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Living for ever

Mary Renault

18 September 1980
The Cult of the Immortal 
by Ange-Pierre Leca.
Souvenir, 304 pp., £8.95, July 1980, 0 285 62393 1
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... a Noble Animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave, solemnising Nativities and Deaths with equal lustre, nor omitting ceremonies of bravery in the infamy of his nature.’ Thus the good Sir ThomasBrowne, meditating on urns, and on mankind’s dealings with the last mystery. Sumerian Gilgamesh journeyed to the Garden of the Sun at the world’s end to find the herb of eternal youth; but when ...

The German Ocean

D.J. Enright: Suffolk Blues

17 September 1998
The Rings of Saturn 
by W.G. Sebald, translated by Michael Hulse.
Harvill, 296 pp., £15.99, June 1998, 1 86046 398 3
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... of birds, a perfect, fluting sound, part celestial and part the song of sirens.’ Sebald, Professor of Modern German Literature at the University of East Anglia, had read that the skull of Sir ThomasBrowne, antiquary, lover of mysteries, connoisseur of odds and ends, was kept in the museum of that same hospital. He failed to find it, or the museum, and it turned out that the skull had ...

They rudely stare about

Tobias Gregory: Thomas Browne

4 July 2013
‘Religio Medici’ and ‘Urne-Buriall’ 
by Thomas Browne, edited by Stephen Greenblatt and Ramie Targoff.
NYRB, 170 pp., £7.99, September 2012, 978 1 59017 488 3
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... England had a large market for books dealing with such matters. Most of them were produced by ministers or theologians, but one of the most enduringly popular was written in 1635 by a physician, ThomasBrowne. Browne was thirty years old. He had lately returned to England after several years studying medicine on the Continent, and was serving a medical apprenticeship in Halifax. There, in his spare ...

Is it a crime?

P.N. Furbank

6 June 1985
Peterley Harvest: The Private Diary of David Peterley 
edited by Michael Holroyd.
Secker, 286 pp., £8.95, April 1985, 0 436 36715 7
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... to do with the fact that bibliographic crime is not felt to be crime quite in the pound-note-forging, or even Vermeer-forging, sense. Some gentlemanly code of ethics enfolds the activities of Thomas Wise and his fellows. As for purely literary, as opposed to bibliographical forgery, it receives no censure at all. Indeed, it receives rather high esteem. James Crossley, the distinguished 19th ...

From bad to worse

Raymond Fancher

8 March 1990
Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, c.1848-c.1918 
by Daniel Pick.
Cambridge, 275 pp., £27.50, October 1989, 0 521 36021 8
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Health, Race and German Politics between National Unification and Nazism 1870-1945 
by Paul Weindling.
Cambridge, 641 pp., £55, October 1989, 0 521 36381 0
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... More than three centuries ago. Sir ThomasBrowne noted ‘the humour of many heads to extol the days of their forefathers, and declaim against the wickedness of times present’. He added that these nostalgic declaimers seem always to have been ...

At Norwich Castle Museum

Alice Spawls: ‘The Paston Treasure’

13 September 2018
... set out on a Grand Tour that would take in the German states, Italy, Athens, Constantinople and Cairo. He built up a magnificent collection, a ‘world of curiosityes’ according to his cousin Thomas Knyvett, which we know about from inventories and wills, and also from the strange, large painting called The Paston Treasure. Its date and artist are unknown but it was almost certainly painted ...

What We Are Last

Rosemary Hill: Old Age

21 October 2010
Crazy Age: Thoughts on Being Old 
by Jane Miller.
Virago, 247 pp., £14.99, September 2010, 978 1 84408 649 8
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... experience of bad health. ‘Men who look no further than their outsides’ and therefore ‘think health an appurtenance unto life’ have not grasped the fact that sickness is as normal as health, ThomasBrowne wrote in Religio Medici. Given ‘the thousand doors that lead to death’, he concluded grimly, we should be thankful ‘that we can die but once’. In old age even the strongest ...

An English Vice

Bernard Bergonzi

21 February 1985
The Turning Key: Autobiography and the Subjective Impulse since 1800 
by Jerome Hamilton Buckley.
Harvard, 191 pp., £12.75, April 1984, 0 674 91330 2
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The Art of Autobiography in 19th and 20th-Century England 
by A.O.J. Cockshut.
Yale, 222 pp., £10.95, September 1984, 0 300 03235 8
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... the discussion further, in complementary studies of developments since 1800. After a brief backward glance to St Augustine and 17th-century writers of spiritual self-examination like Bunyan and Sir ThomasBrowne, Buckley focuses on the Romantic emergence of what he calls the ‘subjective impulse’, with Rousseau and Wordsworth as the founders of autobiography as we know it, where the interest is in ...
11 November 1999
Marx on Suicide 
edited by Eric Plaut and Kevin Anderson, translated by Gabrielle Edgcomb.
Northwestern, 152 pp., £11.20, May 1999, 0 8101 1632 4
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Suicide in the Middle Ages, Vol I: The Violent Against Themselves 
by Alexander Murray.
Oxford, 510 pp., £30, January 1999, 0 19 820539 2
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A History of Suicide: Voluntary Death in Western Culture 
by Georges Minois, translated by Lydia Cochrane.
Johns Hopkins, 420 pp., £30, December 1998, 0 8018 5919 0
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... and readers of his Death in Paris (1978). The records of suicide caught Peuchet’s eye, and he had a line on it. The line was to defend suicides against the customary condemnation by claiming, like Thomas Hood in ‘The Bridge of Sighs’, that their despair was the effect of a general lack of Christian charity in the field of social relationships. He illustrated this by invoking the oppressive use of ...

