« VorigeDoorgaan »
can find. You eagerly devour every scrap Reading is, first of all, a means of recrea- of information you can pick up on the tion, like games or music or the drama or subject. The fascination that literature travel or any of the other amusements by can exert is akin to the fascination that which people forget their ordinary occupa- the handbook on wireless telegraphy postions and get out of the ruts of their sesses, though it springs from different ordinary thought and speech. The first causes. test of literature, therefore, is its power to It is not, primarily, the information that take us out of ourselves. While we read, you gain from poetry and story and drama we live in a world that is attractive through that marks the difference between what its strangeness, a world of fancy and is literature and what is not. imagination. The measure of the power cyclopedia or a dictionary or a treatise on of what we read lies in the completeness history or science may give you far more with which we are absorbed into this un- useful information than you can get from accustomed world. If you become thor- this book or from any other book devoted oughly interested in the Indian stories of to literature. Neither is it in the moral Fenimore Cooper, you are transported lessons or even in the ideals of conduct sugto the scenes in which the action moves; gested that you find the chief reason for you are a companion to Natty Bumppo; reading. Literature gives information and he is as real to you as if you could actually is filled with noble ideals, but its first use see him and hear him speak. You can for you is to bring pleasure. This book, recall stories in which you became so like every book filled with what we call absorbed that you did not hear if some- literature as distinct from writing that one called you or spoke to you. You were seeks only to give information, is more not willing to lay aside the book until you than a series of lessons. had devoured the whole of it. Your book Suppose we look a little more closely at was like the magic carpet of old romance, this distinction between what we call powerful to carry you far off from your a "lesson" and that which we call a actual surroundings and into a world recreation or a source of pleasure. Some where all manner of strange adventures “lesson,” for example, may be distasteful awaited you.
to you because you don't find it interestThis test of interest-deep, absorbing ing. If you are conscientious, you can interest—is a fair one. It is met by all probably force yourself to learn it, but reading that once gets full influence over you take no pleasure in it, and you spend you. It may even be met, on occasion, as little time on it as you can. by that which is not literature. For It doesn't take you out of yourself. example, you may become greatly in- Literature, rightly used, possesses the terested in wireless telegraphy. As a power to take you out of yourself, to result of this interest, a book on the sub- widen your horizon, to increase the range ject may seem, for the time, far more ab- of your interests. The pleasures that sorbing than any other reading that you are brought by any departure from our
usual way of living are of different kinds you have used as a standard, while another and values. Some of them are mere sur- you will see is cheap and unworthy. renders to easy and unworthy ideals. It Always the test is of interest, of power to is possible to increase the fineness of one's carry you out of yourself into an unideas about pleasure through the develop- familiar world, but you are to form your ment of standards of taste. The man own standards of what is true and what who has acquired such standards finds is false, of the difference between what just as keen enjoyment in a bit of fine you
have a right to enjoy and music as someone else finds in
what you feel is unworthy of you. noise, as much pleasure in a noble poem or The story is told of a famous artist who picture as someone else finds in doggerel or was once approached by an ignorant but a cheap print. To cultivate one's ap- conceited woman with the remark: “I preciation for pleasures that involve judg- don't know a thing in the world about art, ment and standards of taste is no small but I know what I like and what I don't part of the training that reading affords. like." "Madam," gravely responded the
. ” These standards are not arbitrary or artist, "so does a cow.” fixed by mere rules. They develop natural- To get the utmost enjoyment out of ly in one who gives attention to the your reading is therefore the first thing to matter. In this part of your book, for look for. And part of this enjoyment example, you will find stories, some of springs from certain qualities that we them thrilling and dramatic, others humor- bring to our reading, qualities of judgous, which many people have agreed to ment, taste, and of right appreciation. call good stories. It isn't necessary to call them masterpieces and to differentiate between them and the stories in a popular magazine. The magazine may
Books and reading, we have found, are
an introduction to a world of adventure. contain stories just as good; in fact, some of these very stories first appeared in the
This does not mean that they deal only magazines of their time. The one thing
with exciting events. So long as you do for you to do is to do just what you do
only the accustomed things, travel the with your new magazine-read for enjoy. Only the same things, your life has in it
same path every day, and every day see ment, without thinking of any lesson or
, anything to be learned, and then to apply
no adventure. Adventure is that which just the same test that you apply to your
takes you out of yourself, gives you an magazine story, the test of whether it
unwonted experience. Such an experience interests you or not. But when you have
may be encountered anywhere, at any time. done this, you might ask yourself just
In one of Shakespeare's plays, a nobleman, why you like the story or do not like it.
living in exile, speaks of the charm of his The notes and questions that follow the
quiet life far from wars and courts, a life
in which, he says, he selection may help you to find this out; that is all they are for-not to supply you Finds tongues in trees, books in the running with tasks, but to help you to form your
brooks, own standards by which to judge between
Sermons in stones, and good in everything. that which is true and that which is false, Partly this was due to the fact that he between genuine representation of life and was living in surroundings strange to him, character and a sentimental or unreal far from “public haunt.” A peasant who imitation, between genuine humor and had lived all his life there might not have the cheap jest.
