The Anatomy of Melancholy "Die To Save Charges"

Robert Burton

"Die To Save Charges"

Context: Some have called this lengthy volume "a literary cosmos, a compendium of everything that caught the fancy of a fine and lusty scholar who lived in an unspecialized age." Science and pseudo-science, history, theology, philosophy, poetry, and politics mingle in this work by a seventeenth century vicar and mathematician whose humor is sly, broad, or earthy by spells. While by his divisions into Partitions, Sections or Paragraphs, Members, and Subsections, he seems to promise a logical development of thought, his continual digressions into any field that comes to his mind make summarization impossible. Partition I begins with a contrast between Adam in Eden and the present-day man who, because of the forbidden fruit, has suffered a universal malady, a melancholy that affects his religion and his knowledge. Burton's idea of this effect of "the humors" is, of course, long out of date, but the mind as a cause of melancholy, the topic of Member 3, is still current. Its twelfth division, Subsection 12, deals with covetousness or miserliness. Burton pictures men as afraid of everything, since anything might impoverish them. They will not spend, for fear of becoming poor, and would hang themselves to avoid poverty, except that ropes cost money. Some even die because of the high cost of remaining well.

. . . They are afraid of . . . thieves, lest they rob them; they are afraid of war and afraid of peace, afraid of rich and afraid of poor; afraid of all. Last of all, they are afraid of want, that they shall die beggars, which makes them lay up still, and dare not use what they have; (what if a dear year comes, or dearth, or some loss?) and were it not that they are loth to lay out money on a rope, they would be hanged forthwith, and sometimes die to save charges, and make away themselves, if their corn and cattle miscarry, though they have abundance left. . . . Valerius makes mention of one that in a famine sold a mouse for 200 pence, and famished himself; such are their cares, griefs, and perpetual fears. . . .