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sort often appear to think society better adapted to their wants than reading. These walking digesters, and clothesframes may sometimes be heard intimating, plainly enough, that they can kill time rather more effectually in the company of ladies, than in the company of books. With their hearts full of themselves, and their heads full of nothing, they may well afford to honor others with such compliments. In this state of things, a few words on the subject of reading cannot be regarded as out of place. All honest and judicious efforts to remand people to the well-nigh forgotten springs of intellectual life are surely deserving of indulgence, if not of encouragement. How to demean ourselves, and how to select our friends, in the world of thinking and thoughtless, of faithful and faithless beings called books, are no very easy or trifling questions. To these questions, however, we shall now address ourselves to the best of our ability. Milton nobly says, “A good book is the life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.” It is, indeed, a treasury of the inextinguishable light and the inexpugnible strength of a human soul— the earthly immortality of God's image, human reason. It is the eye, tongue, sword, which some hero and high priest of humanity hath bequeathed to us; a portion of the indestructible patrimony which the Present inherits of the Past. There are none of us so poor, but
“Books are ours, Within whose silent chambers treasure lies Preserved from age to age; more precious far Than that accumulated store of gold And orient gems, which, for a day of need, The sultan hides deep in ancestral tombs.”
When wearied and disgusted with the vanities and frivolities of the giddy and trifling world; when cheated and wounded in our heart's holiest affections by the hollowness and heartlessness of worldly society; there are none of us but may rejoice to know that “Books,
Are a substantial world, both pure and
good. Round these, with tendrils strong as flesh
and blood, Our pastime and our happiness may grow.”
In this so hollow, but solid-seeming world, good books are almost the only
friends we can safely trust; the only friends that are such, simply because they have the power to make us wiser, and better, and happier by their society. Books, moreover, we mean genuine books, not mere shams, vanities, and vacua in books' clothing, are about the only friends that will tell us the truth without either flattery or personality; and with whom there is neither variableness nor shadow of turning; so that, if they seem different at different times, we may know the change is in ourselves. True it is, such friends “Are worthiest of the mind's regard; with
them The future cannot contradict the past; Mortality's last exercise and proof Is undergone; the transit made, that shows The very soul.”
Themselves translations from “ that infinite, mysterious volume, whose author and writer is God,” we may always find in them a supply of what we ought most to desire, and a refuge from what we ought most to fear.
But such books obviously are not the things to dream, or doze, or yawn over. In reading them, if our object be a worthy one, energy and vigilance of faculty are quite indispensable. A thing which we can read and comprehend, lying on our backs, in an intellectual snooze or snore, plainly has no use for us. Such things we call not books, but vacua in book's clothing. To read them, is worse even than a waste of time; for it generates at once the habit of wasting it, and the inability to save it. If a book have anything to be understood, let us read to understand it, and be instructed by it: if it have not, then it is no book, and belongs only to the fire or the paper-mill. If we must dream, let us at least be original about it; let us go to sleep, and dream dreams of our own, and not merely doze, to re-dream the dreams of others.
We are ". indeed, to prize a book according to the ease with which it is read. Scott, says one, is certainly an invaluable author; he gives one so much without any effort. Why, I can read from cover to cover, and understand the whole perfectly, without the slightest labor! Now, if this be not to “damn with faint praise," we should like to know what is. Savs another, Coleridge must be an egregious dunce : Why, to save my life, I can't understand him. What, has he no idea of what a book ought to be 2 Yes, indeed, he has ; but he has no idea of writing such a thing as you call a book. He wrote to make you wiser, not to make you lazier, or himself richer. That he wrote to make you think, not to divert you from thinking, is the verything that makes him worth your reading, and the only thing that makes anyone worth your reading. For it is not the idleness with which we read, but the very intensity of labor which our reading calls forth, that does us good. We are benefited not so much by the attainment, as by the earnest pursuit of truth. To think ourselves into error, is far better than to sleep ourselves into truth. If the Lord had designed we should be wise and happy without thought, he would have made us brutes, and done with it. The easy picking-up and pocketing of an author's thoughts, is good for nothing but to help us along in intellectual foppery. It is the severe labor of thinking, producing a development or expansion of the faculties, that makes the worth of reading. An author enriches us, not so much by giving us his ideas, as by unfolding in us the same
owers that originated them. Reading, in short, if it be truly such, and not a mere imparted mental drowsiness, involves a development of the same activities, and a voluntary reproduction of the same states of mind, of which the author was subject in writing. The divine light reading, which is deified so much, can serve no earthly purpose, but to make us light-headed; the more we take of it, the emptier shall we assuredly become. Flour may indeed be baked and eaten without much labor, but will not grow; and seed-wheat will produce nothing without patient toil and tillage. Knowest thou not, that the bread which thou eatest without the sweat of thy brow, can be no bread to thee Why, it will turn into poison, and kill you with the gout, or the apoplexy, or some such disease. Would exercise be good for anything unless it exercised us? Most assuredly all good reading is hard work; nay it is good chiefly because it is hard, plucking our laziness by the nose, in order to give us health and strength. If an author do anything but revive our old thoughts in a new dress, assuredly we must work to follow him ; and if that be all he does, why not let him alone and cultivate a few sprouts of our own 2 That the literature in question is utterly worthless, is proven by the fact, that it keeps people constantly
eating, without ever feeding them.— While their hunger and thirst of soul remain unsatisfied, they keep crying, give, give, ignorant that they are starving from a defect in the quality, not in the quantity of their food. They ask for bread and literature gives them wind; nevertheless, they down with whatever comes to them, thinking their hunger continues because they have not enough, not because they have mere wind. They may cry, peace, peace, as much as they please ; but there is no peace for them, till they have some work. Such, at least, is our hope. He who truly reads a few genuine books, a few “books that are books,” will spend much of his time in thinking ; he who is too lazy to think at all, will probably spend all of his time in reading. We can digest wind much easier than bacon.
