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The guide to reading online

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COPYRIGHT, 1917, 1922, BY


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Books for Study and Reading

By Lyman Abbott v 3

3 The Purpose of Reading

By John Macy 19

How TO Get the Best Out of Books
*l By Richard LeGallienne 37

3 The Guide to Daily Reading
'^^ By Asa Don Dickinson ^51

7^ General Index of Authors 135

General Index of Titles 169



Books for Study and Reading


Books for Study and Reading

There are three services which books may
render in the home: they may be ornaments, tools,
or friends.

I was told a few years ago the following story
which is worth retelling as an illustration of the
use of books as ornaments. A millionaire who
had one house in the city, one in the mountains,
and one in the South, wished to build a fourth
house on the seashore. A house ought to have a
library. Therefore this new house was to have
a library. When the house was finished he
found the library shelves had been made so
shallow that they v.-ould not take books of an
ordinary size. His architect proposed to change
the bookshelves. The millionaire did not wish
the change made, but told his architect to buy
fine bindings of classical books and glue them
into the shelves. The architect on making in-
quiries discovered that the bindings would cost
more than slightly shop-worn editions of the
books themselves. So the books were bought,
cut in two from top to bottom about in the mid-

4 The Pocket University

die, one half thrown away, and the other half sc
placed upon the shelves that the handsome
backs presented the same appearance they would
have presented if the entire book had been there.
Then the glass doors were locked, the key to
the glass doors lost, and sofas and chairs and
tables put against them. Thus the millionaire
has his library furnished with handsome bind-
ings and these I may add are quite adequate
for all the use which he wishes to make of

This is a rather extreme case of the use of
books as ornaments, but it illustrates in a bizarre
way what is a not uncommon use. There is
this to be said for that illiterate millionaire:
well-bound books are excellent ornaments. No
decoration with wall paper or fresco can make a
parlor as attractive as it can be made with low
bookshelves filled with works of standard au-
thors and leaving room above for statuary, or
pictures, or the inexpensive decoration of flowers
picked from one's own garden. I am inclined
to think that the most attractive parlor I have
ever visited is that of a bookish friend whose
R^alls are thus furnished with what not only
delights the eye, but silently invites the mind to
an inspiring companionship.

More important practically than their use as
ornaments is the use of books as tools. Every

The Pocket University 5

professional man needs his special tools — the
la\vyer his law books, the doctor his medical
books, the minister his theological treatises
and his Biblical helps. I can always tell when I
go into a clergyman's study by looking at his
books whether he is living in the Twentieth Cent-
ury or in the Eighteenth. Tools do not make the
man, but they make his work and so show what
the man is.

Every home ought to have some books that
are tools and the children should be taught how
to use them. There should be at least an atlas,
a dictionary, and an encyclopaedia. If in the
evening when the family talk about the war in
the Balkans the father gets out the atlas and the
children look to see where Roumania and Bul-
garia and Greece and Constantinople and the
Dardanelles are on the map, they will learn
more of real geography in half an hour than
they will learn in a week of school study con-
cerning countries in which they have no interest.
When there is reading aloud in the family circle,
if every unfamiliar word is looked up in a dic-
tionary, which should always lie easily accessible
upon the table, they will get unconsciously a
widening of their vocabulary and a knowledge
of the use of English which will be an invaluable
supplement to the work of their teacher of
English in the school. As to cyclopaedias they

6 The Pocket University

are of all sizes from the little six-volumed cy-
clopaedia in the Everyman's Library to the
twenty-nine volumed Encyclopaedia Britannica,
and from the general cyclopaedia with more or
less full information on every conceivable topic
to the more distinctive family cyclopaedia which
covers the life of the household. Where there
are children in the family the cyclopaedia which
covers the field they are most apt to be interested
in — such as "The Library of Work & Play" or
"The Guide Series" to biography, music, pic-
tures, etc. — is the best one to begin with.
After they have learned to go to it for information
which they want, they will desire a more general
cyclopaedia because their wants have increase]
and broadened.

