The Philobiblon of Richard de Bury
by Richard de Bury
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THOMAS A KEMPIS: Doctrinale Juvenum


The Author of the Book.

Richard de Bury (1281-1345), so called from being born near Bury St. Edmunds, was the son of Sir Richard Aungerville. He studied at Oxford; and was subsequently chosen to be tutor to Prince Edward of Windsor, afterwards Edward III. His loyalty to the cause of Queen Isabella and the Prince involved him in danger. On the accession of his pupil he was made successively Cofferer, Treasurer of the Wardrobe, Archdeacon of Northampton, Prebendary of Lincoln, Sarum, and Lichfield, Keeper of the Privy Purse, Ambassador on two occasions to Pope John XXII, who appointed him a chaplain of the papal chapel, Dean of Wells, and ultimately, at the end of the year 1333, Bishop of Durham; the King and Queen, the King of Scots, and all the magnates north of the Trent, together with a multitude of nobles and many others, were present at his enthronization. It is noteworthy that during his stay at Avignon, probably in 1330, he made the acquaintance of Petrarch, who has left us a brief account of their intercourse. In 1332 Richard visited Cambridge, as one of the King's commissioners, to inquire into the state of the King's Scholars there, and perhaps then became a member of the Gild of St. Mary—one of the two gilds which founded Corpus Christi College.

In 1334 he became High Chancellor of England, and Treasurer in 1336, resigning the former office in 1335, so that he might help the King in dealing with affairs abroad and in Scotland, and took a most distinguished part in diplomatic negociations between England and France. In 1339 he was again in his bishopric. Thereafter his name occurs often among those appointed to treat of peace with Philip of France, and with Bruce of Scotland. It appears that he was not in Parliament in 1344. Wasted by long sickness—longa infirmitate decoctus—on the 14th of April, 1345, Richard de Bury died at Auckland, and was buried in Durham Cathedral.

Dominus Ricardus de Bury migravit ad Dominum.

The Bishop as Booklover.

According to the concluding note, the Philobiblon was completed on the bishop's fifty-eighth birthday, the 24th of January, 1345, so that even though weakened by illness, Richard must have been actively engaged in his literary efforts to the very end of his generous and noble life. His enthusiastic devoted biographer Chambre[1] gives a vivid account of the bishop's bookloving propensities, supplementary to what can be gathered from the Philobiblon itself. Iste summe delectabatur in multitudine librorum; he had more books, as was commonly reported, than all the other English bishops put together. He had a separate library in each of his residences, and wherever he was residing, so many books lay about his bed-chamber, that it was hardly possible to stand or move without treading upon them. All the time he could spare from business was devoted either to religious offices or to his books. Every day while at table he would have a book read to him, unless some special guest were present, and afterwards would engage in discussion on the subject of the reading. The haughty Anthony Bec delighted in the appendages of royalty—to be addressed by nobles kneeling, and to be waited on in his presence-chamber and at his table by Knights bare-headed and standing; but De Bury loved to surround himself with learned scholars. Among these were such men as Thomas Bradwardine, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, and author of the De Causa Dei; Richard Fitzralph, afterwards Archbishop of Armagh, and famous for his hostility to the mendicant orders; Walter Burley, who dedicated to him a translation of the Politics of Aristotle made at his suggestion; John Mauduit, the astronomer; Robert Holkot, author of many books; Richard de Kilvington; Richard Benworth, afterwards Bishop of London; and Walter Seagrave, who became Dean of Chichester."[2]

[1] Cp. Surtees Society's edition of Scriptores Tres; also Wharton's Anglia Sacra.

[2] An unsuccessful attempt has been made to transfer the authorship of the book to Robert Holkot. Various theories have been advanced against Richard's claims. It is noteworthy that his contemporary Adam Murimuth disparages him as "mediocriter literatus, volens tamen magnus clericus reputari," but such disparagement must be taken with the utmost caution. The really difficult fact to be accounted for is the omission on the part of Chambre to mention the book.

The Bishop's Books.

In the Philobiblon, Richard de Bury frankly and clearly describes his means and method of collecting books. Anyhow his object was clearly not selfish. The treatise contains his rules for the library of the new College at Oxford—Durham College (where Trinity College now stands)—which he practically founded, though his successor, Bishop Hatfield, carried the scheme into effect. It is traditionally reported that Richard's books were sent, in his lifetime or after his death, to the house of the Durham Benedictines at Oxford, and there remained until the dissolution of the College by Henry VIII., when they were dispersed, some going into Duke Humphrey's (the University) library, others to Balliol College, and the remainder passing into the hands of Dr. George Owen, who purchased the site of the dissolved College.[3]

[3] Mr. J. W. Clark puts the matter as follows:—"Durham College, maintained by the Benedictines of Durham, was supplied with books from the mother-house, lists of which have been preserved; and subsequently a library was built there to contain the collection bequeathed in 1345 by Richard de Bury" (The Care of Books, p. 142). Mr. Thomas points out that De Bury's executors sold at least some portion of his books; and, moreover, his biographer says nothing of a library at Oxford. Possibly the scheme was never carried out. In the British Museum (Roy. 13 D. iv. 3) is a large folio MS. of the works of John of Salisbury, which was one of the books bought back from the Bishop's executors.

Unfortunately, the "special catalogue" of his books prepared by Richard has not come down to us; but "from his own book and from the books cited in the works of his friends and housemates, who may reasonably be supposed to have drawn largely from the bishop's collection, it would be possible to restore a hypothetical but not improbable Bibliotheca Ricardi de Bury. The difficulty would be with that contemporary literature, which they would think below the dignity of quotation, but which we know the Bishop collected."

Early Editions of the Philobiblon.

The book was first printed at Cologne in 1473, at Spires in 1483, and at Paris in 1500. The first English edition appeared in 1598-9, edited by Thomas James, Bodley's first librarian. Other editions appeared in Germany in 1610, 1614, 1674 and 1703; at Paris in 1856; at Albany in 1861. The texts were, with the exception of those issued in 1483 and 1599, based on the 1473 edition; though the French edition and translation of 1856, prepared by M. Cocheris, claimed to be a critical version, it left the text untouched, and merely gave the various readings of the three Paris manuscripts at the foot of the pages; these readings are moreover badly chosen, and the faults of the version are further to be referred to the use of the ill-printed 1703 edition as copy.

In 1832 there appeared an anonymous English translation, now known to have been by J. B. Inglis; it followed the edition of 1473, with all its errors and inaccuracies.

Mr. E. C. Thomas' Text.—The first true text of the Philobiblon, the result of a careful examination of twenty-eight MSS., and of the various printed editions, appeared in the year 1888:

"The Philobiblon of Richard de Bury, Bishop of Durham, Treasurer and Chancellor of Edward III, edited and translated by Ernest C. Thomas, Barrister-at-law, late Scholar of Trinity College, Oxford, and Librarian of the Oxford Union. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, & Co."

For fifteen years the enthusiastic editor—an ideal Bibliophile—had toiled at his labour of love, and his work was on all sides received with the recognition due to his monumental achievement. To the great loss of English learning, he did not long survive the conclusion of his labours. The very limited edition of the work was soon exhausted, and it is by the most generous permission of his father, Mr. John Thomas, of Lower Broughton, Manchester, that the translation—the only trustworthy rendering of Richard de Bury's precious treatise—is now, for the first time, made accessible to the larger book-loving public, and fittingly inaugurates the present series of English classics. The general Editor desires to express his best thanks to Mr. John Thomas, as also to Messrs. Kegan Paul, for their kindness in allowing him to avail himself of the materials included in the 1888 edition of the work. He has attempted, in the brief Preface and Notes, to condense Mr. Thomas' labours in such a way as would have been acceptable to the lamented scholar, and though he has made bold to explain some few textual difficulties, and to add some few references, he would fain hope that these additions have been made with modest caution—with the reverence due to the unstinted toil of a Bibliophile after Richard de Bury's own pattern. Yet once again Richard de Bury's Philobiblon, edited and translated into English by E. C. Thomas, is presented to new generations of book-lovers:—"LIBRORUM DILECTORIBUS."



