'He's a great traveller,' said my friend with a laugh, 'there's hardly a country in the world that he has not visited.'
'What an interesting man he must be,' I replied, 'but why do you laugh?'
'Oh, you'll see all right presently,' said he; 'but go and spend an evening with him; you will certainly be entertained—provided you are sympathetic and content to let him do all the talking.'
So a few days later I called at the house of the traveller. He welcomed me in his study, a fine large room yet possessed of that cosiness imparted by the presence of many books. The walls were entirely covered with bookcases to a height of about eight feet; and these contained, he told me, about three thousand volumes. At the end of this long room was a wide bay window, and here was placed a comfortable easy chair with twin oak tables, very strong and low, at either arm. Close at hand were a revolving bookcase and a stand containing five or six japanned cylinders about three feet long, and some six inches across, such as are used to contain nautical charts.
'You are fond of travel, are you not?' I remarked, as soon as I was settled. 'Jones told me that there are few countries with which you are unacquainted.'
'That is so,' he replied; 'travel has always been my passion from my youth up, and of all the volumes which you see around you, there are scarcely a hundred that do not treat of some foreign country or voyage.'
'How interesting,' I replied; 'it is a wise old dictum that there is nothing like travel to broaden one's mind. Unless we acquaint ourselves with the opinions held by men of other nations, men whose everyday life differs so widely from our own, who see things consequently from a different standpoint, how can we expect to regard any subject from all its various aspects, which is essential if we are to pronounce an opinion which——'
'Quite so,' he interrupted, eyeing me suspiciously, and obviously fearing from my verbiage that he was about to be beset by a bore. (To tell the truth, I was rather glad of his interruption, for the sentence was beginning to get out of hand.) 'As you say, there's nothing like travel to broaden the mind. Why,' he went on hurriedly, 'before I was eighteen I had been up Aconcagua with Conway.'
'Really?' I said, trying to associate the two with a country and a date. (Of course I knew where Aconcagua was—it was one of the most familiar names in my geography, only for the moment memory was a little refractory. Obviously it was a mountain, because he spoke of having been 'up' it. The name had a Spanish ending—of course! now I knew.) 'A wonderful country, Mexico,' I went on.
'Mexico?' said he; 'yes, I know Mexico too. Been right through it, from Chihuahua to Tehuentepec and Campeachy.' (This was unfortunate, but apparently he didn't notice the mistake, for he went on at once.) 'But as I was saying, I'd been up Aconcagua before I left school.'
'Good gracious,' I replied, amazed at his intrepidity, 'that must have been an experience!'
'Rather,' said he: 'Haven't you read Conway's book? Published in '02, I think.' He strode across the room and brought back a volume. 'Yes, 1902: capital book; well worth reading. But Mexico,' he continued, without giving me time to display the knowledge that I suddenly recollected as I turned the pages of the book, 'Ah! there's a country for you! How I enjoyed my first visit! Ever been there?'
'Alas! no,' I replied; 'but one of my fondest dreams has been to visit the ancient cities of the new world.' (I thought that was rather nicely put.)
'Charnay,' he said; 'you know Charnay, then? It was he who took me there first. Early 'eighties, I think.' He pulled out another volume and turned to the title-page. 'Here we are, "The Ancient Cities of the New World," '87. My copy is only the translation, published two years after the original appeared.'
This puzzled me rather. If he had been eighteen in 1902, he must have been a mere babe in 1885.
'Rather young, were you not, when you were there?' I ventured.
'Young? Why?' he replied.
'Oh, only because you said that you were eighteen when you ascended Aconcagua in 1902, so I thought that you must have been rather young when you were in Mexico in 1885.'
He stood still and stared at me, a puzzled look on his face.
'Good gracious,' he said, 'didn't Jones tell you? Didn't he explain to you about me and my travels?'
'Oh yes,' I hastened to reassure him, fearful that I had given offence; 'he told me that you were a widely-travelled man; and, if you will permit me to say so, I think he understated——'
'Yes, yes,' he went on, 'but didn't he tell you how I travelled? Didn't he tell you that I had never been out of Europe? This is my world,' he continued, waving his arm round the bookcases; 'here are my Americas, my Africa, my Asia, my Europe, and my Australia. There (pointing to a case by the window) is my West Indies, here (indicating another one) is my Polynesia, there my Arctic and Antarctic. Here (patting the back of the big easy chair) is my steamboat, my mule, and my camel. No weather can delay me, no storm prevent my setting out. Though it snow a blizzard, still can I cross the very summits of the Andes: be there a year-old drought, still may I journey from Sydney to Port Darwin overland.'
I could only marvel at the man. No world-wide traveller could have been prouder or have found greater satisfaction in the contemplation of his travels. And a further conversation assured me that, assisted by a good memory, he knew more, far more, of the countries about which he had read so many books than did ninety-nine out of a hundred of the tourists who had actually visited those lands.
'Don't think,' he said, 'that I merely pass my time reading promiscuously all manner of books of travel. I do nothing of the sort. At the beginning of each year I map out the countries I intend to visit during that year. So much time is allotted to each, according to the size of the country and that of its travel literature. Then I compile a list of the books that I intend to read, and the order in which they should be read. I have a fine collection of maps, and those tin cylinders over there contain charts, by means of which I am enabled to follow more accurately and minutely the different journeys and voyages that I make.
'Let me give you an example.' Here he took a thin octavo book from one of the cases. 'This is Commodore John Byron's narrative of the loss of H.M.S. Wager, one of Anson's squadron, on the coast of Chili, in 1740. It was published in 1768, and is, in my opinion, one of the most thrilling tales of shipwreck and suffering that has ever been written. I dare say you remember Campbell's beautiful lines in "The Pleasures of Hope"; they are pencilled on the fly-leaf of my copy:—
'"And such thy strength-inspiring aid that bore The hardy Byron to his native shore— In horrid climes, where Chiloe's tempests sweep Tumultuous murmurs o'er the troubled deep, 'Twas his to mourn misfortune's rudest shock, Scourg'd by the winds, and cradled on the rock, To wake each joyless morn and search again The famish'd haunts of solitary men."
'There is no map in the volume, much less a chart, to show where the ship struck, though we are told that the land was "on the larboard beam, bearing N.W.," and that they landed "in the latitude of between 47 and 48 deg. South." But without charts and maps how can one possibly follow the journey of the four poor sufferers along the coast on that terrible march from Mount Misery (as they named the inhospitable promontory where they landed) to civilisation on the island of Chiloe? With my maps I can follow their every footstep, with my chart I may visit each inlet that their frail canoe entered. Nor need I refer to these aids whenever I may turn to the volume again, for here (he unfolded a beautifully drawn map bound at the end of the volume) I have copied a chart which shows with a red line the whole of their terrible journey. I have done this with several of the older works on travel which I possess, books that were published without maps.'
To me at least it was a new aspect of book-collecting, and an interesting one. But I confess to having been impressed more by its originality and the patient perseverance of its devotee than by the knowledge which it had enabled him to accumulate. His was a vast knowledge, yet limited; for it was confined almost entirely to the topography and early exploration of the countries which he studied, together with such sociology as he would glean midst travellers' accounts of adventures and sport. Development, resources, industry, had little place in it. He was thoroughly conversant with the early history of Australia, could recite the names of all the early pioneers, and could plot Burke's expedition or Phillip's voyage to Botany Bay. But of Melbourne or Sydney to-day, their size, commerce, exports, the principal industries or railways, of these he knew nothing. On the other hand, with those countries which have come less quickly under the hand of civilisation, such as New Guinea or West Africa, he was well acquainted. He had followed the history of this last down to fairly modern times, knew the story of every settlement from Bathurst to the Bight and to Benguela, with their principal exports; and could talk interestedly with any dweller on 'the Coast.'
He is still comparatively a young man. If ever he sets out to see the world for himself, his pleasures will far exceed those of the ordinary tourist. Wherever he may go, he will need no guide-book to instruct him, in history at least. And he will visit out-of-the-way spots unnoticed by these authorities, but dear to him by reason of their mention in the pages of his fireside Mentors, their association with some thrilling though unimportant event of which he has read. Harbours, villages, buildings, will be familiar to him through some old print or coloured engraving; and he will eagerly compare the actual appearance with the mental picture he has borne for so long. Disappointment sometimes there will be, but a delightful anticipation always.
I hope, however, that I shall never be his travelling companion!
And here I cannot forbear to mention one other book-collecting acquaintance. A bosom friend of the genealogist, he was at one time a fellow-worker, and they would sit closeted for hours debating the parentage of Henry ap John. But he lacked that determination which prevented his friend from being constantly side-tracked, and the minutiae of history had a fatal attraction for him. As to whether Hugo de Beauchamp of Com. Wigorn. (which was their pleasant way of saying that he lived in Worcestershire) held his manor by serjeanty of the condimentum was of small moment to him compared with the price which King Edward paid him for a couple of goshawks or a greyhound; and he wondered of what sort was the tun of wine which he had from that sovereign as a Christmas present. And so his book-buying became more and more confined, for it was restricted now to those curious and uncommon works which treat of the byways of history; such as the Accounts of the Wardrobe and Hanaper, the reports of the lords marchers of the realm, books on feudal customs and offices, and the like.
