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Hydriotaphia (Diptych of Discourses #1)

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  184 Ratings  ·  20 Reviews
Throughout history, some books have changed the world. They have transformed the way we see ourselves - and each other. They have inspired debate, dissent, war and revolution. They have enlightened, outraged, provoked and comforted. They have enriched lives - and destroyed them. Now Penguin brings you the works of the great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whos ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published September 10th 2010 by Kessinger Publishing (first published 1658)
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Dec 20, 2012 Warwick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 08, 2013 Jonathan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Nov 03, 2014 Justin Evans rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
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
Nov 19, 2012 Douglas Dalrymple rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 16, 2012 Gwern rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
An interesting treatise on burial from the mid 1600's. The author is obviously affected by finding roman burial urns in europe. Within these urns are personal objects. I believe the author was excited to "find" and touch historical artifacts of those that came before. The short work also includes different approaches to burial.
Mar 25, 2012 Brian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"What Song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzling Questions are not beyond all conjecture."
Oct 25, 2015 dredinol rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: beloved
"Some being of the opinion of Thales, that water was the original of all things, thought it most equal1 to submit unto the principle of putrefaction, and conclude in a moist relentment."

"But the common form with necks was a proper figure, making our last bed like our first; nor much unlike the urns of our nativity while we lay in the nether part of the earth, and inward vault of our microcosm."

"In the Jewish hypogæum and subterranean cell at Rome, was little observable beside the variety of lamp
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
Nov 06, 2014 Northpapers rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Kevin Faulkner
Feb 03, 2016 Kevin Faulkner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Penguin screw-up big-time ! Still severing the 2 Discourses of 1658 from each other against the author's intentions.

The usual random and arbitary selection and taster.

Golden opportunity to publish the entire 1658 diptych Discourses of 1658 lost. When a paper-back edition of Urn-Burial and The Garden of Cyrus occurs it will be a first in 350 years!

Still the easiest access paperback but might as well purchase the vastly more informative major works (Penguin 77) with C.A.Patrides useful introducti
Michael Spring
Sep 03, 2013 Michael Spring rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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?
Apr 14, 2016 Becky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thomas Browne's examination of ancient burial ritual, mortality and natural history is absolutely fascinating. I was especially taken by the section dealing with the navels of Adam and Eve.
rolonewton rated it liked it
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David Connerley Nahm rated it it was amazing
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Jul 22, 2013
Tim Beeker
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May 31, 2015
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Jan 22, 2012
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Dec 30, 2016
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Jul 17, 2013
Feliks rated it it was ok
Jun 23, 2012
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Browne's writings display a deep curiosity towards the natural world, influenced by the scientific revolution of Baconian enquiry. Browne's literary works are permeated by references to Classical and Biblical sources as well as the idiosyncrasies of his own personality. Although often described as suffering from melancholia, his writings are also characterised by wit and subtle humour, while his l ...more
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Other Books in the Series

Diptych of Discourses (2 books)
  • The Garden of Cyrus

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“In the deep discovery of the Subterranean world, a shallow part would satisfy some enquirers;” 0 likes
“But man is a Noble Animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave, solemnizing Nativities and Deaths with equal lustre, nor omitting Ceremonies of bravery, in the infamy of his nature. Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible Sun within us.” 0 likes
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