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Robert Burton

Robert Burton Robert Burton[1†]

Robert Burton (1577–1640) was an English author, scholar, and Anglican clergyman renowned for "The Anatomy of Melancholy". His works include Latin poems, a lost play, and "Philosophaster". Burton served as Christ Church Library's librarian and authored his magnum opus in 1621, reprinted multiple times. With over 500,000 words, it aimed to alleviate his own melancholy. His influential work attracted readers like Samuel Johnson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Keats[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Robert Burton was born on 8 February 1577 in the village of Lindley, Leicestershire, into a comfortably well-off family of the landed gentry[1†][3†]. He attended grammar schools in Sutton Coldfield and Nuneaton[1†][3†] before matriculating into Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1593, at the age of 15[1†].

Burton’s education at Oxford was unusually lengthy, possibly drawn out by an affliction of melancholy[1†]. Despite this, he managed to obtain an MA and BD, and by 1607, he was qualified as a tutor[1†]. As early as 1603, Burton indulged his early literary creations at Oxford, including some Latin poems, a now-lost play performed before and panned by King James I himself, and his only surviving play: an academic satire called Philosophaster[1†]. This work, though less well regarded than Burton’s masterpiece, has "received more attention than most of the other surviving examples of university drama"[1†].

Sometime after obtaining his MA in 1605, Burton made some attempts to leave the university. Though he never fully succeeded, he managed to obtain the living of St Thomas the Martyr’s Church, Oxford, through the university, and external patronage for the benefice of Walesby and the rectorship of Seagrave[1†].

Career Development and Achievements

Robert Burton’s career was marked by his dedication to academia and his contributions to literature[2†][1†]. After obtaining his MA and BD, he qualified as a tutor by 1607[2†][1†]. He held various positions within Oxford University, including serving as the librarian of Christ Church Library from 1624 until his death[2†][1†].

Burton’s literary creations began as early as 1603, with works including Latin poems and plays[2†][1†]. His only surviving play, an academic satire called “Philosophaster”, was performed at Christ Church in 1618[2†]. Though less well-regarded than his later work, “Philosophaster” has received more attention than most other surviving examples of university drama[2†][1†].

Burton’s most significant achievement was his encyclopedic work, “The Anatomy of Melancholy”, first published in 1621[2†][1†]. This work was reprinted with additions from Burton no fewer than five times, with the final edition totaling more than 500,000 words[2†][1†]. Burton wrote “The Anatomy of Melancholy” as much to alleviate his own melancholy as to help others[2†][1†]. The book is permeated by quotations from and paraphrases of many authorities, both classical and contemporary, the culmination of a lifetime of erudition[2†][1†].

Burton’s work has attracted distinguished readers over the centuries, including notable figures such as Samuel Johnson, Benjamin Franklin, John Keats, William Osler, and Samuel Beckett[2†][1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Robert Burton’s most significant work is “The Anatomy of Melancholy,” first published in 1621[1†][2†]. This encyclopedic tome is a digressive and labyrinthine work, written as much to alleviate his own melancholy as to help others[1†]. The final edition totalled more than 500,000 words[1†]. The book is permeated by quotations from and paraphrases of many authorities, both classical and contemporary, the culmination of a lifetime of erudition[1†].

Here are some of his main works:

Burton’s works, particularly “The Anatomy of Melancholy,” have had a lasting impact on literature and psychology. They continue to be studied and appreciated for their depth of insight and breadth of knowledge[1†][2†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Robert Burton’s work, particularly “The Anatomy of Melancholy,” has been the subject of much analysis and evaluation[2†][1†]. His writings are considered a valuable index to the philosophical and psychological ideas of his time[2†][1†].

“The Anatomy of Melancholy” is a digressive and labyrinthine work, written as much to alleviate his own melancholy as to help others[2†][1†]. The book is permeated by quotations from and paraphrases of many authorities, both classical and contemporary, the culmination of a lifetime of erudition[2†][1†]. The final edition totalled more than 500,000 words[2†][1†].

Burton’s “Philosophaster,” though less well-regarded than “The Anatomy of Melancholy,” has received more attention than most of the other surviving examples of university drama[2†][1†]. It is a vivacious exposure of charlatanism that has affinities with Ben Jonson’s “The Alchemist” and was acted at Christ Church in 1618[2†][1†].

Burton’s works have attracted distinguished readers, including Samuel Johnson, Benjamin Franklin, John Keats, William Osler, and Samuel Beckett[2†][1†]. His work entered a lull in popularity through the 18th century, but it was only the revelation of Laurence Sterne’s plagiarism that revived interest in Burton’s work into the 19th century, especially among the Romantics[2†][1†]. The “Anatomy” received more academic attention in the 20th and 21st centuries[2†][1†].

Personal Life

Robert Burton led a life that he described as "silent, sedentary, solitary"[1†]. His existence was largely confined to the libraries of Oxford, where he served in many minor administrative roles and as the librarian of Christ Church Library from 1624 until his death[1†]. Despite some attempts to leave the university, he eventually came to accept his sequestered life[1†].

There is limited information available about Burton’s personal relationships. His life at Oxford was marked by a lack of documented personal interactions, which may be reflective of his described melancholic disposition[1†].

Burton passed away on January 25, 1640[1†][2†]. His large personal library was divided between the Bodleian and Christ Church[1†]. His work, particularly “The Anatomy of Melancholy”, continues to influence many, attracting distinguished readers, including Samuel Johnson, Benjamin Franklin, John Keats, William Osler, and Samuel Beckett[1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Robert Burton’s life and work continue to resonate centuries after his death. His most famous work, “The Anatomy of Melancholy”, is not only a masterpiece of style but also a valuable index to the philosophical and psychological ideas of his time[2†]. The book was written as much to alleviate his own melancholy as to help others, and it was perused and plagiarized by many authors during his lifetime and after his death[2†][1†].

Burton’s influence extended beyond his lifetime, with his work entering a lull in popularity through the 18th century, only to be revived in the 19th century, especially among the Romantics[2†][1†]. The 20th and 21st centuries have seen “The Anatomy of Melancholy” receive more academic attention[2†][1†]. Burton’s work has always attracted distinguished readers, including Samuel Johnson, Benjamin Franklin, John Keats, William Osler, and Samuel Beckett[2†][1†].

Burton’s accomplishments in “The Anatomy” were not just his critical appraisal of or additions to the scholarly theory of melancholy, but also his expansive and flexible application of that theory to his surroundings[2†][5†]. His work served as a critique of the condition of the domestic body politic, a commentary on the limitations of speculative knowledge, and an expression of adherence to the intellectual culture of Christian humanism[2†][5†].

Despite his “silent, sedentary, solitary” life[2†], Burton’s legacy is far from quiet. His work continues to echo through the halls of academia and literature, a testament to the enduring power of his intellect and his pen[2†][1†][2†][5†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Robert Burton [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Robert Burton: English author, scholar, and clergyman [website] - link
  3. Oxford Academic - The Oxford Handbook of English Prose 1500-1640 - Robert Burton and The Anatomy of Melancholy [website] - link
  4. Google Books - Analysing Sentences - Noel Burton-Roberts [website] - link
  5. Cambridge University Press - The Worlds of Renaissance Melancholy - Chapter: Conclusion: Robert Burton's melancholy [website] - link
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