Books And Success
Ignorance is the curse of God,
Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.
Prefer knowledge to wealth; for the one is transitory, the
If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it
away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best
My early and invincible love of reading, I would not exchange
for the treasures of India.
If the crowns of all the kingdoms of the empire were laid down
at my feet in exchange for my books and my love of reading, I
would spurn them all.
Who of us can tell
What he had been, had Cadmus never taught
The art that fixes into form the thought,--
Had Plato never spoken from his cell,
Or his high harp blind Homer never strung?
When friends grow cold and the converse of intimates languishes
into vapid civility and common-place, these only continue the
unaltered countenance of happier days, and cheer us with that
true friendship which never deceived hope, nor deserted sorrow.
"Do you want to know," asks Robert Collyer, "how I manage to talk to you
in this simple Saxon? I read Bunyan, Crusoe, and Goldsmith when I was a
boy, morning, noon, and night. All the rest was task work; these were my
delight, with the stories in the Bible, and with Shakespeare, when at
last the mighty master came within our doors. The rest were as senna to
me. These were like a well of pure water, and this is the first step I
seem to have taken of my own free will toward the pulpit. * * * I took
to these as I took to milk, and, without the least idea what I was
doing, got the taste for simple words into the very fibre of my nature.
There was day-school for me until I was eight years old, and then I had
to turn in and work thirteen hours a day. * * * * From the days when we
used to spell out Crusoe and old Bunyan there had grown up in me a
devouring hunger to read books. It made small matter what they were, so
they were books. Half a volume of an old encyclopaedia came along--the
first I had ever seen. How many times I went through that I cannot even
guess. I remember that I read some old reports of the Missionary Society
with the greatest delight.
"There were chapters in them about China and Labrador. Yet I think it is
in reading, as it is in eating, when the first hunger is over you begin
to be a little critical, and will by no means take to garbage if you are
of a wholesome nature. And I remember this because it touches this
beautiful valley of the Hudson. I could not go home for the Christmas of
1839, and was feeling very sad about it all, for I was only a boy; and
sitting by the fire, an old farmer came in and said: 'I notice thou's
fond of reading, so I brought thee summat to read.' It was Irving's
'Sketch Book.' I had never heard of the work. I went at it, and was 'as
them that dream.' No such delight had touched me since the old days of
Crusoe. I saw the Hudson and the Catskills, took poor Rip at once into
my heart, as everybody has, pitied Ichabod while I laughed at him,
thought the old Dutch feast a most admirable thing, and long before I
was through, all regret at my lost Christmas had gone down with the
wind, and I had found out there are books and books. That vast hunger to
read never left me. If there was no candle, I poked my head down to the
fire; read while I was eating, blowing the bellows, or walking from one
place to another. I could read and walk four miles an hour. The world
centred in books. There was no thought in my mind of any good to come
out of it; the good lay in the reading. I had no more idea of being a
minister than you elder men who were boys then, in this town, had that I
should be here to-night to tell this story. Now, give a boy a passion
like this for anything, books or business, painting or farming,
mechanism or music, and you give him thereby a lever to lift his world,
and a patent of nobility, if the thing he does is noble. There were two
or three of my mind about books. We became companions, and gave the
roughs a wide berth. The books did their work, too, about that drink,
and fought the devil with a finer fire."
"In education," says Herbert Spencer, "the process of self-development
should be encouraged to the fullest extent. Children should be led to
make their own investigations, and to draw their own inferences. They
should be _told_ as little as possible, and induced to _discover_ as
much as possible. Humanity has progressed solely by self-instruction;
and that to achieve the best results each mind must progress somewhat
after the same fashion, is continually proved by the marked success of
"My books," said Thomas Hood, "kept me from the ring, the dog-pit, the
tavern, and the saloon. The associate of Pope and Addison, the mind
accustomed to the noble though silent discourse of Shakespeare and
Milton, will hardly seek or put up with low or evil company or slaves."
