HotFreeBooks.com
LITERARY TASTE
by ARNOLD BENNETT
Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse

Chapter X

BROAD COUNSELS

I have now set down what appear to me to be the necessary considerations, recommendations, exhortations, and dehortations in aid of this delicate and arduous enterprise of forming the literary taste. I have dealt with the theory of literature, with the psychology of the author, and—quite as important—with the psychology of the reader. I have tried to explain the author to the reader and the reader to himself. To go into further detail would be to exceed my original intention, with no hope of ever bringing the constantly-enlarging scheme to a logical conclusion. My aim is not to provide a map, but a compass—two very different instruments. In the way of general advice it remains for me only to put before you three counsels which apply more broadly than any I have yet offered to the business of reading.

You have within yourself a touchstone by which finally you can, and you must, test every book that your brain is capable of comprehending. Does the book seem to you to be sincere and true? If it does, then you need not worry about your immediate feelings, or the possible future consequences of the book. You will ultimately like the book, and you will be justified in liking it. Honesty, in literature as in life, is the quality that counts first and counts last. But beware of your immediate feelings. Truth is not always pleasant. The first glimpse of truth is, indeed, usually so disconcerting as to be positively unpleasant, and our impulse is to tell it to go away, for we will have no truck with it. If a book arouses your genuine contempt, you may dismiss it from your mind. Take heed, however, lest you confuse contempt with anger. If a book really moves you to anger, the chances are that it is a good book. Most good books have begun by causing anger which disguised itself as contempt. Demanding honesty from your authors, you must see that you render it yourself. And to be honest with oneself is not so simple as it appears. One's sensations and one's sentiments must be examined with detachment. When you have violently flung down a book, listen whether you can hear a faint voice saying within you: "It's true, though!" And if you catch the whisper, better yield to it as quickly as you can. For sooner or later the voice will win. Similarly, when you are hugging a book, keep your ear cocked for the secret warning: "Yes, but it isn't true." For bad books, by flattering you, by caressing, by appealing to the weak or the base in you, will often persuade you what fine and splendid books they are. (Of course, I use the word "true" in a wide and essential significance. I do not necessarily mean true to literal fact; I mean true to the plane of experience in which the book moves. The truthfulness of *Ivanhoe*, for example, cannot be estimated by the same standards as the truthfulness of Stubbs's *Constitutional History*.) In reading a book, a sincere questioning of oneself, "Is it true?" and a loyal abiding by the answer, will help more surely than any other process of ratiocination to form the taste. I will not assert that this question and answer are all-sufficient. A true book is not always great. But a great book is never untrue.

My second counsel is: In your reading you must have in view some definite aim—some aim other than the wish to derive pleasure. I conceive that to give pleasure is the highest end of any work of art, because the pleasure procured from any art is tonic, and transforms the life into which it enters. But the maximum of pleasure can only be obtained by regular effort, and regular effort implies the organisation of that effort. Open-air walking is a glorious exercise; it is the walking itself which is glorious. Nevertheless, when setting out for walking exercise, the sane man generally has a subsidiary aim in view. He says to himself either that he will reach a given point, or that he will progress at a given speed for a given distance, or that he will remain on his feet for a given time. He organises his effort, partly in order that he may combine some other advantage with the advantage of walking, but principally in order to be sure that the effort shall be an adequate effort. The same with reading. Your paramount aim in poring over literature is to enjoy, but you will not fully achieve that aim unless you have also a subsidiary aim which necessitates the measurement of your energy. Your subsidiary aim may be sthetic, moral, political, religious, scientific, erudite; you may devote yourself to a man, a topic, an epoch, a nation, a branch of literature, an idea—you have the widest latitude in the choice of an objective; but a definite objective you must have. In my earlier remarks as to method in reading, I advocated, without insisting on, regular hours for study. But I both advocate and insist on the fixing of a date for the accomplishment of an allotted task. As an instance, it is not enough to say: "I will inform myself completely as to the Lake School." It is necessary to say: "I will inform myself completely as to the Lake School before I am a year older." Without this precautionary steeling of the resolution the risk of a humiliating collapse into futility is enormously magnified.

My third counsel is: Buy a library. It is obvious that you cannot read unless you have books. I began by urging the constant purchase of books— any books of approved quality, without reference to their immediate bearing upon your particular case. The moment has now come to inform you plainly that a bookman is, amongst other things, a man who possesses many books. A man who does not possess many books is not a bookman. For years literary authorities have been favouring the literary public with wondrously selected lists of "the best books"—the best novels, the best histories, the best poems, the best works of philosophy—or the hundred best or the fifty best of all sorts. The fatal disadvantage of such lists is that they leave out large quantities of literature which is admittedly first-class. The bookman cannot content himself with a selected library. He wants, as a minimum, a library reasonably complete in all departments. With such a basis acquired, he can afterwards wander into those special byways of book-buying which happen to suit his special predilections. Every Englishman who is interested in any branch of his native literature, and who respects himself, ought to own a comprehensive and inclusive library of English literature, in comely and adequate editions. You may suppose that this counsel is a counsel of perfection. It is not. Mark Pattison laid down a rule that he who desired the name of book-lover must spend five per cent. of his income on books. The proposal does not seem extravagant, but even on a smaller percentage than five the average reader of these pages may become the owner, in a comparatively short space of time, of a reasonably complete English library, by which I mean a library containing the complete works of the supreme geniuses, representative important works of all the first-class men in all departments, and specimen works of all the men of the second rank whose reputation is really a living reputation to-day. The scheme for a library, which I now present, begins before Chaucer and ends with George Gissing, and I am fairly sure that the majority of people will be startled at the total inexpensiveness of it. So far as I am aware, no such scheme has ever been printed before.



Chapter XI

AN ENGLISH LIBRARY: PERIOD I* (*For much counsel and correction in the matter of editions and prices I am indebted to my old and valued friend, Charles Young, head of the firm of Lamley & Co., booksellers, South Kensington.)

