martes, 26 de febrero de 2019

An Introduction to The Anatomy of Melancholy

Holbrook Jackson's introduction to Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy (Everyman's Library, 1932)

It is ironical that a treatise of melancholy should have become one of the great entertainments among English writings; but the irony is accidental, for if the author of the Anatomy of Melancholy was not precisely of the breed of Mark Tapley he was no hypochondriac, and had no intention of compiling a doleful work. Robert Burton was a good-humoured pessimist, and unless he himself had told us we should not have guessed that he was addicted to a melancholy, lamentable enough for him, but most fortunate for us because it was the first cause of a delightful book. For proof of his fundamental amiability we must recall Bishop Kennett's stroy which tells how Burton, when the melancholy weighed upon him, would leave his study in Christ Church, Oxford, stroll down to Folly Bridge and recreate himself by listening to the vigorous back-chat of the bargees. He confesses, however, that he wrote the Anatomy to relieve his own melancholy. We do not know whether the disease yielded to the treatment, but we do know that, for over three centuries, his work has been a prophylactic against the megrims, and his kindly if irascible soul still goes marching on in successive editions of his masterpiece, blazing new trails of pleasure among the generations succeeding that which was enriched by his presence.

There are few details of his life, and few are necessary, for if ever author were embodied in a book or if ever book were the presentment of an author, that author was Robert Burton and that book the Anatomy of Melancholy. The biographical facts are that he was born at Lindley Hall in Leicestershire on 8th February, 1577, the fourth of a family of nine; that he went to the Free School at Sutton Coldfield and later to Nuneaton Grammar School; that he entered Brasenose College in 1593, was elected a student of Christ Church in 1599, took his B.D. in 1614, became  Vicar of St. Thomas, Oxford, two years later, and was presented with the living of Seagrave in Leicestershire, by his patron George, Lord Berkeley, in 1630. He was a ready versifier in both Latin and English, contributed to several academic anthologies, and in his thirty-first year wrote Philosophaster, a satirical comedy in Latin verse. This, his first sustained work, was rewriten in 1615  and performed by the students in the Hall of Christ Church in 1617.(1)

(1). Philosophaster remained in MS. until 1862, when it was edited by William Edward Buckley and published by the Roxburghe Club. The first translation was made by Paul Jordan-Smith and published by Stanford University, California, in 1931. 

The Anatomy of Melancholy was published in 1621, and went through five editions during the author's life. The last edition which he saw through the press was that of 1638, for in the following year he died at the age of sixty-three and was buried in the Cathedral of the University where his brother William, author of the Description of Leicestershire (1622), erected a monument to his memory in the form of a portrait bust, tinted to the life, after the manner of those times.

His life was uneventful. "I have lived," he says, "a silent, sedentary, solitary, private life, mihi & musis in the University as long almost as Xenocrates in Athens, ad senectam fere,  to learn wisdom as he did, penned up most part in my study." This we may accept literally, although he was a parson, and for some years a pluralist parson, with the duties of his incumbencies, which he probably reduced by delegation or neglect. Yet it would be unsafe to conclude that even so large and complicated work as the Anatomy was necessarily a whole-time job. Diligence and an enjoyment of drudgery can accomplish miracles in the spare time of a busy life. Burton may have been reclusive, but he was no hermit. Apart from his position as a clerk in Holy Orders, there is evidence of other activities: he was librarian of his college, and for a year at least, a Clerk of Oxford Market. Primerily, however, he was a scholar and a bookman agreeably cloistered in his own rooms, with plenty of books (2), or in the admirable library of "the most flourishing College in Europe," or the Bodleian, endeavoring by his researches into the causes and cure of melancholy to be more than "a drone"  or "an unprofitable and unworthy member of so learned and noble a society," and to avoid writing "that which should be in any way dishonourable to such a royal and ample foundation."

(2). He owned about 2,000 volumes, which he bequeathed to the library of his College and the Bodleian.

Such a man might have lapsed into pedantry; but although he uses a pedantic method his outlook is far from it, and he himself has few of the vices of the schoolman. Nor is his solemn vocation reflected in his style. The Anatomy, indeed, is often unparsonic; even his admonitions are tolerant and urbane, whilst his conversation was said to be lively, although, as Thomas Hearne is careful to record, "very innocent." But of such details we know little, for it is a curious fact that, although a familiar figure in the university life of his day and a popular author, he shared with Shakespeare an almost complete immunity from contemporary gossip. Beyond the documentary evidence of his offices and the few autobiographical details dotted about his book, no contemporary references of any importance have come to light, and Burton had been dead over fifty years before Anthony à Wood's character of him appeared in the Athenae Oxonienses. Wood never met him, but talked with those who had. But even then the Oxford historian is not essential, for as likely a character could be drawn from the hints and admissions in Burton's own book.

