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BURTON'S ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY.
WHEN that well-known British at home, and has an impression that traveller, Leo Rusticus, Esq., pays it is considered a clever thing; but his visit to Oxford with his inte- he is by no means prepared to underresting daughters about Commemo- go an extempore examination as to ration time, and makes the tour of its contents. He has seen the work the university under the eyes of so often alluded to, and in such high criticising undergraduates, he usu- terms of praise, that he has little ally finds his way at last into Christ- doubt but that all the educated church Cathedral. True, there is world are perfectly well acquainted very little to be seen there, for it with it, and that his own ignorance is about the ugliest possible of col- on the subject is highly inexcusable. legiate churches ; still, it is a He need not judge himself so hardly. cathedral, and therefore, like other If he were to question in succession cathedrals, to be “done” as a duty. all the Fellows of the college where And feeling this, like the British he will dine to-day as to their Lion in general, he does it. There, own personal acquaintance with the amongst other objects of interest, Anatomy of Melancholy, he would the attendant verger will point out scarcely find more than one among to him (if he does his duty) in the them who had read the book. He north aisle, high up against a pillar, would discover that their knowledge a small bust, with a Latin inscrip- of it, like his own, had been gained tion underneath, and a queer-look- from passing allusions to it in other ing diagram stuck rather awkwardly writers, or bibliographical notices on one side of it, which the young in booksellers’ catalogues. They ladies will probably at the first will all have heard, no doubt, that glance take for a sun-dial, but which it was the only book that could get is in truth an astrological calculation the great Samuel Johnson out of of a nativity. “Burton, sir," says bed two hours before his wont in the verger, succinctly pointing up the morning; but its present effect to it—"author of the Anatomy, upon the early rising of Oxford formerly student of this house." would be admitted to be quite inThe young ladies conclude him to appreciable. have been some medical celebrity ; The truth is, that Burton's book but papa, with the superior infor- is what everybody has heard of, and mation for which the gentlemen of few people have read. Its poputhe family of Rusticus have always larity was always uncertain, and been distinguished, volunteers a subject to ebbs and flows. At its word of explanation—“Anatomy of first appearance it seems to have Melancholy, you know, my dears." been quite what we should now Neither of the dears know much call the book of the season. The about it; but the verger strikes in. author himself, in his Address to the “Yes, sir,” says that worthy, “he Reader prefixed to the fourth ediwas a very melancholy gentleman, tion, tells us that “the first, second, and is supposed to have destroyed and third editions were suddenly himself
; and that's his horrors- gone, eagerly read, and not so much scope.
e.” Miss Leonina, not at all approved by some, as scornfully redisposed at present to anatomise jected by others." Whether the melancholy, skips on to the next author profited or not, in a pecumonument; and papa, after a nod niary way, by this rapid sale, the intended to imply that the whole booksellers, according to Antony-asubject is familiar to him, thinks it Wood (not an authority always to as well to follow. He knows he has be trusted), got an estate by it, havthe book upon his library shelves ing disposed of no less than eight editions—five in Burton's lifetime. important recommendation-most It afterwards fell into comparative of them would be, to all intents and neglect. Mr Steevens remarks that purposes, new books, and would it is not noticed
by either Addison, probably last him a long time. Pope, or Swift; nay, it even escaped We will not make any apology, the notice of that excursive reader in these days of æsthetic revivalism, Arbuthnot, who was familiarly ac- when we are all wearing our grandquainted with more books than the mothers' hoops, and going back to preceding triumvirate ever heard worse than our great-grandfathers' of.” It rose again into temporary superstitions, for a re-introduction demand, owing to the laudatory of our readers to Robert Burton and notices of it by Johnson, Warton, his Anatomy. A book which fascinand others—the price of a copy ris- ated men of such different minds as ing in consequence, says Steevens, Samuel Johnson and Charles Lamb, " from one shilling and sixpence to Lord Byron and Archbishop Hera guinea and a half,” but soon re- ring, does not deserve to lie unlapsed into comparative neglect; read. Possibly the terms in which and although it has always had its Byron speaks of it may seem to enthusiastic readers and admirers, recommend it especially to the taste the reading public in general has of the present day. "The book," been content to take its merits upon says he, “ in my opinion, most