But reading without thought, bad as it is, is little if any worse than reading with too much thought, People often defeat their own efforts, by reading to give rather than get instruction. In the words of Goethe, they undertake to oversee an author, before they get to see him. Sterne very naturally wished for a reader who, yielding up the reins of his faculties into the hands of his author, would be content to be pleased, he knew not why and cared not wherefore. A compliance with this wish would no doubt be as beneficial to readers, as satisfactory to authors. For the only good reason for reading an author is, that he knows more of what he is wiiting about than we do. If an author be truly worth the reading, it will be long enough before we get to see him; and when we get competent to oversee him, it would really seem hardly worth our while to trouble our heads about him. All true books are but spectacles to read nature with ; and all true readers employ these, to look through, not to look at. If we cannot look through them, then they are not spectacles to us, but only gewgaws; and what is the use of playing with them, and looking at them, and criticizing them? Moreover, it is not by speaking this truth or that truth, our truth or your truth, but by simply speaking truth, what is true to him, that a man shames the devil. The devil himself sometimes tells truth; but he does it hypocritically, and therefore is only the more devilish for telling it. It is an author's business to give us his thoughts and feelings, not to reflect our own; to be our teacher, not our looking-glass. The genuineness of his writings consists in their truth to Nature as she appears to him; and should he attempt to look through our eyes, and speak with our tongues, he would do nothing but lie. All those authors and politicians who speak only to please the people, who are always listening to catch the popular breeze, and trying to look through the people's eyes, and make themselves the weathercocks of public opinion, are nothing but literary and political liars. If an author's vision serve to correct or extend our own, let us use it, and trust it, and be thankful for it; if it do not, let us throw it away, and use our own, or seek one that will. Whether he reports truly of things as they appear from his point of view, can be known, only by placing ourselves in the same int; and a disposition to quarrel with in affords presumptive evidence that we are viewing them from another point. But perhaps a still greater difficulty with many people, in reading, is, a redundancy of conscience. They seem afflicted with a shrinking moral apprehensiveness, which is always multiplying and magnifying the objects of moral censure, and blinding them to every thing but the sources of moral danger. It is as if one, from fear of drowning, should avoid the water until he had learnt to swin. One would really think it were better to be drowned, and done with it, than thus to die of hydrophobia. Now, a good conscience is undoubtedly the brightest jewel in the crown of our humanity; but a good quality and a great quantity of conscience are by no means convertible terms. We have sometimes known, and often heard of people who seemed constantly struggling to become all conscience; and whose moral censures were so abundant, that one had need to transform himself altogether into a pair of moral ears, to keep pace with them. This, then, is what we mean by redundancy of conscience. Consciences have been found so large, and so afflicted with a sort of prurient anxiety to frown, that they were perpetually converting innocent trifles into huge vices, that they might have objects enough to frown upon; and which, in the absence of other objects, would spend whole years in frowning upon abstract ideas. As might be expected, people of such consciences usually think very much of their own virtue. So choice of it are they, indeed, that they seldom go out without wrapping it up in their great conscience-blanket, against the follies and vices they expect
to find. They seem aware, in snort, that their virtue is of the more delicate, fragile kind, and very naturally regard a sort of conscience-crust as its only adequate protection from the inclemencies of the moral atmospheres around them. But this is not all. A great conscience naturally values itself, and seeks to be valued chiefly for its abundance, its display; a good conscience does not value itself or seek to be valued at all. Moreover, a very small conscience, if it be of good quality, is plainly enough to cognize and correct one's own faults; but one obviously needs a very large conscience to cognize and correct the faults of all about him. And besides, unless a man be altogether hollow, it must perforce take much more to cover than to line him; an outward conscience, therefore, must be much larger than an inward one. Hence it is, doubtless, that the sort and size, the quality and the quantity of any given conscience, are so generally found to be in inverse proportion to each other. But seriously: it is a great mistake, to suppose that the growth and health of our virtue are best promoted by encasing it in a conscience-crust. It were surely a poor remedy for a disease or weakness of the lungs, to confine the patient under an exhausted receiver. On the whole, breathing machines may as well