For the purposes of book-buying, I divide English literature, not strictly into historical epochs, but into three periods which, while scarcely arbitrary from the historical point of view, have nevertheless been calculated according to the space which they will occupy on the shelves and to the demands which they will make on the purse:

I. From the beginning to John Dryden, or roughly, to the end of the seventeenth century.

II. From William Congreve to Jane Austen, or roughly, the eighteenth century.

III. From Sir Walter Scott to the last deceased author who is recognised as a classic, or roughly, the nineteenth century.

Period III. will bulk the largest and cost the most; not necessarily because it contains more absolutely great books than the other periods (though in my opinion it *does*), but because it is nearest to us, and therefore fullest of interest for us.

I have not confined my choice to books of purely literary interest— that is to say, to works which are primarily works of literary art. Literature is the vehicle of philosophy, science, morals, religion, and history; and a library which aspires to be complete must comprise, in addition to imaginative works, all these branches of intellectual activity. Comprising all these branches, it cannot avoid comprising works of which the purely literary interest is almost nil.

On the other hand, I have excluded from consideration:—

i. Works whose sole importance is that they form a link in the chain of development. For example, nearly all the productions of authors between Chaucer and the beginning of the Elizabethan period, such as Gower, Hoccleve, and Skelton, whose works, for sufficient reason, are read only by professors and students who mean to be professors.

ii. Works not originally written in English, such as the works of that very great philosopher Roger Bacon, of whom this isle ought to be prouder than it is. To this rule, however, I have been constrained to make a few exceptions. Sir Thomas More's *Utopia* was written in Latin, but one does not easily conceive a library to be complete without it. And could one exclude Sir Isaac Newton's *Principia*, the masterpiece of the greatest physicist that the world has ever seen? The law of gravity ought to have, and does have, a powerful sentimental interest for us.

iii. Translations from foreign literature into English.

Here, then, are the lists for the first period:

PROSE WRITERS s. d. Bede, *Ecclesiastical History:* Temple Classics 0 1 6 Sir Thomas Malory, *Morte d'Arthur:* Everyman's Library (4 vols.) 0 4 0 Sir Thomas More, *Utopia:* Scott Library 0 1 0 George Cavendish, *Life of Cardinal Wolsey:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 Richard Hakluyt, *Voyages:* Everyman's Library (8 vols.) 0 8 0 Richard Hooker, *Ecclesiastical Polity:* Everyman's Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0 FRANCIS BACON, *Works:* Newnes's Thin-paper Classics 0 2 0 Thomas Dekker, *Gull's Horn-Book:* King's Classics 0 1 6 Lord Herbert of Cherbury, *Autobiography:* Scott Library 0 1 0 John Selden, *Table-Talk:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 Thomas Hobbes, *Leviathan:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 James Howell, *Familiar Letters:* Temple Classics (3 vols.) 0 4 6 SIR THOMAS BROWNE, *Religio Medici*, etc.: Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Jeremy Taylor, *Holy Living and Holy Dying:* Temple Classics (3 vols.) 0 4 6 Izaak Walton, *Compleat Angler:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 JOHN BUNYAN, *Pilgrim's Progress:* World's Classics 0 1 0 Sir William Temple, *Essay on Gardens of Epicurus:* King's Classics 0 1 6 John Evelyn, *Diary:* Everyman's Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0 Samuel Pepys, *Diary:* Everyman's Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0 2 1 6

The principal omission from the above list is *The Paston Letters*, which I should probably have included had the enterprise of publishers been sufficient to put an edition on the market at a cheap price. Other omissions include the works of Caxton and Wyclif, and such books as Camden's *Britannia*, Ascham's *Schoolmaster*, and Fuller's *Worthies*, whose lack of first-rate value as literature is not adequately compensated by their historical interest. As to the Bible, in the first place it is a translation, and in the second I assume that you already possess a copy.

POETS. s. d. *Beowulf*, Routledge's London Library 0 2 6 GEOFFREY CHAUCER, *Works:* Globe Edition 0 3 6 Nicolas Udall, *Ralph Roister-Doister:* Temple Dramatists 0 1 0 EDMUND SPENSER, *Works:* Globe Edition 0 3 6 Thomas Lodge, *Rosalynde:* Caxton Series 0 1 0 Robert Greene, *Tragical Reign of Selimus:* Temple Dramatists 0 1 0 Michael Drayton, *Poems:* Newnes's Pocket Classics 0 3 6 CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE, *Works:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, *Works:* Globe Edition 0 3 6 Thomas Campion, *Poems:* Muses' Library 0 1 0 Ben Jonson, *Plays:* Canterbury Poets 0 1 0 John Donne, *Poems:* Muses' Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0 John Webster, Cyril Tourneur, *Plays:* Mermaid Series 0 2 6 Philip Massinger, *Plays:* Cunningham Edition 0 3 6 Beaumont and Fletcher, *Plays: a Selection:* Canterbury Poets 0 1 0 John Ford, *Plays:* Mermaid Series 0 2 6 George Herbert, *The Temple:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 ROBERT HERRICK, *Poems:* Muses' Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0 Edmund Waller, *Poems:* Muses' Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0 Sir John Suckling, *Poems:* Muses' Library 0 1 0 Abraham Cowley, *English Poems:* Cambridge University Press 0 4 6 Richard Crashaw, *Poems:* Muses' Library 0 1 0 Henry Vaughan, *Poems:* Methuen's Little Library 0 1 6 Samuel Butler, *Hudibras:* Cambridge University Press 0 4 6 JOHN MILTON, *Poetical Works:* Oxford Cheap Edition 0 2 0 JOHN MILTON, *Select Prose Works:* Scott Library 0 1 0 Andrew Marvell, *Poems:* Methuen's Little Library 0 1 6 John Dryden, *Poetical Works:* Globe Edition 0 3 6 [Thomas Percy], *Reliques of Ancient English Poetry:* Everyman's Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0 Arber's *"Spenser" Anthology:* Oxford University Press 0 2 0 Arber's *"Jonson" Anthology:* Oxford University Press 0 2 0 Arber's *"Shakspere" Anthology:* Oxford University Press 0 2 0 3 7 6

