The Anatomy of Melancholy II

This is the last post about the introductions; I’ve finally moved on to Democritus Junior’s text. I already wish that I knew some Latin; it looks like a third of the Latin in the book remains entirely untranslated. I like Jackson’s assessment of the book as a whole (I can only imagine Dan Green plugging his ears, squeezing his eyes shut and singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” at the top of his voice): 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 definitively 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… Continue Reading

The Anatomy of Melancholy I

There was a lot of controversy when both Zadie Smith and Marisha Pessl received a great deal of coverage that centred on their appearance rather than their considerable talent. Bloggers and columnists were raising such a fuss over the fact that people were calling Smith and Pessl pretty; imagine if they had been discussed with the kind of attention to detail that Holbrook Jackson paid to Robert Burton in his introduction to the 1932 edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy, or even worse, drew the same sort of conclusions. Observe: We know how he looked from his portraits, of which there are three […] 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 of formal cut; there is a satiric glint in the large eyes,… Continue Reading

The Long Read: The Anatomy of Melancholy

I’m inaugurating a new reading project for It will be independent of Reading 2008 and subsequent related projects. It’s called The Long Read. There are a number of books in my stack that I’ve wanted to read for years, but have put off because they are daunting either intellectually or by virtue of their extreme length (or both). There aren’t many of these books, but they could take months or perhaps even a full year to read and therefore don’t fit well into my Reading 2008 project, nor my policy of reading only one book at a time. I’m talking about books like The Anatomy of Melancholy or In Search of Lost Time. What I propose is this: alongside my regular reading, I will read one of these long, daunting books. Rather than posting a single review after reading the book, I will post periodic reports, including interesting quotations… Continue Reading