Familiar Letters |
Francesco Petrarch: On his own Ignormance andthat of Many Others I
On his own Ignorance and that of Many Others I
To the grammarian Donato the Apennine-born, With a little book dedicated to him
HERE at last, my friend, you have the little book long since expected and promised, a little book on a vast matter, namely, "On my own ignorance and that of many others." Had I been allowed to beat it out on the anvil of my inventive genius with the hammer of study, you may believe me, it would have grown into a camel's load. For can there be a wider field, a vaster ground for talking, than a treatise on ignorance and especially on mine? You shall read this book, as you are in the habit of listening to me when I tell tales at the fireside on winter nights, rambling along wherever the impulse takes me. I have called it a book, but it is a talk. It has nothing of a book besides the name: neither the bulk nor the disposition; it has not the style and, above all, not the gravity of a book, since it was written quickly on a hasty journey.
However, I have had the whim to call it a book, because I wanted to win your favor with a small present and a great name. I was convinced that whatever comes from me will please you. Nevertheless, I intended to cheat you. It is customary to cheat another in this manner even among friends. When we send them a few apples or some choice morsel of dainty food,we put these things into a silver vessel and wrap it in pure white linen. What is sent does not then become more. It does not become more valuable but is made more agreeable to him who receives it and more honorable for the sender. Thus I have made
a trifling thing more honorable by a beautiful wrapping when I call a book what I might have called a letter.
It will not be the less valuable to you because it is interspersed with countless obliterations and additions and completely crammed with marginals on the borders of itS pages. It has lost somewhat of its decorous appearance to the eye, but your mind will surely appreciate that just as much gracefulness has been added. You will realize all the more that you are nearest to my heart, since I write you in such a way that you will regard all these additions and erasures as signs of close friendship and affection.
Moreover, I did not want you to doubt that the book is I
work; I have written it in my hand, which has been so familiar to you for years. Almost by intention it comes to you deformed by so many wounds and will remind you that Suetonius Tranquillus has written something similar about the emperor Nero:"There came into my hands some little tablets and small notebooks, in which several well-known verses of his were entered in his own handwriting. It was easy to recognize that they were not copied from elsewhere or written upon dictation, but set down by their inventor or begetter. So much was crossed out, inserted, and written above the lines." So far Suetonius.
I will not write more at present. Farewell and remember me.
Padua, on the thirteenth of January, from the bed of
pains, in the eleventh hour of night.
Familiar Letters |