During the great war our friend busied himself with His Majesty's ordnance. Hitherto he had always associated the term with cast-iron cannon, and had vague recollections of the number of 'ordnance' carried by the Great Harry or fired from the Tower of London during Sir Thomas Wyatt's insurrection. But even when these dreams were dispelled, his thoughts still harped on mediaeval equipment and harness while checking cases of boots or mess-tins; and he wondered how such things were managed before the days of railways. Released at length from this employ, his interest increased with leisure to pursue his investigations.
His passion now is the method in which the ancient campaigns of this country were conducted. He is quite an authority upon mediaeval transport, by sea as well as by land, and he can tell you at once the quantities of bowstrings and quarrels 'indented for' during the Crecy and Poictiers campaigns. Not long ago, poring over an ancient roll of parchment in the Record Office, he came across a list of the ships requisitioned for the Agincourt expedition, with their names, ports, and tonnage, inscribed on the back of one of the membranes. Great was his delight, and it will be some time before his friends will be allowed to forget this important discovery.
How valuable are these researches of our book-collecting friends! Do they not add a zest to those delightful evenings when, with curtains drawn and blazing fire, our favourite pipe aglow, a tall glass at our elbow, we hunt our treasures o'er again in comfort, roaming the bookstalls of our fancy? It is well, however, that our humours in book-lore are not all alike, else how tedious would some of these conferences become. Elation and jealousy would be hard to banish at times when we held some coveted volume in our hands. But with divergence of tastes such feelings cannot exist, and we eagerly share our friends' enthusiasm in their treasures and their delight in some newly-found gem.
It is a very serious business, this book-collecting. Whether we are contented now to let our library be slow of growth, or whether we are still imbued with the ardour of our early youth, we are none the less under the spell of books. Our paths may lie outside the pale of book-land for years, but the chance handling of a valuable or scarce volume will instantly awaken all our bibliophilic desires. Book-collecting is not like other pursuits. In after years we may realise that many of our hobbies are but vanities, but the love of good books is something far beyond all these ephemeral pursuits.
Doubtless few of us realised at the outset of our careers as book collectors how completely we should be mastered by this love of books. Who did not think that it comprised but occasional visits to the book-shops and bookstalls, perhaps even to an auction-room, and the reading of nondescript catalogues? But it is like all other hobbies: ridden at first with too little restraint, it soon gets the upper hand, and off it goes, bit between teeth, carrying its rider ever farther and farther afield. And no man of spirit would think of seeking to curb his hobby's gallop. We have mounted of our own free will, determined to pursue the chase, and never shall it be said that we were too timid to face the difficulties of the country ahead. The greater the difficulties the greater the sport, and in our enthusiasm we are determined to overcome all obstacles. So that, though our hobby may at length become our master, so enthralled are we in the pursuit that there is little danger of it assuming the semblance of a nightmare.
The farther we go, the wider the fields which open to our view, and there is interest for us in all of them. We roam at our pleasure over vast fields of literature, digressing here and there just as our fancy takes us. There is no danger, moreover, in being side-tracked, for such divagations in the realms of bibliography as we may make will serve but to increase our knowledge of books in the right direction. The only risk that we shall incur is that of becoming specialists, which is precisely what we should most desire.
And how delightful are these digressions in the world of books! There is no other occupation in which one may wander so innocuously. In most of the learned professions digressions are fatal to success. Anthony Despeisses was a lawyer who used frequently to digress. Beginning one day in Court to talk of Ethiopia, an attorney who sat behind him remarked 'Heavens! He is got into Ethiopia, he will never come back.' Despeisses, we are told, was so abashed with the ridicule that he chose rather to leave off pleading than to correct himself of this unfortunate habit, and quitted the Bar for ever. Doubtless he found solace among his books, for here at least he could digress to his heart's content.
Although, from a worldly point of view, side-tracks are fatal to success, yet they are as necessary a part of our literary education as is the application to study itself. Without digressing as we applied ourselves to books, narrow indeed would be the views that we acquired. Of what value is a vast acquaintance with the material details of a war, if we are ignorant as to the causes which brought it about, or the reasons why the nations were warring? 'Ah yes,' perhaps you may exclaim, 'but politics and history are all one, for the former creates the latter.' Precisely: so that in order to obtain a knowledge of the one, we must deviate to the other. Sharon Turner in his 'History of England during the Middle Ages' passes abruptly from the death of King Henry the Second to the military spirit of Mohammedanism, from the Troubadours to the early dissipations of King John, and devotes two of his five volumes to the Literature of England with copious examples of early poetry. It is all history, yet how indispensable are the side-tracks.
It is a subtle art, however, this knowledge of how and when to digress, and not easy to be learnt. Gerard de St. Amand died of grief in his middle age because Louis XIV. could not bear his reading of a poem on the Moon, in which he praised the King for his skill in swimming. On the other hand Madame de Stael obtained almost all the material for her literary work by a consummate skill in directing the digressions of conversation. Upon whatever subject her pen was engaged, that was the theme to which she led all talk.
Sir Thomas Browne's famous letter 'To a friend upon occasion of the death of his intimate friend' is a masterpiece of the art of digressing. Surely it is one of the quaintest letters of condolence ever written, if indeed it were ever intended to be such, for it has that stamp of careful literary composition which is usually so apparent in all letters written with a view to publication. The friend in question died of a consumption, and Sir Thomas recapitulates his disease, symptoms and death; contrasting each feature with the celebrated examples of history; moralising and discussing the opinions of the ancients upon these points as he goes along; and showing by his own experience that a man 'after a cough of almost fifty years, in whom all the lobes adhered unto the Pleura,' might yet die of stone in the bladder. Doubtless the friend to whom the letter was indited was highly edified by the aged doctor's learning, yet one cannot conceive that he would be greatly consoled by being informed, when discussing the patient's cough, that 'in cetaceous Fishes, who have large and strong lungs, the same is not observed; nor yet in oviparous Quadrupeds.' Digressing in this manner is a risky business, and if the grief were still fresh, it is more than likely that the bereaved one would exclaim 'A fig for your fishes, Sir.' But Sir Thomas was a wise and worldly man, and would know from experience precisely when to administer his soothing draught.
The attractions of digressing are far more insidious than would appear at first sight. It is so easy, one finds such delightful things, it is all in the daily task of gathering knowledge, it may be useful to us some day, and so on. But, unwisely employed, it is a more terrible thief of time even than Young's 'procrastination.' Worse still, it is a waster; for the scrappy knowledge so often acquired by this means becomes invariably the 'little learning' which is so dangerous—and useless—a thing. So that unless we are strongly imbued with the spirit of scholarly research, determined that we will not deviate one iota from the particular side-track which we are exploring, we are in grave danger of becoming lost in the maze of paths. Digressions in conversation and books can be of immense value, but he must be a man of iron will who can utilise to permanent advantage his resources in this direction. Constant and purposeless digressions, in reading no less than in talk, are just as injurious as interruptions. The mind is switched from one subject to another, and an entire sequence of reasoning which we may have been building up by the study of some days is destroyed in a few moments by the opening up of an unexplored tract of thought.
For many years there was a learned man at work in one of our ancient abbey libraries, cataloguing the manuscripts and monastic charters of the ancient foundation. Their number runs into many thousands, and at the outset the Keeper realised that if this task of providing an index and precis of the entire collection (which would be of incalculable value to the historical students who came after him) were to be accomplished in his lifetime, it would be necessary to adhere rigidly to his plan. Any deviation, however slight, would mean the loss of valuable time. To the historian and antiquary such a determination must have cost more than we can imagine; for every now and again he came across some charter of great historical interest. 'Ah,' he would sigh, reading it through, 'and now I suppose you must go back again into the obscurity in which you have lain for eight hundred years.' He quietly made his precis, indexed the document, and replaced it in the oaken press. There, thanks to his labours, it will be turned to at some future date to add laurels to the 'researches' of another man.
Perhaps the most innocuous way in which we may digress is by compiling one of those delectable literary hotch-potches known as 'commonplace books.' Here, with careful selection, we may garner those delightful thoughts, those gay conceits or pithy stories, that strike our fancy as we read. And though perhaps it may be urged that such collections resemble a casket of loose jewels plucked from their settings, yet they are jewels none the less. We may store all our collections within one cover, or we may preserve separately our extracts from the poets, our biographies, our meditations, or our anecdotes.
The first 'commonplacer' of whom I have seen mention was one Photius, a colonel in the Life Guards at Constantinople during the ninth century, or—as he was then called—Protospatharius. Later he became ambassador to the court of Baghdad, and amused himself by compiling a volume which he called Myriobiblon, a collection of extracts of the authors which he had read. He was a man, we are told, of extraordinary vigour of mind, and of encyclopaedical knowledge, and he was so devoted to reading that he passed whole nights without sleep. Accordingly we are not surprised to find that the Myriobiblon, with its Latin translation, forms a folio volume of some 1500 pages. When on an embassy to Assyria, he carried his library—some 300 rolls—with him, presumably on camels. Thus, we suppose, he could bestride his dramatic camel, his poetic camel, or his theological camel as the mood took him. The Myriobiblon was compiled merely as a handbook for his brother Tarasius, that the latter might enjoy a brief synopsis of what the ambassador read on his travels. Several authors are now known only by the extracts in this book; and among them may be mentioned a writer named Conon, who is said to have written fifty novels, which Photius condensed to his liking. All this, of course, was merely pour passer le temps; the really important works of this bookworm being a lexicon and a number of books on theology. Needless to say in due course he became Patriarch of Constantinople.
