The Priceless Gift of a Rich Cultural Education

Citation preview




by Cornelius Hirschberg



For Anna, my wife

Contents ONE

t w o

T h e Idea T h e Excuse


T h e Book


th r e e

fo u r












M usic





A n Interpolation









Science and Philosophy



Sundry Practical Matters



My Library

p i

A p p en d ix A


A p p en d ix B




h apter




The Idea is a description of one man’s education. It has been written to help you develop, on your own, a plan of personal cul­ ture, of self-education, that will benefit you for your entire life, and to show you practical methods of teaching yourself so that the effort can be brought to some result. T he plan offered is not a series of courses to be taken at home. It is not a method for acquiring a certain amount of skill or knowl­ edge in a specific direction. It is a plan for your whole intellectual lifetime. It includes everything learned or heard of, in school or out. It comprises everything read or seen that you can raise to the height of thought. It is primarily a habit and an outlook. Since what is planned is the intelligent life itself, it can never come to an end. No previous education is required except the ability to read this book and to count. It is necessary that you should want to know more, feel more, see and respond to more than you can when you begin. Some good will is needed, a friendly feeling toward the achievement of the human mind. T he book is adaptable to persons of various ages and different de­ grees of education. Most people in our country have gone through high school and many through college. These people, more clearly than those who have had only a primary schooling, are often aware of shortcomings in their education. They may try to improve by reading, but this is usually done too haphazardly to be of much help; or at least they wish they could get started on a course of reading that would enable them to feel that they know more, so that they may think more clearly and talk to better effect. These dif­ fering persons, young and old, who may be doctors, engineers, T h is b o o k


bricklayers, bookkeepers, or housewives, have in common an un­ derstanding that there is more to the world than they can take part in, more to enjoy than they can enjoy, and they wish to do some­ thing about it. But what to do? Books, museums, concert halls can be found in abundance, but how does one begin a sensible, productive, system­ atic attack on this vast world of the mind, so that the general out­ line of what one is going to do is clear for as many years as one chooses— for the rest of one’s life, in fact? There are innumerable books on how to look at sculpture, listen to music, understand the poets, and master science. They are good books, too; but without an over-all method, a guide, a central idea to follow, they only increase the confusion. There were already too many books before they came along. What I have tried to provide is a practical book, based on actual examples from my own life, which will give a broad plan that any­ body may use, so that you can go to your own university, acquire as much sensitivity and understanding in the arts and sciences as your abilities and leisure permit, learn something of history and litera­ ture, and fix the course of your reading, listening, and seeing, once and for all, in a general way, exactly as you would if you matric­ ulated at college. W ith one difference— this college graduates only when life ends. The methods given here are practical and certain to give results, if used, because they proceed from case to case, from example to ex­ ample, by using the life of the author as a textbook. Since I am a man with as little schooling as any average English-speaking person is likely to have and am, moreover, a man of very ordinary abilities, such as anyone who might read this book is likely to have, the meth­ ods I have used and the life I have led should work for most people and will work— if you will. This must therefore be a very egocentric textbook. The egotism cannot be helped; it is the heart of the matter. It would be very inconvenient and rather cowardly to try to shirk this necessity of talking about oneself by using such dodges as “ the author” or “the present writer." I have not, therefore, used that unprofitable pose but have written in the first person. I teach by personal example. My argument is simple. I say: (i) 2

this is what I have done, (2) what I have done anybody can do, (3) therefore you can do it. I am perhaps the first man to put forth for my credentials the fact that I am a man of no special talent or knowledge. But without this there would be no reason to write the book. If I were a professor or a well-schooled writer or a man of high abilities, I would not be the kind of man this book is written to help. Professors and men of tal­ ent are not ordinary men. Their ways are not our ways; their meth­ ods of learning are beyond us. My ways of learning are beyond nobody. I have learned more than the average man, and I do live a keener, more enjoyable life than most people seem to, but my re­ sults are not beyond them. As I tell the whole story of what I have learned and enjoyed, it will become plain that these pleasures are yours for the taking. I invite you to use and adapt my life to your needs as you find it can help you. Anyone can learn what I have learned. Still, few do. I think one reason is that many of those who would like to learn do not know how to go about it, and those who would like to help them have never needed that kind of help. The professors write fine books for professors to teach from and learn from, but they don't give peo­ ple the confidence to study for themselves. The professors cannot show where they, without school or teacher, have taught themselves from the beginning with no greater natural gifts than other people have. What is easy for them may be difficult for us. I shall tell, a little further on, what I have accomplished, in a gen­ eral way, during the course of a life which is now approaching old age. But first I want to make very plain what I do and do not at­ tempt in this book. I do not try, directly and as such, to teach any subject. I have for convenience divided the book into chapters labeled history, litera­ ture, art, music, mathematics, etc., but I do not teach these sub­ jects. I only show how I study them and what I have learned about studying them by myself, while living an active life, primarily devoted to earning a living in the business world. If you learn any­ thing directly about these various subjects as you read the chap­ ters, it will be in spite of my intent, not because of it. This is a book to read before you read the books from which you will learn things.


In other words, this book is not the faculty or library of the uni­ versity. When you go to college you find that you are confronted by catalogues or brochures that tell you what you must know before you attempt each branch of study, the order in which the courses are to be taken, and the requirements for a degree. Since here you are your own college and your own staff of teachers, I shall try to show you your various needs, depending on what you want, and also on your age, mode of life, and the time at your disposal. I shall help you select your courses and tell you the requirements. I won’t let you run wild. You can't take courses at random by yourself any more than you could at any good school. You must make suit­ able preparation unless you already have it, and you must study connectedly so that the whole experience will be fruitful. I can grant my degrees only if you will work in a sensible, unified direc­ tion for a reasonable length of time. Besides its staff of teachers and its libraries, a good college offers counsel, points out obstacles, and provides encouragement and sug­ gestions. I shall assume this duty. You teach yourself, and so you do in college if you really learn anything, but I shall warn you of pit­ falls and suggest bridges and detours. You build your own library, but I shall recommend some books. You choose the degree you aim at, but I shall describe the degree, so that you can pick one that suits your tastes and needs. T o help make clear whom this book may help, I shall list some people who should not read it. 1. Literary men, schoolteachers, persons doing advanced work of any kind, practicing musicians, artists, and intellectual workers in general who are fully engaged in their fields, unless they feel their work is too narrow and overspecialized. 2. People who are satisfied with themselves as they are. 3. People who don’t like people who know things. Do you feel a certain ill-will creep up in you when you see a man carrying a book? If so, be honest. By all means preserve your dislikes and don’t attempt anything such as this; you are not the man for it. Do you distrust artists because they are artists? Do you think poets are phonies? If so, you are not likely to find this book profitable. 4. This book is not primarily intended for those who are seeking a practical career. It will not make you a lawyer or an engineer; that's what the schools are for. True, the methods of study ex-


plained here will help a law student or a man floundering in mathe* matics, provided he reads the book from the beginning, but that is only because all knowledge is one; there is only one way to study. Colleges and universities can definitely help you learn how to make money. 5. I am not interested in giving anyone an “ impressive person­ ality,” “ a forceful way of speaking,” a means of building up his ego or of showing off. My aim is the opposite. I can help only readers who want to be more sensitive, not less; who want to learn, not teach; who want to be impressed, not to overwhelm others. I care nothing about developing your “conversational powers,” your power to “express yourself.” Most of us talk too much as it is. But I can teach you to listen, to get the most out of other men’s talk, to acquire a little flexibility, a bit of give and take in your thinking, so that when a man gives you a new idea you won’t feel as if you had been insulted. 6. This is not a book about anything made easy. If you think anything at all worth knowing can be very easy, read some book on mathematics or geology “ made easy.” They won’t prove to be so easy. This is a book on how to make the intellectual life itself “ easy”— that is, easy on your nerves so that you won’t be afraid of it. This tells how to make mathematics enjoyable, how to thrill to the glorious sense of power that comes over you when you first see your way into a mathematical truth. I offer happiness. Ease is not necessarily happiness. This book teaches the strenuous life. Who, then, can use the book? I think almost everybody. Shipping clerks, salesmen, farm workers, and machinists may find it helpful; anybody who wants to add a little sparkle and variety to his life by means of something that will become really his and that, once possessed, nothing but death can take away. Doctors, actors, and teachers of physics may find something here if they have reached a plateau in their work and feel that it has become routine, and if they would like another line of intellectual endeavor, one they are not forced to do but want to do. You may live on a ranch in A l­ berta or on a ship at sea. Most often, you are bogged down in a busy family life, trying to make a living. You may lack peace of mind, even after reading Peace of Mind. You may be undergoing psycho­ analysis. You may be sick. Nevertheless you would like new life, new ideas, new pleasures.


For the aim of this book is pleasure. I have never read a book or thought about a subject except for pleasure. Sometimes it is an athletic sort of joy, like a game of tennis, or hunting on a cold, wet day, but if I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn’t do it. I do my duty earning bread. Reading and thinking are my own. I am the one to be pleased in these things, and so are you. So now I show you how you can delight yourself as I have de­ lighted myself all my life long, in a noble world of song, color, form, ideas, and truth. T o think a thing out— what a joyl To see a new truth or beauty— you can have this, so far as I have had it.


h apter



The Excuse for my writing must come from my life, ordinary as it has been, and these are the details that concern us here: I was born in 1901 of parents born in this country. The family had little school­ ing and no intellectuality, except for my father, a lawyer, who died when I was a child, leaving my mother, younger sister, and myself destitute. While I was too young for my father to have had any di­ rect effect on me, he had a profound indirect one: he left us a li­ brary of about three hundred volumes. This, his sole legacy, which my mother never let go through a lifetime of poverty, was the one advantage I have had over most people. There were books in the house where I was born, and I can form no conception of what my life might have been without them. Sinclair Lewis, in Arrowsmith, speaks of one of those homes where there is a phonograph and no books. Coming from a man who had been around so much, this remark has always puzzled me. Is there another kind of home? I never seem to find it. I suppose there are books somewhere other than in libraries, bookstores, and my house, but where? My father’s was only a small collection, such as a young man has had time to get together, but still I had at hand the English poets, Gibbon and other popular historians of the year 1898, Macaulay, Taine, Locke, Spencer, Darwin, Ruskin, some of the standard Eng­ lish novelists, and a popular group of anthologies, including selec­ tions from Oriental literature. My father’s bookcase, five feet long and four shelves high, and the overflow therefrom— and even the overflow did not include one second-rate book— became my high school, my university, and the great love of my life. During the past forty years I have added as T h e excu se


many books as I could buy, mostly secondhand, and I have dis­ carded such volumes as life and time have suggested, but the orig­ inal books were the decisive ones, and I still have most of them. A few years ago I gave away my Latin and German books because I was finally forced to concede that I would never know Latin or German, but I dragged them around the country until I was forty. I still get twinges of conscience about this; I have an idea that when I am sixty-five and can retire on my Social Security, I shall settle down to learn Greek and Latin and become a real scholar, and then I’ll wish I had those books; but in the meantime they would take up room. I wonder how many professors have been able to influence their sons as strongly as my father, from his grave, has dominated me. I scarcely remember him— only a few flashbacks— but by his three hundred volumes he molded my life as firmly as ever did a Prussian colonel forcing his son into the uhlans. How powerful is the force of example! Had my father lived, he might have preached at me for years. He would have sent me to school and college, and I might have fought him all the way. But how can one fight with a bookcase? I went to school when I became six years old and was left back the first year— I had started too late in the term— and I went through the first six years of school in Newark, Ohio, hating it. Oh, God, was it loathsome! I couldn’t read easily until I was eight, but then I went to work and read every boys’ book the world had— all the “Tom Swifts” and “ Motor Boys’’ and “ Rover Boys” and “ Motorboat Boys” and “West Point Boys” and “Alger Boys” and, above all, that great Englishman Henty. I do not know whether I love history because I read Henty or vice versa, but after forty or forty-five years I have forgotten very little of what history there was in his forty or fortyfive volumes. We moved to New York City when I was twelve, where I did even worse in school. I passed my first term, 7A, but failed 7B, and, so help me, was left back. There would seem to have been a fault somewhere in the handling; my teachers should have been able to get me through. Those were the days before progressive education. I took 7B over again and managed to pass, and finished 8A and


was now fourteen years old; so I obtained working papers, took a job as an office boy for one grim month, and went back to school, very gladly, for 8B and graduation. One month of business had con­ vinced me, then and forever, that school was better, but my discov­ ery did me no good. Eight B was the end of school for me, and I have been working for others, in business, ever since. It was in my fourteenth year that I discovered, along with pu­ berty, that I was an intellectual. Since I had never liked school and was accustomed to being surpassed by the greasy grinds of each class, and since the boys I went with were not grinds but swimmers and ball players, I had had no suspicion that I might be cut out for a life of study. I had not read any of my father’s books up to this time— only inhaled them. The books I read came from boys’ li­ braries and the nine-cent books the family bought me. Nor did my relatives encourage my reading, ordinary though it was. They thought I read too much. But somehow— I still don’t know why— I began at this time to read better novels: Dumas, Hugo, Eliot, Dickens, etc., and better histories, and something hap­ pened. By the time I was graduated from Public School 23, in the Bronx, I knew I wanted to be a scholar, and I have spent my life imitating one. I found my first steady job as an errand boy, and I started to Bring In Money— five dollars weekly. I read and worked— no fortyhour week in those days— and went around with some fellows who were going to high school, and I read more and more, and became a shipping clerk, and worked in a paint factory, and decided I must acquire a regular education; so I learned bookkeeping in a very bad commercial school and became a very bad bookkeeper, and then decided to enter college, but first I had to go to high school. There­ fore I went to a so-called prep school at night for a year, a cram joint for defeating the New York Board of Regents, and learned nothing except a smell of Latin (I wanted to read my father’s Latin books); and then I decided that what we know is in the li­ braries after all, and since I cared nothing about a degree, but only for the real substance of knowledge, and since what I wanted was Latin and Greek, I ought to get a private teacher and really learn some Latin. I found a teacher, a good one, named Mankiewicz (the father, I think, of the movie man), and I learned an addi­


tional two years of school Latin in six months. Then my teacher’s vacation began, and I stopped, and I never started again, and this was the last teacher I ever had. Therefore, my schooling is (1) public grade school, (2) one year in that meaningless cram school at night, where neither I nor any­ one else ever learned anything, and (3) six months with a private Latin teacher. After all, I was working hard, at least fifty-two hours a week, and I was happy reading and thinking. Why should I worry about degrees? So I have worked and read all my life and never made a nickel out of all I have read, at least up to now. But no one I know has had so happy a life. I have always re­ gretted that I didn’t master some profession so that I could use my head a little in my work, instead of being a salesman— that is, one who never has to use his head for anything. But my regrets haven’t cost me one day’s peace of mind. If ever a day comes when I don't feel at peace, it will turn out that by the time I have thought in the morning about what I had read the night before, read a little in the subway or bus going to work, read during my lunch hour and on the way home, and done something interesting that night, the day will have gone and left me no time for repining. This is enough biography for the moment. It is only here to sat­ isfy you that I have not had more formal schooling than you have. I will tell at length how I learned each subject that I have learned and will make clear precisely what I know and don’t know, so that, if you try to do as I have done, you will have some idea of what you can surely expect to accomplish; but that sort of information should come in gradually during the course of the following chap­ ters.


