This particular list of classics, and the list of forty-three works in English may be entirely useless to any one save Matthew Arnold. The point does not lie in the books he selected. It lies in the fact that, being a busy man, he still could find spare moments for good books.
Arnold's reading was, of course, extensive. He was cultured, refined, well-instructed, and highly educated. But, year after year, he turned to "the best that has been written," be cause, as he said of it, "it is living in good com pany, the best company." And he added, with an intimate knowledge of what "good com pany" means to the average man or woman : "And people are quite keen enough, or too keen, about doing that (living in good corn pany), and yet they will not do it in the sim plest and most innocent manner by reading." So, being a busy man, Arnold was a man of system, and being a man of system, a little item like "hours in good company," readily found a place in his daily life.
It all depends, so far as plans are concerned, on the way a man settles himself back in life.
As a rule, to be settled in life is to have reached the maximum degree of inactivity. But if be ing settled means to a man, striking a pace equivalent to his forces constantly exercised, then wonders result.
The power of plan and of time well used is amazing. It was Samuel Johnson, I think, who once said that reading with care one hour daily, would make a man learned in five years. An hour per day is four per cent of a man's time. But the man should spend another four per cent in checking up the statements of the books in the living world about him.
Ben Jonson, the English poet and friend of Shakespeare, was a mason and bricklayer. It is said of him that he laid bricks with a trowel in his hands and a book in his pocket.
It was said of Lord Brougham that "he had time for everything." Sydney Smith once ad, vised him to limit himself to no more work than three strong men could get through.
Commenting on his plan, Arnold said : "In the past year I have at least accomplished more than usual in the way of reading the books which at the beginning of the year I had put down to be read. I always do this, and I do not expect to read all I put down, but some times I fall much short of what I proposed, and this year things have been a great deal better.
"The importance of reading, not slight stuff to get through the time, but the best that has been written, forces itself upon me more and more every year I live. However, if I live to be eighty I shall probably be the only person left in England who reads anything but news papers and scientific publications." He did not live to be eighty. He died at the age of sixty-six, :n April, 1888.
But he lived in the "good company" of books to the end.
Of what practical benefit is it to stop in the midst of a busy life and of an attractive en vironment, and deliberately plan to set apart some hours of the day or year for reading books ? The answer, in Arnold's words is, "living in the best company." To one not familiar with the society of books and authors, this reference to them as the best company may seem a trifle poetic, a bit too far-fetched to be literally true. But, as a matter of fact, we have only to turn to the utterances of the best scholars to find that they are unanimous in this opinion. John Ruskin said : "I would urge upon every young man, as the beginning of his due and wise provision for his household, to obtain as soon as he can, by the severest economy, a restricted, serviceable, and steadily—however slowly—increasing series of books for use through life; making his little library, of all the furniture in his room, the most studied and decorative piece ; every vol ume having its assigned place, like a little statue in its niche, and one of the earliest and strictest lessons to the children of the house being how to turn the pages of their own liter ary possessions lightly and deliberately, with no chance of tearing or dog's ears." "In books," Richard de Bury said, "I find the dead as if they were alive; in books I fore see things to come; all the glory of the world would be buried in oblivion, unless God had provided mortals with the remedy of books." "A collection of books," says Carlyle, "is a real university." And Temple Scott, in his introduction to The Friendship of Books, has very wisely pointed out this : "We tumble over each other to get a glimpse of a commonplace man, riding on horseback, because he is said to be King of a country or a great captain of industry; but when a real King of men sits with us at home we take the first opportunity to get out of his way. I suppose it is much easier to look at a man's uniform than to talk with a man's soul." Of the vast range of Opportunity that lies ready for the service of Youth, an essential portion is to be found in good books. They persist because truth forever vitalizes what ever form of expression it takes. It is indis pensable for the youth to acquire the simple technic of mastering books, for they will serve him with their truth to the end of his days. But it must be constantly remembered that as true books come into being through the reflec tion and suggestion of environment to their writers, so they must be read back again to the environment of the reader. This is distinctly the vitalizing process in reading; and when reading is not vital ft is necessarily dead.