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The Anatomy of Melancholy

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  1,217 ratings  ·  132 reviews
One of the major documents of modern European civilization, Robert Burton's astounding compendium, a survey of melancholy in all its myriad forms, has invited nothing but superlatives since its publication in the seventeenth century. Lewellyn Powys called it "the greatest work of prose of the greatest period of English prose-writing," while the celebrated surgeon William O ...more
Paperback, 1392 pages
Published April 30th 2001 by NYRB Classics (first published 1621)
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Sep 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: aere-perennius, 2017
Unius ætatis sunt quæ fortiter fiunt, quæ vero pro utilitate Reipub. scribuntur, æterna or a soldier's work lasts for an age, a scholar's for ever.
-- Vigetius, quoted in Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy


I was given this book five years ago by my best friend/college roomate for my birthday. He gave me a beautiful John C. Nimmo, 1886 edition with M
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Feb 04, 2012 added it
Recommends it for: Melancholics (You)
Recommended to Nathan "N.R." by: Alexander Theroux

The Anatomy of Melancholy, What It Is,
With All The Kinds, Causes, Symptoms, Prognostics, And Several Cures Of It.
In Three Partitions.
With Their Several Sections, Members, and Subsections,
Philosophically, Medically, Historically Opened And Cut Up.
By Democritus Junior.
With a Satirical Preface, Conducing To The Following Discourse.
A New Edition, Corrected, And Enriched By Translations Of The Numerous Classical Extracts.
By Democritus Minor. To Which Is Prefixed
MJ Nicholls
Nov 18, 2012 marked it as getting-even
While Nathan “N.R.” is in Bermuda sluicing sand out of his thong (remember, he’s over twenty-five stone and has seven buttocks), let’s talk sensibly about this book, but mostly, about English pre-1800s. Reading any English novel of the 1700s or earlier is extremely unpleasurable. The language is sufficiently, infuriatingly different to our present-day English, or even 19thC English, forcing the reader to re-learn an old style used by our forefathers. Verily, words order are, often truly commingl ...more
Dec 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing

Back before the practitioners of the "Scientific Method" spread all their lies, human medicine was based on more sound and simple principles. In the olden days, when they weren't being obscured by deceitful conspirators, the Four Humours were known to be the vital fluids sustaining our life functions. All human maladies could be traced to an imbalance in these internal liquids, except for obvious stuff like a broken leg or getting hit by lightning, which a
Jun 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: samizdat
Reality should be snared, at least where it is convenient. Burton demanded browsers and I obliged. I did not read this book sequentially. Nor was any effort made to complete this book cover-to-cover. It was read in a flourish of skips and delights: anti-oedpian piercing and parsing. Gazes, gouges and gatherings, baby. I will return to this for the rest of my life.
The days are long. I live in the tropics, in a city with a reputation for unparallelled liveliness. Bangkok does marathon clubbing nights, casual sex, performance art, political rallies, and obsessive Instagramming, not 1500-page tomes on melancholy.

I sit on the terrace with my coffee and my Robert Burton and I feel less alone, I feel less alone with my introversion, knowing that there's someone else with a gargoyle perched on their shoulder who thought he could write his way out of
Nov 02, 2012 marked it as to-read
Shelves: infinite-books
As Nathan "Nautical Rigging"* Gaddis would say, "the check is in the mail."

*Variations I considered:

-Nauseating Rigormortis
-Necromaniacal Reprobate
-Nifty Ratcatcher
-Nearly Rabelais
-Nice Rebound!
-Nasty Ricecake
-Normal, Reasonable
-Natal Reading
-NAFTA Reformer
-Nested Russian-doll
-Naissant Rabbi
-Narcoleptic Raccoon
-Nectariferous Riodinidae
-Nemoral Rabbit
-Nephroidal Ragamuffin
-Nominative Rhotic
Scribble Orca
Feb 12, 2013 marked it as to-be-consideread
Recommended to Scribble by: Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

The long and winding road or there and back again or Ode to Melancholy or:

Slips soft and curling....
notes of music wind
like silk caresses through my mind
and eyes see far-flung places
melted and meshed with faraway faces
again with inspiration born
of the breathless sigh that escapes my lips:
I have come to know so well your enslaving bliss
how you enchant my senses so that I exist
only in the moment when
vivid drea
The penultimate Self-Help book. The medical man's history primer of Galen and Astrology. The completionist's guide to a completely exhaustive and exhausting compendium of (now) obscure references, to Latin, and frankly inexplicable inclusions.

