You despise them, books, you whose whole life is plunged in the vanities
of ambition and in the search for pleasure or in idleness; but think
that the whole of the known universe, with the exception of the savage
races is governed by books alone. The whole of Africa right to Ethiopia
and Nigritia obeys the book of the Alcoran, after having staggered under
the book of the Gospel. China is ruled by the moral book of Confucius; a
greater part of India by the book of the Veidam. Persia was governed for
centuries by the books of one of the Zarathustras.
If you have a law-suit, your goods, your honour, your life even depends
on the interpretation of a book which you never read.
_Robert the Devil_, the _Four Sons of Aymon_, the _Imaginings of Mr.
Oufle_, are books also; but it is with books as with men; the very small
number play a great part, the rest are mingled in the crowd.
Who leads the human race in civilized countries? those who know how to
read and write. You do not know either Hippocrates, Boerhaave or
Sydenham; but you put your body in the hands of those who have read
them. You abandon your soul to those who are paid to read the Bible,
although there are not fifty among them who have read it in its entirety
To such an extent do books govern the world, that those who command
to-day in the city of the Scipios and the Catos have desired that the
books of their law should be only for them; it is their sceptre; they
have made it a crime of _lese-majeste_ for their subjects to look there
without express permission. In other countries it has been forbidden to
think in writing without letters patent.
There are nations among whom thought is regarded purely as an object of
commerce. The operations of the human mind are valued there only at two
sous the sheet.
In another country, the liberty of explaining oneself by books is one of
the most inviolable prerogatives. Print all that you like under pain of
boring or of being punished if you abuse too considerably your natural
Before the admirable invention of printing, books were rarer and more
expensive than precious stones. Almost no books among the barbarian
nations until Charlemagne, and from him to the French king Charles V.,
surnamed "the wise"; and from this Charles right to Francois Ier, there
is an extreme dearth.
The Arabs alone had books from the eighth century of our era to the
China was filled with them when we did not know how to read or write.
Copyists were much employed in the Roman Empire from the time of the
Scipios up to the inundation of the barbarians.
The Greeks occupied themselves much in transcribing towards the time of
Amyntas, Philip and Alexander; they continued this craft especially in
This craft is somewhat ungrateful. The merchants always paid the authors
and the copyists very badly. It took two years of assiduous labour for a
copyist to transcribe the Bible well on vellum. What time and what
trouble for copying correctly in Greek and Latin the works of Origen, of
Clement of Alexandria, and of all those other authors called "fathers."
The poems of Homer were long so little known that Pisistratus was the
first who put them in order, and who had them transcribed in Athens,
about five hundred years before the era of which we are making use.
To-day there are not perhaps a dozen copies of the Veidam and the
Zend-Avesta in the whole of the East.
You would not have found a single book in the whole of Russia in 1700,
with the exception of Missals and a few Bibles in the homes of aged men
drunk on brandy.
To-day people complain of a surfeit: but it is not for readers to
complain; the remedy is easy; nothing forces them to read. It is not any
the more for authors to complain. Those who make the crowd must not cry
that they are being crushed. Despite the enormous quantity of books, how
few people read! and if one read profitably, one would see the
deplorable follies to which the common people offer themselves as prey
What multiplies books, despite the law of not multiplying beings
unnecessarily, is that with books one makes others; it is with several
volumes already printed that a new history of France or Spain is
fabricated, without adding anything new. All dictionaries are made with
dictionaries; almost all new geography books are repetitions of
geography books. The Summation of St. Thomas has produced two thousand
fat volumes of theology; and the same family of little worms that have
gnawed the mother, gnaw likewise the children.