Sir Thomas Browne

Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) was a Norfolk-based doctor, polymath and author. Herman Melville owned several of Browne’s books and admired his work and his whimsical writing style, which influenced Melville’s own style. Browne wrote about sperm whales in his myth busting book Pseudodoxia Epidemica, Book of Vulgar Errors, (1646) having seen a sperm whale stranded on the coast of Norfolk. Melville mentions Browne in Moby-Dick and quotes from Browne’s Pseudodoxia in Extracts at the beginning of Moby-Dick.   

What spermacetti is, men might justly doubt, since the learned Hosmannus in his work of thirty years, saith plainly, Nescio quid sit.

*I do not know what it is. Textile.

*I do not know what it is. Textile.

 The Latin phrase ‘nescio quid sit’ means ‘I do not know what it is’ I have used this quote alongside some early depictions of whales in the work of the same name.

In the Norfolk Heritage Centre at the Millennium Library, Norwich they hold Browne’s own annotated copies of his works. I have used images of these annotated pages as the basis of a handmade book describing his links to Moby-Dick. The cover is an embroidered and beaded quincunx design which Browne mentions in his book the Garden of Cyrus (1658).

A Brief Contemplation on Sir Thomas Browne. Display of hand made artist's books

A Brief Contemplation on Sir Thomas Browne. Hand made artist’s book