First Issued: March 2004
Reissued: 19 August 2012
Revised (substantive): 23 August 2012
Part I: Editor’s Introduction to Burton’s remarks on the healthful effects of studying arts & sciences
SSORTED passages from Burton’s extraordinary Anatomy of Melancholy which deal explicitly with the psychological effects of scholarship and a habitual practice of arts and sciences are provided here in HTML format. Burton’s comments relate to several core She-philosopher.com themes, and there are multiple references to Burton and his Anatomy of Melancholy throughout the website (e.g., see the In Brief topic on the antipodist bishop and the Gallery Exhibit on the portraiture of Melancholy for more detailed discussion of Burton and his book).
Throughout the early modern period, numerous writers commented on the pleasures of scientific inquiry — e.g., Walter Charleton wrote of “certain Truths ... that ariseth from the comprehension of the most perfect and laborious Demonstration in Geometry” as “delightful” to the mind in a 1654 letter to Margaret Cavendish — but no one described the psychological benefits of nature study in quite the same detail as Robert Burton (1577–1640).
Burton was described by Anthony à Wood in his Athenæ Oxonienses as “an exact Mathematician, a curious calculator of Nativities, a general read Scholar, a thro’-paced Philologist, and one that understood the surveying of Lands well.” In his well-rounded practice of the arts & sciences, Burton was not exceptional, despite his stated concern in The Anatomy of Melancholy that such practices were not as widespread among the gentle classes as he believed necessary for personal and national well-being. Within certain circles, the gentleman-designer flourished. A generation or two before Burton, one Mark Ridley (1560–1624)
... studied physic at Cambridge, and long afterwards recalled how in his university days he had delighted in making dials which not only showed the hour but the entry of the sun into the signs of the zodiac. This hobby was a typical introduction to the mathematical arts. Ridley was a student during the period when the philosophy of the mathematician Ramus was much discussed at the university, and subsequently spent five years in Russia as physician to the Czar, on his return holding office at the College of Physicians. Among his close friends were Edward Wright, then making astronomical observations with Sir Christopher Heydon, and Dr Gilbert, whose work on the lodestone and magnetic needle Ridley followed up. He published a description of his own experiments, paying particular attention to instruments and to methods of determining the magnetic variation at sea. Like most of his circle Ridley was a Copernican, and met William Harlow’s arguments against the earth’s rotation by reference to the recent discovery of Jupiter’s satellites by the “truncke- spectacle” (or telescope), and to new views about the immense distance of the stars which prevented the expected observation of stellar parallax.
(E. G. R. Taylor, The Mathematical Practicioners of Tudor and Stuart England, 183)
And Oliver Lawson Dick, a modern editor of John Aubrey’s Brief Lives, gives a good summary statement of the virtuosi contemporary with and following Burton:
Soldiers, sailors, courtiers, clerics, all devoted themselves to this intoxicating study [mathematics], and many a young man was, like Henry Gellibrand, “good for little a great while, till at last it happened accidentally, that he heard a Geometrie Lecture. He was so taken with it, that immediately he fell to studying it, and quickly made great progresse in it. The fine Diall over Trinity Colledge Library is of his owne doeing.” This “dialling,” however, was so comparatively easy and other tricks so impressive and so common, that Thomas Hobbes felt obliged to issue a warning: “Not every one that brings from beyond seas a new Gin, or other jaunty devise, is therefore a Philosopher,” he said, “for if you reckon that way, not only Apothecaries and Gardiners, but many other sorts of Work-men will put-in for, and get the Prize.” Unabashed, however, some of Aubrey’s friends persisted in their unorthodox ways, like Seth Ward, Bishop of Salisbury, who “when he was President of Trinity College, Oxon, did draw his Geometricall Schemes with black, red, yellow, green and blew inke to avoid the perplexity of A, B, C, etc.”, and William Oughtred, who achieved undying fame with his invention of the multiplication sign, which, he said, “came into my head, as if infused by a Divine Genius.” And the controversies that raged over “Arithmeticall Problemes” reached such a pitch of emotion (particularly when Hobbes thought that he had squared the circle and Dr. Wallis knew that he had not) that poor Aubrey was driven to the conclusion: “sure their Mercuries are in [graphic image of a square] or opposition. Ludolph van Keulen,” who had been “first, by Profession, a Fencing-Master; but becomeing deafe, betooke himselfe to the studie of the Mathematiques wherin he became famous and wrote a learned booke in 4to of the Proportion of the Diameter of a Circle to the Peripherie,” carried the obsession even further, for “on his Monument (according to his last Will) is engraved the Proportion abovesayd.”