I That the treasure of wisdom is chiefly contained in books

II The degree of affection that is properly due to books

III What we are to think of the price in the buying of books

IV The complaint of books against the clergy already promoted

V The complaint of books against the possessioners

VI The complaint of books against the mendicants

VII The complaint of books against wars

VIII Of the numerous opportunities we have had of collecting a store of books

IX How, although we preferred the works of the ancients, we have not condemned the studies of the moderns

X Of the gradual perfecting of books

XI Why we have preferred books of liberal learning to books of law

XII Why we have caused books of grammar to be so diligently prepared

XIII Why we have not wholly neglected the fables of the poets

XIV Who ought to be special lovers of books

XV Of the advantages of the love of books

XVI That it is meritorious to write new books and to renew the old

XVII Of showing due propriety in the custody of books

XVIII Showeth that we have collected so great store of books for the common benefit of scholars and not only for our own pleasure

XIX Of the manner of lending all our books to students

XX An exhortation to scholars to requite us by pious prayers


To all the faithful of Christ to whom the tenor of these presents may come, Richard de Bury, by the divine mercy Bishop of Durham, wisheth everlasting salvation in the Lord and to present continually a pious memorial of himself before God, alike in his lifetime and after his death.

What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards me? asks the most devout Psalmist, an invincible King and first among the prophets; in which most grateful question he approves himself a willing thank-offerer, a multifarious debtor, and one who wishes for a holier counsellor than himself: agreeing with Aristotle, the chief of philosophers, who shows (in the 3rd and 6th books of his Ethics) that all action depends upon counsel.

And indeed if so wonderful a prophet, having a fore-knowledge of divine secrets, wished so anxiously to consider how he might gratefully repay the blessings graciously bestowed, what can we fitly do, who are but rude thanksgivers and most greedy receivers, laden with infinite divine benefits? Assuredly we ought with anxious deliberation and abundant consideration, having first invoked the Sevenfold Spirit, that it may burn in our musings as an illuminating fire, fervently to prepare a way without hinderance, that the bestower of all things may be cheerfully worshipped in return for the gifts that He has bestowed, that our neighbour may be relieved of his burden, and that the guilt contracted by sinners every day may be redeemed by the atonement of almsgiving.

Forewarned therefore through the admonition of the Psalmist's devotion by Him who alone prevents and perfects the goodwill of man, without Whom we have no power even so much as to think, and Whose gift we doubt not it is, if we have done anything good, we have diligently inquired and considered in our own heart as well as with others, what among the good offices of various works of piety would most please the Almighty, and would be more beneficial to the Church Militant. And lo! there soon occurred to our contemplation a host of unhappy, nay, rather of elect scholars, in whom God the Creator and Nature His handmaid planted the roots of excellent morals and of famous sciences, but whom the poverty of their circumstances so oppressed that before the frown of adverse fortune the seeds of excellence, so fruitful in the cultivated field of youth, not being watered by the rain that they require, are forced to wither away. Thus it happens that "bright virtue lurks buried in obscurity," to use the words of Boethius, and burning lights are not put under a bushel, but for want of oil are utterly extinguished. Thus the field, so full of flower in Spring, has withered up before harvest time; thus wheat degenerates to tares, and vines into the wild vines, and thus olives run into the wild olive; the tender stems rot away altogether, and those who might have grown up into strong pillars of the Church, being endowed with the capacity of a subtle intellect, abandon the schools of learning. With poverty only as their stepmother, they are repelled violently from the nectared cup of philosophy as soon as they have tasted of it and have become more fiercely thirsty by the very taste. Though fit for the liberal arts and disposed to study the sacred writings alone, being deprived of the aid of their friends, by a kind of apostasy they return to the mechanical arts solely to gain a livelihood, to the loss of the Church and the degradation of the whole clergy. Thus Mother Church conceiving sons is compelled to miscarry, nay, some misshapen monster is born untimely from her womb, and for lack of that little with which Nature is contented, she loses excellent pupils, who might afterwards become champions and athletes of the faith. Alas, how suddenly the woof is cut, while the hand of the weaver is beginning his work! Alas, how the sun is eclipsed in the brightness of the dawn, and the planet in its course is hurled backwards, and, while it bears the nature and likeness of a star suddenly drops and becomes a meteor! What more piteous sight can the pious man behold? What can more sharply stir the bowels of his pity? What can more easily melt a heart hard as an anvil into hot tears? On the other hand, let us recall from past experience how much it has profited the whole Christian commonwealth, not indeed to enervate students with the delights of a Sardanapalus or the riches of a Croesus, but rather to support them in their poverty with the frugal means that become the scholar. How many have we seen with our eyes, how many have we read of in books, who, distinguished by no pride of birth, and rejoicing in no rich inheritance, but supported only by the piety of the good, have made their way to apostolic chairs, have most worthily presided over faithful subjects, have bent the necks of the proud and lofty to the ecclesiastical yoke and have extended further the liberties of the Church!

Accordingly, having taken a survey of human necessities in every direction, with a view to bestow our charity upon them, our compassionate inclinations have chosen to bear pious aid to this calamitous class of men, in whom there is nevertheless such hope of advantage to the Church, and to provide for them, not only in respect of things necessary to their support, but much more in respect of the books so useful to their studies. To this end, most acceptable in the sight of God, our attention has long been unweariedly devoted. This ecstatic love has carried us away so powerfully, that we have resigned all thoughts of other earthly things, and have given ourselves up to a passion for acquiring books. That our intent and purpose, therefore, may be known to posterity as well as to our contemporaries, and that we may for ever stop the perverse tongues of gossipers as far as we are concerned, we have published a little treatise written in the lightest style of the moderns; for it is ridiculous to find a slight matter treated of in a pompous style. And this treatise (divided into twenty chapters) will clear the love we have had for books from the charge of excess, will expound the purpose of our intense devotion, and will narrate more clearly than light all the circumstances of our undertaking. And because it principally treats of the love of books, we have chosen, after the fashion of the ancient Romans, fondly to name it by a Greek word, Philobiblon.



The desirable treasure of wisdom and science, which all men desire by an instinct of nature, infinitely surpasses all the riches of the world; in respect of which precious stones are worthless; in comparison with which silver is as clay and pure gold is as a little sand; at whose splendour the sun and moon are dark to look upon; compared with whose marvellous sweetness honey and manna are bitter to the taste. O value of wisdom that fadeth not away with time, virtue ever flourishing, that cleanseth its possessor from all venom! O heavenly gift of the divine bounty, descending from the Father of lights, that thou mayest exalt the rational soul to the very heavens! Thou art the celestial nourishment of the intellect, which those who eat shall still hunger and those who drink shall still thirst, and the gladdening harmony of the languishing soul which he that hears shall never be confounded. Thou art the moderator and rule of morals, which he who follows shall not sin. By thee kings reign and princes decree justice. By thee, rid of their native rudeness, their minds and tongues being polished, the thorns of vice being torn up by the roots, those men attain high places of honour, and become fathers of their country, and companions of princes, who without thee would have melted their spears into pruning-hooks and ploughshares, or would perhaps be feeding swine with the prodigal.

Where dost thou chiefly lie hidden, O most elect treasure! and where shall thirsting souls discover thee?

Certes, thou hast placed thy tabernacle in books, where the Most High, the Light of lights, the Book of Life, has established thee. There everyone who asks receiveth thee, and everyone who seeks finds thee, and to everyone that knocketh boldly it is speedily opened. Therein the cherubim spread out their wings, that the intellect of the students may ascend and look from pole to pole, from the east and west, from the north and from the south. Therein the mighty and incomprehensible God Himself is apprehensibly contained and worshipped; therein is revealed the nature of things celestial, terrestrial, and infernal; therein are discerned the laws by which every state is administered, the offices of the celestial hierarchy are distinguished, and the tyrannies of demons described, such as neither the ideas of Plato transcend, nor the chair of Crato contained.

In books I find the dead as if they were alive; in books I foresee things to come; in books warlike affairs are set forth; from books come forth the laws of peace. All things are corrupted and decay in time; Saturn ceases not to devour the children that he generates; all the glory of the world would be buried in oblivion, unless God had provided mortals with the remedy of books.

Alexander, the conqueror of the earth, Julius, the invader of Rome and of the world, who, the first in war and arts, assumed universal empire under his single rule, faithful Fabricius and stern Cato, would now have been unknown to fame, if the aid of books had been wanting. Towers have been razed to the ground; cities have been overthrown; triumphal arches have perished from decay; nor can either pope or king find any means of more easily conferring the privilege of perpetuity than by books. The book that he has made renders its author this service in return, that so long as the book survives its author remains immortal and cannot die, as Ptolemy declares in the Prologue to his Almagest: He is not dead, he says, who has given life to science.

