Tag Archives: The Anatomy of Melancholy

Marginalia, no.189

Monsters of men as we are, dogs, wolves, tigers, fiends, incarnate devils, we do not only contend, oppress, and tyrannize ourselves, but as so many firebrands we set on and animate others: our whole life is a perpetual combat, a conflict, a set battle, a snarling fit.

~ Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy

Among the chief joys of parenthood is hoodwinking children into the belief that the world is something better than “a snarling fit.” It’s a deception, I think, that can end by being true. Acquaintance with life’s brute zoology is forced on us all sooner or later. What the world never teaches is to presume well of others and be charitable toward ourselves. Retreat to a peaceable kingdom later in life is only possible if you start there to begin with.


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Marginalia, no.164

Tobacco, divine, rare, superexcellent tobacco, which goes far beyond all the panaceas, potable gold, and philosopher’s stones, a sovereign remedy to all diseases.  A good vomit, I confess, a virtuous herb if it be well qualified, opportunely taken, and medicinally used; but as it is commonly abused by most men, which take it as tinkers do ale, ‘tis a plague, a mischief, a violent purger of goods, lands, health; hellish, devilish, and damned tobacco, the ruin and overthrow of body and soul.

~ Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy

Now that it’s cold again I take my pipe and whisky and sit on the porch to blow smoke in my children’s faces from the other side of the window. My enthusiasm for tobacco had stalled over the summer.  I’ve taken it up again for the sake of my health on the mithridatic principle that deadly things in moderation make for strength. The king sips small doses of arsenic as a hedge against poisoning.  The infant gets immunity by exposure to a weakened virus. If only life (the deadliest thing of all) could be taken in small amounts, I might live forever.


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