The Philobiblon

Last updated

The Philobiblon is a collection of essays concerning the acquisition, preservation, and organization of books written by the mediaeval bibliophile Richard de Bury shortly before his death in 1345. The purposes of the Philobiblion were "to encourage the pursuit of learning contained in books; to justify the time and money [de Bury] spent on them; and to give practical advice for the formation of running of a library. [1] Written in Latin, as was the custom of the day, it is separated into twenty chapters, each covering a different topic relating to book collecting.


There was a dispute as to whether de Bury was the actual author of the Philobiblon. The controversy began as a result of the bishop's own biographer, Chambres, neglecting to mention the book at all in de Bury's biography. Many thought that de Bury's chaplain, Robert Holkot, was the author and there was substantial evidence that this was the case. Today, however, most experts agree that the work is de Bury's, chiefly due to the revealing and autobiographical nature of the book. [2]


According to one scholar, the Philobiblon is "one of the longest extant medieval texts on the subject of library management." In it are several innovations such as the practices for circulation control among the students of the college, using at times an open-stack rather than the dominant closed-stack system. [3] Fifteenth century scholars cited it often. Thomas Kempis, the author of the devotional book The Imitation of Christ, borrowed a whole chapter of the Philobiblon for one of his works, and Mathaus Hummel read from it during the opening of the University of Freiburg. [4]

The Philobiblon references the Vulgate version of the Bible so frequently that these quotations make up approximately one-fourteenth of the entire book. [5]

As to de Bury's legacy, it was said about the Philobiblon: "it is the sole memorial of one who loved books so much in an age and country that loved them so little." [6]


Originally written in 1345, the Philobiblon has been printed numerous times since. The first printing was in Cologne in 1473, the second at Speyer in 1483, and then the third in Paris in 1500. Nearly a hundred years would pass before it was printed again in England by Thomas James, Bodley's Librarian, in 1599. It was then printed in Germany again in 1610, 1614, and 1674. These editions relied upon the original Cologne edition of 1473. Later, in 1703, it was printed by J. A. Schmidt in a supplement for a treatise on libraries. It was then printed in English anonymously in 1832. Later, a French translation, along with the Latin text, appeared in 1856. It was first printed in the United States in 1861. Since 1888, it has been reprinted nearly twenty times. [7] The edition of 1888 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, & Co.) was the work of Ernest C. Thomas who spent 15 years establishing the text and translating it into English. His translation was published again in London in 1902 by Alexander Moring. [8]

List of chapters


  1. That the Treasure of Wisdom is chiefly contained in Books
  2. The degree of Affection that is properly due to Book
  3. What we are to think of the price in the buying of books
  4. The Complaint of Books against the Clergy already promoted
  5. The Complaint of Books against the Possessioners
  6. The Complaint of Books against the Mendicants
  7. The Complaint of Books against Wars
  8. Of the numerous Opportunities we have had of collecting a store of books
  9. How although we preferred the Works of the Ancients we have not condemned the Studies of the Moderns
  10. Of the Gradual Perfecting of Books
  11. Why we have preferred Books of Liberal Learning to Books of Law
  12. Why we have caused Books of Grammar to be so diligently prepared
  13. Why we have not wholly neglected the Fables of the Poets
  14. Who ought to be special Lovers of Books
  15. Of the advantages of the love of Books
  16. That it is meritorious to write new Books and to renew the old
  17. Of showing due Propriety in the Custody of Books
  18. Showeth that we have collected so great Store of Books for the common Benefit of Scholars and not only for our own Pleasure
  19. Of the Manner of lending all our Books to Students
  20. An Exhortation to Scholars to requite us by pious Prayers



In the Prologue, de Bury recounts in a flourish of language why and how he came to write the book, ending with:

And this treatise (divided into twenty chapters) will clear the love we have had for books from the charge of excess, will expound the purpose of our intense devotion, and will narrate more clearly than light all the circumstances of our undertaking. And because it principally treats of the love of books, we have chose after the fashion of the ancient Romans fondly to name it by a Greek word, Philobiblon.

Chapter 1: That the Treasure of Wisdom is chiefly contained in Books

In libris mortuos quasi vivos invenio

In chapter 1, de Bury explains how knowledge and wisdom is passed down from generation to generation in books. "In books I find the dead as if they were alive; in books I forsee things to come; in books warlike affairs are setforth; from books come forth the laws of peace". [9]

2. The degree of Affection that is properly due to Books

Liborum necesse est se faciat amatorem.

