I came across these quotes while reading a book by George MacDonald entitled Dish of Orts (Orts means a scrap or morsel–I had no idea either:). He actually used these passages in his own essay on forms of literature and I was so taken with them that I scoured the Internet until I found a scanned-in 1853 edition of Mr. Lynch’s book. I downloaded it and, using “economy” mode on the printer, printed all 166 pages.
The first quote brings to my mind the moments of warm recollection, often caused by a simple scent or the fading sun or a cup of coffee, of times spent with brother-books, the ones we remember as fondly as we do our faithful dogs; the second, that reading should exist reciprocally with all other parts of life; and the third, which doesn’t so much make me want to begin reading a biography (it kinda does) as it does review my own story in light of what Mr. Lynch says here. After all, the payment of self-sacrifice is non-refundable, is it not?
1. Some of the best books are written avowedly, or with evident consciousness of the fact, for the select public that is constituted by minds of the deeper class, or minds the more advanced of their time. Such books may have but a restricted circulation and limited esteem in their own day, and may afterwards extend both their fame and the circle of their readers. Others of the best books, written with a pathos and a power that may be universally felt, appeal at once to the common humanity of the world, marvelously strong and immediate. An ordinary human eye and heart, whose glances are true, whose pulses healthy, will fit us to say of much that we read—This is good, that is poor. But only the educated eye and the experienced heart will fit us to judge of what relates to matters veiled from ordinary observation, and belonging to the profounder region of human thought and emotion. Powers, however, that the few only possess, may be required to paint what everybody can see, so that everybody shall say, How beautiful! How like! And powers adequate to do this in the finest manner will be often adequate to do much more—may produce, indeed, books or pictures, whose singular merit only the few shall perceive, and the many for awhile deny, and books or pictures which, while they give an immediate and pure pleasure to the common eye, shall give a far fuller and finer pleasure to that eye that is the organ of a deeper and more cultivated soul. There are, too, men of peculiar powers, rare and fine, who can never hope to please the large public, at least of their own age, but whose writings are a heart’s ease and a heart’s joy to the select few, and serve such as a cup of heavenly comfort for the earth’s journey, and a lamp of heavenly light for the shadows of the way.
2. In all our estimation of the various qualities of books, if it be true that our reading assists our life, it is true also that our life assists our reading. If we let our spirit talk to us in undistracted moments—if we commune with friendly serious Nature, face to face, often—if we pursue honorable aims in a steady progress—if we learn how a man’s best work falls below his thought, yet how still his failure prompts a tenderer love of his thought—if we live in sincere, frank relations with some few friends, joying in their joy, hearing the tale and sharing the pain of their grief, and in frequent interchange of honest, household sensibility—if we look about us on character, marking distinctly what we can see, and feeling the prompting of a hundred questions concerning what is out of our ken:—if we live thus, we shall be good readers and critics of books, and improving ones.
3. In meditative hours, when we blend despair of ourself with complaint of the world, the biography of a man successful in this great business of living is as the visit of an angel sent to strengthen us. Give the soldier his sword, the farmer his plough, the carpenter his hammer and nails, the manufacturer his machines, the merchant his stores, and the scholar his books; these are but implements; the man is more than his work or tools. How far has he fulfilled the law of his being, and attained its desire? Is his life a whole; the days as threads and as touches; the life, the well-woven garment, the well-painted picture? Which of two sacrifices has he offered—the one so acceptable to the powers of dark worlds, the other so acceptable to powers of bright ones—that of soul to body, or that of body to soul? Has he slain what was holiest in him to obtain gifts from Fashion or Mammon? Or has he, in days so arduous, so assiduous, that they are like a noble army of martyrs, made burnt offering of what was secondary, throwing into the flames the salt of true moral energy and the incense of cordial affections? We want the work to show us by its parts, its mass, its form, the qualities of the man, and to see that the man is perfected through his work as well as the work finished by his effort.
-Thomas Toke Lynch, Essays on Some of the Forms of Literature