There were a number of brilliant minor writers in the seventeenth century whose best work, often trifling in bulk, either scarcely merits the acquisition of a separate volume for each author, or cannot be obtained at all in a modern edition. Such authors, however, may not be utterly neglected in the formation of a library. It is to meet this difficulty that I have included the last three volumes on the above list. Professor Arber's anthologies are full of rare pieces, and comprise admirable specimens of the verse of Samuel Daniel, Giles Fletcher, Countess of Pembroke, James I., George Peele, Sir Walter Raleigh, Thomas Sackville, Sir Philip Sidney, Drummond of Hawthornden, Thomas Heywood, George Wither, Sir Henry Wotton, Sir William Davenant, Thomas Randolph, Frances Quarles, James Shirley, and other greater and lesser poets.

I have included all the important Elizabethan dramatists except John Marston, all the editions of whose works, according to my researches, are out of print.

In the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods talent was so extraordinarily plentiful that the standard of excellence is quite properly raised, and certain authors are thus relegated to the third, or excluded, class who in a less fertile period would have counted as at least second-class.

SUMMARY OF THE FIRST PERIOD.

s. d. 19 prose authors in 36 volumes costing 2 1 6 29 poets in 36 " " 3 7 6 48 72 5 9 0 In addition, scores of authors of genuine interest are represented in the anthologies.

The prices given are gross, and in many instances there is a 25 per cent. discount to come off. All the volumes can be procured immediately at any bookseller's.



Chapter XII

AN ENGLISH LIBRARY: PERIOD II

After dealing with the formation of a library of authors up to John Dryden, I must logically arrange next a scheme for the period covered roughly by the eighteenth century. There is, however, no reason why the student in quest of a library should follow the chronological order. Indeed, I should advise him to attack the nineteenth century before the eighteenth, for the reason that, unless his taste happens to be peculiarly "Augustan," he will obtain a more immediate satisfaction and profit from his acquisitions in the nineteenth century than in the eighteenth. There is in eighteenth-century literature a considerable proportion of what I may term "unattractive excellence," which one must have for the purposes of completeness, but which may await actual perusal until more pressing and more human books have been read. I have particularly in mind the philosophical authors of the century.

PROSE WRITERS. s. d. JOHN LOCKE, *Philosophical Works:* Bohn's Edition (2 vols.) 0 7 0 SIR ISAAC NEWTON, *Principia* (sections 1, 2, and 3): Macmillan's 0 12 0 Gilbert Burnet, *History of His Own Time:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 William Wycherley, *Best Plays:* Mermaid Series 0 2 6 WILLIAM CONGREVE, *Best Plays:* Mermaid Series 0 2 6 Jonathan Swift, *Tale of a Tub:* Scott Library 0 1 0 Jonathan Swift, *Gulliver's Travels:* Temple Classics 0 1 6 DANIEL DEFOE, *Robinson Crusoe:* World's Classics 0 1 0 DANIEL DEFOE, *Journal of the Plague Year:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Joseph Addison, Sir Richard Steele, *Essays:* Scott Library 0 1 0 William Law, *Serious Call:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Lady Mary W. Montagu, *Letters:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 George Berkeley, *Principles of Human Knowledge:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 SAMUEL RICHARDSON, *Clarissa* (abridged): Routledge's Edition 0 2 0 John Wesley, *Journal:* Everyman's Library (4 vols.) 0 4 0 HENRY FIELDING, *Tom Jones:* Routledge's Edition 0 2 0 HENRY FIELDING, *Amelia:* Routledge's Edition 0 2 0 HENRY FIELDING, *Joseph Andrews:* Routledge's Edition 0 2 0 David Hume, *Essays:* World's Classics 0 1 0 LAURENCE STERNE, *Tristram Shandy:* World's Classics 0 1 0 LAURENCE STERNE, *Sentimental Journey:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 Horace Walpole, *Castle of Otranto:* King's Classics 0 1 6 Tobias Smollett, *Humphrey Clinker:* Routledge's Edition 0 2 0 Tobias Smollett, *Travels through France and Italy:* World's Classics 0 1 0 ADAM SMITH, *Wealth of Nations:* World's Classics (2 vols.) 0 2 0 Samuel Johnson, *Lives of the Poets:* World's Classics (2 vols.) 0 2 0 Samuel Johnson, *Rasselas:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 JAMES BOSWELL, *Life of Johnson:* Everyman's Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0 Oliver Goldsmith, *Works:* Globe Edition 0 3 6 Henry Mackenzie, *The Man of Feeling:* Cassell's National Library 0 0 6 Sir Joshua Reynolds, *Discourses on Art:* Scott Library 0 1 0 Edmund Burke, *Reflections on the French Revolution:* Scott Library 0 1 0 Edmund Burke, *Thoughts on the Present Discontents:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 EDWARD GIBBON, *Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:* World's Classics (7 vols.) 0 7 0 Thomas Paine, *Rights of Man:* Watts and Co.'s Edition 0 1 0 RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN, *Plays:* World's Classics 0 1 0 Fanny Burney, *Evelina:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Gilbert White, *Natural History of Selborne:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Arthur Young, *Travels in France:* York Library 0 2 0 Mungo Park, *Travels:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Jeremy Bentham, *Introduction to the Principles of Morals:* Clarendon Press 0 6 6 THOMAS ROBERT MALTHUS, *Essay on the Principle of Population:* Ward, Lock's Edition 0 3 6 William Godwin, *Caleb Williams:* Newnes's Edition 0 1 0 Maria Edgeworth, *Helen:* Macmillan's Illustrated Edition 0 2 6 JANE AUSTEN, *Novels:* Nelson's New Century Library (2 vols.) 0 4 0 James Morier, *Hadji Baba:* Macmillan's Illustrated Novels 0 2 6 5 1 0

The principal omissions here are Jeremy Collier, whose outcry against the immorality of the stage is his slender title to remembrance; Richard Bentley, whose scholarship principally died with him, and whose chief works are no longer current; and "Junius," who would have been deservedly forgotten long ago had there been a contemporaneous Sherlock Holmes to ferret out his identity.

