Thought And Reserve Power. Part 3
Books also advantage us in that they exhibit the unity of progress, the solidarity of the race, and the continuity of history. Authors lead us back along the pathway of law, of liberty or religion, and set us down in front of the great man in whose brain the principle had its rise. As the discoverer leads us from the mouth of the Nile back to the headwaters of Nyanza, so books exhibit great ideas and institutions, as they move forward, ever widening and deepening, like some Nile feeding many civilizations. For all the reforms of to-day go back to some reform of yesterday. Man's art goes back to Athens and Thebes. Man's laws go back to Blackstone and Justinian. Man's reapers and plows go back to the savage scratching the ground with his forked stick, drawn by the wild bullock. The heroes of liberty march forward in a solid column. Lincoln grasps the hand of Washington. Washington received his weapons at the hands of Hampden and Cromwell. The great Puritans lock hands with Luther and Savonarola.
The unbroken procession brings us at length to Him whose Sermon on the Mount was the very charter of liberty. It puts us under a divine spell to perceive that we are all coworkers with the great men, and yet single threads in the warp and woof of civilization. And when books have related us to our own age, and related all the epochs to God, whose providence is the gulf stream of history, these teachers go on to stimulate us to new and greater achievements. Alone, man is an unlighted candle. The mind needs some book to kindle its faculties. Before Byron began to write he used to give half an hour to reading some favorite passage. The thought of some great writer never failed to kindle Byron into a creative glow, even as a match lights the kindlings upon the grate. In these burning, luminous moods Byron's mind did its best work. The true book stimulates the mind as no wine can ever quicken the blood. It is reading that brings us to our best, and rouses each faculty to its most vigorous life.
We recognize this as pure cream, and if it seems at first to have its secondary source in the friendly milkman, let us not forget that the theme is "The Uses of Books and Reading." Dr. Hillis both sees and thinks.
It is fashionable just now to decry the value of reading. We read, we are told, to avoid the necessity of thinking for ourselves. Books are for the mentally lazy.
Though this is only a half-truth, the element of truth it contains is large enough to make us pause. Put yourself through a good old Presbyterian soul-searching self-examination, and if reading-from-thought-laziness is one of your sins, confess it. No one can shrive you of it - but yourself. Do penance for it by using your own brains, for it is a transgression that dwarfs the growth of thought and destroys mental freedom. At first the penance will be trying - but at the last you will be glad in it.
Reading should entertain, give information, or stimulate thought. Here, however, we are chiefly concerned with information, and stimulation of thought.
What shall I read for information?
The ample page of knowledge, as Grey tells us, is "rich with the spoils of time," and these are ours for the price of a theatre ticket. You may command Socrates and Marcus Aurelius to sit beside you and discourse of their choicest, hear Lincoln at Gettysburg and Pericles at Athens, storm the Bastile with Hugo, and wander through Paradise with Dante. You may explore darkest Africa with Stanley, penetrate the human heart with Shakespeare, chat with Carlyle about heroes, and delve with the Apostle Paul into the mysteries of faith. The general knowledge and the inspiring ideas that men have collected through ages of toil and experiment are yours for the asking. The Sage of Chelsea was right: "The true university of these days is a collection of books."
To master a worth-while book is to master much else besides; few of us, however, make perfect conquest of a volume without first owning it physically. To read a borrowed book may be a joy, but to assign your own book a place of its own on your own shelves - be they few or many - to love the book and feel of its worn cover, to thumb it over slowly, page by page, to pencil its margins in agreement or in protest, to smile or thrill with its remembered pungencies - no mere book borrower could ever sense all that delight.
The reader who possesses books in this double sense finds also that his books possess him, and the volumes which most firmly grip his life are likely to be those it has cost him some sacrifice to own. Those lightly-come-by titles, which Mr. Fatpurse selects, perhaps by proxy, can scarcely play the guide, philosopher and friend in crucial moments as do the books - long coveted, joyously attained - that are welcomed into the lives, and not merely the libraries, of us others who are at once poorer and richer.
So it is scarcely too much to say that of all the many ways in which an owned - a mastered - book is like to a human friend, the truest ways are these: A friend is worth making sacrifices for, both to gain and to keep; and our loves go out most dearly to those into whose inmost lives we have sincerely entered.
When you have not the advantage of the test of time by which to judge books, investigate as thoroughly as possible the authority of the books you read. Much that is printed and passes current is counterfeit. "I read it in a book" is to many a sufficient warranty of truth, but not to the thinker. "What book?" asks the careful mind. "Who wrote it? What does he know about the subject and what right has he to speak on it? Who recognizes him as authority? With what other recognized authorities does he agree or disagree?" Being caught trying to pass counterfeit money, even unintentionally, is an unpleasant situation. Beware lest you circulate spurious coin.
Above all, seek reading that makes you use your own brains. Such reading must be alive with fresh points of view, packed with special knowledge, and deal with subjects of vital interest. Do not confine your reading to what you already know you will agree with. Opposition wakes one up. The other road may be the better, but you will never know it unless you "give it the once over." Do not do all your thinking and investigating in front of given "Q. E. D.'s;" merely assembling reasons to fill in between your theorem and what you want to prove will get you nowhere. Approach each subject with an open mind and - once sure that you have thought it out thoroughly and honestly - have the courage to abide by the decision of your own thought. But don't brag about it afterward.
No book on public speaking will enable you to discourse on the tariff if you know nothing about the tariff. Knowing more about it than the other man will be your only hope for making the other man listen to you.
Take a group of men discussing a governmental policy of which some one says: "It is socialistic." That will commend the policy to Mr. A., who believes in socialism, but condemn it to Mr. B., who does not. It may be that neither had considered the policy beyond noticing that its surface-color was socialistic. The chances are, furthermore, that neither Mr. A. nor Mr. B. has a definite idea of what socialism really is, for as Robert Louis Stevenson says, "Man lives not by bread alone but chiefly by catch words." If you are of this group of men, and have observed this proposed government policy, and investigated it, and thought about it, what you have to say cannot fail to command their respect and approval, for you will have shown them that you possess a grasp of your subject and - to adopt an exceedingly expressive bit of slang - then some.
Questions And Exercises
1. Robert Houdin trained his son to give one swift glance at a shop window in passing and be able to report accurately a surprising number of its contents. Try this several times on different windows and report the result.
2. What effect does reserve power have on an audience?
3. What are the best methods for acquiring reserve . power?
4. What is the danger of too much reading?
5. Analyze some speech that you have read or heard and notice how much real information there is in it. Compare it with Dr. Hillis's speech on "Brave Little Belgium," page 394.
6. Write out a three-minute speech on any subject you choose. How much information, and what new ideas, does it contain? Compare your speech with the extract on page 191 from Dr. Hillis's "The Uses of Books and Reading."
7. Have you ever read a book on the practise of thinking? If so, give your impressions of its value.
Note: There are a number of excellent books on the subject of thought and the management of thought. The following are recommended as being especially helpful:
"Thinking and Learning to Think," Nathan C. Schaeffer; "Talks to Students on the Art of Study," Cramer; "As a Man Thinketh," Allen.
8. Define (a) logic; (b) mental philosophy (or mental science); (c) psychology; (d) abstract.