'The Anatomy of Melancholy' by Robert Burton (1621)

A Selection from the first Volume of 'The Anatomy of Melancholy' by Robert Burton, 1621 (8th edition 16--).

Note: I have preserved the orthography and grammar of the 8th edition (Burton's final edit).

[Work in Progress]

Volume 1.


GENTLE Reader, I presume thou wilt be very inquisitive to know what antick or personate actor this is, that so insolently intrudes upon this common theatre to the world's view, arrogating another man's name, whence he is, why he doth it, and what he hath to say. 

Democritus, as he is described by Hippocrates, and Laertius, was a little wearish old man, very melancholy by nature, averse from company in his latter days, and much given to solitariness, a famous Philosopher in his age, coevus with Socrates, wholly addicted to his studies at the last, and to a private life... . [...] In a word, he was omnifariam doctus, a general scholar, a great student... .  [...] After a wandering life, he setled at Abdera, a town in Thrace, and [...] there he lived at last in a garden in the suburbs, wholy betaking himself to his studies, and a private life, saving that sometimes he would walk down to the haven, and laugh heartily at such variety of ridiculous objects, which there he saw. Such a one was Democritus. 
But in the mean time, how doth this concern me, or upon what reference do I usurp his habit? ... I do not presume to make any parallel, ['He excels me in 300,000 ways, I am an insignificant person, a nobody, I have neither high aims nor hopes']. Yet thus much I will say of myself, & that I hope without all suspicion of pride, or self-conceit, I have lived a silent, sedentary, solitary, private life, mihi [symbol] musis ['To myself and letters'] in the University as long almost as Xenocrates in Athens, ad senectam fere ['To old age almost'], to learn wisdom as he did, penned up most part in my study. For I have been brought up a student in the most flourishing College of Europe [Christ Church in Oxford]. [...] ...though by my profession a Divine, yet... out of a running wit, an unconstant unsettled mind, I had a great desire, (not able to attain to a superficial skill in any) to have some smattering in all, to be aliquis in omnibus, nullus in singulis ['Somebody in everything, no authority in anything'], which Plato commends... as fit to be imprinted in all curious wits, not be a slave of one science, or dwell altogether in one subject as most do, but to rove abroad... . This roving humour... I have ever had,... I have followed all, saving that which I should, & may justly complain, & truly, qui ubique est, musquam est ['He who is everywhere is nowhere', Seneca, Epistles],... that I have read many books, but to little purpose, for want of good method, I have confusedly tumbled over divers authors in our Libraries, with small profit for want of art, order, memory, judgement. [...] ...I live still a Collegiate student, as Democritus in his garden, and lead a monastick life, ipse mihi theatrum ['A theatre to myself'], sequestered from those tumults & troubles of the world, et tanguam in specula positus, (as he [Heinsius] said) in some high place above you all, like Stoicus Sapiens, omnia saecula, praeterita presentiaque videns, uno velut intuitu ['Seeing all ages, past and present, as at one glance.] [...] ...I laugh at all... . I have no wife nor children good or bad to provide for. A mere spectator of other mens' fortunes and adventures, and how they act their parts, which methinks are diversely presented unto me, as from a common theatre or scene. [...] ...as I have still lived, so I now continue, statu quo prius, left to a solitary life, and mine own domestick discontents: saving that sometimes, ne quid mentiar ['not to tell a lie' ], as Diogenes went into the city, and Democritus to the haven, to see fashions, I did for my recreation now and then walk abroad, look into the world, and could not choose but make some little observation,... not as they did to scoff or laugh at all, but with a mixed passion. 

        Bilem, saepe jocum vestri movere tumultus ['Oft have your passions raised my rage or mirth'].

