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Robert Burton on being an observer

Robert Burton pretended to deal with only 88 kinds of melancholy and their cures in ''The Anatomy of Melancholy'' (1621). But, as these introductory words suggest, little was to be omitted in English or Latin from this overflowing fountain of a bookish man who rarely left Oxford yet took the world for his oyster.

I am not poor, I am not rich; nihil est, nihil deest, I have little, I want nothing: all my treasure is in Minerva's tower. . . . I laugh at all; ''only secure lest my suit go amiss, my ships perish,'' corn and cattle miscarry, trade decay, ''I have no wife nor children good or bad to provide for.'' A mere spectator of other men's fortunes and adventures, and how they act their parts, which methinks are diversely presented unto me, as from a common theatre or scene. I hear new news every day, and those ordinary rumours of war, plagues, fires, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, comets, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions, of towns taken, cities besieged in France, Germany, Turkey, Persia, Poland, etc., daily musters and preparations, and such-like, which these tempestuous times afford, battles fought, so many men slain, monomachies, shipwrecks, piracies, and sea-fights, peace, leagues, stratagems, and fresh alarums. 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, etc. 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, tomorrow of some great men deposed, and then again of fresh honours conferred; one is let loose, another imprisoned; one purchaseth, another breaketh; he thrives, his neighbour turns bankrupt; now plenty, then again dearth and famine; one runs, another rides, wrangles, laughs, weeps, etc. Thus I daily hear, and such-like, both private and public news; amidst the gallantry and misery of the world - jollity, pride, perplexities and cares, simplicity and villainy; subtlety, knavery, candour and integrity, mutually mixed and offering themselves - I rub on privus privatus (in complete privacy); as I have still lived, so I now continue, statu quo prius (the same condition as before), left to a solitary life and mine own domestic discontents: saving that sometimes, ne quid mentiar (not to tell a lie), as Diogenes went into the city and Democritus to the haven to see fashions, I did for my recreation now and then walk abroad, look into the world, and could not choose but make some little observation. . . .

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