So much for books as ornaments and as tools.
Certainly not less important, if comparisons
can be made I am inclined to say more im-
portant, is their usefulness as friends.

In Smith College this distinction is marked by
the College authorities in an interesting and
valuable manner. In the library building there
is a room for study. It is furnished with a num-
ber of plain oak or walnut tables and with chairs
which do not invite to repose. There are
librarians present to get from the stacks the
special books which the student needs. The room
is barren of ornament. Each student is hard at

The Pocket University 7

work examining, comparing, collating. She is
to be called on to-morrow in class to tell what
she has learned, or next week to hand in a thesis
the product of her study. All eyes are intent
upon the allotted task; no one looks up to see
you when you enter. In the same building is an-
other room which I will call The Lounge, though
I think it bears a different name. The books
are upon shelves around the wall and all are
within easy reach. Many of them are fine
editions. A wood fire is burning in the great
fireplace. The room is furnished with sofas and
easy chairs. No one is at work. No one is
talking. No! but they are listening — listening
to authors whose voices have long since been
silent in death.

In every home there ought to be books that
are friends. In every day, at least in every week,
there ought to be some time which can be spent
in cultivating their friendship. This is reading,
and reading is ver>^ different from study.

The student has been at work all the morning
with his tools. He has been studying a question
of Constitutional Law: What are the powers of
the President of the United States? He haa
examined the Constitution; then Willoughby or
Watson on the Constitution; then he turns to
The Federalist; then perhaps to the Constitu-
tional debates, or to the histories, such as Von

8 The Pocket University

Hoist's Constitutional History of the United
States, or to treatises, such as Bryce's American
Commonwealth. He compares the different
opinions, weighs them, deliberates, endeavors to
reach a decision. Wearied with his morning
pursuit of truth through a maze of conflicting
theories, he puts his tools by and goes to dinner.
In the evening he sits down in the same library
for an hour with his friends. He selects his
friend according to his mood. Macaulay carries
him back across the centuries and he lives for
an hour with The Puritans or with Dr. Samuel
Johnson. Carlyle carries him unharmed for an
hour through the exciting scenes of the French
Revolution; or he chuckles over the caustic
humor of Thackeray's semi-caricatures of Eng-
lish snobs. With Jonathan Swift as a guide he
travels with Gulliver into no-man's land and
visits Lilliput or Brobdingnag; or Oliver Gold-
smith enables him to forget the strenuous life of
America by taking him to "The Deserted Vil-
lage." He joins Charles Lamb's friends, listens
to the prose-poet's reveries on Dream-Children,
then closes his eyes and falls into a reverie of his
own childhood days; or he spends an hour with
Tennyson, charmed by his always musical but
not often virile verse, or with Browning, inspired
by his always virile but often rugged verse, or
with Milton or Dante, and forgets this world

The Pocket University 9

altogether, with its problems and perplexities,
convoyed to another realm by these spiritual
guides; or he turns to the autobiography of one
of the great men of the past, telling of his achieve-
ments, revealing his doubts and difficulties, his
self-conflicts and self-victories, and so inspiring
the reader to make his own life sublime. Or
one of the great scientists may interpret to him
the wonders of nature and thrill him with the
achievements of man in solving some of the rid-
dles of the universe and winning successive
mastery over its splendid forces.

