throw down their spears
And water heaven with their tears.
To nurse that spark, common to the king, the sage, the poorest child—to fan, to draw up to a flame, to ‘educate’ What Is—to recognise that it is divine, yet frail, tender, sometimes easily tired, easily quenched under piles of book-learning—to let it run at play very often, even more often to let it rest in what Wordsworth calls
a wise passiveness
passive—to use a simile of Coventry Patmore—as a photographic plate which finds stars that no telescope can discover, simply by waiting with its face turned upward—to mother it, in short, as wise mothers do their children—this is what I mean by the Art of Reading.
For all great Literature, I would lastly observe, is gentle towards that spirit which learns of it. It teaches by apprehension not by comprehension—which is what many philosophers try to do, and, in trying, break their jugs and spill the contents. Literature understands man and of what he is capable. Philosophy, on the other hand, may not be ’harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose,’ but the trouble with most of its practitioners is that they try to comprehend the Universe. Now the man who could comprehend the Universe would ipso facto comprehend God, and be ipso facto a Super-God, able to dethrone him, and in the arrogance of his intellectual conceit full ready to make the attempt.
[Footnote 1: Do you remember, by the by, Samuel Rogers’s lines on Lady Jane Grey? They have always seemed to me very beautiful:
Like her most gentle, most unfortunate,
Crown’d but to die—who in her chamber sate
Musing with Plato, though the horn was blown,
And every ear and every heart was won,
And all in green array were chasing down the sun!]
CHILDREN’S READING (I)
I have often wished, Gentlemen, that some more winning name could be found for the thing we call Education; and I have sometimes thought wistfully that, had we made a better thing of it, we should long ago have found a more amiable, a blither, name.