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Anatomy of Melancholy. Folio edition.

Folio Society devotees

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Apr 10, 2012, 1:41pm Top

Hi, I'd like to ask something that I have been unable to find out. I know that the folio edition of the Anatomy of melancholy is complete, based on the Dent edition and all, but I've seen the NYRB edition and Burton's notes have been moved to the end of each partition (I don't know if it's the same with the Dent) I'd like to know if the Folio keeps them at least at the foot of the page, if not on the margin. True, this should not make me change my mind about getting the book, but I'd feel better if they were not all transferred to the end, especially without clear reference.

Also, does this book usually go on sale?


Apr 10, 2012, 2:42pm Top

As you say, Burton's notes are all moved to the end of each partition, in the FS edition as well...
As for going for sale, the Anatomy has sometimes been proposed as a free renewal set in the past. (At least, this is how I got it.) I guess it was also sometimes part of a number of sales.

Apr 10, 2012, 2:43pm Top


I think the Anatomy was in the last sale, but it hasn't been a frequent offering to the best of my recollection.

The Folio edition follows the 1932 Dent in collecting all the footnotes at the end of each partition, i.e. of each volume. As you probably know, comfortably 95% of the footnotes are in Latin. I do have a Bohn's pocket edition knocking around somewhere, I've a feeling that its footnotes are at the bottom of each page: please don't take my word for it though.

Apr 10, 2012, 4:48pm Top

It was $112 in the Winter Sale (the one just a few months ago). I've only been a member for less than a year, so I can't provide you more details on its inclusion in the sales.

Apr 10, 2012, 7:31pm Top

Thanks everyone, maybe I'll wait a bit to see what happens. Perhaps to see if by chance I am offered this as a renewal offer. As for the notes, I was afraid that would be the case but, what to do? I would not really like any other edition I know of (no paperbacks, of course) and the Oxford edition is way beyond my means (and that if it does have the notes on the margin or at the foot, which I'm not sure of) Thanks!

Apr 12, 2012, 10:02am Top

For what it's worth, the Oxford edition of The Anatomy (6 vols., including commentary) includes Burton's notes as footnotes, not as endnotes. It's very difficult to find the complete Oxford edition as a set; you'd likely have to acquire the volumes piecemeal, which will lead to some mismatches in binding and color.

Apr 12, 2012, 10:53am Top

I have the recent NYR books edition, the notes are at the end. The Oxford edition looks incredible.

Edited: Jul 9, 2013, 1:59am Top

Having been intrigued (sold?) by the Folio description of the Anatomy of Melancholy, I wanted to revive this thread to facilitate any discussion on it.
Its interesting that at my stage, I am only interested in the first read stage: I want to get a feel for it as such. The comments above alert me to the obvious plethora of scholarly work that has gone into the analysis of the work itself. There appears to be grades of comprehensiveness, alike other notable works, especially when footnotes are concerned.
Any learned FS devotees, care to share their knowledge on this book?

Jul 9, 2013, 4:26am Top

You might want to have a look at this: http://www.librarything.com/topic/156048

Jul 9, 2013, 7:12am Top

Having just listened to that IOT Podcast I have to say that it is really enlightening and inspiring; the book that is. It seems that Burton has intended to compose a comprehensive encyclopaedic both exhaustive in scope and depth of analysis and labyrinth-like in its complexity of subject matter, drawing on both contemporary and classical evidence and scholars. Indeed, it appears his knowledge of classical scholarship knew no bounds and he was considered one of the most learned men of his age by many of his contemporaries and subsequent luminaries. Even the celebrated wit Dr. Johnson spoke the highest praise of his work.
But the question is, what will I make of it?

Jul 9, 2013, 8:57am Top

>11 LesMiserables:

The book are handsomely made , looks better then photo.

Edited: Jul 9, 2013, 12:24pm Top

I love the Anatomy and I have two copies of it - the very nice FS edition and the fat single volume NYTB volume (which I had rebound). There are two keys for appreciating the Anatomy -

1. See it for what it is - a huge joke by a Renaissance scholar/ magpie of almost biblical proportions.

2. Never read the Anatomy. By which I mean do not start at page 1 and try and read your way through methodically - I guarantee you will never finish it. Its a book to pick up, open at random and read a few passages before dropping of to sleep at night. Then you will appreciate the range of Burton's knowledge and preoccupations, his charm and humor, the warmth of his personality and have quite a few laughs on the way. Despite the title it's one of the wittiest books ever written.

Jul 9, 2013, 1:11pm Top

>13 Quicksilver66:

As confessed in another thread, some 35 years ago between school and university reading the Anatomy from beginning to end is exactly what I did. Having said that, I'm far from confident that I'll ever do it again, and your recommended approach is certainly likely to reward a wider variety of readers.

