The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton

Robert Burton was born on February 8, 1576, of an old family, at Lindley, Leicestershire, England; was educated at the free school of Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire, and at Brasenose College, Oxford, and in 1599 was elected student of Christ Church. In 1616 he was presented with the vicarage of St. Thomas, Oxford, and in 1636 with the rectory of Segrave, in Leicestershire, and kept both these livings until his death. But he lived chiefly in his rooms at Christ Church, Oxford, where, burrowing in the treasures of the Bodleian Library, he elaborated his learned and whimsical book. He died on January 25, 1639, and was buried in Christ Church Cathedral. The "Anatomy of Melancholy" is an enormous compendium of sound sense, sly humour, universal erudition, mediŠval science, fantastic conceits, and noble sentiments, arranged in the form of a most methodical treatise, divided, and subdivided again, into sections dealing with every conceivable aspect of this fell disorder. It is an intricate tissue of quotations and allusions, and its interest lies as much in its texture as in its argument. The "Anatomy" consists of an introduction, "Democritus Junior to the Reader," and then of three "Partitions," of which the first treats of the Causes of Melancholy, the second of its Cure, and the third of Love-Melancholy, wherewith is included the Melancholy of Superstition.

I.—Democritus Junior to the Reader

Gentle reader, I presume thou wilt be very inquisitive to know what antic or personate actor this is that so insolently intrudes upon this common theatre to the world's view, arrogating another man's name; whence he is, why he doth it, and what he hath to say. Seek not after that which is hid; if the contents please thee, suppose the man in the moon, or whom thou wilt, to be the author; I would not willingly be known.

I have masked myself under this visard because, like Democritus, I have lived a silent, sedentary, solitary, private life in the university, penned up most part in my study. Though by my profession a divine, yet, out of a running wit, an unconstant, unsettled mind, I had a great desire to have some smattering in all subjects; which Plato commends as fit to be imprinted in all curious wits, not to be a slave of one science, as most do, but to rove abroad, to have an oar in every man's boat, to taste of every dish, and to sip of every cup; which, saith Montaigne, was well performed by Aristotle.

I have little, I want nothing; all my treasure is in Minerva's tower. Though I lead a monastic life, myself my own theatre, I hear and see what is done abroad, how others run, ride, turmoil, in court and country. Amid the gallantry and misery of the world, jollity, pride, perplexities and cares, simplicity and villainy, subtlety, knavery, candour, and integrity, I rub on in private, left to a solitary life and mine own domestic discontents.

So I call myself Democritus, to assume a little more liberty of speech, or, if you will needs know, for that reason which Hippocrates relates, how, coming to visit him one day, he found Democritus in his garden at Abdera, under a shady bower, with a book on his knees, busy at his study, sometimes writing, sometimes walking. The subject of his book was melancholy and madness. About him lay the carcasses of many several beasts, newly by him cut up and anatomised; not that he did contemn God's creatures, but to find out the seat of this black bile, or melancholy, and how it is engendered in men's bodies, to the intent he might better cure it in himself, and by his writings teach others how to avoid it; which good intent of his Democritus Junior is bold to imitate, and because he left it imperfect and it is now lost, to revive again, prosecute, and finish in this treatise. I seek not applause; I fear good men's censures, and to their favourable acceptance I submit my labours. But as the barking of a dog I contemn those malicious and scurrile obloquies, flouts, calumnies of railers and detractors.

Of the necessity of what I have said, if any man doubt of it, I shall desire him to make a brief survey of the world, as Cyprian adviseth Donate; supposing himself to be transported to the top of some high mountain, and thence to behold the tumults and chances of this wavering world, he cannot choose but either laugh at, or pity it. St. Hierom, out of a strong imagination, being in the wilderness, conceived that he saw them dancing in Rome; and if thou shalt climb to see, thou shalt soon perceive that all the world is mad, that it is melancholy, dotes; that it is a common prison of gulls, cheats, flatterers, etc., and needs to be reformed. Kingdoms and provinces are melancholy; cities and families, all creatures vegetal, sensible and rational, all sorts, sects, ages, conditions, are out of tune; from the highest to the lowest have need of physic. Who is not brain-sick? Oh, giddy-headed age! Mad endeavours! Mad actions!

