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On The Art of Reading
Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS 1939
TO H. F. S. and H. M. C.
First edition 1920 reprinted 1920,1921 Pocket edition 1924 reprinted 1925, 1928, 1933, 1939
The following twelve lectures have this much in common with a previous twelve published in 1916 under the title "On the Art of Writing"—they form no compact treatise but present their central idea as I was compelled at the time to enforce it, amid the dust of skirmishing with opponents and with practical difficulties.
They cover—and to some extent, by reflection, chronicle—a period during which a few friends, who had an idea and believed in it, were fighting to establish the present English Tripos at Cambridge. In the end we carried our proposals without a vote: but the opposition was stiff for a while; and I feared, on starting to read over these pages for press, that they might be too occasional and disputatious. I am happy to think that, on the whole, they are not; and that the reader, though he may wonder at its discursiveness, will find the argument pretty free from polemic. Any one who has inherited a library of 17th century theology will agree with me that, of all dust, the ashes of dead controversies afford the driest.
And after all, and though it be well worth while to strive that the study of English (of our own literature, and of the art of using our own language, in speech or in writing, to the best purpose) shall take an honourable place among the Schools of a great University, that the other fair sisters of learning shall
Ope for thee their queenly circle ...
it is not in our Universities that the general redemption of English will be won; nor need a mistake here or there, at Oxford or Cambridge or London, prove fatal. We make our discoveries through our mistakes: we watch one another's success: and where there is freedom to experiment there is hope to improve. A youth who can command means to enter a University can usually command some range in choosing which University it shall be. If Cambridge cannot supply what he wants, or if our standard of training be low in comparison with that of Oxford, or of London or of Manchester, the pressure of neglect will soon recall us to our senses.
The real battle for English lies in our Elementary Schools, and in the training of our Elementary Teachers. It is there that the foundations of a sound national teaching in English will have to be laid, as it is there that a wrong trend will lead to incurable issues. For the poor child has no choice of Schools, and the elementary teacher, whatever his individual gifts, will work under a yoke imposed upon him by Whitehall. I devoutly trust that Whitehall will make the yoke easy and adaptable while insisting that the chariot must be drawn.
I foresee, then, these lectures condemned as the utterances of a man who, occupying a Chair, has contrived to fall betwixt two stools. My thoughts have too often strayed from my audience in a University theatre away to remote rural class-rooms where the hungry sheep look up and are not fed; to piteous groups of urchins standing at attention and chanting "The Wreck of the Hesperus" in unison. Yet to these, being tied to the place and the occasion, I have brought no real help.
A man has to perform his task as it comes. But I must say this in conclusion. Could I wipe these lectures out and re-write them in hope to benefit my countrymen in general, I should begin and end upon the text to be found in the twelfth and last—that a liberal education is not an appendage to be purchased by a few: that Humanism is, rather, a quality which can, and should, condition all our teaching; which can, and should, be impressed as a character upon it all, from a poor child's first lesson in reading up to a tutor's last word to his pupil on the eve of a Tripos.
ARTHUR QUILLER-COUCH July 7, 1920.
I INTRODUCTORY II APPREHENSION VERSUS COMPREHENSION III CHILDREN'S READING (I) IV " " (II) V ON READING FOR EXAMINATIONS VI ON A SCHOOL OF ENGLISH VII THE VALUE OF GREEK AND LATIN IN ENGLISH LITERATURE VIII ON READING THE BIBLE (I) IX " " (II) X " " (III) XI OF SELECTION XI ON THE USE OF MASTERPIECES
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 25, 1916
In the third book of the "Ethics", and in the second chapter, Aristotle, dealing with certain actions which, though bad in themselves, admit of pity and forgiveness because they were committed involuntarily, through ignorance, instances 'the man who did not know a subject was forbidden, like Aeschylus with the Mysteries,' and 'the man who only meant to show how it worked, like the fellow who let off the catapult' ([Greek: e deixai Boulemos apheinai, os o ton katapelten]).
I feel comfortably sure, Gentlemen, that in a previous course of lectures "On the Art of Writing", unlike Aeschylus, I divulged no mysteries: but I am troubled with speculations over that man and the catapult, because I really was trying to tell you how the thing worked; and Aristotle, with a reticence which (as Horace afterwards noted) may lend itself to obscurity, tells us neither what happened to that exponent of ballistics, nor to the engine itself, nor to the other person. My discharge, such as it was, at any rate provoked another Professor (emeritus, learned, sagacious, venerable) to retort that the true business of a Chair such as this is to instruct young men how to read rather than how to write. Well, be it so. I accept the challenge.
I propose in this and some ensuing lectures to talk of the Art and Practice of Reading, particularly as applied to English Literature: to discuss on what ground and through what faculties an Author and his Reader meet: to enquire if, or to what extent, Reading of the best Literature can be taught; and supposing it to be taught, if or to what extent it can be examined upon; with maybe an interlude or two, to beguile the way.
The first thing, then, to be noted about the reading of English (with which alone I am concerned) is that for Englishmen it has been made, by Act of Parliament, compulsory.
The next thing to be noted is that in our schools and Colleges and Universities it has been made, by Statute or in practice, all but impossible.
The third step is obvious—to reconcile what we cannot do with what we must: and to that aim I shall, under your patience, direct this and the following lecture. I shall be relieved at all events, and from the outset, of the doubt by which many a Professor, here and elsewhere, has been haunted: I mean the doubt whether there really is such a subject as that of which he proposes to treat. Anything that requires so much human ingenuity as reading English in an English University must be an art.
But I shall be met, of course, by the question 'How is the reading of English made impossible at Cambridge?' and I pause here, on the edge of my subject, to clear away that doubt.
It is no fault of the University.
The late Philip Gilbert Hamerton, whom some remember as an etcher, wrote a book which he entitled (as I think, too magniloquently) "The Intellectual Life." He cast it in the form of letters—'To an Author who kept very Irregular Hours,' 'To a Young Etonian who thought of becoming a Cotton-spinner,' 'To a Young Gentleman who had firmly resolved never to wear anything but a Grey Coat' (but Mr Hamerton couldn't quite have meant that). 'To a Lady of High Culture who found it difficult to associate with persons of her Own Sex,' 'To a Young Gentleman of Intellectual Tastes, who, without having as yet any Particular Lady in View, had expressed, in a General Way, his Determination to get Married: The volume is well worth reading. In the first letter of all, addressed 'To a Young Man of Letters who worked Excessively,' Mr Hamerton fishes up from his memory, for admonishment, this salutary instance:
A tradesman, whose business affords an excellent outlet for energetic bodily activity, told me that having attempted, in addition to his ordinary work, to acquire a foreign language which seemed likely to be useful to him, he had been obliged to abandon it on account of alarming cerebral symptoms. This man has immense vigour and energy, but the digestive functions, in this instance, are sluggish. However, when he abandoned study, the cerebral inconveniences disappeared, and have never returned since.
Now we all know, and understand, and like that man: for the simple reason that he is every one of us.
You or I (say) have to take the Modern Languages Tripos, Section A (English), in 1917. First of all (and rightly) it is demanded of us that we show an acquaintance, and something more than a bowing acquaintance, with Shakespeare. Very well; but next we have to write a paper and answer questions on the outlines of English Literature from 1350 to 1832—almost 500 years—, and next to write a paper and show particular knowledge of English Literature between 1700 and 1785—eighty-five years. Next comes a paper on passages from selected English verse and prose writings —the Statute discreetly avoids calling them literature—between 1200 and 1500, exclusive of Chaucer; with questions on language, metre, literary history and literary criticism: then a paper on Chaucer with questions on language, metre, literary history and literary criticism: lastly a paper on writing in the Wessex dialect of Old English, with questions on the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, language, metre and literary history.
Now if you were to qualify yourself for all this as a scholar should, and in two years, you would certainly deserve to be addressed by Mr Hamerton as 'A Young Man of Letters who worked Excessively'; and to work excessively is not good for anyone. Yet, on the other hand, you are precluded from using, for your 'cerebral inconveniences,' the heroic remedy exhibited by Mr Hamerton's enterprising tradesman, since on that method you would not attain to the main object of your laudable ambition, a Cambridge degree.
But the matter is very much worse than your Statute makes it out. Take one of the papers in which some actual acquaintance with Literature is required the Special Period from 1700 to 1785; then turn to your "Cambridge History of English Literature", and you will find that the mere bibliography of those eighty-five years occupies something like five or six hundred pages—five or six hundred pages of titles and authors in simple enumeration! The brain reels; it already suffers 'cerebral inconveniences.' But stretch the list back to Chaucer, back through Chaucer to those alleged prose writings in the Wessex dialect, then forward from 1785 to Wordsworth, to Byron, to Dickens, Carlyle, Tennyson, Browning, Meredith, even to this year in which literature still lives and engenders; and the brain, if not too giddy indeed, stands as Satan stood on the brink of Chaos—
Pondering his voyage; for no narrow frith He had to cross—
and sees itself, with him, now plumbing a vast vacuity, and anon nigh-foundered, 'treading the crude consistence.'