"He was," says Anthony Wood, "an exact Mathematician, a curious calculator of Nativities, a general read Scholar, a thro'-pac'd Philologist, and one that understood the surveying of Lands well. As he was by many accounted a severe student, a devourer of Authors, a melancholy and humorous Person; so by others, who knew him well, a Person of great honesty, plain dealing and Charity. I have heard some of the Ancients of Christ Church often say that his Company was very merry, facete and juvenile, and no man did surpass him for his ready and dextrous interlarding his common discourses among them with Verses from the Poets or Sentences from classical Authors, which being then the fashion in the University, made his Company more acceptable."

We know how he looked from his portraits, of which there are three: a painting in oils at Brasenose, the engraved miniature by Le Blon in the emblematic frontispiece of the Anatomy, and the painted bust in the Cathedral at Oxford. From these sources we may compose a portrait of our English Democritus among his books in the agreeable setting of a famous and already venerable college: a thick-set, plumpish man, with dark brown beard or formal cut; there is a satiric glint in the large eyes, and intelligence and memory are revealed in the monumental forehead; his nose is enterprising and he has the soap mouth of the well-opinioned, corrected by an indulgent nether lip. It is the face of a character such as England often produced in those days and sometimes even now: a competent, thoughtful, self-sufficient face, with a hint of shyness which might indicate a preference for a shelteered life rather than a life of adventure, unless it were adventures among books. And from this composite presentment we may safely infer a genial yet reclusive, diffident yet self-opinionated man, who might be friendly but not demonstrative, tolerant yet irascible, and who whould suffer fools sadly rather than gladly.

Yet when we have said all and listened attentively to Anthony Wood we have not probed very far into the soul of Robert Burton. We have not yet divined that entity which is he and none other. The Anatomist is, indeed, somewhat of a paradox. Like most interesting men, he is not quite consistent. He preaches the happy mean and does not practise it. His book is always excessive. He overloads every statement. It is the most sententious book ever written, yet it reads trippingly as a novel. It is packed with common sense and uncommon nonsense. He is never tired of apologizing for his long-windedness, and immediately starts expatiating again. He fears that he will go too far in his exposition of love-melancholy, and does. He was never married, but marriage has no mysteries for him. He laughs at humanity and weeps over the sorrows and stupidities of men. He is scientifical and superstitious at one and the same time. He is as frank as a pornographer and as mincing as a prude. He mixes facetiae with theology. He is not a deliberate humorist, yet he is often funnier than the professional wag. He is most frivolous whn he is most earnest; and when he is frank and colloquial he is most profound. Like Whitman, he is large and multitudinous. He spills himself and the whole of ancient learning into his books and adroitly turns the medley into an ordered theme which, because of its great size, may weary his reader but never bore him.

Robert Burton was a bookman first and last. He lived among books and upon them, and devoted the greater part of his life to the writing of an epitome or quintessence of the books of all times. His treatise is the legitimate offspring of a bookish mind, and although it is largely a distillation of authors it is an original work. The Anatomy looks like a crude assembly of quotations and is indeed a vast mobilization of the notions and expressions of others, yet it is not they but the rifler who is revealed on every page, it is he, notthey who peeps from behind every quotation. The reason is clear. He is an artist in literary mosaic, using the shreds and patches he has torn from the work of others to make a picture emphatically his own. Books are his raw material. Other artists fashion images out of clay, contrive fabrics and forms of stone, symphonies of words, sounds, or pigments Burton makes a cosmos out of quotations. He raids the writings of the past, which he often finds neglected or in ruins, and reassembles them in a structure of his own, much as the ruins of Rome were pillaged by the builders of the Renaissance and worked into the temples and palaces of a new civilization.