usetrust. Such is the fate at present of ful to a man who wishes to acquire many an author's works more worthy the reputation of being well read than even old Burton to be ranked with the least trouble, is Buramongst our English classics. There ton's Anatomy of Melancholy; they are, in rows along the walls of the most amusing and instructive our libraries, like ladies of a certain medley of quotations and classical age in a ball-room, well known by anecdotes I ever perused. But a name and sight, and highly respect- superficial reader must take care, ed, but whom no gentleman has or his intricacies will bewilder him. the hardihood to take in hand. It If, however, he has patience to go would be an interesting branch of through his volumes, he will be literary statistics, and might lead to more improved for literary conversome rather startling results, to sation than by the perusal of any ascertain what proportion of pro- twenty other works with which I am fessed admirers of Shakespeare have acquainted—at least in the English any intimate acquaintance with his language." * We cannot so far enplays beyond what Mr Kean has dorse this statement of Lord Byron's given them, or how many who talk as to recommend a reading-up of the familiarly of the great Lord Bacon Anatomy in order to enable any ever read a line of his, except in a ambitious friend to shine as a talker quotation. Southey once said that at a modern intellectual dinnerif his library (14,000 volumes) were party. We doubt very much whether, necessarily cut down to nineteen, it even in the poet's own day, such an should consist of Shakespeare, Spen- undertaking would have repaid an ser, and Milton ; Jeremy Taylor, aspirant to conversational eminence. South, and Thomas Jackson, as Such authorities as Peter Lombard, divines; Lord Clarendon, Isaak and Jerome Cardan, and Lipsius, Walton, Sir Thos. Brown, Fuller's and Paracelsus, or
even Lucian Church History, and Sidney's Arca- (and these are household names dia. There can be very little doubt compared with some of Burton's that a small travelling library so out-of-the-way acquaintances), if inselected-say for a modern English troduced in conversation either in gentleman going out for ten years this or the last generation, would to China-would at least have one be likely to win for a man little re
Moore's Life of Byron (Murray, 1832), vol. i. p. 144.
putation except for pedantry. But property has passed into oblivion if the volumes seem to have been with the rest of their work : the rather overrated as a storehouse for only thief who appears to have been talkers, they were no doubt found convicted and executed is Sterne. exceedingly useful for another class, Dr Ferriar brought him to justice; quite as important, and very nearly and if any proof were required of as large,—the writers who wished the little acquaintance which the to acquire the reputation of being reading world in Sterne's time had well read with the least trouble.” with the remarkable work of BurBurton's brains have been well ton, it may be found in the fact that picked in this way since his death; amongst all the admirers of Trisand it is a pity that he could not tram Shandy not one seems to have have returned for a while in his recognised the borrowed feathers of own person to detect and castigate, wit and fancy which the writer so in his own peculiar style, those who unblushingly paraded. It seems to availed themselves of his prodigious a reader of the present day almost reading, and excursive forays into incomprehensible that one who all manner of unknown literary dis- possessed such remarkable original tricts, to gain for themselves the powers as Sterne did, should have credit of original research. Hearne ventured to risk his reputation as calls the book, in his day, “a com- an author by such bold plagiarisms monplace for filchers.” Anthony as those, for instance, which Dr Wood
“it is so full," Ferriar points out in the “Fragsays he,“ of variety of reading, that ment on Whiskers.”* Nothing can gentlemen who have lost their time, satisfactorily explain it, but an imand are put to a push for invention, pudent confidence that the literary may furnish themselves with matter triflers of the day, who delighted for scholastical discourse and writ- in his clever double entendres, and ing. Several authors have stolen took out their scented handkermatter from the said book with- chiefs at his tinsel sentiment, would out any acknowledgment.” It may have only sneered at the officious seem almost treason to place Milton bookworm who should be so troublein the foreground of these ; but some as to refer them to an old musty there can be no doubt but that at folio for the source of some of their least the idea, if not some of the favourite's originalities. imagery, of L'Allegro and Il Pen- But it is time to introduce our seroso are taken from the “ Dialogue present readers to Burton himself. between Pleasure and Pain,” or “The Of his life, unfortunately, little is Author's Abstract of Melancholy," known beyond the very driest facts. which Burton prefixed to his book; That he was a younger son of an though the dazzling wealth of lan- old Leicestershire family, educated guage and fancy with which Milton at Sutton Coldfield and Nuneaton has clothed the thought has no grammar-schools, entered as a comprototype in his quaint predecessor, moner of Brasennose at the age of whose verses, nevertheless, have con- seventeen, and thence elected a siderable beauty of their own. We student of Christchurch, are not may presume that most of the particulars which help us much plunderers to whom Wood and towards a picture of the man. others allude have escaped the no- It was within the walls of the tice of posterity because the stolen latter college that he appears to
