« PreviousContinue »
for a time, we lament our inability to meet with these men in the present day; yet, by the happy invention of priting, we are not left totally unprofited by their benign exertions. We cannot, indeed, converse with them in person, but by the help of books we can imbibe their sentiments. We are unable to hear them speak, or communicate their opinions with their tongues ; but we can still read their compositions, and profit by their precepts. Thus, though they are absent from us, they may still be said to be partły present to us. Though their bodies may, for ages, have been deposited in the silent tomb, the noblest part of them, their mind, their opinions, and their sentiments, still remain for our instruction, and are still essentially with us. What pleasure then must be communicated to an ingenious mind, to a mind uncontaminated with vicious indulgences, by the reflection that the man who wants vot the inclination, possesses als othe power of conversing, by the assistance of literature, with those illustrious dead!
“The student, shut up in his library, and surrounded by his books, may well consider himself in the company of all the ancient and modern sages. Ile may hear Livy describing the passage of the Alps, Cicero declaiming against the treachery of Catiline, and Horace and Juvenal ridiculing the follies or vices wbich degraded and enervated the mistress of the world. He may fancy himself in the society of the wisest men of all ages and all nations, and those too delivering their most refined and choicest sentiments on the most important and interesting subjects. We may, indeed, almost venture to assert, that, if pure and rational happiness is any where to be found, except in the temples of religion, she resides in the studies of the learned, and sweetens all their labours. The cultivation of a taste for literature, is the source of rational and innocent entertainment; it is a powerful preservative from vice, and contributes to excite in the soul a love of virtue.
« The mind was formed to be the noblest part of man, though many so miserably degrade it. The pleasures of sense are all transitory in their nature, and have a direct tendency to debase the soul : while, on the contrary, intellectual pursuits delight us the more we are engaged in them, and when their novelty is worn off, still retain their charms. They strengthen and invigorate the faculties of the mind, and render it capable of manly exertions; they inspire cheerfulness and serenity, and produce an exquisite gratification, to the mental powers; as much superior to any thing of a sensual nature, as the nature of the soul is superior to that of the body.”
No finer eulogium on the pleasures of Literature exists, than what Cicero pronounced in his oration for the poet Archias :
“Other studies," says he, "are not suited to every time, to every age, and to every place; but these give strength in youth, and joy in old age, adorn prosperity, and are the comforts and consolation of adversity; at home they are delightful, and abroad they are easy; at night they are company to ús; when we travel they attend us, and in our rural retirements they do not forsake us.”
Cicero, it should be remembered, was an example of literary excellence, and therefore himself
experienced the advantages which this passage enumerates. He also added his own example to his testimony; for ii is recorded of him that, during the troubles in which his country was involved, he found a consolation in study which the pursuits of ambition could not afford him; and alleviated his personal calamities and misfortunes, by the pleasures of philosophy and composition.
“ Another conspicuous advantage of a taste for literature is, the constant occupation wbich it affords the mind, and the power it possesses of repelling temptations to vice and licentiousness. Few instances can be induced of striking immorality or flagitiousness in those who have been devoted to literary pursuits. Those who may be mentioned are such as possessed great natural genius, without dedicating their time to its cultivation, and passed their lives in action, rather than in meditation. From the first period in which man is endowed with the use of his reasoning faculties, there is a constant struggle between the animal and the intellectual powers. These endeavour to raise man above mortality, those to sink and degrade him to a level with the brutes; whatever state therefore tends to increase the predominance of reason over the sensual desires, is favourable to the interests of virtue and religion.
“No man can give up his time or his talents to literary pursuits, without soon experiencing a decided preference for intellectual pleasure; he is, by his favourite employments, separated from the common herd of mankind, and his hours pass away unclouded by intemperance and folly, and undisturbed by the intrusions of the vicious and abandoned. Happy indeed is that man who has early imbibed and cultivated a taste for the pure and innocent pleasures which literature affords! Whilst his fellow-creatures are tormented by the stings of remorse, and filled with anxiety at the approach of disease; whilst some are toiling for riches which they cannot enjoy, and others seeking gratifications which are followed
by languor and pain, he possesses that calm and equable happiness, which the generality of men, from ignorance, are unable to appreciate. All the stores of nature and intellect combine for his amusement and instruction. His fancy and his understanding are equally delighted by the discovery of truth, and its luminous irradiations ; care and trouble fly from his dwelling, and his endeavours in the cause of learning are rewarded by permanent felicity.”
Something similar are the following remarks by Godwin :
“ Imagine that we had it in our power to call up the shades of the greatest and wisest men that ever existed, and oblige them to converse with us on the most interesting topics; what an inestimable privilege should we think it! But in a wellfurnished library, we, in fact, possess this power. We can question Xenophon and Cæsar on their campaigns; make Demosthenes and Cicero plead before us; join in the audiences of Socrates and Plato, and receive demonstrations from Euclid and Newton. In books we have the choicest thoughts of the ablest men in their best dress. We can at pleasure exclude dulness and impertinence, and open our doors to wit and good sense alone. It is needless to repeat the high commendations that have been bestowed on the study of letters, by persons who had free access to every other source of gratification."
