The Pleasures of Life
by Sir John Lubbock
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Those who have the pleasure of attending the opening meetings of schools and colleges, and of giving away prizes and certificates, are generally expected at the same time to offer such words of counsel and encouragement as the experience of the world might enable them to give to those who are entering life.

Having been myself when young rather prone to suffer from low spirits, I have at several of these gatherings taken the opportunity of dwelling on the privileges and blessings we enjoy, and I reprint here the substance of some of these addresses (omitting what was special to the circumstances of each case, and freely making any alterations and additions which have since occurred to me), hoping that the thoughts and quotations in which I have myself found most comfort may perhaps be of use to others also.

It is hardly necessary to say that I have not by any means referred to all the sources of happiness open to us, some indeed of the greatest pleasures and blessings being altogether omitted.

In reading over the proofs I feel that some sentences may appear too dogmatic, but I hope that allowance will be made for the circumstances under which they were delivered.


DOWN, KENT, January 1887.



A lecture which I delivered three years ago at the Working Men's College, and which forms the fourth chapter of this book, has given rise to a good deal of discussion. The Pall Mall Gazette took up the subject and issued a circular to many of those best qualified to express an opinion. This elicited many interesting replies, and some other lists of books were drawn up. When my book was translated, a similar discussion took place in Germany. The result has been very gratifying, and after carefully considering the suggestions which have been made, I see no reason for any material change in the first list. I had not presumed to form a list of my own, nor did I profess to give my own favorites. My attempt was to give those most generally recommended by previous writers on the subject. In the various criticisms on my list, while large additions, amounting to several hundred works in all, have been proposed, very few omissions have been suggested. As regards those works with reference to which some doubts have been expressed—namely, the few Oriental books, Wake's Apostolic Fathers etc.—I may observe that I drew up the list, not as that of the hundred best books, but, which is very different, of those which have been most frequently recommended as best worth reading.

For instance as regards the Sheking and the Analects of Confucius, I must humbly confess that I do not greatly admire either; but I recommended them because they are held in the most profound veneration by the Chinese race, containing 400,000,000 of our fellow-men. I may add that both works are quite short.

The Ramayana and Maha Bharata (as epitomized by Wheeler) and St. Hilaire's Bouddha are not only very interesting in themselves, but very important in reference to our great oriental Empire.

The authentic writings of the Apostolic Fathers are very short, being indeed comprised in one small volume, and as the only works (which have come down to us) of those who lived with and knew the Apostles, they are certainly well worth reading.

I have been surprised at the great divergence of opinion which has been expressed. Nine lists of some length have been published. These lists contain some three hundred works not mentioned by me (without, however, any corresponding omissions), and yet there is not one single book which occurs in every list, or even in half of them, and only about half a dozen which appear in more than one of the nine.

If these authorities, or even a majority of them, had concurred in their recommendations, I would have availed myself of them; but as they differ so greatly I will allow my list to remain almost as I first proposed it. I have, however, added Kalidasa's Sakuntala or The Lost Ring, and Schiller's William Tell, omitting, in consequence, Lucretius and Miss Austen: Lucretius because though his work is most remarkable, it is perhaps less generally suitable than most of the others in the list; and Miss Austen because English novelists were somewhat over-represented.


DOWN, KENT, August 1890.



"All places that the eye of Heaven visits Are to the wise man ports and happy havens."


"Some murmur, when their sky is clear And wholly bright to view, If one small speck of dark appear In their great heaven of blue. And some with thankful love are fill'd If but one streak of light, One ray of God's good mercy gild The darkness of their night.

"In palaces are hearts that ask, In discontent and pride, Why life is such a dreary task, And all good things denied. And hearts in poorest huts admire How love has in their aid (Love that not ever seems to tire) Such rich provision made."




"If a man is unhappy, this must be his own fault; for God made all men to be happy."—EPICTETUS.

Life is a great gift, and as we reach years of discretion, we most of us naturally ask ourselves what should be the main object of our existence. Even those who do not accept "the greatest good of the greatest number" as an absolute rule, will yet admit that we should all endeavor to contribute as far as we may to the happiness of our fellow-creatures. There are many, however, who seem to doubt whether it is right that we should try to be happy ourselves. Our own happiness ought not, of course, to be our main object, nor indeed will it ever be secured if selfishly sought. We may have many pleasures in life, but must not let them have rule over us, or they will soon hand us over to sorrow; and "into what dangerous and miserable servitude doth he fall who suffereth pleasures and sorrows (two unfaithful and cruel commanders) to possess him successively?" [1]

I cannot, however, but think that the world would be better and brighter if our teachers would dwell on the Duty of Happiness as well as on the Happiness of Duty, for we ought to be as cheerful as we can, if only because to be happy ourselves, is a most effectual contribution to the happiness of others.

Every one must have felt that a cheerful friend is like a sunny day, which sheds its brightness on all around; and most of us can, as we choose, make of this world either a palace or a prison.

There is no doubt some selfish satisfaction in yielding to melancholy, and fancying that we are victims of fate; in brooding over grievances, especially if more or less imaginary. To be bright and cheerful often requires an effort; there is a certain art in keeping ourselves happy; and in this respect, as in others, we require to watch over and manage ourselves, almost as if we were somebody else.

Sorrow and joy, indeed, are strangely interwoven. Too often

"We look before and after, And pine for what is not: Our sincerest laughter With some pain is fraught; Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought." [2]

As a nation we are prone to melancholy. It has been said of our countrymen that they take even their pleasures sadly. But this, if it be true at all, will, I hope, prove a transitory characteristic. "Merry England" was the old saying, let us hope it may become true again. We must look to the East for real melancholy. What can be sadder than the lines with which Omar Khayyam opens his quatrains: [3]

"We sojourn here for one short day or two, And all the gain we get is grief and woe; And then, leaving life's problems all unsolved And harassed by regrets, we have to go;"

or the Devas' song to Prince Siddartha, in Edwin Arnold's beautiful version:

"We are the voices of the wandering wind, Which moan for rest, and rest can never find. Lo! as the wind is, so is mortal life— A moan, a sigh, a sob, a storm, a strife."

If indeed this be true, if mortal life be so sad and full of suffering, no wonder that Nirvana—the cessation of sorrow—should be welcomed even at the sacrifice of consciousness.

But ought we not to place before ourselves a very different ideal—a healthier, manlier, and nobler hope?

Life is not to live merely, but to live well. There are some "who live without any design at all, and only pass in the world like straws on a river: they do not go; they are carried," [4]—but as Homer makes Ulysses say, "How dull it is to pause, to make an end, to rest unburnished; not to shine in use—as though to breathe were life!"

Goethe tells us that at thirty he resolved "to work out life no longer by halves, but in all its beauty and totality."

"Im Ganzen, Guten, Schoenen Resolut zu leben."

Life indeed must be measured by thought and action, not by time. It certainly may be, and ought to be, bright, interesting, and happy; and, according to the Italian proverb, "if all cannot live on the Piazza, every one may feel the sun."

If we do our best; if we do not magnify trifling troubles; if we look resolutely, I do not say at the bright side of things, but at things as they really are; if we avail ourselves of the manifold blessings which surround us; we cannot but feel that life is indeed a glorious inheritance.

"More servants wait on man Than he'll take notice of. In every path He treads down that which doth befriend him When sickness makes him pale and wan Oh mighty Love! Man is one world, and hath Another to attend him." [5]

Few of us, however, realize the wonderful privilege of living, or the blessings we inherit; the glories and beauties of the Universe, which is our own if we choose to have it so; the extent to which we can make ourselves what we wish to be; or the power we possess of securing peace, of triumphing over pain and sorrow.

Dante pointed to the neglect of opportunities as a serious fault:

"Man can do violence To himself and his own blessings, and for this He, in the second round, must aye deplore, With unavailing penitence, his crime. Whoe'er deprives himself of life and light In reckless lavishment his talent wastes, And sorrows then when he should dwell in joy."

Ruskin has expressed this with special allusion to the marvellous beauty of this glorious world, too often taken as a matter of course, and remembered, if at all, almost without gratitude. "Holy men," he complains, "in the recommending of the love of God to us, refer but seldom to those things in which it is most abundantly and immediately shown; though they insist much on His giving of bread, and raiment, and health (which He gives to all inferior creatures): they require us not to thank Him for that glory of His works which He has permitted us alone to perceive: they tell us often to meditate in the closet, but they send us not, like Isaac, into the fields at even: they dwell on the duty of self denial, but they exhibit not the duty of delight:" and yet, as he justly says elsewhere, "each of us, as we travel the way of life, has the choice, according to our working, of turning all the voices of Nature into one song of rejoicing; or of withering and quenching her sympathy into a fearful withdrawn silence of condemnation,—into a crying out of her stones and a shaking of her dust against us."

Must we not all admit, with Sir Henry Taylor, that "the retrospect of life swarms with lost opportunities"? "Whoever enjoys not life," says Sir T. Browne, "I count him but an apparition, though he wears about him the visible affections of flesh."

