The Anatomy of Melancholy
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
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, Historically, Opened and Cut up.) is a book by Robert Burton, first published in 1621.
Burton wrote The Anatomy of Melancholy largely to write himself out of being a lifelong sufferer from depression. As he described his condition in the preface "Democritus Junior to the Reader,"
- "for I had gravidum cor, foetum caput [a heavy heart, and hatchling in my head], a kind of imposthume in my head, which I was very desirous to be unladen of."
Therefore, the treatise itself was intended as treatment. Again, from the preface:
- "I write of melancholy, by being busy to avoid melancholy. There is no greater cause of melancholy than idleness, no better cure than business."
However, this sentence may also be interpreted ironically, as Burton is citing a well-known adage of the time. Indeed, the entire preface is quite satirical in nature — at one point Burton pretends to warn melancholy people to avoid his book for fear of exacerbating their symptoms:
- "Yet one caution let me give by the way to my present or future reader, who is actually melancholy, that he read not the symptoms or prognostics in the following tract, lest by applying that which he reads to himself, aggravating, appropriating things generally spoken to his own person (as melancholy men for the most part do), he trouble or hurt himself, and get in conclusion more harm than good."
The parenthetical aside is delightfully tongue-in-cheek.
- "the author's variety of learning, his quotations from rare and curious books, his pedantry sparkling with rude wit and shapeless elegance ... have rendered it a repertory of amusement and information".
Later authors sometimes drew from the work without acknowledgment (such accusations were leveled at Laurence Sterne's book Tristram Shandy). Samuel Johnson considered it one of his favorite books. (He said of it that it "was the only book that ever took him out of bed two hours sooner than he wished to rise".) [Boswell, Life of Johnson]. Apart from The Anatomy of Melancholy Burton's only other published work is Philosophaster, a satirical Latin comedy.