Reading Maketh a Full Man Essay

Outline:

  • Introduction
  • Ruskin called good book
  • King’s Treasuries
  • Books as our intellectual feeders
  • Books give us society in solitude
  • Books are friends in need
  • Books as a form of travel
  • Books as social corrective and reformers
  • Conclusion

Introduction

Ruskin called good book, Kings’ Treasuries not transient treasuries of gold and silver but the immortal and, an inexhaustible treasure house of wisdom, knowledge and insight. They preserve the precious thought – gems, the exquisite imagination, the weighty counsels and the accumulated wisdom of all ages. “Nothing can supply the place of books. Let every man, if possible, gather some good books under his roof. Almost any luxury should be sacrificed for this,” wrote Channing. Macaulay declared, “I would rather be a poor man in a garret with plenty of books thanking who did not love reading.” Similarly, Southey discovered his best company in books.

“My days among the dead are passed,

Around me I behold

Where’er these casual eyes are cast,

The mighty minds of old

My never failing friends are they,

With whom I converse day by day.”

Books as our intellectual feeders

The value of books in feeding our intellectual powers and training the rational in man is inestimable. “Man does not live by bread alone” is as substantial a saying as it is old. Books are as necessary for the health of brain as bread is for that of body. Most of the people fail in the business of life owing to the want of study and understanding. “They are like kites flown by the priests and politicians who hold the string. They are fleeced and fooled on account of their ignorance of Science, History, Economics, and other subjects. Half the ills of mankind are due to ignorance; the other half arise from egotism.” Books are the source of intellectual light and spiritual elevation. According to Hudson, they make us “partakers in a life larger, richer and more varied than we ourselves can ever know of our individual knowledge; and they do this, not only because they open up new fields of experience and new lines of thought and speculation, but also, and even more notable, because they carry us beyond the pinched and meager humanity of our everyday round of existence into contact with fresh, strong and magnetic personalities of the world.

Books give us society in solitude

Books are our unfailing friends of solitude. When we are sick of the hurry and worry of life, when the sky is overcast with clouds, the path of the future lies, through a thick forest, and when we are utterly alone in darkness without a single ray of light, when all around us are difficulties, we go to the world of books and place ourselves at the feet of great poets and literary authors. In their company we find a rare source of inspiration and enlargement. Human companions are uncertain and they know of their own, age and about the little they know. But in the company of books, a man can fill his solitude with mighty men of all ages; laughing, frisking, romping, crying children, scattering, mirth and cheerfulness around us and shedding Light of Health and Joy on the darkest glooms of Sorrow and Dejection; young men and women; inspired with fancies of love and poetry; men of mature age, racked by the cares and snares of this world, groaning under the weight of burden and yet unwilling to throw it off; and garrulous old men and women, ready to give their counsels unasked for, perpetually talking of the good old days they have seen.

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Here we find men suit all our moods – moods of mirth and joy, of gloom and dejection, of anger and passion. Here we may choose companions who will laugh with us when we are happy; grieve with us when we are sad; pity with us when we are compassionate; rage with us when we are angry; and shoot out looks of bitter contempt and withering scorn, and hurl out words of noble defiance with us when we are threatened with empty terrors of exile and imprisonment, of torture and execution, by the cruel oppressors of our country. Or, we may choose companions by the law of contraries; we may have been who will bring smiles to our lips and brightness to our eyes, when we are melancholic; give us cause for being serious, when we are inclined to be over mirthful; counsel moderation, when we are excited; drive us, when we are disposed to be lazy; advise pause, when we are rushing into action; warn us, when we are tempted; uphold us, when we are falling; sustain us, when we feel unable to hold out against tyranny and oppression, and strengthen our steps, when we falter on the difficult path of duty and rectitude.

Books are friends in need

Books are our friends, philosophers and guides. They give light to those who are benighted, guide to those who are strayed and cheer to those who are melancholy. The comical sight of Pickwick running after his hat drives away sadness from our look. The talk between Crito and Socrates in the prison at Athens strengthens us when we are inclined to follow the voice of the Devil. The sight of Christ on the cross, praying to God to pardon his persecutors for they know not what they have done, will enable us to be patient under unjust prosecutors, and to be kind to those who wrong us. If we feel unable to uphold our just cause because of odds against us, let us study the life of great men and we shall be strengthened in our resolve not to give way. If constant failures have made us despair of success, let us learn the lesson of perseverance, which Robert Bruce learnt from the spider. If we are inclined to be easy-going, to seek pleasure and to avoid unpleasantness, and are unwilling to put forth efforts to set things right, let us read. ‘Romola’ by George Eliot, and we shall see the disastrous consequences of letting things drift and delay. In short, as a poet says about books,

“They give

They soothe the grieved, the stubborn they chastise,

Fools they admonish, and confirm the wise;

Their aid, they yield to all; they never shun

The man of sorrow, nor the wretch undone.”

