Groaning Under the Load of Scholarship

Mark Pattison, Isaac Casaubon:

“The renaissance, the spring-tide of modern life, with its genial freshness, is far behind us. The creative period is past, the accumulative is set in. Genius can now do nothing, the day is to dull industry. The prophet is departed, and in his place we have the priest of the book. Casaubon knows so much of ancient lore, that not only his faculties, but his spirits are oppressed by the knowledge. He can neither create nor enjoy; he groans under his load. The scholar of 1500 gambols in the free air of classical poetry, as in an atmosphere of joy. The scholar of 1600 has a century of compilation behind him, and ‘drags at each remove a lengthening chain.’ If anyone thinks that to write and read books is a life of idleness, let him look at Casaubon’s diary. Pope, during his engagement on Homer, used to be haunted by it in his dreams, and ‘wished to be hanged a hundred times.’ Vergil, having undertaken the Aeneid, said of himself that ‘he thought he must have been out of his senses when he did so.’ But of the blood and sweat, the groans and sighs, which enter into the composition of a folio volume of learned research, no more faithful record has ever been written than Casaubon’s ‘Ephemerides.’ Throughout its entire progress, the ‘ Animadversiones’ on Athenaeus was an ungrateful and irksome task, ‘catenati in ergastulo labores [the chained-up labors in the little workshop].‘ He can hardly open Athenaeus without disgust, and he prays God, day by day, that he may get away from such trifles to better reading.”

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