At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Saturday, June 05, 2004


Anatomy of Melancholy is long-winded. On any given topic Burton culls dozens and dozens of quotes from Biblical, Classical, Medieval and Renaissance authors. Still, there's some good stuff in there. I thought the librarians out there would appreciate this passage:

King James, 1605, when he came to see our University of Oxford,
and amongst other edifices now went to view that famous library, renewed by Sir Thomas
Bodley, in imitation of Alexander, at his departure brake out into that
noble speech, If I were not a king, I would be a university man:
"and if it were so that I must be a prisoner, if I might have my wish, I
would desire to have no other prison than that library, and to be chained
together with so many good authors _et mortuis magistris_." So sweet is the
delight of study, the more learning they have (as he that hath a dropsy,
the more he drinks the thirstier he is) the more they covet to learn, and
the last day is _prioris discipulus_; harsh at first learning is, _radices
amarcae_, but _fractus dulces_, according to that of Isocrates, pleasant at
last; the longer they live, the more they are enamoured with the Muses.
Heinsius, the keeper of the library at Leyden in Holland, was mewed up in
it all the year long: and that which to thy thinking should have bred a
loathing, caused in him a greater liking. "I no sooner" (saith he)
"come into the library, but I bolt the door to me, excluding lust,
ambition, avarice, and all such vices, whose nurse is idleness, the mother
of ignorance, and melancholy herself, and in the very lap of eternity,
amongst so many divine souls, I take my seat, with so lofty a spirit and
sweet content, that I pity all our great ones, and rich men that know not
this happiness." I am not ignorant in the meantime (notwithstanding this
which I have said) how barbarously and basely, for the most part, our ruder
gentry esteem of libraries and books, how they neglect and contemn so great
a treasure, so inestimable a benefit, as Aesop's cock did the jewel he
found in the dunghill; and all through error, ignorance, and want of
education. And 'tis a wonder, withal, to observe how much they will vainly
cast away in unnecessary expenses, _quot modis pereant_ (saith
Erasmus) _magnatibus pecuniae, quantum absumant alea, scorta,
compotationes, profectiones non necessariae, pompae, bella quaesita,
ambitio, colax, morio, ludio_, &c., what in hawks, hounds, lawsuits, vain
building, gormandising, drinking, sports, plays, pastimes, &c. If a
well-minded man to the Muses, would sue to some of them for an exhibition,
to the farther maintenance or enlargement of such a work, be it college,
lecture, library, or whatsoever else may tend to the advancement of
learning, they are so unwilling, so averse, that they had rather see these
which are already, with such cost and care erected, utterly ruined,
demolished or otherwise employed; for they repine many and grudge at such
gifts and revenues so bestowed: and therefore it were in vain, as Erasmus
well notes, _vel ab his, vel a negotiatoribus qui se Mammonae dediderunt,
improbum fortasse tale officium exigere_, to solicit or ask anything of
such men that are likely damned to riches; to this purpose. For my part I
pity these men, _stultos jubeo esse libenter_, let them go as they are, in
the catalogue of Ignoramus. How much, on the other side, are all we bound
that are scholars, to those munificent Ptolemies, bountiful Maecenases,
heroical patrons, divine spirits,

------"qui nobis haec otio fecerunt, namque erit ille mihi semper

"These blessings, friend, a Deity bestow'd,
For never can I deem him less than God."

that have provided for us so many well-furnished libraries, as well in our
public academies in most cities, as in our private colleges? How shall I
remember Sir Thomas Bodley, amongst the rest, Otho Nicholson,
and the Right Reverend John Williams, Lord Bishop of Lincoln (with many
other pious acts), who besides that at St. John's College in Cambridge,
that in Westminster, is now likewise in _Fieri_ with a library at Lincoln
(a noble precedent for all corporate towns and cities to imitate), _O quam
te memorem (vir illustrissime) quibus elogiis_?

Seems that library funding was a problem 400 years ago too.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I thought I had a tendency to ramble.


2:28 PM  

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