Philobiblion, by Richard de Bury

Chapter II

The Degree of Affection that is Properly Due to Books

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.

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