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The Pleasures of Life by Sir John Lubbock

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Those who have the pleasure of attending the opening meetings of schools
and colleges, and of giving away prizes and certificates, are generally
expected at the same time to offer such words of counsel and encouragement
as the experience of the world might enable them to give to those who are
entering life.

Having been myself when young rather prone to suffer from low spirits, I
have at several of these gatherings taken the opportunity of dwelling on
the privileges and blessings we enjoy, and I reprint here the substance of
some of these addresses (omitting what was special to the circumstances of
each case, and freely making any alterations and additions which have
since occurred to me), hoping that the thoughts and quotations in which I
have myself found most comfort may perhaps be of use to others also.

It is hardly necessary to say that I have not by any means referred to all
the sources of happiness open to us, some indeed of the greatest pleasures
and blessings being altogether omitted.

In reading over the proofs I feel that some sentences may appear too
dogmatic, but I hope that allowance will be made for the circumstances
under which they were delivered.


DOWN, KENT, _January 1887_.



A lecture which I delivered three years ago at the Working Men's College,
and which forms the fourth chapter of this book, has given rise to a good
deal of discussion. The _Pall Mall Gazette_ took up the subject and issued
a circular to many of those best qualified to express an opinion. This
elicited many interesting replies, and some other lists of books were
drawn up. When my book was translated, a similar discussion took place in
Germany. The result has been very gratifying, and after carefully
considering the suggestions which have been made, I see no reason for any
material change in the first list. I had not presumed to form a list of my
own, nor did I profess to give my own favorites. My attempt was to give
those most generally recommended by previous writers on the subject. In
the various criticisms on my list, while large additions, amounting to
several hundred works in all, have been proposed, very few omissions have
been suggested. As regards those works with reference to which some doubts
have been expressed--namely, the few Oriental books, Wake's Apostolic
Fathers etc.--I may observe that I drew up the list, not as that of the
hundred best books, but, which is very different, of those which have been
most frequently recommended as best worth reading.

For instance as regards the _Sheking_ and the _Analects_ of Confucius, I
must humbly confess that I do not greatly admire either; but I recommended
them because they are held in the most profound veneration by the Chinese
race, containing 400,000,000 of our fellow-men. I may add that both works
are quite short.

The _Ramayana_ and _Maha Bharata_ (as epitomized by Wheeler) and St.
Hilaire's _Bouddha_ are not only very interesting in themselves, but very
important in reference to our great oriental Empire.

The authentic writings of the Apostolic Fathers are very short, being
indeed comprised in one small volume, and as the only works (which have
come down to us) of those who lived with and knew the Apostles, they are
certainly well worth reading.

I have been surprised at the great divergence of opinion which has been
expressed. Nine lists of some length have been published. These lists
contain some three hundred works not mentioned by me (without, however,
any corresponding omissions), and yet there is not one single book which
occurs in every list, or even in half of them, and only about half a dozen
which appear in more than one of the nine.

If these authorities, or even a majority of them, had concurred in their
recommendations, I would have availed myself of them; but as they differ
so greatly I will allow my list to remain almost as I first proposed it. I
have, however, added Kalidasa's _Sakuntala_ or _The Lost Ring_, and
Schiller's _William Tell_, omitting, in consequence, Lucretius and Miss
Austen: Lucretius because though his work is most remarkable, it is
perhaps less generally suitable than most of the others in the list; and
Miss Austen because English novelists were somewhat over-represented.


DOWN, KENT, _August 1890_.



"All places that the eye of Heaven visits
Are to the wise man ports and happy havens."


"Some murmur, when their sky is clear
And wholly bright to view,
If one small speck of dark appear
In their great heaven of blue.
And some with thankful love are fill'd
If but one streak of light,
One ray of God's good mercy gild
The darkness of their night.

"In palaces are hearts that ask,
In discontent and pride,
Why life is such a dreary task,
And all good things denied.
And hearts in poorest huts admire
How love has in their aid
(Love that not ever seems to tire)
Such rich provision made."




"If a man is unhappy, this must be his own fault; for
God made all men to be happy."--EPICTETUS.

Life is a great gift, and as we reach years of discretion, we most of us
naturally ask ourselves what should be the main object of our existence.
Even those who do not accept "the greatest good of the greatest number" as
an absolute rule, will yet admit that we should all endeavor to contribute
as far as we may to the happiness of our fellow-creatures. There are many,
however, who seem to doubt whether it is right that we should try to be
happy ourselves. Our own happiness ought not, of course, to be our main
object, nor indeed will it ever be secured if selfishly sought. We may
have many pleasures in life, but must not let them have rule over us, or
they will soon hand us over to sorrow; and "into what dangerous and
miserable servitude doth he fall who suffereth pleasures and sorrows (two
unfaithful and cruel commanders) to possess him successively?" [1]

I cannot, however, but think that the world would be better and brighter
if our teachers would dwell on the Duty of Happiness as well as on the
Happiness of Duty, for we ought to be as cheerful as we can, if only
because to be happy ourselves, is a most effectual contribution to the
happiness of others.

Every one must have felt that a cheerful friend is like a sunny day, which
sheds its brightness on all around; and most of us can, as we choose, make
of this world either a palace or a prison.

There is no doubt some selfish satisfaction in yielding to melancholy, and
fancying that we are victims of fate; in brooding over grievances,
especially if more or less imaginary. To be bright and cheerful often
requires an effort; there is a certain art in keeping ourselves happy; and
in this respect, as in others, we require to watch over and manage
ourselves, almost as if we were somebody else.

Sorrow and joy, indeed, are strangely interwoven. Too often

"We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought." [2]

As a nation we are prone to melancholy. It has been said of our countrymen
that they take even their pleasures sadly. But this, if it be true at all,
will, I hope, prove a transitory characteristic. "Merry England" was the
old saying, let us hope it may become true again. We must look to the East
for real melancholy. What can be sadder than the lines with which Omar
Khayyam opens his quatrains: [3]

"We sojourn here for one short day or two,
And all the gain we get is grief and woe;
And then, leaving life's problems all unsolved
And harassed by regrets, we have to go;"

or the Devas' song to Prince Siddartha, in Edwin Arnold's beautiful

"We are the voices of the wandering wind,
Which moan for rest, and rest can never find.
Lo! as the wind is, so is mortal life--
A moan, a sigh, a sob, a storm, a strife."

If indeed this be true, if mortal life be so sad and full of suffering, no
wonder that Nirvana--the cessation of sorrow--should be welcomed even at
the sacrifice of consciousness.

But ought we not to place before ourselves a very different ideal--a
healthier, manlier, and nobler hope?

Life is not to live merely, but to live well. There are some "who live
without any design at all, and only pass in the world like straws on a
river: they do not go; they are carried," [4]--but as Homer makes Ulysses
say, "How dull it is to pause, to make an end, to rest unburnished; not to
shine in use--as though to breathe were life!"

Goethe tells us that at thirty he resolved "to work out life no longer by
halves, but in all its beauty and totality."

"Im Ganzen, Guten, Schoenen
Resolut zu leben."

Life indeed must be measured by thought and action, not by time. It
certainly may be, and ought to be, bright, interesting, and happy; and,
according to the Italian proverb, "if all cannot live on the Piazza, every
one may feel the sun."

If we do our best; if we do not magnify trifling troubles; if we look
resolutely, I do not say at the bright side of things, but at things as
they really are; if we avail ourselves of the manifold blessings which
surround us; we cannot but feel that life is indeed a glorious

"More servants wait on man
Than he'll take notice of. In every path
He treads down that which doth befriend him
When sickness makes him pale and wan
Oh mighty Love! Man is one world, and hath
Another to attend him." [5]

Few of us, however, realize the wonderful privilege of living, or the
blessings we inherit; the glories and beauties of the Universe, which is
our own if we choose to have it so; the extent to which we can make
ourselves what we wish to be; or the power we possess of securing peace,
of triumphing over pain and sorrow.

Dante pointed to the neglect of opportunities as a serious fault:

"Man can do violence
To himself and his own blessings, and for this
He, in the second round, must aye deplore,
With unavailing penitence, his crime.
Whoe'er deprives himself of life and light
In reckless lavishment his talent wastes,
And sorrows then when he should dwell in joy."

Ruskin has expressed this with special allusion to the marvellous beauty
of this glorious world, too often taken as a matter of course, and
remembered, if at all, almost without gratitude. "Holy men," he complains,
"in the recommending of the love of God to us, refer but seldom to those
things in which it is most abundantly and immediately shown; though they
insist much on His giving of bread, and raiment, and health (which He
gives to all inferior creatures): they require us not to thank Him for
that glory of His works which He has permitted us alone to perceive: they
tell us often to meditate in the closet, but they send us not, like Isaac,
into the fields at even: they dwell on the duty of self denial, but they
exhibit not the duty of delight:" and yet, as he justly says elsewhere,
"each of us, as we travel the way of life, has the choice, according to
our working, of turning all the voices of Nature into one song of
rejoicing; or of withering and quenching her sympathy into a fearful
withdrawn silence of condemnation,--into a crying out of her stones and a
shaking of her dust against us."

Must we not all admit, with Sir Henry Taylor, that "the retrospect of life
swarms with lost opportunities"? "Whoever enjoys not life," says Sir T.
Browne, "I count him but an apparition, though he wears about him the
visible affections of flesh."

St. Bernard, indeed, goes so far as to maintain that "nothing can work me
damage except myself; the harm that I sustain I carry about with me, and
never am a real sufferer but by my own fault."

