Those who admire and love knowledge for its own sake ought to wish to see its elements made accessible to all, were it only that they may be the more thoroughly examined into, and more effectually developed in their consequences, and receive that ductility and plastic quality which the pressure of the minds of all descriptions, constantly moulding them to their purpose, can only bestow.
Previous to the publication of the Novum Organon of Bacon, natural philosophy, in any legitimate and extensive use of the word, could hardly be said to exist. Among the Greek philosophers, of whose attainments in science alone we have any positive knowledge, and that but a very limited one, we are struck with the remarkable contrast between their powers of acute and subtile disputation, their extraordinary success in abstract reasoning, and their intimate familiarity with subjects purely intellectual, on the one hand, and, on the other, with their loose and careless consideration of external nature, their grossly illogical deductions of sweeping generality from few and ill-observed facts, in some cases; and their reckless assumption of abstract principles having no foundation but in their own imagination, in others: mere forms of words with nothing corresponding to them in nature, from which, as from mathematical definitions, postulates, and axioms, they imagined that all phenomena could be derived, all the laws of nature deduced.
Of all the amusements which can possibly be imagined for a hard-working man, after his daily toil, or in its intervals, there is nothing like reading an entertaining book, supposing him to have a taste for it, and supposing him to have the book to read. It calls for no bodily exertion, of which he has had enough or too much. It relieves his home of its dulness and sameness, which, in nine cases out of ten, is what drives him out to the ale-house, to his own ruin and his familys. It transports him into a livelier, and gayer, and more diversified and interesting scene, and, while he enjoys himself there, he may forget the evils of the present moment fully as much as if he were ever so drunk, with the great advantage of finding himself the next day with his money in his pocket, or at least laid out in real necessaries and comforts for himself and his family,and without a headache. Nay, it accompanies him to his next days work, and, if the book he has been reading be anything above the very idlest and lightest, gives him something to think of besides the mere mechanical drudgery of his every-day occupation,something he can enjoy while absent, and look forward with pleasure to return to.
But supposing him to have been fortunate in the choice of his book, and to have alighted upon one really good and of a good class. What a source of domestic enjoyment is laid open! What a bond of family union! He may read it aloud, or make his wife read it, or his eldest boy or girl, or pass it round from hand to hand. All have the benefit of it; all contribute to the gratification of the rest, and a feeling of common interest and pleasure is excited. Nothing unites people like companionship in intellectual enjoyment. It does more,it gives them mutual respect, and to each among them self-respectthat corner-stone of all virtue. It furnishes to each the master-key by which he may avail himself of his privilege as an intellectual being, to
Enter the sacred temple of his breast,
And gaze and wander there a ravished guest,
Wander through all the glories of his mind,
Gaze upon all the treasures he shall find.
And while thus leading him to look within his own bosom for the ultimate sources of his happiness, warns him at the same time to be cautious how he defiles and desecrates that inward and most glorious of temples.
Were I to pray for a taste which should stand me in stead under every variety of circumstances, and be a source of happiness and cheerfulness to me during life, and a shield against its ills, however things might go amiss, and the world frown upon me, it would be a taste for reading. Give a man this taste, and the means of gratifying it, and you can hardly fail of making him a happy man; unless, indeed, you put into his hands a most perverse selection of Books. You place him in contact with the best society in every period of history,with the wisest, the wittiest, the tenderest, the bravest, and the purest characters who have adorned humanity. You make him a denizen of all nations, a contemporary of all ages. The world has been created for him!
Sir John F. W. Herschel: Address at the Opening of the Eton Library, 1833.