Beecher said that Ruskin’s works taught him the secret of seeing, and that no man could ever again be quite the same man or look at the world in the same way after reading him. Samuel Drew said, “Locke’s ‘Essay on the Understanding’ awakened me from stupor, and induced me to form a resolution to abandon the groveling views I had been accustomed to maintain.” An English tanner, whose leather gained a great reputation, said he should not have made it so good if he had not read Carlyle. The lives of Washington and Henry Clay, which Lincoln borrowed from neighbors in the wilderness, and devoured by the light of the cabin fire, inspired his life. In his early manhood he read Paine’s “Age of Reason,” and Volney’s “Ruins,” which so influenced his mind that he wrote an essay to prove the unreliability of the Bible. These two books nearly unbalanced his moral character. But, fortunately, the books which fell into his hands in after years corrected this evil influence. The trend of many a life for good or ill, for success or failure, has been determined by a single book. The books which we read early in life are those which influence us most. When Garfield was working for a neighbor he read “Sinbad the Sailor” and the “Pirate’s Own Book.” These books revealed a new world to him, and his mother with difficulty kept him from going to sea. He was fascinated with the sea life which these books pictured to his young imagination. The “Voyages of Captain Cook” led William Carey to go on a mission to the heathen. “The Imitation of Christ” and Taylor’s “Holy Living and Dying” determined the character of John Wesley. “Shakespeare and the Bible,” said John Sharp, “made me Archbishop of York.” The “Vicar of Wakefield” awakened the poetical genius in Goethe.
“I have been the bosom friend of Leander and Romeo,” said Lowell. “I seem to go behind Shakespeare, and to get my intelligence at first hand. Sometimes, in my sorrow, a line from Spenser steals in upon my memory as if by some vitality and external volition of its own, like a blast from the distant trump of a knight pricking toward the court of Faerie, and I am straightway lifted out of that sadness and shadow into the sunshine of a previous and long-agone experience.”
“Who gets more enjoyment out of eating,” asks Amos R. Wells, “the pampered millionaire, whose tongue is the wearied host of myriads of sugary, creamy, spicy guests, or the little daughter of the laborer, trotting about all the morning with helpful steps, who has come a long two miles with her father’s dinner to eat it with him from a tin pail? And who gets the more pleasure out of reading, the satiated fiction-glutton, her brain crammed with disordered fragments of countless scenes of adventure, love and tragedy, impatient of the same old situations, the familiar characters, the stale plots–she or the girl who is fired with a love for history, say, who wants to know all about the grand old, queer old Socrates, and then about his friends, and then about the times in which he lived, and then about the way in which they all lived, then about the Socratic legacy to the ages? Why, will that girl ever be done with the feast? Can you not see, looking down on her joy with a blessing, the very Lord of the banquet, who has ordered all history and ordained that the truth He fashions shall be stranger always than the fiction man contrives? Take the word of a man who has made full trial of both. Solid reading is as much more interesting and attractive than frivolous reading as solid living is more recreative than frivolous living.”
“I solemnly declare,” said Sidney Smith, “that but for the love of knowledge, I should consider the life of the meanest hedger and ditcher as preferable to that of the greatest and richest man in existence; for the fire of our minds is like the fires which the Persians burn in the mountains, it flames night and day, and is immortal, and not to be quenched! Upon something it must act and feed–upon the pure spirit of knowledge, or upon the foul dregs of polluting passions. Therefore, when I say, in conducting your understanding, love knowledge with a great love, with a vehement love, with a love co-eval with life–what do I say but love innocence, love virtue, love purity of conduct, love that which, if you are rich and great, will vindicate the blind fortune which has made you so, and make men call it justice; love that which, if you are poor, will render your poverty respectable, and make the proudest feel it unjust to laugh at the meanness of your fortunes; love that which will comfort you, adorn you, and never quit you–which will open to you the kingdom of thought, and all the boundless regions of conception, as an asylum against the cruelty, the injustice, and the pain that may be your lot in the world–that which will make your motives habitually great and honorable, _and light up in an instant a thousand noble disdains at the very thought of meanness and of fraud_?”
Do I feel like hearing an eloquent sermon? Spurgeon and Beecher, Whitefield, Hall, Collyer, Phillips Brooks, Canon Farrar, Dr. Parker, Talmage, are all standing on my bookcase, waiting to give me their greatest efforts at a moment’s notice. Do I feel indisposed, and need a little recreation? This afternoon I will take a trip across the Atlantic, flying against the wind and over breakers without fear of seasickness on the ocean greyhounds. I will inspect the world renowned Liverpool docks; take a run up to Hawarden, call on Mr. Gladstone; fly over to London, take a run through the British Museum and see the wonderful collection from all nations; go through the National Art Gallery, through the Houses of Parliament, visit Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, call upon Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales; take a run through the lake region and call upon the great writers, visit Oxford and Cambridge; cross the English Channel, stop at Rouen, where Joan of Arc was burned to death by the English, take a flying trip to Paris, visit the tomb of Napoleon, the Louvre Gallery; take a peep at one of the greatest pieces of sculpture in existence, the Venus de Milo (which a rich and ignorant person offered to buy if they would give him a fresh one), take a glance at some of the greatest paintings in existence along the miles of galleries; take a peep into the Grand Opera House, the grandest in the world (to make room for which 427 buildings were demolished), promenade through the Champs de Elysée, pass under the triumphal arch of Napoleon, take a run out to Versailles and inspect the famous palace of Louis XIV., upon which he spent perhaps $100,000,000.