Some Heathen moralists also have taught very much the same lesson. "The
gods," says Marcus Aurelius, "have put all the means in man's power to
enable him not to fall into real evils. Now that which does not make a man
worse, how can it make his life worse?"

Epictetus takes the same line: "If a man is unhappy, remember that his
unhappiness is his own fault; for God has made all men to be happy." "I
am," he elsewhere says, "always content with that which happens; for I
think that what God chooses is better than what I choose." And again:
"Seek not that things should happen as you wish; but wish the things which
happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil flow of life.... If
you wish for anything which belongs to another, you lose that which is
your own."

Few, however, if any, can I think go as far as St. Bernard. We cannot but
suffer from pain, sickness, and anxiety; from the loss, the unkindness,
the faults, even the coldness of those we love. How many a day has been
damped and darkened by an angry word!

Hegel is said to have calmly finished his _Phaenomenologie des Geistes_ at
Jena, on the 14th October 1806, not knowing anything whatever of the
battle that was raging round him.

Matthew Arnold has suggested that we might take a lesson from the heavenly

"Unaffrighted by the silence round them,
Undistracted by the sights they see,
These demand not the things without them
Yield them love, amusement, sympathy.

"Bounded by themselves, and unobservant
In what state God's other works may be,
In their own tasks all their powers pouring,
These attain the mighty life you see."

It is true that

"A man is his own star;
Our acts our angels are
For good or ill,"

and that "rather than follow a multitude to do evil," one should "stand
like Pompey's pillar, conspicuous by oneself, and single in
integrity." [6] But to many this isolation would be itself most painful,
for the heart is "no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that
joins to them." [7]

If we separate ourselves so much from the interests of those around us
that we do not sympathize with them in their sufferings, we shut ourselves
out from sharing their happiness, and lose far more than we gain. If we
avoid sympathy and wrap ourselves round in a cold chain armor of
selfishness, we exclude ourselves from many of the greatest and purest
joys of life. To render ourselves insensible to pain we must forfeit also
the possibility of happiness.

Moreover, much of what we call evil is really good in disguise, and we
should not "quarrel rashly with adversities not yet understood, nor
overlook the mercies often bound up in them." [8] Pleasure and pain are,
as Plutarch says, the nails which fasten body and soul together. Pain is a
warning of danger, a very necessity of existence. But for it, but for the
warnings which our feelings give us, the very blessings by which we are
surrounded would soon and inevitably prove fatal. Many of those who have
not studied the question are under the impression that the more
deeply-seated portions of the body must be most sensitive. The very
reverse is the case. The skin is a continuous and ever-watchful sentinel,
always on guard to give us notice of any approaching danger; while the
flesh and inner organs, where pain would be without purpose, are, so long
as they are in health, comparatively without sensation.

"We talk," says Helps, "of the origin of evil;... but what is evil? We
mostly speak of sufferings and trials as good, perhaps, in their result;
but we hardly admit that they may be good in themselves. Yet they are
knowledge--how else to be acquired, unless by making men as gods, enabling
them to understand without experience. All that men go through may be
absolutely the best for them--no such thing as evil, at least in our
customary meaning of the word."

Indeed, "the vale best discovereth the hill," [9] and "pour sentir les
grands biens, il faut qu'il connoisse les petits maux." [10]

But even if we do not seem to get all that we should wish, many will feel,
as in Leigh Hunt's beautiful translation of Filicaja's sonnet, that--

"So Providence for us, high, infinite,
Makes our necessities its watchful task.
Hearkens to all our prayers, helps all our wants,
And e'en if it denies what seems our right,
Either denies because 'twould have us ask,
Or seems but to deny, and in denying grants."

Those on the other hand who do not accept the idea of continual
interferences, will rejoice in the belief that on the whole the laws of
the Universe work out for the general happiness.

And if it does come--

"Grief should be
Like joy, majestic, equable, sedate,
Confirming, cleansing, raising, making free:
Strong to consume small troubles; to commend
Great thoughts, grave thoughts, thoughts lasting to the end." [11]

If, however, we cannot hope that life will be all happiness, we may at
least secure a heavy balance on the right side; and even events which look
like misfortune, if boldly faced, may often be turned to good. Oftentimes,
says Seneca, "calamity turns to our advantage; and great ruins make way
for greater glories." Helmholtz dates his start in science to an attack of
illness. This led to his acquisition of a microscope, which he was enabled
to purchase, owing to his having spent his autumn vacation of 1841 in the
hospital, prostrated by typhoid fever; being a pupil, he was nursed
without expense, and on his recovery he found himself in possession of the
savings of his small resources.

"Savonarola," says Castelar, "would, under different circumstances,
undoubtedly have been a good husband, a tender father; a man unknown to
history, utterly powerless to print upon the sands of time and upon the
human soul the deep trace which he has left; but misfortune came to visit
him, to crush his heart, and to impart that marked melancholy which
characterizes a soul in grief; and the grief that circled his brows with a
crown of thorns was also that which wreathed them with the splendor of
immortality. His hopes were centered in the woman he loved, his life was
set upon the possession of her, and when her family finally rejected him,
partly on account of his profession, and partly on account of his person,
believed that it was death that had come upon him, when in truth it was

It is however, impossible to deny the existence of evil, and the reason
for it has long exercised the human intellect. The Savage solves it by the
supposition of evil Spirits. The Greeks attributed the misfortunes of men
in great measure to the antipathies and jealousies of gods and goddesses.
Others have imagined two divine principles, opposite and antagonistic--the
one friendly, the other hostile, to men.

Freedom of action, however, seems to involve the existence of evil. If any
power of selection be left us, much must depend on the choice we make. In
the very nature of things, two and two cannot make five. Epictetus
imagines Jupiter addressing man as follows: "If it had been possible to
make your body and your property free from liability to injury, I would
have done so. As this could not be, I have given you a small portion of

This divine gift it is for us to use wisely. It is, in fact, our most
valuable treasure. "The soul is a much better thing than all the others
which you possess. Can you then show me in what way you have taken care of
it? For it is not likely that you, who are so wise a man, inconsiderately
and carelessly allow the most valuable thing that you possess to be
neglected and to perish." [12]

Moreover, even if evil cannot be altogether avoided, it is no doubt true
that not only whether the life we lead be good and useful, or evil and
useless, but also whether it be happy or unhappy, is very much in our own
power, and depends greatly on ourselves. "Time alone relieves the foolish
from sorrow, but reason the wise." [13] and no one was ever yet made
utterly miserable excepting by himself. We are, if not the masters, at any
rate almost the creators of ourselves.

With most of us it is not so much great sorrows, disease, or death, but
rather the little "daily dyings" which cloud over the sunshine of life.
Many of our troubles are insignificant in themselves, and might easily be

How happy home might generally be made but for foolish quarrels, or
misunderstandings, as they are well named! It is our own fault if we are
querulous or ill-humored; nor need we, though this is less easy, allow
ourselves to be made unhappy by the querulousness or ill-humors of others.

Much of what we suffer we have brought on ourselves, if not by actual
fault, at least by ignorance or thoughtlessness. Too often we think only
of the happiness of the moment, and sacrifice that of the life. Troubles
comparatively seldom come to us, it is we who go to them. Many of us
fritter our life away. La Bruyere says that "most men spend much of their
lives in making the rest miserable;" or, as Goethe puts it:

"Careworn man has, in all ages,
Sown vanity to reap despair."

Not only do we suffer much in the anticipation of evil, as "Noah lived
many years under the affliction of a flood, and Jerusalem was taken unto
Jeremy before it was besieged," but we often distress ourselves greatly in
the apprehension of misfortunes which after all never happen at all. We
should do our best and wait calmly the result. We often hear of people
breaking down from overwork, but in nine cases out of ten they are really
suffering from worry or anxiety.

"Nos maux moraux," says Rousseau, "sont tous dans l'opinion, hors un seul,
qui est le crime; et celui-la depend de nous: nos maux physiques nous
detruisent, ou se detruisent. Le temps, ou la mort, sont nos remedes."

"Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie,
Which we ascribe to heaven." [14]

This, however, applies to the grown up. With children of course it is
different. It is customary, but I think it is a mistake, to speak of happy
childhood. Children, however, are often over-anxious and acutely
sensitive. Man ought to be man and master of his fate; but children are at
the mercy of those around them. Mr. Rarey, the great horse-tamer, has told
us that he has known an angry word raise the pulse of a horse ten beats in
a minute. Think then how it must affect a child!

It is small blame to the young if they are over-anxious; but it is a
danger to be striven against. "The terrors of the storm are chiefly felt
in the parlor or the cabin." [15]

To save ourselves from imaginary, or at any rate problematical, evils, we
often incur real suffering. "The man," said Epicurus, "who is not content
with little is content with nothing." How often do we "labor for that
which satisfieth not." More than we use is more than we need, and only a
burden to the bearer. [16] We most of us give ourselves an immense amount
of useless trouble; encumber ourselves, as it were, on the journey of life
with a dead weight of unnecessary baggage; and as "a man maketh his train
longer, he makes his wings shorter." [17] In that delightful fairy tale,
_Alice through the Looking-Glass_, the "White Knight" is described as
having loaded himself on starting for a journey with a variety of odds and
ends, including a mousetrap, in case he was troubled by mice at night, and
a beehive in case he came across a swarm of bees.

