Richard de Bury.

The Love of Books The Philobiblon of Richard de Bury online

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THOMAS A KEMPIS: Doctrinale Juvenum


The Author of the Book.

Richard de Bury (1281-1345), so called from being born near Bury St.
Edmunds, was the son of Sir Richard Aungerville. He studied at Oxford;
and was subsequently chosen to be tutor to Prince Edward of Windsor,
afterwards Edward III. His loyalty to the cause of Queen Isabella and
the Prince involved him in danger. On the accession of his pupil he
was made successively Cofferer, Treasurer of the Wardrobe, Archdeacon
of Northampton, Prebendary of Lincoln, Sarum, and Lichfield, Keeper of
the Privy Purse, Ambassador on two occasions to Pope John XXII, who
appointed him a chaplain of the papal chapel, Dean of Wells, and
ultimately, at the end of the year 1333, Bishop of Durham; the King and
Queen, the King of Scots, and all the magnates north of the Trent,
together with a multitude of nobles and many others, were present at
his enthronization. It is noteworthy that during his stay at Avignon,
probably in 1330, he made the acquaintance of Petrarch, who has left us
a brief account of their intercourse. In 1332 Richard visited
Cambridge, as one of the King's commissioners, to inquire into the
state of the King's Scholars there, and perhaps then became a member of
the Gild of St. Mary - one of the two gilds which founded Corpus Christi

In 1334 he became High Chancellor of England, and Treasurer in 1336,
resigning the former office in 1335, so that he might help the King in
dealing with affairs abroad and in Scotland, and took a most
distinguished part in diplomatic negociations between England and
France. In 1339 he was again in his bishopric. Thereafter his name
occurs often among those appointed to treat of peace with Philip of
France, and with Bruce of Scotland. It appears that he was not in
Parliament in 1344. Wasted by long sickness - longa infirmitate
decoctus - on the 14th of April, 1345, Richard de Bury died at Auckland,
and was buried in Durham Cathedral.

Dominus Ricardus de Bury migravit ad Dominum.

The Bishop as Booklover.

According to the concluding note, the Philobiblon was completed on the
bishop's fifty-eighth birthday, the 24th of January, 1345, so that even
though weakened by illness, Richard must have been actively engaged in
his literary efforts to the very end of his generous and noble life.
His enthusiastic devoted biographer Chambre[1] gives a vivid account of
the bishop's bookloving propensities, supplementary to what can be
gathered from the Philobiblon itself. Iste summe delectabatur in
multitudine librorum; he had more books, as was commonly reported, than
all the other English bishops put together. He had a separate library
in each of his residences, and wherever he was residing, so many books
lay about his bed-chamber, that it was hardly possible to stand or move
without treading upon them. All the time he could spare from business
was devoted either to religious offices or to his books. Every day
while at table he would have a book read to him, unless some special
guest were present, and afterwards would engage in discussion on the
subject of the reading. The haughty Anthony Bec delighted in the
appendages of royalty - to be addressed by nobles kneeling, and to be
waited on in his presence-chamber and at his table by Knights
bare-headed and standing; but De Bury loved to surround himself with
learned scholars. Among these were such men as Thomas Bradwardine,
afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, and author of the De Causa Dei;
Richard Fitzralph, afterwards Archbishop of Armagh, and famous for his
hostility to the mendicant orders; Walter Burley, who dedicated to him
a translation of the Politics of Aristotle made at his suggestion; John
Mauduit, the astronomer; Robert Holkot, author of many books; Richard
de Kilvington; Richard Benworth, afterwards Bishop of London; and
Walter Seagrave, who became Dean of Chichester."[2]

[1] Cp. Surtees Society's edition of Scriptores Tres; also Wharton's
Anglia Sacra.

[2] An unsuccessful attempt has been made to transfer the authorship of
the book to Robert Holkot. Various theories have been advanced against
Richard's claims. It is noteworthy that his contemporary Adam Murimuth
disparages him as "mediocriter literatus, volens tamen magnus clericus
reputari," but such disparagement must be taken with the utmost
caution. The really difficult fact to be accounted for is the omission
on the part of Chambre to mention the book.

The Bishop's Books.

In the Philobiblon, Richard de Bury frankly and clearly describes his
means and method of collecting books. Anyhow his object was clearly
not selfish. The treatise contains his rules for the library of the
new College at Oxford - Durham College (where Trinity College now
stands) - which he practically founded, though his successor, Bishop
Hatfield, carried the scheme into effect. It is traditionally reported
that Richard's books were sent, in his lifetime or after his death, to
the house of the Durham Benedictines at Oxford, and there remained
until the dissolution of the College by Henry VIII., when they were
dispersed, some going into Duke Humphrey's (the University) library,
others to Balliol College, and the remainder passing into the hands of
Dr. George Owen, who purchased the site of the dissolved College.[3]

[3] Mr. J. W. Clark puts the matter as follows: - "Durham College,
maintained by the Benedictines of Durham, was supplied with books from
the mother-house, lists of which have been preserved; and subsequently
a library was built there to contain the collection bequeathed in 1345
by Richard de Bury" (The Care of Books, p. 142). Mr. Thomas points
out that De Bury's executors sold at least some portion of his books;
and, moreover, his biographer says nothing of a library at Oxford.
Possibly the scheme was never carried out. In the British Museum (Roy.
13 D. iv. 3) is a large folio MS. of the works of John of Salisbury,
which was one of the books bought back from the Bishop's executors.