St. Bernard, indeed, goes so far as to maintain that "nothing can work me damage except myself; the harm that I sustain I carry about with me, and never am a real sufferer but by my own fault."

Some Heathen moralists also have taught very much the same lesson. "The gods," says Marcus Aurelius, "have put all the means in man's power to enable him not to fall into real evils. Now that which does not make a man worse, how can it make his life worse?"

Epictetus takes the same line: "If a man is unhappy, remember that his unhappiness is his own fault; for God has made all men to be happy." "I am," he elsewhere says, "always content with that which happens; for I think that what God chooses is better than what I choose." And again: "Seek not that things should happen as you wish; but wish the things which happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil flow of life.... If you wish for anything which belongs to another, you lose that which is your own."

Few, however, if any, can I think go as far as St. Bernard. We cannot but suffer from pain, sickness, and anxiety; from the loss, the unkindness, the faults, even the coldness of those we love. How many a day has been damped and darkened by an angry word!

Hegel is said to have calmly finished his Phaenomenologie des Geistes at Jena, on the 14th October 1806, not knowing anything whatever of the battle that was raging round him.

Matthew Arnold has suggested that we might take a lesson from the heavenly bodies.

"Unaffrighted by the silence round them, Undistracted by the sights they see, These demand not the things without them Yield them love, amusement, sympathy.

"Bounded by themselves, and unobservant In what state God's other works may be, In their own tasks all their powers pouring, These attain the mighty life you see."

It is true that

"A man is his own star; Our acts our angels are For good or ill,"

and that "rather than follow a multitude to do evil," one should "stand like Pompey's pillar, conspicuous by oneself, and single in integrity." [6] But to many this isolation would be itself most painful, for the heart is "no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them." [7]

If we separate ourselves so much from the interests of those around us that we do not sympathize with them in their sufferings, we shut ourselves out from sharing their happiness, and lose far more than we gain. If we avoid sympathy and wrap ourselves round in a cold chain armor of selfishness, we exclude ourselves from many of the greatest and purest joys of life. To render ourselves insensible to pain we must forfeit also the possibility of happiness.

Moreover, much of what we call evil is really good in disguise, and we should not "quarrel rashly with adversities not yet understood, nor overlook the mercies often bound up in them." [8] Pleasure and pain are, as Plutarch says, the nails which fasten body and soul together. Pain is a warning of danger, a very necessity of existence. But for it, but for the warnings which our feelings give us, the very blessings by which we are surrounded would soon and inevitably prove fatal. Many of those who have not studied the question are under the impression that the more deeply-seated portions of the body must be most sensitive. The very reverse is the case. The skin is a continuous and ever-watchful sentinel, always on guard to give us notice of any approaching danger; while the flesh and inner organs, where pain would be without purpose, are, so long as they are in health, comparatively without sensation.

"We talk," says Helps, "of the origin of evil;... but what is evil? We mostly speak of sufferings and trials as good, perhaps, in their result; but we hardly admit that they may be good in themselves. Yet they are knowledge—how else to be acquired, unless by making men as gods, enabling them to understand without experience. All that men go through may be absolutely the best for them—no such thing as evil, at least in our customary meaning of the word."

Indeed, "the vale best discovereth the hill," [9] and "pour sentir les grands biens, il faut qu'il connoisse les petits maux." [10]

But even if we do not seem to get all that we should wish, many will feel, as in Leigh Hunt's beautiful translation of Filicaja's sonnet, that—

"So Providence for us, high, infinite, Makes our necessities its watchful task. Hearkens to all our prayers, helps all our wants, And e'en if it denies what seems our right, Either denies because 'twould have us ask, Or seems but to deny, and in denying grants."

Those on the other hand who do not accept the idea of continual interferences, will rejoice in the belief that on the whole the laws of the Universe work out for the general happiness.

And if it does come—

"Grief should be Like joy, majestic, equable, sedate, Confirming, cleansing, raising, making free: Strong to consume small troubles; to commend Great thoughts, grave thoughts, thoughts lasting to the end." [11]

If, however, we cannot hope that life will be all happiness, we may at least secure a heavy balance on the right side; and even events which look like misfortune, if boldly faced, may often be turned to good. Oftentimes, says Seneca, "calamity turns to our advantage; and great ruins make way for greater glories." Helmholtz dates his start in science to an attack of illness. This led to his acquisition of a microscope, which he was enabled to purchase, owing to his having spent his autumn vacation of 1841 in the hospital, prostrated by typhoid fever; being a pupil, he was nursed without expense, and on his recovery he found himself in possession of the savings of his small resources.

"Savonarola," says Castelar, "would, under different circumstances, undoubtedly have been a good husband, a tender father; a man unknown to history, utterly powerless to print upon the sands of time and upon the human soul the deep trace which he has left; but misfortune came to visit him, to crush his heart, and to impart that marked melancholy which characterizes a soul in grief; and the grief that circled his brows with a crown of thorns was also that which wreathed them with the splendor of immortality. His hopes were centered in the woman he loved, his life was set upon the possession of her, and when her family finally rejected him, partly on account of his profession, and partly on account of his person, believed that it was death that had come upon him, when in truth it was immortality."

It is however, impossible to deny the existence of evil, and the reason for it has long exercised the human intellect. The Savage solves it by the supposition of evil Spirits. The Greeks attributed the misfortunes of men in great measure to the antipathies and jealousies of gods and goddesses. Others have imagined two divine principles, opposite and antagonistic—the one friendly, the other hostile, to men.

Freedom of action, however, seems to involve the existence of evil. If any power of selection be left us, much must depend on the choice we make. In the very nature of things, two and two cannot make five. Epictetus imagines Jupiter addressing man as follows: "If it had been possible to make your body and your property free from liability to injury, I would have done so. As this could not be, I have given you a small portion of myself."

This divine gift it is for us to use wisely. It is, in fact, our most valuable treasure. "The soul is a much better thing than all the others which you possess. Can you then show me in what way you have taken care of it? For it is not likely that you, who are so wise a man, inconsiderately and carelessly allow the most valuable thing that you possess to be neglected and to perish." [12]

Moreover, even if evil cannot be altogether avoided, it is no doubt true that not only whether the life we lead be good and useful, or evil and useless, but also whether it be happy or unhappy, is very much in our own power, and depends greatly on ourselves. "Time alone relieves the foolish from sorrow, but reason the wise." [13] and no one was ever yet made utterly miserable excepting by himself. We are, if not the masters, at any rate almost the creators of ourselves.

With most of us it is not so much great sorrows, disease, or death, but rather the little "daily dyings" which cloud over the sunshine of life. Many of our troubles are insignificant in themselves, and might easily be avoided!

How happy home might generally be made but for foolish quarrels, or misunderstandings, as they are well named! It is our own fault if we are querulous or ill-humored; nor need we, though this is less easy, allow ourselves to be made unhappy by the querulousness or ill-humors of others.

Much of what we suffer we have brought on ourselves, if not by actual fault, at least by ignorance or thoughtlessness. Too often we think only of the happiness of the moment, and sacrifice that of the life. Troubles comparatively seldom come to us, it is we who go to them. Many of us fritter our life away. La Bruyere says that "most men spend much of their lives in making the rest miserable;" or, as Goethe puts it:

"Careworn man has, in all ages, Sown vanity to reap despair."

Not only do we suffer much in the anticipation of evil, as "Noah lived many years under the affliction of a flood, and Jerusalem was taken unto Jeremy before it was besieged," but we often distress ourselves greatly in the apprehension of misfortunes which after all never happen at all. We should do our best and wait calmly the result. We often hear of people breaking down from overwork, but in nine cases out of ten they are really suffering from worry or anxiety.

"Nos maux moraux," says Rousseau, "sont tous dans l'opinion, hors un seul, qui est le crime; et celui-la depend de nous: nos maux physiques nous detruisent, ou se detruisent. Le temps, ou la mort, sont nos remedes."

"Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, Which we ascribe to heaven." [14]

This, however, applies to the grown up. With children of course it is different. It is customary, but I think it is a mistake, to speak of happy childhood. Children, however, are often over-anxious and acutely sensitive. Man ought to be man and master of his fate; but children are at the mercy of those around them. Mr. Rarey, the great horse-tamer, has told us that he has known an angry word raise the pulse of a horse ten beats in a minute. Think then how it must affect a child!

It is small blame to the young if they are over-anxious; but it is a danger to be striven against. "The terrors of the storm are chiefly felt in the parlor or the cabin." [15]

To save ourselves from imaginary, or at any rate problematical, evils, we often incur real suffering. "The man," said Epicurus, "who is not content with little is content with nothing." How often do we "labor for that which satisfieth not." More than we use is more than we need, and only a burden to the bearer. [16] We most of us give ourselves an immense amount of useless trouble; encumber ourselves, as it were, on the journey of life with a dead weight of unnecessary baggage; and as "a man maketh his train longer, he makes his wings shorter." [17] In that delightful fairy tale, Alice through the Looking-Glass, the "White Knight" is described as having loaded himself on starting for a journey with a variety of odds and ends, including a mousetrap, in case he was troubled by mice at night, and a beehive in case he came across a swarm of bees.