Hearne, in his _Journey to the Mouth of the Coppermine River_ tells us
that a few days after starting on his expedition he met a party of
Indians, who annexed a great deal of his property, and all Hearne says is,
"The weight of our baggage being so much lightened, our next day's journey
was much pleasanter." I ought, however, to add that the Indians broke up
the philosophical instruments, which, no doubt, were rather an

When troubles do come, Marcus Aurelius wisely tells us to "remember on
every occasion which leads thee to vexation to apply this principle, that
this is not a misfortune, but that to bear it nobly is good fortune." Our
own anger indeed does us more harm than the thing which makes us angry;
and we suffer much more from the anger and vexation which we allow acts to
rouse in us, than we do from the acts themselves at which we are angry and
vexed. How much most people, for instance, allow themselves to be
distracted and disturbed by quarrels and family disputes. Yet in nine
cases out of ten one ought not to suffer from being found fault with. If
the condemnation is just, it should be welcome as a warning; if it is
undeserved, why should we allow it to distress us?

Moreover, if misfortunes happen we do but make them worse by grieving over

"I must die," again says Epictetus. "But must I then die sorrowing? I must
be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Can I be
prevented from going with cheerfulness and contentment? But I will put you
in prison. Man, what are you saying? You may put my body in prison, but my
mind not even Zeus himself can overpower."

If, indeed, we cannot be happy, the fault is generally in ourselves.
Socrates lived under the Thirty Tyrants. Epictetus was a poor slave, and
yet how much we owe him!

"How is it possible," he says, "that a man who has nothing, who is naked,
houseless, without a hearth, squalid, without a slave, without a city, can
pass a life that flows easily? See, God has sent a man to show you that it
is possible. Look at me, who am without a city, without a house, without
possessions, without a slave; I sleep on the ground; I have no wife, no
children, no praetorium, but only the earth and heavens, and one poor
clock. And what do I want? Am I not without sorrow? Am I not without fear?
Am I not free? When did any of you see me failing in the object of my
desire? or ever falling into that which I would avoid? Did I ever blame
God or man? Did I ever accuse any man? Did any of you ever see me with a
sorrowful countenance? And how do I meet with those whom you are afraid of
and admire? Do not I treat them like slaves? Who, when he sees me, does
not think that he sees his king and master?"

Think how much we have to be thankful for. Few of us appreciate the number
of our everyday blessings; we look on them as trifles, and yet "trifles
make perfection, and perfection is no trifle," as Michael Angelo said. We
forget them because they are always with us; and yet for each of us, as
Mr. Pater well observes, "these simple gifts, and others equally trivial,
bread and wine, fruit and milk, might regain that poetic and, as it were,
moral significance which surely belongs to all the means of our daily
life, could we but break through the veil of our familiarity with things
by no means vulgar in themselves."

"Let not," says Isaak Walton, "the blessings we receive daily from God
make us not to value or not praise Him because they be common; let us not
forget to praise Him for the innocent mirth and pleasure we have met with
since we met together. What would a blind man give to see the pleasant
rivers and meadows and flowers and fountains; and this and many other like
blessings we enjoy daily."

Contentment, we have been told by Epicurus, consists not in great wealth,
but in few wants. In this fortunate country, however, we may have many
wants, and yet, if they are only reasonable, we may gratify them all.

Nature indeed provides without stint the main requisites of human
happiness. "To watch the corn grow, or the blossoms set; to draw hard
breath over plough-share or spade; to read, to think, to love, to pray,"
these, says Ruskin, "are the things that make men happy."

"I have fallen into the hands of thieves," says Jeremy Taylor; "what then?
They have left me the sun and moon, fire and water, a loving wife and many
friends to pity me, and some to relieve me, and I can still discourse;
and, unless I list, they have not taken away my merry countenance and my
cheerful spirit and a good conscience.... And he that hath so many causes
of joy, and so great, is very much in love with sorrow and peevishness who
loses all these pleasures, and chooses to sit down on his little handful
of thorns."

"When a man has such things to think on, and sees the sun, the moon, and
stars, and enjoys earth and sea, he is not solitary or even helpless."

"Paradise indeed might," as Luther said, "apply to the whole world." What
more is there we could ask for ourselves? "Every sort of beauty," says Mr.
Greg, [19] "has been lavished on our allotted home; beauties to enrapture
every sense, beauties to satisfy every taste; forms the noblest and the
loveliest, colors the most gorgeous and the most delicate, odors the
sweetest and subtlest, harmonies the most soothing and the most stirring:
the sunny glories of the day; the pale Elysian grace of moonlight; the
lake, the mountain, the primeval forest, and the boundless ocean; 'silent
pinnacles of aged snow' in one hemisphere, the marvels of tropical
luxuriance in another; the serenity of sunsets; the sublimity of storms;
everything is bestowed in boundless profusion on the scene of our
existence; we can conceive or desire nothing more exquisite or perfect
than what is round us every hour; and our perceptions are so framed as to
be consciously alive to all. The provision made for our sensuous enjoyment
is in overflowing abundance; so is that for the other elements of our
complex nature. Who that has revelled in the opening ecstasies of a young
Imagination, or the rich marvels of the world of Thought, does not confess
that the Intelligence has been dowered at least with as profuse a
beneficence as the Senses? Who that has truly tasted and fathomed human
Love in its dawning and crowning joys has not thanked God for a felicity
which indeed 'passeth understanding.' If we had set our fancy to picture a
Creator occupied solely in devising delight for children whom he loved, we
could not conceive one single element of bliss which is not here."

[1] Seneca.

[2] Shelley.

[3] I quote from Whinfield's translation.

[4] Seneca.

[5] Herbert.

[6] Sir T. Browne.

[7] Bacon.

[8] Sir T. Browne.

[9] Bacon.

[10] Rousseau.

[11] Aubrey de Vere.

[12] Epictetus.

[13] _Ibid_.

[14] Shakespeare.

[15] Emerson.

[16] Seneca.

[17] Bacon.

[18] Epictetus.

[19] The Enigmas of Life.



"I am always content with that which happens; for I
think that what God chooses is better than what I choose."


"O God, All conquering! this lower earth
Would be for men the blest abode of mirth
If they were strong in Thee
As other things of this world well are seen;
Oh then, far other than they yet have been,
How happy would men be."

KING ALFRED'S ed. of Boethius's
_Consolations of Philosophy_.

We ought not to picture Duty to ourselves, or to others, as a stern
taskmistress. She is rather a kind and sympathetic mother, ever ready to
shelter us from the cares and anxieties of this world, and to guide us in
the paths of peace.

To shut oneself up from mankind is, in most cases, to lead a dull, as well
as a selfish life. Our duty is to make ourselves useful, and thus life may
be most interesting, and yet comparatively free from anxiety.

But how can we fill our lives with _life_, energy, and interest, and yet
keep care outside?

Many great men have made shipwreck in the attempt. "Anthony sought for
happiness in love; Brutus in glory; Caesar in dominion: the first found
disgrace, the second disgust, the last ingratitude, and each
destruction." [1] Riches, again, often bring danger, trouble, and
temptation; they require care to keep, though they may give much happiness
if wisely spent.

How then is this great object to be secured? What, says Marcus Aurelius,
"What is that which is able to conduct a man? One thing and only
one--philosophy. But this consists in keeping the daemon [2] within a man
free from violence and unharmed, superior to pains and pleasures, doing
nothing without a purpose, yet not falsely and with hypocrisy, not feeling
the need of another man's doing or not doing anything; and besides,
accepting all that happens, and all that is allotted, as coming from
thence, wherever it is, from whence he himself came; and, finally, waiting
for death with a cheerful mind, as being nothing else than a dissolution
of the elements of which every living being is compounded." I confess I do
not feel the force of these last few words, which indeed scarcely seem
requisite for his argument. The thought of death, however, certainly
influences the conduct of life less than might have been expected.

Bacon truly points out that "there is no passion in the mind of man so
weak, but it mates and masters the fear of death.... Revenge triumphs over
death, love slights it, honor aspireth to it, grief flieth to it."

"Think not I dread to see my spirit fly
Through the dark gates of fell mortality;
Death has no terrors when the life is true;
'Tis living ill that makes us fear to die." [3]

We need certainly have no such fear if we have done our best to make
others happy; to promote "peace on earth and goodwill amongst men."
Nothing, again, can do more to release us from the cares of this world,
which consume so much of our time, and embitter so much of our life. When
we have done our best, we should wait the result in peace; content, as
Epictetus says, "with that which happens, for what God chooses is better
than what I choose."

At any rate, if we have not effected all we wished, we shall have
influenced ourselves. It may be true that one cannot do much. "You are not
Hercules, and you are not able to purge away the wickedness of others; nor
yet are you Theseus, able to drive away the evil things of Attica. But you
may clear away your own. From yourself, from your own thoughts, cast away,
instead of Procrustes and Sciron, [4] sadness, fear, desire, envy,
malevolence, avarice, effeminacy, intemperance. But it is not possible to
eject these things otherwise than by looking to God only, by fixing your
affections on Him only, by being consecrated by his commands." [5]

People sometimes think how delightful it would be to be quite free. But a
fish, as Ruskin says, is freer than a man, and as for a fly, it is "a
black incarnation of freedom." A life of so-called pleasure and
self-indulgence is not a life of real happiness or true freedom. Far from
it, if we once begin to give way to ourselves, we fall under a most
intolerable tyranny. Other temptations are in some respects like that of
drink. At first, perhaps, it seems delightful, but there is bitterness at
the bottom of the cup. Men drink to satisfy the desire created by previous
indulgence. So it is in other things. Repetition soon becomes a craving,
not a pleasure. Resistance grows more and more painful; yielding, which at
first, perhaps, afforded some slight and temporary gratification, soon
ceases to give pleasure, and even if for a time it procures relief, ere
long becomes odious itself.

To resist is difficult, to give way is painful; until at length the
wretched victim to himself, can only purchase, or thinks he can only
purchase, temporary relief from intolerable craving and depression, at the
expense of far greater suffering in the future.

