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’He that walketh with wise men shall be wise.’

IT is one of the tragedies of the book-collector’s life that he is made aware continually of the deficiencies of his collection. Every bookseller’s catalogue that he takes up reveals these lacunae; 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.’ 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 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 I 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 to every purpose under heaven’; and again, ’A wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment,’ wrote the Preacher of Judah. Yet mindful though we be of these ancient words of wisdom, how rarely do we apply them to our everyday reading! If we be in the mood for reading we pick up any book at random; if it please us at the moment, we continue to read it. If it be distasteful to us, we put it aside immediately. Possibly we recollect, next time that our eyes light upon a volume so discarded, that it was once displeasing, and we never take it up again. So, it may be urged, our mind exercises the power of selection for us: we can only absorb at any given time the class of literary food for which our mind then happens to be hungry.

But the truth is far otherwise. If we take up and read a book at random, in nine cases out of ten we continue to read it simply because it entails no mental effort. We do not have to think of what we are reading; our eyes gallop over sentence after sentence, and so long as the language is colloquial and the facts are bald, all is well, and we can go on and on. It is not only the body that, unchecked, is inclined to be slothful. Unless we have as complete a control over our minds as we have over our limbs, it is quite impossible that our reading shall benefit us to its full extent.

There is another point of view also. ’Every book that we take up without a purpose is an opportunity lost of taking up a book with a purpose.’ And this does not mean that we should always be reading ‘improving’ books, that we must never read for recreation alone; for, I repeat, ‘there is a time to every purpose under heaven.’ But it does insist most emphatically that there should be a rhyme and a reason for reading any book at any time. There is a time for work and a time for play in reading no less than in the daily cycle of our lives. As to what shall constitute recreative reading, that is a matter which every man must decide for himself. I will venture to prophesy, however, that, by judicious selection and thoughtful reading, there will come a time when he will consider the reading of the great books to constitute the finest mental recreation in the world.

To return, however, to the great writers, those giants of whom we have said that it behoves us all to know something at least. Must we read them all? Let us leave ‘must’ out of the question; for our lifetime, however long it may be, will be scarcely sufficient to know and appreciate to the full these great masters of human thought. Yet at least it can be our aim ever to feed our minds only upon food of the finest quality and of a permanent nutritive value. But alas! How terribly limited are our capacities both as regards time and opportunity! How narrow the bounds which confine our reading abilities! Though a list of the great writers contain all the constituents of an Epicurean feast, yet to most of us it resembles the menu of a Gargantuan banquet.

As to the classics of the old world, surely, it may be urged, in such an essentially practical age we can afford to neglect books so hopelessly out of date? Yet there can be no greater mistake than to imagine that the wisdom of the old world can ever be out of date, for it is the wisdom that has created the civilisation of the newer world. Countless generations of men may pass away and be utterly forgotten, but the principles of morality inherent in man’s nature will endure for ever. And it is these great principles of all that is good and noble in our nature that is brought out and developed insensibly by the study of the classics in our youth. Moreover they are books that have been accepted by all the nations of Europe as containing the bases of human thought. Something at least we should all know of these great writers common to all civilised nations.

To most of us, however, there is an insurmountable barrier surrounding them, the matter of language. The knowledge of Greek and Latin that we acquired at school has become painfully rusty. Is it worth while slogging away laboriously with grammar and dictionary at the expense of valuable time which might otherwise be devoted to the more modern classics in our own tongue? Candidly, it is not. If we have retained sufficient of our Greek and Latin to read it at sight with but an occasional reference to the dictionary well and good; but otherwise it is a painful waste of time. Hamerton recommends that we read the ancients with the help of literal translations beside the original, in which way, he says, we ’may attain a closer acquaintance with ancient literature than would be possible by translation alone.’ But to many, an English version must be the only door by which they may enter Attica and Rome.

After all, it is for each one of us to decide how widely our time and opportunities shall permit us to wander on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. ’The best time-savers are the love of soundness in all we learn to do, and a cheerful acceptance of inevitable limitations.’ Yet it is better to have wandered on the lowermost slopes of the mountain than never to have entered ancient Greece at all.

Who nowadays, outside the universities, reads these ancient classics? Where will you find a business man of thirty years of age whose delight in his leisure time is the reading of Horace or Homer? Here and there, perhaps, you may come across a man of classical education who still retains the love of ancient Greece and Rome, instilled into him in his youth, sufficiently to influence the course of his reading; but he is a rarity indeed. Among the many thousands of young men employed in business in the great cities, most of whom have learnt something at least of the classics in their youth, scarcely will you find one who will confess to having time for such literature. Yet all these thousands read many books each year, and can always find time to devour the latest popular novel.

