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The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 8

July 8th, 2020


A non-captioned version can be seen here.

Today’s episode takes on two significant causes of melancholy. The first is ‘bad air’.

A generation ago our weather forecasts spoke just of the sun and the rain, the wind and the snow. Now the cheery meteorological pundits have extended their remit and may occasionally expound on humidity, the pollen count and air quality.

Robert Burton lists places renowned for ‘bad air’. Pomptinae Paludes has probably fallen down this league table and Beijing leapt towards the top. Low emission zones are being put in place to ‘rectify the air’ in our big cities, protecting them from diesel cars and such like. That should cheer us up, but Burton was writing before the industrial revolution when melancholy could be considered as a vapour in the air, waiting to be breathed in by the unsuspecting passer by.

The British know about miserable weather and how Seasonal Affective Disorder makes us sad. Like so many of our latitude we are especially appreciative of the joys of spring. There is much to recognise in this talk of the air.

Maybe you will recognise the episode’s second half too. Maybe you too succumb occasionally to too much solitariness; the tendency to find your own company easier than that of other people. At times it is easy to wallow in just a little pleasant melancholia but Burton suggests the seduction of this solitariness is insidious, it becomes a habit. Writing in June 2020 when millions upon millions of people have been forced to subsist on their own company it maybe we are facing a subtle ‘feral plague’ brought on by not voluntary but enforced solitariness. We should no be alone.

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