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" Tumbling around in a library " was the phrase Oliver Wendell Holmes used in describing in part his felicities in boyhood. One of the most important things that wise students get out of their schooldays is a familiarity with books in various departments of learning. The ability to pick out from a library what is needed in life is of the greatest practical value. It is like a man selecting his tools for intellectual expansion and social service. " Men in every department of practical life," says President Hadley of Yale, " men in commerce, in transportation, or in manufactures have told me that what they really wanted from our colleges was men who have this selective power of using books efficiently. The beginnings of this kind of knowledge are best learned in any home fairly well furnished with books."

Libraries are no longer a luxury, but a necessity. A home without books and periodicals and newspapers is like a house without windows. Children learn to read by being in the midst of books; they unconsciously absorb knowledge by handling them. No family can now afford to be without good reading.

Children who are well supplied with dictionaries, encyclopedias, histories, works of reference, and other useful books, will educate themselves unconsciously, and almost without expense, and will learn many things of their own accord in moments which would otherwise be wasted; and which, if learned in schools, academies, or colleges, would cost ten times as much as the expense of the books would be.


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Volume II Copyright 1911


Besides, homes are brightened and made attractive by good books, and children stay in such pleasant homes; while those whose education has been neglected are anxious to get away from home, and drift off and fall into all manner of snares and dangers. It is astonishing how much a bright child will absorb from being brought up in the atmosphere of good books, being allowed to constantly use them, to handle them, to be familiar with their bindings and titles. It is a great thing for children to be brought up in the atmosphere of books.

Many people never make a mark on a book, never bend down a leaf, or underscore a choice passage. Their libraries are just as clean as the day they bought them, and, often, their minds are just about as clean of information. Don't be afraid to mark your books. Make notes in them. They will be all the more valuable. One who learns to use his books in early life, grows up with an increasing power for effective usefulness.

It is related that Henry Clay's mother furnished him with books by her own earnings at the washtub. Wear threadbare clothes and patched shoes if necessary, but do not pinch or economize on books. If you can not give your children an academic education you can place within their reach a few good books which will lift them above their surroundings, into respectability and honor.

Is not one's early home the place where he should get his principal training for life? It is here we form habits which shape our careers, and which cling to us as long as we live. It is here that regular, persistent mental training should fix the life ever after.

I know of pitiable cases where ambitious boys and girls have longed to improve themselves, and yet were prevented from doing so by the pernicious habits prevailing in the home, where everybody else spent the evenings talking and joking, with no effort at self-improvement, no thought of higher ideals, no impulse to read anything better than a cheap, exciting story. The aspiring members of the family were teased and laughed at until they got discouraged and gave up the struggle.

If the younger ones do not want to read or study themselves, they will not let anybody else so inclined do so. Children are naturally mischievous, and like to tease. They are selfish, too, and can not understand why anyone else should want to go off by himself to read or study when they want him to play. Were the self-improvement habit once well established in a home, it would become a delight. The young people would look forward to the study hour with as much anticipation as to playing.

Were it possible for every family that squanders precious time, to spend an evening in such a home, it would be an inspiration. A bright, alert, intelligent, harmonious atmosphere so pervades a self-improving home that one feels insensibly uplifted and stimulated to better things.

I know a New England family in which all the children and the father and mother, by mutual consent, set aside a portion of each evening for study or some form of self-culture. After dinner, they give themselves completely to recreation. They have a regular romp and play, and all the fun possible for an hour. Then when the time comes for study, the entire house becomes so still that you could hear a pin drop. Everyone is in his place reading, writing, studying, or engaged in some form of mental work. No one is allowed to speak or disturb anyone else. If any member of the family is indisposed, or for any reason does not feel like working, he must at least keep quiet and not disturb the others.

There is perfect harmony and unity of purpose, an ideal condition for study. Every thing that would scatter the efforts or cause the mind to wander, all interruptions that would break the continuity of thought, is carefully guarded against. More is gained in one hour of close, uninterrupted study, than in two or three broken by many interruptions, or weakened by mind wandering.

