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The Best Books

It is also discovered that everyone must do what these men have done—make his list for himself. But he must take care to make it as they made theirs—after years of searching, browsing, trying out, accepting and rejecting.

These lists of books are suggestive. They help us to come to our own; but we soon dis cover that books, like friends, come to us or respond to our seeking.

A scholar once told me that the most cul tured people of the English-speaking race would probably be a unit in choosing their first and second books : I. The Bible. 2. Shakespeare.

"For the third and fourth and all others," he said "everyone follows his own temperament, inclination and experience." "What would be your third and fourth?" I asked him.

"For the third the best available dictionary, and for the fourth the best atlas," he replied.

"And you may believe," he added, "that most book-lovers would say I waste two good oppor tunities in making these selections." A safe rule to follow in buying books for a shelf that shall contain the best is this : Let the first significant book that inspires you introduce you to the next, as a friend brings a friend. Books do this, and, once started, the endless chain is formed.

The late Edward Everett Hale once said to me : "In all your educational work urge young people to deeper specialization as long as pos sible. Tell them to get a deep-laid and solid foundation first." It is thus with determining what books are most valuable to us. We must first make the acquaintance of books, live and move among them, as we do among men. We must have for a firm foundation, a wide experience with books of all kinds and times. We must be patient and not determine too soon what we shall select for permanent companionship.

In different periods of life different ideals and impulses move us. With the change there is a change of activity throughout the length and breadth of our kingdom. And each change brings its tribute of good.

But whenever we respond to a book, when ever we meet with a book that stirs us to ac tion, that pushes the horizon further away and yet urges us to pursue it to its boundaries, that is for us a good book.

Buy it in good paper and type. Give it a sub stantial binding of your own choice and design, and, as Ruskin says, "Put it as a statue in its niche in your library." It has been good for you. A delicate and wholesome fragrance will forever come from it. As the years pass books so chosen and tested and gathered will become for you the best books.

Assuming that we have agreed (or not) with the gentleman who had determined upon the four books which should stand at the head of his list, what other widely recommended vol umes is it wise to read and examine, to the end that we should know whether to include them in our list of best books? His selection was : 1. The Bible.

2. Shakespeare.

3. The Dictionary.

4. An Atlas.

This question has been answered by a literary authority who said to me : Every young man and woman should try out a few renowned books, which may be grouped thus : ( ) Clas sics, (2) Nature and Science, (3) Essays and Belles-lettres, (4) Famous Novels, (5) Poems, (6) Biography. I would recommend that everyone try out, so to speak, the books in the following lists. Most of them have been in eluded by all who have spoken or written about reading.

I. Classics: I. Homer—particularly the Odyssey, translated by Butcher and Lang.

2. Plato—at least the Apology, Crito and Phaedo of Socrates.

3. Xenophon—Memorabilia of Soc rates.

4. Plutarch—Lives of Illustrious Greeks and Romans.

5. Epictetus—Discourses.

6. Marcus Aurelius—Meditations.

7. Xenophon—The Anabasis.

II. Nature and Science : Without specifying titles, let me recom mend that some knowledge be sought from Astronomy, Geology, Botany, and Zoology. If the read er be a lover of nature he will, in the course of time, come upon books that will interest him and teach him. I would unhesitating ly recommend Hugh Miller's Old Red Sandstone. I find LeConte's Geology fascinating. Books about flowers, trees, and sea shells are numerous. In brief, as a rule, the lover of these subjects may safely be left to discover texts that will let him out into these dominions.

III. Essays : 1. Paschal—Pensees.

2. Carlyle—Essay on Burns.

3. Bacon—Essays.

4. Lamb—Essays of Elia.

5. Emerson—(i ) Essays and (2) Con duct of Life.

6. Addison—The Spectator.

7. Macaulay—At least the Essay on Samuel Johnson.

IV. Famous Here the field is not only extensive, but the choice is largely determined by one's personal response to "atmos phere or color." But the following are worthy of close acquaintance by everyone. I include Bunyan here rather than elsewhere.

1. Bunyan—Pilgrim's Progress.

2. Swift—Gulliver's Travels.

3. Defoe—Robinson Crusoe.

4. Goldsmith—Vicar of Wakefield.

5. Cervantes—Don Quixote.

6. Thackeray—(1) Vanity Fair, (2) Pendennis, (3) The Newcomes.

7. Dickens—(i) Pickwick, (2) David Copperfield, (3) Dombey and Son.

8. Eliot—(z) Adam Bede, (2) Daniel Deronda.

9. Kipling—Kim. 10. Scott—Waverley.

V. Poems: The best entree to poetry is through the Anthologies. Hence, for first ac quaintance, any one or all of the following may be safely selected as a guide : 1. Palgrave—Golden Treasury of Eng lish Verse.

2. The Oxford Book of English Verse.

3. Emerson—Parnassus.

Then one may safely follow one's bent and read the works of poets as completely as one desires. Cer tainly one should not overlook 4. Chaucer—The Canterbury Tales.

5. Milton—Paradise Lost.

6. Dante—The Divine Comedy.

7. Spenser—The FaErie Queene.

8. And then, Dryden, Scott, Words worth, Burns, Byron, Gray, Tennyson ; and, as the basis of An glo-Saxon poetry, The Epic of Beowulf.

VI. Biography: I hesitate to recommend specific books under this caption, for the reason that all biography is strikingly in teresting. The humble memoirs of such men as Thomas Bewick and Hugh Miller, or the more magnifi cent panoramas that we come upon in the lives 15f Napoleon and of Bis marck abound in interest of so dis tinct a kind that, like Professor Shaler, I am inclined to know as many men intimately through books as I can. For myself, I have read with delight, again and again, everything I can find about Socra tes, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Petrarch, the "Lives" of Plutarch, of Charlemagne, Peter the Great, and on to Franklin, Stephenson and Miller.

And there has been nothing said of Art, Music, the Drama, Sociology, and many another theme that each of us must select after the desires of his own heart.

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