So many things happening this week that need a post, I’m having a hard time keeping up.

National Library Week wraps up tomorrow, so here’s a link to one of the great blog post in the history of the internets: Librophiliac Love Letter: A Compendium of Beautiful Libraries. That link will satisfy any bibliophile’s scopophilia.

Those pictures are fascinating because of the way the architecture frames and focuses the love of reading. Each library is so beautiful in its own way, it would be impossible to choose one and be satisfied. The Biltmore is lovely, for example–but if that was my personal library-haunt, would I stop wanting to go examine Beatus Rhenanus‘s books? (Which was the best surprise of the whole set, in my opinion.)

On the other hand, it’s important to recall that grand surroundings are somewhat incidental to the love of books, and they may tell us more about the narcissism of reading than its essence. Samuel Johnson’s praise of Erasmus is telling in this regard:

A great part of the life of Erasmus was one continual peregrination; ill-supplied with the gifts of fortune, and led from city to city, and from kingdom to kingdom, by the hopes of patrons and preferment, hopes which always flattered and yet always deceived him; he yet found means, by unshaken constancy, and a vigilant improvement of those hours, which, in the midst of the most restless activity, will remain unengaged, to write more than another in the same condition would have hoped to read. Compelled by want to attendance and solicitation, and so much versed in common life, that he has transmitted to us the most perfect delineation of the manners of his age, he joined to his knowledge of the world such application to books, that he will stand forever in the first rank of literary heroes. How this proficiency was obtained he sufficiently discovers, by informing us, that the Praise of Folly, one of his most celebrated performances, was composed by him on the road to Italy, ne totum illud quo equo fuit insidendum, illiteratis fabulis tereretur, lest the hours which he was obliged to spend on horseback should be tattled away without regard to literature.
Rambler 108, March 30, 1751

It’s harder to be inspired by the rigorous discipline of Erasmus than by the imagined prospect of working with Rhenanus’s books, but that’s likely why Johnson felt it was so necessary to remind others of it and to be reminded himself. He was well-aware that great things could be accomplished in modest settings, because when he wrote that essay he was sitting in a garret with five Scotsmen and a lone Englishman working on perhaps the greatest single dictionary to that point in history. Instead of tattling away one’s hours–a practice at which Johnson was an admitted expert, and I’m no slouch either–you could spend that time reading, writing, and regarding literature. Instead of daydreaming about Rhenanus’s library in Alsace, for a pittance you can follow his example and assemble one of your own.

The great thing about even a modest library is that it has far more books than a single person can read. If you have access to more than 500 books–and you do–there’s a good chance you’ll never read them all with the care they deserve. Poor Erasmus–writing on horseback so that people might one day ignore his book!

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