Robert Burton 1577-1640
(Also wrote under the pseudonym Democritus Junior) English essayist, poet, and playwright.
Burton is remembered primarily for The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), a voluminous treatise which examines the various causes of, and treatments for, melancholy. The work was immensely popular with seventeenth-century readers: Burton personally revised five editions, and a sixth was published posthumously. Drawing upon some 1300 sources from the Classical to the Renaissance periods to elucidate his subject, Burton's encyclopedic observations on the affliction of melancholy range from the absurdly humorous to the sublime. In the process, he created an enduring monument to Renaissance learning as well as a wellspring of inspiration for future literary figures. “Never was there such a pawn-shop for poets to borrow from as the Anatomy of Melancholy,” declared Oliver Wendell Holmes. Indeed, authors pious as John Milton, crude as Tobias Smollett, and satirical as Jonathan Swift did Burton the honor of “plundering” his Anatomy of Melancholy.
Burton was born on February 8, 1577, in Leicestershire, England, the fourth of Ralph and Dorothy Faunt Burton's nine children. Anthony à Wood, in his biographies of Oxford attendees, describes the Burtons as “an ancient and genteel family.” Burton attended grammar school in Warwickshire, and at sixteen went to Brasenose College, Oxford, where he studied philosophy and logic as a commoner (one who paid his own board). In 1599 he was elected to be a student of Christ Church, Oxford, where he would live for the rest of his life. Burton was slow to finish his bachelor's degree, taking nine years after starting at Brasenose, and some scholars attribute this delay to his own affliction with melancholy. He went on to pursue his Master of Arts, finishing in June 1605, and his Bachelor of Divinity, which he earned in 1614. After finishing his B. D., Burton was appointed the Clerk of the Market of Oxford, a post which involved checking the freshness of food to be sold in Oxford markets. By 1616, he had earned the vicarage of St. Thomas the Martyr, Oxford. During this time, Burton wrote a Latin play entitled Philosophaster (1617), which was performed during Shrovetide. Burton's celebrity was established with the publication of The Anatomy of Melancholy in 1621, and he devoted much of his intellectual acumen to guiding the work through several substantial revisions throughout the remainder of his life. In his later years, Burton continued to receive lucrative preferments. In 1624 he received the living of Walesby in Lincolnshire from the Dowager Countess of Exeter; two years later, he was named librarian of Christ Church library. Around 1631, Burton resigned his living in Walesby and accepted the post of rector of Seagrave, Leicestershire, from George, Lord Berkeley, who may have been Burton's student at Christ Church. In a life devoted to erudition, Burton was accounted by many as studious, serious, and widely read, which supports his claim in The Anatomy of Melancholy that he “liv'd a silent, sedentary, solitary, private life.” As his magnum opus also indicates, he was well educated in religion and the sciences, taking special interest in mathematics, philology, geography, astronomy, and astrology. Burton died in his chamber at Christ Church on January 25, 1640.
The enduring reputation of The Anatomy of Melancholy occurs not only from its wide readership in Burton's lifetime, but also from the select elite who claimed it as an important influence, including Samuel Johnson, Lawrence Sterne, Charles Lamb, Lord Byron, and John Keats. Burton's avowed subject is melancholy, what might now be considered depression, but his extensive reading and devotion to scholarship expand the work to cover science, religion, philosophy and history as well. The work is preceded by a satiric preface entitled “Democritus Junior to the Reader” which is perhaps the most widely read section of the treatise in modern times. The preface includes Burton's utopia, the first originally written in English, in which he addresses marriage, primogeniture, war, and the essential imperfections of human nature. Overall, The Anatomy of Melancholy is comprised of three sections, or “Partitions”: causes and symptoms of melancholy; cures for melancholy; and “love-melancholy,” which also includes a substantial discussion of religious melancholy. The partitions are divided further into “Sections,” “Members,” and “Sub-Sections,” and each begins with a “Synopsis.” Despite the apparent attention to order, the structure of the treatise is marked by Burton's frequent digressions, a stylistic device considered by many scholars to reflect either the chaos of melancholy itself or, less often, Burton's lack of control as an author. The text is also comprised of thousands of quotations from authors both acknowledged and unacknowledged. Burton's task as the author of an anatomy was not to present his own findings but to present a thorough compilation of information on his subject, not unlike the chronicle historians of the late sixteenth century. Similarly, The Anatomy of Melancholy offers no coherent description of the disorder it seeks to analyze—that was not the role of the anatomist. As the earliest work of English psychology, the The Anatomy of Melancholy dissects the subject of melancholy and leaves it to the reader to draw conclusions. Moreover, many critics have suggested, the process of anatomizing itself—the cataloguing, the displays of erudition, the extremity of detail—was likely at least as important to both author and reader as a neat summation of the topic of melancholy.
