Agitated by the Storms of Passion or Winds of Vice? Discover the Regency Secrets to Happiness

Maybe you were slighted at a ball? Or perhaps the person you love is so far above you in station that no union is possible? Don’t fret, my dears, the self-help classic Anatomy of Melancholy is here to lift your depressed spirits.

Please note, if you want to earnestly study the history of mental health, I recommend the Anatomy of Melancholy as it was published in 1683, or the faithful editions thereafter. Those volumes include diagnosis, herbal remedies, as well as old-fashioned purging and bloodletting. However, I have not excerpted from the original tome but from a rather crazy, abridged 1824 version. The editor describes his volume as a smaller boat built from the wood of the original. He writes, “so trimmed, it is hoped, as to be capable of shewing to its passengers, the superior pleasures that are to be experienced on the calm and unruffled surface of a virtuous life; while it exhibits to their view, the terrifying dangers of that turbulent ocean, which, agitated by the storms of Passion and the winds of Vice, dashes with rude and raging violence along its surrounding shores.

at Properly

Bread made of good wheaten flour, pure, well purged from the bran, and kneaded with rain-water, is of itself “the staff of life.” The thinnest beer, and lightest wines, are, of all liquors, the best, except fine pure water, sweet to the smell, and like air to the sight, such as is soon hot, and soon cold. … Of fruits, the sweetest are the best, particularly the juice of the pomegranate; and of herbs, borage, bugles, endive, fennel, anniseed, and balm, are to be preferred. The use of rose-water, if it be sweet, and well distilled, is particularly serviceable in the cure of this disease.

Melancholy men have, in general, good appetites and bad digestions; and nothing sooner poisons both the body and mind, than to eat and ingurgitate beyond all measure, as many of them do.

Fasting and feasting in extremes are equally pernicious, and best restrained by tasting only of one dish of plain food, and never eating until hunger requires to be satisfied.

Isaak Soreau. Still-life with Grapes, Flowers, and Berries in a Wanli Bowl.

njoy Fresh Air and Cleanliness

A clear air cheers up the spirits, and exhilarates the mind; but a thick, black, misty, and tempestuous atmosphere, contracts the powers both of body and of mind, and overthrows, in time, the strongest health. A good prospect alone will relieve melancholy.

He, therefore, who wishes either to recover or enjoy the invaluable blessings of health, and particularly he who is disposed to be melancholy, should frequently wash his hands and face, shift his clothing, have clean linen, and be comfortably attired; for, sordes vitiant, nastiness defiles a man, and dejects his spirits; but above all, he should shift his place of residence, and always choose, at each remove, a dry and airy eminence. 

ake a Bath

Bathing, either in natural or artificial baths, is of great use in this malady, and yields, as many physicians, particularly Ætius, Galen, Rhasis, and Montonus, contend, as speedy a remedy as any other physic whatsoever. Crato and Fuschius recommend baths medicated with camomile, violets, and borage. Laurentius, and others, speak of milk baths, the body afterwards to be anointed with oil of bitter almonds; and some prescribe a bath in which ram’s heads, and other ingredients of the like kind, have been previously boiled.

o Exercise

Exercise, both mental and corporeal, when duly regulated, and discreetly taken, highly contributes not only to the restoration and establishment of general health, but to the prevention and expulsion of this particular disease. The heavens themselves are in constant motion; the sun rises and sets, the moon increases and decreases, the stars and planets have their regular revolutions, the air is agitated with winds, the waters ebb and flow, and man also should ever be in action. Employment, which Galen calls “Nature’s physician,” is indeed so essential to human happiness, that indolence is justly considered as the mother of misery.

Let the world, I say, have their may-games, wakes, whitsunales; their dancings and concerts; their puppet-shews, hobby-horses, tabors, bagpipes, balls, barley-breaks, and whatever sports and recreations please them best, provided they be followed with discretion.

ead a good book

No person can be so wholly overcome with idleness or involved in the labyrinth of worldly cares, troubles, and discontents, who will not find his mind, if he has any, much enlightened by reading.

et Some Sleep

Sleep, by expelling cares, and pacifying the mind, is particularly serviceable in the cure of melancholy; and must not only be procured at proper intervals, but protracted, if possible, beyond its ordinary duration. Crato is of opinion that seven or eight hours is a competent time for a melancholy man to rest. He who wishes to taste the sweets of sleep, must go to bed, animo securo, quieto, et libero, with a secure and composed mind, in a quiet place; for to lie in bed, as some do, and not sleep night after night, giving assent to pleasing conceits and vain imaginations, is extremely pernicious. All violent perturbations of the mind must, in some sort, be qualified before we can look for soft repose. The quietude and security of rural retirement greatly encourage this composure of the mind. Ficinus recommends the concord of sweet sounds to the ear of a patient, previous to the usual hours of rest, as a certain means of procuring undisturbed and pleasing repose; others the reading of some amusing tale; and others, to have a basin of water gently dropping its contents near the bedside. But perhaps a good draught of muscadine, with a toast and nutmeg, may prove as efficacious a remedy against that disinclination to sleep, and those fearful and troublesome dreams with which melancholy are molested, as any that can be prescribed; always including, however, the two indispensable requisites for this purpose, a clear conscience, and a light supper. 

isten to Music

Music, divine music, besides the excellent powers it possesses of expelling many other diseases, is a sovereign remedy against despair and melancholy, and will drive even the Devil himself away.

Adolf Emil Hering.

elax in the Company of Friends

False friendship, like the ivy, decays and ruins the walls it embraces; but true friendship gives new life and animation to the object it supports; forming the most pleasing remedy against, not only melancholy, but every grievance and discontent: for Discontents and Grievances are the lot of man: our whole life, as Apuleius well observes, is a glucupicron, a bitter-sweet passion, a mixture of pleasure and of pain, from which no man can hope to go free: but as this condition is common to all, no one man should be more disquieted than another.

He who desires but neighbours’ fare,

Will for no storm or tempest care.


Mirth and Merry Company are the companions of music in the cure of melancholy. The merrier the heart the longer the life. 

Every good physician rings this remedy in his patient’s ears; and Marsilius Ficinus thus concludes an epistle to Bernard Canisianus, and other friends: “Live merrily, O my friends! free from cares and grief: again and again, I exhort you to be merry; and if any thing trouble your hearts, or vex your souls, cast it off with contempt. This I enjoin you not only as a divine, but as a physician; for without mirth, physic is of no force.”

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