Anatomy of Melancholy, by Robert Burton

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The work now restored to public notice has had an extraordinary fate. At the time of its original publication it obtained a great celebrity, which continued more than half a century. During that period few books were more read, or more deservedly applauded. It was the delight of the learned, the solace of the indolent, and the refuge of the uninformed. It passed through at least eight editions, by which the bookseller, as WOOD records, got an estate; and, notwithstanding the objection sometimes opposed against it, of a quaint style, and too great an accumulation of authorities, the fascination of its wit, fancy, and sterling sense, have borne down all censures, and extorted praise from the first Writers in the English language. The grave JOHNSON has praised it in the warmest terms, and the ludicrous STERNE has interwoven many parts of it into his own popular performance. MILTON did not disdain to build two of his finest poems on it; and a host of inferior writers have embellished their works with beauties not their own, culled from a performance which they had not the justice even to mention. Change of times, and the frivolity of fashion, suspended, in some degree, that fame which had lasted near a century; and the succeeding generation affected indifference towards an author, who at length was only looked into by the plunderers of literature, the poachers in obscure volumes. The plagiarisms of Tristram Shandy, so successfully brought to light by DR. FERRIAR, at length drew the attention of the public towards a writer, who, though then little known, might, without impeachment of modesty, lay claim to every mark of respect; and inquiry proved, beyond a doubt, that the calls of justice had been little attended to by others, as well as the facetious YORICK. WOOD observed, more than a century ago, that several authors had unmercifully stolen matter from BURTON without any acknowledgment. The time, however, at length arrived, when the merits of the Anatomy of Melancholy were to receive their due praise. The book was again sought for and read, and again it became an applauded performance. Its excellencies once more stood confessed, in the increased price which every copy offered for sale produced; and the increased demand pointed out the necessity of a new edition. This is now presented to the public in a manner not disgraceful to the memory of the author; and the publisher relies with confidence, that so valuable a repository of amusement and information will continue to hold the rank to which it has been restored, firmly supported by its own merit, and safe from the influence and blight of any future caprices of fashion. To open its valuable mysteries to those who have not had the advantage of a classical education, translations of the countless quotations from ancient writers which occur in the work, are now for the first time given, and obsolete orthography is in all instances modernized.

Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48