Jul 9, 2013, 1:30pm Top

> 13

I've read it cover to cover as well, but only at the second attempt. Burton's introduction was by far the most difficult part of the book to get through.

I'm not sure that printing all the footnotes as endnotes makes much difference to the book. They are not used, as Gibbon uses his, as an elegant counterpoint to the main text. Burton's sentences just hurtle onwards, gathering everything up like snowballs. The footnotes are generally pretty utilitarian notes of sources.

FS (and the NYRB paperback) reprint Holbrook Jackson's edition. A few sections of "delicate" material (chiefly, a section on lesbianism in convents) are left in untranslated Latin.

Edited: Jul 10, 2013, 2:05am Top

I love my FS edition of the Anatomy. It is great for dipping into. Just like reading Montaigne, Sir Thomas Browne, and Charles Lamb, it is like having a conversation with a good friend.

Burton also has the perfect motto for fellow FSD addicts. "What a glut of books! Who can read them?"

EDIT: corrected a typo in my quotation.

Edited: Jul 9, 2013, 5:29pm Top

> 16

Strange and not strange that you should mention Montaigne. He was the first person who popped into my head when I had clicked the order button. I thought to myself how can I possibly read Burton when in have yet to read Montaigne? But then again' I read Boswell's 'Johnson' which is a challenge, though I had no knowledge of the classical languages back then, which would have added to the experience if I possessed even a smittering of Latin. And I might as well add to my shame that my FS edition of Voyce of the World by Browne remains unread, unspoilt, virginal.
And whilst I on the subject of daunting myself into paralysis and procrastination, I will admit to avoiding eye contact with my editions of 'In search of lost time', 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' and Carlyle's 'The French Revolution', who jeer at me I'm sure whenever I pass their shelves.
On David's points above, from my initial reading on the Anatomy by commentators, I do not pick up anywhere that the whole project was a hoax; certainly it is widely recognised that it is witty (perhaps the learned Doctor can contribute his temperament to Burton then?) but this is the first time I have heard it described as an elaborate hoodwink. Then again I have not read it and so will reserve judgement. On reading strategies I myself am much more likely to read cover to cover rather than dip in. There's probably something there for a Psychoanalyst to work with!

Jul 10, 2013, 12:24am Top

Not a hoax. That's not what I meant. But it is a humorous and good natured work and not the dry and serious tome that the title would have you believe.

Jul 10, 2013, 2:03am Top

> 18

Ah, okay, I interpreted your joke comment all too seriously. But I see what you mean.

Jul 11, 2013, 5:11am Top

Some very interesting reviews out there concerning this work. From Amazon...
First of all, one has a very difficult problem in defining exactly what this compendium is. Is it a book, a poem, a history, an epic? Well, I think it is all of those and many more. The Anatomy of Melancholy is, without a doubt, the best book ever written, bar none.
It was compliled from all the books of the 17th century and is not really about melancholy, per se. It is, rather, Robert Burton's view of mankind and mankind's condition. All mankind. And all conditions. It is about melancholia, sure, but it is about everything else as well. Melancholia was just Burton's excuse to write about everything under the sun in a strikingly original way and then have the nerve to remind us that there is nothing new under the sun. This is a book filled with both endless quotes and endless quotable material and, to the surprise of many, it is a comic masterpiece. Perhaps "the" comic masterpiece. Burton chose to publish this book as having been written by "Democritus Junior," and if that doesn't give you a hint regarding the humor that follows, then not much will.

If you like good literature, you'll love this book. If you like psychology, you'll love this book. If you want to seem pretentious, you need this book. Mostly, however, this is a book for people who love words. Burton may have seemed like a raving madman to some, but he was a man obsessed with a love for the English language...and it shows.

The Anatomy of Melancholy wasn't meant to be read from the first page to the last; I have never met anyone who did that and one would have to be more than a little mad to even try. Just pick up the book. Open it to any page. You may find lists, digressions, bits of 17th century prose, quotes, much Latin. Whatever you find, it is sure to please if you only give it half a chance.

The Anatomy of Melancholy is definitely "the" desert island book. The only problem with taking this wonderful book to a desert island with you (or anywhere else, for that matter), is its size. If you have the one-volume edition, as I do, it can be terribly unwieldy. I once tried reading it on a trans-Atlantic flight and had difficulty keeping my grasp...physically. I highly recommend the three-volume set, if you can find it. If not, make do with the one-volume. Just don't go without. That would be a terrible mistake.

Be warned: this dense and brilliant book is extremely addicting. Once you start leafing through the pages and writing down your favorite passages, you'll find you never want to be without the book. And, as you'll come to see, that won't be such a bad thing at all.

