Massey Sr. From the Puritan poet Michael Wigglesworth, who reported in his diary in the 's that his ''natural strength. Scott Fitzgerald's essay ''The Crack-Up,'' a great many American writers have written intimately, even obsessively, about the feeling of living without propulsion and without aim: what we now call depression. A few years ago, William Styron's memoir of his struggle against the impulse to suicide, ''Darkness Visible,'' became a best seller, and earlier this year, the young writer Andrew Solomon published a harrowing account of his own depression in The New Yorker, in which he speculated that ''by the year depression could claim more years than war and AIDS put together.
What we call depression used to be called melancholy.
One Writer’s Beginnings
And though it has had many other names as well ''monomania,'' ''neurasthenia'' there is reason to believe that it felt the same to sufferers in the past as it does today. One hundred and fifty years ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his great essay ''Experience'' about what it is like to be caught in a midlife trance from which he could not be roused:.
Closer to our own time, Walker Percy speaks of being ''sunk in the everydayness'' of life: a feeling of such depletion that its victim lies ''rigid as a stick for hours staring straight up at the plaster medallion in the ceiling'' above his bed. Ever since this feeling acquired a name from the Greek words for black bile, melanos chole, melancholy has been thought to exert a particularly strong hold on certain people, and even, as the great anatomist of melancholy Robert Burton put it, to afflict certain ''kingdoms, provinces, and Politickal Bodies [that] are subject in like manner to this disease.
Interestingly enough, despite the outpouring of words by American writers on the symptoms and sensations of melancholy, the first to elaborate a theory of melancholy in its particular American form was a visiting Frenchman. It perpetually retires from before them, yet without hiding itself from their sight, and in retiring draws them on.
One Writer's Beginnings by Welty, Eudora
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