On the other hand, self-control, however difficult at first, becomes step
by step easier and more delightful. We possess mysteriously a sort of dual
nature, and there are few truer triumphs, or more delightful sensations,
than to obtain thorough command of oneself.

How much pleasanter it is to ride a spirited horse, even perhaps though
requiring some strength and skill, than to creep along upon a jaded hack.
In the one case you feel under you the free, responsive spring of a living
and willing force; in the other you have to spur a dull and lifeless

To rule oneself is in reality the greatest triumph. "He who is his own
monarch," says Sir T. Browne, "contentedly sways the sceptre of himself,
not envying the glory to crowned heads and Elohim of the earth;" for those
are really highest who are nearest to heaven, and those are lowest who are
farthest from it.

True greatness has little, if anything, to do with rank or power.
"Eurystheus being what he was," says Epictetus, "was not really king of
Argos nor of Mycenae, for he could not even rule himself; while Hercules
purged lawlessness and introduced justice, though he was both naked and

We are told that Cineas the philosopher once asked Pyrrhus what he would
do when he had conquered Italy. "I will conquer Sicily." "And after
Sicily?" "Then Africa." "And after you have conquered the world?" "I will
take my ease and be merry." "Then," asked Cineas, "why can you not take
your ease and be merry now?"

Moreover, as Sir Arthur Helps has wisely pointed out, "the enlarged view
we have of the Universe must in some measure damp personal ambition. What
is it to be king, sheikh, tetrarch, or emperor over a 'bit of a bit' of
this little earth?" "All rising to great place," says Bacon, "is by a
winding stair;" and "princes are like heavenly bodies, which have much
veneration, but no rest."

Plato in the _Republic_ mentions an old myth that after death every soul
has to choose a lot in life for the existence in the next world; and he
tells us that the wise Ulysses searched for a considerable time for the
lot of a private man. He had some difficulty in finding it, as it was
lying neglected in a corner, but when he had secured it he was delighted;
the recollection of all he had gone through on earth, having disenchanted
him of ambition.

Moreover, there is a great deal of drudgery in the lives of courts.
Ceremonials may be important, but they take up much time and are terribly

A man then is his own best kingdom. "He that ruleth his speech," says
Solomon, "is better than he that taketh a city." But self-control, this
truest and greatest monarchy, rarely comes by inheritance. Every one of us
must conquer himself; and we may do so, if we take conscience for our
guide and general.

No one really fails who does his best. Seneca observes that "no one saith
the three hundred Fabii were defeated, but that they were slain," and if
you have done your best, you will, in the words of an old Norse ballad,
have gained

"Success in thyself, which is best of all."

Being myself engaged in business, I was rather startled to find it laid
down by no less an authority than Aristotle (almost as if it were a
self-evident proposition) that commerce "is incompatible with that
dignified life which it is our wish that our citizens should lead, and
totally adverse to that generous elevation of mind with which it is our
ambition to inspire them." I know not how far that may really have been
the spirit and tendency of commerce among the ancient Greeks; but if so, I
do not wonder that it was not more successful.

I may, indeed, quote Aristotle against himself, for he has elsewhere told
us that "business should be chosen for the sake of leisure; and things
necessary and useful for the sake of the beautiful in conduct."

It is not true that the ordinary duties of life in a country like
ours--commerce, manufactures, agriculture,--the pursuits to which the vast
majority are and must be devoted--are incompatible with the dignity or
nobility of life. Whether a life is noble or ignoble depends, not on the
calling which is adopted, but on the spirit in which it is followed. The
humblest life may be noble, while that of the most powerful monarch or the
greatest genius may be contemptible. Commerce, indeed, is not only
compatible, but I would almost go further and say that it will be most
successful, if carried on in happy union with noble aims and generous
aspirations. What Ruskin says of art is, with due modification, true of
life generally. It does not matter whether a man "paint the petal of a
rose or the chasms of a precipice, so that love and admiration attend on
him as he labors, and wait for ever on his work. It does not matter
whether he toil for months on a few inches of his canvas, or cover a
palace front with color in a day; so only that it be with a solemn
purpose, that he have filled his heart with patience, or urged his hand to

It is true that in a subsequent volume he refers to this passage, and
adds, "But though all is good for study, and all is beautiful, some is
better than the rest for the help and pleasure of others; and this it is
our duty always to choose if we have opportunity," adding, however, "being
quite happy with what is within our reach if we have not."

We read of and admire the heroes of old, but every one of us has to fight
his own Marathon and Thermopylae; every one meets the Sphinx sitting by
the road he has to pass; to each of us, as to Hercules, is offered the
choice of Vice or Virtue; we may, like Paris, give the apple of life to
Venus, or Juno, or Minerva.

There are many who seem to think that we have fallen on an age in the
world when life is especially difficult and anxious, when there is less
leisure than of yore, and the struggle for existence is keener than ever.

On the other hand, we must remember how much we have gained in security?
It may be an age of hard work, but when this is not carried to an extreme,
it is by no means an evil. If we have less leisure, one reason is because
life is so full of interest. Cheerfulness is the daughter of employment,
and on the whole I believe there never was a time when modest merit and
patient industry were more sure of reward.

We must not, indeed, be discouraged if success be slow in coming, nor
puffed up if it comes quickly. We often complain of the nature of things
when the fault is all in ourselves. Seneca, in one of his letters,
mentions that his wife's maid, Harpaste, had nearly lost her eyesight, but
"she knoweth not she is blind, she saith the house is dark. This that
seemeth ridiculous unto us in her, happeneth unto us all. No man
understandeth that he is covetous, or avaricious. He saith, I am not
ambitious, but no man can otherwise live in Rome; I am not sumptuous, but
the city requireth great expense."

Newman, in perhaps the most beautiful of his hymns, "Lead, kindly light,"

"Keep thou my feet, I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me."

But we must be sure that we are really following some trustworthy guide,
and not out of mere laziness allowing ourselves to drift. We have a guide
within us which will generally lead us straight enough.

Religion, no doubt, is full of difficulties, but if we are often puzzled
what to think, we need seldom be in doubt what to do.

"To say well is good, but to do well is better;
Do well is the spirit, and say well the letter;
If do well and say well were fitted in one frame,
All were won, all were done, and got were all the gain."

Cleanthes, who appears to have well merited the statue erected to him at
Assos, says:

"Lead me, O Zeus, and thou, O Destiny.
The way that I am bid by you to go:
To follow I am ready. If I choose not,
I make myself a wretch;--and still must follow."

If we are ever in doubt what to do, it is a good rule to ask ourselves
what we shall wish on the morrow that we had done.

Moreover, the result in the long run will depend not so much on some
single resolution, or on our action in a special case, but rather on the
preparation of daily life. Battles are often won before they are fought.
To control our passions we must govern our habits, and keep watch over
ourselves in the small details of everyday life.

The importance of small things has been pointed out by philosophers over
and over again from AEsop downward. "Great without small makes a bad
wall," says a quaint Greek proverb, which seems to go back to cyclopean
times. In an old Hindoo story Ammi says to his son, "Bring me a fruit of
that tree and break it open. What is there?" The son said, "Some small
seeds." "Break one of them and what do you see?" "Nothing, my lord," "My
child," said Ammi, "where you see nothing there dwells a mighty tree." It
may almost be questioned whether anything can be truly called small.

"There is no great and no small
To the soul that maketh all;
And where it cometh all things are,
And it cometh everywhere." [6]

We should therefore watch ourselves in small things. If "you wish not to
be of an angry temper, do not feed the habit: throw nothing on it which
will increase it: at first keep quiet, and count the days on which you
have not been angry. I used to be in passion every day; now every second
day; then every third; then every fourth. But if you have intermitted
thirty days, make a sacrifice to God. For the habit at first begins to be
weakened, and then is completely destroyed. When you can say, 'I have not
been vexed to-day, nor the day before, nor yet on any succeeding day
during two or three months; but I took care when some exciting things
happened,' be assured that you are in a good way." [7]

Emerson closes his _Conduct of Life_ with a striking allegory. The young
Mortal enters the Hall of the Firmament. The Gods are sitting there, and
he is alone with them. They pour on him gifts and blessings, and beckon
him to their thrones. But between him and them suddenly appear snow-storms
of illusions. He imagines himself in a vast crowd, whose behests he
fancies he must obey. The mad crowd drives hither and thither, and sways
this way and that. What is he that he should resist? He lets himself be
carried about. How can he think or act for himself? But the clouds lift,
and there are the Gods still sitting on their thrones; they alone with him

"The great man," he elsewhere says, "is he who in the midst of the crowd
keeps with perfect sweetness the serenity of solitude."

We may all, if we will, secure peace of mind for ourselves.

"Men seek retreats," says Marcus Aurelius, "houses in the country,
seashores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very
much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men; for it
is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose, to retire into thyself. For
nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man
retire, than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such
thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect

Happy indeed is he who has such a sanctuary in his own soul. "He who is
virtuous is wise; and he who is wise is good; and he who is good is
happy." [8]

But we cannot expect to be happy if we do not lead pure and useful lives.
To be good company for ourselves we must store our minds well; fill them
with pure and peaceful thoughts; with pleasant memories of the past, and
reasonable hopes for the future. We must, as far as may be, protect
ourselves from self-reproach, from care, and from anxiety. We shall make
our lives pure and peaceful, by resisting evil, by placing restraint upon
our appetites, and perhaps even more by strengthening and developing our
tendencies to good. We must be careful, then, on what we allow our minds
to dwell. The soul is dyed by its thoughts; we cannot keep our minds pure
if we allow them to be sullied by detailed accounts of crime and sin.
Peace of mind, as Ruskin beautifully observes, "must come in its own time,
as the waters settle themselves into clearness as well as quietness; you
can no more filter your mind into purity than you can compress it into
calmness; you must keep it pure if you would have it pure, and throw no
stones into it if you would have it quiet."

