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10 thoughts on “Hydriotaphia

  1. Warwick Warwick says:

    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 sentenceSome being of the opinion of Thales that water was the originall of all things thought it most euall to submit unto the principle of putrefaction and conclude in a moist relentmentI repeated it excitedly to Hannah and her friend when they got back in fact I was babbling ‘conclude in a moist relentment’ for days but sadly it didn't seem to meet with general approval The whole essay is a masterpiece of this kind of writing – baroue sentences crafted with extreme care and absolute precision guided by a strange and unusual mindIt's essentially a meditation on the inevitability of death which Browne was moved to write after the discovery of some Bronze Age urns in a nearby archaeological dig I know that sounds like the kind of morbid philosophising that's been done a hundred times before and since but it's never been done with such an overpowering air of melancholy intelligence It's never been expressed like this Browne is one of the greatest prose writers the English language has ever known; even for his time and he was a contemporary of Shakespeare he stands out as exceptional For a reader like me who adores rococo clauses full of unusual vocabulary choices this kind of thing is like crack Among the words I learnt from Urne Burial are exility testaceous incrassate exenteration incremable arefaction exsuccous archimime diuturnity and decretory Take me nowThe very brief Note which precedes the essay in this slim Penguin edition says reassuringly ‘Even in his lifetime Browne's allusions and vocabulary must have offered challenges but then as now the rewards are very great’ Hear hear For me this is one of those perfect gems of English literature that you're thrilled to discover and annoyed that no one told you about sooner


  2. Jonathan Jonathan says:

    Best free online version to be found printed and read here course one could also simply purchase his complete workshint hintHe 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 Oblivion is not to be hired The greater part must be content to be as though they had not been to be found in the register of God not in the record of man Twenty seven names make up the first story and the recorded names ever since contain not one living century The number of the dead long exceedeth all that shall live The night of time far surpasseth the day and who knows when was the euinox? Every hour adds unto that current arithmetick which scarce stands one moment And since death must be the Lucina of life and even Pagans6 could doubt whether thus to live were to die; since our longest sun sets at right descensions and makes but winter arches and therefore it cannot be long before we lie down in darkness and have our light in ashes; since the brother of death daily haunts us with dying mementoes and time that grows old in itself bids us hope no long duration; diuturnity is a dream and folly of expectation Darkness and light divide the course of time and oblivion shares with memory a great part even of our living beings; we slightly remember our felicities and the smartest strokes of affliction leave but short smart upon us Sense endureth no extremities and sorrows destroy us or themselves To weep into stones are fables Afflictions induce callosities; miseries are slippery or fall like snow upon us which notwithstanding is no unhappy stupidity 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 into cutting remembrances our sorrows are not kept raw by the edge of repetitions A great part of antiuity contented their hopes of subsistency with a transmigration of their souls a good way to continue their memories while having the advantage of plural successions they could not but act something remarkable in such variety of beings and enjoying the fame of their passed selves make accumulation of glory unto their last durations Others rather than be lost in the uncomfortable night of nothing were content to recede into the common being and make one particle of the public soul of all things which was no than to return into their unknown and divine original again Egyptian ingenuity was unsatisfied contriving their bodies in sweet consistences to attend the return of their souls But all is vanity feeding the wind and folly Egyptian mummies which Cambyses or time hath spared avarice now consumeth Mummy is become merchandise Mizraim cures wounds and Pharaoh is sold for balsams In vain do individuals hope for immortality or any patent from oblivion in preservations below the moon; men have been deceived even in their flatteries above the sun and studied conceits to perpetuate their names in heaven The various cosmography of that part hath already varied the names of contrived constellations; Nimrod is lost in Orion and Osyris in the Dog star While we look for incorruption in the heavens we find that they are but like the earth; durable in their main bodies alterable in their parts; whereof beside comets and new stars perspectives begin to tell tales and the spots that wander about the sun with Phæton's favour would make clear conviction There is nothing strictly immortal but immortality Whatever hath no beginning may be confident of no end; all others have a dependent being and within the reach of destruction; which is the peculiar of that necessary essence that cannot destroy itself; and the highest strain of omnipotency to be so powerfully constituted as not to suffer even from the power of itself But the sufficiency of Christian immortality frustrates all earthly glory and the uality of either state after death makes a folly of posthumous memory God who can only destroy our souls and hath assured our resurrection either of our bodies or names hath directly promised no duration Wherein there is so much of chance that the boldest expectants have found unhappy frustration; and to hold long subsistence seems but a scape in oblivion But man is a noble animal splendid in ashes and pompous in the grave solemnizing nativities and deaths with eual 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 A small fire sufficeth for life great flames seemed too little after death while men vainly affected precious pyres and to burn like Sardanapalus; but the wisdom of funeral laws found the folly of prodigal blazes and reduced undoing fires unto the rule of sober obseuies wherein few could be so mean as not to provide wood pitch a mourner and an urn