It is chiefly a question of recreation versus education. Tired and jaded with the day’s business, the young man of to-day has little inclination to devote his leisure time to study. Light frothy literature removes his thoughts from worldly cares, and by a complete change of subject stimulates a mind that has been enervated by concentration for hours on one particular theme. No effort is required, and, more important still, it does not make one think.

For daily reading in the train or over meals, with this purpose always in view, so far so good. But what of the many hours of leisure in every man’s life, when no mental recreation is needed? What does the average man read then? It must be confessed that in nine cases out of ten his literature remains precisely the same. Doubtless the reason is simply because, having always been accustomed to reading the same kind of books, he knows no other sort. Mention Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, and he stares at you aghast. ‘Good gracious,’ he exclaims, ’I’m not going to read stuff like that; I should get the hump for a week; give me something cheerful.’ And he picks up ‘The Bauble,’ by Mrs. Risquet Trashe.

And he is quite right. To anyone whose literature has consisted for years of nothing but novels of the circulating library type, a sudden application to the great writers would indeed be depressing. Is it necessary, however, or indeed wise, that any man’s mental pabulum should consist entirely of novels? Nothing is further from my mind than to decry the taste for novel-reading; for, wisely employed, novels can become one of the joys of life. One can but agree with Miss Austen when she inveighs, in ‘Northanger Abbey,’ against those who belittle the productions of the novelist. But would she have been so emphatic had she lived to witness the printing-presses spouting forth that frothy flood which effervesces round the more serious writings of to-day? Would that every novel we take up had the delightful ‘genius, wit, and taste’ of Jane Austen to recommend it. How few and far between are the really good novels that we read!

There can be no finer recreation for a tired mind than a good novel. There is, however, one habit of reading which has become almost a social evil; and that is the habit of reading newspapers which many indulge in, morning, noon, and night. It is difficult to imagine anything more calculated to destroy consecutive and considered thought than the enormous variety of inconsequential topics that assails one every time one opens a newspaper. The mind becomes completely fuddled with the heterogeneous patchwork of entirely useless information. The only method I have discovered by which one can acquire the important news and yet retain the serenity of one’s mind is that of having such news only as she knows will be of use read out by one’s wife at breakfast. And this does not mean that the mental discomforts of the newspaper are relegated to one’s better-half, for women are usually interested in the smaller details of everyday life.

No wonder that a large number of ‘city men’ live out their lives without ever opening a book that is worth reading meditatively; for newspaper-reading in course of time must completely undermine one’s mental stability. After a few years, a book that is not composed of headlines, short chapters, small paragraphs and ejaculatory sentences, is unreadable without mental effort. So that long before he is middle-aged the city man has acquired the habit of ‘glancing at’ a news-sheet or magazine whenever he has nothing to do for a few minutes: a kind of reading that is about as advantageous to the mind as that which we indulge in when fingering the antique periodicals in the dentist’s waiting-room. In later years he may or he may not overcome the repugnance he has acquired to anything deep or ‘solid’ (by which he generally means ’unparagraphed’): but I venture to think that, having once taken the plunge, there must be moments when he marvels at his foolishness in not having entered, years before, the City of the golden streets.

Perhaps it is unwise to use the word ‘education’ in speaking of the benefits to be derived from reading the great books, for to many people the term is synonymous with ‘school,’ where one is obliged frequently to do things against one’s will. Good books, that is the books that ‘live,’ are no mere education, they are steps up the path of civilisation itself. They are just as necessary for the advancement of knowledge as are the letters and numerals which we learnt at school. The greatest books of the world do not teach us; they help us to teach ourselves, a very different matter. ’They are masters who instruct us without rod or ferule,’ wrote an early book-lover; ’if you approach them they are not asleep; if you inquire of them they do not withdraw themselves; they never chide when you make mistakes; they never laugh if you are ignorant.’ And the books which would be available to him would be chiefly the works of the Early Fathers, professedly books of moral instruction. But the books of our library ’are so many faithful and serviceable friends, gently teaching us everything through their persuasive and wise experience.’

And that is precisely the point. Good books do not instruct us so much as they persuade us; so that we come to be of the same mind as the great man who had deliberated and debated the matter so thoroughly for us. Perchance we disagree and take a different standpoint. Then can one almost see the spirit of the sage chuckling with delight at having found someone with whom to cross swords. ’I have made him think, I have made him think,’ he repeats gleefully; and, sure of his point, he delights in having held our attention so intently as to cause us to debate the issue with ourselves.

