The Anatomy of Melancholy

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by Robert Burton
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The Anatomy of Melancholy is a patchwork quilt of almost half-a-million words of miscellaneous learning, an inexhaustible quarry of quotations, a rambling, often irrelevant, irregularly systematised commentary on the human comedy, always excessive and overspilling. It is the life work of a melancholy philosopher who in spite of his depression found cheerfulness and waggery constantly breaking through. Burton wrote it, so he says, to beguile his melancholy, ease his mind and help other sufferers.

In the words of Sir William Osler, "No book in any language presents such a stage of moving pictures - kings and queens in their greatness and in their glory, in their madness and in their despair; generals and conquerors with their ambitions and activities; the princes of the church in their pride and their shame; philosophers of all ages...criminals, small and great, from the petty thief to Nero with his unspeakable atrocities...a motley procession of humanity sweeps before us on his stage, a fantastic but fascinating medley at which he does not know whether to weep or to laugh."

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