"When I get a little money," said Erasmus, "I buy books, and if any is
left, I buy food and clothes."
"Hundreds of books read once," says Robertson, "have passed as
completely from us as if we had never read them; whereas the discipline
of mind got by writing down, not copying, an abstract of a book which
is worth the trouble fixes it on the mind for years, and, besides,
enables one to read other books with more attention and more profit."
"This habit of reading, I make bold to tell you," says Trollope, "is
your pass to the greatest, the purest, and the most perfect pleasures
that God has prepared for His creatures. Other pleasures may be more
ecstatic; but the habit of reading is the only enjoyment I know, in
which there is no alloy."
The Bible was begun in the desert in Arabia ages before Homer sang and
flourished in Asia Minor. Millions of books have since gone into
oblivion. Empires have risen and fallen. Revolutions have swept over and
changed the earth. It has always been subject to criticism and obloquy.
Mighty men have sought its overthrow. Works of Greek poets who catered
to men's depraved tastes have, in spite of everything, perished. The
Bible is a book of religion; and can be tried by no other standard.
"Read Plutarch," said Emerson, "and the world is a proud place peopled
with men of positive quality, with heroes and demi-gods standing around
us who will not let us sleep."
"There is no business, no avocation whatever," says Wyttenbach, "which
will not permit a man, who has an inclination, to give a little time,
every day, to the studies of his youth."
"All the sport in the park," said Lady Jane Grey, "is but a shadow of
that pleasure I find in Plato."
"In the lap of Eternity," said Heinsius, "among so many divine souls, I
take my seat with so lofty a spirit and such sweet content, that I pity
all the great ones and rich men, that have not this happiness."
"Death itself divides not the wise," says Bulwer. "Thou meetest Plato
when thine eyes moisten over the Phaedo. May Homer live with all men
"When a man reads," says President Porter, "he should put himself into
the most intimate intercourse with his author, so that all his energies
of apprehension, judgment and feeling may be occupied with, and aroused
by, what his author furnishes, whatever it may be. If repetition or
review will aid him in this, as it often will, let him not disdain or
neglect frequent reviews. If the use of the pen, in brief or full notes,
in catchwords or other symbols, will aid him, let him not shrink from
the drudgery of the pen and the commonplace book."
"Reading is to the mind," says Addison, "what exercise is to the body.
As by the one health is preserved, strengthened and invigorated, by the
other, virtue (which is the health of the mind) is kept alive, cherished
"There is a world of science necessary in choosing books," said Bulwer.
"I have known some people in great sorrow fly to a novel, or the last
light book in fashion. One might as well take a rose draught for the
plague! Light reading does not do when the heart is really heavy. I am
told that Goethe, when he lost his son, took to study a science that was
new to him. Ah! Goethe was a physician who knew what he was about."
"When I served when a young man in India," said a distinguished English
soldier and diplomatist; "when it was the turning point in my life; when
it was a mere chance whether I should become a mere card-playing,
hooka-smoking lounger, I was fortunately quartered for two years in the
neighborhood of an excellent library, which was made accessible to me."
"Books," says E. P. Whipple, "are lighthouses erected in the great sea
"As a rule," said Benjamin Disraeli, "the most successful man in life is
the man who has the best information."
"You get into society, in the widest sense," says Geikie, "in a great
library, with the huge advantage of needing no introductions, and not
dreading repulses. From that great crowd you can choose what companions
you please, for in the silent levees of the immortals there is no pride,
but the highest is at the service of the lowest, with a grand humility.
You may speak freely with any, without a thought of your inferiority;
for books are perfectly well-bred, and hurt no one's feelings by any
discriminations." Sir William Waller observed, "In my study, I am sure
to converse with none but wise men, but abroad it is impossible for me
to avoid the society of fools." "It is the glorious prerogative of the
empire of knowledge," says Webster, "that what it gains it never loses.
