Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Anatomy of Melancholy II

Countries free from melancholy according to Burton: "Italy in the time of Augustus, now in China(?), now in many other flourishing kingdoms of Europe." The defining characteristics of these happy countries are obedience to God, a state of peace, quiet wealth, a well-tilled countryside, many fair-built and populous cities, and, "as old Cato said, the people are neat, polite and terse." I would not qualify to be a citizen of such a place.

"...he that teacheth the King of Macedon, teacheth all his subjects."--Antigonus. I liked this in the moment. I am going to skip writing out the Latin where it is appropriate in these quotations for the time being.

"Where they be generally riotous and contentious, where there be many discords, many laws, many lawsuits, many lawyers, and many physicians, it is a manifest sign of a distempered, melancholy state, as Plato long since maintained..."

Further regarding lawyers, quoting Sesellius ("a famous civilian sometime in Paris"): "...he must be fee'd still, or else he is as mute as a fish, better open an oyster without a knife." I should note that the style of the book is that once a topic such as the venality of lawyers is opened, Burton runs with it for many pages, relates about 50 pertinent quotations and episodes, mostly from obscure Latin authors, and exhausts the subject as thoroughly as he can without losing the vigor of his narrative. His approving readership must really love this.

Burton felt that Ireland was allowed to lie uncivilized too long: " would turn to the dishonour of our nation, to suffer it to lie so long waste."

He considered Edward III (r. 1327-77) to be England's most renowned king.

To give a further indication of the book's rambling nature, there is a long recount of all of the major irrigation and canal projects going back to antiquity--unnavigable rivers being a sign of barbarism and thus to Burton a source of melancholy--that takes up several pages, still in the introduction.

He suggests a number of rules for lawyers that are intended to promote justice and de-emphasize financial interest, of which my favorite is that "all causes shall be pleaded suppresso nomine, the parties' names concealed, if some circumstances do not otherwise require."

He was hard on debtors too: "A bankrupt shall be publicly shamed, and he that cannot pay his debts, if by riot or negligence he hath been impoverished, shall be for a twelvemonth imprisoned; if in that space his creditors be not satisfied, he shall be hanged." I admit I could never figure out how seriously one was supposed to take these proscriptions, many of which were of a violent severity that we would find appalling if uttered by a gentleman-scholar of our own age.

At page 124, I noted that my book (I had the edition featured in the 1st picture above), was already dirty, and the main body of the treatise still had not started yet. Though it did begin immediately thereafter.

After a long litany of the woes of human existence, we are reminded that, "...and the latter end of the world, as Paul foretold, is still like to be the worst."

The number of bones in the human body was evidently still unknown at this time, popular estimates according to Burton being 304, 307 and 313.

As this point I was up to around page 150, where I noted that neither Shakespeare nor Spenser nor Chaucer nor any other English poet had yet been quoted, or even mentioned. I remember that Shakespeare and Spenser were eventually alluded to, which I doubtless commented on when these occurred, though it was still not more than a couple of references in the entirety of the Anatomy.

" 'Fear and sorrow' make it differ from madness; 'without a cause' is lastly inserted, to specify it from all other ordinary passions of 'fear and sorrow'." Definition of melancholy.

During a catalogue of various tyrants and other highly placed people who were known to have been punished by God for their wicked actions while still in life, there was a reference to Tiridates, an Armenian king, who as retribution for violating some holy nuns, was deprived of his wits. At the time I guess I thought everybody loved the idea of nun violations, since it is a theme that seems to come up a lot. But of course they wouldn't.

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