The Library of Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682)
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The survival of the 1711 sale catalogue of the library of Sir Thomas Browne and his heirs has given scholars of his work a privileged insight into his reading and book owning habits. Browne wrote on an encyclopaedic range of subjects and his prose bears the weight (implicit and explicit) of the many books and authors that contributed to his intellectual projects. As a consequence, his library and the 1711 catalogue have attracted intense interest from scholars, in spite of the absence of any physical trace of his books. This thesis examines the relationship between the catalogue and Browne’s library as he knew and used it, striving for a bibliographical reconstruction whilst acknowledging the contingency and incompleteness of the catalogue. It also contributes to the critical study of Browne’s works, assessing his book ownership for the elucidation of his texts, and considering his literary remains as an articulation of his reading. Quantitative analysis of the catalogue and a narrative of the life cycle of the library based on archival records are used to describe the library’s contents and the practices of its owners. The local contexts of Browne’s book ownership are outlined, together with the relationships of his works to his book sources, his museum collecting, and his position in the world of knowledge as articulated through library classification. Browne is described as a book owner who showed little interest in the possession of a ‘library’ as a discrete, permanent collection, despite his profound engagement with books, and the high numbers of volumes that passed through his hands. Browne’s library was also networked, linked to other collections through textual exchange, social relationships, book gifts, and conversations, indicative of a mode of seventeenth-century book ownership defined by fluidity and community.
- Theses