Don’t Read the Books!

Mark Pattison, Isaac Casaubon (Sect. IV):

“While Scaliger imposed upon himself the task of writing out whole books – ‘books which are only lent me for a short time, syriac, arabic, hebrew,’ and that at 65, then the ‘labour will profit only those who shall possess my library after me,’ Casaubon, though he noted much, copied little. The longest excerpt remaining among his papers is a portion of Leo’s Tactica, transcribed in the country in the vintage season of 1609. The use he made of the library was one, which no librarian ought to make – it was to read the books. Casaubon, indeed, was what he was by his incessant reading, seconded by a capacious memory. Early in life he had made his own all the classical remains accessible in print. He had pined in the south because he could not get books, though he borrowed from all his friends who had them. Exhaustive reading of the greek and latin writers was what he proposed to himself. When he first came to Paris, not knowing how short his stay might prove, he made the resolve to read those books which he could not hope to get elsewhere. His written memoranda as well as his published notes bear witness to the eagerness with which he devoured the royal MSS.”

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