Who therefore will limit by anything of another kind the price of the infinite treasure of books, from which the scribe who is instructed bringeth forth things new and old? Truth that triumphs over all things, which overcomes the king, wine, and women, which it is reckoned holy to honour before friendship, which is the way without turning and the life without end, which holy Boethius considers to be threefold in thought, speech, and writing, seems to remain more usefully and to fructify to greater profit in books. For the meaning of the voice perishes with the sound; truth latent in the mind is wisdom that is hid and treasure that is not seen; but truth which shines forth in books desires to manifest itself to every impressionable sense. It commends itself to the sight when it is read, to the hearing when it is heard, and moreover in a manner to the touch, when it suffers itself to be transcribed, bound, corrected, and preserved. The undisclosed truth of the mind, although it is the possession of the noble soul, yet because it lacks a companion, is not certainly known to be delightful, while neither sight nor hearing takes account of it. Further the truth of the voice is patent only to the ear and eludes the sight, which reveals to us more of the qualities of things, and linked with the subtlest of motions begins and perishes as it were in a breath. But the written truth of books, not transient but permanent, plainly offers itself to be observed, and by means of the pervious spherules of the eyes, passing through the vestibule of perception and the courts of imagination, enters the chamber of intellect, taking its place in the couch of memory, where it engenders the eternal truth of the mind.

Finally we must consider what pleasantness of teaching there is in books, how easy, how secret! How safely we lay bare the poverty of human ignorance to books without feeling any shame! They are masters who instruct us without rod or ferule, without angry words, without clothes or money. If you come to them they are not asleep; if you ask and inquire of them they do not withdraw themselves; they do not chide if you make mistakes; they do not laugh at you if you are ignorant. O books, who alone are liberal and free, who give to all who ask of you and enfranchise all who serve you faithfully! By how many thousand types are ye commended to learned men in the Scriptures given us by inspiration of God! For ye are the minds of profoundest wisdom, to which the wise man sends his son that he may dig out treasures: Prov. ii. Ye are the wells of living waters, which father Abraham first digged, Isaac digged again, and which the Philistines strive to fill up: Gen. xxvi. Ye are indeed the most delightful ears of corn, full of grain, to be rubbed only by apostolic hands, that the sweetest food may be produced for hungry souls: Matt. xii. Ye are the golden pots in which manna is stored, and rocks flowing with honey, nay, combs of honey, most plenteous udders of the milk of life, garners ever full; ye are the tree of life and the fourfold river of Paradise, by which the human mind is nourished, and the thirsty intellect is watered and refreshed. Ye are the ark of Noah and the ladder of Jacob, and the troughs by which the young of those who look therein are coloured; ye are the stones of testimony and the pitchers holding the lamps of Gideon, the scrip of David, from which the smoothest stones are taken for the slaying of Goliath. Ye are the golden vessels of the temple, the arms of the soldiers of the Church with which to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked, fruitful olives, vines of Engadi, fig-trees that are never barren, burning lamps always to be held in readiness—and all the noblest comparisons of Scripture may be applied to books, if we choose to speak in figures.



Since the degree of affection a thing deserves depends upon the degree of its value, and the previous chapter shows that the value of books is unspeakable, it is quite clear to the reader what is the probable conclusion from this. I say probable, for in moral science we do not insist upon demonstration, remembering that the educated man seeks such degree of certainty as he perceives the subject-matter will bear, as Aristotle testifies in the first book of his Ethics. For Tully does not appeal to Euclid, nor does Euclid rely upon Tully. This at all events we endeavour to prove, whether by logic or rhetoric, that all riches and all delights whatsoever yield place to books in the spiritual mind, wherein the Spirit which is charity ordereth charity. Now in the first place, because wisdom is contained in books more than all mortals understand, and wisdom thinks lightly of riches, as the foregoing chapter declares. Furthermore, Aristotle, in his Problems, determines the question, why the ancients proposed prizes to the stronger in gymnastic and corporeal contests, but never awarded any prize for wisdom. This question he solves as follows: In gymnastic exercises the prize is better and more desirable than that for which it is bestowed; but it is certain that nothing is better than wisdom: wherefore no prize could be assigned for wisdom. And therefore neither riches nor delights are more excellent than wisdom. Again, only the fool will deny that friendship is to be preferred to riches, since the wisest of men testifies this; but the chief of philosophers honours truth before friendship, and the truthful Zorobabel prefers it to all things. Riches, then, are less than truth. Now truth is chiefly maintained and contained in holy books—nay, they are written truth itself, since by books we do not now mean the materials of which they are made. Wherefore riches are less than books, especially as the most precious of all riches are friends, as Boethius testifies in the second book of his Consolation; to whom the truth of books according to Aristotle is to be preferred. Moreover, since we know that riches first and chiefly appertain to the support of the body only, while the virtue of books is the perfection of reason, which is properly speaking the happiness of man, it appears that books to the man who uses his reason are dearer than riches. Furthermore, that by which the faith is more easily defended, more widely spread, more clearly preached, ought to be more desirable to the faithful. But this is the truth written in books, which our Saviour plainly showed, when he was about to contend stoutly against the Tempter, girding himself with the shield of truth and indeed of written truth, declaring "it is written" of what he was about to utter with his voice.

And, again, no one doubts that happiness is to be preferred to riches. But happiness consists in the operation of the noblest and diviner of the faculties that we possess—when the whole mind is occupied in contemplating the truth of wisdom, which is the most delectable of all our virtuous activities, as the prince of philosophers declares in the tenth book of the Ethics, on which account it is that philosophy is held to have wondrous pleasures in respect of purity and solidity, as he goes on to say. But the contemplation of truth is never more perfect than in books, where the act of imagination perpetuated by books does not suffer the operation of the intellect upon the truths that it has seen to suffer interruption. Wherefore books appear to be the most immediate instruments of speculative delight, and therefore Aristotle, the sun of philosophic truth, in considering the principles of choice, teaches that in itself to philosophize is more desirable than to be rich, although in certain cases, as where for instance one is in need of necessaries, it may be more desirable to be rich than to philosophize.

Moreover, since books are the aptest teachers, as the previous chapter assumes, it is fitting to bestow on them the honour and the affection that we owe to our teachers. In fine, since all men naturally desire to know, and since by means of books we can attain the knowledge of the ancients, which is to be desired beyond all riches, what man living according to nature would not feel the desire of books? And although we know that swine trample pearls under foot, the wise man will not therefore be deterred from gathering the pearls that lie before him. A library of wisdom, then, is more precious than all wealth, and all things that are desirable cannot be compared to it. Whoever therefore claims to be zealous of truth, of happiness, of wisdom or knowledge, aye, even of the faith, must needs become a lover of books.



From what has been said we draw this corollary welcome to us, but (as we believe) acceptable to few: namely, that no dearness of price ought to hinder a man from the buying of books, if he has the money that is demanded for them, unless it be to withstand the malice of the seller or to await a more favourable opportunity of buying. For if it is wisdom only that makes the price of books, which is an infinite treasure to mankind, and if the value of books is unspeakable, as the premises show, how shall the bargain be shown to be dear where an infinite good is being bought? Wherefore, that books are to be gladly bought and unwillingly sold, Solomon, the sun of men, exhorts us in the Proverbs: Buy the truth, he says, and sell not wisdom. But what we are trying to show by rhetoric or logic, let us prove by examples from history. The arch-philosopher Aristotle, whom Averroes regards as the law of Nature, bought a few books of Speusippus straightway after his death for 72,000 sesterces. Plato, before him in time, but after him in learning, bought the book of Philolaus the Pythagorean, from which he is said to have taken the Timaeus, for 10,000 denaries, as Aulus Gellius relates in the Noctes Atticae. Now Aulus Gellius relates this that the foolish may consider how wise men despise money in comparison with books. And on the other hand, that we may know that folly and pride go together, let us here relate the folly of Tarquin the Proud in despising books, as also related by Aulus Gellius. An old woman, utterly unknown, is said to have come to Tarquin the Proud, the seventh king of Rome, offering to sell nine books, in which (as she declared) sacred oracles were contained, but she asked an immense sum for them, insomuch that the king said she was mad. In anger she flung three books into the fire, and still asked the same sum for the rest. When the king refused it, again she flung three others into the fire and still asked the same price for the three that were left. At last, astonished beyond measure, Tarquin was glad to pay for three books the same price for which he might have bought nine. The old woman straightway disappeared, and was never seen before or after. These were the Sibylline books, which the Romans consulted as a divine oracle by some one of the Quindecemvirs, and this is believed to have been the origin of the Quindecemvirate. What did this Sibyl teach the proud king by this bold deed, except that the vessels of wisdom, holy books, exceed all human estimation; and, as Gregory says of the kingdom of Heaven: They are worth all that thou hast?



