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.

  Ah, my sweet home, Hierusalem,
     Would God I were in thee! 
  Thy Gardens and thy gallant walks
     Continually are green: 
  There grows such sweet and pleasant flowers
     As nowhere else are seen. 
  Quite through the streets with pleasant sound
     The flood of Life doth flow;
  Upon whose banks on every side
     The wood of Life doth grow.... 
  Our Lady sings Magnificat
     With tones surpassing sweet: 
  And all the virgins bear their part,
     Sitting about her feet. 
  Hierusalem, my happy home,
     Would God I were in thee! 
  Would God my woes were at an end,
     Thy joys that I might see!

You cannot (I say) get away from these connotations accreted through your own memories and your fathers’; as neither can you be sure of getting free of any great literature in any tongue, once it has been written.  Let me quote you a passage from Cardinal Newman [he is addressing the undergraduates of the Catholic University of Dublin]: 

  How real a creation, how sui generis, is the style of
  Shakespeare, or of the Protestant Bible and Prayer Book,
  or of Swift, or of Pope, or of Gibbon, or of Johnson!

[I pause to mark how just this man can be to his great enemies.  Pope was a Roman Catholic, you will remember; but Gibbon was an infidel.]

Even were the subject-matter without meaning, though in truth the style cannot really be abstracted from the sense, still the style would, on that supposition, remain as perfect and original a work as Euclid’s “Elements” or a symphony of Beethoven.
And, like music, it has seized upon the public mind:  and the literature of England is no longer a mere letter, printed in books and shut up in libraries, but it is a living voice, which has gone forth in its expressions and its sentiments into the world of men, which daily thrills upon our ears and syllables our thoughts, which speaks to us through our correspondents and dictates when we put pen to paper.  Whether we will or no, the phraseology of Shakespeare, of the Protestant formularies, of Milton, of Pope, of Johnson’s Table-talk, and of Walter Scott, have become a portion of the vernacular tongue, the household words, of which perhaps we little guess the origin, and the very idioms of our familiar conversation....  So tyrannous is the literature of a nation; it is too much for us.  We cannot destroy or reverse it....  We cannot make it over again.  It is a great work of man, when it is no work of God’s....  We cannot undo the past.  English Literature will ever have been Protestant.


I am speaking, then, to hearers who would read not to contradict and confute; who have an inherited sense of the English Bible; and who have, even as I, a store of associated ideas, to be evoked by any chance phrase from it; beyond this, it may be, nothing that can be called scholarship by any stretch of the term.

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