around 1590 to Thomas Browne, William Browne matured in England and attended school at Tavistock. He attended Exeter College at Oxford and entered Clifford's Inn, the Inner Temple, in 1611 and graduated with a masters degree in 1624. A scholar, Browne admired and imitated work by Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, and Michael Drayton, particularly their pastoral poetry. Drayton reciprocated the admiration by prefixing some of Browne's verses in his well-known Polyolbion. Browne's own pastorals would later influence the poets John Milton and John Keats; twentieth-century critic W. T. Arnold compared Keats and Browne as both "being before all things an artist" with "the same intense pleasure in a fine line or a fine phrase for its own sake." Mainly known for Britannia's Pastoral, a narrative poem published in three parts in 1613, 1616, and 1852, Browne also collaborated with other poets to produce The Shepherd's Pipe (1614). Drayton added commendatory verses in honor of Britannia's Pastorals, and Keats later included a quotation from Browne's work in the preface of his Epistles. Both admired Browne despite the judgment of some of his contemporaries that Browne's work lacked "invention" and the criticism of later scholars that it lacked narrative power. He also wrote an occasionally anthologized sonnet, "Fairest, When by the Rules."
In addition to his pastorals, Browne wrote epitaphs, his most famous celebrating the countess of Pembroke, Philip Sidney's sister, Mary Sidney:
Underneath this sable hearse Lies the subject of all verse: Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother: Death, ere thou hast slain another Fair and learn'd and good as she, Time shall throw a dart at thee.
That epitaph was originally credited to Ben Jonson, to whom Browne remained devoted. A member of the group popularly known as the Tribe of Ben, the poet received praise from Jonson in a preface to the second edition of Pastorals. Browne worked as a tutor and lived at various times in Oxfordshire and Dorking, although he would be buried in Tavistock. Original copies of his works exist, including a copy of Britannia's Pastoral at the Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto. Browne's better known poems may be easily found at electronic sites.
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