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Title: Literary Taste: How to Form It - With Detailed Instructions for Collecting a Complete Library of English Literature
Author: Bennett, Arnold, 1867-1931
Language: English
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With Detailed Instructions for Collecting a Complete Library of
English Literature





















At the beginning a misconception must be removed from the path.
Many people, if not most, look on literary taste as an elegant
accomplishment, by acquiring which they will complete themselves, and
make themselves finally fit as members of a correct society. They are
secretly ashamed of their ignorance of literature, in the same way
as they would be ashamed of their ignorance of etiquette at a high
entertainment, or of their inability to ride a horse if suddenly
called upon to do so. There are certain things that a man ought to
know, or to know about, and literature is one of them: such is their
idea. They have learnt to dress themselves with propriety, and to
behave with propriety on all occasions; they are fairly "up" in the
questions of the day; by industry and enterprise they are succeeding
in their vocations; it behoves them, then, not to forget that
an acquaintance with literature is an indispensable part of a
self-respecting man's personal baggage. Painting doesn't matter; music
doesn't matter very much. But "everyone is supposed to know" about
literature. Then, literature is such a charming distraction! Literary
taste thus serves two purposes: as a certificate of correct culture
and as a private pastime. A young professor of mathematics, immense
at mathematics and games, dangerous at chess, capable of Haydn on the
violin, once said to me, after listening to some chat on books, "Yes,
I must take up literature." As though saying: "I was rather forgetting
literature. However, I've polished off all these other things. I'll
have a shy at literature now."

This attitude, or any attitude which resembles it, is wrong. To him
who really comprehends what literature is, and what the function of
literature is, this attitude is simply ludicrous. It is also fatal
to the formation of literary taste. People who regard literary taste
simply as an accomplishment, and literature simply as a distraction,
will never truly succeed either in acquiring the accomplishment or in
using it half-acquired as a distraction; though the one is the most
perfect of distractions, and though the other is unsurpassed by any
other accomplishment in elegance or in power to impress the universal
snobbery of civilised mankind. Literature, instead of being an
accessory, is the fundamental _sine qua non_ of complete living. I am
extremely anxious to avoid rhetorical exaggerations. I do not think I
am guilty of one in asserting that he who has not been "presented
to the freedom" of literature has not wakened up out of his prenatal
sleep. He is merely not born. He can't see; he can't hear; he can't
feel, in any full sense. He can only eat his dinner. What more than
anything else annoys people who know the true function of literature,
and have profited thereby, is the spectacle of so many thousands of
individuals going about under the delusion that they are alive, when,
as a fact, they are no nearer being alive than a bear in winter.

I will tell you what literature is! No--I only wish I could. But I
can't. No one can. Gleams can be thrown on the secret, inklings given,
but no more. I will try to give you an inkling. And, to do so, I will
take you back into your own history, or forward into it. That evening
when you went for a walk with your faithful friend, the friend from
whom you hid nothing--or almost nothing ...! You were, in truth,
somewhat inclined to hide from him the particular matter which
monopolised your mind that evening, but somehow you contrived to get
on to it, drawn by an overpowering fascination. And as your faithful
friend was sympathetic and discreet, and flattered you by a respectful
curiosity, you proceeded further and further into the said matter,
growing more and more confidential, until at last you cried out, in a
terrific whisper: "My boy, she is simply miraculous!" At that moment
you were in the domain of literature.

Let me explain. Of course, in the ordinary acceptation of the word,
she was not miraculous. Your faithful friend had never noticed that
she was miraculous, nor had about forty thousand other fairly keen
observers. She was just a girl. Troy had not been burnt for her. A
girl cannot be called a miracle. If a girl is to be called a miracle,
then you might call pretty nearly anything a miracle.... That is
just it: you might. You can. You ought. Amid all the miracles of
the universe you had just wakened up to one. You were full of your
discovery. You were under a divine impulsion to impart that discovery.
You had a strong sense of the marvellous beauty of something, and you
had to share it. You were in a passion about something, and you had
to vent yourself on somebody. You were drawn towards the whole of the
rest of the human race. Mark the effect of your mood and utterance
on your faithful friend. He knew that she was not a miracle. No other
person could have made him believe that she was a miracle. But you, by
the force and sincerity of your own vision of her, and by the fervour
of your desire to make him participate in your vision, did for quite
a long time cause him to feel that he had been blind to the miracle of
that girl.

You were producing literature. You were alive. Your eyes were
unlidded, your ears were unstopped, to some part of the beauty and the
strangeness of the world; and a strong instinct within you forced you
to tell someone. It was not enough for you that you saw and heard.
Others had to see and hear. Others had to be wakened up. And they
were! It is quite possible--I am not quite sure--that your faithful
friend the very next day, or the next month, looked at some other
girl, and suddenly saw that she, too, was miraculous! The influence of

The makers of literature are those who have seen and felt the
miraculous interestingness of the universe. And the greatest makers
of literature are those whose vision has been the widest, and whose
feeling has been the most intense. Your own fragment of insight was
accidental, and perhaps temporary. _Their_ lives are one long ecstasy
of denying that the world is a dull place. Is it nothing to you to
learn to understand that the world is not a dull place? Is it nothing
to you to be led out of the tunnel on to the hillside, to have all
your senses quickened, to be invigorated by the true savour of life,
to feel your heart beating under that correct necktie of yours? These
makers of literature render you their equals.

The aim of literary study is not to amuse the hours of leisure; it is
to awake oneself, it is to be alive, to intensify one's capacity for
pleasure, for sympathy, and for comprehension. It is not to affect one
hour, but twenty-four hours. It is to change utterly one's relations
with the world. An understanding appreciation of literature means an
understanding appreciation of the world, and it means nothing else.
Not isolated and unconnected parts of life, but all of life, brought
together and correlated in a synthetic map! The spirit of literature
is unifying; it joins the candle and the star, and by the magic of an
image shows that the beauty of the greater is in the less. And, not
content with the disclosure of beauty and the bringing together of all
things whatever within its focus, it enforces a moral wisdom by the
tracing everywhere of cause and effect. It consoles doubly--by the
revelation of unsuspected loveliness, and by the proof that our lot
is the common lot. It is the supreme cry of the discoverer, offering
sympathy and asking for it in a single gesture. In attending a
University Extension Lecture on the sources of Shakespeare's plots,
or in studying the researches of George Saintsbury into the origins
of English prosody, or in weighing the evidence for and against the
assertion that Rousseau was a scoundrel, one is apt to forget what
literature really is and is for. It is well to remind ourselves that
literature is first and last a means of life, and that the enterprise
of forming one's literary taste is an enterprise of learning how best
to use this means of life. People who don't want to live, people who
would sooner hibernate than feel intensely, will be wise to eschew
literature. They had better, to quote from the finest passage in a
fine poem, "sit around and eat blackberries." The sight of a "common
bush afire with God" might upset their nerves.



The attitude of the average decent person towards the classics of his
own tongue is one of distrust--I had almost said, of fear. I will not
take the case of Shakespeare, for Shakespeare is "taught" in schools;
that is to say, the Board of Education and all authorities pedagogic
bind themselves together in a determined effort to make every boy in
the land a lifelong enemy of Shakespeare. (It is a mercy they don't
"teach" Blake.) I will take, for an example, Sir Thomas Browne, as
to whom the average person has no offensive juvenile memories. He is
bound to have read somewhere that the style of Sir Thomas Browne is
unsurpassed by anything in English literature. One day he sees the
_Religio Medici_ in a shop-window (or, rather, outside a shop-window,
for he would hesitate about entering a bookshop), and he buys it, by
way of a mild experiment. He does not expect to be enchanted by it;
a profound instinct tells him that Sir Thomas Browne is "not in his
line"; and in the result he is even less enchanted than he expected to
be. He reads the introduction, and he glances at the first page or two
of the work. He sees nothing but words. The work makes no appeal
to him whatever. He is surrounded by trees, and cannot perceive the
forest. He puts the book away. If Sir Thomas Browne is mentioned, he
will say, "Yes, very fine!" with a feeling of pride that he has at any
rate bought and inspected Sir Thomas Browne. Deep in his heart is a
suspicion that people who get enthusiastic about Sir Thomas Browne
are vain and conceited _poseurs_. After a year or so, when he has
recovered from the discouragement caused by Sir Thomas Browne, he may,
if he is young and hopeful, repeat the experiment with Congreve
or Addison. Same sequel! And so on for perhaps a decade, until his
commerce with the classics finally expires! That, magazines and newish
fiction apart, is the literary history of the average decent person.

And even your case, though you are genuinely preoccupied with thoughts
of literature, bears certain disturbing resemblances to the drab
case of the average person. You do not approach the classics with
gusto--anyhow, not with the same gusto as you would approach a new
novel by a modern author who had taken your fancy. You never murmured
to yourself, when reading Gibbon's _Decline and Fall_ in bed: "Well,
I really must read one more chapter before I go to sleep!" Speaking
generally, the classics do not afford you a pleasure commensurate with
their renown. You peruse them with a sense of duty, a sense of doing
the right thing, a sense of "improving yourself," rather than with a
sense of gladness. You do not smack your lips; you say: "That is
good for me." You make little plans for reading, and then you invent
excuses for breaking the plans. Something new, something which is not
a classic, will surely draw you away from a classic. It is all very
well for you to pretend to agree with the verdict of the elect that
_Clarissa Harlowe_ is one of the greatest novels in the world--a new
Kipling, or even a new number of a magazine, will cause you to neglect
_Clarissa Harlowe_, just as though Kipling, etc., could not be kept
for a few days without turning sour! So that you have to ordain rules
for yourself, as: "I will not read anything else until I have read
Richardson, or Gibbon, for an hour each day." Thus proving that you
regard a classic as a pill, the swallowing of which merits jam! And
the more modern a classic is, the more it resembles the stuff of the
year and the less it resembles the classics of the centuries, the more
easy and enticing do you find that classic. Hence you are glad that
George Eliot, the Brontës, Thackeray, are considered as classics,
because you really _do_ enjoy them. Your sentiments concerning them
approach your sentiments concerning a "rattling good story" in a

I may have exaggerated--or, on the other hand, I may have
understated--the unsatisfactory characteristics of your particular
case, but it is probable that in the mirror I hold up you recognise
the rough outlines of your likeness. You do not care to admit it; but
it is so. You are not content with yourself. The desire to be more
truly literary persists in you. You feel that there is something wrong
in you, but you cannot put your finger on the spot. Further, you feel
that you are a bit of a sham. Something within you continually
forces you to exhibit for the classics an enthusiasm which you do
not sincerely feel. You even try to persuade yourself that you are
enjoying a book, when the next moment you drop it in the middle and
forget to resume it. You occasionally buy classical works, and do not
read them at all; you practically decide that it is enough to possess
them, and that the mere possession of them gives you a _cachet_. The
truth is, you are a sham. And your soul is a sea of uneasy remorse.
You reflect: "According to what Matthew Arnold says, I ought to be
perfectly mad about Wordsworth's _Prelude_. And I am not. Why am I
not? Have I got to be learned, to undertake a vast course of study, in
order to be perfectly mad about Wordsworth's _Prelude_? Or am I born
without the faculty of pure taste in literature, despite my vague
longings? I do wish I could smack my lips over Wordsworth's _Prelude_
as I did over that splendid story by H.G. Wells, _The Country of the
Blind_, in the _Strand Magazine_!".... Yes, I am convinced that in
your dissatisfied, your diviner moments, you address yourself in these
terms. I am convinced that I have diagnosed your symptoms.

Now the enterprise of forming one's literary taste is an agreeable
one; if it is not agreeable it cannot succeed. But this does not imply
that it is an easy or a brief one. The enterprise of beating Colonel
Bogey at golf is an agreeable one, but it means honest and regular
work. A fact to be borne in mind always! You are certainly not
going to realise your ambition--and so great, so influential an
ambition!--by spasmodic and half-hearted effort. You must begin by
making up your mind adequately. You must rise to the height of the
affair. You must approach a grand undertaking in the grand manner. You
ought to mark the day in the calendar as a solemnity. Human nature is
weak, and has need of tricky aids, even in the pursuit of happiness.
Time will be necessary to you, and time regularly and sacredly set
apart. Many people affirm that they cannot be regular, that regularity
numbs them. I think this is true of a very few people, and that in
the rest the objection to regularity is merely an attempt to excuse
idleness. I am inclined to think that you personally are capable of
regularity. And I am sure that if you firmly and constantly devote
certain specific hours on certain specific days of the week to this
business of forming your literary taste, you will arrive at the goal
much sooner. The simple act of resolution will help you. This is the
first preliminary.