The penalty of injustice, said Socrates, is not death or stripes, but the
fatal necessity of becoming more and more unjust. Few men have led a wiser
or more virtuous life than Socrates himself, of whom Xenophon gives us the
following description:--"To me, being such as I have described him, so
pious that he did nothing without the sanction of the gods; so just, that
he wronged no man even in the most trifling affair, but was of service in
the most important matters to those who enjoyed his society; so temperate
that he never preferred pleasure to virtue; so wise, that he never erred
in distinguishing better from worse; needing no counsel from others, but
being sufficient in himself to discriminate between them; so able to
explain and settle such questions by argument; and so capable of
discerning the character of others, of confuting those who were in error,
and of exhorting them to virtue and honor, he seemed to be such as the
best and happiest of men would be. But if any one disapproves of my
opinion let him compare the conduct of others with that of Socrates, and
determine accordingly."

Marcus Aurelius again has drawn for us a most instructive lesson in his
character of Antoninus:--"Remember his constancy in every act which was
conformable to reason, his evenness in all things, his piety, the serenity
of his countenance, his sweetness, his disregard of empty fame, and his
efforts to understand things; how he would never let anything pass without
having first carefully examined it and clearly understood it; how he bore
with those who blamed him unjustly without blaming them in return; how he
did nothing in a hurry; how he listened not to calumnies, and how exact an
examiner of manners and actions he was; not given to reproach people, nor
timid, nor suspicious, nor a sophist; with how little he was satisfied,
such as lodging, bed, dress, food, servants; how laborious and patient;
how sparing he was in his diet; his firmness and uniformity in his
friendships; how he tolerated freedom of speech in those who opposed his
opinions; the pleasure that he had when any man showed him anything
better, and how pious he was without superstition. Imitate all this that
thou mayest have as good a conscience, when thy last hour comes, as he

Such peace of mind is indeed an inestimable boon, a rich reward of duty
fulfilled. Well then does Epictetus ask, "Is there no reward? Do you seek
a reward greater than that of doing what is good and just? At Olympia you
wish for nothing more, but it seems to you enough to be crowned at the
games. Does it then seem to you so small and worthless a thing to be good
and happy?"

In Bernard of Morlaix's beautiful lines--

"Pax erit illa fidelibus, illa beata,
Irrevocabilis, Invariabilis, Intemerata.
Pax sine crimine, pax sine turbine, pax sine rixa,
Meta Laboribus, inque tumultibus anchora fixa;
Pax erit omnibus unica. Sed quibus? Immaculatis
Pectore mitibus, ordine stantibus, ore sacratis."

What greater reward can we have than this; than the "peace which passeth
all understanding," "which cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver
be weighed for the price thereof." [9]

[1] Colton, _Lacon, or Many Things in Few Words_.

[2] _i.e._ spirit.

[3] Omar Khayyam.

[4] Two robbers destroyed by Theseus.

[5] Epictetus.

[6] Emerson.

[7] Epictetus.

[8] King Alfred's _Boethius_.

[9] Job.



"Oh for a booke and a shadie nooke,
Eyther in doore or out;
With the grene leaves whispering overhead
Or the streete cryes all about.
Where I maie reade all at my ease,
Both of the newe and old;
For a jollie goode booke whereon to looke,
Is better to me than golde."


Of all the privileges we enjoy in this nineteenth century there is none,
perhaps, for which we ought to be more thankful than for the easier access
to books.

The debt we owe to books was well expressed by Richard de Bury, Bishop of
Durham, author of _Philobiblon_, written as long ago as 1344, published in
1473, and the earliest English treatise on the delights of
literature:--"These," he says, "are the masters who instruct us without
rods and ferules, without hard words and anger, without clothes or money.
If you approach them, they are not asleep; if investigating you
interrogate them, they conceal nothing; if you mistake them, they never
grumble; if you are ignorant, they cannot laugh at you. The library,
therefore, of wisdom is more precious than all riches, and nothing that
can be wished for is worthy to be compared with it. Whosoever therefore
acknowledges himself to be a zealous follower of truth, of happiness, of
wisdom, of science, or even of the faith, must of necessity make himself a
lover of books." But if the debt were great then, how much more now.

This feeling that books are real friends is constantly present to all who
love reading. "I have friends," said Petrarch, "whose society is extremely
agreeable to me; they are of all ages, and of every country. They have
distinguished themselves both in the cabinet and in the field, and
obtained high honors for their knowledge of the sciences. It is easy to
gain access to them, for they are always at my service, and I admit them
to my company, and dismiss them from it, whenever I please. They are never
troublesome, but immediately answer every question I ask them. Some relate
to me the events of past ages, while others reveal to me the secrets of
Nature. Some teach me how to live, and others how to die. Some, by their
vivacity, drive away my cares and exhilarate my spirits; while others give
fortitude to my mind, and teach me the important lesson how to restrain my
desires, and to depend wholly on myself. They open to me, in short, the
various avenues of all the arts and sciences, and upon their information I
may safely rely in all emergencies. In return for all their services, they
only ask me to accommodate them with a convenient chamber in some corner
of my humble habitation, where they may repose in peace; for these friends
are more delighted by the tranquillity of retirement than with the tumults
of society."

"He that loveth a book," says Isaac Barrow, "will never want a faithful
friend, a wholesome counsellor, a cheerful companion, an effectual
comforter. By study, by reading, by thinking, one may innocently divert
and pleasantly entertain himself, as in all weathers, so in all fortunes."

Southey took a rather more melancholy view:

"My days among the dead are pass'd,
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."

Imagine, in the words of Aikin, "that we had it in our power to call up
the shades of the greatest and wisest men that ever existed, and oblige
them to converse with us on the most interesting topics--what an
inestimable privilege should we think it!--how superior to all common
enjoyments! But in a well-furnished library we, in fact, possess this
power. We can question Xenophon and Caesar on their campaigns, make
Demosthenes and Cicero plead before us, join in the audiences of Socrates
and Plato, and receive demonstrations from Euclid and Newton. In books we
have the choicest thoughts of the ablest men in their best dress."

"Books," says Jeremy Collier, "are a guide in youth and an entertainment
for age. They support us under solitude, and keep us from being a burthen
to ourselves. They help us to forget the crossness of men and things;
compose our cares and our passions; and lay our disappointments asleep.
When we are weary of the living, we may repair to the dead, who have
nothing of peevishness, pride, or design in their conversation."

Sir John Herschel tells an amusing anecdote illustrating the pleasure
derived from a book, not assuredly of the first order. In a certain
village the blacksmith having got hold of Richardson's novel, _Pamela, or
Virtue Rewarded_, used to sit on his anvil in the long summer evenings and
read it aloud to a large and attentive audience. It is by no means a short
book, but they fairly listened to it all. At length, when the happy turn
of fortune arrived, which brings the hero and heroine together, and sets
them living long and happily together according to the most approved
rules, the congregation were so delighted as to raise a great shout, and
procuring the church keys, actually set the parish bells a-ringing.

"The lover of reading," says Leigh Hunt, "will derive agreeable terror
from _Sir Bertram_ and the _Haunted Chamber_; will assent with, delighted
reason to every sentence in _Mrs. Barbauld's Essay_; will feel himself
wandering into solitudes with _Gray_; shake honest hands with _Sir Roger
de Coverley_; be ready to embrace _Parson Adams_, and to chuck _Pounce_
out of the window instead of the hat; will travel with _Marco Polo_ and
_Mungo Park_; stay at home with _Thomson_; retire with _Cowley_; be
industrious with _Hutton_; sympathizing with _Gay_ and _Mrs. Inchbald_;
laughing with (and at) _Buncle_; melancholy, and forlorn, and
self-restored with the shipwrecked mariner of _De Foe_."

Carlyle has wisely said that a collection of books is a real university.

The importance of books has been appreciated in many quarters where we
might least expect it. Among the hardy Norsemen runes were supposed to be
endowed with miraculous power. There is an Arabic proverb, that "a wise
man's day is worth a fool's life," and another--though it reflects perhaps
rather the spirit of the Califs than of the Sultans,--that "the ink of
science is more precious than the blood of the martyrs."

Confucius is said to have described himself as a man who "in his eager
pursuit of knowledge forgot his food, who in the joy of its attainment
forgot his sorrows, and did not even perceive that old age was coming on."

Yet, if this could be said by the Arabs and the Chinese, what language can
be strong enough to express the gratitude we ought to feel for the
advantages we enjoy! We do not appreciate, I think, our good fortune in
belonging to the nineteenth century. Sometimes, indeed, one may even be
inclined to wish that one had not lived quite so soon, and to long for a
glimpse of the books, even the school-books, of one hundred years hence. A
hundred years ago not only were books extremely expensive and cumbrous,
but many of the most delightful were still uncreated--such as the works of
Scott, Thackeray, Dickens, Bulwer Lytton, and Trollope, not to mention
living authors. How much more interesting science has become especially,
if I were to mention only one name, through the genius of Darwin! Renan
has characterized this as a most amusing century; I should rather have
described it as most interesting: presenting us as it does with an endless
vista of absorbing problems; with infinite opportunities; with more
interest and less danger than surrounded our less fortunate ancestors.

