Robert Burton was the younger brother to William Burton, author of the description of Leicestershire, according to Wood, "he was an exact mathematician, a curious calculator of nativities, a general read scholar, a thorough paced Philologist, and one that understood the surveying of lands well. As he was by many accounted a severe student, a devourer of authors, a melancholy and humorous person, so by others, who knew him well, a person of great honesty, plain dealing, and charity. I have heard some of the ancients of Christ Church often say, that his company was very merry, facete, and juvenile; and no man in his time did surpass him for his ready and dexterous interlarding of his common discourses among them with verses from the poets, or sentences from Classic authors, which being then all the faction in the University, made his company the more acceptable." Burton, composed the Anatomy with a view of relieving his own melancholy: but increased it to such a degree, that nothing could make him laugh but going to the Bridge foot, and hearing the ribaldry of the bargemen, which rarely failed to throw him into a violent fit of laughter. His epitaph, at Christ Church, in Oxford, intimates that excessive application to this celebrated work, the author's only production, was the occasion of his death. "Paucis notus, paucioribus ignotus, hic jacet Democritus Junior, cui vitam dedit et mortem melancholia."
Dr. Johnson was so well pleased with Burton's Anatomy, that he declared it was the only book that ever enticed him out of bed two hours earlier than he wished to rise.