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knowing ; he that entertains himself with moral or religious treatises, will imperceptibly advance in goodness; the ideas which are often offered to the mind, will at last find a lucky moment when it is disposed to receive them.
(The Adventurer, No. 137.)
GOOD TO LOOK AT THE BACKS OF BOOKS.-No sooner had we made our bow to Mr. Cambridge, in his library, than Johnson ran eagerly to one side of the room, intent on poring over the backs of the books. Sir Joshua observed (aside,) “ He runs to the books as I do to the pictures ; but I have the advantage. I can see much more of the pictures than he can of the books.” Mr. Cambridge upon this, politely said, “Dr. Johnson, I am going, with your pardon, to accuse myself, for I have the same custom which I perceive you have. But it seems odd that we should have such a desire to look at the backs of books.” Johnson, ever ready for contest, instantly started from his reverie, wheeled about, and answered, “Sir, the reason is very plain. Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or
know where we can find information upon When we inquire into any subject, the first thing we have to do is to know what books have treated of it. This leads us to look at catalogues, and the backs of books in Libraries.” Sir Joshua observed to me the extraordinary promptitude with which Johnson flew upon an argument. “Yes,” said I, “he has no formal preparations, no flourishing with his sword; he is through your body in an instant."
(Boswell's Life of Johnson. Year, 1775.)
[Born, 1728. Educated at Trinity College, Dublin. Took his B.A. degree, 1749. Studied medicine at Edinburgh and Leyden, 1752-1754. Settled in London, 1756. “ The Citizen of the World” collected and published, 1762. • The Traveller” published, 1764; “The Vicar of Wakefield,” 1766. The Good-Natured Man, performed, 1768. Deserted Village," published, 1770. She Stoops to Conquer, performed, 1772. Died, 1774.]
- The SWEET
COMPANIONS. I armed her against the censure of the world, showed her that books
sweet unreproaching companions to the miserable, and that, if they could not bring us to enjoy life, they could at least teach us to endure it.
(Vicar of Wakefield, c. 22.)
BOOKS AND LIFE.—Books, my son, while they teach us to respect the interests of others, often make us unmindful of our own; while they instruct the youthful reader to grasp at social happiness, he grows miserable in detail, and, attentive to universal harmony, often forgets that he himself has a part to sustain in the concert. I dislike, therefore, the philosopher who describes the inconveniences of life in such pleasing colours that the pupil grows enamoured of distress, longs to try the charms of poverty, meets it without dread, nor fears its inconveniences till be severely feels them.
A youth who has thus spent his life among books, new to the world, and unacquainted with man but by philosophic information, may be considered as a being whose mind is filled with the vulgar errors of the wise ; utterly unqualified for a journey through life, yet confident of his own skill in the direction, he sets out with confidence, blunders on with vanity, and finds himself at lastundone.
He first has learned from books, and then lays it down as a maxim, that all mankind are virtuous or vicious in excess; and he has been long taught to detest vice, and lové virtue. Warm, therefore, in attachments, and steadfast in enmity, he treats every creature as a friend or foe; expects from those he loves unerring integrity, and consigns his enemies to the reproach of wanting every virtue. On this principle he proceeds; and here begins his disappointments. Upon a closer inspection of human nature he perceives that he should have moderated his friendship, and softened his severity ; for he often finds the excellencies of one part of mankind clouded with vice, and the faults of the other brightened with virtue; he finds no character so sanctified that has not its failings, none so infamous but has somewhat to attract our esteem ; he beholds impiety in lawn, and fidelity in fetters.
(The Citizen of the World. Letter LXVII.)
New Books NECESSARY.-In proportion as society refines, new books must ever become more necessary. Savage rusticity is reclaimed by oral admonition alone ; but the elegant excesses of refinement are best corrected by the still voice of studious inquiry. In a polite age almost every person becomes a reader, and receives more instruction from the press than the pulpit. The preaching bonze may instruct the illiterate peasant; but nothing less than the insinuating address of a fine writer can win its way to an heart already relaxed in all the effeminacy of refinement. Books are necessary to correct the vices of the polite; but those vices are ever changing, and the antidote should be changed accordingly—should still be new, (The Citizen of the World. Letter LXXV.)
A NEW BOOK A NEW FRIEND.—There is unspeakable pleasure attending the life of a voluntary student. The first time I read an excellent book, it is to me just as if I had gained a new friend : when I read over a book I have perused before, it resembles the meeting with an old one.
(Ibid., Letter LXXXIII.)