Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (1651)

By Joseph L. Black

Appearing in eight editions (plus additional issues) between 1621 and 1676, seven of them in folio, Robert Burton’s expansive and erudite Anatomy of Melancholy was a seventeenth-century publishing phenomenon. A copy of the 1651 edition of Burton’s Anatomy, held by the Redwood Library & Athenaeum in Newport, Rhode Island (shelfmark PR 2223.A1 1651), is the first to appear on the EMFBO site.[1] Furthermore, the evidence here of early modern female book ownership is but one of this book’s several interesting features—including the only known manuscript copy of Katherine Philips’ song “Pompey’s Ghost” in a seventeenth-century printed book or made by a seventeenth-century woman.

The Redwood copy is in a modern binding and lacks the frontispiece and title-page, but it retains two original flyleaves and the half-title that precedes the now missing frontispiece.[2] The earliest provenance appears on the recto of the second of the two flyleaves, where Pleasant Rawlins has enthusiastically inscribed her full name four times: “Pleasant Rawlins / Her Book”; “Pleasant Rawlins / Her Book Aprill the 1 day 16**” [second line of inscription obliterated and date trimmed]; “Pleasant Rawlins her book / Aprill ye 1 day 1672” [entire inscription obliterated]; and, at the bottom of the page, “Pleasant Rawlins her book.”

Second flyleaf recto (top)
Second flyleaf recto (middle)

She subsequently re-inscribed her name in an accomplished calligraphic hand on the recto of the first flyleaf, the inscription oriented vertically on the page: “Mrs Pleasant Biker / her booke / Aprill Idus Mensis pridie [the day before the Ides of April, i.e. April 12] Anno Domine 1676.”

First flyleaf recto

The obliterations of the two dated “Rawlins” entries look likely to be by Rawlins herself, possibly prompted by her addition of the re-dated inscription under her married name. The same hand has obliterated two instances of the name “John” on the “Rawlins” inscription page, in the same ink and probably at the same time as the other obliterations. On the top left of the “Biker” page, also oriented vertically, is another inscription, probably not by Rawlins/Biker but still early and possibly missing some text due to paper repairs. Difficult to decipher, it reads like a quotation but remains untraced: “[?Jan*** pa**] / I shall Endeavour for the future / To have \no/ constant indareance between us / by Letter.”

Pleasant Rawlins and Mrs Pleasant Biker are the same person: Pleasant Rawlins, daughter of William and Katherine Rawlins, was baptised in the parish of St Botolph Without Aldgate in London on February 1, 1652. She married Samuel Biker (d.1685) at some point between April 1672 (the date of her “Rawlins” inscription) and 1674, the year her daughter Pleasant Biker (d.1696) was baptised, also in St Botolph Without Aldgate, on August 30. Pleasant (Rawlins) Biker died in early 1685, the same year as her husband, and was buried in St Botolph Without Aldgate on January 12 of that year, at the age of thirty-two.[3]

Pleasant Rawlins was a young woman of twenty when she first inscribed her copy of Burton’s Anatomy. The Latin in her 1676 inscription as well as her practised use of Italic and calligraphic hands, not to mention her ownership of a work like Burton’s Anatomy, suggests a certain level of education. In addition, the thirty-line poem she has copied in the book, beginning on the “Rawlins” inscription page (in the same hand and ink as her signature at the bottom of the page) and continuing onto the facing verso of the preceding flyleaf, suggests a fashionably current literary sensibility. Beginning “From lasting and unclouded Day,” the poem is an extract, often known as “Pompey’s Ghost,” from Katherine Philips’s play Pompey, her translation of Pierre Corneille’s tragedy La mort de Pompeé. “Pompey’s Ghost” is one of the newly written songs Philips innovatively added to the translated play.

The version copied by Rawlins reads:[4]

[second flyleaf recto]

From lasting and unclouded Day,
From joys refin’d above allay
And from a Spring without decay.
I come by Cynthia’s borrow’d bems
To visit my Cornelia’s Drems,
And give them yet sublimer Thems.

Second flyleaf recto

[first flyleaf verso, oriented vertically]

Behold the Man thou love’dst before
Pure streams have wash’d away his Gore
And Pompey now shall bleed no more.
By Death my Glory I resume,
For ’twould have been a harsher doom
T’ outlive the Liberty of Rome.
By me her doubtfull fortune try’d
Falling, bequeaths my Fame this Pride
I for it lived and with it Dy’d.
Nor shall my Vengeance bee withstood
Nor unattempted, with a Flood
off Roman and Egitptian blood.
Cesar himselfe it shall pursue
his days shall troubled bee & few
And hee shall dye by treason too.
hee by severity Divine
shallbee an offring att my shrine
As I was his hee must bee mine
Thy stormy life Ile regrett noe more
For Fate shall waft the soone ashore
[And to thy Pompey the restore]
There none a Guilty Crowne shall weare
nor Cesar bee Dictator there
nor shall Cornelia shed one teare

