Montesquieu

Rica to ***


The other day I went to see a great library in a convent of der­vi­shes who are in effect its depo­si­to­ries, but who are obli­ged to let eve­ryone enter at cer­tain hours.1

As I ente­red I saw a grave man who was wal­king about among innu­me­ra­ble volu­mes that sur­roun­ded him. I went up to him and bade him tell me what some of the books were that I could see were bet­ter bound than the others. Monsieur, he said, I live here in a foreign world ; I know no one here. Many peo­ple ask me such ques­tions, but you can rea­lize I am not about to read all these books to satisfy them. But I have my libra­rian who will give you satis­fac­tion ; for he is busy day and night deci­phe­ring eve­ry­thing you see here.2 He is a man who is use­less, and a great bur­den to us, because he does not work for the convent. But I hear the refec­tory bell rin­ging ; those who like me are in charge of a com­mu­nity must be the first at all exer­ci­ses. With these words, the monk pushed me out, clo­sed the door, and as if he had flown disap­pea­red from my sight.

Paris this 21st day of the moon of Rhamazan 1719

These details seem to point to the library of the abbey of Saint Victor : though the Bibliothèque Mazarine was the first library open to the public, in 1643, these were the express conditions of the legacy of Henri Du Bouchet in 1652, obliging Saint-Victor to open its library doors to the public at least three days a week.

Presumably in the sense that he is cataloguing them.