The whole business of reading English Literature in two years, to know it in any reputable sense of the word—let alone your learning to write English—is, in short, impossible. And the framers of the Statute, recognising this, have very sensibly compromised by setting you to work on such things as 'the Outlines of English Literature'; which are not Literature at all but are only what some fellow has to say about it, hastily summarising his estimates of many works, of which on a generous computation he has probably read one-fifth; and by examining you on (what was it all?) 'language, metre, literary history and literary criticism,' which again are not Literature, or at least (as a Greek would say in his idiom) escape their own notice being Literature. For English Literature, as I take it, is that which sundry men and women have written memorably in English about Life. And so I come to my subject—the art of reading that, which is Literature.
I shall take leave to leap into it over another man's back, or, rather over two men's backs. No doubt it has happened to many of you to pick up in a happy moment some book or pamphlet or copy of verse which just says the word you have unconsciously been listening for, almost craving to speak for yourself, and so sends you off hot-foot on the trail. And if you have had that experience, it may also have happened to you that, after ranging, you returned on the track 'like faithful hound returning,' in gratitude, or to refresh the scent; and that, picking up the book again, you found it no such wonderful book after all, or that some of the magic had faded by process of the change in yourself which itself had originated. But the word was spoken.
Such a book—pamphlet I may call it, so small it was—fell into my hands some ten years ago; "The Aims of Literary Study"—no very attractive title—by Dr Corson, a distinguished American Professor (and let me say that, for something more than ten—say for twenty—years much of the most thoughtful as well as the most thorough work upon English comes to us from America). I find, as I handle again the small duodecimo volume, that my own thoughts have taken me a little wide, perhaps a little astray, from its suggestions. But for loyalty's sake I shall start just where Dr Corson started, with a passage from Browning's, "A Death in the Desert," supposed (you will remember)—
Supposed of Pamphylax the Antiochene
narrating the death of St John the Evangelist, John of Patmos; the narrative interrupted by this gloss:
[This is the doctrine he was wont to teach, How divers persons witness in each man, Three souls which make up one soul: first, to wit, A soul of each and all the bodily parts, Seated therein, which works, and is What Does, And has the use of earth, and ends the man Downward: but, tending upward for advice, Grows into, and again is grown into By the next soul, which, seated in the brain, Useth the first with its collected use, And feeleth, thinketh, willeth,—is What Knows: Which, duly tending upward in its turn, Grows into, and again is grown into By the last soul, that uses both the first, Subsisting whether they assist or no, And, constituting man's self, is What Is— And leans upon the former
(Mark the word, Gentlemen; 'leans upon the former'—leaning back, as it were felt by him, on this very man who had leaned on Christ's bosom, being loved)
And leans upon the former, makes it play, As that played off the first: and, tending up, Holds, is upheld by, God, and ends the man Upward in that dread point of intercourse, Nor needs a place, for it returns to Him. What Does, What Knows, What Is; three souls, one man. I give the glossa of Theotypas.]
What Does, What Knows, What Is—there is no mistaking what Browning means, nor in what degrees of hierarchy he places this, that, and the other.... Does it not strike you how curiously men to-day, with their minds perverted by hate, are inverting that order?—all the highest value set on What Does—What Knows suddenly seen to be of importance, but only as important in feeding the guns, perfecting explosives, collaring trade—all in the service of What Does, of 'Get on or Get Out,' of 'Efficiency'; no one stopping to think that 'Efficiency' is—must be—a relative term! Efficient for what?—for What Does, What Knows or perchance, after all, for What Is? No! banish the humanities and throw everybody into practical science: not into that study of natural science, which can never conflict with the 'humanities' since it seeks discovery for the pure sake of truth, or charitably to alleviate man's lot—
Sweetly, rather, to ease, loose and bind As need requires, this frail fallen humankind ...
—but to invent what will be commercially serviceable in besting your neighbour, or in gassing him, or in slaughtering him neatly and wholesale. But still the whisper (not ridiculous in its day) will assert itself, that What Is comes first, holding and upheld by God; still through the market clamour for a 'Business Government' will persist the voice of Plato murmuring that, after all, the best form of government is government by good men: and the voice of some small man faintly protesting 'But I don't want to be governed by business men; because I know them and, without asking much of life, I have a hankering to die with a shirt on my back.'
But let us postpone What Is for a moment, and deal with What Does and What Knows. They too, of course, have had their oppositions, and the very meaning of a University such as Cambridge—its fons, its origo, its [Greek: to ti en einai]— was to assert What Knows against What Does in a medieval world pranced over by men-at-arms, Normans, English, Burgundians, Scots. Ancillary to Theology, which then had a meaning vastly different from its meaning to-day, the University tended as portress of the gate of knowledge—of such knowledge as the Church required, encouraged, or permitted—and kept the flag of intellectual life, as I may put it, flying above that gate and over the passing throngs of 'doers' and mailed-fisters. The University was a Seat of Learning: the Colleges, as they sprang up, were Houses of Learning.
But note this, which in their origin and still in the frame of their constitution differentiates Oxford and Cambridge from all their ancient sisters and rivals. These two (and no third, I believe, in Europe) were corporations of Teachers, existing for Teachers, governed by Teachers. In a Scottish University the students by vote choose their Rector: but here or at Oxford no undergraduate, no Bachelor, counts at all in the government, both remaining alike in statu pupillari until qualified as Masters— Magistri. Mark the word, and mark also the title of one who obtained what in those days would be the highest of degrees (but yet gave him no voting strength above a Master). He was a Professor-'Sanctae Theologiae Professor.' To this day every country clergyman who comes up to Cambridge to record his non-placet, does so by virtue of his capacity to teach what he learned here—in theory, that is. Scholars were included in College foundations on a sort of pupil-teacher-supply system: living in rooms with the lordly masters, and valeting them for the privilege of 'reading with' them. We keep to this day the pleasant old form of words. Now for various reasons—one of which, because it is closely germane to my subject, I shall particularly examine—Oxford and Cambridge, while conserving almost intact their medieval frame of government, with a hundred other survivals which Time but makes, through endurance, more endearing, have, insensibly as it were, and across (it must be confessed) intervals of sloth and gross dereliction of duty, added a new function to the cultivation of learning—that of furnishing out of youth a succession of men capable of fulfilling high offices in Church and State.
Some may regret this. I think many of us must regret that a deeper tincture of learning is not required of the average pass-man, or injected into him perforce. But speaking roughly about fact, I should say that while we elders up here are required— nay, presumed to know certain things, we aim that our young men shall be of a certain kind; and I see no cause to disown a sentence in the very first lecture I had the honour of reading before you—'The man we are proud to send forth from our Schools will be remarkable less for something he can take out of his wallet and exhibit for knowledge, than for being something, and that something recognisable for a man of unmistakable intellectual breeding, whose trained judgment we can trust to choose the better and reject the worse.'
The reasons which have led our older Universities to deflect their functions (whether for good or ill) so far from their first purpose are complicated if not many. Once admit young men in large numbers, and youth (I call any Dean or Tutor to witness) must be compromised with; will construe the laws of its seniors in its own way, now and then breaking them; and will inevitably end, by getting something of its own way.. The growth of gymnastic, the insensible gravitation of the elderly towards Fenner's—there to snatch a fearful joy and explain that the walk was good for them; the Union and other debating societies; College rivalries; the festivities of May Week; the invasion of women students: all these may have helped. But I must dwell discreetly on one compelling and obvious cause—the increased and increasing unwieldiness of Knowledge. And that is the main trouble, as I guess.
Let us look it fair in the face: because it is the main practical difficulty with which I propose that, in succeeding lectures, we grapple. Against Knowledge I have, as the light cynic observed of a certain lady's past, only one serious objection—that there is so much of it. There is indeed so much of it that if with the best will in the world you devoted yourself to it as a mere scholar, you could not possibly digest its accumulated and still accumulating stores. As Sir Thomas Elyot wrote in the 16th century (using, you will observe, the very word of Mr Hamerton's energetic but fed-up tradesman), 'Inconveniences always doe happen by ingurgitation and excessive feedings.' An old schoolmaster and a poet—Mr James Rhoades, late of Sherborne— comments in words which I will quote, being unable to better them:
This is no less true of the mind than of the body. I do not know that a well-informed man, as such, is more worthy of regard than a well-fed one. The brain, indeed, is a nobler organ than the stomach, but on that very account is the less to be excused for indulging in repletion. The temptation, I confess, is greater, because for the brain the banquet stands ever spread before our eyes, and is, unhappily, as indestructible as the widow's meal and oil.
Only think what would become of us if the physical food, by which our bodies subsist, instead of being consumed by the eater, was passed on intact by every generation to the next, with the superadded hoards of all the ages, the earth's productive power meanwhile increasing year by year beneath the unflagging hand of Science, till, as Comus says, she
would be quite surcharged with her own weight And strangled with her waste fertility.
Should we rather not pull down our barns, and build smaller, and make bonfires of what they would not hold? And yet, with regard to Knowledge, the very opposite of this is what we do. We store the whole religiously, and that though not twice alone, as with the bees in Virgil, but scores of times in every year, is the teeming produce gathered in. And then we put a fearful pressure on ourselves and others to gorge of it as much as ever we can hold.