(Oliver Lawson Dick, “The Life and Times of John Aubrey,” xxx)
Attuned as it was to the spirit of the age, Burton’s brilliant and witty The Anatomy of Melancholy. What it is, with all the kinds, causes, symptomes, prognostickes & severall cures of it ... (Oxford, 1621) hit a real chord with contemporaries. Five different editions were printed during his lifetime, with multiple posthumous editions thereafter.
Lois Potter has rightly identified Burton as a master of intertextuality in an age when notions of language and learning as a property of the community (not just a few inspired individuals) were encoded in the printed “treasuries” and “commonplaces” and almanacs and other compilations so popular with readers. Burton’s book is certainly in this vein, but as Anthony à Wood recorded,
No Man in his time did surpass him for his ready and dextrous interlarding his common discourses among them with Verses from the Poets or Sentences from classical Authors. Which being then all the fashion in the University, made his Company more acceptable.
Burton’s “dialogic imagination” took hold on succeeding generations as well, and his Anatomy of Melancholy was one of the most influential books of the century, inspiring readers and authors as distinct as
• the bookseller Nathaniel Crouch (c.1640–1725?) — who took on the pseudonym R. B. (for Robert Burton), just as Burton had adopted the pseudonym of Democritus Junior
• the legendary “sometime Governor of Virginia, and Admiral of New England,” Captain John Smith (bap. 1580, d. 1631) — who added the place names Democrites tree and Burtons Mount to the 5th state (issued in 1624) of his map of Virginia. “The latter [Burtons Mount] was most likely in honor of George Burton, who had accompanied [Smith] to Werowocómoco in late December, 1608. The former [Democrites tree] must refer to George’s brother, Robert, author (under the pseudonym ‘Democritus Junior’) of the immortal Anatomy of Melancholy, which had been revised and reprinted in 1624. John Smith seems to have read it in spare moments.” (Barbour, Three Worlds, 375)
• and the 23-year-old London apothecary, Richard Tomlinson (b. 1634?, fl. 1657) — who quoted extensively from Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy in his epistle “To the Reader,” prefaced to Tomlinson’s English translation of Jean de Renou’s Dispensatorium Medicum, entitled A Medicinal Dispensatory ... Composed by the Illustrious Renodæus, Chief Physician to the Monarch of France ... (1st edn., 1657).
Indeed, Tomlinson singled out some of the same passages from Burton’s book that I have digitized here, greatly abbreviating Burton’s text, but retaining the spirit of Burton’s original:
Yet I presume few of you but are affected with a passionate speech, a well penn’d and elegant Poem, or some pleasant and bewitching discourse. We presume (Brethren) that it is an extraordinary delight for you to study, and to swallow down the Ambrosian sweetness of Natures Arcana, let the World taste of the fruits of your labours; fear not the gurmundizing jaws of Zoilus, that with the Mastives of Cyrum, bark against the Moon. What an infinite number of Books offer themselves in all subjects, Arts and Sciences, even to allure your minds to seek complacency in their contemplation? in Arithmetic, Geometry, Perspective, Astronomy, Optick, Architecture, Sculpture, Picture; in Musick, Metaphysick, Natural and Moral Philosophy, Philology, in Mechanicks, and their Mysteries, Military matters, Navigation, riding of Horses, Fencing, Gardning, Hunting, Fishing, Fowling; in Policy, Heraldry, Genealogy, Chronology. What vast Tomes are extant in Law, Physick, and Divinity, for profit, pleasure, speculation, and practice?
Which of you will not be ravished to reade the description of that Geometrical Tower of Garzenda at Bologna? to see the Steeple and Clock at Strasburgh, and will not thence admire the effects of Art? Or that Engine so much talked of by Archimedes, to remove the Earth it self, if he had but a place to fasten his Instrument in.