It is true that no dead thing is equal to a living
person. The one afternoon I spent in John G.
Whittier's home, the one dinner I took with
Professor Tyndall in his London home, the one
half hour which Herbert Spencer gave to me at
his Club, mean more to me than any equal time
spent in reading the writings of either one of
them. These occasions of personal fellowship
abide in the memory as long as life lasts. This
I say with emphasis that what I say next may not
be misunderstood — that there is one respect in
which the book is the best of possible friends.
You do not need to decide beforehand what
friend you will invite to spend the evening with
you. When supper is over and you sit down by
the evening lamp for your hour of companion-
ship, you give your invitation according to your

lo The Pocket University

inclination at the time. And if you have made a
mistake, and the friend you have invited is not
the one you want to talk to, you can "shut him
up" and not hurt his feelings. Remarkable is
the friend who speaks only when you want to
listen and can keep silence when you want sil-
ence. Who is there who has not been sometimes
bored by a good friend who went on talking when
you wanted to reflect on what he had already
said.-" Who is there who has not had his patience
well nigh exhausted at times by a friend whose
enthusiasm for his theme appeared to be quite
inexhaustible? A book never bores you be-
cause you can always lay it down before it be-
comes a bore.

Most families can do with a few books that
are tools. In these days in which there is a
library in almost every village, the family that
has an atlas, a dictionary, and a cyclopaedia can
look to the public library for such other tools
as are necessary. And we can depend on the
library or the book club for books that are mere
acquaintances — the current book about cur-
rent events, the books that are read to-day and
forgotten to-morrow, leaving only a residuum in
our memory, the book that, once read, we never
expect to read again. In my own home this cur-
rent literature is either borrowed and returned
or, if purchased, as soon as it has been used is

The Pocket University il

passed along to neighbors or to the village libra-
ry. Its room is better than its company on my
over-crowded book shelves.

But books that are friends ought to abide in
the home. The very form of the book grows
familiar; a different edition, even a different
copy, does not quite serve the same friendly pur-
pose. If the reader is wise he talks to his friend
as well as listens to him and adds in pencil notes,
in the margin or on the back pages of the book,
his own reflections. I take up these books marked
with the indications of my conversation with my
friend and in these pencilled memoranda find an
added value. Sometimes the mark emphasizes
an agreement between my friend and me, some-
times it emphasizes a disagreement, and some-
times it indicates the progress in thought I have
made since last we met. A wisely marked book
is sometimes doubled in value by the mark-

Before I bring this essay to a close, already
lengthened beyond my predetermined limits, I
venture to add four rules which may be of value
at least to the casual reader.

For reading, select the book which suits
your inclination. In study it is wise to make
your will command your mind and go on with
your task however unattractive it may prove
to you. You may be a Hamiltonian, and Jef-

12 The Pocket University

ferson's views of the Constitution may repel
you, or even bore you. No matter. Go on.
Scholarship requires persistence in study of
matter that repels or even bores the student.
You may be a devout believer and Herbert
Spencer repellent. Nevertheless, if you are
studying you may need to master Herbert
Spencer. But if you are reading, read what
interests you. If Scott does not interest you and
Dickens does, drop Scott and read Dickens. You
need not be any one's enemy; but you need not
be a friend with everybody. This is as true of
books as of persons. For friendship some agree-
ment in temperament is quite essential.

Henry Ward Beecher's application of this
principle struck me as interesting and unique.
He did a great deal of his reading on the train in
his lecture tours. His invariable companion
was a black bag and the black bag always
contained some books. As I am writing from
recollection of a conversation with him some sixty
years ago my statement may lack in accuracy of
detail, but not, I think, in essential veracity.
He selected in the beginning of the year some
four departments of reading, such as Poetry,
History, Philosophy, Fiction, and in each de-
partment a specific course, such as Greek Poetry,
Macaulay's History, Spencer's Philosophy, Scott's
Novels. Then he read according to his mcod.

The Pocket University 13

but generally in the selected course: if poetry,
the Greek poets; if history, Macaulay; if philo-
sophy, Spencer; if fiction, Scott. This gave at
once liberty to his mood and unity to his reading.

