The Royal Path of Life/Books
No man has a right to bring up his children without surrounding them with books. It is a wrong to his family. He cheats them. Children learn to read by being in the presence of books. The love of knowledge comes with reading, and grows upon it. And the love of knowledge in a young mind is almost a warrant against the inferior excitement of passions and vices.
A little library, growing larger every year, is an honorable part of a young man's history. It is a man's duty to have books. A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessaries of life. It is not like a dead city of stones, yearly crumbling, and needing repair; but like a spiritual tree. There it stands and yields its precious fruit from year to year and from age to age.
Carlyle saw the influence of books many years ago. "I say, of all the priesthoods, aristocracies—governing classes at present extant in the world—there is no class comparable for importance to the priesthood of the writers of books."
The art of writing, and of printing, which is a sequence to it, is really the most wonderful thing in the world. Books are the soul of actions, the only audible, articulate voice of the accomplished facts of the past. The men of antiquity are dead; their fleets and armies have disappeared; their cities are ruins; their temples are dust; yet all these exist in magic preservation in the books they have bequeathed us, and their manners and their deeds are as familiar to us as the events of yesterday. And these papers and books, the mass of printed matter which we call literature, are really the teacher, guide and law-giver of the world to-day.
The influence of books upon man is remarkable; they make the man. You can judge a man more truly by the books and papers which he reads than by the company which he keeps, for his associates are often, in a manner, imposed upon him; but his reading is the result of choice, and the man who chooses a certain class of books and papers unconsciously becomes more colored in their views, more rooted in their opinions, and the mind becomes fettered to their views.
All the life and feeling of a young girl fascinated by some glowing love romance, is colored and shaped by the pages she reads. If it be false, and weak, and foolish, she will be false, and weak, and foolish too: but if it be true, and tender, and inspiring, then something of its truth, and tenderness, and inspiration will grow into her soul and become a part of her very self. The boy who reads deeds of manliness, of bravery and noble daring, feels the spirit of emulation grow within him, and the seed is planted which will bring forth fruit of heroic endeavor and exalted life.
A good book is the most appropriate gift that friendship can make. It never changes, it never grows unfashionable or old. It is soured by no neglect, is jealous of no rival; but always its clean, clear pages are ready to amuse, interest, and instruct. The voice that speaks the thoughts may change or grow still forever, the heart that prompted the kindly and cheering word may grow cold and forgetful; but the page that mirrors it is changeless, faithful, immortal. The Book that records the incarnation of divine love, is God's best gift to man, and the books which are filled with kindly thought and generous sympathy, are the best gifts of friend to friend.
Every family ought to be well supplied with a choice supply of books for reading. This may be seen from the consequences of its neglect and abuse on the one hand, and from its value and importance on the other. Parents should furnish their children the necessary means, opportunities and direction of a Christian education. Give them proper books. "Without books," says the quaint Bartholin, "God is silent, justice dormant, science at a stand, philosophy lame, letters dumb, and all things involved in Cimmerian darkness." Bring them up to the habit of properly reading and studying these books. "A reading people will soon become a thinking people, and a thinking people must become a great people." Every book you furnish your child, and which it reads with reflection, is "like a cast of the weaver's shuttle, adding another thread to the indestructible web of existence." It will be worth more to him than all your hoarded gold and silver.
Dear reader, be independent and make up your mind what it is best for you to read, and read it. Master a few good books. Life is short and books are many. Instead of having your mind a garret crowded with rubbish, make it a parlor with rich furniture, beautifully arranged, in which you would not be ashamed to have the whole world enter. "Readers," says Addison, "who are in the flower of their youth should labor at those accomplishments which may set off their persons when their bloom is gone, and to lay in timely provisions for manhood and old age." Says Dr. Watts: "A line of the golden verses of the Pythagoreans recurring in the memory hath often tempted youth to frown on temptation to vice." No less worthy is the following: "There are many silver books, and a few golden books; but I have one book worth more than all, called the Bible, and that is a book of bank notes." The parent who lives for his children's souls will often consider what other books are most likely to prepare his little ones for prizing aright that Book of Books, and make that object the pole star of his endeavors.
