The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 32

This version is captioned, a non-captioned version can be seen here.

This episode weighs up the merits of using medicines to cure melancholy and there is much to enjoy here.

Initially Robert Burton shares with us his cautious scepticism, after all there is an ‘accurate description’ of people who live an extraordinary span of years in Iceland by entirely avoiding the medical profession. He backs this argument up with a macabre joke about the relative dangers of treatment by physicians or pharmacists before conducting a witty retreat to ensure he doesn’t alienate those may later have to call on for help.

A concern about side effects leads to caution about too ready or lavish a prescription of medicines, a caution which remains with us today.

There is a brilliant cutting down to size of ‘bombast physicians’ (a phrase I am constantly looking to adapt for everyday use). Their cures, which now sound like ‘alternative medicine’, Burton characterises as ‘prodigious, sumptuous, far-fetched, rare [and] conjectural’. One wonders what the few known common garden herbs’ were used by ‘many an old wife or country woman’.

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