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Dearly, however, though we may treasure the benefits and conveniences which these libraries of ancient foundation afford, for most of us there is another library that is nearer to our hearts ; that cosy chamber with which we are accustomed to associate warmth, comfort, soft chairs and footrests, a wide writing-table that we may pile high with books, with scribbling-paper, foolscap and marking-slips in plenty. In short, a room so far removed from earthly cares and noise, that the dim occasional sounds of the outside world serve but to accentuate our absolute possession of ease. Here we may labour undisturbed though surrounded by a thousand friends. Or, if the mood take us, we may abandon ourselves to idle meditation
"Where glowing embers through the room
Teach light to conterfeit a gloom,
and, lying back at our ease, may gaze contentedly upon the faithful companions of our crowded solitude, gathering inspiration from their silent sympathy.
Each to his taste. Whether we be student, book-hunter, librarian, or precentor, no earthly abode can be compared with that garden of our choice wherein we labour so contentedly. It may be a small room in our own house, it may be an ancient university or college library, but it is all
· Usually the precentor was also archivist and librarian,
one : it is a library, that haven of refuge from our worldly cares, where troubles are forgotten and sorrows lightened by the gently persuasive experience of the ise men that have gone before us.
But, mark you, it must be literally removed from cares and noise, for it is impossible to study at all deeply while exposed to interruption. How terribly most of us have suffered from this form of mental torture, for it is little else! What trains of lucid thought, what word-pictures have been destroyed by thoughtless breakings of the chain of sequence! 'I have never known persons who exposed themselves for years to constant interruption who did not muddle away their intellects by it at last,' wrote Miss Florence Nightingale. Hamerton, quoting her, is equally emphatic upon this point.
If,' he writes, “you are reading in the daytime in a house where there are women and children, or where people can fasten upon you for pottering details of business, you may be sure that you will not be able to get to the end of the passage without in some way or other being rudely awakened from your dream, and suddenly brought back into the common world. The loss intellectually is greater than any one who had not suffered from it could imagine. People think that an interruption is merely the unhooking of an electric chain, and that the current will flow, when
the chain is hooked on again, just as it did before. To the intellectual and imaginative student an interruption is not that; it is the destruction of a picture.'
Who has not suffered from the idle chatter, or even worse—the lowered voice, that often assails the ear when working in our larger public libraries ? Some innocent-looking individual will be reading quietly some paces away, so quietly and decorously in fact that one's heart goes out to him as a sømpathetic fellow-bookman. Then enters some one whom he knows. In a flash he becomes a fiend incarnate. A word or two of greeting spoken in an ordinary voice one would pardon ; but a long conversation is carried on in a monotonous forced undertone, terrible in its intensity. It is impossible to read so long as the conversation lasts, and murder surges in one's heart. Oh for the power to drop ten atlas folios in a pile upon their heads ! People do not realise the carrying power of a strained and lowered voice. Generally the volume of sound is the same as when speaking aloud, for the tone is merely lowered and the same amount of breath is used. But often more force is required to vibrate the slackened vocal chords, and the maddening sound reaches to every corner of the building
In the Reading Room of the British Museum one is constantly aware of this buzzing going on all over the room. Would that the rule enforced
at one of our older monasteries were applied : 'In the Chafynghowys al brethren schal speke latyn or els keep silence. This would indeed ensure quietness. The rule for nuns, however (who, presumably, were not so well acquainted with Latin) would be better still. They were not to speak at all.1
So, if it be possible, see to it that your library, study, sanctum, or whatever you may call that one room in the house which is sacred to the daughters of Mnemosyne, is really your own : that it be a close closet to which you (and you alone) may retire at all seasons, certain in the knowledge that by closing the door you may shut out effectually all earthly cares and interruptions. Whether you are engaged in research merely for the gratification of your desire to possess knowledge, or whether literary production be your aim, unless you may study undisturbed your labours will never bear their full fruit. Interrupted, your knowledge will be scanty, diverse, and generally inapplicable, your literary output sketchy, incoherent, and disconnected.
Perhaps it is this incubus of interruption that drives so many men to working late at night. Doubtless those whose habit it is to work at that season produce just as good work in those hours as at any other time; possibly better, for habit may have accustomed them to put forth their
1 In one monastery, however, they were allowed to speak passing soft. We know that 'passing soft!'
finest intellectual efforts at that time of day. But the mind that has been brought up to rise at seven and go to bed at ten, is undoubtedly at its best before noon. Night working is not a natural tendency, it is an acquired habit ; and though the expression 'burning the midnight oil' is taken to be synonymous with the acquisition of learning, yet in the long run it is but a poor economy of time, for the wisdom so acquired is often obtained at the cost of health and eyesight.
And what is freedom from interruption but another name for solitude? It may be temporary, it may be prolonged, it may be permanent, but for the intellectual man it is absolutely essential. No one would be so foolish as to deny that literary work of the highest rank can be, and has been frequently, accomplished amid the bustle and noise of cities; witness the works of those literary giants who have passed their lives as town. dwellers. Doubtless they obtained the necessary solitude by spiritual detachment. But on the other hand, for intense and prolonged meditation, for the communing with one's innermost soul on the immense principles of life and nature, for the production of such deep soul-searching work as we see in the compositions of à Kempis, Dante, Milton, and Wordsworth, absolute solitude for some seasons is essential. There must be complete freedom from the daily distractions caused by one's fellow-beings.