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.

Well, it was a very pretty song, about Contentment.

     He that is down need fear no fall
     He that is low, no Pride: 
     He that is humble ever shall
     Have God to be his Guide.

But I care less for its subject than for the song.  Though life condemn him to live it through in the Valley of Humiliation, I want to hear the Shepherd Boy singing.

[Footnote 1:  The reference given is Zeitschr. f.  Ethnologie, XIX. 30 ff.]





You, Gentlemen, who so far have followed with patience this course of lectures, advertised, maybe too ambitiously, as ’On the Art of Reading,’ will recall to your memory, when I challenge it across the intervals of Vacation, that three propositions have been pretty steadily held before you.

The first:  (bear me out) that, man’s life being of the length it is, and his activities multifarious as they are, out of the mass of printed matter already loaded and still being shot upon this planet, he must make selection.  There is no other way.

The second:  that—­the time and opportunity being so brief, the mass so enormous, and the selection therefore so difficult—­he should select the books that are best for him, and take them absolutely, not frittering his time upon books written about and around the best:  that—­in their order, of course—­the primary masterpieces shall come first, and the secondary second, and so on; and mere chat about any of them last of all.

My third proposition (perhaps more discutable) has been that, the human soul’s activities being separated, so far as we can separate them, into What Does, What Knows, What Is—­to be such-and-such a man ranks higher than either knowing or doing this, that, or the other:  that it transcends all man’s activity upon phenomena, even a Napoleon’s:  all his housed store of knowledge, though it be a Casaubon’s or a Mark Pattison’s:  that only by learning to be can we understand or reach, as we have an instinct to reach, to our right place in the scheme of things:  and that, any way, all the greatest literature commands this instinct.  To be Hamlet—­to feel yourself Hamlet—­is more important than killing a king or even knowing all there is to be known about a text.  Now most of us have been Hamlet, more or less:  while few of us, I trust, have ever murdered a monarch:  and still fewer, perhaps, can hope to know all that is to be known of the text of the play.  But for value, Gentlemen, let us not rank these three achievements by order of their rarity.  Shakespeare means us to feel—­to be—­Hamlet.  That is all:  and from the play it is the best we can get.

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