On the contrary, it increases by the multiple of its own power; all its
ends become means, all its attainments help to new conquests."
"At this hour, five hundred years since their creation," says De
Quincey, "the tales of Chaucer, never equaled on this earth for their
tenderness and for life of picturesqueness, are read familiarly by many
in the charming language of their natal day, and by others in the
modernization of Dryden, of Pope, and Wordsworth. At this hour, one
thousand eight hundred years since their creation, the pagan tales of
Ovid, never equaled on this earth for the gayety of their movement and
the capricious graces of their narrative, are read by all Christendom."
"There is no Past so long as Books shall live," says Lytton.
"No wonder Cicero said that he would part with all he was worth so he
might live and die among his books," says Geikie. "No wonder Petrarch
was among them to the last, and was found dead in their company. It
seems natural that Bede should have died dictating, and that Leibnitz
should have died with a book in his hand, and Lord Clarendon at his
desk. Buckle's last words, 'My poor book!' tell a passion that forgot
death; and it seemed only a fitting farewell when the tear stole down
the manly cheeks of Scott as they wheeled him into his library, when he
had come back to Abbotsford to die. Southey, white-haired, a living
shadow, sitting stroking and kissing the books he could no longer open
or read, is altogether pathetic."
"No entertainment is so cheap as reading," says Mary Wortley Montagu;
"nor any pleasure so lasting." Good books elevate the character, purify
the taste, _take the attractiveness out of low pleasures_, and lift us
upon a higher plane of thinking and living. It is not easy to be mean
directly after reading a noble and inspiring book. The conversation of a
man who reads for improvement or pleasure will be flavored by his
reading; but it will not be about his reading.
Perhaps no other thing has such power to lift the poor out of his
poverty, the wretched out of his misery, to make the burden-bearer
forget his burden, the sick his sufferings, the sorrower his grief, the
downtrodden his degradation, as books. They are friends to the lonely,
companions to the deserted, joy to the joyless, hope to the hopeless,
good cheer to the disheartened, a helper to the helpless. They bring
light into darkness, and sunshine into shadow.
"Twenty-five years ago, when I was a boy," said Rev. J. A. James, "a
school-fellow gave me an infamous book, which he lent me for only
fifteen minutes. At the end of that time it was returned to him, but
that book has haunted me like a spectre ever since. I have asked God on
my knees to obliterate that book from my mind, but I believe that I
shall carry down with me to the grave the spiritual damage I received
during those fifteen minutes."
Did Homer and Plato and Socrates and Virgil ever dream that their words
would echo through the ages, and aid in shaping men's lives in the
nineteenth century? They were mere infants when on earth in comparison
with the mighty influence and power they now yield. Every life on the
American continent has in some degree been influenced by them. Christ,
when on earth, never exerted one millionth part of the influence He
wields to-day. While He reigns supreme in few human hearts, He touches
all more or less, the atheist as well as the saint. On the other hand
who shall say how many crimes were committed the past year by wicked men
buried long ago? Their books, their pictures, their terrible examples,
live in all they reach, and incite to evil deeds. How important, then,
is the selection of books which are to become a part of your being.
Knowledge cannot be stolen from us. It cannot be bought or sold. We may
be poor, and the sheriff may come and sell our furniture, or drive away
our cow, or take our pet lamb, and leave us homeless and penniless; but
he cannot lay the law's hand upon the jewelry of our minds.
"Good books and the wild woods are two things with which man can never
become too familiar," says George W. Cable. "The friendship of trees is
a sort of self-love and is very wholesome. All inanimate nature is but a
mirror, and it is greater far to have the sense of beauty than it is to
be only its insensible depository.
"The books that inspire imagination, whether in truth or fiction; that
elevate the thoughts, are the right kind to read. Our emotions are
simply the vibrations of our soul.