I did sometimes laugh and scoff with Lucian, and satirically tax with Menippus, lament with Heraclitus, sometimes again I was petulanti splene cachinno ['A laughter with petulant spleen'], and then again,... I was much moved to see that abuse which I could not amend. ... I shroud myself under his name... to assume a little more liberty and freedom of speech, or if you will needs know, for that reason and only respect, which Hippocrates relates at large in his Epistle to Damagetus, wherein he doth express, how coming to visit him one day, he found Democritus in his garden at Abdera, in the suburbs, under a shady bower, with a book on his knees, busy at his study, sometimes writing, sometimes walking. The subject of his book was melancholy and madness, about him lay the carcasses of many several beasts newly by him cut up and anatomized, not that he did contemn God's creatures, as he told Hippocrates, but to find out the seat of his atra bilis, or melancholy, whence it proceeds, and how it was engendered in men's bodies, to the intent he might better cure it in himself, [and] by his writings & observations teach others how to prevent and avoid it. Which good intent of his Hippocrates highly commends: Democritus Junior is therefore bold to imitate, and because he left it unperfect, and it is now lost,... to revive again, prosecute and finish, in this treatise. 

I writ of melancholy, by being busy to avoid melancholy. There is no greater cause of melancholy than idleness, no better cure than business, as Rhasis holds: and howbeit... to be busied in toys is to small purpose, yet hear that divine Seneca, better aliud agere quam nihil, better do to no end than nothing. I writ therefore, and busied myself in this playing labour, otiosaque diligentia ut vitarem torporem feriandi ['That I might avoid the torpor of laziness'], with Vectius in Macrobius [Saturnal], atque otium in utile verterem negotium ['And turn my leisure to useful purpose']. 

-Simul & jucunda & idonea dicere vitae,
Lectorem delectando simul atque monendo.

[At once to say both useful things and pleasant,

So as to please the reader, yet instruct.']

Tis an inbred malady in every one of us, there is seminarium stultitiae, a seminary of folly, which, if it be stirred up, or get ahead, will run in infinitum, & infintely varies, as we ourselves are severally addicted, said Balthasar Castilio: & cannot so easily be rooted out, it takes such fast hold, as Tully holds, altae radices stultitiae ['Deep are the roots of folly'], so we are bred, and so we continue. Some say there be two main defects of wit, error and ignorance, to which all others are reduced; by ignorance we know not things necessary, by error we know them falsely. Ignorance is a privation, error a positive act. From ignorance comes vice, from error heresy, &c. But make how many kinds you will, divide and subdivide, few men are free... . Sic plerumque agitat stultos inscitia ['Their wits are a wool-gathering. So fools commonly dote'], as he that examines his own and other men's actions shall find.

Charon in Lucian, as he wittily feigns, was conducted by Mercury to such a place, where he might see all the world at once; after he had sufficiently viewed, and looked about, Mercury would needs know of him what he had observed. He told him that he saw a vast multitude, and a promiscuous, their habitations like mole-hills, the men as emmets, he could discern Cities like so many hives of Bees, wherein every Bee had a sting, & they did nought but sting one another... . Over their heads were hovering a confused company of perturbations, hope, fear, anger, avarice, ignorance, &c. and a multitude of diseases hanging, which they still pulled on their pates [heads]. .. In conclusion, he condemned them all for mad-men, fools, idiots, asses, O stulti, quaenam haec est amentia? O fools, O mad-men, he exclaims, insana, studia, insani labores, &c. Mad endeavours, mad actions, mad, mad, mad, O seclum insapiens & infacetum, a giddy headed age. Heraclitus the Philosopher, out of a serious meditation of men's lives, fell a weeping, and with continual tears bewailed their misery, madness, and folly. Demorcates, on the other hand, burst out a laughing, their whole life seemed to him so ridiculous, and he was so far carried away with this ironical passion, that the citizens of Abdera took him to be mad, and sent therefore Embassadors to Hippocrates the physician, that he would exercise his skill upon him.

Hippocrates asked the reason why he laughed. He told him at the vanity and fopperies [folly's] of the time., to see men so empty of all virtuous actions, to hunt so far after gold, having no end of ambition. ...'Do not these behaviors express their intolerable folly?

 ...O wise Hippocrates, I laugh at such things being done, but much more when no good comes of them, & when they are done to so ill purpose, now, methinks, O most worthy Hippocrates, you should not reprehend my laughing, perceiving so many fooleries in men; for no man will mock his own folly, but that which he seeth in a second, & so they justly mock one another.'

'why should not I laugh at those, to whom fooly seems wisdom, will not be cured, and perceive it not?'