One may read either for acquisition or for
inspiration. A gentleman who has acquired a
national reputation as a popular lecturer and
preacher, formed the habit, when in college, of
always subjecting himself to a recitation in
all his serious reading. After finishing a chapter
he would close the book and see how much of
what he had read he could recall. One conse-
quence is the development of a quite marvelous
memory, the results of which are seen in fre-
quent and felicitous references in his public
speaking to literature both ancient and mod-

He who reads for inspiration pursues a difFer-
•ent course. If as he reads, a thought expressed
^y his author starts a train of thought in his own
mind, he lays down his book and follows his
thought wherever it may lead him. He endeavors
to remember, not thethought which the author has
'ecorded, but the unrecorded thought which the
author has stimulated in his own mind. Reading
IS to him not an acquisition but a ferment. I
imagine from my acquaintance with Phillips
Brooks and with his writings that this was his

14 The Pocket University

I have a friend who says that he prefers to
select his authors for himself, not to have them
selected for iiim. But he has money with which
to buy the books he wants, a room in which to
put them, and the broad culture which enables
him to make a wise selection. Most of us lack
one at least of these qualifications : the money, the
space, or the knowledge. For most of us a library
for the home, selected as this Pocket Library has
been has three great advantages: the cost is not
prohibitive; the space can easily be made in oui
home for the books; and the selection is more
wisely made than any we could make for our-
selves. For myself I should be very glad to have
the editors of this series come into my library,
which is fairly large but sadly needs weeding out,
give me a literary appraisal of my books, and
tell me what volumes in their respective depart-
ments they think I could best dispense with to
make room for their betters, and what their
betters would be.

To these considerations in favor of such a
home librar>^ as this, may be added the fact that
the books are of such a size that one can easily
put a volume in his pocket when he is going on a
train or in a trolley car. For busy men and
women often the only time for reading is the
time which too many of us are apt to waste
in doing nothing.

The Pocket University 15

Perhaps the highest use of good books is their
use as friends. Such a wisely selected group of
friends as this librarj'^ furnishes is an invaluable
addition to any home which receives it and knows
how to make wise use of it. I am glad to have
the privilege of introducing it and hope that this
introduction may add to the number of homes in
which it will find a welcome.





Why do we read books is one of those
vast questions that need no answer. As well
ask, Why ought we to be good? or, Why do
we believe in a God? The whole universe of
wisdom answers. To attempt an answer in
a single article would be like turning a spyglass
for a moment toward the stars. We take the
great simple things for granted, like the air we
breathe. In a country that holds popular edu-
cation to be the foundation of all its liberties
and fortunes, we do not find many people who
need to be argued into the belief that the reading
of books is good for us; even people who do not
read much acknowledge vaguely that they ought
to read more.

There are, to be sure, men of rough worldly
wisdom, even endowed with spiritual insight,
who distrust "book learning" and fall back on
the obvious truth that experience of life is the
great teacher. Such persons are in a measure
justified in their conviction by the number of
unwise human beings who have read much bur
to no purpose.


20 The Purpose of Reading

The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read,
With loads of learned lumber in his head

is a living argument against mere reading. But
we can meet such argument by pointing out
that the blockhead who cannot learn from books
cannot learn much from life, either. That some-
times useful citizen whom it is fashionable to call
a Philistine, and who calls himself a "practical
man," often has under him a beginner fresh
from the schools, who is glib and confident in
repeating bookish theories, but is not yet skillful
in applying them. If the practical man is
thoughtless, he sniffs at theory and points to his
clumsy assistant as proof of the uselessness of
what is to be got from books. If he is wise, the
practical man realizes how much better oflf he
would be, how much farther his hard work and
experience might have carried him, if he had had
the advantage of bookish training.

Moreover, the hard-headed skeptic, self-madt
and self-secure, wh« will not traffic with the litera-
ture that touches his life work, is seldom so con-
fined to his own little shop that he will not, for
recreation, take holiday tours into the literature of
other men's lives and labors. The man who does
not like to read any books is, I am confident, seldom
found, and at the risk of slandering a patriot, I
will express the doubt whether he is a good citizen.

