A BOOS OF THE MOMENT
THE ANATOMY OF DELIGHT
Burton the Anatomist. Edited by G. C. F. Mead and R. C. Clift. With a Preface by W. H. D. Rouse. (Methuen. os.)
THE serious seeming paraphernalia of preface and introduc- tion to this volume of Selections from Burton the Anatomist, "chosen to interest the psychologist in every man," must not be allowed to put off those who read for delight. Indeed, the appeal to the psychologist in any man is slight, for the abridg- ;merit offers as little of psychology as may be ; rather does it present the rich ground in which any man may seek what he will and be sure of finding much. For the psychologist, as for any other, the interest lies not in what Burton says of his Subject, but in what he reveals of himself, and of all his queer, Humorous, crazy cures and antidotes to melancholy none is so quick and certain as his own book. To take it so seriously as the editors take it, in their admirable preface and choice of paths through the ripe confusion of Burton's mind, is to take it too seriously and misapprehend its gratification ; and its best gift is the simple, instinctive pleasure of contact with (the spirit of a great humanist and lively servant of his own !tongue. It is for preserving this pleasure above all that the editors are to be thanked.
Did Burton take himself so seriously_? Of solemnity he was incapable, and time after time, when he is treading the skirts of gravity and is on the point of being tripped up, he dances off lightly and cracks his jest as he passes on to his next sleight of hand. He plays with his subject, plays with folly, plays with his observation of man and his inordinate acquaintance !with books, and plays incessantly with his own extravagant sensations. He looks on at life, - amused at the spectacle, standing in the crowd and cheering monarchy but enjoying ;most the company of his fellows, casting his restless eye around
I and nourishing his mind with a thousand speculations. He men comprehensively and contrives endless, simple dicho-
mies, loving to frame an " Antiparodia," as he calls it, for ievery activity of man and every emergency of his passage t through life. All the world in his view is antithetical, shaping itself into the vast and arbitrary oppositions which he delights to expound. He writes pell-mell, the words tumbling out ;hastily like the mobs from a suburban train, but gayer and }happier, with no shabby shadow or morose regret for lost 'freedom. He writes to ease his mind, "for I had a kind of imposthume in my head, which I was very desirous to be unladen of, and could imagine no fitter evacuation than this. Resides, I might not well refrain, for one must needs scratch ,where it itches." It is the native ample-browed artist that speaks out of a prodigal habit. He confesses that he respects matter, not words, writing in an " extemporane,an style, tautolo- gies, apish imitation, a rhapsody of rags gathered from several dunghills, excrements of authors, toys and fopperies," and so on. It is partly affected, he declares ; for he knows himself and his own way and is not afraid to follow his bent. Hence )the pleasure he gives us, for in letters to find pleasure is to give lit and double it in the giving. He pretends that you cannot ;think worse of him than he does of himself, and if for worse you read better you will conceive pretty nearly his innocent shrewd vanity and his consciousness of his own mastery. His `` anatomy " is superficial rather than essential ; he collects, describes, synthesizes, brings together remote notions, casts logic to the winds, spurns all timid and niggling fear of self- contradiction, and follows his nose. It is with a shock that you read of his reason for the omission of certain cures for melancholy from his treatise of half a million words : it is " for brevity's sake." .
He was born in 1576 and died at Oxford' in 1639, having spent a lifetime immured in his chosen retreat. He was born into the richest of periods, and added to it his own fecundity. " His company was very merry, facete, and juvenile," as indeed might be guessed were it not that humour and sadness so often go hand in hand, wearing one another's disguise and stealing one another's step. His own melancholy, like his laughter, came from seeing all things with equal eagerness, or equal indifference, standing as he did apart and watching, hermit-like, a world of madmen pretending to sense, asserting
honour and dissembling griefs. He speaks cynically, and yet again warmly ; and though he jeers, denies and disputes, he is never sour. Even when he is dispiraising and dismembering, in the fury of his " anatomy," even when he is like a body- snatcher over the corpse of love, his pleasure is not malignant, but human. He will speak against women, but " when all is said, yet since some be good, some bad, let's put it to the venture . . . . 'tis true, 'tis a hazaid both ways, I confess, to live single or to marry, it may be bad, it may be good, as it is a
cross and calamity on the one side, so 'tis a sweet delight, an incomparable happiness, a blessed estate, a most unspeakable
benefit, a sole content, on the other, all in the proof. . . Since, then, this of marriage is the last and best refuge, and cure of heroical love, and all doubts are cleared, and impedi- ments removed ; I say again, what remains, but that according to both their desires, they be happily joined, since it cannot otherwise be helped ? God send us all good wives, every man his wish in this kind, and me mine."
Whatever his own melancholy, the vituperative frenzy of the Anatomy relieved it. His emphasis on this evil may seem strange to us, who are infinitely busy and for whom the material world is an inexhaustible confusion. But it was not always so. Johnson found in the Anatomy a refuge from
sleeplessness and his native melancholy and horrors, and in its author a kindred spirit, equal in curiosity to his own. Like Burton, Johnson could be interested in anything ; nothing
was insignificant. Burton spilt abundance throughout his book—scholars have shown how much was sacked from other writers ; Johnson spilt abundance in his talk and Lives of the Poets. Each had gathered in a lifetime of restless curiosity
what he gave back in his own inimitable way ; and Landor
missed an opportunity when he neglected to bring them together in a conversation to discourse Landorianly upon themselves. And others besides Johnson have cherished Burton. Lamb imitated him fondly, Keats prized the copy given him by Brown, annotated it with glee, and in a letter to George Keats copied a page of Burton's gallimatifry of hideous phrases concerning women, adding, " I would give my favourite leg to have written this as a speech in a play." And in our day Samuel Butler adds a smile as he thinks
of it : — " I read once of a man who was cured of a dangerous illness by eating his doctor's prescription which he understood was the medicine itself. So William Sefton Moorhouse imagined he was being converted to Christianity by reading Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, which he had got by mistake for Butler's Analogy, on the recommendation of a friend. But it puzzled him a good deal."
Burton's greatest debtor was unconfessed. What Burton did to others Sterne did to him. Mr. Charles Whibley. following John Ferrier, declares that from one point of view Tristram Shandy is put together from the pages of the Anatomy. It is
our luck that we have both and could spare neither.