On The Art of Reading eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 188 pages of information about On The Art of Reading.

II

But let us begin with the first word, ’Value’—­’The Value of Greek and Latin in English Literature.’  What do I mean by ‘Value’?  Well, I use it, generally, in the sense of ‘worth’; but with a particular meaning, or shade of meaning, too.  And, this particular meaning is not the particular meaning intended (as I suppose) by men of commerce who, on news of a friend’s death, fall a-musing and continue musing until the fire kindles, and they ask ‘What did So-and-so die worth?’ or sometimes, more wisely than they know, ‘What did poor old So-and-so die worth?’ or again, more colloquially, ‘What did So-and-so “cut up” for?’ Neither is it that which more disinterested economists used to teach; men never (I fear me) loved, but anyhow lost awhile, who for my green unknowing youth, at Thebes or Athens—­growing older I tend to forget which is, or was, which—­defined the Value of a thing as its ‘purchasing power’ which the market translates into ‘price.’  For—­to borrow a phrase which I happened on, the other day, with delight, in the Introduction to a translation of Lucian—­there may be forms of education less paying than the commercial and yet better worth paying for; nay, above payment or computation in price[1].

No:  the particular meaning I use to-day is that which artists use when they talk of painting or of music.  To see things, near or far, in their true perspective and proportions; to judge them through distance; and fetching them back, to reproduce them in art so proportioned comparatively, so rightly adjusted, that they combine to make a particular and just perspective:  that is to give things their true Values.

Suppose yourself reclining on a bank on a clear day, looking up into the sky and watching the ascent of a skylark while you listen to his song.  That is a posture in which several poets of repute have placed themselves from time to time:  so we need not be ashamed of it.  Well, you see the atmosphere reaching up and up, mile upon mile.  There are no milestones planted there.  But, wave on wave perceptible, the atmosphere stretches up through indeterminate distances; and according as your painter of the sky can translate these distances, he gives his sky what is called Value.

You listen to the skylark’s note rising, spiral by spiral, on ‘the very jet of earth’: 

  As up he wings the spiral stair,
     A song of light, and pierces air
  With fountain ardour, fountain play,
     To reach the shining tops of day: 

and you long for the musical gift to follow up and up the delicate degrees of distance and thread the notes back as the bird ascending drops them—­on a thread, as it were, of graduated beads, half music and half dew: 

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