“They Write the Books Which People Read While Shitting”

From Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy:

‘Tis most true, tenet insanabile multos scribendi cacoethes, and there is no end of writing of books, as the wiseman found of old, in this scribbling age, especially wherein the number of books is without number, (as a worthy man saith,) presses be oppressed, and out of an itching humour that every man hath to show himself, desirous of fame and honour (scribimus indocti doctique——) he will write no matter what, and scrape together it boots not whence. Bewitched with this desire of fame, etiam mediis in morbis, to the disparagement of their health, and scarce able to hold a pen, they must say something, and get themselves a name, saith Scaliger, though it be to the downfall and ruin of many others. To be counted writers, scriptores ut salutentur, to be thought and held polymaths and polyhistors, apud imperitum vulgus ob ventosae nomen artis, to get a paper-kingdom: nulla spe quaestus sed ampla famae, in this precipitate, ambitious age, nunc ut est saeculum, inter immaturam eruditionem, ambitiosum et praeceps (’tis Scaliger’s censure); and they that are scarce auditors, vix auditores, must be masters and teachers, before they be capable and fit hearers. They will rush into all learning, togatam armatam, divine, human authors, rake over all indexes and pamphlets for notes, as our merchants do strange havens for traffic, write great tomes, Cum non sint re vera doctiores, sed loquaciores, whereas they are not thereby better scholars, but greater praters. They commonly pretend public good, but as Gesner observes, ’tis pride and vanity that eggs them on; no news or aught worthy of note, but the same in other terms. Ne feriarentur fortasse typographi vel ideo scribendum est aliquid ut se vixisse testentur. As apothecaries we make new mixtures everyday, pour out of one vessel into another; and as those old Romans robbed all the cities of the world, to set out their bad-sited Rome, we skim off the cream of other men’s wits, pick the choice flowers of their tilled gardens to set out our own sterile plots. Castrant alios ut libros suos per se graciles alieno adipe suffarciant(so Jovius inveighs.) They lard their lean books with the fat of others’ works. Ineruditi fures, &c. A fault that every writer finds, as I do now, and yet faulty themselves, Trium literarum homines, all thieves; they pilfer out of old writers to stuff up their new comments, scrape Ennius’ dunghills, and out of Democritus’ pit, as I have done. By which means it comes to pass, that not only libraries and shops are full of our putrid papers, but every close-stool and jakes, Scribunt carmina quae legunt cacantes; they serve to put under pies, to lap spice in, and keep roast meat from burning. With us in France, saith Scaliger, every man hath liberty to write, but few ability. Heretofore learning was graced by judicious scholars, but now noble sciences are vilified by base and illiterate scribblers,that either write for vainglory, need, to get money, or as Parasites to flatter and collogue with some great men, they put out burras, quisquiliasque ineptiasque. Amongst so many thousand authors you shall scarce find one, by reading of whom you shall be any whit better, but rather much worse, quibus inficitur potius, quam perficitur, by which he is rather infected than any way perfected.

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