Hearne, in his Journey to the Mouth of the Coppermine River tells us that a few days after starting on his expedition he met a party of Indians, who annexed a great deal of his property, and all Hearne says is, "The weight of our baggage being so much lightened, our next day's journey was much pleasanter." I ought, however, to add that the Indians broke up the philosophical instruments, which, no doubt, were rather an encumbrance.

When troubles do come, Marcus Aurelius wisely tells us to "remember on every occasion which leads thee to vexation to apply this principle, that this is not a misfortune, but that to bear it nobly is good fortune." Our own anger indeed does us more harm than the thing which makes us angry; and we suffer much more from the anger and vexation which we allow acts to rouse in us, than we do from the acts themselves at which we are angry and vexed. How much most people, for instance, allow themselves to be distracted and disturbed by quarrels and family disputes. Yet in nine cases out of ten one ought not to suffer from being found fault with. If the condemnation is just, it should be welcome as a warning; if it is undeserved, why should we allow it to distress us?

Moreover, if misfortunes happen we do but make them worse by grieving over them.

"I must die," again says Epictetus. "But must I then die sorrowing? I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Can I be prevented from going with cheerfulness and contentment? But I will put you in prison. Man, what are you saying? You may put my body in prison, but my mind not even Zeus himself can overpower."

If, indeed, we cannot be happy, the fault is generally in ourselves. Socrates lived under the Thirty Tyrants. Epictetus was a poor slave, and yet how much we owe him!

"How is it possible," he says, "that a man who has nothing, who is naked, houseless, without a hearth, squalid, without a slave, without a city, can pass a life that flows easily? See, God has sent a man to show you that it is possible. Look at me, who am without a city, without a house, without possessions, without a slave; I sleep on the ground; I have no wife, no children, no praetorium, but only the earth and heavens, and one poor clock. And what do I want? Am I not without sorrow? Am I not without fear? Am I not free? When did any of you see me failing in the object of my desire? or ever falling into that which I would avoid? Did I ever blame God or man? Did I ever accuse any man? Did any of you ever see me with a sorrowful countenance? And how do I meet with those whom you are afraid of and admire? Do not I treat them like slaves? Who, when he sees me, does not think that he sees his king and master?"

Think how much we have to be thankful for. Few of us appreciate the number of our everyday blessings; we look on them as trifles, and yet "trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle," as Michael Angelo said. We forget them because they are always with us; and yet for each of us, as Mr. Pater well observes, "these simple gifts, and others equally trivial, bread and wine, fruit and milk, might regain that poetic and, as it were, moral significance which surely belongs to all the means of our daily life, could we but break through the veil of our familiarity with things by no means vulgar in themselves."

"Let not," says Isaak Walton, "the blessings we receive daily from God make us not to value or not praise Him because they be common; let us not forget to praise Him for the innocent mirth and pleasure we have met with since we met together. What would a blind man give to see the pleasant rivers and meadows and flowers and fountains; and this and many other like blessings we enjoy daily."

Contentment, we have been told by Epicurus, consists not in great wealth, but in few wants. In this fortunate country, however, we may have many wants, and yet, if they are only reasonable, we may gratify them all.

Nature indeed provides without stint the main requisites of human happiness. "To watch the corn grow, or the blossoms set; to draw hard breath over plough-share or spade; to read, to think, to love, to pray," these, says Ruskin, "are the things that make men happy."

"I have fallen into the hands of thieves," says Jeremy Taylor; "what then? They have left me the sun and moon, fire and water, a loving wife and many friends to pity me, and some to relieve me, and I can still discourse; and, unless I list, they have not taken away my merry countenance and my cheerful spirit and a good conscience.... And he that hath so many causes of joy, and so great, is very much in love with sorrow and peevishness who loses all these pleasures, and chooses to sit down on his little handful of thorns."

"When a man has such things to think on, and sees the sun, the moon, and stars, and enjoys earth and sea, he is not solitary or even helpless." [18]

"Paradise indeed might," as Luther said, "apply to the whole world." What more is there we could ask for ourselves? "Every sort of beauty," says Mr. Greg, [19] "has been lavished on our allotted home; beauties to enrapture every sense, beauties to satisfy every taste; forms the noblest and the loveliest, colors the most gorgeous and the most delicate, odors the sweetest and subtlest, harmonies the most soothing and the most stirring: the sunny glories of the day; the pale Elysian grace of moonlight; the lake, the mountain, the primeval forest, and the boundless ocean; 'silent pinnacles of aged snow' in one hemisphere, the marvels of tropical luxuriance in another; the serenity of sunsets; the sublimity of storms; everything is bestowed in boundless profusion on the scene of our existence; we can conceive or desire nothing more exquisite or perfect than what is round us every hour; and our perceptions are so framed as to be consciously alive to all. The provision made for our sensuous enjoyment is in overflowing abundance; so is that for the other elements of our complex nature. Who that has revelled in the opening ecstasies of a young Imagination, or the rich marvels of the world of Thought, does not confess that the Intelligence has been dowered at least with as profuse a beneficence as the Senses? Who that has truly tasted and fathomed human Love in its dawning and crowning joys has not thanked God for a felicity which indeed 'passeth understanding.' If we had set our fancy to picture a Creator occupied solely in devising delight for children whom he loved, we could not conceive one single element of bliss which is not here."

[1] Seneca.

[2] Shelley.

[3] I quote from Whinfield's translation.

[4] Seneca.

[5] Herbert.

[6] Sir T. Browne.

[7] Bacon.

[8] Sir T. Browne.

[9] Bacon.

[10] Rousseau.

[11] Aubrey de Vere.

[12] Epictetus.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Shakespeare.

[15] Emerson.

[16] Seneca.

[17] Bacon.

[18] Epictetus.

[19] The Enigmas of Life.



"I am always content with that which happens; for I think that what God chooses is better than what I choose."


"O God, All conquering! this lower earth Would be for men the blest abode of mirth If they were strong in Thee As other things of this world well are seen; Oh then, far other than they yet have been, How happy would men be."

KING ALFRED'S ed. of Boethius's Consolations of Philosophy.

We ought not to picture Duty to ourselves, or to others, as a stern taskmistress. She is rather a kind and sympathetic mother, ever ready to shelter us from the cares and anxieties of this world, and to guide us in the paths of peace.

To shut oneself up from mankind is, in most cases, to lead a dull, as well as a selfish life. Our duty is to make ourselves useful, and thus life may be most interesting, and yet comparatively free from anxiety.

But how can we fill our lives with life, energy, and interest, and yet keep care outside?

Many great men have made shipwreck in the attempt. "Anthony sought for happiness in love; Brutus in glory; Caesar in dominion: the first found disgrace, the second disgust, the last ingratitude, and each destruction." [1] Riches, again, often bring danger, trouble, and temptation; they require care to keep, though they may give much happiness if wisely spent.

How then is this great object to be secured? What, says Marcus Aurelius, "What is that which is able to conduct a man? One thing and only one—philosophy. But this consists in keeping the daemon [2] within a man free from violence and unharmed, superior to pains and pleasures, doing nothing without a purpose, yet not falsely and with hypocrisy, not feeling the need of another man's doing or not doing anything; and besides, accepting all that happens, and all that is allotted, as coming from thence, wherever it is, from whence he himself came; and, finally, waiting for death with a cheerful mind, as being nothing else than a dissolution of the elements of which every living being is compounded." I confess I do not feel the force of these last few words, which indeed scarcely seem requisite for his argument. The thought of death, however, certainly influences the conduct of life less than might have been expected.

Bacon truly points out that "there is no passion in the mind of man so weak, but it mates and masters the fear of death.... Revenge triumphs over death, love slights it, honor aspireth to it, grief flieth to it."

"Think not I dread to see my spirit fly Through the dark gates of fell mortality; Death has no terrors when the life is true; 'Tis living ill that makes us fear to die." [3]

We need certainly have no such fear if we have done our best to make others happy; to promote "peace on earth and goodwill amongst men." Nothing, again, can do more to release us from the cares of this world, which consume so much of our time, and embitter so much of our life. When we have done our best, we should wait the result in peace; content, as Epictetus says, "with that which happens, for what God chooses is better than what I choose."

