Books All Day and Night

Mark Pattison, Isaac Casaubon (Sect. X)

“It is well that we should be alive to the price at which knowledge must be purchased. Day by day, night by night, from the age of twenty upwards, Casaubon is at his books. He realised Boeckh’s ideal, who has told us that in classical learning ‘dies diem docet, ut perdideris quam sine linea transmiseris.’ When he is not at his books, his mind is in them. Reading is not an amusement filling the languid pauses between the hours of action ; it is the one pursuit engrossing all the hours and the whole mind. ‘ The day, with part of the night added, is not long enough.

His life, regarded from the exterior, seems adapted to deter, rather than to invite imitation. A life of hardship, in circumstances humble, almost sordid, short of want, but pinched by poverty; Casaubon renounced action, pleasure, ease, society, health, life itself— killing himself at fifty-six. Shall we say that he did this for the sake of fame ? Fame there was, but it reached him in but faint echoes. Even what there was, was all dashed by the loud slander of the dominant ecclesiastical party, and the whispered suspicion of the vanquished. At best, the limits of such fame must always be circumscribed. To the great, the fashionable, the gay, and the busy, the grammarian is a poor pedant, and no famous man. The approbation of our fellows may be a powerful motive of conduct. It is powerful to generate devotion to their service. It is not powerful enough to sustain a life of research. No other extrinsic motive is so. The one only motive which can support the daily energy called for in the solitary student’s life, is the desire to know. Every intelligence, as such, contains a germ of curiosity. In some few this appetence is developed into a yearning, an eagerness, a passion, an exigency, an ‘inquietude poussante,’ to use an expression of Leibnitz, which dominates all others, and becomes the rule of life.”

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