If Democritus were alive now, and should but see the superstition of our age, our religious madness, so many professed Christians, yet so few imitators of Christ, so much talk and so little conscience, so many preachers and such little practice, such variety of sects—how dost thou think he might have been affected? What would he have said to see, hear, and read so many bloody battles, such streams of blood able to turn mills, to make sport for princes, without any just cause? Men well proportioned, carefully brought up, able in body and mind, led like so many beasts to the slaughter in the flower of their years, without remorse and pity, killed for devils' food, 40,000 at once! At once? That were tolerable; but these wars last always; and for many ages, nothing so familiar as this hacking and hewing, massacres, murders, desolations! Who made creatures, so peaceable, born to love, mercy, meekness, so to rave like beasts and run to their own destruction?

How would our Democritus have been affected to see so many lawyers, advocates, so many tribunals, so little justice; so many laws, yet never more disorders; the tribunal a labyrinth; to see a lamb executed, a wolf pronounce sentence? What's the market but a place wherein they cozen one another, a trap? Nay, what's the world itself but a vast chaos, a theatre of hypocrisy, a shop of knavery, a scene of babbling, the academy of vice? A warfare, in which you must kill or be killed, wherein every man is for himself; no charity, love, friendship, fear of God, alliance, affinity, consanguinity, can contain them. Our goddess is Queen Money, to whom we daily offer sacrifice. It's not worth, virtue, wisdom, valour, learning, honesty, religion, for which we are respected, but money, greatness, office, honour. All these things are easy to be discerned, but how would Democritus have been moved had he seen the secrets of our hearts! All the world is mad, and every member of it, and I can but wish myself and them a good physician, and all of us a better mind.

II.—The Causes of Melancholy

The impulsive cause of these miseries in man was the sin of our first parent, Adam; and this, belike, is that which our poets have shadowed unto us in the tale of Pandora's Box, which, being opened through her curiosity, filled the world full of all manner of diseases. But as our sins are the principal cause, so the instrumental causes of our infirmities are as diverse as the infirmities themselves. Stars, heavens, elements, and all those creatures which God hath made, are armed against sinners. But the greatest enemy to man is man, his own executioner, a wolf, a devil to himself and others. Again, no man amongst us so sound that hath not some impediment of body or mind. There are diseases acute and chronic, first and secondary, lethal, salutary, errant, fixed, simple, compound, etc. Melancholy is the most eminent of the diseases of the phantasy or imagination; and dotage, phrensy, madness, hydrophobia, lycanthropy, St. Vitus' dance, and ecstasy are forms of it.

Melancholy is either in disposition or habit. In disposition it is that transitory melancholy which comes and goes upon every small occasion of sorrow; we call him melancholy that is dull, sad, sour, lumpish, ill-disposed, and solitary; and from these dispositions no man living is free; none so wise, patient, happy, generous, or godly, that can vindicate himself.

Melancholy is a cold and dry, thick, black, and sour humour, purged from the spleen; it is a bridle to the other two hot humours, blood and choler, preserving them in the blood and nourishing the bones. Such as have the Moon, Saturn, Mercury, misaffected in their genitures; such as live in over-cold or over-hot climates; such as are solitary by nature; great students, given to much contemplation; such as lead a life out of action; all are most subject to melancholy.

Six things are much spoken of amongst physicians as principal causes of this disease; if a man be melancholy, he hath offended in one of the six. They are diet, air, exercise, sleeping, and walking, and perturbations of the mind.

Idleness, the badge of gentry, or want of exercise, the bane of body and mind, the nurse of naughtiness, the chief author of all mischief, one of the seven deadly sins, and a sole cause of this and many other maladies, the devil's cushion and chief reposal, begets melancholy sooner than anything else. Such as live at ease, and have no ordinary employment to busy themselves about, cannot compose themselves to do aught; they cannot abide work, though it be necessary, easy, as to dress themselves, write a letter, or the like. He or she that is idle, be they never so rich, fortunate, happy, let them have all that heart can desire, they shall never be pleased, never well in body and mind, but weary still, sickly still, vexed still, loathing still, weeping, sighing, grieving, suspecting, offended with the world, with every object, wishing themselves gone or dead, or else carried away with some foolish phantasy or other.

Others, giving way to the passions and perturbations of fear, grief, shame, revenge, hatred, malice, etc., are torn in pieces, as ActŠon was with his dogs, and crucify their own souls. Every society and private family is full of envy; it takes hold of all sorts of men, from prince to ploughman; scarce three in a company, but there is siding, faction, emulation, between two of them, some jar, private grudge, heart-burning in the midst. Scarce two great scholars in an age, but with bitter invectives they fall foul one on the other. Being that we are so peevish and perverse, insolent and proud, so factious and seditious, malicious and envious, we do maul and vex one another, torture, disquiet, and precipitate ourselves into that gulf of woes and cares, aggravate our misery and melancholy, and heap upon us hell and eternal damnation.