It grew late, Hippocrates left him, and no sooner was he come away, but all the citizens came about flocking, to know how he liked him. He told them in brief, that, notwithstanding those small neglects of his attire, body, diet, the world had not a wiser, a more learned, a more honest man, and they were much deceived to say that he was mad.
Thus Democritus esteemed of the world in his time, and this was the cause of his laughter: and good cause he had.

Democritus did well to laugh of old,
    Good cause he had, but now much more,
This life of ours is more ridiculous    Than that of his, or long before.  

Never so much cause of laughter as now, never so many fools and mad-men. 'Tis not one Democritus will serve the turn to laugh in these days, we have now need of a Democritus to laugh at Democritus, one jester to flout at another, one fool to fleer at another: a great Stentorian Democritus, as big as that Rhodian Colossus. For now, as Sarisburiensis said in his time, totus mundus histrionem agit, the whole world plays the fool; we have a new theatre, a new scene, a new Comedy of Errors, a new company of personate actors; Volupiae sacra ['The rites of the Goddess of Pleasure'], (as Calcaninus wittily feigns in his Apologues) are celebrated all the world over, where all the actors were mad-men and fools... . [...] If Democritus were alive now, he should see strange alterations, a new company of counterfeit vizards.... . 

-ubique invenies
Stultos avaros, sycophantas prodigos.

['You will meet avaricious fools and prodigal sycophants everywhere.']
 Many additions, much increase of madness, folly, vanity, should Democritus observe, were he now to travel,... to visit our cities... , sure I think he would break the rim of his belly with laughing. 

Josepheus the Historian taxeth his country-men [the] Jews for bragging of their vices, publishing their follies, and that they did contend amongst themselves who should be most notorious in villanies; but we flow higher in madness, far beyond them... .

Tis not to be denied, the world alters every day, ruunt urbes, regna transferuntur ['Cities fall, kingdoms are transferred'], &c. variantur habitus, leges innovantur, as Petrarch observes, we change language, habits, laws, customs, manners, but not vices, not diseases, not the symptoms of folly and madness, they are still the same. And as a River, we see, keeps the like name and place, but not water, and yet ever runs,

Labitur & labetur in omne volubilis aevum;

our times and persons alter, vices are the same, and ever will be.   

But to speak of times present.
If Democritus were alive now, and should but see the superstition of our age, our religious madness ['Superstitio est insanus error'], as Meteran calls it, religiosam insaniam, so many professed Christians, yet so few imitators of Christ, so much talk of Religion, so much science, so little conscience, so much knowledge, so many preachers, so little practise, such variety of sects, such have and hold of all sides, such absurd and ridiculous traditions and ceremonies. [...] Caelum ipsum petitur stultitia ['Heaven itself is sought by our folly']. ...had he been present at a Mass, and seen such kissing of Paxes, Crucifixes, cringes, duckings, their several attires and ceremonies, pictures of saints, indulgences, pardons, vigils, fastings, feasts, crossing, knocking, kneeling at Ave-Marias, bells, with many such;

-jucunda rudi spectacula plebi ['Pleasing spectacles to the ignorant people'], 

Praying in gibberish, and mumbling of beads. [...] Had he seen, on the adverse side, some of our nice and curious schismaticks in another extreme abhor all ceremonies, and rather lose their lives and livings than do or admit anything Papists have formerly used... : ...what dost thou think Democritus would have done, had he been spectator of these things;... .


Quis furor, O cives? Why do the Gentiles so furiously rage, saith the Prophet David, Psal. 2. 1. But we may ask, why do the Christians so furiously rage?

Arma volunt, quare, poscunt, rapiuntgue juventus?

Unfit for Gentiles, much less for us so to tyrannize, as the Spaniards in the West Indies, that killed up in 42 years (if we may believe Bartholomaeus a Casa, their own Biship [Bishop of Cusco, an eye-witness]) 12 millions of men, with stupend & exquisite torments; neither should I lie (said he) if I said 50 millions.

-saevit toto Mars impius orbe ['Impious war rages throughout the whole world'].

