Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXIII.: of books and writings. - The Works of John Robinson, vol. 1
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CHAPTER XXIII.: of books and writings. - John Robinson, The Works of John Robinson, vol. 1 
The Works of John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, with a Memoir and Annotations by Robert Ashton, 3 vols (London: John Snow, 1851). Vol. 1.
Part of: The Works of John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, with a Memoir and Annotations by Robert Ashton, 3 vols.
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of books and writings.
Writing is the speech of the absent: and even he that gives a writing unto the hand of another, to be read by him, thereby, after a sort sequesters his person from him, and desires to speak with him being absent, and that, to his advantage, if his personal presence and speech may endanger either contempt, or offence.
The Lord God in providing, that the books of Holy Scriptures should be written, effectually commended the writing and reading of other books touching all subjects, and sciences lawful, and lawfully handled. For though the difference be ever to be held between Divine and human writings, so as the former may worthily challenge absolute credence, and obedience, as breathing out only truth, and godliness; whereas the other are not only to be learned, but judged also: yet even in human writings, the truth in its kind, is taught commonly both more fully, and more simply, and more piously, than by speech. For howsoever the lively voice more pierce the heart, and be apter to move affection, and that to the receiving of truth and goodness, not only by love and liking, but by faith also, and assent, “for faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” Rom. x. 17: yet men seldom take either the pains, or time to lay down things in speech, which they do for public writings: neither can any possibly either have the opportunity to hear the tithe of that which he may read for information, or take the time for the full understanding of things remarkable spoken, which in private reading he may do. Besides, men are commonly in their writings both freer from passion in themselves, and from partial respect of others, than in their speeches. And hence it comes to be said of dead men, that they are the best counsellors; to wit, in their books, wherein they are freest from affection one way, .or other. Lastly, though the father found some in his time, who because Christ had said, “Thou shalt not swear,”thought they might do that in writing, which they might not do in speech;* and confirm idolatry with their hand, so they professed it not with their tongue: yet it is usually found otherwise; and that men are, or would seem to be more religious in writing, than in speech. Who ever shall find a black-mouthed blasphemer cursing, and swearing in his books ? though in daily speech he scarce utter ten words without oath, or execration. Yea, are there not many, who by the gloss of piety, cunningly set upon their writings published to the world, steal the opinion of piety, and virtue from strangers, and those that know them not, whose ordinary conversation in word and deed to them that are acquainted therewith, proclaims them no better than very atheists and epicures ? I add, even touching conferences, and disputations of purpose appointed, and used, for light of truth; that though they may be, and are singularly profitable for that purpose, to a modest, and tractable disposition, which will as well hear, as speak, and be as ready to learn truth of others, as to teach it them: yet to men of more unquiet, and stiff spirits, the reading of books is a course far more convenient for information: for that, therein, will not be the provocation to inordinate anger, and passion, which in speech often falls in. Besides, he who comes to dispute, comes specially to show the truth to others: but he that comes to read an author, comes specially to learn something from him, for the most part.
Great care is to be taken, and circumspection used in writing of books; no't only, though specially, for conscience of God; but also because the author therein exposeth himself to the censure of all men, and those not only then living, but also to be born, when he is dead and rotten: “Litera scripta manent.” And under their censure he comes, whether he be wise or foolish; learned or ignorant; of sound or of corrupt judgment: and in part therewith, whether of virtuous or vicious disposition. He that commits anything to writing gives men a bill of his manners:† which every one that reads may put in suit against him, if there be cause, in the court of his own heart, and neighbour's ear.
Some, through extreme diligence are devourers of books, and of infinite reading; in whom, if there be found any answerableness in memory to retain, judgment to dispose, and wit accordingly to improve things read; such persons prove singular. But this is rare by reason of the different temper of the brain requisite for such furniture. Some, are of great reading, but of so slippery memory, as they are like water conduits, which what they continually receive in at one end, they let out as fast at the other. Some, again, are mere indexes, serving for nothing but to show, where, and in what authors, things are to be found; by benefit of their strong memory. There are also of those great bookmen, that know better than most other men's judgments, than their own, in matters of controversy, through injudiciousness, or irresolution; and if they come to settle upon any, rather opinion, than persuasion, it is commonly according to the last book which they read. It is best for ordinary capacities to travel in some few books (though by occasion they may step into many), and the same picked by good advice, of impartial and experienced men; and those thoroughly to digest, and discourse upon; as it is best for weak stomachs to eat of few, and wholesome dishes: which may also be done for further use, extension, and application, than the author himself conceived, or at least, expressed. And though Lucilius wished, that his books might be read neither of men very learned, nor altogether unlearned; lest the one should understand nothing, and the other more than he intended: yet indeed he reads a book ill, that understands not something more either in, or, at least, by it, than the author himself did in penning it.
As the maladies of the minds of many have been cured by reading of books; so have the diseases of the bodies of some, and those such as wanted no other medicines; if we may believe histories: as of Alphonsus, King of Spain, by reading of Livy; and of Ferdinand, King of Sicily, by reading of Quintus Curtius. The cure is both more common, and more excellent, which the reading of the Holy Scriptures afford.