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.
of his doctrine, and the next day intentionally spoiled the dish by a trifling addition of parsley.  He had not exaggerated the consequences; the delicate flavour entirely departed, and left a nauseous bitterness in its place, like the remembrance of an ill-spent youth.

I trust that none of you are in a position to appreciate the full force of this last simile; and, for myself, I should have taken the chef’s word for it, without experiment.  Mr Hamerton proceeds to draw his moral: 

There is a sort of intellectual chemistry which is quite as marvellous as material chemistry and a thousand times more difficult to observe.  One general truth may, however, be relied upon....  It is true that everything we learn affects the whole character of the mind.
Consider how incalculably important becomes the question of proportion in our knowledge, and how that which we are is dependent as much upon our ignorance as our science.  What we call ignorance is only a smaller proportion—­ what we call science only a larger.

Here the argument begins to become delicious: 

The larger quantity is recommended as an unquestionable good, but the goodness of it is entirely dependent on the mental product that we want. Aristocracies have always instinctively felt this, and have decided that a gentleman ought not to know too much of certain arts and sciences.  The character which they had accepted as their ideal would have been destroyed by indiscriminate additions to those ingredients of which long experience had fixed the exact proportions....
The last generation of the English country aristocracy was particularly rich in characters whose unity and charm was dependent upon the limitations of their culture, and which would have been entirely altered, perhaps not for the better, by simply knowing a science or a literature that was dosed to them.

If anything could be funnier than that, it is that it is, very possibly, true.  Let us end our quest-by-commonsense, for the moment, on this; that to read all the books that have been written—–­in short to keep pace with those that are being written—­is starkly impossible, and (as Aristotle would say) about what is impossible one does not argue.  We must select.  Selection implies skilful practice.  Skilful practice is only another term for Art.  So far plain common-sense leads us.  On this point, then, let us set up a rest and hark back.


Let us cast back to the three terms of my first lecture—­What does, What knows, What is.

I shall here take leave to recapitulate a brief argument much sneered at a few years ago when it was still fashionable to consider Hegel a greater philosopher than Plato.  Abbreviating it I repeat it, because I believe in it yet to-day, when Hegel (for causes unconnected with pure right and wrong) has gone somewhat out of fashion for a while.

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