« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Fitz-James was brave. Though to his heart
Short space he stood, then waved his hand:
Fitz-James looked round, yet scarce believed The witness that his sight received ;
Such apparition well might seem
Sir Roderick in suspense he eyed,
They moved. I said Fitz-James was brave
And still from copse and heather deep
SIR WALTER SCOTT.
1. Granting that we had both the will and the sense to choose our friends well, how few of us have the power! or, at least, how limited, for most, is the sphere of choice! Nearly all our associates are determined by chance or necessity, and restricted within a narrow circle. We cannot know whom we would; and those whom we know, we cannot have at our side when we most need them.
2. All the higher circles of human intelligence are, to those beneath, only momentarily and partially open. We may, by good fortune, obtain a glimpse of a great poet, and hear the sound of his voice; or put a question to a man of science, and be answered good-humoredly. We may intrude ten minutes' talk on a cabinet minister, answered probably with words worse than silence, being
deceptive; or snatch, once or twice in our lives, the privilege of throwing a bouquet in the path of a princess, or of arresting the kind glance of a queen.
3. And yet, these momentary chances we covet; and spend our years, and passions, and powers, in pursuit of little more than these ; while, meantime, there is a society continually open to us, of people who will talk to us as long as we like, whatever our rank or occupation; - talk to us in the best words they can choose, and with thanks, if we listen to them.
4. And this society, because it is so numerous and so gentle, and can be kept waiting round us all day, not to grant audience, but to gain it, — kings and statesmen, lingering patiently in those plainly furnished and narrow anterooms, our book-case shelves, - we make no account of that company; perhaps, never listen to a word they would say, all day long!
5. You may tell me, perhaps, or think within yourselves, that the apathy with which we regard this company of the noble, who are praying us to listen to them, and the passion with which we pursue the company, probably, of the ignoble, who despise us, or who have nothing to teach us, are grounded in this, - that we can see the faces of the living men, and it is themselves, and not their sayings, with which we desire to become familiar; but it is not so.
6. Suppose you never were to see their faces; suppose you could be just behind a screen in the statesman's cabinet, or the prince's chamber, would you not be glad to listen to their words, though you were forbidden to
advance beyond the screen? And when the screen is only a little less, folded in two, instead of four, and you can be hidden behind the cover of the two boards that bind a book, and listen, all day long, not to the casual talk, but to the studied, determined, chosen addresses of the wisest of men;
this station of audience, and honorable privy counsel, you despise !
7. But perhaps you will say that it is because the living people talk of things that are passing, and are of immediate interest to you, that you desire to hear them. Nay; that cannot be so, for the living people will themselves tell you about passing matters, much better in their writings than in their careless talk. But I admit that this motive does influence you, so far as you prefer those rapid and ephemeral writings to slow and enduring writings, – books, properly so called. For all books are divisible into two classes, the books of the hour, and the books of all time.
8. The good book of the hour is simply the useful or pleasant talk of some person with whom you cannot otherwise converse, printed for you. Very useful, often, telling you what you need to know ; very pleasant, often, as a sensible friend's present talk would be.
9. These bright accounts of travels, good-humored and witty discussions of questions, lively or pathetic story-telling in the form of a novel, firm fact-telling by the real agents concerned in the events of passing history, — all these books of the hour, multiplying among us as education becomes more general, are a peculiar characteristic and possession of the present age. We