Sometimes the habits of a home are revolutionized by the influence of one resolute youth who declares himself, taking a stand and announcing that, as for himself, he does not propose to be a failure, that he is going to take no chances as to his future. The moment he does this, he stands out in strong contrast with the great mass of young people who are throwing away their opportunities and have not grit and stamina enough to do anything worth while.

The very reputation of always trying to improve yourself in every possible way, of being dead in earnest, will attract the attention of everybody who knows you, and you will get many a recommendation for promotion which never comes to those who make no special effort to climb upward. There is a great deal of time wasted even in the busiest lives, which, if properly organized, might be used to advantage.

Many housewives who are so busy from morning to night that they really believe they have no time for reading books, magazines, or newspapers would be amazed to find how much they would have if they would more thoroughly systematize their work. Order is a great time saver, and we certainly ought to be able to so adjust our living plan that we can have a fair amount of time for self-improvement, for enlarging life. Yet many people think that their only opportunity for self-improvement depends upon the time left after everything else has been attended to.

What would a business man accomplish if he did not attend to important matters until he had time that was not needed for anything else? The good business man goes to his office in the morning and plunges right into the important work of the day. He knows perfectly well that if he attends to all the outside matters, all the details and little things that come up, sees everybody that wants to see him, and answers all the questions people want to ask, that it will be time to close his office before he gets to his main business.

Most of us manage somehow to find time for the things we love. If one is hungry for knowledge, if one yearns for self-improvement, if one has a taste for reading, he will make the opportunity. Where the heart is, there is the treasure. Where the ambition is, there is time.

It takes not only resolution. but also determination to set aside unessentials for essentials, things pleasant and agreeable today for the things that will prove best for us in the end. There is always temptation to sacrifice future good for present pleasure; to put off reading to a more convenient season, while we enjoy idle amusements or waste the time in gossip or frivolous conversation. The greatest things of the world have been done by those who systematized their work, organized their time. Men who have left their mark on the world have appreciated the preciousness of time, regarding it as the great quarry.

If you want to develop a delightful form of enjoyment, to cultivate a new pleasure, a new sensation which you have never before experienced, begin to read good books, good periodicals, regularly every day. Do not tire yourself by trying to read a great deal at first. Read a little at a time, but read some every day, no matter how little. If you are faithful you will soon acquire a taste for reading - he reading habit; and will, in time, give you infinite satisfaction, unalloyed pleasure.

In a gymnasium, one often sees lax, listless people, who, instead of pursuing a systematic course of training to develop all the muscles of the body, flit aimlessly from one thing to another, exercising with pulley-weights for a minute or two, taking up dumb-bells and throwing them down, swinging once or twice on parallel bars, and so frittering away time and strength. Far better it would be for such people to stay away from a gymnasium altogether, for their lack of purpose and continuity makes them lose rather than gain muscular energy. A man or woman who would gather strength from gymnastic exercise must set about it systematically and with a will. He must put mind and energy into the work, or else continue to have flabby muscles and an undeveloped body.

The physical gymnasium differs only in kind from the mental one. Thoroughness and system are as necessary in one as in the other. It is not the tasters of books - not those who sip here and there, who take up one book after another, turn the leaves listlessly and hurry to the end, who strengthen and develop the mind by reading. To get the most from your reading you must read with a purpose. To sit down and pick up a book listlessly, with no aim except to pass away time, is demoralizing. It is much as if an employer were to hire a boy, and tell him he could start when he pleased in the morning, work when he felt like it, rest when he wanted to, and quit when he got tired!

Never go to a book you wish to read for a purpose, if you can possibly avoid it, with a tired, jaded mentality. If you do, you will get the same in kind from it. Go to it fresh, vigorous, and with active, never passive, faculties. This practise is a splendid and effective cure for mind-wandering, which afflicts, so many people, and which is encouraged by the multiplicity of and facility of obtaining reading matter at the present day.

