A of M, 38-40: We are living in a fool’s head

AofM 38-40

The Anatomy of Melancholy may ameliorate your melancholy, but it may also make it worse, so watch out! The same goes for this blog, I suppose:

Yet one caution let me give by the way to my present or future reader, who is actually melancholy, that he read not the symptoms or prognostics in this following tract, lest by applying that which he reads to himself, aggravating, appropriating things generally spoken to his own person (as melancholy men for the most part do), he trouble or hurt himself, and get in conclusion more harm than good. (38)

Hey, he said “future reader!” He is talking to us! And I would more or less paraphrase the above as: do not take your reading too personally – especially the Internet kind.

And as is most often the case so far, there is another huge idea packed into these three pages:

And if thou shalt either conceive, or climb to see, thou shalt soon perceive that all the world is mad, that it is melancholy, dotes; that it is (which Epichthonius Cosmopolites expressed not many years since in a map) made like a fool’s head… a common prison of gulls, cheaters, flatterers, etc. (39)

This lesson is a sad one which I am endeavoring to teach my oldest child right now. See, we live in NYC where she very often sees people at their own personal rock-bottoms, sleeping on the street, begging for food. As fully socialized adults, most of us have taught ourselves to be blind to this and many other symptoms of this sickly fool’s head of a world. Children see it though, and it is very hard to explain why some of us have houses, and some of us do not, and some houses in our neighborhood are sitting empty with signs advertising $5500/month rentals. She doesn’t even know about that last part yet. Did you read that old New Yorker article about how it is cheaper (not to mention a million times kinder) to give a homeless alcoholic or addict an apartment and addiction treatment vs. repeatedly hospitalizing them in the ER and dumping them back on snowy sidewalks? It is cruel not to help, and it is insane not to help when helping costs half as much as not helping. That was just one example. If you are someone who reads and thinks, no doubt you know many more.

Which is to say: maybe if you are feeling down, it’s not you – it’s the world. Personally I believe that if you are a human being living in a civilized society and you are not at least a tiny bit melancholic, you are the crazy one.

Hi, my name is Devon. I am a high-functioning melancholic, and I self medicate with books. (In case my mom is reading: don’t worry Mom, I am really very happy! Books are great. Hi Mom!)

Of course Burton words all of this SO MUCH BETTER THAN I EVER COULD. But I have heard from some readers (thanks for reading!) that he is abstruse, which is absolutely true, so I guess I will keep up my interpretive butchering for now.


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. Join us! 



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