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Pseudodoxia Epidemica

Sir Thomas Browne's Pseudodoxia Epidemica first appeared in 1646 and went through no less than six editions, the last revision occurring in 1676. In the preface to his work refuting common errors and superstitions of his age Browne specifically employs the word encyclopaedia. Ranging from the cause of error (in Browne's Christian theology Satan the father of lies is the cause of all error along with Man's own fallen nature), through the time-honoured scale of creation, the learned doctor attempts to dispel errors and fallacies concerning the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms before refuting errors pictorial, of man, geography and astronomy and finally the cosmos.

Although Pseudodoxia has been ridiculed for its own errors, nevertheless it was a valuable source of information and found itself upon the shelves of many English familes in the seventeenth century. Its popularity is confirmed by the fact that it went through six editions.

An important early chapter includes Browne's experiments with static electricity and magnetism (electricity being one of hundreds of words Browne introduced into the English language, too numerous to mention here, but medical, pathology, hallucination, literary, and computer will do for starters).

Throughout this vast work evidence not only of Browne's sly humour can be detected, along with his prodigous learning (his sources included both the ancients Greeks and the latest available writing in scientific spheres), but also his own adherence to the method of empirical experimentation. Many of these experiments are recorded in Vulgar Errors. Browne's encyclopaedic work was in its day in the vanguard of scientific writing and paved the way for popular scientific journalism. A detailed edition of its seven books was published by Oxford University Press edited by H. Robbins in 1986.

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