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

other perpetual.


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

self-made men."

"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

and confirmed."

"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

of time."

"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

gymnasium also."

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."

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