A History of Elizabethan Literature

By George Saintsbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
MINOR CAROLINE PROSE

THE greatest, beyond all doubt, of the minor writers of the Caroline period in prose is Robert Burton. Less deliberately quaint than Fuller, he is never, as Fuller sometimes is, puerile, and the greater concentration of his thoughts and studies has produced what Fuller never quite produced, a masterpiece. At the same time it must be confessed that Burton's more leisurely life assisted to a great extent in the production of his work. The English collegiate system would have been almost sufficiently justified if it had produced nothing but The Anatomy of Melancholy; though there is something ironical, no doubt, in the fact that this ideal fruit of a studious and endowed leisure was the work of one who, being a beneficed clergyman, ought not in strictness to have been a resident member of a college. Yet, elsewhere than in Oxford or Cambridge the book could hardly have grown, and it is as unique as the institutions which produced it.

The author of the Anatomy was the son of Ralph Burton of Lindley in Leicestershire, where he was born on the 8th of February 1576. He was educated at Sutton Coldfield School, and thence went to Brasenose College, Oxford. He became a student of Christchurch--the equivalent of a fellow--in 1599, and seems to have passed the whole of the rest of his life there, though he took orders and enjoyed together or successively the living of St. Thomas in Oxford, the vicarage of Walsby in Lincolnshire, and

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