A generation of vipers destroying their own parent and base offspring of the ungrateful cuckoo, who when he has grown strong slays his nurse, the giver of his strength, are degenerate clerks with regard to books. Bring it again to mind and consider faithfully what ye receive through books, and ye will find that books are as it were the creators of your distinction, without which other favourers would have been wanting.

In sooth, while still untrained and helpless ye crept up to us, ye spake as children, ye thought as children, ye cried as children and begged to be made partakers of our milk. But we being straightway moved by your tears gave you the breast of grammar to suck, which ye plied continually with teeth and tongue, until ye lost your native barbarousness and learned to speak with our tongues the mighty things of God. And next we clad you with the goodly garments of philosophy, rhetoric and dialectic, of which we had and have a store, while ye were naked as a tablet to be painted on. For all the household of philosophy are clothed with garments, that the nakedness and rawness of the intellect may be covered. After this, providing you with the fourfold wings of the quadrivials that ye might be winged like the seraphs and so mount above the cherubim, we sent you to a friend at whose door, if only ye importunately knocked, ye might borrow the three loaves of the Knowledge of the Trinity, in which consists the final felicity of every sojourner below. Nay, if ye deny that ye had these privileges, we boldly declare that ye either lost them by your carelessness, or that through your sloth ye spurned them when offered to you. If these things seem but a light matter to you, we will add yet greater things. Ye are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy race, ye are a peculiar people chosen into the lot of God, ye are priests and ministers of God, nay, ye are called the very Church of God, as though the laity were not to be called churchmen. Ye, being preferred to the laity, sing psalms and hymns in the chancel, and, serving the altar and living by the altar, make the true body of Christ, wherein God Himself has honoured you not only above the laity, but even a little higher than the angels. For to whom of His angels has He said at any time: Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedech? Ye dispense the patrimony of the crucified one to the poor, wherein it is required of stewards that a man be found faithful. Ye are shepherds of the Lord's flock, as well in example of life as in the word of doctrine, which is bound to repay you with milk and wool.

Who are the givers of all these things, O clerks? Is it not books? Do ye remember therefore, we pray, how many and how great liberties and privileges are bestowed upon the clergy through us? In truth, taught by us who are the vessels of wisdom and intellect, ye ascend the teacher's chair and are called of men Rabbi. By us ye become marvellous in the eyes of the laity, like great lights in the world, and possess the dignities of the Church according to your various stations. By us, while ye still lack the first down upon your cheeks, ye are established in your early years and bear the tonsure on your heads, while the dread sentence of the Church is heard: Touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm, and he who has rashly touched them let him forthwith by his own blow be smitten violently with the wound of an anathema. At length yielding your lives to wickedness, reaching the two paths of Pythagoras, ye choose the left branch, and going backward ye let go the lot of God which ye had first assumed, becoming companions of thieves. And thus ever going from bad to worse, dyed with theft and murder and manifold impurities, your fame and conscience stained by sins, at the bidding of justice ye are confined in manacles and fetters, and are kept to be punished by a most shameful death. Then your friend is put far away, nor is there any to mourn your lot. Peter swears that he knows not the man: the people cry to the judge: Crucify, crucify Him! If thou let this man go, thou act not Caesar's friend. Now all refuge has perished, for ye must stand before the judgment-seat, and there is no appeal, but only hanging is in store for you. While the wretched man's heart is thus filled with woe and only the sorrowing Muses bedew their cheeks with tears, in his strait is heard on every side the wailing appeal to us, and to avoid the danger of impending death he shows the slight sign of the ancient tonsure which we bestowed upon him, begging that we may be called to his aid and bear witness to the privilege bestowed upon him. Then straightway touched with pity we run to meet the prodigal son and snatch the fugitive slave from the gates of death. The book he has not forgotten is handed to him to be read, and while with lips stammering with fear he reads a few words, the power of the judge is loosed, the accuser is withdrawn, and death is put to flight. O marvellous virtue of an empiric verse! O saving antidote of dreadful ruin! O precious reading of the psalter, which for this alone deserves to be called the book of life! Let the laity undergo the judgment of the secular arm, that either sewn up in sacks they may be carried out to Neptune, or planted in the earth may fructify for Pluto, or may be offered amid the flames as a fattened holocaust to Vulcan, or at least may be hung up as a victim to Juno: while our nursling at a single reading of the book of life is handed over to the custody of the Bishop, and rigour is changed to favour, and the forum being transferred from the laity, death is routed by the clerk who is the nursling of books.

But now let us speak of the clerks who are vessels of virtue. Which of you about to preach ascends the pulpit or the rostrum without in some way consulting us? Which of you enters the schools to teach or to dispute without relying upon our support? First of all, it behoves you to eat the book with Ezechiel, that the belly of your memory may be sweetened within, and thus as with the panther refreshed, to whose breath all beasts and cattle long to approach, the sweet savour of the spices it has eaten may shed a perfume without. Thus our nature secretly working in our own, listeners hasten up gladly, as the load-stone draws the iron nothing loth. What an infinite host of books lie at Paris or Athens, and at the same time resound in Britain and in Rome! In truth, while resting they yet move, and while retaining their own places they are carried about every way to the minds of listeners. Finally, by the knowledge of literature, we establish Priests, Bishops, Cardinals, and the Pope, that all things in the ecclesiastical hierarchy may be fitly disposed. For it is from books that everything of good that befalls the clerical condition takes its origin. But let this suffice: for it pains us to recall what we have bestowed upon the degenerate clergy, because whatever gifts are distributed to the ungrateful seem to be lost rather than bestowed.

Let us next dwell a little on the recital of the wrongs with which they requite us, the contempts and cruelties of which we cannot recite an example in each kind, nay, scarcely the main classes of the several wrongs. In the first place, we are expelled by force and arms from the homes of the clergy, which are ours by hereditary right, who were used to have cells of quietness in the inner chamber, but, alas! in these unhappy times we are altogether exiled, suffering poverty without the gates. For our places are seized now by dogs, now by hawks, now by that biped beast whose cohabitation with the clergy was forbidden of old, from which we have always taught our nurslings to flee more than from the asp and the cockatrice; wherefore she, always jealous of the love of us, and never to be appeased, at length seeing us in some corner protected only by the web of some dead spider, with a frown abuses and reviles us with bitter words, declaring us alone of all the furniture in the house to be unnecessary, and complaining that we are useless for any household purpose, and advises that we should speedily be converted into rich caps, sendal and silk and twice-dyed purple, robes and furs, wool and linen: and, indeed, not without reason, if she could see our inmost hearts, if she had listened to our secret counsels, if she had read the book of Theophrastus or Valerius, or only heard the twenty-fifth chapter of Ecclesiasticus with understanding ears.

And hence it is that we have to mourn for the homes of which we have been unjustly robbed; and as to our coverings, not that they have not been given to us, but that the coverings anciently given to us have been torn by violent hands, insomuch that our soul is bowed down to the dust, our belly cleaveth unto the earth. We suffer from various diseases, enduring pains in our backs and sides; we lie with our limbs unstrung by palsy, and there is no man who layeth it to heart, and no man who provides a mollifying plaster. Our native whiteness that was clear with light has turned to dun and yellow, so that no leech who should see us would doubt that we are diseased with jaundice. Some of us are suffering from gout, as our twisted extremities plainly show. The smoke and dust by which we are continuously plagued have dulled the keenness of our visual rays, and are now infecting our bleared eyes with ophthalmia. Within we are devoured by the fierce gripings of our entrails, which hungry worms cease not to gnaw, and we undergo the corruption of the two Lazaruses, nor is there anyone to anoint us with balm of cedar, nor to cry to us who have been four days dead and already stink, Lazarus come forth! No healing drug is bound around our cruel wounds, which are so atrociously inflicted upon the innocent, and there is none to put a plaster upon our ulcers; but ragged and shivering we are flung away into dark corners, or in tears take our place with holy Job upon his dunghill, or—too horrible to relate—are buried in the depths of the common sewers. The cushion is withdrawn that should support our evangelical sides, which ought to have the first claim upon the incomes of the clergy, and the common necessaries of life thus be for ever provided for us, who are entrusted to their charge.

