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is taught to read, and we are apt to take it for granted that everyone reads in consequence. It is true that nearly every one is taught enough of the art to make out the meaning of a printed page, but this is not the full meaning of learning to read. To learn to read, in its fullest sense, is to learn. how to select and how to study books.
As a matter of fact, many people read nothing but the newspaper. Many boys read nothing, by choice, but some weekly or monthly paper. And though it is necessary that we should read the newspaper in order to learn what is going on around us, and though the magazines that are so constantly bought and read by boys and girls are often very harmless, yet the practice of reading only short and disconnected pieces, such as are contained in newspapers and magazines, is a dangerous one, because, if regularly followed, it prevents us from fixing our minds on a given subject, and has a tendency to render serious steady reading a task we shall be too willing to set aside. “Here, you will say, "we may behold the dis
” tinction between precept and practice. Here is a book that condemns the practice of reading only short and unconnected pieces, but that does not act up to its principles, for it consists wholly of short and unconnected pieces itself.” To this apparent inconsistency we must plead guilty. It will, therefore, be as well to explain now what the object of this little book really is.
One of the first difficulties that besets a young reader is to know what to read. From the thousands of books at his disposal how is he to pick out the best, or even the ones that he will like? For books differ in value: many are not worth reading at all; some are worth reading in parts; some are worth reading many times. A good book is like a good friend, whose virtues cannot be known unless we live with him. It is one of the objects of this volume to introduce you to such book-friends-to give you a list of books and of writers that will attract you, and continue to please and to help you the more you read them. For it is by no means intended that you should rest satisfied with these selections. It is to be hoped that some will please you so much that you will not rest until you have read the books from which they are taken.
As we said before, it is well to read books through. But a book of selections has a value and a use that is not perhaps immediately apparent.
As in making a nosegay we select only the most beautiful and the sweetest flowers in the garden, so in a collection of short pieces from various authors you may fairly expect to find some of the wisest and most beautiful passages they have written. But one of the uses of such a book is to teach only to admire, but to examine the means by which those passages are made so impressive. In other words, it is to teach you to criticise and to think.
It is by comparing passages from different authors that we are able to learn what is meant by their style, to see that no two writers go to work in the same way, that the mode in which each expresses
himself is as much a part of himself as his own character or his own face. By comparing styles we are able to discover what are the best ways of telling a story or of bringing a thought home to men, and thus we are able to learn how we ourselves may do this. Thus, too, we are able to detect the faults that we should avoid. But though we may be struck by the great differences in their method of expression we shall notice that, in several respects, all the writers in the book are alike. All write because they have something to say that is worth saying—something that may give instruction or pleasure to others. All seek to say this clearly and fully. They do not leave out what is necessary, or put in what is unnecessary. When they tell a tale they ask themselves first,“What is it the reader ought to be told ?" and they take pains to tell him properly and in a way that will give him pleasure. It is in this that they all agreein taking pains. We may be certain that no writer ever succeeded in becoming great without pains and trouble. Above all, they agree in this—that they write in good taste, without ostentation, without extravagance, without vulgarity. These are they who have made our literature the noblest that the world has known, and our language the best that men have yet devised. We are their countrymen, and to us they leave this literature and this language as an heir-loom. With us it rests whether the English language is to degenerate by the use of slang and careless speaking, and whether our literature is to end in a trivial, a shallow and a vulgar style, through haste and carelessness and inattention to these our models. ·
We are proud of our country! Let us be proud of the language that she speaks! Let us defend it as we defended India—with all our strength! Let us resolve that we at all events will not use expressions unworthy of the past, nor read books or papers that are badly written if we can help it; but that we will do our best to wipe away the reproach that hangs over English boys,--that they take no pains to learn to write their native language correctly, but
That now their tongue's use is to them no more
That knows no touch to tune the harmony. It is not always the books that are most worth reading that please us at first sight. We require a little help before we are able to enjoy the full benefits that such books can give us. It is with good books as it is with other things of goodness and beauty : we need some training to rate them at their proper worth. We pity the lot of those who dwell in the heart of a sunless city-our poorer neighbours—whose life is spent in noisy streets, where fog and smoke darken the day, and the stars grow pale and dull before the flaring gas-lamps, where the air no longer wafts the scent of the hay-field, but is foul with sickening smells, where the only birds are prisoners in still narrower cages, and a withered geranium on a blackened sill is the only symbol to which these poor people can look, of a happier land beyond the walls. But a man who had spent all his life in such a place might not at once be able to appreciate the pleasures of a country life, if suddenly transported from his dismal home. To him the quiet might prove oppressive, the fresh air blowing over moor and fen would make him tired, and the far-stretching panorama from a mountain-top could not be fully seen by an eye accustomed only to the vista of a dingy street. So is it with our literature. The strong airs of Shakespeare and Milton necessitate some preparatory discipline. Their thoughts are too high for us at first; their rhythm and melody of verse and language cannot delight an ear that is wholly untrained to listen for the music that may lie in words.
It is therefore an object of this volume to point out some of the ways by which you may qualify yourselves for the higher enjoyment that is open to all that will take the pains to prepare themselves to l'eceive it. Here then are some rules for reading, by the help of which we may all strive to make what we read a real study, so that its fruits may remain with us, and benefit us through all our future. For reading is not only a mental exercise that strengthens our minds if we read properly, as gymnastics strengthen our bodies, but an exercise that may train our taste for all that is pure and beautiful, and help to make us wiser and better, and a blessing to all around us.