The titlepage of this book explains its plan and purpose. The Courses of Reading and the Schemes for Practical Study, herein indicated, are the outgrowth of the Author’s long experience as a lover of books and director of reading. They have been tested and found to be all that is claimed for them. As to the large number of quotations in the first part of the book, they are given in the belief that “in a multitude of counsels there is wisdom.” And the Author finds consolation and encouragement in the following words of Emerson: “We are as much informed of a writer’s genius by what he selects, as by what he originates. We read the quotation with his eyes, and find a new and fervent sense.” As the value of the most useful inventions depends upon theingenious placing of their parts, so the originality of this work may be found to lie chiefly in its arrangement. Yet the writer confidently believes that his readers will enjoy that which he has borrowed, and possibly find aid and encouragement in that which he claims as his own; and therefore this book is sent out with the hope that book-lovers will find in it a safe Guide to the Best Reading.
LET us consider how great a commodity of doctrine exists in Books; how easily, how secretly, how safely they expose the nakedness of human ignorance without putting it to shame. These are the masters who instruct us without rods and ferules, without hard words and anger, without clothes or money. If you approach them, they are not asleep; if investigating you interrogate them, they conceal nothing; if you mistake them, they never grumble; if you are ignorant, they cannot laugh at you.
You only, O Books, are liberal and independent. You give to all who ask, and enfranchise all who serve you assiduously. Truly, you are the ears filled with most palatable grains. You are golden urns in whichmanna is laid up; rocks flowing with honey, or rather, indeed, honeycombs; udders most copiously yielding the milk of life; store-rooms ever full; the four-streamed river of Paradise, where the human mind is fed, and the arid intellect moistened and watered; fruitful olives; vines of Engaddi; fig-trees knowing no sterility; burning lamps to be ever held in the hand.
The library, therefore, of wisdom is more precious than all riches; and nothing that can be wished for is worthy to be compared with it. Whosoever acknowledges himself to be a zealous follower of truth, of happiness, of wisdom, of science, or even of the faith, must of necessity make himself a Lover of Books.
Richard de Bury, 1344.
Books are friends whose society is extremely agreeable to me; they are of all ages, and of every country. They have distinguished themselves both in the cabinet and in the field, and obtained high honors for their knowledge of the sciences. It is easy to gain access to them; for they are always at my service, and I admit them to my company, and dismiss them from it, whenever I please. They are never troublesome, but immediately answer every question I ask them. Some relate to me the events of past ages, whileothers reveal to me the secrets of Nature. Some teach me how to live, and others how to die. Some, by their vivacity, drive away my cares and exhilarate my spirits; while others give fortitude to my mind, and teach me the important lesson how to restrain my desires, and to depend wholly on myself. They open to me, in short, the various avenues of all the arts and sciences, and upon their information I safely rely in all emergencies. In return for all these services, they only ask me to accommodate them with a convenient chamber in some corner of my humble habitation, where they may repose in peace; for these friends are more delighted by the tranquility of retirement, than with the tumults of society.
Books are the Glasse of Counsell to dress ourselves by. They are Life’s best Business: Vocation to them hath more Emolument coming in, than all the other busie Termes of Life. They are Feelesse Counsellours, no delaying Patrons, of easie Accesse, and kind Expedition, never sending away any Client or Petitioner. They are for Company, the best Friends; in doubts, Counsellours; in Damp, Comforters; Time’s Perspective; the home Traveller’s Ship, or Horse; the busie Man’s best Recreation; the Opiate of idleWearinesse; the Mind’s best Ordinary; Nature’s Garden and Seed-plot of Immortality.
A Writer of the Sixteenth Century(quoted in “Allibone’s Dictionary”).
But how can I live here without my books? I really seem to myself crippled and only half myself; for if, as the great Orator used to say, arms are a soldier’s members, surely books are the limbs of scholars. Corasius says: “Of a truth, he who would deprive me of books, my old friends, would take away all the delight of my life; nay, I will even say, all desire of living.”
Balthasar Bonifacius Rhodiginus, 1656.
For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve, as in a vial, the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively and as vigorously productive as those fabulous dragon’s teeth, and, being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men…. Many a man lives, a burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose for a life beyond life.
Books are a guide in youth, and an entertainment for age. They support us under solitude, and keep us from being a burden to ourselves. They help us to forget the crossness of men and things, compose our cares and our passions, and lay our disappointments asleep. When we are weary of the living, we may repair to the dead, who have nothing of peevishness, pride, or design in their conversation.