h apter


--------- < m > —



The Book we live in, we the people, can be divided in many ways. Rich and poor, strong and weak, healthy and sick, brown and white; you can make as many such divisions as you wish. I some­ times think that all of them are superficial, arbitrary, mere forms of speech, habits of thinking, except one: the difference between those who seek to learn and those who do not. I believe this to be the deepest division among men. I believe it is deeper even than sex: deeper than the difference between men and women. I believe it is deeper than ethics: deeper than the difference between good and evil. I know it is deeper than religion: deeper than the difference between Jew and Christian, Buddhist and Mo­ hammedan. People of intellect— people who use their intellect— form a class whose members know each other regardless of blood, creed, geog­ raphy, or sex. They can always recognize and deal with one of their own kind. They are always aware of a gulf that separates them from pepple who do not like to think or learn. I sometimes feel that I would have more in common with an educated Eskimo than with many people I have worked with and talked to all day long. But I do talk to them and I am often impressed by evidence that they seem to know this difference as well as I do. They know that they are on the outside of much of that which makes men men. Sometimes I hear regrets that they do not know more, that they could not have had more schooling— these men and women every one of whom has had more schooling than Shakespearel They ask to see what I am reading. How often I have gone through this scene at one of my successive places of business! Someone— a girl working her way through T h e w o r ld

i i

school, a middle-aged salesman— asks me, “What are you reading, Neal?” I become embarrassed. I think up answers, if I can, to turn them away— a story, I say, a history. Usually I hand them the book in silence. They peer at it. In re­ cent years* it may have been Loeb’s Electricity and Magnetism, Agnew’s Differential Equations, Bertrand Russell’s Human Knowl­ edge, Grote’s History of Greece, Einstein’s more popular writings, or the Iliad. We look at each other covertly. I feel that I have taken an unfair advantage of them and also that they have of me. Honestly I do not know what they think. If they are modest, they hand the book back in silence or say, “You like to read books, don’t you?” or “What deep stuff you read!” If they are conceited, they try to say something to show that the matter is not completely beyond them— nor is it if they would not put themselves beyond it. All of these people have been to high school; some to college. Most of them have as much or more time for study than I have had. All have had better opportunities than I have had. Everybody born in the United States since 1910 has had better opportunities to learn than I have had. How did this abyss develop between my fellow workers and me? I could not dig it, not in a thousand lifetimes— it is as deep as the world. Sometimes they talk to me, these glib, sincere salesmen, or these quiet, sincere truckmen and clerks. They wish they knew more. They speak of it as one might say, I wish I had a million dollars, I wish I could go around the world. Since it is theirs for the taking, I can say nothing. I can express sympathy to a man who is sick or poor or frightened, but how can I say, You do not have to be torpid? The demand for learning is all about us. Books to meet that demand— how to look at pictures, listen to music, or construct a telescope— come off the presses daily, and people read them. The television program “Sunrise Semester” intrigues millions. But still that chasm, a Grand Canyon, marks off almost all the world from " R ecent years” will represent different times as the reader goes along. This book has been several years in the making. I could revise all the refer­ ences to my own reading, but I think it is more lively to leave them as they were first written. *


those few who have the free use of their minds. This is absolutely unnecessary, at least in the United States. We have the wealth, the basic education, the free books, the leisure. We could build a society in which half the people, at any rate, would be on the right side of the canyon, of the intellectual railroad tracks. We have completely failed to do this, but it certainly could be done. Our failure has a cause, I think, as plain as day, and springs from our over-trust in big buildings, schools, libraries, colleges, armies of teachers, and in mechanical things such as motion pictures, slides, lanterns, televi­ sion, and other substitutes for thought and effort. Where private enterprise, the personal effort of every man to educate himself by himself, is all-important, we have stressed social action. Social ac­ tion will not do here. Schools are good enough for the training of a small, aristocratic class but will never, by themselves, produce an educated citizenry, a nation of informed voters and rulers.* T h e point is not that we have too many schools but that we have left too much to them and assumed too little of the responsibility for our education ourselves. A people which governs itself must educate itself. It is as wrong to leave your education with your school as to leave your morals with your preacher. Here you are the master of your soul. Note that I speak of your education, not of your child’s. Edu­ cate yourself; set an example— that is the greatest contribution you can make toward the education of your child. I feel that something can be done beyond anything which has yet been done to encourage everyone to apply this idea. I assume that you, the reader, agree with me in this, and I shall now begin to dis­ cuss the techniques of self-education. ' I need to define a few words. For want of a better word, and be­ cause politicians, racketeers, and people who want to make money out of other people hate it, I shall use the old term intellectual to denote a man who takes his chief pleasure from the energetic use of his mind. This may or may not mean a doctor, a lawyer, an engi­ neer, a schoolteacher, or a man studying for an M.A. These people may hate to use their minds. But if they love it, it includes them, and it always includes serious musicians, painters, sculptors, serious writers, and serious scholars of all kinds. It also includes a small *


W ritten in 1955.

class, open, how ever, to the w hole w orld, demanding neither money nor degree for adm ittance, m ade up o f those men and women who b elon g to no professional in tellectual class, who are not profes­ sional “ in tellectu al w orkers," bu t who love the game and the ex­ ercise o f learning. A ll persons who get a kick out of feeling their heads w ork, I shall call intellectuals. I need a w ord such as culture. T h e word has two principal mean­ ings. I shall not use it as the anthropologists do, as meaning a body o f custom or a kin d o f civilization: the culture of the Zuni people or A frican culture. I shall m ean a state of mind and of soul in a m an, typified for educated people by the “ Greek idea” or the name G oethe: a con d ition of m ental alertness and sensitivity, so that ideas o f all kinds— ideas o f philosophy and history, science and the arts, and o f life itself— are ardently and joyously received; a condition in w hich the senses, the eyes and ears, are delicate and responsive, per­ m ittin g sounds and colors, forms and patterns, to be received and consciously relished; the m an know ing that he is doing it and doing it for all it is w orth. T h e m erely cultivated man, the nonprofes­ sional, does not expect to sense the pleasures of art as deeply as an artist, or o f m usic as a m usician, or of poetry as a poet, or of mathe­ m atics as a m athem atician, b u t he knows he can have some of this pleasure if he w ill honestly and hum bly train himself as best he can, and he does. Pleasure, as I shall use the word, w ill mean much the same thing that it means to everybody, bu t in all its meaning. I shall speak of takin g pleasure in a Chinese vase, in a moment of music, in a new m athem atical idea, in a b eau tifu l argument now freshly appre­ ciated. T h is is the same pleasure that you take in a friend, a glass o f beer, a television show, or a nice warm bath; but it differs in the length o f tim e it lasts, in the use it makes o f your faculties, and in the intensity w ith w hich you enjoy it. W hen I am very thirsty, a cold glass o f beer is m uch m ore pleasurable to me than a statue (it m igh t w ell be so to the m an who m ade the statue, as well), but I cannot sw allow beer all day long. I can enjoy food only for short periods o f time, b u t I can read, look at pictures, think, and ex­ change ideas through all my w akin g hours. T h e noun culture and the noun intellectual do not coincide per­ fectly. Every m an o f true cultu re is at least something of an intel­ lectual, b u t a true in tellectu al m ay be a man of only partial culture.


He may be an incompletely cultivated man. T h e great Darwin regretted that his concentrated studies had deprived him of all ability to listen to music.* Many artists and musicians cannot en­ dure close reasoning, exact knowledge, outside their own fields. They may recoil from mathematics. They are intellectuals, of course; the strenuous use of their minds in their daily work assures that; but their culture is faulty. Culture involves both the senses and the intellect; moreover, it requires a certain balance and sym­ metry of development. Culture is a unity which may be approached through many ave­ nues. History, mathematics, novels, music, foreign travel, are ap­ proaches to culture, but culture is what takes place in you. It is also a matter of degree— always of degree. No one is totally uncultivated. T he winds and the rain, the seasons, the sun and the stars, men and women, all cultivate. They furnish the basic cul­ tivation; on them the mind first seizes, and out of them all culture and civilization spring. This book, however, is mainly concerned with that part of our culture which we consciously, deliberately, seek out for ourselves. There is a choice in our approach to culture. We may specialize or may spread ourselves out over the whole field of human thought, but we must do neither to excess. A specialist has been described as one who learns more and more about less and less, until finally he knows all there is to know about nothing. Obviously such a man cannot be called truly cultivated, unless he has also done work out­ side his speciality. I sometimes feel that because I have failed to specialize at all, I keep on learning about more and more, but al­ ways less and less in each direction, until someday I shall know nothing about everything. In any case, this choice between specialization and nonspecializa­ tion is yours. It is a difficult one to make for you, but it is not diffi­ cult for you to make for yourself, because events will usually decide it. If you possibly can, and if you are young enough, you should learn some one thing thoroughly for your daily bread. T he world does not pay off on general culture. However, this book assumes that even if you do acquire a profession, you will wish to know more Darwin’s opinion, not mine. I think he had nothing to regret, was probably mistaken as to his inability, and, if right, was hopelessly unmusical to begin with. *


th a n is in clu d e d in yo u r d a y’s w ork, and the question still is, should you m ake an effort to learn thoroughly some second subject or sh o u ld yo u d e lib e ra tely enter m any fields, thereby insuring that yo u w ill n ever m aster any o f them , even to the extent that an ama­ teu r m ay exp ect to m aster som ething? I can o n ly answ er this by m y own experience. I must assume that m y exp erien ce has been som ew hat like that of most other persons of ordinary abilities. I f you are o f extraordinary abilities, you will find extra o rd in a ry solutions to such problem s, and you won’t read this book. H ere is how it w orked for me. I have always followed, at any g iven tim e, some definite lin e o f interest. I m ight follow it for sev­ eral years o r on ly for a m onth; but I certainly intended, at the tim e, to pursue one activity. T o be equally interested in everything w o u ld be to be really interested in nothing. And all achievement comes from interest; if you cannot becom e interested in a thing, you w o n ’t do m uch w ith it. T h erefore, if you know of any cultural study that has a p articu lar appeal to you at the moment, that is the one to pursue. A n d you should stay w ith it at least until some distinct progress is m ade or u n til some keener and truer interest appears. Strong, th rillin g new appetites for intelligent experience that spring up suddenly and m ake you wish to drop everything else should never be ignored. T h e y are am ong the sharpest joys that ed ucation offers. T h e y may occur at any time and in a direction in w hich you w ould not have dream ed you could learn a thing. Such sudden aspirations are signals w hich tell you that, now that you are exposed to learning, all sorts o f powers are opening up in you. L et me m ake this clear. Suppose you are reading a series of stand­ ard E nglish novels you wish to com plete. You happen to meet up w ith a book on m ineralogy that looks interesting. As a general rule it w ould be better to p ut off the intruder until you have satisfied yourself that your reading o f the classic novels has accomplished som ething. If you do stop to read the book on mineralogy, get through w ith it and back to your course o f novels. But if the new book hits you in the m iddle, so to speak, exciting and charming you and fillin g you w ith a desire really to learn something of the subject, that is a signal. Y o u had better yield to it and push it for all it is worth. In practice, some branch o f study w ill probably present itself,

even though weakly and fearfully at first. T h e various chapters that follow this one are designed to suggest such openings. T he impor­ tant thing is to intellectualize the impulse. T he world is full of peo­ ple who pursue all sorts of things that in themselves should be highly stimulating, opening gateways to culture and the real use of the intellect; but nothing happens for them because they shrink from the reasonable, moderate, conscious mental effort, without which their interests are mere hobbies. Culture is never a hobby or a collection of hobbies. For example, music is not so much an intel­ lectual interest or even a hobby as a bad habit with millions of people who keep dinning it into their ears by every possible means — concerts, radio programs, phonograph records— but who never bring their minds to bear on it. Musicians consider this an evil; a musician never does anything while listening to music but listen. (If you know a musician who you think is an exception, he is proba­ bly second-rate.) Don’t listen to music while you wash the bath­ room floor. Get the floor clean; the music can wait. Nor is it enough to go to concerts— even to go to concerts and let them stir up your feelings. If there is no honest attempt to work the mind, if there is no feeling of history and style and relationship while listening, and if no thinking is done after the listening is over, it would be better to skip music until, if ever, these necessities become possible for you. (I will develop this topic more fully when I treat of music as a whole.) But this is precisely what you would like to know. How do you make these things significant and alive for yourself, so that you can think fruitfully about them? Where should you begin? What is your first move? You already know perhaps that you can hear some mu­ sic, read some poetry, look at a painting, putter a bit with chemi­ cals, or learn all about complexes. You also know that up to now these gestures have not done much for you— not if you are like ninety-nine per cent of the people. W hat should you do to open yourself up, so that you can accomplish something? If you are a Peace of Mind reader, or have hypertension, or are depressed, or bored by your husband (who wouldn’t be, in most cases?), and want to try culture and education for relief, your problem is even harder because you don’t enjoy things. You are a stomach in pursuit of an appetite, or you are too highly wound up to apply yourself easily in a quiet way for a long time to something outside yourself. You can

en joy on ly change, n ew faces, new pleasures, and these only for a few m inutes. U n til yo u find the keen, new intellectual interest I am p rom ising (in w h ich yo u d o n ’t have m uch faith anyhow), what should you do? Is there a n yth in g that underlies the whole of cul­ ture, that is cu ltu re insofar as any one th in g is culture, without which cultu re is im possible, good th in k in g impossible, and that marks off the educated, trained m in d decisively from the uncultivated? If so, this w ould be the place for most readers to start. I thin k there is. M y con victio n rises from the whole thinking of m y life and is the m ost m atured and careful result my reading and observation have en abled me to reach. I think that the fundamen­ tal acquirem ent that distinguishes the m an who is capable of con­ structive thought from the u n th in k in g is a sense and knowledge of history. A m an o f sound historical learning cannot be an unculti­ vated man; not w hen he knows the history of culture. And a man, no m atter how alert and sensitive he m ay be in some respects, can­ not have real depth o f in tellectu al freedom w ithout history. H istory is therefore the natural starting place for all serious edu­ cation. W e should start w ith history because it is the nearest thing to culture itself. T h ro u g h history, better than through any other at­ tack, we m ake certain that we are reaching to the very core of a rounded, effective education. Savages have been fine artists. Primi­ tive societies produce true musicians. Philosophical and religious ideas can rise from people w ho cannot read and write. But a mod­ ern, sophisticated, balanced culture m ust be based on a knowledge o f the past o f m an and on how we arrived at the time and place that we now are in. I therefore begin this series o f essays on the various phases of self-education by considering the study o f history. Please keep in m ind that I have developed the ideas of this book in such a way that you m ust read the book in the order I have written it, even if, for instance, you are chiefly interested in teaching yourself mathe­ matics or botany. I have assumed in m y chapters on music and on m athem atics that you have read everything that precedes them. T h is book can be closed at any point and the ideas applied which have been developed to that point, b u t skipping is out of the ques­ tion. O therw ise I w o u ld have had to repeat the story of my studies over and over again. T h e re is too m uch o f the author in this book at


best; to learn something of logic or zoology, read my remarks on history. I shall make every effort as we go along to fit this plan of selfeducation to every reader’s needs: male or female, young or old, city or country dweller. It is hopeless to try to do this at the outset. The differing possibilities for different ages and people will unfold gradually, until by the end of the book I think that any man or woman will have already selected, almost unconsciously, the parts that he or she can use. The oneness of knowledge, culture, education, must be thor­ oughly understood. Knowledge is only one name for our relation­ ship with life. Don’t think there can’t be diversity in unity. One’s wife is at the same time one’s helpmate, companion, severest critic, mother of one’s children, dependent, support, cook, goddess, and so on, all the while remaining a single personality. In the same way, history, science, art, music, philosophy, are merely ways in which we think of our relationship with life. It is difficult to understand the world we live in; such names are helps in trying to learn some­ thing about reality. In particular, since your “culture,” your “edu­ cation,” refer to states of being in you, it is evident that all your “knowledge” must come down to one thing in the end— you your­ self. I have planned this book under a number of headings in an ef­ fort to be all things to all men, in an effort to open a number of different approaches to the same thing. This is entirely honest be­ cause, while education is always the same thing, it is a thing which may seem easier to start under one aspect than another, just as your wife may seem to be more comprehensible as mother than as club­ woman. However, since the basic methods of study apply to all knowledge, they do not need to be developed over and over again. It will be enough to explain them once in connection with history and then show how they can be applied to other topics. Therefore, even if I did not consider history to be the most im­ portant part of the work, the chapter on history would still be the key chapter, simply because it is the first. Many things will be dis­ cussed that do not apply only to history. T he ideas must then be carried along and used throughout the rest of the book, if you think you need the rest of it. If you happen to have been stirred up by the 19

recent talk about train in g m ore mathematicians, don’t turn first to the chapter on mathematics. It w o n ’t help you. However, when you have read the entire book up to that portion, I think the chapter on mathematics w ill convince you that you can, if you wish, learn as much mathematics as you choose, and without any teacher but yourself. Each of these chapters w ill necessarily consist of a number of lit­ tle talks on related topics. T h a t seems to be the most practical way to get everything in. W hat is lost in flow and smoothness will be gained in directness. T h e reader wants specific questions answered, and I shall write down my answers to as many questions as I can anticipate. Some readers are better educated than others and will ask more sophisticated questions. Such questions will be dealt with in the later chapters, but always on the assumption that the book has been read up to that point. A word for the older reader. You may have heard that it is easier to learn in youth. T h is may trouble you, but it contradicts my ex­ perience. It is probably true, however, that if one has permitted a lifelong hardening of the intellectual arteries, it might feel strange at fifty to start using that semi-ossified head, but this should stop no man from trying. T w o unconnected discoveries have been al­ lowed to obscure each other. Psychologists have convinced them­ selves that our full capacity to learn is reached by our seventeenth year or earlier, and the greater part of it before our thirteenth year. Now, all that this says is that a man of seventeen is, in es­ sentials, full-grown— something that we should have been able to figure out w ithout help. Anything you can do mentally at forty, you can do at seventeen. T h is is also true, by and large, for that which you can do w ith your body. Armies accept men at seventeen years. It is also true that the aging process slows down our bodies almost as soon as we come out o f our teens. Ball players quit early. Ulysses knew this and wisely declined to race against the young men, al­ though he was the strongest of them all. T h is slowing down w ill reach our brains if we live long enough, but most of us don’t. Some people have elastic minds at ninety. V ery few people have any substantial reduction in the actual power o f the brain until they are in their late sixties, and those who have the bodies to live beyond the upper sixties usually have the brain to 20

go with it. If we live long enough, of course, something has to go, and it may be the brain. But the important point to grasp for anyone who has not felt un­ mistakable signs of advanced age is: if there is no indication of true senility, arteriosclerosis, etc., you still have essentially your full men­ tal powers, provided you can recover their use. You may be some­ what out of condition intellectually, but you can get yourself in condition, which might be impossible if we were talking about your body. Moreover, you cannot bring on a heart attack or a stroke from any amount of clear, unemotional mental effort expended on im­ personal matters. Just the opposite— you improve your health and lower your tension when you take your mind off yourself and put it on the world about you. A ll my life experiences point this out. I know, at fifty-seven, that I learn faster and easier than ever before. There are techniques to this learning business, and I am getting better at it. Today I open up a new subject, and the whole strength of everything I have learned up to now moves in to help me. Mathematicians will un­ derstand what I mean when I say that everything you learn acts as a constant and even an increasing accelerating force provided you set it free to move. Therefore, your velocity of learning steadily in­ creases as you keep on doing it. If you can still read a book, enjoy a show, and take care of the ordinary business of your life, you are young enough to learn some­ thing of history, literature, art, music, physics, mathematics, geol­ ogy, anatomy, and bookbinding. I can’t say how much you will learn, old-timer; there are too many unknowns; but you can surely make a dent on some of those subjects. Don’t worry about the old dog and the new tricks. Culture is no trick. Even though your tired body doesn't want to stand in museums, go to concerts, and keep up with the Little Theater, you do not have, in pure education, the ac­ cumulated mess of habits, rhythms, notions, dislikes, lazinesses, that you are up against when you try to do things a new way. If you have little culture, then you have little to stand in your way. If you have a good bit, then you know how easily you can increase it without my telling you. Whoever you are, and no matter how old you are, if you can read this book, you can read something better. Now let's learn history.



