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‘The Best Pillar Of The Order Of Sir Francis’: Thomas Browne, Samuel Hartlib And Communities Of Learning

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Chapter Summary

This chapter explores Thomas Browne's status as a learned authority in the Samuel Hartlib archive, and his unexpected relevance to Hartlib's projects for communities in learning, and more widely to that province of the intellectual commonwealth of the 1640s and 1650s represented by Hartlib and his correspondents. Smith glosses Browne?s eclecticism and syncretism favourably, as a compromise between extremes in the interpretation of nature. Among individuals devoted to the Baconian advancement of learning, ?the best pillar of the order of Sir Francis? is high praise, and positions Browne firmly at the centre of that common endeavour. The exchanges between Browne, Thomas Smith, and Hartlib offer a tantalizing glimpse of mediated contact. It is clear, however, that even if Browne absented himself from the centres of learned exchange, or refused direct participation in their schemes, for Hartlib and his correspondents, Browne was a notable fellow citizen in the commonwealth of learning.

Keywords: communities of learning; Samuel Hartlib; Sir Francis; Thomas Browne



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