Robert Burton – “The Anatomy of Melancholy” (excerpts)

Robert Burton’s (I always have to pay extra attention not to call him Richard Burton) delightful book is quite impossible to read in two-page chunks, as has been my method, because his long garrulous sentences and paragraphs just won’t stop.So I’ve decided by’ll be breaking-off rudely mid-paragraph. The simple summary also can’t convey Burton’s idiosyncratic writing style, where every sentence is peppered with quotations from classical authorities, after which he usually repeats the same thing in English. In this first part Burton explains why he chose to adopt the pseudonym of “Democritus Junior” for this book. Actually, he writes whimsically, I don’t have to explain myself to you, like the Egyptian carrying a covered basket from an anecdote recorded by Plutarch. When a nosy friend asked him what was in the basket, he answered “If I wanted you to know, I wouldn’t cover it”. But Burton still thinks he owes his readers some explanation, because they may mistakenly think it’s some kind of scientific treatise (Democritus created the atomic theory of the universe), while it deals with humankind and its emotional life.

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