be dispensed with, when they get to stopping the breath. One would really think our virtue hardly worth the saving, if “to prevent its taking cold, we must always keep it wrapped up in a great-coat of precaution against the sunshine and the breeze." We had best give it an occasional airing, even though we thereby run a little risk of exposure. A morality without eyes may, indeed, be exempt from the allurements of the eye; but then it must also lose the divine splendors that exist for its vision. Moreover, a disposition to pass moral judgment on every thing we see, is far from indicating a sound and vigorous morality. It rather indicates a species of moral coxcombry, that is always trying to find or make occasions to display itself. To forget, occasionally, that we are moral beings, is, after all, the best proof that we are so. It is far better to strengthen the moral sense by keeping it within its natural sphere, than to waste its energies by multiplying and magnifying its objects. If we expend it too freely on all occasions, perhaps we may not have enough left for occasions that really require it. We once knew a good deacon who, riding home from meeting one day, encountered a man lying drunk in the road. Upon the man's desiring to get up into the wagon, and ride to some house, the good deacon bawled out, so loud the neighbors might hear him, that he would not defile his wagon with such a creature. We thought the deacon must be a saint, sure enough, then; but we have since compared his conduct with that of a certain rough-voiced old gentleman who, finding a wretched daughter of vice fallen down in the street, forgetting everything but her present distress, took her up in his arms, carried her into his house, and nursed her into health. Even virtue and vice themselves should not always be contemplated through conscientious eyes; we need to view them not with the conscience only, but with the whole mind and heart; for vice is mean as well as wrong, and virtue is beautiful as well as right; and we may be so engrossed in viewing them simply as right or wrong, as to see no meanness in vice to scorn, and no beauty in virtue to love. But above all, if we would have a good conscience and a pure, we must not think to wear it on the outside for the benefit of others, but keep it within for the benefit of ourselves; and we may be assured, that the more it is worth to ourselves, the less shall we be disposed to show it to others. Let us not imagine, then, that we can transfer it to the outside, and convert it into an outlooking, argus-eyed envelopment, without spoiling it; for it will thereby become mere cloth, and hide our outward, only to betray our inward, nakedness. Doubtless many of our readers are aware, that in the Greek Mythology, Hercules was the impersonation of moral energy. The fable of his life and adventures is replete with the finest illustration of the growth and development of moral heroism. Perhaps nothing can surpass the truth and beauty of the fiction which represents him as strangling, in his cradle, the serpents that came to destroy him. It is even so with us all. Serpents come to us in our cradles, and we must destroy them there, or be destroyed by them. We should be taught in our youth to fear nothing but doing wrong; to face down evil, not to flee from it; to crush the serpents, not to run from them; and to possess our safety in ourselves, not in our condition. If nothing Jess than Hercules, the boy, could have strangled serpents in the cradle, nothing less than the strangling of them there vol. I.-NO. W. 32
could have made Hercules, the man. The truth is, there is neither safety nor sense in bandaging our eyes and corking our ears, to the shows and persuasions of vice and falsehood. We must be taught to know both good and evil; to meet them both, face to face; to see into, and see through them both; to recognize and cleave to the former in spite of all her severities and self-denials; and to detect and detest the latter, in spite of all her blandishments and captivations. We dor not, we cannot become truly virtuous, except by disciplining ourselves into that force, and purity, and perspicacity of soul, in whose presence vice and falsehood lose all their attractions, and sink into impotence and insignificance before the immortal and irresistible beauty of truth and virtue—as the false Florimel, of Spenser's Fairy Queen, faded and vanished into nothing, beside that heavenly Beauty whose form and features she had stolen, to deceive and betray. It is true, we are taught to pray, “lead us not into temptation; ” but we are not taught to ray, lead us away from temptation: and it would seem the dictate of common sense, that, if we would learn to swim, it were best neither to shun the water altogether, nor to plunge into the torrent of Niagara. In short, our truest benefactor is, not he who keeps us entirely away from temptation, or keeps temptation entirely away from us; but he who, amid temptation, gives us strength to reist and overcome it. A Shakespeare, who, carrying us through scenes of vice, still keeps our feelings and judgment on the side of virtue, is a far better teacher of morals, than one who, with fastidious precaution, leaves no room for feeling or judgment of any kind whatever. Of the proper materials of reading, much might be said; far more, indeed, than