The second preliminary is to surround yourself with books, to create
for yourself a bookish atmosphere. The merely physical side of books
is important--more important than it may seem to the inexperienced.
Theoretically (save for works of reference), a student has need for
but one book at a time. Theoretically, an amateur of literature might
develop his taste by expending sixpence a week, or a penny a day, in
one sixpenny edition of a classic after another sixpenny edition of a
classic, and he might store his library in a hat-box or a biscuit-tin.
But in practice he would have to be a monster of resolution to succeed
in such conditions. The eye must be flattered; the hand must be
flattered; the sense of owning must be flattered. Sacrifices must
be made for the acquisition of literature. That which has cost a
sacrifice is always endeared. A detailed scheme of buying books
will come later, in the light of further knowledge. For the present,
buy--buy whatever has received the _imprimatur_ of critical authority.
Buy without any immediate reference to what you will read. Buy!
Surround yourself with volumes, as handsome as you can afford. And
for reading, all that I will now particularly enjoin is a general and
inclusive tasting, in order to attain a sort of familiarity with the
look of "literature in all its branches." A turning over of the pages
of a volume of Chambers's _Cyclopædia of English Literature_, the
third for preference, may be suggested as an admirable and a diverting
exercise. You might mark the authors that flash an appeal to you.



The large majority of our fellow-citizens care as much about
literature as they care about aeroplanes or the programme of the
Legislature. They do not ignore it; they are not quite indifferent to
it. But their interest in it is faint and perfunctory; or, if their
interest happens to be violent, it is spasmodic. Ask the two hundred
thousand persons whose enthusiasm made the vogue of a popular novel
ten years ago what they think of that novel now, and you will gather
that they have utterly forgotten it, and that they would no more dream
of reading it again than of reading Bishop Stubbs's _Select Charters_.
Probably if they did read it again they would not enjoy it--not
because the said novel is a whit worse now than it was ten years ago;
not because their taste has improved--but because they have not had
sufficient practice to be able to rely on their taste as a means of
permanent pleasure. They simply don't know from one day to the next
what will please them.

In the face of this one may ask: Why does the great and universal
fame of classical authors continue? The answer is that the fame of
classical authors is entirely independent of the majority. Do you
suppose that if the fame of Shakespeare depended on the man in the
street it would survive a fortnight? The fame of classical authors is
originally made, and it is maintained, by a passionate few. Even when
a first-class author has enjoyed immense success during his lifetime,
the majority have never appreciated him so sincerely as they have
appreciated second-rate men. He has always been reinforced by the
ardour of the passionate few. And in the case of an author who has
emerged into glory after his death the happy sequel has been due
solely to the obstinate perseverance of the few. They could not leave
him alone; they would not. They kept on savouring him, and talking
about him, and buying him, and they generally behaved with such eager
zeal, and they were so authoritative and sure of themselves, that
at last the majority grew accustomed to the sound of his name and
placidly agreed to the proposition that he was a genius; the majority
really did not care very much either way.

And it is by the passionate few that the renown of genius is kept
alive from one generation to another. These few are always at work.
They are always rediscovering genius. Their curiosity and enthusiasm
are exhaustless, so that there is little chance of genius being
ignored. And, moreover, they are always working either for or against
the verdicts of the majority. The majority can make a reputation, but
it is too careless to maintain it. If, by accident, the passionate few
agree with the majority in a particular instance, they will frequently
remind the majority that such and such a reputation has been made,
and the majority will idly concur: "Ah, yes. By the way, we must
not forget that such and such a reputation exists." Without that
persistent memory-jogging the reputation would quickly fall into the
oblivion which is death. The passionate few only have their way by
reason of the fact that they are genuinely interested in literature,
that literature matters to them. They conquer by their obstinacy
alone, by their eternal repetition of the same statements. Do you
suppose they could prove to the man in the street that Shakespeare was
a great artist? The said man would not even understand the terms they
employed. But when he is told ten thousand times, and generation
after generation, that Shakespeare was a great artist, the said
man believes--not by reason, but by faith. And he too repeats that
Shakespeare was a great artist, and he buys the complete works of
Shakespeare and puts them on his shelves, and he goes to see the
marvellous stage-effects which accompany _King Lear_ or _Hamlet_, and
comes back religiously convinced that Shakespeare was a great artist.
All because the passionate few could not keep their admiration of
Shakespeare to themselves. This is not cynicism; but truth. And it
is important that those who wish to form their literary taste should
grasp it.

What causes the passionate few to make such a fuss about literature?
There can be only one reply. They find a keen and lasting pleasure
in literature. They enjoy literature as some men enjoy beer. The
recurrence of this pleasure naturally keeps their interest in
literature very much alive. They are for ever making new researches,
for ever practising on themselves. They learn to understand
themselves. They learn to know what they want. Their taste becomes
surer and surer as their experience lengthens. They do not enjoy
to-day what will seem tedious to them to-morrow. When they find a book
tedious, no amount of popular clatter will persuade them that it is
pleasurable; and when they find it pleasurable no chill silence of the
street-crowds will affect their conviction that the book is good and
permanent. They have faith in themselves. What are the qualities in a
book which give keen and lasting pleasure to the passionate few?
This is a question so difficult that it has never yet been completely
answered. You may talk lightly about truth, insight, knowledge,
wisdom, humour, and beauty. But these comfortable words do not really
carry you very far, for each of them has to be defined, especially the
first and last. It is all very well for Keats in his airy manner to
assert that beauty is truth, truth beauty, and that that is all he
knows or needs to know. I, for one, need to know a lot more. And I
never shall know. Nobody, not even Hazlitt nor Sainte-Beuve, has ever
finally explained why he thought a book beautiful. I take the first
fine lines that come to hand--

  The woods of Arcady are dead,
  And over is their antique joy--

and I say that those lines are beautiful, because they give me
pleasure. But why? No answer! I only know that the passionate few
will, broadly, agree with me in deriving this mysterious pleasure from
those lines. I am only convinced that the liveliness of our pleasure
in those and many other lines by the same author will ultimately cause
the majority to believe, by faith, that W.B. Yeats is a genius. The
one reassuring aspect of the literary affair is that the passionate
few are passionate about the same things. A continuance of interest
does, in actual practice, lead ultimately to the same judgments. There
is only the difference in width of interest. Some of the passionate
few lack catholicity, or, rather, the whole of their interest is
confined to one narrow channel; they have none left over. These men
help specially to vitalise the reputations of the narrower geniuses:
such as Crashaw. But their active predilections never contradict the
general verdict of the passionate few; rather they reinforce it.

A classic is a work which gives pleasure to the minority which is
intensely and permanently interested in literature. It lives on
because the minority, eager to renew the sensation of pleasure, is
eternally curious and is therefore engaged in an eternal process of
rediscovery. A classic does not survive for any ethical reason. It
does not survive because it conforms to certain canons, or because
neglect would not kill it. It survives because it is a source of
pleasure, and because the passionate few can no more neglect it than
a bee can neglect a flower. The passionate few do not read "the right
things" because they are right. That is to put the cart before the
horse. "The right things" are the right things solely because the
passionate few _like_ reading them. Hence--and I now arrive at my
point--the one primary essential to literary taste is a hot interest
in literature. If you have that, all the rest will come. It matters
nothing that at present you fail to find pleasure in certain classics.
The driving impulse of your interest will force you to acquire
experience, and experience will teach you the use of the means of
pleasure. You do not know the secret ways of yourself: that is all. A
continuance of interest must inevitably bring you to the keenest
joys. But, of course, experience may be acquired judiciously or
injudiciously, just as Putney may be reached _via_ Walham Green or
_via_ St. Petersburg.



I wish particularly that my readers should not be intimidated by the
apparent vastness and complexity of this enterprise of forming the
literary taste. It is not so vast nor so complex as it looks. There
is no need whatever for the inexperienced enthusiast to confuse and
frighten himself with thoughts of "literature in all its branches."
Experts and pedagogues (chiefly pedagogues) have, for the purpose of
convenience, split literature up into divisions and sub-divisions--such
as prose and poetry; or imaginative, philosophic, historical; or
elegiac, heroic, lyric; or religious and profane, etc., _ad infinitum_.
But the greater truth is that literature is all one--and indivisible.
The idea of the unity of literature should be well planted and fostered
in the head. All literature is the expression of feeling, of passion,
of emotion, caused by a sensation of the interestingness of life. What
drives a historian to write history? Nothing but the overwhelming
impression made upon him by the survey of past times. He is forced
into an attempt to reconstitute the picture for others. If hitherto
you have failed to perceive that a historian is a being in strong
emotion, trying to convey his emotion to others, read the passage in
the _Memoirs_ of Gibbon, in which he describes how he finished the
_Decline and Fall_. You will probably never again look upon the
_Decline and Fall_ as a "dry" work.

What applies to history applies to the other "dry" branches. Even
Johnson's Dictionary is packed with emotion. Read the last paragraph
of the preface to it: "In this work, when it shall be found that
much is omitted, let it not be forgotten that much likewise is
performed.... It may repress the triumph of malignant criticism to
observe that if our language is not here fully displayed, I have
only failed in an attempt which no human powers have hitherto
completed...." And so on to the close: "I have protracted my work
till most of those whom I wish to please have sunk into the grave, and
success and miscarriage are empty sounds: I therefore dismiss it with
frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from censure or
from praise." Yes, tranquillity; but not frigid! The whole passage,
one of the finest in English prose, is marked by the heat of emotion.
You may discover the same quality in such books as Spencer's _First
Principles_. You may discover it everywhere in literature, from the
cold fire of Pope's irony to the blasting temperatures of Swinburne.
Literature does not begin till emotion has begun.

There is even no essential, definable difference between those two
great branches, prose and poetry. For prose may have rhythm. All
that can be said is that verse will scan, while prose will not. The
difference is purely formal. Very few poets have succeeded in being so
poetical as Isaiah, Sir Thomas Browne, and Ruskin have been in
prose. It can only be stated that, as a rule, writers have shown an
instinctive tendency to choose verse for the expression of the very
highest emotion. The supreme literature is in verse, but the finest
achievements in prose approach so nearly to the finest achievements in
verse that it is ill work deciding between them. In the sense in which
poetry is best understood, all literature is poetry--or is, at
any rate, poetical in quality. Macaulay's ill-informed and unjust
denunciations live because his genuine emotion made them into poetry,
while his _Lays of Ancient Rome_ are dead because they are not the
expression of a genuine emotion. As the literary taste develops, this
quality of emotion, restrained or loosed, will be more and more widely
perceived at large in literature. It is the quality that must be
looked for. It is the quality that unifies literature (and all the

It is not merely useless, it is harmful, for you to map out literature
into divisions and branches, with different laws, rules, or canons.
The first thing is to obtain some possession of literature. When
you have actually felt some of the emotion which great writers have
striven to impart to you, and when your emotions become so numerous
and puzzling that you feel the need of arranging them and calling them
by names, then--and not before--you can begin to study what has been
attempted in the way of classifying and ticketing literature. Manuals
and treatises are excellent things in their kind, but they are simply
dead weight at the start. You can only acquire really useful
general ideas by first acquiring particular ideas, and putting those
particular ideas together. You cannot make bricks without straw.
Do not worry about literature in the abstract, about theories as to
literature. Get at it. Get hold of literature in the concrete as a dog
gets hold of a bone. If you ask me where you ought to begin, I shall
gaze at you as I might gaze at the faithful animal if he inquired
which end of the bone he ought to attack. It doesn't matter in the
slightest degree where you begin. Begin wherever the fancy takes you
to begin. Literature is a whole.

