Religio Medici and Urne-Buriall is the NYRB Classics Book Club selection for August 2012.
Sir Thomas Browne is one of the supreme stylists of the English language: a coiner of words and spinner of phrases to rival Shakespeare; the wielder of a weird and wonderful erudition; an inquiring spirit in the mold of Montaigne. Browne was an inspiration to the Romantics as well as to W.G. Sebald, and his work is quirky, sonorous, and enchanting.
Here this baroque master’s two most enduring and admired works, Religio Medici and Urne-Buriall, appear in a new edition that has been annotated and introduced by the distinguished scholars Ramie Targoff and Stephen Greenblatt (author of the best-selling Will in the World and the National Book Award–winning The Swerve). In Religio Medici Browne mulls over the relation between his medical profession and his profession of the Christian faith, pondering the respective claims of science and religion, questions that are still very much alive today. The discovery of an ancient burial site in an English field prompted Browne to write Urne-Buriall, which is both an early anthropological examination of different practices of interment and a profound meditation on mortality. Its grave and exquisite music has resounded for generations.
The iniquity of oblivion blindly scatters her poppy seed and when wretchedness falls upon us one summer’s day like snow, all we wish for is to be forgotten. These are the circles Browne’s thought’s describe.
—W. G. Sebald, author of The Rings of Saturn
No desert island would be all bad that had upon it copies
of Sir Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici and Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.
—The Age (Melbourne)
Browne has paved the way for all psychological novelists, autobiographers, confession-mongers, and dealers in the curious shades of our private life. He it was who first turned from the contacts of men with men to their lonely life within… . He is the first of the autobiographers.
Praise for Urne-Buriall:
One of the most celebrated examples of 17th century prose.
—The New York Times
It smells in every word of the sepulchre.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Like Hamlet, it is full of quotes … Browne is a miniaturist, and elegant raiser of ideas and a provoker of ideas in other: it was in a long note made in his copy by Coleridge that the very word ‘marginalia’ was invented. You can dip in and out of Urne-Burial: ‘genially ambling prose,’ as Terry Eagleton characterized Browne’s generous, inquisitive style. It is the most soothing of mement mori.
—The Guardian (London)
Praise for Religio Medici:
A literary and medical classic.
Perhaps the two greatest meditations on ageing in English, Sir Thomas Browne’s Religo Medici and Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.
—Sunday Times (London)
A small literary jewel of contemplation.
—Sherwin B. Nuland