Unfortunately, the "special catalogue" of his books prepared by Richard
has not come down to us; but "from his own book and from the books
cited in the works of his friends and housemates, who may reasonably be
supposed to have drawn largely from the bishop's collection, it would
be possible to restore a hypothetical but not improbable Bibliotheca
Ricardi de Bury. The difficulty would be with that contemporary
literature, which they would think below the dignity of quotation, but
which we know the Bishop collected."

Early Editions of the Philobiblon.

The book was first printed at Cologne in 1473, at Spires in 1483, and
at Paris in 1500. The first English edition appeared in 1598-9, edited
by Thomas James, Bodley's first librarian. Other editions appeared in
Germany in 1610, 1614, 1674 and 1703; at Paris in 1856; at Albany in
1861. The texts were, with the exception of those issued in 1483 and
1599, based on the 1473 edition; though the French edition and
translation of 1856, prepared by M. Cocheris, claimed to be a critical
version, it left the text untouched, and merely gave the various
readings of the three Paris manuscripts at the foot of the pages; these
readings are moreover badly chosen, and the faults of the version are
further to be referred to the use of the ill-printed 1703 edition as

In 1832 there appeared an anonymous English translation, now known to
have been by J. B. Inglis; it followed the edition of 1473, with all
its errors and inaccuracies.

Mr. E. C. Thomas' Text. - The first true text of the Philobiblon, the
result of a careful examination of twenty-eight MSS., and of the
various printed editions, appeared in the year 1888:

"The Philobiblon of Richard de Bury, Bishop of Durham, Treasurer and
Chancellor of Edward III, edited and translated by Ernest C. Thomas,
Barrister-at-law, late Scholar of Trinity College, Oxford, and
Librarian of the Oxford Union. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, & Co."

For fifteen years the enthusiastic editor - an ideal Bibliophile - had
toiled at his labour of love, and his work was on all sides received
with the recognition due to his monumental achievement. To the great
loss of English learning, he did not long survive the conclusion of his
labours. The very limited edition of the work was soon exhausted, and
it is by the most generous permission of his father, Mr. John Thomas,
of Lower Broughton, Manchester, that the translation - the only
trustworthy rendering of Richard de Bury's precious treatise - is now,
for the first time, made accessible to the larger book-loving public,
and fittingly inaugurates the present series of English classics. The
general Editor desires to express his best thanks to Mr. John Thomas,
as also to Messrs. Kegan Paul, for their kindness in allowing him to
avail himself of the materials included in the 1888 edition of the
work. He has attempted, in the brief Preface and Notes, to condense
Mr. Thomas' labours in such a way as would have been acceptable to the
lamented scholar, and though he has made bold to explain some few
textual difficulties, and to add some few references, he would fain
hope that these additions have been made with modest caution - with the
reverence due to the unstinted toil of a Bibliophile after Richard de
Bury's own pattern. Yet once again Richard de Bury's Philobiblon,
edited and translated into English by E. C. Thomas, is presented to new
generations of book-lovers: - "LIBRORUM DILECTORIBUS."



I That the treasure of wisdom is chiefly contained in books

II The degree of affection that is properly due to books

III What we are to think of the price in the buying of books

IV The complaint of books against the clergy already promoted

V The complaint of books against the possessioners

VI The complaint of books against the mendicants

VII The complaint of books against wars

VIII Of the numerous opportunities we have had of collecting a
store of books

IX How, although we preferred the works of the ancients, we
have not condemned the studies of the moderns

X Of the gradual perfecting of books

XI Why we have preferred books of liberal learning to books of law

XII Why we have caused books of grammar to be so diligently

XIII Why we have not wholly neglected the fables of the poets

XIV Who ought to be special lovers of books

XV Of the advantages of the love of books

XVI That it is meritorious to write new books and to renew the old

XVII Of showing due propriety in the custody of books

XVIII Showeth that we have collected so great store of books for
the common benefit of scholars and not only for our own pleasure

XIX Of the manner of lending all our books to students

XX An exhortation to scholars to requite us by pious prayers


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

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
counsellor 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 hinderance, that the bestower of all things may be cheerfully
worshipped in return for the gifts that He has bestowed, that our
neighbour 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.