At any rate, if we have not effected all we wished, we shall have influenced ourselves. It may be true that one cannot do much. "You are not Hercules, and you are not able to purge away the wickedness of others; nor yet are you Theseus, able to drive away the evil things of Attica. But you may clear away your own. From yourself, from your own thoughts, cast away, instead of Procrustes and Sciron, [4] sadness, fear, desire, envy, malevolence, avarice, effeminacy, intemperance. But it is not possible to eject these things otherwise than by looking to God only, by fixing your affections on Him only, by being consecrated by his commands." [5]

People sometimes think how delightful it would be to be quite free. But a fish, as Ruskin says, is freer than a man, and as for a fly, it is "a black incarnation of freedom." A life of so-called pleasure and self-indulgence is not a life of real happiness or true freedom. Far from it, if we once begin to give way to ourselves, we fall under a most intolerable tyranny. Other temptations are in some respects like that of drink. At first, perhaps, it seems delightful, but there is bitterness at the bottom of the cup. Men drink to satisfy the desire created by previous indulgence. So it is in other things. Repetition soon becomes a craving, not a pleasure. Resistance grows more and more painful; yielding, which at first, perhaps, afforded some slight and temporary gratification, soon ceases to give pleasure, and even if for a time it procures relief, ere long becomes odious itself.

To resist is difficult, to give way is painful; until at length the wretched victim to himself, can only purchase, or thinks he can only purchase, temporary relief from intolerable craving and depression, at the expense of far greater suffering in the future.

On the other hand, self-control, however difficult at first, becomes step by step easier and more delightful. We possess mysteriously a sort of dual nature, and there are few truer triumphs, or more delightful sensations, than to obtain thorough command of oneself.

How much pleasanter it is to ride a spirited horse, even perhaps though requiring some strength and skill, than to creep along upon a jaded hack. In the one case you feel under you the free, responsive spring of a living and willing force; in the other you have to spur a dull and lifeless slave.

To rule oneself is in reality the greatest triumph. "He who is his own monarch," says Sir T. Browne, "contentedly sways the sceptre of himself, not envying the glory to crowned heads and Elohim of the earth;" for those are really highest who are nearest to heaven, and those are lowest who are farthest from it.

True greatness has little, if anything, to do with rank or power. "Eurystheus being what he was," says Epictetus, "was not really king of Argos nor of Mycenae, for he could not even rule himself; while Hercules purged lawlessness and introduced justice, though he was both naked and alone."

We are told that Cineas the philosopher once asked Pyrrhus what he would do when he had conquered Italy. "I will conquer Sicily." "And after Sicily?" "Then Africa." "And after you have conquered the world?" "I will take my ease and be merry." "Then," asked Cineas, "why can you not take your ease and be merry now?"

Moreover, as Sir Arthur Helps has wisely pointed out, "the enlarged view we have of the Universe must in some measure damp personal ambition. What is it to be king, sheikh, tetrarch, or emperor over a 'bit of a bit' of this little earth?" "All rising to great place," says Bacon, "is by a winding stair;" and "princes are like heavenly bodies, which have much veneration, but no rest."

Plato in the Republic mentions an old myth that after death every soul has to choose a lot in life for the existence in the next world; and he tells us that the wise Ulysses searched for a considerable time for the lot of a private man. He had some difficulty in finding it, as it was lying neglected in a corner, but when he had secured it he was delighted; the recollection of all he had gone through on earth, having disenchanted him of ambition.

Moreover, there is a great deal of drudgery in the lives of courts. Ceremonials may be important, but they take up much time and are terribly tedious.

A man then is his own best kingdom. "He that ruleth his speech," says Solomon, "is better than he that taketh a city." But self-control, this truest and greatest monarchy, rarely comes by inheritance. Every one of us must conquer himself; and we may do so, if we take conscience for our guide and general.

No one really fails who does his best. Seneca observes that "no one saith the three hundred Fabii were defeated, but that they were slain," and if you have done your best, you will, in the words of an old Norse ballad, have gained

"Success in thyself, which is best of all."

Being myself engaged in business, I was rather startled to find it laid down by no less an authority than Aristotle (almost as if it were a self-evident proposition) that commerce "is incompatible with that dignified life which it is our wish that our citizens should lead, and totally adverse to that generous elevation of mind with which it is our ambition to inspire them." I know not how far that may really have been the spirit and tendency of commerce among the ancient Greeks; but if so, I do not wonder that it was not more successful.

I may, indeed, quote Aristotle against himself, for he has elsewhere told us that "business should be chosen for the sake of leisure; and things necessary and useful for the sake of the beautiful in conduct."

It is not true that the ordinary duties of life in a country like ours—commerce, manufactures, agriculture,—the pursuits to which the vast majority are and must be devoted—are incompatible with the dignity or nobility of life. Whether a life is noble or ignoble depends, not on the calling which is adopted, but on the spirit in which it is followed. The humblest life may be noble, while that of the most powerful monarch or the greatest genius may be contemptible. Commerce, indeed, is not only compatible, but I would almost go further and say that it will be most successful, if carried on in happy union with noble aims and generous aspirations. What Ruskin says of art is, with due modification, true of life generally. It does not matter whether a man "paint the petal of a rose or the chasms of a precipice, so that love and admiration attend on him as he labors, and wait for ever on his work. It does not matter whether he toil for months on a few inches of his canvas, or cover a palace front with color in a day; so only that it be with a solemn purpose, that he have filled his heart with patience, or urged his hand to haste."

It is true that in a subsequent volume he refers to this passage, and adds, "But though all is good for study, and all is beautiful, some is better than the rest for the help and pleasure of others; and this it is our duty always to choose if we have opportunity," adding, however, "being quite happy with what is within our reach if we have not."

We read of and admire the heroes of old, but every one of us has to fight his own Marathon and Thermopylae; every one meets the Sphinx sitting by the road he has to pass; to each of us, as to Hercules, is offered the choice of Vice or Virtue; we may, like Paris, give the apple of life to Venus, or Juno, or Minerva.

There are many who seem to think that we have fallen on an age in the world when life is especially difficult and anxious, when there is less leisure than of yore, and the struggle for existence is keener than ever.

On the other hand, we must remember how much we have gained in security? It may be an age of hard work, but when this is not carried to an extreme, it is by no means an evil. If we have less leisure, one reason is because life is so full of interest. Cheerfulness is the daughter of employment, and on the whole I believe there never was a time when modest merit and patient industry were more sure of reward.

We must not, indeed, be discouraged if success be slow in coming, nor puffed up if it comes quickly. We often complain of the nature of things when the fault is all in ourselves. Seneca, in one of his letters, mentions that his wife's maid, Harpaste, had nearly lost her eyesight, but "she knoweth not she is blind, she saith the house is dark. This that seemeth ridiculous unto us in her, happeneth unto us all. No man understandeth that he is covetous, or avaricious. He saith, I am not ambitious, but no man can otherwise live in Rome; I am not sumptuous, but the city requireth great expense."

Newman, in perhaps the most beautiful of his hymns, "Lead, kindly light," says:

"Keep thou my feet, I do not ask to see The distant scene; one step enough for me."

But we must be sure that we are really following some trustworthy guide, and not out of mere laziness allowing ourselves to drift. We have a guide within us which will generally lead us straight enough.

Religion, no doubt, is full of difficulties, but if we are often puzzled what to think, we need seldom be in doubt what to do.

"To say well is good, but to do well is better; Do well is the spirit, and say well the letter; If do well and say well were fitted in one frame, All were won, all were done, and got were all the gain."

Cleanthes, who appears to have well merited the statue erected to him at Assos, says:

"Lead me, O Zeus, and thou, O Destiny. The way that I am bid by you to go: To follow I am ready. If I choose not, I make myself a wretch;—and still must follow."

If we are ever in doubt what to do, it is a good rule to ask ourselves what we shall wish on the morrow that we had done.

Moreover, the result in the long run will depend not so much on some single resolution, or on our action in a special case, but rather on the preparation of daily life. Battles are often won before they are fought. To control our passions we must govern our habits, and keep watch over ourselves in the small details of everyday life.

The importance of small things has been pointed out by philosophers over and over again from AEsop downward. "Great without small makes a bad wall," says a quaint Greek proverb, which seems to go back to cyclopean times. In an old Hindoo story Ammi says to his son, "Bring me a fruit of that tree and break it open. What is there?" The son said, "Some small seeds." "Break one of them and what do you see?" "Nothing, my lord," "My child," said Ammi, "where you see nothing there dwells a mighty tree." It may almost be questioned whether anything can be truly called small.

"There is no great and no small To the soul that maketh all; And where it cometh all things are, And it cometh everywhere." [6]

We should therefore watch ourselves in small things. If "you wish not to be of an angry temper, do not feed the habit: throw nothing on it which will increase it: at first keep quiet, and count the days on which you have not been angry. I used to be in passion every day; now every second day; then every third; then every fourth. But if you have intermitted thirty days, make a sacrifice to God. For the habit at first begins to be weakened, and then is completely destroyed. When you can say, 'I have not been vexed to-day, nor the day before, nor yet on any succeeding day during two or three months; but I took care when some exciting things happened,' be assured that you are in a good way." [7]

Emerson closes his Conduct of Life with a striking allegory. The young Mortal enters the Hall of the Firmament. The Gods are sitting there, and he is alone with them. They pour on him gifts and blessings, and beckon him to their thrones. But between him and them suddenly appear snow-storms of illusions. He imagines himself in a vast crowd, whose behests he fancies he must obey. The mad crowd drives hither and thither, and sways this way and that. What is he that he should resist? He lets himself be carried about. How can he think or act for himself? But the clouds lift, and there are the Gods still sitting on their thrones; they alone with him alone.