h apter



History History and the books • T h e subway university We remember by forgetting • L in coln versus Chandragupta Courses toward your first degree • Dates by association You find you own a library • B e a Ph.D.

will discuss the nature of history, try to bring out its importance, tell how I learned it in the small way that I have learned it, and go into some of the difficulties I have encountered during the process. Of itself, the chapter will teach no history— you will teach yourself history— but I shall suggest a few books, and a few times and ways in which to read the books. History is the record of all human knowledge— all knowledge, be­ cause everything we know is history as soon as we know it. The present is merely the instant that divides the past from the future. The future will also be history as soon as we learn it. History is hu­ man knowledge because history is not exactly the facts of reality and existence; it is our knowledge of these facts. Relationships are the main part of history. Facts as such are not only of no value, they cannot even be known. I cannot know what a thing is unless I know something more— where it is or when it is— and these are relationships. If I say, “Kamchatka,” I have only made a noise. This noise is a knowable act because we can relate it to silence and to other noises, to me and my mouth and to other mouths. But that is all the noise tells us. If you know something more about Kamchatka— for instance, that it is a geographical term — then you have another relationship. If I tell you that it is a penin­ sula off Siberia, I have added a whole tissue of relationships. Kam­ T


his c h a p t e r

chatka is now a part of history for you. People are doing things there; what they are doing is not history, but if anyone knows it, the knowledge is. Since history is so vast, since it is, in the end, simply another word for what we know, we shall have to restrict it a little, so we can dis­ tinguish history from its parts: geography, philology, science, eco­ nomics, art, politics, anthropology, etc. T he following dissection of the body of history has proved convenient and will conform to gen­ eral practice. We shall call history the story of that which large groups of people have done. T hen biography will be the story of single men or women, geography the story of the surface of the earth, geology the story of the earth itself. Even human history is usually divided. The story of the great plagues is a part of history proper, but the nature of disease be­ longs to medicine, and the story of how men have fought disease is part of a special history, the history of medicine. Special history is always included in history proper to some extent, depending on the purpose of the historian and whether or not it is convenient for him to discuss it. This suggests an even more practical definition of his­ tory, one which is not too general to be of use. History is the story which the historians have built up in their books— very little com­ pared to all that has happened, but enough for most of us. By and large, then, the study of history for you, the reader of this book, will be the reading of and making some effort to visualize and understand the things the books of history have in them. It will also include looking at photographs and pictures of things you cannot see at first hand and examining the artifacts of the past. Your great­ grandmother’s soup spoon is an artifact in the study of history. A more important artifact is a hand ax of early man. A broken pot or a piece of an ancient wagon is a typical artifact. So is Queen Elizabeth’s crown. A book of history is also a fact of history. T he Bible is one of the few great, early, original histories, but if it contained no history at all (if this were possible), it would still be one of the supreme facts of history, because it has made so many people act as they have acted. An old manuscript of the Bible is a part of history in a nar­ rower sense; it tells us something about language at the time the manuscript was written, and about parchment-making and book­ binding and handwriting and styles of lettering. Moreover, the


manuscript itself must have a history. Where was it bound? Who kept it? What of the hands? A book about artifacts is in itself an artifact. History is the bones of culture; this framework supports the whole body. History gives us the irreversible relationships; it tells us which way things went. It does not matter whether we think of John as James’s brother or James as John’s brother, but it makes all the difference whether we think of Frank as William’s father or William as Frank’s father. This latter is an irreversible relationship. If we ignore this, we ignore all orderly thinking. Only animals ignore irreversible relationships. Irreversible relationships often have their basis in time, and that is what the study of history is for: to give an appreciation of time. If you had no sense of time you literally could not tell which came first, the chicken or the egg. And that is exactly the state of mind in which most of your more intellectual thinking takes place unless you are an exceptional reader— say, one in fifty. You go to a book, a concert, or a ballot box without knowing which came first, the chicken or the egg. History is knowledge in sequence, in motion. It can be opposed to technique, which may be thought of as static knowledge, at rest and waiting to be put to use. Or history can be compared to a moving picture as opposed to a still photograph. Since all knowledge can be seen as part of the dynamic, moving flow of history, history be­ comes the study of all knowledge in motion. Culture, as opposed to skill, is largely concerned with knowledge in motion. The skills which you employ for various particular purposes use static knowledge, at least while you are doing those things. Because of this flow, a book of history is no more forgotten when read than a moving picture is forgotten immediately after you have seen it. The still components, the separate frames, of the pic­ ture are forgotten, but the essential life and flow of the movie re­ mains with you to the extent that the picture had story, life, and flow to begin with. It should begin to be clear why we should learn history: to put our whole education into a living order. How and when can we learn history? I shall try to answer that question in the only way that can justify this book— that is, out of

my own life. T h e reader will want to know how he should study his­ tory with special reference to his age and circumstances, what books he should read and in what order, and above all when, in view of his busy day-by-day life, he should get in all this reading. I shall tackle the last question first by telling how I managed it, but since I was a child when I began to read history and since you may be older than I am now, I shall suggest adaptations further on to fit various ages. I have been intensely interested in history from the time I could read easily— say, my eighth year. This was the nearest thing to a positive talent that I ever possessed, and is probably the reason I have never stopped learning. History made other knowledge come easily. Since I never read except for pleasure, this is very important. I never have read a subject unless I liked it. For instance, books on sociology bore me and I ’ve seldom read them. But history never bores me. It is always interesting, and in the pursuit of history I have sooner or later been tempted to learn whatever else I have learned, even a little sociology. And so, in general, to go from ordi­ nary history to the history of science, to the history of mathematics, and so to the study of mathematics, is a series of natural steps. As an example, I remember talking to a certain man, who was also a man of almost no schooling and the only businessman I have ever met who knew history. He knew a good deal more than I did at that time, chiefly because he had more power to begin with. I had at that time become fascinated by mathematics, of which he was totally ignorant, and I remarked to him that Euler, the great Swiss mathematician, had gone from the court of Frederick the Great to that of Catherine of Russia when Catherine decided to form a learned society. “ Frederick loaned him to her,” he replied. This man took no interest in mathematics but he knew who Euler was, knew something of his biography, and probably knew that much about every great man o f science in history. How many engineers know that? Such a man can and may turn at any time to the study of mathematics, or to anything else, and he finds himself in a well-ordered building, where he is at home and comfortable in the company of the other dwellers— he has only to settle down to the routine of the place. It is not easy to get to know a professor of

mathematics at Harvard or but anyone can meet Archi­ medes— when you go to your own college you never feel you are a stranger. Soon after I was graduated from public school 1 began a planned course of reading in history. I had about a hundred volumes of his­ tory in my bookcase, left by my father, and naturally I wanted to read those familiar brown old fellows first. I planned to read one volume a week, fifty volumes a year, and for one year I did it. Those fifty volumes were and are the heart of my knowledge of history. I had read history before and have never stopped since, but those books are the backbone of what I know. They exceed the re­ quirements of a B.A. major in history. I had an advantage: I lived at that time in New York. Subways were slower and I had a ride of at least one and one half hours each day. Add to that an hour for lunch (I carried my lunch), and I had two and one half hours to read in, if I never read a word any­ place else. I never eat lunch with the people I work with, not be­ cause I don’t like company but because you can’t have everything, and I need that lunch hour. Also I have been able, most of the time, to avoid driving a car to work. So I have read on subways, trains, and buses for forty years, and on these conveyances, and during my lunchtime, I’ve done approximately ten hours of reading a week for about two thousand weeks, all of it the most serious reading I do, since I do my light reading at home. Those 20,000 hours add up to at least five college degrees (nothing very wonderful in a man of fifty-seven). I got in that much reading during what would have been wasted time which I had to lose and couldn’t control in any case. T h e subway university is one of the best in the world; why so few use it, I cannot tell you. Incidentally, if you think that the reading of books is increasing in the United States, consider this. When I was an overgrown boy of fifteen, I carried and read a book in the subway. I felt a little odd, because I seldom saw anyone else doing it. Sometimes I did see an­ other reader, and I would try to get a look at his book. In gen­ eral, I might see this other fellow once in ten rides, and since the trains were ten cars long, I presume that on an average there were two book-carriers on every train. There were, I believe, about 1,200 riders in a rush-hour train, which reduces to about one reader in 600. No wonder most people didn’t know much in those days! But

have times changed? W e now have compulsory schooling until age seventeen, and millions go to college. Now when I ride the trains or buses, I see books carried everywhere. I notice, though, that most of the carriers are of school age or are obviously teachers who get out at City College, Columbia University, etc. O f men not in these categories, I see roughly as many carrying books as formerly. If reading has increased in the past forty years, it is confined to news­ papers and magazines. As I have said, I read in the subways for one year, and here is the list as well as I remember it after all this time: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 6 vols. N ie b u h r , Lectures on Roman History, 3 vols. (obsolete) P l u t a r c h , Lives, 4 vols. (an ancient historian) R a w l in s o n , The Five Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World, 3 vols. (obsolete) R a w l in s o n , Egypt, 2 vols. (obsolete) G uizo t , History of France, 8 vols. G r e e n , Short History of the English People, 4 vols. H u m e , History of England, 6 vols. (famous b u t obsolete) M a c a u l a y , Essays, 3 vols. (not all are history) T a in e , History of English Literature, 3 vols. I r vin g , Life of George Washington, 2 vols. (obsolete) P r e s c o t t , Conquest of Mexico, 2 vols. C a r l y l e , French Revolution, 1 vol. T he Federalist Papers, 1 vol. S ism o n d i , History of the Italian Republics, 1 vol. G

ib b o n ,

These are forty-nine volumes in the editions I used. I got in three or four more somewhere that year, but I do not remember them, perhaps because I borrowed them from the library and they have not kept me company down the years. I know I always went to the libraries if only for the atmosphere, and I did some nonhistorical reading in addition to the books listed. I am always picking up a novel. This is not a big record of achievement in historical study for a whole year. Many scholars actually read ten times that much al­ most every year of their lives and many more read five times as much. Moreover, they study, not merely read, the books. T his is 27

on ly the record o f w h a t one boy, w ork in g hard, thoroughly tired at the end o f the day, u nschooled and absolutely unadvised, without a frien d in the w orld w ho read history, did in a certain year. It was m y h ig h school and college— m y bachelor course in liberal arts. T h e same read in g on any other subject would not have been as beneficial. I co u ld have read twice as m uch on economics or sociol­ ogy or psychology or the dram a or poetry and not helped myself so m uch, unless I had m ade one o f them my life’s work. I had laid a fo u n d a tio n for all o f them , and none of them could have been sub­ stituted for the fe elin g o f history I had acquired. At the end of the year, age considered, I was an educated man. I had crossed the b ou n dary betw een the two kinds o f people, those who do and those w ho do not know w h at has happened.* Before I had reached my seventeenth year I had realized that I was always to be set aside from the b u lk o f m y fellow s. N eith er they nor I could do anything abo u t it. B u t you can. It was a very hap p y year, a joyous year. I have never enjoyed a year’s read in g so m u ch except twice: when I gave a year or more to Shakespeare and w hen I first began to read mathematics. A t this poin t, I should have gone to night school and stayed with it u n til I had a degree on p ap er and could thereby associate to some exten t w ith m en of m y ow n tastes. I did make some effort in this di­ rection, as I have said. B u t I d id n ’t begin to have the determina­ tion to see it through. T h e retail business, with its night work and fearfu l hours, k illed that (I have m ostly worked a six-day week, w ith two, three, four, and even five w orking nights). But although I never m ade the effort that w ou ld have set me free of stores and of p reten din g that I was the kind of m an w ho wants to push things on people, I never let that w orld conquer me either. I have never stopped reading, sensing, thinking. I never shall. Unlike every A m erican businessm an I have known, I did not lay my brain on a shelf. I never died. A n d w hile it was the last thing I was thinking of or was in need of, I had m ade sure of my peace of mind. T h is account should give the busy workingman, housewife, or technical specialist some idea o f how and w hen he can plan to read his history. It is evident that it w ill be necessary to give up so m e th in g * T h a t year’ s reading began late in my fifteen th year, if I remember rightly. E arlier in th e year I was reading th e usual popular economics and m iscella n eou s literature.

to it. If nothing had to be given up, that is probably all it would be worth. D on’t give up your husband or your boy friend, or your child’s companionship or . . . or . . . or . . . but do give up some­ thing and find the time. Perhaps you can select something to give up from this list: 1. Friends not profitable to you if you are going to learn anything (this is the greatest time-waster for most people). 2. Sports which you only look at. Don’t give up your exercise— give up other people's. 3. Movies, for reasons which I shall discuss further on. No movie is necessary to a rational life. 4. Television. Even the most “educational” and “ intellectual” T V show can be abandoned without a moment's regret. (I’ll ex­ plain later.) 5. Autom obile riding. 6. Barrooms. 7. Somethingl I can get you an education without cash, teacher, or school, but I’ll have to ask for your time. Quite a bit of it. For this lifetime of self-education, this degree of master un­ limited, is primarily a matter of reading. T here’s lots of listening and looking too: concerts and museums and the world and what’s in the world— even pencil and paper in their place— but first and foremost this is reading. T h e things we know are stored up in books. No life is long enough to know all of it; we must compromise, but we don’t have to give up the whole attempt. T h at is to say, we don’t have to go back to the monkeys. Remember, a monkey with a T V and a car is still a monkey. So, after you have thought this over a lit­ tle and made sure that this is the life for you, let’s start to read. History is a big thing, so you will want to know where to start. I shall lay out several practical courses, but I wish to say first that where one starts is unimportant. It is most unimportant. It’s natu­ ral to ask for suggestions, but they really don’t matter. I don’t care where you start or with what book, as long as you keep on going. You may begin with the latest text loaded with modern scholarship, or with some old history which has lain around the house for sixty years and which wasn’t very good when it was written. You may be­ gin with ancient Egypt or modern Chile, with China, Norway, or the state of Arizona. You may start at the beginning of time and 29

read forward or start at the present and go back. It doesn’t matter. Either you will become interested and read or you will fall by the wayside. If you read as few as ten volumes, you will no longer need me to tell you what to do. T he only reason this book contains more than two words, read history, is that I’m afraid people won’t believe me. So I give you various avenues to learning, various courses of history, and also starting places via music and mathematics and phi­ losophy, but if you can grasp this idea, close my book now and be­ gin to read. Before outlining courses, let me dispose of a few “difficulties.” T he true difficulties in any attempt at education are two: lack of self-confidence and lack of interest. Confidence is weakened chiefly because as you go on you think you have forgotten what you have just read. By the time you close the volume your knowledge seems pretty shaky, and after you have read the second volume, the first seems completely lost. Don’t let it worry you. Even experienced readers feel that they are forgetting everything as fast as they read it. It’s not as bad as it sounds. In the first place, we forget, as has been well said, because we must. We forget everything we say and do and see and hear as fast as they happen. That is, we forget them to some extent. They seem to disappear somewhere inside us. If that did not happen, how could we give our attention to the present? Now I can assure you that the most able men “forget” most of what they read as fast as they read it. If they must have a certain fact for business reasons— because they are writing a book, for ex­ ample, or teaching the subject— they make a note of it. Otherwise they let it lie in a sort of inert, half-forgotten condition until they need it. They will then know where to look it up. But it’s not entirely lost. Remember, education is what takes place in you. As you read, a process is occurring in the mind, and slowly a body of facts, colors, ideas, sounds, sensations, are building up. You haven’t really forgotten anything. If you read with a little connectedness and common sense— not first a book of history and then one on flowers, and then one about an actor and then one on tennis and then turn to a journey to the Arctic, but stay with your history, botany, theater, sports, or travel for a fair time, so that one idea is strengthened and made more interesting by the next one— you will find a development growing in you, more a feel­ ing than a knowledge, until the time comes when you see daylight.


