« AnteriorContinuar »
him to the proper view of the Infinite and Most High, would have revealed to him his own character as the wonderfully low.
WHAT TO READ, AND HOW TO READ IT.
SURELY it is not necessary to use any arguments to excite to reading, this is a taste very early formed; the young boy who has not yet reached his seventh summer frequently hastens away to the little garret with some precious volume, which will be perused until the darkest shades have fallen over the house-tops; or eagerly enough, perhaps, while the mother is ironing, or sewing, or knitting, will he take the volume, borrowed from the school library, and sit down by the bright fireside and read, and pause to suggest the question: oh, that he may find his delights when manhood shall have ripened his life, with the book by the fireside of the dear ones too. The taste for reading, we say, needs no defence, no apology. All who have ever had access to the portals, the first pillars of learning, will easily estimate the power of the fascination, and the charm of books; a charm which accompanies us, in some
way or other, our whole life through, arresting our boyhood, even in the midst of our sports, by the spell of novelty, by the attractions of fable and history, of legend and heroism, of strength and poetry. In youth and manhood, unveiling the ærial romances of science, the magnificent strides and speculations of Geometry, or Astronomy; or, if these be far above the reach, by the fairy lights which play round the room, from the more rudimental lessons of knowledge. Sick, and worldweary, we invoke some kindly voice of wife or daughter, to break the monotony of the sick chamber, and read to us; and when age films over the orbs of vision, and our glasses are a weariness to us, and the eye-balls soon ache and roll over a misty page, how pleasant then is the presence of one who will come to us with the cheerful book, and illuminate the passing hour with the hints and intimations from the suggestive page. Thus, then, we have to use little persuasion, we suppose, to prosecute the mere pursuit of reading; indeed, where persuasion has to be used in this particular, we may, perhaps, be sure of the incapacity of the individual, for the pleasure or the labour that may be connected with books; but over most of those who have begun to tread the walks and ways of Knowledge, they have shed a witchery and an influence which in every age of life it is delightful to feel. The engagements of life may make the book
a comparative luxury, but it is a luxury ever acknowledged, and frequently sought.
Again, therefore, we say it is not necessary to invoke to reading, but to systematic reading, reading to purpose and to profit. There never was so large an amount of profitless reading in the world as now; books, by millions, find their way through all the channels of our population, but of those books, printed and sold, few, very few, are read; and of the books read, how few either have an useful aim, or are perused to any useful purpose. There is a possibility of reading without any very distinct mental action; the mind of the reader is passive to the book, the individuality of the reader is surrendered to the book: this is always bad, no book has any right so to captivate, but thus it must always be, when we read, as thousands read, merely to stretch the mind upon a luxurious loungingcouch. A great deal of the reading of our times is merely intellectual ennui, it is an attempt to fly from self; we dare not be alone, even in a railway carriage; we shun solitude, we abhor thought; the mind cannot walk, or leap, or dive, or run, and therefore, the shilling novel is in so much request, and many other books beside shilling novels. Now it may be asserted as a general principle in reading, that all reading is useless which does not conduce to mental activity, which does not tax the imagination or the judgment, the comparison or the in
quisitiveness. Much reading is done merely by the eye; even the tale read cannot be recounted, the process of reasoning cannot be repeated, or the main proposition stated. No! no! my young friend, as the lines glide before the eye, tax the powers of your mind; if a volume of travels, then transport yourself to the scenery and the localities described, paint vividly, let Imagination use her colours, let human sympathy go forth and note the condition of the inhabitants, and let Memory awaken her daughter Comparison, and bring ancient story of the English country to bear the illustration from the foreign but modern picture. Of what use is any volume of travels in the library? 66 Eothen," "The Crescent and the Cross," or Layard's "Ninevah," if it is not made to be a lamp, to shed its lustre over the conditions of moral and physical Geography, and thus lighten up the pages of all history? Read in this spirit; read, indeed, with a spirit. It is possible to make any worthy novel like Scott's, or some of James's, assistants to mental education; but when have they been read in this fashion? when has the volume been laid down in order that the picture, the historic picture might be recalled? How often have we heard of "skipping the descriptive parts," precisely because there was a little mental work? We will repeat it again, that all reading is worse than useless, for it lulls the mind to sleep with most benumbing
opiates, which does not create the necessity of some kind of action. Burn the books which will not do this for you; what is their use? do they profess to bring to you information? You cannot receive it without mental action. Do they profess to bring to you the panoply of linked, mailed, severe thought? But you cannot put it on without action. And all the stern deductions of the metaphysician, or the moralist, are useless, unless you beat them out yourself, and make them, as he shall show you the way, into a mental harness; and this cannot be done without action. And if you surrender yourself to the spell of the poet, do you suppose that all is to be done by him, and nothing by yourself? You must use your own eyes, mount by your own wings; and this cannot be but by action. In the first place, therefore, in reading, let the young man have done with all the passive and powerless perusals, which, indeed, affect the eye, but never reach the intellect, and never call into play the moral approval or disapproval. This remark is certainly very general, but the reason why it is so, is because there is so vast an amount of crude, ill-digested reading, reading which in no sense is worthy of the name, which is scarcely worthy to rank as mental employment at all.
A second remark which may be made is in reference, not so much to the worthless method of reading, but rather the worthless matter read. It