26 April 2007

The Anatomy of Melancholy. Robert Burton. 1621.

'' I hear new news every day, and those ordinary rumours of war, plagues, firs, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, comets, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions, of towns taken, cities besieged, in France, Germany, Turkey, Persia, Poland, &c., daily musters and preparations, and suchlike, which these tempestuous times afford, battles fought, so many men slain, monomachies, shipwrecks, piracies, and sea-fights, peace, leagues, stratagems, and fresh alarms. A vast confusion of vows, wishes, actions, edicts, petitions, lawsuits, pleas, laws, proclamations, complaints, grievances, are daily brought to our ears.

New books every day, pamphlets, currantoes, stories, whole catalogues of volumes of all sorts, new paradoxes, opinions, schisms, heresies, controversies in philosophy, religion, &c. Now come tidings of weddings, maskings, mummeries, entertainments, jubilees, embassies, tilts and tournaments, trophies, triumphs, revels, sports, plays: then again, as in a new shifted scene, treasons, cheating tricks, robberies, enormous villainies in all kinds, funerals, burials, deaths of Princes, new discoveries, expeditions; now comical then tragical matters. Today we hear of new Lords and officers created, to-morrow of some great men deposed. And then again of fresh honors conferred; one is let loose, another imprisoned, one purchaseth, another breaketh; he thrives, his neighbor turns bankrupt; now plenty, then again dearth and famine; one runs, another rides, wrangles, laughs, weeps, &c.”

(Robert Burton.) THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY, What It Is with All the Kindes, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Severall Cures of It- Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, Opened and Cut Up. By Democritus Junior [pseud.]-. J. Lichfield & J. Short for H. Cripps., Oxford, 1621.

Current Selling Prices
$20,000-$35,000 /£10000-£17000

Robert Burton’s marvellous miscellaneous masterpiece. Not a book to sit down and read for hours, more to dip into or surf (browse) on a regular basis. Dr Johnson said it was the only book that took him out of bed two hours earlier than he intended, Sterne's 'Tristram Shandy' was shot through with it, Charles Lamb modelled his style on it and Milton was influenced by the verses prefixed to it. In our time Anthony Powell used it to great effect in his roman fleuve and named one of his early novels ('Afternoon Men') after it.

Some dealers, possibly in an attempt to sell it have tried to re-position it as a medical treatise, or early psychiatry and it fits quite suitably in these categories but is more a work of literature in the wake of Montaigne, a tour de force of intense scholarship and finely written prose from a great age. One day some one will write a self help book based on it. Thomas Moore has already profitably mined this and earlier works for his own considerable work 'Care of the Soul'. There was an exhibition in Paris 'Melancolie' at the Grand Palais in the dark winter of 2005/ 2006 where Bocklin's Isle of the Dead and "The Death of Chatterton' happily co -existed. There were several editions of Burton's masterpiece on show. A great exhibition but these themed shows are possibly too pretentious for UK and US sensiblities. I don't think it travelled on. The catalogue is, however, worth having (below.)

It is not an impossible book to own, large handsome 17th century editions can be had for less than $1500. As Pforzheimer says- "As the author continued to make augmentations and a few corrections to each edition published in his lifetime and even left notes which were incorporated into the sixth edition, published after his death [in 1640], all early editions are of interest textually." The splendid title page (illustrated above) does not appear until the third edition. I had a handsome 1628 edition at home for about a decade, to dip into and impress friends but had to sell it at a book fair to raise money. In a way I made a good move because it hasn't increased in value. It is possible with a renewed interest in depression that it could start becoming more desirable.

Burton believed depression to be both a physical and spiritual ailment. He had his own bouts with the affliction and some say that in writing the work he was able to deal with it - "I write of melancholy, by being busy to avoid melancholy". He cites nearly 500 authorities (Galen more than any other) in the course of classifying the myriad causes, forms and symptoms of depression, and describing its various cures. It also has a satirical vein running through it and can be humorous.

As Norman says - 'The work is also a literary tour-de-force in the tradition of Renaissance paradoxical literature. ' One of his recommendations was to leave the city and espouse the country life. To live in the right part of the world for one's humours, was one of the best ways of avoiding melancholy. It is listed in Printing & the Mind of Man where it is described thus - "...one of the most popular books of the seventeenth century. All the learning of the age as well as its humour -- and its pedantry -- are there."

VALUE? Not necessarily a brilliant investment--the Manney copy turned up at Sothebys in 1991 and made $23000 ((prob about £15 K at the time) 14 years later the same book made $15000 (then about £8k). Depressing. Not one of the great investments although there are signs thanks to blokes like Stephen Fry, Thomas Moore and Robbie Williams of a much greater interest in melancholy, depression, bipolar disorders etc., so prices may rise. It's the age we live in. At the ill fated Garden sale in 1989 a copy (not notably fine) made $45000, the price of a small flat in New York at the time. The highest price on the web is a Eurotastic €40K for the 1621 first in what sounds like a fab contemporary binding -'In-4; veau brun, triple filet d'encad. et fleuron central à froid sur les plats, dos à nerfs (Reliure de l'époque).' Another pretty smart one can be had for $50K. Both have been on sale for a while. Meanwhile the handsome 1628 edition can he had from a 'carriage trade' dealer at £2K and a very nice 1621 first basks in Santa Monica at $28K. It is actually a book where the later editions are better, the 1621 being a sort of fetish object (the 'true first') and it will always trump later editions but unless you are absolutely loaded you don't need it.


Anonymous said...

"Can be humorous".

Anecdote: I thought myself very clever when I classified the Anatomy under 'Humour' in the home library.... what a wit I was. It now occurs to me that it probably occured to others long before my injection of chuckles to the annals of biblio-humour. Can be deflating.

Anyway, OUP complaints department take note: adjust your pricing. The annotated 5 volume edition of this work is absurdly expensive. I found volume IV in mint condition for AUD$30 in the bargain bin of a chain bookshop in Melbourne. What a find that was (at the time). Now it's just giving me grief because completing the set means $300 a pop per volume. Why????

Anonymous said...

+ gold star for mentioning the Melancolie exhibition.... I remember being intrigued by the catalogue picture (I didn't know it was a catalogue!) somewhere but can't for the life of me remember where. I'll attempt to locate copies of the catalogue now...

Unknown said...

I actually own the 2 volume edition. calfskin bound printed in London by T Maiden....1801, does anyone have a suggested price or trusted appraisal site.