The time comes when you don’t exactly remember what you have read— you will never do that completely— but when you can work with what you have read. It has become a part of you. You can use it and apply it, and live it. T h at is what culture is. I don’t remember much about the Byzantines. I think “ Byzan­ tine” and something lights up inside me. It’s a mixture made up of odd facts I have read, some mosaics I have seen, some photo­ graphs, a few paintings, St. Sophia Cathedral, the Black Sea, the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, the Greeks, the Scythians, the Ro­ mans, the Arabs, the Turks, two fragments of conversation, the day I heard a man say, “ T he Byzantines,” as he passed me in the mu­ seum; also Dr. Johnson’s tragedy Irene, Palaeologus, Della Fran­ cesca’s painting, the “ Greek fire,” Scott’s novel, the Crusades, and so on forever— all this at once, confused, like a street scene, but also in order like a street scene. Don’t ask me any examination ques­ tions, but don’t tell me I don’t know something about the Byzan­ tines. W hat more do I know about the town I live in? This is what is meant by having the past with you. You don’t know everything about the past; you don’t know everything about your own house either. You cannot name at this moment every­ thing that is in your house; still less where each thing is and who used it last. But wouldn’t you know a lot if you knew everything as well as you know the inside of your own house? And that is what you are aiming at: to make of knowledge a familiar mansion for your use and comfort. I often say to myself, “ T he book will teach you how to read the book.” Some books are inherently a little difficult for the beginner. I read Gordon Childe’s New Light on the Most Ancient Near East recently. Since I am not precisely an archaeologist, I found it diffi­ cult, and since I always have this book that I am writing in mind, I even decided that archaeology is not a good subject for self-study. After going about two thirds of the way without seeming to know what I had read, I stopped and turned to Margaret A. Murray’s The Splendor That Was Egypt. This seemed suspiciously easy in the archaeological parts, so I decided it must be more elementary. Then I turned back to Gordon Childe again. T h e obstacles had dis­ appeared! He had taught me how to read him and how to read Miss Murray as well. In other words, you must have faith in the ability of your author II

eventually to make his subject plain to you, and in some cases, when breaking into a new subject or breaking new ground in an old subject, you must have faith in yourself. Without this, I would still be reading “The Rover Boys.” T o know and remember a certain amount about a subject, it is necessary to learn a little more. Always learn more than you in­ tend to remember. T o point up this truth, I will use a rather recent experience. Most of my life I have known something about the periods of geology. I have known vaguely that the Cambrian, the Ordovician, the Silurian, the Devonian, etc., followed each other in a certain or­ der, each with its own characteristics. In the same way the most re­ cent and important period is divided into Eocene, Oligocene, etc. It was hard to see the need of my knowing more than that. There is so much I will never know— geology could well be part of it. But it doesn’t work out that way. I didn’t really know that small amount I did need. All I wanted was enough to understand evolu­ tion, pre-history, and the place of the earth in the heavens, but I found I never knew what I needed. Such pale knowledge turned out to be too weak and colorless to stay in the memory at all. More­ over, I couldn’t think with such diluted learning. There wasn’t enough for my mind to take hold of. So I have read all about the numberless transformations of the earth’s crust and all about those ninety-five miles of strata, some of them only a few feet deep, which make up the geologic column. I’m not going to remember that stuff; I know that. It wouldn’t pay me to try to keep in memory the names, dates, and sequence of hundreds and thousands of layers of rock. But that’s beside the point. The things I want to know, the broad time sequence: the Devonian, the Permian, the Mississippian, the Pennyslvanian, now have a splendid vitality for me. They are part of my thinking. I can now visualize the phyla and classes and orders of life, each start­ ing in their correct geologic period and advancing into our time, or terminating before our time, lost lines of life on Mother Earth’s broad palm. And while I shall soon forget the times and names of those uplifts and down-washes, I now have a feeling for the heavings and surgings of this planet such as I could never have reached if I had learned only that which I thought I needed to know.


So much for self-confidence. I ’ll put in a section about remember­ ing dates and so on, but don’t at the outset doubt yourself too much. Trust yourself. Y ou’ll make out. Just read a story— history is only a story— and then read another. It will work. You’ll soon know a lot. Yes, says the reader, but history bores me. I can’t keep awake when I try to read it. T h a t’s because you have no material, nothing to give you an interest in it. T he most difficult thing is the start. You can only become interested in something, and you hardly know a thing. T otal ignorance is total disinterest. You are not interested in John Jones M iller— not until you know more than that about him. You must make a start somewhere. If you were talking to me, I might cross-examine you to find a point of departure. You do have an interest of some kind in some subject. I could discover this interest and suggest ways of broaden­ ing it so that it would become a tunnel leading you into the mine of history. But since you must be your own examiner, I’ll make these suggestions: T hin k of whatever you may know of history now. W hat do you remember from school? Have you seen a his­ torical movie? Do certain words, like armor, knights, primitive man, castle, pagoda, sphinx, charm you? T hink about them a little. Do they suggest something to read about? Did you ever see a picture about some place or thing that you wanted to know more about? Could the history of that place or thing help you? Have you read stories by Dumas or Scott or Hugo or Stevenson? Does Louis XIII, Louis XI, the Crusades, or the French Revolution mean anything to you? How about your own country, or your fa­ ther’s country? Were you in the war? Have you traveled? Books of travel and books about foreign or primitive peoples are so close to books of history as to be almost indistinguishable. In particular, a book of travel, if it was written some time ago, is to­ day simply a book of history. O f course, the kind of books of travel which are designed as tourists’ guides are worthless culturally, but Anna and the King of Siam, for instance, is at least in part a factual history of Siam for the years Anna lived there. And those years are gone forever, except in so far as Anna saved them for us. If you like books on travel, read one and then try a history of that country. Stay in the same area for a while. Keep reading about it.


Do people interest you more than countries? Can you read more easily about Napoleon than France? Lincoln than America? Are you interested in scientists, doctors, or inventors? Let’s assume for a minute that you do, in a vague way, want to read history. In what direction? Do you want to start with President Eisenhower and work out across space, going to Churchill and De Gaulle, Hitler and Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek, and so into world history; or to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt and Grant, Lincoln, and Washington, and in that way go back until you reach the colonial period in America? Or do you want to start at the “beginning” ? What beginning? The beginning of America or of England or of Rome or of Egypt or of man himself in his first caves and garbage heaps? Do you want to first read a survey of the whole business, such as H. G. Wells’s The Outline of History? These are a lot of questions. I’ll try to show you how, after you have answered some of them, you can use the answers as starting places. Let’s suppose, as an example, that you take some interest in elec­ tricity and that one name, Michael Faraday, intrigues you. You may be a practical electrician or merely a fellow who finds electricity ap­ pealing. You might then begin by reading a book, long or short, about Michael Faraday. I have no idea which is the best one, and if I did it wouldn’t help much, because the next reader may prefer Darwin or Spartacus the gladiator. You find your book in the li­ brary. Perhaps you will read two or three short ones (I’ve read only one on Faraday myself). Now at this point you still don’t know much history, but, as we salesmen say, you have leads. You must have noticed that Faraday had something to do with Sir Humphrey Davy. Look into it. But Davy was a friend of De Quincey. Who was De Quincey? He turns out to be a man who knew Coleridge and Wordsworth. But they lived during the French Revolution and during the reign of George III and George IV of England. I am spreading you out in space. Let’s try it in time. Faraday had predecessors— Gilbert, Galvani, Volta, Oersted, Ampere, Ohm. What of them? If you find out about them you will have covered ground from Queen Elizabeth to George III and in four countries. The trick is to use your interest in Faraday to develop an interest in everything around Faraday, and everything before and after


Faraday. If you do this, you’re in, and if you never do it, you’ll never be in. I suppose any reader can figure out that it doesn’t have to be Faraday. If you like Chopin, let him lead to George Sand, to Schu­ mann and Berlioz and Bizet; to Louis X VIII, Louis Philippe, Na­ poleon III; to France, Poland, Russia, romantic music, baroque music, the Baroque period, the Renaissance, the whole worldl Can you become interested in a historical novel? Then read one, preferably a good one like Henry Esmond by Thackeray, or The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo. If you like, read quite a few of these. Read Scott or Dumas. But you must understand that you can’t stop there. You must also read a book of authentic history that treats one of the periods covered by the novels you have read, and then go on to a second, third, and fourth book of history, fol­ lowing one of the plans I shall lay out or preferably making up your own plan. T h e novel is only to get you started. Most of the world’s great established novels are historical novels today. T he novels of Dickens, Balzac, Stendhal, Fielding, are a hundred or more years old. Even though those writers tell about their own times and had no idea of producing historical novels, their books are in a bygone world for us. If you do not know a little history, you will have trouble enjoying those famous stories. All reading is open to the man who knows history. I have known well-educated people of decided abilities fail to ap­ preciate some great novel simply because they did not understand the world it was written in. T hat is why Professor Zulli took so much time explaining the history of the French Restoration in his television course, the “ Sunrise Semester.” Anna Karenina is a his­ torical novel as much as War and Peace, so far as we are concerned. You must understand the Russia of the czars to read either of them. But it is also true that you can use the great classic novels to intro­ duce you to history. Start either way; you must start someplace. One of the most difficult ideas to drive home, for the beginner studying by himself, is that no one can learn anything who is not willing to remain in a state of partial ignorance. This paradox is caused by the fact that we never reach complete knowledge. T h e more you know, the better you can appreciate that which you do not know. A ll knowledge must be measured with reference to the world of the knower. In this sense a wild animal in his natural


habitat knows more than the greatest scholar. He knows what he needs to know, whereas every scholar knows only that he must somehow learn more. When I speak of the reader’s acquiring some historical or other knowledge, I most decidedly mean knowledge with reference to the reader’s world. What is this world? Certainly not the world of scholars, but not the world of dunces either. I have in mind for him the world of an intelligent, decently read citizen who pursues his business and reads as much as he can find time for. I want him to have the highest world, culturally, that his circum­ stances permit. This requires that he be willing to read a book of history, not understand half the references, forget nine tenths of what he has read as fast as he reads it, and still go on. Anyone who will not learn until he has completely mastered the first step will die on the first step. Reading becomes more interesting as you know more. Themistocles may be an awful bore at first. Who cares about him? But after awhile, when you know him better, you do take an interest in the old politician. He becomes a friendly name. Let us suppose you are reading a second book and are amidst a welter of names of which you know nothing. Suddenly Themistocles turns up. You feel good about it; at last, someone you know! Here’s a test. I shall list a column of names from history and ask you which one you would prefer to read about. Aristides Chandragupta Sesostris Belisarius Severus Farnese Lincoln Mirandola I have really given you no choice. If you are the reader I have in mind, you must take Lincoln. The others are merely letters on paper. It should be obvious that this is because you know some­ thing about Lincoln and nothing about the others. It is reasonable to assume that if you knew something about the rest of them, you wouldn’t mind hearing more. Isn’t it reasonable to suppose that once you make a start and learn only a little you will develop some

interest and that it will grow forever if you will only go on and on? This discussion should help you solve the two “ difficulties” : lack of self-confidence and lack of interest. Before drawing up some tentative starting places, I should men­ tion that it is common practice to speak of history as being ancient, medieval, and modern. This breakdown is now out of date and never was applicable except to Europe, but it is so deeply en­ trenched in historical literature that we all use it at times, and in­ deed even extend it to China and Japan. T hat is, we call a period which may have occurred in any part of the world medieval, if it had certain things about it which the medieval had in France and England. Here is a better breakdown. First there is pre history. This is largely a science, is based on excavated artifacts, and has no writing in back of it. It uses geology, chemistry, archaeology, anthropology, biology, etc., as its tools. It dates from the first trace of man in any one place up to the first written document found in that same place. Obviously its beginning and end varies widely from one point to another. In the Near East, written history begins after 3000 b .c . In most of the New World, writing does not begin until the voyage of Christopher Columbus. After pre-history is that part of ancient history which comes be­ fore the times of classical Greece, say up to 500 b .c . T he battle of Marathon, 490 B.C., is a convenient dividing point. This history, which takes in half of all written history, is of chief importance in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Syria, etc., and, much later, in China. Its greatest written document is the Old Testament, largely written down in the form in which we have it toward the end of fliis period. It is difficult to realize that some parts of the Old Testa­ ment are more recent than classical Greece. Classical Greece gives us the first modern-type historians and brings in what the older writers meant by the Ancient World. T h is period includes the development of Christianity, Buddhism, and Confucianism, which is enough to show its fundamental impor­ tance. We tend to think of it as ending around 500 a .d . and to think of that date as being the end of all ancient history, but that’s just a habit. Such beginnings and endings are always illusions; moreover, they can be applied only to small parts of this great world. T h e methods of pre-history are still very important in this era.


Now comes medieval history, meaning history from the extinc­ tion of the Roman Empire in the West to— what? Say the discovery of America. This “period” is fictitious; history flows endlessly, but we are accustomed to the word. The distinction between ancient and medieval has little meaning for Asia and none for America or Africa. However, you can divide Asia into pre-Islamic and postIslamic, since the intrusion of the Semitic religions— Judaism, Christianity, Islam— is a crucial event everywhere. Those creeds will not live with other religions, which was once upon a time a new idea. Modern history is divided sharply in each place, but at different times, by the Industrial Revolution. Asia is going through this only now. T o read your history, select either a time or a place and stay with it awhile. Then you will not forget what you are reading. Obviously, you can pick one place, such as France, and work it over and over again from beginning to end, but if you select one time, such as the Renaissance, you must keep in mind that the idea Renaissance is not applicable all over the world. Thus, you cannot read one brief book on each important area in the world— say for the years 1500 to 1600— and expect to know much. The areas of the world were not that closely connected at that time. But you could do just that for this century because now history is world-wide. An event in Java is of more importance to Paris today than an event in Moscow was to Paris in the year 1600 a .d ., or an event in England was to Paris in the year 700 a .d . Therefore, if you want to study the Renaissance, select one country as a central point (France perhaps) and stay there for a time, spreading gradually to Italy, Germany, England, Spain, Turkey, etc., as your study of the French Renaissance gives you leads. I don’t advise you to begin your reading with primitive man, or even with Egypt and Mesopotamia, unless you are already inter­ ested in them. A wise starting place is good old Greece and Rome. Their history reads more like ours— seems to, at least— and you have a better chance to become aroused. Another good starting point for Americans is the history of Eng­ land. It is the easiest to grasp and the most necessary for us. Ameri­ can history is more difficult because we have to know it in more detail, and because it is recent and therefore presumes a knowledge

5* «

of other history. Unless you are particularly interested, let it go until you obtain knowledge of world history, especially since you have probably had some American history in school. I shall now give book titles for beginnings in reading, but, frankly, I feel silly as I do it. After all, any competent historian is a better man than I am. If you can’t get an idea for a book from him, who am I to tell you? But you might feel lost here at the beginning if I merely told you to go to the library and take out a book, so these are some possible beginnings. If you have read a little history or had some in school and want a general outline or r£sum£, especially if you are an older person and feel that time is pressing on you, read: (1) The Outline of History— H. G. Wells (2) The Tree of Culture— Ralph Linton After these, select a period or area of history and stay with it through at least a dozen volumes. You can find references in the Wells or Linton. (Period means fifty to five hundred years; area, France or Asia.) If you have read no history and have no preference of your own, read: (1) A History of the English-Speaking Peoples— Winston Churchill (2) A Short History of the English People— John Richard Green (3) History of France— Francois Guizot T hen read whatever you want to read, but either read one period after another in some rational order or read the same period in related parts of the world. If and when you want to read ancient history, start with: (1) A History of Greece— John Bury (2) Roman History— Theodor Mommsen Then, whenever you feel like it, go to Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc. Some good books are: (1) Ancient Times (easy)— James Breasted. (2) The Splendor That Was Egypt (easy)— Margaret A. Murray (3) Ur of the Chaldees (harder)— Charles W oolley (4) Iran (harder)— R. Ghirshman (5) Man Makes Himself (harder)— V. Gordon Childe Every educated man sooner or later reads Edward G ibbon ’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire at least once. Use the Bury edition if obtainable.