"The moment fiction becomes mendacious it is bad, for it induces us to
believe a lie. Fiction purely as fiction must be innocent and beautiful,
and its beauty must be more than skin deep. Every field of art is a
playground and we are extra pleased when the artist makes that field a
Cotton Mather's "Essay to do Good" read by the boy Franklin influenced
the latter's whole life. He advised everybody to read with a pen in hand
and to make notes of all they read.
James T. Fields visited Jesse Pomeroy, the boy murderer, in jail.
Pomeroy told him he had been a great reader of "blood and thunder"
stories; that he had read sixty dime novels about scalping and other
bloody performances; and he thought there was no doubt that these books
had put the horrible thoughts into his mind which led to his murderous
Many a boy has gone to sea and become a rover for life under the
influence of Marryat's novels. Abbott's "Life of Napoleon," read at the
age of seven years, sent one boy whom I knew to the army before he was
fourteen. Many a man has committed crime from the leavening, multiplying
influence of a bad book read when a boy. The chaplain of Newgate prison
in London, in one of his annual reports to the Lord Mayor, referring to
many fine-looking lads of respectable parentage in the city prison, said
that he discovered that "all these boys, without exception, had been in
the habit of reading those cheap periodicals" which were published for
the alleged amusement of youth of both sexes. There is not a police
court or a prison in this country where similar cases could not be
found. One can hardly measure the moral ruin that has been caused in
this generation by the influence of bad books.
In the parlor window of the old mossy vicarage where Coleridge spent his
dreamy childhood lay a well-thumbed copy of that volume of Oriental
fancy, the "Arabian Nights," and he has told us with what mingled desire
and apprehension he was wont to look at the precious book, until the
morning sunshine had touched and illuminated it, when, seizing it
hastily, he would carry it off in triumph to some leafy nook in the
vicarage garden, and plunge delightedly into its maze of marvels and
Beecher said that Ruskin's works taught him the secret of seeing, and
that no man could ever again be quite the same man or look at the world
in the same way after reading him. Samuel Drew said, "Locke's 'Essay on
the Understanding' awakened me from stupor, and induced me to form a
resolution to abandon the groveling views I had been accustomed to
maintain." An English tanner, whose leather gained a great reputation,
said he should not have made it so good if he had not read Carlyle. The
lives of Washington and Henry Clay, which Lincoln borrowed from
neighbors in the wilderness, and devoured by the light of the cabin
fire, inspired his life. In his early manhood he read Paine's "Age of
Reason," and Volney's "Ruins," which so influenced his mind that he
wrote an essay to prove the unreliability of the Bible. These two books
nearly unbalanced his moral character. But, fortunately, the books which
fell into his hands in after years corrected this evil influence. The
trend of many a life for good or ill, for success or failure, has been
determined by a single book. The books which we read early in life are
those which influence us most. When Garfield was working for a neighbor
he read "Sinbad the Sailor" and the "Pirate's Own Book." These books
revealed a new world to him, and his mother with difficulty kept him
from going to sea. He was fascinated with the sea life which these books
pictured to his young imagination. The "Voyages of Captain Cook" led
William Carey to go on a mission to the heathen. "The Imitation of
Christ" and Taylor's "Holy Living and Dying" determined the character of
John Wesley. "Shakespeare and the Bible," said John Sharp, "made me
Archbishop of York." The "Vicar of Wakefield" awakened the poetical
genius in Goethe.
"I have been the bosom friend of Leander and Romeo," said Lowell. "I
seem to go behind Shakespeare, and to get my intelligence at first hand.
Sometimes, in my sorrow, a line from Spenser steals in upon my memory as
if by some vitality and external volition of its own, like a blast from
the distant trump of a knight pricking toward the court of Faerie, and I
am straightway lifted out of that sadness and shadow into the sunshine
of a previous and long-agone experience."
