1842 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Robert Burton

C. H. Timperley, in Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote (1842) 2:469-70.



1621. Anatomy of Melancholy. By Democritus Junior. Oxford. Folio. London, 1652. This is the celebrated work of Robert Burton, and presents, in quaint language, and with many shrewd and amusing observations, a full view of all the kinds of that disease. It was so successful at first, that the publisher realized a fortune by it; and Warton says, that "the author's variety of learning, his quotations from scarce and curious books, his pedantry, sparkling with rude wit and shapeless elegance, miscellaneous matter, intermixture of agreeable tales and illustrations, and perhaps, above all, the singularities of his feelings, clothed with an uncommon quaintness of style, have contributed to render it, even to modern readers, a valuable repertory of amusement and information." Burton classes the pleasures of study among those exercises or recreations of the mind which pass within doors. Looking about "this world of books," he exclaims "I could even here live and die with such meditations, and take more delight and true content of mind in them, than in all thy wealth and courts. There is a sweetness, which as Circe's cup, bewitcheth a student; he cannot leave off, as well may witness those many laborious hours, days, and nights, spent in their voluminous treatises. So sweet is the delight of study. The last day is 'prioris disciiplus.' Heinsius was mewed up in the library of Leyden all the year long, and that which, to my thinking, should have bred a loathing, caused in him a greater liking, 'I no sooner,' saith he, 'come into the library, but I bolt the door to me, excluding lust, ambition, avarice, and all such vices, whose nurse is idleness, the mother of ignorance and melancholy. In the very lap of eternity, among so many divine souls I take my seat with so lofty a spirit, and sweet content, that I pity all our great ones, and rich men, that know not this happiness.'"

Such is the incense of a votary who scatters it on the altar, less for ceremony than for the devotion. — D'Isreeli.

Rantzau, the founder of the great library at Copenhagen, whose days are dissolved in the pleasures of reading, discovers his taste and ardour in the following elegant effusion:—

Golden volumes! richest treasures!
Objects of delicious pleasures!
You my eyes rejoicing please,
You my hands in rapture seize!
Brilliant wits and musing sages,
Lights who beam'd through many ages,
Left to your conscious leaves their story,
And dared to trust you with their glory;
And now their hope of fame achieved,
Dear volumes, you have not deceived!

Burton has drawn a fearful picture of the abject condition of men of learning before they had a public to rely upon. "Rhetoric only serves them to curse their bad fortunes; and many of them, for want of means, are driven to hard shifts. From grasshoppers they turn humble bees and wasps, plain parasites, and make the muses mules, to satisfy their hunger-starved families, and get a meals meat."