A fter a time, try to read some ancient historians, especially P]u. tarch, Herodotus, Thucydides, and Tacitus. A ll the Pelican archaeological series are good though difficult; I ’ll discuss them later. A n cient history involves a grasp of the evolution of man. I shall speak of this at length in another chapter, but one book, The Science of L ife, by H. G. W ells, Julian H uxley, and G. P. Wells, is possibly the best book for a beginner that has ever been written. It is a huge one o f about seven hundred thousand words, but no book contains more o f what everybody needs to know. It will serve as o n e’s introductory book to reading in general. If you want to start w ith Am erican history, try: (1) T h e R ise of American Civilization— Charles and M ary Beard (2) Abraham L in coln , the Prairie Years— C arl Sandburg (3) T h e Age of Jackson— A rthur Schlesinger Enough of this. It is all very foolish. T h e libraries are in front of you. T h e first book of history you read w ill teach you how to select and read the second one. Needless to say, books on anthropology, such as the paperback books by M argaret Mead, R u th Benedict, etc., are just as good an introduction to history as any other. A nthropology is the great science of the future. It may swallow up economics, sociology, and even history itself. It is defined as the study of man. Like history, the ideas must be absorbed, soaked up, lived w ith, rather than m erely analyzed in logical terms. W henever I speak of history, it is to be understood that I mean anthropology as well. A nthropology is most interesting. It offers an attractive intro­ duction to many other sciences. In particular, it is a good way to start learning sociology and com parative religion. A book of anthro­ pology often turns out to be a fascinating book of travel. If you do prefer to start w ith a general outlin e o f all history, to get a sense o f direction, let me recom m end once again H . G. W ells’s O u tline of History. It reads beau tifu lly because he does not de­ spise political history or m ilitary history— the very things which make a story. M any m odern historians are so m uch involved with social history, and the history o f peoples, and economics and tech­ nology, that it is almost im possible for the ordinary reader to re­ member a thing they have said. 40

These learned men forget that they themselves already knew the entire political history of the period they are writing about— knew it, digested it, and grew tired of it— before they began their social studies. Above all, they know chronology. Since they know it, they can line up their social and economic ideas in a correct order. You cannot. So learn ordinary chronological history first— A lex­ ander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, and all the rest of them. Get a few dates anchored in your mind. T he battle of Marathon, the deaths of Alexander and of Caesar, the formal establishment of Christianity, the taking of Rome by Alaric, the beginning of the Mohammedan calendar, the crowning of Charlemagne, the battle of Hastings, Magna Charta, the Hundred Years’ War, Luther at Wittenberg, the defeat of the Armada, are dates that can be used as signposts on the long journey through history. (I shall discuss dates at the end of this chapter.) After you have a little of this to hold onto, by all means go ahead and read about how slavery wrecked Rome, or how the change in the monsoons dried up the Punjab. But first you must get a feeling for time. T he fourth cen­ tury b .c . and fourth century a .d. are not merely two ways of using the number four. They are two different worlds, two different sets of colors, sights, and sounds. Recalling them should be like re­ membering two different times in your own life. Even if you could barely remember a thing about those two times in your life, you would feel different when you thought about them. Each time evokes its own mood. Mood is precisely what’s wanted in you re­ garding the fourth century b . c . and the fourth century a .d. One fault of outlines is that they cannot give you this. They are only digests. They are to a real book of history what a review in a magazine is to the book being reviewed. You can read magazine articles, reviews, and outlines forever, but you will never feel the difference between two centuries that way, or between two plays by Shakespeare or two symphonies either. Since I wrote these last paragraphs an excellent example came up relating to this question of chronology versus sociology in the learning of history. An intelligent young woman, with an M.A. in art, told me that she was reading such and such a book, a recent and good history about the Middle Ages. She complained bitterly that it gave no chronology, no dates or consecutive stories, so she couldn’t

keep it straight. It was simply too difficult that way. I gave her a spare copy of Wells’s Outline of History, which has a long list of dates in the back, and received much thanks. Please understand that I do not want you to memorize lists of dates. I want you to learn stories in the order in which they hap. pened, so that you can fit details such as dates into those stories whenever you encounter details later on. The stories teach the dates, not the other way around. We must read history so as to acquire detail and depth of knowl­ edge. Generalizations are of very little use here. The useful gener­ alities of history are of an artistic and imaginative nature; they are nothing like Fi=MA. They are things which grow on you over the years as you read, just as you learn art by looking at it over the years. T o try to understand history without immersing oneself in the de­ tails is like trying to understand music by reading that Haydn in­ fluenced Beethoven or that romantic music seeks to express the personality of the composer. That kind of information has no prac­ tical value. You must still soak up the music and the history. Detail, substance, body, are the essence of education. Everybody picks up a few generalizations. All they are good for is to pad out conversations as empty as the generalizations themselves. There­ fore, even as good an outline as Wells’s is only a once-over-lightly. After reading such a book, you must still read some of the books Wells read. The best time to use outlines is after you have read de­ tailed history for ten years. I have mentioned reading history connectedly. For instance, I have recently been reading history in the following order: I read a book on evolution, then two books on pre-history, then a history of Greece, and then, in the order given, histories of India, the Far East, China, Japan, ancient Russia (the Eurasian steppes), and the Arabs. This forms a closed curve in space and also connects in time. I shall probably soon read some more about Central Asia, Meso­ potamia, Egypt, Rome, and early Scandinavia. I would also like to know more about South America, but I won’t jump to such an un­ connected point until I am better satisfied with what I know about the areas and times I have recently been studying. When and if I do start reading about South America, I shall read several volumes be­ fore coming north again. I vary this diet by reading another book occasionally, but not an­ 42

other book of history. I distinguish between my main, connected reading at any one time and my diversions. If I were reading math­ ematics right now, I might read any number of short books of vari­ ous kinds at the same time, but I would not start a second book of math until I finished the one I was working on.* T he remainder of this chapter will consist of brief discussions of several topics which might aid the inexperienced student. T hey will be rather disjointed and repetitious, but I prefer to take no chances where I feel it is necessary to be very explicit. If it becomes too tedi­ ous, you can always turn to Ferrero, The Greatness and Decline of Rome, or Trevelyan, History of England. You will have to, sooner or later. As it is, I have held back many tricks and experiences about reading until later chapters so as not to stretch this one out too much. An early, almost a first concern of anyone seeking a genuine education is familiarity with book titles and book writers. No one can read many of the books in this world. A ll that even the greatest intellects can ask of themselves is that they know how to find the book they need when they need it— that is, after they have learned by experience what their needs are. This is why elementary and secondary schools and colleges employ so much of the student’s time teaching him how to use a library. Unless they put that one over, they have failed before they start. I recently remarked to a young man, who can get at my books as often as he wishes, that I would like to see him pick up each of the 1,800 books in my house, read the titles and the authors’ names, glance at the prefaces, and turn a few pages. T h a t’s all— I didn’t expect him to read them. I asked the impossible. Immense as is the step from holding a book in the hand to reading that book, to studying that book, to mastering that book, nevertheless I was asking too much. If he gave an hour a day to my suggestion, he would need a year to carry it out. Merely familiarizing oneself with the surfaces of books is the work of a lifetime. It should begin as early in life as possible and W ritten in 1956. A s a matter o f fact, I have m ixed a little math and physics into the above projects since that tim e of writing, and I still haven’ t got to South Am erica. / Caramba! B u t I have carried out the rest of that program (1958). *


continue to the last day. It gives the child who is born in a home with books an inestimable advantage over those whose parents were not capable of building a library. Books should always be present in a child’s life, although most children should not be expected to become great readers. The boy can play handball, if necessary, in your library; let the girl play house on your bookshelves. Let her play she is a librarian or a book salesgirl. Let her learn titles. This much we can demand of every­ body, and it is a lot if we ever get it. Books should be seen, heard, handled, dropped, stepped on, lost, and in some cases even read. If you will do this much for your child — expose him to book covers— you will not be a failure with respect to your child’s education, even if you never look at his homework, talk to his teacher, or attend a P T A meeting. The main reason I don’t care which writer you start with is that I want you to go to the library and handle books. If you won’t do that, the matter is hopeless. You must learn to hang around librar­ ies. Open up a book. Read a page. Read introductions. See what you like. The best book for my purpose is the one you like best. When you do start a history, see it through. Use a bookmark, by all means; put the book down when you begin to fall asleep and go to bed, but keep coming back to it. Somehow, get through. Two good ways to get through long books are: carry them in trains and buses if you use trains and buses, and read a little every night be­ fore going to sleep. I have scarcely gone to bed in my life without reading something first. In that way I wash my brain of the day’s doings, get my mind on something not myself, and induce a relaxed, unconcerned mood. T hat’s the main benefit of peace-of-mind books: you read them and relax. If you go to bed thinking about generalities such as peace of mind or the Civil War, you won’t lie awake long. I have read few long histories twice. It is usually better to review by reading another man over the same ground. You get two points of view, two ways of saying things, two kinds of emphasis, two tones of voice. (Every writer has a voice which can be recognized.) For the same reason don’t read a chapter six times— that’s too dull. However, this is not an iron law. A lot depends on the particular book. A big history which covers a long period of time, such as

Churchill’s history of England, does not need two readings as a general rule. Go through it once for all it is worth and then read various other histories which deal with shorter periods of time in English history, and give more detail, such as a history of the eighteenth century or a life of Elizabeth or an account of Drake’s voyages. Read another long one when you get around to it. But if the history is short and condensed, you may have to read it two or three times to learn anything. Most short modern histories are fakes. T hey save paper, but you don’t save time. Since they are so brief, one sentence contains a paragraph of information and every paragraph a page. This holds for the best modern writers, in their shorter books. In other words, use common sense. If the book is brief and pointed, like a book of science, you may be forced to go over and over it. If it is long and easygoing, like a novel, read it as you would read a novel— a good novel. Books on archaeology and pre-history are like books on mathe­ matics and must be read accordingly. Leave them alone until you mean business. As I have said, it is not at all necessary to read the best or newest book of history at the outset. T h e second-best or the somewhat out of date will do you just as much good until you know quite a lot, particularly since it is often hard to say which is the best. If most holders of B.A. degrees from American colleges knew as much history and geography as Sir W alter Raleigh, as much physics and mathematics as Archimedes, as much literature as Salmasius (when he was twenty), as much biology as Linnaeus, and as much art as a Coptic embroiderer, there would be a revolution in society such as has not been seen since eohippus became a pony. This does not mean that the newest histories are not necessary; it means that you won’t need them for the short while you will need me and for some time thereafter. In some subjects new books are the only books worth while, particularly in archaeology, pre-history, economics, sociology, psychology, etc. But history, art, literature, have a different rate of change. I have emphasized that it is desirable to read history written in a lively style. Schoolbooks, otherwise pretty good, are bad in this re­ spect. Few men who can write care to write schoolbooks. In general,


schoolbooks are well written in mathematics and the sciences, fair in history, geography, and English, bad in sociology, economics, and psychology, and impossible in education. Here are a few more suggestions which I have found helpful when beginning to read books of history and some ideas as to the use of those ideas. A beginning, I say, and I do advise you herewith to begin. I would be very well satisfied if I could believe that at this point a few hundred readers would close my book, get hold of Gib­ bon or W ill Durant, or anyone who catches their fancy, and start to read history. If you do, you won’t need the rest of this book. The great historians will tell you what to do; and what a faculty of teachers they arel For the history of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire, it is best to read histories of each country separately. Anything else tends to become a mere outline. You can find all the books you need in any library, even a very small one, and you can get all the names of books you want from the suggested lists of reading called biblio­ graphies, found in any schoolbook or any book of history or bio­ graphy that you may happen to read, and also in the footnotes of such books. Please read the prefaces and footnotes. If the footnotes are not of much interest, don’t memorize them, but at least glance at them. They will give you a glimpse into that more scholarly world you will probably never enter but toward which you should have a friendly feeling. They have done a lot for me— I seem to remember footnotes. Moreover, they may contain the writer’s newest and best thought, often afterthoughts, which he can’t very well force into the text once he has composed it. If I were not afraid I would scare you off, this book would have a thousand footnotes. One good way to read history is to start with the most recent times and work back, provided you do work back. It is perhaps the natural way. If this appeals to you, anything Churchill has written will be supremely enjoyable. Morison is highly thought of (I have not read him) on American history. The memoirs of the big figures of the past fifty years are good reading: Eisenhower, Ludendorff, Hindenburg, Eleanor Roosevelt, Trotsky, etc. As a foundation for recent history, Emil Ludwig’s Bismarck is energetic and easy to find. For Lincoln, a good short book is Charnwood’s Life, available in paperback. A long and great one is, of course, the remarkable 46

work on Lincoln by Carl Sandburg, a book which I think will be read for centuries. And that’s enough of names. My suggestions are very unim­ portant. You must develop your own tastes; choose your own books. T hat is literally what this book is about. In fact, it is what all schools, colleges, and education itself are about. The study of history presents three special difficulties, which can­ not be altogether evaded— geography, proper names, and dates. They correspond to the technical terms of science but are easier to learn. I think the most difficult is geography. If you were good at geography in school, you have history half won. If you were not, you must make a reasonable effort to absorb the geography of each area whose history you read. T h e things happened some place as well as some time, and you must know the place. Pay particular attention to the notable rivers of the world and the mountain ranges; then the deserts, the coast lines, the harbors, the large inland seas. C li­ mate is probably a crucial matter in human affairs, which is not to say that we understand precisely how it affects us. Water is, after air, the most immediate necessity of life. No town has ever come into being except where there is water. T h e history of civilization could be and has in part been written as the history of the world’s rivers. Trace the courses of the great rivers and think about them. Geography involves proper names. Therefore, Asiatic history is more difficult than European for us, because it is difficult to re­ member Chinese, Indian, and Arabic place names. Ancient history is even harder in this respect since you must learn the old names for many places which either have perished or now have a new name. Rome, Athens, Sparta, Smyrna, Alexandria, still mean what they have always meant, but few names are as durable as these. There is no help for it. Here is opportunity for self-discipline. You must accept this burden. It will pay off generously, especially in your thinking about current history and world politics. T his is one place where culture has great practical value. You cannot be a properly informed man or woman even by practical standards if you do not have some grasp of the earth’s surface and what man has done on it. You have here a chance to measure your ability to disci­ pline yourself against the school’s power of imposing a discipline


upon you. A ll education is discipline. T h e curse of ready-made school education is that the pressure of teachers replaces your power to put pressure on yourself. Teacher pressure will work, if the teacher can keep up the pressure steadily enough, as with a private teacher such as a music teacher, but it generally fails in class work, since as soon as school is finished the pressure stops and most of us stop. You must convince yourself that you can exert the pressure ordi­ narily exerted by schools, examinations, and teachers, and force yourself to learn when that is needed. As the details of my life have shown and will continue to show throughout this book, most learn­ ing is fun, but if the fun fails at a critical point, such as Greek ge­ ography or Chinese names, some will power must be used. These points of resistance will not be numerous. Geography is, I think, the worst of it. Another problem is pronunciation. You must learn, by using the dictionaries, to pronounce Greek names, for instance, in the ac­ cepted English manner, not because it matters whether you say “Posay-idon” or “Pos-eye-don” for Poseidon, but because unless you fix some pronunciation of an important name in your mind, you won’t remember things about it. It will be too vague. Fixing pronunciation fixes everything else. You will be able to talk about it, if you can find someone suitable to talk to, whereas you won’t enjoy a discussion if you have to spatter your discourse with names you can’t pronounce. In itself, of course, pronunciation is no part of culture at all. Correctness is a convenience; it might even get you a job, but it is no virtue. It's customary to say reparable in­ stead of reparable, but you are not a wiser man after you know that. (I’ll go into this subject again near the end of the book.) It is useful to be able to visualize the map of the world. At first, this personal map, which you carry about with you, will be rather empty, and also blurry at the outlines when you try to recall it. You will fill it up as time goes on. Many areas may remain almost blank all of your life. Others need more accuracy. Thus, it doesn’t matter which side of Antarctica you think Little America is on, but you will have to learn the geographical relationship between Athens, Corinth, and the Gulf of Corinth. It doesn’t matter much if you think Milwaukee is in Iowa; your culture would be unimpaired. 48

But if you should think that London is on the Firth of Forth, noth­ ing can save you. Most of us would like to travel to foreign countries and many do. W hy do so few travelers learn from their wanderings? It would seem that they return knowing nothing they didn’t know when they left. T h e reason is obvious. People do not know the history or geography of the places they go to, so that the traveling is not fruit­ ful of new ideas. If you travel through an old civilization in igno­ rance of its history, you might as well traverse a desert. You will learn what you could learn from a desert and perhaps not that much. If you ever hope to travel and want value for your money, learn a little history. The reader who knows some history, or can quickly get himself a little of it, may wish to lay out a sort of broad scheme for several years of steady reading along geographical lines. I give these ideas, lifted from Breasted, Henderson, Vernadsky, Childe, etc. This does not contradict what I said about its not mattering how you read history at the beginning, because I now write for the man who is beyond that stage. Such a one might think of history as an inter­ action between man and geography. He could visualize Africa and Europe as making one land mass broken by inland seas, mountains, and rivers. T h e main break extends along the Mediterranean through the Black Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea to the Indus Valley. T h e second break is the mountain and desert com­ plex made up of the Pyrenees, Alps, Balkan Mountains, Caucasus Mountains, the mountains and deserts of Persia and Afghanistan, the Himalayas, the Chinese mountain chains, and the Mongolian desert. Broadly speaking, all civilization began south of these moun­ tains, starting along the river valleys from the Nile to the Hwang Ho. A picture of the pre-history and history of these alluvial valleys, some connected with each other and some quite separated, is a good first step. About fifteen volumes of reading should clear up quite a bit of this. Now think of the Mediterranean as a great division between southern races pushing north and northern races coming south, and read Roman, Greek, and early Persian history in this spirit. (You certainly know some of this history already.)