Again, we complain of another sort of injury which is too often unjustly inflicted upon our persons. We are sold for bondmen and bondwomen, and lie as hostages in taverns with no one to redeem us. We fall a prey to the cruel shambles, where we see sheep and cattle slaughtered not without pious tears, and where we die a thousand times from such terrors as might frighten even the brave. We are handed over to Jews, Saracens, heretics and infidels, whose poison we always dread above everything, and by whom it is well known that some of our parents have been infected with pestiferous venom. In sooth, we who should be treated as masters in the sciences, and bear rule over the mechanics who should be subject to us, are instead handed over to the government of subordinates, as though some supremely noble monarch should be trodden under foot by rustic heels. Any seamster or cobbler or tailor or artificer of any trade keeps us shut up in prison for the luxurious and wanton pleasures of the clergy.

Now we would pursue a new kind of injury by which we suffer alike in person and in fame, the dearest thing we have. Our purity of race is diminished every day, while new authors' names are imposed upon us by worthless compilers, translators, and transformers, and losing our ancient nobility, while we are reborn in successive generations, we become wholly degenerate; and thus against our will the name of some wretched stepfather is affixed to us, and the sons are robbed of the names of their true fathers. The verses of Virgil, while he was yet living, were claimed by an impostor; and a certain Fidentinus mendaciously usurped the works of Martial, whom Martial thus deservedly rebuked:

"The book you read is, Fidentinus! mine, Though read so badly, 't well may pass for thine!"

What marvel, then, if when our authors are dead clerical apes use us to make broad their phylacteries, since even while they are alive they try to seize us as soon as we are published? Ah! how often ye pretend that we who are ancient are but lately born, and try to pass us off as sons who are really fathers, calling us who have made you clerks the production of your studies. Indeed, we derived our origin from Athens, though we are now supposed to be from Rome; for Carmentis was always the pilferer of Cadmus, and we who were but lately born in England, will to-morrow be born again in Paris; and thence being carried to Bologna, will obtain an Italian origin, based upon no affinity of blood. Alas! how ye commit us to treacherous copyists to be written, how corruptly ye read us and kill us by medication, while ye supposed ye were correcting us with pious zeal. Oftentimes we have to endure barbarous interpreters, and those who are ignorant of foreign idioms presume to translate us from one language into another; and thus all propriety of speech is lost and our sense is shamefully mutilated contrary to the meaning of the author! Truly noble would have been the condition of books if it had not been for the presumption of the tower of Babel, if but one kind of speech had been transmitted by the whole human race.

We will add the last clause of our long lament, though far too short for the materials that we have. For in us the natural use is changed to that which is against nature, while we who are the light of faithful souls everywhere fall a prey to painters knowing nought of letters, and are entrusted to goldsmiths to become, as though we were not sacred vessels of wisdom, repositories of gold-leaf. We fall undeservedly into the power of laymen, which is more bitter to us than any death, since they have sold our people for nought, and our enemies themselves are our judges.

It is clear from what we have said what infinite invectives we could hurl against the clergy, if we did not think of our own reputation. For the soldier whose campaigns are over venerates his shield and arms, and grateful Corydon shows regard for his decaying team, harrow, flail and mattock, and every manual artificer for the instruments of his craft; it is only the ungrateful cleric who despises and neglects those things which have ever been the foundation of his honours.



The venerable devotion of the religious orders is wont to be solicitous in the care of books and to delight in their society, as if they were the only riches. For some used to write them with their own hands between the hours of prayer, and gave to the making of books such intervals as they could secure and the times appointed for the recreation of the body. By whose labours there are resplendent to-day in most monasteries these sacred treasuries full of cherubic letters, for giving the knowledge of salvation to the student and a delectable light to the paths of the laity. O manual toil, happier than any agricultural task! O devout solicitude, where neither Martha nor Mary deserves to be rebuked! O joyful house, in which the fruitful Leah does not envy the beauteous Rachel, but action and contemplation share each other's joys! O happy charge, destined to benefit endless generations of posterity, with which no planting of trees, no sowing of seeds, no pastoral delight in herds, no building of fortified camps can be compared! Wherefore the memory of those fathers should be immortal, who delighted only in the treasures of wisdom, who most laboriously provided shining lamps against future darkness, and against hunger of hearing the Word of God, most carefully prepared, not bread baked in the ashes, nor of barley, nor musty, but unleavened loaves made of the finest wheat of divine wisdom, with which hungry souls might be joyfully fed These men were the stoutest champions of the Christian army, who defended our weakness by their most valiant arms; they were in their time the most cunning takers of foxes, who have left us their nets, that we might catch the young foxes, who cease not to devour the growing vines. Of a truth, noble fathers, worthy of perpetual benediction, ye would have been deservedly happy, if ye had been allowed to beget offspring like yourselves, and to leave no degenerate or doubtful progeny for the benefit of future times.

But, painful to relate, now slothful Thersites handles the arms of Achilles and the choice trappings of war-horses are spread upon lazy asses, winking owls lord it in the eagle's nest, and the cowardly kite sits upon the perch of the hawk.

Liber Bacchus is ever loved, And is into their bellies shoved, By day and by night; Liber Codex is neglected, And with scornful hand rejected Far out of their sight.

And as if the simple monastic folk of modern times were deceived by a confusion of names, while Liber Pater is preferred to Liber Patrum, the study of the monks nowadays is in the emptying of cups and not the emending of books; to which they do not hesitate to add the wanton music of Timotheus, jealous of chastity, and thus the song of the merry-maker and not the chant of the mourner is become the office of the monks. Flocks and fleeces, crops and granaries, leeks and potherbs, drink and goblets, are nowadays the reading and study of the monks, except a few elect ones, in whom lingers not the image but some slight vestige of the fathers that preceded them. And again, no materials at all are furnished us to commend the canons regular for their care or study of us, who though they bear their name of honour from their twofold rule, yet have neglected the notable clause of Augustine's rule, in which we are commended to his clergy in these words: Let books be asked for each day at a given hour; he who asks for them after the hour is not to receive them. Scarcely anyone observes this devout rule of study after saying the prayers of the Church, but to care for the things of this world and to look at the plough that has been left is reckoned the highest wisdom. They take up bow and quiver, embrace arms and shield, devote the tribute of alms to dogs and not to the poor, become the slaves of dice and draughts, and of all such things as we are wont to forbid even to the secular clergy, so that we need not marvel if they disdain to look upon us, whom they see so much opposed to their mode of life.

Come then, reverend fathers, deign to recall your fathers and devote yourselves more faithfully to the study of holy books, without which all religion will stagger, without which the virtue of devotion will dry up like a sherd, and without which ye can afford no light to the world.



Poor in spirit, but most rich in faith, off-scourings of the world and salt of the earth, despisers of the world and fishers of men, how happy are ye, if suffering penury for Christ ye know how to possess your souls in patience! For it is not want the avenger of iniquity, nor the adverse fortune of your parents, nor violent necessity that has thus oppressed you with beggary, but a devout will and Christ-like election, by which ye have chosen that life as the best, which God Almighty made man as well by word as by example declared to be the best. In truth, ye are the latest offspring of the ever-fruitful Church, of late divinely substituted for the Fathers and the Prophets, that your sound may go forth into all the earth, and that instructed by our healthful doctrines ye may preach before all kings and nations the invincible faith of Christ. Moreover, that the faith of the Fathers is chiefly enshrined in books the second chapter has sufficiently shown, from which it is clearer than light that ye ought to be zealous lovers of books above all other Christians. Ye are commanded to sow upon all waters, because the Most High is no respecter of persons, nor does the Most Holy desire the death of sinners, who offered Himself to die for them, but desires to heal the contrite in heart, to raise the fallen, and to correct the perverse in the spirit of lenity. For which most salutary purpose our kindly Mother Church has planted you freely, and having planted has watered you with favours, and having watered you has established you with privileges, that ye may be co-workers with pastors and curates in procuring the salvation of faithful souls. Wherefore, that the order of Preachers was principally instituted for the study of the Holy Scriptures and the salvation of their neighbours, is declared by their constitutions, so that not only from the rule of Bishop Augustine, which directs books to be asked for every day, but as soon as they have read the prologue of the said constitutions they may know from the very title of the same that they are pledged to the love of books.

