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The Anatomy of Melancholy
Edited by Kevin Jackson
Categories: 17th Century
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Paperback (180 pages)
(Pub. Feb 2004)
Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) has cast a long, shimmering shadow, on Milton (L'Allegro and Il Penseroso in particular), on the wits of Queen Anne's reign and the beginning of George I's, and on Swift. Doctor Johnson praised it vehemently. Sterne is its most comprehensive beneficiary in Tristram Shandy. He was a favourite with Coleridge, Lamb and Southey. Keats owes 'Lamia' and much else to Robert Burton. Byron praised it as the most entertaining of literary miscellanies.
The Anatomy is either the first major text in the history of Western cognitive science, or a satire on human learning and striving. Burton is not original, but he is comprehensive, and he writes with a wry brilliance. He was familiar with nearly all the medical, astrological, and magical books then extant. He introduces several key terms which remain dominant in models of cognition through to the Victorian era, among them Phantasy or Imagination, Reflection, the Senses and Understanding. Locke in 1690 was to adopt much of Burton's model and terminology.
Anthony a Wood gives the following character of Robert Burton (1577-1640): '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...'
This new selection draws on The Anatomy and other key writings.
'Burton's kaleidoscopic seventeenth century compendium of history, folklore, medicine, magic, theology, food, astrology and love. The range of his knowledge is staggering.'
'This vast attic of a book is the strangest, funniest, and most consoling work I know. It's the last full expression of the pre-modern world, a compendium of bizarre anecdotes, rough wisdom, and sardonic commentary.'
Praise for Kevin Jackson 'This is the rare kind of book that you get fed up of quoting (there is so much) and simply end up buying for people. Carcanet should certainly be congratulated for publishing such a treasure trove and Jackson ordered by higher powers to keep producing books like it.'
Mark Thwaite, ReadySteadyBook.com 'A cabinet of curiosities in which every neatly lettered drawer reveals, reflected in a tiny mirror, the talking head of the prodigiously informed Kevin Jackson (or his smirking doppleganger, Dr Hannibal Lecter). Skeletal, perfectly formed lecturettes forge a secret biography of the author's obsessions: Blake, Dante, Freud. A mad Arcimboldo project with the answer to everything. Here is the antidote to all previous stocking-filling miscellanies. Buy one for all your friends and enemies. And welcome to the labyrinth.'
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