What can give greater satisfaction than reading with a purpose, and that consciousness of a broadening mind that follows it, and growth, of expansion, of enriching the life, the consciousness that we are pushing ignorance, bigotry, and whatever clouds the mind and hampers progress a little further away from us? The kind of reading that counts, that makes mental fiber and stamina is that upon which the mind is concentrated; approaching a book with all one's soul intent upon its contents.

How few people ever learn to concentrate their attention. Most of us waste a vast amount of precious time dawdling and idling. We sit or stand over our work without thinking. Our minds are blank much of the time. Passive reading is even more harmful in its effects than desultory reading. It no more strengthens the brain than sitting down in a gymnasium develops the body. The mind remains inactive, in a sort of indolent revery, wandering here and there, without focusing anywhere. Such reading takes the spring and snap out of the mental faculties, weakens the intellect, and makes the brain torpid and incapable of grappling with great principles and difficult problems.

What you get out of a book is not necessarily what, the author puts into it, but what you bring to it. If the heart does not lead the head; if the thirst for knowledge, the hunger for a broader and deeper culture, are not the motives for reading, you will not get the most out of a book. But, if your thirsty soul drinks in the writer's thought as the parched soil absorbs rain, then your latent possibilities and the potency of your being, like delayed germs and seeds in the soil, will spring forth into new life.

When you read, read as Macaulay did, as Carlyle did, as Lincoln did - as did every great man who has profited by his reading - with your whole soul absorbed in what you read, with such intense concentration that you will be oblivious of everything else outside of your book. " Reading furnishes us only with the materials of knowledge," said John Locke; " it is thinking that makes what we read ours."

In order to get the most out of books, the reader must be a thinker. The mere acquisition of facts is not the acquisition of power. To fill the mind with knowledge that can not be made available is like filling our houses with furniture and bric-a-brac until we have no room to move about. Food does not become physical force, brain, or muscle until it has been thoroughly digested and assimilated, and has become an integral part of the blood, brain, and other tissues. Knowledge does not become power until digested and assimilated by the brain, until it has become a part of the mind itself.

If you wish to become intellectually strong, after reading with the closest attention, form this habit frequently close your book and sit and think, or stand and walk and think - but think, contemplate, reflect. Turn what you have read over and over in your mind. It is not yours until you have assimilated it by your thought. When you first read it, it belongs to the author. It is yours only when it becomes an integral part of you.

Many people have an idea that if they keep reading everlastingly, if they always have a book in their hands at every leisure moment, they will, of necessity, become full-rounded and well-educated. But they might just as well expect to become athletes by eating at every opportunity. It is even more necessary to think than to read.

Thinking, contemplating what we have read, is what digestion and assimilation are to the food. Some of the biggest fools I know are always cramming themselves with knowledge. But they never think. When they get a few minutes' leisure they grab a book and go to reading. In other words, they are always eating intellectually, but never digesting their knowledge or assimilating it.

I know a young man who has formed such a habit of reading that he is almost never without a book, a magazine, or a paper. He is always reading at home, on the cars, at the railway stations, and he has acquired a vast amount of knowledge. He has a perfect passion for knowledge, and yet his mind seems to have been weakened by this perpetual brain stuffing.

By every reader let Milton's words be borne in mind :

"Who reads Incessantly, and to his reading brings not

A spirit and judgment equal or superior....

Uncertain and unsettled still remains,

Deep versed in books and shallow in himself,

Crude or intoxicate, collecting toys

And trifles for choice matters, worth a sponge,

As children gathering pebbles on the shore."

When Webster was a boy, books were scarce, and so precious that he never dreamed that they were to be read only once, but thought they ought to be committed to memory, or read and re-read until they became a part of his very life.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning says, " We err by reading too much, and out of proportion to what we think. I should be wiser, I am persuaded, if I had not read half as much; should have had stronger and better exercised faculties, and should stand higher in my own appreciation."

