A blupete Essay

Reading (Ch.3), Part 3 to blupete's Essay
"Thoughts On Thoreau And Walden"

Thoreau's topic in his third chapter is disclosed by its heading.

"To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem. It requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady intention almost of the whole life to this object. Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written. ...
Even the college-bred and so-called liberally educated men here and elsewhere have really little or no acquaintance with the English classics; and as for the recorded wisdom of mankind, the ancient classics [there are but] ... the feeblest efforts anywhere made to become acquainted with them."
Go to your acquaintances, anyone of them, include the most educated among the lot, and ask them what they have read lately, see if includes any works by Henry David Thoreau. Not likely they have ever read him, assuming for the moment they have even heard of him. See the answers you get and gage the person accordingly. I don't think they get students to read the great writers anymore, more the pity. In my bibliographic collection I have a school book which was handed out to the school children of a hundred years back, Readings from the Best Authors (Halifax: A. & W. MacKinlay & Co.). From its foxed title-page one may determine that this book was published under the authorization of the Council of Public Instruction for Nova Scotia. This book is an example of what kids use to read, -- and it needs be checked out. In it, we find short excerpts from the likes of Macaulay (1800-1859); Byron (1788-1824); Wordsworth (1770-1850); Tennyson (1809-92); and Pope (1688-1744). Now, ask your friends about these writers; if you are dealing with a particularly erudite group you may find that some will identify these writers as being among the best of our English authors. Now ask if they have read any of their works, ever. Not likely, except a rare one might have in his or her school days, or at least read about them. But our great, great grand-fathers did. What do our children now read? Well, the plain fact is few of them read at all; they watch TV and very peculiar stuff it is that they watch. And people wonder what is happening to this world.

In Thoreau's time, at least the students were directed to the great English authors, but, he opined, most of us "leave off our education when we begin to be men and women."


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[Essays, Second Series]
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Peter Landry

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