Bibliotherapy, Journaling, and Some Bloodletting

Early in the 17th century,Oxford University scholar Robert Burton published what is now considered to be the first English language self-help manual, The Anatomy of Melancholy. The book offers Burton’s ideas on the nature and symptoms of melancholy or depression, as well as his notions for curatives such as  exercise and diet, but also bibliotherapy, journaling, and selective bloodletting.

The University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library is now showing an exhibition on the book called  Melancholy: A New Anatomy. This exhibition explores the broad range of early modern therapies and treatments for melancholy and also shows the surprising similarities with modern approaches. The nature of – and evidence-base for – modern therapies may have changed, but they often bear a remarkable resemblance to those first suggested by Robert Burton 400 years ago: from the suggestion to ‘be not solitary, be not idle’ to looking for “Mirth and merry Company.”

The  Bodleian Library exhibition brings together a diverse group of academics from the university’s departments of psychiatry, English, and clinical neurosciences to explore the surprising parallels between Burton’s seventeenth-century treatise and modern-day research into mental health. Bibliotherapy (therapeutic reading) and scriptotherapy (therapeutic writing) are two cited examples of concepts that might seem new but, as Burton proves, have a long history.

Melancholy: A New Anatomy is on view through March 20, 2022.

AuthorBurton, Robert, 1577-1640.
TitleThe anatomy of melancholy, what it is. : With all the kindes, causes, symptomes, prognostickes, and severall cures of it. : In three maine partitions with their seuerall sections, members, and subsections. : Philosophically, medicinally, historically, opened and cut up. / By Democritvs Iunior. ; With a satyricall preface, conducing to the following discourse. !ocr!
The Argument of the Frontifpiece.
TEn diftind Squares here feen apart. 6 Beneath them kneeling on his knee,
ASuperftitious man you fee :
He fafts, prayes, on his Idol fixt,
Tormented hope and fear betwixt :
For hell perhaps he takes more pain,
Then thou doft heaven it felfto gain.
Alas poor Sonl, I pitie thee,
what ftars incline thee fo to be?
Are joyn’d in one by Cutters at.
I old Democritus #nder a tree,
Sits on a ftone with book on knee;
About him bang there many features,
of Cats, Dogs, and fuch like creatures,
of which he makes Anatomy,
The feat of black choler to fe.
Over bis head appears the skie,
And Saturn Lord of melancholy.
Democrifus Abderites
7 Bxt fee the Madman rage down right
With furious looks, a gafily fght.
Naked in chains bound doth he lie,
And roars amain he knows not why?
obferve him; for as in a glafs,
Thine angry portraiture it wis.
His picture keep ftill in thy prefence;
Iwixt him and i hee, ther’s no difference.
What it is, with all the hines causes,
Sympfomes. Prognostichas, & Saurall cures of it,
In three Partifions,with their severall
Sections, members & sublections,
2 Tot h’ left a landskip of Jealoufie,
Prefents it felfe unto thine ey e.
A King fifber, a Swan, an Hern,
Two fighting Cocks you may difcern ;
Two roaring Bu lls each other hie,
To affault concerning Venery.
Symboles are thefe dey nomon Soveraign plants to purge tbe veins
Philesyphically, maicinally,
CHitorically, gend & cut ye.
89 Borage and Hellebor fill two fcenes,
Conceive the reft by that’s afore.
3 The next of Solitarinefs,
A portraiture doth well exprefs,
By fleeping dog, cat: Buck and Do,
Hares, Conies inthe defart go :
Fats, Omls the fbady bawers over,
In melancholy darkneffe hover.
Mark well : If’t be not as’t fhould be,
Blame the bad Cutter, and not me.
of melancholy,and chear the heart,
of thofe black fumes which make it fmart;
To clear the Brain of mifty fogs,
which dull our fenfes, and Sonl clogs.
The beft medicine that ere God made
For this malady ifwell affaid.
Democrifus Junior .
Qeith a Sabyricah GPrefae, Conducing
fo the followring Discourse.
The SeuentiEdriéion, correttd and
augmentd by the Author.
Omne tulit prunétum, qui miscnit vtile ulei.
10 Now laft of all to fill a place,
Prefented is the Authors face;
And in that habit which he wears,
4 Ith under Columne there dotb ftand His Image to the world appears.
Inamoratowith folded band;
Dorn hangs bis head, terfe and polite, That by bis writingsyou may guefs.
Some ditty fure be doth indite.
His lute and books about bim lie,
As fymptomes of his vanity.
If this do not enough difclofe,
To paint bim, take thy felf by th’ nofe.
His mind no art can well exprefs,
It was not pride, nor yet vain glory,
(Though others doe it commonly)
5 Hypocondriacus leans on his ar.,
Wind in bis fide doth him much harm,
And troubles him full fore God knows,
Much pain he hatb and many woes.
About him pots and glaffes lie,
Newly bronght from’s Apothecarg.
This Saturn’s afpects fignifie,
Tou fee them portraid in the skie.
Made bim do this : if you muft know,
The Printer would needs have it fo.
Then do not fromn er fcoffe at it,
Deride not, or detract a whit.
For furely as thou doft by him,
He will doe the fame again.
Then look upon’t, bebold and fee,
As thou lik t it, ſo it likes thee.
And I for it will ft and in view,
Thine to command, Reader Adiew.
Printed for H: Cripps and areto befold
at his Shop in Popes-head Allie
and by E: Wallis at the Hors fho
in the Old Baley.

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