But alas! a threefold care of superfluities, viz., of the stomach, of dress, and of houses, has seduced these men and others following their example from the paternal care of books, and from their study. For, forgetting the providence of the Saviour (who is declared by the Psalmist to think upon the poor and needy), they are occupied with the wants of the perishing body, that their feasts may be splendid and their garments luxurious, against the rule, and the fabrics of their buildings, like the battlements of castles, carried to a height incompatible with poverty. Because of these three things, we books, who have ever procured their advancement and have granted them to sit among the powerful and noble, are put far from their heart's affection and are reckoned as superfluities; except that they rely upon some treatises of small value, from which they derive strange heresies and apocryphal imbecilities, not for the refreshment of souls, but rather for tickling the ears of the listeners. The Holy Scripture is not expounded, but is neglected and treated as though it were commonplace and known to all, though very few have touched its hem, and though its depth is such, as Holy Augustine declares, that it cannot be understood by the human intellect, however long it may toil with the utmost intensity of study. From this he who devotes himself to it assiduously, if only He will vouchsafe to open the door who has established the spirit of piety, may unfold a thousand lessons of moral teaching, which will flourish with the freshest novelty and will cherish the intelligence of the listeners with the most delightful savours. Wherefore the first professors of evangelical poverty, after some slight homage paid to secular science, collecting all their force of intellect, devoted themselves to labours upon the sacred scripture, meditating day and night on the law of the Lord. And whatever they could steal from their famishing belly, or intercept from their half-covered body, they thought it the highest gain to spend in buying or correcting books. Whose worldly contemporaries observing their devotion and study bestowed upon them for the edification of the whole Church the books which they had collected at great expense in the various parts of the world.

In truth, in these days as ye are engaged with all diligence in pursuit of gain, it may be reasonably believed, if we speak according to human notions, that God thinks less upon those whom He perceives to distrust His promises, putting their hope in human providence, not considering the raven, nor the lilies, whom the Most High feeds and arrays. Ye do not think upon Daniel and the bearer of the mess of boiled pottage, nor recollect Elijah who was delivered from hunger once in the desert by angels, again in the torrent by ravens, and again in Sarepta by the widow, through the divine bounty, which gives to all flesh their meat in due season. Ye descend (as we fear) by a wretched anticlimax, distrust of the divine goodness producing reliance upon your own prudence, and reliance upon your own prudence begetting anxiety about worldly things, and excessive anxiety about worldly things taking away the love as well as the study of books; and thus poverty in these days is abused to the injury of the Word of God, which ye have chosen only for profit's sake.

With summer fruit, as the people gossip, ye attract boys to religion, whom when they have taken the vows ye do not instruct by fear and force, as their age requires, but allow them to devote themselves to begging expeditions, and suffer them to spend the time, in which they might be learning, in procuring the favour of friends, to the annoyance of their parents, the danger of the boys, and the detriment of the order. And thus no doubt it happens that those who were not compelled to learn as unwilling boys, when they grow up presume to teach though utterly unworthy and unlearned, and a small error in the beginning becomes a very great one in the end. For there grows up among your promiscuous flock of laity a pestilent multitude of creatures, who nevertheless the more shamelessly force themselves into the office of preaching, the less they understand what they are saying, to the contempt of the Divine Word and the injury of souls. In truth, against the law ye plough with an ox and an ass together, in committing the cultivation of the Lord's field to learned and unlearned. Side by side, it is written, the oxen were ploughing and the asses feeding beside them: since it is the duty of the discreet to preach, but of the simple to feed themselves in silence by the hearing of sacred eloquence. How many stones ye fling upon the heap of Mercury nowadays! How many marriages ye procure for the eunuchs of wisdom! How many blind watchmen ye bid go round about the walls of the Church!

O idle fishermen, using only the nets of others, which when torn it is all ye can do to clumsily repair, but can net no new ones of your own! ye enter on the labours of others, ye repeat the lessons of others, ye mouth with theatric effort the superficially repeated wisdom of others. As the silly parrot imitates the words that he has heard, so such men are mere reciters of all, but authors of nothing, imitating Balaam's ass, which, though senseless of itself, yet became eloquent of speech and the teacher of its master though a prophet. Recover yourselves, O poor in Christ, and studiously regard us books, without which ye can never be properly shod in the preparation of the Gospel of Peace.

Paul the Apostle, preacher of the truth and excellent teacher of the nations, for all his gear bade three things to be brought to him by Timothy, his cloak, books and parchments, affording an example to ecclesiastics that they should wear dress in moderation, and should have books for aid in study, and parchments, which the Apostle especially esteems, for writing: AND ESPECIALLY, he says, the parchments. And truly that clerk is crippled and maimed to his disablement in many ways, who is entirely ignorant of the art of writing. He beats the air with words and edifies only those who are present, but does nothing for the absent and for posterity. The man bore a writer's ink-horn upon his loins, who set a mark Tau upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and cry, Ezechiel ix.; teaching in a figure that if any lack skill in writing, he shall not undertake the task of preaching repentance.

Finally, in conclusion of the present chapter, books implore of you: make your young men who though ignorant are apt of intellect apply themselves to study, furnishing them with necessaries, that ye may teach them not only goodness but discipline and science, may terrify them by blows, charm them by blandishments, mollify them by gifts, and urge them on by painful rigour, so that they may become at once Socratics in morals and Peripatetics in learning. Yesterday, as it were at the eleventh hour, the prudent householder introduced you into his vineyard. Repent of idleness before it is too late: would that with the cunning steward ye might be ashamed of begging so shamelessly; for then no doubt ye would devote yourselves more assiduously to us books and to study.



Almighty Author and Lover of peace, scatter the nations that delight in war, which is above all plagues injurious to books. For wars being without the control of reason make a wild assault on everything they come across, and, lacking the check of reason they push on without discretion or distinction to destroy the vessels of reason. Then the wise Apollo becomes the Python's prey, and Phronesis, the pious mother, becomes subject to the power of Phrenzy. Then winged Pegasus is shut up in the stall of Corydon, and eloquent Mercury is strangled. Then wise Pallas is struck down by the dagger of error, and the charming Pierides are smitten by the truculent tyranny of madness. O cruel spectacle! where you may see the Phoebus of philosophers, the all-wise Aristotle, whom God Himself made master of the master of the world, enchained by wicked hands and borne in shameful irons on the shoulders of gladiators from his sacred home. There you may see him who was worthy to be lawgiver to the lawgiver of the world and to hold empire over its emperor, made the slave of vile buffoons by the most unrighteous laws of war. O most wicked power of darkness, which does not fear to undo the approved divinity of Plato, who alone was worthy to submit to the view of the Creator, before he assuaged the strife of warring chaos, and before form had put on its garb of matter, the ideal types, in order to demonstrate the archetypal universe to its author, so that the world of sense might be modelled after the supernal pattern. O tearful sight! where the moral Socrates, whose acts were virtue and whose discourse was science, who deduced political justice from the principles of nature, is seen enslaved to some rascal robber. We bemoan Pythagoras, the parent of harmony, as, brutally scourged by the harrying furies of war, he utters not a song but the wailings of a dove. We mourn, too, for Zeno, who lest he should betray his secret bit off his tongue and fearlessly spat it out at the tyrant, and now, alas! is brayed and crushed to death in a mortar by Diomedon.