Next think of Eurasia as divided by great bands of forest, steppe and desert, and get a command of the history of the forest from the Urals to the English Channel, and of the steppes from Mongolia to Hungary. T he history of Russia is a clue to much of this; the history of Germany is another. Byzantium must be appreciated as a sort of cultural hub. Africa is important in pre-history. Now consider peripheral history— the islands of Japan and Great Britain, the peninsulas of Scandinavia, Spain, South India, Siam, and Indochina. By this time the New World is pressing on your attention. It will press more and more, until just when it may seem, in 1950, to be dividing up the whole globe with Eurasia headed by the Soviet Union, the oldest old world— Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Arab coun­ tries, Iran, India, China— step forward once more to claim their ancient place. This sketch covers what I am doing these days, and you may find it useful. The question of dates is a hard one and cannot be settled once and for all. If you know no dates, at least approximately, you can hardly know any history. If you don’t know whether the year 1200 a .d. is in the Middle Ages or in the ancient world, how can you think rationally at all? On the other hand, a few dates, anchored in the memory, can locate all the rest sufficiently for many pur­ poses. I will try to write down my own psychological processes when I wish to fix a date. T o begin with, we do not fix all dates with the same degree of accuracy. If I want to guess the date of the Shepherd kings of Egypt, an error of even four hundred years is good enough for fairly clear thinking. For the fall of Babylon one hundred years of error is all right for anyone who is not a scholar. An early Chi­ nese dynasty can be wrong by from one hundred to five hundred years. Generally, the more recent the event, the more carefully you must date it. It would be silly to be one year out of the way on the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The death of Lincoln must be right to within ten months. But ten years is good enough for the death of Washington, because his death (not his life!) is of no great historic importance. Now let us try to find by association a date which I do not know

at this instant of writing. I shall have to ask the reader to take my word for the honesty of the process. Let us discover the date of the Battle of Lepanto. A t this moment my mind is as blank about that confounded sea struggle as it is about the surface of Jupiter, or the love life of the hippopotamus. Steps in my thinking: It occurred during the Renaissance. It was fought by Don Juan, a prince (a brother of Charles the Fifth). It was won against the Turkish sultan Suleiman the Great (I think). Now I don’t remember when Charles the Fifth retired from the throne, but it must have been near the time of the accession of Elizabeth, which date I also do not remember. It should have been near 1560. I think I can put the naval battle some twenty years be­ fore that— say, 1540. However, that seems late; because I imagine it occurred no later than the siege of Vienna by the sultan, which must have been earlier. I ’m going to guess 1530. Now I shall get up, walk to another room, and look it up. Oh, dear! T h e actual date, I am ashamed to say, is 1571. My er­ ror came from thinking that the Don was a brother of Charles the Fifth, whereas he was his son (bastard) and brother of Philip the Second. Had I remembered that, I would have caught it to within five years— good enough. It takes a little guts to leave this blunder in the text, and I could easily have worked up another one and got it closer, but I decided this one, in all its stupidity, would be more instructive. I haven’t given a thought to that bit of history in twenty years, but I can fix any date in world history that near, if I know about the matter at all, subject to the statements as to Egypt, China, etc. And you can do the same thing if you will just enjoy your­ self and read history, as best you can, over the next ten years or so. Incidentally, if you look up the above dates, you will find that my date is right for the siege of Vienna to within one year, and Charles’s abdication was 1556— I said 1560. I was also right in as­ sociating in time the abdication of Charles and the accession of Elizabeth. I was way off in thinking that Lepanto was before the siege of Vienna. In fact, Suleiman was no longer sultan, having died in 1566. T h e battle was won against his son Selim II. The kind of free association of events, civilizations, arts, people, etc., suggested by these paragraphs takes place necessarily in the minds of all men who read history. By this means the whole pano­ rama of world history is uncovered before us like a moving picture

which we can project, and so put any time or place on the scene for our pleasure and contemplation. The whole march of mankind acts itself out before us at will. No wonder it is the first of studiesl However, one date was needed to act as a north star when I stirred up the dark sea of the memory. This one date I was sure of although I didn’t write it down. The Spanish Armada was de­ feated in 1588. All the other events mentioned had to occur before this date. W ith this I could locate the past— not too accurately. Here’s a more interesting example of the association process for finding a date. I was talking about the above passage to a friend, an artist and a cultivated man, who believes he knows no history. I said, “ You know more than you think. Let’s try a date. What do you suggest?” “I don’t know,” he answered. I thought for a minute. He admires Veldzquez’ famous painting The Spears, which is commemorative of the surrender of the town of Breda. “Let’s fix the date of the surrender of Breda,” I said. “Do you know it?” “ No.” “Neither do I. We know it was earlier than Velazquez’ picture. What is the date of the picture?” “I don’t know.” “Let’s fix that. You know Rembrandt’s productive period very well.” “Say 1620 to 1660.” “Velazquez is only slightly later if at all. Am I right? Let’s say the picture must be no later than 1660. Now we have an upper limit. To get the lower limit, the surrender of Breda itself cannot be as far back as the defeat of the Spanish Armada because the Spanish general at Breda was Spinola, and he is rather late in Spanish mili­ tary warfare. In fact, Spinola is almost the last Spanish general who accomplished much. All in all, the event had to take place during the Thirty Years’ War; there’s no other time for it to have hap­ pened. Now the Thirty Years’ War was ended officially in 1648 by the Treaty of Westphalia (one date worth memorizing). The war dragged for several years before that; the surrender at Breda must have been quite a bit earlier, but not at the beginning either, be­


cause the Spaniards weren’t so active in the beginning. L et’s call it 1630.” We looked it up. It was 1625. Notice that my friend could have done the same thing, almost as close, if he had really tried, because he could have remembered approximately the period of the Thirty Years’ War. Also remember that an error of twenty years would have been good enough, except for a person whose lifework lies in history or related scholarly pursuits. It would have been good enough for an intelligent lawyer, doctor, carpenter, or salesman. Here is one of interest to a wider circle of readers. Some friends were discussing T . S. E liot’s play Murder in the Cathedral. It deals with the assassination of Thomas a Becket, and somebody asked me when that killing took place. My mind went blank. “Let’s see,” I said. “ It was in the reign of Henry II. He was the father of Richard the Lion-Hearted and of John. John signed the Magna Charta in 1215. Richard died quite a few years before that. Richard’s accession must have been at least ten years before his death to allow time for him to go on his Crusade, get imprisoned, and all the rest. Call his accession 1185. But his father, Henry, had a long reign, and he must have reigned a long time after the mur­ der because he had years of trouble over it. Henry probably became king around 1155. Shall we split the difference and call the assassi­ nation 1175 ?” We looked it up. It was 1170. I was better pleased than if I had hit it on the nose, because this way I was sure I hadn’t remembered it. I haven’t read early English history since 1925; but I was sure of one date— 1215. I have found these a good rough framework of dates to hang things on: 3000 B.C.— W riting first found on stone and clay. Egypt, Mesopo­ tamia, etc. 1500 to 1000 b .c .— Homeric world; world of the R ig Veda (India). Beginnings of definite Chinese history. 600 b . c .— At a guess, Buddha, Zoroaster, Confucius, earliest au­ thentic Greek history, end of Assyria, rise and fall of Babylon, rise of Persia, decline of Egypt. 490 b .c .— Battle of Marathon.


323 b .c .— Death of Alexander the Great; beginning of clearer Indian history. Rome is ready to be heard from. Carthage is flour.

ishing. T he Greece of Athens and Sparta is ended. Great culture of the city of Alexandria begins. 200 b .c . to the Birth of Christ— Great Han Dynasty in China; Caesar in Rome; Carthage is gone; Rome rules the Mediterranean world; Judea is a Roman province. Asoka has established Buddhism in India. 44 b .c .— Death of Julius Caesar. The ancient world is changing fast. 323 a .d.— Constantine recognizes Christianity. 400 a .d.— G oths overrun Rome; Constantinople is the new Rome; the ancient world is changing into the early Christian world; China no longer under one dynasty. Both China and Rome troubled by the Huns. Guptas in India. 650 a .d.— Mohammedanism on the march in Europe, Asia, and Africa; countries of medieval Europe are forming; Tang dynasty in China. Japanese history becomes knowable; Saxons have re­ placed the Britons in England. 800 a .d.— Charlemagne temporarily reunites Western Europe. Foundations of medieval society are laid. Arabs at their highest. Normans appear in Western Europe, Varangians in Russia. 1066— Norman conquest of England. The beginnings of the coun­ tries of modern Europe can be detected. Crusades. 1215— Magna Charta. The great Gothic cathedrals. 1200-1453— Mongols rise and decline twice. Russia overrun and occupied for 200 years. Mongols (Tartars, Moguls) occupy northern India, China, Indochina, parts of Europe, and retreat. Rise of the Ottoman Turks; fall of Constantinople. Beginning of the modern world. 1492— Columbus discovers America. England, France, Spain, Germany, Russia, are more or less unified and ready to act as powerful modern states. The Renaissance. The Protestants. Span­ iards and Portuguese spread around the world. Mogul dynasty founded in India. 1620— Pilgrims in New England. English in Virginia. 1688— End of the Stuarts in England. Newton. Peter the Great, and rise of Russia. Age of Louis XIV draws toward close. 1776-1789— American and French revolutions.


1815— Waterloo. 1852— Opening of Japan to the West. China troubled by Europe. 1870— Franco-Prussian War. German Empire is born. 1914!

19391 I have listed these dates for precisely one reason: to show how few are needed. I do not want you to memorize them at once, nor the events I have mentioned. I gave those events so you could see how I attach history to numbers. Find your own set of time mark­ ers. These dates or a similar selection, gradually memorized and their significance absorbed as you read, are enough dates to under­ stand world history. Others will tie in painlessly. You won’t know how you learned them. Even these few can be absorbed gradually, without a conscious effort, over a period of years, as you reach each portion of history. Since you are not going to read too many out­ lines but will soon be reading the history of some one place and time connectedly and staying with that place and time, many of these dates can sleep until you change to another country, so to speak. If I could teach everybody these few dates and their use in think­ ing, I would be the most influential writer since the invention of printing. Dates may be hard to remember, but they make up for the trou­ ble they cause by helping you remember everything else. For in­ stance, nothing is harder than to remember all those Assyrian kings, Ashurnasirpal, Ashurbanipal, etc. But as soon as you remember that Ashurnasirpal II was operating around 859 B .C ., you’ve fixed hirii. All the other Ashurs may be vague, but Nasir, the one whose reliefs are so plentiful in the Metropolitan Museum, has acquired a place in your life. Since Ashurbanipal ties in with the Medes and Persians, he must be later than 859. So those two are anchored— you can forget the rest of them until you need one. In the same way it is almost impossible to remember and date all those French Louis, so don’t try. A ll you will ever need is the first, ninth, and eleventh through the eighteenth. T hey w ill soak in of their own accord. Fix Louis the Fourteenth; he will anchor the others. You can always count forward and backward on your fingers.


Incidentally, one of the most rapidly growing and fruitful parts of history today, pre-history, is all sequence and no dates. The archaeologist has learned how to throw an astonishing amount of detached and separate bits of “information,” such as broken pot. tery, into its proper sequence in time, without true “dates”— in the schoolbook sense— at all. T he cultivated man wishes to do this with all his knowledge; the number called a date is used only when needed.* T he archaeologists call their process S.D.— sequence dat­ ing. You must S.D. everything you know. Otherwise your informa­ tion is milling around your head like gravel in a cement mixer. Remember, everything depends on going on and on. You and I have no examinations to take. We are doing this because we want to do it. Sometimes the going gets a little heavy; so it does if you climb a hill— that’s part of the fun. But it must be fun. In the great game of reading, the fun lies in reading what you like. The only rules are to stay with a subject until you make a little headway and to keep coming back to it from time to time to make a little more headway. You will follow some subjects for a while and then drop them for a long time. Some you will pursue at first with intense interest and then continue at a slower rate for the rest of your life. Some you will start, go a dis­ tance, and leave forever. That is to be expected. But the one sub­ ject you can never completely leave off, never stop thinking about, never stop using when you try to think, never stop going back to, never stop getting stronger in all your life, is history. I advise readers who expect to read a good deal of history, an­ thropology, myth, and early literature, to learn the Greek alphabet someday. Not the language, the alphabet. Then when you meet up with a Greek word, you can transliterate it. Often when you do, you can guess its meaning and, in any case, if your author uses it again, you will recognize it as a repeat. It takes a minute to transliterate but it’s worth it. Without that, I could never have handled such a valuable book as Jane Harrison’s Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion. Another thing: if you transliterate a word and can’t guess the meaning, look it up in the dictionary as if it were an English word. Often you will find the root explained, because it is part of * Written in 1957. Please note how unlike a quiz show all this is.


some similar English word. Sometimes it is better to look up the root. I don’t expect beginners in reading to do this, of course. It is more important for the beginner to cover some ground rapidly. History is now being evaluated and rewritten by the aid of an altogether more effective, scientific, and enlightened scholarship than was possible in the past. Books such as Paul Henry Lang's Music in Western Civilization give us a whole new conception of life as it was once lived. In fifty years no one will read anything but the new history. This does not contradict my advice about any book of history being the right book for beginners. T h e new history is necessarily rather learned; it presumes that the reader has considerable educa­ tion. For example, Professor Lang’s book requires at least as much knowledge of history as I have, which is why most musicians haven’t read it, and it requires a good deal more music than I have. History is and always will be a creative art like poetry or the novel, but it is now acquiring a scientific method. For the layman, however, the artistic element comes first. This seems a good place to talk about the matter of buying books. You are probably not wealthy and can’t spend much on books. That is to say, since you are probably an average American, you can spend $1,000 a year on the automobile industry, $350 on vacations, $50 on television, $100 on movies, $200 on alcohol, etc., etc., but I shall presume that after you have spent all that money you may have about $25 a year to spend on books— which is enough, if you know how to buy books, to make your home look so learned your friends won’t feel comfortable there, and that’s a good thing, because you will have to find a few friends who can rest easy within sight of a bookcase if you are going to advance much. Twenty-five dollars doesn’t go too far, so you will have to spend it wisely— much more wisely than any other money you spend. Books should be bought both new and secondhand. If you live in a small town or in the country, it is hard to buy secondhand, but it can be done. Be on the alert for chances. I have bought good used books in such centers of culture as Montpelier, Vermont; Atlanta, Georgia; Beaver Falls and Altoona, Pennsylvania; Newburgh,


New York; Bridgeport, Connecticut, and so on. The towns men­ tioned are not of the smallest size, but I could find books in smaller towns, and, moreover, you surely live within driving distance of cities, even if you are on a farm; so when you are spending three or four dollars driving your car through some town, stop off and search the secondhand stores, if any, and the newspaper advertise­ ments, for old books. You may get a chance to spend fifty cents on them. Many books are available in cheap editions. The Modern Library and Everyman’s are examples. The paperback books are sometimes good buys. When you see a book in those lists which you can use, buy it. In general, it is better to buy books you expect to read soon, but this is not a fixed rule. Members of my family and myself have only recently read, for the first time, books which were in the house when I was born. A book in the house is like a seed in the ground; something may sprout at any time where the soil is not too rocky. Unless you are wealthy, you must also use the libraries. Many books, especially up-to-date books, are too expensive for most peo­ ple to buy in wholesale fashion. You must have a library card, you must get used to libraries, you must spend some time looking over the collection of your nearest library, you must learn to look up books in the card index of the library. It’s a good idea to speak to your librarian. She might lead a bored, quiet life and could wel­ come an excuse to talk while on the job, especially if you are a man. All the histories published as paperback books are good, though not always easy to read. So are the archaeological and anthropologi­ cal books. These paperbacks are the growing thing in publishing and are now indispensable to the reader with little money. You can build a library from them, and by the time you have read one tenth of the histories published as paperbacks, you won’t know yourself. (True, the paper and binding are such that your library will gradually disintegrate.) I am listing a few of the cheapest of these paperbacks, taken from my own collection of historical and related matter. None of them is right for a first book, and some are difficult to master after a hundred books, but there is nothing equal to them in cheapness and availability. Start to buy them, and read them when you think you are ready. I have starred the most readable ones.


I have omitted most of the books which are outlines or inter­ pretations. T h e paperbacks abound in that kind of book: evalua­ tion of the culture (in the anthropological sense) of various times' and peoples: The Greek Way, The Roman Way, T he Medieval Way, The Aztec Way, etc. I will list a few of these at the end of the next paragraph, but don’t be in a hurry to read them. T hey are most useful when you know quite a lot; beginners should let them wait. W hat is the use of reading Edith Hamilton’s comparison of the Greek versus the Egyptian if you are as ignorant of both as they were of you? Moreover, you will pile up Miss Ham ilton’s prejudices on top of your own. Learn a few facts first and a few stories. First read Homer, then Miss Hamilton (a wonderful woman). It’s like reading the well-known book by Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book. If you are an amateur and can get through that one, you don’t need it. If, however, you already are an experienced student and are going in for systematic research, it might be helpful. So with evaluations. M ISC E LLA N E O U S P A P E R B A C K B O O K S The Archaeology of Palestine A s h l e y , M a u r ic e , England in the Seventeenth Century* (one of a series of eight Pelicans— all good) B e n e d ic t , R u t h , Patterns of Culture* B o u q u e t , A . C ., Comparative Religion* C h il d e , V . G o rd o n , What Happened in History C h il d e , V . G ordon , Man Makes Himself C o l e , S o n ia , T he Prehistory of East Africa C o l l ie r , J o h n , Indians of the Americas* C o m m a g e r , H e n r y S t e e l e , T he Pocket History of the Second World War* De B urg h , W . G., T he Legacy of the Ancient World* (2 vols.) E dw ards , I. E . S., T he Pyramids of Egypt F a r r in g t o n , B e n j a m i n , Greek Science* F r a n k f o r t , H e n r i 8c H . A., W il s o n , J o h n A. & J a co bsen , T h o r k il d , Before Philosophy G h ir s h m a n , R ., Iran* A l b r ig h t , W . F .,

* M ore readable.


