|« Prev||To the charge of reading secular books I reply…||Next »|
30. But now, since my pleading has steered its course out of these rough and broken places, and I have refuted the charge of heresy which had been urged against me by looking my accuser freely in the face, I will pass on to the other articles of charge with which he tries to assail me. The first is that I am a scurrilous person, a detractor of every one; that I am always snarling and biting at my predecessors. I ask him to name a single person whose reputation I have disparaged, or whom, according to an art practised by my opponent, I have galled by pretended praise. But, if I speak against ill-disposed persons, and wound with the point of my pen some Luscius Lanuvinus30573057 A rival of Terence, to whom Jerome often compares Rufinus. or an Asinius Pollio of the race of the Cornelii,30583058 Asinius Pollio was a rival of Cicero. It seems that some detractor of Jerome boasted that he was of the race of the Cornelii. See Comm. on Jonah iv. 6. “A certain Cantherius, of the most ancient race of the Cornelii, or, as he boasts, of the stock of Asinius Pollio, is said to have accused me at Rome long ago for having translated ‘ivy’ instead of ‘gourd.’” if I repel the attacks of a man of boastful and curious spirit, and aim all my shafts at a single butt, why does he divide with others the wounds meant for him alone? And why is he so unwise as to shew, by the irritation of his answer to my attack, his consciousness that it is he alone whom the cap fits?
He brings against me the charge of perjury and sacrilege together, because, in a book written for the instruction of one of Christ’s virgins, I describe the promise which I once made when I dreamed that I was before the tribunal of the Judge, that I would never again pay attention to secular literature, and that nevertheless I have sometimes made mention of the learning which I then condemned. I think that I have here lighted on the man who, under the name of Sallustianus Calpurnius, and through the letter written to me by the orator Magnus, raised a not very30593059 Per oratorem Magnum non magnam moverat quæstionem. great question. My answer on the general subject is contained in the short treatise which I then wrote to him.30603060 Jerome, Letter LXX, c. 6. “Perhaps the question (as to Christians reading heathen books) is suggested by one who, for his love of Sallust, might go by the name of Calpurnius Lanarius.” But at the present moment I must make answer as to the sacrilege and perjury of my dream. I said that I would thenceforward read no secular books: it was a promise for the future, not the abolition of my memory of the past. How, you may ask me, can you retain what you have been so long without reading? I must give my answer by recurring to one of these old books:30613061 Virg. Geor. ii, 272.
’Tis much to be inured in tender youth.
But by this mode of denial I criminate myself; for bringing Virgil as my witness I am accused by my own defender. I suppose I must weave a long web of words to prove what each man is conscious of. Which of us does not remember his infancy? I shall make you laugh though you are a man of such extreme gravity; and you will have at last to do as Crassus did, who, Lucilius tells us, laughed but once in his life, if I recount the memories of my childhood: how I ran about among the offices where the slaves worked; how I spent the holidays in play; or how I had to be dragged like a captive from my grandmother’s lap to the lessons of my enraged Orbilius.30623062 The name of a pedagogue recorded by Horace (Ep. ii, 1, 71), which passed into a general name for boys’ tutors. You may still more be astonished if I say that, even now that my head is gray and bald, I often seem in my dreams to be standing, a curly youth, dressed in my toga, to declaim a controversial thesis before the master of rhetoric; and, when I wake, I congratulate myself on escaping the peril of making a speech. Believe me, our infancy brings back to us many things most accurately. If you had had a literary education, your mind would retain what it was originally imbued with as a wine cask retains its scent. The purple dye on the wool cannot be washed out with water. Even asses and other brutes know the inns they have stopped at before, however long the journey may have been. Are you astonished that I have not forgotten my Latin books when you learnt Greek without a master? I learned the seven forms of Syllogisms in the Elements of logic; I learned the meaning of an Axiom, or as it might be called in Latin a Determination; I learned how every sentence must have in it a verb and a noun; how to heap up the steps of the Sorites,30633063 The “Heap-argument,” in which a number of separate arguments converge on the same point. how to detect the clever turns of the Pseudomenos30643064 “The Liar,” another logical puzzle. and the frauds of the stock sophisms. I can swear that I never read any of these things after I left school. I suppose that, to escape from having what I learned made into a crime, I must, according to the fables of the poets, go and drink of the river 499Lethe. I summon you, who accuse me for my scanty knowledge, and who think yourself a litérateur and a Rabbi, tell me how was it that you dared to write some of the things you have written, and to translate Gregory,30653065 Nazianzen. See Prolegomena. that most eloquent man, with a splendour of eloquence like his own? Whence have you obtained that flow of words, that lucidity of statement, that variety of translations,—you who in youth had hardly more than a first taste of rhetoric? I must be very much mistaken if you do not study Cicero in secret. I suspect that, being yourself so cultivated a person, you forbid me under penalties the reading of Cicero, so that you may be left alone among our church writers to boast of your flow of eloquence. I must say, however, that you seem rather to follow the philosophers, for your style is akin to that of the thorny sentences of Cleanthes30663066 Stoic philosopher of Assus in Lydia b.c. 300–240. and the contortions of Chrysippus,30673067 Of Cilicia; disciple of Cleanthes, b.c. 280–208. not from any art, for of that you say you are ignorant, but from the sympathy of genius. The Stoics claim Logic as their own, a science which you despise as a piece of fatuity; on this side, therefore, you are an Epicurean, and the principle of your eloquence is, not style but matter. For, indeed, what does it matter that no one else understands what you wish to say, when you write for your own friends alone, not for all? I must confess that I myself do not always understand what you write, and think that I am reading30683068 Born at Ephesus b.c. 503. His philosophy was tinged with melancholy, and his style obscure. Heraclitus; however I do not complain, nor lament for my sluggishness; for the trouble of reading what you write is not more than the trouble you must have in writing it.
|« Prev||To the charge of reading secular books I reply…||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version