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Those of you who like books will find these observations and complaints very familiar. There aren’t enough differences between then and now for there not to be, since we still read text in books, even if it is produced differently on paper by a machine. These are taken from the book “Introduction to Manuscript Studies” by Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham. On page 23 we have a comment written by the scribe Florentius of Valeranica in a 10th century Spanish copy of the Moralia in Job of Gregory the Great: “The labor of the scribe is the refreshment of the reader: the former weakens the body, the latter profits the mind. Whoever you may be, therefore, who profit by this work, do not forget the laboring one who made it, so that God, thus invoked, will overlook your sins. Amen. Because one who does not know how to write thinks it no labor, I will describe it for you, if you want to know how great is the burden of writing: it mists the yes, it curves the back, it breaks the belly and the ribs, it fills the kidneys with pain, and the body with all kinds of suffering. Therefore, turn the pages slowly, reader, and keep your fingers well away from the pages, for just as a hailstorm ruins the fecundity of the soil, so the sloppy reader destroys both the book and the writing. For as the last port is sweet to the sailor, so the last line to the scribe. Explicit, thanks be to God.” We still have back and belly problems today, since the postures for reading and writing are not so different to those adopted to deal with computer keyboards and monitors. Not to forget repetitive strain injury from mouse and keyboard use. Next, instructions from Humber of Romans, former master general of the Dominican Order, about book storage (page 58): “Moreover, the cupboard in which the books are stored should be made of wood, so that they may be better preserved from decay or excessive dampness; and it should have many shelves and section sin which books and works are kept according to the branches of study; that is to say, different books and postils and treatises and the like which belong to the same subject should be kept separately and not intermingled, by means of signs made in writing which aught to be affixed to each section, so that one will know where to find what one seeks.” Some very sensible recommendations. I shall do a post in the future on book storage in the medieval and post-medieval periods. From page 63, written perhaps in 1354 by Petrarch, writing to the Dominican friar Giovanni dell’Incisa: ”I am still in the thrall of one insatiable desire, which hitherto I have been neither able nor willing to check. … I cannot get enough books. It may be that I have already more than I need, but it is with books as it is with other things: success in acquisitions spurs the desire to get still more. … Books delight us through and through, they talk with us, they give us good counsel, they enter into a living and intimate companionship with us…. Now do you, as you hold me dear, commission trustworthy and competent men to go through Tuscany for me, examining the book-chests of the religious and of other studious men, searching for things that might serve to alleviate or to increase my thirst. And although you know in what streams I fish and in what woods I hunt, nevertheless, to avoid error I enclose a list of the things I chiefly desire; and that you may be the more eager, let me tell you that I am sending similar requests to friends in Britain, France and Spain. So then, in order that none may surpass you in faithfulness and diligence, do you your best – and farewell.” All I can say is, I agree, more books is good. They are a lot easier to find now, though, with the internet, lists of shops and the telephone. It is a nice little window into the world of the bibliophile looking for new books. I personally prefer doing book hunting myself, rather than letting someone else do it. Petrarch was rather privileged even for his day, being able to ask that other people do some of it for him, but then such bibliophilia was very much a minority pursuit carried out by learned people. Although merchants had to read and write, all too many of the aristocracy disdained it, they had a man to do it for them. Finally, a slightly over the top comment which will be familiar to every librarian and bookshop owner out there. From the 14th century bibliophile Richard de Bury on page 95: “You may happen to see some headstrong youth lazily lounging over his studies, and when the winter’s frost is sharp, his nose running from the nipping cold drips down, nor does he think of wiping it with his pocket-handkerchief {really? I think there’s been a mistake in translation here, I don’t think they called them pocket handkerchiefs then} until he has bedewed the book before him with the ugly moisture. Would that he had before him no book, but a cobbler’s apron! His nails are stuffed with fetid filth as black as jet, with which he marks any passage that pleases him. He distributes a multitude of straws, which he inserts to stick out in different places, so that the mark may remind him of what his memory cannot retain. These straws, because the book has no stomach to digest them, and no one takes them out, first distend the book from its wonted closing, and at length, being carelessly abandoned to oblivion, go to decay. He does not fear to eat fruit or cheese over an open book, or carelessly to carry a cup to and from his mouth; and because he has no bag at hand he drops into books the fragments that are left. Continually chattering, he is never weary of disputing with this companions, and while he alleges a crowd of senseless arguments, he wets the book lying half open in this lap with sputtering showers. Aye, and then hastily folding his arms he leans forward on the book, and by a brief spell of study invites a prolonged nap; and then, by way of mending the wrinkles, he folds back the margin of the leaves, to the no small injury of the book.” We still have such problems today, although I have to say that most of the library books I have read aren’t so badly damaged, either because the staff note it and take it out of circulation, or because even today most people don’t like to mess books up.

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