In sooth we cannot mourn with the grief that they deserve all the various books that have perished by the fate of war in various parts of the world. Yet we must tearfully recount the dreadful ruin which was caused in Egypt by the auxiliaries in the Alexandrian war, when seven hundred thousand volumes were consumed by fire. These volumes had been collected by the royal Ptolemies through long periods of time, as Aulus Gellius relates. What an Atlantean progeny must be supposed to have then perished: including the motions of the spheres, all the conjunctions of the planets, the nature of the galaxy, and the prognostic generations of comets, and all that exists in the heavens or in the ether! Who would not shudder at such a hapless holocaust, where ink is offered up instead of blood, where the glowing ashes of crackling parchment were encarnadined with blood, where the devouring flames consumed so many thousands of innocents in whose mouth was no guile, where the unsparing fire turned into stinking ashes so many shrines of eternal truth! A lesser crime than this is the sacrifice of Jephthah or Agamemnon, where a pious daughter is slain by a father's sword. How many labours of the famous Hercules shall we suppose then perished, who because of his knowledge of astronomy is said to have sustained the heaven on his unyielding neck, when Hercules was now for the second time cast into the flames. The secrets of the heavens, which Jonithus learnt not from man or through man but received by divine inspiration; what his brother Zoroaster, the servant of unclean spirits, taught the Bactrians; what holy Enoch, the prefect of Paradise, prophesied before he was taken from the world, and finally, what the first Adam taught his children of the things to come, which he had seen when caught up in an ecstasy in the book of eternity, are believed to have perished in those horrid flames. The religion of the Egyptians, which the book of the Perfect Word so commends; the excellent polity of the older Athens, which preceded by nine thousand years the Athens of Greece; the charms of the Chaldaeans; the observations of the Arabs and Indians; the ceremonies of the Jews; the architecture of the Babylonians; the agriculture of Noah the magic arts of Moses; the geometry of Joshua; the enigmas of Samson; the problems of Solomon from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop; the antidotes of Aesculapius; the grammar of Cadmus; the poems of Parnassus; the oracles of Apollo; the argonautics of Jason; the stratagems of Palamedes, and infinite other secrets of science are believed to have perished at the time of this conflagration.

Nay, Aristotle would not have missed the quadrature of the circle, if only baleful conflicts had spared the books of the ancients, who knew all the methods of nature. He would not have left the problem of the eternity of the world an open question, nor, as is credibly conceived, would he have had any doubts of the plurality of human intellects and of their eternity, if the perfect sciences of the ancients had not been exposed to the calamities of hateful wars. For by wars we are scattered into foreign lands, are mutilated, wounded, and shamefully disfigured, are buried under the earth and overwhelmed in the sea, are devoured by the flames and destroyed by every kind of death. How much of our blood was shed by warlike Scipio, when he was eagerly compassing the overthrow of Carthage, the opponent and rival of the Roman empire! How many thousands of thousands of us did the ten years' war of Troy dismiss from the light of day! How many were driven by Anthony, after the murder of Tully, to seek hiding places in foreign provinces! How many of us were scattered by Theodoric, while Boethius was in exile, into the different quarters of the world, like sheep whose shepherd has been struck down! How many, when Seneca fell a victim to the cruelty of Nero, and willing yet unwilling passed the gates of death, took leave of him and retired in tears, not even knowing in what quarter to seek for shelter!

Happy was that translation of books which Xerxes is said to have made to Persia from Athens, and which Seleucus brought back again from Persia to Athens. O glad and joyful return! O wondrous joy, which you might then see in Athens, when the mother went in triumph to meet her progeny, and again showed the chambers in which they had been nursed to her now aging children! Their old homes were restored to their former inmates, and forthwith boards of cedar with shelves and beams of gopher wood are most skilfully planed; inscriptions of gold and ivory are designed for the several compartments, to which the volumes themselves are reverently brought and pleasantly arranged, so that no one hinders the entrance of another or injures its brother by excessive crowding.

But in truth infinite are the losses which have been inflicted upon the race of books by wars and tumults. And as it is by no means possible to enumerate and survey infinity, we will here finally set up the Gades of our complaint, and turn again to the prayers with which we began, humbly imploring that the Ruler of Olympus and the Most High Governor of all the world will establish peace and dispel wars and make our days tranquil under His protection.



Since to everything there is a season and an opportunity, as the wise Ecclesiastes witnesseth, let us now proceed to relate the manifold opportunities through which we have been assisted by the divine goodness in the acquisition of books.

Although from our youth upwards we had always delighted in holding social commune with learned men and lovers of books, yet when we prospered in the world and made acquaintance with the King's majesty and were received into his household, we obtained ampler facilities for visiting everywhere as we would, and of hunting as it were certain most choice preserves, libraries private as well as public, and of the regular as well as of the secular clergy. And indeed while we filled various offices to the victorious Prince and splendidly triumphant King of England, Edward the Third from the Conquest—whose reign may the Almighty long and peacefully continue—first those about his court, but then those concerning the public affairs of his kingdom, namely the offices of Chancellor and Treasurer, there was afforded to us, in consideration of the royal favour, easy access for the purpose of freely searching the retreats of books. In fact, the fame of our love of them had been soon winged abroad everywhere, and we were reported to burn with such desire for books, and especially old ones, that it was more easy for any man to gain our favour by means of books than of money. Wherefore, since supported by the goodness of the aforesaid prince of worthy memory, we were able to requite a man well or ill, to benefit or injure mightily great as well as small, there flowed in, instead of presents and guerdons, and instead of gifts and jewels, soiled tracts and battered codices, gladsome alike to our eye and heart. Then the aumbries of the most famous monasteries were thrown open, cases were unlocked and caskets were undone, and volumes that had slumbered through long ages in their tombs wake up and are astonished, and those that had lain hidden in dark places are bathed in the ray of unwonted light. These long lifeless books, once most dainty, but now become corrupt and loathsome, covered with litters of mice and pierced with the gnawings of the worms, and who were once clothed in purple and fine linen, now lying in sackcloth and ashes, given up to oblivion, seemed to have become habitations of the moth. Natheless among these, seizing the opportunity, we would sit down with more delight than a fastidious physician among his stores of gums and spices, and there we found the object and the stimulus of our affections. Thus the sacred vessels of learning came into our control and stewardship; some by gift, others by purchase, and some lent to us for a season.

No wonder that when people saw that we were contented with gifts of this kind, they were anxious of their own accord to minister to our needs with those things that they were more willing to dispense with than the things they secured by ministering to our service. And in good will we strove so to forward their affairs that gain accrued to them, while justice suffered no disparagement. Indeed, if we had loved gold and silver goblets, high-bred horses, or no small sums of money, we might in those days have furnished forth a rich treasury. But in truth we wanted manuscripts not moneyscripts; we loved codices more than florins, and preferred slender pamphlets to pampered palfreys.

Besides all this, we were frequently made ambassador of this most illustrious Prince of everlasting memory, and were sent on the most various affairs of state, now to the Holy See, now to the Court of France, and again to various powers of the world, on tedious embassies and in times of danger, always carrying with us, however, that love of books which many waters could not quench. For this like a delicious draught sweetened the bitterness of our journeyings and after the perplexing intricacies and troublesome difficulties of causes, and the all but inextricable labyrinths of public affairs afforded us a little breathing space to enjoy a balmier atmosphere.

O Holy God of gods in Sion, what a mighty stream of pleasure made glad our hearts whenever we had leisure to visit Paris, the Paradise of the world, and to linger there; where the days seemed ever few for the greatness of our love! There are delightful libraries, more aromatic than stores of spicery; there are luxuriant parks of all manner of volumes; there are Academic meads shaken by the tramp of scholars; there are lounges of Athens; walks of the Peripatetics; peaks of Parnassus; and porches of the Stoics. There is seen the surveyor of all arts and sciences Aristotle, to whom belongs all that is most excellent in doctrine, so far as relates to this passing sublunary world; there Ptolemy measures epicycles and eccentric apogees and the nodes of the planets by figures and numbers; there Paul reveals the mysteries; there his neighbour Dionysius arranges and distinguishes the hierarchies; there the virgin Carmentis reproduces in Latin characters all that Cadmus collected in Phoenician letters; there indeed opening our treasuries and unfastening our purse-strings we scattered money with joyous heart and purchased inestimable books with mud and sand. It is naught, it is naught, saith every buyer. But in vain; for behold how good and how pleasant it is to gather together the arms of the clerical warfare, that we may have the means to crush the attacks of heretics, if they arise.

