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BEST METHOD OF READING.
It is not unfrequently thought that the true guidance for habits of reading is to be looked for in prescribed courses of reading, pointing out the books to be read, and the order of proceeding with them. Now, while this external guidance may to a certain extent be useful, I do believe that an elaborately prescribed course of reading would be found neither desirable nor practicable. It does not leave freedom enough to the movements of the reader's own mind; it does not give free enough scope to choice. Our communion with books, to be intelligent, must be more or less spontaneous. It is not possible to anticipate how or when an interest may be awakened in some particular subject or author, and it would be far better to break away from the prescribed list of books, in order to follow out that interest while it is a thoughtful impulse. It would be a sorry tameness of intellect that would not, sooner or later, work its way out of the track of the best of any such prescribed courses. This is the reason, no doubt, why they are so seldom attempted, and why, when attempted, they are so apt to fail.
It may be asked, however, whether every thing is to be left to chance or caprice; whether one is to read what accident puts in the way,+what happens to be reviewed or talked about. No 1 far from it: there would in this be no more exercise of rational will than in the other process: in truth, the slavery to chance is a worse evil than slavery to authority. So far as the origin of a taste for reading can be traced in the growth of the mind, it will be found, I think, mostly in the mind's own prompting; and the power thus engendered is, like all other powers in our being, to be looked to as something to be cultivated and chastened, and then its disciplined freedom will prove more and more its own safest guide. It will provide itself with more of philosophy than it is aware of in its choice of books, and will the better understand its relative virtues. On the other hand, I apprehend that often a taste for reading is quenched by rigid and injudicious prescription of books in which the mind takes no interest, can assimilate nothing to itself, and recognises no progress but what the eye takes count of in the reckoning of pages it has travelled over. It lies on the mind, unpalatable, heavy, undigested food. But reverse the process; observe or engender the interest as best you may, in the young mind, and then work with that, expanding,
cultivating, chastening it. 50
PoeticAL AND PRose READING.
The disproportion usually lies in the other direction,-prose reading to the exclusion of poetry. This is owing chiefly to the want of proper culture; for although there is certainly a great disparity of imaginative endowment, still the imagination is part of the universal mind of man, and it is a work of education to bring it into action in minds even the least imaginative. It is chiefly to the wilfully unimaginative mind that poetry, with all its wisdom and all its glory, is a sealed book. It sometimes happens, however, that a mind well gifted with imaginative power loses the capacity to relish poetry simply by the neglect of reading metrical literature. This is a sad mistake, inasmuch as the mere reader of prose cuts himself off from the very highest literary enjoyments; for if the giving of power to the mind be a characteristic, the most essential literature is to be found in poetry, especially if it be such as English poetry is, the embodiment of the very highest wisdom and the deepest feeling of our English race. I hope to show in my next lecture, in treating the subject of our language, how rich a source of enjoyment the study of English verse, considered simply as an organ of expression and harmony, may be made; but to readers who confine themselves to prose, the metrical form becomes repulsive instead of attractive. It has been well observed by a living writer, who has exercised his powers alike in prose and verse, that there are readers “to whom the poetical form merely and of itself acts as a sort of veil to every meaning which is not habitually met with under that form, and who are puzzled by a passage occurring in a poem, which would be at once plain to them if divested of its cadence and rhythm; not because it is thereby put into language in any degree more perspicuous, but because prose is the vehicle they are accustomed to for this particular kind of matter; and they will apply their minds to it in prose, and they will refuse their minds to it in verse.”
The neglect of poetical reading is increased by the very mistaken notion that poetry is a mere luxury of the mind, alien from the demands of practical life, a light and effortless amusement. This is the prejudice and error of ignorance. For look at many of the strong and largely-cultivated minds which we know by biography and their own works, and note how large and precious an element of strength is their studious love of poetry. Where could we find a man of more earnest, energetic, practical cast of character than Arnold 7–eminent as an historian, and in other the gravest departments of thought and learning, active in the
" Taylor's Notes from Books, p. 215.
