The Anatomy of Melancholy.

By Robert Burton

Printed: 2005

Publisher: The Folio Society. London

Dimensions 18 × 25 × 13 cm
Language

Language: English

Size (cminches): 18 x 25 x 13

£92.00
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Item information

Description

In a matching fitted box. Black cloth spine with gilt title and decoration. Green and red marbled boards.

F.B.A. provides an in-depth photographic presentation of this item to stimulate your feeling and touch. More traditional book descriptions are immediately available

A very fine collectable edition

The Anatomy of Melancholy (full title: The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, Opened and Cut Up) is a book by Robert Burton, first published in 1621, but republished five more times over the next seventeen years with massive alterations and expansions.

On its surface, the book is presented as a medical textbook in which Burton applies his vast and varied learning, in the scholastic manner, to the subject of melancholia (or clinical depression). Although presented as a medical text, The Anatomy of Melancholy is as much a sui generis (unique) work of literature as it is a scientific or philosophical text, as Burton covers far more than the nomitive subject. Anatomy uses melancholy as a lens through which all human emotion and thought may be scrutinized, and virtually the entire contents of a 17th-century library are marshalled into service of this goal. It is encyclopaedic in its range and reference.

In his satirical preface to the reader, Burton’s persona and pseudonym “Democritus Junior” explains, “I write of melancholy by being busy to avoid melancholy.” This is characteristic of the author’s style, which often supersedes the book’s strengths as a medical text or historical document as its main source of appeal to admirers. Both satirical and serious in tone, the Anatomy is “vitalized by (Burton’s) pervading humour”, and Burton’s digressive and inclusive style, often verging on a stream of consciousness, consistently informs and animates the text. In addition to the author’s techniques, the Anatomys vast breadth – addressing topics such as digestion, goblins, the geography of America, and others – make it a valuable contribution to multiple disciplines.

Burton defined his subject as:

Melancholy, the subject of our present discourse, is either in disposition or in habit. In disposition, is that transitory Melancholy which goes and comes upon every small occasion of sorrow, need, sickness, trouble, fear, grief, passion, or perturbation of the mind, any manner of care, discontent, or thought, which causes anguish, dullness, heaviness and vexation of spirit, any ways opposite to pleasure, mirth, joy, delight, causing forwardness in us, or a dislike. In which equivocal and improper sense, we call him melancholy, that is dull, sad, sour, lumpish, ill-disposed, solitary, any way moved, or displeased. And from these melancholy dispositions no man living is free, no Stoic, none so wise, none so happy, none so patient, so generous, so godly, so divine, that can vindicate himself; so well-composed, but more or less, some time or other, he feels the smart of it. Melancholy in this sense is the character of Mortality… This Melancholy of which we are to treat, is a habit, a serious ailment, a settled humour, as Aurelianus and others call it, not errant, but fixed: and as it was long increasing, so, now being (pleasant or painful) grown to a habit, it will hardly be removed.

In expounding on his subject, Burton drew from nearly every science of his day, including psychology and physiology, but also astronomy, meteorology, theology, and even astrology and demonology.

Much of the book quotes ancient and medieval medical authorities, beginning with Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen. Hence the Anatomy is filled with more or less pertinent references to the works of others. A competent Latinist, Burton included a great deal of Latin poetry in the Anatomy, much of it from ancient sources left untranslated.

The Anatomy of Melancholy is especially lengthy, the first edition being a single quarto volume nearly 900 pages long; subsequent editions were even longer. The text has three major sections plus an introduction, written in Burton’s sprawling style. Characteristically, the introduction includes not only an author’s note (titled “Democritus Junior to the Reader”), but also a Latin poem (“Democritus Junior to His Book”), a warning to “The Reader Who Employs His Leisure Ill”, an abstract of the following text, and another poem explaining the frontispiece. The following three sections proceed in a similarly exhaustive fashion: the first section focuses on the causes and symptoms of “common” melancholies, the second section deals with cures for melancholy, and the third section explores more complex and esoteric melancholies, including the melancholy of lovers and all manner of religious melancholies. The Anatomy concludes with an extensive index (which The New York Times Book Review called “a readerly pleasure in itself”). Most modern editions add explanatory notes and translate most of the Latin.

Robert Burton (8 February 1577 – 25 January 1640) was an English author and fellow of Oxford University, who wrote the encyclopaedic tome The Anatomy of Melancholy. Born in 1577 to a comfortably well-off family of the landed gentry, Burton attended two grammar schools and matriculated into Brasenose College, Oxford in 1593, age 15. Burton’s education at Oxford was unusually lengthy, possibly drawn out by an affliction of melancholy, and saw an early transfer to Christ Church. Burton received an MA and BD, and by 1607 was qualified as a tutor. As early as 1603, Burton indulged his early literary creations at Oxford, including some Latin poems, a now-lost play performed before and panned by King James I himself, and his only surviving play: an academic satire called Philosophaster. This work, though less well regarded than Burton’s masterpiece, has “received more attention than most of the other surviving examples of university drama”.

Sometime after obtaining his MA in 1605, Burton made some attempts to leave the university. Though he never fully succeeded, he managed to obtain the living of St Thomas the Martyr’s Church, Oxford through the university, and external patronage for the benefice of Walesby and the rectorship of Seagrave. As a fellow of Oxford, he served in many minor administrative roles and as the librarian of Christ Church Library, from 1624 until his death. Over time he came to accept his “sequestered” existence in the libraries of Oxford, speaking highly of his alma mater throughout the Anatomy.

Burton’s most famous work and greatest achievement was The Anatomy of Melancholy. First published in 1621, it was reprinted with additions from Burton no fewer than five times. A digressive and labyrinthine work, Burton wrote as much to alleviate his own melancholy as to help others. The final edition totalled more than 500,000 words. The book is permeated by quotations from and paraphrases of many authorities, both classical and contemporary, the culmination of a lifetime of erudition.

Burton died in 1640. His large personal library was divided between the Bodleian and Christ Church. The Anatomy was perused and plagiarised by many authors during his lifetime and after his death but entered a lull in popularity through the 18th century. It was only the revelation of Laurence Sterne’s plagiarism that revived interest in Burton’s work into the 19th century, especially among the Romantics. The Anatomy received more academic attention in the 20th and 21st centuries. Whatever his popularity, Burton has always attracted distinguished readers, including Samuel Johnson, Benjamin Franklin, John Keats, William Osler, and Samuel Beckett.

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