The desirable treasure of wisdom and science, which all men desire by
an instinct of nature, infinitely surpasses all the riches of the
world; in respect of which precious stones are worthless; in comparison
with which silver is as clay and pure gold is as a little sand; at
whose splendour the sun and moon are dark to look upon; compared with
whose marvellous sweetness honey and manna are bitter to the taste. O
value of wisdom that fadeth not away with time, virtue ever
flourishing, that cleanseth its possessor from all venom! O heavenly
gift of the divine bounty, descending from the Father of lights, that
thou mayest exalt the rational soul to the very heavens! Thou art the
celestial nourishment of the intellect, which those who eat shall still
hunger and those who drink shall still thirst, and the gladdening
harmony of the languishing soul which he that hears shall never be
confounded. Thou art the moderator and rule of morals, which he who
follows shall not sin. By thee kings reign and princes decree justice.
By thee, rid of their native rudeness, their minds and tongues being
polished, the thorns of vice being torn up by the roots, those men
attain high places of honour, and become fathers of their country, and
companions of princes, who without thee would have melted their spears
into pruning-hooks and ploughshares, or would perhaps be feeding swine
with the prodigal.

Where dost thou chiefly lie hidden, O most elect treasure! and where
shall thirsting souls discover thee?

Certes, thou hast placed thy tabernacle in books, where the Most High,
the Light of lights, the Book of Life, has established thee. There
everyone who asks receiveth thee, and everyone who seeks finds thee,
and to everyone that knocketh boldly it is speedily opened. Therein
the cherubim spread out their wings, that the intellect of the students
may ascend and look from pole to pole, from the east and west, from the
north and from the south. Therein the mighty and incomprehensible God
Himself is apprehensibly contained and worshipped; therein is revealed
the nature of things celestial, terrestrial, and infernal; therein are
discerned the laws by which every state is administered, the offices of
the celestial hierarchy are distinguished, and the tyrannies of demons
described, such as neither the ideas of Plato transcend, nor the chair
of Crato contained.

In books I find the dead as if they were alive; in books I foresee
things to come; in books warlike affairs are set forth; from books come
forth the laws of peace. All things are corrupted and decay in time;
Saturn ceases not to devour the children that he generates; all the
glory of the world would be buried in oblivion, unless God had provided
mortals with the remedy of books.

Alexander, the conqueror of the earth, Julius, the invader of Rome and
of the world, who, the first in war and arts, assumed universal empire
under his single rule, faithful Fabricius and stern Cato, would now
have been unknown to fame, if the aid of books had been wanting.
Towers have been razed to the ground; cities have been overthrown;
triumphal arches have perished from decay; nor can either pope or king
find any means of more easily conferring the privilege of perpetuity
than by books. The book that he has made renders its author this
service in return, that so long as the book survives its author remains
immortal and cannot die, as Ptolemy declares in the Prologue to his
Almagest: He is not dead, he says, who has given life to science.

Who therefore will limit by anything of another kind the price of the
infinite treasure of books, from which the scribe who is instructed
bringeth forth things new and old? Truth that triumphs over all
things, which overcomes the king, wine, and women, which it is reckoned
holy to honour before friendship, which is the way without turning and
the life without end, which holy Boethius considers to be threefold in
thought, speech, and writing, seems to remain more usefully and to
fructify to greater profit in books. For the meaning of the voice
perishes with the sound; truth latent in the mind is wisdom that is hid
and treasure that is not seen; but truth which shines forth in books
desires to manifest itself to every impressionable sense. It commends
itself to the sight when it is read, to the hearing when it is heard,
and moreover in a manner to the touch, when it suffers itself to be
transcribed, bound, corrected, and preserved. The undisclosed truth
of the mind, although it is the possession of the noble soul, yet
because it lacks a companion, is not certainly known to be delightful,
while neither sight nor hearing takes account of it. Further the truth
of the voice is patent only to the ear and eludes the sight, which
reveals to us more of the qualities of things, and linked with the
subtlest of motions begins and perishes as it were in a breath. But
the written truth of books, not transient but permanent, plainly offers
itself to be observed, and by means of the pervious spherules of the
eyes, passing through the vestibule of perception and the courts of
imagination, enters the chamber of intellect, taking its place in the
couch of memory, where it engenders the eternal truth of the mind.

Finally we must consider what pleasantness of teaching there is in
books, how easy, how secret! How safely we lay bare the poverty of
human ignorance to books without feeling any shame! They are masters
who instruct us without rod or ferule, without angry words, without
clothes or money. If you come to them they are not asleep; if you ask
and inquire of them they do not withdraw themselves; they do not chide
if you make mistakes; they do not laugh at you if you are ignorant. O
books, who alone are liberal and free, who give to all who ask of you
and enfranchise all who serve you faithfully! By how many thousand
types are ye commended to learned men in the Scriptures given us by
inspiration of God! For ye are the minds of profoundest wisdom, to
which the wise man sends his son that he may dig out treasures: Prov.
ii. Ye are the wells of living waters, which father Abraham first
digged, Isaac digged again, and which the Philistines strive to fill
up: Gen. xxvi. Ye are indeed the most delightful ears of corn, full of
grain, to be rubbed only by apostolic hands, that the sweetest food may
be produced for hungry souls: Matt. xii. Ye are the golden pots in
which manna is stored, and rocks flowing with honey, nay, combs of
honey, most plenteous udders of the milk of life, garners ever full; ye
are the tree of life and the fourfold river of Paradise, by which the
human mind is nourished, and the thirsty intellect is watered and

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