Chapter 2 describes the relationshipship between riches, truth, and love and how all three relate to books. "Whoever therefore claims to be zealous of truth, of happiness, of wisdom or knowledge, aye even of the faith, must needs become a lover of books." [10]

3. What we are to think of the price in the buying of books

Nullam videlicet debere caristiam hominem impedire ab emptione lobrorum

In chapter 3, de Bury argues that the value of a book is beyond what it costs to produce it. Instead, he argues that the price of a book should be whatever the purchaser can afford, unless he can purchase it at a lower price. For de Bury, books contain wisdom and truth and, therefore, they should be purchased at all reasonable costs. "[N]o dearness of price ought to hinder a man from buying books". [11]

4. The Complaint of Books against the Clergy already promoted

Caeterum iam de clericis, qui sunt vasa virtutis, loquamur.

One of the longest chapters in the Philobiblon, chapter 4 starts out disparaging those clerks and clergy who treats books, and the wisdom they contain, with disdain. Written from the vantage point of a book (as are chapters 5 through 7), he states that "ye let go the lot of God which ye had first assumed, becoming companions of thieves." [12] He then goes on to describe those clergy who are "vessels of virtue" as those who appreciate books. "Finally, by the knowledge of literature, we establish priests, bishops, cardinals, and the Pope, that all things in the ecclesiastical hierarchy may be fitly disposed". [13] Here, de Bury is acknowledging that the Catholic Church, and many of the clergy in England, had for many years a distrust of non-liturgical books, especially the Greeks classics, which were deemed "pagan".

5. The Complaint of Books against the Possessioners

De quorum laboribus hodie in plerisque splendent monasteriis illa sacra gazophylacia, cherubicis libris plena.

In chapter 5, de Bury laments about the direction the monastic orders have taken. In previous times, monks were known for their love of books, and their devotion to both their creation and study. De Bury feels that monks have abandoned practice this and replaced quiet study with manual labor. "Flocks and fleece, crops and granaries, leeks and potherbs, drink and goblets, are nowadays the reading and study of the monks". [14]

6. The Complaint of Books against the Mendicants

Tunc enim proculdubio libris et studio propensius vacaretis.

In chapter 6, de Bury describes the life of the religious mendicant, members of religious orders who rely upon charity and forgo all possessions. Here, de Bury argues that mendicants are too tempted by fine food, luxurious garments, and grand housing while books are considered superfluous. "And whatever they could steal from their famishing belly, or intercept from their half-covered body, they thought it the highest gain to spend in buying or correcting books." [15] Here, as in the previous chapters, de Bury levels a strong indictment against the present status of his church in a way that is rarely seen prior to the Reformation.

7. The Complaint of Books against Wars

Vasa destruunt rationis

In the final chapter written from the perspective of a book, de Bury discusses the effect of war upon books and how many ancient and present texts were lost.

ALMIGHTY AUTHOR AND LOVER OF PEACE, scatter the nations that delight in war, which is above all plagues injurious to books. For wars being without the control of reason make a wild assault on everything they come across, and, lacking the check of reason they push on without discretion or distinction to destroy the vessels of reason. [16]

8. Of the numerous Opportunities we have had of collecting a store of books

Fiebat ad nos desideratus accessus vasorum scientiae et volatus multifarious voluminum optimorum.

In his most revealing chapter, de Bury recounts how his position within the church and government of the Crown enabled him to obtain books through a sort of benign bribery.

And indeed while we filled various offices to the victorious Prince and splendidly triumphant King of England, Edward the Third from the Conquest—whose reign may the Almighty long and peacefully continue—first those about his court, but then those concerning the public affairs of his kingdom, namely the offices of Chancellor and Treasurer, there was afforded to us, in consideration of the royal favour, easy access for the purpose of freely searching the retreats of books. In fact, the fame of our love of them had been soon winged abroad everywhere, and we were reported to burn with such desire for books, and especially old ones, that it was more easy for any man to gain our favour by means of books than of money. [17]

9. How although we preferred the Works of the Ancients we have not condemned the Studies of the Moderns

Antiquorum tamen examinatos labors securiori aviditate cupivimus perscrutari.

In chapter 9, we see in de Bury the general trend of the Catholic Church during this time to recognize the wisdom of the Greek classical writers such as Plato, Ovid, Euclid and others. For de Bury and others like him, "we have always desired with more undoubting avidity to investigate the well-tested labours of the ancients". [18]

10. Of the Gradual Perfecting of Books

Quemadmodum namque in scriptoribus annalium considerare non-est difficile quod semper posterior praesupponit priorem.

