722: Only Manured.

The essence of reading is sincerity. Each man must discover for himself what it is necessary that he should read, since he who turns over another’s best hundred books loses at once his time and his honesty. After all, nothing belongs to you that does not correspond to your temperament; and the scholar who surrounds himself with books which he can never make his own, incurs the reproach that he is “not cultivated but only manured.” […]

The truth is, that reading is a rare and delicate art. “Some books,” said Bacon, “are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”

(Charles Whibley, “Musings Without Method,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. CLXXV, 1904, pp. 581–582).

722: Only Manured.

691: The Most Intimate of Forms.

Though an essay must state a proposition, there are other requirements to be fulfilled. The bones of subject and predicate must be clothed in a certain way. The basis of the essay is meditation, and it must in a measure admit the reader to the meditative process. (This procedure is frankly hinted in all those titles that used to begin with “Of” or “On”: “Of Truth,” “Of Riches,” “On the Graces and Anxieties of Pig-Driving,” “On the Knocking at the Gate in ‘Macbeth’,” “On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places”). An essay, to some extent, thinks aloud; though not in the loose and pointless way to which the “stream of consciousness” addicts have accustomed us. The author must have made up his mind otherwise, where is his proposition? But the essay, I think, should show how and why he made up his mind as he did; should engagingly rehearse the steps by which he came to his conclusions. (“Francis of Verulam reasoned thus with himself”.) Meditation; but an oriented and fruitful meditation.

This is the most intimate of forms, because it permits you to see a mind at work. On the quality and temper of that mind depends the goodness of the production. Now, if the essay is essentially meditative, it cannot be polemical. No one, I think, would call Cicero’s first oration against Catiline an essay; or Burke’ s Speech on the Conciliation of America; hardly more could we call Swift’s “Modest Proposal” a true essay. The author must have made up his mind, but when he has made it up with a vengeance, he will not produce an essay. Because the  process is meditative, the manner should be courteous; he should always, by implication, admit that there are good people who may not agree with him; his irony should never turn to the sardonic. Reasonableness, urbanity (as Matthew Arnold would have said) are prerequisites for a form whose temper is meditative rather than polemical. We have said that this is the most intimate of forms. Not only for technical reasons, though obviously the essayist is less sharply controlled by his structure than the dramatist or the sonneteer or even the novelist. It is the most intimate because it is the most subjective. When people talk of “creative” and “critical” writing dividing all literature thus they always call the essay critical. In spite of Oscar Wilde, to call it critical is probably correct; for creation implies objectivity. The created thing, though the author have torn its raw substance from his very vitals, ends by being separate from its creator. The essay, however, is incurably subjective; even “Wuthering Heights” or “Manfred” is less subjective strange though it sound than “The Function of Criticism” or “The Poetic Principle.” What Oscar Wilde really meant in “The Critic as Artist” if, that is, you hold him back from his own perversities is not that Pater’s essay on Leonardo da Vinci was more creative than many a novel, but that it was more subjective than any novel; that Pater, by virtue of his style and his mentality, made of his conception of the Mona Lisa something that we could be interested in, regardless of our opinion of the painting. I do not remember that Pater saw himself as doing more than explain to us what he thought Leonardo had done Pater, I think, would never have regarded his purple page as other than criticism. I, myself because I like the fall of Pater’s words, and do not much care for Mona Lisa’s feline face prefer Pater’s page to Leonardo’s portrait; but I am quite aware that I am merely preferring criticism, in this instance, to the thing criticized. I am, if you like, preferring Mr. Pecksniff’s drunken dream “Mrs. Todgers’s idea of a wooden leg” to the wooden leg itself. Anything (I say to myself) rather than a wooden leg!

