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The Book

Burton lived between 1577 and 1640; most of his life was spent quietly, at Oxford. His famous book on melancholy includes medicine and psychology from ancient sources as well as his own times. A 900-page first edition (1621) was followed by four ever-larger versions, together with one published posthumously (1651).[1] [2] The book is divided into three parts (partitions), with the causes and cures of melancholy the topics of the first and second partitions, respectively, and those are our focus. The Anatomy is more a compendium of earlier writing about melancholy than an original, or systematic, work. And it gives little evidence of the scientific observation and method associated with the emerging thinking of the early seventeenth century. Rather, it combines the humoral theories of the Greeks and Romans, Stoic ideas about the regulation of the passions, the Aristotelianism of medieval Christianity, the astrology of Renaissance humanism, and late Renaissance theories and observations about melancholy (such as that of the French doctor Andre du Laurens), with the homely style of self-help manuals.

  • [1] Recent historical works include Arikha (2007), Gowland (2006), Lund (2010), and Schmidt(2007).
  • [2] All references are to the 1632 edition of the Anatomy of Melancholy (Burton 1989-2000, ThomasFaulkner, Nicolas Kiessling, and Rhonda Blair eds).
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