Tuesday, December 02, 2014


Biblia A-Biblia

Learned Hand, letter to Bernard Berenson (December 10, 1950), in Reason and Imagination. The Selected Correspondence of Learned Hand: 1897-1961, ed. Constance Jordan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 297 (with editor's notes; brackets in original):
I sent you the other day a printed copy of my opinion in the Communists Appeal.50 I did so only because you asked it in such a way as to make me think you wanted it. Even so, I was doubtful, remembering the feelings which similar tenders had produced upon me when judges sent me their cerebrations. But you don't have to read it; it ain't interesting. Opinions fall within Charles Lamb's classification βιβλια αβιβλια,51 along with actuarial tables and reports of the Interstate Commission.

50. United States v. Dennis, 183 F.2d 201 (2d Cir. 1950), aff'd, 341 U.S. 494 (1951).
51. I.e., in a book, [there are] books.
The editor's note 51 completely misses the mark. First, there should be a reference to the relevant passage in Charles Lamb's essay "Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading," from The Last Essays of Elia:
I can read any thing which I call a book. There are things in that shape which I cannot allow for such.

In this catalogue of books which are no booksbiblia a-biblia—I reckon Court Calendars, Directories, Pocket Books, Draught Boards bound and lettered at the back, Scientific Treatises, Almanacks, Statutes at Large; the works of Hume, Gibbon, Robertson, Beattie, Soame Jenyns, and, generally, all those volumes which "no gentleman's library should be without:" the Histories of Flavius Josephus (that learned Jew), and Paley's Moral Philosophy. With these exceptions, I can read almost any thing. I bless my stars for a taste so catholic, so unexcluding.
Second, the translation should be the one Lamb provides—"books which are no books." How anyone could get "in a book, [there are] books" out of βιβλια αβιβλια is a mystery.

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


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