“The House was modelled on the Cabinets of Curiosities of Europe”, Guillermo del Torro tells us as he gives you a brief tour of what he calls ‘Bleak House’, a vast collection of objects strange, wonderful, eerie and horrifying (as befits the director of some of the best and most original horror movies made in our time, Cronos being one of them.) “Each object is meant to try and provoke a shock to the system and get circulating the lifeblood of the imagination, which I think is curiosity.”
Curiosity and imagination were qualities Sir Thomas Browne did not lack, but had in abundance.
In the Bibliotheca Abscondita, his imagination wandered to places and subjects human beings at that time were not yet able to visit or inspect or explore.
To some extent you might say both his imagination and curiosity ran away with him, but the journey he undertakes is still a fascinating and fruitful one. In an era when knowledge, of the scholarly and esoteric variety moved round a relatively closed and restricted circuit, his writings quickly became sought after in Europe.
And in later times (Thomas Browne lived 1605 – 1682), the same flights of fancy, and scientific and technological developments, would gradually lead to the realization of what in the 17th century could only be fantasy and dream.
An example from the Chapter ‘Rarities in Pictures’:
“Large Submarine Pieces, well delineating the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, the Prerie or large Sea-meadow upon the Coast of Provence, the Coral Fishing, the gathering of Sponges, the Mountains, Valleys and Desarts, the Subterraneous Vents and Passages at the bottom of that Sea ; the passage of Kircherus in his Iter Submarinus when he went down about Egypt, and rose again in the Red Sea. Together with a lively Draught of Cola Pesce, or the famous Sicilian Swimmer, diving into the Voragos and broken Rocks by Charybdis, to fetch up the golden Cup, which Frederick, King of Sicily, had purposely thrown into that Sea.”
The etching is by Albrecht Dûrer