"Who gets more enjoyment out of eating," asks Amos R. Wells, "the
pampered millionaire, whose tongue is the wearied host of myriads of
sugary, creamy, spicy guests, or the little daughter of the laborer,
trotting about all the morning with helpful steps, who has come a long
two miles with her father's dinner to eat it with him from a tin pail?
And who gets the more pleasure out of reading, the satiated
fiction-glutton, her brain crammed with disordered fragments of
countless scenes of adventure, love and tragedy, impatient of the same
old situations, the familiar characters, the stale plots--she or the
girl who is fired with a love for history, say, who wants to know all
about the grand old, queer old Socrates, and then about his friends, and
then about the times in which he lived, and then about the way in which
they all lived, then about the Socratic legacy to the ages? Why, will
that girl ever be done with the feast? Can you not see, looking down on
her joy with a blessing, the very Lord of the banquet, who has ordered
all history and ordained that the truth He fashions shall be stranger
always than the fiction man contrives? Take the word of a man who has
made full trial of both. Solid reading is as much more interesting and
attractive than frivolous reading as solid living is more recreative
than frivolous living."
"I solemnly declare," said Sidney Smith, "that but for the love of
knowledge, I should consider the life of the meanest hedger and ditcher
as preferable to that of the greatest and richest man in existence; for
the fire of our minds is like the fires which the Persians burn in the
mountains, it flames night and day, and is immortal, and not to be
quenched! Upon something it must act and feed--upon the pure spirit of
knowledge, or upon the foul dregs of polluting passions. Therefore, when
I say, in conducting your understanding, love knowledge with a great
love, with a vehement love, with a love co-eval with life--what do I say
but love innocence, love virtue, love purity of conduct, love that
which, if you are rich and great, will vindicate the blind fortune which
has made you so, and make men call it justice; love that which, if you
are poor, will render your poverty respectable, and make the proudest
feel it unjust to laugh at the meanness of your fortunes; love that
which will comfort you, adorn you, and never quit you--which will open
to you the kingdom of thought, and all the boundless regions of
conception, as an asylum against the cruelty, the injustice, and the
pain that may be your lot in the world--that which will make your
motives habitually great and honorable, _and light up in an instant a
thousand noble disdains at the very thought of meanness and of fraud_?"
Do I feel like hearing an eloquent sermon? Spurgeon and Beecher,
Whitefield, Hall, Collyer, Phillips Brooks, Canon Farrar, Dr. Parker,
Talmage, are all standing on my bookcase, waiting to give me their
greatest efforts at a moment's notice. Do I feel indisposed, and need a
little recreation? This afternoon I will take a trip across the
Atlantic, flying against the wind and over breakers without fear of
seasickness on the ocean greyhounds. I will inspect the world renowned
Liverpool docks; take a run up to Hawarden, call on Mr. Gladstone; fly
over to London, take a run through the British Museum and see the
wonderful collection from all nations; go through the National Art
Gallery, through the Houses of Parliament, visit Windsor Castle and
Buckingham Palace, call upon Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales; take a
run through the lake region and call upon the great writers, visit
Oxford and Cambridge; cross the English Channel, stop at Rouen, where
Joan of Arc was burned to death by the English, take a flying trip to
Paris, visit the tomb of Napoleon, the Louvre Gallery; take a peep at
one of the greatest pieces of sculpture in existence, the Venus de Milo
(which a rich and ignorant person offered to buy if they would give him
a fresh one), take a glance at some of the greatest paintings in
existence along the miles of galleries; take a peep into the Grand Opera
House, the grandest in the world (to make room for which 427 buildings
were demolished), promenade through the Champs de Elysee, pass under the
triumphal arch of Napoleon, take a run out to Versailles and inspect the
famous palace of Louis XIV., upon which he spent perhaps $100,000,000.