Facit indignatio versus. My author, gathering heat, puts it somewhat dithyrambically: but there you have it, Gentlemen.
If you crave for Knowledge, the banquet of Knowledge grows and groans on the board until the finer appetite sickens. If, still putting all your trust in Knowledge, you try to dodge the difficulty by specialising, you produce a brain bulging out inordinately on one side, on the other cut flat down and mostly paralytic at that: and in short so long as I hold that the Creator has an idea, of a man, so long shall I be sure that no uneven specialist realises it. The real tragedy of the Library at Alexandria was not that the incendiaries burned immensely, but that they had neither the leisure nor the taste to discriminate.
The old schoolmaster whom I quoted just now goes on:
I believe, if the truth were known, men would be astonished at the small amount of learning with which a high degree of culture is compatible. In a moment of enthusiasm I ventured once to tell my 'English set' that if they could really master the ninth book of "Paradise Lost", so as to rise to the height of its great argument and incorporate all its beauties in themselves, they would at one blow, by virtue of that alone, become highly cultivated men.... More and more various learning might raise them to the same height by different paths, but could hardly raise them higher.
Here let me interpose and quote the last three lines of that Book—three lines only; simple, unornamented, but for every man and every woman who have dwelt together since our first parents, in mere statement how wise!
Thus they in mutual accusation spent The fruitless hours, but neither self-condemning; And of their vain contest appear'd no end.
A parent afterwards told me (my schoolmaster adds) that his son went home and so buried himself in the book that food and sleep that day had no attraction for him. Next morning, I need hardly say, the difference in his appearance was remarkable: he had outgrown all his intellectual clothes.
The end of this story strikes me, I confess, as rapid, and may be compared with that of the growth of Delian Apollo in the Homeric hymn; but we may agree that, in reading, it is not quantity so much that tells, as quality and thoroughness of digestion.
What Does—What Knows—What Is....
I am not likely to depreciate to you the value of What Does, after spending my first twelve lectures up here, on the art and practice of Writing, encouraging you to do this thing which I daily delight in trying to do: as God forbid that anyone should hint a slightening word of what our sons and brothers are doing just now, and doing for us! But Peace being the normal condition of man's activity, I look around me for a vindication of what is noblest in What Does and am content with a passage from George Eliot's poem "Stradivarius", the gist of which is that God himself might conceivably make better fiddles than Stradivari's, but by no means certainly; since, as a fact, God orders his best fiddles of Stradivari. Says the great workman,
'God be praised, Antonio Stradivari has an eye That winces at false work and loves the true, With hand and arm that play upon the tool As willingly as any singing bird Sets him to sing his morning roundelay, Because he likes to sing and likes the song.' Then Naldo: ''Tis a pretty kind of fame At best, that comes of making violins; And saves no masses, either. Thou wilt go To purgatory none the less.' But he: ''Twere purgatory here to make them ill; And for my fame—when any master holds 'Twixt chin and hand a violin of mine, He will be glad that Stradivari lived, Made violins, and made them of the best. The masters only know whose work is good: They will choose mine, and while God gives them skill I give them instruments to play upon, God choosing me to help Him.' 'What! Were God At fault for violins, thou absent?' 'Yes; He were at fault for Stradivari's work.' 'Why, many hold Giuseppe's violins As good as thine.' 'May be: they are different. His quality declines: he spoils his hand With over-drinking. But were his the best, He could not work for two. My work is mine, And heresy or not, if my hand slacked I should rob God—since He is fullest good— Leaving a blank instead of violins. I say, not God Himself can make man's best Without best men to help him.... 'Tis God gives skill, But not without men's hands: He could not make Antonio Stradivari's violins Without Antonio. Get thee to thy easel.'
So much then for What Does: I do not depreciate it.
Neither do I depreciate—in Cambridge, save the mark!—What Knows. All knowledge is venerable; and I suppose you will find the last vindication of the scholar's life at its baldest in Browning's "A Grammarian's Funeral":
Others mistrust and say, 'But time escapes: Live now or never!' He said, 'What's time? Leave Now for dog and apes! Man has Forever.' Back to his book then; deeper drooped his head: Calculus racked him: Leaden before, his eyes grew dross of lead: Tussis attacked him.... So, with the throttling hands of death at strife, Ground he at grammar; Still, thro' the rattle, parts of speech were rife: While he could stammer He settled Hoti's business—let it be!— Properly based Oun— Gave us the doctrine of the enclitic De, Dead from the waist down. Well, here's the platform, here's the proper place: Hail to your purlieus, All ye highfliers of the feathered race, Swallows and curlews! Here's the top-peak; the multitude below Live, for they can, there: This man decided not to Live but Know— Bury this man there.
Nevertheless Knowledge is not, cannot be, everything; and indeed, as a matter of experience, cannot even be counted upon to educate. Some of us have known men of extreme learning who yet are, some of them, uncouth in conduct, others violent and overbearing in converse, others unfair in controversy, others even unscrupulous in action—men of whom the sophist Thrasymachus in Plato's "Republic" may stand for the general type. Nay, some of us will subscribe with the old schoolmaster whom I will quote again, when he writes:
To myself personally, as an exception to the rule that opposites attract, a very well-informed person is an object of terror. His mind seems to be so full of facts that you cannot, as it were, see the wood for the trees; there is no room for perspective, no lawns and glades for pleasure and repose, no vistas through which to view some towering hill or elevated temple; everything in that crowded space seems of the same value: he speaks with no more awe of "King Lear" than of the last Cobden prize essay; he has swallowed them both with the same ease, and got the facts safe in his pouch; but he has no time to ruminate because he must still be swallowing; nor does he seem to know what even Macbeth, with Banquo's murderers then at work, found leisure to remember—that good digestion must wait on appetite, if health is to follow both:
Now that may be put a trifle too vivaciously, but the moral is true. Bacon tells us that reading maketh a full man. Yes, and too much of it makes him too full. The two words of the Greek upon knowledge remain true, that the last triumph of Knowledge is Know Thyself. So Don Quixote repeats it to Sancho Panza, counselling him how to govern his Island:
First, O son, thou hast to fear God, for in fearing Him is wisdom, and being wise thou canst not err.
But secondly thou hast to set thine eyes on what thou art, endeavouring to know thyself—which is the most difficult knowledge that can be conceived.
But to know oneself is to know that which alone can know What Is. So the hierarchy runs up.
What Does, What Knows, What Is.... I have happily left myself no time to-day to speak of What Is: happily, because I would not have you even approach it towards the end of an hour when your attention must be languishing. But I leave you with two promises, and with two sayings from which as this lecture took its start its successors will proceed.
The first promise is, that What Is, being the spiritual element in man, is the highest object of his study.
The second promise is that, nine-tenths of what is worthy to be called Literature being concerned with this spiritual element, for that it should be studied, from firstly up to ninthly, before anything else.
And my two quotations are for you to ponder:
(1) This, first:
That all spirit is mutually attractive, as all matter is mutually attractive, is an ultimate fact beyond which we cannot go.... Spirit to spirit—as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.
(2) And this other, from the writings of an obscure Welsh clergyman of the 17th century:
You will never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars.
[Footnote 1: The reader will kindly turn back to p.1, and observe the date at the head of this lecture. At that time I was engaged against a system of English teaching which I believed to be thoroughly bad. That system has since given place to another, which I am prepared to defend as a better.]
APPREHENSION VERSUS COMPREHENSION
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 1916
Let us attempt to-day, Gentlemen, picking up the scent where we left at the conclusion of my first lecture, to hunt the Art of Reading (as I shall call it), a little further on the line of common-sense; then to cast back and chase on a line somewhat more philosophical. If these lines run wide and refuse to unite, we shall have made a false cast: if they converge and meet, we shall have caught our hare and may proceed, in subsequent lectures, to cook him.
Well, the line of common-sense has brought us to this point— that, man and this planet being such as they are, for a man to read all the books existent on it is impossible; and, if possible, would be in the highest degree undesirable. Let us, for example, go back quite beyond the invention of printing and try to imagine a man who had read all the rolls destroyed in the Library of Alexandria by successive burnings. (Some reckon the number of these MSS at 700,000.) Suppose, further, this man to be gifted with a memory retentive as Lord Macaulay's. Suppose lastly that we go to such a man and beg him to repeat to us some chosen one of the fifty or seventy lost, or partially lost, plays of Euripides. It is incredible that he could gratify us.
There was, as I have said, a great burning at Alexandria in 47 B.C., when Caesar set the fleet in the harbour on fire to prevent its falling into the hands of the Egyptians. The flames spread, and the great library stood but 400 yards from the quayside, with warehouses full of books yet closer. The last great burning was perpetrated in A.D. 642. Gibbon quotes the famous sentence of Omar, the great Mohammedan who gave the order: 'If these writings of the Greeks agree with the book of God, they are useless and need not be preserved; if they disagree, they are pernicious and ought to be destroyed,' and goes on:
The sentence was executed with blind obedience; the volumes of paper or parchment were distributed to the four thousand baths of the city; and such was their incredible multitude that six months were barely sufficient for the consumption of this precious fuel.... The tale has been repeatedly transcribed; and every scholar, with pious indignation, has deplored the irreparable shipwreck of the learning, the arts, and the genius, of antiquity. For my own part, I am strongly tempted to deny both the fact and the consequences.