There is only one restriction for you. You must begin with an
acknowledged classic; you must eschew modern works. The reason for
this does not imply any depreciation of the present age at the expense
of past ages. Indeed, it is important, if you wish ultimately to have
a wide, catholic taste, to guard against the too common assumption
that nothing modern will stand comparison with the classics. In every
age there have been people to sigh: "Ah, yes. Fifty years ago we had
a few great writers. But they are all dead, and no young ones are
arising to take their place." This attitude of mind is deplorable, if
not silly, and is a certain proof of narrow taste. It is a surety that
in 1959 gloomy and egregious persons will be saying: "Ah, yes. At
the beginning of the century there were great poets like Swinburne,
Meredith, Francis Thompson, and Yeats. Great novelists like Hardy and
Conrad. Great historians like Stubbs and Maitland, etc., etc. But they
are all dead now, and whom have we to take their place?" It is not
until an age has receded into history, and all its mediocrity has
dropped away from it, that we can see it as it is--as a group of men
of genius. We forget the immense amount of twaddle that the great
epochs produced. The total amount of fine literature created in a
given period of time differs from epoch to epoch, but it does not
differ much. And we may be perfectly sure that our own age will make a
favourable impression upon that excellent judge, posterity. Therefore,
beware of disparaging the present in your own mind. While temporarily
ignoring it, dwell upon the idea that its chaff contains about as much
wheat as any similar quantity of chaff has contained wheat.

The reason why you must avoid modern works at the beginning is simply
that you are not in a position to choose among modern works. Nobody
at all is quite in a position to choose with certainty among modern
works. To sift the wheat from the chaff is a process that takes an
exceedingly long time. Modern works have to pass before the bar of the
taste of successive generations. Whereas, with classics, which have
been through the ordeal, almost the reverse is the case. _Your taste
has to pass before the bar of the classics_. That is the point. If you
differ with a classic, it is you who are wrong, and not the book. If
you differ with a modern work, you may be wrong or you may be
right, but no judge is authoritative enough to decide. Your taste is
unformed. It needs guidance, and it needs authoritative guidance. Into
the business of forming literary taste faith enters. You probably will
not specially care for a particular classic at first. If you did care
for it at first, your taste, so far as that classic is concerned,
would be formed, and our hypothesis is that your taste is not formed.
How are you to arrive at the stage of caring for it? Chiefly, of
course, by examining it and honestly trying to understand it. But this
process is materially helped by an act of faith, by the frame of mind
which says: "I know on the highest authority that this thing is fine,
that it is capable of giving me pleasure. Hence I am determined to
find pleasure in it." Believe me that faith counts enormously in
the development of that wide taste which is the instrument of wide
pleasures. But it must be faith founded on unassailable authority.



Let us begin experimental reading with Charles Lamb. I choose Lamb for
various reasons: He is a great writer, wide in his appeal, of a highly
sympathetic temperament; and his finest achievements are simple and
very short. Moreover, he may usefully lead to other and more complex
matters, as will appear later. Now, your natural tendency will be to
think of Charles Lamb as a book, because he has arrived at the
stage of being a classic. Charles Lamb was a man, not a book. It is
extremely important that the beginner in literary study should always
form an idea of the man behind the book. The book is nothing but the
expression of the man. The book is nothing but the man trying to talk
to you, trying to impart to you some of his feelings. An experienced
student will divine the man from the book, will understand the man by
the book, as is, of course, logically proper. But the beginner will do
well to aid himself in understanding the book by means of independent
information about the man. He will thus at once relate the book to
something human, and strengthen in his mind the essential notion of
the connection between literature and life. The earliest literature
was delivered orally direct by the artist to the recipient. In some
respects this arrangement was ideal. Changes in the constitution of
society have rendered it impossible. Nevertheless, we can still, by
the exercise of the imagination, hear mentally the accents of the
artist speaking to us. We must so exercise our imagination as to feel
the man behind the book.

Some biographical information about Lamb should be acquired. There are
excellent short biographies of him by Canon Ainger in the _Dictionary
of National Biography_, in Chambers's _Encyclopædia_, and in
Chambers's _Cyclopædia of English Literature_. If you have none of
these (but you ought to have the last), there are Mr. E.V. Lucas's
exhaustive _Life_ (Methuen, 7s. 6d.), and, cheaper, Mr. Walter
Jerrold's _Lamb_ (Bell and Sons, 1s.); also introductory studies
prefixed to various editions of Lamb's works. Indeed, the facilities
for collecting materials for a picture of Charles Lamb as a human
being are prodigious. When you have made for yourself such a picture,
read the _Essays of Elia_ the light of it. I will choose one of the
most celebrated, _Dream Children: A Reverie_. At this point, kindly
put my book down, and read _Dream Children_. Do not say to yourself
that you will read it later, but read it now. When you have read it,
you may proceed to my next paragraph.

You are to consider _Dream Children_ as a human document. Lamb was
nearing fifty when he wrote it. You can see, especially from the last
line, that the death of his elder brother, John Lamb, was fresh and
heavy on his mind. You will recollect that in youth he had had
a disappointing love-affair with a girl named Ann Simmons, who
afterwards married a man named Bartrum. You will know that one of the
influences of his childhood was his grandmother Field, housekeeper
of Blakesware House, in Hertfordshire, at which mansion he sometimes
spent his holidays. You will know that he was a bachelor, living with
his sister Mary, who was subject to homicidal mania. And you will
see in this essay, primarily, a supreme expression of the increasing
loneliness of his life. He constructed all that preliminary tableau of
paternal pleasure in order to bring home to you in the most poignant
way his feeling of the solitude of his existence, his sense of all
that he had missed and lost in the world. The key of the essay is one
of profound sadness. But note that he makes his sadness beautiful;
or, rather, he shows the beauty that resides in sadness. You watch him
sitting there in his "bachelor arm-chair," and you say to yourself:
"Yes, it was sad, but it was somehow beautiful." When you have said
that to yourself, Charles Lamb, so far as you are concerned, has
accomplished his chief aim in writing the essay. How exactly he
produces his effect can never be fully explained. But one reason of
his success is certainly his regard for truth. He does not falsely
idealise his brother, nor the relations between them. He does not say,
as a sentimentalist would have said, "Not the slightest cloud ever
darkened our relations;" nor does he exaggerate his solitude. Being
a sane man, he has too much common-sense to assemble all his woes at
once. He might have told you that Bridget was a homicidal maniac;
what he does tell you is that she was faithful. Another reason of his
success is his continual regard for beautiful things and fine actions,
as illustrated in the major characteristics of his grandmother and his
brother, and in the detailed description of Blakesware House and the
gardens thereof.

Then, subordinate to the main purpose, part of the machinery of the
main purpose, is the picture of the children--real children until the
moment when they fade away. The traits of childhood are accurately and
humorously put in again and again: "Here John smiled, as much as to
say, 'That would be foolish indeed.'" "Here little Alice spread
her hands." "Here Alice's little right foot played an involuntary
movement, till, upon my looking grave, it desisted." "Here John
expanded all his eyebrows, and tried to look courageous." "Here John
slily deposited back upon the plate a bunch of grapes." "Here the
children fell a-crying ... and prayed me to tell them some stories
about their pretty dead mother." And the exquisite: "Here Alice put
out one of her dear mother's looks, too tender to be upbraiding."
Incidentally, while preparing his ultimate solemn effect, Lamb has
inspired you with a new, intensified vision of the wistful beauty of
children--their imitativeness, their facile and generous emotions,
their anxiety to be correct, their ingenuous haste to escape from
grief into joy. You can see these children almost as clearly and as
tenderly as Lamb saw them. For days afterwards you will not be able to
look upon a child without recalling Lamb's portrayal of the grace of
childhood. He will have shared with you his perception of beauty. If
you possess children, he will have renewed for you the charm which
custom does very decidedly stale. It is further to be noticed that the
measure of his success in picturing the children is the measure of his
success in his main effect. The more real they seem, the more touching
is the revelation of the fact that they do not exist, and never have
existed. And if you were moved by the reference to their "pretty dead
mother," you will be still more moved when you learn that the girl who
would have been their mother is not dead and is not Lamb's.

As, having read the essay, you reflect upon it, you will see how its
emotional power over you has sprung from the sincere and unexaggerated
expression of actual emotions exactly remembered by someone who had an
eye always open for beauty, who was, indeed, obsessed by beauty. The
beauty of old houses and gardens and aged virtuous characters, the
beauty of children, the beauty of companionships, the softening beauty
of dreams in an arm-chair--all these are brought together and mingled
with the grief and regret which were the origin of the mood. Why is
_Dream Children_ a classic? It is a classic because it transmits to
you, as to generations before you, distinguished emotion, because it
makes you respond to the throb of life more intensely, more justly,
and more nobly. And it is capable of doing this because Charles Lamb
had a very distinguished, a very sensitive, and a very honest mind.
His emotions were noble. He felt so keenly that he was obliged to find
relief in imparting his emotions. And his mental processes were so
sincere that he could neither exaggerate nor diminish the truth. If
he had lacked any one of these three qualities, his appeal would have
been narrowed and weakened, and he would not have become a classic.
Either his feelings would have been deficient in supreme beauty,
and therefore less worthy to be imparted, or he would not have had
sufficient force to impart them; or his honesty would not have been
equal to the strain of imparting them accurately. In any case, he
would not have set up in you that vibration which we call pleasure,
and which is super-eminently caused by vitalising participation in
high emotion. As Lamb sat in his bachelor arm-chair, with his brother
in the grave, and the faithful homicidal maniac by his side, he
really did think to himself, "This is beautiful. Sorrow is beautiful.
Disappointment is beautiful. Life is beautiful. _I must tell them_. I
must make them understand." Because he still makes you understand he
is a classic. And now I seem to hear you say, "But what about Lamb's
famous literary style? Where does that come in?"



In discussing the value of particular books, I have heard people
say--people who were timid about expressing their views of literature
in the presence of literary men: "It may be bad from a literary point
of view, but there are very good things in it." Or: "I dare say
the style is very bad, but really the book is very interesting and
suggestive." Or: "I'm not an expert, and so I never bother my head
about good style. All I ask for is good matter. And when I have got
it, critics may say what they like about the book." And many other
similar remarks, all showing that in the minds of the speakers
there existed a notion that style is something supplementary to,
and distinguishable from, matter; a sort of notion that a writer who
wanted to be classical had first to find and arrange his matter, and
then dress it up elegantly in a costume of style, in order to please
beings called literary critics.

This is a misapprehension. Style cannot be distinguished from matter.
When a writer conceives an idea he conceives it in a form of words.
That form of words constitutes his style, and it is absolutely
governed by the idea. The idea can only exist in words, and it can
only exist in one form of words. You cannot say exactly the same thing
in two different ways. Slightly alter the expression, and you slightly
alter the idea. Surely it is obvious that the expression cannot
be altered without altering the thing expressed! A writer, having
conceived and expressed an idea, may, and probably will, "polish it
up." But what does he polish up? To say that he polishes up his
style is merely to say that he is polishing up his idea, that he has
discovered faults or imperfections in his idea, and is perfecting it.
An idea exists in proportion as it is expressed; it exists when it
is expressed, and not before. It expresses itself. A clear idea is
expressed clearly, and a vague idea vaguely. You need but take your
own case and your own speech. For just as science is the development
of common-sense, so is literature the development of common daily
speech. The difference between science and common-sense is simply one
of degree; similarly with speech and literature. Well, when you "know
what you think," you succeed in saying what you think, in making
yourself understood. When you "don't know what to think,"
your expressive tongue halts. And note how in daily life the
characteristics of your style follow your mood; how tender it is when
you are tender, how violent when you are violent. You have said to
yourself in moments of emotion: "If only I could write--," etc. You
were wrong. You ought to have said: "If only I could _think_--on this
high plane." When you have thought clearly you have never had any
difficulty in saying what you thought, though you may occasionally
have had some difficulty in keeping it to yourself. And when you
cannot express yourself, depend upon it that you have nothing precise
to express, and that what incommodes you is not the vain desire to
express, but the vain desire to _think_ more clearly. All this just to
illustrate how style and matter are co-existent, and inseparable, and

You cannot have good matter with bad style. Examine the point more
closely. A man wishes to convey a fine idea to you. He employs a form
of words. That form of words is his style. Having read, you say: "Yes,
this idea is fine." The writer has therefore achieved his end. But in
what imaginable circumstances can you say: "Yes, this idea is fine,
but the style is not fine"? The sole medium of communication between
you and the author has been the form of words. The fine idea has
reached you. How? In the words, by the words. Hence the fineness must
be in the words. You may say, superiorly: "He has expressed himself
clumsily, but I can _see_ what he means." By what light? By something
in the words, in the style. That something is fine. Moreover, if the
style is clumsy, are you sure that you can see what he means? You
cannot be quite sure. And at any rate, you cannot see distinctly.
The "matter" is what actually reaches you, and it must necessarily be
affected by the style.

