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a superior way, and offer to wager that he can name the author. You may safely accept his bet, for it is a hundred pounds to a penny that he will proclaim Laurence Sterne to have written it
-he may even quote the context. Granted that Sterne did write it, but Sterne was a widely-read man and a plagiarist of no mean ability. So you may ask the bookish man how he doth account for this saying occurring in that quaint collection of Outlandish Proverbs' entitled “Jacula Prudentum,' by Master George Herbert, compiled from ancient sources full a hundred years before the birth of the 'Sentimental Journey.'1
Sometimes in ancient literature one comes across an expression which is in the vocabulary of everybody to-day, and one realises how very ancient some of these popular aphorisms must be. * It is not alle golde that glareth,' wrote Chaucer, and the same theme was sung in Provençal by Amanieu des Escas near a hundred years before. But, like ‘A bird in the hand, it is so applicable to the failings to which mankind is prone, that its origin must surely have been far beyond even the classics of the old world, back in the dim ages of man's history. Common also to all nations must some at least of these primitive sayings be, for there is a primæval simplicity about them
1 Edition of 1651, 12mo, page 52. "To a close shorne sheep, God gives wind by measure. First printed in Witts Recreations, 1640.
that knows nothing of race or civilisation. 'A soft answer turns away wrath,''Pride goes before a fall,' 'Spare the rod and spoil the child,' are not all these and many others, collected by King Solomon from the wisdom of the East, as applicable to our everyday life in this age as they have ever been in the whole history of mankind ? 1 Enough of moralising however; or else, convinced of the futility of attempting to assign originality to any man, you will come to agree with the young lady of fifteen who, priding herself on the possession of a literary flair, once remarked to us : 'In fact there is little doubt that Junius never wrote the letters attributed to him at all!'
1 It is curious to note how some of these famous sayings have been wrongly assigned. A recently published Dictionary of Quotations, assigns Scipio's famous dictum, 'A man is never less alone than when he is alone,' to Swift-a slight error of some nineteen centuries. W. C. Hazlitt in his Book-Collector makes an even more delightful howler, tracing the well-known verse in Ecclesiastes (xii. 12): ‘Of making many books there is no end .. i'etc., 'back at least to the reign of Elizabeth' (sic), assigning it to a preacher at Paul's Cross in 1594.
'He that walketh with wise men shall be wise.'—
PROVERBS xiii. 20.
T is one of the tragedies of the book
collector's life that he is made aware continually of the deficiencies of his collection. Every book
seller's catalogue that he takes up reveals these lacunæ; and even after many years of diligent book-hunting, when he can look upon his library with no small pride and has come to regard it as being more or less complete (for his own purposes, that is), some intimate friend to whom he is displaying his treasures will ask to see some well-known book, and he will be obliged to confess that he does not possess a copy. The reason probably is either that he has collected books upon no definite system, or that he has lost sight of the many works which his library should contain, through having confined himself too rigidly to specialism.
Both practices are bad, though the former is infinitely the worse. To collect books indiscriminately tends to develop the dread bibliomania. To specialise in a particular class of books should be the object of every collector; but to adhere so rigidly to that one class of literature as to exclude from our library the great books of the world, is to deprive ourselves of all the advantages which a library can offer. “There are some books, as Homer, Virgil, Horace, Milton, Shakespeare, and Scott, which every man should read who has the opportunity; should read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. To neglect the opportunity of becoming familiar with them, is deliberately to sacrifice the position in the social scale which an ordinary education enables its possessor to reach.'1 What a number of famous names one can add, without which no library worthy the name can be complete! We are not all such sages as that great man Philip Melanchthon, whose library is said to have consisted of four authors only, namely, Plato, Pliny, Plutarch, and Ptolemy the geographer. But then, these are whole libraries in themselves.
Who, beside ourselves, shall decide what we shall read ? 'A man's reading, to be of any value,' wrote Professor Blackie, 'must depend upon his power of association ; and that again depends upon his tendencies, his capacities, his surroundings, and his opportunities. But there
1 J. H. Burton.
are some authors whom the world has decided are great, whom we cannot possibly afford to neglect in the course of our literary education. There can be no doubt as to our decision here ; and although it has been said truly that a lifetime will hardly suffice to know, as they ought to be known, these great masterpieces of man's genius,'' yet these great classics should form the nucleus of our library, and to them we may add the other famous and approved books of the world as opportunities occur.
It is not without diffidence that we venture to approach this important question as to what we should read. Perhaps there is nothing more irritating to the real book-lover than to be told, usually by some well-meaning person, that he or she should read this or that. In nine cases out of ten the book or author recommended is one that we can safely afford to neglect. It is one of the commonest of human failings to imagine that a book which pleases us must necessarily please all others too, and we recommend it blindly to the first friend we come across, regardless of age, disposition, intellectual capacity, opportunity, surroundings, or even sex. It never even occurs to us to consider these matters, these vital qualities upon which the whole question of like or dislike depends. *To every thing there is a season, and a time
* Mr. Frederic Harrison.