A lot of nineteenth century “impressionistic” criticism Jules Lemaitre, Anatole France, etc. is more delightful than the prose or verse that is being criticized. It is none the less criticism. The famous definition of “the adventures of a soul among the masterpieces” does not put those adventures into the “creative” category; it merely stresses their subjectivity. Wilde is to some extent right when he says that criticism is the only civilized form of autobiography; but he is not so right when he says that the highest criticism is more creative than creation. No one would deny that the purple page Wilde quotes tells us more about Pater than it does about Leonardo, or even about Mona Lisa as Macaulay’s Essay on Milton conceivably tells us more about Macaulay than about the author of “Paradise Lost.” All Bacon’s essays together but build up a portrait of Bacon Francis of Verulam reasoning with himself; and what is the substance of the Essays of Elia, but Elia? “Subjective” is the word, however, rather than “creative.”

(Katharine Fullerton Gerould, “An Essay on Essays,” The North American Review, Vol. CCXL, 1935, pp. 412–414).

691: The Most Intimate of Forms.

348: Education-mania.

Miss Edgeworth showed her knowledge when she put into the mouth of one of her characters —”Edication will do a great deal, but it won’t change the natur that is in them.” History in every age has taught, that it was in the latest ages of society that knowledge was most generally diffused, and corruption most widely spread. Experience every where around us shows, that in those situations where the human race is most densely massed together, instruction, at least on political subjects, is most common, and
depravity of every sort most abundant. Coupling these facts together, the result of observation, alike in the past and the present, is, that it is not in the cultivation of the intellectual faculties that an antidote to the corruption of our nature is to be found, but that the only real regeneration, either of society or of its political institutions, must begin with those measures which augment the spread and increase the influence of that faith, which, setting itself in the outset to root out the seeds of evil in the human heart, can alone prepare men, by successfully governing themselves, to take a useful part in the direction of others. The way in which general instruction, when unaccompanied with a proportional cultivation of the moral and religious feelings, acts in this way, is, to any person practically acquainted with the middling and lower orders, perfectly apparent. It extends the desires of the heart and the cravings of the passions to a degree inconsistent with the destiny of the great majority of mankind on earth. In numbers of the working classes it induces a disinclination to physical labour, by which alone they can be rendered comfortable, and a desire for intellectual pleasures or exertion, in which line they cannot earn a decent livelihood. It drives them, in consequence, into those desperate circumstances, and induces that recklessness of conduct, which is at once the parent and the excuse of crime. In all ranks it engenders an uneasy restlessness and dissatisfaction with their condition, which is the fruitful parent of disorders both private and political. By magnifying to the imagination the pleasures of wealth, while it induces a dissatisfaction with bodily labour, it both strengthens the temptations to vice and weakens the habits by which alone competence can be safely and honestly acquired. By clothing in a more voluptuous and seductive form than they naturally possess the pleasures of sense, it adds fuel to a name which already burns fiercely enough in the human heart. By strengthening the imagination more than moral or religious principle, it, in effect, adds to the force of the antagonist powers which assail human integrity, while it gives no additional strength to the counteracting dispositions by which alone they can be restrained. The pleasures of intellectual labour are, by the constitution of the human mind, accessible only to a small fraction of the human race. When Lord Brougham said he did not despair of seeing the day when every poor man should read Bacon, and Cobbett added it would be much more to the purpose if he could give them all the means of eating it, the one showed as great ignorance as the other evinced knowledge of the intellectual capacity of the great bulk of mankind. In no rank of life nor condition of society did any man ever find a tenth of his acquaintance in whom the pleasures of study would form a counterpoise to the excitement of the imagination or the seductions of sense. Education can to almost all magnify the influence of the latter: to a few only can it strengthen the sway of the former. Thence its universal and now generally experienced failure as a substitute for religious principle, and its total inadequacy to counteract the temptations to sin, which it itself has so greatly increased.

(Sir Archibald Alison, “Democracy,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. XLI, 1837, pp. 87–88).

348: Education-mania.

163: A Full Man.

Crafty men condemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them: For they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation. Read not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. […] Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit; and if he read little, he had need have much cunning to seem to know that he doth not.

(Francis Bacon, “Of Studies.” In: Essays. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1912, pp. 278–279).

163: A Full Man.