POETS. s. d. Thomas Otway, *Venice Preserved:* Temple Dramatists 0 1 0 Matthew Prior, *Poems on Several Occasions:* Cambridge English Classics 0 4 6 John Gay, *Poems:* Muses' Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0 ALEXANDER POPE, *Works:* Globe Edition 0 3 6 Isaac Watts, *Hymns:* Any hymn-book 0 1 0 James Thomson, *The Seasons:* Muses' Library 0 1 0 Charles Wesley, *Hymns:* Any hymn-book 0 1 0 THOMAS GRAY, Samuel Johnson, William Collins, *Poems:* Muses' Library 0 1 0 James Macpherson (Ossian), *Poems:* Canterbury Poets 0 1 0 THOMAS CHATTERTON, *Poems:* Muses' Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0 WILLIAM COWPER, *Poems:* Canterbury Poets 0 1 0 WILLIAM COWPER, *Letters:* World's Classics 0 1 0 George Crabbe, *Poems:* Methuen's Little Library 0 1 6 WILLIAM BLAKE, *Poems:* Muses' Library 0 1 0 William Lisle Bowles, Hartley Coleridge, *Poems:* Canterbury Poets 0 1 0 ROBERT BURNS, *Works:* Globe Edition 0 3 6 1 7 0

SUMMARY OF THE PERIOD.

s. d. 39 prose-writers in 60 volumes, costing 5 1 0 18 poets " 18 " " 1 7 0 57 78 6 8 0



Chapter XIII

AN ENGLISH LIBRARY: PERIOD III

The catalogue of necessary authors of this third and last period being so long, it is convenient to divide the prose writers into Imaginative and Non-imaginative.

In the latter half of the period the question of copyright affects our scheme to a certain extent, because it affects prices. Fortunately it is the fact that no single book of recognised first-rate general importance is conspicuously dear. Nevertheless, I have encountered difficulties in the second rank; I have dealt with them in a spirit of compromise. I think I may say that, though I should have included a few more authors had their books been obtainable at a reasonable price, I have omitted none that I consider indispensable to a thoroughly representative collection. No living author is included.

Where I do not specify the edition of a book the original copyright edition is meant.

PROSE WRITERS: IMAGINATIVE. s. d. SIR WALTER SCOTT, *Waverley, Heart of Midlothian, Quentin Durward, Redgauntlet, Ivanhoe:* Everyman's Library (5 vols.) 0 5 0 SIR WALTER SCOTT, *Marmion*, etc.: Canterbury Poets 0 1 0 Charles Lamb, *Works in Prose and Verse:* Clarendon Press (2 vols.) 0 4 0 Charles Lamb, *Letters:* Newnes's Thin-Paper Classics 0 2 0 Walter Savage Landor, *Imaginary Conversations:* Scott Library 0 1 0 Walter Savage Landor, *Poems:* Canterbury Poets 0 1 0 Leigh Hunt, *Essays and Sketches:* World's Classics 0 1 0 Thomas Love Peacock, *Principal Novels:* New Universal Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0 Mary Russell Mitford, *Our Village:* Scott Library 0 1 0 Michael Scott, *Tom Cringle's Log:* Macmillan's Illustrated Novels 0 2 6 Frederick Marryat, *Mr. Midshipman Easy:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 John Galt, *Annals of the Parish:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Susan Ferrier, *Marriage:* Routledge's edition 0 2 0 Douglas Jerrold, *Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures:* World's Classics 0 1 0 Lord Lytton, *Last Days of Pompeii:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 William Carleton, *Stories:* Scott Library 0 1 0 Charles James Lever, *Harry Lorrequer:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Harrison Ainsworth, *The Tower of London:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 George Henry Borrow, *Bible in Spain, Lavengro:* New Universal Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0 Lord Beaconsfield, *Sybil, Coningsby:* Lane's New Pocket Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0 W. M. THACKERAY, *Vanity Fair, Esmond:* Everyman's Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0 W. M. THACKERAY, *Barry Lyndon*, and *Roundabout Papers*, etc.: Nelson's New Century Library 0 2 0 CHARLES DICKENS, *Works:* Everyman's Library (18 vols.) 0 18 0 Charles Reade, *The Cloister and the Hearth:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Anthony Trollope, *Barchester Towers, Framley Parsonage:* Lane's New Pocket Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0 Charles Kingsley, *Westward Ho!:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Henry Kingsley, *Ravenshoe:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Charlotte Bront, *Jane Eyre, Shirley, Villette, Professor, and Poems:* World's Classics (4 vols.) 0 4 0 Emily Bront, *Wuthering Heights:* World's Classics 0 1 0 Elizabeth Gaskell, *Cranford:* World's Classics 0 1 0 Elizabeth Gaskell, *Life of Charlotte Bront* 0 2 6 George Eliot, *Adam Bede, Silas Marner, The Mill on the Floss:* Everyman's Library (3 vols.) 0 3 0 G. J. Whyte-Melville, *The Gladiators:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 Alexander Smith, *Dreamthorpe:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 George Macdonald, *Malcolm* 0 1 6 Walter Pater, *Imaginary Portraits* 0 6 0 Wilkie Collins, *The Woman in White* 0 1 0 R. D. Blackmore, *Lorna Doone:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Samuel Butler, *Erewhon:* Fifield's Edition 0 2 6 Laurence Oliphant, *Altiora Peto* 0 3 6 Margaret Oliphant, *Salem Chapel:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Richard Jefferies, *Story of My Heart* 0 2 0 Lewis Carroll, *Alice in Wonderland:* Macmillan's Cheap Edition 0 1 0 John Henry Shorthouse, *John Inglesant:* Macmillan's Pocket Classics 0 2 0 R. L. Stevenson, *Master of Ballantrae, Virginibus Puerisque:* Pocket Edition (2 vols.) 0 4 0 George Gissing, *The Odd Women:* Popular Edition (bound) 0 0 7 5 0 1

Names such as those of Charlotte Yonge and Dinah Craik are omitted intentionally.

