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the ability to read without the wisdom to choose what to read, without the power to discriminate between treasure and trash. In his “Democracy and Other Addresses," James Russell Lowell tells us of a Wallachian legend.
“One Bakála, a good-for-nothing kind of fellow in his way, having had the luck to offer a sacrifice especially well pleasing to God, is taken up into heaven. He finds the Almighty sitting in something like the best room of a Wallachian peasant's cottage.
On being asked what reward he desires for the good service he has done, Bakála, who had always passionately longed to be the owner of a bagpipe, seeing a half-worn-out one lying among some rubbish in a corner of the room, begs eagerly that it may be bestowed upon him. The Lord with a smile of pity at the meanness of his choice, grants him his boon, and Bakála goes back to earth delighted with his prize. With an infinite possibility within his reach, with the choice of wisdom, of power, of beauty at his tongue’s end, he asked according to his kind, and his sordid wish is answered with a gift as sordid."
The application of this incident to the choice of books is evident.
A scholarly love for literature after graduation is often a test among people of intelligent discrimination of the culture acquired by schooling. How can this taste be developed if the material to be read at home or studied in schools is low or vulgar, silly, above the child's enjoyment, or if he does not there acquire the habit of associating with books on friendly terms? It must be realized, too, that in the vast majority of cases opportunity and inclination for reading for general culture ends with the period of youth. Ruskin asks in “Sesame and Lilies":
“Will you go and gossip with your housemaid or your stable-boy, when you may talk with queens and kings; or flatter yourselves that it is with any worthy consciousness of your own claims to respect that you jostle with the hungry and common crowd for entrée here, and audience there, when all the while this eternal court is open to you, with its society, wide as the world, multitudinous as its days,—the chosen and the mighty of every place and time? Into that you may enter always; in that you may take fellowship and rank according to your wish; from that, once entered into it, you can never be an outcast but by your own fault; by your aristocracy of companionship there, your own inherent aristocracy will be assuredly tested, and the motives with which you strive to take high place in the society of the living, measured, as to all the truth and sincerity that are in them, by the place you desire to take in this company of the dead.”
What Are Bad Books?
With these fine words ringing in his ears, assuredly one desires to fit himself to enjoy the company of the aristocracy of letters. Just as surely he desires to avoid the bad. The question What are bad books? is excellently answered by the Reverend Dr. Robert Collyer:
"If when I read a book about God, I find that it has put Him farther from me; or about man, that it has put me farther from him; or about this universe, that it has shaken down upon it a new look of desolation, turning a green field inio a wild moor; or about life, that it has made it seem a little less worth living, on all accounts, than it was; or about moral principles, that they are not quite so clear and strong as they were when this author began to talk ;—then I know that on any of these five cardinal things in the life of man,his relations to God, to his fellows, to the world about him, and the great principles on which all things stable center,that, for me, is a bad book. It may chime in with some lurking appetite in my own nature, and so seem to be as sweet as honey to my taste; but it comes to bitter, bad results. It may be food for another; I can say nothing to that.”
Development Through Reading.
Moreover, one should make it a practice to read something a little beyond him, something that will make him stretch every faculty of his intellect. A book containing this kind of material should lie constantly on the desk, and one should open it every day or two, not when the mind and the body are alike wearied, but when both are fresh and ambitious for some task worthy their strength. The book suggested in the following quotation is undoubtedly too abstruse for the vast majority of common school teachers. In fact, we all differ so widely that it would be difficult to recommend any book that would serve as a good mental gymnasium for each of us. Our own experience can guide us. Where is some book which is recommended heartily by those whose judgments we trust and which we have difficulty in understanding? Choose that, if you have or can acquire interest in the subject of which it treats. If we make mere drudgery of it, we shall almost surely fail to gain the blessing. Don't try too much of it at a time; think over what you read; and keep at it!
“Let a student read one page of Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason' when his mind is fresh, concentrating his full attention upon it,” says Rosenkranz. "His first reading will not suffice to give him much insight. But if he repeats his reading of this one page every week for six months, he will discover within himself not only new ideas but new faculties. While this progresses he will be delighted to find that other less difficult works, which, however, had formerly required his full strength to master, have now become quite easy. It is like substituting for the flame of the alcohol lamp that of an oxyhydrogen blowpipe: the difficulties melt away before his new power of analysis disciplined on the dry and abstruse philosophical work. By this exercise the youth overcomes that worst of intellectual obstacles—the belief that what he can not understand at first trial is permanently beyond his powers My mind was not made for that kind of work.' The motto of the schoolroom should be, 'Each may master the deepest and wisest thoughts that the human race has transmitted to us. Repeated attacks by concentrated attention not only master the abstruse problem, but leave the mind with a permanent acquisition of power of analysis for new problems."
Pace in Reading
Even after we have selected our reading, choosing with care and discrimination, we find that we read the various kinds differently,--that is, the trained reader does. An anonymous contributor to the Atlantic Monthly (July, 1902) has given some exceedingly wise points on “Pace in Reading." He declares that good reading depends on “good will, concentration, and the habit of dispatch,” condemning heartily “the formation of the newspaper habit,” “the habit of mind which makes it possible for men to spend an evening in going through motions." This is a habit that is too often exemplified about us to demand explanation.
* Rosenkranz: Philosophy of Education, p. 89.
“The good reader,” he continues, “takes all reading to be his province. Newspapers, periodicals, books, old and new, all present themselves to him in their proper perspective; they are all grist to his mill, but they do not go into the same hopper or require the same process.
Milton may be read in words and lines, Macaulay in sentences, Thackeray in paragraphs, and Conan Doyle in pages.” Fearing that he may be misunderstood as confusing pace in reading and skimming or skipping, the contributor declares: “Skimming and rapid reading are different processes, but skimming is at times a good thing, too; even skipping becomes, on occasion, a sacred duty. .
For skimming implies cream, and skipping, a foothold somewhere."
The principles laid down in this most suggestive article are, however they appeal to common sense, relatively unrecognized in the teaching of reading. Teachers, when they thought at all of the importance of reading with different paces, have, it seems, either feared to meddle with anything so dangerous and novel or else they have thought that experience would bring the ability to each reader. Unfortu