Those who live more quietly do not have so many distracting influences, and consequently think more deeply and reflect more than others. They do not read so much but they are better readers.

You should bring your mind to the reading of a book, or to the study of any subject, as you take an ax to the grindstone; not for what you get from the stone, but for the sharpening of the ax. The greatest advantage of books does not always come from what we remember of them, but from their suggestiveness, their character-building power. " It is not in the library, but in yourself," says Fr. Gregory, " in your self-respect and your consciousness of duty nobly done - that you are to find the `Fountain of Youth,' the `Elixir of Life,' and all the other things that tend to preserve life's freshness and bloom.

" It is a grand thing to read a good book - it is a grander thing to live a good life - and in the living of such life is generated the power that defies age and its decadence." It is not the ability, the education, the knowledge that one has that makes the difference between men. The mere possession of knowledge is not always the possession of power; knowledge which has not become a part of yourself, knowledge which can not swing into line in an emergency is of little use, and will not save you at the critical moment.

To be effective, a man's education must become a part of himself as he goes along. All of it must be worked up into power. A little practical education that has become a part of one's being and is always available, will accomplish more in the world than knowledge far more extensive that can not be utilized.

No one better illustrates what books will do for a man, and what a thinker will do with his books, than Gladstone, who was always far greater than his career. He rose above Parliament, reached out beyond politics, and was always growing. He had a passion for intellectual expansion.

His peculiar gifts undoubtedly fitted him for the church, or he would have made a good professor at Oxford or Cambridge. But, circumstances led him into the political arena, and he adapted himself readily to his environment. He was an all round well read man, who thought his way through libraries and through life.

One great benefit of a taste for reading, and access to the book world, is the service it renders as a diversion and a solace. What a great thing to be able to get away from ourselves, to fly away from the harassing, humiliating, discouraging, depressing things about us, to go at will to a world of beauty, joy, and gladness!

If a person is discouraged or depressed by any great bereavement or suffering, the quickest and the most effective way of restoring the mind to its perfect balance, to its normal condition, is to immerse it in a sane atmosphere, an uplifting, encouraging, inspiring atmosphere, and the most good in the world is found in the best books. I have known people who were suffering under the most painful mental anguish, from losses and shocks which almost unbalanced their minds, to be completely revolutionized in their mental state by the suggestive power which came from becoming absorbed in a great book.

Everywhere we see rich old men sitting around the clubs, smoking, looking out of the windows, lounging around hotels, traveling about, uneasy, dissatisfied, not knowing what to do with themselves, because they had never prepared for this part of their lives. They put all their energy, ambition, everything into their vocation. I know an old gentleman who has been an exceedingly active business man. He has kept his finger upon the pulse of events. He has known what has been going on in the world during his whole active career.

And he is now as happy and as contented as a child in his retirement, because he has always been a great reader, a great lover of his kind.

People who keep their minds bent in one direction too long at a time soon lose their elasticity, their mental vigor, freshness, spontaneity. If I were to quote Mr. Dooley, it would be "Reading is not thinking; reading is the next thing this side of going to bed for resting the mind." To my own mind, however, I would rather cite that versatile Englishman, Lord Rosebery. In a speech at the opening of a Carnegie library at West Calder, Midlothian, he made a characteristic utterance upon the value of books, saying in substance

There is, however, one case in which books are certainly an end in themselves, and that is to refresh and to recruit after fatigue. When the object is to refresh and to exalt, to lose the cares of this world in the world of imagination, then the book is more than a means. It is an end in itself. It refreshes, exalts, and inspires the man. From any work, manual or intellectual, the man with a happy taste for books comes in tired and soured and falls into the arms of some great author, who raises him from the ground and takes him into a new heaven and a new earth, where he forgets his bruises and rests his limbs, and he returns to the world a fresh and happy man."