The Greek Myths G u r n e y , O . R ., The Hittites H a m il t o n , E dith , The Greek Way to Western Civilization* H u m p h r e y s , C h ristm a s , Buddhism L a m b , H arold , Tamerlane* L loyd , Seto n , Foundations in the Dust* (a good starter for G raves , R o b er t ,

archaeology) L loyd , Seton , Early Anatolia

Coming of Age in Samoa* M ead , M arg aret , Sex and Temperament in Three Primi­ tive Societies* M u l l e r , H e r b e r t J., The Uses of the Past* P iggott , St u a r t , Prehistoric India* P a l l o t t in o , M ., The Etruscans Sc h o n fie l d , H ugh J . , The Authentic New Testament* (a modern translation for the purpose of emphasizing historical aspects) T a w n e y , R. H., Religion and the Rise of Capitalism* W ilson , J ohn D over , Life in Shakespeare’s England* W o o l l e y , Sir L eonard , A Forgotten Kingdom M ead , M arg aret ,

None of the above books are especially good as first books, as I have said. I have listed them merely because they cost less than one dollar each, are modern, can be bought in any good bookstore, and can be stuffed into the pocket when you are going someplace where a big book would be inconvenient. Longer books are usually easier to learn from. Not all paperback books are as cheap as the ones listed. When you buy the higher-priced ones, consider whether there is enough in them to make them good buys. Reprints of classics and big books in general are often better buys in hard covers, especially if they can be found at secondhand stores. You should have a dictionary. It need not be a very large one. The huge one-volume unabridged dictionaries are too clumsy to be of much use. I spent twenty years trying to achieve the ownership of an unabridged. Then I found a fine Merriam-Webster, used, for four dollars. I have looked in it since then an average of four times a year. Any volume that cannot be easily handled will seldom be *

* More readable.

used except by a professional. A professional is one who works at something. I, for example, am a professional salesman. If I need an item of merchandise, I walk to where it lies and carry it to where I need it. I do this forty hours a week. T h a t’s enough. I don’t care to do my reading that way. A scholar, of course, does. H e carries his merchandise to and fro for his forty hours. You are not a scholar any more than I am, and you won’t walk back and forth very often to look up a word. If you have only one dictionary in the house and that one a monster, you will use it once in a while but not nearly as often as you should. If you also have a lighter dictionary, big brother will surely gather dust in peace. I have written this book without once using either of my two un­ abridged dictionaries. (I own a ten-volume Century bought for one dollar.) I keep a light dictionary on my desk, and a dictionary of proper names, a biographical dictionary. I have another light dic­ tionary near my easy chair where I do most of my reading. A so-called college dictionary is best. Any dictionary with more than 70,000 entries will do until you have enough experience not to need my advice. You probably have one in the house. A handy one is the Thorndike-Barnhart Comprehensive Desk Dictionary (Doubleday & Company). Still better, Merriam-Webster New Col­ legiate Dictionary, a masterpiece of its kind. The big unabridged dictionaries are very useful for particular purposes, however, because they are miniature encyclopedias. T h e ordinary man seldom needs them for the meaning of words, but even if he has an encyclopedia (and most people don't have one of the good ones), he will find that the dictionary has, in brief, much information which is hard to locate even in a good en­ cyclopedia such as the Britannica or Colliers.* By chasing a thing long enough, you can usually find something about it in an un­ abridged dictionary. For instance, look up these words in an unabridged, when you get a chance: Bible, Old Testament, Yahweh, Elohim, New Testa­ ment, Pentateuch, Hexateuch, Genesis, and follow the suggested references. You’ll be surprised at what you can learn. Always read the etymology of the word when you look it up. • Waste neither time nor money on those numerous small, cheap en­ cyclopedias which are sold as bargains or given away as premiums. If you have one in the house, throw it out. 61

Note the root word and the language of the root. This is a very important point. It is more difficult in some respects for me to tell you how to adapt the study of history to your time of life than it is for any other study. The other subjects almost answer this fundamental question by themselves, since they depend on a combination of several things which total up of their own accord. You certainly will not begin the study of mathematics if you are seventy, sick, and hate figures. You will not begin music if you are deaf, or past fifty and have never liked it. You cannot profitably study philoso­ phy if you have little formal education; in that case, if you are past fifty, you can hardly expect to get to it at all. But history cannot be left out of any education. It must be fitted in somehow; the only question is how soon you should start it and how hard you should go at it. This discussion suggests that, up to a certain point, the older you are the more urgent it is that you acquire a minimum knowledge of history— not less than one year’s systematic reading— at once. If you are very young— that is, under twenty-five— are not going to school, and have never really read history, then, although I warn you that you will accomplish any cultural aim you may have much faster if you will learn some history first, you are young enough to stall for a time. If you are between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five, proba­ bly a married man or woman, there is still a little time in which you can indulge preferences of your own. T hat’s what the rest of this book is for. However, the sooner you get started on history, the sooner you can put a knowledge of it to use. If you are between thirty-five and fifty years of age and if your present knowledge of history is as weak as is that of most so-called educated people— most doctors, lawyers, engineers, musicians, and so on— you should attend to this immediately. What is the use of floundering about any longer? With history added, your present education, whatever it may be, will come to life, acquire form, con­ tinuity, direction, and begin to do you some good. For men of my own age, I must be more lenient. If you want to learn something else rather than read history, see if the remainder 62


of this book has anything to offer you. But if you don't know what you want, start reading history until you find out. History will help you to find it. Remember this truth: A ll knowledge can be approached easiest through history, and history can create a desire for all other knowl­ edge. The burden of proof is always upon the one who delays or evades this most necessary and most helpful part of any man's personal culture.

I shall use one more item from my experience to conclude this chapter. I had occasion ten years ago to add up how much ancient history I had actually read at that time. I have always considered myself a little stronger in ancient history, relative to what might be reasonably asked of a businessman, than in more recent mat­ ters. My greater success with the antique world probably arises from the circumstance that the original documents which have come down to us, in all parts of the world, are very few. A child could get through them, from earliest Egypt to the death of Augustus, in a few years’ reading. One day of modern history pro­ duces more reading matter than any human being could read in a lifetime. Yet, perversely, it is ancient history that people know the least about. Now just how much ancient history had I actually read up to that time to have placed myself on that pinnacle of learning from which I peered so sadly at the morons on the plain? For I do peer sadly— it’s like being on a satellite. Here is the whole list as well as I can remember. Do not forget that this takes in thirty years' read­ ing. O R IG IN A L H IS T O R IA N S H erodo tus , T


h u cyd id es , i

vol. vol.

P l u t a r c h , 4 vols.

C a esa r , T

1 vol. (in Latin, no less!)

a c it u s ,

N epo s ,

2 vols.

1 vol. (also in Latin)


M OD ERN W RITERS OF A N C IE N T HISTORY G r o te , 12 vols. B u ry ,


vol. (3 times)

G ibbo n , 6 vols. (3 times) N iebuhr , 3 vols. R a w l in so n , 5 vols. (including his


This makes thirty-seven volumes, not counting repeats— say, one year’s reading. Now add another thirty-seven volumes to take care of various miscellaneous reading, such as the beginnings of his­ tories of the different countries of Europe and Asia, which of course are ancient history, and the essays, outlines, textbooks I may have looked over up to that time; books on pre-history and archaeology, articles in encyclopedias and in such works as the Cambridge Ancient History, skimmings through more recent writ­ ers on ancient history, special histories of ancient science, mathe­ matics, art, and philosophy, and I conclude that the reading of some seventy-five volumes is enough to give a man a depth of cul­ ture in old history completely beyond that of most educated persons. Seventy-five volumes— two years of gentle reading, six months of concentrated reading— surely here is education on a bargain coun­ ter! Not quite. . . . Thirty years of thought had to be gotten in. The same reading crowded into six months would not mean the same thing. Then to the reading of formal history must be added the reading of the ancient literature (mostly poetry and drama) and thirty years of looking at and thinking about ancient art and philosophy. Still, it is an astonishing result for such a small effort. The total exertion is certainly less than that required to go through high school, and the result is such that no college degree, short of a doctorate of philosophy in history, could equal. So go ahead. Be a Ph.D. No fees, no bursars, no deans, no home­ work, no painful research— just a couple of years of delightful reading on the most interesting subject that ever could exist— our story.

C h apter

« m

F iv e

> --------------

Literature L ik e s and dislikes • R ea d in g a good story W hat poetry tries to do • I m eet the Bard W e can’ t ignore the B ib le • M o re about novels Books and the words about them • Y ou have the right to learn

treated as if it were a separate branch o f intellectual activity, literature itself, the written word, is our fun­ damental object of study. T h e distinction between literature and the different aspects of culture called history, philosophy, aesthetics, science, etc., is entirely artificial because everything we know is a subject of literature. Any subject, taken apart from its literature, would be largely a practical way of working, almost a form o f handicraft. Even religion without its literature would be a primi­ tive thing, all emotion and ritual. W hat we know is stored for us in words, and literature is the art and the science of the word. The great histories are a major part of literature just as literature is a major subject of history. Philosophy is a branch of literature; the great philosophers are particularly great writers. M uch the same applies to most divisions of human thought. Therefore, to make it at all practical to write a separate chapter on literature, I shall define it narrowly and quite arbitrarily, leaving some of its most important aspects for succeeding chapters under other headiiigs. I shall mean by literature throughout this book something which is an art in itself; literature will mean w riting where the w riter is concerned not merely with what he has to say but with how he says it. Literature w ill here carry with it the idea of beauty, as a statue does, or a song.

A lo n g s id e o f h i s t o r y ,


It w ill be necessary to divide this chapter into parts, of which the principal ones w ill deal with imaginative works such as novels, stories, poems, and plays. Essays and articles, an extensive branch, can be left to the various chapters which cover the subjects of which the essays treat. Also such beautiful literature as the writings o f the art critic John Ruskin, literature which is a model of the art o f writing, can be discussed in connection with art. And the great writings of Plato we shall call philosophy, though there never can be better literature. T h e reading of general literature, especially novels, plays, and poetry, is, along with history, the chief mark of a cultivated man. It would be absurd to speak of an English-speaking person as edu­ cated if he had never read Shakespeare, and it would be no less absurd to say that some great reader of literature, such as Macaulay, was not educated, even though he had little response to music or art. However, in making up a book like this, which is designed to help people of limited education, such as chorus girls, electronic engineers, lawyers, and truck drivers, taken as classes, this is a diffi­ cult chapter to write. I am not writing on how to know Dostoevski or how to understand painting. Purely cultural education itself, with the reader as teacher, is my subject. I must assume that the reader wants to know and understand these things, and there are countless books which claim to make it. easy. As a matter of fact, there is no need to make it easy, only to make it interesting, and that cannot be done for you. Only you can make it interesting; just how interesting depends on your tastes, abilities, and how hard you go at it. T h e chapters which follow this one will be, I think, both more lively and more definite, but not more necessary. This is the necessary one. Some parts of literature are surely of interest to everybody, and you must learn by experience which are the easiest for you to take. I can only make a few suggestions as to the way you might ap­ proach it. T h e first thing, the main thing, and almost the only thing, to re­ member is that the entire obligation is on your side. Dante does not care whether you like him or not; he never cared, and if he did, he has been dead these six hundred years. A Chinese painter 66

of the year 1400 is also uninterested in what you like or do not like. And frankly I think you ought to be very little interested in that question. “ I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” Why don’ t you stop? If you knew what you liked, you’d know something about art, and you ’d know how trivial your likes and dis­ likes are. H ow im portant are your likes? T h ey are just serious enough to permit you to choose between a lettuce-and-tomato sand­ wich on toast and a pear-and-cottage-cheese salad. A bove that level, please keep your likes to yourself and then lose them somewhere, so that we can get down to business. It is your job to like all the fine literature, art, music, in the w o r l d . In fact, you should love it, precisely in the sense that you love God. You don’t know God. You don’t understand Him . B ut you must love Him. And you should fear great literature and art and great ideas. It is a terrible thing to stand before the living God, and some of this terror should be felt in the presence of man, too, when he is able to act a little like God. M an acts most like God when he creates, when he makes something. A nd the greatest acts of creation by man are in art, literature, and ideas. T h e man who wrote M acbeth, the man who painted that mighty portrait which some of us lucky ones saw in the Japanese show a few years ago, the man who first noticed that falling bodies increase the space they traverse per unit of time as the sequence of the odd numbers, showed that man has a little of God in him. Fear such men and love them. I may seem to have contradicted myself here, since I have already said that your tastes are valuable. I meant valuable as a means o f educating yourself. Your tastes are useful as guides to your first studies. Indeed, the development of strong tastes in history, litera­ ture, and the arts w ill be the first sign that you are having some success in self-cultivation. T h ey mean you are becoming interested. But they matter only as means to an end, the end being your own mental growth. T h ey in no way affect your obligation to rise to the height of all the greatness and fineness in the world. You may follow your tastes as leads, so to speak, but you must transcend them after a while and learn to study the best things and w ait for your tastes to grow up to them. Your tastes tell you what things w ill come easy to you, but they never can be used as excuses 67

to let you off from the duty of trying to understand a great work. For exam ple, since I am now so interested in Oriental art, I find it harder to respond to Rem brandt (whose art is poles away from China) than I used to; but I would never dream of letting my. self off from my obligation to make a reasonable and continuing effort to understand such a man. Moreover, I have not forgotten the days when I found a Chinese painting incomprehensible. Some­ day Rem brandt w ill open up again for me, or, better, I will open up for Rembrandt, if I do not forget which of us is the master and which the pupil. L et us get on with the business of learning to read literature. We shall suppose that you have in your hands some great work. (These ideas are equally applicable to art or music, of course.) You have found out that it is great, either because you always knew it, or you have read about it somewhere, or a friend has told you. You have decided to read this book, but you do not have much confidence in your ability to come up to it. You would like to enjoy it. In the end, that is why we all read these things. But I must warn you that the enjoyment is only a bonus which you may have if you can find it. You have every right to expect, after you have read a while and honestly tried to understand, that you will get an ever-increasing pleasure from it. Many people do. In every generation a whole new breed of readers and enjoyers springs up to keep great litera­ ture alive. But it doesn’t really matter whether you enjoy yourself or not; I can only wish you luck. W hat does matter is whether you will ever possess any genuine culture, and this I can guarantee you if your approach is sincere. How should you read the book you are considering? By going through the words as best you can until you get good at it. No one can do this for you. There are no tricks which will enable you to soar to the height of a great man’s thought. It wasn’t easy for him; why should you get it without effort? In the hope that I can be of help, let us consider literature under some of its headings. First, the novel. Most people in this twentieth century can enjoy novels more easily than they can poetry or poetical dramas. This may be because the novel is rather a late-comer in literature. It is “modern” ; it is what the older literature has evolved into. Then perhaps the novelists of the past hundred years, the modern novel-

ists, have been stronger and more original than the more recent poets and playwrights. A novel is meant to be enjoyed. I am sure no one ever told a story except in the hope that people would like it. But a great novel is much more than a piece of entertainment. In fact, enter­ tainment as such is a small part o f culture or education. These things are work. I don’t enjoy Tolstoy or Flaubert. Such men are too strong for that. I experience them, I try to understand, and I get shaken up a good bit when I go through their creations. Those great men may have wanted to please but they were far too big to do it easily. T hey made worlds. A world can be enjoyed, but it must be worked and lived, which is not always a downhill operation. T he number of novels in existence is completely beyond any man’s ability to read even once, and so is the amount of poetry or history, or other kinds of literature. You must select, and the act of selection should be done by you. T h is is the place for you to feel out your own preferences, humbly and honestly. However, there are some novelists whom everybody reads, except barbarians and people who are too weak-minded, and I shall list a few of them at the end of this chapter. From them you will learn about the rest. Here are some pointers. Read the greatest works first, at least once. Read the best writers and read their best and best-known books. You should read Dickens before you read K ipling and read David Copperfield before you read T he O ld Curiosity Shop. Read Victor Hugo before you read Anatole France and read Les Miserables before you read The Man Who Laughs. T h a t way you at least get in some of the best, and if you pause and turn to another kind of study before you can get around to the lesser man or the lesser book, you will have at least known some greatness. Histories of literature can help you to learn which works are considered the best. I don’t mean that you must read every volume of Dickens before you read a little Kipling. There is common sense in everything. Kipling may particularly please you, or you may have been to India. Your own inclination must not be disregarded too much. You will always seek to improve your taste but not to ride it down. It is more a question of emphasis. Keep leaving Kipling to go back to Dickens. Get on with the work of the big men. It would be a mistake for most people to try to read all the works 69

o f D ickens or B alzac one after the other. You can do that only with Shakespeare; the others becom e too monotonous. You get tired of h earin g the same voice. W h en you read a great novel you usually read a fairly long novel. Y ou m ust give the w riter tim e to b u ild up his world. He must give you enough o f that w orld to enable you to imagine it and believe in it. G rad u a lly, from all the detail, a bright picture will appear, real people w ill start to breathe and act, and well before the end you w ill find yourself liv in g their lives and feeling their feelings w ith an excitem ent and intensity such as you can never get out of a lig h t book, w hich begins busily and leaves out everything except the most obvious bits. I recently proved this w ith a fellow I know who claimed he c o u ld n ’t read a book that d id n ’t begin as fast as a detective story. I questioned him as to w hat he had read, and it turned out that he h ad read some H u go and Dum as twenty years before, and he re­ m em bered the names of the characters. H e did not remember the names o f the characters in a very light book he had read one week past. C learly this man underrated himself, and so do you if you think you can ’t read a fairly long novel such as Tess of the d’ Urbervilles or Esther Waters. You should pay some attention to the style, the language. This is less necessary in novels than in poetry or oratory, because the great novelists often hide their fineness o f expression and write in a very sim ple, straightforward manner, so that you can see their pic­ tures and feel their emotions as directly as possible. Still, all great novelists are good writers, good stylists, and you must acquire a sense o f style. Passion makes things great; style makes them fine. Style and beauty are closely related. W hen you have found a first-rate w riter whom you take to easily, and you think you understand him and enjoy him, read several of his books. If you liked them very much, you may want to read them over and over again, but as a general rule, if the book is a novel, it is better to let several years go by before you read the same book a second time, to give it a chance to work in you, to give yourself a chance to think about it, to give yourself time to grow up to it. A fter five years you w ill be surprised to find how much there was in it that you missed the first time. A novel is a school as well as a world. It teaches manners and