Cicero described a room without books, as a body without a soul. But it is
by no means necessary to be a philosopher to love reading.

Reading, indeed, is by no means necessarily study. Far from it. "I put,"
says Mr. Frederic Harrison, in his excellent article on the "Choice of
Books," "I put the poetic and emotional side of literature as the most
needed for daily use."

In the prologue to the _Legende of Goode Women_, Chaucer says:

"And as for me, though that I konne but lyte,
On bokes for to rede I me delyte,
And to him give I feyth and ful credence,
And in myn herte have him in reverence,
So hertely, that ther is game noon,
That fro my bokes maketh me to goon,
But yt be seldome on the holy day,
Save, certynly, when that the monthe of May
Is comen, and that I here the foules synge,
And that the floures gynnen for to sprynge,
Farwel my boke and my devocion."

But I doubt whether, if he had enjoyed our advantages, he could have been
so certain of tearing himself away, even in the month of May.

Macaulay, who had all that wealth and fame, rank and talents could give,
yet, we are told, derived his greatest happiness from books. Sir G.
Trevelyan, in his charming biography, says that--"of the feelings which
Macaulay entertained toward the great minds of bygone ages it is not for
any one except himself to speak. He has told us how his debt to them was
incalculable; how they guided him to truth; how they filled his mind with
noble and graceful images; how they stood by him in all vicissitudes--
comforters in sorrow, nurses in sickness, companions in solitude, the old
friends who are never seen with new faces; who are the same in wealth and
in poverty, in glory and in obscurity. Great as were the honors and
possessions which Macaulay acquired by his pen, all who knew him were well
aware that the titles and rewards which he gained by his own works were as
nothing in the balance compared with the pleasure he derived from the
works of others."

There was no society in London so agreeable that Macaulay would have
preferred it at breakfast or at dinner "to the company of Sterne or
Fielding, Horace Walpole or Boswell." The love of reading which Gibbon
declared he would not exchange for all the treasures of India was, in
fact, with Macaulay "a main element of happiness in one of the happiest
lives that it has ever fallen to the lot of the biographer to record."

"History," says Fuller, "maketh a young man to be old without either
wrinkles or gray hair, privileging him with the experience of age without
either the infirmities or the inconveniences thereof."

So delightful indeed are books that we must be careful not to forget other
duties for them; in cultivating the mind we must not neglect the body.

To the lover of literature or science, exercise often presents itself as
an irksome duty, and many a one has felt like "the fair pupil of Ascham
(Lady Jane Gray), who, while the horns were sounding and dogs in full cry,
sat in the lonely oriel, with eyes riveted to that immortal page which
tells how meekly and bravely (Socrates) the first martyr of intellectual
liberty took the cup from his weeping jailer." [1]

Still, as the late Lord Derby justly observed, [2] those who do not find
time for exercise will have to find time for illness.

Books, again, are now so cheap as to be within the reach of almost every
one. This was not always so. It is quite a recent blessing. Mr. Ireland,
to whose charming little _Book Lover's Enchiridion_, in common with every
lover of reading. I am greatly indebted, tells us that when a boy he was
so delighted with White's _Natural History of Selborne_, that in order to
possess a copy of his own he actually copied out the whole work.

Mary Lamb gives a pathetic description of a studious boy lingering at a

"I saw a boy with eager eye
Open a book upon a stall,
And read, as he'd devour it all;
Which, when the stall man did espy,
Soon to the boy I heard him call,
'You, sir, you never buy a book,
Therefore in one you shall not look.'
The boy passed slowly on, and with a sigh
He wished he never had been taught to read,
Then of the old churl's books he should have had no need."

Such snatches of literature have indeed, special and peculiar charm. This
is, I believe, partly due to the very fact of their being brief. Many
readers miss much of the pleasure of reading by forcing themselves to
dwell too long continuously on one subject. In a long railway journey, for
instance, many persons take only a single book. The consequence is that,
unless it is a story, after half an hour or an hour they are quite tired
of it. Whereas, if they had two, or still better three books, on different
subjects, and one of them of an amusing character, they would probably
find that, by changing as soon as they felt at all weary, they would come
back again and again to each with renewed zest, and hour after hour would
pass pleasantly away. Every one, of course, must judge for himself, but
such at least is my experience.

I quite agree, therefore, with Lord Iddesleigh as to the charm of
desultory reading, but the wider the field the more important that we
should benefit by the very best books in each class. Not that we need
confine ourselves to them, but that we should commence with them, and they
will certainly lead us on to others. There are of course some books which
we must read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. But these are exceptions.
As regards by far the larger number, it is probably better to read them
quickly, dwelling only on the best and most important passages. In this
way, no doubt, we shall lose much, but we gain more by ranging over a
wider field. We may, in fact, I think, apply to reading Lord Brougham's
wise dictum as regards education, and say that it is well to read
everything of something, and something of everything. In this way only we
can ascertain the bent of our own tastes, for it is a general, though not
of course an invariable, rule, that we profit little by books which we do
not enjoy.

Every one, however, may suit himself. The variety is endless.

Not only does a library contain "infinite riches in a little room," [3]
but we may sit at home and yet be in all quarters of the earth. We may
travel round the world with Captain Cook or Darwin, with Kingsley or
Ruskin, who will show us much more perhaps than ever we should see for
ourselves. The world itself has no limits for us; Humboldt and Herschel
will carry us far away to the mysterious nebulae, beyond the sun and even
the stars: time has no more bounds than space; history stretches out
behind us, and geology will carry us back for millions of years before the
creation of man, even to the origin of the material Universe itself. Nor
are we limited to one plane of thought. Aristotle and Plato will transport
us into a sphere none the less delightful because we cannot appreciate it
without some training.

Comfort and consolation, refreshment and happiness, may indeed be found in
his library by any one "who shall bring the golden key that unlocks its
silent door." [4] A library is true fairyland, a very palace of delight, a
haven of repose from the storms and troubles of the world. Rich and poor
can enjoy it equally, for here, at least, wealth gives no advantage. We
may make a library, if we do but rightly use it, a true paradise on earth,
a garden of Eden without its one drawback; for all is open to us,
including, and especially, the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, for which
we are told that our first mother sacrificed all the Pleasures of
Paradise. Here we may read the most important histories, the most exciting
volumes of travels and adventures, the most interesting stories, the most
beautiful poems; we may meet the most eminent statesmen, poets, and
philosophers, benefit by the ideas of the greatest thinkers, and enjoy the
grandest creations of human genius.

[1] Macaulay.

[2] Address, Liverpool College, 1873.

[3] Marlowe.

[4] Matthews.



"All round the room my silent servants wait
My friends in every season, bright and dim,
Angels and Seraphim
Come down and murmur to me, sweet and low,
And spirits of the skies all come and go
Early and Late."


And yet too often they wait in vain. One reason for this is, I think, that
people are overwhelmed by the crowd of books offered to them.

In old days books were rare and dear. Now on the contrary, it may be said
with greater truth than ever that

"Words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think."

Our ancestors had a difficulty in procuring them. Our difficulty now is
what to select. We must be careful what we read, and not, like the sailors
of Ulysses, take bags of wind for sacks of treasure--not only lest we
should even now fall into the error of the Greeks, and suppose that
language and definitions can be instruments of investigation as well as of
thought, but lest, as too often happens, we should waste time over trash.
There are many books to which one may apply, in the sarcastic sense, the
ambiguous remark said to have been made to an unfortunate author, "I will
lose no time in reading your book."

There are, indeed, books and books, and there are books which, as Lamb
said, are not books at all. It is wonderful how much innocent happiness we
thoughtlessly throw away. An Eastern proverb says that calamities sent by
heaven may be avoided, but from those we bring on ourselves there is no

Many, I believe, are deterred from attempting what are called stiff books
for fear they should not understand them; but there are few who need
complain of the narrowness of their minds, if only they would do their
best with them.

In reading, however, it is most important to select subjects in which one
is interested. I remember years ago consulting Mr. Darwin as to the
selection of a course of study. He asked me what interested me most, and
advised me to choose that subject. This, indeed, applies to the work of
life generally.

I am sometimes disposed to think that the readers of the next generation
will be, not our lawyers and doctors, shopkeepers and manufacturers, but
the laborers and mechanics. Does not this seem natural? The former work
mainly with their head; when their daily duties are over the brain is
often exhausted, and of their leisure time much must be devoted to air and
exercise. The laborer and mechanic, on the contrary, besides working often
for much shorter hours, have in their work-time taken sufficient bodily
exercise, and could therefore give any leisure they might have to reading
and study. They have not done so as yet, it is true; but this has been for
obvious reasons. Now, however, in the first place, they receive an
excellent education in elementary schools, and in the second have more
easy access to the best books.

Ruskin has observed that he does not wonder at what men suffer, but he
often wonders at what they lose. We suffer much, no doubt, from the faults
of others, but we lose much more by our own ignorance.

"If," says Sir John Herschel, "I were to pray for a taste which should
stand me in stead under every variety of circumstances, and be a source of
happiness and cheerfulness to me through life, and a shield against its
ills, however things might go amiss and the world frown upon me, it would
be a taste for reading. I speak of it of course only as a worldly
advantage, and not in the slightest degree as superseding or derogating
from the higher office and surer and stronger panoply of religious
principles--but as a taste, and instrument, and a mode of pleasurable
gratification. Give a man this taste, and the means of gratifying it, and
you can hardly fail of making a happy man, unless, indeed, you put into
his hands a most perverse selection of books."