One of the most popular English books of the seventeenth century, The Anatomy of Melancholy has become the object of academic interest in modern times due to its influence on several prominent men of letters in the centuries following its publication. Johnson, who recommended the The Anatomy of Melancholy to many of his friends, including his famous biographer James Boswell, also relied on Burton as a resource for his Dictionary of the English Language (1755). Many authors, including Sterne, Keats, and Byron, best demonstrated their admiration for the work by borrowing from it for their own writings; Wood reports that “gentlemen who have lost their time and are put to a push for invention may furnish themselves with matter for common or scholastical discourse and writing. Several authors have unmercifully stolen matter from the said book without any acknowledgement.” Modern literary scholars were slow to develop an interest in Burton, focusing more often on either his own sources or his function as a source for other writers. As critics took a more serious interest in the application psychology and psychiatry to the study of literature, The Anatomy of Melancholy gained ascendancy. The late 1960s and early 1970s ushered in a new era in Burton scholarship when Joan Webber and Stanley E. Fish published landmark studies on Burton's use of prose and persona, inspiring further questions about the genre of the work, the function of the digressions, and the reliability of the narrator. Expanding on these influential analyses, later critics have suggested that the work is best read as, variously, a sermon, an attack on religious dissenters, and the basis of a new theory of knowledge. The breadth and variety of the work appears to support several positions: E. Patricia Vicari suggests that the style of the work derives from an oral tradition, while James S. Tillman, who views the work as a satire, emphasizes the work's neoclassicism. Both Devon L. Hodges and Jonathan Sawday depict Burton as uneasily straddling a divide between the humanist science of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and the physical, experimental science ushered in by The Royal Society in the late seventeenth century. The scope of The Anatomy of Melancholy has also permitted a variety of studies attempting to articulate Renaissance views on topics other than psychology such as cartography, morality, and homosexuality.
Philosophaster, Comoedia, nunc primum, in lucem producta. Poemata, antehac sparsim edita, nunc in unum collecta (play) 1617
The Anatomy Of Melancholy, What It Is. With All The Kinds, Cavses, Symptomes, Prognostickes, And Seuerall Cvres Of It. In Three Maine Partitions with their seuerall Sections, Members, and Svbsections. Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, Opened and Cvt Vp. With a Satyricall Preface, conducing to the following Discourse [as Democritus Junior] (nonfiction) 1621; revised editions 1624, 1628, 1632, 1638, 1651
The Anatomy of Melancholy, by Robert Burton, Now for the First Time with the Latin completely Given in Translation and Embodied in an All-English Text. 2 vols. (nonfiction) 1927
Robert Burton's Philosophaster: With an English translation of the Same, Together with His Other Minor Writings in Prose and Verse (play, poetry, and prose) 1931
The Anatomy of Melancholy. 3 vols. (nonfiction) 1932
The Anatomy of Melancholy. 5 vols. (nonfiction) 1989-2000
Philosophaster (play) 1993
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SOURCE: Boswell, James. In Boswell: The Ominous Years, 1774-1776, edited by Charles Ryskamp and Frederick A. Pottle, pp. 276-77. 1931. Reprint. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963.
[In this excerpt originally recorded in his journal in 1776, Boswell relates an anecdote which demonstrates the value that Samuel Johnson placed upon The Anatomy of Melancholy.]
