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.

From the VIIIth Isthmian:

And now that we are returned from great sorrows, let us not fall into a dearth of victories, nor foster griefs; but as we have ceased from our tiresome troubles, we will publicly indulge in a sweet roundelay.

From the IVth Pythian:

It had been divinely predicted to Pelias, that he should die by the doughty sons of Aeolus and an alarming oracle had come to his wary mind, delivered at the central point of tree-clad mother-earth, ’that he must by all means hold in great caution the man with one shoe, when he shall have come from a homestead on the hills.’
And he accordingly came in due time, armed with two spears, a magnificent man.  The dress he wore was of a double kind, the national costume of the Magnesians....  Nor as yet had the glossy clusters of his hair been clipped away, but dangled brightly adown his back.
Forward he went at once and took his stand among the people....  Him then they failed to recognise:  but some of the reverent-minded went so far as to say, ’Surely this cannot be Apollo!’

It needs no comment, I think.  Surely this cannot be Apollo!

Frederick Paley flourished—­if the word be not exorbitant for so demure a writer—­in the middle of the last century (he was born in the year of Waterloo and died in the year after Queen Victoria’s first jubilee).  Well, in that period there grew up a race of pioneers who saw that English Literature—­that proud park and rolling estate—­lay a tangled, neglected wilderness for its inheritors, and set themselves bravely to clear broad ways through it.  Furnivall and Skeat, Aldis Wright, Clark, Grosart, Arber, Earle, Hales, Morris, Ellis and the rest—­who can rehearse these names now but in deepest respect?  Oh, believe me, Gentlemen! they were wonderful fighters in a cause that at first seemed hopeless.  If I presume to speak of foibles to-day, you will understand that I do so because, lightly though I may talk to you at times, I have a real sense of the responsibilities of this Chair.  I worship great learning, which they had:  I loathe flippant detraction of what is great; I have usually a heart for men-against-odds and the unpopular cause.  But these very valiant fighters had, one and all, some very obvious foibles:  and because, in the hour of success, these foibles came to infect the whole teaching of English in this country, and to infect it fatally for many years, I shall dare to point them out.


(a) To begin with, then, these valiant fighters, intent on pushing their cause to the front, kept no sense of proportion.  All their geese were swans, and “Beowulf” a second “Iliad.”  I think it scarcely too much to say that, of these men, all so staunch in fighting for the claims of English Literature, not one (with the exception of Dr Hales) appears to have had any critical judgment whatever, apart from the rhyme, verse and inflectional tests on which they bestowed their truly priceless industry.  Criticism, as Sainte-Beuve, Matthew Arnold or Pater understood and practised it, they merely misprized.

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