Still further to comprehend what style is, let me ask you to think
of a writer's style exactly as you would think of the gestures and
manners of an acquaintance. You know the man whose demeanour is
"always calm," but whose passions are strong. How do you know that his
passions are strong? Because he "gives them away" by some small, but
important, part of his demeanour, such as the twitching of a lip or
the whitening of the knuckles caused by clenching the hand. In other
words, his demeanour, fundamentally, is not calm. You know the man
who is always "smoothly polite and agreeable," but who affects you
unpleasantly. Why does he affect you unpleasantly? Because he is
tedious, and therefore disagreeable, and because his politeness is
not real politeness. You know the man who is awkward, shy, clumsy, but
who, nevertheless, impresses you with a sense of dignity and force.
Why? Because mingled with that awkwardness and so forth _is_ dignity.
You know the blunt, rough fellow whom you instinctively guess to be
affectionate--because there is "something in his tone" or "something
in his eyes." In every instance the demeanour, while perhaps seeming
to be contrary to the character, is really in accord with it. The
demeanour never contradicts the character. It is one part of the
character that contradicts another part of the character. For, after
all, the blunt man _is_ blunt, and the awkward man _is_ awkward, and
these characteristics are defects. The demeanour merely expresses
them. The two men would be better if, while conserving their good
qualities, they had the superficial attributes of smoothness and
agreeableness possessed by the gentleman who is unpleasant to you. And
as regards this latter, it is not his superficial attributes which are
unpleasant to you; but his other qualities. In the end the character
is shown in the demeanour; and the demeanour is a consequence of the
character and resembles the character. So with style and matter.
You may argue that the blunt, rough man's demeanour is unfair to his
tenderness. I do not think so. For his churlishness is really
very trying and painful, even to the man's wife, though a moment's
tenderness will make her and you forget it. The man really is
churlish, and much more often than he is tender. His demeanour is
merely just to his character. So, when a writer annoys you for ten
pages and then enchants you for ten lines, you must not explode
against his style. You must not say that his style won't let his
matter "come out." You must remember the churlish, tender man. The
more you reflect, the more clearly you will see that faults and
excellences of style are faults and excellences of matter itself.

One of the most striking illustrations of this neglected truth is
Thomas Carlyle. How often has it been said that Carlyle's matter
is marred by the harshness and the eccentricities of his style? But
Carlyle's matter is harsh and eccentric to precisely the same degree
as his style is harsh and eccentric. Carlyle was harsh and eccentric.
His behaviour was frequently ridiculous, if it were not abominable.
His judgments were often extremely bizarre. When you read one of
Carlyle's fierce diatribes, you say to yourself: "This is splendid.
The man's enthusiasm for justice and truth is glorious." But you also
say: "He is a little unjust and a little untruthful. He goes too far.
He lashes too hard." These things are not the style; they are the
matter. And when, as in his greatest moments, he is emotional and
restrained at once, you say: "This is the real Carlyle." Kindly notice
how perfect the style has become! No harshnesses or eccentricities
now! And if that particular matter is the "real" Carlyle, then that
particular style is Carlyle's "real" style. But when you say "real"
you would more properly say "best." "This is the best Carlyle." If
Carlyle had always been at his best he would have counted among the
supreme geniuses of the world. But he was a mixture. His style is the
expression of the mixture. The faults are only in the style because
they are in the matter.

You will find that, in classical literature, the style always follows
the mood of the matter. Thus, Charles Lamb's essay on _Dream Children_
begins quite simply, in a calm, narrative manner, enlivened by a
certain quippishness concerning the children. The style is grave when
great-grandmother Field is the subject, and when the author passes
to a rather elaborate impression of the picturesque old mansion it
becomes as it were consciously beautiful. This beauty is intensified
in the description of the still more beautiful garden. But the real
dividing point of the essay occurs when Lamb approaches his elder
brother. He unmistakably marks the point with the phrase: "_Then, in
somewhat a more heightened tone_, I told how," etc. Henceforward the
style increases in fervour and in solemnity until the culmination of
the essay is reached: "And while I stood gazing, both the children
gradually grew fainter to my view, receding and still receding till
nothing at last but two mournful features were seen in the uttermost
distance, which, without speech, strangely impressed upon me the
effects of speech...." Throughout, the style is governed by the
matter. "Well," you say, "of course it is. It couldn't be otherwise.
If it were otherwise it would be ridiculous. A man who made love as
though he were preaching a sermon, or a man who preached a sermon as
though he were teasing schoolboys, or a man who described a death as
though he were describing a practical joke, must necessarily be either
an ass or a lunatic." Just so. You have put it in a nutshell. You have
disposed of the problem of style so far as it can be disposed of.

But what do those people mean who say: "I read such and such an author
for the beauty of his style alone"? Personally, I do not clearly know
what they mean (and I have never been able to get them to explain),
unless they mean that they read for the beauty of sound alone. When
you read a book there are only three things of which you may be
conscious: (1) The significance of the words, which is inseparably
bound up with the thought. (2) The look of the printed words on the
page--I do not suppose that anybody reads any author for the visual
beauty of the words on the page. (3) The sound of the words, either
actually uttered or imagined by the brain to be uttered. Now it is
indubitable that words differ in beauty of sound. To my mind one
of the most beautiful words in the English language is "pavement."
Enunciate it, study its sound, and see what you think. It is also
indubitable that certain combinations of words have a more beautiful
sound than certain other combinations. Thus Tennyson held that the
most beautiful line he ever wrote was:

  The mellow ouzel fluting in the elm.

Perhaps, as sound, it was. Assuredly it makes a beautiful succession
of sounds, and recalls the bird-sounds which it is intended to
describe. But does it live in the memory as one of the rare great
Tennysonian lines? It does not. It has charm, but the charm is merely
curious or pretty. A whole poem composed of lines with no better
recommendation than that line has would remain merely curious or
pretty. It would not permanently interest. It would be as insipid as a
pretty woman who had nothing behind her prettiness. It would not live.
One may remark in this connection how the merely verbal felicities of
Tennyson have lost our esteem. Who will now proclaim the _Idylls of
the King_ as a masterpiece? Of the thousands of lines written by
him which please the ear, only those survive of which the matter is
charged with emotion. No! As regards the man who professes to read an
author "for his style alone," I am inclined to think either that he
will soon get sick of that author, or that he is deceiving himself and
means the author's general temperament--not the author's verbal style,
but a peculiar quality which runs through all the matter written by
the author. Just as one may like a man for something which is always
coming out of him, which one cannot define, and which is of the very
essence of the man.

In judging the style of an author, you must employ the same canons
as you use in judging men. If you do this you will not be tempted
to attach importance to trifles that are negligible. There can be no
lasting friendship without respect. If an author's style is such
that you cannot _respect_ it, then you may be sure that, despite
any present pleasure which you may obtain from that author, there is
something wrong with his matter, and that the pleasure will soon cloy.
You must examine your sentiments towards an author. If when you have
read an author you are pleased, without being conscious of aught but
his mellifluousness, just conceive what your feelings would be after
spending a month's holiday with a merely mellifluous man. If an
author's style has pleased you, but done nothing except make you
giggle, then reflect upon the ultimate tediousness of the man who can
do nothing but jest. On the other hand, if you are impressed by what
an author has said to you, but are aware of verbal clumsinesses in his
work, you need worry about his "bad style" exactly as much and exactly
as little as you would worry about the manners of a kindhearted,
keen-brained friend who was dangerous to carpets with a tea-cup in his
hand. The friend's antics in a drawing-room are somewhat regrettable,
but you would not say of him that his manners were bad. Again, if
an author's style dazzles you instantly and blinds you to everything
except its brilliant self, ask your soul, before you begin to admire
his matter, what would be your final opinion of a man who at the first
meeting fired his personality into you like a broadside. Reflect
that, as a rule, the people whom you have come to esteem communicated
themselves to you gradually, that they did not begin the entertainment
with fireworks. In short, look at literature as you would look at
life, and you cannot fail to perceive that, essentially, the style
is the man. Decidedly you will never assert that you care nothing for
style, that your enjoyment of an author's matter is unaffected by his
style. And you will never assert, either, that style alone suffices
for you.

If you are undecided upon a question of style, whether leaning to
the favourable or to the unfavourable, the most prudent course is to
forget that literary style exists. For, indeed, as style is understood
by most people who have not analysed their impressions under the
influence of literature, there _is_ no such thing as literary style.
You cannot divide literature into two elements and say: This is matter
and that style. Further, the significance and the worth of
literature are to be comprehended and assessed in the same way as the
significance and the worth of any other phenomenon: by the exercise
of common-sense. Common-sense will tell you that nobody, not even a
genius, can be simultaneously vulgar and distinguished, or beautiful
and ugly, or precise and vague, or tender and harsh. And common-sense
will therefore tell you that to try to set up vital contradictions
between matter and style is absurd. When there is a superficial
contradiction, one of the two mutually-contradicting qualities is of
far less importance than the other. If you refer literature to the
standards of life, common-sense will at once decide which quality
should count heaviest in your esteem. You will be in no danger of
weighing a mere maladroitness of manner against a fine trait of
character, or of letting a graceful deportment blind you to a
fundamental vacuity. When in doubt, ignore style, and think of the
matter as you would think of an individual.



Having disposed, so far as is possible and necessary, of that
formidable question of style, let us now return to Charles Lamb, whose
essay on _Dream Children_ was the originating cause of our inquiry
into style. As we have made a beginning of Lamb, it will be well to
make an end of him. In the preliminary stages of literary culture,
nothing is more helpful, in the way of kindling an interest and
keeping it well alight, than to specialise for a time on one author,
and particularly on an author so frankly and curiously "human" as
Lamb is. I do not mean that you should imprison yourself with Lamb's
complete works for three months, and read nothing else. I mean that
you should regularly devote a proportion of your learned leisure to
the study of Lamb until you are acquainted with all that is important
in his work and about his work. (You may buy the complete works in
prose and verse of Charles and Mary Lamb, edited by that unsurpassed
expert Mr. Thomas Hutchison, and published by the Oxford University
Press, in two volumes for four shillings the pair!) There is no reason
why you should not become a modest specialist in Lamb. He is the very
man for you; neither voluminous, nor difficult, nor uncomfortably
lofty; always either amusing or touching; and--most important--himself
passionately addicted to literature. You cannot like Lamb without
liking literature in general. And you cannot read Lamb without
learning about literature in general; for books were his hobby, and he
was a critic of the first rank. His letters are full of literariness.
You will naturally read his letters; you should not only be infinitely
diverted by them (there are no better epistles), but you should
receive from them much light on the works.

It is a course of study that I am suggesting to you. It means a
certain amount of sustained effort. It means slightly more resolution,
more pertinacity, and more expenditure of brain-tissue than are
required for reading a newspaper. It means, in fact, "work." Perhaps
you did not bargain for work when you joined me. But I do not think
that the literary taste can be satisfactorily formed unless one is
prepared to put one's back into the affair. And I may prophesy to
you, by way of encouragement, that, in addition to the advantages of
familiarity with masterpieces, of increased literary knowledge, and
of a wide introduction to the true bookish atmosphere and "feel" of
things, which you will derive from a comprehensive study of Charles
Lamb, you will also be conscious of a moral advantage--the very
important and very inspiring advantage of really "knowing something
about something." You will have achieved a definite step; you will be
proudly aware that you have put yourself in a position to judge as an
expert whatever you may hear or read in the future concerning Charles
Lamb. This legitimate pride and sense of accomplishment will stimulate
you to go on further; it will generate steam. I consider that this
indirect moral advantage even outweighs, for the moment, the direct
literary advantages.

Now, I shall not shut my eyes to a possible result of your diligent
intercourse with Charles Lamb. It is possible that you may be
disappointed with him. It is--shall I say?--almost probable that you
will be disappointed with him, at any rate partially. You will have
expected more joy in him than you have received. I have referred in
a previous chapter to the feeling of disappointment which often comes
from first contacts with the classics. The neophyte is apt to find
them--I may as well out with the word--dull. You may have found Lamb
less diverting, less interesting, than you hoped. You may have had
to whip yourself up again and again to the effort of reading him. In
brief, Lamb has not, for you, justified his terrific reputation. If
a classic is a classic because it gives _pleasure_ to succeeding
generations of the people who are most keenly interested in
literature, and if Lamb frequently strikes you as dull, then evidently
there is something wrong. The difficulty must be fairly fronted,
and the fronting of it brings us to the very core of the business of
actually forming the taste. If your taste were classical you would
discover in Lamb a continual fascination; whereas what you in fact do
discover in Lamb is a not unpleasant flatness, enlivened by a vague
humour and an occasional pathos. You ought, according to theory, to be
enthusiastic; but you are apathetic, or, at best, half-hearted. There
is a gulf. How to cross it?

