ABSTRACT

With its dizzying, airborne survey of the mysteries of the natural world, the “Digression of the Ayre” would appear to be the paramount example of the study cure examined in the previous chapter, but the objects of its inquiry are rather less eclectic than those Burton recommends for the exercise of the mind and spirits. They pursue a pneumatic theme that is both explicit and at the same time so subtle as to have gone almost unremarked. Why the topic of “air” would serve as the provocation for what Burton describes as his exceptional speculative freedom in the Digression is a question that has scarcely been asked.1 The ostensible logic of the subsection in which the Digression appears is its treatment of air as one of the six non-natural principles of hygiene that may be “rectified” in order to treat, prevent, or “cure” melancholy. However, the hygienic consideration of air is put off for the vast majority of the subsection, which instead begins with a digression whose relation to the prescribed theme Burton analogizes in the following way:

As a long-winged Hawke when hee is first whistled off the fist, mounts aloft, and for his pleasure fetcheth many a circuit in the Ayre, still soaring higher and higher, till hee bee come to his full pitch; and in the end when the game is sprung, comes downe amaine, and stoopes upon a sudden: so will I, having now come at last to these ample fields of Ayre, wherein I may freely expatiate and exercise my selfe, for my recreation a while rove, wander round about the world, mount aloft to those aethereall orbes and celestiall spheres, and so descend to my former elements againe.2