The New York Times recently published an article about the resurgence of interest in Sir Thomas Browne’s work to coincide with publication of our edition of Religio Medici and Urne-Buriall, introduced and edited by Stephen Greenblatt and Ramie Targoff. Here’s a description of writers interested and influenced by Browne:
Coleridge numbered him among his ‘first favourites.’ Emily Dickinson kept an edition of Browne at her bedside. Melville, whose style was deeply indebted to him, called him a ‘crack’d Archangel.’ Virginia Woolf said he paved the way for all psychological novelists, and Borges, who translated him, once described himself as just another word for Browne (and for Kafka and Chesterton).
And more recently W.G. Sebald has written about his debt to Browne in The Rings of Saturn, a connection that Teju Cole explored last week in The New Yorker. The reasons behind this exhumation? Greenblatt and Targoff attributes it to that fact that “Browne’s voice is the voice of a vanished world, a world utterly routed by our own conceptions of rational inquiry, scientific proof and common sense.” And the NY Times gives a similar description of the originality of Browne’s ideas:
He was the kind of Christian thinker, after all, who could wonder whether Lazarus would have a legal right to reclaim his possessions from his heirs after he re-emerged from the grave. He could write with great verve about why most cultures buried their dead lying down, but some had the bodies standing erect; about the macabre practice of inhaling a dying person’s last breath; and about the even more disturbing one of drinking a loved one’s ashes (a custom revived and adapted by Keith Richards, who claimed to have snorted some of his father’s remains.)