Further, we are aware that we obtained most excellent opportunities of collecting in the following way. From our early years we attached to our society with the most exquisite solicitude and discarding all partiality all such masters and scholars and professors in the several faculties as had become most distinguished by their subtlety of mind and the fame of their learning. Deriving consolation from their sympathetic conversation, we were delightfully entertained, now by demonstrative chains of reasoning, now by the recital of physical processes and the treatises of the doctors of the Church, now by stimulating discourses on the allegorical meanings of things, as by a rich and well-varied intellectual feast. Such men we chose as comrades in our years of learning, as companions in our chamber, as associates on our journeys, as guests at our table, and, in short, as helpmates in all the vicissitudes of life. But as no happiness is permitted to endure for long, we were sometimes deprived of the bodily companionship of some of these shining lights, when justice looking down from heaven, the ecclesiastical preferments and dignities that they deserved fell to their portion. And thus it happened, as was only right, that in attending to their own cures they were obliged to absent themselves from attendance upon us.

We will add yet another very convenient way by which a great multitude of books old as well as new came into our hands. For we never regarded with disdain or disgust the poverty of the mendicant orders, adopted for the sake of Christ; but in all parts of the world took them into the kindly arms of our compassion, allured them by the most friendly familiarity into devotion to ourselves, and having so allured them cherished them with munificent liberality of beneficence for the sake of God, becoming benefactors of all of them in general in such wise that we seemed none the less to have adopted certain individuals with a special fatherly affection. To these men we were as a refuge in every case of need, and never refused to them the shelter of our favour, wherefore we deserved to find them most special furtherers of our wishes and promoters thereof in act and deed, who compassing land and sea, traversing the circuit of the world, and ransacking the universities and high schools of various provinces, were zealous in combatting for our desires, in the sure and certain hope of reward. What leveret could escape amidst so many keen-sighted hunters? What little fish could evade in turn their hooks and nets and snares? From the body of the Sacred Law down to the booklet containing the fallacies of yesterday, nothing could escape these searchers. Was some devout discourse uttered at the fountain-head of Christian faith, the holy Roman Curia, or was some strange question ventilated with novel arguments; did the solidity of Paris, which is now more zealous in the study of antiquity than in the subtle investigation of truth, did English subtlety, which illumined by the lights of former times is always sending forth fresh rays of truth, produce anything to the advancement of science or the declaration of the faith, this was instantly poured still fresh into our ears, ungarbled by any babbler, unmutilated by any trifler, but passing straight from the purest of wine-presses into the vats of our memory to be clarified.

But whenever it happened that we turned aside to the cities and places where the mendicants we have mentioned had their convents, we did not disdain to visit their libraries and any other repositories of books; nay, there we found heaped up amid the utmost poverty the utmost riches of wisdom. We discovered in their fardels and baskets not only crumbs falling from the masters' table for the dogs, but the shewbread without leaven and the bread of angels having in it all that is delicious; and indeed the garners of Joseph full of corn, and all the spoil of the Egyptians, and the very precious gifts which Queen Sheba brought to Solomon.

These men are as ants ever preparing their meat in the summer, and ingenious bees continually fabricating cells of honey. They are successors of Bezaleel in devising all manner of workmanship in silver and gold and precious stones for decorating the temple of the Church. They are cunning embroiderers, who fashion the breastplate and ephod of the high priest and all the various vestments of the priests. They fashion the curtains of linen and hair and coverings of ram's skins dyed red with which to adorn the tabernacle of the Church militant. They are husbandmen that sow, oxen treading out corn, sounding trumpets, shining Pleiades and stars remaining in their courses, which cease not to fight against Sisera. And to pay due regard to truth, without prejudice to the judgment of any, although they lately at the eleventh hour have entered the lord's vineyard, as the books that are so fond of us eagerly declared in our sixth chapter, they have added more in this brief hour to the stock of the sacred books than all the other vine-dressers; following in the footsteps of Paul, the last to be called but the first in preaching, who spread the gospel of Christ more widely than all others. Of these men, when we were raised to the episcopate we had several of both orders, viz., the Preachers and Minors, as personal attendants and companions at our board, men distinguished no less in letters than in morals, who devoted themselves with unwearied zeal to the correction, exposition, tabulation, and compilation of various volumes. But although we have acquired a very numerous store of ancient as well as modern works by the manifold intermediation of the religious, yet we must laud the Preachers with special praise, in that we have found them above all the religious most freely communicative of their stores without jealousy, and proved them to be imbued with an almost Divine liberality, not greedy but fitting possessors of luminous wisdom.

Besides all the opportunities mentioned above, we secured the acquaintance of stationers and booksellers, not only within our own country, but of those spread over the realms of France, Germany, and Italy, money flying forth in abundance to anticipate their demands; nor were they hindered by any distance or by the fury of the seas, or by the lack of means for their expenses, from sending or bringing to us the books that we required. For they well knew that their expectations of our bounty would not be defrauded, but that ample repayment with usury was to be found with us.

Nor, finally, did our good fellowship, which aimed to captivate the affection of all, overlook the rectors of schools and the instructors of rude boys. But rather, when we had an opportunity, we entered their little plots and gardens and gathered sweet-smelling flowers from the surface and dug up their roots, obsolete indeed, but still useful to the student, which might, when their rank barbarism was digested heal the pectoral arteries with the gift of eloquence. Amongst the mass of these things we found some greatly meriting to be restored, which when skilfully cleansed and freed from the disfiguring rust of age, deserved to be renovated into comeliness of aspect. And applying in full measure the necessary means, as a type of the resurrection to come, we resuscitated them and restored them again to new life and health.

Moreover, we had always in our different manors no small multitude of copyists and scribes, of binders, correctors, illuminators, and generally of all who could usefully labour in the service of books. Finally, all of both sexes and of every rank or position who had any kind of association with books, could most easily open by their knocking the door of our heart, and find a fit resting-place in our affection and favour. In so much did we receive those who brought books, that the multitude of those who had preceded them did not lessen the welcome of the after-comers, nor were the favours we had awarded yesterday prejudicial to those of to-day. Wherefore, ever using all the persons we have named as a kind of magnets to attract books, we had the desired accession of the vessels of science and a multitudinous flight of the finest volumes.

And this is what we undertook to narrate in the present chapter.



Although the novelties of the moderns were never disagreeable to our desires, who have always cherished with grateful affection those who devote themselves to study and who add anything either ingenious or useful to the opinions of our forefathers, yet we have always desired with more undoubting avidity to investigate the well-tested labours of the ancients. For whether they had by nature a greater vigour of mental sagacity, or whether they perhaps indulged in closer application to study, or whether they were assisted in their progress by both these things, one thing we are perfectly clear about, that their successors are barely capable of discussing the discoveries of their forerunners, and of acquiring those things as pupils which the ancients dug out by difficult efforts of discovery. For as we read that the men of old were of a more excellent degree of bodily development than modern times are found to produce, it is by no means absurd to suppose that most of the ancients were distinguished by brighter faculties, seeing that in the labours they accomplished of both kinds they are inimitable by posterity. And so Phocas writes in the prologue to his Grammar:

Since all things have been said by men of sense The only novelty is—to condense.

But in truth, if we speak of fervour of learning and diligence in study, they gave up all their lives to philosophy; while nowadays our contemporaries carelessly spend a few years of hot youth, alternating with the excesses of vice, and when the passions have been calmed, and they have attained the capacity of discerning truth so difficult to discover, they soon become involved in worldly affairs and retire, bidding farewell to the schools of philosophy. They offer the fuming must of their youthful intellect to the difficulties of philosophy, and bestow the clearer wine upon the money-making business of life. Further, as Ovid in the first book of the De Vetula justly complains:

The hearts of all men after gold aspire; Few study to be wise, more to acquire: Thus, Science! all thy virgin charms are sold, Whose chaste embraces should disdain their gold, Who seek not thee thyself, but pelf through thee, Longing for riches, not philosophy.

And further on:

Thus Philosophy is seen Exiled, and Philopecuny is queen,

which is known to be the most violent poison of learning.

How the ancients indeed regarded life as the only limit of study, is shown by Valerius, in his book addressed to Tiberius, by many examples. Carneades, he says, was a laborious and lifelong soldier of wisdom: after he had lived ninety years, the same day put an end to his life and his philosophizing. Isocrates in his ninety-fourth year wrote a most noble work. Sophocles did the same when nearly a hundred years old. Simonides wrote poems in his eightieth year. Aulus Gellius did not desire to live longer than he should be able to write, as he says himself in the prologue to the Noctes Atticae.

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