we jave time or strength to say, or our readers have patience or need to hear. On the immense, chaotic wilderness of books, of course, but general remarks can be made; and the defect of such remarks is, that they necessarily leave out of view the wants and capacities of individual minds. As there are many books fit for none, so there are few books fit for all. What will create in one place, may destroy in another; what were a crushing burden to this mind, may be but healthful exercise to that ; what were a healthful exercise to that may be but enfeebling indolence to a third; and there are truly few books that will impart life and strength to all ; for it is alike useless to read what is above and what is below the vigorous exercise of our powers. Some general remarks, however, we will try to give; the choice of particular books, must, of course, be left to individual readers. And with a worthy object in view, and with a firm conviction that “light which leads astray can not be light from heaven,” readers may be safeenough left to themselves. Without these, indeed, the most studied and judicious selection would be made in vain. But there is a preliminary consideration, to which, both for its difficulty and its importance, we would first invite especial attention. It is this: that different books are often the production of different faculties, or different combinations of faculties, and therefore addressed to different powers. In the poetry of Byron, for example, one activity may be predominant; in that of Wordsworth, another; in that of Southey, a third. If then, we find in Wordsworth neither beauty nor meaning, it follows, not that he is a dunce, nor that we are a dunce, but simply that the activity, to which he speaks, is yet undeveloped within us. It is not, perhaps, that we want the degree, but that we want the kind, of development necessary to understand and enjoy him. Again: two authors, Webster and Burke, for example, may have certain qualities in common; nay, in Webster these qualities may exist in much the greater degree; but with these common qualities Burke may join other qualities, different, and even superior, in kind. If, then, a man have faculties developed only for these common qualities, he will, of course, prefer Webster to Burke; if he have faculties developed for all Burke's qualities, he may greatly prefer him to Webster; and if he have faculties only for Burke's peculiar qualities, he may take him with enthusiasm and reject Webster altogether. Once more; take Coleridge and Dr. Paley, authors having scarce a single quality in common. Now, we may understand, and may therefore greatly prefer Coleridge; andther man may understand, and greatly prefer Dr. Paley. But does this prove that we are superior to him By no means; it proves neither that we are suerior, nor that we are inferior to him, ut only that we are different from him. Nay, he may greatly surpass us in degree of development, only he lacks the particular kind of development required
by the work in question; , and hence, though, perhaps, inferior to him, on the whole, we may be able to understrind what he does not and cannot understand. Now, to say nothing of want of modesty, it would really seem uncourteous and uncandid for him to call our author a dunce for being unintelligible to him, and us unfortunate dupes for loving him. Nevertheless, he sneeringly says to us, Sir, I dont understand this passage: come, explain ; tell me what the author means. Sir, say we, he means what he says. You ask us to tell you in what other form you already know his meaning; but the truth is, you do not know it at all, in this, or any other form whatever. You ask us to teach you through one faculty what is addressed to an altogether differ. ent faculty; a faculty yet undeveloped within you; develope yourself, sir, and then, perhaps, you will not need an ex!". But the fact is, some minds, y confining themselves to a certain round of ideas, contract so fixed a bias, become so hardened into a particular shape, that it seems impossible to develope them into any other shape at all The growth of some faculties becomes so large, as to prevent the vegetation of other faculties. The understanding, for example, comes to cast so broad and thick a shade, that imagination is forced to slumber on in the germ. But, says our worthy friend, I understand and admire Shakspeare; and you admit him to be far above Coleridge: Certainly, we do; but we have a word more to say, touching this thing. Now, in Shakspeare, all the faculties appear, working harmoniously and simultaneous}. together, freely interchanging their unctions and provinces. In the words of Hazlitt, “he was just like any other man, but that he was like all other men.” His mind, as hath been said, was the very sphere of humanity; ubiquity and omniformity were its distinctive attributes. None of us can speak at all, without using some portion of his language; and therefore whenever he speaks, we are obliged to understand something of what he says. With an understanding that traverses the earth, he joins an imagination that traverses the heavens. With a gentleness that echoes the tenderest note of affection, he unites a strength that might have governed the mightiest states. He speaks alike to all the faculties; hence all, who have any faculties whatever, understand