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 Prologue to the Philobiblon


 To all the faithful of Christ to whom the tenor of these presents may come, Richard de Bury, by the divine mercy Bishop of Durham, wisheth everlasting salvation in the Lord and to present continually a pious memorial of himself before God, alike in his lifetime and after his death.

What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards me? asks the most devout Psalmist, an invincible King and first among the prophets; in which most grateful question he approves himself a willing thank-offerer, a multifarious debtor, and one who wishes for a holier counselor than himself: agreeing with Aristotle, the chief of philosophers, who shows (in the 3rd and 6th books of his Ethics) that all action depends upon counsel.

And indeed if so wonderful a prophet, having a fore-knowledge of divine secrets, wished so anxiously to consider how he might gratefully repay the blessings graciously bestowed, what can we fitly do, who are but rude thanksgivers and most greedy receivers, laden with infinite divine benefits?  Assuredly we ought with anxious deliberation and abundant consideration, having first invoked the Sevenfold Spirit, that it may burn in our musings as an illuminating fire, fervently to prepare a way without hindrance, that the bestower of all things may be cheerfully worshipped in return for the gifts that He has bestowed, that our neighbor may be relieved of his burden, and that the guilt contracted by sinners every day may be redeemed by the atonement of almsgiving.

Forewarned therefore through the admonition of the Psalmist’s devotion by Him who alone prevents and perfects the goodwill of man, without Whom we have no power even so much as to think, and Whose gift we doubt not it is, if we have done anything good, we have diligently inquired and considered in our own heart as well as with others, what among the good offices of various works of piety would most please the Almighty, and would be more beneficial to the Church Militant.  And lo! there soon occurred to our contemplation a host of unhappy, nay, rather of elect scholars, in whom God the Creator and Nature His handmaid planted the roots of excellent morals and of famous sciences, but whom the poverty of their circumstances so oppressed that before the frown of adverse fortune the seeds of excellence, so fruitful in the cultivated field of youth, not being watered by the rain that they require, are forced to wither away. Thus it happens that “bright virtue lurks buried in obscurity,” to use the words of Boethius, and burning lights are not put under a bushel, but for want of oil are utterly extinguished.  Thus the field, so full of flower in Spring, has withered up before harvest time; thus wheat degenerates to tares, and vines into the wild vines, and thus olives run into the wild olive; the tender stems rot away altogether, and those who might have grown up into strong pillars of the Church, being endowed with the capacity of a subtle intellect, abandon the schools of learning.  With poverty only as their stepmother, they are repelled violently from the nectared cup of philosophy as soon as they have tasted of it and have become more fiercely thirsty by the very taste.  Though fit for the liberal arts and disposed to study the sacred writings alone, being deprived of the aid of their friends, by a kind of apostasy they return to the mechanical arts solely to gain a livelihood, to the loss of the Church and the degradation of the whole clergy.  Thus Mother Church conceiving sons is compelled to miscarry, nay, some misshapen monster is born untimely from her womb, and for lack of that little with which Nature is contented, she loses excellent pupils, who might afterwards become champions and athletes of the faith.  Alas, how suddenly the woof is cut, while the hand of the weaver is beginning his work! Alas, how the sun is eclipsed in the brightness of the dawn, and the planet in its course is hurled backwards, and, while it bears the nature and likeness of a star suddenly drops and becomes a meteor! What more piteous sight can the pious man behold? What can more sharply stir the bowels of his pity? What can more easily melt a heart hard as an anvil into hot tears? On the other hand, let us recall from past experience how much it has profited the whole Christian commonwealth, not indeed to enervate students with the delights of a Sardanapalus or the riches of a Croesus, but rather to support them in their poverty with the frugal means that become the scholar.  How many have we seen with our eyes, how many have we read of in books, who, distinguished by no pride of birth, and rejoicing in no rich inheritance, but supported only by the piety of the good, have made their way to apostolic chairs, have most worthily presided over faithful subjects, have bent the necks of the proud and lofty to the ecclesiastical yoke and have extended further the liberties of the Church!

Accordingly, having taken a survey of human necessities in every direction, with a view to bestow our charity upon them, our compassionate inclinations have chosen to bear pious aid to this calamitous class of men, in whom there is nevertheless such hope of advantage to the Church, and to provide for them, not only in respect of things necessary to their support, but much more in respect of the books so useful to their studies.  To this end, most acceptable in the sight of God, our attention has long been unweariedly devoted.  This ecstatic love has carried us away so powerfully, that we have resigned all thoughts of other earthly things, and have given ourselves up to a passion for acquiring books.  That our intent and purpose, therefore, may be known to posterity as well as to our contemporaries, and that we may for ever stop the perverse tongues of gossipers as far as we are concerned, we have published a little treatise written in the lightest style of the moderns; for it is ridiculous to find a slight matter treated of in a pompous style.  And this treatise (divided into twenty chapters) will clear the love we have had for books from the charge of excess, will expound the purpose of our intense devotion, and will narrate more clearly than light all the circumstances of our undertaking.  And because it principally treats of the love of books, we have chosen, after the fashion of the ancient Romans, fondly to name it by a Greek word, Philobiblon.









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