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Publisher Description

For robert burton, as a librarian, bibliophile, and academic, the library was almost literally his life, at least in his own assessment. In the engagingly motley index that follows The Anatomy of Melancholy, the entry he wrote for himself--"Burton, Robert"--instructs the reader that on this subject they may also see the entry "Libraries." The changes the University of Oxford underwent during the Stuart reign, while Burton was there writing and rewriting his encyclopedic work, were dramatically reflected by the growth of the university's libraries, especially by the Bodleian, founded the year before James Stuart ascended to the throne in 1603. The small "chained library" of the university's clerical medieval past was transformed during the early modern period into not only one of the most famous repositories of knowledge in Europe but also into a major node of exchange between university and court, with the university relying on the court for benefactions and the court relying on the university to provide educated servants to the state, as well as to reproduce Royalist ideology. Burton's own sequestration to libraries is one he sometimes compares in Te Anatomy of Melancholy to a positive kind of imprisonment, one that functions more to keep the world out than to keep him in, and one he imagines in terms of liberty as much as limitation, a paradoxical argument predicated on a valuing of intellectual freedom over other forms of mobility, whether physical, social, or economic--an argument that is ingenuous to varying degrees as the book unfolds Burton's frustration with his own lack of preferment. But this assertion of the value of intellectual over practical liberty as well as his frustration with his own practical situation combine to make a sustained critique of Oxford's changing character. Te commitment to intellectual freedom, and the concomitant rejection of the use of scholarship as a means to achieve advancement within the university or court, is one of his book's main statements, and Burton's own fraught relationship with some noble and politically ambitious students whom he probably served as a tutor is reflected by the shifting comments on patronage and ambition he makes throughout his book. His lamentation about the reason "why the Muses are Melancholy" is answered with the proposed cure of intellectual breadth--a breadth that characterized his own library, one of the most important and heterogeneous collections ever contributed to the Bodleian Library.

Professional & Technical
June 1
Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English

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