Writers don’t escape Burton’s condemnation, even though he is one. Quoting Cicero: “There was never yet true poet nor orator, that thought any other better than himself.” At least I think he’s quoting Cicero there, but honestly his attribution is confusing and I narrowly avoided falling down a weird Atticus/Tully/Cicero rabbit hole. Okay so I actually did, and that is one reason I didn’t get this post up yesterday.
Back to those annoying, egotistical writers: “This puffing humour it is, that hath produced so many great tomes, built such famous monuments, strong castles, and Mausolean tombs, to have their acts eternised,— Digito monstrari, et dicier hic est; to be pointed at with the finger, and to have it said ‘there he goes.”
And from Ennius (Burton’s translation): “Let none shed tears over me, or grace my grave with weeping, because I am eternally in the mouths of men.”
Judging by the over 30,000 quotes Burton uses from those “great tomes,” I think maybe he’s being a bit too hard on Cicero, Virgil, etc. I get where he is coming from, though. It takes some degree of Very Big Ego to write a book and force it on the world, or to try to at any rate. I think Burton felt some very complicated feels about writing a book at all, hence the initial anonymous publication, pseudonyms for the frontmatter, over-abundance of other people’s words, and other self-obfuscating tomfoolery. I feel for him. I have never even written a book at all, and I still cringe every time I write these little pieces of silliness for an Internet that is definitely Not Even Listening. Well anyhow, the takeaway from this section is beware of “foolish flashes too common with writers,” but if Burton had done that, we would have no Anatomy of Melancholy, so also don’t beware your foolish flashes.
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 devon_isadevon on Instagram.