especially if it discusses religious faith. Browne seems to better appreciated in the USA than in Britain while in Norwich it's a case of political correctness gone mad in its failure to promote him, other than a sculpture installation a few years ago.

Reya Mellicker said...

I am so happy to have stumbled across your blog. How exquisite!

You published a post in February featuring a picture of the Tower trump from the tarot. I've never seen this deck. Which deck is it?


Jeb said...

"The skill of the physician shall lift up his head, and in the sight of great men shall be admiration"

Sir T.B's funeral text from Ecclesiasticus.

Jeb said...

p.s I hope youre belief that Browne's acceptants in Norwich is because of his religious basis is incorrect. I have an extreme dislike of the 'wiggish' presntism that sections of the ultra orthadox sceptical community display towards science history. Some members of the religious community can be just as bad. Treading a middle line between these vested interests groups is deeply frustrating and distracting.

Browne has to be understood in his context along with Ray and all the other natural historians of his day.
Newton was an alchemist, full time prophet and part time scientist. Kepler when he picked up a telescope was searching for god. The myth that science and religion have always been engaged in some form of open warfare is rubbish and general put forward by those interested in engaging in one.

The real enemy here is literalisim and that occurs in both religion and science. It seems to be a somewhat human trait.

Sorry for the rant but it's a subject that causes me considerable annoyance.