Knowledge and Literary Skill: Keep Reading!

Below, Leonaro Bruni gives some fine advice about completing (or rather, continuing) a literary education. He is a far finer preceptor than I am. When my students ask me how to study Latin, I tell them that there is an ancient maxim which goes,

If in letters thou wouldst succeed,
then read read read ’til the eyeballs bleed.

Leonardo Brunide studiis et litteris 29-30:

“What good is it to know many fine things, unless you can speak about them with dignity and put them into writing without looking foolish? And so, in a certain way, literary ability and knowledge of things are conjoined. These two things carried the ancients, whose memory we admire, to glory and a celebrated name: Plato, Democritus, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Varro, Cicero, Seneca, Augustine, Jerome, Lactantius –it is hard to tell whether these men excelled more in knowledge or literary ability.

In conclusion: I contend that the intellect, which promises to me the highest hopes, should be instructed for these two things (knowledge and literary skill), and for the sake of attaining them, many and various things should be read and piled up in the mind. One should however take account of his time, so that he can always spend more of it upon more profitable and useful things, and avoid being occupied by excessively obscure or useless things. The chief studies seem to me to be religion and the art of living well, while all other things seem to be ancillary contributors to those pursuits, and serve as aids or illustrations to them. For that reason, we should stick to poets, orators, and other writers; but one should be careful in these literary affairs that the instruction be noble and the observation ought to be unfailing, and we ought never to read anything but the best and most well-approved books.”

Franz Dvorak, ‘Thoughtful Reader’

Quid enim prodest multa et pulchra scire, si neque loqui de his cum dignitate neque mandare litteris nisi ridicule possis? Atque ita coniugata quodammodo sunt peritia litterarum et scientia rerum. Haec duo simul coniuncta veteres illos, quorum memoriam veneramur, ad celebritatem nominis gloriamque provexere: Platonem, Democritum, Aristotelem, Theophrastum, Varronem, Ciceronem, Senecam, Augustinum, Hieronymum, Lactantium, in quibus omnibus discerni vix potest, maiorne scientia rerum an peritia fuerit litterarum.

Ut autem ad extremum concludam: ingenium, quod summa omnia de se mihi repromittat, his duobus structum esse oportere affirmo, horumque comparandorum gratia undique legenda multa et coacervanda esse; habendum tamen rationem temporis, ut potioribus semper utilioribusque incumbat, nec aut nimium obscuris aut parum profuturis occupetur; religionis et bene vivendi studia mihi praecipua videri, cetera vero omnia tamquam adminicula quaedam ad ista referri, quae possint vel adiuvare vel illustrare, eaque de causa poetis et oratoribus et scriptoribus aliis inhaerendum; in litteris autem providendum, ut et praeceptio adsit ingenua et pervigil solertia, nec umquam nisi optima probatissimaque legamus.

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