A child's guide to reading
This is a Child's Guide to Literature and not a Guide to Juvenile Books. The larger part of the books discussed in the various chapters and included in the supplementary lists were written for adult readers and nearly all of them are at least as interesting to the reader of forty as to the reader of fourteen.
The great writers are the goal and the child is the traveller. That is why in a Child's Guide appear the names of Browning, Carlyle, Tolstoi, Meredith, Gibbon, Darwin, Plato, Aeschylus.
A normal child will not be reading those masters, certainly not all of them, but he will be reading toward them; and between the greatest names will be found lesser writers who make easy upward slopes for young feet that are climbing to the highest. In the supplementary lists will be found very little of what is admittedly ephemeral, and still less of that kind of " Juvenile " which has not sufficient literary quality to outlast the most childish interests and tastes.
That ideal, which, to be sure, in his excellent essay on the " Choice of Books " is tempered by his humanity and good sense, is at too chilly an altitude for a Child's Guide, or, I should think, for any other guide written with the appreciation of what kind of advice ordinary humanity can or will benefit by. In the advice offered by some very wise men to young and old readers, there is much that is amusingly paradoxical. Schopenhauer, like Frederic Harrison, enjoins us to devote our reading time exclusively to the works of those great minds of all times and countries which overtop the rest of humanity.
Yet Schopenhauer is giving that advice in a book which he certainly hopes will find readers and which, however great we may consider him, his modesty would not allow him to rank among the works of the greatest minds of all ages. Emerson counsels us to read no book that is not at least a year old. But he is himself writing a book of which he and his publishers undoubtedly hope to sell a few copies before a year has passed.
Thoreau tells us that our little village is not doing very much for culture, and then he frightens us away from our poets by one of those " big " ideas with which he and the other preachers of his generation liked to make us children ashamed of ourselves. "
The works of the great poets," he says, " have never yet been read by mankind, for only great poets can read them." Well, Thoreau, whatever else he was, was not a great 8 Preface poet, and yet he seems to have read the great ones and to have understood them while he was still a young man. It is nearer the truth to say that anybody can read the great poets. That is the lesson if there is one, which this Guide seeks to inculcate.
There should be a chapter in this book about the Bible and religious writings. But practical considerations debarred it. The American parent, though quite willing to intrust to others many matters relating to the welfare of his children, usually prefers to give his own counsels as to the spirit in which the Bible should be read and what other religious works should be read with it.
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