Books as a form of travel

In books are recorded and preserved the memories of the ages past and by reading them we can transport ourselves in the past and witness the panorama of a new life opening before our eyes. We travel, we may see other nations at home, their “cities of men and manners, climates, councils, governments”, and this is what we rightly conceive as an important agency in human culture. The study of books is a form of travel, it enables us to move about freely among the minds of other races, with the additional advantage of that, as Prof. Barret Wendell has happily. said, it gives us the power of traveling also in time. We become familiar not only with the minds of other races, but with the minds of other epochs as well. In the silent society of books we take a journey through ages, learn the manners and customs of the nations long extinct, see the glory of the empires long ruined and listen to the words of men long dead. By the help of the magical power of books, we can command the Roman Empire to make its appearance once more, to grow to its heights and to decay over again. We can order Alexander to begin his reign over again and to reconquer what he conquered before. We can travel across the wide expanse of the sky, and see stars bigger than our own. If we wish to know the mysteries of life and death, body and soul, we have but to express the wish and the books will gladly lift us to the heights of thought where we will find it hard to breath, where wonder will take possession of our soul, the mist will roll away from before our eyes and we will find ourselves face to face with the Goddess of Truth. But if we feel unequal to this task, if we feel ourselves dizzy at this height, we may go to other books and in their company we can hear the prattle of innocent children, see their innocent sports, have the weight of years roll off our soul, and see once more our childhood when our will was supreme, when all acknowledged our mastery and willingly submitted to our tyranny, when we sucked life at our mother’s breast, and being rocked in her arms, forgot everything.

In other words, books are a source of eternal joy and pleasure. Life is a bed of thorns. Shelley calls it’ a dim vale of tears’. But in reading books we find an escape from the cares and worries of life, from the fever, the fret and the weariness of this world. A commonplace thing acquires a shape and on the ‘viewless wings of poesy,’ we flit from flower to flower forgetting the thorns below. Works of romance posses our minds and brains in no time. They carry us far into a Utopian land where love is rewarded, where wealth is in plenty and where pain and sickness do not intrude. To quote from Augustine Birrell, “Literature (books) exists to please to lighten the burden of men’s lives; to make them for a short while forget their sorrows and their sins, their silenced hearths, their disappointed hopes, their grim futures.”

Books as social correctives and reformers

Books serve not only for “delight, armament and ability but also play a vital role in revolutionizing the public opinion and reforming the moral tone of human society. It was through books that Hobbes gave impetus to the Civil War of 1642 and Locke to the revolution of 1687. The French Revolution was the outcome of the Writings of Voltaire and Rousseau. The great philosophical writers, Bentham and Mills, inspired the liberal program of the 10th century. Life is governed by ideas and ideals, and books, which are the precious life-blood of master-spirits’, are at the back of all revolutionary movements. It was through books that Dickens launched a crusade against slums. Thackeray exposed the hypocrisies of the aristocratic society. Mrs. Gaskell brought to light the squalor of the rising industrial towns. Carlyle denounced the whole mechanical age devoid of blessedness, if not, happiness, Ruskin preached the creation and love of beauty in works done by human hand, and Newman discussed the return to the fold of the Roman Catholic religion.

Conclusion

But the study of books unassociated with the experience of life leads one to be pedantic and impractical. A book reader is acquainted with the world of books only and has no knowledge of real world. It is our experience that enables us to understand, appreciate and enjoy what is described in books. Bacon rightly observes: “They (studies) perfect nature and are perfected by experience.” The full meaning of what is written in books about life comes only after a man has gone through the like experiences in life. Books give directions about managing the various affairs of life; but it requires much experience to apply them. No one can become a successful surgeon or a military commander. We see that books ‘teach not their own use, for that is a wisdom without them, and above them, and won by observation’; for ‘books are only the gloss of life, they are not the text, and that consequently life’s secrets must be read in the living world, with much paid and sleeplessness and worried eyes. In short, theory and practice, knowledge and experience, books and action must always go hand in hand.

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