The Anatomy of Melancholy

The Anatomy of Melancholy

Infobox Book |
name = The Anatomy of Melancholy

image_caption = Frontispiece for the 1638 edition
author = Robert Burton
illustrator = Christian Le Blon
cover_artist =
country = Britain
language = English
genre =
publisher =
release_date = 1621
media_type = Print
pages =
isbn = NA
"The Anatomy of Melancholy" (Full title "The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Historically, Opened and Cut up.") is a book by Robert Burton, first published in 1621.


On its surface, the book is a medical textbook in which Burton applies his large and varied learning in the scholastic manner to the subject of melancholia (which includes what is now termed clinical depression).

Though presented as a medical text, "The Anatomy of Melancholy" is as much a "sui generis" work of literature as it is a scientific or philosophical text, and Burton addresses far more than his stated subject. In fact, the "Anatomy" uses melancholy as the lens through which all human emotion and thought may be scrutinized, and virtually the entire contents of a 17th-century library are marshalled into service of this goal.cite news |title=The Book to End All Books|author=Nicholas Lezard|date=2001-08-01|publisher=The Guardian|accessdate=2007-04-15 |url=,3858,4240799-99939,00.html]

Burton is forthright about his intentions in writing the "Anatomy" — "I write of melancholy by being busy to avoid melancholy," he concedes. This acknowledged desire to distract and amuse himself motivated Burton to produce a uniquely wide-ranging document, stuffed with digressions and commentary. Whatever its strengths as a medical text or as a historical document, it is the "Anatomy"'s vast breadth — addressing everything from digestion to goblins to the geography of America — and the particularly characteristic voice of its author that are most commonly cited by its admirers as the main sources of its appeal. Both satirical and serious in tone, the "Anatomy" is "vitalized by (Burton's) pervading humour" [Émile Legouis, A History of English Literature (1926)] , and Burton's digressive and inclusive style, often verging on a stream of consciousness, consistently informs and animates the text.


An obsessive rewriter of his work, Burton published five revised and expanded editions of "The Anatomy of Melancholy" during his lifetime. "The Anatomy of Melancholy" has often been out of print, most notably between 1676 and 1800. [ "The Complete Review" discussion] of "The Anatomy of Melancholy"] Because no original manuscript of the "Anatomy" has survived, later reprints have drawn more or less faithfully from the editions published during Burton's life.William H. Gass, Introduction to "The Anatomy of Melancholy", New York Review of Books 2001 ISBN 0-940322-66-8] Early editions of the "Anatomy" are now in the public domain, with several available in their entirety from a number of online sources such as Project Gutenberg. In recent years, increased interest in the book, combined with its status as a public domain work, has resulted in a number of new print editions, most recently a 2001 reprinting of the 1932 edition by The New York Review of Books under its "NYRB Classics" imprint (ISBN 0-940322-66-8).


Burton defined his subject as follows:

::"Melancholy", the subject of our present discourse, is either in disposition or in habit. In disposition, is that transitory "Melancholy" which goes and comes upon every small occasion of sorrow, need, sickness, trouble, fear, grief, passion, or perturbation of the mind, any manner of care, discontent, or thought, which causes anguish, dulness, heaviness and vexation of spirit, any ways opposite to pleasure, mirth, joy, delight, causing frowardness in us, or a dislike. In which equivocal and improper sense, we call him melancholy, that is dull, sad, sour, lumpish, ill-disposed, solitary, any way moved, or displeased. And from these melancholy dispositions no man living is free, no Stoick, none so wise, none so happy, none so patient, so generous, so godly, so divine, that can vindicate himself; so well-composed, but more or less, some time or other, he feels the smart of it. Melancholy in this sense is the character of Mortality. . . . This "Melancholy" of which we are to treat, is a habit, a serious ailment, a settled humour, as Aurelianus and others call it, not errant, but fixed: and as it was long increasing, so, now being (pleasant or painful) grown to a habit, it will hardly be removed.

In attacking his stated subject, Burton drew from nearly every science of his day, including psychology and physiology, but also astronomy, meteorology, and theology, and even astrology and demonology.

Much of the book consists of quotations from various ancient and mediæval medical authorities, beginning with Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen. Hence the "Anatomy" is filled with more or less pertinent references to the works of others. A competent Latinist, Burton also included a great deal of Latin poetry in the "Anatomy", and many of his inclusions from ancient sources are left untranslated in the text.