Do I desire to hear eloquent speeches? Through my books I can enter the
Parliament and listen to the thrilling oratory of Disraeli, of
Gladstone, of Bright, of O'Connor; they will admit me to the floor of
the Senate, where I can hear the matchless oratory of a Webster, of a
Clay, of a Calhoun, of a Sumner, of Everett, of Wilson. They will pass
me into the Roman Forum, where I can hear Cicero, or to the rostrums of
Greece, where I may listen spell-bound to the magic oratory of a
"No matter how poor I am," says Channing; "no matter though the
prosperous of my own time will not enter my obscure dwelling; if the
sacred writers will enter and take up their abode under my roof; if
Milton will cross my threshold to sing to me of paradise, and
Shakespeare to open to me the worlds of imagination and the workings of
the human heart, and Franklin to enrich me with his practical
wisdom,--I shall not pine for the want of intellectual companionship,
and I may become a cultivated man, though excluded from what is called
the best society in the place where I live."
"With the dead there is no rivalry," says Macaulay. "In the dead there
is no change. Plato is never sullen; Cervantes is never petulant;
Demosthenes never comes unseasonably; Dante never stays too long; no
difference of political opinion can alienate Cicero; no heresy can
excite the horror of Bossuet."
"Heed not the idle assertion that literary pursuits will disqualify you
for the active business of life," says Alexander H. Everett. "Reject it
as a mere imagination, inconsistent with principle, unsupported by
The habit of reading may become morbid. There is a novel-reading
disease. There are people who are almost as much tied to their novels as
an intemperate man is tied to his bottle. The more of these novels they
read, the weaker their minds become. They remember nothing; they read
for the stimulus; their reasoning powers become weaker and weaker, their
memory more treacherous. The mind is ruined for healthy intellectual
food. They have no taste for history or biography, or anything but
cheap, trashy, sensational novels.
The passive reception of other men's thoughts is not education. Beware
of intellectual dram drinking and intellectual dissipation. It is
emasculating. Beware of the book which does not make you determined to
go and do something and be something in the world.
The great difference between the American graduate and the graduates
from the English universities is that the latter have not read many
books superficially, but a few books well. The American graduate has a
smattering of many books, but has not become master of any. The same is
largely true of readers in general; they want to know a little of
everything. They want to read all the latest publications, good, bad and
indifferent, if it is only new. As a rule our people want light reading,
"something to read" that will take up the attention, kill time on the
railroad or at home. As a rule English people read more substantial
books, older books, books which have established their right to exist.
They are not so eager for "recent publications."
Joseph Cook advises youth to always make notes of their reading. Mr.
Cook uses the margins of his books for his notes, and marks all of his
own books very freely, so that every volume in his library becomes a
notebook. He advises all young men and young women to keep commonplace
books. We cannot too heartily recommend this habit of taking notes. It
is a great aid to memory, and it helps wonderfully to locate or to find
for future use what we have read. It helps to assimilate and make our
own whatever we read. The habit of taking notes of lectures and sermons
is an excellent one. One of the greatest aids to education is the habit
of writing out an analysis or a skeleton of a book or article after we
have read it; also of a sermon or a lecture. This habit has made many a
strong, vigorous thinker and writer. In this connection we cannot too
strongly recommend the habit of saving clippings from our readings
wherever possible of everything which would be likely to assist us in
the future. These scrap-books, indexed, often become of untold
advantage, especially if in the line of our work. Much of what we call
genius in great men comes from these note-books and scrap-books.
How many poor boys and girls who thought they had "no chance" in life
have been started upon noble careers by the grand books of Smiles, Todd,
Mathews, Munger, Whipple, Geikie, Thayer, and others.
You should bring your mind to the reading of a book, or to the study of
any subject, as you take an axe to the grindstone; not for what you get
from the stone, but for the sharpening of the axe. While it is true that
the facts learned from books are worth more than the dust from the
stone, even in much greater ratio is the mind more valuable than the
axe. Bacon says: "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. Histories
make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtle; natural philosophy
deep; morals grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend."
Next: Riches Without Wings
Previous: Hold Up Your Head