Thursday, November 08, 2007


Good help was hard to find

I'm going back and forth between Montaigne and the newly-acquired Two Renaissance Book Hunters: The Letters of Poggius Bracciolini to Nicolaus de Niccolis, edited by Phyllis Walter Goodhart Gordan (Columbia University Press 1974). One letter reads in part (pp.118-119):

"I have a copyist of uneducated intelligence and peasant habits. For four months now I have done nothing but teach him in the hope that he may learn to write, but I fear that I am ploughing the seashore. He is now copying Valerius, on whom he proves his ignorance, but day by day he becomes stupider. And so I yell, I thunder, I scold, I upbraid; but he has ears full of pitch. He is leaden, a blockhead, wooden, a donkey, and whatever else can be mentioned that is duller and clumsier. Damn him. He is bound to me for two years; perhaps he will improve."

Nicolaus, the recipient of delightful missives such as this (the dust jacket copy states) was "by temperament eccentric, fastidious, and quarrelsome, (and) stayed home while Poggius and other humanists traveled in search of books. He encouraged them in the search, sought and provided funds for them, and made an elegant and famous home in his library for the texts they located and sent to him. At his death in 1437 he bequeathed his books to the citizens of Florence as the first public library of modern times. His collection survives in the Laurentian Library in Florence as a monument to the work and joy of collecting..."

If the rest of the book is as good as this bit, it'll be a page-turner. Meanwhile, I'm only on page forty-three of Montaigne. After four evenings of reading.

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