It were foolish, however, to suppose that all the great books of the world are at once suitable to every reader. Time, above all other considerations, decides what we shall read; and the book which makes its greatest impression upon one man at thirty will fail to appeal to his neighbour till he be fifty or more. ’A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age,’ says Benedick, and the converse is equally true. What a mistaken notion it is that puts into the hands of boys such classics as ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ and ‘Don Quixote’; for they are books which a knowledge of the world and of human nature alone can enable us to appreciate to the full. Their very foundations are built upon the rock of experience, every page exhibits the thoughts and deeds of men. No wonder that nine boys out of ten grow up with a dislike of Bunyan and all his works, and a contempt for the adventures of the immortal Don. Generally, however, all recollection of Quixote, except that he had a rotten old horse and charged some windmills, has (mercifully) disappeared long before the reader has attained his eighteenth year.

In later life, perhaps, we take up these books again, and are surprised to find that they have completely changed. There is hardly an incident in them that we remember, and we marvel how such and such a glorious passage could possibly have escaped us before. Our book-hunter’s experience must have been that of many others. Long after his school-days were ended he took up, for the first time, ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.’ How wistfully he thought of the enjoyment that would have been his when at school, had but some kind chance put into his hands this and similar books in which boys, and real human boys, played the principal parts, not strange outlandish men, the like of whom he had never met.

This unwise reading, this plunging, as it were, in medias res, is, I am inclined to think, the reason why to so many men the library of great authors is for ever locked. After a lengthy course of ‘light’ reading, they take up, all at once, some such work as ‘Bacon’s Essays’ or the ‘Paradise Lost,’ determined ‘to give the classics a chance.’ They wade conscientiously through a good many pages, and then retire beaten, simply because they have failed to recognise that in reading, as in every other business, profession, craft, or pursuit, PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT. Who is there, outside Olympus, that can master any of these at sight? It is only by a continuous and continual course of reading that one comes at length to appreciate these great masters. ’The proper appreciation of the great books of the world is the reward of lifelong study. You must work up to them, and unconsciously you will become trained to find great qualities in what the world has decided is great.’

‘That’s all very well,’ says the newspaper-reader, taking the word ‘study’ in its first dictionary sense; ’but I, for one, haven’t got time or inclination for this lifelong application.’ And yet, I reply, you have both time and inclination to apply yourself assiduously to newspapers, magazines, and suchlike reading. If you read at all, why not read good healthy stuff, which will be of permanent use to you in your journey through the world? Why devour garbage when rich meats are constantly about you? ’To stuff our minds with what is simply trivial, simply curious, or that which at best has but a low nutritive power, this is to close our minds to what is solid and enlarging and spiritually sustaining.’ Look at it which way you will, the man who purposely neglects the great books deliberately closes the channels of knowledge flowing to his brain, sentences himself to intellectual exile, bolts and bars in his own face the only door which can lead him into the society of the wisest and greatest men this world has known.

And what are the great books of the world? They are those which, from their native excellences, have been approved by generations of wise men as beneficial for mankind not for their generation alone. Times change and manners with them, but countless centuries are powerless to effect the slightest change in man’s essence. Do not the characters in the oldest book in the world still live in our everyday life, and are not they possessed of the very thoughts and reasonings that are our portion to-day? Tastes may change vastly in even a short period, but it is only fashion, the constant craving for something new:

’Manners with fortunes, humours turn with climes,
Tenets with books, and principles with times.’

But the books which by common consent have been assigned places in the library of the immortals can never be out of fashion: for they contain the essences of human nature.

How then shall we start to make acquaintance with these classics? With what books shall we begin, with what continue? These are questions which it is impossible to answer without a knowledge of those qualities so necessary in recommending books. But at least it is possible to indicate the general line to be followed. It would be foolish, for example, for the man whose reading hitherto has consisted entirely of the modern novels of a circulating library, to turn at once to the Paradise Lost, Bacon’s Essays, or the poems of Wordsworth. He would probably acquire a distaste for good literature which might never be overcome.

It is like everything else that counts: we set the greatest store by those things that we have come by through difficulties. The longer the journey and the more beautiful the scenes we pass through, the greater our pleasure and subsequent recollection of it. Let us begin our systematic reading by turning at first to those books which we shall appreciate immediately. Have novels been our reading hitherto? Then let us turn at once to some of the greater novelists, both living and dead. Here the field is wide, and we may quickly find writers to our taste. Thus we shall gradually work up to some name or names in the list of the immortals. In the same way we shall approach, step by step, the essayists, the moralists, the dramatists and (lastly) the poets.

It cannot be emphasised too strongly that Time above all other considerations decides what we shall read. Moreover, there are passages in many of the greatest writers that appeal to a man before he has really arrived at the time of their understanding. So that, reading some such passage (e.g. Addison’s description of the Widows’ Club in the ‘Spectator’) as this, and finding the remainder not to his taste, he concludes that he has discovered the kernel and that the rest can be cast aside. Practice alone makes perfect: macte nova virtute, puer, sic itur ad astra.

