Excessive Study vs. Mental Health

Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy 1.2.3:

“Marsilius Ficinus, de sanit. tuenda, lib. 1. cap. 7, puts melancholy amongst one of those five principal plagues of students, ’tis a common Maul unto them all, and almost in some measure an inseparable companion. Varro belike for that cause calls Tristes Philosophos et severos, severe, sad, dry, tetric, are common epithets to scholars: and Patritius therefore, in the institution of princes, would not have them to be great students. For (as Machiavel holds) study weakens their bodies, dulls the spirits, abates their strength and courage; and good scholars are never good soldiers, which a certain Goth well perceived, for when his countrymen came into Greece, and would have burned all their books, he cried out against it, by no means they should do it, leave them that plague, which in time will consume all their vigour, and martial spirits. The Turks abdicated Cornutus the next heir from the empire, because he was so much given to his book: and ’tis the common tenet of the world, that learning dulls and diminisheth the spirits, and so per consequens produceth melancholy.

Two main reasons may be given of it, why students should be more subject to this malady than others. The one is, they live a sedentary, solitary life, sibi et musis, free from bodily exercise, and those ordinary disports which other men use: and many times if discontent and idleness concur with it, which is too frequent, they are precipitated into this gulf on a sudden: but the common cause is overmuch study; too much learning (as Festus told Paul) hath made thee mad; ’tis that other extreme which effects it. So did Trincavelius, lib. 1, consil. 12 and 13, find by his experience, in two of his patients, a young baron, and another that contracted this malady by too vehement study. So Forestus, observat. l. 10, observ. 13, in a young divine in Louvain, that was mad, and said he had a Bible in his head: Marsilius Ficinus de sanit. tuend. lib. 1, cap. 1, 3, 4, and lib. 2, cap. 16, gives many reasons, why students dote more often than others. The first is their negligence; other men look to their tools, a painter will wash his pencils, a smith will look to his hammer, anvil, forge; a husbandman will mend his plough-irons, and grind his hatchet if it be dull; a falconer or huntsman will have an especial care of his hawks, hounds, horses, dogs, &c.; a musician will string and unstring his lute, &c.; only scholars neglect that instrument, their brain and spirits (I mean) which they daily use, and by which they range overall the world, which by much study is consumed. Vide (saith Lucian) ne funiculum nimis intendendo aliquando abrumpas: See thou twist not the rope so hard, till at length it break.”


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