Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 08.djvu/16

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
Burton
Burton
12

Scotland's chief historian. As a man, he was loved and valued in proportion as he was truly known. With a dry critical intellect he combined an intense sensitiveness, evinced in a painful shrinking from deficient sympathy, the real and pathetic cause of his unfortunate irascibility and impatience of contradiction. His private affections were deep and constant, his philanthropy embraced mankind, his gracious and charitable actions were endless, and it is mournful to think that the mere exaggeration of tender feeling, combined with his aversion to display and neglect of his personal appearance, should have obstructed the general recognition of qualities as beautiful as uncommon. His main defect was, as remarked by his widow, an absence of imagination, rendering it difficult for him to put himself in another's place. In an historian such a deficiency is most serious, and could be but imperfectly supplied by the acuteness of his critical faculty. In biography it was to a certain extent counteracted by the strength of the sympathy which originally attracted him to his theme; and hence his biographical writings are perhaps the most truly and permanently valuable.

[Memoir by Mrs. Burton, prefixed to the large-paper edition of the Book Hunter, 1882; Blackwood's Mag. September 1881.]

R. G.


BURTON, ROBERT (1577–1640), author of the 'Anatomy of Melancholy,' and one of the most fantastic figures in literature, was the second son of Ralph Burton of Lindley in Leicestershire. In the calculation of his nativity, on the right hand of his monument in Christ Church Cathedral, the date of his birth is given as 8 Feb. 1576-7. He tells us in the 'Anatomy of Melancholy' (chapter on 'Aire Rectified, with a digression of the Aire,' part ii., sect. 2, memb. 3) that his birthplace was Lindley in Leicestershire. There is a tradition that he was born at Falde in Staffordshire, and Plot, in his 'Natural History of Staffordshire,' 1680 (p. 276), states that he was shown the house of Robert Burton's nativity; but the tradition probably arose from the fact that William Burton [q.v.] resided at Falde. We learn from his will that he passed some time at the grammar school, Nuneaton; and in the 'Digression of the Aire' he mentions that he had been a scholar at the free school of Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire. In the long vacation of 1593 he was sent as a commoner to Brasenose College, Oxford, and in 1599 was elected student of Christ Church, where, 'for form sake, tho' he wanted not a tutor,' he was placed under the tuition of Dr. John Bancroft. He took the degree of B.D. in 1614, and was admitted to the reading of the sentences. On 29 Nov. 1616 he was presented by the dean and chapter of Christ Church to the vicarage of St. Thomas, in the west suburbs of Oxford ; and it is recorded that he always gave his parishioners the sacrament in wafers, and that he built the south porch of the church. About 1630 he received from George, Lord Berkeley, the rectory of Segrave in Leicestershire, which, with his Oxford living, he kept 'with much ado to his dying day.' In 1606 Burton wrote a Latin comedy, which was acted at Christ Church on Shrove Monday, 16 Feb. 1617-18. It was not printed in the author's lifetime, and was long supposed to be irretrievably lost ; but two manuscript copies had fortunately been preserved. One of these belonged to Dean Milles (who died in 1784), and is now in the possession of the Rev. William Edward Budsley, of Middleton Cheney, by whom it was privately printed in handsome quarto for presentation to the Roxburghe Club in 1862. On the title-page is written 'Inchoata A° Domini 1606, alterata, renovata, perfecta Anno Domini 1615.' Over inchoata is written in the same hand scripta, and over renovata, revisa. The other manuscript, a presentation copy from the author to his brother, William Burton, is in Lord Mostyn's library (Hist MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. 366). 'Philosophaster' bears a certain resemblance to Tomkis's 'Albumazar,' acted at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1614, and to Ben Jonson's 'Alchemist,' acted in 1610, and published in 1612. In the prologue the author anticipates criticism on this point:—

Emendicatum e nupera scena aut quis putet,
Sciat quod undecim abhinc annis scripta fuit.

Burton's comedy is a witty exposure of the practices of professors in the art of chicanery. The manners of a fraternity of vagabonds are portrayed with considerable humour and skill, and the lyrical portions of the play are written with a light hand. At the end of the volume Mr. Buckley has collected, at the cost of considerable research, all Burton's contributions to various academic collections of Latin verse.

In 1621 appeared the first edition of Burton's 'Anatomy of Melancholy,' one of the most fascinating books in literature. The full title is—'The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is. With all the Kindes, Cavses, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and severall Cvres of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their seuerall Sections, Members, and Svbsections. Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically opened and cvt vp. By Democritus Iunior. With a Satyricall Preface conducing to the following Discourse. Macrob. Omne meum,