way the mind is very richly furnished in a very little time, but it is not furnished with implements which facilitate individual effort. These methods have been imitated by political publicists and by the people who attempt to popularise knowledge. Seeing these rules of the art of writing so widely adopted, people who reflect little have ended by believing that they were based on the nature of things themselves.
I am neither a professor, a populariser of knowledge, nor a candidate for party leadership. I am a self-taught man exhibiting to other people the notebooks which have served for my own instruction. That is why the rules of the art of writing have never interested me very much.
During twenty years I worked to deliver myself from what I retained of my education; I read books, not so much to learn as to efface from my memory the ideas which had been thrust upon it. It is only during the last fifteen years that I have really worked for the purpose of learning; but I have never found any one to teach me what I wanted to know. I have had to be my own master, and in a way to educate myself. I make notes in which I formulate my thoughts as they arise; I return three or four times to the same question, adding corrections which amplify the original, and sometimes even transform it from top to bottom; I only stop when I have exhausted the reserve of ideas stirred up by recent reading. This work is very difficult for me; that is why I like to take as my subject the discussion of a book by a good author: I can then arrange my thoughts more easily than when I am left to my own unaided efforts.
You will remember what Bergson has written about the impersonal, the socialised, the ready-made, all of which contains a lesson for students who need knowledge
- I recall here a phrase of Renan: "Reading, in order to be of any use, must be an exercise involving some effort" (Feuilles détachées, p. 231).