Thursday, September 16, 2010

Acting Browne (2)


Photo taken during a short break, modeled on the 1905 statue. Feel that melancholia! Far from the madding crowd at Saint John Maddermarket.

Last week-end I made a short contribution to a local heritage event in which free access to a wide variety of institutions, organizations and historical buildings, including churches, was available throughout the City. It's always feels good to don the old costume, recite a chunk of text and get some curiosity, feedback and even a little heckling on the go.

Since 2007 there has been an addition to the statue of Sir Thomas Browne, a set of sculptural pieces by Patrick and Anne Poirier which inter-relate to Browne's life and thought. The best of these is the giant brain and eye, stylishly sculpted in white marble.


Amazingly several of the titles of Browne's literary works, carved upon the sculpture stones are spelled incorrectly ! Why did Norwich City Council entrust without any consultation, a Frenchman, probably using a French edition of Browne's works, to carve and inscribe 17th century English literature titles onto stone? You only had to ask me!

It seems daft and symptomatic of our age, and perhaps an even worse cultural crime than allowing a historical building to crumble, to allow someone such as Sir Thomas Browne with a World-wide, perennial literary status to become a neglected part of the City's cultural heritage. Of course, the intricate pattern and relationship of Anne and Patrick Poirier's black and white set of sculptures was a step in the right direction; whether they actually add to the layman's understanding of Browne is another matter. I prefer not to think what could have been achieved with a less abstract and more concrete project promoting an awareness of Browne as regards the amount of cash the sculptures cost.

The learned physician was of course aware of the futility and vanity in all attempts of perpetuity, fame and remembrance, the oblivion of time triumphing over human memory.

Who knows whether the best of men be known? or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot, then any that stand remembered in the known account to time ? 

- he declaims in Urn-Burial, his saturnine hymn upon the unknowing nature of the human condition.

The product is there in the form of an exemplary, honorable life led by an individual of affable, if ultimately, idiosyncratic and enigmatic personality. There's sufficient historical material for a trail of places associated with Browne to be traipsed by tourists. Of greater import there's a gorgeous, baroque, cornucopia of literary writings, just waiting to be inherited by any inquiring reader, or even, dare I say it, a commercial promoter. Besides, I believe that Browne's writings have a special message for the 21st century, but I am heavily biased!

The civic authorities I phoned never got back to me either to reveal how much Bedford town makes from its association with John Bunyan, but I'm fairly confident that a considerable percentage of Stratford-upon-Avon's fortunes have been built upon its association with Shakespeare over the centuries.

"The trouble with people nowadays, is that they just aren't very curious about life anymore, they take everything far too literally", as one mature lady said at Hay Hill in conversation one Sunday. She recommended Steve Taylor's inspirational book 'Making Time', to me, but I've already had the pleasure of reading it.

It looks as if the bottom corner of the giant block of marble was already badly chipped when at the sculptors studio, before arriving in England.


Giant eye with coloured under-lighting at night. With his love of ancient Egypt and optics and with a sharp eye for the beautiful, Sir T.B would have appreciated this homage to him.

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