If he went out of his way to design for us a perfect way to exhaust us with his knowledge of poverty, nobility, love, the Humors, the Galenic qualities of all kinds of foodstuffs, and do it with more in-text annotations than actual text, doing it all in th
Jun 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It is fully--as its learned reviewers and commentators claim--one of the great documents of human civilization. I didn't expect it to be as wonderful a reading experience as it is--usually any book this dense turns out to be a slog. Like Montaigne or Browne. But I'm now convinced, this is one of the most awesome intellectual experiences you can enjoy via a book. Its a carnival ride. This is now one of my all-time favorite books; and certainly the best possible example of the 'what book is best f ...more
Jim Elkins
Aug 03, 2017 added it
Shelves: english
The Struggle of Logic Against Depression

I have finally finished a careful reading of Robert Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy," along with a wonderful book by Ruth Fox, "The Tangled Chain: The Structure of Disorder in the Anatomy of Melancholy."

This is part of my ongoing project to read maximalist fiction -- really, to read the longest, most complex books I can find. There is a tradition according to which Burton belongs with Milton and Shakespeare in the 17th century canon
This is a book that I view as a reference work in the sense that it can be read or reread a bit at a time and turned to as if to reference a topic. The table of contents is maddeningly unspecific in its title, for example there is an eighty page section titled simply "A Digression of Remedies Against Discontents". However, there is a sufficiently detailed index to allow the reader some hope of finding more specific comments about "goblins' or "grasshoppers" or "green-sickness." The last of these ...more
Nov 24, 2010 marked it as intermittently-reading
This is one of the greatest things ever. Vincit omnia facetiarum. Or something like that. As another Goodreader pointed out, there likely exists nobody who has read every single page of this mammoth wonder—but damned if I'm not going to give it my very best effort to be able to say that I did! prior to making the transition to particulate dust.
Jessica Gilliam
Apr 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The first partition, Democritus to the Reader, is a rare gem and serves as a map of the text as a whole. If you don't have much time, this section is sufficient in familiarizing yourself with Burton's work. If you have insomnia however, or nothing else to do, dig deeper. Burton's inspections of depression, anxiety, fundamentalism, obsession, the insatiable desire to know our origin, love, political corruption, hypocrisy, sex, and overindulgence are refreshing and just as pertinent today as they ...more
Bryn Hammond
Jan 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
At one point (ahead of his section on symptoms) Burton cautions melancholics not to read his book, for fear of the contagion of ideas -- just such as he discusses for the melancholic imagination. I see this book called a perpetual delight for its charms of prose and its magpie learning, but it is about the ills of the human condition and, you know, quite sad. It may be a companion to melancholics; it may be close to the bone and hard to read. I have just perused his pages on suicide (within the ...more
May 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book sat behind my chair after I had it bound, for forty years, and I read from it every few days. A great book, but a dipper: too dense to plow through, Latin quotations and all, but rewarding in pieces, like the Bible and, say, Gilbert White (Natural History of Selbourne). Originally one of the four "humors" like "Blood/ Sanguinary" that determine personality--"sanguine" being out-going, optimisic-- "Melancholy" or black bile broadens here to include what we call "psychology" or psychotro ...more
Patrick Oden
Apr 05, 2007 marked it as to-read
Shelves: nonfiction
A brilliant, witty, insightful book on the nature and causes of depression, written in the early 17th century. Very thorough. Dr. Johnson used to read this regularly. It's great in small doses. Helpful if you know Latin. Burton peppers his considerations with a generous amount of classical quotes. This makes for a little disjointed reading if you, like me, don't know Latin.
M.L. Rio
To be fair to Burton I quite enjoyed pieces of this but if I handed something so bloated and repetitive to my agent she's just shoot me and I would not blame her. (Oh, to be a man with an Oxbridge degree in 1621.)
Dave H
Apr 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: not-fiction
“This for the most part is the humour of us all, to be discontent, miserable, and most unhappy, as we think at least; and show me him that is not so, or that ever was otherwise.”