His apologies for this fascinating literary structure seem supefluous, but they are due neither to mock modesty nor to a sense of inferiority. Burton never lacked proper conceit. He was convinced of his ability to accomplish his task and he believed in his own sagacity.  Authors rarely compile works running into half a million words without being encouraged by the conviction that they are doing something worth doing. His apologetics were, of course, a convention; no seventeenth-century work was complete without a prefatory vindication. He not only excuses himself for his subject and his manner of presenting it, he apologizes even for his title. He wrote about melancholy not solely, it would seem, to relieve himself of that distemper, as he asserts in one place, but because he thought it "a subject most necessary and commodious, less common and controversial than Divinity, which I do acknowledge to be the queen of professions." His title to-day seems explicit enough. It is unnecessary for him to cite precedents, for anatomies were almost as common then as anthologies are now. But if it is a little odd, he will let it stand, since "it is a kind of policy in these days to prefix a phantastical title to a book which is to be sold—for as larks come down to a day-net, many vain readers will tarry and stand gazing, like silly passengers, at an antic picture in a painter's shop, that will not look at a judicious piece." For the same reason he commits his treatise, in the main, to the English language. "It was not mine intent," he says, "to prostitute my muse in English," but if he had composed his work in Latin he could not have got it printed: "Any scurrile pamphlet is welcome to our mercenary stationers in English," he complains, "but in Latin they will not deal." But we do not join him in reviling those mercenary publishers, for if they had not thought of their profits they would have robbed us of ours, and Burton, like so many flourishing wits, would lie smothered in oblivion.

His style is peculiar only as it is linked with a method which demands lavish quotations and citation. He is a master of both these arts. The quantity, audacity, and aptness of his quotations have always astounded and refreshed his readers; and he is easily the greatest collector and coordinator of apophthegms in an age which had many notable specialists in that craft. Stripped, however, of these characteristic and entertaining encumbrances. Burton's prose is direct and normal. It has a brisk, staccato style, which guarantees the fluency of his long and leisurely book. He is often charged with eccentricity; but if we allow for the inevitable quaintness created by time such a charge cannot be upheld. Burton is a self-conscious quoter and a deviser of processions of glittering words and epithets, but he is no mere phrase-maker. He does not invent a phrase for its own sake, and then stand back to admire it as one feels Browne doing and Donne doing. His style is too colloquial for that. It is like good talk. You can hear the cadence of a disputatious yet friendly voice tirelessly advising and expounding, but always redeemed from monotony by an apt twist or a whimsical turn, and when these fail, he brings up his reserves of curious tales which he marshals with ingenuity and gusto.

The Anatomy is great in size and scope. It ranges over all times and place, diving into the past, dipping into the future, and even glancing ironically at the present. Although his theme is melancholy, he contrives by a method of intermission and digression to glance at almost every human interest or endeavour. The work is thus a commentary unpon the life and habits of the human race. It is a bridge between medieval and modern thought: the swan song of authoritarian scholasticism (all that Glanvill condemned in his Scepsis Scientifica), and an anticipation of the method of deduction from observed facts. He adopts the traditional form of the conspectus of his time. The work is arranged in three "partitions" and numerous "sections," "members," and "subsections," the titles and sub-titles being set out synoptically at the beginning of each part. In addition to the parts and chapters proper there are several admitted "digressions," often the size of a treatise, and "as satirical Preface conducing to the . . . Discourse" which fills seventy-eight pages, folio, in the definitive edition.

Sir William Osler described the Anatomy as "the greatest medical treatise written by a layman." But apart from the main theme there are sections which, although organically related to it, are complete essays in themselves. Some of these do pioneer work. The long and fascinating chapter called "A Digression of Air" is the first essay in climatology, and the section on "Religious Melancholy" is the first study of that subject. His psychological study of sex anticipates Havelock Ellis, and his repudiation of romantic love, Bernard Shaw; his chapters on "Jealousy" contain all the ingredients of the post-war problem-novel; whilst buried in the famous preface is a Utopia which suggests Wells. Burton is revealed as a sound political economist, a little-Englander, a protectionist, an opponent of monopolies, an enemy of war, an avocate of better highways, the extension of inland waterways, the reclamation of marshlands, the building of garden villages, and the granting of old age pensions.

The Anatomy of Melancholy is one of those books which possess something like human character and behaviour, the kind of book which seems to have grown. Few books are more definitely or more curiously imbued with their authorship. The Anatomy is Burton, and Burton the Anatomy. To read it is to read him: to read him is to talk with him, to know him as we know the great persons of fiction, or those few writers who have so projected themselves into their works as to have achieved for their own personalities what the great novelists and dramatists have achieved for the characters of their stories and plays. Burton, like Montaigne, Pepys, and Lamb, has made a fiction of himself, stranger and more interesting than fact.

