Grammatical Note: How (Not) to Read

"Bernard [of Chartres] also used to admonish his students that stories and poems should be read thoroughly, and not as though the reader were being precipitated to flight by spurs.  Wherefore he diligently and insistently demanded from each, as a daily debt, something committed to memory. 

"At the same time, he said that we should shun what is superfluous.  According to him, the works of distinguished authors suffice.  As a matter of fact, to study everything that everyone, no matter how insignificant, has ever said, is either to be exceedingly humble and cautious, or overly vain and ostentatious.  It also deters and stifles minds that would better be freed to go on to other things.  That which preempts the place of something that is better is, for this reason, disadvantageous, and does not deserve to be called 'good.'  To examine and pore over everything that has been written, regardless of whether it is worth reading, is as pointless as to fritter away one's times with old wives' tales.

"As Augustine says in his book On Order: 'Who is there who will bear that a man who has never heard that Daedalus flew should [therefore] be considered unlearned?  And, on the contrary, who will not agree that one who says that Daedalus did fly should be branded a liar; one who believes it, a fool; and one who questions [anyone] about it, impudent?  I am wont to have profound pity for those of my associates who are accused of ignorance because they do not know the name of the mother of Euryalus, yet who dare not call those who ask such questions "conceited and pedantic busy-bodies".'

"Augustine summarizes the matter aptly and with truth.  The ancients correctly reckoned that to ignore certain things constituted one of the marks of a good grammarian."

--John of Salisbury (d. 1180), The Metalogicon: A Twelfth-Century Defense of the Verbal and Logical Arts of the Trivium, trans. Daniel D. McGarry (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2009), book I, chap. 24, pp. 69-70.


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