25 November 2013

Close and Sympathetic Companionship

William Henry Hudson, An Introduction to the Study of Literature (London: Harrap, 1913), pp. 17-18:
A great book is born of the brain and heart of its author; he has put himself into its pages; they partake of his life, and are instinct with his individuality. It is to the man in the book, therefore, that to begin with we have to find our way. We have to get to know him as an individual. To establish personal intercourse with our books in a simple, direct, human way, should thus be our primary and constant purpose. We want first of all to become, not scholars, but good readers; and we can become good readers only when we make our reading a matter of close and sympathetic companionship. "Personal experience," it has been rightly said, "is the basis of all real literature"; and to enter into such personal experience, and to share it, is similarly the basis of all real literary culture. A great book owes its greatness in the first instance to the greatness of the personality which gave it life; for what we call genius is only another name for freshness and originality of nature, with its resulting freshness and originality of outlook upon the world, of insight, and of thought. The mark of a really great book is that it has something fresh and original to say, and that it says this in a fresh and independent way. It is the utterance of one who has himself been close to those aspects of life of which he speaks, who has looked at them with his own eyes, who by the keenness of his vision has seen more deeply into things, and by the strength of his genius has apprehended their meaning more powerfully than the common race of men; and who in addition has the artist's wonderful faculty of making us see and feel with him. "A good book," as Milton finely says in words which, however hackneyed, can hardly be too often repeated, "is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life."
Not to be confused with the naturalist William Henry Hudson (1841-1922), this William Henry Hudson (1862-1918) was a lecturer at the University of London Extension and contributed to Harrap's Poetry and Life series. Hudson's Schiller and his Poetry is available here; the poems are printed in Fraktur without translation, while Hudson's commentary is in English. What publisher would do such a thing today?

Charlemagne Oscar Guet, Reading (1868)