With regard to editions, it were needless to specify them; the great books of the world are reprinted and re-edited every few years. But our editions should be good ones. ’A good edition should be a complete edition, ungarbled and unabridged.’ Perchance you may prefer to have them, if it be possible, in the original editions? If so, you will be wise in your generation, but your purse will need to be a long one indeed.

Remember that the first edition is not necessarily the best. It may be, but in the great majority of cases it is not. In addition to the inevitable clerical mistakes and printer’s errors which are almost always corrected in the second and subsequent editions, the author or editor frequently interpolates matter which the publication de ipso has brought to his notice by reviews or correspondence. This is notably the case in large and important works. ‘Scott’s Last Expedition,’ published in two large octavo volumes in 1914, rapidly passed through five editions the same year, corrections being incorporated in each successive edition (thereby distinguishing them from mere ’impressions’); so that the fifth edition remains the best, being the most correct. On the other hand, in the second edition an author sometimes omits passages or makes drastic emendations from prudential reasons. Then it is that the first edition is to be sought for in preference to all others, for this alone contains the author’s true opinions on certain subjects. Such instances the book-lover gradually learns in his journey through the world of books.

But I repeat that, apart from this question of first or later issue, our editions should be good ones. Good editions are not merely luxuries. The better the type and paper, the greater our ease in reading, and most important of all the consequent safeguarding of our eyesight.

It is not only type and paper, however, that constitute a good edition. In addition to these requisites it must contain the recognised text complete, it must be in a seemly and convenient shape, neither extravagant nor blatant, and it must not contain a long list of errata. Of the many qualities that go to make up a good edition, after paper and print, these are perhaps the most important. But there is another immediate consideration: shall it have notes? And this raises such a momentous point that I almost hesitate to approach it. The answer must be qualified. Provided always that the edition has been superintended (I use the word advisedly) by a recognised scholar, and that the notes are few, short, and concise, it is well. But who has not suffered under the tedious and tiresome verbosity of editors? The writer possesses an edition of Pope in which page after page contains two lines of the poet and thirty-four lines of editor. Reed’s Shakespeare (1813) frequently contains a solitary line of text with forty of notes. Fortunately, however, such things are now numbered with the past.

As to our editions of the Greek and Latin Classics, whether we can read them in the original tongue or whether we must have recourse to translations, we have already debated. But without wishing to discourage the book-lover in any possible way from making (or renewing, as the case may be) acquaintance with these great writers, it must be borne in mind that few indeed are the translations from any language that are wholly in the spirit of the original. In recommending the following translations of some of the greater world-classics, literary and animate qualities have been had in view no less than scholarly translation.

Aeschylus and Sophocles have been admirably rendered in English verse by Mr. E. D. A. Morshead. Of the first, ‘The House of Atreus’ (being the ‘Agamemnon,’ ‘Libation-Bearers,’ and ‘Furies’) was first published by him in 1881, an octavo volume which was reprinted in 1890 and 1901. ’The Suppliant Maidens,’ ‘The Persians,’ ‘The Seven against Thebes,’ and ‘Prometheus Bound’ were collected in one octavo volume in 1908. His version of Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus the King’ was published in 1885, while the ‘Ajax’ and ‘Electra’ were printed in prose, 1895.

The Plays of Aristophanes are, perhaps, best known to English readers by Hookham Frere’s excellent translations. His first volume, containing the ‘Acharnians,’ the ‘Knights,’ and the ‘Birds,’ was originally printed at Malta in 1839, in which year a similar quarto volume containing the ‘Frogs’ was also issued. But there are several later editions of both these volumes, and almost any bookseller can provide one. In addition to these plays, the ‘Clouds’ and the ‘Wasps’ were included in Thomas Mitchell’s version first published in two octavo volumes dated 1820 and 1822. But we may have a complete set of the eleven plays which have come down to us, in Mr. B. B. Rogers’ scholarly translation in verse. This beautiful edition in eleven small quarto volumes was published by Messrs. George Bell and Sons between 1902 and 1916, and has the Greek and English on opposite pages. For the plays of Euripides we must turn to the metrical versions of Professor Gilbert Murray, published by Mr. George Allen between 1905 and 1915. Perhaps it is not too much to say that this great scholar-poet has done more than any other to bring the Greeks of old before those to whom a classical education has been denied.

Needless to say, the translation into English of the immortal Homeric cycle has tempted many pens. Among the best known versions are those of Pope, Chapman, and Cowper. But this matter has been so thoroughly debated by Mr. Frederic Harrison in his delightful volume ’The Choice of Books,’ that I will refrain from poaching upon his preserve, and will content myself by remarking that the recommendations of this excellent judge are the ‘Iliad’ of Lord Derby and the ‘Odyssey’ of Philip Worsley. This last is a beautiful translation in the Spenserian stanza, of which a second edition appeared in 1868, in two octavo volumes. But if you are not already acquainted with Mr. Harrison’s work you will do well to obtain it, and to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest all that he has to say therein upon ‘The Poets of the Old World.’