Who nowadays keeps a commonplace book? Doubtless a good many readers of to-day have neither time nor inclination to indulge this pleasing fashion, at one time so popular; but to anyone whose delight is the reading of good books as opposed to modern novels, there can be no more interesting amusement.
It can be a risky thing, however, this commonplacing, and he would be a bold man who dared to assign unto any one writer a popular phrase for no other reason than that this one has first expressed it in writing. There is no new thing under the sun, and by continued expression a familiar maxim becomes at last a proverb. Ask at a dinner-table who first wrote 'God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.' The knowing ones will puzzle their brains in silence; some lady with religious tendencies will claim it for the Holy Writ, inclining towards Isaiah; but the quiet bookish man at the end of the table will smile in a superior way, and offer to wager that he can name the author. You may safely accept his bet, for it is a hundred pounds to a penny that he will proclaim Laurence Sterne to have written it—he may even quote the context. Granted that Sterne did write it, but Sterne was a widely-read man and a plagiarist of no mean ability. So you may ask the bookish man how he doth account for this saying occurring in that quaint collection of 'Outlandish Proverbs' entitled 'Jacula Prudentum,' by Master George Herbert, compiled from ancient sources full a hundred years before the birth of the 'Sentimental Journey.'
Sometimes in ancient literature one comes across an expression which is in the vocabulary of everybody to-day, and one realises how very ancient some of these popular aphorisms must be. 'It is not alle golde that glareth,' wrote Chaucer, and the same theme was sung in Provencal by Amanieu des Escas near a hundred years before. But, like 'A bird in the hand,' it is so applicable to the failings to which mankind is prone, that its origin must surely have been far beyond even the classics of the old world, back in the dim ages of man's history. Common also to all nations must some at least of these primitive sayings be, for there is a primaeval simplicity about them that knows nothing of race or civilisation. 'A soft answer turns away wrath,' 'Pride goes before a fall,' 'Spare the rod and spoil the child,' are not all these and many others, collected by King Solomon from the wisdom of the East, as applicable to our everyday life in this age as they have ever been in the whole history of mankind? Enough of moralising, however; or else, convinced of the futility of attempting to assign originality to any man, you will come to agree with the young lady of fifteen who, priding herself on the possession of a literary flair, once remarked to the writer: 'In fact there is little doubt that Junius never wrote the letters attributed to him at all!'
 Usually the precentor was also archivist and librarian.
 In one monastery, however, they were allowed to speak 'passing soft.' We know that 'passing soft!'
 'Nunquam minus solus quam cum solus.' Alfonso d'Este (born 1476) had it carved on the mantelpiece of his study at Belvedere.
 Dr. E. J. L. Scott of Westminster Abbey, sometime Egerton Librarian of the British Museum. He calendared no less than 57,000 documents at the Abbey, but alas! a long life was insufficient to enable him to complete his task. The whole working portion of his latter years was spent in the muniment room, and it was there that he was seized with the illness which ended his life the same day (1918). The work which he accomplished (now being ably continued, on the lines which he laid down, by his successor, the present Custodian of the Abbey) has been utilized by scholars from universities all over the world. However busily employed, he was always ready instantly to lay aside his work in order to assist a student over some difficult point, whether of history or palaeography.
 Edition of 1651, 12mo, page 52. 'To a close shorne sheep, God gives wind by measure.' First printed in Witts Recreations, 1640. Sterne might have reflected that it is not usually the custom to shear lambs.
Since the above was written, a correspondent has brought to the writer's notice a sixteenth century French version:—Au brebis tondue, dieu donne le vent par mesure.
 It is curious to note how some of these famous sayings have been wrongly assigned. A recently published Dictionary of Quotations, assigns Scipio's famous dictum, 'A man is never less alone than when he is alone,' to Swift—a slight error of some nineteen centuries. W. C. Hazlitt in his Book-Collector makes an even more delightful howler, tracing the well-known verse in Ecclesiastes (xii. 12): 'Of making many books there is no end . . .' etc., 'back at least to the reign of Elizabeth' (sic), assigning it to a preacher at Paul's Cross in 1594.
BOOKS WHICH FORM THE LIBRARY.
'He that walketh with wise men shall be wise.'— PROVERBS xiii. 20.
IT is one of the tragedies of the book-collector's life that he is made aware continually of the deficiencies of his collection. Every bookseller's catalogue that he takes up reveals these lacunae; and even after many years of diligent book-hunting, when he can look upon his library with no small pride and has come to regard it as being more or less complete (for his own purposes, that is), some intimate friend to whom he is displaying his treasures will ask to see some well-known book, and he will be obliged to confess that he does not possess a copy. The reason probably is either that he has collected books upon no definite system, or that he has lost sight of the many works which his library should contain, through having confined himself too rigidly to specialism.
Both practices are bad, though the former is infinitely the worse. To collect books indiscriminately tends to develop the dread bibliomania. To specialise in a particular class of books should be the object of every collector; but to adhere so rigidly to that one class of literature as to exclude from our library the great books of the world, is to deprive ourselves of all the advantages which a library can offer. 'There are some books, as Homer, Virgil, Horace, Milton, Shakespeare, and Scott, which every man should read who has the opportunity; should read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. To neglect the opportunity of becoming familiar with them, is deliberately to sacrifice the position in the social scale which an ordinary education enables its possessor to reach.' What a number of famous names one can add, without which no library worthy the name can be complete! We are not all such sages as that great man Philip Melanchthon, whose library is said to have consisted of four authors only, namely, Plato, Pliny, Plutarch, and Ptolemy the geographer. But then, these are whole libraries in themselves.
Who, beside ourselves, shall decide what we shall read? 'A man's reading, to be of any value,' wrote Professor Blackie, 'must depend upon his power of association; and that again depends upon his tendencies, his capacities, his surroundings, and his opportunities.' But there are some authors whom the world has decided are great, whom we cannot possibly afford to neglect in the course of our literary education. There can be no doubt as to our decision here; and although it has been said truly that 'a lifetime will hardly suffice to know, as they ought to be known, these great masterpieces of man's genius,' yet these great classics should form the nucleus of our library, and to them we may add the other famous and approved books of the world as opportunities occur.
It is not without diffidence that I venture to approach this important question as to what we should read. Perhaps there is nothing more irritating to the real book-lover than to be told, usually by some well-meaning person, that he or she should read this or that. In nine cases out of ten the book or author recommended is one that we can safely afford to neglect. It is one of the commonest of human failings to imagine that a book which pleases us must necessarily please all others too, and we recommend it blindly to the first friend we come across, regardless of age, disposition, intellectual capacity, opportunity, surroundings, or even sex. It never even occurs to us to consider these matters, these vital qualities upon which the whole question of like or dislike depends.
'To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven'; and again, 'A wise man's heart discerneth both time and judgment,' wrote the Preacher of Judah. Yet mindful though we be of these ancient words of wisdom, how rarely do we apply them to our everyday reading! If we be in the mood for reading we pick up any book at random; if it please us at the moment, we continue to read it. If it be distasteful to us, we put it aside immediately. Possibly we recollect, next time that our eyes light upon a volume so discarded, that it was once displeasing, and we never take it up again. So, it may be urged, our mind exercises the power of selection for us: we can only absorb at any given time the class of literary food for which our mind then happens to be hungry.
But the truth is far otherwise. If we take up and read a book at random, in nine cases out of ten we continue to read it simply because it entails no mental effort. We do not have to think of what we are reading; our eyes gallop over sentence after sentence, and so long as the language is colloquial and the facts are bald, all is well, and we can go on and on. It is not only the body that, unchecked, is inclined to be slothful. Unless we have as complete a control over our minds as we have over our limbs, it is quite impossible that our reading shall benefit us to its full extent.
There is another point of view also. 'Every book that we take up without a purpose is an opportunity lost of taking up a book with a purpose.' And this does not mean that we should always be reading 'improving' books, that we must never read for recreation alone; for, I repeat, 'there is a time to every purpose under heaven.' But it does insist most emphatically that there should be a rhyme and a reason for reading any book at any time. There is a time for work and a time for play in reading no less than in the daily cycle of our lives. As to what shall constitute recreative reading, that is a matter which every man must decide for himself. I will venture to prophesy, however, that, by judicious selection and thoughtful reading, there will come a time when he will consider the reading of the great books to constitute the finest mental recreation in the world.
To return, however, to the great writers, those giants of whom we have said that it behoves us all to know something at least. Must we read them all? Let us leave 'must' out of the question; for our lifetime, however long it may be, will be scarcely sufficient to know and appreciate to the full these great masters of human thought. Yet at least it can be our aim ever to feed our minds only upon food of the finest quality and of a permanent nutritive value. But alas! How terribly limited are our capacities both as regards time and opportunity! How narrow the bounds which confine our reading abilities! Though a list of the great writers contain all the constituents of an Epicurean feast, yet to most of us it resembles the menu of a Gargantuan banquet.
