Sunday, February 26, 2017


An Insatiable Desire

Petrarch, Familiar Letters 3.18, to Giovanni dell'Incisa (tr. Betty Radice):
Here, brother, is a topic which I have hitherto been too forgetful or too lazy to mention. If you will permit me to boast in your hearing, I should like to do so now, on the one subject where it can be safely allowed. I have been largely, if not wholly, delivered from the burning of nearly every human desire by divine mercy — for this is surely heaven-sent, whether it has come to me through natural virtue or in course of time. Widening experience and deep reflection have led me to understand at last the true value of the passions which inflame mankind.

But lest you think me innocent of every human failing, let me add that I am in the grip of one insatiable desire which so far I have been quite unable to control. Nor indeed have I wished to do so, preferring to excuse myself with the thought that a desire for worthy objects cannot be unworthy in itself. You will want to know what I am suffering from: books are the answer, and the impossibility of getting enough of them. Maybe I have more than I need, but it is the same with books as with everything else — success finding them spurs one on to greed for more. There is moreover something special about books; gold and silver, jewels and purple raiment, marble halls and well-tended fields, pictures and horses in all their trappings, and everything else of that kind can afford only passing pleasure with nothing to say, whereas books can worm the heart with friendly worlds and counsel, entering into a close relationship with us which is articulate and alive.

Quod sepe olim vel oblivio vel torpor abstulit, attingam, frater. Si gloriari licet apud te, gloriabor in illo in quo solo gloriari tutum est: fere iam ex omnibus humanarum cupiditatum ardoribus, etsi non totum, magna tamen ex parte, divina me pietas eripuit; e celo enim est, seu id michi nature bonitas seu dies prestiterit. Multa quidem videndo multumque cogitando, intelligere tandem cepi quanti sint studia hec, quibus mortale genus exestuat.

Ne tamen ab omnibus hominum piaculis immunem putes, una inexplebilis cupiditas me tenet, quam frenare hactenus nec potui certe nec volui; michi enim interblandior honestarum rerum non inhonestam esse cupidinem. Expectas audire morbi genus? libris satiari nequeo. Et habeo plures forte quam oportet; sed sicut in ceteris rebus, sic et in libris accidit: querendi successus avaritie calcar est. Quinimo, singulare quiddam in libris est: aurum, argentum, gemme, purpurea vestis, marmorea domus, cultus ager, picte tabule, phaleratus sonipes, ceteraque id genus, mutam habent et superficiariam voluptatem; libri medullitus delectant, colloquuntur, consulunt et viva quadam nobis atque arguta familiaritate iunguntur, neque solum se se lectoribus quisque suis insinuat, sed et aliorum nomen ingerit et alter alterius desiderium facit.

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