With regard to the Latin classics, if we are unacquainted with the language there is greater difficulty; for it is next to impossible to render in English the light and vivacious lilt of the Italian poets. Our translations may be fine, scholarly, dignified and the rest of it, but they bear little semblance to the originals. Dryden’s version of the ‘Aeneid’ may be read, not as a translation but as an epic in the English of a great poet; and to those who are masters of sufficient Latin to explore the ancients by the help of commentaries, Conington’s translation will be of assistance. Horace is utterly untranslatable, and prose translations afford little clue to the music of his songs.

Perhaps it goes without saying that in reading these ancient classics we shall necessarily lose much of their sentiment and allusion unless our memory has retained that atmosphere of classic times which we obtained by constant intercourse with these ancients during our years at school. We may refresh our memory, however, and at the same time glean the most modern thought upon those times, by having recourse to certain useful volumes, companions to our study of these classic writers.

J. A. St. John’s ‘Manners and Customs of Ancient Greece,’ three octavo volumes which appeared in 1842, is a perfect encyclopaedia in itself. Of Mr. Leonard Whibley’s ‘Companion to Greek Studies’ a third edition, with more than 200 illustrations and maps, was published by the Cambridge University Press in 1916. The fellow volume is by Sir J. E. Sandys, and is entitled ‘A Companion to Latin Studies.’ The second edition, very fully illustrated, appeared in 1913 a large octavo also published at a guinea by the same press. Professor Mahaffy’s ’Social Life in Greece from Homer to Menander’ has gone through a number of editions. For the theatre of the Greeks we must turn to ‘The Attic Theatre’ by A. E. Haigh. The third edition, edited by Mr. A. W. Pickard-Cambridge, was issued by the Clarendon Press, 1907. It is the standard work upon this subject; and therein one can find all about everything pertaining to the Greek theatre and the actual presentation of the play. A useful little guide to the study of ancient Greece and Italy is Dr. J. B. Mayer’s ’Guide to the Choice of Classical Books,’ a small octavo of which a third edition appeared in 1885. In 1896 a ‘new supplement’ was published, and this contains fifty pages of ’Helps to the Study of Ancient Authors’ the best books which had appeared up to 1896 on the Art, Coins, Law, History, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Domestic Life, Amusements, and almost every aspect of life in ancient Rome and Athens. Copies of this invaluable reference book are probably in most of the public libraries throughout the kingdom.

With regard to some of the other great world-classics, Boccaccio has been attempted by many translators, none of whom can be said to have succeeded, and I forbear to recommend any English version. He is straightforward and not difficult to read in the original, and it is well worth learning sufficient Italian to enable one to explore his rich charm for oneself.

As to Calderon, eight of his plays have been rendered in English by that prince of translators Edward Fitzgerald, though his version is not, nor did he pretend it to be, a close translation. Yet it is more in the spirit of the dramatist than one would deem possible in an English version of a Spanish author. Six of these plays were first published by Fitzgerald in 1853, and this volume was reprinted in the series known as ‘The King’s Classics’ in 1903. The complete set of eight may be obtained in one small octavo volume, in the beautiful ‘Eversley’ series published by Macmillan. But you may read seventeen of Calderon’s plays, in the French of Damas Hinard, in the ‘Chef d’oeuvre du Theatre Espagnol,’ 1841-3, which also includes the works of Lope de Vega: in all five small octavo volumes if you are so lucky as to find them.

With regard to Don Quixote, as a boy our book-hunter made more than one attempt to explore ‘the ingenious gentleman’ but always gave it up after proceeding less than half-way through the first volume. It was all so dry and outlandish, and the version he possessed was written in such stilted language. There were no notes to his edition, and whole passages and allusions were beyond his comprehension. Looking back now I more than suspect that they were beyond the comprehension of the translator as well. ‘Rocinante,’ spelt ‘Rosinante,’ he thought was rather a pretty name for the Don’s charger; but he saw no humour in it until he discovered, many years later, that rocín means a ‘cart-horse’ and ante, ‘previously.’ Nor could he see anything amusing in the landlord’s boast that he too had been a knight-errant in his time, roaming the Isles of Riaran in quest of adventures until he learnt that this was a city slum, the resort of thieves and cut-throats. The whole work abounds with local and topical allusions, and it is essential that our edition be well supplied with notes. There is one which fulfils this condition and in addition provides a most scholarly text, more closely approaching the original than any other which has appeared hitherto. This is the masterly translation of John Ormsby, which appeared in four octavo volumes in 1885. It contains a valuable history of the work, together with a life of Cervantes, and the appendices to the last volume contain a bibliography of the immortal book.