As to the classics of the old world, surely, it may be urged, in such an essentially practical age we can afford to neglect books so hopelessly out of date? Yet there can be no greater mistake than to imagine that the wisdom of the old world can ever be out of date, for it is the wisdom that has created the civilisation of the newer world. Countless generations of men may pass away and be utterly forgotten, but the principles of morality inherent in man's nature will endure for ever. And it is these great principles of all that is good and noble in our nature that is brought out and developed insensibly by the study of the classics in our youth. Moreover they are books that have been accepted by all the nations of Europe as containing the bases of human thought. Something at least we should all know of these great writers common to all civilised nations.
To most of us, however, there is an insurmountable barrier surrounding them, the matter of language. The knowledge of Greek and Latin that we acquired at school has become painfully rusty. Is it worth while slogging away laboriously with grammar and dictionary at the expense of valuable time which might otherwise be devoted to the more modern classics in our own tongue? Candidly, it is not. If we have retained sufficient of our Greek and Latin to read it at sight with but an occasional reference to the dictionary well and good; but otherwise it is a painful waste of time. Hamerton recommends that we read the ancients with the help of literal translations beside the original, in which way, he says, we 'may attain a closer acquaintance with ancient literature than would be possible by translation alone.' But to many, an English version must be the only door by which they may enter Attica and Rome.
After all, it is for each one of us to decide how widely our time and opportunities shall permit us to wander on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. 'The best time-savers are the love of soundness in all we learn to do, and a cheerful acceptance of inevitable limitations.' Yet it is better to have wandered on the lowermost slopes of the mountain than never to have entered ancient Greece at all.
Who nowadays, outside the universities, reads these ancient classics? Where will you find a business man of thirty years of age whose delight in his leisure time is the reading of Horace or Homer? Here and there, perhaps, you may come across a man of classical education who still retains the love of ancient Greece and Rome, instilled into him in his youth, sufficiently to influence the course of his reading; but he is a rarity indeed. Among the many thousands of young men employed in business in the great cities, most of whom have learnt something at least of the classics in their youth, scarcely will you find one who will confess to having time for such literature. Yet all these thousands read many books each year, and can always find time to devour the latest popular novel.
It is chiefly a question of recreation versus education. Tired and jaded with the day's business, the young man of to-day has little inclination to devote his leisure time to study. Light frothy literature removes his thoughts from worldly cares, and by a complete change of subject stimulates a mind that has been enervated by concentration for hours on one particular theme. No effort is required, and, more important still, it does not make one think.
For daily reading in the train or over meals, with this purpose always in view, so far so good. But what of the many hours of leisure in every man's life, when no mental recreation is needed? What does the average man read then? It must be confessed that in nine cases out of ten his literature remains precisely the same. Doubtless the reason is simply because, having always been accustomed to reading the same kind of books, he knows no other sort. Mention Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, and he stares at you aghast. 'Good gracious,' he exclaims, 'I'm not going to read stuff like that; I should get the hump for a week; give me something cheerful.' And he picks up 'The Bauble,' by Mrs. Risquet Trashe.
And he is quite right. To anyone whose literature has consisted for years of nothing but novels of the circulating library type, a sudden application to the great writers would indeed be depressing. Is it necessary, however, or indeed wise, that any man's mental pabulum should consist entirely of novels? Nothing is further from my mind than to decry the taste for novel-reading; for, wisely employed, novels can become one of the joys of life. One can but agree with Miss Austen when she inveighs, in 'Northanger Abbey,' against those who belittle the productions of the novelist. But would she have been so emphatic had she lived to witness the printing-presses spouting forth that frothy flood which effervesces round the more serious writings of to-day? Would that every novel we take up had the delightful 'genius, wit, and taste' of Jane Austen to recommend it. How few and far between are the really good novels that we read!
There can be no finer recreation for a tired mind than a good novel. There is, however, one habit of reading which has become almost a social evil; and that is the habit of reading newspapers which many indulge in, morning, noon, and night. It is difficult to imagine anything more calculated to destroy consecutive and considered thought than the enormous variety of inconsequential topics that assails one every time one opens a newspaper. The mind becomes completely fuddled with the heterogeneous patchwork of entirely useless information. The only method I have discovered by which one can acquire the important news and yet retain the serenity of one's mind is that of having such news only as she knows will be of use read out by one's wife at breakfast. And this does not mean that the mental discomforts of the newspaper are relegated to one's better-half, for women are usually interested in the smaller details of everyday life.
No wonder that a large number of 'city men' live out their lives without ever opening a book that is worth reading meditatively; for newspaper-reading in course of time must completely undermine one's mental stability. After a few years, a book that is not composed of headlines, short chapters, small paragraphs and ejaculatory sentences, is unreadable without mental effort. So that long before he is middle-aged the city man has acquired the habit of 'glancing at' a news-sheet or magazine whenever he has nothing to do for a few minutes: a kind of reading that is about as advantageous to the mind as that which we indulge in when fingering the antique periodicals in the dentist's waiting-room. In later years he may or he may not overcome the repugnance he has acquired to anything deep or 'solid' (by which he generally means 'unparagraphed'): but I venture to think that, having once taken the plunge, there must be moments when he marvels at his foolishness in not having entered, years before, the City of the golden streets.
Perhaps it is unwise to use the word 'education' in speaking of the benefits to be derived from reading the great books, for to many people the term is synonymous with 'school,' where one is obliged frequently to do things against one's will. Good books, that is the books that 'live,' are no mere education, they are steps up the path of civilisation itself. They are just as necessary for the advancement of knowledge as are the letters and numerals which we learnt at school. The greatest books of the world do not teach us; they help us to teach ourselves, a very different matter. 'They are masters who instruct us without rod or ferule,' wrote an early book-lover; 'if you approach them they are not asleep; if you inquire of them they do not withdraw themselves; they never chide when you make mistakes; they never laugh if you are ignorant.' And the books which would be available to him would be chiefly the works of the Early Fathers, professedly books of moral instruction. But the books of our library 'are so many faithful and serviceable friends, gently teaching us everything through their persuasive and wise experience.'
And that is precisely the point. Good books do not instruct us so much as they persuade us; so that we come to be of the same mind as the great man who had deliberated and debated the matter so thoroughly for us. Perchance we disagree and take a different standpoint. Then can one almost see the spirit of the sage chuckling with delight at having found someone with whom to cross swords. 'I have made him think, I have made him think,' he repeats gleefully; and, sure of his point, he delights in having held our attention so intently as to cause us to debate the issue with ourselves.
It were foolish, however, to suppose that all the great books of the world are at once suitable to every reader. Time, above all other considerations, decides what we shall read; and the book which makes its greatest impression upon one man at thirty will fail to appeal to his neighbour till he be fifty or more. 'A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age,' says Benedick, and the converse is equally true. What a mistaken notion it is that puts into the hands of boys such classics as 'The Pilgrim's Progress' and 'Don Quixote'; for they are books which a knowledge of the world and of human nature alone can enable us to appreciate to the full. Their very foundations are built upon the rock of experience, every page exhibits the thoughts and deeds of men. No wonder that nine boys out of ten grow up with a dislike of Bunyan and all his works, and a contempt for the adventures of the immortal Don. Generally, however, all recollection of Quixote, except that he had a rotten old horse and charged some windmills, has (mercifully) disappeared long before the reader has attained his eighteenth year.
In later life, perhaps, we take up these books again, and are surprised to find that they have completely changed. There is hardly an incident in them that we remember, and we marvel how such and such a glorious passage could possibly have escaped us before. Our book-hunter's experience must have been that of many others. Long after his school-days were ended he took up, for the first time, 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.' How wistfully he thought of the enjoyment that would have been his when at school, had but some kind chance put into his hands this and similar books in which boys, and real human boys, played the principal parts, not strange outlandish men, the like of whom he had never met.
This unwise reading, this plunging, as it were, in medias res, is, I am inclined to think, the reason why to so many men the library of great authors is for ever locked. After a lengthy course of 'light' reading, they take up, all at once, some such work as 'Bacon's Essays' or the 'Paradise Lost,' determined 'to give the classics a chance.' They wade conscientiously through a good many pages, and then retire beaten, simply because they have failed to recognise that in reading, as in every other business, profession, craft, or pursuit, PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT. Who is there, outside Olympus, that can master any of these at sight? It is only by a continuous and continual course of reading that one comes at length to appreciate these great masters. 'The proper appreciation of the great books of the world is the reward of lifelong study. You must work up to them, and unconsciously you will become trained to find great qualities in what the world has decided is great.'
'That's all very well,' says the newspaper-reader, taking the word 'study' in its first dictionary sense; 'but I, for one, haven't got time—or inclination—for this lifelong application.' And yet, I reply, you have both time and inclination to apply yourself assiduously to newspapers, magazines, and suchlike reading. If you read at all, why not read good healthy stuff, which will be of permanent use to you in your journey through the world? Why devour garbage when rich meats are constantly about you? 'To stuff our minds with what is simply trivial, simply curious, or that which at best has but a low nutritive power, this is to close our minds to what is solid and enlarging and spiritually sustaining.' Look at it which way you will, the man who purposely neglects the great books deliberately closes the channels of knowledge flowing to his brain, sentences himself to intellectual exile, bolts and bars in his own face the only door which can lead him into the society of the wisest and greatest men this world has known.
