Sir Thomas Browne

1605 – 1682

A brief biography written by Hamish Laing (D, 1987-92),
Honorary Secretary, Medical Society

Born on October 19th 1605, Thomas Browne was to be educated well, first as a scholar at Winchester College [Coll, 1616-1622] and then at Broadgates Hall (later Pembroke College) Oxford. A distinguished undergraduate career was inspired by the Master, Dr. Thomas Clayton, (Regius Professor of Physic and Prelector of Anatomy), and his tutor, Thomas Lushington. He graduated in 1629 and studied abroad in Ireland and then Montpellier and Padua, where in 1632 he studied vivisection. He was awarded an MD from Leyden in 1633. Whilst some controversy surrounds his initial medical career, in 1636 he moved to Norwich where he practised until his death 46 years later.

Shortly after his arrival in Norwich he wrote the first text for the book that was to make him famous, Religio Medici. Initially published without his authority in 1642, a corrected version, properly attributed was re-published the following year. It was soon translated to Latin and then into Italian, German, Dutch and French. It is said that Sir William Osler liked it so much that he owned 55 different editions!

This work helped to establish Browne as one of the great writers of English prose, philosophy and morals of his time. He was also highly regarded as a physician and this high esteem led him to be knighted by Charles II on a visit to the City in 1671.

Further reading:

White, H. An introduction to Thomas Browne (1605-1682) and his connections with Winchester College. 1998. Journal Medical Biography, 6; 120-122.

Hookman, P. A comparison of the writings of Sir William Osler and his exemplar, Sir Thomas Browne. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. 1995. 72; 136-150.

Dunn, PM. Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) and life before birth. 1994. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 70; F75-F76.

Dirckx, JH. Sir Thomas Browne. 1982. Journal of the American Medical Association, 248; 1845-1847.

Batty Shaw, A. Sir Thomas Browne: the man and the physician. 1982. British Medical Journal. 285; 40-42

Batty Shaw, A. Sir Thomas Browne: the man and the physician. 1978. Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 60; 336-344.

Keynes, G. Sir Thomas Browne. 1965. British Medical Journal. 2; 1505-1510

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