God be thanked for books! They are the voices of the distant and the dead, and make us heirs of the spiritual life of past ages. Books are the true levellers. They give to all who will faithfully use them, the society, the spiritual presence, of the best and greatest of our race. No matter how poor I am; no matter though the prosperous of my own time will not enter my obscure dwelling; if the sacred writers will enter and take-up their abode under my roof, — if Milton will cross my threshold to sing to me of Paradise; and Shakspeare to open to me the worlds of imagination and the workings of the human heart; and Franklin to enrich me with his practical wisdom, — I shall not pine for want of intellectual companionship, and I may become a cultivated man, though excludedfrom what is called the best society in the place where I live.
William Ellery Channing.
In a corner of my house I have books, — the miracle of all my possessions, more wonderful than the wishing-cap of the Arabian tales; for they transport me instantly, not only to all places, but to all times. By my books I can conjure up before me to a momentary existence many of the great and good men of past ages, and for my individual satisfaction they seem to act again the most renowned of their achievements; the orators declaim for me, the historians recite, the poets sing.
Wondrous, indeed, is the virtue of a true book! Not like a dead city of stones, yearly crumbling, yearly needing repair; more like a tilled field, but then a spiritual field; like a spiritual tree, let me rather say, it stands from year to year and from age to age (we have books that already number some hundred and fifty human ages); and yearly comes its new produce of leaves (commentaries, deductions, philosophical, political systems; or were it only sermons, pamphlets, journalistic essays), every one of which is talismanic and thaumaturgic, for it can persuade man. O thou who art able to write a book, which once in two centuries or oftenerthere is a man gifted to do, envy not him whom they name city-builder, and inexpressibly pity him whom they name conqueror or city-burner! Thou, too, art a conqueror and victor; but of the true sort, namely, over the Devil. Thou, too, hast built what will outlast all marble and metal, and be a wonder-bringing city of mind, a temple and seminary and prophetic mount, whereto all kindreds of the earth will pilgrim.
Good books, like good friends, are few and chosen; the more select, the more enjoyable; and like these are approached with diffidence, nor sought too familiarly nor too often, having the precedence only when friends tire. The most mannerly of companions, accessible at all times, in all moods, they frankly declare the author’s mind, without giving offence. Like living friends, they too have their voice and physiognomies, and their company is prized as old acquaintances. We seek them in our need of counsel or of amusement, without impertinence or apology, sure of having our claims allowed. A good book justifies our theory of personal supremacy, keeping this fresh in the memory and perennial. What were days without such fellowship? We were alone in the world without it.
A. Bronson Alcott.
Consider what you have in the smallest chosen library. A company of the wisest and wittiest men that could be picked out of all civil countries, in a thousand years, have set in best order the results of their learning and wisdom. The men themselves were hid and inaccessible, solitary, impatient of interruption, fenced by etiquette; but the thought which they did not uncover to their bosom friend is here written out in transparent words to us, the strangers of another age. We owe to books those general benefits which come from high intellectual action. Thus, I think, we often owe to them the perception of immortality. They impart sympathetic activity to the moral power. Go with mean people, and you think life is mean. Then read Plutarch, and the world is a proud place, peopled with men of positive quality, with heroes and demi-gods standing around us, who will not let us sleep. Then they address the imagination: only poetry inspires poetry. They become the organic culture of the time. College education is the reading of certain books which the common sense of all scholars agrees will represent the science already accumulated…. In the highest civilization the book is still the highest delight.
Ralph Waldo Emerson.
A great book that comes from a great thinker, — it is a ship of thought, deep-freighted with truth, with beauty too. It sails the ocean, driven by the winds of heaven, breaking the level sea of life into beauty where it goes, leaving behind it a train of sparkling loveliness, widening as the ship goes on. And what a treasure it brings to every land, scattering the seeds of truth, justice, love, and piety, to bless the world in ages yet to come!
What is a great love of books? It is something like a personal introduction to the great and good men of all past times. Books, it is true, are silent as you see them on their shelves; but, silent as they are, when I enter a library I feel as if almost the dead were present, and I know if I put questions to these books they will answer me with all the faithfulness and fulness which has been left in them by the great men who have left the books with us.
