On The Art of Reading eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 241 pages of information about On The Art of Reading.
generally that they hated alike the mystical and the mysterious, and, hating these, could have little commerce with such poetry as Crashaw’s and Vaughan’s or such speculation as gave ardour to the prose of the Cambridge Platonists.  Johnson’s famous attack, in his “Life of Cowley,” upon the metaphysical followers of Donne ostensibly assails their literary conceits, but truly and at bottom rests its quarrel against an attitude of mind, in respect of which he lived far enough removed to be unsympathetic yet near enough to take denunciation for a duty.  Johnson, to put it vulgarly, had as little use for Vaughan’s notion of poetry as he would have had for Shelley’s claim that it

     feeds on the aereal kisses
     Of shapes that haunt thought’s wildernesses,

and we have only to set ourselves back in Shelley’s age and read (say) the verse of Frere and Canning in “The Anti-Jacobin,” to understand how frantic a lyrist—­let be how frantic a political figure—­Shelley must have appeared to well-regulated minds.


All this literature which our forefathers excluded has come back upon us:  and concurrently we have to deal with the more serious difficulty (let us give thanks for it) of a multitude of millions insurgent to handsel their long-deferred heritage.  I shall waste no time in arguing that we ought not to wish to withhold it, because we cannot if we would.  And thus the problem becomes a double one, of distribution as well as of selection.

Now in the first place I submit that this distribution should be free:  which implies that our selection must be confined to books and methods of teaching.  There must be no picking and choosing among the recipients, no appropriation of certain forms of culture to certain ‘stations of life’ with a tendency, conscious or unconscious, to keep those stations as stationary as possible.

Merely by clearing our purpose to this extent we shall have made no inconsiderable advance.  For even the last century never quite got rid of its predecessor’s fixed idea that certain degrees of culture were appropriate to certain stations of life.  With what gentle persistence it prevails, for example, in Jane Austen’s novels; with what complacent rhetoric in Tennyson (and in spite of Lady Clara Vere de Vere)!  Let me remind you that by allowing an idea to take hold of our animosity we may be as truly `possessed’ by it as though it claimed our allegiance.  The notion that culture may be drilled to march in step with a trade or calling endured through the Victorian age of competition and possessed the mind not only of Samuel Smiles who taught by instances how a bright and industrious boy might earn money and lift himself out of his ‘station,’ but of Ruskin himself, who in the first half of “Sesame and Lilies,” in the lecture “Of Kings’ Treasuries,” discussing the choice of books, starts vehemently

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On The Art of Reading from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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