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Joke Book?

A.D. Nuttall

23 November 1989
The Anatomy of Melancholy: Vol. I 
by Robert Burton, edited by Thomas Faulkner, Nicholas Kiessling and Rhonda Blair.
Oxford, 675 pp., £70, October 1989, 0 19 812448 1
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... at Christ Church in Oxford, between the recumbent knight with the false nose and the tomb of Saint Frideswide, who eluded her too amorous suitor by hiding among pigs, stands the funerary monument of RobertBurton. Already, it will be noticed, I am giving more information than is strictly necessary. My excuse must be that it is a habit I have caught from Burton himself. A schoolboy, asked to produce a ...

Mecca Bound

Robert​ Irwin

21 July 1994
The Hajj: Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places 
by F.E. Peters.
Princeton, 399 pp., £19.95, July 1994, 0 691 02120 1
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Pilgrims and Sultans: The Hajj under the Ottomans 
by Suraiya Faroqhi.
Tauris, 244 pp., £34.50, May 1994, 1 85043 606 1
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The Hadj: A Pilgrimage to Mecca 
by Michael Wolfe.
Secker, 331 pp., £19.99, January 1994, 0 436 58404 2
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... In the section of The Anatomy of Melancholy devoted to the perils of religious enthusiasm, RobertBurton pauses briefly to comment on the complex and meritorious rituals of the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca: their fastings, their running till they sweat, their long prayers, Mahomets temple, tombe, and ...
16 July 1981
Utopia and the Ideal Society: A Study of English Utopian Writing, 1516-1700 
by J.C. Davis.
Cambridge, 427 pp., £25, March 1981, 0 521 23396 8
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Science and Society in Restoration England 
by Michael Hunter.
Cambridge, 232 pp., £18.50, March 1981, 0 521 22866 2
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... the end of the 17th century. He has interesting things to say about well-known figures like More, Bacon, Winstanley and Harrington, but I found his chapters on lesser writers even more instructive. RobertBurton and Samuel Gott are revealed as more significant ‘utopians’ than has been recognised. Dr Davis is also interesting on William Sprigge’s A Modest Plea for an Equal Commonwealth of 1659 ...
2 March 1989
Erasmus’s Annotations on the New Testament. The Gospels: Facsimile of the final Latin text with all earlier variants 
edited by Anne Reeve.
Duckworth, 284 pp., £35, March 1986, 9780715619902
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Erasmus’s Annotations on the New Testament: From Philologist to Theologian 
by Erika Rummel.
Toronto, 234 pp., £24.50, January 1987, 0 8020 5683 0
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A New Rabelais Bibliography: Editions of Rabelais before 1626 
by Stephen Rawles and M.A. Screech.
Droz, 691 pp.
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The Library of Robert​ Burton 
by Nicholas Kiessling.
Oxford Bibliographic Society, 433 pp., £25, May 1988, 0 901420 42 5
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... ée. The advent of the vernacular and the crisis in method together ensured the death of the neo-Latin world of Erasmus, ushering in that of Bacon and Grotius. In the twilight of the age of Erasmus, RobertBurton, ‘that fantastic great old man’, came of age at Oxford, a representative figure of Erasmian Humanism at its apogee. Most of his library is still to be found there as he wished, divided ...

Viva la joia

Roy Porter

22 December 1983
Montaigne: Essays in Reading 
edited by Gérard Defaux.
Yale, 308 pp., £8.95, April 1983, 0 300 02977 2
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Montaigne and Melancholy: The Wisdom of the ‘Essays’ 
by M.A. Screech.
Duckworth, 194 pp., £19.50, August 1983, 0 7156 1698 6
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... Montaigne was not sympathetic – he was angry. Too often the cultivation of melancholy was just playing with bile, courting disaster. A generation later, that other constitutional melancholic, RobertBurton, shut himself up in Christ Church and composed for twenty years. The outcome, the Anatomy of Melancholy, won him glory. But it was the testament of an embittered splenetic, a libeller of ...

No High Heels in Paradise

Keith Thomas: John Evelyn’s Elysium Britannicum

19 July 2001
Elysium Britannicum, or the Royal Gardens 
by John Evelyn, edited by John Ingram.
Pennsylvania, 492 pp., £49, December 2000, 0 8122 3536 3
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... drew extensively, is identified throughout as Andrea Palladio, the 16th-century architect. John Rea, whose Flora (1665) Evelyn also pillaged, is not distinguished from John Ray, the great botanist. Robert Boyle appears as ‘Mr Royle’ and is solemnly indexed as such. The editor has no great pretensions to be either a classical scholar or an expert on English 17th-century history; and he deserves ...