PROSE WRITERS: NON-IMAGINATIVE. s. d. William Hazlitt, *Spirit of the Age:* World's Classics 0 1 0 William Hazlitt, *English Poets and Comic Writers:* Bohn's Library 0 3 6 Francis Jeffrey, *Essays from Edinburgh Review:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 Thomas de Quincey, *Confessions of an English Opium-eater*, etc.: Scott Library 0 1 0 Sydney Smith, *Selected Papers:* Scott Library 0 1 0 George Finlay, *Byzantine Empire:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 John G. Lockhart, *Life of Scott:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Agnes Strickland, *Life of Queen Elizabeth:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Hugh Miller, *Old Red Sandstone:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 J. H. Newman, *Apologia pro vita sua:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 Lord Macaulay, *History of England*, (3), *Essays* (2): Everyman's Library (5 vols.) 0 5 0 A. P. Stanley, *Memorials of Canterbury:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 THOMAS CARLYLE, *French Revolution* (2), *Cromwell* (3), *Sartor Resartus and Heroes and Hero-Worship* (1): Everyman's Library (6 vols.) 0 6 0 THOMAS CARLYLE, *Latter-day Pamphlets:* Chapman and Hall's Edition 0 1 0 CHARLES DARWIN, *Origin of Species:* Murray's Edition 0 1 0 CHARLES DARWIN, *Voyage of the Beagle:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 A. W. Kinglake, *Eothen:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 John Stuart Mill, *Auguste Comte and Positivism:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 John Brown, *Hor Subseciv:* World's Classics 0 1 0 John Brown, *Rab and His Friends:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Sir Arthur Helps, *Friends in Council:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 Mark Pattison, *Life of Milton:* English Men of Letters Series 0 1 0 F. W. Robertson, *On Religion and Life:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Benjamin Jowett, *Interpretation of Scripture:* Routledge's London Library 0 2 6 George Henry Lewes, *Principles of Success in Literature:* Scott Library 0 1 0 Alexander Bain, *Mind and Body* 0 4 0 James Anthony Froude, *Dissolution of the Monasteries*, etc.: New Universal Library 0 1 0 Mary Wollstonecraft, *Vindication of the Rights of Women:* Scott Library 0 1 0 John Tyndall, *Glaciers of the Alps:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Sir Henry Maine, *Ancient Law:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 JOHN RUSKIN, *Seven Lamps* (1), *Sesame and Lilies* (1), *Stones of Venice* (3): George Allen's Cheap Edition (5 vols.) 0 5 0 HERBERT SPENCER, *First Principles* (2 vols.) 0 2 0 HERBERT SPENCER, *Education* 0 1 0 Sir Richard Burton, *Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Mecca:* Bohn's Edition (2 vols.) 0 7 0 J. S. Speke, *Sources of the Nile:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Thomas Henry Huxley, *Essays:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 E. A. Freeman, *Europe:* Macmillan's Primers 0 1 0 WILLIAM STUBBS, *Early Plantagenets* 0 2 0 Walter Bagehot, *Lombard Street* 0 3 6 Richard Holt Hutton, *Cardinal Newman* 0 3 6 Sir John Seeley, *Ecce Homo:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 David Masson, *Thomas de Quincey:* English Men of Letters Series 0 1 0 John Richard Green, *Short History of the English People* 0 8 6 Sir Leslie Stephen, *Pope:* English Men of Letters Series 0 1 0 Lord Acton, *On the Study of History* 0 2 6 Mandell Creighton, *The Age of Elizabeth* 0 2 6 F. W. H. Myers, *Wordsworth:* English Men of Letters Series 0 1 0 4 10 6

The following authors are omitted, I think justifiably:—Hallam, Whewell, Grote, Faraday, Herschell, Hamilton, John Wilson, Richard Owen, Stirling Maxwell, Buckle, Oscar Wilde, P. G. Hamerton, F. D. Maurice, Henry Sidgwick, and Richard Jebb.

Lastly, here is the list of poets. In the matter of price per volume it is the most expensive of all the lists. This is due to the fact that it contains a larger proportion of copyright works. Where I do not specify the edition of a book, the original copyright edition is meant:

POETS. s. d. WILLIAM WORDSWORTH, *Poetical Works:* Oxford Edition 0 3 6 WILLIAM WORDSWORTH, *Literary Criticism:* Nowell Smith's Edition 0 2 6 Robert Southey, *Poems:* Canterbury Poets 0 1 0 Robert Southey, *Life of Nelson:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 S. T. COLERIDGE, *Poetical Works:* Newnes's Thin-Paper Classics 0 2 0 S. T. COLERIDGE, *Biographia Literaria:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 S. T. COLERIDGE, *Lectures on Shakspere:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 JOHN KEATS, *Poetical Works:* Oxford Edition 0 3 6 PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY, *Poetical Works:* Oxford Edition 0 3 6 LORD BYRON, *Poems:* E. Hartley Coleridge's Edition 0 6 0 LORD BYRON, *Letters:* Scott Library 0 1 0 Thomas Hood, *Poems:* World's Classics 0 1 0 James and Horace Smith, *Rejected Addresses:* New Universal Library 0 1 0 John Keble, *The Christian Year:* Canterbury Poets 0 1 0 George Darley, *Poems:* Muses' Library 0 1 0 T. L. Beddoes, *Poems:* Muses' Library 0 1 0 Thomas Moore, *Selected Poems:* Canterbury Poets 0 1 0 James Clarence Mangan, *Poems:* D. J. O'Donoghue's Edition 0 3 6 W. Mackworth Praed, *Poems:* Canterbury Poets 0 1 0 R. S. Hawker, *Cornish Ballads:* C. E. Byles's Edition 0 5 0 Edward FitzGerald, *Omar Khaayym:* Golden Treasury Series 0 2 6 P. J. Bailey, *Festus:* Routledge's Edition 0 3 6 Arthur Hugh Clough, *Poems:* Muses' Library 0 1 0 LORD TENNYSON, *Poetical Works:* Globe Edition 0 3 6 ROBERT BROWNING, *Poetical Works:* World's Classics (2 vols.) 0 2 0 Elizabeth Browning, *Aurora Leigh:* Temple Classics 0 1 6 Elizabeth Browning, *Shorter Poems:* Canterbury Poets 0 1 0 P. B. Marston, *Song-tide:* Canterbury Poets 0 1 0 Aubrey de Vere, *Legends of St. Patrick:* Cassell's National Library 0 0 6 MATTHEW ARNOLD, *Poems:* Golden Treasury Series 0 2 6 MATTHEW ARNOLD, *Essays:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Coventry Patmore, *Poems:* Muses' Library 0 1 0 Sydney Dobell, *Poems:* Canterbury Poets 0 1 0 Eric Mackay, *Love-letters of a Violinist:* Canterbury Poets 0 1 0 T. E. Brown, *Poems* 0 7 6 C. S. Calverley, *Verses and Translations* 0 1 6 D. G. ROSSETTI, *Poetical Works* 0 3 6 Christina Rossetti, *Selected Poems:* Golden Treasury Series 0 2 6 James Thomson, *City of Dreadful Night* 0 3 6 Jean Ingelow, *Poems:* Red Letter Library 0 1 6 William Morris, *The Earthly Paradise* 0 6 0 William Morris, *Early Romances:* Everyman's Library 0 1 0 Augusta Webster, *Selected Poems* 0 4 6 W. E. Henley, *Poetical Works* 0 6 0 Francis Thompson, *Selected Poems* 0 5 0 5 7 0

Poets whom I have omitted after hesitation are: Ebenezer Elliott, Thomas Woolner, William Barnes, Gerald Massey, and Charles Jeremiah Wells. On the other hand, I have had no hesitation about omitting David Moir, Felicia Hemans, Aytoun, Sir Edwin Arnold, and Sir Lewis Morris. I have included John Keble in deference to much enlightened opinion, but against my inclination. There are two names in the list which may be somewhat unfamiliar to many readers. James Clarence Mangan is the author of *My Dark Rosaleen*, an acknowledged masterpiece, which every library must contain. T. E. Brown is a great poet, recognised as such by a few hundred people, and assuredly destined to a far wider fame. I have included FitzGerald because *Omar Khayym* is much less a translation than an original work.

SUMMARY OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.

83 prose-writers, in 141 volumes, costing 9 10 7 38 poets " 46 " " 5 7 0 121 187 14 17 7

GRAND SUMMARY OF COMPLETE LIBRARY.

Authors. Volumes. Price. 1. To Dryden 48 72 5 9 0 2. Eighteenth Century 57 78 6 8 0 3. Nineteenth Century 121 187 14 17 7

226 337 26 14 7

I think it will be agreed that the total cost of this library is surprisingly small. By laying out the sum of sixpence a day for three years you may become the possessor of a collection of books which, for range and completeness in all branches of literature, will bear comparison with libraries far more imposing, more numerous, and more expensive.

I have mentioned the question of discount. The discount which you will obtain (even from a bookseller in a small town) will be more than sufficient to pay for Chambers's *Cyclopdia of English Literature*, three volumes, price 30s. net. This work is indispensable to a bookman. Personally, I owe it much.

When you have read, wholly or in part, a majority of these three hundred and thirty-five volumes, *with enjoyment*, you may begin to whisper to yourself that your literary taste is formed; and you may pronounce judgment on modern works which come before the bar of your opinion in the calm assurance that, though to err is human, you do at any rate know what you are talking about.



Chapter XIV

MENTAL STOCKTAKING

Great books do not spring from something accidental in the great men who wrote them. They are the effluence of their very core, the expression of the life itself of the authors. And literature cannot be said to have served its true purpose until it has been translated into the actual life of him who reads. It does not succeed until it becomes the vehicle of the vital. Progress is the gradual result of the unending battle between human reason and human instinct, in which the former slowly but surely wins. The most powerful engine in this battle is literature. It is the vast reservoir of true ideas and high emotions—and life is constituted of ideas and emotions. In a world deprived of literature, the intellectual and emotional activity of all but a few exceptionally gifted men would quickly sink and retract to a narrow circle. The broad, the noble, the generous would tend to disappear for want of accessible storage. And life would be correspondingly degraded, because the fallacious idea and the petty emotion would never feel the upward pull of the ideas and emotions of genius. Only by conceiving a society without literature can it be clearly realised that the function of literature is to raise the plain towards the top level of the peaks. Literature exists so that where one man has lived finely ten thousand may afterwards live finely. It is a means of life; it concerns the living essence.

