Friday, May 8, 2009

Quality Time With The Venerable Dead

Samuel Davies (1723-1761) was one of America's greatest preachers. He was a Virginian and the fourth president of the College of New Jersey, known today as Princeton University, succeeding Jonathan Edwards. As a pastor in Virginia, he had the privilege of discipling young Patrick Henry from the pulpit each Lord's Day.

On a friend's Facebook page today, I found these words from Pastor Davies which everyone who is serious about the truth, wisdom, and the life of the mind will take to heart.

I have a peaceful study as a refuge from the hurries and noise of the world around me, the venerable dead are waiting in my library to entertain me and relieve me from the nonsense of surviving mortals.*

C. S. Lewis had the same sentiment when, in his introduction to Athanasius On The Incarnation, he recommended the reading of old books, or at least balancing our diet of new books with healthy servings of the old.

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

Machiavelli shares the pleasure he takes in communing with geniuses across the centuries through the books they have left us:

On the coming of evening, I return to my house and enter my study; and at the door I take off the day's clothing, covered with mud and dust, and put on garments regal and courtly; and reclothed appropriately, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them with affection, I feed on that food which only is mine and which I was born for, where I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their kindness answer me; and for four hours of time I do not feel boredom, I forget every trouble, I do not dread poverty, I am not frightened by death; entirely I give myself over to them. ("Letter to Francesco Vettori")

Further down on the right you can find a list of spiritual classics whose authors you will surely find justly venerable.

*Of course, he is using the word "entertain" in an older sense. It appears to be the ninth definition offered by Oxford English Dictionary: "To engage, keep occupied the attention, thoughts, or time of (a person): also with attention, etc. as obj. Hence to discourse to (a person) of something. ... 1692 Br. Ely Answ. Touchstone A v, I hope I shall neither tire the Reader, nor entertain him unprofitably. 1748 Chesterf. Lett. II clxxiii. I have so often entertained you upon these important subjects." The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1971), vol. I, p. 876.

1 comment:

Jason Poquette said...

Can I get that quote on a t-shirt? If it would fit on a coffee mug that would even be better. Actually, I would recommend a ratio of like 3 or 4 to 1, given the decline in contemporary content...