Here de Bury argues that through books, society can be perpetually improved by building upon the knowledge of the previous generation. "What would Vergil, the chief poet among the Latins, have achieved, if he had not despoiled Theocritus, Lucretius, and Homer, and had not ploughed with their heifer?" [19]

11. Why we have preferred Books of Liberal Learning to Books of Law

Sunt enim utilia, sicut scorpio in theriaca.

De Bury argues in this chapter that books of literature, science, and reason are better to study than a strict curriculum of law books. "Law indeed encourages rather than extinguishes the contentions of mankind." [20]

12. Why we have caused Books of Grammar to be so diligently prepared

Cum liborum lectionibus foveremur assidue...

In chapter 12, the shortest chapter in the Philobiblion, de Bury argues that to full appreciate a book, a person should also study grammar. "[W]e noticed plainly how much the defective knowledge even of a single word hinders the understanding". [21]

13. Why we have not wholly neglected the Fables of the Poets

In chapter 13, de Bury makes the observation that the true purpose of the ancient Greek fables was to make learning easy and more palpable for children and some adults. Therefore, as an educational tool, the ancient fables should still be studied and read. "Accordingly the wisdom of the ancients devised a remedy by which to entice the wanton minds of men by a kind of pious fraud, the delicate Minerva secretly lurking beneath the mask of pleasure." [22]

14. Who ought to be special Lovers of Books

Per quod universis evidenter ostenditur nullum posse rempublicam debite regere sine libris.

According to de Bury, those who require specialized knowledge because of their position should be the one who appreciate books the most. "Wherefore princes and prelates, judges and doctors, and all other leaders of the commonwealth, as more than others they have need of wisdom, so more than others ought they to show zeal for the vessels of wisdom." (de Bury, p. 131) De Bury continues, "The history of the Greeks as well as Romans show that there were no famous princes among them who were devoid of literature." [23]

15. Of the advantages of the love of Books

Montes scandimus, abyssorum voragines perscrutamur

In this chapter, de Bury again argues that the love of wisdom and the love of books are one and the same. "In books we climb mountains and scan the deepest gulfs of the abyss". [24]

16. That it is meritorious to write new Books and to renew the old

Scribit iustos in libro viventium Deus ipse.

De Bury writes in chapter 16 that it is necessary for the church to write new tracts to protect itself against attack from "pagans and heretics". [25] As proof of this, de Bury argues that the disciple Paul "Did more for building up the fabric of the Church by writing his holy epistles, than by preaching by word of mouth to Jews and Gentiles." [26]

17. Of showing due Propriety in the Custody of Books

Longe namque diligentius librum quam calcium convenit conservari.

Like all bibliophiles, de Bury argues in this chapter that books must be cared for appropriately and gives a detailed account of how they should be used. "In the first place as to the opening and closing of books, let there be due moderation". [27]

18. Showeth that we have collected so great Store of Books for the common Benefit of Scholars and not only for our own Pleasure

Ut ipsi libri et singuli eorundem communes fierent

In this chapter de Bury describes his plan for his library after his death. Although it was never to come to fruition, he wanted it to be known that he wished "to be found in perpetual charity a Hall" in Oxford University where he could donate his library. [28]

19. Of the Manner of lending all our Books to Students

In primis enim libros omnes et singulos.

Here, de Bury describes the practices for circulation control among the students of the college, using at times an open-stack rather than the dominant closed-stack system. He also talks about such innovations as a catalogue, lending terms, and open lending in the case where there are duplicate books. [29] For instance, he states that, under the appointment of the “Master,” five scholars would be placed in charge of the entire collection, with three “keepers” designated to lend books out; another three would be appointed annually to review the collection and ensure that all books were accounted for. [30]

20. An Exhortation to Scholars to requite us by pious Prayers

De bury concludes the Philobiblon by stating that he does not deny that his collecting habits were not done out of vanity nor can he deny that he may have been zealous in his habits. However, in the end, he states that "the object of our love is honourable and our intention upright." [31]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Book of Job</span> Book of the Bible

The Book of Job, or simply Job, addresses theodicy, why God permits evil in the world, through the experiences of the eponymous protagonist. Job is a wealthy and God-fearing man with a comfortable life and a large family; God, having asked Satan for his opinion of Job's piety, decides to take away Job's wealth, family and material comforts, following Satan's accusation that if Job were rendered penniless and without his family, he would turn away from God.

