Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Library of Sir Thomas Browne

Table of contents
1 Introduction
2 Ancient World
3 Late Roman Empire/early Christian era
4 Renaissance and Contemporaries
5 Medical
6 Esoteric
7 Natural History
8 Literature
9 Miscellaneous
10 Source
11 References


No single document gives better evidence of the learning of Sir Thomas Browne, the man, encyclopedist, and philosopher, than the 1711 Sales Auction Catalogue of his library. It provides an insight into the proliferation, distribution and availability of books printed in increasing number throughout 17th century Europe, purchased by the intelligentsia, aristocracy, priest, physician or educated merchant-class.

The 1711 Sales Auction Catalogue lists the reading material of an individual's lifetime. It records the contents and volume of one of 17th century Europe's most wide-ranging, private libraries as well as some of the sources for the encyclopaedia Pseudodoxia Epidemica more commonly known as Vulgar Errors. It also highlights the inter-relationship between science, religion and the arts in the seventeenth century, albeit through the microcosm perspective of the private library of one of its leading thinkers; as once remarked:

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

Browne graduated from the University of Leiden in 1633, having previously studied at the Universities of Montpellier and Padua for his medical degree. Upon his establishment in Norwich as a physician he was able to begin a lifetime's bibliophilia, building a private library, acquiring and no doubt reading many of an estimated 1500 titles. Adept in no less than five contemporary languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Danish), as well as Latin, Greek and Hebrew, the 1711 Sales Auction Catalogue reflects the wide scope of Browne's amateur hobbies, who, following the translation of his Religio Medici and encyclopaedia Pseudodoxia Epidemica into French, Latin and Dutch, was acknowledged as one of the great intellects of seventeenth century Europe.

Browne's erudite learning is reflected in the fact that the Classics of the ancient world as well as theology, history, geography, philology, philosophy, anatomy, antiquities, Biblical scholarship, cartography, embryology, medicine, cosmography, ornithology, minerology, 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.

It was the American scholar Jeremiah Stanton Finch, Dean Emeritus at Yale University, who completed the indexing of the books of Sir Thomas and his son Edward Browne's libraries, "after many years in many libraries" in 1986. J.S. Finch noted that the Catalogue advertised books of Sculpture and Painting, which somehow never made it to the Auction. In the event, the Auction held upon January 8th-10th, 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.

The one-time blind librarian Jorge Luis Borges, a life-long admirer of Browne, considered paradise itself to be a Library. The following titles represent only a fraction of the total volume of Library of Sir Thomas Browne and have been selected as a thumb-nail sketch of the omnivorous reading material and bibliophilia which Browne engaged upon over a half century.

Ancient World

Late Roman Empire/early Christian era

Renaissance and Contemporaries


Contemporary science




Natural History