Dr. Paul Gachet, who treated Vincent van Gogh during the painter’s last days, had a romantic view of melancholy. Gregory Curtis explains:
Dr. Gachet lived in an age when medicine was still considerably more art than science. He had received his medical degree in 1858 after writing a thesis on melancholy which was not scientific at all but literary. He found melancholia throughout history, from Diogenes in Athens, to Seneca in Rome, to the present day. “One might almost say,” Gachet wrote, “that all the great men, the philosophers, the tyrants, the great conspirators, the great criminals, the great poets, the great artists, were essentially melancholic beings.” In fact he saw melancholia extending throughout nature. There were melancholy animals, melancholy plants, and even melancholy rocks. “Who,” he asked, “has knelt beside a tomb and not seen in the cypress, the weeping willow, the poplar the emblem of sadness!” He went on in this vein for a while in his thesis before blaming melancholy in the present day on civilization and progress that broke the laws of nature, a theory with which Vincent would concur.
(Vincent van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet, 1890)