Thomas Browne 1605-1682

From Book Owners Online

Sir Thomas BROWNE 1605-1682

Biographical Note

Born in the parish of St Michael-le-Querne, London, son of Thomas Browne, liveryman of the Mercers' Company of London. BA Broadgates Hall, Oxford 1627, MA 1629; he then studied medicine at Montpellier and in Padua, graduating MD from Leiden in 1633. He spent most of the rest of his life practising as a physician in Norwich, and is most remembered for his numerous publications including Religio medici (which circulated in manuscript before appearing in print in 1642) and Pseudodoxia epidemica (1646). He was not a member of the Royal Society, but was in regular contact with a network of contemporary scholars and experimentalists, including Elias Ashmole, Henry Oldenburg, John Ray and Francis Willoughby. He was knighted in 1671.


Browne acquired books throughout his life and established a significant library; it has been studied in detail by Lucy Gwynn (see below), who revises the accounts of earlier writers. Most of his books descended to his son Edward Browne, but some are likely to have remained with his widow Dorothy, and the exact size of the library at the time of Thomas's death is not known (but would have been well over a thousand volumes). Evidence suggests that the books were stored in multiple places around Browne's house; he also collected animal and plant specimens, minerals, coins and other artefacts. John Evelyn wrote of "his whole house and garden being a paradise and cabinet of rarities" (ODNB).

The joint library of Thomas and Edward, with some additions by Edward's son Thomas, was auctioned in London, 8.1.1711. The catalogue lists 2377 lots, though it is not possible to be certain which books by acquired by which Browne. Gwynn's thesis contains a detailed analysis of the contents, showing the main subjects to be medicine (18.5%), history (16%), literature (15%), theology (13%) and science/natural philosophy (9%). 55% of the books were in Latin, 26% in English, and the remainder in French (14%), Italian (4%), German and Dutch (1.5%) and Spanish (0.5%).

Edward Bernard's Catalogi manuscriptorum, 1697, lists Edward Browne as owning 28 manuscripts.


  • A catalogue of the libraries of ...Sir Thomas Brown, and Dr. Edward Brown, London, 1711, ESTC t75915.
  • Alston, R. C. Inventory of sale catalogues 1676-1800. St Philip, 2010.
  • Finch, J. A catalogue of the libraries of Sir Thomas Browne and Dr Edward Browne, his son. A facsimile reproduction with introduction, Leiden, 1986.
  • Gwynn, L. The library of Sir Thomas Browne, unpublished PhD thesis, Queen Mary University London, 2016.
  • Richmond, G. Sir Thomas Browne’s library, Antiquarian Book Monthly Review 4 (1977), 2-9.
  • Robbins, R. H. "Browne, Sir Thomas (1605–1682), physician and author." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Thornton, J. Dr Edward Browne (1642-1708) as a bibliophile, Library World 54 (1952-3), 69-73.
  • Sir Thomas Browne, Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450-1700.