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Though the writer of the following essays [64] seems to have had the fortune, common among men of letters, of raising little curiosity after his private life, and has, therefore, few memorials preserved of his felicities and misfortunes; yet, because an edition of a posthumous work appears imperfect and neglected, without some account of the author, it was thought necessary to attempt the gratification of that curiosity which naturally inquires by what peculiarities of nature or fortune eminent men have been distinguished, how uncommon attainments have been gained, and what influence learning had on its possessours, or virtue on its teachers.

Sir Thomas Browne was born at London, in the parish of St. Michael in Cheapside, on the 19th of October, 1605 [65]. His father was a merchant, of an ancient family at Upton, in Cheshire. Of the name or family of his mother I find no account.

Of his childhood or youth there is little known, except that he lost his father very early; that he was, according to the common fate of orphans [66], defrauded by one of his guardians; and that he was placed, for his education, at the school of Winchester.

His mother, having taken three thousand pounds [67], as the third part of her husband’s property, left her son, by consequence, six thousand, a large fortune for a man destined to learning, at that time, when commerce had not yet filled the nation with nominal riches. But it happened to him, as to many others, to be made poorer by opulence; for his mother soon married sir Thomas Dutton, probably by the inducement of her fortune; and he was left to the rapacity of his guardian, deprived now of both his parents, and, therefore, helpless, and unprotected.

He was removed in the beginning of the year 1623, from Winchester to Oxford [68], and entered a gentleman-commoner of Broadgate hall, which was soon afterwards endowed, and took the name of Pembroke college, from the earl of Pembroke, then chancellor of the university. He was admitted to the degree of bachelor of arts, January 31, 1626-7; being, as Wood remarks, the first man of eminence graduated from the new college, to which the zeal or gratitude of those that love it most, can wish little better than that it may long proceed as it began.

Having afterwards taken his degree of master of arts, he turned his studies to physick [69], and practised it for some time in Oxfordshire; but soon afterwards, either induced by curiosity, or invited by promises, he quitted his settlement, and accompanied his father-in-law [70], who had some employment in Ireland, in a visitation of the forts and castles, which the state of Ireland then made necessary.

He that has once prevailed on himself to break his connexions of acquaintance, and begin a wandering life, very easily continues it. Ireland had, at that time, very little to offer to the observation of a man of letters; he, therefore, passed into France and Italy [71]; made some stay at Montpellier and Padua, which were then the celebrated schools of physick; and, returning home through Holland, procured himself to be created doctor of physick at Leyden.

When he began his travels, or when be concluded them, there is no certain account; nor do there remain any observations made by him in his passage through those countries which he visited. To consider, therefore, what pleasure or instruction might have been received from the remarks of a man so curious and diligent, would be voluntarily to indulge a painful reflection, and load the imagination with a wish, which, while it is formed, is known to be vain. It is, however, to be lamented, that those who are most capable of improving mankind, very frequently neglect to communicate their knowledge; either because it is more pleasing to gather ideas than to impart them, or because, to minds naturally great, few things appear of so much importance as to deserve the notice of the publick.