Philobiblion, by Richard de Bury

Chapter XVIII

Showeth that We have Collected So Great Store of Books for the Common Benefit of Scholars and Not Only for Our Own Pleasure

Nothing in human affairs is more unjust than that those things which are most righteously done, should be perverted by the slanders of malicious men, and that one should bear the reproach of sin where he has rather deserved the hope of honour. Many things are done with singleness of eye, the right hand knoweth not what the left hand doth, the lump is uncorrupted by leaven, nor is the garment woven of wool and linen; and yet by the trickery of perverse men a pious work is mendaciously transformed into some monstrous act. Certes, such is the unhappy condition of sinful nature, that not merely in acts that are morally doubtful it adopts the worse conclusion; but often it depraves by iniquitous subversion those which have the appearance of rectitude.

For although the love of books from the nature of its object bears the aspect of goodness, yet, wonderful to say, it has rendered us obnoxious to the censures of many, by whose astonishment we were disparaged and censured, now for excess of curiosity, now for the exhibition of vanity, now for intemperance of delight in literature; though indeed we were no more disturbed by their vituperation than by the barking of so many dogs, satisfied with the testimony of Him to whom it appertaineth to try the hearts and reins. For as the aim and purpose of our inmost will is inscrutable to men and is seen of God alone, the searcher of hearts, they deserve to be rebuked for their pernicious temerity, who so eagerly set a mark of condemnation upon human acts, the ultimate springs of which they cannot see. For the final end in matters of conduct holds the same position as first principles in speculative science or axioms in mathematics, as the chief of philosophers, Aristotle, points out in the seventh book of the Ethics. And therefore, just as the truth of our conclusions depends upon the correctness of our premises, so in matters of action the stamp of moral rectitude is given by the honesty of aim and purpose, in cases where the act itself would otherwise be held to be morally indifferent.

Now we have long cherished in our heart of hearts the fixed resolve, when Providence should grant a favourable opportunity, to found in perpetual charity a Hall in the reverend university of Oxford, the chief nursing mother of all liberal arts, and to endow it with the necessary revenues, for the maintenance of a number of scholars; and moreover to enrich the Hall with the treasures of our books, that all and every of them should be in common as regards their use and study, not only to the scholars of the said Hall, but by their means to all the students of the before-named university for ever, in the form and manner which the following chapter shall declare. Wherefore the sincere love of study and zeal for the strengthening of the orthodox faith to the edifying of the Church, have begotten in us that solicitude so marvellous to the lovers of pelf, of collecting books wherever they were to be purchased, regardless of expense, and of having those that could not he bought fairly transcribed.

For as the favourite occupations of men are variously distinguished according to the disposition of the heavenly bodies, which frequently control our natural composition, so that some men choose to devote themselves to architecture, others to agriculture, others to hunting, others to navigation, others to war, others to games, we have under the aspect of Mercury entertained a blameless pleasure in books, which under the rule of right reason, over which no stars are dominant, we have ordered to the glory of the Supreme Being, that where our minds found tranquillity and peace, thence also might spring a most devout service of God. And therefore let our detractors cease, who are as blind men judging of colours; let not bats venture to speak of light; and let not those who carry beams in their own eyes presume to pull the mote out of their brother’s eye. Let them cease to jeer with satirical taunts at things of which they are ignorant, and to discuss hidden things that are not revealed to the eyes of men; who perchance would have praised and commended us, if we had spent our time in hunting, dice-playing, or courting the smiles of ladies.

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