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Library of Sir Thomas Browne

The 1711 Sales Auction Catalogue of the Library of Sir Thomas Browne highlights the erudition of the physician, philosopher and encyclopedist, Sir Thomas Browne. 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

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

Roman literature


Contemporary science


  • 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
  • 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



  • Avicenna Opera, 2 vols. 1608 Venice
  • Thomas Bartholin Anatomia Reformata, Leyden 1651
    De ovariis mulierum et generationis historia epistola anatomica, 1678
    • de Medicina Danorun Domestica, Hannover 1666
    • de Luce Animalium, Leyden 1647
    • Historiar. Anatomic. rarior. Cent. VI, 3 vol. Hannover 1654
    • de Pulmonum Substantia et Motu, Hannover 1663
    • de Lacteis Thoracicis, London 1652
    • de Ovariis Mulierum & Generat. Historia, 1678
  • Gerolamo Cardano Opera, 10 vol. Leyden 1663
  • Aulus Cornelius Celsus De Medicina 8 Libri Basle 1592
    Cornelius Celsus De medicina
  • Realdo Colombo De Re Anatomica Libri XV Venice 1559
    Title page of Colombo De Re Anatomica
  • Pedanius Dioscorides Opera, 1598
    • Parabilia, 1598
  • Charles Estienne De dissectione Corporis humani, 1545
  • Hieronymus Fabricius Opera Anatomica, Paris 1625
    • De Visione, Voce & Auditu, Venice 1600
    • Ab Aquapendente Opera Chirurgica, Venice 1619
  • Fallopius, Opera, Frankfurt 1600
  • Jean Fernel, Cosmotheoria, 1528
  • Leonhart Fuchs, de humani Corporis fabrica Leiden 1551
    • Paradoxor. Medicinae Libri 3 Venice 1547
  • Galen, Opera, 5 books in 3 vols. Basle 1538
  • Pierre Gassendi,Vita Epicuri, Leiden 1647
    • de apparente magnitudine solis humilis et sublimis, Paris 1642
    • Instit. Astronomia item Galileo et Kepler, 1683
    • Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus, 1648
  • Francis Glisson, De ventriculo & Intestinis, London 1677
    • de Rachitide, London 1650
  • Jonathan Goddard Unhappy condition of Practice of Physick in London, 1670
  • Johannes Goropius Becanus Origines Antwerpianae 1569
  • William Harvey, De Generatione, London 1651
  • Hippocrates Opera 1624
    • Aphorismi & Prognost in Greek and Latin, ed. Jo. Butino 1625
    • Coacae Praenotiones, notes by John Johnson, Amsterdam 1660
    • de Morbis Mulierum, Paris 1585
    • Praenotiones, Paris 1585
  • Marcello Malpighi De viscerum structura, London 1669
    • de formatione Pulli in Ovo, London 1673
    • de Viscerum Structura, London 1669
  • Adrian von Mynsicht Thesaurus et Armamentarium Medico-Chymicum 1631
  • Jan Swammerdam, Uteri Muliebris Fabrica, London 1680
    • of Respiration, Leiden 1667
  • Thomas Sydenham, Observationes Medical., London 1676
    • de Podagra & Hydrope, London 1683
    • Schedula Monitoria de nova Febris Ingressu, London 1686
    • Epist. duae de Morbis Epidem. & de Lue Venera, London 1680
  • Dissertatio Epistolaris, London 1682
  • Walter Charleton, Enquiries into Human Nature, 1680
    • Darkness of Atheism dispelled by Nature's Light, 1652
  • Henry Martini,Anatomia Urinae Galeno-Spagyrica, Frankfurt 1659
  • George Ent, Apolog. pro Circulatione Sanguinis adv. et Parisanum, London 1641
  • Franz de la Boe a.k.a. Franciscus Sylvius
  • Thomas Willis, Opera varia, 5 vols. London 1664
    • Cerebri Anatome cum fig., London 1664
  • Richard Lower, De Corde: item de motu & colore sanguinis, London 1670
  • Julius Caesar Scaliger, On Insomnia, Geneva 1610
  • Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica 8 Books 1555
  • Jacques Dubois aka Jacobus Sylvius de Signis omnib. Medicis Paris 1630


Natural history

  • Georg Agricola, de Re Metallica, Basle 1621
    • de Ortu & Causis Subterraneor, Basle 1558
  • Ulissi 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

  • Thomas Fuller, A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine with maps, 1650
  • John Greaves, A description of the Grand Signiors Seraglio 1650
    • Pyramidographia, or a Description of the Pyramids in Egypt 1646
      Ortelius Theatrum Orbis Terrarum
  • Saxo Grammaticus, Gesta Danorum Paris, 1514
  • James Howell, Of the Precedency of Kings, 1664
  • Athanasius Kircher China Illustrated, Amsterdam 1667
  • Gerardus Mercator, Atlas sive Cosmographicae Meditationes de Fabrica Mundi et Fabricati Figura, Amsterdam 1613
  • Claude Mydorge, Examen du Livre des recreations Mathematiques, Paris 1639
  • Abraham Ortelius, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum Antwerp 1574
    • Thesaurus Geographic. recognit. & auctus 1611
    • Itinerar. per Galliae Belgicae partes Plant. 1584
  • Strabo Geographia 17 Books Commentary Isaac Casaubon Paris 1620
    • Of the Kingdom of Naples, 1654
    • Of the Signorie of Venice, 1651
    • Of Hungary and Transylvania, 1664
    • Instructions for Foreign Travels, 1642


  • 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

  • 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

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