Either this night or the one after he spoke to me of the melancholy to which I am subject, said that I had a very ticklish mind, and that I must divert distressing thoughts, and not combat with them. “Remember always,” said he, “———.”1 I said I sometimes tried to think them down. He said I was wrong. He bid me have a lamp burning in my bedchamber, and take a book and read and so compose myself to rest. This I supposed was his own method. But I told him I seldom waked in the night. When I do at home, my excellent spouse consoles me with easy, sensible talk. He said to have the management of one's mind was a great art, and that it might be attained in a considerable degree by experience and habitual exercise. His sage counsel I treasured up. He commended Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy and said there was great spirit and great power in what Burton said when he wrote from his own mind. I fancied tonight that I was prepared by my revered friend for conducting myself through any future gloom.
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SOURCE: Thrale, Hester Lynch. In Thraliana: The Diary of Mrs. Hester Lynch Thrale (Later Mrs. Piozzi), 1776-1809, edited by Katharine C. Balderston, Vol. 1, pp. 536-37. 1942. Reprint. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951.
[In the following excerpt, Thrale acknowledges the widespread influence of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy on English literature.]
What a strange Book is Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy! & how it has been plunder'd! Milton took his Allegro and Penseroso from the Verses at the beginning,1 Savage his Speech of Suicide in the Wanderer2 from Page 216. Swift his Tale of the Woman that held water in her Mouth to regain her Husband's Love by Silence—'tis printed in the Tatler;3 Johnson got his Story of the Magnet that detects unchaste Wives4 from the same Farrago, & even Shakespear I believe the Trick put on the Tinker Christopher Sly in the taming of the Shrew.5 See page 277. of Burton.6
‘The Author's Abstract of Melancholy’, at the beginning of the Anatomy, has the alternating refrain, ‘All my joys to this are folly / Naught so sweet as Melancholy’; and ‘All my griefs to this are jolly / Naught so sad as Melancholy’.
Canto 2, ll. 193 ff. The corresponding section in Burton is Pt....
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SOURCE: Gordon, George, Lord Byron. The Life, Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, edited by Thomas Moore, p. 48. 1920. Reprint. Detroit: Scholarly Press, 1972.
[In the excerpt below from a list of his lifetime of reading, Byron recommends Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy as a seminal English-language work.]
I have also read (to my regret at present) above four thousand novels, including the works of Cervantes, Fielding, Smollet, Richardson, Mackenzie, Sterne, Rabelais, and Rousseau, & c. & c. The book, in my opinion, most useful to a man who wishes to acquire the reputation of being well read, with the least trouble, is Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, the most amusing and instructive medley of quotations and classical anecdotes I ever perused. But a superficial reader must take care, or his intricacies will bewilder him. If, however, he has patience to go through his volumes, he will be more improved for literary conversation than by the perusal of any twenty other works with which I am acquainted,—at least in the English language.
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SOURCE: Holmes, Oliver Wendell. “Pillow-Smoothing Authors, With a Prelude on Night-Caps, and Comments on an Old Writer.” The Atlantic Monthly LI, No. cccvi (April 1883): 457-64.
[In the following essay, Holmes discusses the influence of The Anatomy of Melancholy on English literature and comments on the massive breadth of the treatise.]
Cotton Mather says of our famous and excellent John Cotton, “the Father and Glory of Boston,” as he calls him, that, “being asked why in his Latter Days he indulged Nocturnal Studies more than formerly, he pleasantly replied, Because I love to sweeten my mouth with a piece of Calvin before I go to sleep.” Hot in the mouth, rather than sweet, we of to-day might think his piece of Calvin; but as a good many “night-caps” are both hot and sweet as well as strong, we need not quarrel with the worthy minister who has been with the angels for more than two hundred years.
It is a matter of no little importance that the mind should be in a fitting condition for sleep when we take to our pillows. The material “thought-stopper,” as Willis called it, in the shape of alcoholic drinks of every grade, from beer to brandy, has penalties and dangers I need not refer to. Still greater is the risk of having recourse to opium and similar drugs. I remember the case of one who, being fond of coffee, and in the habit of taking it...
