A System of Reading: Vergerio vs. Johnson

Vergerio,de ingenuis moribus et liberalibus adulescentiae studiis, LI:

“To the excessive desire of knowing and learning, there is often joined a disordered curiosity of looking into things. For, when people wish to know many things from individual studies, they look into multiple branches of learning at one time, and are carried away here and there; alternatively, they embrace one study with all of their strength, and then set it aside to look a little into another study, and then another. This approach is not just unproductive, but positively destructive. For, as in reality, so in the proverb: wine which is too often rebottled becomes sour.

Therefore, it is proper to stick to one subject and pursue it eagerly, and to try to receive the subjects in that order in which they were transmitted by their author. There are those who read books without any order by now starting at the end, now reading a bit in the middle, and later receiving what should have come first; these people accomplish nothing but making it appear that they have neglected everything.* It is best that we should turn over very many books of the same discipline, so that we might always have the best ones foremost.”

Huic autem nimiae sciendi discendique cupiditati coniuncta solet esse inordinata quaedam curiositas investigandi. Cum enim multa de singulis asciscere student, variis uno tempore disciplinis incumbunt, et nunc illac, nunc hac referuntur, aut nunc quidem unam viribus totis amplectuntur, inde vero ad modicum illa reiecta aliam atque aliam. Quae res non modo prorsus inutilis est, sed vehementer etiam damnosa. Nam ut in re est et proverbio dicitur: acescunt vina quae saepius transvasantur. Itaque immorari uni rei decet et eam omni studio prosequi, disciplinasque eo ordine capere tentare, quo sunt a suis auctoribus traditae. Nam qui libros inordinate legunt, nunc a fine facientes initium, nunc media interlegentes, et quod primum esse debuerat, postremum accipiunt, hi autem temere nihil aliud proficiunt quam ut omnia neglexisse videantur. De libris autem qui sunt eiusdem disciplinae, ita quidem permultos versari convenit, ut meliores semper praecipuos habeamus.

*This approach is markedly different from that advocated by Samuel Johnson in Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 

“He said, that for general improvement, a man should read whatever his immediate inclination prompts him to; though, to be sure, if a man has a science to learn, he must regularly and resolutely advance. He added, ‘what we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression. If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read.’ He told us, he read Fielding’s Amelia through without stopping. He said, ‘if a man begins to read in the middle of a book, and feels an inclination to go on, let him not quit it, to go to the beginning. He may perhaps not feel again the inclination.'”

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