A big library has this in it of good, that it dismays those who look at
it. Two hundred thousand volumes discourage a man tempted to print; but
unfortunately he at once says to himself: "People do not read all those
books, and they may read mine." He compares himself to a drop of water
who complains of being lost in the ocean and ignored: a genius had pity
on it; he caused it to be swallowed by an oyster; it became the most
beautiful pearl in the Orient, and was the chief ornament in the throne
of the Great Mogul. Those who are only compilers, imitators,
commentators, splitters of phrases, usurious critics, in short, those on
whom a genius has no pity, will always remain drops of water.
Our man works in his garret, therefore, in the hope of becoming a pearl.
It is true that in this immense collection of books there are about a
hundred and ninety-nine thousand which will never be read, from cover to
cover at least; but one may need to consult some of them once in a
lifetime. It is a great advantage for whoever wishes to learn to find at
his hand in the king's palace the volume and page he seeks, without
being kept waiting a moment. It is one of the most noble institutions.
No expense is more magnificent and more useful.
The public library of the King of France is the finest in the whole
world, less on account of the number and rarity of the volumes than of
the ease and courtesy with which the librarians lend them to all
scholars. This library is incontestably the most precious monument there
is in France.
This astounding multitude of books should not scare. We have already
remarked that Paris contains about seven hundred thousand men, that one
cannot live with them all, and that one chooses three or four friends.
Thus must one no more complain of the multitude of books than of the
multitude of citizens.
A man who wishes to learn a little about his existence, and who has no
time to waste, is quite embarrassed. He wishes to read simultaneously
Hobbes, Spinoza, Bayle who wrote against them, Leibnitz who disputed
with Bayle, Clarke who disputed with Leibnitz, Malebranche who differed
from them all, Locke who passed as having confounded Malebranche,
Stillingfleet who thought he had vanquished Locke, Cudworth who thinks
himself above them because he is understood by no one. One would die of
old age before having thumbed the hundredth part of the metaphysical
One is very content to have the most ancient books, as one inquires into
the most ancient medals. It is that which makes the honour of a library.
The oldest books in the world are the "Kings" of the Chinese, the
"Shastabad" of the Brahmins, of which Mr. Holwell has brought to our
knowledge admirable passages, what remains of the ancient Zarathustra,
the fragments of Sanchoniathon which Eusebius has preserved for us and
which bears the characteristics of the most remote antiquity. I do not
speak of the "Pentateuch" which is above all one could say of it.
We still have the prayer of the real Orpheus, which the hierophant
recited in the old Greek mysteries. "Walk in the path of justice,
worship the sole master of the universe. He is one; He is sole by
Himself. All beings owe Him their existence; He acts in them and by
them. He sees everything, and never has been seen by mortal eyes."
St. Clement of Alexandria, the most learned of the fathers of the
Church, or rather the only scholar in profane antiquity, gives him
almost always the name of Orpheus of Thrace, of Orpheus the Theologian,
to distinguish him from those who wrote later under his name.
We have no longer anything either of Museus or of Linus. A few passages
from these predecessors of Homer would well be an adornment to a
Augustus had formed the library called the Palatine. The statue of
Apollo presided over it. The emperor embellished it with busts of the
best authors. One saw in Rome twenty-nine great public libraries. There
are now more than four thousand important libraries in Europe. Choose
which suits you, and try not to be bored.