The most recent episode of BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time is on Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, or The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, Opened and Cut Up. The program is described on its website as follows:
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Robert Burton’s masterpiece The Anatomy of Melancholy.
In 1621 the priest and scholar Robert Burton published a book quite unlike any other. The Anatomy of Melancholy brings together almost two thousand years of scholarship, from Ancient Greek philosophy to seventeenth-century medicine. Melancholy, a condition believed to be caused by an imbalance of the body’s four humours, was characterised by despondency, depression and inactivity. Burton himself suffered from it, and resolved to compile an authoritative work of scholarship on the malady, drawing on all relevant sources.
Despite its subject matter the Anatomy is an entertaining work, described by Samuel Johnson as the only book ‘that ever took him out of bed two hours sooner than he wished to rise.’ It also offers a fascinating insight into seventeenth-century medical theory, and influenced many generations of playwrights and poets.
Professor of English Literature and Drama at the University of Nottingham
Mary Ann Lund
Lecturer in English at the University of Leicester
Lecturer and Fellow at the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham.
The episode can be heard online here.