Is not this mundus furiosus, a mad world, as he terms it, insanum bellum? ['Is not war madness'] are not these madmen, as Scaliger concludes, qui in praelio, acerba morte, insaniae suae memoriam pro perpetuo teste relinquunt posteritati; which leave so frequent battles as perpetual memorials of their madness to all succeding ages? Would this, think you, have enforced our Democritus to laughter, or rather made him turn his tune, alter his tone, and weep with Heraclitus, or rather howl, roar, and tear his hair in commiseration, stand amazed; or as the Poets feign, that Niobe was for grief quite stupified, and turned to a stone?

The above is from the introduction.

...as long as we are ruled by reason, correct our inordinate appetite, and conform ourselves to God's word, are as so many living saints: but if we give reins to lust, anger, ambition, pride, and follow our own ways, we degenerate into beasts, transform ourselves, overthrow our constitutions, provoke God to anger, and heap upon us this of Melancholy, and all kinds of incurable diseases, as a just and deserved punishment of our sins.

All philosophers impute the miseries of the body to the soul, that should have governed it better by command of reason, and hath not done it. The Stoicks are altogether of opinion... that a wise man should be... without all manner of passions and perturbations whatsoever... . [...] Good discipline, education, philosophy, divinity, (I cannot deny), may mitigate and restrain these passions in some few men at some times, but most part they domineer, and are so violent, that as a torrent... bears down all before, and overflows his banks... they overwhelm reason, judgement, & pervert the temperature of the body. The charioteer is run away with, nor does the chariot obey the reins. Now such a man (saith Austin) that is so led, in a wise man's eye, is no better than he that stands upon his head. [...] ...we find that of our Saviour, Mat. 26. 41, most true, the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak, we cannot resist... . Vives compares them to winds upon the sea, some only move as those great gales, but others, turbulent, quite overturn the ship. ...as the rain (saith Austin) doth a stone, so do these perturbations penetrate the mind... .

Of the Force of the Imagination.

...this phantasy of ours be a subordinate faculty to reason, and should be ruled by it... . [...] ...how many chimaeras, anticks, golden mountains, and castles in the air, do they build unto themselves! I appeal to painters, mechanicians, mathematicians. Some ascribe all vices to a false and corrupt imagination, anger, revenge, lust, ambition, covetousness, which prefers falsehood before that which is right and good, deluding the soul with false shews and suppositions. Bernardus Penottus will have heresy and superstition to proceed from this fountain; as he falsely imagineth, so he believeth; and as he conceiveth of it, so it must be, and it shall be, contra gentes [Against all the world], he will have it so.

[A] strong conceit or imagination is astrum hominis [A man's star], and the rudder of this our ship, which reason should steer, but overborne by phantasy cannot manage, and so suffers itself and this whole vessel of ours to be over-ruled, and often overturned.

Volume 3.

The part affected of superstition, is the brain, heart, will, understanding, soul itself, and all the faculties of it, totum compositum, all is mad, and dotes. Now for the extent, as I say, the world itself is the subject of it, (to omit that grand sin of Atheism) all times have been misaffected, past, present... . A lamentable thing it is to consider, how many myriads of men this Idolatry and Superstition (for that [term] comprehends all) hath infatuated in all ages, besotted by this blind zeal, which is Religion's Ape, Religion's Bastard, Religion's shadow, false glass. For where God hath a Temple, the Devil will have a chapel: where God hath sacrifices, the Devil will have his oblations; where God hath ceremonies, the Devil will have his traditions; where there is any Religion, the Devil will plant superstition; and 'tis a pitiful sight to behold and read, what tortures, miseries it hath procured, what slaughter of souls it hath made, how it raged amongst those old Persians, Syrians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Tuscans, Gauls, Germans, Britons, &c. [...] He that shall but read in Pausanias alone, those Gods, Temples, Altars, Idols, Statues, so curiously made, with such infinite cost and charge, amongst those old Greeks, such multitudes of them, and frequent varieties, as Gerbelius truly observes, may stand amazed, and never enough wonder at it; and that God withal, that by the light of the Gospel, we are so happily freed from that slavish Idolatry in these our days. But heretofore almost in all Countries, in all places, superstition hath blinded the hearts of men. In all ages, what a small portion hath the true Church ever been!

