A Taste for Reading
A taste for reading is an inexhaustible source of pleasure, which adds to our happiness in prosperity and consoles us in adversity. Books are now so cheap that this taste may be indulged at very little expense. Few are so poor that they cannot afford the small sum of money for which nowadays the priceless works of the greatest writers may be bought. Other desirable objects are expensive in proportion to their value, but in the case of books, value and price are almost in inverse proportion. The whole of the works of Shakespeare and Milton may be bought for a few rupees, while ten or twenty times as high a price is asked for three volumes of a new novel that will be skimmed through for a month or two by a few careless readers and then consigned to everlasting oblivion. If we are fortunate enough to have access to a free library, we have the privilege of ranging at large among a large number of the best books without any expense to ourselves.
Yet how much more real and lasting is the happiness lovers of literature owe to good books than to the costly pleasures of the senses! In our daily life, we come into contact with average men like ourselves, who may be good friends and fulfill well all the ordinary duties of life, but have no power of inspiring us with high thoughts, and do not possess enough knowledge to solve our intellectual difficulties. Books bring us into communication with the greatest intellects that the world has produced since the art of writing was invented. Even those great men like Socrates, who never themselves expressed their thoughts in a written form, are known to us by the pious care of their literary disciples.
Among the great variety of books produced by past ages of culture, we can find satisfaction for all our mental needs. Every branch of science and period of history that we may wish to study is sure to have been exhaustively treated by those authors who know most about the subject, so that it is possible for anyone by means of books to give himself a thorough education in history, literature, and art, without the aid of a teacher and, if he has the benefit of instruction in school or college, to supplement by private study what he has learned there.
But perhaps the benefit derived from a taste for reading is even more manifest in after-life when it enables us to continue our education. Too many young men, after leaving college, cease to take any interest in literature and science, and so sacrifice wantonly all the permanent advantages they ought to have secured by their past studies. But the man who is blessed with a taste for reading does not allow the cares and labours of life to extinguish his love of culture and goes on adding something to his knowledge every day of his life. In this way, he escapes the misery of having his mind tied down to the narrow routine of his work, and has better things to occupy his thoughts than idle gossip about chances of promotion and the petty affairs of his neighbours. Still, happier is his lot if he happens to have congenial companions with whom he can discuss the innumerable topics of conversation suggested by a common love of books.
The social advantages of a love of reading may be further developed by the formation of literary societies, the members of which meet at intervals to debate on intellectual questions or read classics together or give public recitations with the object of spreading among their neighbours an interest in the world’s greatest poets and prose writers. By energetically working together in the organisation of such social gatherings they show that their love of culture does not isolate them from sympathy with their fellow-men, and that, instead of selfishly keeping to themselves the means of living a higher intellectual life, they are only too glad to do what they can to teach others to enjoy the priceless happiness that the lover of literature finds in his favourite books.