The Worlds of Renaissance Melancholy

Angus GowlandIn the September 2007 issue of the prestigious history of science journal, Isis, University of Victoria historian Jeremy Schmidt reviewed the book The Worlds of Renaissance Melancholy: Robert Burton in Context (Cambridge, 2006). Gowland is a historian at University College London. His book departs from the standard scholarly approaches to Burton’s classic Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) as either, strictly, a medical text or a work literature. A Schmidt put it:

Angus Gowland’s masterful contextual study of Burton’s Anatomy considerably furthers our understanding of both Burton’s relation to medical discourse and the richness and ambiguity of his rhetoric by developing an analysis of the Anatomy from the perspective of the Renaissance moral-philosophical concerns that, Gowland argues, lie at the core of Burton’s agenda. Gowland argues that Burton’s prefatory address, “Democritus Junior to the Reader,” effectively establishes his authorial persona as a humanist moral philosopher with primarily Stoic sympathies, one who figures melancholy not as a medical condition but as part of a much broader problem of the world’s refusal to govern its passions through reason.

The full text of the review is available electronically only to those who are subscribed or are affiliated with libraries that subscribe to Isis.

Schmidt himself is the author of the book Melancholy And the Care of the Soul: Religion, Moral Philosophy And Madness in Early Modern England (Ashgate, 2007).

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.