To cross it needs time and needs trouble. The following considerations
may aid. In the first place, we have to remember that, in coming
into the society of the classics in general and of Charles Lamb in
particular, we are coming into the society of a mental superior. What
happens usually in such a case? We can judge by recalling what happens
when we are in the society of a mental inferior. We say things of
which he misses the import; we joke, and he does not smile; what makes
him laugh loudly seems to us horseplay or childish; he is blind to
beauties which ravish us; he is ecstatic over what strikes us as
crude; and his profound truths are for us trite commonplaces. His
perceptions are relatively coarse; our perceptions are relatively
subtle. We try to make him understand, to make him see, and if he is
aware of his inferiority we may have some success. But if he is not
aware of his inferiority, we soon hold our tongues and leave him alone
in his self-satisfaction, convinced that there is nothing to be done
with him. Every one of us has been through this experience with a
mental inferior, for there is always a mental inferior handy, just
as there is always a being more unhappy than we are. In approaching a
classic, the true wisdom is to place ourselves in the position of the
mental inferior, aware of mental inferiority, humbly stripping off all
conceit, anxious to rise out of that inferiority. Recollect that
we always regard as quite hopeless the mental inferior who does
not suspect his own inferiority. Our attitude towards Lamb must be:
"Charles Lamb was a greater man than I am, cleverer, sharper, subtler,
finer, intellectually more powerful, and with keener eyes for beauty.
I must brace myself to follow his lead." Our attitude must resemble
that of one who cocks his ear and listens with all his soul for a
distant sound.

To catch the sound we really must listen. That is to say, we must read
carefully, with our faculties on the watch. We must read slowly and
perseveringly. A classic has to be wooed and is worth the wooing.
Further, we must disdain no assistance. I am not in favour of studying
criticism of classics before the classics themselves. My notion is to
study the work and the biography of a classical writer together, and
then to read criticism afterwards. I think that in reprints of the
classics the customary "critical introduction" ought to be put at
the end, and not at the beginning, of the book. The classic should
be allowed to make his own impression, however faint, on the virginal
mind of the reader. But afterwards let explanatory criticism be read
as much as you please. Explanatory criticism is very useful; nearly
as useful as pondering for oneself on what one has read! Explanatory
criticism may throw one single gleam that lights up the entire

My second consideration (in aid of crossing the gulf) touches the
quality of the pleasure to be derived from a classic. It is never a
violent pleasure. It is subtle, and it will wax in intensity, but
the idea of violence is foreign to it. The artistic pleasures of
an uncultivated mind are generally violent. They proceed from
exaggeration in treatment, from a lack of balance, from attaching too
great an importance to one aspect (usually superficial), while quite
ignoring another. They are gross, like the joy of Worcester sauce on
the palate. Now, if there is one point common to all classics, it is
the absence of exaggeration. The balanced sanity of a great mind makes
impossible exaggeration, and, therefore, distortion. The beauty of a
classic is not at all apt to knock you down. It will steal over you,
rather. Many serious students are, I am convinced, discouraged in the
early stages because they are expecting a wrong kind of pleasure. They
have abandoned Worcester sauce, and they miss it. They miss the coarse
_tang_. They must realise that indulgence in the _tang_ means the
sure and total loss of sensitiveness--sensitiveness even to the _tang_
itself. They cannot have crudeness and fineness together. They must
choose, remembering that while crudeness kills pleasure, fineness ever
intensifies it.



You have now definitely set sail on the sea of literature. You are
afloat, and your anchor is up. I think I have given adequate warning
of the dangers and disappointments which await the unwary and the
sanguine. The enterprise in which you are engaged is not facile, nor
is it short. I think I have sufficiently predicted that you will
have your hours of woe, during which you may be inclined to send to
perdition all writers, together with the inventor of printing. But if
you have become really friendly with Lamb; if you know Lamb, or even
half of him; if you have formed an image of him in your mind, and can,
as it were, hear him brilliantly stuttering while you read his essays
or letters, then certainly you are in a fit condition to proceed and
you want to know in which direction you are to proceed. Yes, I have
caught your terrified and protesting whisper: "I hope to heaven he
isn't going to prescribe a Course of English Literature, because I
feel I shall never be able to do it!" I am not. If your object in life
was to be a University Extension Lecturer in English literature,
then I should prescribe something drastic and desolating. But as your
object, so far as I am concerned, is simply to obtain the highest and
most tonic form of artistic pleasure of which you are capable, I shall
not prescribe any regular course. Nay, I shall venture to dissuade
you from any regular course. No man, and assuredly no beginner, can
possibly pursue a historical course of literature without wasting a
lot of weary time in acquiring mere knowledge which will yield neither
pleasure nor advantage. In the choice of reading the individual must
count; caprice must count, for caprice is often the truest index to
the individuality. Stand defiantly on your own feet, and do not excuse
yourself to yourself. You do not exist in order to honour literature
by becoming an encyclopædia of literature. Literature exists for your
service. Wherever you happen to be, that, for you, is the centre of

Still, for your own sake you must confine yourself for a long time
to recognised classics, for reasons already explained. And though you
should not follow a course, you must have a system or principle. Your
native sagacity will tell you that caprice, left quite unfettered,
will end by being quite ridiculous. The system which I recommend is
embodied in this counsel: Let one thing lead to another. In the sea of
literature every part communicates with every other part; there are no
land-locked lakes. It was with an eye to this system that I originally
recommended you to start with Lamb. Lamb, if you are his intimate, has
already brought you into relations with a number of other prominent
writers with whom you can in turn be intimate, and who will be
particularly useful to you. Among these are Wordsworth, Coleridge,
Southey, Hazlitt, and Leigh Hunt. You cannot know Lamb without knowing
these men, and some of them are of the highest importance. From the
circle of Lamb's own work you may go off at a tangent at various
points, according to your inclination. If, for instance, you are drawn
towards poetry, you cannot, in all English literature, make a better
start than with Wordsworth. And Wordsworth will send you backwards
to a comprehension of the poets against whose influence Wordsworth
fought. When you have understood Wordsworth's and Coleridge's _Lyrical
Ballads_, and Wordsworth's defence of them, you will be in a position
to judge poetry in general. If, again, your mind hankers after an
earlier and more romantic literature, Lamb's _Specimens of English
Dramatic Poets Contemporary with Shakspere_ has already, in an
enchanting fashion, piloted you into a vast gulf of "the sea which is

Again, in Hazlitt and Leigh Hunt you will discover essayists inferior
only to Lamb himself, and critics perhaps not inferior. Hazlitt
is unsurpassed as a critic. His judgments are convincing and his
enthusiasm of the most catching nature. Having arrived at Hazlitt or
Leigh Hunt, you can branch off once more at any one of ten thousand
points into still wider circles. And thus you may continue up and down
the centuries as far as you like, yea, even to Chaucer. If you chance
to read Hazlitt on _Chaucer and Spenser_, you will probably put
your hat on instantly and go out and buy these authors; such is his
communicating fire! I need not particularise further. Commencing with
Lamb, and allowing one thing to lead to another, you cannot fail to be
more and more impressed by the peculiar suitability to your needs of
the Lamb entourage and the Lamb period. For Lamb lived in a time of
universal rebirth in English literature. Wordsworth and Coleridge
were re-creating poetry; Scott was re-creating the novel; Lamb was
re-creating the human document; and Hazlitt, Coleridge, Leigh Hunt,
and others were re-creating criticism. Sparks are flying all about the
place, and it will be not less than a miracle if something combustible
and indestructible in you does not take fire.

I have only one cautionary word to utter. You may be saying to
yourself: "So long as I stick to classics I cannot go wrong." You can
go wrong. You can, while reading naught but very fine stuff, commit
the grave error of reading too much of one kind of stuff. Now there
are two kinds, and only two kinds. These two kinds are not prose and
poetry, nor are they divided the one from the other by any differences
of form or of subject. They are the inspiring kind and the informing
kind. No other genuine division exists in literature. Emerson, I
think, first clearly stated it. His terms were the literature of
"power" and the literature of "knowledge." In nearly all great
literature the two qualities are to be found in company, but one
usually predominates over the other. An example of the exclusively
inspiring kind is Coleridge's _Kubla Khan_. I cannot recall any
first-class example of the purely informing kind. The nearest approach
to it that I can name is Spencer's _First Principles_, which, however,
is at least once highly inspiring. An example in which the inspiring
quality predominates is _Ivanhoe_; and an example in which the
informing quality predominates is Hazlitt's essays on Shakespeare's
characters. You must avoid giving undue preference to the kind in
which the inspiring quality predominates or to the kind in which the
informing quality predominates. Too much of the one is enervating; too
much of the other is desiccating. If you stick exclusively to the
one you may become a mere debauchee of the emotions; if you stick
exclusively to the other you may cease to live in any full sense. I do
not say that you should hold the balance exactly even between the two
kinds. Your taste will come into the scale. What I say is that neither
kind must be neglected.

Lamb is an instance of a great writer whom anybody can understand and
whom a majority of those who interest themselves in literature can
more or less appreciate. He makes no excessive demand either on the
intellect or on the faculty of sympathetic emotion. On both sides of
Lamb, however, there lie literatures more difficult, more recondite.
The "knowledge" side need not detain us here; it can be mastered by
concentration and perseverance. But the "power" side, which comprises
the supreme productions of genius, demands special consideration.
You may have arrived at the point of keenly enjoying Lamb and yet be
entirely unable to "see anything in" such writings as _Kubla Khan_ or
Milton's _Comus_; and as for _Hamlet_ you may see nothing in it but a
sanguinary tale "full of quotations." Nevertheless it is the supreme
productions which are capable of yielding the supreme pleasures, and
which _will_ yield the supreme pleasures when the pass-key to them
has been acquired. This pass-key is a comprehension of the nature of



There is a word, a "name of fear," which rouses terror in the heart
of the vast educated majority of the English-speaking race. The
most valiant will fly at the mere utterance of that word. The most
broad-minded will put their backs up against it. The most rash will
not dare to affront it. I myself have seen it empty buildings that had
been full; and I know that it will scatter a crowd more quickly than
a hose-pipe, hornets, or the rumour of plague. Even to murmur it is
to incur solitude, probably disdain, and possibly starvation, as
historical examples show. That word is "poetry."

The profound objection of the average man to poetry can scarcely
be exaggerated. And when I say the average man, I do not mean the
"average sensual man"--any man who gets on to the top of the omnibus;
I mean the average lettered man, the average man who does care a
little for books and enjoys reading, and knows the classics by name
and the popular writers by having read them. I am convinced that not
one man in ten who reads, reads poetry--at any rate, knowingly. I
am convinced, further, that not one man in ten who goes so far as
knowingly to _buy_ poetry ever reads it. You will find everywhere men
who read very widely in prose, but who will say quite callously,
"No, I never read poetry." If the sales of modern poetry, distinctly
labelled as such, were to cease entirely to-morrow not a publisher
would fail; scarcely a publisher would be affected; and not a poet
would die--for I do not believe that a single modern English poet
is living to-day on the current proceeds of his verse. For a country
which possesses the greatest poetical literature in the world this
condition of affairs is at least odd. What makes it odder is that,
occasionally, very occasionally, the average lettered man will have
a fit of idolatry for a fine poet, buying his books in tens of
thousands, and bestowing upon him immense riches. As with Tennyson.
And what makes it odder still is that, after all, the average lettered
man does not truly dislike poetry; he only dislikes it when it takes
a certain form. He will read poetry and enjoy it, provided he is not
aware that it is poetry. Poetry can exist authentically either in
prose or in verse. Give him poetry concealed in prose and there is a
chance that, taken off his guard, he will appreciate it. But show him
a page of verse, and he will be ready to send for a policeman. The
reason of this is that, though poetry may come to pass either in prose
or in verse, it does actually happen far more frequently in verse than
in prose; nearly all the very greatest poetry is in verse; verse is
identified with the very greatest poetry, and the very greatest poetry
can only be understood and savoured by people who have put themselves
through a considerable mental discipline. To others it is an
exasperating weariness. Hence chiefly the fearful prejudice of the
average lettered man against the mere form of verse.