Dante must be read in the original tongue. There is a lofty and spiritual grandeur in the language of the three great epics which one can never hope to realise in reading translations, be they never so good. Nevertheless those versions which are most in favour among students are of considerable value as commentaries, and are of great assistance in reading the original. One cannot do better at the outset of one’s acquaintance with the great poet than to procure Dr. J. A. Carlyle’s excellent version of the ‘Inferno.’ A third edition was published in 1882. It has explanatory notes and a prose translation, in measured, dignified language, above the text of the original; forming in all respects a handy and convenient volume. Dr. A. J. Butler’s versions of the ‘Purgatory’ and ‘Paradise’ were issued, in octavo, in 1880 and 1885 respectively. Aids to the study of Dante are legion. The fourth edition of Professor J. Addington Symond’s ‘Introduction to the Study of Dante’ appeared in 1899; whilst Lord Vernon’s ‘Readings in Dante,’ six octavo volumes, is said to have occupied that great scholar for more than twenty-five years of his life.

Goethe is known to English readers chiefly by the immortal Faust; and this work alone has engaged the attention of numerous scholars. A volume containing seven of Goethe’s plays in English was published in Bohn’s Standard Library in 1879. It included Sir Walter Scott’s version of ‘Goetz von Berlichingen,’ the remainder being translated by Miss Swanwick and E. A. Bowring. Miss Swanwick’s ‘Faust’ is well known and has often been reprinted; a beautiful edition illustrated by Mr. Gilbert James appeared in 1906. There is a version, however, which stands far above the rest, a version which the writer for his part has always considered to rank with the greatest translations. This is the ‘Faust’ of Bayard Taylor, which indeed may be read as a poem in itself. But then Taylor had advantages possessed by few translators. An American by birth, his mother was a German, and he spent a part of his life in Germany. From his birth he was bilinguous; and added to this linguistic advantage were his profound scholarship and poetic gift. There are numerous editions of his work, but only one so far as I am aware, in this country at least worthy of its great merit, namely, that which appeared in two octavo volumes in 1871. It is an edition somewhat hard to obtain.

For Schiller’s dramatic works we must have recourse to Coleridge, who has given us versions of both parts of the ‘Wallenstein’ and ‘William Tell.’ The Poems and Ballads were rendered in English by Sir E. Bulwer Lytton (Lord Lytton): two volumes, 1844. Heine’s short four-line verses do not lend themselves to translating and though many have attempted it, the results are almost always a jingle, often approaching doggerel. The prose works have recently been translated by Mr. C. G. Leland, and the ’Atta Troll’ by Miss Armour, both forming part of a twelve volume edition published between 1892 and 1905.

The mention of Rabelais conjures up one of those extremely rare instances where a translation constitutes as great a classic as the original work. Whether it was the difficulty of translation, or the despair of eclipsing so notable a success as had been achieved by their predecessor, that deterred other scholars from making the attempt, we know not; but certain it is that the version put forth by Sir Thomas Urquhart in 1653 has remained, and seems likely to remain, the standard representation of the fantastic ‘Doctor in Physick’ in this language. Urquhart, that polished and gifted Scottish d’Artagnan, translated the first three books only; the last two were added by Motteux, a French refugee, in 1694. Urquhart’s work, ‘precise, elegant, and very faithful,’ comes as near perfection as any translation can hope to be. Motteux’s rendering was revised by Ozell; but unfortunately it falls far short of the version of Sir Thomas, who, with a longer life, might perhaps have undertaken these last two books as well.

Of these five books of Master Francis Rabelais thus english’d, there have been, of course, numerous editions. Our book-hunter prefers that which appeared in three quarto volumes in 1904, with photogravure illustrations by M. Louis Chalon. Both from a scholarly and a bibliographical standpoint it is all that can be desired, and one can have a copy for less than a pound.

Why is it that we all have some acquaintance at least with the Arabian Nights? What have these purely Eastern tales to do with us? Both questions may be answered at once. It is because they contain the very essence of oriental thought, manners, customs, habits, speech, and deeds: because we can learn from them more of the everyday life of the orient, both of to-day and of a thousand years ago, than an entire library of travels can teach us. Surely it is more than mere curiosity that urges us to know something at least of the manner in which so many millions of our fellow-beings live.

Who has not read at least some of these glorious tales? Who has not heard of Sinbad or the Roc, of Scheherazade or of Haroun al Raschid? Truly they are

’The tales that charm away the wakeful night
In Araby, romances’;

Wordsworth himself came early under their spell. He tells how as a young child

’A precious treasure had I long possessed,
A little yellow, canvas-covered book,
A slender abstract of the Arabian tales;
And, from companions in a new abode,
When first I learnt that this dear prize of mine
Was but a block hewn from a mighty quarry
That there were four large volumes, laden all
With kindred matter, ’twas to me, in truth,
A promise scarcely earthly.’