* Tristram Shandy, vol. v. ch. i. orig. edit., “The Lady Baussiere rode on,” &c. We refer our readers to Ferriar's Illustrations of Sterne for the comparison of this passage with the original in the Anatomy (part iii. sect. 1, memb. 3): some pitty, for Christ's sake," &c. Other instances of Sterne's obligations to Burton are, Mr Shandy's letter to Uncle Toby, with its obsolete medical practices ; his philosophical consolations upon Uncle Toby's death ; his notions on government; the story of the Abderites raving about “O Cupid, prince of gods and men,” &c.
have passed his life, with only occa- assuming the name of “Democritus sional visits to the country. There junior” in his book, but appears to he wrote the Anatomy, and there he have worked himself up into the died and was buried. He was pre- notion that he really bore some resented by his college to the vicarage semblance to the original Democriof St Thomas in Oxford ; together tus. The character which he draws with which he held, from the gift of his prototype in the “ Address to of private patrons, first the rectory the Reader," which serves as the of Walesby in Lincolnshire, and long preface to his Anatomy, is apafterwards that of Seagrave in plicable in almost every particular Leicestershire, but at neither of to his own tastes and pursuits as these places does he ever appear to described both by himself and others. have resided.
The philosopher of Abdera was, he “I have lived a silent, sedentary, soli.
says, tary, private life, mihi et Musis, in the
" A little wearish old man, very university, as long almost as Xenocrates melancholy by nature, averse from comat Athens, ad senectam fere, to learn wis. pany in his latter days, and much given dom as he did, penned up most part in to solitariness ; wholly addicted to my study. . For thirty years I have his studies at the last, and to a private continued a scholar-left to a solitary life ; a great divine, according to the life and my own domestic discontents; divinity of those times, an expert physi. saving that sometimes (ne quid meutiar), cian, a politician, an excellent mathemaas Diogenes went into the city and De- tician, as Diacosmus and the rest of his mocritus to the haven, to see fashions, works do witness. He was much de. I did for my recreation now and then lighted with the studies of husbandry, walk abroad, look into the world, and saith Columella. In a word, he could not choose but make some little was omnifariam doctus, a general scholar, observation.'
a great student; a man of an exThe character which Wood gives wholly betaking himself to his studies and
cellent wit, profound conceit, of him is somewhat contradictory ; a private life, saving that sometimes he “as he was by many accounted a would walk down to the haven, and laugh severe student, adevourer of authors, heartily at such variety of ridiculous a melancholy and humorous* person; objects which there he saw. so by others, who knew him well, a The philosopher of Christchurch person of great honesty,plain dealing, resembled his model in very many and charity. I have heard some of points of this character, and perhaps the ancients of Christchurch often believed himself to resemble it even say that his company was very merry, more completely. “He was an exfacete, and juvenile; and no man in act mathematician,” says Wood, “ a his time did surpass him for his curious calculator of nativities, a ready and dexterous interlarding his general read scholar, a thoroughcommon discourses among them with paced philologist, and one that underverses from the poets, or sentences stood the surveying of lands well.” from classic authors, which being That he was also an able divine, and then all the fashion in the univer- possessed sufficient medical knowsity, made his company the more ledge to have set him up as a very acceptable.” There is no doubt but respectable physician, is evident that he was what we should now from the testimony of his remarkable call a very eccentric character; he book. As to Democritus's love of had probably injured his health by husbandry—“if my testimony were close reading, and had that morbid ought worth, I could say as much self-consciousness which has often of myself," writes Burton. “I am been the bane of scholars. There vere Saturninus ; no man ever took seems also to have been a certain more delight in springs, woods, amount of affectation in his charac- groves, gardens, walks, fish-ponds, ter. He was not content with rivers, &c.” But there is one curious
* i.e. in the old sense of the word, “whimsical, capricious.”
