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.

I think we can, and should.  I shall close to-day, Gentlemen, with the most modest of perorations.  In my first lecture before you, in January 1913, I quoted to you the artist in “Don Quixote” who, being asked what animal he was painting, answered diffidently ‘That is as it may turn out.’

The teaching of our language and literature is, after all, a new thing and still experimental.  The main tenets of those who, aware of this, have worked on the scheme for a School of English in Cambridge, the scheme recently passed by your Senate and henceforth to be in operation, are three:—­

The first. That literature cannot be divorced from life:  that (for example) you cannot understand Chaucer aright, unless you have the background, unless you know the kind of men for whom Chaucer wrote and the kind of men whom he made speak; that is the national side with which all our literature is concerned.

The second. Literature being so personal a thing, you cannot understand it until you have some personal under-standing of the men who wrote it.  Donne is Donne; Swift, Swift; Pope, Pope; Johnson, Johnson; Goldsmith, Goldsmith; Charles Lamb, Charles Lamb; Carlyle, Carlyle.  Until you have grasped those men, as men, you cannot grasp their writings.  That is the personal side of literary study, and as necessary as the other.

The third. That the writing and speaking of English is a living art, to be practised and (if it may be) improved.  That what these great men have done is to hand us a grand patrimony; that they lived to support us through the trial we are now enduring, and to carry us through to great days to come.  So shall our sons, now fighting in France, have a language ready for the land they shall recreate and repeople.

[Footnote 1:  Donne’s Sermon II preached at Pauls upon Christmas Day, in the Evening. 1624.]





I have promised you, Gentlemen, for to-day some observations on The Value of Greek and Latin in English Literature:  a mild, academic title, a camouflage title, so to say; calculated to shelter us for a while from the vigilance of those hot-eyed reformers who, had I advertised The Value of Greek and Latin in English Life might even now be swooping from all quarters of the sky on a suggestion that these dry bones yet were flesh:  for the eyes I dread are not only red and angry, but naturally microscopic—­and that indeed, if they only knew it, is their malady.  Yet ‘surely’ groaned patient job, ’there is a path which the vulture’s eye hath not seen!’

You, at any rate, know by this time that wherever these lectures assert literature they assert life, perhaps even too passionately, allowing neither the fact of death nor the possibility of divorce.

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