Sunday, November 27, 2011


A Guide in Youth and an Entertainment for Age

Jeremy Collier (1650—1726), Of the Entertainment of Books, from his Essays upon Several Moral Subjects, 4th ed. (London: Printed for Richard Sare..., 1700), Part II, pp. 97-100:
The Diversions of Reading, though they are not always of the strongest Kind, yet they generally Leave a better Effect than the grosser Satisfactions of Sense: For if they are well chosen, they neither dull the Appetite, nor strain the Capacity. On the contrary, they refresh the Inclinations, and strengthen the Power, and improve under Experiment: And which is best of all, they Entertain and Perfect at the same time; and convey Wisdom and Knowledge through Pleasure. By Reading a Man does as it were Antedate his Life, and makes himself contemporary with the Ages past. And this way of running up beyond ones Nativity, is much better than Plato's Preexistence; because here a Man knows something of the State, and is the wiser for it; which he is not in the other.

In conversing with Books we may chuse our Company, and disengage without Ceremony or Exception. Here we are free from the Formalities of Custom, and Respect: We need not undergo the Penance of a dull Story, from a Fop of Figure; but may shake off the Haughty, the Impertinent, and the Vain, at Pleasure. Besides, Authors, like Women, commonly Dress when they make a Visit. Respect to themselves makes them polish their Thoughts, and exert the Force of their Understanding more than they would, or can do, in ordinary Conversation: So that the Reader has as it were the Spirit and Essence in a narrow Compass; which was drawn off from a much larger Proportion of Time, Labour, and Expence. Like an Heir, he is born rather than made Rich, and comes into a Stock of Sense, with little or no Trouble of his own. 'Tis true, a Fortune in Knowledge which Descends in this manner, as well as an inherited Estate, is too often neglected, and squandered away; because we do not consider the Difficulty in Raising it.

Books are a Guide in Youth, and an Entertainment for Age. They support us under Solitude, and keep us from being a Burthen to our selves. They help us to forget the Crossness of Men and Things; compose our Cares, and our Passions; and lay our Disappointments asleep. When we are weary of the Living, we may repair to the Dead, who have nothing of Peevishness, Pride, or Design, in their Coversation. However,

To be constantly in the Wheel has neither Pleasure nor Improvement in it. A Man may as well expect to grow stronger by always Eating, as wiser by always Reading. Too much over-charges Nature, and turns more into Disease than Nourishment. 'Tis Thought and Digestion which makes Books serviceable, and gives Health and Vigour to the Mind. Neither ought we to be too Implicit or Resigning to Authorities, but to examine before we Assent, and preserve our Reason in its just Liberties. To walk always upon Crutches, is the way to lose the Use of our Limbs. Such an absolute Submission keeps us in a perpetual Minority, breaks the Spirits of the Understanding, and lays us open to Imposture.

But Books well managed afford Direction and Discovery. They strengthen the Organ, and enlarge the Prospect, and give a more universal Insight into Things, than can be learned from unlettered Observation. He who depends only upon his own Experience, has but a few Materials to work upon. He is confined to narrow Limits both of Place, and Time: And is not fit to draw a large Model, and to pronounce upon Business which is complicated and unusual. There seems to be much the same difference between a Man of meer Practice, and another of Learning, as there is between an Empirick and a Physician. The first may have a good Receipt, or two; and if Diseases and Patients were very scarce, and all alike, he might do tolerably well. But if you enquire concerning the Causes of Distempers, the Constitution of human Bodies, the Danger of Symptoms, and the Methods of Cure, upon which the Success of Medicine depends, he knows little of the Matter. On the other side: To take Measures wholly from Books, without looking into Men and Business, is like travelling in a Map, where though Countries and Cities are well enough distinguished, yet Villages and private Seats are either Over-looked, or too generally Marked for a Stranger to find. And therefore he that would be a Master, must Draw by the Life, as well as Copy from Originals, and joyn Theory and Experience together.
Albert Josef Franke (1860-1924), Die Schriftgelehrten

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