And what are the great books of the world? They are those which, from their native excellences, have been approved by generations of wise men as beneficial for mankind—not for their generation alone. Times change and manners with them, but countless centuries are powerless to effect the slightest change in man's essence. Do not the characters in the oldest book in the world still live in our everyday life, and are not they possessed of the very thoughts and reasonings that are our portion to-day? Tastes may change vastly in even a short period, but it is only fashion, the constant craving for something new:—
'Manners with fortunes, humours turn with climes, Tenets with books, and principles with times.'
But the books which by common consent have been assigned places in the library of the immortals can never be out of fashion: for they contain the essences of human nature.
How then shall we start to make acquaintance with these classics? With what books shall we begin, with what continue? These are questions which it is impossible to answer without a knowledge of those qualities so necessary in recommending books. But at least it is possible to indicate the general line to be followed. It would be foolish, for example, for the man whose reading hitherto has consisted entirely of the modern novels of a circulating library, to turn at once to the Paradise Lost, Bacon's Essays, or the poems of Wordsworth. He would probably acquire a distaste for good literature which might never be overcome.
It is like everything else that counts: we set the greatest store by those things that we have come by through difficulties. The longer the journey and the more beautiful the scenes we pass through, the greater our pleasure and subsequent recollection of it. Let us begin our systematic reading by turning at first to those books which we shall appreciate immediately. Have novels been our reading hitherto? Then let us turn at once to some of the greater novelists, both living and dead. Here the field is wide, and we may quickly find writers to our taste. Thus we shall gradually work up to some name or names in the list of the immortals. In the same way we shall approach, step by step, the essayists, the moralists, the dramatists and (lastly) the poets.
It cannot be emphasised too strongly that Time above all other considerations decides what we shall read. Moreover, there are passages in many of the greatest writers that appeal to a man before he has really arrived at the time of their understanding. So that, reading some such passage (e.g. Addison's description of the Widows' Club in the 'Spectator') as this, and finding the remainder not to his taste, he concludes that he has discovered the kernel and that the rest can be cast aside. Practice alone makes perfect: macte nova virtute, puer, sic itur ad astra.
With regard to editions, it were needless to specify them; the great books of the world are reprinted and re-edited every few years. But our editions should be good ones. 'A good edition should be a complete edition, ungarbled and unabridged.' Perchance you may prefer to have them, if it be possible, in the original editions? If so, you will be wise in your generation, but your purse will need to be a long one indeed.
Remember that the first edition is not necessarily the best. It may be, but in the great majority of cases it is not. In addition to the inevitable clerical mistakes and printer's errors which are almost always corrected in the second and subsequent editions, the author or editor frequently interpolates matter which the publication de ipso has brought to his notice by reviews or correspondence. This is notably the case in large and important works. 'Scott's Last Expedition,' published in two large octavo volumes in 1914, rapidly passed through five editions the same year, corrections being incorporated in each successive edition (thereby distinguishing them from mere 'impressions'); so that the fifth edition remains the best, being the most correct. On the other hand, in the second edition an author sometimes omits passages or makes drastic emendations from prudential reasons. Then it is that the first edition is to be sought for in preference to all others, for this alone contains the author's true opinions on certain subjects. Such instances the book-lover gradually learns in his journey through the world of books.
But I repeat that, apart from this question of first or later issue, our editions should be good ones. Good editions are not merely luxuries. The better the type and paper, the greater our ease in reading, and—most important of all—the consequent safeguarding of our eyesight.
It is not only type and paper, however, that constitute a good edition. In addition to these requisites it must contain the recognised text complete, it must be in a seemly and convenient shape, neither extravagant nor blatant, and it must not contain a long list of errata. Of the many qualities that go to make up a good edition, after paper and print, these are perhaps the most important. But there is another immediate consideration: shall it have notes? And this raises such a momentous point that I almost hesitate to approach it. The answer must be qualified. Provided always that the edition has been superintended (I use the word advisedly) by a recognised scholar, and that the notes are few, short, and concise, it is well. But who has not suffered under the tedious and tiresome verbosity of editors? The writer possesses an edition of Pope in which page after page contains two lines of the poet and thirty-four lines of editor. Reed's Shakespeare (1813) frequently contains a solitary line of text with forty of notes. Fortunately, however, such things are now numbered with the past.
As to our editions of the Greek and Latin Classics, whether we can read them in the original tongue or whether we must have recourse to translations, we have already debated. But without wishing to discourage the book-lover in any possible way from making (or renewing, as the case may be) acquaintance with these great writers, it must be borne in mind that few indeed are the translations from any language that are wholly in the spirit of the original. In recommending the following translations of some of the greater world-classics, literary and animate qualities have been had in view no less than scholarly translation.
Aeschylus and Sophocles have been admirably rendered in English verse by Mr. E. D. A. Morshead. Of the first, 'The House of Atreus' (being the 'Agamemnon,' 'Libation-Bearers,' and 'Furies') was first published by him in 1881, an octavo volume which was reprinted in 1890 and 1901. 'The Suppliant Maidens,' 'The Persians,' 'The Seven against Thebes,' and 'Prometheus Bound' were collected in one octavo volume in 1908. His version of Sophocles' 'Oedipus the King' was published in 1885, while the 'Ajax' and 'Electra' were printed in prose, 1895.
The Plays of Aristophanes are, perhaps, best known to English readers by Hookham Frere's excellent translations. His first volume, containing the 'Acharnians,' the 'Knights,' and the 'Birds,' was originally printed at Malta in 1839, in which year a similar quarto volume containing the 'Frogs' was also issued. But there are several later editions of both these volumes, and almost any bookseller can provide one. In addition to these plays, the 'Clouds' and the 'Wasps' were included in Thomas Mitchell's version first published in two octavo volumes dated 1820 and 1822. But we may have a complete set of the eleven plays which have come down to us, in Mr. B. B. Rogers' scholarly translation in verse. This beautiful edition in eleven small quarto volumes was published by Messrs. George Bell and Sons between 1902 and 1916, and has the Greek and English on opposite pages. For the plays of Euripides we must turn to the metrical versions of Professor Gilbert Murray, published by Mr. George Allen between 1905 and 1915. Perhaps it is not too much to say that this great scholar-poet has done more than any other to bring the Greeks of old before those to whom a classical education has been denied.
Needless to say, the translation into English of the immortal Homeric cycle has tempted many pens. Among the best known versions are those of Pope, Chapman, and Cowper. But this matter has been so thoroughly debated by Mr. Frederic Harrison in his delightful volume 'The Choice of Books,' that I will refrain from poaching upon his preserve, and will content myself by remarking that the recommendations of this excellent judge are the 'Iliad' of Lord Derby and the 'Odyssey' of Philip Worsley. This last is a beautiful translation in the Spenserian stanza, of which a second edition appeared in 1868, in two octavo volumes. But if you are not already acquainted with Mr. Harrison's work you will do well to obtain it, and to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest all that he has to say therein upon 'The Poets of the Old World.'
With regard to the Latin classics, if we are unacquainted with the language there is greater difficulty; for it is next to impossible to render in English the light and vivacious lilt of the Italian poets. Our translations may be fine, scholarly, dignified and the rest of it, but they bear little semblance to the originals. Dryden's version of the 'Aeneid' may be read, not as a translation but as an epic in the English of a great poet; and to those who are masters of sufficient Latin to explore the ancients by the help of commentaries, Conington's translation will be of assistance. Horace is utterly untranslatable, and prose translations afford little clue to the music of his songs.
Perhaps it goes without saying that in reading these ancient classics we shall necessarily lose much of their sentiment and allusion unless our memory has retained that atmosphere of classic times which we obtained by constant intercourse with these ancients during our years at school. We may refresh our memory, however, and at the same time glean the most modern thought upon those times, by having recourse to certain useful volumes, companions to our study of these classic writers.
J. A. St. John's 'Manners and Customs of Ancient Greece,' three octavo volumes which appeared in 1842, is a perfect encyclopaedia in itself. Of Mr. Leonard Whibley's 'Companion to Greek Studies' a third edition, with more than 200 illustrations and maps, was published by the Cambridge University Press in 1916. The fellow volume is by Sir J. E. Sandys, and is entitled 'A Companion to Latin Studies.' The second edition, very fully illustrated, appeared in 1913—a large octavo also published at a guinea by the same press. Professor Mahaffy's 'Social Life in Greece from Homer to Menander' has gone through a number of editions. For the theatre of the Greeks we must turn to 'The Attic Theatre' by A. E. Haigh. The third edition, edited by Mr. A. W. Pickard-Cambridge, was issued by the Clarendon Press, 1907. It is the standard work upon this subject; and therein one can find all about everything pertaining to the Greek theatre and the actual presentation of the play. A useful little guide to the study of ancient Greece and Italy is Dr. J. B. Mayer's 'Guide to the Choice of Classical Books,' a small octavo of which a third edition appeared in 1885. In 1896 a 'new supplement' was published, and this contains fifty pages of 'Helps to the Study of Ancient Authors'—the best books which had appeared up to 1896 on the Art, Coins, Law, History, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Domestic Life, Amusements, and almost every aspect of life in ancient Rome and Athens. Copies of this invaluable reference book are probably in most of the public libraries throughout the kingdom.
