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.

For as the Universe is one, so the individual human souls, that apprehend it, have no varying values intrinsically, but one equal value.  They vary but in power to apprehend, and this may be more easily hindered than helped by the conceit begotten of finite knowledge.  I shall even dare to quote of this Universal Truth, the words I once hardily put into the mouth of John Wesley concerning divine Love:  ’I see now that if God’s love reach up to every star and down to every poor soul on earth, it must be vastly simple; so simple that all dwellers on Earth may be assured of it—­as all who have eyes may be assured of the planet shining yonder at the end of the street—­and so vast that all bargaining is below it, and they may inherit it without considering their deserts.’  I believe this to be strictly and equally true of the appeal which Poetry makes to each of us, child or man, in his degree.  As Johnson said of Gray’s “Elegy,” it ’abounds with images which find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to which every bosom returns an echo.’  It exalts us through the best of us, by telling us something new yet not strange, something that we recognise, something that we too have known, or surmised, but had never the delivering speech to tell.  ‘There is a pleasure in poetic pains,’ says Wordsworth:  but, Gentlemen, if you have never felt the travail, yet you have still to understand the bliss of deliverance.


If, then, you consent with me thus far in theory, let us now drive at practice.  You have (we will say) a class of thirty or forty in front of you.  We will assume that they know a-b, ab, can at least spell out their words.  You will choose a passage for them, and you will not (if you are wise) choose a passage from “Paradise Lost”:  your knowledge telling you that “Paradise Lost” was written, late in his life, by a great virtuoso, and older men (of whom I, sad to say, am one) assuring you that to taste the Milton of “Paradise Lost” a man must have passed his thirtieth year.  You take the early Milton:  you read out this, for instance, from “L’Allegro”: 

  Haste thee, Nymph, and bring with thee
  Jest and youthful Jollity,
  Quips, and Cranks, and wanton wiles,
  Nods and Becks, and wreathed Smiles
  Such as hang on Hebe’s cheek,
  And love to live in dimple sleek;
  Sport that wrinkled Care derides,
  And Laughter holding both his sides....

Go on:  just read it to them.  They won’t know who Hebe was, but you can tell them later.  The metre is taking hold of them (in my experience the metre of “L’Allegro” can be relied upon to grip children) and anyway they can see `Laughter holding both his sides’:  they recognise it as if they saw the picture.  Go on steadily: 

  Come, and trip it as ye go,
  On the light fantastick toe;
  And in thy right hand lead with thee
  The Mountain Nymph, sweet Liberty;
  And, if I give thee honour due,
  Mirth, admit me of thy crew—­

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