Source of supposed Augustine quote?
April 25, 2010 10:55 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for the actual source of a quote often attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo, but I begin to doubt that it is his: "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." I have searched his writings and do not find it anywhere. Any help?

This does appear in Bartlett's Quotations, but a librarian here told me that this might be a false attribution.
posted by Kentucky to Religion & Philosophy (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
The only version I can find of that quote with a source seems to be the following:
The world is a great book, of which they that never stir from home read only a page.
As quoted in "Select Proverbs of All Nations" by "Thomas Fielding" (John Wade), 1824, p. 216. (Via wikiquote)
posted by strixus at 11:15 PM on April 25, 2010


Hello, I don't know if this helps you but it might point you in the right direction...
from the Wikipedia entry on Augustine of Hippo:
"The world is a great book, of which they that never stir from home read only a page." [your quote is listed as a variant of this quote]
As quoted in "Select Proverbs of All Nations" by "Thomas Fielding" (John Wade), 1824, p. 216.

Also, somebody else was asking this question on another forum. So it would be traceable at least to around late 18th/early 19th century (based on my quick google search) but I can't find anything tracing it further back or a source tracing it definitively back to St. Augustine. Hope this helps!
posted by 1000monkeys at 11:18 PM on April 25, 2010


"Augustine does not speak of his travels or what he learned on them, and he hated the travel itself. He dismissed the inquisitive observation that tourists practice as culpable curiosity, which he regarded as a great sin." James Joseph O'Donnell
posted by shii at 11:23 PM on April 25, 2010


Oh, I just saw a post referencing the book "AUGUSTINI DE TRINITATE LIBER IV" but I don't read Latin. They translate it into Latin as: "Orbis terrarum liber est, et illi qui non commeant modo unam paginam legunt" and here is the link to the original text, in Latin.

Good luck!
posted by 1000monkeys at 11:23 PM on April 25, 2010


No, De Trinitate is translated here, and there is nothing about books in it; the latter quote is fabricated. Augustine didn't say this. You might attribute it to John Feltham, who published the English Enchiridion, although he was cribbing from other writers.
posted by shii at 11:42 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


The first half of your quote is something Augustine wrote in several places: he really liked the "book of the world" metaphor. Here's one, from his Letter 43, which someone can probably translate more elegantly than I:

maior liber noster orbis terrarum est; in eo lego completum, quod in libro dei lego promissum
= The world is our greater book; what was promised in the book of God, I read in the world as fulfilled.

Here's another, from the Enarrationes in Psalmos (on Psalm 45):
liber tibi sit pagina diuina, ut haec audias; liber tibi sit orbis terrarum, ut haec uideas. in istis codicibus non ea legunt, nisi qui litteras nouerunt; in toto mundo legat et idiota.
= Let the sacred page be your book, so that you may hear these things; let the world be your book, so that you may see these things. Only people who know letters can read what is in the books, but even the uneducated can read the book of the world.

This is Augustine's typical use of the metaphor: the "book of the world" is for everyone, even the least sophisticated, and the reason for reading it is to understand how sacred texts "translate" into reality, not to fulfill any personal curiosity about how the world works. Augustine thought of the book of the world as something accessible to all. He would not have said that only travelers can fully understand it, which sounds to me like a modern (Enlightenment-era?) sentiment.
posted by philokalia at 5:36 AM on April 26, 2010


Thanks for the help; indeed it appears that the source is Feltham's English Enchiridion (1799), as "shii" pointed out; it paraphrases Augustine:
“St. Augustine, when he speaks of the great advantages of travelling, says, that the world is a great book, and none study this book so much as a traveler. They that never stir from their home read only one page of this book.”
It seems that "Thomas Fielding" (John Wade) adapted this in 1824, for his "Select Proverbs from all Nations," where he wrote: "The world is a great book, of which they that never stir from home read only a page."
And thence to the ubiquitous quote attributed to St. Augustine, "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page."
So maybe Augustine never actually did say it. If anyone does find an actual Augustinian source, please let me know. Thanks to all of you for your threads!
posted by Kentucky at 6:14 PM on May 1, 2010


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