What greater pleasure, Sirs, can there be to ingenuous persons, than to view those elaborate Maps of Ortelius, Mercator, Hondius, &c. to peruse Bellonius his Observations, Gillius his Surveys, Harvey’s Circulation of the Blood, America set out and cut in Pictures by Fratres-A-Bry; to see a well cut Herbal, Herbs, Trees, Flowers, Plants, all Vegetables, expressed in their proper colours to the life; as that of Matthiolus upon Dioscorides, Delacampius, Lobel, Bauhinus, and that voluminous Herbal of Besler, where every Plant is described to his own bigness; to see all Creatures deciphered by the same art, with an exact description of their names, natures, virtues, and qualities, as hath been accurately performed by Elian, Gesner, &c. and truly the like pleasure there is in all other studies to such as are addicted to them.
(Tomlinson, “To the Reader; but Especially to his Brethren the Apothecaries of London,” A Medicinal Dispensatory, c1r–c1v)
Tomlinson continues on in this vein for several pages, describing his delight in scholarly pursuits, and moving easily (like Burton) between microcosm and macrocosm, while contemplating the many interesting things he has learned from Pliny, Du Bartas, Swan, Purchas, Acosta, Burton (again, quoted several times), and other authors who have written about “Natures Arcana”:
Who can reade over the Elogiums of other mens praises of certain Herbs, and not be amazed at their occult qualities? As Nepenthe, in expelling sadness; Hippuriu, in stenching blood; Nictegretum, or Nyctilops, that shines like a Lamp in the night, and above all other Creatures, scareth the Geese. Collicia turns water into ice; Hemlock meat to Storks, but poyson to Men; Flabia, if cut, sends forth warm blood.
The Herb Achimedis, if it be applyed to any thing locked or bolted, it will presently open it. Who cannot but stand amazed at the Herb Sentida, growing in India, which if any come near unto it, or touch it, or throw any thing upon it, it presently withers, (Purchas Pilgrim lib. 5. c. 12.)
Which of you can give a reason of the diversity of Meteors, that it should rain Stones, Frogs, Mice, and Rats? Who would not but examine the truth of Astronomers reasons, whether the Stars be of that bigness and distance as they relate, 29000 Myriads, as Galilee discovers by his glasses, and some Rabbies stifly maintain? Who would not but know whether the least visible Star in the eighth Sphere, be 18 times bigger than the Earth, and 14000 semidiameters distant from it?
Is it not worth the inquiry (Sirs) whether the Sun be 140 times bigger than the Earth, as Tycho would have it, and the Moon to be lesser than any Star? For he makes Mercury 19 times lesser than the Earth, and the Moon lesser than he 42 times? Who would not but know how the Stars move in the Heavens? Doth one Sphear cut another? Or are there no solid Orbs? Are not the Planets now higher, then lower? Mars sometime lower than the Sun, and anon in Jupiter’s Sphear? Are the Heavens not impenetrable, as some maintain? Or do they differ from the Air we live in?
Are they living Creatures, as some of late do maintain, and endowed with sense and reason, as others would have them? Are the Stars of such a nature and substance that they should stand in need of sustentation, as some judge? Or can they give light no otherwise than as a lamp replenished with Oil? Which is not altogether unconsonant to reason, for the Heavens are subject to change and alteration.
Which of you that would not dive into that main paradox of the Earths Motion? For if the Earth being the center of the World, stand still, and the Heavens move, by what power is the Heavens carried about with such an incommprehensible celerity in 24 hours? which as Clavius calculates, every point of the Firmament must needs move 176650 leagues in one 24th part of an hour.
Who can determine what becomes of Cranes, Cuckoes, Swallows, Nightingales, Storks, Red-starts, that some are seen onely in Summer, some in Winter? do they sleep? or do they lye hid in the bottoms of Lakes and Rivers? or do they follow the Sun, as Peter Martyr believes?
Who is not desirous to know whether Mount Atlas, Athos, Caucasus, Olympus, and Ossa, be so high as Pliny relates, above both Clouds and Meteors 1250 paces high? or as Mazonius calculates them, 78 miles perpendicularly high?
Why doth Africa breed so many venemous Beasts? Ireland none? Athens Owls? Crete none? Why hath Thebes no Martins? Pontus no Asses? Ithaca no Hares? and Scythia no Swine?
Why so many strange Birds found in America alone, as Acosta demands, insomuch that neither Greek, Latine, or Hebrew ever heard of them before? Why are the Spaniards white? and yet the Inhabitants of Caput bonae spei black? and both alike distant from the Equator.