The formation of literary taste cannot be completed until that
prejudice has been conquered. My very difficult task is to suggest
a method of conquering it. I address myself exclusively to the large
class of people who, if they are honest, will declare that, while they
enjoy novels, essays, and history, they cannot "stand" verse. The case
is extremely delicate, like all nervous cases. It is useless to employ
the arts of reasoning, for the matter has got beyond logic; it is
instinctive. Perfectly futile to assure you that verse will yield a
higher percentage of pleasure than prose! You will reply: "We believe
you, but that doesn't help us." Therefore I shall not argue. I shall
venture to prescribe a curative treatment (doctors do not argue); and
I beg you to follow it exactly, keeping your nerve and your calm. Loss
of self-control might lead to panic, and panic would be fatal.

First: Forget as completely as you can all your present notions about
the nature of verse and poetry. Take a sponge and wipe the slate of
your mind. In particular, do not harass yourself by thoughts of metre
and verse forms. Second: Read William Hazlitt's essay "On Poetry in
General." This essay is the first in the book entitled _Lectures on
the English Poets_. It can be bought in various forms. I think
the cheapest satisfactory edition is in Routledge's "New Universal
Library" (price 1s. net). I might have composed an essay of my own on
the real harmless nature of poetry in general, but it could only have
been an echo and a deterioration of Hazlitt's. He has put the truth
about poetry in a way as interesting, clear, and reassuring as anyone
is ever likely to put it. I do not expect, however, that you will
instantly gather the full message and enthusiasm of the essay. It
will probably seem to you not to "hang together." Still, it will leave
bright bits of ideas in your mind. Third: After a week's interval read
the essay again. On a second perusal it will appear more persuasive to

Fourth: Open the Bible and read the fortieth chapter of Isaiah. It
is the chapter which begins, "Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people," and
ends, "They shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not
faint." This chapter will doubtless be more or less familiar to you.
It cannot fail (whatever your particular _ism_) to impress you, to
generate in your mind sensations which you recognise to be of a lofty
and unusual order, and which you will admit to be pleasurable. You
will probably agree that the result of reading this chapter (even if
your particular _ism_ is opposed to its authority) is finer than the
result of reading a short story in a magazine or even an essay by
Charles Lamb. Now the pleasurable sensations induced by the fortieth
chapter of Isaiah are among the sensations usually induced by
high-class poetry. The writer of it was a very great poet, and what
he wrote is a very great poem. Fifth: After having read it, go back to
Hazlitt, and see if you can find anything in Hazlitt's lecture which
throws light on the psychology of your own emotions upon reading

Sixth: The next step is into unmistakable verse. It is to read one of
Wordsworth's short narrative poems, _The Brothers_. There are editions
of Wordsworth at a shilling, but I should advise the "Golden Treasury"
Wordsworth (2s. 6d. net), because it contains the famous essay by
Matthew Arnold, who made the selection. I want you to read this poem
aloud. You will probably have to hide yourself somewhere in order to
do so, for, of course, you would not, as yet, care to be overheard
spouting poetry. Be good enough to forget that _The Brothers_ is
poetry. _The Brothers_ is a short story, with a plain, clear plot.
Read it as such. Read it simply for the story. It is very important
at this critical stage that you should not embarrass your mind with
preoccupations as to the _form_ in which Wordsworth has told his
story. Wordsworth's object was to tell a story as well as he could:
just that. In reading aloud do not pay any more attention to the metre
than you feel naturally inclined to pay. After a few lines the metre
will present itself to you. Do not worry as to what kind of metre it
is. When you have finished the perusal, examine your sensations....

Your sensations after reading this poem, and perhaps one or two other
narrative poems of Wordsworth, such as _Michael_, will be different
from the sensations produced in you by reading an ordinary, or even a
very extraordinary, short story in prose. They may not be so sharp, so
clear and piquant, but they will probably be, in their mysteriousness
and their vagueness, more impressive. I do not say that they will be
diverting. I do not go so far as to say that they will strike you as
pleasing sensations. (Be it remembered that I am addressing myself
to an imaginary tyro in poetry.) I would qualify them as being
"disturbing." Well, to disturb the spirit is one of the greatest aims
of art. And a disturbance of spirit is one of the finest pleasures
that a highly-organised man can enjoy. But this truth can only be
really learnt by the repetitions of experience. As an aid to the more
exhaustive examination of your feelings under Wordsworth, in order
that you may better understand what he was trying to effect in you,
and the means which he employed, I must direct you to Wordsworth
himself. Wordsworth, in addition to being a poet, was unsurpassed as a
critic of poetry. What Hazlitt does for poetry in the way of creating
enthusiasm Wordsworth does in the way of philosophic explanation. And
Wordsworth's explanations of the theory and practice of poetry are
written for the plain man. They pass the comprehension of nobody, and
their direct, unassuming, and calm simplicity is extremely persuasive.
Wordsworth's chief essays in throwing light on himself are the
"Advertisement," "Preface," and "Appendix" to _Lyrical Ballads_; the
letters to Lady Beaumont and "the Friend" and the "Preface" to the
Poems dated 1815. All this matter is strangely interesting and of
immense educational value. It is the first-class expert talking at
ease about his subject. The essays relating to _Lyrical Ballads_ will
be the most useful for you. You will discover these precious documents
in a volume entitled _Wordsworth's Literary Criticism_ (published by
Henry Frowde, 2s. 6d.), edited by that distinguished Wordsworthian
Mr. Nowell C. Smith. It is essential that the student of poetry should
become possessed, honestly or dishonestly, either of this volume or
of the matter which it contains. There is, by the way, a volume of
Wordsworth's prose in the Scott Library (1s.). Those who have not
read Wordsworth on poetry can have no idea of the naïve charm and the
helpful radiance of his expounding. I feel that I cannot too strongly
press Wordsworth's criticism upon you.

Between Wordsworth and Hazlitt you will learn all that it behoves you
to know of the nature, the aims, and the results of poetry. It is no
part of my scheme to dot the "i's" and cross the "t's" of Wordsworth
and Hazlitt. I best fulfil my purpose in urgently referring you to
them. I have only a single point of my own to make--a psychological
detail. One of the main obstacles to the cultivation of poetry in the
average sensible man is an absurdly inflated notion of the ridiculous.
At the bottom of that man's mind is the idea that poetry is "silly."
He also finds it exaggerated and artificial; but these two accusations
against poetry can be satisfactorily answered. The charge of
silliness, of being ridiculous, however, cannot be refuted by
argument. There is no logical answer to a guffaw. This sense of the
ridiculous is merely a bad, infantile habit, in itself grotesquely
ridiculous. You may see it particularly in the theatre. Not the
greatest dramatist, not the greatest composer, not the greatest actor
can prevent an audience from laughing uproariously at a tragic moment
if a cat walks across the stage. But why ruin the scene by laughter?
Simply because the majority of any audience is artistically childish.
This sense of the ridiculous can only be crushed by the exercise of
moral force. It can only be cowed. If you are inclined to laugh when a
poet expresses himself more powerfully than you express yourself, when
a poet talks about feelings which are not usually mentioned in daily
papers, when a poet uses words and images which lie outside your
vocabulary and range of thought, then you had better take yourself in
hand. You have to decide whether you will be on the side of the angels
or on the side of the nincompoops. There is no surer sign of imperfect
development than the impulse to snigger at what is unusual, naïve, or
exuberant. And if you choose to do so, you can detect the cat walking
across the stage in the sublimest passages of literature. But more
advanced souls will grieve for you.

The study of Wordsworth's criticism makes the seventh step in my
course of treatment. The eighth is to return to those poems of
Wordsworth's which you have already perused, and read them again in
the full light of the author's defence and explanation. Read as much
Wordsworth as you find you can assimilate, but do not attempt either
of his long poems. The time, however, is now come for a long poem.
I began by advising narrative poetry for the neophyte, and I shall
persevere with the prescription. I mean narrative poetry in the
restricted sense; for epic poetry is narrative. _Paradise Lost_ is
narrative; so is _The Prelude_. I suggest neither of these great
works. My choice falls on Elizabeth Browning's _Aurora Leigh_. If you
once work yourself "into" this poem, interesting yourself primarily
(as with Wordsworth) in the events of the story, and not allowing
yourself to be obsessed by the fact that what you are reading is
"poetry"--if you do this, you are not likely to leave it unfinished.
And before you reach the end you will have encountered _en route_
pretty nearly all the moods of poetry that exist: tragic, humorous,
ironic, elegiac, lyric--everything. You will have a comprehensive
acquaintance with a poet's mind. I guarantee that you will come safely
through if you treat the work as a novel. For a novel it effectively
is, and a better one than any written by Charlotte Brontë or George
Eliot. In reading, it would be well to mark, or take note of, the
passages which give you the most pleasure, and then to compare these
passages with the passages selected for praise by some authoritative
critic. _Aurora Leigh_ can be got in the "Temple Classics" (1s. 6d.),
or in the "Canterbury Poets" (1s.). The indispensable biographical
information about Mrs. Browning can be obtained from Mr. J.H. Ingram's
short Life of her in the "Eminent Women" Series (1s. 6d.), or from
_Robert Browning_, by William Sharp ("Great Writers" Series, 1s.).

This accomplished, you may begin to choose your poets. Going back
to Hazlitt, you will see that he deals with, among others, Chaucer,
Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Chatterton, Burns, and
the Lake School. You might select one of these, and read under his
guidance. Said Wordsworth: "I was impressed by the conviction that
there were four English poets whom I must have continually before me
as examples--Chaucer, Shakespeare, Spenser, and Milton." (A word to
the wise!) Wordsworth makes a fifth to these four. Concurrently with
the careful, enthusiastic study of one of the undisputed classics,
modern verse should be read. (I beg you to accept the following
statement: that if the study of classical poetry inspires you with a
distaste for modern poetry, then there is something seriously wrong
in the method of your development.) You may at this stage (and not
before) commence an inquiry into questions of rhythm, verse-structure,
and rhyme. There is, I believe, no good, concise, cheap handbook to
English prosody; yet such a manual is greatly needed. The only one
with which I am acquainted is Tom Hood the younger's _Rules of Rhyme:
A Guide to English Versification_. Again, the introduction to Walker's
_Rhyming Dictionary_ gives a fairly clear elementary account of the
subject. Ruskin also has written an excellent essay on verse-rhythms.
With a manual in front of you, you can acquire in a couple of hours a
knowledge of the formal principles in which the music of English verse
is rooted. The business is trifling. But the business of appreciating
the inmost spirit of the greatest verse is tremendous and lifelong. It
is not something that can be "got up."



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

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

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

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



[For much counsel and correction in the matter of editions and prices
I am indebted to my old and valued friend, Charles Young, head of the
firm of Lamley & Co., booksellers, South Kensington.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iii. Translations from foreign literature into English.

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

  PROSE WRITERS                                   £   s.  d.

  Bede, _Ecclesiastical History_: Temple
      Classics.                                   0   1   6

  Sir Thomas Malory, _Morte d'Arthur_:
      Everyman's Library (4 vols.)                0   4   0

  Sir Thomas More, _Utopia_: Scott Library        0   1   0

  George Cavendish, _Life of Cardinal
      Wolsey_: New Universal Library.             0   1   0

  Richard Hakluyt, _Voyages_: Everyman's
      Library (8 vols.)                           0   8   0

  Richard Hooker, _Ecclesiastical Polity_:
      Everyman's Library (2 vols.)                0   2   0

  Francis Bacon, _Works_: Newnes's Thinpaper
      Classics.                                   0   2   0

  Thomas Dekker, _Gull's Horn-Book_: King's
      Classics.                                   0   1   6

  Lord Herbert of Cherbury, _Autobiography_:
      Scott Library.                              0   1   0

  John Selden, _Table-Talk_: New Universal
      Library.                                    0   1   0

  Thomas Hobbes, _Leviathan_: New Universal
      Library.                                    0   1   0

  James Howell, _Familiar Letters_: Temple
      Classics (3 vols.)                          0   4   6

  Sir Thomas Browne, _Religio Medici_, etc.:
      Everyman's Library.                         0   1   0

  Jeremy Taylor, _Holy Living and Holy
      Dying_: Temple Classics (3 vols.)           0   4   6

  Izaak Walton, _Compleat Angler_: Everyman's
      Library.                                    0   1   0

  John Bunyan, _Pilgrim's Progress_:
      World's Classics.                           0   1   0

  Sir William Temple, _Essay on Gardens
      of Epicurus_: King's Classics.              0   1   6

  John Evelyn, _Diary_: Everyman's
      Library (2 vols.)                           0   2   0

  Samuel Pepys, _Diary_: Everyman's
      Library (2 vols.)                           0   2   0
                                                 £2   1   6

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

  POETS                                           £   s.  d.

