The Anatomy of Melancholy.

Oxford, for Henry Cripps, 1632.


Folio pp. (x) 78 (vi) 722 (x), two additional unnumbered ll. after 218. Roman letter, splendid engraved t-p by Christoffel le Blon (Johnson 35:1) depicting allegorical figures of solitude, jealousy, love, mania, superstition, hypochondria etc, with portraits of Democritus (in a garden) and the author, reinforced at fore-edge, woodcut ornaments and initials. Uniform age yellowing, a good clean copy in contemp. calf, rebacked, spine neatly remounted, upper cover loosening. morocco label. Text of a Latin letter to the author covering fly (1719), early C18 family marginalia on 2 ll., autograph of William Colbron 1652 on preceding stub. In folding box.

Fourth edition, ‘corrected and augmented,’ in this case truly so as the author made corrections and additions to each edition published during his lifetime. The Anatomy is divided into three partitions, which are subdivided into sections, members, and subsections. Prefixed to each partition is an elaborate synopsis as a sort of index (there is a full index at the end), in humorous imitation of the practice common in books of scholastic divinity of the day. Part I deals with the causes and symptoms of melancholy, its species and kinds, part II with its cures, part III with the more frivolous kinds of melancholy and part IV with love melancholy and religious melancholy, with some moving sections on the ‘Cure of Despair’.

It was one of the first works in English to consider in depth human psychiatric problems, of which it shows considerable understanding, and was an immediate best-seller, encompassing all the charm, humour and learning of the age. As a work of literature it has something in common with More’s ‘Utopia’, Rabelais and Montaigne and like these exercised a considerable influence on the thought of its own and later times. Dr Johnson said it was the only book that took him out of bed two hours earlier than he intended, ‘Tristam Shandy’ was penetrated with it, Charles Lamb modelled his style on it and Milton gathered hints from the verses prefixed to it. Although humorous, on every page is the impress of a deep and original mind. Burton never travelled abroad, and hardly outside Oxford, but he was fascinated by geography and cosmography and there are numerous references to foreign lands, especially the Americas. To live in the right part of the world for one’s humours, Burton rightly held, was one of the best ways of avoiding melancholy. Burton was also a serious scholar and a great bibliophile; most of his collection is now in the Bodleian.

William Colbron (1593-1662) came to New England in 1630 with the Winthrop fleet and resided in Boston. He became a freeman of the Massachusetts Bay Commonwealth in May 1631, and a farmer, civil officer and church deacon. He died in 1662.

STC 4162. Lowndes I 328. Pforzheimer I 119 and Printing and the Mind of Man 120 (1st edns). Madan I 162:3. Alden 632/18 “Included are numerous scattered refs to the Americas”, p 194. Norman 381 (1st) “the classic study on depression”. Osler 4621 “A great medical treatise”. Heirs of Hippocrates 252 (2nd) “Almost half of the thousand references to other authors are medical”.


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