Thursday, 26 March 2015

from the fuming melancholy of our spleen

Thomas Nashe the 16th century writer, had a lot to say about the social networks of the 21st century

"From this general discourse of spirits, let us digress and talk another while of their separate natures and properties.

The spirits of fire which are the purest and perfectest are merry, pleasant, and well-inclined to wit, but nevertheless giddy and unconstant.

Those spirits of the fire, however I term them comparatively good in respect of a number of bad, yet they are not simply well-inclined, for they be by nature ambitious, haughty, and proud: nor do they love virtue for itself any whit, but becasue they would overquell and outsrip others with the vain-glorious ostentation of it. A humour of monarchizing and nothing else it is, which makes them effect rare qualified studies. Many atheists are with these spirits inhabited.

To come to the spirits of the water, the earth and the air: they are dull phlegmatic drones, things that have much malice without any great might. Drunkards, misers and women they usually retain to.
To come to the spirits of the air, which have no other visible bodies or form, but such as by the unconstant glimmering of our eyes is begotten, they are in truth all show and no substance, deluders of our imagination and naught else. Carpet knights, politic statesmen, women and children they most converse with. Carpet knights they inspire with a humour of setting big looks upon it, being the basest cowards under heaven, covering an apes heart with a lions case, and making false alarums when they mean nothing but a may-game. Politic statesmen they privily incite to blear the worlds eyes with clouds of common-wealth pretences, to broach any enmity or ambitious humour of their own under a title of their country's preservation: to make it fair or foul when they list, to procure popularity. or induce a preamble to some mighty piece of prowling, to stir up tempests round about, and replenish heaven with prodigies and wonders, the more to ratify their avaricious religion.

So that you see all their whole influence is but a thin overcast vapours, flying clouds dispersed with the least wind of wit or understanding.

None of these spirits of the air or the fire have so much predominance in the night as the spirits of the earth and the water; for they feeding on foggy-brained melancholy engender thereof many uncouth terrible monsters. Thus much observe by the way, that the grossest part of our blood is the melancholy humour, which in the spleen congealed whose office is to disperse it with his thick steaming fenny vapours casteth a mist over the spirit and clean bemasketh the fantasy.

And even as slime and dirt in a standing puddle engender toads and frogs and many other unsightly creatures so this slimy melancholy humour, still thickening as it stands still, engendreth many misshapen objects in our imaginations. Sundry times we behold whole armies of men skirmishing in the air: dragons and wild beasts, bloody streamers, blazing comets, fiery streaks, with other apparitions innumerable. Whence have all these their conglomerate matter but from fuming meteors that arise from the earth? So from the fuming melancholy of our spleen mounteth that hot matter into the higher region of the brain, whereof many fearful visions are framed. Our reason even like drunken fumes it displaceth and intoxicates, and yields up our intellective apprehension to be mocked and trodden under foot by every false object or counterfeit noise that comes near it. Herein specially consisteth our senses' defect and abuse, that those organical parts, which to the mind are ordained ambassadors, do not their message as they ought, but,  by some misdiet or misgovernment being distempered, fail in their report and deliver up nothing but lies and fables.

Such is our brain oppressed with melancholy, as is a clock tied down with too heavy weights or plummets; which as it cannot choose but monstrously go a-square or not go at all, so must our brains of necessity be either monstrously distracted or utterly destroyed thereby."

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