Sir Thomas Browne

Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) wrote extraordinary essays in a rich, layered, wrought prose unlike any other. His major works, "Religio Medici," on religion, "Pseudodoxia Epidemica," a Baconian scientific treatise, "Hydriotaphia, or Urn Burial" (on funerary customs and the evanescence of mortal life), and "The Garden of Cyrus" (on the quincunx) are not long, but have had enormous impact. Writers such as Samuel Johnson, Thomas De Quincey, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge reverenced him. Herman Melville, whose prose was deeply inspired by Browne, called him a "cracked archangel." Virginia Woolf said of him: "Few people love the writings of Sir Thomas Browne, but those that do are the salt of the earth." W.G. Sebald, in his masterpiece, The Rings of Saturn, has a long section on Browne. Here is Sebald: "It is true that, because of the immense weight of the impediments he is carrying, Browne's writing can be held back by the force of gravitation, but when he does succeed in rising higher and higher through the circles of his spiralling prose, borne aloft like a glider on warm currents of air, even today the reader is overcome by a sense of levitation." Jorge Luis Borges said: "I am merely a word for [G.K.] Chesterton, for [Franz] Kafka, and Sir Thomas Browne - I love him." In E.M. Forster's first published work, the delightful story "The Celestial Omnibus," Browne is the driver of the omnibus that goes to heaven.