Petrarch quotes Ovid in his description of his ascent to Mount Ventoux, the event that marked the beginning of the Renaissance: Velle parum est; cupias, ut re potiaris, oportet.* To want is not enough; you must crave a thing to master it. In the Secretum Meum, the same motto is hailed as the foundation of happiness by Augustine, who argues that the only requirement for true happiness is a passionate desire to be happy.
And one more excerpt from the Secretum, translated by Alberto Manguel in his History of Reading, on the topic of superficial reading:
Augustine: This manner of reading is now quite common; there’s such a mob of lettered men. … But if you’d jot down a few notes in their proper place, you’d easily be able to enjoy the fruit of your reading. Francesco: What kind of notes do you mean? Augustine: Whenever you read a book and come across any wonderful phrases which you feel stir and delight your soul, don’t merely trust the power of your own intelligence, but force yourself to learn them by heart and make them familiar by meditating on them, so that whenever an urgent case of affliction arises, you’ll have the remedy ready as if it were written in your mind. When you come to any passages that seem to you useful, make a firm mark against them, which may serve as lime in your memory, less otherwise they might fly away. (63)
Augustine’s words of reproach ring even more true today in the age of the hyperlink. We learn things superficially and come to depend more and more on the internet to grant us easy access to information, rather than gathering and storing that information in our heads. In a similar vein, Josh Waitzkin deplores the effects of the “multitasking virus” amongst school children and the decline in our ability to learn and stay focused.
*Scansion note to self: Velle pa|rum est cupi|as, ut| re poti|aris, o|portet.