S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
People are always talking about originality; but what do they mean? As soon as we are born the world begins to work upon us; and this goes on to the end. And, after all, what can we call our own, except energy, strength, and will? If I could give an account of all that I owe to great predecessors and contemporaries, there would be but a small balance in my favour.
Millions of people are provided with their thoughts as with their clothes; authors, printers, booksellers, and newsmen stand, in relation to their minds, simply as shoemakers and tailors stand, to their bodies. Certain ideas come up and are adopted, as long-tailed great coats or skeleton petticoats are adopted. No doubt, if we all thoughteach man only a littleof the spirit and meaning of each act of life, the business of life would be done with an earnestness quite frightful to be told about; though glorious to think about, if one were by chance to think.
Among gentlemen, the power to quote certain scraps of Horace, to repeat as intelligent conversation what has been read in last weeks newspaper, are common things; but the power of independent thoughtwhich ought to be the commonest of things among our educated classesis so rare, that a man passes into an exceptional class, and makes or mars his fortune, when he thus marches out of the ranks and becomes a thinker. The naked little worm found under water, that spends all its life in the collection of morsels of sticks and chips, which it glues round about its person, accurately typifies our own intellectual career. We are constantly seeking, under a pool of printers ink, a stick from this book, or a chip from that journal, covering ourselves with what we might call information, and thus casing our minds with mere fragments. We are well content to be as caddis worms, and to count him the best informed, who yields most of the glue of memory with which to fix the particles that form his intellectual surroundings.