Library of Sir Thomas Browne

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The 1711 Sales Auction Catalogue of the Library of Sir Thomas Browne highlights the erudition of the physician, philosopher and encyclopedist, Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682). It also illustrates the proliferation, distribution and availability of books printed throughout 17th century Europe which were purchased by the intelligentsia, aristocracy, priestly, physician or educated merchant-class.


Browne graduated from the University of Leiden in 1633 having previously studied at the Universities of Montpellier and Padua for his medical degree.[1] Upon his establishment in Norwich as a physician he was able to begin a lifetime's bibliophilia, building a private library, acquiring and reading an estimated 1,500 titles. He was adept in five contemporary languages: French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Danish; these languages as well as Greek and Hebrew and the predominant written form of the Renaissance, namely Latin, are all represented in his Library.

The catalogue[edit]

The 1711 Sales Auction Catalogue reflects the wide scope of Browne's interests. It includes many of the sources of his encyclopaedia Pseudodoxia Epidemica which went through six editions (1646 to 1672); and established him as one of the leading intellects of 17th-century Europe.

Browne's erudite learning is reflected by the Classics of antiquity as well as history, geography, philology, philosophy, anatomy, theology, cartography, embryology, medicine, cosmography, ornithology, mineralogy, zoology, travel, law, mathematics, geometry, literature, both Continental and English, the latest advances in scientific thinking in astronomy, chemistry as well as esoteric topics such as astrology, alchemy, physiognomy and the Kabbalah are all represented in the Catalogue of his library contents. It was however not until 1986 that the Catalogue was first made widely available. The American scholar Jeremiah Stanton Finch, Dean Emeritus at Princeton University took on the task of indexing Browne's work during his retirement,[2] completing the indexing of the books of Sir Thomas and his son Edward Browne's libraries, "after many years in many libraries".[3] Finch noted that the Catalogue advertised books of sculpture and painting, which somehow were never delivered to the auction house. In the event, the auction held upon 8–10 January 1711 was attended by Jonathan Swift and buyers working on behalf of Sir Hans Sloane. Thus an unknown percentage of books auctioned from the Library of Sir Thomas Browne subsequently formed the foundation for the future British Library.[3]

The 1711 Sales Auction Catalogue records the omnivorous reading and bibliophilia which Browne engaged upon for roughly sixty years, it also exemplifies the observation:

to the student of the history of ideas in its modern sense of the inter-relationship between science, art and philosophy, Browne is of great importance.[4]

Greek literature[edit]

Roman literature[edit]


Contemporary science[edit]


  • Francis Bacon, Advancement of Learning, 1628
    Descartes Discourse on Method
    • Natural History, 1628
      Blaise Pascal's Pensées
    • Opuscula Philosophica, 1658
  • Bellarmine, Apologia pro Jure Princip., 1611
  • Charles de Bovelles Liber de intellectu. Liber de sensibus. Liber de generatione. Libellus de nihilo. Ars oppositorum. Liber de sapiente. Liber de duodecim numeris. Philosophicae epistulae. Liber de perfectis numeris. Libellus de mathematicis rosis. Liber de mathematicis corporibus. Libellus de mathematicis supplementis Paris 1510
  • René Descartes, Discourse on Method, 1637, 1st edition
    • Méditations, 1644
    • Meditationes de prima Philosophia, Amsterdam 1644
    • Principia Philosophia, Amsterdam 1656
    • Lettres, Paris 1657
    • de la Lumière &c., Paris 1664
    • les Passions de l'âme, Amsterdam 1650
    • Compendium of Musick, London 1653
    • Of a Method for the well-guiding of Reason, London 1649
  • Thomas Hobbes, Elementorum Philosophiae Sectio Secunda de Homine, 1658
    • Elementa Philosophica de Cive 2nd edit., Amsterdam 1647
  • Justus Lipsius, Opera, 4 Tomi in 3 vol., Antwerp 1637
  • Jan Gruter, Inscriptiones antiquae totius orbis Romani, 2 vols. Heidelberg 1603
  • Machiavelli, History of Florence, Strasbourg 1610
  • Blaise Pascal, Pensées 1670
    • Discours sur les mêmes Pensées, 1672
  • Francis Osborne Collected Works 1675