Of course, literature has a minor function, that of passing the time in an agreeable and harmless fashion, by giving momentary faint pleasure. Vast multitudes of people (among whom may be numbered not a few habitual readers) utilise only this minor function of literature; by implication they class it with golf, bridge, or soporifics. Literary genius, however, had no intention of competing with these devices for fleeting the empty hours; and all such use of literature may be left out of account. You, O serious student of many volumes, believe that you have a sincere passion for reading. You hold literature in honour, and your last wish would be to debase it to a paltry end. You are not of those who read because the clock has just struck nine and one can't go to bed till eleven. You are animated by a real desire to get out of literature all that literature will give. And in that aim you keep on reading, year after year, and the grey hairs come. But amid all this steady tapping of the reservoir, do you ever take stock of what you have acquired? Do you ever pause to make a valuation, in terms of your own life, of that which you are daily absorbing, or imagine you are absorbing? Do you ever satisfy yourself by proof that you are absorbing anything at all, that the living waters, instead of vitalising you, are not running off you as though you were a duck in a storm? Because, if you omit this mere business precaution, it may well be that you, too, without knowing it, are little by little joining the triflers who read only because eternity is so long. It may well be that even your alleged sacred passion is, after all, simply a sort of drug-habit. The suggestion disturbs and worries you. You dismiss it impatiently; but it returns.

How (you ask, unwillingly) can a man perform a mental stocktaking? How can he put a value on what he gets from books? How can he effectively test, in cold blood, whether he is receiving from literature all that literature has to give him?

The test is not so vague, nor so difficult, as might appear.

If a man is not thrilled by intimate contact with nature: with the sun, with the earth, which is his origin and the arouser of his acutest emotions—

If he is not troubled by the sight of beauty in many forms—

If he is devoid of curiosity concerning his fellow-men and his fellow-animals—

If he does not have glimpses of the unity of all things in an orderly progress—

If he is chronically "querulous, dejected, and envious"—

If he is pessimistic—

If he is of those who talk about "this age of shams," "this age without ideals," "this hysterical age," and this heaven-knows-what-age—

Then that man, though he reads undisputed classics for twenty hours a day, though he has a memory of steel, though he rivals Porson in scholarship and Sainte-Beuve in judgment, is not receiving from literature what literature has to give. Indeed, he is chiefly wasting his time. Unless he can read differently, it were better for him if he sold all his books, gave to the poor, and played croquet. He fails because he has not assimilated into his existence the vital essences which genius put into the books that have merely passed before his eyes; because genius has offered him faith, courage, vision, noble passion, curiosity, love, a thirst for beauty, and he has not taken the gift; because genius has offered him the chance of living fully, and he is only half alive, for it is only in the stress of fine ideas and emotions that a man may be truly said to live. This is not a moral invention, but a simple fact, which will be attested by all who know what that stress is.

What! You talk learnedly about Shakespeare's sonnets! Have you heard Shakespeare's terrific shout:

Full many a glorious morning have I seen Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye, Kissing with golden face the meadows green, Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy.

And yet, can you see the sun over the viaduct at Loughborough Junction of a morning, and catch its rays in the Thames off Dewar's whisky monument, and not shake with the joy of life? If so, you and Shakespeare are not yet in communication. What! You pride yourself on your beautiful edition of Casaubon's translation of *Marcus Aurelius*, and you savour the cadences of the famous:

This day I shall have to do with an idle, curious man, with an unthankful man, a railer, a crafty, false, or an envious man. All these ill qualities have happened unto him, through ignorance of that which is truly good and truly bad. But I that understand the nature of that which is good, that it only is to be desired, and of that which is bad, that it only is truly odious and shameful: who know, moreover, that this transgressor, whosoever he be, is my kinsman, not by the same blood and seed, but by participation of the same reason and of the same divine particle— how can I be hurt?...

And with these cadences in your ears you go and quarrel with a cabman!

You would be ashamed of your literary self to be caught in ignorance of Whitman, who wrote:

Now understand me well—it is provided in the essence of things that from any fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make a greater struggle necessary.

And yet, having achieved a motor-car, you lose your temper when it breaks down half-way up a hill!

You know your Wordsworth, who has been trying to teach you about:

The Upholder of the tranquil soul That tolerates the indignities of Time And, from the centre of Eternity All finite motions over-ruling, lives In glory immutable.

But you are capable of being seriously unhappy when your suburban train selects a tunnel for its repose!

And the A. V. of the Bible, which you now read, not as your forefathers read it, but with an sthetic delight, especially in the Apocrypha! You remember:

Whatsoever is brought upon thee, take cheerfully, and be patient when thou art changed to a low estate. For gold is tried in the fire and acceptable men in the furnace of adversity.

And yet you are ready to lie down and die because a woman has scorned you! Go to!

You think some of my instances approach the ludicrous? They do. They are meant to do so. But they are no more ludicrous than life itself. And they illustrate in the most workaday fashion how you can test whether your literature fulfils its function of informing and transforming your existence.

I say that if daily events and scenes do not constantly recall and utilise the ideas and emotions contained in the books which you have read or are reading; if the memory of these books does not quicken the perception of beauty, wherever you happen to be, does not help you to correlate the particular trifle with the universal, does not smooth out irritation and give dignity to sorrow—then you are, consciously or not, unworthy of your high vocation as a bookman. You may say that I am preaching a sermon. The fact is, I am. My mood is a severely moral mood. For when I reflect upon the difference between what books have to offer and what even relatively earnest readers take the trouble to accept from them, I am appalled (or should be appalled, did I not know that the world is moving) by the sheer inefficiency, the bland, complacent failure of the earnest reader. I am like yourself, the spectacle of inefficiency rouses my holy ire.

Before you begin upon another masterpiece, set out in a row the masterpieces which you are proud of having read during the past year. Take the first on the list, that book which you perused in all the zeal of your New Year resolutions for systematic study. Examine the compartments of your mind. Search for the ideas and emotions which you have garnered from that book. Think, and recollect when last something from that book recurred to your memory apropos of your own daily commerce with humanity. Is it history—when did it throw a light for you on modern politics? Is it science—when did it show you order in apparent disorder, and help you to put two and two together into an inseparable four? Is it ethics— when did it influence your conduct in a twopenny-halfpenny affair between man and man? Is it a novel—when did it help you to "understand all and forgive all"? Is it poetry—when was it a magnifying glass to disclose beauty to you, or a fire to warm your cooling faith? If you can answer these questions satisfactorily, your stocktaking as regards the fruit of your traffic with that book may be reckoned satisfactory. If you cannot answer them satisfactorily, then either you chose the book badly or your impression that you *read* it is a mistaken one.