The Purpose of Reading 21

Honest he may be, but certainly not wise.
The human race for thousands of years has been
writing its experiences, telHng how it has met
our everlasting problems, how it has struggled
with darkness and rejoiced in light. What fools
we should be to try to live our lives without the
guidance and inspiration of the generations that
have gone before, without the joy, encourage-
ment, and sympathy that the best imaginations
of our generation are distilling into words. For
literature is simply life selected and condensed
into books. In a few hours we can follow all
that is recorded of the life of Jesus — the best
that He did in years of teaching and suffering
all ours for a day of reading, and the more
deeply ours for a lifetime of reading and medita-

If the expression of life in words is strong and
beautiful and true it outlives empires, like the
oldest books of the Old Testament. If it is
weak or trivial or untrue, it is forgotten like
most of the "stories" in yesterday's newspaper,
like most of the novels of last year. The ex-
pression of truth, the transmission of knowledge
and emotions between man and man from
generation to generation, these are the purposes of
literature. Not to read books is like being shut
up in a dungeon while life rushes by outside.

I happen to be writing in Christmas week, and

22 The Purpose of Reading

I have read for the tenth time "A Christmas
Carol," hy Dickens, that amazing allegory in
which the hard, bitter facts of life are involved in
a beautiful myth, that wizard's caldron in which
humor bubbles and from which rise phantom
figures of religion and poetry. Can any one
doubt that if this story were read by every
man, woman, and child in the world, Christmas
would be a happier time and the feelings of the
race elevated and strengthened? The story
has power enough to defeat armies, to make rev-
olutions in the faith of men, and turn the cold
markets of the world into festival scenes of char-
ity. If you know any mean person you may be
sure that he has not read "A Christmas Carol,"
or that he read it long ago and has forgotten it.
I know there are persons who pretend that the
sentimentality of Dickens destroys their interest
in him. I once took a course with an over-
refined, imperfectly educated professor of litera-
ture, who advised me that in time I should out-
grow my liking for Dickens. It was only his
way of recommending to me a kind of fiction
that I had not learned to like. In time I did
learn to like it, but I did not outgrow Dickens.
A person who can read "A Christmas Carol"
aloud to the end and keep his voice steady is, I
suspect, not a safe person to trust with one's
purse or one's honor.

The Purpose of Reading 23

It is not necessary to argue about the value of
literature or even to define it. One way of bring-
ing ourselves to realize vividly what literature can
do for us is to enter the libraries of great men and
see what books have done for the acknowledged
leaders of our race.

You will recall John Stuart Mill's experience in
reading Wordsworth. Mill was a man of letters
as well as a scientific economist and philosopher,
and we expect to find that men of letters have
been nourished on literature; reading must
necessarily have been a large part of their pro-
fessional preparation. The examples of men of
action who have been molded and inspired by
books will perhaps be more helpful to remember;
for most of us are not to be writers or to engage
in purely intellectual work; our ambitions point
to a thousand different careers in the world of

Lincoln was not primarily a man of letters, al-
though he wrote noble prose on occasion, and the
art of expression was important, perhaps indis-
pensable, in his political success. He read deeply
in the law and in books on public questions.
For general literature he had little time, either
during his early struggles or after his public
life began, and his autobiographical memor-
andum contains the significant words: "Educa-
tion defective." But these more significant

24 The Purpose of Reading

words are found in a letter which he wrote to
Hackett, the player: "Some of Shakespeare's
plays I have never read, while others I have gone
over perhaps as frequently as any unprofessional
reader. Among the latter are 'Lear,' 'Richard
III,' 'Henry VIII,' 'Hamlet,' and, especially,

If he had not read these masterpieces, no doubt
he would have become President just the same
and guided the country through its terrible
difficulties; but we may be fairly sure that the
high philosophy by which he lifted the political

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Online LibraryLyman AbbottThe guide to reading → online text (page 1 of 9)