Of the consequence he writes:
Perhaps the church and seat of the patriarchs might be enriched with a repository of books: but, if the ponderous mass of Arian and Monophysite controversy were indeed consumed in the public baths, a philosopher may allow, with a smile, that it was ultimately devoted to the benefit of mankind. I sincerely regret the more valuable libraries, which have been involved in the ruin of the Roman empire; but, when I seriously compute the lapse of ages, the waste of ignorance, and the calamities of war, our treasures, rather than our losses, are the object of my surprise. Many curious and interesting facts are buried in oblivion: the three great historians of Rome have been transmitted to our hands in a mutilated state, and we are deprived of many pleasing compositions of the lyric, iambic, and dramatic poetry of the Greeks. Yet we should gratefully remember that the mischances of time and accident have spared the classic works to which the suffrage of antiquity had adjudged the first place of genius and glory; the teachers of ancient knowledge, who are still extant, had perused and compared the writings of their predecessors; nor can it fairly be presumed that any important truth, any useful discovery in art or nature, has been snatched away from the curiosity of modern ages.
I certainly do not ask you to subscribe to all that. In fact when Gibbon asks us to remember gratefully 'that the mischances of time and accident have spared the classic works to which the suffrage of antiquity had adjudged the first place of genius and glory,' I submit with all respect that he talks nonsense. Like the stranger in the temple of the sea-god, invited to admire the many votive garments of those preserved out of shipwreck, I ask 'at ubi sunt vestimenta eorum qui post vota nuncupata perierunt?'— or in other words 'Where are the trousers of the drowned?' 'What about the "Sthenoboea" of Euripides, the "Revellers" of Ameipsias— to which, as a matter of simple fact, what you call the suffrage of antiquity did adjudge the first prize, above Aristophanes' best?'
But of course he is equally right to this extent, that the fire consumed a vast deal of rubbish: solid tons more than any man could swallow,—let be, digest—'read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.' And that was in A.D. 642, whereas we have arrived at 1916. Where would our voracious Alexandrian be to-day, with all the literature of the Middle Ages added to his feast and on top of that all the printed books of 450 years? 'Reading,' says Bacon, 'maketh a Full Man.' Yes, indeed!
Now I am glad that sentence of Bacon falls pat here, because it gives me, turning to his famous Essay "Of Studies", the reinforcement of his great name for the very argument which I am directing against the fallacy of those teachers who would have you use 'manuals' as anything else than guides to your own reading or perspectives in which the authors are set out in the comparative eminence by which they claim priority of study or indicate the proportions of a literary period. Some of these manuals are written by men of knowledge so encyclopaedic that (if it go with critical judgment) for these purposes they may be trusted. But to require you, at your stage of reading, to have even the minor names by heart is a perversity of folly. For later studies it seems to me a more pardonable mistake, but yet a mistake, to hope that by the employ of separate specialists you can get even in 15 or 20 volumes a perspective, a proportionate description, of what English Literature really is. But worst of all is that Examiner, who—aware that you must please him, to get a good degree, and being just as straight and industrious as anyone else—assumes that in two years you have become expert in knowledge that beats a lifetime, and, brought up against the practical impossibility of this assumption, questions you—not on a little selected first-hand knowledge—but on massed information which at the best can be but derivative and second-hand.
Now hear Bacon.
Studies serve for Delight—
(Mark it,—he puts delight first)
Studies serve for Delight, for Ornament, and for Ability. Their Chiefe use for Delight, is in Privatenesse and Retiring; for Ornament, is in Discourse; and for Ability, is in the Judgement and Disposition of Businesse.... To spend too much Time in Studies is Sloth; to use them too much for Ornament is Affectation; to make judgement wholly by their Rules is the Humour of a Scholler. They perfect Nature, and are perfected by Experience: for Naturall Abilities are like Naturall Plants, they need Proyning by Study. And Studies themselves doe give forth Directions too much at Large, unless they be bounded in by experience.
Again, he says:
Some Bookes are to be Tasted, Others to be Swallowed, and Some Few to be Chewed and Digested: that is, some Bookes are to be read onely in Parts; Others to be read but not Curiously; and some Few are to be read wholly, and with Diligence and Attention. Some Bookes also may be read by Deputy, and Extracts made of them by Others. But that would be onely in the lesse important Arguments, and the Meaner Sort of Bookes: else distilled Bookes are like Common distilled Waters, Flashy Things.
So you see, Gentlemen, while pleading before you that Reading is an Art—that its best purpose is not to accumulate Knowledge but to produce, to educate, such-and-such a man—that 'tis a folly to bite off more than you can assimilate—and that with it, as with every other art, the difficulty and the discipline lie in selecting out of vast material, what is fit, fine, applicable—I have the great Francis Bacon himself towering behind my shoulder for patron.
Some would push the argument further than—here and now, at any rate—I choose to do, or perhaps would at all care to do. For example, Philip Gilbert Hamerton, whom I quoted to you three weeks ago, instances in his book "The Intellectual Life" an accomplished French cook who, in discussing his art, comprised the whole secret of it under two heads—the knowledge of the mutual influences of ingredients, and the judicious management of heat:
Amongst the dishes for which my friend had a deserved reputation was a certain gateau de foie which had a very exquisite flavour. The principal ingredient, not in quantity but in power, was the liver of a fowl; but there were several other ingredients also, and amongst these a leaf or two of parsley. He told me that the influence of the parsley was a good illustration of his theory about his art. If the parsley were omitted, the flavour he aimed at was not produced at all; but, on the other hand, if the quantity of the parsley was in the least excessive, then the gateau instead of being a delicacy for gourmets became an uneatable mess. Perceiving that I was really interested in the subject, he kindly promised a practical evidence of his doctrine, and the next day intentionally spoiled the dish by a trifling addition of parsley. He had not exaggerated the consequences; the delicate flavour entirely departed, and left a nauseous bitterness in its place, like the remembrance of an ill-spent youth.
I trust that none of you are in a position to appreciate the full force of this last simile; and, for myself, I should have taken the chef's word for it, without experiment. Mr Hamerton proceeds to draw his moral:
There is a sort of intellectual chemistry which is quite as marvellous as material chemistry and a thousand times more difficult to observe. One general truth may, however, be relied upon.... It is true that everything we learn affects the whole character of the mind.
Consider how incalculably important becomes the question of proportion in our knowledge, and how that which we are is dependent as much upon our ignorance as our science. What we call ignorance is only a smaller proportion— what we call science only a larger.
Here the argument begins to become delicious:
The larger quantity is recommended as an unquestionable good, but the goodness of it is entirely dependent on the mental product that we want. Aristocracies have always instinctively felt this, and have decided that a gentleman ought not to know too much of certain arts and sciences. The character which they had accepted as their ideal would have been destroyed by indiscriminate additions to those ingredients of which long experience had fixed the exact proportions....
The last generation of the English country aristocracy was particularly rich in characters whose unity and charm was dependent upon the limitations of their culture, and which would have been entirely altered, perhaps not for the better, by simply knowing a science or a literature that was dosed to them.
If anything could be funnier than that, it is that it is, very possibly, true. Let us end our quest-by-commonsense, for the moment, on this; that to read all the books that have been written—-in short to keep pace with those that are being written—is starkly impossible, and (as Aristotle would say) about what is impossible one does not argue. We must select. Selection implies skilful practice. Skilful practice is only another term for Art. So far plain common-sense leads us. On this point, then, let us set up a rest and hark back.
Let us cast back to the three terms of my first lecture—What does, What knows, What is.
I shall here take leave to recapitulate a brief argument much sneered at a few years ago when it was still fashionable to consider Hegel a greater philosopher than Plato. Abbreviating it I repeat it, because I believe in it yet to-day, when Hegel (for causes unconnected with pure right and wrong) has gone somewhat out of fashion for a while.
As the tale, then, is told by Plato, in the tenth book of "The Republic", one Er the son of Armenius, a Pamphylian, was slain in battle; and ten days afterwards, when they collected the dead for burial, his body alone showed no taint of corruption. His relatives, however, bore it off to the funeral pyre; and on the twelfth day, lying there, he returned to life, and he told them what he had seen in the other world. Many wonders he related concerning the dead, for example, with their rewards and punishments: but what had impressed him as most wonderful of all was the great spindle of Necessity, reaching up to Heaven, with the planets revolving around it in graduated whorls of width and spread: yet all concentric and so timed that all complete the full circle punctually together—'The Spindle turns on the knees of Necessity; and on the rim of each whorl sits perched a Siren who goes round with it, hymning a single note; the eight notes together forming one harmony.'
Now as—we have the divine word for it—upon two great commandments hang all the law and the prophets, so all religions, all philosophies, hang upon two steadfast and faithful beliefs; the first of which Plato would show by the above parable.