"The great man," he elsewhere says, "is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the serenity of solitude."

We may all, if we will, secure peace of mind for ourselves.

"Men seek retreats," says Marcus Aurelius, "houses in the country, seashores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men; for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose, to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire, than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquillity."

Happy indeed is he who has such a sanctuary in his own soul. "He who is virtuous is wise; and he who is wise is good; and he who is good is happy." [8]

But we cannot expect to be happy if we do not lead pure and useful lives. To be good company for ourselves we must store our minds well; fill them with pure and peaceful thoughts; with pleasant memories of the past, and reasonable hopes for the future. We must, as far as may be, protect ourselves from self-reproach, from care, and from anxiety. We shall make our lives pure and peaceful, by resisting evil, by placing restraint upon our appetites, and perhaps even more by strengthening and developing our tendencies to good. We must be careful, then, on what we allow our minds to dwell. The soul is dyed by its thoughts; we cannot keep our minds pure if we allow them to be sullied by detailed accounts of crime and sin. Peace of mind, as Ruskin beautifully observes, "must come in its own time, as the waters settle themselves into clearness as well as quietness; you can no more filter your mind into purity than you can compress it into calmness; you must keep it pure if you would have it pure, and throw no stones into it if you would have it quiet."

The penalty of injustice, said Socrates, is not death or stripes, but the fatal necessity of becoming more and more unjust. Few men have led a wiser or more virtuous life than Socrates himself, of whom Xenophon gives us the following description:—"To me, being such as I have described him, so pious that he did nothing without the sanction of the gods; so just, that he wronged no man even in the most trifling affair, but was of service in the most important matters to those who enjoyed his society; so temperate that he never preferred pleasure to virtue; so wise, that he never erred in distinguishing better from worse; needing no counsel from others, but being sufficient in himself to discriminate between them; so able to explain and settle such questions by argument; and so capable of discerning the character of others, of confuting those who were in error, and of exhorting them to virtue and honor, he seemed to be such as the best and happiest of men would be. But if any one disapproves of my opinion let him compare the conduct of others with that of Socrates, and determine accordingly."

Marcus Aurelius again has drawn for us a most instructive lesson in his character of Antoninus:—"Remember his constancy in every act which was conformable to reason, his evenness in all things, his piety, the serenity of his countenance, his sweetness, his disregard of empty fame, and his efforts to understand things; how he would never let anything pass without having first carefully examined it and clearly understood it; how he bore with those who blamed him unjustly without blaming them in return; how he did nothing in a hurry; how he listened not to calumnies, and how exact an examiner of manners and actions he was; not given to reproach people, nor timid, nor suspicious, nor a sophist; with how little he was satisfied, such as lodging, bed, dress, food, servants; how laborious and patient; how sparing he was in his diet; his firmness and uniformity in his friendships; how he tolerated freedom of speech in those who opposed his opinions; the pleasure that he had when any man showed him anything better, and how pious he was without superstition. Imitate all this that thou mayest have as good a conscience, when thy last hour comes, as he had."

Such peace of mind is indeed an inestimable boon, a rich reward of duty fulfilled. Well then does Epictetus ask, "Is there no reward? Do you seek a reward greater than that of doing what is good and just? At Olympia you wish for nothing more, but it seems to you enough to be crowned at the games. Does it then seem to you so small and worthless a thing to be good and happy?"

In Bernard of Morlaix's beautiful lines—

"Pax erit illa fidelibus, illa beata, Irrevocabilis, Invariabilis, Intemerata. Pax sine crimine, pax sine turbine, pax sine rixa, Meta Laboribus, inque tumultibus anchora fixa; Pax erit omnibus unica. Sed quibus? Immaculatis Pectore mitibus, ordine stantibus, ore sacratis."

What greater reward can we have than this; than the "peace which passeth all understanding," "which cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof." [9]

[1] Colton, Lacon, or Many Things in Few Words.

[2] i.e. spirit.

[3] Omar Khayyam.

[4] Two robbers destroyed by Theseus.

[5] Epictetus.

[6] Emerson.

[7] Epictetus.

[8] King Alfred's Boethius.

[9] Job.



"Oh for a booke and a shadie nooke, Eyther in doore or out; With the grene leaves whispering overhead Or the streete cryes all about. Where I maie reade all at my ease, Both of the newe and old; For a jollie goode booke whereon to looke, Is better to me than golde."


Of all the privileges we enjoy in this nineteenth century there is none, perhaps, for which we ought to be more thankful than for the easier access to books.

The debt we owe to books was well expressed by Richard de Bury, Bishop of Durham, author of Philobiblon, written as long ago as 1344, published in 1473, and the earliest English treatise on the delights of literature:—"These," he says, "are the masters who instruct us without rods and ferules, without hard words and anger, without clothes or money. If you approach them, they are not asleep; if investigating you interrogate them, they conceal nothing; if you mistake them, they never grumble; if you are ignorant, they cannot laugh at you. The library, therefore, of wisdom is more precious than all riches, and nothing that can be wished for is worthy to be compared with it. Whosoever therefore acknowledges himself to be a zealous follower of truth, of happiness, of wisdom, of science, or even of the faith, must of necessity make himself a lover of books." But if the debt were great then, how much more now.

This feeling that books are real friends is constantly present to all who love reading. "I have friends," said Petrarch, "whose society is extremely agreeable to me; they are of all ages, and of every country. They have distinguished themselves both in the cabinet and in the field, and obtained high honors for their knowledge of the sciences. It is easy to gain access to them, for they are always at my service, and I admit them to my company, and dismiss them from it, whenever I please. They are never troublesome, but immediately answer every question I ask them. Some relate to me the events of past ages, while others reveal to me the secrets of Nature. Some teach me how to live, and others how to die. Some, by their vivacity, drive away my cares and exhilarate my spirits; while others give fortitude to my mind, and teach me the important lesson how to restrain my desires, and to depend wholly on myself. They open to me, in short, the various avenues of all the arts and sciences, and upon their information I may safely rely in all emergencies. In return for all their services, they only ask me to accommodate them with a convenient chamber in some corner of my humble habitation, where they may repose in peace; for these friends are more delighted by the tranquillity of retirement than with the tumults of society."

"He that loveth a book," says Isaac Barrow, "will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counsellor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter. By study, by reading, by thinking, one may innocently divert and pleasantly entertain himself, as in all weathers, so in all fortunes."

Southey took a rather more melancholy view:

"My days among the dead are pass'd, Around me I behold, Where'er these casual eyes are cast, The mighty minds of old. My never-failing friends are they, With whom I converse day by day."

Imagine, in the words of Aikin, "that we had it in our power to call up the shades of the greatest and wisest men that ever existed, and oblige them to converse with us on the most interesting topics—what an inestimable privilege should we think it!—how superior to all common enjoyments! But in a well-furnished library we, in fact, possess this power. We can question Xenophon and Caesar on their campaigns, make Demosthenes and Cicero plead before us, join in the audiences of Socrates and Plato, and receive demonstrations from Euclid and Newton. In books we have the choicest thoughts of the ablest men in their best dress."

"Books," says Jeremy Collier, "are a guide in youth and an entertainment for age. They support us under solitude, and keep us from being a burthen to ourselves. They help us to forget the crossness of men and things; compose our cares and our passions; and lay our disappointments asleep. When we are weary of the living, we may repair to the dead, who have nothing of peevishness, pride, or design in their conversation."

Sir John Herschel tells an amusing anecdote illustrating the pleasure derived from a book, not assuredly of the first order. In a certain village the blacksmith having got hold of Richardson's novel, Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, used to sit on his anvil in the long summer evenings and read it aloud to a large and attentive audience. It is by no means a short book, but they fairly listened to it all. At length, when the happy turn of fortune arrived, which brings the hero and heroine together, and sets them living long and happily together according to the most approved rules, the congregation were so delighted as to raise a great shout, and procuring the church keys, actually set the parish bells a-ringing.

"The lover of reading," says Leigh Hunt, "will derive agreeable terror from Sir Bertram and the Haunted Chamber; will assent with, delighted reason to every sentence in Mrs. Barbauld's Essay; will feel himself wandering into solitudes with Gray; shake honest hands with Sir Roger de Coverley; be ready to embrace Parson Adams, and to chuck Pounce out of the window instead of the hat; will travel with Marco Polo and Mungo Park; stay at home with Thomson; retire with Cowley; be industrious with Hutton; sympathizing with Gay and Mrs. Inchbald; laughing with (and at) Buncle; melancholy, and forlorn, and self-restored with the shipwrecked mariner of De Foe."

Carlyle has wisely said that a collection of books is a real university.