First flyleaf verso

Rawlins has omitted from Philips’ original the penultimate three-line stanza, probably for reasons of space: working around some pen trials already on the page, she changed hands halfway through the first line of the sixth stanza from her elegant italic to a more cramped secretary, squeezing stanzas six and seven onto the lower half of the left side, then squeezing stanzas eight and nine onto the lower half of the right side (in stanza nine, the final line has been trimmed in rebinding and the final words of the first two lines are covered by a paper repair), then adding the final stanza in an empty space above, breaking up lines to make it fit. The omitted stanza reads, in Philips’ original, “Where past the fears of sad removes / We’l entertain our spotless Loves, / In beauteous, and Immortal Groves.” Rawlins has bracketed stanzas eight and nine, adding an unfortunately illegible (and possibly trimmed) word in the margin (?*eib*).

Pleasant (Rawlins) Biker and her husband Samuel both died in 1685, in London: Samuel was buried in St Botolph Without Aldgate on February 21, about six weeks after his wife. At some point that same year, the next owner of this copy of Burton’s Anatomy bought it in a location a world away: an inscription across the top of the book’s half-title reads, “Benjamin Newberry Ejus Liber Bought att / Port Royall In Jamaica 1685.” This is probably Benjamin Newberry (c.1653-1711), of Newport, Rhode Island.

Half-title

The Newberrys were a prominent merchant family in Newport and would likely have had trade dealings in Jamaica; the Newport connection could also explain the current presence of the book in the Redwood Library & Athenaeum. The same page features one additional later signature, the (untraced) “Robert Morton / 1828.” If this copy of Burton remained in the possession of the Rawlins/Biker family until the deaths of Pleasant and then Samuel in early 1685, it soon made its way into the hands of somebody with an entrepreneurial sense of the potential transatlantic market for used books. While other copies of Burton’s Anatomy are documented in America in the seventeenth century, including at least one owned by a woman,[8] this book may represent the earliest text by Katherine Philips to make its way across the Atlantic.

Source: Redwood Library & Athenaeum, call number PR 2223.A1 1651. Photos reproduced with permission.


[1] I would like to thank Michelle Farias, Archivist & Special Collections Librarian at the Redwood Library and Athenaeum, for drawing this book to my attention during a visit there in January 2022, and Victoria Burke and Elizabeth Hageman for their comments on early versions of this note.

[2] Because the title-page is missing, the holding library has catalogued the copy on the basis of its colophon, dated 1651 (sig. 4A4r). The same colophon appears in the 1652 re-issue, which differs only in its re-dated title-page: the copy may therefore represent the 1652 re-issue (Wing B6182) rather than the 1651 edition (Wing B6181).

[3] The genealogical data presented here all derives from records found in ancestrylibrary.com. This Pleasant Rawlins is not to be confused with her niece, also Pleasant Rawlins (b.1684), who was the teenaged victim of a notorious 1702 case of heiress abduction and forced marriage regarded as a source for Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa: see Beth Swan, “Clarissa Harlowe, Pleasant Rawlins, and Eighteenth-Century Discourses of Law,” Eighteenth-Century Novel 1 (2001), 71-93.

[4] Long ‘s’ and initial ‘ff’ regularized, abbreviations silently expanded, and a false start on one stanza omitted.

[5] Paul Salzman, Reading Early Modern Women’s Writing (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006), 182.

[6] Salzman, 187-90; Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450-1700 (CELM), PsK 575-77; John Cunningham, “Songs Lost and Found: Katherine Philips’s ‘Pompey’s Ghost’,” Music and Letters, advance article 20 May 2022.

[7] The Folger Union First Line Index of English Verse lists five manuscript copies; CELM adds two, one now lost (PsK 578-80); Cunningham, incorporating ongoing research by Nathan Tinker, adds seven more, all copied in the USA in the eighteenth century (20-23). For a study of manuscript copying of other work by Philips by early modern women, see Victoria E. Burke, “The Couplet and the Poem: Late Seventeenth-Century Women Reading Katherine Philips,” Women’s Writing 24.3 (2017), 280-97.

[8] Charles Heventhal Jr., “Robert Burton’s ‘Anatomy of Melancholy’ in Early America,” PBSA 63.3 (1969), 157-75.  Heventhal notes that a copy of the 1632 edition is described in the 1870 catalogue of the Thomas Prince library as signed “Sarah Standish” (159-60). Prince bequeathed his library to Boston’s Old South Church in 1758, and this could be any one of several Sarah Standishes who lived in the New England settlements between the mid-seventeenth century and the date of Prince’s death. The Prince library is currently held by the Boston Public Library, but this copy of Burton’s Anatomy seems no longer to be present in the collection.

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