The Anatomy of Melancholy

In describing his own state of irresolute depression after the war, Nick invokes Robert Burton’s seventeenth century treatise on the condition, The Anatomy of Melancholy.  Nick cites Burton’s own copious descriptors of the magnum opus itself, and then describes its famous frontispiece:

“The title page showed not only Burton’s own portrait in ruff and skullcap, but also figures illustrative of his theme; love-madness; hypocondriasis, religious melancholy.  The emblems of jealously and solitude were there too, together with those sovereign cures for melancholy and madness, borage [bottom left] and hellebore [bottom right].  Burton had long been a favorite of mine.” [BDFR 6-7/2]

frontispiece The Anatomy of Melancholy Robert Burton original edition, 1621 book in public domain page from ebooks.adelaide.edu

frontispiece
The Anatomy of Melancholy
Robert Burton
original edition, 1621
frontispiece, added to third edition, 1628 engraver Christian Le Blon book in public domain
page from ebooks.adelaide.edu

Burton first published The Anatomy of Melancholy in 1621, but no original manuscript now exists.  The text was reprinted five times in Burton’s own lifetime and in numerous versions and revisions since. The title page Nick refers to dates from the third edition (1628) and is attributed to one Christian Le Blon, about whose work we found no examples but this.  It appears to be a wood engraving that would have served to furnish sufficient copies for a limited edition of the Anatomy.  For the 1632 edition, Burton added an “Argument of the Frontispiece,” in verse to explain the meaning of each of the 10 “Squares.”  Le Blon’s technical execution is quite refined, but his drawing style is somewhat rustic, even a bit loopy or jokey, which might have suited Burton’s opus well, alternating as it does between scientific text and parody of the exhaustive and exhausting tone of such texts.

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