Books and Culture eBook

Hamilton Wright Mabie
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 123 pages of information about Books and Culture.
is a significant fact that in the lives of men of genius the reading of two or three books has often provoked an immediate and striking expansion of thought and power.  Samuel Johnson, a clumsy boy in his father’s bookshop, searching for apples, came upon Petrarch, and was destined henceforth to be a man of letters.  John Keats, apprenticed to an apothecary, read Spenser’s “Epithalamium” one golden afternoon in company with his friend, Cowden Clarke, and from that hour was a poet by the grace of God.  In both cases the readers read with the imagination, or their own natures would not have kindled with so sudden a flash.  The torch is passed on to those only whose hands are outstretched to receive it.  To read with the imagination, one must take time to let the figures reform in his own mind; he must see them with great distinctness and realise them with great definiteness.  Benjamin Franklin tells us, in that Autobiography which was one of our earliest and remains one of our most genuine pieces of writing, that when he discovered his need of a larger vocabulary he took some of the tales which he found in an odd volume of the “Spectator” and turned them into verse; “and after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back again.  I also sometimes jumbled my collections of hints into confusion, and after some weeks endeavoured to reduce them into the best order before I began to form the full sentences and compleat the paper.”  Such a patient recasting of material for the ends of verbal exactness and accuracy suggests ways in which the imagination may deal with characters and scenes in order to stimulate and foster its own activity.  It is well to recall at frequent intervals the story we read in some dramatist, poet, or novelist, in order that the imagination may set it before us again in all its rich vitality.  It is well also as we read to insist on seeing the picture as well as the words.  It is as easy to see the bloodless duke before the portrait of “My Last Duchess,” in Browning’s little masterpiece, to take in all the accessories and carry away with us a vivid and lasting impression, as it is to follow with the eye the succession of words.  In this way we possess the poem, and make it serve the ends of culture.

Chapter IV.

The First Delight.

“We were reading Plato’s Apology in the Sixth Form,” says Mr. Symonds in his account of his school life at Harrow.  “I bought Cary’s crib, and took it with me to London on an exeat in March.  My hostess, a Mrs. Bain, who lived in Regent’s Park, treated me to a comedy one evening at the Haymarket.  I forget what the play was.  When we returned from the play I went to bed and began to read my Cary’s Plato.  It so happened that I stumbled on the ‘Phaedrus.’  I read on and on, till I reached the end.  Then I began the ‘Symposium;’ and the sun was shining on the shrubs outside the ground floor on which I slept before I shut the book

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Books and Culture from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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