Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Melancholy Humour

Reading this had me in splits. Specially about vapours which "annoyeth the harte" and cause further troubles in brain...

"The perturbations of melancholy are for the most parte, sadde and fearful, and such as rise of them: as distrust, doubt, diffidence, or dispaire, sometimes furious and sometimes merry in apparaunce, through a kinde of Sardonian, and false laughter, as the humour is disposed that procureth these diversities. Those which are sad and pensive, rise of that melancholick humour, which is the grossest part of the blood, whether it be iuice or excrement, not passing the naturall temper in heat whereof it partaketh, and is called cold in comparison onely. This for the most part is setled in the spleane, and with his vapours anoyeth the harte and passing vp to the brayne, counterfetteth terrible obiectes to the fantasie, and polluting both the substance, and spirits of the brayne, causeth it without externall occasion, to forge monstrous fictions, and terrible to the conceite, which the iudgement taking as they are presented by the disordered instrument, deliuer ouer to the hart, which hath no iudgement of discretion in it self, but giuing credite to the mistaken report of the braine, breaketh out into that inordinate passion, against reason."

by Timothy Bright (via Flowerville). More details here (a very good resource.)

Now I remember reading this extract in the excellent anthology The Nature of Melancholy: From Aristotle to Kristeva which collects excerpts from important texts of the western tradition dealing with this subject.

I also can't find on internet a truly hilarious piece of advice for people suffering from "erotic melancholy" by the Roman physician Galen. Basically he approvingly cites Diogenes the Cynic, one of the early proponents of the idea of taking matters in one's own hands. Galen also briefly describes how he once cured one of her female patients suffering from melancholy just by using his fingers appropriately!!

For now Mr. Burton will suffice whose book is actually a super-text of all these small texts (and remember he himself was a life-long celibate):

And yet I must and will say something more, add a word or two in gratiam virginum et viduarum, in favour of all such distressed parties, in commiseration of their present estate. And as I cannot choose but condole their mishap that labour of this infirmity, and are destitute of help in this case, so must I needs inveigh against them that are in fault, more than manifest causes, and as bitterly tax those tyrannising pseudopoliticians, superstitious orders, rash vows, hard-hearted parents, guardians, unnatural friends, allies, (call them how you will,) those careless and stupid overseers, that out of worldly respects, covetousness, supine negligence, their own private ends (cum sibi sit interim bene) can so severely reject, stubbornly neglect, and impiously contemn, without all remorse and pity, the tears, sighs, groans, and grievous miseries of such poor souls committed to their charge. How odious and abominable are those superstitious and rash vows of Popish monasteries, so to bind and enforce men and women to vow virginity, to lead a single life, against the laws of nature, opposite to religion, policy, and humanity, so to starve, to offer violence, to suppress the vigour of youth, by rigorous statutes, severe laws, vain persuasions, to debar them of that to which by their innate temperature they are so furiously inclined, urgently carried, and sometimes precipitated, even irresistibly led, to the prejudice of their soul's health, and good estate of body and mind: and all for base and private respects, to maintain their gross superstition, to enrich themselves and their territories as they falsely suppose, by hindering some marriages, that the world be not full of beggars, and their parishes pestered with orphans; stupid politicians; haeccine fieri flagilia? ought these things so to be carried? better marry than burn, saith the Apostle, but they are otherwise persuaded. They will by all means quench their neighbour's house if it be on fire, but that fire of lust which breaks out into such lamentable flames, they will not take notice of, their own bowels oftentimes, flesh and blood shall so rage and burn, and they will not see it: miserum est, saith Austin, seipsum non miserescere, and they are miserable in the meantime that cannot pity themselves, the common good of all, and per consequens their own estates. For let them but consider what fearful maladies, feral diseases, gross inconveniences, come to both sexes by this enforced temperance, it troubles me to think of, much more to relate those frequent abortions and murdering of infants in their nunneries (read Kemnitius and others), and notorious fornications, those Spintrias, Tribadas, Ambubeias, &c., those rapes, incests, adulteries, mastuprations, sodomies, buggeries of monks and friars. See Bale's visitation of abbeys, Mercurialis, Rodericus a Castro, Peter Forestus, and divers physicians; I know their ordinary apologies and excuses for these things, sed viderint Politici, Medici, Theologi, I shall more opportunely meet with them elsewhere.

Previous extracts from Anatomy: On the subject of love melancholy and melancholy caused by the thwarted venereal instincts

also very funny: melancholy of the trees


KUBLA KHAN said...

Alok...This is a well written post.Melancholy is my chronic love too.I have read Anatomy of melancholy during adolescence and w'd love to read it again.
Melancholic depression is a very severe form of depression, best treated by ECT.
Syphilitic conditions affecting the brain, one reads, can cause undue happiness and melancholy.
The ways of the mind and the brain seem different sometimes.

Alok said...

Yes true. But there is a humorous and lighter side of melancholy too. Anatomy of Melancholy is a great example...

What interests me a lot in these works on the subject is not the subjective experience itself but rather how it is interpreted in various ways -- cultural, sexual, scientific, religious etc.

Not that I don't like poetry or confessional narratives of melancholia but there has to be an ironical intelligence and self-awareness. Otherwise it is often just plain narcissism and ugly and pretentious display of emotional self-worth.

antonia said...

often very close together, humour and melancholy. maybe they both depend on each other.

Alok said...

it is a special kind of humour. the kind i like very much!!

antonia said...

i like this sort of humour too. it is the only true humour.