I am reading John Armstrong’s inestimable In Search of Civilization. I am reading it slowly. On page 123, Armstrong observes,
It is said of Poussin–one of the most thoughtful of painters–that he owned only nineteen books. Of course this was in the early seventeenth century–an era when personal libraries were much smaller than today and books were luxury items. But still it is a beguiling idea: to have only a few books, but each one to be fine and serious, and to read them again and again–to get to know intimately and deeply what they are about. Rereading allows for the thoughts in them and one’s own thoughts to grow together: for the secrets of the works to be carefully and slowly appraised, for their content to be thought over and thought through.
This image is an antidote to the feeling of dissipation–of intellectual dissipation–which comes from trying to assimilate too much too quickly.
It is also and, no less, an image of love: the love of spiritual exercise.