Quite, quite interesting. “The Anatomy of Melancholy” goes quite beyond the titled gloominess to spread melancholy onto a compendium of human conditions, complete with symptoms, prognostics and the various cures ever known in the western world. Witches, humours, charms, angels, purgatives (for both or either
May 12, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
"For others it will be pleasurably difficult beyond all measure. For myself, it was mental rest. Mine was the kind of reading which is often described as “letting the prose just flow over you.” My reading was one of phrases, quotations, lists, words, names, daydreams, and melancholy, but not of sentences. No question that my reading was not a close reading. One need not analyze a friend to death with every conversation. Just listen. Just dance."
"For others it will be pleasurably difficult beyond all measure. For myself, it was mental rest. Mine was the kind of reading which is often described as “letting the prose just flow over you.” My reading was one of phrases, quotations, lists, words, names, daydreams, and melancholy, but not of sentences. No question that my reading was not a close reading. One need not analyze a friend to death with every conversation. Just listen. Just dance."Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

Perhaps you've found out some information about this work and it has piqued your interest, or maybe you're looking for a reason to read it...

I think the first paragraph-proper of Nathan's review accurately describes the type of person who would enjoy this work:
They are melancholic. They are erudite. They revel in learning. They know that the world is their books. They can step out of their 21st century vanity and return to a 17th text and feel at home. They know that science changed but did not advance with Sir Bacon (side of eggs, please). They know that Burton will feel more modern and kin-like than what is passed off as the Latest Thing today. They will understand that our neuronal superstitions today are no advancement over the theory of humours. They will, in all likelihood, be brimming with black bile. They will be readers who will nevernever find too many words between the covers of a book.

But if that doesn't sound like you then perhaps you'll find the following reason enough to convince you: in reading this, you'll be taken on an encyclopaedic flight through the 17th Century library, readings, and learnings of this Oxford Don, Divine, Vicar, Rector, and Scholar.

A flight through divers branches of knowledge, emotions, people, lands far and wide...

Another reason you may want to read this is to mine it for quotations.

There are a lot to be had; I would urge you to do as Lord Byron (and I) did and keep a pencil at hand and annotate away.

Once you get past quite possibly the longest preface ever (130+pp.), the fun begins.

It's essentially a collection of discursive essays with the common thread of Melancholy running throughout.

Burton uses the subject of (the then epidemical) Melancholy as a springboard to talk about all manner of subjects, and to quote extensively from seemingly every Author he has read.

And boy has he read.

But the quotes do not just display his studiousness; the quotes are perfect. You can easily start to overlook this, but it's evident throughout the work.

Bold below: Sections
Italicised below: (selections of) members, sections, and subsections.
I thought this might help display the range of topics Burton discusses.

The First Partition sets Melancholy in context via a Digression of Anatomy &c.. Burton then talks about Causes(God, Parents, Bad Diet, Bad Air, Immoderate: Exercise, Solitariness, Idleness etc., Passions of The Mind, Pleasures Immoderate, Self-Love, Vainglory, Pride etc., Love of Learning, Non-Necessary Causes &c.), Symptoms (: in the Body, in the Mind, from Education, of Windy Melancholy, Maids', Nuns' and Widows' Melancholy &c.), and Prognostics.

In The Second Partition, Burton talks of Cures(Unlawful & Lawful &c.), Rectifications (of: Diet, Exercise of Body and Mind, Retention & Evacuation, Help from Friends &c.), Remedies against Discontents (against: Poverty & Want, Servitude, Sorrrow for Death of Friends, Envy & All Other Affections, Melancholy Itself &c.), Medicinal & Chirurgical Remedies (Physic, Herbal, Precious Stones, Metals, Minerals, Compound Alternatives &c.), and Particular Cures for Specific Types of Melancholy (Blood-letting, Procuring Sleep, Expelling Wind &c.)

In The Third Partition: Love and Its Objects (Honest Objects, Charity &c.), Love Melancholy (Love's Power and Extent, Causes of heroical Love, Other Causes, Artificial Allurements, [Importunity and Opportunity of Time, Place, Conference, Discourse, Singing, Dancing, Music, Amorous Tales, Objects, Kissing, Familiarity, Tokens, Presents, Bribes, Promises, Protestations, Tears etc.], Symptoms or Signs of Love-Melancholy, Prognostics, Cures: (By Counsel and Persuasion etc., Philters, Magical and Poetical), The Last and Best Cure , Jealousy (Causes: Idleness, Melancholy, Impotency, long Absence, Beauty, Wontonness etc., Symptoms: Fear, Sorrow, Suspicion, strange Actions, Gestures, Outrages, Locking Up, Oaths, Trials, Laws etc., Cures &c.), and Religious Melancholy ( Its Object God, Causes: From The Devil, by miracles, apparitions, oracles. His Instruments or factors, Politicians, Priests, Impostors, Heretics, blind guides. In them simplicity, fear, blind zeal, ignorance, solitariness, curiosity, pride, vainglory, presumption etc., Symptoms: love to their own sect, hate of all other religions, obstinacy, peevishness, ready to undergo any danger or cross for it; Martyrs, blind zeal, blind obedience, fastings vows, belief of incredibilities, impossibilities etc., Cure, Despair, Causes of Despair, Etc., Symptoms of Despair: Fear, Sorrow, Suspicion, Anxiety, Horror of Consciencem Fearful Dreams and Visions, Prognostics of Despair: Atheism, Violent Death, etc., Cure of Despair)

