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.

Let me, amplifying a hint from Dr Moulton, ask you to imagine a volume including the great books of our own literature all bound together in some such order as this:  “Paradise Lost,” Darwin’s “Descent of Man,” “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,” Walter Map, Mill “On Liberty,” Hooker’s “Ecclesiastical Polity,” “The Annual Register,” Froissart, Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations,” “Domesday Book,” “Le Morte d’Arthur,” Campbell’s “Lives of the Lord Chancellors,” Boswell’s “Johnson,” Barbour’s “The Bruce,” Hakluyt’s “Voyages,” Clarendon, Macaulay, the plays of Shakespeare, Shelley’s “Prometheus Unbound,” “The Faerie Queene,” Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, Bacon’s Essays, Swinburne’s “Poems and Ballads,” FitzGerald’s “Omar Khayyam,” Wordsworth, Browning, “Sartor Resartus,” Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy,” Burke’s “Letters on a Regicide Peace,” “Ossian,” “Piers Plowman,” Burke’s “Thoughts on the Present Discontents,” Quarles, Newman’s “Apologia”, Donne’s Sermons, Ruskin, Blake, “The Deserted Village,” Manfred, Blair’s “Grave,” “The Complaint of Deor,” Bailey’s “Festus,” Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven.”

Will you next imagine that in this volume most of the author’s names are lost; that, of the few that survive, a number have found their way into wrong places; that Ruskin for example is credited with “Sartor Resartus,” that “Laus Veneris” and “Dolores” are ascribed to Queen Elizabeth, “The Anatomy of Melancholy” to Charles II; and that, as for the titles, these were never invented by the authors, but by a Committee?

Will you still go on to imagine that all the poetry is printed as prose; while all the long paragraphs of prose are broken up into short verses, so that they resemble the little passages set out for parsing or analysis in an examination paper?

This device, as you know, was first invented by the exiled translators who published the Geneva Bible (as it is called) in 1557; and for pulpit use, for handiness of reference, for ’waling a portion,’ it has its obvious advantages:  but it is, after all and at the best, a very primitive device:  and, for my part, I consider it the deadliest invention of all for robbing the book of outward resemblance to literature and converting it to the aspect of a gazetteer—­a biblion a-biblion, as Charles Lamb puts it.

Have we done?  By no means.  Having effected all this, let us pepper the result over with italics and numerals, print it in double columns, with a marginal gutter on either side, each gutter pouring down an inky flow of references and cross references.  Then, and not till then, is the outward disguise complete—­so far as you are concerned.  It remains only then to appoint it to be read in Churches, and oblige the child to get selected portions of it by heart on Sundays.  But you are yet to imagine that the authors themselves have taken a hand in the game:  that the later ones suppose all the earlier ones to have been predicting all the time in a nebulous fashion what they themselves have to tell, and indeed to have written mainly with that object:  so that Macaulay and Adam Smith, for example, constantly interrupt the thread of their discourse to affirm that what they tell us must be right because Walter Map or the author of “Piers Plowman” foretold it ages before.

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