Title: On Being Human
Author: Woodrow Wilson
Release Date: February, 2004 [EBook #5068] [Yes, we are more than one year ahead of schedule] [This file was first posted on April 14, 2002]
Character set encoding: ASCII
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On Being Human
Ph.D., Litt.D., LL.D.
President of the United States
1897 From the Atlantic Monthly
On Being Human
“The rarest sort of a book,” says Mr. Bagehot, slyly, is “a book to read”; and “the knack in style is to write like a human being.” It is painfully evident, upon experiment, that not many of the books which come teeming from our presses every year are meant to be read. They are meant, it may be, to be pondered; it is hoped, no doubt, they may instruct, or inform, or startle, or arouse, or reform, or provoke, or amuse us; but we read, if we have the true reader’s zest and plate, not to grow more knowing, but to be less pent up and bound within a little circle,—as those who take their pleasure, and not as those who laboriously seek instruction,—as a means of seeing and enjoying the world of men and affairs. We wish companionship and renewal of spirit, enrichment of thought and the full adventure of the mind; and we desire fair company, and a larger world in which to find them.
No one who loves the masters who may be communed with and read but must see, therefore, and resent the error of making the text of any one of them a source to draw grammar from, forcing the parts of speech to stand out stark and cold from the warm text; or a store of samples whence to draw rhetorical instances, setting up figures of speech singly and without support of any neighbor phrase, to be stared at curiously and with intent to copy or dissect! Here is grammar done without deliberation: the phrases carry their meaning simply and by a sort of limpid reflection; the thought is a living thing, not an image ingeniously contrived and wrought. Pray leave the text whole: it has no meaning piecemeal; at any rate, not that best, wholesome meaning, as of a frank and genial friend who talks, not for himself or for his phrase, but for you. It is questionable morals to dismember a living frame to seek for its obscure fountains of life!