  3. Justin Evans Justin Evans says:

    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 ie this is not teenage nihilism unless you're the kind of person who assumes that if a good writer disagrees with you she is obviously being ironic Second it gave me a tiny bit of Sebald at the start I've read one and a half of Sebald's books; one was nothing special the other was utter guff And here we have some guff The difference between Sebald and other writers like him including even some I uite like I'm looking at you Marias and your 'Dark Back of Time' and Browne is that Sir Thomas takes an event in the real world to ponder things of immediate importance to most people here death fame legacy salvation and also consider what previous very smart people have actually said about it A Sebald takes an event in his mind as an opportunity to ponder events that happened to himself and also to make up stuff that could hypothetically have happened but almost certainly did not Browne attending the dissection painted by Rembrandt which can then help him make a point that is either obvious or uninteresting to me I know this is a thing that people do right now look at this coincidence How fascinating Isn't life sad? But if the coincidence probably didn't happened and you're not interested in the 'fascinating' thing eg dissection and you don't think life is sad this kind of essayism has nothing to offer you other than style Conclusion I'd rather read Browne than Sebald


  4. Jim Jim says:

    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 goodnessPious spirits who passed their days in raptures of futurity made little of this world than the world that was before it while they lay obscure in the chaos of pre ordination and night of their fore beings And if any have been so happy as truly to understand Christian annihilation ecstasies exolution liuefaction transformation the kiss of the spouse gustation of God and ingression into the divine shadow they have already had an handsome anticipation of heaven; the glory of the world is surely over and the earth in ashes unto themI cannot help but think that I will return to this work again perhaps several times It is as profound a devotional book as any written by the saints and acknowledged holy men of previous times Happy are they whom privacy makes innocent who deal so with men in this world that they are not afraid to meet them in the next; who when they die make no commotion among the dead and are not touched with that poetical taunt of Isaiah And what is that poetical taunt? They that seek thee shall narrowly look upon thee and consider thee saying Is this the man that made the earth to tremble that did shake kingdoms; That made the world as a wilderness and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners?