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SOURCE: Colie, Rosalie L. “Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy and the Structure of Paradox.” In Paradoxica Epidemica: The Renaissance Tradition of Paradox, pp. 430-60. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1966.
[In the essay below, Colie argues that The Anatomy of Melancholy is deliberately paradoxical in many ways, including its contradictory subject matter, its conflicting genres, and its juxtaposition of opposites. Burton's “fragmenting of the categories of phenomena” in this manner, and his “identification of cause, symptom, and cure,” she maintains, universalizes melancholy “into the whole condition of humanity.”]
Who can but pity the mercifull intention of those hands that doe destroy themselves?
Browne, Religio Medici, I. 53
Jonathan Swift is the culprit responsible for the vulgar error that Burton's Anatomy is an amorphous literary creation, an infinite digression upon an infinity of subjects. Actually, the paradox can be defended, not only that the book is composed of very carefully constructed parts, but also that the parts are disposed in the decorum suitable to Burton's material. To begin with the most obvious element of all, Burton's material was by medical and philosophical tradition contradictory—“The Author's Abstract of Melancholy” asserts in its stilted measure...
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SOURCE: Webber, Joan. “Robert Burton: The Anatomy of Democritus, Jr.” In The Eloquent “I”: Style and Self in Seventeenth-Century Prose, pp. 80-114. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968.
[In the essay below, Webber discusses how the “I” persona of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy combines the two distinct modes of life and art by manipulating the reader through an anecdotal and gossip-oriented analysis of sources rather than through a methodical investigation of the facts.]
We have seen in Donne the Anglican's persistent effort to turn life into art and to find in art among other things a means to anticipate one's own death and look back upon his life. The same dizzying confusion of one mode of being with another occurs in the life and work of Robert Burton, onetime fellow of Christ Church, Oxford, and author of that huge 842-page folio volume, The Anatomy of Melancholy.1 The epitaph which he composed for himself, and which is inscribed upon his bust in Christ Church Chapel, reads as follows: “Paucis notus, paucioribus ignotus, hic jacet Democritus Junior, cui vitam dedit et mortem Melancholia.”2
If Democritus Junior is a made-up character, the persona in whose name Burton wrote the Anatomy of Melancholy, then this epitaph is nonsense. A fictitious character does not die just because his author does. But if Burton is...
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Lyons, Bridget Gellert. “The Anatomy of Melancholy as Literature.” In Voices of Melancholy: Studies in literary treatments of melancholy in Renaissance England, pp. 113-48. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1971.
[In the excerpt below, Lyons examines the relations of Burton's work to other literary and expository works on melancholy and asserts that “one of the main achievements of the Anatomy as a work of literature is to portray the melancholy mind in action, even while it is occupied with melancholy as a formal subject.”]
BURTON AND ENGLISH LITERATURE
The most ambitious literary treatment of melancholy in the seventeenth century was The Anatomy of Melancholy, Burton's life's work, which first appeared in 1621 and which he revised continually until his death in 1640. The constant, obsessive revisions of this long work give us one important clue about it: it is highly contrived, and, in its author's eyes, a work of art of very large scope indeed. All of Burton's derogatory remarks about the carelessness of his writing and the raggedness of his form must therefore be interpreted as defining and characterizing the personality that he displays for us in the Anatomy, a highly artificial personality, as all are, because style makes the man: ‘our style bewrays us’ (I, 27).1
Though Burton makes melancholy his subject and his...
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SOURCE: Fish, Stanley E. “Thou Thyself Art the Subject of My Discourse: Democritus Jr. to the Reader.” In Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-Century Literature, pp. 322-52. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972.
[In the following essay, Fish detects a unity of style and substance in Burton's frequent digressions and shifts of subject in The Anatomy of Melancholy.]
I REFER IT TO YOU
The reader who manages to make his way through the preface to Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy may be excused if he is unable to take its concluding sentences at face value:
but I presume of thy good favour, and gracious acceptance (gentle reader). Out of an assured hope and confidence therof, I will begin.