Some links you may find useful:
I. In Our Time Discussion
II. Complete Contents, including all Partitions, Members, Sections, and Subsections
III. Burton's original, beautiful Synopses of all three partitions can be viewed in the gallery on on this page

My Favourite Parts

Pt. 1. Sec. 2. Mem. 3. Subs. XV.Love of Learning, or overmuch Study.
With a Digression of the Misery of Scholars, and why the Muses are Melancholy.

Pt. 2. Sec. 2. Mem. IV. Exercise Rectified of Body and Mind

The Entirety of the First & Second Sections of the Third Partition:
Pt. 3. Sec. 1.Love and Its Objects
Pt. 3. Sec. 2.Love Melancholy ...more
Chuck LoPresti
Mar 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is possibly the greatest piece of scholarship I've ever read. As advertised, what you'll get is a very heavy book that exhaustively investigates melancholy with an extensive compendium of quotes. So if you share Walter Benjamin's opinion that: "Quotations in my work are like wayside robbers who leap out armed and relieve the stroller of his conviction." you might share my lack of...well....conviction. Perhaps I'm just a bit irritated by what was one of the longest books I've read. When Burt ...more
May 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
J.W.D. Nicolello
Dec 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Let us



en route

to city

whose dog


shop I

found you

long 'fore

I knew

this site

what else?

'If you don't like my book, go read another.'

- Burton
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Text with commentary in 6 volumes.
Brooke Salaz
Apr 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nyr
A favorite of Samuel Johnson, rather insane look at pretty much every possible cause of this condition. Huge, repetitive, big hearted, inconsistent, Burton genuinely cares for humanity and seems to feel this work by synthesizing what the leading thinkers have said about anything even remotely related to the topic is going to help others. I particularly enjoyed the topic of love and all the artful wiles put to use by both men and women to entice and entrap the opposite sex. He comes to the conclu ...more
A. J. McMahon
Jul 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
No book has ever taken me so long to read as this one, including all the times I all but gave up on it. I have no choice but to give it five stars as it is a masterpiece; it is also, however, totally deranged and goes nowhere for well over a thousand pages. It is supposedly a study of melancholy, which includes a long survey of the medical knowledge of the day (the seventeenth century) in which it was written; it contains references to all of human history, is often written in Latin (with transl ...more
Robert Lebling
Feb 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a truly remarkable collection of facts, factoids, legends and theories assembled by an Oxford librarian in the 17th century. Its purpose is to explain and analyze the human emotion of melancholy -- as well as just about everything else in the known universe.

The book has three volumes, published in sequence between 1621 and 1640. New York Review Books has stitched the three into a single, fat paperback, which is just about perfect for most purposes.

This is the kind
Daniel Wright
At first, I approached this book with interest and a certain amount of fear (it is about 1400 pages long). Before long, I got tired of the writing style, bogged down in classical quotations, and only continued out of a sense of duty. Eventually, though, it grew on me, and I started to look forward to my daily snippets for pleasure and comfort. The very idea of this book makes it seem depressing, but it isn't; it is suffused with a deep and boundless joy, and an unquenchable hope. Not a stone in ...more
Robert Reinhard
Sep 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Anyone who loves language and words and a mind that thinks about everything pertaining to human beings wil love this inexaustible book
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NYRB Classics: The Anatomy of Melancholy, by Robert Burton 1 26 Oct 18, 2013 01:11PM  

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Robert Burton was an English scholar, born in 1577. Entered Brasenose College, Oxford, 1593. Student of Christ Church, 1599; B.D., 1614 and Vicar of St. Thomas's, Oxford, 1616, and rector of Seagrave from 1630 until his death in 1640. Best known for writing The Anatomy of Melancholy.
“[T]hou canst not think worse of me than I do of myself.” 147 likes
“He that increaseth wisdom, increaseth sorrow.” 74 likes
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