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Urne Burial

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  126 ratings  ·  14 reviews
1658. Urn burial, or a discourse of the Sepulchral urns lately found in Norfolk. Together with The Garden of Cyrus, or the Quincuncial, Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the ancients, artificially, naturally, mystically considered. These works are written in Old English text, and due to the age of the originals we reproduced, some pages may be found to be spotty or faded.
Paperback, 128 pages
Published August 25th 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 1658)
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This was the book that got me hooked on Sir Thomas Browne. I bought it at random in 2007 in Bluewater, and sat in the food court waiting for my girlfriend to finish shopping, and I vividly remember how stunned with pleasure I was from reading the following sentence:

Some being of the opinion of Thales, that water was the originall of all things, thought it most equall to submit unto the principle of putrefaction, and conclude in a moist relentment.

I repeated it excitedly to Hannah and her friend
Best free online version to be found, printed and read here:

Of course, one could also simply purchase his complete works...hint hint...

He is, as Mr Gass has pointed out, one of the true high points of English prose. And, on top of that, this text itself is fascinating and, in many ways, deeply moving in its analysis.

He shows us what this rude, crude and battered language was once capable of.

And, simply to share and wallow in beauty, there is this:

Justin Evans
This little book does double duty: first, it gives me a pocket-sized bit of Browne to carry around should I ever need to ponder death, fame, legacy and salvation. Of this I have little to say, except that it's just as good as people say stylistically, and a bit better than they say in content (i.e., this is not teenage nihilism), unless you're the kind of person who assumes that if a good writer disagrees with you, s/he is obviously being ironic.

Second, it gave me a tiny bit of Sebald at the st
I am still stunned after having read this magnificent essay. It begins slowly as a scholarly discussion of funeral customs of the ancients and, in its culminating chapter, is as profound as Ecclesiastes in denouncing the vanity of wanting to leave behind towering monuments to our former selves. Never in all my days of reading have I seen such deep scholarship wedded to such humility and an overwhelming sense of goodness:
Pious spirits who passed their days in raptures of futurity, made little mor
Douglas Dalrymple
I wonder why we modernize Shakespeare’s spelling, and Marlowe’s and Ben Jonson’s, and the King James Bible’s spelling too, but always leave Thomas Browne’s intact? Reading Browne as-is, we hold him at a distance from ourselves: he’s like us in his concerns and interests, maybe, but we want the reminder of his antiquity.

In Urne-Buriall, Browne has a 100-page-long Yorick-I-knew-thee moment inspired by the recovery of old burial urns, possibly Roman era, dug up in a field. After a catalog of ancie
I first heard of Browne in Borges - as so often - in the ending of "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" where the narrator is attempting to translate it into Spanish. Borges is always interested in translation (see for example his fantastic essay on translating the 1001 Nights) and I made a note to look up this work which presented such challenges for rendering into Spanish. (The actual edition I used was James Eason's online edition.)

Urn Burial is hugely archaic, but also amazing. I am not sure where I
I borrowed a copy of this from a friend who got a year's subscription to New Directions Pearls. He loaned it to me because he received a few others that looked more exciting to him. I hadn't heard of Sir Thomas Browne before, so I had no way of knowing how rich, rewarding, and unprecedented this essay would be.

Browne uses the discovery of several urns in a field to muse about the entire history of human burial rites before moving to deep and profound observations about human vanity and mortality
Ana Rînceanu
So death/burial is the topic at hand in this essay but the writing is so good and infused with historical facts that it makes for an interesting read. Thomas Browne presents an analysis on how this habit of burning ones dead based on the customs of various European nations. But he uses this kind of prose:

To be ignorant of evils to come, and forgetful of evils past, is a merciful provision in nature, whereby we digest the mixture of our few and evil days, and, our delivered senses not relapsing i
Definitely some of the best prose in the English language. The first four chapters, which reflect on recently discovered burial urns and the funerary customs of the ancients, are really nice, but the fifth chapter is absolutely sublime. I disagree with Browne's opinion that ancient ways of wishing to be remembered in history are "pagan vain-glories," but the language is too artful to even care about his philosophical positions. He did not write this to be a philosophical work, but rather as a ba ...more
Michael Spring
Supremely ironic with the WG Sebald extract to front it. (No one knows where their bones will lie, and then Browne's skull is dug up, put in a museum, lost and found...). A melancholy reflection from one of the first dilettante archeologists about death and ritual, in the end a profound investigation into the human condition and mortality.
Bess Lovejoy
It's a struggle, but worth reading for some beautiful lines. One classic: "But who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? Who hath the Oracle of his ashes, or whether they are to be scattered?"
Natalie Raymond
An interesting read, certainly for anyone also reading Sebald. Though, the non-modern spellings slowed me down quite a bit. We modernise Shakespeare, why not Browne as well?
"What Song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzling Questions are not beyond all conjecture."
Weird. Why did I read this?
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After graduating M.A. from Broadgates Hall, Oxford (1629), he studied medicine privately and worked as an assistant to an Oxford doctor. He then attended the Universities of Montpellier and Padua, and in 1633 he was graduated M.D. at Leiden. Browne's medical education in Europe also earned him incorporation as M.D. from Oxford, and in 1637 he moved to Norwich, where he lived and practiced medicine ...more
More about Thomas Browne...
The Major Works (Penguin Classics) Religio Medici Religio Medici & Urne-Buriall Sir Thomas Browne's Hydriotaphia and the Garden of Cyrus Pseudodoxia Epidemica: Or, Enquiries into Commonly Presumed Truths (Oxford English Texts)

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