Against Whales

Paul Keegan

20 July 1995
The Moon by Whale Light 
by Diane Ackerman.
Phoenix, 260 pp., £6.99, May 1994, 1 85799 087 0
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The Last Panda 
by George Schaller.
Chicago, 292 pp., $13.95, May 1993, 0 226 73629 6
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The Great Ape Project 
edited by Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer.
Fourth Estate, 312 pp., £9.99, June 1993, 1 85702 126 6
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... For Sir ThomasBrowne it was a commonplace that ‘the number of the dead long exceedeth all that shall live.’ But this is no longer necessarily true, as has been pointed out in these pages before now: there may be more ...
20 September 1984
Sir Thomas​ Urquhart: The Jewel 
edited by R.D.S. Jack and R.J. Lyall.
Scottish Academic Press, 252 pp., £8.75, April 1984, 0 7073 0327 3
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... Sir Thomas Urquhart, who is known today, if at all, as the 17th-century translator of part of Rabelais, must have been a most peculiar man. At a guess, he may have had to a preternatural degree that quality of ...

The Method of Drifting

Ian Patterson: John Craske

9 September 2015
Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske 
by Julia Blackburn.
Cape, 344 pp., £25, April 2015, 978 0 224 09776 5
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... connects up in sinister or unseen ways. In Sebald’s case, where the tone is more melancholy than paranoid, less is left out and there are more loose ends. There’s also an explicit debt to ThomasBrowne, and his inclusive curiosity. Threads made me think of Thomas Nashe and his pamphlet ‘Nashe’s Lenten Stuffe’, about Great Yarmouth and the ‘praise of the red herring’. It’s hard to write ...

Wolfing it

Angela Carter

23 July 1987
Honey from a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, the Cyclades and Apulia 
by Patience Gray.
Prospect, 374 pp., £17.50, November 1986, 0 907325 30 0
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A Table in Provence: Classic Recipes from the South of France 
collected and illustrated by Leslie Forbes.
Webb and Bower/Joseph, 160 pp., £12.95, April 1987, 0 86350 130 3
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The Joyce of Cooking: Food and Drink from James Joyce’s Dublin 
by Alison Armstrong, foreword by Anthony Burgess.
Station Hill Press, 252 pp., $18.95, December 1986, 0 930794 85 0
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... eat.’ She describes the harsh life of these Greek islanders without sentimentality, if with a degree of romantic awe, in a prose that will suddenly, effortlessly, fall into the very cadences of Sir ThomasBrowne: ‘In Homer’s time, a King could go out to plough his land and build his bed of giant timbers.’ Her prose is usually ravishing, sometimes breathtaking. The entire section titled ...

Viva la joia

Roy Porter

22 December 1983
Montaigne: Essays in Reading 
edited by Gérard Defaux.
Yale, 308 pp., £8.95, April 1983, 0 300 02977 2
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Montaigne and Melancholy: The Wisdom of the ‘Essays’ 
by M.A. Screech.
Duckworth, 194 pp., £19.50, August 1983, 0 7156 1698 6
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... was no shortage of selves before Montaigne – Christian saints and mystics or Vasari’s artists – just as afterwards solipsists, narcissists and eccentrics were all to abound, from Donne and Sir ThomasBrowne through to Rousseau and Timothy Leary. But so many of them were egomaniacs, self-hating, self-exiled, possessed by daemons. Montaigne, by contrast, taught that the soul should be at home with ...

No High Heels in Paradise

Keith Thomas: John Evelyn’s Elysium Britannicum

19 July 2001
Elysium Britannicum, or the Royal Gardens 
by John Evelyn, edited by John Ingram.
Pennsylvania, 492 pp., £49, December 2000, 0 8122 3536 3
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... extensive discussion of trees and flowers is greatly indebted to the innovations made by Dutch horticulturalists, though he also draws from English authors, like John Parkinson, John Rea and Sir Thomas Hanmer. He describes ‘coronary gardens’ (to produce garlands and wreaths) and ‘philosophico-medical gardens’ (yielding simples and adorned with effigies ‘of the most skillfull & illustrious ...

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