Monday, March 25, 2013

Edward Browne at the Court of Emperor Leopold


Emperor Leopold I in costume as Acis in La Galatea.


After his continental medical studies based at Padua, Montpellier and Leyden circa 1627-30, Sir Thomas Browne hardly ever left the city of Norwich, other than in a professional capacity, usually when visiting patients residing at one of the many ancient seats of the gentry scattered throughout Norfolk's wealthy farming hinterland.

In contrast to his father, Dr. Browne's eldest son, Edward Browne (1644-1708) travelled extensively before settling down to marriage and establishing a medical practise in London. Edward Browne was educated at Cambridge and became first a Fellow, and eventually the President of the Royal College of Physicians. He possessed characteristic traits associated with a youthful traveller - an insatiable curiosity towards the natural world including its people and their customs, the linguistic skills necessary to relate to all, and letters of introduction and relevant social connections to open doors and receive hospitality. Wherever Edward Browne travelled he acted as the ears and eyes of his stay-at-home father, keeping him informed in regular correspondence.

In total Edward Browne made three long journeys. In the first he travelled to Italy and came home through France. In 1668 he sailed from Yarmouth to Rotterdam visiting Leyden, Amsterdam and Utrecht, ending his journey at Cologne. His next destination was Vienna. Using the Hapsburg capital as a base he visited the mines of Hungary and travelled as far as Styria and Carinthia in southern Austria and Thessaly in Greece. Its in correspondence while in Thessaly that a strong reaction of parental anxiety and concern by his loving and indulgent parent's towards Edward Browne's proposal to travel as far as Turkey can be detected. His last European tour was in 1673, visiting Cologne, Aix-la-Chapelle, Liege, Louvain, Ghent and Bruges. Returning home, Edward Browne published a small quarto travelogue, the full title of which gives some indication of his wide travels - A Brief Account of some Travels in Hungaria, Styria, Bulgaria, Thessaly, Austria, Serbia, Carynthia, Carniola, and Friuli (1673). All three of Edward Browne's travelogues were published together in 1686. [1]


There seems to be a close, if not  always an intellectual affinity, then a deep respect, between several notable alchemist-physician father and eldest son's during the late Renaissance. The author of the highly influential esoteric treatise, the Monas Hieroglyphica (1564) John Dee and his son Arthur (1579-1651), the alchemy dictionary compiler's the Ruland's, both confusingly named Martin, the Dutch alchemist and scientist Jean-Baptise Helmont (1580-1644) who saddled his son with the name of Mercurius and Sir Thomas Browne and his eldest son, Edward Browne, all had a close father-son relationship.

Like the Dee's, both father and son, the Browne's moved in the highest social circles. John Dee had enjoyed Queen Elizabeth's friendship and secured through King James I employment for his son as a physician to the Romanov Czar Mikhail, a position held by Arthur for 14 years in Moscow.  When Charles II (1630-85) visited Norwich in 1671, he knighted Sir Thomas Browne and made a social call upon the learned doctor at home. Browne's eldest son Edward Browne latter became a Royal physician at Charles' court, and an associate to the Monarch. It should not therefore be too surprising that, when in Vienna during his travels, Edward Browne met the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I (1640-1705). While resident at Vienna Edward Browne also met Peter Lambeck (1628-80) a German historian and Library Keeper of the Imperial Library. Leopold I, like his Hapsburg predecessors, Maximilian I and Rudolf II, was a connoisseur of the arts and learning, which naturally included book-collecting. Leopold also had a taste for music, composing several oratorios and suites of dances. The Dutch painter Jan Thomas van Leperen painted a full-length portrait of him wearing a flamboyant theatrical costume (above).

In his Account of Several Travels through a Great Part of Germany (1677) [2] Edward Browne first describes Leopold, then recounts how his father's Religio Medici was read and admired by the Emperor.

His Person is grave and graceful; he hath the Austrian Lip remarkably, his Chin long, which is taken for a good Physiognomical mark, and a sign of a constant, placid, and little troubled mind. He is conceived to carry in his Face the lineaments of four of his Predecessours, that is, of Ruolphus the First, of Maximilian the First, of Charles the Fifth, and Ferdinand the First. He speaks four Languages, German, Italian, Spanish, and Latin. He is a great countenancer of Learned Men, and delighteth to read, and when occasion permitteth, will pass some hours at it.... The worthy Petrus Lambecius his Library Keeper, and who is in great esteem with him, will usually find out some Books for him which he conceiveth may be acceptable. While I was there he recommended a Translation of Religio Medici unto him, wherewith the Emperour was exceedingly pleased, and spake very much of it unto Lambecius, insomuch that Lambecius asked me whether I knew the Author, he being of my own name, and whether he were living: And when he understood my near Relation to him, he became more kind and courteous than ever, and desired me to send him that Book in the Original English, which he would put into the Emperors Library:


Just like the Holy Roman Emperors Maximilian I and Rudolf II before him, Leopold I held a particular interest in hermetic philosophy, alchemy and astrology. During the winter of 1668 Edward Browne was granted permission by Leopold's librarian Peter Lambeck to collate a 'curious catalogue of some hundreds of alchymical manuscripts' from the archives of the Viennese Imperial library, ostensibly for the benefit of the Royal Society of London. Browne senior, upon hearing of his son's access and research of alchemical-related literature at the Imperial Library, composed and sent his son a short verse in Latin; a verse which reveals the highly moral attitude which Sir Thomas Browne held towards the study of alchemy, as well as perhaps a hint to his son to notify him if unearthing any rare esoteric literature.

To one who would study the Occult and inside of his Gold, 
and upon looking to please not only himself

Persian Gold I wish for you
And the finest Alexandrian and Imperial Gold I wish you too
But look beyond the image to the inside of the metal
Nor let your treasure-chest be richer than your mind.

Notes

Top picture -  Leopold I in costume as Acis in La Galatea
by Jan Thomas van Leperen (1667)

[1]  Brown's Travels 1686  - Sales Catalogue page 46 no. 103
[2] Dr. Edward Brown's Travels thro' Germany, with fig. 1677 - Sales Catalogue page 47 no. 40

Link to Edward Browne's Travels through Germany (1677)

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