Hydriotaphia/Urn-Burial and The Garden of Cyrus (1658)

Sir Thomas Browne (19 October 1605 – 19 October 1682), an English author of varied works which reveal his wide learning in diverse fields including medicine, religion, science and the esoteric, conceived of these two books as a diptych. The nominal subject of the first book, Hydriotaphia (Urn-Burial), was the discovery of a Roman urn burial in Norfolk which prompts Browne to deliver, first, a careful description of the antiquities found, and then a careful survey of most of the burial and funerary customs, ancient and current, of which his era was aware. The most famous part of the work, though, is the fifth chapter, where Browne quite explicitly turns to discuss man's struggles with mortality, and the uncertainty of his fate and fame in this world and the next, to produce an extended funerary meditation tinged with melancholia. A piece of exquisite baroque prose that George Saintsbury called "the longest piece, perhaps, of absolutely sublime rhetoric to be found in the prose literature of the world," Hydriotaphia displays an astonishing command of English prose rhythm and diction. It has been admired by Charles Lamb, Samuel Johnson, John Cowper Powys, James Joyce, Jorge Luis Borges, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said of it that it "smells in every word of the sepulchre." The Garden of Cyrus is Browne's mystical vision of the interconnection of art, nature and the Universe via numerous symbols including the number five, the quincunx pattern, the figure X and Network pattern. Its slender but compressed pages of imagery, symbolism and associative thought are evidence of Sir Thomas Browne's complete understanding of a fundamental quest of Hermetic philosophy, namely proof of the wisdom of God.

(Note: this text taken from the excellent Wikipedia articles on the two books, see them here and here)

(HTML version of the books can be found here)

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