  _Beowulf_, Routledge's London Library           0   2   6

  GEOFFREY CHAUCER, _Works_: Globe
      Edition                                     0   3   6

  Nicolas Udall, _Ralph Roister-Doister_:
      Temple Dramatists                           0   1   0

  EDMUND SPENSER, _Works_: Globe Edition          0   3   6

  Thomas Lodge, _Rosalynde_: Caxton Series        0   1   0

  Robert Greene, _Tragical Reign of Selimus_:
      Temple Dramatists                           0   1   0

  Michael Drayton, _Poems_: Newnes's Pocket
      Classics                                    0   8   6

  CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE, _Works_: New Universal
      Library                                     0   1   0

      Edition                                     0   3   6

  Thomas Campion, _Poems_: Muses' Library         0   1   0

  Ben Jonson, _Plays_: Canterbury Poets           0   1   0

  John Donne, _Poems_: Muses' Library
      (2 vols.)                                   0   2   0

  John Webster, Cyril Tourneur, _Plays_:
      Mermaid Series                              0   2   6

  Philip Massinger, _Plays_: Cunningham
      Edition                                     0   3   6

  Beaumont and Fletcher, _Plays_: a Selection
      Canterbury Poets                            0   1   0

  John Ford, _Plays_: Mermaid Series              0   2   6

  George Herbert, _The Temple_: Everyman's
      Library                                     0   1   0

  ROBERT HERRICK, _Poems_: Muses' Library
      (2 vols.)                                   0   2   0

  Edmund Waller, _Poems_: Muses' Library
      (2 vols.)                                   0   2   0

  Sir John Suckling, _Poems_: Muses' Library      0   1   0

  Abraham Cowley, _English Poems_: Cambridge
      University Press                            0   4   6

  Richard Crashaw, _Poems_: Muses' Library        0   1   0

  Henry Vaughan, _Poems_: Methuen's
      Little Library                              0   1   6

  Samuel Butler, _Hudibras_: Cambridge
      University Press                            0   4   6

  JOHN MILTON, _Poetical Works_: Oxford
      Cheap Edition                               0   2   0

  JOHN MILTON, _Select Prose Works_: Scott
      Library                                     0   1   0

  Andrew Marvell, _Poems_: Methuen's Little
      Library                                     0   1   6

  John Dryden, _Poetical Works_: Globe
      Edition                                     0   3   6

  [Thomas Percy], _Reliques of Ancient
      English Poetry_: Everyman's Library
      (2 vols.)                                   0   2   0

  Arber's _"Spenser" Anthology_: Oxford
      University Press                            0   2   0

  Arber's _"Jonson" Anthology_: Oxford
      University Press                            0   2   0

  Arber's _"Shakspere" Anthology_: Oxford
      University Press                            0   2   0
                                                 £3   7   6

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

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

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

  SUMMARY OF THE FIRST PERIOD.                    £   s.  d.

  19 prose authors in 36 volumes costing          2   1   6
  29 poets in         36    "      "              3   7   6
  __                  __                          _________
  48                  72                         £5   9   0

In addition, scores of authors of genuine interest are represented in
the anthologies.

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



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

  PROSE WRITERS.                                  £   s.  d.

  JOHN LOCKE, _Philosophical Works_: Bohn's
      Edition (2 vols.)                           0   7   0

  SIR ISAAC NEWTON, _Principia_ (sections 1,
      2, and 3): Macmillans                       0  12   0

  Gilbert Burnet, _History of His Own Time_:
      Everyman's Library                          0   1   0

  William Wycherley, _Best Plays_: Mermaid
      Series                                      0   2   6

  WILLIAM CONGREVE, _Best Plays_: Mermaid
      Series                                      0   2   6

  Jonathan Swift, _Tale of a Tub_: Scott
      Library                                     0   1   0

  Jonathan Swift, _Gulliver's Travels_:
      Temple Classics                             0   1   6

  DANIEL DEFOE, _Robinson Crusoe_: World's
      Classics                                    0   1   0

  DANIEL DEFOE, _Journal of the Plague
      Year_: Everyman's Library                   0   1   0

  Joseph Addison, Sir Richard Steele,
      _Essays_: Scott Library                     0   1   0

  William Law, _Serious Call_: Everyman's
      Library                                     0   1   0

  Lady Mary W. Montagu, _Letters_: Everyman's
      Library                                     0   1   0

  George Berkeley, _Principles of Human
      Knowledge_: New Universal Library           0   1   0

  SAMUEL RICHARDSON, _Clarissa_ (abridged):
      Routledge's Edition                         0   2   0

  John Wesley, _Journal_: Everyman's
      Library (4 vols.)                           0   4   0

  HENRY FIELDING, _Tom Jones_: Routledge's
      Edition                                     0   2   0

  HENRY FIELDING, _Amelia_: Routledge's
      Edition                                     0   2   0

  HENRY FIELDING, _Joseph Andrews_:
      Routledge's Edition                         0   2   0

  David Hume, _Essays_: World's Classics          0   1   0

  LAURENCE STERNE, _Tristram Shandy_:
      World's Classics                            0   1   0

  LAURENCE STERNE, _Sentimental Journey_:
      New Universal Library                       0   1   0

  Horace Walpole, _Castle of Otranto_: King's
      Classics                                    0   1   6

  Tobias Smollett, _Humphrey Clinker_:
      Routledge's Edition                         0   2   0

  Tobias Smollett, _Travels through France
      and Italy_: World's Classics                0   1   0

  ADAM SMITH, _Wealth of Nations_: World's
      Classics (2 vols.)                          0   2   0

  Samuel Johnson, _Lives of the Poets_:
      World's Classics (2 vols.)                  0   2   0

  Samuel Johnson, _Rasselas_: New Universal
      Library                                     0   1   0

  JAMES BOSWELL, _Life of Johnson_: Everyman's
      Library (2 vols.)                           0   2   0

  Oliver Goldsmith, _Works_: Globe Edition        0   3   6

  Henry Mackenzie, _The Man of Feeling_:
      Cassell's National Library                  0   0   6

  Sir Joshua Reynolds, _Discourses on Art_:
      Scott Library                               0   1   0

  Edmund Burke, _Reflections on the French
      Revolution_: Scott Library                  0   1   0

  Edmund Burke, _Thoughts on the Present
      Discontents_: New Universal Library         0   1   0

  EDWARD GIBBON, _Decline and Fall of the
      Roman Empire_: World's Classics
      (7 vols.)                                   0   7   0

  Thomas Paine, _Rights of Man_: Watts
      and Co.'s Edition                           0   1   0

      World's Classics                            0   1   0

  Fanny Burney, _Evelina_: Everyman's
      Library                                     0   1   0

  Gilbert White, _Natural History of Selborne_:
      Everyman's Library                          0   1   0

  Arthur Young, _Travels in France_: York
      Library                                     0   2   0

  Mungo Park, _Travels_: Everyman's Library       0   1   0

  Jeremy Bentham, _Introduction to the
      Principles of Morals_: Clarendon
      Press                                       0   6   6

      Principle of Population_: Ward,
      Lock's Edition                              0   3   0

  William Godwin, _Caleb Williams_:
      Newnes's Edition                            0   1   0

  Maria Edgeworth, _Helen_: Macmillan's
      Illustrated Edition                         0   2   6

  JANE AUSTEN, _Novels_: Nelson's New
      Century Library (2 vols.)                   0   4   0

  James Morier, _Hadji Baba_: Macmillan's
      Illustrated Novels                          0   2   6
                                                 £5   1   0

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

  POETS.                                          £   s.  d.

  Thomas Otway, _Venice Preserved_: Temple
      Dramatists                                  0   1   0

  Matthew Prior, _Poems on Several Occasions_:
      Cambridge English Classics                  0   4   6

  John Gay, _Poems_: Muses' Library
      (2 vols.)                                   0   2   0

  ALEXANDER POPE, _Works_: Globe Edition          0   3   0

  Isaac Watts, _Hymns_: Any hymn-book             0   1   0

  James Thomson, _The Seasons_: Muses'
      Library                                     0   1   0

  Charles Wesley, _Hymns_: Any hymn-book          0   1   0

  THOMAS GRAY, Samuel Johnson, William
      Collins, _Poems_: Muses' Library            0   1   0

  James Macpherson (Ossian), _Poems_:
      Canterbury Poets                            0   1   0

  THOMAS CHATTERTON, _Poems_: Muses'
      Library (2 vols.)                           0   2   0

  WILLIAM COWPER, _Poems_: Canterbury
      Poets                                       0   1   0

  WILLIAM COWPER, _Letters_: World's
      Classics                                    0   1   0

  George Crabbe, _Poems_: Methuen's Little
      Library                                     0   1   6

  WILLIAM BLAKE, _Poems_: Muses' Library          0   1   0

  William Lisle Bowles, Hartley Coleridge,
      _Poems_: Canterbury Poets                   0   1   0

  ROBERT BURNS, _Works_: Globe Edition            0   3   6
                                                 £1   7   0


  39 prose writers in 60 volumes, costing        £5   1   0
  18 poets          " 18    "        "            1   7   0
  __                  __                         __________
  57                  78                         £6   8   0



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

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

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

  PROSE WRITERS: IMAGINATIVE.                       £   s.  d.

  SIR WALTER SCOTT, _Waverley, Heart of
      Midlothian, Quentin Durward, Red-gauntlet,
      Ivanhoe_: Everyman's
      Library (5 vols.)                             0   5   0

  SIR WALTER SCOTT, _Marmion_, etc.:
      Canterbury Poets                              0   1   0

  Charles Lamb, _Works in Prose and Verse_:
      Clarendon Press (2 vols.)                     0   4   0

  Charles Lamb, _Letters_: Newnes's Thin
      Paper Classics                                0   2   0

  Walter Savage Landor, _Imaginary Conversations_:
      Scott Library                                 0   1   0

  Walter Savage Landor, _Poems_: Canterbury
      Poets                                         0   1   0

  Leigh Hunt, _Essays and Sketches_: World's
      Classics                                      0   1   0

  Thomas Love Peacock, _Principal Novels_:
      New Universal Library (2 vols.)               0   2   0

  Mary Russell Mitford, _Our Village_:
      Scott Library                                 0   1   0

  Michael Scott, _Tom Cringle's Log_: Macmillan's
      Illustrated Novels                            0   2   6

  Frederick Marryat, _Mr. Midshipman
      Easy_: Everyman's Library                     0   1   0

  John Galt, _Annals of the Parish_: Everyman's
      Library                                       0   1   0

  Susan Ferrier, _Marriage_: Routledge's
      edition                                       0   2   0

  Douglas Jerrold, _Mrs. Caudle's Curtain
      Lectures_: World's Classics                   0   1   0

  Lord Lytton, _Last Days of Pompeii_:
      Everyman's Library                            0   1   0

  William Carleton, _Stories_: Scott Library        0   1   0

  Charles James Lever, _Harry Lorrequer_:
      Everyman's Library                            0   1   0

  Harrison Ainsworth, _The Tower of London_:
      New Universal Library                         0   1   0

  George Henry Borrow, _Bible in Spain,
      Lavengro_: New Universal Library (2 vols.)    0   2   0

  Lord Beaconsfield, _Sybil, Coningsby_:
      Lane's New Pocket Library (2 vols.)           0   2   0

  W.M. THACKERAY, _Vanity Fair, Esmond_:
      Everyman's Library (2 vols.)                  0   2   0

  W.M. THACKERAY, _Barry Lyndon_, and
      _Roundabout Papers_, etc.:
      Nelson's New Century Library                  0   2   0

  CHARLES DICKENS, _Works_: Everyman's
      Library (18 vols.)                            0  18   0

  Charles Reade, _The Cloister and the Hearth_:
      Everyman's Library                            0   1   0

  Anthony Trollope, _Barchester Towers,
      Framley Parsonage_: Lane's New
      Pocket Library (2 vols.)                      0   2   0

