By necessity, there was a time when any man could read all that had ever been written, within his lifetime; if nothing else, it was true for the first Sumerian to press his reed once into the clay for each head of cattle he counted. By the 17th century, those days were long gone, but Magliabecchi did his best. He is the exemplar of my tribe.

Antonio Magliabecchi lived in the 17th century and died in the 18th; he wore his clothes until they fell off him, and he kept boiled eggs in the drawer of his desk. He looked by all accounts and images preserved like a comedy mask; he loved his spiders and was afraid to have men tread on them, and he was too absent-minded to remember his salary.

Magliabecchi was a Florentine by birth and a goldsmith by trade, and that is how he made his peculiar living for the first half of his life, until, at forty years of age, he was hired as Librarian to Cosimo, Grand-Duke of Florence, which was a different profession then than it is now.

This is how Magliabecchi arranged his house: In each room and corridor, in every nook and cranny, there was a great mass of books, with cramped passages threading through the stacks to the other doors; the stairs on one side were stacked high with books; the chairs, the tables, the beds were covered in books; the porch was filled with books. In his study was the great desk where he sat for hours a day reading and speaking to his visitors; when he became hungry, he would eat some eggs from out his drawer, and drink water from a carafe when thirsty. In the front door there was a small hatch, and he would look through it when a visitor came, so that he could disregard those he did not want to see. Some claim that in fact he had arranged his desk and the hatch such that he could open the latter by means of a mechanism, without rising; the desk stood within sight of the front door, and when a visitor would come, Magliabecchi would open the hatch, the visitor would show his face through it, state his name and business, and Magliabecchi would, if he found the visitor wanting, snap the hatch shut in his face. If not, he would unlatch the door with another mechanism, still sitting at the desk, and the learned pilgrim would be admitted.
In this manner Antonio oversaw his forty thousand volumes, and his ten thousand manuscripts. Upon his death, they became the Central Library of Florence.

Thus he spent his royal day: one-third in his home, reading and speaking to his visitors (who were many), one-third at the Library of his patron doing the same, and one-third sleeping, in his clothes, for »It is a waste of time to undress: life is so short, and the books are so many«. He never wrote anything, except, some claim, for one brief monograph; he left that to others, he was the Reader.

I mentioned visitors several times; the reason they would visit him is this: Antoni Magliabecchi was the Internet of his time. Scholars would come to him, saying, Magliabecchi, I am writing a monograph; what does Petronius think of the fashions in shoes?, or, Magliabecchi, please, I need to find the earliest copy of the Saxo, and he would tell them about these things, because his memory was titanic; in his own day they said of him it imprinted like wax and retained like marble. He had memorized the catalogs of all the great libraries of Europe; it is claimed that the Grand Duke himself once asked for a rare book, and Magliabecchi replied, »Sire, there is only one copy of that book; it is in the library of the Grand-Seigneur in Constantinople; it is the seventh volume in the second bookcase on the right hand as you enter.«

These days his name is better known than his person; the manuscript that carries his name carries it far. The Codex Magliabecchi is one of the most important written sources on the Aztec religion. But you should know him. Or, you know him already, but you should know what you're looking at. Or, here is one of the archetypes that make up all the rest of us in measures. Or, another anecdote:

The Grand Duke had a medal struck in Magliabecchi's honor in that worthy's seventy-seventh year; he asked what Magliabecchi would like to have on it. Magliabecchi gave the inscription »scire nostrum reminisci« — a quote out of Plato. He was bragging; he had every reason.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.