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OUR YOUTHS' DEPARTMENT, Issue 8054, 2 November 1889, Supplement
OUR YOUTHS' DEPARTMENT
Keadinjr for Boys and Girls
[By Andkew Lang.] Men who write what boys aud girls are expected to read seem often to forget that they have been boys themselves. If they remembered that, perhaps they would write very differently. But their memories are short. As I have been asked to try this difficult adventure, to try to indite something about books which young_ people shall not find unreadable, may I begin by saying that I do remember being a boy very vividly indeed. I own I cannot see a football but I want to have a drop-kick at it, thereby probably dislocating our elderly ankle; nor can I behold a wicket pitched but “my fingers itch ” (as the Highlander said with only too much truth) to bow) an over on that wicket. Tis gone, ’tis gone ; there is no more work on the ball now than on a pillow (not so much if it be an embroidered one), and any intelligent youth of fourteen could hit me all over the place. However my heart is in the right one, and as it is so about games and fishing and every form of diversion, so I hope it is about books. I still like the books which you probably like, and I hope you may like the books which I have to recommend. But it is ill work recommending books, aud will generally set people against those which we enjoy if we say “You ought to read them.” There is no “ought” in the matter; read them or let them alone—it is your own affair. You may be fond of coffee or raspberry tarts, but you don’t tell me that I ought to consume these luxuries. The doctor says one must not, but his position is different. I do not pretend to be a literary doctor, and to say you must take my bookish prescriptions and must abstain from books you like if I disapprove of them. Indeed, it is not necessary that cverbody should read anything at all. One man or boy may be fond of books; another may prefer carpentering, sledging, bicycling, playing the fiddle, stuffing dead squirrels, blowing birds’ eggs, botanising, hunting, (running away to sea, playing baseball, or <whut you please. Probably the majority of people are not bookish, and it is absolutely an immoral thing to prefer to reading some other way of passing one’s time. For my own part I don’t remember the days when other people did not call me a bookworm •with an air of pity and contempt. They did not know—for'l kept it to myself, unless it showed on my early brow—that I thought them stupid, overgrown louts when they said: “Always reading! What a bookworm that boy is !” It was not their business if one read half a dozen books at a time, whereas they did not worry through so ,mtny in the course of a year. And it is not my affair if you do not like reading, if stories give you no pleasure, and if you wonder what poetry means. “It takes all sorts to make a world,” and why should we quarrel with each other for having different tatftes? A person who dislikes reading misses a great deal of pleasure. He does mot make dozens of new friends in books, delightful friends, excellent sportsmen like Leather-Stocking, the Pathfinder in Cooper, or, like my truthful o!d_ chum, Allan Quarterraain (a most veracious man), or amusing boys like Tommy Traddles in »David Copperfield,’ or Berry and Biggs and Cuff and Dobbin, who fought the tremendous battles described by MiThackeray. A boy or man who dislikes leading never falls in love with Di Vernon and Beatrix Esmond, ladies far more beautiful and charming than any you are ever likely to meet on earth ; he does not jio through a score of adventures with wild beasts, cannibals, Spanish dons, French cuirassiers, red Indians, such as you may pass into and out of without a scratch, if you study Lever, Cooper, and Charles Kingsley and the Icelandic Sagas, and Captain Marryat and Torn Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn and ‘Treasure Island. The person who hates books is not made to laugh till he cries over Pip’s adventures in ‘Great Expectations,’ over Mr Pickwick’s experiences at the ladies’ hoarding school; ever Tom Bultitude in ‘ Vice Versa ’; over the celebrated ‘Jumping Frog.’ Friends and fun and fighting, laughter and tears (if you like a good cry—l don't), music and magic and poetry—these are ail in books. Are you loud of reading? Then you are like the man in the ‘Arabian Nighta,’ who knew the charm that made the cave of treasures unbar its gates, “ Open, bessame! you say, like him, and the iron gates fly apart, and in you walk into the enchanted ■world There are all the battles that ever were fought still going on, plenty that never were fought at all. There is all the wealth of fairyland all that Dantes gamed in * Monte Cristo/ and Poe in the ‘ Gold Bug, and Jim Hawkins ia ‘ Treasure Island,’ and Allan Quatermain in the mines of Solomon the King. There are the Greeks and Trojans hard at it still tor the beauty of Helen —how the spears whiz ! There is Smtrain ■with his ghostly companions ; there is King Arthur healing of his grievous wound beneath the apple trees of Avalon in the aetting sun. Odysseus is leaping on the threshold and showering the arrows down the hall; Gunnar ia thrusting away with jbhe mysterious spear that sang before the battle ; Mr Pickwick is asleep in the pound; Athos, Porthos, and Arapiis are trying to aave King Charles; Claverhouse is leading the charge down the pass—see, be lifts his ;artn and waves on his men, and the silver bullet finds the crevice in the armor i The whole world that has lived, and a million dear people who never lived, are all there within the enchanted cave, and if you only like reading, then you have the magic password, and you can go in whenever you please, and forget your troubles if you have troubles to forget—with fat Falstall and the fairy Queen Titania, think what a pleasing shift this is, when you are obliged to live in grimy towns, where there_ are no rivers, few trees, no fishing, nothing but crowded streets, hard pavements, drink tobacco, chimneys, smoke, factories, while everything is away that one naturally loves and ought to love and live for. If I did not like reading and had to dwell in a town, it would be better for me to be buried— By some field path where cricketers might pass Along its mazes, And o’er my head the green, short English gr*ss, The English daisies.
However, though reading has these pleasures, and many another pleasure and many advantages of teaching, of consoling, of strengthening, there is no wickedness, awr harm, nor anything eontemptible in not oaring for reading. You are horn to like it or to dislike it. There is nothing to be proud of though there is much to be thankful tor, if 'you are fond of books. There is nothing to be proud of in not being fond of them <s<iher, though you will find many persons who show this kind of self-complacency. The officer who, when asked if he had seen « Punch' that week, " thanked his stars he was not a book-worm/' was not a very Bagacioua officer. On the other hand, the bravest and most skilful soldkrs are often extremely attached to books and would-be ««book-worms" if they had time to spare from their profession. .... One does not wish any boy or girl to be a took-worm and nothing else—to sit poring over novels when the trout are rißing, the balls are flying, or when the hot weather insists that you shall go and swim in the stream or the sea. Out-and-out book-worma of this kind may be uncommonly clever fellows, and may even come to great distinction as scholars, or in science, but they grow without ever having been young, jgverybody knows that there is a time for all things—a time for books, and a time for bats, and time for poetry and fishing-poles. The happy man is he who has a liking for all things that are good, and can take them all in turn. We may read much; and if I had my time over again I would not study bo hard as I did at college. When I wan at school I had nothing to renraach myself with on this soore! , i t . Well, if you have got as far f* this you are clearly a fellow who can stand reading, not one of those jvho dislike the very mgltf -of printed paper. What, then, ought you to read? 1 don't knov/ that there is much '"ought*" in the matter, *a long as you do mot read wieked books-that is, books which tou are perfectly aware that you ought not to read. Thc.ro is jn the heart a kir4 oi monitor wMoh tells ypu with perfect and even disagreeable flistinctiMißi that this or that book is aafc-one for you; but if you Jnsist on a rule never jcead a bpqk which you
would feel inclined to smuggle out of the way when your mother comes into the room. Them was a time when mothers and parents and guardians did not read much themselves, and objected to almost every volume a boy could take up. Novels were wrong, poetry was wrong, plays were dreadfully wrong, and those were hard times for boys and girls. But this is altered, and most people know the difference between a good book and a bad one quite distinctly. To be sure, you may turn a good one into a bad one by reading it at the wrong time ; for example, if you pull out a drawer in your desk, put ‘ Tho Scalp Hunters’ in, place a Virgil before you on the tabc, pretend to be busy with that and push in the drawer when your father, schoolmaster, tutor or whoever is responsible for you, enters tho room. This is ingenious,_ and I may even have seen it practised, but is it not acting a lie ? It is far from being correct or gentlemanly conduct, anyhow. So, having easily settled what books you ought not to read, let us come to an understanding about those which, on the whole, you had better read. As long as a book is innocent and does not give you bad ideas, or put mischief into your head, I really think it is tetter you should read anything than that you should not read at all. Clearly, we do not begin with Shakespeare, or Emerson, or even Sir Walter Scott; we begin with ‘ Who killed Cock Robin?’ with * Puss in Boots,’ and the ‘ Yellow Dwarf.’ V ery good they were ; I can read them now with excitement, though long quite familiar with the plots and characters. But you have exhausted the fairy tales, and what are you to read from eight years old, let ns say, to sixteen ? After that, or even before, if you really care for books you will read all you come across that are worth reading, with some which are not. What should you read ? Well, what you like. The great .thing is to get the habit of reading, and this you will not acquire by trying to read what you don’t like. Then is excellence all a matter of private taste of liking or disliking ? Scarcely that; there are many books which all people who care most for books have admired most and found best for fifty or a huudnd, or two thousand, or even three thousand years. Now, it seems reasonable to suppose that works which pleased most the people who moat enjoy books during very many centuries, and while languages, tales, and religions have passed away, must be the best books. This would be plain if one were speaking of other matters. If after all that has been tried and invented the cleverest generals still thought bows and arrows the best weapons of war we may be pretty sure that they would be the best. Now, the books which have stood the trial of time and change we call classics—Greek and Latin, or English, French, Spanish, or Italian classics. These are held among old books to bo fur tho best, and of new books it is probable that those will be the best which the most experienced find to be most excellent. But of course, it is much more difficult to be certain about new books ; we may like them by a kind of accident or in a mere obedience to fashion.
Then ought you to be always reading classics—Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, Addison, Pope, Dryden, Fielding, Sir Walter Scott's novels—and nothing else ? Not at all. These may be the best books ; I think they are ; but they may not be the best books for you. The language or the manners described, or the ideas, may seem so strange and odd to you that you cannot understand them, are wearied by them, turn them aside, aud never come back to them. In that case you will perhaps go about abusing time past, aud saying that you are much cleverer than the people who admired Shakespeare, or Homer, or Seott, or Pope. You may even find modern writers who maintain this very positively, and who maintain that the boys and girls of to-day are quicker and cleverer than grown men and women in Wordsworth's and Byron's time. This is uncommonly unlikely to be true, and people who really know the past scarcely think so highly of the present. la it likely that iu one particular thirty years every one who is born will be so very superior to all the generations tiiai went before ? This is nonsense, and dull uoiisense. The favorites of a thousand years caa ijardly help being good, though you may not know enough or be old enough or clever enough to like them. But do not let that make yon either dispirited or conceited. Read what you like, read plenty of it, and in time it is a hundred chancesto one that you will fiud that you agree with older people and older generations in your taste for books.
So, in the meanwhile, I end with saying, read what you like. Try the books that other people, and even that I myself afterwards, may think you will enjoy. If you find that you do not care for them, leave them alone. You may take pleasure in them later. Don’t discard them merely because we think well of them ; don’t admire them merely because we admire them,. Hover try to beat yourself into a passion for a book because it is considered the right thing to praise it. Be natural, but do not suppose that a book is a dull or bad book merely because it fails to amuse you just now. In the next of these papers we shall speak of some books that you are almost certain to find goad reading. And what is good reading lor boys and girls is good reading for men and women. Books written for boys and girls are worth considering. Good books are good for .everybody. Girls don’t read * Mary Drown, a Boojv for Girls.’ Boys don’t read 1 Maurice Gret, a Book for Boys.’ I imagine you scarcely need this advice. [Copyrighted.]
OUR YOUTHS' DEPARTMENT, Issue 8054, 2 November 1889, Supplement
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