habit recorded of him, which seems rather than there should be a misto show that he studied for the take in the calculation, he sent up character, and was quite willing his soul to heaven through a slip that the world of Oxford should about his neck.” He was buried, recognise in him the eccentricities as we have seen, in the cathedral, as well as the learning of the ori- with a short Latin epitaph, said to ginal Laughing Philosopher : “No- have been composed by himself, thing could make him laugh but and which is not free from the tinge going to the bridge-foot and hear- of vanity and affectation which ing the ribaldry of the bargemen, marked his character :which rarely failed to throw him
“ Paucis notus, paucioribus ignotus, into a violent fit of laughter."* It
Hic jacet Democritus junior, is impossible not to see in this an
Cui vitam dedit et mortem absurd copy of Democritus at the
Melancholia." haven of Abdera. Probably the The only known productions of facilities of modern railway traffic, his pen, besides that which has which have interfered so seriously handed him down to fame, were a with the profits of the Oxford Na- Latin comedy called Philosophaster, vigation Company, have also had a acted at Christchurch in 1617, of depressing effect upon the jocosity which no copy is known to exist; of the bargemen; for Democritus and some epitaphs in Latin verse, himself would find a difficulty in which are by no means equal in catching a joke upon Folly Bridge neatness and elegance to the elegiac now.
lines, “ Ad librum suum,” prefixed It is a great pity that more anec- to the Anatomy. But it is prodotes of Burton have not been re- bable that other productions of his corded, for he must have been a pen existed in MS. (and may exist singular character as well as an still), since in his will he leaves to amusing companion. We can fancy the disposal of his executors "all that, if he had been fortunate enough such books as are written with my to meet with a Boswell, his bio- own hands.” He made a bequest graphy might have been almost as to the Bodleian Library of a curious amusing as the great Doctor's. Here collection of pamphlets and tracts, is a quaint sketch of him which historical and miscellaneous, very Hearne has preserved :
many of which are probably unique. “ Aug. 2, 1713.—The Earl of South- A few glances at hazard into the ampton went into a shop and inquired pages of the Anatomy will be enough of the bookseller for Burton's Anatomy to enable any one to understand of Melancholy. Mr Burton sate in a
the secret of the enthusiasm with corner of the shop at that time. Says which it has been regarded by some the bookseller, My lord, if you please readers, and the neglect which it I can show you the author.' He did so. Mr Burton,' says the Earl, 'your ser
has experienced at the hands of vant.' Mr Southampton,' says Mr others. Every page is loaded with Burton, 'your servant. And away he quotations; and, what with the went.”+
Latin and the italics, has such a He died at his rooms in Christ- learned and technical look, that church, Jan. 6, 1639; so near the can easily imagine many a time which he had himself foretold rambler in an old library shutting some years before from a calcula- such a book in hopeless dismay. tion of his own nativity, that, as The amount of Latin in the text we are told by Antony Wood (who itself is considerable, though somenever misses an opportunity of say. times the author has the considering an ill-natured thing), “ several ation to translate his quotations, of the students did not forbear to and remit the original to the footwhisper among themselves, that notes; but there is quite enough
GRANGER's Biog. Hist. + HEARNE's Reliquise, edit. Bliss, vol. i. p. 288.