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'.
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