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I. LIFE OF BROWNE
“Our most imaginative mind since Shakespeare."
J. RUSSELL LOWELL “At my Nativity,” says Browne in Religio Medici, “my Ascendant was the watery sign of Scorpius; I was born in the Planetary hour of Saturn.” By this he means that he was born on a Saturday in October. It was the 19th day of the month, in the year 1605. The place was St Michael-le-Quern in Cheapside. His father, also Thomas, by birth sprung from a family of Cheshire squires and by occupation a London mercer, died early; and his mother married Sir Thomas Dutton. Rapacious guardians are said to have destroyed the child's patrimony; but his youthful years show no sign of poverty. He went to Winchester School in 1616, and to Oxford in 1623. There he matriculated a fellow-commoner of Broadgates Hall, which changed its name to Pembroke College before he left the University. Of his Oxford career we can say little, except that at the University, as previously at school, he must have been acquiring that wide knowledge of Latin and Greek which he displays throughout his writings. Oxford could afford him very scanty instruction in science or medicine; but, even before his Oxford days, he had begun to botanise. Speaking of his acquaintance with the plants around Halifax, he declares in Religio Medici that he seems to know fewer than when he knew only a hundred and gathered his specimens in Cheapside.
Browne proceeded B.A. in 1626, M.A. in 1629. About this time he visited Ireland with his step-father; but we have only fugitive references to his stay there. In 1630 he left England for the South of France, to study at Montpellier, long noted for its medical school, especially the departments of botany and anatomy. Next he went to Padua University, then in high repute for scientific and medical studies, in particular surgery, physiology and anatomy. He finished his Continental sojourn by studying in Holland, at Leyden, which was specially renowned for chemistry. There he is believed to have graduated M.D.
He was back in England in 1633, and settled near Halifax. In July, 1637, he was incorporated doctor of physic at Oxford, and soon after began the practice of his profession in Norwich, where he was to remain till his death forty-five years later. In 1641 he married Dorothy Mileham, sixteen years his junior. She was “a lady of such symmetrical proportion to her worthy husband, both in the graces of her ody and mind, that they seemed to come together by a kind of natural magnetism.” The wits found matter for raillery in the marriage, since Browne had appeared to despise matrimony in Religio Medici, which though not yet published was freely circulating in manuscript.
The outbreak of the Great Rebellion was now near. Norfolk was puritan, and the men of Norwich were very lukewarm churchmen. When fighting began, the city was fortified in the Parliamentary interest. Browne was a royalist, but he had no intention of making a martyr of himself. Discretion, he maintained, is the better part of all actions, civil and religious. To become a martyr needlessly is simply to commit suicide. While holding it discreet, however, to abstain from active resistance, he figured once as a passive resister. In the summer of 1642, Newcastle was seized by royalist soldiers. Some months later, a fund was raised to equip Parliamentary troops for the re-capture of the strategic fortress on the Tyne. The substantial citizens of Norwich were invited to contribute. Browne was one of the 452 who declined. Other