Tag Archives: Anatomy of Melancholy

Marginalia, no.215

Cosmus Medices, that rich citizen of Florence, ingenuously confessed to a near friend of his, that would know of him why he built so many public and magnificent palaces, and bestowed so liberally on scholars, not that he loved learning more than others, ‘but to eternize his own name, to be immortal by the benefit of scholars…’

~ Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy

Among those set to the task was Marsilio Ficino, appointed by Cosimo de Medici to head the Florentine Academy. Late in life Ficino was accused of being a wizard astrologer. In the choice phrasing of the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Ficino finally “succeeded in purging himself.” Of the charges, one hopes. We read in Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions (in a story lifted from Hermippus Redivivus), that de Medici himself as a young man had consulted an astrologer and been guaranteed immortal fame with a seat alongside Augustus Caesar and Co. Why all the exertion then? The lesson seems to be: hedge your bets with mortar and mortarboards.

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Book Porn, no.3


In the final track of the classic Smiths’ album, The Queen is Dead, Morrissey croons his tardy discovery that “some girls are bigger than others.”  The same is true of paperbacks.  And size, as they say, matters.  There’s a power of attraction in gratuitous endowment.  By force of its own mass, and regardless of subject matter, a large paperback generates a kind of gravitational pull.  Do laws of physics place any ultimate constraints on size?  At what point will glue binding simply fail?  And is that fail-point determined by the total number of pages or the total weight of pages?  Such are the mysteries of love.  But while oversized hardbounds revolve in our eyes like solemn Jupiters of desire, absurdly thick paperbacks draw us in like insatiable black holes, concentrating acquisitional lust in objects deliciously balanced between virginal modesty and button-bursting extravagance.

Note how careful I am not to crease their spines in the act of love.  Clarel, Herman Melville (Northwestern University Press): 893 pages; The Bible with Apocrypha (Oxford World’s Classics): 1824 pages; Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton (New York Review of Books): 1382 pages; Tales and Sketches, Nathaniel Hawthorne (Library of America): 1200 pages.

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Marginalia, no.19

This roving humor…I have ever had, & like a ranging spaniel, that barks at every bird it sees, leaving his game, I have followed all, saving that which I should, and may justly complain, and truly (for who is everywhere is nowhere)…, that I have read many books, but to little purpose, for want of good method; I have confusedly tumbled over divers authors in our libraries, with small profit, for want of art, order, memory, judgment.

~ Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy

Wasn’t it Pascal who named Distraction mankind’s universal foe, the catholic goad of nature, preventing us at every turn from attending to life’s proper tasks? Though periodically re-lamented (as if just discovered), the habit of distraction must confer certain benefits.  A too constant focus on life’s mortal intentions toward us can be a downer, after all, and there are just so damn many books to read – most of which, like Burton’s, are themselves the happy products of distraction.

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