With regard to some of the other great world-classics, Boccaccio has been attempted by many translators, none of whom can be said to have succeeded, and I forbear to recommend any English version. He is straightforward and not difficult to read in the original, and it is well worth learning sufficient Italian to enable one to explore his rich charm for oneself.
As to Calderon, eight of his plays have been rendered in English by that prince of translators Edward Fitzgerald, though his version is not, nor did he pretend it to be, a close translation. Yet it is more in the spirit of the dramatist than one would deem possible in an English version of a Spanish author. Six of these plays were first published by Fitzgerald in 1853, and this volume was reprinted in the series known as 'The King's Classics' in 1903. The complete set of eight may be obtained in one small octavo volume, in the beautiful 'Eversley' series published by Macmillan. But you may read seventeen of Calderon's plays, in the French of Damas Hinard, in the 'Chef d'oeuvre du Theatre Espagnol,' 1841-3, which also includes the works of Lope de Vega: in all five small octavo volumes—if you are so lucky as to find them.
With regard to Don Quixote, as a boy our book-hunter made more than one attempt to explore 'the ingenious gentleman' but always gave it up after proceeding less than half-way through the first volume. It was all so dry and outlandish, and the version he possessed was written in such stilted language. There were no notes to his edition, and whole passages and allusions were beyond his comprehension. Looking back now I more than suspect that they were beyond the comprehension of the translator as well. 'Rocinante,' spelt 'Rosinante,' he thought was rather a pretty name for the Don's charger; but he saw no humour in it until he discovered, many years later, that rocin means a 'cart-horse' and ante, 'previously.' Nor could he see anything amusing in the landlord's boast that he too had been a knight-errant in his time, roaming the Isles of Riaran in quest of adventures—until he learnt that this was a city slum, the resort of thieves and cut-throats. The whole work abounds with local and topical allusions, and it is essential that our edition be well supplied with notes. There is one which fulfils this condition and in addition provides a most scholarly text, more closely approaching the original than any other which has appeared hitherto. This is the masterly translation of John Ormsby, which appeared in four octavo volumes in 1885. It contains a valuable history of the work, together with a life of Cervantes, and the appendices to the last volume contain a bibliography of the immortal book.
Dante must be read in the original tongue. There is a lofty and spiritual grandeur in the language of the three great epics which one can never hope to realise in reading translations, be they never so good. Nevertheless those versions which are most in favour among students are of considerable value as commentaries, and are of great assistance in reading the original. One cannot do better at the outset of one's acquaintance with the great poet than to procure Dr. J. A. Carlyle's excellent version of the 'Inferno.' A third edition was published in 1882. It has explanatory notes and a prose translation, in measured, dignified language, above the text of the original; forming in all respects a handy and convenient volume. Dr. A. J. Butler's versions of the 'Purgatory' and 'Paradise' were issued, in octavo, in 1880 and 1885 respectively. Aids to the study of Dante are legion. The fourth edition of Professor J. Addington Symond's 'Introduction to the Study of Dante' appeared in 1899; whilst Lord Vernon's 'Readings in Dante,' six octavo volumes, is said to have occupied that great scholar for more than twenty-five years of his life.
Goethe is known to English readers chiefly by the immortal Faust; and this work alone has engaged the attention of numerous scholars. A volume containing seven of Goethe's plays in English was published in Bohn's Standard Library in 1879. It included Sir Walter Scott's version of 'Goetz von Berlichingen,' the remainder being translated by Miss Swanwick and E. A. Bowring. Miss Swanwick's 'Faust' is well known and has often been reprinted; a beautiful edition illustrated by Mr. Gilbert James appeared in 1906. There is a version, however, which stands far above the rest, a version which the writer for his part has always considered to rank with the greatest translations. This is the 'Faust' of Bayard Taylor, which indeed may be read as a poem in itself. But then Taylor had advantages possessed by few translators. An American by birth, his mother was a German, and he spent a part of his life in Germany. From his birth he was bilinguous; and added to this linguistic advantage were his profound scholarship and poetic gift. There are numerous editions of his work, but only one—so far as I am aware, in this country at least—worthy of its great merit, namely, that which appeared in two octavo volumes in 1871. It is an edition somewhat hard to obtain.
For Schiller's dramatic works we must have recourse to Coleridge, who has given us versions of both parts of the 'Wallenstein' and 'William Tell.' The Poems and Ballads were rendered in English by Sir E. Bulwer Lytton (Lord Lytton): two volumes, 1844. Heine's short four-line verses do not lend themselves to translating and though many have attempted it, the results are almost always a jingle, often approaching doggerel. The prose works have recently been translated by Mr. C. G. Leland, and the 'Atta Troll' by Miss Armour, both forming part of a twelve volume edition published between 1892 and 1905.
The mention of Rabelais conjures up one of those extremely rare instances where a translation constitutes as great a classic as the original work. Whether it was the difficulty of translation, or the despair of eclipsing so notable a success as had been achieved by their predecessor, that deterred other scholars from making the attempt, we know not; but certain it is that the version put forth by Sir Thomas Urquhart in 1653 has remained, and seems likely to remain, the standard representation of the fantastic 'Doctor in Physick' in this language. Urquhart, that polished and gifted Scottish d'Artagnan, translated the first three books only; the last two were added by Motteux, a French refugee, in 1694. Urquhart's work, 'precise, elegant, and very faithful,' comes as near perfection as any translation can hope to be. Motteux's rendering was revised by Ozell; but unfortunately it falls far short of the version of Sir Thomas, who, with a longer life, might perhaps have undertaken these last two books as well.
Of these five books of Master Francis Rabelais thus english'd, there have been, of course, numerous editions. Our book-hunter prefers that which appeared in three quarto volumes in 1904, with photogravure illustrations by M. Louis Chalon. Both from a scholarly and a bibliographical standpoint it is all that can be desired, and one can have a copy for less than a pound.
Why is it that we all have some acquaintance at least with the Arabian Nights? What have these purely Eastern tales to do with us? Both questions may be answered at once. It is because they contain the very essence of oriental thought, manners, customs, habits, speech, and deeds: because we can learn from them more of the everyday life of the orient, both of to-day and of a thousand years ago, than an entire library of travels can teach us. Surely it is more than mere curiosity that urges us to know something at least of the manner in which so many millions of our fellow-beings live.
Who has not read at least some of these glorious tales? Who has not heard of Sinbad or the Roc, of Scheherazade or of Haroun al Raschid? Truly they are
'The tales that charm away the wakeful night In Araby, romances';
Wordsworth himself came early under their spell. He tells how as a young child
'A precious treasure had I long possessed, A little yellow, canvas-covered book, A slender abstract of the Arabian tales; And, from companions in a new abode, When first I learnt that this dear prize of mine Was but a block hewn from a mighty quarry— That there were four large volumes, laden all With kindred matter, 'twas to me, in truth, A promise scarcely earthly.'
And so he makes a covenant 'with one not richer than myself' that each should save up until their joint savings were sufficient to purchase the complete work. But alas!
'Through several months, In spite of all temptation, we preserved Religiously that vow; but firmness failed, Nor were we ever masters of our wish.'
There must be few books in the world from which we may learn so much while being so rapturously entertained. Burton's edition is perhaps the best known to English readers, though Lane's version is much to be preferred. Of the latter there are many editions.
How much has been written on the Art of Reading, and what scanty knowledge of that art have the most industrious of readers! Outside the Universities, reading is apt nowadays to be looked upon as a light form of recreation, generally to be indulged in on a rainy day. 'There's nothing to do but sit indoors and read,' one frequently hears remarked in country houses when the weather is too inclement to permit of motoring. Novel-reading has indeed become a part of our fashionable life.
How often, too, does one come across readers of both sexes who possess, seemingly, a wide knowledge of books, even of the great books of the world. Yet in nine cases out of ten such knowledge is of the most superficial kind, acquired by 'dipping into' such and such an author to ascertain whether he be to his or her taste. Frankly, the great author is almost invariably not to the modern reader's taste; but the scanty knowledge acquired by perusing the first chapter, the headings of the remaining chapters, and the last chapter, enables the reader (save the mark!) to discourse at large on this particular writer among his own coterie. Perchance one of his friends has similarly insulted the great author, and they are enabled to discuss the book for nearly a minute by the clock, each thinking the other a devilish well-read fellow. Truly it has been said that 'just as profligacy is easy within the strict limits of the law, a boundless knowledge of books may be found with a narrow education.'
More rarely one comes across a man who, being the fortunate possessor of a truly wonderful memory, is enabled to retain the bulk of the information which he has acquired by wide reading. There is a story told of a certain don at one of our older universities who, being possessed of an insatiable thirst for knowledge coupled with an excellent memory and an inexhaustible capacity for work, passed as a well-read if not a very learned man. There seemed to be few topics upon which he could not discourse on equal terms even with those who had made that subject their own.
