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.