Natural history[edit]

  • Georg Agricola, de Re Metallica, Basle 1621
    • de Ortu & Causis Subterraneor, Basle 1558
  • Ulisse Aldrovandi, Museum Metallicum cum fig, Bologna 1648
    • Serpentium and Draconum historia cum fig., Bologna 1640
    • Ornithtologia sive de Avibus Historia, cum fig., Frankfurt 1610
      Aldrovandi's Ornithology
    • Quadrupedum Bisulcorum Historia, cum fig Bologna 1642
    • de Quadrupedib. Digitatis Viviparis & Oviparis 1637
    • de Quadupedib. Animalibus & Piscibus Frankfurt 1610
    • Monstror. Historia, cum fig. Bologna 1642
  • Prospero Alpini, de Medicina Medicae, Patav. 1611
    • de Plantis Egypti, Patav. 1640
    • de Medicina Egypti, 1646
    • de praesagienda Vita & Morte Aegrotantium, Venice 1601
  • J. Bauhin, Historica Plant., 3 Vols. 1650
    • Hist. Fontis & Balnei Bollenis, Montpellier 1598
  • C. Bauhin, Prodomus Theatri Botanici, Frankfurt 1620
    • Pinax Theatri Botanici, Basle 1623
    • de Hermaphroditor. Natura, 1614
  • J.J. Becher, Physica Subterranea, Frankfurt 1669
  • Pierre Belon, Histoire de la Nature des Oiseaux avec leurs Descriptions & naises traits retirez du Naturel, Paris 1555
  • Carolus Clusius Exoticorum libri decem Leiden 1605
    Carolus Clusius Exoticorum libri decem
    • Stripium novae descrip. cum fig. Leiden 1611
  • Conrad Gessner, Opera, 4 vols. Zurich 1551
    • de Avibus, cum fig. illuminatus
    • Epistolae Medicinales Zurich 1577
  • Thomas Muffet, De Insect cum fig, London 1634
  • Nosomantica Hippocratea, Frankfurt 1588
  • John Ray, Catalogus Plantar. Angliae, London 1670
    • Historia Plantarum, London 1670
  • Guillaume Rondelet De Piscibus Marinis 1554
  • Nicolas Steno, Concerning Solids naturally contained within solids, 1671
    • Elementor Myologiae Specimen, cum fig., Amsterdam 1669
    • Observationes Anatomicae cum fig., Leiden 1662
    • de Cerebri Anatome, Leiden 1671
  • Francis Willughby, Ornithologia, cum fig. London 1676
  • Olaus Wormius, Museum Wormianum, Leyden 1655


Geography and history[edit]


  • Thomas Morley, A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke London 1597
  • Valentin Schindler, Lexicon Pentaglotton Hebraic., Chaldic., Syrian., Arabic., 1612
  • Artificia Hominum, Miranda Naturae, in Sina & Europa, 1655
  • Ethiopian Dictionary 1674


  • A Facsimile of the 1711 Sales Auction Catalogue of Sir Thomas Browne and his son Edward's Libraries. Introduction, notes and index by J.S. Finch (E.J. Brill: Leiden, 1986)

See also[edit]

  • Music, mysticism and Magic – A sourcebook ed. Joscelyn Godwin pub. Arkana 1986
  • The greatest benefit to Mankind. A medical history from antiquity to the present. Roy Porter Harper and Collins 1999


  1. ^ R. H. Robbins, 'Browne, Sir Thomas (1605–1682)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008 accessed 16 Feb 2013
  2. ^ Obituary, Princeton University, accessed February 2013, Ruth Stevens
  3. ^ a b A Facsimile of the 1711 Sales Auction Catalogue of Sir Thomas Browne and his son Edward's Libraries. Introduction, notes and index by J.S. Finch (E.J. Brill: Leiden, 1986) Page 7
  4. ^ The Strategy for Truth – Leonard Nathanson Chicago University Press 1967

External links[edit]

  • Aquarium of Vulcan:Library of Sir Thomas Browne [1]