URN BURIAL BY SIR THOMAS BROWNE

source -review copy from New directions -this month

Sir Thomas Browne lived in Norwich and wrote on a myriad of subjects Medicine,geography ,Philosophy and Spirituality ,all during the English renaissance during the 17th century .His prose style influence both Jorge Luis Borges and W G Sebald .The book opens with a passage from Sebald’s rings of Saturn about Browne .

For Browne things  of this  kind ,unspoiled by the passage of time ,are symbols of indestructibility  of the human soul assured by scripture ,which the physician ,firm though may be in his christian faith ,perhaps secretly doubts ,and since the heaviest stone of melancholy .

Sebald on Browne’s view re the found urns mention in urn burial .

Urn Burial is a 86 page text from Thomas Brown ,that follows his reaction and musings on the meaning of some intact roman Burial urns that were found in Norwich ,so we go on a journey through Browne’s words from roman times and the reason for ashes in an urn ,things like a coin to pay your way to Elysian fields ,to Browne’s own time and how people celebrate remember and fear death .The prose drift here and their building up to last chapter a wonderful lament on life and death ,how every man has this struggle with his own mortality ,this last chapter is considered the greatest bit of renaissance writing and the beginning of essay and thesis writing in english .

Now since these dead bones have already out lasted the living ones of Methuselah ,and in a yard under ground and thin wall of clay ,outworn all the strong and specious buildings above it ; and quietly rested under the drums and trampling of three conquests ; what prince can promise such diuturnity unto his reliquesor might gladly say

sic ego componi versus in ossa velium .

The opening of chapter five of urn burial .

Now to be truthful I found this hugely touching and very deep piece I will definitely be reading more of Browne’s work and rereading this as I think I found a life long Passion in this man and his thoughts ,the link to Sebald and Borges is easy to see ,Brown darts and dash from here to there like the other two did in the later fiction ,it is like a child trying to take apart a clock picking at the workings ,this is how Browne tackles the discovery of these urns ,posing questions on them and trying to give us the reader the answer  .This is my first work by Brown for further reading and articles I strongly recommend going over to Kevin’s blog the aquarium of Vulcan where he has written numerous pieces on Sir Thomas Browne ,also his connections to Norwich and the surrounding area .so if you like Borges and Sebald I would try so Browne and see if you agree with me  on how this ,mans words influenced them .

have you read Browne ?

one last thought Borges on Browne

Well, I felt that I owed so much to Kafka that I really didn’t need to exist. But, really, I am merely a word for Chesterton, for Kafka, and Sir Thomas Browne- I love him. I translated him into seventeenth century Spanish and it worked very well. We took a chapter out of Urne Buriall and we did that into Quevado’s Spanish and it went very well- the same period, the same idea of writing Latin in a different language, writing Latin in English, writing Latin in Spanish.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kevin Faulkner
    Nov 22, 2010 @ 20:21:22

    Winston my man! A nice piece. To be frank, Max Sebald only ‘discovered’ Browne when he saw Browne’s skull displayed in a cabinet at a hospital when recovering from a heart-complaint. He’d lived in Norwich for several years without any interest whatsoever before then.

    Naughty publishers continue to split the two Discourses of 1658, but they are in fact one complete work, the doubts, queries, unknowingness of ‘Urn’, ‘answered’ by the scientific certainties, truths and ‘occular observations’ of ‘Cyrus’. When will publishers give the reader BOTH Discourse together as the author intended??!! (Last time was in 1958 John Carter edition)

    Borges of course was crazy on Browne from his youth to old age. You’ve chosen a passage ‘Now since these dead bones… ‘ which De Quincey raved about, Coleridge was also barking about Browne as was Herman Melville. I particularly liked your observation ‘like a child trying to take apart a clock picking at the workings ,this is how Browne tackles the discovery of these urns , posing questions on them and trying to give us the reader the answer’.

    Thanks for the mention. You are most welcome to contact me anytime to discuss any aspect of Browne (and there’s lots, he wears many hats) which you’re interested in.

    Reply

    • winstonsdad
      Nov 22, 2010 @ 23:26:45

      I ceartainly will talk more about it kevin ,I think library hes some and know when I get new e reader there is a collection of essays ,be matter of keeping my eyes open for anything I come across in second hand shops ,think the m,an as a whole intrests me Kevin a man with many strings to his bow ,all the best stu

      Reply

  2. bythefirelight
    Dec 05, 2010 @ 18:03:36

    Great post. I’d never heard about the guy even though I like Borges so much. Perhaps I’ll give it a read one of these days.

    Reply

  3. Trackback: The rings of saturn by W G Sebald | Winstonsdad's Blog

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