It is one thing to own a library; it is quite another to use it wisely. I
have often been astonished how little care people devote to the selection
of what they read. Books, we know, are almost innumerable; our hours for
reading are, alas! very few. And yet many people read almost by hazard.
They will take any book they chance to find in a room at a friend's house;
they will buy a novel at a railway-stall if it has an attractive title;
indeed, I believe in some cases even the binding affects their choice. The
selection is, no doubt, far from easy. I have often wished some one would
recommend a list of a hundred good books. If we had such lists drawn up by
a few good guides they would be most useful. I have indeed sometimes heard
it said that in reading every one must choose for himself, but this
reminds me of the recommendation not to go into the water till you can

In the absence of such lists I have picked out the books most frequently
mentioned with approval by those who have referred directly or indirectly
to the pleasure of reading, and have ventured to include some which,
though less frequently mentioned, are especial favorites of my own. Every
one who looks at the list will wish to suggest other books, as indeed I
should myself, but in that case the number would soon run up. [1]

I have abstained, for obvious reasons, from mentioning works by living
authors, though from many of them--Tennyson, Ruskin, and others--I have
myself derived the keenest enjoyment; and I have omitted works on science,
with one or two exceptions, because the subject is so progressive.

I feel that the attempt is over bold, and I must beg for indulgence, while
hoping for criticism; indeed one object which I have had in view is to
stimulate others more competent far than I am to give us the advantage of
their opinions.

Moreover, I must repeat that I suggest these works rather as those which,
as far as I have seen, have been most frequently recommended, than as
suggestions of my own, though I have slipped in a few of my own special

In any such selection much weight should, I think, be attached to the
general verdict of mankind. There is a "struggle for existence" and a
"survival of the fittest" among books, as well as among animals and
plants. As Alonzo of Aragon said, "Age is a recommendation in four
things--old wood to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust,
and old books to read." Still, this can not be accepted without important
qualifications. The most recent books of history and science contain or
ought to contain, the most accurate information and the most trustworthy
conclusions. Moreover, while the books of other races and times have an
interest from their very distance, it must be admitted that many will
still more enjoy, and feel more at home with, those of our own century and

Yet the oldest books of the world are remarkable and interesting on
account of their very age; and the works which have influenced the
opinions, or charmed the leisure hours, of millions of men in distant
times and far-away regions are well worth reading on that very account,
even if to us they seem scarcely to deserve their reputation. It is true
that to many, such works are accessible only in translations; but
translations, though they can never perhaps do justice to the original,
may yet be admirable in themselves. The Bible itself, which must stand
first in the list, is a conclusive case.

At the head of all non-Christian moralists, I must place the
_Enchiridion_ of Epictetus, certainly one of the noblest books in the
whole of literature; it has, moreover, been admirably translated. With
Epictetus, [2] I think must come Marcus Aurelius. The _Analects_ of
Confucius will, I believe, prove disappointing to most English readers,
but the effect it has produced on the most numerous race of men
constitutes in itself a peculiar interest. The _Ethics_ of Aristotle,
perhaps, appear to some disadvantage from the very fact that they have so
profoundly influenced our views of morality. The _Koran_, like the
_Analects_ of Confucius, will to most of us derive its principal interest
from the effect it has exercised, and still exercises, on so many millions
of our fellow-men. I doubt whether in any other respect it will seem to
repay perusal, and to most persons probably certain extracts, not too
numerous, would appear sufficient.

The writings of the Apostolic Fathers have been collected in one volume by
Wake. It is but a small one, and though I must humbly confess that I was
disappointed, they are perhaps all the more curious from the contrast they
afford to those of the Apostles themselves. Of the later Fathers I have
included only the _Confessions_ of St. Augustine, which Dr. Pusey selected
for the commencement of the _Library of the Fathers_, and which, as he
observes, has "been translated again and again into almost every European
language, and in all loved;" though Luther was of opinion that St.
Augustine "wrote nothing to the purpose concerning faith." But then Luther
was no great admirer of the Father. St. Jerome, he says, "writes, alas!
very coldly;" Chrysostom "digresses from the chief points;" St. Jerome is
"very poor;" and in fact, he says, "the more I read the books of the
Fathers the more I find myself offended;" while Renan, in his interesting
autobiography, compared theology to a Gothic Cathedral, "elle a la
grandeur, les vides immenses, et le peu de solidite."

Among other devotional works most frequently recommended are Thomas a
Kempis' _Imitation of Christ_, Pascal's _Pensees_, Spinoza's _Tractatus
Theologico-Politicus_, Butler's _Analogy of Religion_, Jeremy Taylor's
_Holy Living and Dying_, Bunyan's _Pilgrim's Progress_, and last, not
least, Keble's beautiful _Christian Year_.

Aristotle and Plato again stand at the head of another class. The
_Politics_ of Aristotle, and Plato's _Dialogues_, if not the whole, at any
rate the _Phaedo_, the _Apology_, and the _Republic_, will be of course
read by all who wish to know anything of the history of human thought,
though I am heretical enough to doubt whether the latter repays the minute
and laborious study often devoted to it.

Aristotle being the father, if not the creator, of the modern scientific
method, it has followed naturally--indeed, almost inevitably--that his
principles have become part of our very intellectual being, so that they
seem now almost self-evident, while his actual observations, though very
remarkable--as, for instance, when he observes that bees on one journey
confine themselves to one kind of flower--still have been in many cases
superseded by others, carried on under more favorable conditions. We must
not be ungrateful to the great master, because his lessons have taught us
how to advance.

Plato, on the other hand, I say so with all respect, seems to me in some
cases to play on words: his arguments are very able, very philosophical,
often very noble; but not always conclusive; in a language differently
constructed they might sometimes tell in exactly the opposite sense. If
this method has proved less fruitful, if in metaphysics we have made but
little advance, that very fact in one point of view leaves the
_Dialogues_ of Socrates as instructive now as ever they were; while the
problems with which they deal will always rouse our interest, as the calm
and lofty spirit which inspires them must command our admiration. Of the
_Apology_ and the _Phaedo_ especially it would be impossible to speak too

I would also mention Demosthenes' _De Corona_, which Lord Brougham
pronounced the greatest oration of the greatest of orators; Lucretius,
Plutarch's Lives, Horace, and at least the _De Officiis_, _De Amicitia_,
and _De Senectute_ of Cicero.

The great epics of the world have always constituted one of the most
popular branches of literature. Yet how few, comparatively, ever read
Homer or Virgil after leaving school.

The _Nibelungenlied_, our great Anglo-Saxon epic, is perhaps too much
neglected, no doubt on account of its painful character. Brunhild and
Kriemhild, indeed, are far from perfect, but we meet with few such "live"
women in Greek or Roman literature. Nor must I omit to mention Sir T.
Malory's _Morte d'Arthur_, though I confess I do so mainly in deference to
the judgment of others.

Among the Greek tragedians I include Aeschylus, if not all his works, at
any rate _Prometheus_, perhaps the sublimest poem in Greek literature, and
the _Trilogy_ (Mr. Symonds in his _Greek Poets_ speaks of the "unrivalled
majesty" of the _Agamemnon_, and Mark Pattison considered it "the grandest
work of creative genius in the whole range of literature"); or, as Sir M.
E. Grant Duff recommends, the _Persae_; Sophocles (_Oedipus Tyrannus_),
Euripides (_Medea_), and Aristophanes (_The Knights_ and _Clouds_);
unfortunately, as Schlegel says, probably even the greatest scholar does
not understand half his jokes; and I think most modern readers will prefer
our modern poets.

I should like, moreover, to say a word for Eastern poetry, such as
portions of the _Maha Bharata_ and _Ramayana_ (too long probably to be
read through, but of which Talboys Wheeler has given a most interesting
epitome in the first two volumes of his _History of India_); the
_Shah-nameh_, the work of the great Persian poet Firdusi; Kalidasa's
_Sakuntala_, and the Sheking, the classical collection of ancient Chinese
odes. Many I know, will think I ought to have included Omar Khayyam.

In history we are beginning to feel that the vices and vicissitudes of
kings and queens, the dates of battles and wars, are far less important
than the development of human thought, the progress of art, of science,
and of law, and the subject is on that very account even more interesting
than ever. I will, however, only mention, and that rather from a literary
than a historical point of view, Herodotus, Xenophon (the _Anabasis_),
Thucydides, and Tacitus (_Germania_); and of modern historians, Gibbon's
_Decline and Fall_ ("the splendid bridge from the old world to the new"),
Hume's _History of England_, Carlyle's _French Revolution_, Grote's
_History of Greece_, and Green's _Short History of the English People_.

Science is so rapidly progressive that, though to many minds it is the
most fruitful and interesting subject of all, I cannot here rest on that
agreement which, rather than my own opinion, I take as the basis of my
list. I will therefore only mention Bacon's _Novum Organum_, Mill's
_Logic_, and Darwin's _Origin of Species_; in Political Economy, which
some of our rulers do not now sufficiently value, Mill, and parts of
Smith's _Wealth of Nations_, for probably those who do not intend to make
a special study of political economy would scarcely read the whole.

Among voyages and travels, perhaps those most frequently suggested are
Cook's _Voyages_, Humboldt's _Travels_, and Darwin's _Naturalist's
Journal_; though I confess I should like to have added many more.

Mr. Bright not long ago specially recommended the less known American
poets, but he probably assumed that every one would have read Shakespeare,
Milton (_Paradise Lost_, _Lycidas_, _Comus_ and minor poems), Chaucer,
Dante, Spencer, Dryden, Scott, Wordsworth, Pope, Byron, and others, before
embarking on more doubtful adventures.