  Charles Kingsley, _Westward Ho!_: Everyman's
      Library                                       0   1   0

  Henry Kingsley, _Ravenshoe_: Everyman's
      Library                                       0   1   0

  Charlotte Brontë, _Jane Eyre, Shirley,
      Villette, Professor, and Poems_:
      World's Classics (4 vols.)                    0   4   0

  Emily Brontë, _Wuthering Heights_: World's
      Classics                                      0   1   0

  Elizabeth Gaskell, _Cranford_: World's
      Classics                                      0   1   0

  Elizabeth Gaskell, _Life of Charlotte Brontë_     0   2   6

  George Eliot, _Adam Bede, Silas Marner,
      The Mill on the Floss_: Everyman's
      Library (3 vols.)                             0   3   0

  G.J. Whyte-Melville, _The Gladiators_:
      New Universal Library                         0   1   0

  Alexander Smith, _Dreamthorpe_: New
      Universal Library                             0   1   0

  George Macdonald, _Malcolm_                       0   1   6

  Walter Pater, _Imaginary Portraits_               0   6   0

  Wilkie Collins, _The Woman in White_              0   1   0

  R.D. Blackmore, _Lorna Doone_: Everyman's
      Library                                       0   1   0

  Samuel Butler, _Erewhon_: Fifield's
      Edition                                       0   2   6

  Laurence Oliphant, _Altiora Peto_                 0   3   6

  Margaret Oliphant, _Salem Chapel_: Everyman's
      Library                                       0   1   0

  Richard Jefferies, _Story of My Heart_            0   2   0

  Lewis Carroll, _Alice in Wonderland_: Macmillan's
      Cheap Edition                                 0   1   0

  John Henry Shorthouse, _John Inglesant_:
      Macmillan's Pocket Classics                   0   2   0

  R.L. Stevenson, _Master of Ballantrae,
      Virginibus Puerisque_: Pocket Edition
      (2 vols.)                                     0   4   0

  George Gissing, _The Odd Women_: Popular
      Edition (bound)                               0   0   7
                                                   £5   0   1

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

  PROSE WRITERS: NON-IMAGINATIVE.                   £   s.  d.

  William Hazlitt, _Spirit of the Age_: World's
      Classics                                      0   1   0

  William Hazlitt, _English Poets and Comic
      Writers_: Bohn's Library                      0   3   6

  Francis Jeffrey, _Essays from Edinburgh
      Review_: New Universal Library                0   1   0

  Thomas de Quincey, _Confessions of an
      English Opium-eater_, etc.: Scott
      Library                                       0   1   0

  Sydney Smith, _Selected Papers_: Scott
      Library                                       0   1   0

  George Finlay, _Byzantine Empire_:
      Everyman's Library                            0   1   0

  John G. Lockhart, _Life of Scott_: Everyman's
      Library                                       0   1   0

  Agnes Strickland, _Life of Queen Elizabeth_:
      Everyman's Library                            0   1   0

  Hugh Miller, _Old Red Sandstone_: Everyman's
      Library                                       0   1   0

  J.H. Newman, _Apologia pro vita sua_:
      New Universal Library                         0   1   0

  Lord Macaulay, _History of England_, (3),
      _Essays_ (2): Everyman's Library (5 vols.)    0   5   0

  A.P. Stanley, _Memorials of Canterbury_:
      Everyman's Library                            0   1   0

  THOMAS CARLYLE, _French Revolution_ (2),
      _Cromwell_ (3), _Sartor Resartus and
      Heroes and Hero-Worship_ (1): Everyman's
      Library (6 vols.)                             0   6   0

  THOMAS CARLYLE, _Latter-day Pamphlets_:
      Chapman and Hall's Edition                    0   1   0

  CHARLES DARWIN, _Origin of Species_:
      Murray's Edition                              0   1   0

  CHARLES DARWIN, _Voyage of the Beagle_:
      Everyman's Library                            0   1   0

  A.W. Kinglake, _Eothen_: New Universal
      Library                                       0   1   0

  John Stuart Mill, _Auguste Comte and
      Positivism_: New Universal Library            0   1   0

  John Brown, _Horæ Subsecivæ_: World's
      Classics                                      0   1   0

  John Brown, _Rab and His Friends_:
      Everyman's Library                            0   1   0

  Sir Arthur Helps, _Friends in Council_:
      New Universal Library                         0   1   0

  Mark Pattison, _Life of Milton_: English
      Men of Letters Series                         0   1   0

  F.W. Robertson, _On Religion and Life_:
      Everyman's Library                            0   1   0

  Benjamin Jowett, _Interpretation of Scripture_:
      Routledge's London Library                    0   2   6

  George Henry Lewes, _Principles of Success
      in Literature_: Scott Library                 0   1   0

  Alexander Bain, _Mind and Body_                   0   4   0

  James Anthony Froude, _Dissolution of the
      Monasteries_, etc.: New Universal
      Library                                       0   1   0

  Mary Wollstonecraft, _Vindication of the
      Rights of Women_: Scott Library               0   1   0

  John Tyndall, _Glaciers of the Alps_:
      Everyman's Library                            0   1   0

  Sir Henry Maine, _Ancient Law_: New
      Universal Library                             0   1   0

  JOHN RUSKIN, _Seven Lamps_ (1), _Sesame
      and Lilies_ (1), _Stones of Venice_ (3):
      George Allen's Cheap Edition (5 vols.)        0   5   0

  HERBERT SPENCER, _First Principles_ (2 vols.)     0   2   0

  HERBERT SPENCER, _Education_                      0   1   0

  Sir Richard Burton, _Narrative of a
      Pilgrimage to Mecca_: Bohn's Edition
      (2 vols.)                                     0   7   0

  J.S. Speke, _Sources of the Nile_: Everyman's
      Library                                       0   1   0

  Thomas Henry Huxley, _Essays_: Everyman's
      Library                                       0   1   0

  E.A. Freeman, _Europe_: Macmillan's
      Primers                                       0   1   0

  WILLIAM STUBBS, _Early Plantagenets_              0   2   0

  Walter Bagehot, _Lombard Street_                  0   3   6

  Richard Holt Hutton, _Cardinal Newman_            0   3   6

  Sir John Seeley, _Ecce Homo_:
      New Universal Library                         0   1   0

  David Masson, _Thomas de Quincey_:
      English Men of Letters Series                 0   1   0

  John Richard Green, _Short History of the
      English People_                               0   8   6

  Sir Leslie Stephen, _Pope_: English Men
      of Letters Series                             0   1   0

  Lord Acton, _On the Study of History_             0   2   6

  Mandell Creighton, _The Age of Elizabeth_         0   2   6

  F.W.H. Myers, _Wordsworth_: English
      Men of Letters Series                         0   1   0
                                                   £4  10   6

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

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

  POETS.                                            £   s.  d.

  WILLIAM WORDSWORTH, _Poetical Works_:
      Oxford Edition                                0   3   6

  WILLIAM WORDSWORTH, _Literary Criticism_:
      Nowell Smith's Edition                        0   2   6

  Robert Southey, _Poems_: Canterbury
      Poets                                         0   1   0

  Robert Southey, _Life of Nelson_: Everyman's
      Library                                       0   1   0

  S.T. COLERIDGE, _Poetical Works_:
      Newnes's Thin Paper Classics                  0   2   0

  S.T. COLERIDGE, _Biographia Literaria_:
      Everyman's Library                            0   1   0

  S.T. COLERIDGE, _Lectures on Shakspere_:
      Everyman's Library                            0   1   0

  JOHN KEATS, _Poetical Works_: Oxford
      Edition                                       0   3   6

  PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY, _Poetical Works_:
      Oxford Edition                                0   3   6

  LORD BYRON, _Poems_: E. Hartley Coleridge's
      Edition                                       0   6   0

  LORD BYRON, _Letters_: Scott Library              0   1   0

  Thomas Hood, _Poems_: World's Classics            0   1   0

  James and Horace Smith, _Rejected Addresses_:
      New Universal Library                         0   1   0

  John Keble, _The Christian Year_: Canterbury
      Poets                                         0   1   0

  George Darley, _Poems_: Muses' Library            0   1   0

  T.L. Beddoes, _Poems_: Muses' Library             0   1   0

  Thomas Moore, _Selected Poems_: Canterbury
      Poets                                         0   1   0

  James Clarence Mangan, _Poems_: D.J.
      O'Donoghue's Edition                          0   3   6

  W. Mackworth Praed, _Poems_: Canterbury
      Poets                                         0   1   0

  R.S. Hawker, _Cornish Ballads_: C.E.
      Byles's Edition                               0   5   0

  Edward FitzGerald, _Omar Khayyam_:
      Golden Treasury Series                        0   2   6

  P.J. Bailey, _Festus_: Routledge's Edition        0   3   6

  Arthur Hugh Clough, _Poems_: Muses'
      Library                                       0   1   0

  LORD TENNYSON, _Poetical Works_: Globe
      Edition                                       0   3   6

  ROBERT BROWNING, _Poetical Works_:
      World's Classics (2 vols.)                    0   2   0

  Elizabeth Browning, _Aurora Leigh_:
      Temple Classics                               0   1   6

  Elizabeth Browning, _Shorter Poems_:
      Canterbury Poets                              0   1   0

  P.B. Marston, _Song-tide_: Canterbury
      Poets                                         0   1   0

  Aubrey de Vere, _Legends of St. Patrick_:
      Cassell's National Library                    0   0   6

  MATTHEW ARNOLD, _Poems_: Golden Treasury
      Series                                        0   2   6

  MATTHEW ARNOLD, _Essays_: Everyman's
      Library                                       0   1   0

  Coventry Patmore, _Poems_: Muses'
      Library                                       0   1   0

  Sydney Dobell, _Poems_: Canterbury Poets          0   1   0

  Eric Mackay, _Love-letters of a Violinist_:
      Canterbury Poets                              0   1   0

  T.E. Brown, _Poems_                               0   7   6

  C.S. Calverley, _Verses and Translations_         0   1   6

  D.G. ROSSETTI, _Poetical Works_                   0   3   6

  Christina Rossetti, _Selected Poems_:
      Golden Treasury Series                        0   2   6

  James Thomson, _City of Dreadful Night_           0   3   6

  Jean Ingelow, _Poems_: Red Letter Library         0   1   6

  William Morris, _The Earthly Paradise_            0   6   0

  William Morris, _Early Romances_: Everyman's
      Library                                       0   1   0

  Augusta Webster, _Selected Poems_                 0   4   6

  W.E. Henley, _Poetical Works_                     0   6   0

  Francis Thompson, _Selected Poems_                0   5   0
                                                   £5   7   0

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


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


                                     Authors. Volumes.     Price.

  1. To Dryden                          48       72       £5  9  0

  2. Eighteenth Century                 57       78        6  8  0

  3. Nineteenth Century                121      187       14 17  7
                                       ___      ___       ________
                                       226      337      £26 14  7

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

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

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



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

Of course, literature has a minor function, that of passing the
time in an agreeable and harmless fashion, by giving momentary faint
pleasure. Vast multitudes of people (among whom may be numbered not a
few habitual readers) utilise only this minor function of literature;
by implication they class it with golf, bridge, or soporifics.
Literary genius, however, had no intention of competing with these
devices for fleeting the empty hours; and all such use of literature
may be left out of account.

You, O serious student of many volumes, believe that you have a
sincere passion for reading. You hold literature in honour, and your
last wish would be to debase it to a paltry end. You are not of those
who read because the clock has just struck nine and one can't go
to bed till eleven. You are animated by a real desire to get out of
literature all that literature will give. And in that aim you keep on
reading, year after year, and the grey hairs come. But amid all this
steady tapping of the reservoir, do you ever take stock of what you
have acquired? Do you ever pause to make a valuation, in terms of your
own life, of that which you are daily absorbing, or imagine you
are absorbing? Do you ever satisfy yourself by proof that you
are absorbing anything at all, that the living waters, instead of
vitalising you, are not running off you as though you were a duck in a
storm? Because, if you omit this mere business precaution, it may well
be that you, too, without knowing it, are little by little joining
the triflers who read only because eternity is so long. It may well be
that even your alleged sacred passion is, after all, simply a sort of
drug-habit. The suggestion disturbs and worries you. You dismiss it
impatiently; but it returns.

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

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

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

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

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

If he does not have glimpses of the nuity of all things in an orderly

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

If he is pessimistic--

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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














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