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.

  The chorus twice repeats this and asseverates that they
  are following a custom common to the flotilla, the
  expeditionary force, and even their rude seats of learning.

And Dr Gummere, or somebody else, comments:  ’As the unprejudiced reader will see, this clear and admirable account confirms our hypothesis that in communal celebration we have at once the origin and model of three poems, “The Faerie Queene,” “Paradise Lost” and “In Memoriam,” recorded as having been composed by members of this very tribe.’

Although we have been talking of instincts, we are not concerned here with the steps by which the child, or the savage, following an instinct attains to write poetry; but, more modestly, with the instinct by which the child likes it, and the way in which he can be best encouraged to read and improve this natural liking.  Nor are we even concerned here to define Poetry.  It suffices our present purpose to consider Poetry as the sort of thing the poets write.

But obviously if we find a philosopher discussing poetry without any reference to children, and independently basing it upon the very same imitative instincts which we have noted in children, we have some promise of being on the right track.


So I return to Aristotle.  Aristotle (I shall in fairness say) does not anticipate Dr Gummere, to contradict or refute him; he may even be held to support him incidentally.  But he sticks to business, and this is what he says ("Poetics,” C. IV): 

Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes, and these natural causes.  First the instinct to imitate is implanted in man from his childhood, and in this he differs from other animals, being the most imitative of them all.  Man gets his first learning through imitation, and all men delight in seeing things imitated.  This is clearly shown by experience....
To imitate, then, being instinctive in our nature, so too we have an instinct for harmony and rhythm, metre being manifestly a species of rhythm:  and man, being born to these instincts and little by little improving them, out of his early improvisations created Poetry.

Combining these two instincts, with him, we arrive at harmonious imitation. Well and good.  But what is it we imitate in poetry?—­ noble things or mean things?  After considering this, putting mean things aside as unworthy, and voting for the nobler—­which must at the same time be true, since without truth there can be no real nobility—­Aristotle has to ask `In what way true?  True to ordinary life, with its observed defeats of the right by the wrong? or true, as again instinct tells good men it should be, universally?’ So he arrives at his conclusion that a true thing is not necessarily truth of fact in a world where truth in fact is so often belied or made meaningless—­not

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