My Long Dead Friend Robert Burton

Robert BurtonThe great mathematician and physicist Daniel Bernoulli was born in 1700. There are a lot of Bernoullis in the history of science. But Daniel is the guy you’ve actually heard of. He’s the guy who developed Bernoulli’s Principle. This is an application of conservation of energy for fluid flow. Basically: as a fluid flows faster, its pressure goes down. This is brilliantly explained in the image of Venturi Flow on Wikipedia. Bernoulli also made important contributions to statistics.

The great classical composer Joseph Leopold Eybler was born in 1765. He is probably best known today as a friend of Mozart. And it is perhaps fitting that the end of his career came when he had a stroke while conducting Mozart’s Requiem Mass. As a composer, he mostly wrote sacred music. But I’m not in the mood. So here is his Clarinet Concerto in B-Flat Major. It was written in 1798, when Eybler was still very much under the influence of Mozart:

The great novelist Jules Verne was born in 1828. I haven’t ever read him, even in translation. I think. Maybe I did when I was a kid. But I was shocked to read that in the he was probably the most translated author in the world in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, he’s been second after Agatha Christie. So I should pick up one of his books. Around the World in Eighty Days sounds like fun, and it’s free on the Kindle!

Other birthdays: last of the Classical philosophers Proclus (412); satirist and poet Samuel Butler (1612); film director King Vidor (1894); actor Jack Lemmon (1925); musical composer Joe Raposo (1937); actor Nick Nolte (73); singer-songwriter Tom Rush (73); comedian Robert Klein (72); actor Mary Steenburgen (61); and actor Seth Green (40).

The day, however, belongs to the English scholar Robert Burton who was born on this day in 1577. He is best know for being a witty depressive. It was said that when he wasn’t depressed, he was “very merry, facete, and juvenile.” That sounds pretty much like all my closest friends. It also sounds rather like me. And being a depressive, he wanted to know about it and maybe even cure it. So he wrote one of those wonderfully idiosyncratic books that one occasionally delights to find, The Anatomy of Melancholy. Wikipedia describes it as, “Burton’s book consists mostly of a collection of opinions of a multitude of writers, grouped under quaint and old-fashioned divisions; in a solemn tone Burton endeavored to prove indisputable facts by weighty quotations.” It uses all of the “sciences” of the time including “psychology and physiology, but also astronomy, meteorology, and theology, and even astrology and demonology.” And it discussed various topics including “digestion, goblins, the geography of America.” Its digressive style is said to verge on “stream of consciousness.” And it is long. The first edition was 900 pages long, but later editions got longer as he added to it. Burton seems to have been the Jacobean Walt Whitman. He sounds like a complete delight. Reading about him made me feel so much less lonely in the universe.

Happy birthday Robert Burton!

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