Now it happened that there were two young Fellows at the same college who, wearied of his constant superiority in conversation, determined to take Brown (for such was his name) 'down a peg or two.' So each night at dinner in hall they skilfully turned the conversation to unusual topics, hoping to light upon some chink in the redoubtable Brown's intellectual armour. Once they tried him on the rarer British hemipterous homoptera, but soon discovered that he was a very fair entomologist. Next evening the conversation veered to ancient Scandinavian burial rites, but here again he could give them points. The Byzantine coinage of Cyprus was, of course, well known to him while he had himself worked on the oolitic foraminifera of the blue marl at Biarritz. His experiments on the red colouring matter of drosera rotundifolia had formed the subject of a monograph, and he was particularly interested in the hagiological folk-lore of Lower Brittany.
It seemed almost hopeless. Try as they would they could find no subject with which he was unacquainted. Every night some fresh outlandish topic was introduced. Brown looked very bored, and proceeded to tell them all there was to be said upon the subject. But one night a casual remark put them on the right track. Someone happened to ask Brown a question about Indian music. He answered shortly, and remarked that it was a subject upon which a good deal of work was yet to be done. The conspirators looked across the table at each other, left the common-room early, and retired to Jones's rooms.
'Did you notice?' said Jones.
'Yes,' said Smith; 'he evidently doesn't know much about oriental music.'
'But he will by to-morrow,' replied the astute Jones. 'As soon as ever he gets to his rooms to-night, he'll read up everything he possibly can on Indian music, and he'll continue in the Library to-morrow. By dinner-time he'll be stuffed full of tom-toms and shawms and dulcimers, or whatever they play in India.'
'We must ride him off,' said Smith. 'How about Chinese music? He won't know anything about that.'
This seemed such a promising topic that they got out the encyclopaedia and found to their joy that there was quite a lengthy and learned disquisition on the subject. So they read it again and again, even learning the more abstruse sentences by heart. Next day they were observed to chuckle whenever they caught each other's eye, and at lunch they were unusually cheerful and more than ordinarily attentive to the unsuspecting Brown.
That night at dinner they could hardly restrain their impatience, and Smith introduced the topic, rather clumsily, as soon as the fish appeared. Brown stared at them and said nothing. Jones, plucking up courage, presently asked him a question about the dominant fifth of the scale used by the natives of Quang-Tung. He answered evasively. They could hardly conceal their delight, and their voices rose so that presently the whole table was looking at them. At some of their recondite utterances Brown fairly winced, and it soon became evident to all what was afoot. Upstairs in the common-room they pursued their unhappy victim. The senior tutor and the dean, secretly enjoying the fun, stood near. At last, flushed with victory, Jones proceeded to administer the coup de grace.
'You really ought to read something about Chinese music, Brown, it's a most interesting topic, and I'm sure you'd like to be able to talk about it. There are quite a number of good books on the subject. For a start you couldn't do better than study the article in the "Encyclopaedia Academica." It's clear and concise, evidently written by a man who knows what he's talking about.'
'I have read it,' said Brown patiently; 'in fact I—er—wrote it, but I'm afraid it's quite out of date now.'
* * * * *
We are not all the lucky possessors of such a capacity for acquiring knowledge. Wide reading may be good from an educational point of view, but unless we are able to assimilate what we read better a thousand times to restrict our reading. Gibbon's advice is bad, for it indicates merely the system he employed in compiling his monumental work. 'We ought not,' he remarks, 'to attend to the order of our books so much as (to the order) of our thoughts.' So, in the midst of Homer he would skip to Longinus; a passage in Longinus would send him to Pliny, and so on. General reading upon this plan, with no idea of collection in view, would in time reduce most of us to idiocy.
Let our reading be, above all things, well ordered and systematic. Let us imitate Ancillon rather than Gibbon. Ancillon never read a book throughout without reading in his progress many others of an exegetic nature; so that 'his library table was always covered with a number of books for the most part open.' An excellent habit, provided that we can resist the temptation to be side-tracked. The list of books by this industrious student, however, shows by their curious variety that he at least was not sufficiently strong-minded to resist wandering, during the compilation of his historical works, in the byways of literature.
If we read the good solid books at all, let us at least read them with the aim of acquiring the maximum amount of information they afford. To read sketchily and diversely is not only a most painful waste of time, but it abuses our brains. Suppose now that our bookman has decided to 'read up' the French Revolution, a subject to which we all turn at some period of our lives. He has been led thereto, perhaps, by having lighted upon a translation of someone's memoirs, the recollections of some insignificant valet-de-chambre or dissolute cure (for such memoirs abound), more interesting by reason of its piquancy than its historical accuracy. He reads of persons and events that he recollects vaguely to have heard of before, and so he goes on and on.
At the end, he has an ambiguous and temporary knowledge of names and events. He has become acquainted with certain facts that he may possibly remember; such as that the name of the French King was Louis and that his Queen was Marie Antoinette, that they tried to escape and got as far as Varennes (wherever that may be), but were brought back and executed; that there were various politicians named Mirabeau, Danton, Robespierre, Desmoulins, and a curious party called the Girondins, et cetera. As to the causes which led up to the Revolution, the condition of the country and people, the ministry of Turgot, the characters of the King and Queen, Necker's policy, the Abbe Sieyes, the Tennis Court, the composition of the Assembly, and the host of essential facts, his knowledge is precisely nil. The terms Right Centre, Extreme Left, the Jacobins, the White Terror, Assignats, Hebertists and Dantonists, the Montagnards, the Old Cordelier, are so much 'Hebrew-Greek' to him. At the end of six months he will not be at all sure whether it was Louis XIV., XV., or XVI. who was beheaded.
Surely his reading of these dubious memoirs has been a most mistaken course and a lamentable waste of time? He has gained nothing that has benefited him intellectually, and he has loaded his mind with an indigestible hotch-potch of unclassified information. How then should he have approached the subject? Obviously he should have begun at the threshold, or rather at the outer gate. To plunge straight away into Louis Blanc's twelve volumes or Lamartine's 'History of the Girondins' would be as great a mistake as the reading of the unprofitable memoirs. A good beginning is half done. So, having prepared the way by a short study of the economic condition of France immediately prior to the Revolution, that he may readily understand the causes of that event, let our reader begin with some elementary school text-book which will give him a short and concise view of the Revolution as a whole. Having laid the foundations he will confine himself at the outset to works in his own tongue; choosing his literature for each succeeding phase of the Revolution in turn. But until he has obtained a thorough groundwork and has acquired sufficient knowledge to enable him to explore the more famous works in French, it were profitless to devour the scraps afforded by dubious memoir writers.
If we read three books consecutively on any one subject, we know not merely three times as much as if we had read one only, but thirty times. And our knowledge of the subject will not be vague, inaccurate and fleeting, but it will be concise, accurate and permanent. To acquire a correct and lasting knowledge of any subject, whether it be an event or an epoch of history, a science or an art or craft, it is essential that we read consecutively and comparatively as many books upon that subject as our opportunities and time allow. It should also be borne in mind that if we are content to read one volume only, it is quite possible that we may chance upon an author who is inaccurate or biased, or whose work does not represent the latest stage of our knowledge upon that subject.
 J. H. Burton.
 Mr. Frederic Harrison.
 Mr. Frederic Harrison.
 P. G. Hamerton.
 Richard of Bury (lived 1281-1345).
 M. Octave Uzanne.
 Mr. A. L. Humphreys.
 Mr. Frederic Harrison.
 Mr. A. L. Humphreys.
 There is no doubt that Burton was largely indebted to Payne for his 'translation'; indeed he is said merely to have paraphrased and rearranged the version which Payne had just previously prepared for the Villon Society, adding explanatory notes of a character which renders it essential that his edition be kept under lock and key. It was issued to subscribers by Burton himself in London (though ostensibly 'by the Kamashastra Society at Benares'), being printed, and probably bound, by Brill at Leyden. The Kamashastra Society was a myth. The ten volumes (1885-6) were sold to the subscribers at ten guineas the set, and the entire edition (1000) was subscribed for before publication. (Ex inform: E. H.-A., one of the original subscribers and a friend of Burton.) Six volumes of Supplemental Nights were issued by Burton between 1886 and 1888. A set of the sixteen volumes now costs about forty pounds. It was reprinted (by H. S. Nichols) in 1894, in twelve volumes, only slightly expurgated, the present price being about twelve pounds. A supplementary volume of illustrations was issued with this last edition.
 Mr. Frederic Harrison.
 Isaac Disraeli.
CHIVALRY AND ROMANCE
'Mekely, lordynges gentyll and fre, Lysten awhile and herken to me.' HUE DE ROTELANDE.
ONCE upon a time, long long before the Venerable Bede had completed that famous last chapter in his cell at Jarrow, there lived in the ancient capital of Sampsiceramus, a holy man named Heliodorus. Now in his youth Heliodorus (as is not uncommon with the young) had turned his thoughts to worldly things; and being of a romantic nature, wearied by the eternal sameness of the books available to him, had conceived the extraordinary notion of writing an untrue book, a book that should never instruct or point a moral or show you where you are wrong, but should be all joyousness and enchantment. Possessed with this great idea, timidly yet sure of himself, he set to work.
The very first thing he did was sufficiently startling for those days. Instead of selecting some great man for his central figure and putting his dialogue into the mouths of learned men, fathers of the church, philosophers, orators, or famous poets, he chose deliberately a young and handsome man of no particular learning, and—a woman! It was unheard of! A book, a voluminous roll closely written, containing nothing but the adventures of a pair of lovers! Monstrous! Yet it was done at last, and the roll, finding favour in the eyes of a bosom friend, was quickly passed from hand to hand. All were entranced by it. Here was a book that had characters one could understand, for whom one could even feel affection. The loves of dashing young Theagenes and his dear Chariclea found an echo in many a youthful breast.
