The Tedium of a Scholastic Preface

It is a general maxim of expository or persuasive writing that one should first summarize what the reader can expect, but Hugo of St. Victor took this to an extreme:

Hugo of St. Victor, Didascalion (Preface)

“There are above all two things by which everyone may be brought to knowledge; these are reading and contemplation. Of these, reading obtains the first spot in learning, and this book deals with it by giving instruction on the art of reading. There are, however, three things which are of the highest important to reading: first, one should know what he ought to read; second, in what order he ought to read it; and third, how he ought to approach his reading. All three of these subjects are dealt with in this book. This book provides for the reader of either secular or divine texts, so it is divided into two parts, each of which has three distinctions: in the first part, it teachers the reader of the arts, and in the second, the divine reader, but it teaches them in this way, first by showing what is to be read, and then in what order and in what way. In order that it may be known what should be read (or what should be read above all), in the first part you will find enumerated first the origin of all arts, then the description and partition of them – that is, how each one of them contains another or is itself contained by another cutting through philosophy from the top all the way down to the bottom parts. The book then lists the authors of the arts and afterward shows what, most of all, one should read from these arts. It then makes clear in what order and how they should be read. Finally, it prescribes to the reader a mode of life, and thus the first part is brought to an end. In the second part, the book marks out what writings should be considered divine, then the number and order of divine books, along with their authors and interpretations of their names. Later, it goes on about certain special features of divine scripture which are particularly necessary. Then it teaches how one should properly read sacred scripture if one wishes to find in it a correction of his own habits and an overall mode of life. Finally, it will teach the one who reads for the love of wisdom, and thus the second part will come to an end.”

[741A] Duae praecipue res sunt quibus quisque ad scientiam instruitur, videlicet lectio et meditatio, e quibus lectio priorem in doctrina obtinet locum, et de hac tractat liber iste dando praecepta legendi. tria autem sunt praecepta magis lectioni necessaria: primum, ut sciat quisque quid legere debeat, secundum, quo ordine legere debeat, id est, quid prius, quid postea, tertium, quomodo legere debeat. de his tribus per singula agitur in hoc libro. instruit autem tam saecularium quam divinarum scripturarum lectorem. unde et in duas partes dividitur, quarum unaquaeque tres habet distinctiones. [741B] in prima parte docet lectorem artium, in secunda parte divinum lectorem. docet autem hoc modo, ostendendo primum quid legendum sit, deinde quo ordine et quomodo legendum sit. ut autem sciri possit quid legendum sit aut quid praecipue legendum sit, in prima parte primum numerat originem omnium artium deinde descriptionem et partitionem earum, id est, quomodo unaquaeque contineat aliam, vel contineatur ab alia, secans philosophiam a summo usque ad ultima membra. deinde enumerat auctores artium et postea ostendit quae ex his videlicet artibus praecipue legendae sint. deinde etiam quo ordine et quomodo legendae sint, aperit. postremo legentibus vitae suae disciplinam praescribit, et sic finitur prima pars. [741C] in secunda parte determinat quae scripturae divinae appellandae sint, deinde numerum et ordinem divinorum librorum et auctores eorum et interpretationes nominum. postea agit de quibusdam proprietatibus divinae scripturae quae magis sunt necessariae. deinde docet qualiter legere debeat sacram scripturam is qui in ea correctionem morum suorum et formam vivendi quaerit. ad ultimum docet illum qui propter amorem scientiae eam legit, et sic secunda quoque pars finem accipit.

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