A of M, 35-37: This rock of melancholy

AofM 35-37

Wow, so once again I am finding that Burton’s tome is totally loaded with awesome metaphors that lend themselves very well to overly literal illustrations. It is hard to choose just one. But for today, a melancholic rock, or a rocky melancholy? Because I don’t know about you, but the news this week has me feeling like a melancholic rock.

In context, Burton is (once again) apologizing. This time it is for writing on melancholy, when he is not a real physic (doctor) but is in actual fact a divine (man of the church). I think Burton might be the only person I have ever encountered, if you can call it that, who apologizes for himself as much as I do – while at the same time giving his readers the very distinct impression that he is not actually sorry at all. (For the record, I really am sorry, for everything.)

Anyhow… his non-apology: “I was fatally driven upon this rock of melancholy, and carried away by this by-stream, which, as a rillet, is deducted from the main channel of my studies, in which I have pleased and busied myself at idle hours, as a subject most necessary and commodious.” A rillet is a small stream, by the way, because if you are Robert Burton, why use one word when you can use two that mean the same thing? Or five? Or five hundred? I like it though. I really like words in general.

Burton also (famously, I think?) spends a page or so arguing that soul-doctors (divines) and body-doctors (physicians/physics) are pretty much the same thing:

A good divine either is or ought to be a good physician, a spiritual physician at least, as our Saviour calls Himself, and was indeed (Matt. iv, 23; Luke v, 18; Luke vii, 21). They differ but in object, the one of the body, the other of the soul, and use divers medicines to cure: one amends animam per corpus [the soul through the body], the other corpus per animam [the body through the soul].

As usual, Burton is ahead of his time and ours.

This is a pretty good book.


This post is part of a long, tedious, and very illustrated read-along of Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy – more info here and follow along on Facebook here. Illustrations posted via master.of.literature on Instagram.

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