It was born in 1621, when Burton was forty-five: a small quarto, of nearly nine hundred pages, exceedingly plump for its size. During the following  seventeen years it continued to grow and improve through four editions, 1624, 1628, 1632, and 1638, each in small folio, but, after the author's death in 1639-40, decline began. Inferior printing and paper set in with the edition of 1651, the first reprint after Burton's death and the last to contain his corrections. In 1660 another edition appears, still more degenerate in character, and the seventeenth-century editions end with the lanky folio of 1676, from which all charm and character have gone. There were no further editions for a hundred and twenty-four years. No book of the century exhibits more clearly the personal influence of author upon printer. The hand of Burton is revealed in all the editions up to 1638. There are innumerable chantes, often small and even whimsical, sometimes considerable, which bear evidence of a taste and fancy other than what at that time spontaneously issued even from the Oxford printing office. The author, true bookman as he  was, must have had many an exciting wrangle with his publishers, Henry Cripps and Leonard Lichfield, "Printer to the famous University," coming out, as I gather, victoriously, for he has contrived also to leave his own mark upon the typography of the book into which he had put so much of himself.

The appreciation of Burton is a test of bookishness, and although he has never lacked readers, even during the dark age, 1677-1799, when no edition of the Anatomy appeared, there have not been lacking those who have belittled and misrepresented him. I am not concerned at the moment with his defence, even if it were necessary, which it is not, for there is no reason why any one should read him unless he wishes to do so. Burton is for the Burtonian. But it is necessary to refer to the misrepresenters, both ancient and modern, because many of them have sinned ignorantly. Critics and commentators have not always taken the trouble to read, still less understand the book, hence much popular nonsense, of which Hallam's description of the Anatomy as "a sweeping of the miscellaneous literature from the Bodleian Library," and Lowell's
A mire ankle-deep of deliberate confusion,
Made up of old jumbles of classic allusion.
are typical specimens

Burton has been oftener damned with faint praise than scoffed at by the ignorantly learned. I know of only one downright depreciator, the Manx poet, T. E. Brown. In a vigorous and humourless essay, contributed to the New Review in 1895, this minor poet and major schoolmaster can find no good word for our good Burton. His learning is but a "parade," the "product of omnivorous folio-bolting and quarto-gulping, urged on and sustained by inordinate vanity"; his method naught but a "pseudo-method," a mere "affectation of method and order." Brown concedes, however, that Burton has "slanging power . . . a wondrous hurly-burly of invective"; and his conclusion reveals a sneaking, if slightly priggish regard. Like Charles Lamb, he is opposed to reprints of the Anatomy. "I do not know a more heartless sight than the reprint of the Anatomy of Melancholy," says Lamb. "What need was there of unearthing the bones of that fantastic old great man, to expose them in a winding-sheet of the newest fashion to modern censure? What hapless stationer could dream of Burton ever becoming popular?" Brown is not so generous or so romantic. An old Burton has a charm, he admits, but only "in an old library; old dust embalms it, old memories haunt it. It is worth seeking there": and he thinks it ought to be read there in situ. "Neglect, decay," he admonishes, "must be the fate of all such ponderous eccentricities. And to smarten them up, and turn them out spick-and-span, radiant and raw, into the form of literature, is a doubtful sort of proceeding. They belong to the cave, and scholars are their natural friends and custodians. Leave them to the scholars." Brown was wrong, but there is evidence that he had at least read his Burton.

His appreciators extend from his own day to ours. He received honourable mention from Anthony Wood, and he gets a good word even from malicious Thomas Hearne, who incidentally gives a hint of the fallen prestige of the Anatomy during the first half of the eighteenth century. "No book sold better formerly," he writes in his diary (1734), "than Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, in which there is a great variety of learning, so that it hath been a common-place for filchers. It hath a great many impressions, and the book-seller got an estate by it; but now 'tis disregarded, and a good fair copy (although of the seventh impressions, and the book-seller got an estate by it; but now 'tis disregarded, and a good fair copy (although of the seventh impression) may be purshased for one shilling, well bound. . . ." Twenty years later, Dr. Thomas Herring, Archbishop of Canterbury, told a friend to "look into" the Anatomy, as Burton was "one of the pleasantest, the most learned and the most full of sterling sense.  . . . the wits of Queen Anne's reign, and the beginning of George the first's were not a little beholden to him."