It is not simply that, given the treatment he has received, “gentle reader” is mockingly ironic, but that the same reader knows (if he knows anything at this point) that the promise Burton makes here will not be kept. The key word is “confidence.” The conventional rhetoric implies the existence of a mutual and interrelated confidence in the speaker, in the reader, in the tractability of the material they confront, and in the possibility of carrying through with the proposed task. But it is precisely these confidences that have been eroded and...
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SOURCE: Fox, Ruth A. “This New Science.” In The Tangled Chain: The Structure of Disorder in the Anatomy of Melancholy, pp. 45-53. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.
[In the essay below, Fox examines the digressions from the conventional structure of the medical treatise in The Anatomy of Melancholy, proposing that the tension between the digressions and the more straightforward sections reflects an ambivalence about the reliability of knowledge.]
For out of olde feldes, as men seyth, Cometh al this newe corn from yer to yere, And out of olde bokes, in good feyth, Cometh al this newe science that men lere.
—Chaucer, The Parlement of Foules
Robert Burton's book conforms to that traditional order for the discussion of disease set forth in the title: The Anatomy of Melancholy. What it is, With all the kinds, causes, symptomes, prognostickes, & severall cures of it. In three Partitions, with their severall Sections, members, & subsections. The structure may be “imposed” on Burton by the example of contemporary medical treatises (Simon, pp. 422-423), but to admit that the order is not of his invention does not force us to conclude, as Simon, Finlay, and others do, that Burton does not use his traditional structure to inform the Anatomy with its own peculiar meaning. Most obviously, by confining himself to the...
(The entire section is 2490 words.)
SOURCE: Gardiner, Judith Kegan. “Elizabethan Psychology and Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy.” Journal of the History of Ideas 38, No. 3 (July-September 1977): 373-88.
[In the essay below, Gardiner explores the dimensions of Burton's psychological method in The Anatomy of Melancholy, concluding that “Burton digests his medieval and Renaissance science and other material available to him to create a humanistic psychology that is both comprehensive and reasonably coherent.”]
In 1946 Louise C. Turner Forest wrote “A Caveat …” to warn against the dangers of applying Elizabethan psychology to literary characters. The psychological tracts of the English Renaissance were “a chaotic jumble of ambiguous or contradictory fact and theory,” often more physiological than psychological. Forest concluded that Elizabethan psychology did not exist as a coherent body of belief. Contemporary dramatists could choose illustrations at will from bits and pieces of outmoded medieval scientific “facts” or from “vague general notions” or personal observations.1 Like the bumblebee, proved incapable of flight, however, Elizabethan psychology continues to hover about. But study of that psychology seems now much less simple than it did in 1946. Then there was one question: what did the psychological tracts say? We now wish to know more. What did Elizabethans believe to be true of...
(The entire section is 7071 words.)
SOURCE: Tillman, James S. “The Satirist Satirized: Burton's Democritus Jr.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 10, No. 2 (1977): 89-96.
[In the following essay, Tillman compares Burton's satiric style in his preface to The Anatomy of Melancholy to Horatian and Juvenalian satire, emphasizing the classical origins of the work's rhetorical personae rather than seventeenth-century concerns about the self and the stability of the authorial voice.]
Although most critics of seventeenth-century literature are familiar with the rhetorical personae typical of various genres, such as the self-deprecating speaker of orations or the piping shepherd of pastorals, generic approaches to the character of Democritus Jr. in Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy have been neglected. Even two recent studies of prose with a strong emphasis upon personae, Joan Webber's The Eloquent “I” and Stanley E. Fish's Self-Consuming Artifacts, give little attention to Burton's classical and neo-classical models for a voice to meet the rhetorical demands of his Anatomy.1 Webber's account of Democritus Jr., for instance, is more concerned with how the persona's inconsistent stances reflect the Anglican view of experience than with how they might be indebted to the poses typical of established literary genres. Similarly, Fish analyzes the intriguing interactions between the reader and the...
