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Ill-Treatment of Books

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You will see perchance some headstrong youth, sitting slothfully at his studies… His fingernails are filthy black as jet, and with them he marks the place where the matter takes his fancy. He distributes innumerable straws, laying them conspicuously in divers places of the book, that the wheatstalk may recall whatsoever his memory' may let slip. These straws, which are never withdrawn remain undigested in the book's belly, first distending it to bursting of its wonded clasps, and then rotting in the neglect and oblivion to which they have been left. He shrinketh not from eating fruit or cheese over his open book, nor from moving his cup carelessly over it, and, having no bag at hand, he leaves in his book the fragments that remain…. Then he leans his elbows on tlhe book and takes a long sleep in exchange for his brief study, and bends back the margins of the leaves to smooth out the wrinkles, to the no small detriment of the volume. Now the rain is over and gone, and the flowers appear on our earth, and this scholar whom we describe, this neglector rather than inspector of books, will stuff his volume with violets, primroses, roses and four-leaved clover. Then he will paw it over with hands wet with water or sweat, then with dusty gloves he will fumble over the white parchment, and hunt for his page, line by line, with a forefinger clad in this ancient leather. Then, at the prick of some biting flea, the sacred volume is cast aside, scarce to be closed again for another month, when it is so clogged and swollen with dust that it resists all efforts to close it.

But we must specially keep from all touch of our books those shameless youths who, when they have learned to shape the letters of the alphabet, straightway be come incongruous annotators ot all the fairest volumes that come in their way, and either deck with their monstrous alphabets all broader margins that they can find around the text, or rashly presume to write with unchastened pen whatsoever frivolous stuff may happen to run at that moment in their heads.

Philobiblon by Richard de Bury, tutor to Edward III, later bishop of Durham.


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