It is, of course, that the stability of the Universe rests upon ordered motion—that the 'firmament' above, around, beneath, stands firm, continues firm, on a balance of active and tremendous forces somehow harmoniously composed. Theology asks 'by What?' or 'by Whom?' Philosophy inclines rather to ask 'How?' Natural Science, allowing that for the present these questions are probably unanswerable, contents itself with mapping and measuring what it can of the various forces. But all agree about the harmony; and when a Galileo or a Newton discovers a single rule of it for us, he but makes our assurance surer. For uncounted centuries before ever hearing of Gravitation men knew of the sun that he rose and set, of the moon that she waxed and waned, of the tides that they flowed and ebbed, all regularly, at times to be predicted; of the stars that they swung as by clockwork around the pole. Says the son of Sirach:
At the word of the Holy One they will stand in due order, And they will not faint in their watches.
So evident is this calculated harmony that men, seeking to interpret it by what was most harmonious in themselves or in their human experience, supposed an actual Music of the Spheres inaudible to mortals: Plato as we see (who learned of Pythagoras) inventing his Octave of Sirens, perched on the whorls of the great spindle and intoning as they spin.
Dante (Chaucer copying him in "The Parlement of Fowls") makes the spheres nine: and so does Milton:
then listen I To the celestial Sirens harmony, That sit upon the nine infolded Sphears, And sing to those that hold the vital shears, And turn the Adamantine spindle round On which the fate of gods and men is wound. Such sweet compulsion doth in musick lie To lull the daughters of Necessity, And keep unsteady Nature to her law, And the low world in measur'd motion draw After the heavenly tune....
If the sceptical mind object to the word law as begging the question and postulating a governing intelligence with a governing will—if it tell me that when revolted Lucifer uprose in starlight—
and at the stars, Which are the brain of heaven, he look'd, and sank. Around the ancient track march'd, rank on rank, The army of unalterable law—
he was merely witnessing a series of predictable or invariable recurrences, I answer that he may be right, it suffices for my argument that they are recurrent, are invariable, can be predicted. Anyhow the Universe is not Chaos (if it were, by the way, we should be unable to reason about it at all). It stands and is renewed upon a harmony: and what Plato called 'Necessity' is the Duty—compulsory or free as you or I can conceive it—the Duty of all created things to obey that harmony, the Duty of which Wordsworth tells in his noble Ode.
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong: And the most ancient heavens, through Thee, are fresh and strong.
Now the other and second great belief is, that the Universe, the macrocosm, cannot be apprehended at all except as its rays converge upon the eye, brain, soul of Man, the microcosm: on you, on me, on the tiny percipient centre upon which the immense cosmic circle focuses itself as the sun upon a burning-glass—and he is not shrivelled up! Other creatures, he notes, share in his sensations; but, so far as he can discover, not in his percipience —or not in any degree worth measuring. So far as he can discover, he is not only a bewildered actor in the great pageant but 'the ring enclosing all,' the sole intelligent spectator. Wonder of wonders, it is all meant for him!
I doubt if, among men of our nation, this truth was ever more clearly grasped than by the Cambridge Platonists who taught your forerunners of the 17th century. But I will quote you here two short passages from the work of a sort of poor relation of theirs, a humble Welsh parson of that time, Thomas Traherne— unknown until the day before yesterday—from whom I gave you one sentence in my first lecture. He is speaking of the fields and streets that were the scene of his childhood:
Those pure and virgin apprehensions I had from the womb, and that divine light wherewith I was born are the best unto this day, wherein I can see the Universe.... The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me.... Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die....
The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their clothes and gold and silver were mine, as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skins and ruddy faces. The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars; and all the World was mine; and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it.
News from a foreign country came, As if my treasure and my wealth lay there; So much it did my heart inflame, 'Twas wont to call my Soul into mine ear; Which thither went to meet The approaching sweet, And on the threshold stood To entertain the unknown Good....
What sacred instinct did inspire My Soul in childhood with a hope to strong? What secret force moved my desire To expect new joys beyond the seas, so young? Felicity I knew Was out of view,
And being here alone, I saw that happiness was gone From me! For this I thirsted absent bliss, And thought that sure beyond the seas, Or else in something near at hand— I knew not yet (since naught did please I knew) my Bliss did stand.
But little did the infant dream That all the treasures of the world were by: And that himself was so the cream And crown of all which round about did lie. Yet thus it was: the Gem, The Diadem, The Ring enclosing all That stood upon this earthly ball, The Heavenly Eye, Much wider than the sky, Wherein they all included were, The glorious Soul, that was the King Made to possess them, did appear A small and little thing!
And then comes the noble sentence of which I promised you that it should fall into its place:
You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars.
Man in short—you, I, any one of us—the heir of it all!
Tot circa unum caput tumultuantes deos!
Our best privilege to sing our short lives out in tune with the heavenly concert—and if to sing afterwards, then afterwards!
But how shall Man ever attain to understand and find his proper place in this Universe, this great sweeping harmonious circle of which nevertheless he feels himself to be the diminutive focus? His senses are absurdly imperfect. His ear cannot catch any music the spheres make; and moreover there are probably neither spheres nor music. His eye is so dull an instrument that (as Blanco White's famous sonnet reminds us) he can neither see this world in the dark, nor glimpse any of the scores of others until it falls dark:
If Light can thus deceive, wherefore not Life?
Yet the Universal Harmony is meaningless and nothing to man save in so far as he apprehends it: and lacking him (so far as he knows) it utterly lacks the compliment of an audience. Is all the great orchestra designed for nothing but to please its Conductor? Yes, if you choose: but no, as I think. And here my other quotation:
That all spirit is mutually attractive, as all matter is mutually attractive, is an ultimate fact.... Spirit to spirit— as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.
Yes and, all spirit being mutually attractive, far more than this! I preach to you that, through help of eyes that are dim, of ears that are dull, by instinct of something yet undefined—call it soul—it wants no less a name—Man has a native impulse and attraction and yearning to merge himself in that harmony and be one with it: a spirit of adoption (as St Paul says) whereby we cry Abba, Father!
And because ye are Sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father.
That is to say, we know we have something within us correspondent to the harmony, and (I make bold to say) unless we have deadened it with low desires, worthy to join in it. Even in his common daily life Man is for ever seeking after harmony, in avoidance of chaos: he cultivates habits by the clock, he forms committees, governments, hierarchies, laws, constitutions, by which (as he hopes) a system of society will work in tune. But these are childish imitations, underplay on the great motive:
The Kingdom of God is within you.
Quid aliud est anima quam Deus in corpore humano hospitans?
Gentlemen, you may be thinking that I have brought you a long way round, that the hour is wearing late, and that we are yet far from the prey we first hunted on the line of common-sense. But be patient for a minute or two, for almost we have our hand on the animal.
If the Kingdom of God, or anything correspondent to it, be within us, even in such specks of dust as we separately are, why that, and that only, can be the light by which you or I may hope to read the Universal: that, and that only, deserves the name of 'What Is.' Nay, I can convince you in a moment. Let me recall a passage of Emerson quoted by me on the morning I first had the honour to address an audience in Cambridge:
It is remarkable (says he) that involuntarily we always read as superior beings. Universal history, the poets, the romancers, do not in their stateliest pictures ... anywhere make us feel that we intrude, that this is for better men; but rather is it true that in their grandest strokes we feel most at home. All that Shakespeare says of the king, yonder slip of a boy that reads in the corner feels to be true of himself.
It is remarkable, as Emerson says; and yet, as we now see, quite simple. A learned man may patronise a less learned one: but the Kingdom of God cannot patronise the Kingdom of God, the larger the smaller. There are large and small. Between these two mysteries of a harmonious universe and the inward soul are granted to live among us certain men whose minds and souls throw out filaments more delicate than ours, vibrating to far messages which they bring home, to report them to us; and these men we call prophets, poets, masters, great artists, and when they write it, we call their report literature. But it is by the spark in us that we read it: and not all the fire of God that was in Shakespeare can dare to patronise the little spark in me. If it did, I can see—with Blake—the angelic host
throw down their spears And water heaven with their tears.
To nurse that spark, common to the king, the sage, the poorest child—to fan, to draw up to a flame, to 'educate' What Is—to recognise that it is divine, yet frail, tender, sometimes easily tired, easily quenched under piles of book-learning—to let it run at play very often, even more often to let it rest in what Wordsworth calls
a wise passiveness
passive—to use a simile of Coventry Patmore—as a photographic plate which finds stars that no telescope can discover, simply by waiting with its face turned upward—to mother it, in short, as wise mothers do their children—this is what I mean by the Art of Reading.
For all great Literature, I would lastly observe, is gentle towards that spirit which learns of it. It teaches by apprehension not by comprehension—which is what many philosophers try to do, and, in trying, break their jugs and spill the contents. Literature understands man and of what he is capable. Philosophy, on the other hand, may not be 'harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose,' but the trouble with most of its practitioners is that they try to comprehend the Universe. Now the man who could comprehend the Universe would ipso facto comprehend God, and be ipso facto a Super-God, able to dethrone him, and in the arrogance of his intellectual conceit full ready to make the attempt.
