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Robert Burton's Book for a Desert Island
When I go musing all alone,
Thinking of diverse things fore-known,
When I build Castles in the air,
Void of sorrow and void of fear,
Pleasing myself with phantasms sweet,
Methinks the time runs very fleet.
All my joys to this are folly,
Naught so sweet as melancholy.
Compiled in order to explain and account for all human emotion and thought, Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy has long been considered a book for the ages.First published in 1621 it is 1392 pages. The huge and encyclopedic Anatomy of Melancholy was produced by the English clergyman Robert Burton (1577–1640). It explores a dizzying assortment of mental afflictions, including what might now be called depression.
The work is divided into three sections. The first considers the nature, symptoms and diverse causes of melancholy. These causes range from God to witches and devils, poverty and imprisonment, parents and ‘overmuch study’, ‘desire of revenge’, or ‘overmuch use of hot wines’. The second section discusses cures such as exercise and diet, purging, blood-letting and potions. The third focuses on two particular types – love melancholy and religious melancholy.
Burton’s work is richly varied and at times bewilderingly rambling. It shifts from sad to self-reflexive, from satirical to serious, including an eclectic mix of quotations (many in Latin) from literature, philosophy and science.
A Desert Island Book
If one had to pare down one's library to the barest minimum, Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy is a volume that one could never cull. If one had to prepare for a desert-island exile and could take only a handful of books along, then The Anatomy of Melancholy is surely a volume one would insist on taking.
There are few essentials that belong on the bookshelf in every cultured English-speaking household. A collected Shakespeare. The Riverside Chaucer. Grudgingly: a King James Bible. And Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. (Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy pub. 1621.:1392 pages. Complete Review. On the publication of a 2001 reprint by the NYRB.)
Geography was always in the forefront of the mind of Robert Burton when he wrote The Anatomy of Melancholy, first published in 1621 and revised for publication in five additional editions (1624–1651).1 He cited over 1600 different places and these occur some 7000 times, an average of eight times a page in the final edition of 800 pages and 516,000 words.
The anatomy of melancholy : Burton, Robert, 1577-1640 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive.
Nicolas K Kiessling, A List of Fifty Toponyms (a place name, especially one derived from a topographical feature. ) in Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, in Notes and Queries, Volume 68, Issue 2, June 2021, Pages 172–178….. fifty of these different locations giving more information about each than is found in earlier studies and commentaries. Each main entry below is followed directly by Burton’s own description of the place, if it occurs in the text.