The importance of books has been appreciated in many quarters where we might least expect it. Among the hardy Norsemen runes were supposed to be endowed with miraculous power. There is an Arabic proverb, that "a wise man's day is worth a fool's life," and another—though it reflects perhaps rather the spirit of the Califs than of the Sultans,—that "the ink of science is more precious than the blood of the martyrs."

Confucius is said to have described himself as a man who "in his eager pursuit of knowledge forgot his food, who in the joy of its attainment forgot his sorrows, and did not even perceive that old age was coming on."

Yet, if this could be said by the Arabs and the Chinese, what language can be strong enough to express the gratitude we ought to feel for the advantages we enjoy! We do not appreciate, I think, our good fortune in belonging to the nineteenth century. Sometimes, indeed, one may even be inclined to wish that one had not lived quite so soon, and to long for a glimpse of the books, even the school-books, of one hundred years hence. A hundred years ago not only were books extremely expensive and cumbrous, but many of the most delightful were still uncreated—such as the works of Scott, Thackeray, Dickens, Bulwer Lytton, and Trollope, not to mention living authors. How much more interesting science has become especially, if I were to mention only one name, through the genius of Darwin! Renan has characterized this as a most amusing century; I should rather have described it as most interesting: presenting us as it does with an endless vista of absorbing problems; with infinite opportunities; with more interest and less danger than surrounded our less fortunate ancestors.

Cicero described a room without books, as a body without a soul. But it is by no means necessary to be a philosopher to love reading.

Reading, indeed, is by no means necessarily study. Far from it. "I put," says Mr. Frederic Harrison, in his excellent article on the "Choice of Books," "I put the poetic and emotional side of literature as the most needed for daily use."

In the prologue to the Legende of Goode Women, Chaucer says:

"And as for me, though that I konne but lyte, On bokes for to rede I me delyte, And to him give I feyth and ful credence, And in myn herte have him in reverence, So hertely, that ther is game noon, That fro my bokes maketh me to goon, But yt be seldome on the holy day, Save, certynly, when that the monthe of May Is comen, and that I here the foules synge, And that the floures gynnen for to sprynge, Farwel my boke and my devocion."

But I doubt whether, if he had enjoyed our advantages, he could have been so certain of tearing himself away, even in the month of May.

Macaulay, who had all that wealth and fame, rank and talents could give, yet, we are told, derived his greatest happiness from books. Sir G. Trevelyan, in his charming biography, says that—"of the feelings which Macaulay entertained toward the great minds of bygone ages it is not for any one except himself to speak. He has told us how his debt to them was incalculable; how they guided him to truth; how they filled his mind with noble and graceful images; how they stood by him in all vicissitudes— comforters in sorrow, nurses in sickness, companions in solitude, the old friends who are never seen with new faces; who are the same in wealth and in poverty, in glory and in obscurity. Great as were the honors and possessions which Macaulay acquired by his pen, all who knew him were well aware that the titles and rewards which he gained by his own works were as nothing in the balance compared with the pleasure he derived from the works of others."

There was no society in London so agreeable that Macaulay would have preferred it at breakfast or at dinner "to the company of Sterne or Fielding, Horace Walpole or Boswell." The love of reading which Gibbon declared he would not exchange for all the treasures of India was, in fact, with Macaulay "a main element of happiness in one of the happiest lives that it has ever fallen to the lot of the biographer to record."

"History," says Fuller, "maketh a young man to be old without either wrinkles or gray hair, privileging him with the experience of age without either the infirmities or the inconveniences thereof."

So delightful indeed are books that we must be careful not to forget other duties for them; in cultivating the mind we must not neglect the body.

To the lover of literature or science, exercise often presents itself as an irksome duty, and many a one has felt like "the fair pupil of Ascham (Lady Jane Gray), who, while the horns were sounding and dogs in full cry, sat in the lonely oriel, with eyes riveted to that immortal page which tells how meekly and bravely (Socrates) the first martyr of intellectual liberty took the cup from his weeping jailer." [1]

Still, as the late Lord Derby justly observed, [2] those who do not find time for exercise will have to find time for illness.

Books, again, are now so cheap as to be within the reach of almost every one. This was not always so. It is quite a recent blessing. Mr. Ireland, to whose charming little Book Lover's Enchiridion, in common with every lover of reading. I am greatly indebted, tells us that when a boy he was so delighted with White's Natural History of Selborne, that in order to possess a copy of his own he actually copied out the whole work.

Mary Lamb gives a pathetic description of a studious boy lingering at a bookstall:

"I saw a boy with eager eye Open a book upon a stall, And read, as he'd devour it all; Which, when the stall man did espy, Soon to the boy I heard him call, 'You, sir, you never buy a book, Therefore in one you shall not look.' The boy passed slowly on, and with a sigh He wished he never had been taught to read, Then of the old churl's books he should have had no need."

Such snatches of literature have indeed, special and peculiar charm. This is, I believe, partly due to the very fact of their being brief. Many readers miss much of the pleasure of reading by forcing themselves to dwell too long continuously on one subject. In a long railway journey, for instance, many persons take only a single book. The consequence is that, unless it is a story, after half an hour or an hour they are quite tired of it. Whereas, if they had two, or still better three books, on different subjects, and one of them of an amusing character, they would probably find that, by changing as soon as they felt at all weary, they would come back again and again to each with renewed zest, and hour after hour would pass pleasantly away. Every one, of course, must judge for himself, but such at least is my experience.

I quite agree, therefore, with Lord Iddesleigh as to the charm of desultory reading, but the wider the field the more important that we should benefit by the very best books in each class. Not that we need confine ourselves to them, but that we should commence with them, and they will certainly lead us on to others. There are of course some books which we must read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. But these are exceptions. As regards by far the larger number, it is probably better to read them quickly, dwelling only on the best and most important passages. In this way, no doubt, we shall lose much, but we gain more by ranging over a wider field. We may, in fact, I think, apply to reading Lord Brougham's wise dictum as regards education, and say that it is well to read everything of something, and something of everything. In this way only we can ascertain the bent of our own tastes, for it is a general, though not of course an invariable, rule, that we profit little by books which we do not enjoy.

Every one, however, may suit himself. The variety is endless.

Not only does a library contain "infinite riches in a little room," [3] but we may sit at home and yet be in all quarters of the earth. We may travel round the world with Captain Cook or Darwin, with Kingsley or Ruskin, who will show us much more perhaps than ever we should see for ourselves. The world itself has no limits for us; Humboldt and Herschel will carry us far away to the mysterious nebulae, beyond the sun and even the stars: time has no more bounds than space; history stretches out behind us, and geology will carry us back for millions of years before the creation of man, even to the origin of the material Universe itself. Nor are we limited to one plane of thought. Aristotle and Plato will transport us into a sphere none the less delightful because we cannot appreciate it without some training.

Comfort and consolation, refreshment and happiness, may indeed be found in his library by any one "who shall bring the golden key that unlocks its silent door." [4] A library is true fairyland, a very palace of delight, a haven of repose from the storms and troubles of the world. Rich and poor can enjoy it equally, for here, at least, wealth gives no advantage. We may make a library, if we do but rightly use it, a true paradise on earth, a garden of Eden without its one drawback; for all is open to us, including, and especially, the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, for which we are told that our first mother sacrificed all the Pleasures of Paradise. Here we may read the most important histories, the most exciting volumes of travels and adventures, the most interesting stories, the most beautiful poems; we may meet the most eminent statesmen, poets, and philosophers, benefit by the ideas of the greatest thinkers, and enjoy the grandest creations of human genius.

[1] Macaulay.

[2] Address, Liverpool College, 1873.

[3] Marlowe.

[4] Matthews.



"All round the room my silent servants wait My friends in every season, bright and dim, Angels and Seraphim Come down and murmur to me, sweet and low, And spirits of the skies all come and go Early and Late."


And yet too often they wait in vain. One reason for this is, I think, that people are overwhelmed by the crowd of books offered to them.

In old days books were rare and dear. Now on the contrary, it may be said with greater truth than ever that

"Words are things, and a small drop of ink, Falling like dew upon a thought, produces That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think."

Our ancestors had a difficulty in procuring them. Our difficulty now is what to select. We must be careful what we read, and not, like the sailors of Ulysses, take bags of wind for sacks of treasure—not only lest we should even now fall into the error of the Greeks, and suppose that language and definitions can be instruments of investigation as well as of thought, but lest, as too often happens, we should waste time over trash. There are many books to which one may apply, in the sarcastic sense, the ambiguous remark said to have been made to an unfortunate author, "I will lose no time in reading your book."

There are, indeed, books and books, and there are books which, as Lamb said, are not books at all. It is wonderful how much innocent happiness we thoughtlessly throw away. An Eastern proverb says that calamities sent by heaven may be avoided, but from those we bring on ourselves there is no escape.

Many, I believe, are deterred from attempting what are called stiff books for fear they should not understand them; but there are few who need complain of the narrowness of their minds, if only they would do their best with them.

