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The modern visitor to Norwich who has found his way through steep, winding streets or staircased alleys into the most romantic of English market-places is within a stone's throw of the spot in which the famous physician whose tercentenary East Anglia was celebrating lately spent the greater part of his long and fortunate life. A very ordinary house, distinguished, however, with a memorial tablet, occupies the site. The garden, too, with its rareties, which Evelyn, when he visited Browne in 1671, thought paradise,” has long since disappeared. But close at hand towers the great east window of St. Peter Mancroft, the mag. nificent church in which the medicus religiosus worshipped ; and Old Norwich affords not a few glimpses from crowded streets into venerable courtyards with vistas of greenery beyond, which make it easy to imagine the circumstances of his abode.
Although Norwich took the lead in commemorating his birth, he was not, as is often imagined, born there. His father, also a Thomas, came of a stock of Cheshire squires. He was a younger son, and had gone up to London to push his fortune in trade. At the beginning of the century we find him settled in or near Cheapside as a mercer. Here, on October 19, 1605, the author of the Religio Medici was born. Of his early years almost nothing is known, beyond the fact that he passed his schooldays at Winchester, and thence, in 1623, entered as a fellow-commoner at Pembroke (then known as Broadgates Hall), Oxford—the college in which, a hundred years later, his great eighteenth-century devotee, Samuel Johnson, passed fourteen months of proudly
concealed poverty. Browne's means appear to have been at this, as at all other times, ample, and he was able to gratify, as Johnson never could, the varied thirst of an intellect yet more encyclopædic than his, and far more adventurous in the temper of its curiosily. At Oxford, indeed, in those, as in Johnson's and in Shelley's, days a mind of this type found less than no help from the studies of the place. The great naturalists of the Restoration period were infants or unborn; even the “ universally curious" Doctor Wilkins and his like-minded friend, John Evelyn, the diarist, were boys at school; and Francis Bacon had only just sounded, in the Novum Organum, the summons to the methodic interpretation of Nature. Browne, whose sympathetic imagination assimilated so much, never comprehended Bacon ; but he was not untouched by the Baconian ardour of discovery, and it was scientific enthusiasm more than professional ambition which sent the young Oxford graduate abroad in 1630 to pursue the study of medicine and natural history in the three foreign universities—Montpellier, Padua, and Leyden -which were then the focuses of advanced research.
The greater part of the following three years was thus spent. Of the details of his life in France, Italy, and Flanders we have little knowledge ; but the Religio permits us one or two significant glimpses. We see the English Protestant student of medicine as he paces the streets of Montpellier or Padua with a crowd of companions even now, in the very heyday of dogmatic youth, listening, with lifted heart, to the Ave Mary bell, and moved, even to the point of "weeping abundantly,” as some solemn procession passes by, “while my consorts, blind with opposition and prejudice, have fallen into an excess of scorn and laughter.” Or we find him arguing with an Italian physician “who could not believe perfectly the immortality of the soul, because Galen seemed to make a doubt thereof."
These glimpses indicate, in the zealous student who took his doctor's degree at Leyden, a temperament of decided