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with a fallacy singular in a writer so practised and acute: "The voice of the great and holy dead is of peculiar value. They are free from our contentions : and the harmony and grandeur which dwell on their passionless and even judgments, remind us of the peacefulness with which their spirits now embrace truth and one another in Paradise ; and their voice will be heard, as from the depth of an oracle, above the strife and din of our jarring tumults.”* Whereas of course the truth is, that though free from our contentions, they had their own. Ancient divines, ancient poets, had their troubles and encumbrances, great and small, paltry and ennobling. These are the illusions of the past : and against these no less than those of the future, the familiar lines may be read
“ 'Tis distance lends enchantment to the view,
And robes the mountain in its azure hue." +
Or, as Mr. Milnes again :
“ On that deep retiring shore
Frequent pearls of beauty lie,
Fiercely beat and mounted high.” But it seems a harmless, nay a salutary illusion. And we may well suppose that those old worthies themselves would have been well content that it should be so : content, while leaving the world and bequeathing to us their imperishable works, that our knowledge of themselves should decrease, while the works remained—as they have done and ever will do, to kindred spirits a
* Preface to Eucharistica. '
lofty model for imitation, to the sorrowing and laborious a wellspring of pure refreshment, to the young a banner of progress, to the old a companion of tranquil retrospect, to all a perpetual and unfailing treasure, an abiding portion of the common heritage of mankind.
SLIGHT HINTS ON GENERAL READING
(These trifling suggestions were written at the request of a friend,
for the use of two young men who had just left College.)
I AM by no means able to suggest a general course of reading with anything like completeness : having never had the time or the faculties to overtake more than a portion of the standard books which I should wish to know, or to properly master and recollect those which I have read. In fact I shall mention some books which, I can answer for it, ought to be read, but which I have myself hardly read, if at all.
The great impediment to reading good old books, besides the avocations of life, is the mass of new books : by which I mean books published within the last (about) fifty years.
No doubt within that time there have appeared a very large number of books, of which we are quite certain that they are good, will last, and ought to be read. More than that, it may truly be said that any one might be a very hard reader, read many hours every day, and read no book whatever except those published within the current year. And in that way he would get a great deal of excellent reading and information. But this is of course not what any one would deliberately recommend : and in this paper I am not about to say anything, except incidentally, about books published within the time I have mentioned. I confine myself to English and French. Of French books of that period, with a few 'exceptions, I know very little ; they would alone be the study of a lifetime. And with regard to English recent books, there is little fear that any one, who is at all fond of any reading, will not read a sufficient portion of them : the danger is that he should read too much of them.
Among other advantages, the older books have this one, that the verdict of good judges is pretty well settled by this time about them. We can say pretty well which of them are worth reading and which not: whereas that is still doubtful, and will remain so for long, concerning new books, of which the immediate popularity or the reverse is no adequate test.
Before adverting to general reading, which is my proper subject, I will say a few words on two or three more special subjects.
Advice for theological reading such as a layman ought to pursue, is best obtained from some learned divine. On this point I will only venture to say that I cannot but think, contrary to what is often held, that there are several religious works, Sermons in particular, in the theology of the English Church of the last thirty years, which, with a few exceptions, are at least as well worth reading as any of the older, in the circumstances of these days.
I do not know whether those for whom I am writing are likely to keep up their classical reading. I should not advise any one to do so who cannot read Greek and Latin with tolerable facility and enjoyment. But for whoever can do so, I am very sure that nothing he cau do has a greater effect in keeping the mind cheerful and genial : one great purpose of reading habits.
The rule in this matter is plain enough, for one who cannot make a study of the classics, and does not read them for any limited object : it is simply to read none but the best. It is quite certain that no general reader will ever have time for more.
In Greek, Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, Demosthenes, Aristophanes, Aristotle, Plato, Xenophon, Pindar, the Tragedians, Theocritus : in Latin, Virgil, Horace, Terence, Cicero, Cæsar, Livy, Tacitus, Sallust, Lucretius, Ovid, Catullus, Juvenal, will far more than fill up all the time he will be able to give to them.
The objects of what is called general reading may probably be classified in a twofold manner. First, subjectively, we wish to keep our minds in a state both (as above noted) cheerful and genial, and also well disciplined and ready for work; and next, in the objective view, we should endeavour to have that amount of information which is fairly needed for the intercourse of cultivated society, and which is necessary for the duties of private life or of public life (so as not to be unable to enter on it, if we seem to have a call to do so, from want of proper knowledge and information); or of that sort of mixture of public and private life which English gentlemen, living in the country, are often naturally led to engage in.
This seems to be the general principle; which I can illustrate but very imperfectly in detail.
First, having excluded recent books on the grounds stated, I must also exclude the very old ones on different