...how hath superstition..., error, ignorance, barbarism, folly, madness, deceived, triumphed, and insulted over the most wise, discreet, and understanding men! Philosophers, Dynasts, Monarchs, all were involved and over-shadowed in this mist, in more than Cimmerian darkness. [...] How small a part is truly Religious! [...] A fifth part of the world, and hardly that, now professeth CHRIST, but so inlarged and interlaced with several superstitions, that there is scarce a sound part to be found, or any agreement amongst them. Causes of Religious Melancholy. From the Devil by miracles, apparitions, oracles... . 

We are taught in holy Scripture, that the Devil rangeth abroad like a roaring Lion, still seeking whom he may devour; and as in several shapes, so by several engines and devices, he goeth about to seduce us; sometimes he transforms himself into an Angel of Light; and is so cunning, that he is able, if it were possible, to deceive the very Elect. He will be worshipped as God himself, and is so adored by the Heathen, and esteemed. And in imitation of that divine power, as Eusebius observes, to abuse or emulate God's glory, as Dandinus adds, he will have all homage, sacrifices, oblations, and whatsoever else belongs to the worship of God, to be done likewise unto him, similis erit altissimo [He will be like the most High], and by this means infatuates the world, deludes, entraps, and destroys many a thousand souls. Sometimes by dreams, visions (as God to Moses by familiar conference) the Devil in several shapes talks with them... . [...] ...by Spectrums, troubling their Consciences, driving them to despair, terrors of mind, intolerable pains; by promises, rewards, benefits, and fair means, he raiseth such an opinion of his Deity and greatness, that they dare not do otherwise than adore him, do as he will have them, they dare not offend him. ...all his study, all his endeavour is to dvert them from true Religion to superstition: and because he is damned himself, and in an error, he would have all the world participate of his errors, and be damned with him [Cyprian]. The primum mobile therefore, and first mover of all superstition, is the Devil, that great enemy of mankind, the principle agent, who in a thousand several shapes, after divers fashions, with several engines, illusoin, and by several names, hath deceived the inhabitants of the earth. [...] Eusebius wonders how that wise City of Athens and flourishing Kingdom of Greece should be so besotted; ...so gulled, so tortured with superstition, so blind, as to worship stocks and stones! But it is no marvel, when we see all out as great effects amongst Christians themselvs: how are those... Papists... miserably infatuated! [...] And as those old Romans had several distinct gods, for divers offices, persons, places, so have they [the Papists] Saints, as Lavater well observes... , mutato nomine tantum ['the name being changed only'], 'tis the same spirit or Devil that deludes them still. The manner how, as I say, is by rewards, promises, terrors, affrights, punishments: in a word... Hope and Fear.

His ordinary instruments... which he useth, as God himself did good Kings, Lawful Magistrates, patriarchs, prophets, to the establishing of his Church, are Politicians, Statesmen, Priests, Hereticks, blind guides, Impostors, pseudo-prophets, to propagate his superstition. [...] Austin,... censures Scaevola saying and acknowledging, expedire civitates religione falli, that it was a fit thing cities should be deceived by religion, according to the diverb, Si mundus vult decipi, decipiatur, if the world will be gulled [fooled], let it be gulled, 'tis good howsoever to keep it in subjection. 'Tis that Aristotle and Plato inculcate in their Politicks, Religion neglected, brings plagues to the city, opens a gap to all naughtiness. 'Tis that which all our late Politicians ingeminate... . [...] Justice and Religion are the two chief props and supporters of a well-governed commonwealth; but most of them are but Machiavellians, counterfeits only for political ends;... A man without Religion, is like a horse without a bridle. No way better to curb than superstition, to terrify men's consciences, and to keep them in awe... . [...] A Tartar Prince, saith Marco Polo,... called Senex de montibus, the better to establish his government amongst his subjects, and to keep them in awe, found a convenient place in a pleasant valley, environed with hills, in which he made a delicious Park full of oderiferous flowers and fruits, and a Palace of all worldly contents, that could possibly be devised, Musick, Pictures, variety of meats, &c., and chose out a certain young man, whom with a soporiferous potion he so benumbed, that he perceived nothing: and so fast asleep as he was, caused him to be conveyed into this fair Garden. Where after he had lived awhile in all such pleasures a sensual man could desire, he cast him into a sleep again, and brought him forth, that when he awakened, he might tell others he had been in Paradise. The like he did for Hell, and by this means brought his people to subjection. Because Heaven and Hell are mentioned in the Scriptures, and to be believed necessary by Christians: so cunningly can the Devil and his Ministers, in imitation of true Religion, counterfeit and forge the like, to circumvent and delude his superstitious followers. Many such tricks and impostures are acted by Politicians... .

