Leicester academic discusses 17th century 'melancholy' book on Radio 4

Posted by mjs76 at May 11, 2011 10:15 AM |
Sorrow, need, sickness, trouble, fear, grief, passion, or perturbation of the mind. Now here's Peter with the weather...
Leicester academic discusses 17th century 'melancholy' book on Radio 4

Frontispiece to the 1638 edition (image: Wikipedia)

Dr Mary Ann Lund from our School of English is one of the guests on this week's In Our Time, discussing Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy with Melvyn Bragg.

First published in 1621, The Anatomy of Melancholy is one of the most influential books of the early seventeenth century, a vast (900 pages!), wide-ranging tome which was ostensibly a treatise on what we would now call depression but which used this premise to explore all aspects of human existance, drawing material from a huge range of sources going back to the Ancient Greeks.

In disposition, is that transitory Melancholy which goes and comes upon every small occasion of sorrow, need, sickness, trouble, fear, grief, passion, or perturbation of the mind, any manner of care, discontent, or thought, which causes anguish, dulness, heaviness and vexation of spirit, any ways opposite to pleasure, mirth, joy, delight, causing frowardness in us, or a dislike.
The Anatomy of Melancholy - Robert Burton (1621)

Robert Burton was a local lad, born in 1576 in the Leicestershire village of Lindley and from 1636 was rector of Seagrave, a parish near Loughborough. He spent most of his life however at Oxford where he studied mathematics and astrology.

The Anatomy of Melancholy went through numerous editions during Burton's lifetime and in the decades that followed, and was read by writers including Milton, Sterne, Keats, George Eliot and Beckett. Samuel Johnson described it as the only book that took him out of bed two hours sooner than he wished to rise.

This week's In Our Time, to be broadcast at 9.00am on Thursday 12 May, will discuss Burton's monumental text. Among the expert guests will be Dr Mary Ann Lund from our School of English, whose recent book Melancholy, Medicine and Religion in Early Modern England: Reading 'The Anatomy of Melancholy (Cambridge University Press, 2010), examines the ways in which Burton understands and presents the process of reading, assessing the relationship between reading and contemporary medical and religious approaches to curing melancholy.

In Our Time is repeated at 9.30pm on Thursday and a link to iPlayer will be added to this story when available.

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