Another writer observes : “ The man of talent gives full scope to his imagination. Unindebted to the suggestions of surrounding objects, his whole soul is employed. He enters into nice calculations ; he digests sagacious reasonings. In imagination he declaims or describes, impressed with the deepest sympathy, or elevated to the loftiest rapture. He makes thousand new and admirable combinations. He passes through a thousand imaginary scenes, tries his courage, tasks his ingenuity, and thus becomes gradually prepared to meet almost any of the many-coloured events of human life. If he observe the passengers, he reads their countenances, conjectures their past history, and forms a superficial notion of their wisdom or folly, their virtue or vice, their satisfaction or misery. If he observe the scenes that occur, it is with the eyes of an artist. Every object is capable of suggesting to him a volume of reflections.
Probably nothing has contributed so much to generate these opposite habits of mind, as an early taste for reading. Books gratify and excite our curiosity in innumerable ways. 11.
They force us to reflect, they present direct ideas of various kinds, and they suggest indirect ones. In a well-written book, we are presented with the maturest reflections, or the happiest fights of a mind of uncommon excellence; and it is impossible that we can be much accustomed to such companions, without retaining some resemblance of them.”
It is of the first importance, to acquire a taste for reading in early youth. In every state and condition of life, there are hours of leisure and relaxation. Books are always at hand to fill up these vacuities; but if a taste for relishing the pleasures of Literature be wanting, the mind becomes either afflicted with the mortifying fatigues and pains of indolence, or is in danger of falling into bad society, and participating in the evils of pernicious occupation, and licentious amusement.
That books may be found to suit every condition, taste, and inclination, is well illustrated in the following extract from “ Hints on the Sources of Happiness :"
“ Does sickness incapacitate from study, or affliction enervate the mind ? The lighter effusions of poetry and romance shall charm away the sense of pain, and disperse the bodings of melancholy. Does a busy life of professional, of mercantile, or political duty, permit only short relaxations from occupation, short intervals for recreation? The higher range of poetical compositions, epics, dramas, and essays, offer refreshing and soothing amusement. Does the awakened curiosity pant for knowledge and information in history, in ethics, in nature ? Its inquisitiveness may enjoy an extensive circle of gratification. Volumes accumulated on volumes are ready to answer every demand, and gratify the laudable desire. Does a highly-gifted mind press forwards to yet abstruser studies, and seek to expatiate on scientific subjects, metaphysics, astronomy, chemistry, the phenomena of nature, philosophy, and the arts? Still shall the taste be accommodated, the wish accomplished. Not a year passes without producing fresh speculations to amuse and employ the inquisitive, and meet the demands of the studious; to set at work a new chain of reasoning and experiment, to keep alive the spirit of inquiry and meditation, and give scope of action to the noblest faculties of the noblest minds. Through the medium of books, the feeblest intellect may profit by the exertions of the most powerful.”
Cicero truly observes, in his celebrated oration for the poet Archias, Reading employs us in youth, amuses us in old age, graces and embellishes prosperity, shelters and supports adversity, makes us delighted at home and easy abroad, softens slumber, shortens fatigue, and enlivens retirement.” No person can be so wholly overcome with idleness, or involved in the labyrinth of worldly cares, troubles, and discontents, who will not find his mind, if he has any, much enlightened by reading. To most men, indeed, study affords an extraordinary delight. The childish bauble of wealth is in no way comparable to it. It affords a sweetness equal to that of the cup of Circe ; and so fascinates the mind that has once feasted on its charms, that it is bound by its power. Julius Scaliger was so much affected with poetry, that he pathetically exclaimed, “ he would rather be the author of Lucan, and of the ninth ode of Horace, than emperor of Germany."
" If I were not a king,” said James the First, on seeing the Bodleian library, “ I would be a university
So sweet is the delight of study! Heinsius, the Leyden librarian, says, “ I no sooner come into the library, than I bolt the door, and exclude lust, ambition, avarice, and all such vices whose nurse is idleness, the mother of ignorance, and melancholy herself; and, in the very lap of eternity, amongst so many divine souls, I take my seat with so lofty a spirit and' sweet content, that I pity all those rich and great men who are unacquainted with this happiness.
In order to enjoy the pleasures of Literature, read as often as you can do it without infringing your obligation, without injuring your health. It is no less an agreeable than useful entertainment. Be only, particularly if you have not much time or leisure for reading, prudent in the choice of what you read. Abominate, reject with abhorrence, all compositions that have a tendency to excite or nourish unchaste ideas in your imagination, and irregular desires and passions in your heart, although in other respects they are to be classed amongst the finest productions of the human intellect.