Among other books most frequently recommended are Goldsmith's _Vicar of
Wakefield_, Swift's _Gulliver's Travels_, Defoe's _Robinson Crusoe_, _The
Arabian Nights_, _Don Quixote_, Boswell's _Life of Johnson_, White's
_Natural History of Selborne_, Burke's Select Works (Payne), the Essays of
Bacon, Addison, Hume, Montaigne, Macaulay, and Emerson, Carlyle's _Past
and Present_, Smiles' _Self-Help_, and Goethe's _Faust_ and

Nor can one go wrong in recommending Berkeley's _Human Knowledge_,
Descartes' _Discours sur la Methode_, Locke's _Conduct of the
Understanding_, Lewes' _History of Philosophy_; while, in order to keep
within the number one hundred, I can only mention Moliere and Sheridan
among dramatists. Macaulay considered Marivaux's _La Vie de Marianne_ the
best novel in any language, but my number is so nearly complete that I
must content myself with English: and will suggest Thackeray (_Vanity
Fair_ and _Pendennis_), Dickens (_Pickwick_ and _David Copperfield_), G.
Eliot (_Adam Bede_ or _The Mill on the Floss_), Kingsley (_Westward Ho!_),
Lytton (_Last Days of Pompeii_), and last, not least, those of Scott,
which indeed constitute a library in themselves, but which I must ask, in
return for my trouble, to be allowed, as a special favor, to count as one.

To any lover of books the very mention of these names brings back a crowd
of delicious memories, grateful recollections of peaceful home hours,
after the labors and anxieties of the day. How thankful we ought to be for
these inestimable blessings, for this numberless host of friends who never
weary, betray, or forsake us!


_Works by Living Authors are omitted_.

The Bible
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
Aristotle's Ethics
Analects of Confucius
St. Hilaire's "Le Bouddha et sa religion"
Wake's Apostolic Fathers
Thos. a Kempis' Imitation of Christ
Confessions of St. Augustine (Dr. Pusey)
The Koran (portions of)
Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus
Comte's Catechism of Positive Philosophy
Pascal's Pensees
Butler's Analogy of Religion
Taylor's Holy Living and Dying
Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress
Keble's Christian Year

* * * * *

Plato's Dialogues; at any rate, the Apology, Crito, and Phaedo
Xenophon's Memorabilia
Aristotle's Politics
Demosthenes' De Corona.
Cicero's De Officiis, De Amicitia, and De Senectute
Plutarch's Lives
Berkeley's Human Knowledge
Descartes' Discours sur la Methode
Locke's On the Conduct of the Understanding

* * * * *

Maha Bharata |Epitomized in Talboys Wheeler's
Ramayana |History of India, vols. i. and ii.
The Shahnameh
The Nibelungenlied
Malory's Morte d'Arthur

* * * * *

The Sheking
Kalidasa's Sakuntala or The Lost Ring
Aeschylus' Prometheus
Trilogy of Orestes
Sophocles' OEdipus
Euripides' Medea
Aristophanes' The Knights and Clouds

* * * * *

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (perhaps in Morris' edition; or, if
expurgated, in C. Clarke's, or Mrs. Haweis')
Milton's Paradise Lost, Lycidas, Comus, and the shorter poems
Dante's Divina Commedia
Spenser's Fairie Queen
Dryden's Poems
Scott's Poems
Wordsworth (Mr. Arnold's selection)
Pope's Essay on Criticism
Essay on Man
Rape of the Lock
Byron's Childe Harold

* * * * *

Xenophon's Anabasis and Memorabilia
Tacitus' Germania
Gibbon's Decline and Fall
Hume's History of England
Grote's History of Greece
Carlyle's French Revolution
Green's Short History of England
Lewes' History of Philosophy

* * * * *

Arabian Nights
Swift's Gulliver's Travels
Defoe's Robinson Crusoe
Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield
Cervantes' Don Quixote
Boswell's Life of Johnson
Schiller's William Tell
Sheridan's The Critic, School for Scandal, and The Rivals
Carlyle's Past and Present

* * * * *

Bacon's Novum Organum
Smith's Wealth of Nations (part of)
Mill's Political Economy
Cook's Voyages
Humboldt's Travels
White's Natural History of Selborne
Darwin's Origin of Species
Naturalist's Voyage
Mill's Logic

* * * * *

Bacon's Essays
Montaigne's Essays
Hume's Essays
Macaulay's Essays
Addison's Essays
Emerson's Essays
Burke's Select Works
Smiles' Self-Help

* * * * *

Voltaire's Zadig and Micromegas
Goethe's Faust, and Autobiography
Thackeray's Vanity Fair
Dickens' Pickwick
David Copperfield
Lytton's Last Days of Pompeii
George Eliot's Adam Bede
Kingsley's Westward Ho!
Scott's Novels

[1] Several longer lists have been given; for instance, by Comte,
_Catechism, of Positive Philosophy_; Pycroft, _Course of English Reading_;
Baldwin, _The Book Lover_; Perkins, _The Best Reading_; and by Mr.
Ireland, _Books for General Readers_.

[2] It is much to be desired that some one would publish a selection from
the works of Seneca.



"They seem to take away the sun from the world who withdraw friendship
from life; for we have received nothing better from the Immortal Gods,
nothing more delightful."--CICERO.

Most of those who have written in praise of books have thought they could
say nothing more conclusive than to compare them to friends.

"All men," said Socrates, "have their different objects of
ambition--horses, dogs, money, honor, as the case may be; but for his own
part he would rather have a good friend than all these put together." And
again, men know "the number of their other possessions, although they
might be very numerous, but of their friends, though but few, they were
not only ignorant of the number, but even when they attempted to reckon it
to such as asked them, they set aside again some that they had previously
counted among their friends; so little did they allow their friends to
occupy their thoughts. Yet in comparison with what possession, of all
others, would not a good friend appear far more valuable?"

"As to the value of other things," says Cicero, "most men differ;
concerning friendship all have the same opinion. What can be more foolish
than, when men are possessed of great influence by their wealth, power,
and resources, to procure other things which are bought by money--horses,
slaves, rich apparel, costly vases--and not to procure friends, the most
valuable and fairest furniture of life?" And yet, he continues, "every man
can tell how many goats or sheep he possesses, but not how many friends."
In the choice, moreover, of a dog or of a horse, we exercise the greatest
care: we inquire into its pedigree, its training and character, and yet we
too often leave the selection of our friends, which is of infinitely
greater importance--by whom our whole life will be more or less influenced
either for good or evil--almost to chance.

It is no doubt true, as the _Autocrat of the Breakfast Table_ says, that
all men are bores except when we want them. And Sir Thomas Browne quaintly
observes that "unthinking heads who have not learnt to be alone, are a
prison to themselves if they be not with others; whereas, on the contrary,
those whose thoughts are in a fair and hurry within, are sometimes fain to
retire into company to be out of the crowd of themselves." Still I do not
quite understand Emerson's idea that "men descend to meet." In another
place, indeed, he qualifies the statement, and says, "Almost all people
descend to meet." Even so I should venture to question it, especially
considering the context. "All association," he adds, "must be a
compromise, and, what is worse, the very flower and aroma of the flower of
each of the beautiful natures disappears as they approach each other."
What a sad thought! Is it really so; need it be so? And if it were, would
friends be any real advantage? I should have thought that the influence of
friends was exactly the reverse: that the flower of a beautiful nature
would expand, and the colors grow brighter, when stimulated by the warmth
and sunshine of friendship.

It has been said that it is wise always to treat a friend, remembering
that he may become an enemy, and an enemy, remembering that he may become
a friend; and whatever may be thought of the first part of the adage,
there is certainly much wisdom in the latter. Many people seem to take
more pains and more pleasure in making enemies, than in making friends.
Plutarch, indeed, quotes with approbation the advice of Pythagoras "not to
shake hands with too many," but as long as friends are well chosen, it is
true rather that

"He who has a thousand friends,
Has never a one to spare,
And he who has one enemy,
Will meet him everywhere,"

and unfortunately, while there are few great friends there is no little

I guard myself, however, by saying again--As long as they are well chosen.
One is thrown in life with a great many people who, though not actively
bad, though they may not wilfully lead us astray, yet take no pains with
themselves, neglect their own minds, and direct the conversation to petty
puerilities or mere gossip; who do not seem to realize that conversation
may by a little effort be made most instructive and delightful, without
being in any way pedantic; or, on the other hand, may be allowed to drift
into a mere morass of muddy thought and weedy words. There is hardly
anyone from whom we may not learn much, if only they will trouble
themselves to tell us. Nay, even if they teach us nothing, they may help
us by the stimulus of intelligent questions, or the warmth of sympathy.
But if they do neither, then indeed their companionship, if companionship
it can be called, is mere waste of time, and of such we may well say, "I
do desire that we be better strangers."

Much certainly of the happiness and purity of our lives depends on our
making a wise choice of our companions and friends. If our friends are
badly chosen they will inevitably drag us down; if well they will raise us
up. Yet many people seem to trust in this matter to the chapter of
accident. It is well and right, indeed, to be courteous and considerate to
every one with whom we are brought into contact, but to choose them as
real friends is another matter. Some seem to make a man a friend, or try
to do so, because he lives near, because he is in the same business,
travels on the same line of railway, or for some other trivial reason.
There cannot be a greater mistake. These are only, in the words of
Plutarch, "the idols and images of friendship."

To be friendly with every one is another matter; we must remember that
there is no little enemy, and those who have ever really loved any one
will have some tenderness for all. There is indeed some good in most men.
"I have heard much," says Mr. Nasmyth in his charming autobiography,
"about the ingratitude and selfishness of the world. It may have been my
good fortune, but I have never experienced either of these unfeeling

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