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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
On Books and Readings
By Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860)
 
Translation of Thomas Bailey Saunders

IT is in literature as in life: wherever you turn, you stumble at once upon the incorrigible mob of humanity, swarming in all directions, crowding and soiling everything, like flies in summer. Hence the number, which no man can count, of bad books; those rank weeds of literature, which draw nourishment from the corn and choke it. The time, money, and attention of the public, which rightfully belong to good books and their noble aims, they take for themselves: they are written for the mere purpose of making money or procuring places. So they are not only useless: they do positive mischief. Nine tenths of the whole of our present literature has no other aim than to get a few shillings out of the pockets of the public; and to this end author, publisher, and reviewer are in league.  1
  Let me mention a crafty and wicked trick, albeit a profitable and successful one, practiced by littérateurs, hack writers, and voluminous authors. In complete disregard of good taste and the true culture of the period, they have succeeded in getting the whole of the world of fashion into leading-strings, so that they are all trained to read in time, and all the same thing,—viz., the newest books; and that for the purpose of getting food for conversation in the circles in which they move. This is the aim served by bad novels, produced by writers who were once celebrated,—as Spindler, Bulwer-Lytton, Eugene Sue. What can be more miserable than the lot of a reading public like this,—always bound to peruse the latest works of extremely commonplace persons who write for money only, and who are therefore never few in number? And for this advantage they are content to know by name only, the works of the few superior minds of all ages and all countries. Literary newspapers too are a singularly cunning device for robbing the reading public of the time which, if culture is to be attained, should be devoted to the genuine productions of literature, instead of being occupied by the daily bungling of commonplace persons.  2
  Hence, in regard to reading, it is a very important thing to be able to refrain. Skill in doing so consists in not taking into one’s hands any book merely because at the time it happens to be extensively read,—such as political or religious pamphlets, novels, poetry, and the like, which make a noise, and may even attain to several editions in the first and last year of their existence. Consider, rather, that the man who writes for fools is always sure of a large audience; be careful to limit your time for reading, and devote it exclusively to the works of those great minds of all times and countries who o’ertop the rest of humanity,—those whom the voice of fame points to as such. These alone really educate and instruct. You can never read bad literature too little, nor good literature too much. Bad books are intellectual poison: they destroy the mind. Because people always read what is new instead of the best of all ages, writers remain in the narrow circle of the ideas which happen to prevail in their time; and so the period sinks deeper and deeper into its own mire.  3
  There are at all times two literatures in progress, running side by side, but little known to each other: the one real, the other only apparent. The former grows into permanent literature; it is pursued by those who live for science or poetry: its course is sober and quiet, but extremely slow, and it produces in Europe scarcely a dozen works in a century; these, however, are permanent. The other kind is pursued by people who live on science or poetry: it goes at a gallop, with much noise and shouting of partisans; and every twelvemonth puts a thousand works on the market. But after a few years one asks, Where are they? where is the glory which came so soon and made so much clamor? This kind may be called fleeting, and the other permanent literature.  4
 
 
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