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ONE of the striking differences between the civilisation of the present and the past consists in the manner in which knowledge has been democratised by printing. Before the invention of printing, knowledge was a monopoly. With the invention of printing, there entered into literature the element of cheapness, till now, thanks also to universal education, the free libraries, and the newspaper press, the humblest member of the community is on an equality with his wealthy neighbour. It is now literally true that knowledge flows
down the streets like a river of water. And yet the popularisation of reading has not been without its drawbacks. In the olden times the scarcity and dearness of books were conducive to intellectual concentration. Books of worth were read and re-read till they became, so to speak, part of the student's mental being. A good book was a friend to be consulted with delightful frequency, a counsellor whose words of wisdom were worthily treasured. Nowadays the abundance of books breeds a certain familiarity—the familiarity which one feels towards a casual acquaintance. Books are apt to be treated as club companions, good enough to amuse an idle hour, but not bound to the heart with ties of affection and devotion.
There are those, however, who are quite alive to the value of books, but who, in the midst of the daily increasing literary output, are in a state of mental bewilderment. They resemble a traveller in a trackless forest impressed and overpowered with the magnificence of the scene, but anxiously looking for a beaten track. For the benefit of the distracted reader many suggestions have been
made. He is told to read only the best books, and for his guidance condensation of the world's best books issue from the press. He takes literature on the homeopathic principle. The distracted student is
presented with what is called one hundred best books. The idea underlying all these suggestions is that reading simply means the assimilation of knowledge.
This is good, but it is only a part of the process.
Knowledge of isolated facts is better than ignorance, but knowledge in the real sense of the term means coherent, systematic knowledge. We have all met people of vast knowledge. Their minds are stuffed with facts, but the facts have not been assimilated; they lie in the mind in a chaotic state. Why? Because their reading has been purposeless; it has never been unified under the guidance of leading ideas. No reading can be profitable which is not done with a serious purpose. The man who reads merely to pass the time, whose temperament leads him to literature for recreation and amusement, instead of to gross forms of pleasure, need not expect to discover the magic key which opens the