Philobiblion, by Richard de Bury

Chapter XIV

Who Ought to Be Special Lovers of Books

To him who recollects what has been said before, it is plain and evident who ought to be the chief lovers of books. For those who have most need of wisdom in order to perform usefully the duties of their position, they are without doubt most especially bound to show more abundantly to the sacred vessels of wisdom the anxious affection of a grateful heart. Now it is the office of the wise man to order rightly both himself and others, according to the Phoebus of philosophers, Aristotle, who deceives not nor is deceived in human things. Wherefore princes and prelates, judges and doctors, and all other leaders of the commonwealth, as more than others they have need of wisdom, so more than others ought they to show zeal for the vessels of wisdom.

Boethius, indeed, beheld Philosophy bearing a sceptre in her left hand and books in her right, by which it is evidently shown to all men that no one can rightly rule a commonwealth without books. Thou, says Boethius, speaking to Philosophy, hast sanctioned this saying by the mouth of Plato, that states would be happy if they were ruled by students of philosophy, or if their rulers would study philosophy. And again, we are taught by the very gesture of the figure that in so far as the right hand is better than the left, so far the contemplative life is more worthy than the active life; and at the same time we are shown that the business of the wise man is to devote himself by turns, now to the study of truth, and now to the dispensation of temporal things.

We read that Philip thanked the Gods devoutly for having granted that Alexander should be born in the time of Aristotle, so that educated under his instruction he might be worthy to rule his father’s empire. While Phaeton unskilled in driving becomes the charioteer of his father’s car, he unhappily distributes to mankind the heat of Phoebus, now by excessive nearness, and now by withdrawing it too far, and so, lest all beneath him should be imperilled by the closeness of his driving, justly deserved to be struck by the thunderbolt.

The history of the Greeks as well as Romans shows that there were no famous princes among them who were devoid of literature. The sacred law of Moses in prescribing to the king a rule of government, enjoins him to have a copy made of the book of Divine law (Deut. xvii.) according to the copy shown by the priests, in which he was to read all the days of his life. Certes, God Himself, who hath made and who fashioneth every day the hearts of every one of us, knows the feebleness of human memory and the instability of virtuous intentions in mankind. Wherefore He has willed that books should be as it were an antidote to all evil, the reading and use of which He has commanded to be the healthful daily nourishment of the soul, so that by them the intellect being refreshed and neither weak nor doubtful should never hesitate in action. This subject is elegantly handled by John of Salisbury, in his Policraticon. In conclusion, all classes of men who are conspicuous by the tonsure or the sign of clerkship, against whom books lifted up their voices in the fourth, fifth, and sixth chapters, are bound to serve books with perpetual veneration.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31