I love my books as drinkers love their wine;
The more I drink, the more they seem divine;
With joy elate my soul in love runs o’er,
And each fresh draught is sweeter than before!
Books bring me friends where’er on earth I be —
Solace of solitude, bonds of society.
I love my books! they are companions dear,
Sterling in worth, in friendship most sincere;
Here talk I with the wise in ages gone,
And with the nobly gifted in our own:
If love, joy, laughter, sorrow please my mind,
Love, joy, grief, laughter in my books I find.
Books are the windows through which the soul looks out.
Henry Ward Beecher.
Books are our household gods; and we cannot prize them too highly. They are the only gods in all the mythologies that are beautiful and unchangeable; for they betray no man, and love their lovers. I confess myself an idolater of this literary religion, and am grateful for the blessed ministry of books. It is a kind of heathenism which needs no missionary funds, no Bible even, to abolish it; for the Bible itself caps the peak of this new Olympus, and crowns it with sublimity and glory. Amongst the many things we have to be thankful for, as the result of modern discoveries, surely this of printed books is the highest of all; and I, for one, am so sensible of its merits that I never think of the name of Gutenberg without feelings of veneration and homage.
The only true equalizers in the world are books; the only treasure-house open to all comers is a library; the only wealth whichwill not decay is knowledge; the only jewel which you can carry beyond the grave is wisdom. To live in this equality, to share in these treasures, to possess this wealth, and to secure this jewel may be the happy lot of every one. All that is needed for the acquisition of these inestimable treasures is the love of books.
J. A. Langford.
Let us thank God for books. When I consider what some books have done for the world, and what they are doing; how they keep up our hope, awaken new courage and faith, soothe pain, give an ideal life to those whose homes are hard and cold, bind together distant ages and foreign lands, create new worlds of beauty, bring down truths from heaven, — I give eternal blessings for this gift, and pray that we may use it aright, and abuse it not.
James Freeman Clarke.
Books, we know, Are a substantial world, both pure and good; Round these, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood, Our pastime and our happiness will grow.
Precious and priceless are the blessings which books scatter around our daily paths. We walk, in imagination, with the noblestspirits, through the most sublime and enchanting regions, — regions which, to all that is lovely in the forms and colors of earth,
“Add the gleam,
The light that never was on sea or land,
The consecration and the poet’s dream.”
A motion of the hand brings all Arcadia to sight. The war of Troy can, at our bidding, rage in the narrowest chamber. Without stirring from our firesides, we may roam to the most remote regions of the earth, or soar into realms where Spenser’s shapes of unearthly beauty flock to meet us, where Milton’s angels peal in our ears the choral hymns of Paradise. Science, art, literature, philosophy, — all that man has thought, all that man has done, — the experience that has been bought with the sufferings of a hundred generations, — all are garnered up for us in the world of books. There, among realities, in a “substantial world,” we move with the crowned kings of thought. There our minds have a free-range, our hearts a free utterance. Reason is confined within none of the partitions which trammel it in life. In that world, no divinity hedges a king, no accident of rank or fashion ennobles a dunce or shields a knave. We can select our companions from among the most richly gifted of the sons of God;and they are companions who will not desert us in poverty, or sickness, or disgrace.
Edwin P. Whipple.
My latest passion shall be for books.
Friedrich II. of Prussia.
For what a world of books offers itself, in all subjects, arts, and sciences, to the sweet content and capacity of the reader? In arithmetic, geometry, perspective, optics, astronomy, architecture, sculptura, pictura, of which so many and such elaborate treatises are of late written; in mechanics and their mysteries, military matters, navigation, riding of horses, fencing, swimming, gardening, planting, etc…. What so sure, what so pleasant? What vast tomes are extant in law, physic, and divinity, for profit, pleasure, practice, speculation, in verse or prose! Their names alone are the subject of whole volumes; we have thousands of authors of all sorts, many great libraries, full well furnished, like so many dishes of meat, served out for several palates, and he is a very block that is affected with none of them.
Except a living man, there is nothing more wonderful than a book! — a message to us from the dead, — from human souls whom we never saw, who lived perhaps thousands ofmiles away; and yet these, on those little sheets of paper, speak to us, amuse us, vivify us, teach us, comfort us, open their hearts to us as brothers. We ought to reverence books, to look at them as useful and mighty things. If they are good and true, … they are the message of Christ, the maker of all things, the teacher of all truth.