And so he makes a covenant ‘with one not richer than myself’ that each should save up until their joint savings were sufficient to purchase the complete work. But alas!

’Through several months,
In spite of all temptation, we preserved
Religiously that vow; but firmness failed,
Nor were we ever masters of our wish.’

There must be few books in the world from which we may learn so much while being so rapturously entertained. Burton’s edition is perhaps the best known to English readers, though Lane’s version is much to be preferred. Of the latter there are many editions.

How much has been written on the Art of Reading, and what scanty knowledge of that art have the most industrious of readers! Outside the Universities, reading is apt nowadays to be looked upon as a light form of recreation, generally to be indulged in on a rainy day. ’There’s nothing to do but sit indoors and read,’ one frequently hears remarked in country houses when the weather is too inclement to permit of motoring. Novel-reading has indeed become a part of our fashionable life.

How often, too, does one come across readers of both sexes who possess, seemingly, a wide knowledge of books, even of the great books of the world. Yet in nine cases out of ten such knowledge is of the most superficial kind, acquired by ‘dipping into’ such and such an author to ascertain whether he be to his or her taste. Frankly, the great author is almost invariably not to the modern reader’s taste; but the scanty knowledge acquired by perusing the first chapter, the headings of the remaining chapters, and the last chapter, enables the reader (save the mark!) to discourse at large on this particular writer among his own coterie. Perchance one of his friends has similarly insulted the great author, and they are enabled to discuss the book for nearly a minute by the clock, each thinking the other a devilish well-read fellow. Truly it has been said that ’just as profligacy is easy within the strict limits of the law, a boundless knowledge of books may be found with a narrow education.’

More rarely one comes across a man who, being the fortunate possessor of a truly wonderful memory, is enabled to retain the bulk of the information which he has acquired by wide reading. There is a story told of a certain don at one of our older universities who, being possessed of an insatiable thirst for knowledge coupled with an excellent memory and an inexhaustible capacity for work, passed as a well-read if not a very learned man. There seemed to be few topics upon which he could not discourse on equal terms even with those who had made that subject their own.

Now it happened that there were two young Fellows at the same college who, wearied of his constant superiority in conversation, determined to take Brown (for such was his name) ‘down a peg or two.’ So each night at dinner in hall they skilfully turned the conversation to unusual topics, hoping to light upon some chink in the redoubtable Brown’s intellectual armour. Once they tried him on the rarer British hemipterous homoptera, but soon discovered that he was a very fair entomologist. Next evening the conversation veered to ancient Scandinavian burial rites, but here again he could give them points. The Byzantine coinage of Cyprus was, of course, well known to him while he had himself worked on the oolitic foraminifera of the blue marl at Biarritz. His experiments on the red colouring matter of drosera rotundifolia had formed the subject of a monograph, and he was particularly interested in the hagiological folk-lore of Lower Brittany.

It seemed almost hopeless. Try as they would they could find no subject with which he was unacquainted. Every night some fresh outlandish topic was introduced. Brown looked very bored, and proceeded to tell them all there was to be said upon the subject. But one night a casual remark put them on the right track. Someone happened to ask Brown a question about Indian music. He answered shortly, and remarked that it was a subject upon which a good deal of work was yet to be done. The conspirators looked across the table at each other, left the common-room early, and retired to Jones’s rooms.

‘Did you notice?’ said Jones.

‘Yes,’ said Smith; ‘he evidently doesn’t know much about oriental music.’

‘But he will by to-morrow,’ replied the astute Jones. ’As soon as ever he gets to his rooms to-night, he’ll read up everything he possibly can on Indian music, and he’ll continue in the Library to-morrow. By dinner-time he’ll be stuffed full of tom-toms and shawms and dulcimers, or whatever they play in India.’

‘We must ride him off,’ said Smith. ’How about Chinese music? He won’t know anything about that.’

This seemed such a promising topic that they got out the encyclopaedia and found to their joy that there was quite a lengthy and learned disquisition on the subject. So they read it again and again, even learning the more abstruse sentences by heart. Next day they were observed to chuckle whenever they caught each other’s eye, and at lunch they were unusually cheerful and more than ordinarily attentive to the unsuspecting Brown.

That night at dinner they could hardly restrain their impatience, and Smith introduced the topic, rather clumsily, as soon as the fish appeared. Brown stared at them and said nothing. Jones, plucking up courage, presently asked him a question about the dominant fifth of the scale used by the natives of Quang-Tung. He answered evasively. They could hardly conceal their delight, and their voices rose so that presently the whole table was looking at them. At some of their recondite utterances Brown fairly winced, and it soon became evident to all what was afoot. Upstairs in the common-room they pursued their unhappy victim. The senior tutor and the dean, secretly enjoying the fun, stood near. At last, flushed with victory, Jones proceeded to administer the coup de grace.