[cont. p. 380-390]

What are most of our Papists, but stupid, ignorant and blind Bayards? How should they otherwise be, when as they are brought up, and kept still in darkness? [...] Neither is it sufficient to keep them blind, and in Cimmerian darkness, but withal, as a School-master doth by his boys, to make them follow their books, sometimes by good hope, promises and encouragements, but most of all by fear, strict disicpline, severity, threats and punishments, do they... bring them into fool's paradise. Rex eris, aiunt, si recte facies, do well, thou shalt be crowned; but for the most part by threats, terrors and affrights, they tyrannize and terrify their distressed souls: knowing that fear alone is the sole and only means to keep men in obedience, according to that Hemistichium of Petronius, Primus in orbe deos fecit timor, the fear of some divine and supreme powers, keeps men in obedience, makes the people do their duties: they play upon their consciences; which was practised of old in Egypt by their Priests;... they take all opportunities of natural causes, to delude the people's senses, and with fearful tales out of purgatory, feigned apparitions, earth-quakes in Japan or China, tragical examples of Devils, possessions, obsessions, false miracles, counterfeit visions, &c. 

To these advantages of Hope and Fear, ignorance and simplicity, he hath several engines, traps, devices, to batter and enthrall, omitting no opportunities, according to men's several inclinations, abilities, to circumvent and humour them, to maintain his superstitions; sometimes to stupify, besot them.... . If of meaner sort, by stupidity, canonical obedience, blind zeal, &c. If of better note, by pride, ambition, popularity, vain-glory. If of the Clergy and more eminent, of better parts than the rest, more learned, eloquent, he puffs them up with a vain conceit of their own worth, scientia inflati, they begin to swell and scorn all the world in respect of themselves, and thereupon turn hereticks, schismaticks, broach new doctrines, frame new crochets, and the like; or else out of too much learning become mad, or out of curiosity they will search into God's secrets, and eat of the forbidden fruit; or out of presumption of their holiness and good gifts, inspirations, become Prophets, Enthusiasts, and what not?

If they be laymen of better note, the same engines of pride, ambition, emulation and jealousy take place, they will be gods themselves: Alexander after his victories in India, became so insolent, he would be adored for a god: and those Roman Emperors came to that height of madness they must have Temples built to them, sacrifices to their deities, Divus Augustus, D. Claudius, D. Adrianus: Heliogabalus put out that Vestal fire at Rome, expelled the Virgins, and banished all other Religions all over the world, and would be the sole God himself. ... the meaner sort are too credulous, and led with blind zeal, blind obedience... .

Never any strange illusions of devils amongst hermits, Anachorites, never any visions, phantasms, apparitions, Enthusiasms, Prophets, any revelations, but immoderate fasting, bad diet, sickness, melancholy, solitariness, or some such things were the precedent causes, the forerunners or concomitants of them. The opportunity and sole occasion the Devil takes to delude them. Marcilius Cognatus, lib. I. cont. cap. 7, hath many stories to this purpose, of such as after long fasting have been seduced by devils: and 'tis a miraculous thing to relate (as Cardan writes) what strange accidents proceed from fasting; dreams, superstition, contempt of torments, desire of death, prophesies, paradoxes, madness; fasting naturally prepares men to these things. Monks, Anachorites, and the like, after much emptiness become melancholy, vertiginous, they thing they hear strange noises, confer with Hobgoblins, Devils... . [...] Such symptoms are common to those that fast long, are solitary, given to contemplation, over much solitariness and meditation.  [...] Lavater... puts solitariness a main cause of such spectrums and apparitions; none, saith he, so melancholy as Monks and Hermits, the devil's bath melancholy, none so subject to visions and dotage in this kind, as such as live solitary lives, they hear and act strange things in their dotage.