In reading, however, it is most important to select subjects in which one is interested. I remember years ago consulting Mr. Darwin as to the selection of a course of study. He asked me what interested me most, and advised me to choose that subject. This, indeed, applies to the work of life generally.

I am sometimes disposed to think that the readers of the next generation will be, not our lawyers and doctors, shopkeepers and manufacturers, but the laborers and mechanics. Does not this seem natural? The former work mainly with their head; when their daily duties are over the brain is often exhausted, and of their leisure time much must be devoted to air and exercise. The laborer and mechanic, on the contrary, besides working often for much shorter hours, have in their work-time taken sufficient bodily exercise, and could therefore give any leisure they might have to reading and study. They have not done so as yet, it is true; but this has been for obvious reasons. Now, however, in the first place, they receive an excellent education in elementary schools, and in the second have more easy access to the best books.

Ruskin has observed that he does not wonder at what men suffer, but he often wonders at what they lose. We suffer much, no doubt, from the faults of others, but we lose much more by our own ignorance.

"If," says Sir John Herschel, "I were to pray for a taste which should stand me in stead under every variety of circumstances, and be a source of happiness and cheerfulness to me through life, and a shield against its ills, however things might go amiss and the world frown upon me, it would be a taste for reading. I speak of it of course only as a worldly advantage, and not in the slightest degree as superseding or derogating from the higher office and surer and stronger panoply of religious principles—but as a taste, and instrument, and a mode of pleasurable gratification. Give a man this taste, and the means of gratifying it, and you can hardly fail of making a happy man, unless, indeed, you put into his hands a most perverse selection of books."

It is one thing to own a library; it is quite another to use it wisely. I have often been astonished how little care people devote to the selection of what they read. Books, we know, are almost innumerable; our hours for reading are, alas! very few. And yet many people read almost by hazard. They will take any book they chance to find in a room at a friend's house; they will buy a novel at a railway-stall if it has an attractive title; indeed, I believe in some cases even the binding affects their choice. The selection is, no doubt, far from easy. I have often wished some one would recommend a list of a hundred good books. If we had such lists drawn up by a few good guides they would be most useful. I have indeed sometimes heard it said that in reading every one must choose for himself, but this reminds me of the recommendation not to go into the water till you can swim.

In the absence of such lists I have picked out the books most frequently mentioned with approval by those who have referred directly or indirectly to the pleasure of reading, and have ventured to include some which, though less frequently mentioned, are especial favorites of my own. Every one who looks at the list will wish to suggest other books, as indeed I should myself, but in that case the number would soon run up. [1]

I have abstained, for obvious reasons, from mentioning works by living authors, though from many of them—Tennyson, Ruskin, and others—I have myself derived the keenest enjoyment; and I have omitted works on science, with one or two exceptions, because the subject is so progressive.

I feel that the attempt is over bold, and I must beg for indulgence, while hoping for criticism; indeed one object which I have had in view is to stimulate others more competent far than I am to give us the advantage of their opinions.

Moreover, I must repeat that I suggest these works rather as those which, as far as I have seen, have been most frequently recommended, than as suggestions of my own, though I have slipped in a few of my own special favorites.

In any such selection much weight should, I think, be attached to the general verdict of mankind. There is a "struggle for existence" and a "survival of the fittest" among books, as well as among animals and plants. As Alonzo of Aragon said, "Age is a recommendation in four things—old wood to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old books to read." Still, this can not be accepted without important qualifications. The most recent books of history and science contain or ought to contain, the most accurate information and the most trustworthy conclusions. Moreover, while the books of other races and times have an interest from their very distance, it must be admitted that many will still more enjoy, and feel more at home with, those of our own century and people.

Yet the oldest books of the world are remarkable and interesting on account of their very age; and the works which have influenced the opinions, or charmed the leisure hours, of millions of men in distant times and far-away regions are well worth reading on that very account, even if to us they seem scarcely to deserve their reputation. It is true that to many, such works are accessible only in translations; but translations, though they can never perhaps do justice to the original, may yet be admirable in themselves. The Bible itself, which must stand first in the list, is a conclusive case.

At the head of all non-Christian moralists, I must place the Enchiridion of Epictetus, certainly one of the noblest books in the whole of literature; it has, moreover, been admirably translated. With Epictetus, [2] I think must come Marcus Aurelius. The Analects of Confucius will, I believe, prove disappointing to most English readers, but the effect it has produced on the most numerous race of men constitutes in itself a peculiar interest. The Ethics of Aristotle, perhaps, appear to some disadvantage from the very fact that they have so profoundly influenced our views of morality. The Koran, like the Analects of Confucius, will to most of us derive its principal interest from the effect it has exercised, and still exercises, on so many millions of our fellow-men. I doubt whether in any other respect it will seem to repay perusal, and to most persons probably certain extracts, not too numerous, would appear sufficient.

The writings of the Apostolic Fathers have been collected in one volume by Wake. It is but a small one, and though I must humbly confess that I was disappointed, they are perhaps all the more curious from the contrast they afford to those of the Apostles themselves. Of the later Fathers I have included only the Confessions of St. Augustine, which Dr. Pusey selected for the commencement of the Library of the Fathers, and which, as he observes, has "been translated again and again into almost every European language, and in all loved;" though Luther was of opinion that St. Augustine "wrote nothing to the purpose concerning faith." But then Luther was no great admirer of the Father. St. Jerome, he says, "writes, alas! very coldly;" Chrysostom "digresses from the chief points;" St. Jerome is "very poor;" and in fact, he says, "the more I read the books of the Fathers the more I find myself offended;" while Renan, in his interesting autobiography, compared theology to a Gothic Cathedral, "elle a la grandeur, les vides immenses, et le peu de solidite."

Among other devotional works most frequently recommended are Thomas a Kempis' Imitation of Christ, Pascal's Pensees, Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Butler's Analogy of Religion, Jeremy Taylor's Holy Living and Dying, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and last, not least, Keble's beautiful Christian Year.

Aristotle and Plato again stand at the head of another class. The Politics of Aristotle, and Plato's Dialogues, if not the whole, at any rate the Phaedo, the Apology, and the Republic, will be of course read by all who wish to know anything of the history of human thought, though I am heretical enough to doubt whether the latter repays the minute and laborious study often devoted to it.

Aristotle being the father, if not the creator, of the modern scientific method, it has followed naturally—indeed, almost inevitably—that his principles have become part of our very intellectual being, so that they seem now almost self-evident, while his actual observations, though very remarkable—as, for instance, when he observes that bees on one journey confine themselves to one kind of flower—still have been in many cases superseded by others, carried on under more favorable conditions. We must not be ungrateful to the great master, because his lessons have taught us how to advance.

Plato, on the other hand, I say so with all respect, seems to me in some cases to play on words: his arguments are very able, very philosophical, often very noble; but not always conclusive; in a language differently constructed they might sometimes tell in exactly the opposite sense. If this method has proved less fruitful, if in metaphysics we have made but little advance, that very fact in one point of view leaves the Dialogues of Socrates as instructive now as ever they were; while the problems with which they deal will always rouse our interest, as the calm and lofty spirit which inspires them must command our admiration. Of the Apology and the Phaedo especially it would be impossible to speak too gratefully.

I would also mention Demosthenes' De Corona, which Lord Brougham pronounced the greatest oration of the greatest of orators; Lucretius, Plutarch's Lives, Horace, and at least the De Officiis, De Amicitia, and De Senectute of Cicero.

The great epics of the world have always constituted one of the most popular branches of literature. Yet how few, comparatively, ever read Homer or Virgil after leaving school.

The Nibelungenlied, our great Anglo-Saxon epic, is perhaps too much neglected, no doubt on account of its painful character. Brunhild and Kriemhild, indeed, are far from perfect, but we meet with few such "live" women in Greek or Roman literature. Nor must I omit to mention Sir T. Malory's Morte d'Arthur, though I confess I do so mainly in deference to the judgment of others.

Among the Greek tragedians I include Aeschylus, if not all his works, at any rate Prometheus, perhaps the sublimest poem in Greek literature, and the Trilogy (Mr. Symonds in his Greek Poets speaks of the "unrivalled majesty" of the Agamemnon, and Mark Pattison considered it "the grandest work of creative genius in the whole range of literature"); or, as Sir M. E. Grant Duff recommends, the Persae; Sophocles (Oedipus Tyrannus), Euripides (Medea), and Aristophanes (The Knights and Clouds); unfortunately, as Schlegel says, probably even the greatest scholar does not understand half his jokes; and I think most modern readers will prefer our modern poets.

I should like, moreover, to say a word for Eastern poetry, such as portions of the Maha Bharata and Ramayana (too long probably to be read through, but of which Talboys Wheeler has given a most interesting epitome in the first two volumes of his History of India); the Shah-nameh, the work of the great Persian poet Firdusi; Kalidasa's Sakuntala, and the Sheking, the classical collection of ancient Chinese odes. Many I know, will think I ought to have included Omar Khayyam.

