Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Reading the Dictionary

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals (November 20, 1859):
Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy is a wonderful work of a man. To read it however is much like reading in a dictionary. I think we read it as an inventory to be reminded how many classes & species of facts exist &, by observing in to what strange & multiplex byways learning hath strayed, agreeably infer our opulence. A dictionary however is not a bad book to read. There is no cant in it. No excess of explanation. And it is very suggestive, full of inferences undrawn. There is all poetry & all prose & needs nothing but a little combination. See what hosts of forgotten scholars he feeds us withal.
Id. (April 1867):
Alcott told me, that he found a dictionary fascinating: he looked out a word, & the morning was gone; for he was led on to another word, & so on & on. It required abandonment.

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