cause of education, zealous in matters of ecclesiastical, political, or social reform; right or wrong, always intensely practical and single-hearted in his honest zeal; a champion for truth, whether in the history of ancient politics or present questions of modern society; and, with all, never suffering the love of poetry to be extinguished in his heart, or to be crowded out of it, but turning it perpetually to wise uses, bringing the poetic truths of Shakspeare and of Wordsworth to the help of the cause of truth; his enthusiasm for the poets breaking forth when he exclaims, “What a treat it would be to teach Shakspeare to a good class of young Greeks in regenerate Athens; to dwell upon him line by line and word by word, and so to get all his pictures and thoughts leisurely into one's mind, till I verily think one would, after a time, almost give out light in the dark, after having been steeped, as it were, in such an atmosphere of brilliance ""
Tragic poetry has been well described as “poetry in its deepest earnest.” The upper air of poetry is the atmosphere of sorrow. This is a truth attested by every department of art, the poetry of words, of music, of the canvas, and of marble. It is so, because poetry is a reflection of life; and when a man weeps, the passions that are stirring within him are mightier than the feelings which prompt to cheerfulness or merriment. The smile plays on the countenance; the laugh is a momentary and noisy impulse; but the tear rises slowly and, silently from the deep places of the heart. It is at once the symbol and the relief of an o'ermastering grief; it is the language of emotions to which words cannot give utterance,—passions whose very might and depth give them a sanctity we instinctively recognise by veiling them from the common gaze. In childhood, indeed, when its little griefs and joys are blended with that absence of self-consciousness which is both the bliss and the beauty of its innocence, tears are shed without restraint or disguise; but when the selfconsciousness of manhood has taught us that tears are the expression of emotions too sacred for exposure, the heart will often break rather than violate this instinct of our nature. Tragic poetry, in dramatic, or epic, or what form soever, has its original, its archetype, in the sorrows which float like clouds over the days of human existence. Afflictions travel across the earth on errands mysterious, but merciful, could we but understand them; and the poet, fashioning the likeness of them in some sad story, teaches the imaginative lesson of their influences upon the heart.
1 Arnold's Life, p. 284, (American edition,) in a letter to Mr. Justice Coleridge.
WILLIAM D. GALLAG HER.
WillIAM D. GALLAGHER, whose name is associated with the literature of the West, was born in Philadelphia in 1808, and in 1816 migrated with his widowed mother to Cincinnati, and became a printer. In 1831 he was married, and shortly after edited the “Cincinnati Mirror,” contributing himself much to its columns. Subsequently he was connected with the “Western Literary Journal and Monthly Review,” with the “Western Monthly Magazine,” and with the “Hesperian, a Monthly Miscellany of General Literature.” In 1839, the late Charles Hammond offered to share with him the editorship of the “Cincinnati Gazette,” with which he continued to be connected till 1849, when he was appointed a clerk in the Treasury Department at Washington. In 1853, he removed to Kentucky, where he now resides, on a farm a few miles from Louisville.
In 1835, Mr. Gallagher published a small volume of poems under the title of Erato; and, in the two following years, the second and third parts of the same. In 1841, he edited a volume of choice poetry entitled S. lections from the Poetical Literature of the West; and in 1846, a collection of his own pieces that he esteemed the best, under the simple title of Poems. Of his numerous prose contributions to magazines, reviews, &c. he has never made a collection.
TRUTH AND FREEDOM.
On the page that is immortal,
For the truth, then, let us battle,
Long the boast that we are freemen
He who has the truth, and keeps it,
He who seeks the truth, and trembles
Is not fit to be a freeman,—
He who hears the truth, and places
Loud may boast of all that's manly,
Friend, this simple lay who readest,
But to truth give utmost freedom,
Bold in speech and bold in action
Of the free-soul’d and the slavish,
Be thou like the noble ancient, -
Speak!—no matter what betide thee;
Be thou like the first apostles,
If a free thought seek expression,
Face thine enemies,—accusers;
And, if thou hast truth to utter,
Tii E LABORER.
Stand up—erect! Thou hast the form
A soul as dauntless mid the storm
Of daily life, a heart as warm
What then 7–Thou art as true a man
As much a part of the great plan
That with Creation's dawn began,
Who is thine enemy? the high
The great, who coldly pass thee by,
With proud step and averted eye *
If true unto thyself thou wast,
A feather, which thou mightest cast
Aside, as idly as the blast
No:—uncurb’d passions, low desires,
Death, in the breast's consuming fires,
To that high nature which aspires
These are thine enemies, thy worst;