Let them be rude, stupid, ignorant, incult, lapis super lapidem sedeat, and as the apologist will, resp. tussi, et graveolentia laboret, mundus vitio, let them be barbarous as they are, let them tyrannise, epicurise, oppress, luxuriate, consume themselves with factions, superstitions, lawsuits, wars and contentions, live in riot, poverty, want, misery; rebel, wallow as so many swine in their own dung, with Ulysses’ companions, stultos jubeo esse libenter. I will yet, to satisfy and please myself, make an Utopia of mine own, a new Atlantis, a poetical commonwealth of mine own, in which I will freely domineer, build cities, make laws, statutes, as I list myself. And why may I not?—Pictoribus atque poetis, etc. You know what liberty poets ever had, and besides, my predecessor Democritus was a politician, a recorder of Abdera, a law maker as some say; and why may not I presume so much as he did? Howsoever I will adventure. For the site, if you will needs urge me to it, I am not fully resolved, it may be in Terra Australi Incognita, there is room enough (for of my knowledge neither that hungry Spaniard, nor Mercurius Britannicus, have yet discovered half of it) or else one of these floating islands in Mare del Zur, which like the Cyanian isles in the Euxine sea, alter their place, and are accessible only at set times, and to some few persons; or one of the fortunate isles, for who knows yet where, or which they are?
In the 15-18th centuries, Terra Australis Incognita was a hypothetical continent in the southern hemisphere often included on maps at the time, despite being imaginary. Australia would later be named after it.
So is it comforting or aggravating to know that a 17th century intellectual felt the same frustration that we are feeling right now? BTW Burton wrote The Anatomy during the reign of a pretty darned unpopular king, Charles I, and the English Civil War was percolating. Did I mention this yet? It is nice to know that this kind of thing has happened before and no one even really remembers why anymore, and things got better. But then things got bad again. And good, and bad, and very bad, and so on, so we should all probably start doing a better job of remembering this stuff before we just have to give up and start a new society on Mars or find those Cyanian Isles Burton mentions.
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.