(The entire section is 3823 words.)
SOURCE: Hodges, Devon L. “Anatomy as Reason and Madness.” In Renaissance Fictions of Anatomy, pp. 107-23. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1985.
[In the following excerpt, Hodges considers The Anatomy of Melancholy to be a treatise poised between humanism and rationalism, focusing on how the work countenances the coexistence of madness and reason in seventeenth-century thought—a condition rejected by the eighteenth-century quest for “objective knowledge.”]
Compared with Bacon's dynamic, scientific project to inaugurate a new order of things, Burton's great lumpy Anatomy of Melancholy looks particularly hesitant and unfocused. And because of this, Burton's work serves as a reminder that the institution of “analytico-referential” discourse did not end all questions about the proper way to get at the truth. The Anatomy of Melancholy is narrated by an “I” that worries about its madness rather than by a persona confident of its powers—and this “I” is madly ambivalent about its own anatomical practice. As a result, The Anatomy of Melancholy seems both a return to older, marginal anatomies and a harbinger of our own moment of epistemological uncertainty. I don't want to suggest that Burton is simply a protodeconstructionist but rather that Burton's Anatomy helps complicate our sense of history as a progress from one discourse to the next by...
(The entire section is 7868 words.)
SOURCE: Vicari, E. Patricia. “Applied Divinity: The Anatomy as Priestly Counsel.” In The View From Minerva's Tower: Learning and Imagination in ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy,’ pp. 121-48. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989.
[In the excerpt below, Vicari argues that the The Anatomy of Melancholy is best understood not as a medical treatise, but as a sermon. Vicari links the style of the work to the oral tradition and notes Burton's progressive treatment of melancholy as not merely a malady but a sin.]
I. THE QUESTION OF GENRE: THE AGENDA OF ‘THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY’
Three related questions about The Anatomy of Melancholy have been in the forefront of critical discussion of it: What kind of book is it? What is its purpose? Is there any principle of unity in it? Recognizing the genre of a book is fundamental to understanding it; the difficulty of doing so in this case has rendered it unusually baffling. The Anatomy uses so many and so elaborate indirections that readers have felt unsure of the direction it is seeking out. Many attempts have been made to classify it by using the traditional methods of literary criticism, analysing its contents and looking for analogues and sources, but the multiplicity of its apparent subject-matter and the diversity of ways in which the subjects are handled has seemed to make it impossible to fit it to...
(The entire section is 14289 words.)
SOURCE: Chapple, Anne S. “Robert Burton's Geography of Melancholy.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 33, No. 1 (1993): 99-130.
[In the following essay, Chapple examines how Burton's interest in the burgeoning field of cartography influenced The Anatomy of Melancholy, primarily focusing on the “foolscap” world map described in the preface.]
Observing map collectors in 1570, Dr. John Dee wrote, “Some, to beautify their Halls, Parlors, Chambers, Galeries, Studies, or Libraries … liketh, loveth, getteth, and useth, Maps, Charts, and Geographicall Globes.”1 Dee was writing at a time when only the wealthy could afford to own maps, curious artifacts that resemble works of art more than they do the mathematically precise productions of our own time. But despite their relative scarcity and prohibitive cost, maps became increasingly accessible in university settings; to some extent, maps were even accessible to the general public. Thomas Blundeville's 1589 treatise, A Briefe Description of Universal Mappes and Cardes and of Their Use, dedicated to Francis Windam, a judge in the Court of Common Pleas, gives clear evidence that the public had been exposed to maps and showed an eager interest in them. In an address “To the Reader” that begins his treatise, Blundeville documents the rising popularity of the beautifully crafted maps and charts that were appearing with...
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SOURCE: Schleiner, Winfried. “Burton's Use of praeteritio in Discussing Same-Sex Relationships.” In Renaissance Discourses of Desire, edited by Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth, pp. 159-78. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993.
[In the essay below, Schleiner addresses Burton's treatment of same-sex relationships in The Anatomy of Melancholy, examining how Burton's use of the rhetorical device praeteritio might distinguish his own perspective from among his many sources.]