Every book has a moral expression, though as in the human face, it may not be easy to say what it consists in. We may take up some exquisite poem or story, with no distinctly religious bearing, and feel that it is religious, because it strokes a chord so deep in human nature that we feel that it is only the divine nature, "God who encompasses," that can respond to what it calls forth. When we feel the inspiring influence of books, when we are lifted on the wings of ancient genius, we should jealously avoid the perversion of the gift. The children of this world have their research and accomplishment, and enough is done for pleasure and fame; but the Christian scholar will rebuke himself, unless he finds it in his heart to be more alive in devotion to heavenly things, at the very moment when he had breathed the aroma of poetry and eloquence. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books may also be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others, but that would be only in less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books; else distilled books are, like common distilled water, flashy things.
"Not to know what was before you were," as has truly been said, "is to be always a child." And it is equally true that he never becomes a complete man, who learned nothing of the former days, from reading. "Books," says a good writer, "are the crystalline founts, which hold in eternal ice the imperishable gems of the past."
Good books are invaluable as a moral guard to a young man. The culture of taste for such reading, keeps one quietly at home, and prevents a thirst for exciting recreations or debasing pleasure. It makes him scorn whatever is low, coarse, and vulgar. It prevents the weary and restless temper which drives so many to the saloon, if not the gambling table, to while away their leisure hours. Once form the habit of domestic reading, and you will at any time, prefer an interesting book, to frequenting the haunts of vice.
Chief among the educational influences of a household are its books. Therefore, good sir or madam, wherever you economize, do not cut off the supply of good literature. Have the best books, the best papers, and the best magazines, though you turn your old black silk once more, and make the old coat do duty another season. Nothing will compensate to your boys and girls for the absence of those quiet kindly teachers, who keep such order in their schools, and whose invaluable friendship never cools or suffers change. You may go on without pies and cake, or without butter on your bread, but, if you care for your family's best happiness and progress, you will not go with the best of books, such as Shakespeare and the best authors of the day.
In books we live continually in the decisive moments of history, and in the deepest experience of individual lives. The flowers which we cull painfully and at long intervals in our personal history, blossom in profusion here, and the air is full of a fragrance which touches our own life only in the infrequent springs. In our libraries we meet great men on a familiar footing, and are at ease with them. We come to know them better, perhaps than those who bear their names and sit at their tables. The reserve that makes so many fine natures difficult of access is entirely lost. No crudeness of manner, no poverty of speech or unfortunate personal peculiarity, mars the intercourse of author and reader. It is a relation in which the interchange of thought is undisturbed by outward conditions. We lose our narrow selves in the broader life that is opened to us. We forget the hindrances and limitations of our own work in the full comprehension of that stronger life that cannot be bound nor confined, but grows in all soils and climbs heavenward under every sky. It is the privilege of greatness to understand life in its height and depth. Hazlitt has told us of his first interview with Coleridge, and of the moonlight walk homeward, when the eloquent lips of the great conversationalist awoke the slumbering genius within him, and made the old familiar world strange and wonderful under a sky that seemed full of new stars. Such intercourse with gifted men is the privilege of few; but in the seclusion of the library there often grows up an acquaintance more thorough and inspiring. Books are rich, not only in thought and sentiment, but in character. Where shall we find in any capitals such majesty as "doth hedge about" the kings of Shakespeare, or such brave and accomplished gentlemen as adorn his courts and measure wit and courtesy with the fair and graceful women of his fancy?
The best society in the world is that which lives in books. No taint of vulgarity attaches to it, no petty strife for place and power disturbs its harmony, no falsehood stains its perfect truth; and those who move habitually in these associations find a strength which is the more controlling because molded by genius molded by genius into forms of grace and refinement.
There is a certain monotony in daily life, and those whose aims are high, but who lack the inherent strength to stand true to them amid adverse influences, gradually drop out of the ever-thinning ranks of the aspiring. They are conquered by routine, and disheartened by the discipline and labor that guard the prizes of life. Even to the strongest there are hours of weakness and weariness. To the weak, and to the strong in their times of weakness, books are inspiring friends and teachers. Against the feebleness of individual efforts they proclaim the victory of faith and patience, and out of one day's work they prophesy the fuller and richer life, that grows strong and deep through conflict, sets itself more and more in harmony with the noblest aims, and is at last crowned with honor and power.