The Burden of Commentaries

Hastings Rashdall, The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages (p.257)

“The mere mass of matter accumulated by his predecessors must have weighed upon the unfortunate Professor of a later age, crushed his originality, and narrowed the sphere  within which originality could be exercised. The truth is that the exigencies of Academic lecturing upon text-books tend of themselves to produce a vast quantity of unnecessary commentation. Where much has been well said, it is hard to say anything fresh that is both original and important: comments must perforce be either unoriginal or superfluous. No doubt comments, analyses, paraphrases, illustrations, applications, which are of no permanent value, may be useful simply as a means of impressing the substance of an author upon the mind of pupils. Lectures of this character are not commonly, in modem times, given to the world. In the Middle Ages, however, when it was possible to produce a dozen copies of a book at the same proportionate cost as to produce a hundred or a thousand, the temptation to the publication of lectures was greater. To this cause we may perhaps owe the publication of large quantities of matter contrasting unfavourably with the terseness, the freshness, the good Latinity, the close contact with the original texts which impress the modem student of the older medieval Jurists.”

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