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where. In such a matter the judgment of the world, guided and informed by a long succession of accomplished critics, is almost unerring. When some Zoilus finds blemishes in Homer and prefers, it may be, the work of some Apollonius of his own discovering, we only laugh. There may be doubts about the third and the fourth rank; but the first and the second are hardly open to discussion. The gates which lead to the Elysian fields may slowly wheel back on their adamantine hinges to admit now and then some new and chosen modern. But the company of the masters of those who know, and in especial degree of the great poets, is a roll long closed and complete, and they who are of it hold ever peaceful converse together.
Hence we may find it a useful maxim that, if our reading be utterly closed to the great poems of the world, there is something amiss with our reading. If you find Milton, Dante, Calderon, Goethe, so much“Hebrew-Greek” to you; if your Homer and Virgil, your Molière and Scott, l'est year after year undisturbed on their shelves beside your school trigonometry and your old college text-books; if you have never opened the Cid, the Nibelungen, Crusoe, and Don Quixote since you were a boy, and are wont to leave the Bible and the Imitation for some wet Sunday afternoon—know, friend, that your reading can do you little real good. Your mental digestion is ruined or sadly out of order. No doubt, to thousands of intelligent educated men who call themselves readers, the reading through a canto of The Purgatorio, or a Book of the Paradise Lost, is a task as irksome as it would be to decipher an ill-written manuscript in a language that is alınost forgotten. But, although we are not to be always reading epics, and are chiefly in the mood for slighter things, to be absolutely unable to read Milton or Dante with enjoyment is to be in a very bad way. Aristophanes, Theocritus, Boccaccio, Cervantes, Molière, are often as light as the driven foam; but they are not light enough for the general reader. Their humor is too bright and lovely for the groundlings. They are, alas! “classics," somewhat apart from our every-day ways; they are not “banal” enough for us; and so for us they slumber “unknown in a long night,” just because they are immortal poets, and are not scribblers of to-day.
When will men understand that the reading of great books is a faculty to be acquired, not a natural gift, at least not to those who are spoiled by our current education and habits of life? Ceci tuera cela, the last great poet might have said of the first circulating library. An insatiable appetite for new novels makes it as hard to read a masterpiece as it seems to a Parisian boulevardier to live in a quiet country. Until a man can truly enjoy a draught of clear water bubbling from a mountain-side, his taste is in an unwholesome state. And so he who finds the Heliconian spring insipid should look to the state of his nerves. Putting aside the iced air of the difficult mountain-tops of epic, tragedy, or psalm, there are some simple pieces which may serve as an unerring test of a healthy or a vicious taste for imaginative work. If the Cid, the Vita Nuova, the Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare's Sonnets, and Lycidas pall on a man; if he care not for Malory's Morte d' Arthur and the Red Cross Knight; if he thinks Crusoe and the Vicar books for the young; if he thrill not with the Ode to the West Wind, and the Ode to a Grecian Urn; if he have no stomach for Christabel or the lines written on The Wye above Tintern Abbey, he should fall on his knees and pray for a cleanlier and quieter spirit.
The intellectual system of most of us in these days needs “to purge and to live cleanly.” Only by a course of treatment shall we bring our minds to feel at peace with the grand pure works of the world, something we ought all to know of tlie masterpieces of antiquity, and of the other nations of Europe. To understand a great national poet, such as Dante, Calderon, Corneille, or Goethe, is to know other types of human civilization in ways which a library of histories does not sufficiently teach. The great masterpieces of the world are thus, quite apart from the charm and solace they give us, the master instruments of a solid education.
POETS OF THE OLD WORLD.
I pass from all systems of education—from thought of social duty, from meditation on the profession of letters—to more general and lighter topics. I will deal now only with the easier side of reading, with matter on which there is some common agreement in the world. I am very far from meaning that our whole time spent with books is to be given to study. Far from it. I put the poetic and emotional side of literature as the most needed for daily use. I take the books that seek to rouse the imagination, to stir up feeling, touch the heart—the books of art, of fancy, of ideals, such as reflect the delight and aroma of life. And here how does the trivial, provided it is the new, that which stares at us in the advertising columns of the day, crowd out the immortal poetry and pathos of the human race, vitiating our taste for those exquisite pieces which are a household word, and weakening our