[Footnote 1: Do you remember, by the by, Samuel Rogers's lines on Lady Jane Grey? They have always seemed to me very beautiful:
Like her most gentle, most unfortunate, Crown'd but to die—who in her chamber sate Musing with Plato, though the horn was blown, And every ear and every heart was won, And all in green array were chasing down the sun!]
CHILDREN'S READING (I)
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 24, 1917
I have often wished, Gentlemen, that some more winning name could be found for the thing we call Education; and I have sometimes thought wistfully that, had we made a better thing of it, we should long ago have found a more amiable, a blither, name.
For after all it concerns the child; and is it quite an accident that, weaning him away from lovely things that so lovelily call themselves 'love,' 'home,' 'mother,' we can find no more alluring titles for the streets into which we entrap him than 'Educational Facilities,' 'Local Examinations,' 'Preceptors,' 'Pedagogues,' 'Professors,' 'Matriculations,' 'Certificates,' 'Diplomas,' 'Seminaries,' Elementary or Primary, and Secondary Codes,' 'Continuation Classes,' 'Reformatories,' 'Inspectors,' 'Local Authorities,' 'Provided' and 'Non-Provided,' 'Denominational' and 'Undenominational,' and 'D.Litt.' and 'Mus. Bac.'? Expressive terms, no doubt!—but I ask with the poet
Who can track A Grace's naked foot amid them all?
Take even such words as should be perennially beautiful by connotation-words such as 'Academy,' 'Museum.' Does the one (O, "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Clapham Academy!") call up visions of that green lawn by Cephissus, of its olives and plane trees and the mirrored statues among which Plato walked and held discourse with his few? Does the other as a rule invite to haunts (O God! O Montreal!) where you can be secure of communion with Apollo and the Nine? Answer if the word Academy does not first call up to the mind some place where small boys are crammed, the word Museum some place where bigger game are stuffed?
And yet 'academy,' 'museum,' even 'education' are sound words if only we would make the things correspond with their meanings. The meaning of 'education' is a leading out, a drawing-forth; not an imposition of something on somebody—a catechism or an uncle— upon the child; but an eliciting of what is within him. Now, if you followed my last lecture, we find that which is within him to be no less, potentially, than the Kingdom of God.
I grant that this potentiality is, between the ages of four and sixteen, not always, perhaps not often, evident. The boy—in Bagehot's phrase 'the small apple-eating urchin whom we know'— has this in common with the fruit for which he congenitally sins, that his very virtues in immaturity are apt, setting the teeth on edge, to be mistaken for vices. A writer, to whom I shall recur, has said:
If an Englishman who had never before tasted an apple were to eat one in July, he would probably come to the conclusion that it was a hard, sour, indigestible fruit, 'conceived in sin and shapen in iniquity,' fit only to be consigned to perdition (on a dust heap or elsewhere). But if the same man were to wait till October and then eat an apple from the same tree, he would find that the sourness had ripened into wholesome and refreshing acidity; the hardness into firmness of fibre which, besides being pleasant to the palate, makes the apple 'keep' better than any other fruit; the indigestibility into certain valuable dietetic qualities, and so on....
In other words—trench, manure, hoe and water around your young tree, and patiently allow the young fruit to develop of its own juice from the root; your own task being, as the fruit forms, but to bring in all you can of air and sunshine upon it. It must, as every mother and nurse knows, be coaxed to realise itself, to develop, to grow from its individual root. It may be coaxed and trained. But the main secret lies in encouraging it to grow, and, to that end, in pouring sunshine upon it and hoeing after each visitation of tears parentally induced.
Every child wants to grow. Every child wants to learn. During his first year or so of life he fights for bodily nutriment, almost ferociously. From the age of two or thereabouts he valiantly essays the conquest of articulate speech, using it first to identify his father or his mother amid the common herd of Gentiles; next, to demand a more liberal and varied dietary; anon, as handmaid of his imperious will to learn. This desire, still in the nursery, climbs—like dissolution in Wordsworth's sonnet—from low to high: from a craving to discover experimentally what the stomach will assimilate and what reject, up to a kingly debonair interest in teleology. Our young gentleman is perfectly at ease in Sion. He wants to know why soldiers are (or were) red, and if they were born so; whence bread and milk is derived, and would it be good manners to thank the neat cow for both; why mamma married papa, and—that having been explained and thoughtfully accepted as the best possible arrangement—still thoughtfully, not in the least censoriously, 'why the All-Father has not married yet?' He falls asleep weighing the eligibility of various spinsters, church-workers, in the parish.
His brain teeming with questions, he asks them of impulse and makes his discoveries with joy. He passes to a school, which is supposed to exist for the purpose of answering these or cognate questions even before he asks them: and behold, he is not happy! Or, he is happy enough at play, or at doing in class the things that should not be done in class: his master writes home that he suffers in his school work 'from having always more animal spirits than are required for his immediate purposes.' What is the trouble? You cannot explain it by home-sickness: for it attacks day boys alike with boarders. You cannot explain it by saying that all true learning involves 'drudgery,' unless you make that miserable word a mendicant and force it to beg the question. 'Drudgery' is what you feel to be drudgery—
Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws, Makes that and th' action fine.
—and, anyhow, this child learned one language—English, a most difficult one—eagerly. Of the nursery through which I passed only one sister wept while learning to read, and that was over a scholastic work entitled "Reading Without Tears."
Do you know a chapter in Mr William Canton's book "The Invisible Playmate" in which, as Carlyle dealt in "Sartor Resartus" with an imaginary treatise by an imaginary Herr Teufelsdroeckh, as Matthew Arnold in "Friendship's Garland" with the imaginary letters of an imaginary Arminius (Germany in long-past happier days lent the world these playful philosophical spirits), so the later author invents an old village grandpapa, with the grandpapa-name of Altegans and a prose-poem printed in scarecrow duodecimo on paper-bag pages and entitled "Erster Schulgang," 'first school-going,' or 'first day at school'?
The poem opens with a wonderful vision of children; delightful as it is unexpected; as romantic in presentment as it is commonplace in fact. All over the world—and all under it too, when their time comes—the children are trooping to school. The great globe swings round out of the dark into the sun; there is always morning somewhere; and for ever in this shifting region of the morning-light the good Altegans sees the little ones afoot—- shining companies and groups, couples and bright solitary figures; for they all seem to have a soft heavenly light about them.
He sees them in country lanes and rustic villages; on lonely moorlands ... he sees them on the hillsides ... in the woods, on the stepping-stones that cross the brook in the glen, along the seacliffs and on the water-ribbed sands; trespassing on the railway lines, making short cuts through the corn, sitting in the ferry-boats; he sees them in the crowded streets of smoky cities, in small rocky islands, in places far inland where the sea is known only as a strange tradition.
The morning-side of the planet is alive with them: one hears their pattering footsteps everywhere. And as the vast continents sweep 'eastering out of the high shadow which reaches beyond the moon' ... and as new nations with their cities and villages, their fields, woods, mountains and sea-shores, rise up into the morning-side, lo! fresh troops, and still fresh troops, and yet again fresh troops of these school-going children of the dawn.
What are weather and season to this incessant panorama of childhood? The pigmy people trudge through the snow on moor and hill-side; wade down flooded roads; are not to be daunted by wind or rain, frost or the white smother of 'millers and bakers at fisticuffs.' Most beautiful picture of all, he sees them travelling schoolward by the late moonlight which now and again in the winter months precedes the tardy dawn.
That vision strikes me as being poetically true as well as delightful: by which I mean that it is not sentimental: we know that it ought to be true, that in a world well-ordered according to our best wishes for it, it would be naturally true. It expresses the natural love of Age, brooding on the natural eager joy of children. But that natural eager joy is just what our schools, in the matter of reading, conscientiously kill.
In this matter of reading-of children's reading—we stand, just now, or halt just now, between two ways. The parent, I believe, has decisively won back to the right one which good mothers never quite forsook. There was an interval, lasting from the early years of the last century until midway in Queen Victoria's reign and a little beyond, when children were mainly brought up on the assumption of natural vice. They might adore father and mother, and yearn to be better friends with papa: but there was the old Adam, a quickening evil spirit; there were his imps always in the way, confound them! I myself lived, with excellent grandparents, for several years on pretty close terms with Hell and an all-seeing Eye; until I grew so utterly weary of both that I have never since had the smallest use for either. Some of you may have read, as a curious book, the agreeable history called "The Fairchild Family," in which Mr Fairchild leads his naughty children afield to a gallows by a cross-road and seating them under the swinging corpse of a malefactor, deduces how easily they may come to this if they go on as they have been going. The authors of such monitory or cautionary tales understood but one form of development, the development of Original Sin. You stole a pin and proceeded, by fatal steps, to the penitentiary; you threw a stick at a pheasant, turned poacher, shot a gamekeeper and ended on the gallows. You were always Eric and it was always Little by Little with you.... Stay! memory preserves one gem from a Sunday school dialogue, one sharp-cut intaglio of childhood springing fully armed from the head of Satan:
Q. Where hast thou been this Sabbath morning? A. I have been coursing of the squirrel. Q. Art not afraid so to desecrate the Lord's Day with idle sport? A. By no means: for I should tell you that I am an Atheist.
