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Can J Psychiatry. 1979 Dec;24(8):767-72.

Depression and loss: a theme in Robert Burton's "Anatomy of melancholy" (1621).


Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) can hardly be thought of as a modern study in psychiatry, but it contains more elements of modern theory than have been recognized. Attempts to recommend the book to modern readers have missed the point that Burton, more clearly than other seventeenth century writers on melancholy, sees traumatic loss of attachment figures, status symbols and personal health as predisposing to mood disorders. In this he strongly anticipates such work as that of John Bowlby in Attachment and Loss (1969), 1973). Burton's theory is divided between the humoural physiological theory descending from Galen and the observation that loss is a frequent precursor of melancholy. He cannot reconcile the two, writing a book only poised on the verge of modernity. The Anatomy of Melancholy nevertheless very fully discusses etiological "hunches" which have found verification in recent studies of traumatic loss.

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