" Who," asks Professor Atkinson, " can overestimate the value of good books, those strips of thought, as Bacon so finely calls them, voyaging through seas of time, and carrying their precious freight so safely from generation to generation? Here are finest minds giving us the best wisdom of present and past ages; here are the intellects gifted far beyond ours, ready to give us the results of lifetimes of patient thought, imaginations open to the beauty of the universe."

The lover of good books can never be very lonely; and, no matter where he is, he can always find pleasant and profitable occupation and the best of society when he quits work.

Who can ever be grateful enough for the art of printing; grateful enough to the famous authors who have put their best thoughts where we can enjoy them at will? There are some advantages of intercourse with great minds through their books over meeting them in person. The best of them live in their books, while their disagreeable peculiarities, their idiosyncrasies, their objectionable traits are eliminated. In their books we find the authors at their best. Their thoughts are selected, winnowed in their books. Book friends are always at our service, never annoy us, rasp or nettle us. No matter how nervous, tired, or discouraged one may be, they are always soothing, stimulating, uplifting.

We may call up the greatest writer in the middle of the night when we can not sleep, and he is just as glad to see us as at any other time. We are not excluded from any nook or corner in the great literary world; we can visit the most celebrated people that ever lived without an appointment, without influence, without the necessity of dressing or of observing any rules of etiquette. We can drop in upon a Milton, a Shakespeare, an Emerson, a Longfellow, a Whittier without a moment's notice and receive the warmest welcome.

" You get into society, in the widest sense," says Geikie, " in a great library, with the huge advantage of needing no introductions, and not dreading repulses. From that great crowd you can choose what companions you please, for in the silent levees of the immortals there is no pride, but the highest is at the service of the lowest, with a grand humility. You may speak freely with any, without a thought of your inferiority; for books are perfectly well bred, and hurt no one's feelings by any discriminations."

"It is not the number of books," says Professor William Mathews, "which a young man reads that makes him intelligent and well informed, but the number of well-chosen ones that he has mastered, so that every valuable thought in them is a familiar friend." It is only when books have been read and reread with ever deepening delight, that they are clasped to the heart, and become what Macaulay found them to be, the old friends who are never found with new faces, who are the same to us in our wealth and in our poverty, in our glory and in our obscurity. No one gets into the inmost heart of a beautiful poem, a great history, a book of delicate humor, or a volume of exquisite essays, by reading it once or twice. He must have its precious thoughts and illustrations stored in the treasure-house of memory, and brood over them in the hours of leisure.

" A book may be a perpetual companion. Friends come and go, but the book may beguile all experiences and enchant all hours."

"The first time," says Goldsmith, " that I read an excellent book, it is to me just as if I had gained a new friend; when I read over a book I have perused before, it resembles the meeting with an old one."

" No matter how poor I am," says William Ellery Channing, " no matter though the prosperous of my own time will not enter my obscure dwelling; if the sacred writers will enter and take up their abode under my roof - if Milton will cross my threshold to sing to me of Paradise; and Shakespeare to open to me the worlds of imagination and the workings of the human heart, - I shall not pine for want of intellectual companionship, though excluded from what is called the best society in the place where I live."

" Books," says Milton, " do preserve as in a violl, the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.

A good Booke is the pretious lifeblood of a master spirit, imbalm'd and treasur'd up on purpose to a Life beyond Life."

" A book is good company," said Henry Ward Beecher. " It comes to your longing with full instruction, but pursues you never. It is not offended at your absent-mindedness, nor jealous if you turn to other pleasures, of leaf, or dress, or mineral, or even of books. It silently serves the soul without recompense, not even for the hire of love. And yet more noble, it seems to pass from itself, and to enter the memory, and to hover in a silvery transformation there, until the outward book is but a body and its soul and spirit are flown to you, and possess your memory like a spirit.


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