Friday, March 06, 2009


A Melancholy Man

Samuel Butler, "A Melancholy Man," from Characters and Passages from Note-Books, ed. A.R. Waller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1908), pp. 59-60:
A Melancholy Man is one, that keeps the worst Company in the World, that is, his own; and tho' he be always falling out and quarrelling with himself, yet he has not power to endure any other Conversation. His Head is haunted, like a House, with evil Spirits and Apparitions, that terrify and fright him out of himself, till he stands empty and forsaken. His Sleeps and his Wakings are so much the same, that he knows not how to distinguish them, and many times when he dreams, he believes he is broad awake and sees Visions. The Fumes and Vapours that rise from his Spleen and Hypocondries have so smutched and sullied his Brain (like a Room that smoaks) that his Understanding is blear-ey'd, and has no right Perception of any Thing. His Soul lives in his Body, like a Mole in the Earth, that labours in the Dark, and casts up Doubts and Scruples of his own Imaginations, to make that rugged and uneasy, that was plain and open before. His Brain is so cracked, that he fancies himself to be Glass, and is afraid that every Thing he comes near should break him in Pieces. Whatsoever makes an Impression in his Imagination works it self in like a Screw, and the more he turns and winds it, the deeper it sticks, till it is never to be got out again. The Temper of his Brain being earthy, cold, and dry, is apt to breed Worms, that sink so deep into it, no Medicine in Art or Nature is able to reach them. He leads his Life, as one leads a Dog in a Slip that will not follow, but is dragged along until he is almost hanged, as he has it often under Consideration to treat himself in convenient Time and Place, if he can but catch himself alone. After a long and mortal Feud between his inward and his outward Man, they at length agree to meet without Seconds, and decide the Quarrel, in which the one drops, and the other slinks out of the Way, and makes his Escape into some foreign World, from whence it is never after heard of. He converses with nothing so much as his own Imagination, which being apt to misrepresent Things to him, makes him believe, that it is something else than it is, and that he holds Intelligence with Spirits, that reveal whatsoever he fancies to him, as the antient rude People, that first heard their own Voices repeated by Echoes in the Woods, concluded it must proceed from some invisible Inhabitants of those solitary Places, which they after believed to be Gods, and called them Sylvans, Fauns, and Dryads. He makes the Infirmity of his Temper pass for Revelations, as Mahomet did by his falling Sickness, and inspires himself with the Wind of his own Hypocondries. He laments, like Heraclitus the Maudlin Philosopher, at other Men's Mirth, and takes Pleasure in nothing but his own un-sober Sadness. His Mind is full of Thoughts, but they are all empty, like a Nest of Boxes. He sleeps little, but dreams much, and soundest when he is waking. He sees Visions further off than a second-sighted Man in Scotland, and dreams upon a hard Point with admirable Judgment. He is just so much worse than a Madman, as he is below him in Degree of Frenzy; for among Madmen the most mad govern all the rest, and receive a natural Obedience from their Inferiors.
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