In history we are beginning to feel that the vices and vicissitudes of kings and queens, the dates of battles and wars, are far less important than the development of human thought, the progress of art, of science, and of law, and the subject is on that very account even more interesting than ever. I will, however, only mention, and that rather from a literary than a historical point of view, Herodotus, Xenophon (the Anabasis), Thucydides, and Tacitus (Germania); and of modern historians, Gibbon's Decline and Fall ("the splendid bridge from the old world to the new"), Hume's History of England, Carlyle's French Revolution, Grote's History of Greece, and Green's Short History of the English People.

Science is so rapidly progressive that, though to many minds it is the most fruitful and interesting subject of all, I cannot here rest on that agreement which, rather than my own opinion, I take as the basis of my list. I will therefore only mention Bacon's Novum Organum, Mill's Logic, and Darwin's Origin of Species; in Political Economy, which some of our rulers do not now sufficiently value, Mill, and parts of Smith's Wealth of Nations, for probably those who do not intend to make a special study of political economy would scarcely read the whole.

Among voyages and travels, perhaps those most frequently suggested are Cook's Voyages, Humboldt's Travels, and Darwin's Naturalist's Journal; though I confess I should like to have added many more.

Mr. Bright not long ago specially recommended the less known American poets, but he probably assumed that every one would have read Shakespeare, Milton (Paradise Lost, Lycidas, Comus and minor poems), Chaucer, Dante, Spencer, Dryden, Scott, Wordsworth, Pope, Byron, and others, before embarking on more doubtful adventures.

Among other books most frequently recommended are Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, The Arabian Nights, Don Quixote, Boswell's Life of Johnson, White's Natural History of Selborne, Burke's Select Works (Payne), the Essays of Bacon, Addison, Hume, Montaigne, Macaulay, and Emerson, Carlyle's Past and Present, Smiles' Self-Help, and Goethe's Faust and Autobiography.

Nor can one go wrong in recommending Berkeley's Human Knowledge, Descartes' Discours sur la Methode, Locke's Conduct of the Understanding, Lewes' History of Philosophy; while, in order to keep within the number one hundred, I can only mention Moliere and Sheridan among dramatists. Macaulay considered Marivaux's La Vie de Marianne the best novel in any language, but my number is so nearly complete that I must content myself with English: and will suggest Thackeray (Vanity Fair and Pendennis), Dickens (Pickwick and David Copperfield), G. Eliot (Adam Bede or The Mill on the Floss), Kingsley (Westward Ho!), Lytton (Last Days of Pompeii), and last, not least, those of Scott, which indeed constitute a library in themselves, but which I must ask, in return for my trouble, to be allowed, as a special favor, to count as one.

To any lover of books the very mention of these names brings back a crowd of delicious memories, grateful recollections of peaceful home hours, after the labors and anxieties of the day. How thankful we ought to be for these inestimable blessings, for this numberless host of friends who never weary, betray, or forsake us!


Works by Living Authors are omitted.

The Bible The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Epictetus Aristotle's Ethics Analects of Confucius St. Hilaire's "Le Bouddha et sa religion" Wake's Apostolic Fathers Thos. a Kempis' Imitation of Christ Confessions of St. Augustine (Dr. Pusey) The Koran (portions of) Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus Comte's Catechism of Positive Philosophy Pascal's Pensees Butler's Analogy of Religion Taylor's Holy Living and Dying Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress Keble's Christian Year

* * * * *

Plato's Dialogues; at any rate, the Apology, Crito, and Phaedo Xenophon's Memorabilia Aristotle's Politics Demosthenes' De Corona. Cicero's De Officiis, De Amicitia, and De Senectute Plutarch's Lives Berkeley's Human Knowledge Descartes' Discours sur la Methode Locke's On the Conduct of the Understanding

* * * * *

Homer Hesiod Virgil Maha Bharata Epitomized in Talboys Wheeler's Ramayana History of India, vols. i. and ii. The Shahnameh The Nibelungenlied Malory's Morte d'Arthur

* * * * *

The Sheking Kalidasa's Sakuntala or The Lost Ring Aeschylus' Prometheus Trilogy of Orestes Sophocles' OEdipus Euripides' Medea Aristophanes' The Knights and Clouds Horace

* * * * *

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (perhaps in Morris' edition; or, if expurgated, in C. Clarke's, or Mrs. Haweis') Shakespeare Milton's Paradise Lost, Lycidas, Comus, and the shorter poems Dante's Divina Commedia Spenser's Fairie Queen Dryden's Poems Scott's Poems Wordsworth (Mr. Arnold's selection) Pope's Essay on Criticism Essay on Man Rape of the Lock Burns Byron's Childe Harold Gray

* * * * *

Herodotus Xenophon's Anabasis and Memorabilia Thucydides Tacitus' Germania Livy Gibbon's Decline and Fall Hume's History of England Grote's History of Greece Carlyle's French Revolution Green's Short History of England Lewes' History of Philosophy

* * * * *

Arabian Nights Swift's Gulliver's Travels Defoe's Robinson Crusoe Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield Cervantes' Don Quixote Boswell's Life of Johnson Moliere Schiller's William Tell Sheridan's The Critic, School for Scandal, and The Rivals Carlyle's Past and Present

* * * * *

Bacon's Novum Organum Smith's Wealth of Nations (part of) Mill's Political Economy Cook's Voyages Humboldt's Travels White's Natural History of Selborne Darwin's Origin of Species Naturalist's Voyage Mill's Logic

* * * * *

Bacon's Essays Montaigne's Essays Hume's Essays Macaulay's Essays Addison's Essays Emerson's Essays Burke's Select Works Smiles' Self-Help

* * * * *

Voltaire's Zadig and Micromegas Goethe's Faust, and Autobiography Thackeray's Vanity Fair Pendennis Dickens' Pickwick David Copperfield Lytton's Last Days of Pompeii George Eliot's Adam Bede Kingsley's Westward Ho! Scott's Novels

[1] Several longer lists have been given; for instance, by Comte, Catechism, of Positive Philosophy; Pycroft, Course of English Reading; Baldwin, The Book Lover; Perkins, The Best Reading; and by Mr. Ireland, Books for General Readers.

[2] It is much to be desired that some one would publish a selection from the works of Seneca.



"They seem to take away the sun from the world who withdraw friendship from life; for we have received nothing better from the Immortal Gods, nothing more delightful."—CICERO.

Most of those who have written in praise of books have thought they could say nothing more conclusive than to compare them to friends.

"All men," said Socrates, "have their different objects of ambition—horses, dogs, money, honor, as the case may be; but for his own part he would rather have a good friend than all these put together." And again, men know "the number of their other possessions, although they might be very numerous, but of their friends, though but few, they were not only ignorant of the number, but even when they attempted to reckon it to such as asked them, they set aside again some that they had previously counted among their friends; so little did they allow their friends to occupy their thoughts. Yet in comparison with what possession, of all others, would not a good friend appear far more valuable?"

"As to the value of other things," says Cicero, "most men differ; concerning friendship all have the same opinion. What can be more foolish than, when men are possessed of great influence by their wealth, power, and resources, to procure other things which are bought by money—horses, slaves, rich apparel, costly vases—and not to procure friends, the most valuable and fairest furniture of life?" And yet, he continues, "every man can tell how many goats or sheep he possesses, but not how many friends." In the choice, moreover, of a dog or of a horse, we exercise the greatest care: we inquire into its pedigree, its training and character, and yet we too often leave the selection of our friends, which is of infinitely greater importance—by whom our whole life will be more or less influenced either for good or evil—almost to chance.

It is no doubt true, as the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table says, that all men are bores except when we want them. And Sir Thomas Browne quaintly observes that "unthinking heads who have not learnt to be alone, are a prison to themselves if they be not with others; whereas, on the contrary, those whose thoughts are in a fair and hurry within, are sometimes fain to retire into company to be out of the crowd of themselves." Still I do not quite understand Emerson's idea that "men descend to meet." In another place, indeed, he qualifies the statement, and says, "Almost all people descend to meet." Even so I should venture to question it, especially considering the context. "All association," he adds, "must be a compromise, and, what is worse, the very flower and aroma of the flower of each of the beautiful natures disappears as they approach each other." What a sad thought! Is it really so; need it be so? And if it were, would friends be any real advantage? I should have thought that the influence of friends was exactly the reverse: that the flower of a beautiful nature would expand, and the colors grow brighter, when stimulated by the warmth and sunshine of friendship.

It has been said that it is wise always to treat a friend, remembering that he may become an enemy, and an enemy, remembering that he may become a friend; and whatever may be thought of the first part of the adage, there is certainly much wisdom in the latter. Many people seem to take more pains and more pleasure in making enemies, than in making friends. Plutarch, indeed, quotes with approbation the advice of Pythagoras "not to shake hands with too many," but as long as friends are well chosen, it is true rather that

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