A of M, 116-118: Mushroom men and Monsieur Nobody

AofM 116-118

So 118 pages into this diatribe against humanity, Burton unsurprisingly sums up his argument as follows: “They are all mad.” If you are “reading” along but have fallen 116-118 pages behind, all you really missed is: “They are all mad.” Or more specifically, somewhat, they are all “E fungis nati homines,” which roughly translated means men born from mushrooms.

Is there any hope for us, Mr. Burton?

Whom shall I then except? Ulricus Huttenus’ nemo, nam, nemo omnibus horis sapit, Nemo nascitur sine vitiis, Crimine Nemo caret, Nemo sorte sua vivit contentus, Nemo in amore sapit, Nemo bonus, Nemo sapiens, Nemo, est ex omni parti beatus, [Nobody; for nobody is sensible at all times; Nobody is born without fault; Nobody is free from blame; Nobody lives content with his own lot; Nobody is sane in love; Nobody is good; Nobody wise; Nobody is completely happy], etc. and therefore Nicholas Nemo, or Monsieur Nobody shall go free, Quid valeat nemo, Nemo referre potest? [Nobody can say what Nobody is capable of.] But whom shall I except in the second place? such as are silent, vir sapit qui pauca loquitur; no better way to avoid folly and madness, than by taciturnity. (117)

I guess I will just shut up now and wait for Monsieur Nobody to arrive from France (?) and save us all by being very calm and not saying anything. In all seriousness, I think what Burton is going for here is that whole annihilate the self to reach enlightenment thing, which is good stuff. Well, in moderation. Keep annihilating yourself, Rupert, and you won’t have any self left to annihilate with! That is why, of course, Monsieur Nobody does not exist. He is an aspirational model, like a unicorn or a hobgoblin. You can’t be a unicorn, but trying to be more like one would probably make you a better person.

Burton freely admits that he himself is mad, and is not exempt from his own censure. If you can’t annihilate yourself, then you should at least know yourself, eh? From what I have read so far, Burton strikes me as a loquacious, irascible crank and not very Nemo-ish at all. Generally speaking, Nemos do not write 1300 page books.

There is some ironic rambling after this quote about exempting Senators, but I think that is just Burton covering his behind so that he and his book don’t get burned or put in a dungeon or whatever they did to people who criticized politicians in the olden days. Fortunately we are living in the future, and our taciturn leader thoughtfully hears out his detractors in order to better understand the complicated historical moment in which he quite unexpectedly finds himself. EVERYTHING IS JUST FINE, MUSHROOM MEN.


This post is part of a long, tedious, and illustrated read-along of Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy – more info here and follow along on Facebook here