III.—The Cure of Melancholy

"It matters not," saith Paracelsus, "whether it be God or the devil, angels or unclean spirits, cure him, so that he be eased." Some have recourse to witches; but much better were it for patients that are troubled with melancholy to endure a little misery in this life than to hazard their souls' health for ever. All unlawful cures are to be refused, and it remains to treat of those that are admitted.

These are such as God hath appointed, by virtue of stones, herbs, plants, meats, and the like, which are prepared and applied to our use by the art and industry of physicians, God's intermediate ministers. We must begin with prayer and then use physic; not one without the other, but both together.

Diet must be rectified in substance and in quantity; air rectified; for there is much in choice of place and of chamber, in opportune opening and shutting of windows, and in walking abroad at convenient times. Exercise must be rectified of body and mind. Hawking, hunting, fishing are good, especially the last, which is still and quiet, and if so be the angler catch no fish, yet he hath a wholesome walk and pleasant shade by the sweet silver streams. But the most pleasant of all pastimes is to make a merry journey now and then with some good companions, to visit friends, see cities, castles, towns, to walk amongst orchards, gardens, bowers, to disport in some pleasant plain. St. Bernard, in the description of his monastery, is almost ravished with the pleasures of it. "Good God," saith he, "what a company of pleasures hast Thou made for man!" But what is so fit and proper to expel idleness and melancholy as study? What so full of content as to read, and see maps, pictures, statues, jewels, and marbles, so exquisite to be beheld that, as Chrysostom thinketh, "if any man be sickly or troubled in mind, and shall but stand over against one of Phidias's images, he will forget all care in an instant?"

If thou receivest wrong, compose thyself with patience to bear it. Thou shalt find greatest ease to be quiet. I say the same of scoffs, slanders, detractions, which tend to our disgrace; 'tis but opinion; if we would neglect or contemn them, they would reflect disgrace on them that offered them. "Yea, but I am ashamed, disgraced, degraded, exploded; my notorious crimes and villainies are come to light!" Be content; 'tis but a nine days' wonder; 'tis heavy, ghastly, fearful news at first, but thine offence will be forgotten in an instant. Thou art not the first offender, nor shalt thou be the last. If he alone should accuse thee that were faultless, how many executioners, how many accusers, would thou have? Shall every man have his desert, thou wouldst peradventure be a saint in comparison. Be not dismayed; it is human to err. Be penitent, ask forgiveness, and vex thyself no more. Doth the moon care for the barking of a dog?

IV.—Love-Melancholy

There will not be wanting those who will much discommend this treatise of love-melancholy, and object that it is too light for a divine, too phantastical, and fit only for a wanton poet. So that they may be admired for grave philosophers, and staid carriage, they cannot abide to hear talk of love-toys; in all their outward actions they are averse; and yet, in their cogitations, they are all but as bad, if not worse than others. I am almost afraid to relate the passions which this tyrant love causeth among men; it hath wrought such stupendous and prodigious effects, such foul offences.

As there be divers causes of this heroical love, so there be many good remedies, among which good counsel and persuasion are of great moment, especially if it proceed from a wise, fatherly, discreet person. They will lament and howl for a while; but let him proceed, by foreshewing the miserable dangers that will surely happen, the pains of hell, joys of paradise, and the like; and this is a very good means, for love is learned of itself, but hardly left without a tutor.

In sober sadness, marriage is a bondage, a thraldom, a hindrance to all good enterprises; "he hath married a wife, and therefore cannot come"; a rock on which many are saved, many are cast away. Not that the thing is evil in itself, or troublesome, but full of happiness, and a thing which pleases God; but to indiscreet, sensual persons, it is a feral plague, many times an hell itself. If thy wife be froward, all is in an uproar; if wise and learned, she will be insolent and peevish; if poor, she brings beggary; if young, she is wanton and untaught. Say the best, she is a commanding servant; thou hadst better have taken a good housewifely maid in her smock. Since, then, there is such hazard, keep thyself as thou art; 'tis good to match, much better to be free. Consider withal how free, how happy, how secure, how heavenly, in respect, a single man is.

But when all is said, since some be good, some bad, let's put it to the venture. Marry while thou mayest, and take thy fortune as it falls. Be not so covetous, so distrustful, so curious and nice, but let's all marry; to-morrow is St. Valentine's Day. Since, then, marriage is the last and best cure of heroical love, all doubts are cured and impediments removed; God send us all good wives!

Take this for a corollory and conclusion; as thou tenderest thine own welfare in love-melancholy, in the melancholy of religion, and in all other melancholy; observe this short precept—Be not solitary; be not idle.