Robert Burton


Autograph Manuscripts and Corrections

Examples of Robert Burton's handwriting are relatively rare and (unlike the papers of his brother, William) very few manuscripts associated with him are known to have survived. The most notable extant autograph manuscript is that of his Latin play Philosophaster (*BuR 2), another copy of which, in the hand of an amanuensis, may possibly bear Burton's minor corrections (BuR 3). Of the original papers for Burton's major work, The Anatomy of Melancholy — which became a popular quarry for extracts in commonplace books and miscellanies (see BuR 1-1.275) — the only relics are fragments of galley proofs of the second edition (1624), at least some of the jottings on which are in his hand (*BuR 1), and a few draft verses subsequently incorporated in the work. The printed exemplum of the first edition of The Anatomy (1621) which Burton presented to Christ Church was later owned by William Pickering (1796-1854), publisher, who on 15 August 1837 sold it to the British Library, which returned it in 1951 to Christ Church, where it is now ‘Ch. Ch. Librarian's cabinet. STC 4159’.

Burton's autograph will, made 15 August 1639, is preserved (*BuR 11) as are only two original letters by him, now in fragments (*BuR 7-9), and, at present, only one other known document bearing his signature (*BuR 10).

Burton's Library

The only other recorded examples of Burton's hand are occasional inscriptions and annotations in printed books from his library. Burton bequeathed his extensive library of approximately 1800 volumes to the Bodleian (which later sold some 210 of them as duplicate exempla) and to Christ Church, Oxford. Lists of Burton's Library are printed by S. Gibson and F.R.D. Needham in Proceedings & Papers of the Oxford Bibliographical Society, I (1922-6), 222-6. The library is also discussed in the same publication (pp. 182-90) by Sir William Osler. A more extensive bibliography of the library, with a number of facsimile examples of Burton's inscriptions (including his horoscope), is presented in Nicolas K. Kiessling, The Library of Robert Burton (Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1988), which is supplemented by his articles ‘The Library of Robert Burton: Addenda and Corrigenda’, The Book Collector, 40/1 (Spring 1991), 104-7, and ‘The Library of Robert Burton: New Discoveries’, The Book Collector, 45/2 (Summer 1996), 171-9.

Facsimile examples of pages bearing inscriptions or annotations by Burton also appear in Gibson and Needham, loc. cit., after p. 246; in Philosophaster, ed. Paul Jordan-Smith (Stanford, 1931), facing p. 237; in Ben Jonson, ed. C.H. Herford and Percy and Evelyn Simpson, VII (Oxford, 1941), 207; and in Nicolas K. Kiessling's exhibition catalogue The Legacy of Democritus Junior (Bodleian Library, 1990), passim.

No doubt other books from Burton's library will come to light in due course. Except for the extensive and particularly interesting annotations in his exemplum of Ptolemy's Quadripartitum (*BuR 5) and his notes in one other volume which throw light on Burton's birth date (*BuR 6), Burton's annotated books are not given entries below.


Some relevant biographical materials are discussed in Karl Josef Hölltgen, ‘Robert Burton and the Rectory of Seagrave’, Review of English Studies, NS 27 (1976), 129-36, and some horoscopes of Burton among the papers of Simon Forman (Bodleian, MS Ashmole 226) are discussed in Barbara H. Traister, ‘New Evidence about Burton's Melancholy’, Renaissance Quarterly, 29 (1976), 66-70. Burton's cipher (three r's in an inverted pyramid, representing the three dogs-heads in his family coat of arms) is explained by P. Henderson Aitken, ‘The Cipher of Burton's Signature Solved’, The Athenaeum (24 August 1912), 193-4.

Peter Beal