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.
perpetual protest against all that crowds, and swells, and weakens the writer’s purpose.  To forget this is but to ‘confound our skill in covetousness.’  We cannot all be writers ... but we all wish to have good taste, and good taste is born of a generous caution about letting oneself go.  I say generous, for caution is seldom generous—­but it is a generous mood which is in no haste to assert itself.  To consider the thing, the time, the place, the person, and to take yourself and your own feelings only fifth is to be armour-proof against bad taste.


They tell us that Greek is going, here.  Well, I hold no brief for compulsory Greek; and I shall say but one word on it.  I put it, rather idly, to a vote in a Cambridge Combination Room, the other day, and was amazed to find how the votes were divided.  The men of science were by no means unanimous.  They owned that there was much to be said even for compulsory Greek, if only Greek had been intelligently taught.  And with that, of course, I agree:  for to learn Greek is, after all, a baptism into a noble cult.  The Romans knew that. I believe that, even yet, if the schools would rebuild their instruction in Greek so as to make it interesting, as it ought to be, from the first, we should oust those birds who croak and chatter upon the walls of our old Universities.  I find the following in FitzGerald’s “Polonius”: 

An old ruinous tower which had harboured innumerable jackdaws, sparrows, and bats, was at length repaired.  When the masons left it, the jackdaws, sparrows, and bats came back in search of their old dwellings.  But these were all filled up.  ‘Of what use now is this great building?’ said they, ’come let us forsake this useless stone-heap: 

And the beauty of this little apologue is that you can read it either way.


But, although a student of English Literature be ignorant of Greek and Latin as languages, may he not have Greek and Latin literature widely opened to him by intelligent translations?  The question has often been asked, but I ask it again.  May not some translations open a door to him by which he can see them through an atmosphere, and in that atmosphere the authentic ancient gods walking:  so that returning upon English literature he may recognise them there, too, walking and talking in a garden of values?  The highest poetical speech of any one language defies, in my belief, translation into any other.  But Herodotus loses little, and North is every whit as good as Plutarch.

  Sigh no more, ladies; ladies, sigh no more! 
     Men were deceivers ever;
  One foot in sea and one on shore,
     To one thing constant never

Suppose that rendered thus: 

I enjoin upon the adult female population ([Greek:  gynaikes]), not once but twice, that there be from this time forward, a total cessation of sighing.  The male is, and has been, constantly addicted to inconstancy, treading the ocean and the mainland respectively with alternate feet.

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