’You really ought to read something about Chinese music, Brown, it’s a most interesting topic, and I’m sure you’d like to be able to talk about it. There are quite a number of good books on the subject. For a start you couldn’t do better than study the article in the “Encyclopædia Academica.” It’s clear and concise, evidently written by a man who knows what he’s talking about.’

‘I have read it,’ said Brown patiently; ’in fact I er wrote it, but I’m afraid it’s quite out of date now.’

We are not all the lucky possessors of such a capacity for acquiring knowledge. Wide reading may be good from an educational point of view, but unless we are able to assimilate what we read better a thousand times to restrict our reading. Gibbon’s advice is bad, for it indicates merely the system he employed in compiling his monumental work. ‘We ought not,’ he remarks, ’to attend to the order of our books so much as (to the order) of our thoughts.’ So, in the midst of Homer he would skip to Longinus; a passage in Longinus would send him to Pliny, and so on. General reading upon this plan, with no idea of collection in view, would in time reduce most of us to idiocy.

Let our reading be, above all things, well ordered and systematic. Let us imitate Ancillon rather than Gibbon. Ancillon never read a book throughout without reading in his progress many others of an exegetic nature; so that ’his library table was always covered with a number of books for the most part open.’ An excellent habit, provided that we can resist the temptation to be side-tracked. The list of books by this industrious student, however, shows by their curious variety that he at least was not sufficiently strong-minded to resist wandering, during the compilation of his historical works, in the byways of literature.

If we read the good solid books at all, let us at least read them with the aim of acquiring the maximum amount of information they afford. To read sketchily and diversely is not only a most painful waste of time, but it abuses our brains. Suppose now that our bookman has decided to ‘read up’ the French Revolution, a subject to which we all turn at some period of our lives. He has been led thereto, perhaps, by having lighted upon a translation of someone’s memoirs, the recollections of some insignificant valet-de-chambre or dissolute cure (for such memoirs abound), more interesting by reason of its piquancy than its historical accuracy. He reads of persons and events that he recollects vaguely to have heard of before, and so he goes on and on.

At the end, he has an ambiguous and temporary knowledge of names and events. He has become acquainted with certain facts that he may possibly remember; such as that the name of the French King was Louis and that his Queen was Marie Antoinette, that they tried to escape and got as far as Varennes (wherever that may be), but were brought back and executed; that there were various politicians named Mirabeau, Danton, Robespierre, Desmoulins, and a curious party called the Girondins, et cetera. As to the causes which led up to the Revolution, the condition of the country and people, the ministry of Turgot, the characters of the King and Queen, Necker’s policy, the Abbe Sieyes, the Tennis Court, the composition of the Assembly, and the host of essential facts, his knowledge is precisely nil. The terms Right Centre, Extreme Left, the Jacobins, the White Terror, Assignats, Hebertists and Dantonists, the Montagnards, the Old Cordelier, are so much ‘Hebrew-Greek’ to him. At the end of six months he will not be at all sure whether it was Louis XIV., XV., or XVI. who was beheaded.

Surely his reading of these dubious memoirs has been a most mistaken course and a lamentable waste of time? He has gained nothing that has benefited him intellectually, and he has loaded his mind with an indigestible hotch-potch of unclassified information. How then should he have approached the subject? Obviously he should have begun at the threshold, or rather at the outer gate. To plunge straight away into Louis Blanc’s twelve volumes or Lamartine’s ‘History of the Girondins’ would be as great a mistake as the reading of the unprofitable memoirs. A good beginning is half done. So, having prepared the way by a short study of the economic condition of France immediately prior to the Revolution, that he may readily understand the causes of that event, let our reader begin with some elementary school text-book which will give him a short and concise view of the Revolution as a whole. Having laid the foundations he will confine himself at the outset to works in his own tongue; choosing his literature for each succeeding phase of the Revolution in turn. But until he has obtained a thorough groundwork and has acquired sufficient knowledge to enable him to explore the more famous works in French, it were profitless to devour the scraps afforded by dubious memoir writers.

If we read three books consecutively on any one subject, we know not merely three times as much as if we had read one only, but thirty times. And our knowledge of the subject will not be vague, inaccurate and fleeting, but it will be concise, accurate and permanent. To acquire a correct and lasting knowledge of any subject, whether it be an event or an epoch of history, a science or an art or craft, it is essential that we read consecutively and comparatively as many books upon that subject as our opportunities and time allow. It should also be borne in mind that if we are content to read one volume only, it is quite possible that we may chance upon an author who is inaccurate or biased, or whose work does not represent the latest stage of our knowledge upon that subject.