The legend of Burton as a crib for the lazy and a mine for the creative is well established. The Anatomy is a lucky-bag, whether you are a plagiarist, legitimately predatory, or an adventurous reader, like Dr. Johnson, whom it "took out of bed two hours sooner than he wanted to rise." Many authors of genius have rifled Burton to the advantage of our literature. John Ferriar, in his Illustrations of Sterne, reproves Laurence Sterne for incorporating into Tristram Shandy so much of the Anatomy, "once the favourite of the learned and the witty, and a source of surreptitious learning to many others." Wharton's discovery that Milton was not above taking hints from Burton, when composing Il Penseroso, is the occasion for a neat appreciation of the Anatomy: "The writer's variety of learning, his quotations from scarce and curious books, his pedantry sparkling with rude wit and shapeless elegance, miscellaneous matter, intermixture of agreeable tales and illustrations, and perhaps, above all, the singularities of his feelings cloathed in an uncommon quaintness of style, have contributed to render it, even to modern readers, a valuable repository of amusement and information."

These references indicate continuous interest over a period which knew not Burton in person or in a new edition. With the turn of the century the Anatomy comes once more into favour. Byron tells Moore that it is the most useful book "to a man who wishes to acquire a reputation of being well read, with the least trouble." But Lamb was probably its rediscoverer. It was well within his zone of research and appreciation. He composes an amusing pastiche of its style, and it is doubless through him that Keats and his friends hear of it. Charles Brown gives the poet a copy of the 1813 edition in 1819. Keats reads the volume through "carefully with pen in hand, scoring the margins constantly," annotating and indexing special passages on the last fly-leaf. In the very year of the gift he writes "Lamia," which is based upon a well-known passage in the Anatomy. From then until now interest in the book grows. Dibdin possesses "the cubical quarto of 1621, the tapering folio of 1678 [sic], and all the intermediate editions," and "these copies were all bound in picked russia by Faulkner; for then, Charles Lewis 'was not'." "What an extraordinary book it is," he exclaims, "and what an extraordinary portion of it is the chapter on 'Love Melancholy'! I was grateful for the octavo reprint of it, which has gone through two editions; but Burton has not yet been clothed in the editorial garb whcih ought to encircle his shoulders." A hundred years have passed away, and although over forty editions of the Anatomy have appeared, Dibdin's wish has not yet been carried out. But Burton is not without honour even in our hurried days, for he has perhaps more readers now than ever he had, and in the last decade Mr. Francis Meynell has admitted him into the distinguished company of the Nonesuch Press. An American edition with "an all-English text" has been published under the editorship of Mr. Floyd Dell and Mr. Paul Jordan-Smith, and now the Anatomy achieves apotheosis as a popular classic in the honoured ranks of Everyman's Library.

Holbrook Jackson

The following is a list of the chief works of Robert Burton:

The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621. Revised editions, 1624, 1628, 1632, 1638, 1651. Reprinted, 1660, 1676. No further reprints appeared until 1800, when a two-volume edition was published. Since then many editions have been issued in one, two, or three volumes.
    An edition in two volumes, folio, illustrated by E. McKnight Kauffer, was published by the Nonesuch Press in 1925.
    The first American edition was published in Philadelphia, 1836.

Philosophaster. A satirical comedy, written in Latin, 1606-17. First edition, 1862. Edited by William Edward Buckley, and published by the Roxburghe Club. First edition in English, translated and edited by Paul Jordan-Smith, Stanford University, California, 1931. This edition includes for the first time Burton's minor writings in prose and verse.

For information about Burton and his books see:

(a) Oxford Bibliographical Proceedings and Papers. vol. 1. pt. 3. "'Robert Burton and the Anatomy of Melancholy,' Papers by Sir William Osler, Professor Edward Bensly, and others. Edited by F. Madan, M. A." 1926.

(b). Bibliographia Burtoniana:  A Study of Robert Burton's "The Anatomy of Melancholy," with a Bibliography. By Paul Jordan-Smith. 1931.


No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario

Se aceptan opiniones alternativas, e incluso coincidentes:

Mi fotoblog

Mi fotoblog
se puede ver haciendo clic en la foto ésta de Termineitor. Y hay más enlaces a cosas mías al pie de esta página.