"The Anatomy of Melancholy" is an especially lengthy book, the first edition being a single quarto volume nearly 900 pages long; subsequent editions were even longer. The text is divided into three major sections plus an introduction, the whole written in Burton's sprawling style. Characteristically, the introduction includes not only an author's note (titled "Democritus Junior to the Reader"), but also a Latin poem ("Democritus Junior to His Book"), a warning to "The Reader Who Employs His Leisure Ill", an abstract of the following text, and another poem explaining the frontispiece. The following three sections proceed in a similarly exhaustive fashion: the first section focuses on the causes and symptoms of "common" melancholies, while the second section deals with cures for melancholy, and the third section explores more complex and esoteric melancholies, including the melancholy of lovers and all varieties of religious melancholies. The "Anatomy" concludes with an extensive index (which, many years later, "The New York Times Book Review" called "a readerly pleasure in itself" [Thomas Mallon, "The New York Times Book Review", October 3, 1991] ). Most modern editions include many explanatory notes, and translate most of the Latin.

Critical reception

Admirers of "The Anatomy of Melancholy" range from Samuel Johnson, Laurence Sterne, Charles Lamb, and John Keats (who claimed it to be his favourite book), to Stanley Fish, Philip Pullman, Jorge Luis Borges (who used a quote as an epigraph to his story "The Library of Babel"), Samuel Beckett, and Jacques Barzun (who sees in it many anticipations of 20th century psychiatry). The "Anatomy" is still considered an enduring, if eccentric, literary classic by many modern critics. [Nick Lezard, " [,3858,4065172-99931,00.html Classics of the Future,] " "The Guardian", September 16, 2000.]


Further reading

* The introduction by author William H. Gass runs just under 10 pages.

External links

* [ "The Anatomy of Melancholy"] at [;cc=moa;sid=2c141af6e0533ded97242f9961724c47;q1=Anatomy%20of%20Melancholy;rgn=full%20text;tpl=home.tpl Making of America Books]
* [ "The Complete Review" discussion] of "The Anatomy of Melancholy"
*gutenberg|no=10800|name=The Anatomy of Melancholy
*" [ "The Anatomy of Melancholy] " - online copy at PsyPlexus.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Игры ⚽ Нужна курсовая?

Look at other dictionaries:

  • The Anatomy Of Melancholy — The Anathomy Of Melancholy est le premier album Live du groupe Paradise Lost (groupe) sorti en 2008. Portail du rock …   Wikipédia en Français

  • The Lover's Melancholy — is an early Caroline era stage play, a tragicomedy written by John Ford. While the dating of the works in Ford s canon is very uncertain, this play has sometimes been regarded as Ford s first unaided drama, [Logan and Smith, p. 136.] an… …   Wikipedia

  • ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY —    a mosaic work by Burton, described by Professor Saintsbury as a wandering of the soul from Dan to Beersheba, through all employments, desires, pleasures, and finding them barren except for study, of which in turn the tædium is not obscurely… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman —   …   Wikipedia

  • The pen is mightier than the sword — is a metonymic adage coined by Edward Bulwer Lytton in 1839 for his play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy .cite book title=Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy: A Play in Five Acts. publisher=Saunders and Otley, Conduit St. location=London year=1839… …   Wikipedia

  • The Queen (play) — The Queen, or The Excellency of Her Sex is a Caroline era tragicomedy. Though published anonymously in 1653, The play is now generally attributed to John Ford mdash; making it a significant addition to the very limited canon of Ford s works.The… …   Wikipedia

  • The Fancies Chaste and Noble — is a Caroline era stage play, a comedy written by John Ford, and notable for its treatment of the then fashionable topic of Platonic love.Date and performanceThe dates of authorship and first performance of the play are uncertain, though the… …   Wikipedia

  • The Young Admiral — is a Caroline era tragicomedy written by James Shirley, and first published in 1637. It has often been considered Shirley s best tragicomedy, and one of his best plays.The play was licensed for performance by Sir Henry Herbert, the Master of the… …   Wikipedia

  • The Renegado — The Renegado, or The Gentleman of Venice [The play s subtitle also serves as the title of a later play by James Shilrey; see The Gentleman of Venice. ] is a late Jacobean stage play, a tragicomedy written by Philip Massinger and first published… …   Wikipedia

  • Anatomy of Melancholy, The — a philosophical treatise (1621) by Robert Burton. * * * …   Universalium

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”