adventure in the trees or brooks This done, you can use these standards, or stones. Adventure to such a man your own standards, not those that have would be a ride on a train or in the subway been forced upon you, to apply to the new or a sight of a great city from the top of a magazine. Perhaps you will read, in some tall building. Adventure, once more, is magazine, one story that seems to you as that which takes you out of yourself. effective and as interesting as one of those This unwonted experience that we call
adventure may be a part of your real life leisure when it is gained. To this there or it may be a part of the life that you are many answers, some of them good and find in books. Shakespeare, whose dramas others evil. Just one aspect of the matter are a book-world in adventures in them- concerns us here. It is not merely a quesselves, often speaks of this book-world and tion of how you are to use your time for the real world in almost the same terms. recreation, the time when there are no “My library,” one of his characters says, lessons to learn or work to be done, or "was dukedom large enough." And Words- even when your hour for skating or tennis worth speaks of books as a world in them- or football has given way to the hour for selves:
reading. It is a matter that may be even Dreams, books, are each a world; and books, we more important to you forty years from know,
now than it is today. Are a substantial world, both pure and good. When that time comes, reading will be a Round these, with tendrils strong as flesh and source of keen enjoyment to you, or will blood,
mean nothing at all, just in proportion as Our pastime and our happiness will grow.
you learn to read now. Learning to read It is in this sense that you are now in- is not just a matter of ability to pronounce vited to enter the World of Adventure and define words, or to understand a that is in books. For your introduction description of a fire or an account of a to this world, here are some good stories. murder in the morning paper. The interest But all your reading, in the later parts of that the expression of thought may have this book, in other books—all your read- for you is one that increases with exercise, ing may be travels “in the realms of gold,” like the interest you take in a game. The to use the fine phrase by which Keats de- qualities of judgment, taste, and right scribed his adventures in reading. In such appreciation that were spoken of a moment reading, you are also living, for literature ago, qualities that add to your enjoyment is but an expression of life. This expres- of what you read, are also capable of sion must satisfy us by its beauty, interest development. With such habits of readus by the zest and spirit with which it por- ing, formed easily now, you will find books trays its world, and take us out of the a never-failing source of recreation, inbeaten track of everyday existence into a creasing in their power as the years go by. world of adventure more precious than a You are reading for enjoyment now; dukedom.
you are laying up stores for enjoyment
when you are old. III An interesting series of essays appeared
IV in the Atlantic Monthly in 1921-2 under the There are two worlds of adventure, then: title “The Iron Man.” By this term the the world of experience and action, and author personifies, in a vivid phrase, the the world of reading. Both of them envast development of machinery. Work rich our lives at the time when we enter that was formerly done by human strength, them; both of them increase in meaning if done at all, is now performed by machines as we go on through life; both are storeof such power and dexterity that they houses of memory upon which we can seem almost human. With the further draw at will. This parallel between the perfection of machinery, the time may action-world and the book-world has never come when the work of the world may be been more beautifully expressed than by performed in only a part of the week. Keats in the poem to which reference was Even now, men have more leisure than made a moment ago. He is speaking, in in former times, and this margin between this poem, of the new world of delight that the hours of labor necessary for one to earn opened to him when he came upon Chapa living and one's free time is growing man's translation of Homer. No experigreater year by year.
ence that he had had in the realms of gold, All this brings sharply to mind the by which he meant this book-world, could question of what we are to do with our compare with the adventure that came to
him when he stumbled upon Chapman's Homer:
Much have I traveled in the realms of gold,
demesne; Yet never did I breathe its pure serene Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and
and all his men Looked at each other with a wild surmiseSilent, upd
a peak in Darien. You see at a glance how admirably this poem expresses the kinship between the book-world of adventure and the actionworld. Two supreme experiences are drawn upon by the poet in his effort to tell us what reading Homer meant to him. You can conceive of no more thrilling experience than to have stood with the great explorer who first of our race looked upon the broad expanse of the Pacific. The explorer was Balboa, not Cortez, but this error of Keats makes no essential difference. Men had thought that the new lands discovered as the result of Columbus's daring journey were a part of India. That an ocean greater than the Atlantic yet separated them
from the object of their search had not dawned upon them. To be the first of modern Europeans to come face to face with this stupendous fact, to have seen the narrow Mediterranean world expand to take in the vast Atlantic and then to find another mighty ocean stretching still farther to the west-what a thrilling adventure was this! It was to be compared only with the thrill that came to the astronomer in those days when Galileo's telescope was yet so new that the astronomer might hope to find with it a planet hitherto unknown. Like these adventures of the action-world, says the poet, was the experience that came to him when the riches of Homer's great poem were suddenly revealed. The world of Homer, known only through his book, was as real as the new-found planet or the mighty
Each experience was unique, stupendous, an adventure without parallel.
No more oceans are to be discovered. Since Balboa's time the Pacific and all the seven seas have been measured and charted. Men have stood at the North Pole and at the South. The wonders of the heavens, too, have been explored. But to you, to every girl and boy, may yet come the delight which the poet classes with these the entrance, through reading, upon a world of adventure, the realms of gold over which Homer, and Stevenson, and Scott, and Shakespeare, and many others like them rule as kings.