We would also traverse the Thickets of the Woods, and finde out where the Phaenix builds her nest, and where the Unicorn lodges, or whether there be any such Creatures.
We would also post to Lebanus, to see whether there be any Cedars yet growing of Salomon’s planting, as some maintain; and also enquire of the lndians, whether their Territories bear any such a Tree as is called Arbor-de-Rais, which is by some averred to be the Tree of Adam’s transgression, yielding many boughs, which put forth certain threads of a golden colour, which growing downwards to the Earth, there take root again.
We would also dive into the bowels of the Earth, and there see the Generation of Minerals, Fossiles and Metals; and would also know, whether the Mountains of Jamaica afford more Metal than the Valleys of Peru. But whether doth the clue of our thoughts leade us? We have too long roved in the depths of Nocturnus, we profess our selves not to be able to fathom with the Plummet of our Juvenility, these profundities; we leave the determination of these things to stronger Wits, that have better leisure to wade into such Phylosophical mysteries; neither do they tend much to our present purpose.
(Tomlinson, “To the Reader; but Especially to his Brethren the Apothecaries of London,” A Medicinal Dispensatory, 1657, c1v–c3r)
The passage is especially interesting for what it tells us about the didactic concerns of middle-class professionals (in this case, apothecaries) during the 17th century: what they wanted to know, what they set out to learn, and what they chose to read (prints and maps, as well as books).
Moreover, we learn that the sort curiosity about the natural world driving Margaret Cavendish’s published contemplations concerning such matters as whether or not snails have teeth was, after Burton, more mainstream than many of us thought.
In the process of anatomizing what was perhaps the most fashionable disease of his age, Burton made many cogent arguments for incorporating the arts & sciences into one’s daily routine. One must judiciously develop body and mind, he wrote, in moderation:
In a word, body and mind must be exercised, not one, but both, and that in a mediocrity; otherwise it will cause a great inconvenience.
(Anatomy of Melancholy, Pt. 2, 99)
Even then, there were no guarantees that one would escape the clutches of melancholy and lead a happy life. As Aubrey jotted down in one of his biographical mss.:
Memorandum. Mr. Robert Hooke of Gresham College told me that he lay in the chamber in Christ Church that was Mr. Burton’s, of whom ’tis whispered that, non obstante all his astrologie and his booke of Melancholie, he ended his dayes in that chamber by hanging him selfe.
A note on the text
Departing from my usual practice of working directly with texts that were printed in the 17th century, my digital transcription in Part II of this e-publication is from the modern edition of Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, edited and introduced by Holbrook Jackson (1932, rpt. 1977).
Jackson explained his editorial choices as follows:
The fact that no manuscript exists of The Anatomy of Melancholy has placed Burton, like Shakespeare, at the mercy of editors and printers. Burton himself was confessedly careless in the revision of the printed sheets, and preferred in each successive edition to add new matter rather than correct the old. The work thus swelled; and even the first posthumous edition, the sixth, includes a number of additions and corrections which Burton intended to have incorporated himself had he lived. The present text follows the sixth edition, collated with the fifth, which is superior in point of typography. Many egregious misprints, some of which were perpetuated even into the nineteenth century, have been cleared away; but it has been taken into account that numerous errors, especially of quotation, were Burton’s own, and these it would be presumptuous and anachronistic to remove. Considerable use has been made of the edition of the nineteenth century, which commands the most attention: that of the Rev. A. R. Shilleto in 1893. Several emendations to this edition have made by Professor Edward Bensly in the Ninth and Tenth Series of Notes and Queries, and to his understanding of Burton the present editor wishes to make acknowledgment. As in later reprints of The Anatomy since the edition of 1800, the choice of type, punctuation, and spelling in this edition has been in the interest of clarity and agreeableness to a present-day reader. Where it does not interfere with Burton’s own paraphrase, translations have been added to the quotations from Latin and Greek ....
(Holbrook Jackson, xvii)
NOTE: The digital edition of Burton’s text (in Part II) has 34 pop-ups, used for Burton’s annotations, as printed originally in the margin, and 1 editor’s (i.e., Holbrook Jackson) note. This content is not available in an alternative format. To learn more about pop-up technology (and possible display problems with it), visit She-philosopher.com’s “A Note on Site Design” page.
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