  5. Gwern Gwern says:

    I first heard of Browne in Borges as so often in the ending of Tlön Ubar 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 have last seen any literary pyrotechnics to match Browne in English David Foster Wallace sometimes approaches him but beyond that I draw blanks The book defies any simple summary as many passages are cryptic tangles and Browne says many things So I will not try and simply present some passages that struck meHe that lay in a golden Urne eminently above the Earth was not likely to finde the uiet of these bones Many of these Urnes were broke by a vulgar discoverer in hope of inclosed treasure The ashes of Marcellus were lost above ground upon the like account Where profit hath prompted no age hath wanted such miners For which the most barbarous Expilators found the most civill Rhetorick Gold once out of the earth is no due unto it; What was unreasonably committed to the ground is reasonably resumed from it Let Monuments and rich Fabricks not Riches adorn mens ashes The commerce of the living is not to be transferred unto the dead It is not injustice to take that which none complains to lose and no man is wronged where no man is possessorIf the nearnesse of our last necessity brought a nearer conformity unto it there were a happinesse in hoary hairs and no calamity in half senses But the long habit of living indisposeth us for dying; When Avarice makes us the sport of death; When even David grew politickly cruell; and Solomon could hardly be said to be the wisest of men But many are too early old and before the date of age Adversity stretcheth our dayes misery makes Alcmenas nights and time hath no wings unto it But the most tedious being is that which can unwish it self content to be nothing or never to have been which was beyond the male content of Job who cursed not the day of his life but his Nativity; Content to have so farre been as to have a title to future being; Although he had lived here but in an hidden state of life and as it were an abortionNature hath furnished one part of the Earth and man another The treasures of time lie high in Urnes Coynes and Monuments scarce below the roots of some vegetables Time hath endlesse rarities and shows of all varieties; which reveals old things in heaven makes new discoveries in earth and even earth it self a discovery That great Antiuity America lay buried for a thousand years; and a large part of the earth is still in the Urne unto usSome bones make best Skeletons some bodies uick and speediest ashes Who would expect a uick flame from Hydropicall Heraclitus? The poysoned Souldier when his Belly brake put out two pyres in Plutarch But in the plague of Athens one private pyre served two or three Intruders; and the Saracens burnt in large heaps by the King of Castile shewed how little Fuell sufficeth Though the Funerall pyre of Patroclus took up an hundred foot a peece of an old boat burnt Pompey; And if the burthen of Isaac were sufficient for an holocaust a man may carry his owne pyreThe long habit of living indisposeth us for dyingTo be content that times to come should only know there was such a man not caring whether they knew of him was a frigid ambition in Cardan disparaging his horoscopal inclination and judgement of himself who cares to subsist like Hippocrates Patients or Achilles horses in Homer under naked nominations without deserts and noble acts which are the balsame of our memories the Entelecchia and soul of our subsistences To be namelesse in worthy deeds exceeds an infamous history The Canaanitish woman lives happily without a name then Herodias with one And who had not rather have been the good theef then Pilate?But the iniuity of oblivion blindely scattereth her poppy and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity Who can but pity the founder of the Pyramids? Herostratus lives that burnt the Temple of Diana he is almost lost that built it; Time hath spared the Epitaph of Adrians horse confounded that of himself In vain we compute our felicities by the advantage of our good names since bad have euall durations; and Thersites is like to live as long as Agamenon without the favour of the everlasting Register Who knows whether the best of men be known? or whether there be not remarkable persons forgot then any that stand remembred in the known account of time? without the favour of the everlasting Register the first man had been as unknown as the last and Methuselahs long life had been his only ChronicleWhat Song the Syrens sang or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women though puzling uestions are not beyond all conjecture What time the persons of these Ossuaries entred the famous Nations of the dead and slept with Princes and Counsellours might admit a wide resolution But who were the proprietaries of these bones or what bodies these ashes made up were a uestion above Antiuarism Not to be resolved by man nor easily perhaps by spirits except we consult the Provinciall Guardians or tutellary Observators Had they made as good provision for their names as they have done for their Reliues they had not so grosly erred in the art of perpetuation But to subsist in bones and be but Pyramidally extant is a fallacy in duration Vain ashes which in the oblivion of names persons times and sexes have found unto themselves a fruitlesse continuation and only arise unto late posterity as Emblemes of mortall vanities; Antidotes against pride vain glory and madding vices Pagan vain glories which thought the world might last for ever had encouragement for ambition and finding no Atropos unto the immortality of their Names were never dampt with the necessity of oblivion Even old ambitions had the advantage of ours in the attempts of their vain glories who acting early and before the probable Meridian of time have by this time found great accomplishment of their designes whereby the ancient Heroes have already out lasted their Monuments and Mechanicall preservations But in this latter Scene of time we cannot expect such Mummies unto our memories when ambition may fear the Prophecy of Elias and Charles the fifth can never hope to live within two Methusela's of Hector


  6. Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin says:

    I listened to in religio and Hydriotaphia in one audiobook I was not familiar with Thomas Browne until on a lark I decided to listen to this works offered by a certain subscription website's algorithm recommendation Thomas Browne who I would guess is an orthodox Episcopalian has the same eternity intoxication I myself a nominal skeptic have He explores three paths of this intoxication out of which there are many others no doubt in both works History Natural Philosophy and Burial sites History and Burial sites remind us of the long ages that preceded us and dramas recorded are passing at that ruins of times shipwreck remind us of our fleeting lives under the gaze of eternity He also at times mentions the natural philosophy and starry night At the time of writing Newton was not yet born and motions of the planets and stars were not uite understood yet Being an Astronomy buff myself the mystery of these lights in the sky as they move in patterned circles through the night and seasons also makes one think of one's place in time and space and wonder about eternity yet again Browne is erudite at the mystery of things He has many symptoms of intoxication by the infinite Dogmatic arguments aside it is a pleasure to read someone with the same longings for eternityAs a Nature's Classroom teacher I would take kids to a New England graveyard near one of our sites during an all day hike uite often I found that having lunch in a place of historical monuments to people passed got the kids in a contemplative mood about life and eternity In addition the Astronomy club I meet with on occasion has its observatory adjacent to a graveyard Again in terms of thinking about time and space and our place in it this strikes me as appropriate


  7. Graychin Graychin says:

    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 antiuity 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 ancient and contemporary burial customs Browne moves into a general meditation on mortality itself and our ignorance of the next world The book according to scholars is the first half of a diptych completed by one of Browne’s esoteric pieces The Garden of Cyrus which I haven't read yetBrowne's prose never disappoints ”A Dialogue between two Infants in the womb concerning the state of this world might handsomely illustrate our ignorance of the next whereof methinks we yet discourse in Platoes denne and are but Embryon Philosophers” ”But man is a Noble Animal splendid in ashes and pompous in the grave solemnizing Nativities and Deaths with euall lustre nor omitting Ceremonies of bravery in the infamy of his nature”


  8. кай жук кай жук says:

    Fascinating articulation “It is the heaviest stone that melancholy can throw at a man to tell him he is at the end of his nature; or that there is no further state to come unto which this seems progressional and otherwise made in vain Without this accomplishment the natural expectation and desire of such a state were but a fallacy in nature; unsatisfied considerators would uarrel the justice of their constitutions and rest content that Adam had fallen lower; whereby by knowing no other original and deeper ignorance of themselves they might have enjoyed the happiness of inferior creatures who in tranuillity possess their constitutions as having not the apprehension to deplore their own natures and being framed below the circumference of these hopes or cognition of better being the wisdom of God hath necessitated their contentment but the superior ingredient and obscured part of ourselves whereto all present felicities afford no resting contentment will be able at last to tell us we are than our present selves and evacuate such hopes in the fruition of their own accomplishments”


  9. Peter Peter says:

    The ultimate treatise on urns fire burials and what people practised it This books was recommended to me by a close friend you also have to look for the excellent portrait of Sir Thomas with his eyes directly looking at you Incredibly good prose with lots of references to Roman writers like Tibullus You can't put this little book down once you start reading It's a grim subject but the ultimate book on urn burials believe me Absolutely recommended


  10. Kurtbg Kurtbg says:

    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


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Hydriotaphia [Reading] ➶ Hydriotaphia By Thomas Browne – Larringtonlifecoaching.co.uk Urn Burial one of the most influential essays in Western literature is now available as a New Directions Pearl Hydriotaphia or Urn Burial is one of the pinnacles of Renaissance scholarship and without Urn Burial one of the most influential essays in Western literature is now available as a New Directions Pearl Hydriotaphia or Urn Burial is one of the pinnacles of Renaissance scholarship and without doubt one of the great essays in English literature Beginning with observations on the recent discovery of Roman antiuities in the form of burial urns Browne's associative mind wanders to elephant graveyards to pre Christian cremation ceremonies and finally to the idea of Christian burial Browne then explores with a melancholic meditation man's struggles with mortality and the uncertainty of his fate and fame in the living world This edition includes a magisterial discourse on Sir Thomas Browne taken from the first chapter of W G Sebald's The Rings of Saturn.