I note the suggestion like aforementioned by QS in the previous comments that it is suitable for, even determined to be, a book to dip into.

Don't be misled by the title of this book, nor by what others may have told you about it. In the first place, it isn't so much a book about 'Melancholy' (or abnormal psychology, or depression, or whatever) as a book about Burton himself and, ultimately, about humankind. Secondly, it isn't so much a book for students of the history of English prose, as one for lovers of language who joy in the strong taste of English when it was at its most masculine and vigorous. Finally, it isn't so much a book for those interested in the renaissance, as for those interested in life.
Burton is not a writer for fops and milquetoasts. He was a crusty old devil who used to go down to the river to listen to the bargemen cursing so that he could keep in touch with the true tongue of his race. Sometimes I think he might have been better off as the swashbuckling Captain of a pirate ship. But somehow he ended up as a scholar, and instead of watching the ocean satisfyingly swallowing up his victims, he himself became an ocean of learning swallowing up whole libraries. His book, in consequence, although it may have begun as a mere 'medical treatise,' soon exploded beyond its bounds to become, in the words of one of his editors, "a grand literary entertainment, as well as a rich mine of miscellaneous learning."

Of his own book he has this to say : "... a rhapsody of rags gathered together from several dung-hills, excrements of authors, toys and fopperies confusedly tumbled out, without art, invention, judgement, wit, learning, harsh, raw, rude, phantastical, absurd, insolent, indiscreet, ill-composed, indigested, vain, scurrile, idle, dull, and dry; I confess all..." But don't believe him, he's in one of his irascible moods and exaggerating. In fact it's a marvelous book.

Here's a bit more of the crusty Burton I love; it's on his fellow scholars : "Heretofore learning was graced by judicious scholars, but now noble sciences are vilified by base and illiterate scribblers."

And here is Burton warming to the subject of contemporary theologians : "Theologasters, if they can but pay ... proceed to the very highest degrees. Hence it comes that such a pack of vile buffoons, ignoramuses wandering in the twilight of learning, ghosts of clergymen, itinerant quacks, dolts, clods, asses, mere cattle, intrude with unwashed feet upon the sacred precincts of Theology, bringing with them nothing save brazen impudence, and some hackneyed quillets and scholastic trifles not good enough for a crowd at a street corner."

Finally a passage I can't resist quoting which shows something of Burton's prose at its best, though I leave you to guess the subject: "... with this tempest of contention the serenity of charity is overclouded, and there be too many spirits conjured up already in this kind in all sciences, and more than we can tell how to lay, which do so furiously rage, and keep such a racket, that as Fabius said, "It had been much better for some of them to have been born dumb, and altogether illiterate, than so far to dote to their own destruction."

To fully appreciate these quotations you would have to see them in context, and I'm conscious of having touched on only one of his many moods and aspects. But a taste for Burton isn't difficult to acquire. He's a mine of curious learning. When in full stride he can be very funny, and it's easy to share his feelings as he often seems to be describing, not so much his own world as today's.

But he does demand stamina. His prose overwhelms and washes over us like a huge tsunami, and for that reason he's probably best taken in small doses. If you are unfamiliar with his work and were to approach him with that in mind, you might find that (as is the case with Montaigne, a very different writer) you had discovered not so much a book as a companion for life.

My excitement builds.

Jul 11, 2013, 12:30pm Top

> 20

Your going to love it.

Edited: Jul 11, 2013, 3:49pm Top

The Anatomy of Melancholy wasn't meant to be read from the first page to the last: This is precisely what I did! Couldn't I have been warned before? The 3 partitions were for me a nightmare. (No comparison possible with Boswell's Johnson which is instructive although sometimes boring when he comes to discuss Scotish law points.)

Jul 11, 2013, 3:49pm Top

That does it: I was going to wait until I was done with a few other books, but thanks to this thread, I'm starting Anatomy now!

Jul 14, 2013, 12:45am Top

On the same theme of antiquated authors, there is a nice piece on Thomas Browne in the LRB this edition.

Edited: Jul 14, 2013, 1:45am Top

>24 LesMiserables: A very enjoyable article too. It had me digging out Urne-Buriall again, which I love reading!

The next edition of LRB (Thu 18th July) includes (a much shorter, but nonetheless welcome) reference to Robert Burton too. In an essay on a topic covered elsewhere in the FSD archives - alternative uses for books - he is quoted in respect of the number of books available at the time (early 17th century) as "a vast Chaos and confusion". Heaven knows what he would have made of the "Fifty Shades of Grey" era!

EDIT: HTML error

Edited: Jul 16, 2013, 7:54am Top

I'm still on LRB 35/13.

Must check that out online.

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