Ecclesiastes Book of the Hebrew Bible

Ecclesiastes is one of the Ketuvim ("Writings") of the Hebrew Bible and one of the "Wisdom" books of the Christian Old Testament. The title commonly used in English is a Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew word קֹהֶלֶת. An unnamed author introduces "The words of Kohelet, son of David, king in Jerusalem" (1:1) and does not use his own voice again until the final verses (12:9-14), where he gives his own thoughts and summarises the statements of Kohelet; the main body of the text is ascribed to Kohelet himself.

This article lists notable literary events and publications in 1599.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard de Bury</span> 14th-century Bishop of Durham, Chancellor of England, Treasurer of England

Richard de Bury, also known as Richard Aungerville or Aungervyle, was an English priest, teacher, bishop, writer, and bibliophile. He was a patron of learning and one of the first English collectors of books. He is chiefly remembered for his Philobiblon, written to inculcate in the clergy the pursuit of learning and the love of books. The Philobiblon is considered one of the earliest books to discuss librarianship in-depth.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments is a 1759 book by Adam Smith. It provided the ethical, philosophical, psychological, and methodological underpinnings to Smith's later works, including The Wealth of Nations (1776), Essays on Philosophical Subjects (1795), and Lectures on Justice, Police, Revenue, and Arms (1763).

<i>Confessions</i> (Augustine) Autobiographical work by Saint Augustine

Confessions is an autobiographical work by Saint Augustine of Hippo, consisting of 13 books written in Latin between AD 397 and 400. The work outlines Saint Augustine's sinful youth and his conversion to Christianity. Modern English translations of it are sometimes published under the title The Confessions of Saint Augustine in order to distinguish the book from other books with similar titles. Its original title was Confessions in Thirteen Books, and it was composed to be read out loud with each book being a complete unit.

<i>Vox Clamantis</i> Latin poem by John Gower

Vox Clamantis is a Latin poem of 10,265 lines in elegiac couplets by John Gower. The first of the seven books is a dream vision giving a vivid account of the Peasants' Rebellion of 1381. Macaulay described the remaining books: "The general plan of the author is to describe the condition of society and of the various degrees of men, much as in the latter portion of the Speculum Meditantis." Fisher concludes that books II-V were written in the 1370s while the author was writing similar passages in Mirour de l'Omme.

<i>Meditations</i> Literary work by Marcus Aurelius

Meditations is a series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from AD 161 to 180, recording his private notes to himself and ideas on Stoic philosophy.

<i>Essays</i> (Montaigne) Collection of works by Michel de Montaigne

The Essays of Michel de Montaigne are contained in three books and 107 chapters of varying length. They were originally written in Middle French and were originally published in the Kingdom of France. Montaigne's stated design in writing, publishing and revising the Essays over the period from approximately 1570 to 1592 was to record "some traits of my character and of my humours." The Essays were first published in 1580 and cover a wide range of topics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Second Epistle to Timothy</span> Book of the New Testament

The Second Epistle to Timothy is one of the three pastoral epistles traditionally attributed to Paul the Apostle. Addressed to Timothy, a fellow missionary, it is traditionally considered to be the last epistle he wrote before his death.

Standing on the shoulders of giants Stylistic device to acknowledge previous discoveries

The phrase "standing on the shoulders of giants" is a metaphor which means "using the understanding gained by major thinkers who have gone before in order to make intellectual progress".

<i>De doctrina Christiana</i>

De doctrina Christiana is a theological text written by Augustine of Hippo. It consists of four books that describe how to interpret and teach the Scriptures. The first three of these books were published in 397 and the fourth added in 426. By writing this text, Augustine set three tasks for Christian teachers and preachers: to discover the truth in the contents of the Scriptures, to teach the truth from the Scriptures, and to defend scriptural truth when it was attacked.

<i>The God Delusion</i> Book by Richard Dawkins

The God Delusion is a 2006 book by British evolutionary biologist, ethologist Richard Dawkins, a professorial fellow at New College, Oxford and, at the time of publication, the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford.

<i>De Natura Deorum</i> Philosophical dialogue by Cicero

De Natura Deorum is a philosophical dialogue by Roman Academic Skeptic philosopher Cicero written in 45 BC. It is laid out in three books that discuss the theological views of the Hellenistic philosophies of Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Academic Skepticism.