Dark Places

John Sutherland

18 November 1982
Wise Virgin 
by A.N. Wilson.
Secker, 186 pp., £7.50, October 1982, 0 436 57608 2
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The London Embassy 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 211 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 241 10872 1
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The frog who dared to croak 
by Richard Sennett.
Faber, 182 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 571 11989 1
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Vintage Stuff 
by Tom Sharpe.
Secker, 220 pp., £7.50, November 1982, 0 436 45810 1
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Rogue Justice 
by Geoffrey Household.
Joseph, 174 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 7181 2178 3
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... a work eventually destined for the dusty glory of Early English Texts Society publication. It’s not my period, but despite some convincing quotation and an authenticating footnote, this work by ‘Robert of St Victor’ appears to be invented. (Readers of Wilson’s earlier novels will expect highly specialised pockets of expertise on church and university matters.) The treatise celebrates the ...
8 June 1995
Marihuana: The Forbidden Medicine 
by Lester Grinspoon, edited by James Bakalar.
Yale, 184 pp., £7.95, April 1995, 0 300 05994 9
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... In 1989 he and his family were arrested at gunpoint in a police raid; he wrote his account while serving a six-month prison sentence, and virtually without medical support. Again, a Florida man, Robert Randall, who had contracted Aids following a blood transfusion, had, with great difficulty, obtained legal authorisation to use cannabis to reduce the nausea he suffered. He, too, was arrested at ...
8 May 1997
The Anatomy of Disgust 
by William Ian Miller.
Harvard, 313 pp., £16.50, April 1997, 0 674 03154 7
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... lothen and abhorren it to resseyve it into they mouth.’ But Miller suggests that Christianity’s troubled attitude to flesh and blood is only part of the story of disgust. The deliberate echo of RobertBurton in his title signals his wish to produce a meditation on the natural history of disgust and his belief that it is as much hard-wired as socially induced. His claim is that ‘for all its ...

Quill, Wax, Knife

Adam Smyth: Collier’s Letter Racks

18 July 2013
Mr Collier’s Letter Racks: A Tale of Art & Illusion at the Threshold of the Modern Information Age 
by Dror Wahrman.
Oxford, 275 pp., £22.95, November 2012, 978 0 19 973886 1
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... was careful to exclude ‘idle books, & riffe raffes’, including plays, from his library, and many commentators felt there were simply too many books: ‘a vast Chaos and confusion’, according to RobertBurton. ‘The longest life of a man,’ John Cotgrave lamented, ‘is not sufficient to explore so much as the substance of them, which (in many) is but slender.’ Thus careful reading was figured ...

Not to Be Read without Shuddering

Adam Smyth: The Atheist’s Bible

20 February 2014
The Atheist’s Bible: The Most Dangerous Book That Never Existed 
by Georges Minois, translated by Lys Ann Weiss.
Chicago, 249 pp., £21, October 2012, 978 0 226 53029 1
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... he writes. ‘They confused it with other books; they fabricated fakes, which others bought at the price of gold; and they did this while cursing the work.’ (In his Anatomy of Melancholy of 1621, RobertBurton condemned ‘that pestilent booke’, ‘not to be read without shuddering’.) Minois delights in strange, Eco-esque vignettes of doomed book-hunting obsessives, like Christina, the daughter ...

Diary

Mark Ford: Love and Theft

2 December 2004
... he asks. ‘Are we forever to be twisting and untwisting the same rope?’ It was not noticed until some time after Laurence Sterne’s death in 1768 that this passage was itself plagiarised from RobertBurton’s attack on literary imitators in his introduction to The Anatomy of Melancholy. ‘As apothecaries,’ Burton observed, ‘we make new mixtures every day, pour out of one vessel into ...

God’s Own

Angus Calder

12 March 1992
Empire and English Character 
by Kathryn Tidrick.
Tauris, 338 pp., £24.95, August 1990, 1 85043 191 4
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Into Africa: The story of the East African Safari 
by Kenneth Cameron.
Constable, 229 pp., £14.95, June 1990, 0 09 469770 1
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BurtonSnow upon the Desert 
by Frank McLynn.
Murray, 428 pp., £19.95, September 1990, 0 7195 4818 7
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From the Sierras to the Pampas: Richard Burton’s Travels in the Americas, 1860-69 
by Frank McLynn.
Barrie and Jenkins, 258 pp., £16.99, July 1991, 0 7126 3789 3
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The Duke of Puddle Dock: Travels in the Footsteps of Stamford Raffles 
by Nigel Barley.
Viking, 276 pp., £16.99, March 1992, 0 670 83642 7
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... to the myth of the doughty white man worming into the core of a dark continent. Uganda, which Speke ‘discovered’, had indeed been remote from European knowledge. On the other hand, when he and Burton went to Lake Tanganyika, they had been on a track well beaten by Arab slavers, and knew exactly what they could expect to find. No one who has flown over central Africa below the clouds, as I did on ...

Travelling Text

Marina Warner: ‘The Arabian Nights’

18 December 2008
The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights 
translated by Malcolm Lyons, with Ursula Lyons.
Penguin, 2715 pp., £125, November 2008, 978 0 14 091166 4
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‘The Arabian Nights’ in Historical Context: Between East and West 
edited by Saree Makdisi and Felicity Nussbaum.
Oxford, 337 pp., £55, November 2008, 978 0 19 955415 7
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... strictures, and though it’s pretty fustian, with Lane tranquillising much of the book’s agitated emotion and toning down many of its adventures, his translation is readable in a way that Richard Burton’s lurid and archaisising version, made fifty years later, is not. Lane expurgated, Burton fantasticated. There have been many wilful translations in the book’s history, a history that in its ...

Diary

Robert​ Walshe: Bumping into Beckett

7 November 1985
... Champmeslé’s garden and Balzac’s printing-press: a plaque near a dismal doorway gives all but the medical details. The poet and his lady, I like to believe, were the Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton of the day, if not the Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, with knobs on. Centuries pass. La maison is up for rent. Appears out of nowhere, circa 1909, exactly as in the central London of our own day ...

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