The Anatomy of Melancholy "Him That Makes Shoes Go Barefoot Himself"

Robert Burton

"Him That Makes Shoes Go Barefoot Himself"

Context: Robert Burton was an amazing early English writer. Born at Lindley, Leicestershire, he entered Brasenose College, Oxford, at the age of sixteen, and after twenty years got his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Christ College. He remained associated with Oxford University until his death, while, at the same time, filling several positions as a clergyman. In thirty years as a scholar he read widely in a variety of fields, striving to become a universal man. In 1621, seven years after getting his B.D. degree, he published the first edition of what he ironically called The Anatomy of Melancholy, intending in three Partitions or Parts to analyze the causes, species, symptoms, and cure of melancholia. The first edition was published under the pseudonym of "Democritus Junior," but a final "Note to the Reader," dated "At my Study in Christ Church, Oxon., Dec. 5, 1620," revealed the secret by his signature of Robert Burton. Other editions with corrections and additions appeared during his lifetime, the sixth of which, the last published before his death, was dedicated to his patron, Lord George Berkeley, who got him appointed vicar of Segrave, Leicestershire, in 1630. The original Democritus was the greatest of the Greek physical philosophers. He flourished in the late fifth century B.C., and was known as the "Laughing Philosopher." However, in Burton's description he was "a little wearish old man, very melancholic by nature, and much given to solitariness." And so Burton, as "Democritus Junior," "writ of melancholy by being busy to avoid melancholy." For most of his statements, he quotes some classical author, "serving a warmed-over dish," yet the result inspired Milton, Sterne, Thackeray, and Lamb, while Samuel Johnson declared it was the only book capable of forcing him to get out of bed two hours ahead of time to read it. In the book's hundred-page introduction, the author is led from one topic to another, telling anecdotes and quoting classical and modern authors, making it a pleasure to read, but impossible to summarize afterward. In one paragraph, the author looks about him and wonders how the Democritus of twenty-two centuries earlier would react to cruelties of seventeenth century man. He mentions the slaughter of war, and the difference between punishment accorded a poor sheep stealer, hanged for appropriating the property of others, and the honor given a general who robs a whole province. Then in catalog form, Burton lists some of the sights that would disgust the Greek philosopher. To these sights he adds others, giving an earlier form of our current proverb about cobblers' children going shoeless.

To see a servant able to buy out his master, him that carries the mace worth more than the magistrate, which Plato absolutely forbids, Epictetus abhors; . . . him that makes shoes go barefoot himself; . . . a toiling drudge starve, a drone flourish!