Development of the Old Testament canon Development of the Old Testament canon

The Old Testament is the first section of the two-part Christian biblical canon; the second section is the New Testament. The Old Testament includes the books of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) or protocanon, and in various Christian denominations also includes deuterocanonical books. Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Protestants use different canons, which differ with respect to the texts that are included in the Old Testament.

Islamic holy books are the texts which Muslims believe were authored by Allah through various prophets throughout humanity's history. All these books, in Muslim belief, promulgated the code and laws that God ordained for those people.

Book of Sirach Deuterocanonical book

The Book of Sirach or Ecclesiasticus, is a Jewish work, originally in Hebrew, of ethical teachings, from approximately 200 to 175 BC, written by the Judahite scribe Ben Sira of Jerusalem, on the inspiration of his father Joshua son of Sirach, sometimes called Jesus son of Sirach or Yeshua ben Eliezer ben Sira.

<i>The Happiness Hypothesis</i>

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom is a 2006 psychology book written by Jonathan Haidt for a general audience. In it, Haidt poses several "Great Ideas" on happiness espoused by thinkers of the past—Plato, Buddha, Jesus, and others—and examines them in the light of contemporary psychological research, extracting from them any lessons that still apply to our modern lives. Central to the book are the concepts of virtue, happiness, fulfillment, and meaning.

Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban, KC was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, author, and pioneer of the scientific method. He served both as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England. Although his political career ended in disgrace, he remained extremely influential through his works, especially as philosophical advocate and practitioner of the scientific method during the scientific revolution.

<i>When God Writes Your Love Story</i> 1999 book

When God Writes Your Love Story: The Ultimate Approach to Guy/Girl Relationships is a 1999 book by Eric and Leslie Ludy, an American married couple. After becoming a bestseller on the Christian book market, the book was republished in 2004 and then revised and expanded in 2009. It tells the story of the authors' first meeting, courtship, and marriage. The authors advise single people not to be physically or emotionally intimate with others, but to wait for the spouse that God has planned for them. The first edition was packaged with a CD single by the Ludys: "Faithfully", a song they had written specifically to accompany the book.


  1. "Added Ownership Inscription, in Richard de Bury's 'The Love of Books', and Other Works".
  2. Martin, Sheridan Spiegel (1986). Richard D'aungerville de bury, 1287–1345 (England, Bishop of Durham) (Thesis). p. 23. ProQuest   303446130.
  3. "BOOK REVIEWS". Library & Archival Security. 19 (1): 73–81. 27 March 2004. doi:10.1300/J114v19n01_12. S2CID   220387625.
  4. Martin, Sheridan Spiegel (1986). Richard D'aungerville de bury, 1287–1345 (England, Bishop of Durham) (Thesis). p. 28. ProQuest   303446130.
  5. Mierow, Charles Christopher (October 1930). "Mediaeval Latin Vocabulary, Usage, and Style: As Illustrated by the Philobiblon (1345) of Richard de Bury". Classical Philology. 25 (4): 343–357. doi:10.1086/361279. S2CID   162380028.
  6. Martin, Sheridan Spiegel (1986). Richard D'aungerville de bury, 1287–1345 (England, Bishop of Durham) (Thesis). p. 24. ProQuest   303446130.
  7. De Bury, R. (1970). Philobiblon [by] Richard de Bury. The text and translation of E. C. Thomas, edited with a foreword by Michael MacLagan. New York: Barnes & Noble, pp. xxxvii–liv
  8. Richard de Bury (1902) The Love of Books being the Philobiblon of Richard de Bury newly translated by Ernest C. Thomas. (The King's Classics.) London: Alexander Moring, the De La More Press; p. xv
  9. de Bury, p. 17
  10. de Bury, p. 29
  11. de Bury, p. 31
  12. de Bury, P. 39
  13. de Bury, p. 43
  14. de Bury, p. 57
  15. de Bury, p. 63
  16. de Bury, p. 71
  17. de Bury, 1970, pp. 81–82
  18. de Bury, p. 99
  19. de Bury, p. 111
  20. de Bury, p. 117
  21. de Bury, p. 123
  22. de Bury, p. 125
  23. de Bury, p. 133
  24. de Bury, p. 141
  25. de Bury, p. 147
  26. de Bury, p. 151
  27. de Bury, P. 155
  28. de Bury, p. 165
  29. de Bury, p.171
  30. "The Book Arts and Bookbinding Web". 20 November 1996.
  31. de Bury, p. 175