Gleanings From The Past #64


The Value of Books

Anthony Panormita, a learned Sicilian, in the fifteenth century, sold an estate, that he might be able to purchase a copy of Livy. Of this circumstance we have a curious account, in a letter written by Panormita himself, to Alphonsus, king of Naples, to whom he was secretary. It is as follows:

“Sir, you have informed me from Florence that the books of Livy. written in a fair hand, are to be sold, and that they ask for them 120 crowns. I beseech your majesty to cause to be sent to me this king of books, and I will not fail to send the money for it. And I entreat your prudence to let me know whether Poggins or I does better; he who, to purchase a farm near Florence, sells Livy, or I who, to purchase the book written with his own hand, sell my land? Your goodness and modesty induce me to put this familiar question to you. Farewell, and triumph!”

It is to be hoped that the king sent him Livy, without subjecting him to the necessity of parting with his land for the book.

Waldie’s Select Circulating Library, Vol. 11, 1838

A Legal Joke

[John Philpot Curran] was just rising to cross-examine a witness before a judge who could not comprehend any jest that was not written in black letter. Before he said a single word, the witness began to laugh. “What are you laughing at, my friend — what are you laughing at? Let me tell you that a laugh without a joke is like — is like —” ” Like what, Mr Curran?” asked the judge, imagining he was at fault. “Just exactly, my lord, like a contingent remainder without any particular estate to support it.”

— Charles Phillips, Recollections of Curran and Some of his Contemporaries (2nd ed.), 1857

4 Sorts of Readers

1. Spunges that suck up every thing and, when pressed give it out in the same state, only perhaps somewhat dirtier — . 2. Sand Glasses — or rather the upper Half of the Sand Glass, which in a brief hour assuredly lets out what it has received — & whose reading is only a profitless measurement and dozeing away of Time — . 3. Straining Bags, who get rid of whatever is good & pure, and retain the Dregs. — and this Straining-bag class is again subivided into Species of the Sensual, who retain evil for the gratification of their own base Imaginations, & the calumnious, who judge only by defects, & to whose envy a beauty is an eye-sore, a fervent praise respecting another a near-grievance, and the more virulent in its action because the miserable man does not dare confess the Truth to his own Heart — . 4. and lastly, the Great-Moguls Diamond Sieves — which is perhaps going farther for a Simile than its superior Dignity can repay, inasmuch as a common Cullender would have been equally symbolic/ but imperial or culinary, these are the only good & I fear the least numerous, who assuredly retain the good, while the superfluous or impure passes away and leaves no trace.

— Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lectures o the Philosophy of Poetry, 1808

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My name Edmark M. Law. I work as a freelance writer, mainly writing about science and mathematics. I am an ardent hobbyist. I like to read, solve puzzles, play chess, make origami and play basketball. In addition, I dabble in magic, particularly card magic and other sleight-of-hand type magic. I live in Hong Kong. You can find me on Twitter` and Facebook. My email is

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