When the result of this stocktaking forces you to the conclusion that your riches are not so vast as you thought them to be, it is necessary to look about for the causes of the misfortune. The causes may be several. You may have been reading worthless books. This, however, I should say at once, is extremely unlikely. Habitual and confirmed readers, unless they happen to be reviewers, seldom read worthless books. In the first place, they are so busy with books of proved value that they have only a small margin of leisure left for very modern works, and generally, before they can catch up with the age, Time or the critic has definitely threshed for them the wheat from the chaff. No! Mediocrity has not much chance of hoodwinking the serious student.

It is less improbable that the serious student has been choosing his books badly. He may do this in two ways—absolutely and relatively. Every reader of long standing has been through the singular experience of suddenly *seeing* a book with which his eyes have been familiar for years. He reads a book with a reputation and thinks: "Yes, this is a good book. This book gives me pleasure." And then after an interval, perhaps after half a lifetime, something mysterious happens to his mental sight. He picks up the book again, and sees a new and profound significance in every sentence, and he says: "I was perfectly blind to this book before." Yet he is no cleverer than he used to be. Only something has happened to him. Let a gold watch be discovered by a supposititious man who has never heard of watches. He has a sense of beauty. He admires the watch, and takes pleasure in it. He says: "This is a beautiful piece of bric—brac; I fully appreciate this delightful trinket." Then imagine his feelings when someone comes along with the key; imagine the light flooding his brain. Similar incidents occur in the eventful life of the constant reader. He has no key, and never suspects that there exists such a thing as a key. That is what I call a choice absolutely bad.

The choice is relatively bad when, spreading over a number of books, it pursues no order, and thus results in a muddle of faint impressions each blurring the rest. Books must be allowed to help one another; they must be skilfully called in to each other's aid. And that this may be accomplished some guiding principle is necessary. "And what," you demand, "should that guiding principle be?" How do I know? Nobody, fortunately, can make your principles for you. You have to make them for yourself. But I will venture upon this general observation: that in the mental world what counts is not numbers but co-ordination. As regards facts and ideas, the great mistake made by the average well-intentioned reader is that he is content with the names of things instead of occupying himself with the causes of things. He seeks answers to the question What? instead of to the question Why? He studies history, and never guesses that all history is caused by the facts of geography. He is a botanical expert, and can take you to where the *Sibthorpia europa* grows, and never troubles to wonder what the earth would be without its cloak of plants. He wanders forth of starlit evenings and will name you with unction all the constellations from Andromeda to the Scorpion; but if you ask him why Venus can never be seen at midnight, he will tell you that he has not bothered with the scientific details. He has not learned that names are nothing, and the satisfaction of the lust of the eye a trifle compared to the imaginative vision of which scientific "details" are the indispensable basis.

Most reading, I am convinced, is unphilosophical; that is to say, it lacks the element which more than anything else quickens the poetry of life. Unless and until a man has formed a scheme of knowledge, be it a mere skeleton, his reading must necessarily be unphilosophical. He must have attained to some notion of the inter-relations of the various branches of knowledge before he can properly comprehend the branch in which he specialises. If he has not drawn an outline map upon which he can fill in whatever knowledge comes to him, as it comes, and on which he can trace the affinity of every part with every other part, he is assuredly frittering away a large percentage of his efforts. There are certain philosophical works which, once they are mastered, seem to have performed an operation for cataract, so that he who was blind, having read them, henceforward sees cause and effect working in and out everywhere. To use another figure, they leave stamped on the brain a chart of the entire province of knowledge.

Such a work is Spencer's *First Principles*. I know that it is nearly useless to advise people to read *First Principles*. They are intimidated by the sound of it; and it costs as much as a dress-circle seat at the theatre. But if they would, what brilliant stocktakings there might be in a few years! Why, if they would only read such detached essays as that on "Manners and Fashion," or "The Genesis of Science" (in a sixpenny volume of Spencer's *Essays*, published by Watts and Co.), the magic illumination, the necessary power of "synthetising" things, might be vouchsafed to them. In any case, the lack of some such disciplinary, co-ordinating measure will amply explain many disastrous stocktakings. The manner in which one single ray of light, one single precious hint, will clarify and energise the whole mental life of him who receives it, is among the most wonderful and heavenly of intellectual phenomena. Some men search for that light and never find it. But most men never search for it.

The superlative cause of disastrous stocktakings remains, and it is much more simple than the one with which I have just dealt. It consists in the absence of meditation. People read, and read, and read, blandly unconscious of their effrontery in assuming that they can assimilate without any further effort the vital essence which the author has breathed into them. They cannot. And the proof that they do not is shown all the time in their lives. I say that if a man does not spend at least as much time in actively and definitely thinking about what he has read as he has spent in reading, he is simply insulting his author. If he does not submit himself to intellectual and emotional fatigue in classifying the communicated ideas, and in emphasising on his spirit the imprint of the communicated emotions—then reading with him is a pleasant pastime and nothing else. This is a distressing fact. But it is a fact. It is distressing, for the reason that meditation is not a popular exercise. If a friend asks you what you did last night, you may answer, "I was reading," and he will be impressed and you will be proud. But if you answer, "I was meditating," he will have a tendency to smile and you will have a tendency to blush. I know this. I feel it myself. (I cannot offer any explanation.) But it does not shake my conviction that the absence of meditation is the main origin of disappointing stocktakings.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse