Saturday, April 02, 2016


Read Them, Read Them Again!

Frederic Harrison (1831-1923), Among My Books (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1912), pp. 66-67:
I have no pretension to be either scholar, or critic, or professor, or one having authority in things of the mind. All that I have to say about Plutarch, or Boswell, or any one else I mention in these stray papers is: Read them, read them again! My tachydromic and polymathic friend says: I have read them, read them years ago!

Well! we know that; every one has read them in early days; but have you not forgotten all but a few anecdotes, hurried over the wise rules of life, canons of judgment, pregnant maxims of Plutarch the just moralist and of Johnson the downright judge? Of course everyone remembers the story of Aristeides writing his own name on the shell, or of Alcibiades cutting off the tail of his pedigree hound, in order to get into the Daily Mail of Athens, or of Alexander and Bucephalus, or of Alexander and Diogenes in his tub, just as every one knows about Alfred's cakes. But the point I am asking is this: Have you read Plutarch since your school days? Do you really know all his thousand and one pictures of the antique world so well, that you never turn to him now in later life? I strongly suspect that few persons could honestly say as much.

It would be quite to misunderstand the scope of these occasional notes of mine to look upon them as offering any criticism or essay about famous books, much less as promising anything new about well-known writers. Like the Sapphic but needy knifegrinder, story I have none to tell; nor even so much as any new light of criticism. My only purpose is to tell what I have been reading myself, why I am still in my old age enjoying the old books. As I keep on saying, I am nothing of a scholar and never have been a great reader. But still in my years of leisure and retirement, I am reading over again the famous books of one's youth—am enjoying them hugely, and perpetually find in them things I had forgotten or missed.

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