Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In the seventeenth century, ideas and theories, old and new, clamored for attention and consideration; rational thought and science had not yet begun to classify, assimilate, accept, and reject the great mass of learning that had accumulated over the centuries since ancient times. More than that, each scholar attempted, in that age before specialization, to master all human knowledge. Such was the age in which Robert Burton, who styled himself Democritus, Jr., wrote The Anatomy of Melancholy, which in many ways exemplifies the times in which it was written.
Burton was more than an educated man; he gave his life to learning, and much of his vast hoard of erudition found its way into his book. Ostensibly a study on melancholy, his work, before it was finished, absorbed into its pages most of the learning of Burton’s time, either through his examination of everything he could associate with melancholy or through his many digressions.
The Anatomy of Melancholy is difficult to categorize. Its organization is complex, almost incoherent. An outline for each of the three “partitions” of the book, complicated though each is, does not indicate all that Burton manages to cram into the pages. The device seems really to be Burton’s way of following a pseudoscientific convention, a style of his times. Perhaps the best way to categorize the book is to regard it as an informal and heterogeneous collection of essays on human...
(The entire section is 1127 words.)
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