Discourse of same-sex desire is forbidden discourse in early seventeenth-century England; in some sense it could not and, therefore, does not exist. In another sense this discourse exists, although in highly coded forms that call attention to its illicit status. I am not at present concerned with the language of persons whom we might, possibly anachronistically, call homosexuals but with the language then used to write and publish about them. To make this vast topic manageable, I will focus on Robert Burton's disquisition on same-sex relationships, a passage brief but chock full of the kind of matter that seems to have suggested itself to northern European, that is, Protestant, writers whenever they thought about such relationships. Since the special coding of the passage seems to warrant this, I will first go through it to clarify Burton's tactics of drawing on numerous and varied sources, his...
(The entire section is 8082 words.)
SOURCE: Sawday, Jonathan. “Shapeless Elegance: Robert Burton's Anatomy of Knowledge.” In English Renaissance Prose: History, Language, and Politics, edited by Neil Rhodes, pp. 173-202. Tempe: Arizona State University Press, 1997.
[In the following essay, Sawday describes The Anatomy of Melancholy as the foundation of a theory of knowledge that never fully developed, particularly after the formation of The Royal Society in 1660 with its markedly different approach to scientific investigation.]
I. THE CATHEDRAL
Has Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy always been a historical and critical puzzle? In 1945, when Douglas Bush published his influential survey of English literature in the seventeenth century, The Anatomy of Melancholy represented the latent “intellectual confusion” of its age. Bush chose to understand Burton as a scientist manqué. So, although the Anatomy was a “traditional bedside book” which “we read for fun,” it nevertheless appeared in the chapter of English Literature in the Earlier Seventeenth Century devoted to the “evolution” of seventeenth-century science—the moment which “gave birth to the modern world.”1 But Burton was not quite of that world. In his “loose and eccentric fashion” Burton embodied the “religious and ethical assumptions of Renaissance humanism” rather...
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SOURCE: Wong, Samuel G. “Encyclopedism in Anatomy of Melancholy.” Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme 22, No.1 (1998): 5-22.
[In the essay below, Wong considers The Anatomy of Melancholy in the context of the encyclopedic tradition, suggesting that Burton's self-deprecating portrait of the scholar is more subversive and more modern than has generally been assumed.]
This essay reconsiders the encyclopedism that is the most profound feature of Anatomy of Melancholy. As used here, encyclopedism suggests not only the vast display of learning that constitutes Anatomy but also the condition of a work driven by therapeutic need: “I write of Melancholy,” Burton tells us, “by being busie to avoid Melancholy.”1 In his endless implication of psychic and scholarly demands, I shall argue, Burton conceives his book as self-ministering labor that belies the still common view of his conservatism:
There are many ways in which Burton's Anatomy feels as if it should have been written in the sixteenth rather than seventeenth century, if not earlier. It is the last example of the popular Renaissance anatomy genre and it recalls in form and structure the older idea of a correspondence between the book and the world.2
If Anatomy has seemed to...
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Conn, Joey. Robert Burton and The Anatomy of Melancholy: An Annotated Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Sources. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988. 105 p.
Lists editions of Burton's works and focuses on criticism from the twentieth century, organized alphabetically by author.
Donovan, Dennis G., Magaretha G. Hartley Herman, and Ann E. Imbrie. Sir Thomas Browne and Robert Burton: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981. 530 p.
Bibliographic record of criticism and commentary on Burton and his peer Sir Thomas Browne, arranged by publication date and beginning in the seventeenth century.
O'Connell, Michael. Robert Burton. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986, 130 p.
Biographical and critical survey of Burton.
Babb, Lawrence. Sanity in Bedlam: A Study of Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1959, 116 p.
Presents a thorough study of Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, attempting to elucidate “the author's aims, methods, beliefs, and accomplishments.”
Canavan, Thomas L. “Robert Burton, Jonathan Swift, and the Tradition of Anti-Puritan Invective.” Journal of the History of Ideas...
(The entire section is 818 words.)