I forget what happened to that boy: but doubtless it was, as it should have been, something drastic.
The spell of prohibition, of repression, lies so strong upon these authors that when they try to break away from it, to appeal to something better than fear in the child, and essay to amuse, they become merely silly. For an example in verse:
If Human Beings only knew What sorrows little birds go through, I think that even boys Would never think it sport or fun To stand and fire a frightful gun For nothing but the noise.
For another (instructional and quite a good memoria technica so far as it goes):
William and Mary came next to the throne: When Mary died, there was William alone.
Now for a story of incident.—It comes from the book "Reading Without Tears," that made my small sister weep. She did not weep over the story, because she did not claim to be an angel.
Did you ever hear of the donkey that went into the sea with the little cart?... A lady drove the cart down to the beach. She had six children with her. Three little ones sat in the cart by her side. Three bigger girls ran before the cart. When they came to the beach the lady and the children got out.
Very good so far. It opens like the story of Nausicaa ["Odyssey," Book vi, lines 81-86].
The lady wished the donkey to bathe its legs in the sea, to make it strong and clean. But the donkey did not like to go near the sea. So the lady bound a brown shawl over its eyes, and she bade the big girls lead it close to the waves. Suddenly a big wave rushed to the land. The girls started back to avoid the wave, and they let go the donkey's rein.
The donkey was alarmed by the noise the girls made, and it went into the sea, not knowing where it was going because it was not able to see. The girls ran screaming to the lady, crying out, 'The donkey is in the sea!'
There it was, going further and further into the sea, till the cart was hidden by the billows. The donkey sank lower and lower every moment, till no part of it was seen but the ears; for the brown shawl was over its nose and mouth. Now the children began to bawl and to bellow! But no one halloed so loud as the little boy of four. His name was Merty. He feared that the donkey was drowned....
Two fishermen were in a boat far away. They said 'We hear howls and shrieks on the shore. Perhaps a boy or girl is drowning. Let us go and save him: So they rowed hard, and they soon came to the poor donkey, and saw its ears peeping out of the sea. The donkey was just going to sink when they lifted it up by the jaws, and seized the bridle and dragged it along. The children on the shore shouted aloud for joy. The donkey with the cart came safe to land. The poor creature was weak and dripping wet. The fishermen unbound its eyes, and said to the lady, 'We cannot think how this thing came to be over its eyes.' The lady said she wished she had not bound up its eyes, and she gave the shillings in her purse to the fishermen who had saved her donkey.
Now every child knows that a donkey may change into a Fairy Prince: that is a truth of imagination. But to be polite and say nothing of the lady, every child knows that so donkey would be ass enough to behave as in this narrative. And the good parents who, throughout the later 18th century and the 19th, inflicted this stuff upon children, were sinning against the light. Perrault's Fairy Tales, and Madame D'Aulnoy's were to their hand in translations; "Le Cabinet des Fees", which includes these and M. Galland's "Arabian Nights" and many another collection of delectable stories, extends on my shelves to 41 volumes (the last volume appeared during the fury of the French Revolution!). The brothers Grimm published the first volume of their immortal tales in 1812, the second in 1814. A capital selection from them, charmingly rendered, was edited by our Edgar Taylor in 1823; and drew from Sir Walter Scott a letter of which some sentences are worth our pondering.
There is also a sort of wild fairy interest in [these tales] which makes me think them fully better adapted to awaken the imagination and soften the heart of childhood than the good-boy stories which have been in later years composed for them. In the latter case their minds are, as it were, put into the stocks ... and the moral always consists in good moral conduct being crowned with temporal success. Truth is, I would not give one tear shed over Little Red Riding Hood for all the benefit to be derived from a hundred histories of Jemmy Goodchild.
Few nowadays, I doubt, remember Gammer Grethel. She has been ousted by completer, maybe far better, translations of the Grimms' "Household Tales". But turning back, the other day, to the old volume for the old sake's sake (as we say in the West) I came on the Preface—no child troubles with a Preface—and on these wise words:
Much might be urged against that too rigid and philosophic (we might rather say, unphilosophic) exclusion of works of fancy and fiction from the libraries of children which is advocated by some. Our imagination is surely as susceptible of improvement by exercise as our judgment or our memory.
And that admirable sentence, Gentlemen, is the real text of my discourse to-day. I lay no sentimental stress upon Wordsworth's Ode and its doctrine that 'Heaven lies about us in our infancy.' It was, as you know, a favourite doctrine with our Platonists of the 17th century: and critics who trace back the Ode "Intimations of Immortality" to Henry Vaughan's
Happy those early days, when I Shined in my Angel-infancy.
might connect it with a dozen passages from authors of that century. Here is one from "Centuries of Meditations" by that poor Welsh parson, Thomas Traherne, whom I quoted to you the other day:
Those pure and virgin apprehensions I had from the womb, and that divine light wherewith I was born are the best unto this day, wherein I can see the Universe. By the Gift of God they attended me into the world, and by His special favour I remember them till now.... Certainly Adam in Paradise had not more sweet and curious apprehensions of the world, than I when I was a child.
And here is another from John Earle's Character of 'A Child' in his "Microcosmography":
His father hath writ him as his own little story, wherein he reads those days of his life that he cannot remember; and sighs to see what innocence he has out-liv'd. He is the Christian's example, and the old man's relapse: the one imitates his pureness, and the other falls into his simplicity. Could he put off his body with his little coat, he had got Eternity without a burthen, and exchang'd but one Heaven for another.
Bethinking me again of 'the small apple-eating urchin whom we know,' I suspect an amiable fallacy in all this: I doubt if when he scales an apple-bearing tree which is neither his own nor his papa's he does so under impulse of any conscious yearning back to Hierusalem, his happy home,
Where trees for evermore bear fruit.
At any rate, I have an orchard, and he has put up many excuses, but never yet that he was recollecting Sion.
Still the doctrine holds affinity with the belief which I firmly hold and tried to explain to you with persuasion last term: that, boy or man, you and I, the microcosms, do—sensibly, half-sensibly, or insensibly—yearn, through what we feel to be best in us, to 'join up' with the greater harmony; that by poetry or religion or whatnot we have that within us which craves to be drawn out, 'e-ducated,' and linked up.
Now the rule of the nursery in the last century rested on Original Sin, and consequently and quite logically tended not to educate, but to repress. There are no new fairy-tales of the days when your grandmothers wore crinolines—I know, for I have searched. Mothers and nurses taught the old ones; the Three Bears still found, one after another, that 'somebody has been sleeping in my bed'; Fatima continued to call 'Sister Anne, do you see anyone coming?' the Wolf to show her teeth under her nightcap and snarl out (O, great moment!) 'All the better to eat you with, my dear.' But the Evangelicals held field. Those of our grandfathers and grandmothers who understood joy and must have had fairies for ministers—those of our grandmothers who played croquet through hoop with a bell and practised Cupid's own sport archery—those of our grandfathers who wore jolly peg-top trousers and Dundreary whiskers, and built the Crystal Palace and drove to the Derby in green-veiled top-hats with Dutch dolls stuck about the brim—tot circa unum caput tumultuantes deos—and those splendid uncles who used to descend on the old school in a shower of gold— half-a-sovereign at the very least—all these should have trailed fairies with them in a cloud. But in practice the evangelical parent held the majority, put away all toys but Noah's Ark on Sundays, and voted the fairies down.
I know not who converted the parents. It may have been that benefactor of Europe, Hans Christian Andersen, born at Odensee in Denmark in April 1805. He died, near Copenhagen, in 1875, having by a few months outlived his 70th birthday. I like to think that his genius, a continuing influence over a long generation, did more than anything else to convert the parents. The schools, always more royalist than the King, professionally bleak, professionally dull, professionally repressive rather than educative, held on to a tradition which, though it had to be on the sly, every intelligent mother and nurse had done her best to evade. The schools made a boy's life penitential on a system. They discovered athletics, as a safety-valve for high spirits they could not cope with, and promptly made that safety-valve compulsory! They went on to make athletics a religion. Now athletics are not properly a religious exercise, and their meaning evaporates as soon as you enlist them in the service of repression. They are being used to do the exact opposite of that for which God meant them. Things are better now: but in those times how many a boy, having long looked forward to it, rejoiced in his last day at school?
I know surely enough what must be in your minds at this point: I am running up my head hard against the doctrine of Original Sin, against the doctrine that in dealing with a child you are dealing with a 'fallen nature,' with a human soul 'conceived in sin,' unregenerate except by repression; and therefore that repression and more repression must be the only logical way with your Original Sinners.
Well, then, I am. I have loved children all my life; studied them in the nursery, studied them for years—ten or twelve years intimately—in elementary schools. I know for a surety, if I have acquired any knowledge, that the child is a 'child of God' rather than a 'Child of wrath'; and here before you I proclaim that to connect in any child's mind the Book of Joshua with the Gospels, to make its Jehovah identical in that young mind with the Father of Mercy of whom Jesus was the Son, to confuse, as we do in any school in this land between 9.5 and 9.45 a.m., that bloodthirsty tribal deity whom the Hohenzollern family invokes with the true God the Father, is a blasphemous usage, and a curse.
