The Anatomy of Melancholy: Robert Burton


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's 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 climes; 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, waking, 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 Actaeon 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. You shall find 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.


'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 Pheidias'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, wouldst thou have? Shall every man have his desert, thou wouldst per-adventure be a saint in comparison. Be not dismayed; it is human to err. Be penitent, ask forgiveness and vex thyself no more.


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 dire mischances, 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 abating of the evil that afflicts them, 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 in the married state, 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. Let us marry, therefore, and may God send us all good wives!

TAKE this for a corollary 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.

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