London: Noel Douglas, 1927. Octavo, measuring 7 x 4 inches: , 202, . Original publisher’s vellum lettered in gilt, text block uncut. Full-page illustration of Roman funeral urns facing Hydriotaphia title page, decorative headpieces throughout text. Bookseller ticket (Parker & Son, Oxford) to front pastedown, ownership signature of Francis Glynn Connolly, Oxford, dated 1939. Edges and endpapers lightly foxed, vellum toned.
Limited edition of this fine press facsimile, an out-of-sequence copy of one hundred on handmade rag paper, a replica of the 1658 first edition of English physician Thomas Browne’s metaphysical essays, reproduced from the copy in the British Museum. In Hydriotaphia, more commonly known as Urne-Buriall, the excavation of Roman funeral urns in the English countryside inspires Browne’s celebrated meditation on immortality: “The night of time far surpasseth the day, and who knows when was the Aequinox? . . . it cannot be long before we lie down in darknesse, and have our lights in ashes.” In The Garden of Cyrus, Browne plays with the geometrical figure of the quincunx as a way of connecting the divine order to an earthly one. A prose stylist of great originality, Browne’s intricate, wide-ranging essays would become touchstones for generations of writers, including Samuel Johnson, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Lamb, Herman Melville, and Jorge Luis Borges. W.G. Sebald devotes part of The Rings of Saturn to discussion of both Hydriotaphia and The Garden of Cyrus, observing that “Browne’s writing can be held back by the force of gravitation, but when he does succeed in rising higher and higher through the circles of his spiralling prose, borne aloft like a glider on warm currents of air, even today the reader is overcome by a sense of levitation.” A near-fine example of a landmark of English prose.