But let me get away to milder heresies. If you will concede for a moment that the better way with a child is to draw out, to educate, rather than to repress, what is in him, let us observe what he instinctively wants. Now first, of course, he wants to eat and drink, and to run about. When he passes beyond these merely animal desires to what we may call the instinct of growth in his soul, how does he proceed? I think Mr Holmes, whom I have already quoted, very fairly sets out these desires as any grown-up person can perceive them. The child desires
(1) to talk and to listen; (2) to act (in the dramatic sense of the word); (3) to draw, paint and model; (4) to dance and sing; (5) to know the why of things (6) to construct things.
Now I shall have something to say by and by on the amazing preponderance in this list of those instincts which Aristotle would have called mimetic. This morning I take only the least imitative of all, the desire to know the why of things.
Surely you know, taking only this, that the master-key admitting a child to all, or almost all, palaces of knowledge is his ability to read. When he has grasped that key of his mother-tongue he can with perseverance unlock all doors to all the avenues of knowledge. More—he has the passport to heavens unguessed.
You will perceive at once that what I mean here by 'reading' is the capacity for silent reading, taking a book apart and mastering it; and you will bear in mind the wonder that I preached to you in a previous lecture—that great literature never condescends, that what yonder boy in a corner reads of a king is happening to him. Do you suppose that in an elementary school one child in ten reads thus? Listen to a wise ex-inspector, whose words I can corroborate of experience:
The first thing that strikes the visitor who enters an ordinary elementary school while a reading lesson is in progress is that the children are not reading at all, in the accepted sense of the word. They are not reading to themselves, not studying, not mastering the contents of the book, not assimilating the mental and spiritual nutriment that it may be supposed to contain. They are standing up one by one and reading aloud to their teacher.
Ah! but I have seen far worse than that. I have visited and condemned rural schools where the practice was to stand a class up—- say a class of thirty children—and make them read in unison: which meant, of course, that the front row chanted out the lesson while the back rows made inarticulate noises. I well remember one such exhibition, in a remote country school on the Cornish hills, and having my attention arrested midway by the face of a girl in the third row. She was a strikingly beautiful child, with that combination of bright auburn, almost flaming, hair with dark eyebrows, dark eyelashes, dark eyes, which of itself arrests your gaze, being so rare; and those eyes seemed to challenge me half scornfully and ask, 'Are you really taken in by all this?' Well, I soon stopped the performance and required each child to read separately: whereupon it turned out that, in the upper standards of this school of 70 or 80 children, one only— this disdainful girl—could get through half a dozen easy sentences with credit. She read well and intelligently, being accustomed to read to herself, at home.
I daresay that this bad old method of block-reading is dead by this time.
Reading aloud and separately is excellent for several purposes. It tests capacity: it teaches correct pronunciation by practice, as well as the mastery of difficult words: it provides a good teacher with frequent opportunities of helping the child to understand what he reads.
But as his schooling proceeds he should be accustomed more and more to read to himself: for that, I repeat, is the master-key.
CHILDREN'S READING (II)
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 1917
In our talk, Gentlemen, about Children's Reading we left off upon a list, drawn up by Mr Holmes in his book 'What Is, and What Might Be,' of the things that, apart from physical nourishment and exercise, a child instinctively desires.
He desires (1) to talk and to listen; (2) to act (in the dramatic sense of the word); (3) to draw, paint and model; (4) to dance and sing; (5) to know the why of things; (6) to construct things.
Let us scan through this catalogue briefly, in its order.
No. (1). To talk and to listen—Mr Holmes calls this the communicative instinct. Every child wants to talk with those about him, or at any rate with his chosen ones—his parents, brothers, sisters, nurse, governess, gardener, boot-boy (if he possess these last)—with other children, even if his dear papa is poor: to tell them what he has been doing, seeing, feeling: and to listen to what they have to tell him.
Nos. (2), (3), (4). To act—our author calls this the 'dramatic instinct': to draw, paint and model—this the 'artistic instinct'—to dance and sing—this the 'musical instinct.' But obviously all these are what Aristotle would call 'mimetic' instincts: 'imitative' (in a sense I shall presently explain); even as No. (2)—acting—like No. (1)—talking and listening—comes of craving for sympathy. In fact, as we go on, you will see that these instincts overlap and are not strictly separable, though we separate them just now for convenience.
No. (5). To know the why of things—the 'inquisitive instinct.' This, being the one which gives most trouble to parents, parsons, governesses, conventional schoolmasters—to all grown-up persons who pretend to know what they don't and are ashamed to tell what they do—is of course the most ruthlessly repressed.
'The time is come,' the Infant said, 'To talk of many things: Of babies, storks and cabbages And—
—having studied the Evangelists' Window facing the family pew—
And whether cows have wings.'
The answer, in my experience, is invariably stern, and 'in the negative': in tolerant moments compromising on 'Wait, like a good boy, and see.'
But we singled out this instinct and discussed it in our last lecture.
No. (6). To construct things—the 'constructive instinct.' I quote Mr Holmes here:
After analysis comes synthesis. The child pulls his toys to pieces in order that he may, if possible, reconstruct them. The ends that he sets before himself are those which Comte Set before the human race—savoir pour prevoir, afin de pouvoir: induire pour deduire, afin de construire. The desire to make things, to build things up, to control ways and means, to master the resources of nature, to put his knowledge of her laws and facts to practical use, is strong in his soul. Give him a box of bricks, and he will spend hours in building and rebuilding houses, churches.... Set him on a sandy shore with a spade and a pail, and he will spend hours in constructing fortified castles with deep encircling moats.
Again obviously this constructive instinct overlaps with the imitative ones. Construction, for example, enters into the art of making mud-pies and has also been applied in the past to great poetry. If you don't keep a sharp eye in directing this instinct, it may conceivably end in an "Othello" or in a "Divina Commedia."
Without preaching on any of the others, however, I take three of the six instincts scheduled by Mr Holmes—the three which you will allow to be almost purely imitative.
Acting, Drawing, painting, modelling, Dancing and singing.
Now let us turn to the very first page of Aristotle's "Poetics," and what do we read?
Epic poetry and Tragedy, Comedy also and dithyrambic poetry, and the greater part of the music of the flute and of the lyre, are all, in general, modes of imitation....
For as their are persons who represent a number of things by colours and drawings, and others vocally, so it is with the arts above mentioned. They all imitate by rhythm, language, harmony, singly or combined.
Even dancing (he goes on)
imitates character, emotion and action, by rhythmical movement.
Now, having touched on mud-pies, let me say a few words upon these aesthetic imitative instincts of acting, dancing, singing before I follow Aristotle into his explanation of the origin of Poetry, which I think we may agree to be the highest subject of our Art of Reading and to hold promise of its highest reward.
Every wise mother sings or croons to her child and dances him on her knee. She does so by sure instinct, long before the small body can respond or his eyes—always blue at first and unfathomably aged—return her any answer. It lulls him into the long spells of sleep so necessary for his first growth. By and by, when he has found his legs, he begins to skip, and even before he has found articulate speech, to croon for himself. Pass a stage, and you find him importing speech, drama, dance, incantation, into his games with his playmates. Watch a cluster of children as they enact "Here we go gathering nuts in May"— eloquent line: it is just what they are doing!—or "Here come three Dukes a-riding," or "Fetch a pail of water," or "Sally, Sally Waters":
Sally, Sally Waters, Sitting in the sand, Rise, Sally—rise, Sally, For a young man.
Suitor presented, accepted [I have noted, by the way, that this game is more popular with girls than with boys]; wedding ceremony hastily performed—so hastily, it were more descriptive to say 'taken for granted'—within the circle; the dancers, who join hands and resume the measure, chanting
Now you are married, we wish you joy— First a girl and then a boy
—the order, I suspect, dictated by exigencies of rhyme rather than of Eugenics, as Dryden confessed that a rhyme had often helped him to a thought. And yet I don't know; for the incantation goes on to redress the balance in a way that looks scientific:
Ten years after, son and daughter, And now—
And now, Miss Sally, come out of the water.
The players end by supplying the applause which, in these days of division of labour, is commonly left to the audience.
Well, there you have it all: acting, singing, dancing, choral movement—enlisted ancillary to the domestic drama: and, when you start collecting evidence of these imitative instincts blent in childhood the mass will soon amaze you and leave you no room to be surprised that many learned scholars, on the supposition that uncivilised man is a child more or less—and at least so much of child that one can argue through children's practice to his—have found the historical origin of Poetry itself in these primitive performances: 'communal poetry' as they call it. I propose to discuss with you (may be neat term) in a lecture not belonging to this 'course' the likelihood that what we call specifically 'the Ballad,' or 'Ballad Poetry,' originated thus. Here is a wider question. Did all Poetry develop out of this, historically, as a process in time and in fact? These scholars (among whom I will instance one of the most learned—Dr Gummere) hold that it did: and I may take a passage from Dr Gummere's "Beginnings of Poetry" (p. 95) to show you how they call in the practice of savage races to support their theory. The Botocudos of South America are— according to Dr Paul Ehrenreich who has observed them—an ungentlemanly tribe, 'very low in the social scale.'