Robert Burton 1577-1640

From Book Owners Online

Robert BURTON 1577-1640

Biographical Note

Born at Lindley Hall, Leicestershire, second son of a country gentleman, Ralph Burton (1547-1619), and younger brother of the antiquary William Burton. Matriculated at Brasenose College, Oxford 1593, moved to Christ Church, Oxford where he graduated BA 1602 (MA 1605, BD 1614). Spent the rest of his life resident in Oxford, as a Student of Christ Church; held a number of ecclesiastical livings, including being Vicar of St. Thomas’s, Oxford, 1616-40. Principally celebrated as the author of The anatomy of melancholy, first published in 1621, which went through eight editions in the 17th century.


Burton’s library is well documented, and most of the 1740 books he is known to have possessed survive today. Kiessling’s study shows that he acquired books throughout his life, both new and secondhand, with the content analysed as: 24% theology, 20% literature, 16% history, 9% medicine, 6% government, 5% geography or travel, and the remainder a wide mix of subjects including law, philosophy, agriculture, science, mathematics and marvels. Most of them seem to have been in simple, plain bindings. Burton bequeathed the bulk of his collection to be divided between the Bodleian Library and Christ Church, the former having first choice. 750 volumes were selected for the Bodleian, including much English and literary material, with 780 going to Christ Church. He also bequeathed £100 to the Bodleian. Examples: numerous in the two main beneficiary libraries; British Library C.30.d.28; Durham University Library GHCC.C01A.

Burton's inscription, from the titlepage of Salvianus, De gubernatione dei, 1629, British Library Ames 3/857

Characteristic Markings

Regularly wrote a cipher of 3 r’s and his name, in various forms from R B to Robertus Burton[us], on titlepages; sometimes added the date of acquisition or the price paid. About a fifth of his books are further annotated on flyleaves or within the text.