Meanwhile Heliodorus disappears from view, and for many years we hear nothing of him until suddenly he reappears as a bishop in Thessaly! Now comes the sequel to his audacious design, but for which it is doubtful if we should ever have heard of him. A synod was convened, and Heliodorus was condemned because in his youth he had written a novel. He was given his choice between bishopric and book, to retain the one he must destroy the other by word as well as by deed.
At first sight the choice appears not difficult to make, for although so laical and original a work had proved to be popular, yet such popularity was hardly of a nature to appeal to so devout a Christian as one who had already attained episcopal rank. But to Heliodorus his work (which may well have been the employment of some years) stood for all that he held most dear. It was his conception of the ideal in worldly—as opposed to spiritual—life. Less austere, perhaps, than many of the fathers of the early Church whose works had seemed so tedious to him in his youth, his devoutness was tempered largely with a charity and forgiveness that were not unworthy of his creed. It was impossible to deny those principles of chivalric virtue and chastity which his novel preached, so he chose to stand by his book rather than by his benefice, and quitted Thessaly.
So runs the pleasing tale of Nicephorus. But alas! the relentless voice of modern research will have it that the real author was not the bishop at all, but a Sophist who lived in the third century of our era. Be it as it may, I for my part shall go on believing the old romantic tale until a better one is invented for the Sophist.
The work itself is called 'Ten Books of Aethiopian History,' for the first and last scenes are laid in Egypt, but it is better known by the name of its hero and heroine. Its popularity was immense, and it was soon translated into 'almost all languages.' Later Pere Amyot published a version in French for Francis I., who was so delighted with the result that he made the translator abbe of Belozane. Racine tells us it was this ancient romance that first fired his imagination with the desire to write. His tutor discovered him absorbed in its contents, and snatching it from his hand angrily consigned it to the fire. Racine bought another copy, which suffered a like fate. But so strong a hold upon him had the story, that he purchased a third, and devoured it in secret, offering it to his master with a smile when he had thoroughly mastered its contents.
It seems that this ancient Greek romance was lost for many centuries. At the sack of Buda in 1526, however, a manuscript of it was discovered in the royal library, where it had once formed part of the vast library amassed by Matthias Corvinus, the great King of Hungary. Matthias is said to have 'spoken almost all the European languages,' so doubtless he had passed many a pleasant hour with the tale. This manuscript (others have since been discovered) was printed at Basel 'in officina Ioan Hervagii' in 1534, a small quarto printed with Greek types.
That the early romances of chivalry possess a charm for the book-collector it is impossible to deny. They are 'a series of books,' writes Mr. John Ormsby, 'which, complete, would be a glory to any library in the world; which, in first editions, would now probably fetch a sum almost large enough to endow a college; and which . . . . is perhaps . . . . as worthless a set of books as could be made up out of the refuse novels of a circulating library.' Times without number they have been derided and decried, even in the days when they were popular. The curate of La Mancha was not the only one who disapproved of them. 'In our fathers tyme,' wrote old Roger Ascham, judging the flock by a few black sheep, 'nothing was red, but bookes of fayned cheualrie, wherein a man by redinge, shuld be led to none other ende, but onely to manslaughter and baudrye.' Possevino, a learned Jesuit and famous preacher of the sixteenth century, used to complain that for the last five hundred years the princes of Europe had read nothing but romances. Rene d'Anjou listened to his chaplain inveighing against Launcelot, Amadis, and the romances of which he was particularly fond; but, says Villeneuve, while respecting the preacher for his boldness, the king continued to read them, and even composed new volumes in imitation of them.
Full of monstrous fictions some of these ancient stories undoubtedly are. It were foolish to expect that all of them should attain the high level of those great legends which centre about the Holy Grail. Good things have ever been imitated indifferently; and it was only the later series of tales which had to do chiefly with enchantments and fairies and 'giaunts, hard to be beleeved.' But alas! all alike have come under the ban of those who decry reading for recreation's sake. Good and bad have been damn'd indifferently. One cannot help wondering however that so much has been written against them, and that so many have been at pains to point out their unreasonableness. One would have thought that the very fact of them all abounding with incidents that are not only impossible but preposterous, would have given these critics pause, and have urged them to ask themselves why and wherefore such things were repeated.
To anyone possessed of imagination the answer, of course, is obvious. The better tales all had the exaltation of the chivalric spirit in view, and sought to achieve this end by allegory as well as by parable. He must be a dullard indeed who fails to understand their symbolism. Malory, describing the entry of Tristram into the field, wishes to impress upon us the fact that he was indeed a 'preux chevalier, sans peur et sans reproche,' the model of a Christian knight; so he mounts him on a white horse and arrays him in white harness, and he rides out at a postern, 'and soo he came in to the feld as it had ben a bryght angel.' Doubtless those to whom understanding has been denied would argue hotly as to whether there is any authority for a knight painting his armour white. What sane man, reading 'The Faerie Queene,' could think that it purported to depict actual scenes or incidents? Yet time and again the 'sheer impossibility' of these stories has been urged in condemnation of them. Truly it is not every man who should turn to these ancient books which
'In sage and solemn tunes have sung Of Turneys and of Trophies hung, Of Forests, and inchantments drear, Where more is meant than meets the ear.'
Gavaudan, a troubadour of the twelfth century, meets the undiscerning critic more than half-way. Let none judge, he writes, till he be capable of separating the grain from the chaff; 'for the fool makes haste to condemn, and the ignorant only pretends to know all things, and muses on the wonders that are too mighty for his comprehension.'
'Romances,' says Sharon Turner, 'are so many little Utopias, in which the writer tries to paint or to inculcate something which he considers to be more useful, more happy or more delightful, more excellent or more interesting, than the world he lives in, than the characters he surveys, or the events or evils which he experiences.' Yet Dunlop, who examined the romances of chivalry at some length in his 'History of Fiction,' seems never to have suspected that these tales were written with any other intention than to amuse or that the events which they related were looked upon by their readers as other than facts. For Arthur he has scant respect, 'nor,' says he, 'as we advance, do we find him possessed of a single quality, except strength and courage, to excite respect or interest.' Surely the remark of one who must have been dead to all sense of imagination and romance—although purporting to be an authority upon them! The teaching of the whole Arthurian cycle of romances was 'that noble men may see and lerne the noble actes of chyualrye, the Ientyl and vertuous dedes that somme Knyghtes vsed in tho dayes, by whyche they came to honour; and how they that were vycious were punysshed and ofte put to shame and rebuke.' The quest of the Holy Grail, motive of the most exquisite series of mystic tales that has ever been written, was, we are expressly informed, 'the hygh way of our Lord Jhesu Cryst, and the way of a true good lyver, not that of synners and of mysbelievers.' Godfrey de Bouillon, the hero of another cycle, was 'moult preudhomme et sage et moult aymant Dieu et gens d'esglise,' as we read in 'Le Triomphe des Neuf Preux' (folio, Abbeville 1487). Preposterous tales? Perhaps; yet, as regards their moral side, not suffering greatly by comparison with our modern fiction.
Those whose reading is confined to the literature of to-day can have no idea of the influence which these romances had upon the lives of our forefathers. It was not merely a system of morality which they taught, it was a civilisation of a very high order. When we are inclined to mock at these 'preposterous tales' we should never forget that to them we owe a debt so immense that we are lost in the contemplation of it. It cannot be gainsaid that it was as much by the study and teaching of these romances as it was by the spirit which gave them birth, that our ancestors came to mould their lives in such a sort as to influence the civilisation of the whole of the western world.
That the romances were the outcome of chivalry cannot be urged, though doubtless in a later age they helped to keep the spirit of knighthood alive. Edward the Black Prince, the very model of mediaeval chivalry, avowedly studied the ancient romances for patterns. When Pedro the Cruel had prevailed upon the prince to defend his cause, the princess bitterly bewailed her husband's decision. 'I see well,' said the prince, to whom her expressions were related, 'that she wishes me to be always at her side and never to leave her chamber. But a prince must be ready to win renown and to expose himself to all kinds of danger, as in days of old did Roland, Oliver, Ogier, the four sons of Aimon, Charlemagne, the great Leon de Bourges, Juan de Tournant, Lancelot, Tristan, Alexander, Arthur and Godfrey whose courage, bravery, and fearlessness, both warlike and heroic, all the romances extoll. And by Saint George, I will restore Spain to the rightful heir.'
Occleve, a little later, has no doubt as to the beneficial effects of perusing the romances. Indeed he goes so far as to exhort his friend, Sir John Oldcastle, to leave off studying Holy Writ, and to read 'Lancelot de lake, Vegece, or the Siege of Troie or Thebes.' 'What do ye now,' says Caxton in 'The Order of Chivalry,' 'but go to the baynes and playe atte dyse? . . . Leve this, leve it, and rede the noble volumes of Saynt Graal, of Lancelot, of Galaad, of Trystram, of Perseforest, of Percyval, of Gawayn, and many mo. Ther shalle ye see manhode, curtosye, and gentylnesse.'