Monday, November 17, 2008


Pleasantly Pedantic

Andrew Lang, Burton's Anatomy:
A quaint old store of learning lies
      In Burton's pleasant pages,
With long quotations that comprise
      The wisdom of the ages.
'Tis strange to read him 'mid the crowd
      And modern hurly-burly;
The only author Johnson vowed
      Could make him get up early.

He lived a solitary life,
      He said "Mihi et musis,"
And put his rest from worldly strife
      To very pleasant uses.
He wrote the book wherein we find
      "All joys to this are folly,"
And naught to the reflective mind
      "So sweet as melancholy."

How strangely he dissects his theme
      In manner anatomic;
He's earnest at one time, you deem,
      Now decorously comic.
And most prodigiously he quotes,
      With learning quite gigantic,
Or telling classic anecdotes,
      Is pleasantly pedantic.

There's sterling sense in every page,
      And shrewdest cogitation;
Your keen attention he'll engage,
      And honest admiration.
If any man should vow to live
      With but one book, be certain
To him could friendly fortune give
      No better book than Burton.

He lies in rest at Christ's Church aisle,
      With all his erudition;
The hieroglyphics make one smile,
      That show his superstition.
His epitaph survives to-day,
      As one "Cui vitam dedit
Et mortem Melancholia,"
      So he himself has said it.
On Burton's final resting place see Percy Dearmer, The Cathedral Church of Oxford (London: George Bell & Sons, 1899), p. 96:
On the pier at the foot of Sir George Nowers' tomb is fixed the remarkably characteristic monument of Robert Burton, the famous author of "The Anatomy of Melancholy," who died in 1639, having been Student of Christ Church for forty years, and also Vicar of St. Thomas', Oxford. His bust is coloured, and surrounded by an oval frame; it should be a good likeness, and one fancies that the face is drenched in melancholy.

On the frame are two medallions with a sphere, and a curious calculation of his nativity, composed by himself, and placed here by his brother William, the historian of Leicestershire. The inscription, written by himself, is :—

Paucis notus, paucioribus ignotus
Hic jacet
Democritus Junior
Cui vitam dedit et mortem

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