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instills ideas. W e learn about all kinds of people, countries, and so* cieties. Few of us can hope to meet many interesting people or see many places in this world. T h e novelist brings them to us. He teaches us anthropology, history, politics, sociology, psychology. So does the book of travel, which is a kind of novel. T h e best books of travel are very good novels. It may be instructive to compare more closely books of travel with novels. T h ey have much in common. Both bring us a world inspired by the world around us but transmuted by the brain and passion of the writer. Both contain storytelling, conversation, and description. Both contain ideas and depict manners and customs. Both have im agination if they are good. But there is a difference. It is hard for the book of travel to be great. Greatness comes from strong feeling directly brought to us, and it is not easy for the travel writer to do this. Moreover, a great traveler is not likely to be a great writer and is handicapped, besides, because he is tied down to the brute fact. H e cannot write about a thing quite as in­ tensely as if that thing had been made up entirely out of his own brain. A small thing, which has been felt by a man as it can only be felt when it is all his, can be bigger than a huge matter which lies outside him. Maupassant telling you about little Simon’s papa is not only bigger than I would be telling you about Mt. Everest, he is bigger than he would be telling you about Mt. Everest. Although even a fine book of travel, therefore, cannot quite become a great novel, a fine novel may and often is a great book of travel. Examples are Madame Chrysanthemum by Pierre Loti, Hajji Baba of Ispahan by Morier, Dona Barbara by Gallegos, T h e Cossacks by Tolstoy. A still better example would be Gulliver’s Travels, if there only were such a place as Laputa. When, therefore, you consider that this instructive, broad, flexi­ ble art form, the novel, has been the choice of many of the greatest writers of the last hundred and fifty years all over the world, you begin to see why it can teach us so much. Men and women who have read the best of the w orld’s novels in their youth seem to ma­ ture early, intellectually. T h ey seem to know a lot and they ac­ quire, while still young, a certain conversational polish which is sometimes missing in those who have been otherwise quite well schooled. A n engineer or lawyer of thirty who has been so busy get­ ting through schools that his reading time could not include many



novels may seem crude and stilted compared to someone with much less training who knows the world’s fine stories. You must learn to read novels without rushing to the end. As you go through a good novel, no matter how slowly it seems to move, the time will come when you will be gravely concerned as to what is going to happen; but you must not let yourself hurry the book on that account. Rather, you should slow yourself down and try to live each page. T h e writer is working to give you something of the slow, minute-by-minute pace of life. T ry to feel these min­ utes. It will do you little good to know how the book ends. Every educated person knows how most of the best stories and plays and poems end, and yet they keep reading them just as if they were new. You can’t really study a book at all until you have elimi­ nated the element of suspense. Suspense, real fear in all its uncer­ tainty, is a basically inartistic emotion. I cannot admire the way a girl looks leaning against the skyline if I think she is going to fall any moment thirty stories to her death. The most accomplished and courageous circus performers are not artists for us, although they are true artists looked at from their point of view, because we are too scared to savor their art. This applies to novels. Most good writers let you guess what is going to happen. They may even place all their cards on the table at once, so you will stop worrying about how the story is going to end, and instead feel with all your soul what is happening then and there, and, still more, what has already happened. In Dostoev­ ski’s famous novel Crime and Punishment, you are told at once that the hero is going to murder an old woman and steal her money. After that, how can it possibly “ turn out” ? He must come to justice in the end. But what justice is, and why a man murders, and how much of that man is you— these are the things the book is about. Another fine book is called The Seven Who Were Hanged. And that’s how it turned out; they were hanged. Dickens wrote a novel called Great Expectations. He didn’t ex­ pect you to have many cheerful ones. Most good novels either “end” unhappily or have a happy “end­ ing” forced on them to sell the book. (Even great writers must eat.) Great books are often about unhappy things; happy things tend to 72

have the same story. U nhappy things produce deepest passions, and you should give up com pletely the idea of reading serious literature while hoping for happy endings. I hardly think of a single novel with a happy ending which w ould not be at least as good without it. If you become too upset when you read sad books, assume that it will be sad before you start. T h en you won't be reading in fear. It is only fair, however, to adm it that in reading novels and prose plays any reader is lim ited somewhat by his ability to share in the concerns of the characters. If you care nothing about the man, about his problem, or about what happens to him, it is difficult to respond to the book. T h is is a peculiarity of prose art. Poetry is different. You may care nothing about H am let’s need for revenge. You may approve of the actions of Lear's daughter. You may not quite like O thello’s overconcern w ith his own honor. It doesn’t mat­ ter. Your pleasure w ill be unaffected. T h e power of poetry is inde­ pendent of such considerations. T h e allegory which is embedded in Spenser’s Faerie Queene helps the poetry; it would be very diffi­ cult to sustain it in prose. Poetry is fundam entally an unrealistic art. It imitates life, but we see the imitation plainly. It never moves us as life, only as beauty. But prose art is more than an im itation of life; it is a kind of life. Art in prose is so close to ordinary speech, even in formal writing, such as in the novels of Jane Austen or in Pilgrim’s Progress, that we accept it as real. It is not a matter of “ realism.” T h e author may care nothing about realism; he usually doesn’t. W e make it real; our minds work that way. You must expect to discover famous books that you simply can'not respond to. I cannot stand Clarissa Harlowe by Richardson. Clarissa herself and everybody else in the book are too alien to me. Nothing remotely like that enters into my life or the life of anyone I ever wanted to know. Everything proceeds from principles which are not my principles. If I believe in the story, I must conclude that these people are not worth knowing and still less worth caring about. If I don’t believe it, it certainly doesn’t interest me. On the other hand, I find Pamela, by the same author, very appealing. I can understand that kind of situation, that kind of brutality, that kind of courage. I feel the problems in the famous plays of Ibsen to be unreal. So does my wife. T h e characters are too unlike us. W hat is Nora really


troubling herself about? Are there such marriages? No doubt, no doubt. As life, the plays do not reach me and they are too lifelike to be read as pure art. Ibsen’s poetical works, such as Peer Gynt, are, of course, another matter. (The uninformed reader should un­ derstand that Ibsen is one of the greatest writers of the nineteenth century.) Indeed, as far as I know, none of my reading friends take the least interest in Ibsen. I have never heard one of them mention him. This suggests that he does not fit our little segment of life, here in New York. I am sure that all my friends have read Ibsen to some extent. Yet my crowd responds to the Japanese novel The Tale of Genji. Surely that is more foreign, but there is something big-city about it. I can’t explain it. You’ll find your own problems of this kind and they may not be the same as mine. (Incidentally, Ibsen’s plays are extraordinarily moving on the stage.) Sometimes a novel is hard to read because it upsets you too much. My daughter cannot get past the place in The Brothers Karamazov where Mitya begins to rush back and forth from his father to Grushenka. My wife can’t take Thomas W olfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of similar feelings. I can live without Dostoevski’s The Gambler. This is the opposite side of the problem. We respond too well here and suffer too much. In view of the fact that the world of the novel is so large, you will be better off to read as many of the fine ones as possible once, and reread only special favorites and those you have pleasant mem­ ories of. You can’t possibly make a thorough study of very many novelists; you will probably only reread the works of two or three of them in your entire life. Another part of literature is the drama, usually divided into prose and poetical plays, eifher of which may be comedy or tragedy. Prose drama makes very enjoyable reading if it is good. In fact, prose plays may read better than they act, whereas plays which act well may not be strong enough as literature for good reading. Plays in prose are particularly attractive to those who do not like long books. The dramatist comes quickly to the point. A play which takes two hours to act will read in considerably less time. Then, too, plays are all dialogue, so people who are bored by description may prefer them. In any case, plays make a good introduction to the novel.

However, there are not too m any fine prose plays, and most of them are comedies. A ll prose tragedies in English of serious literary quality are translations, except the works of Eugene O ’N eill, some of the great Irish writers, and a few contemporary plays. T h e Scan­ dinavians and the Russians are the principal writers of prose trage­ dies. T h at form of literature seems to be, appropriately enough, of the North. T h e South knows better than to spell out its agony without the healing power either of laughter or of music. Tragedy is hard to compress into the length of a play and at the same time keep it actable, lim it it to dialogue, and hold it down to prose. No play w ritten in prose is as truly tragic, when read, as T h e Brothers Karamazov or Ninety-Three. Comedy, on the other hand, is generally better in the play than in the novel, but there too the great literature in prose is not large. You could read in one year all the really fine prose plays in the world which have been translated into English and still hold down your job at the post office. Don’t expect to laugh very much when reading classic, old-time literary comedy or humorous work of any kind. T h e joke is apt to be a little out of date for us, and it is hard to teach yourself to laugh at an old joke, although you can learn to cry at an old disas­ ter. If you can get a laugh out of Aristophanes, by all means take it; you’re entitled to it— I go to Danny Kaye for mine. If you like the theater, the drama may be a good place for you to start to read literature. You cannot seriously study the theater w ith­ out reading plays. Indeed, how could plays be selected for performanfce if no one read them? Seeing a play is not enough. W hen you see a play for the first time, you are too excited to think at all, and culture is thought. If you read the play either before or after seeing it, it becomes literature for you, and you can learn from it. More­ over, if the play is difficult to follow by ear, as are operas, transla­ tions of foreign poetical dramas and Shakespeare, you must read it to enjoy it at all. You might finally get to understand the words of Wagner’s Rheingold if you heard it sung in English ten times, but if you heard Ham let performed fifty times, you would still miss the better half of it, unless you read the play. But as soon as you have carefully read the play, even once, the acted drama w ill acquire meaning and life. It is impossible to think with any concentration while watching


liv in g m e n a n d w o m e n act o u t a re p ro d u c tio n of real life. The scenes m o v e to o q u ic k ly . Y o u are too con cern ed w ith w hat is going o n to th in k o r stu d y. T h is a p p lie s v ery stro n gly to opera lovers. M u sicia n s stu d y o p era scores at h om e, o v e r th eir pianos, or silently r e a d in g th e notes a n d th e w ords. Y o u an d I, w h o cannot do this as it sh o u ld b e d on e, can a n d m u st at least lea rn the general drift of th e w o rd s— the lib retto s. A n d I m ig h t m e n tio n that those numer­ ous a d d icts o f th e o p era w h o n e v e r read are as com pletely uncul­ tiv a te d as th ey w o u ld b e if th e ir lo v e w ere baseball. T h e sam e com m en ts a p p ly to assiduous theater-goers who don't read , b u t th ey g e n e ra lly are m a k in g n o pretense at using their m in d s an d th erefo re fa ll o u tsid e the scope o f this book. You have a p e rfe c t r ig h t to stay as stu p id as y o u w ish, b u t d o n ’t delude yourself b y b e lie v in g th a t y o u are d o in g so m eth in g in tellectu al merely be­ cause y o u can afford to b u y tickets to first nights or to the opera. T h a t ’s en terta in m en t, n o t stu d y. T h e d ram a is a broad study, one o f the finest w e h ave. T h e lib ra ries are cro w d ed w ith its literature a n d h isto ry. I t ’s as g o o d a su b ject as an y to start reading. If you like it, g o ah ead. B u t the stu d y is w o rth o n ly w h a t yo u p u t into it. I can o n ly discuss the p o e tica l d ram a, w h ich is the precious part o f d ram a, by discu ssin g p o etry itself. I t is a difficult subject to write a b o u t fo r the read er I h ave in m in d . I f you are already an interested a n d u n d e rsta n d in g read er o f p oetry, I see no reason why you sh o u ld read this b o o k . I am w r itin g this fo r the m an who may h a ve h a d alm ost n o e d u ca tio n e x ce p t th at w h ich was pushed on h im in elem en ta ry sch ool, h ig h school, an d college, or one who may h a ve go n e b eyo n d this in som e d irectio n , b u t not in a direction th a t w o u ld lead to p oetry. F o r instance, he m ay be a lawyer, a pro­ fession al lin g u ist, an in terp reter, a chem ist, a h eatin g engineer, or even a m an w h o does read an d tries to learn outside his special field, if any, b u t he is n o t satisfied. H e feels he is on the wrong side o f it all. H e m a y be a m u sicia n or a p a in ter w ho knows his ca p a b ilitie s an d w h o , a fter years o f co n cen tra tio n on m usic or art, w o u ld lik e to e x te n d h im self a little . B u t m y p rop er reader does n o t k n o w h istory an d he does n o t read p oetry. I sh all n o t atte m p t a d e fin itio n o f p oetry, b u t I shall describe the ap p earan ce o f p o etry so th a t y o u w ill k n o w w h at I am talking ab ou t. B y p oetry I m ean w ords, in re g u la r verses, such as Shake­ speare uses, o r in irre g u la r verses, such as m odern writers often

use, in clu d in g so-called prose poems, b u t in any case I mean a kind of w ritin g in w h ich the w ay the words are arranged is evi­ dently an im p ortan t m atter and w h at the words mean is likewise an im portant m atter. T h e message directly em bodied in the words is not enough b y itself. T h a t cou ld be handled by prose. Poetry is more than that. T h e appearance of the words counts, and the sound counts, and the associations o f the words count. T h e poet tries to reach you w ith everyth in g he has, as fast as possible, and by every means he can use. H e tries to h it your eyes, ears, intellect, im agina­ tion, feeling, all at the same tim e. T h is is a broader attack than is made by the artist or m usician . T h e poet has to say things quickly, and every single w ord he w rites dow n is supposed to do something to you, if he can m an age it. I t’s a difficult art. H e has onl) the same words you use. Y o u say, if you live in a big city, “ Someone w ill have to get rid o f the garb age.” If you live in a small town, you ask, “ W h ere is the dog?” From these d u ll words, from such bu ild ­ ing blocks, the poet m ust m ake an art as shining as a lovely vase, as ringing as a burst o f m usic, as fu ll of m eaning as a prayer, as mov­ ing as a ch ild in terror. T h e poetry m ust do all this in every word of it, th rou gh out all the tim e it takes to read it. N o wonder great poets are rare, and no w on d er the w orld makes a great to-do about them! N ow , from u n certain causes w hich you can read about in a thou­ sand books, w e do n o t respond to poetry— we in the European and Am erican w orld — as w ell as we used to do. N o one knows why, al­ though everybody tries to guess. I shall spare you my guesses. It’s very strange. Persons and peoples and nations and whole civiliza­ tions seem to do b etter w ith a given art at one time than another. W hy? T h e y are m u ch the same people. W hatever the cause, today we no lon ger w rite m u ch good poetry, and we no longer respond to it w ith o u t a special effort, unless we are born poets. Few people today enjoy poetry at once, w ith ou t study or training. T h e y are not at hom e in it. N evertheless we m ust have it. A ll the w orld agrees that the finest th in g m en have m ade is their poetry. H um an life w ould be hard to im agin e w ith o u t it. It runs through all history, all art, all culture. N o people, savage or advanced, have ever been w ithout it once they h ad the words to w ork w ith. It is the art of arts. T h e highest praise for any artist is to be called a poet. Even the historian or the scientist tries to be som ething of a poet. It is


related to religion and to all strong feeling. It is at the heart of the appreciation of beauty. It springs our songs. T h e re are m any books which profess to tell you how to appre­ ciate poetry. T h e y are often good; they may be helpful to you, but I shall not recom m end any of them, because I do not think I know w hat it is that wakes a m an up to the significance of poetry. I do know that it can be done. A n y man can penetrate into it if he wants to. It is the sincerest o f all forms of study. You will never be able to impress anyone m erely because you read poetry. It looks good to go to a museum or a concert once in a while, or to read a large, im posing book— that is som ething you “ ought to do"— but who cares if a poem moves you? O nly you yourself. However, poetry, like all good things, is better the more you use it. M any persons of some claim to intellectual distinction have read a little poetry when they were young and can still feel it if they read poetry, but they never do read it any more. I myself don't read poetry as much as I once did. But I still do read some poetry, and it is entirely possible that I shall go on a debauch tomorrow m orning and read nothing else for a year, whereas the people I refer to have never done that and never will. T h eir culture is in­ complete— it lacks freedom and warmth. M y patient, hum ble, obliging reader w ill have to make the at­ tem pt to discover the purpose and the use of poetry. Unless you w ill do this, I am reluctantly compelled to advise you to give up all idea of sincere self-improvement. I am not really concerned with helping anyone to “ express himself better,” or to “ take part in a conversation,” or to “ say something clever,” or to “ make an im­ pression on people.” I w ill talk about these things somewhere in this book, but I think less of them— much less— than I do of muscleb uildin g through bar-bell exercises. I want to open up the poetry w hich is inside everyone. I think I care more about this than about any other result of culture. History is the great means of reaching culture; poetry gives us our reward. N o matter how long poetry lies chilled in the deep-freeze of modern life, poetry lives in all of us. O n ly man has it— living man. You are not quite alive without it, and you can’t dry up or grow old until you lose it. In accordance with the plan followed this far, I shall not attempt to tell you how to like poetry, but I shall tell briefly some of my own experiences with poetry. T h e interest, if any, will lie in the

fact that I am not a poet, a scholar, or a man of original talents. Anyone should be able to appreciate as much poetry as I have been able to. Like most boys, I was quite insensible to poetry until I was about seventeen. I had a good teacher of “English” in my last year in elementary school, a man named De Keller Stamey, who had pub­ lished poetry himself and was a fine reader (this talent is not a com­ mon thing; most schoolteachers cannot read poetry or prose aloud with any effect). De Keller did his best for his unending classes of Bronx schoolboys, and his impassioned delivery of Julius Caesar may have helped me. But my real beginning was when I read the three volumes of M acaulay’s Essays and followed them by T a in e’s History of English Literature (both books were in the house). No one has ever been more influenced by two books than I by these. Macaulay talked to me about the goddess; T ain e performed the introduction. I can never forget the effect of T a in e’s description of the English poets and his abundant quotations. Chaucer, Spenser, the poets of Shakespeare's time, and Shakespeare himself, became thrilling to me. Then M ilton and Byron and Tennyson. . . . These two men, Taine and Macaulay, had the same genius for arousing the ordinary mind that Bertrand Russell has in our day. I did not exactly under­ stand poetry after I had finished Taine; I was intoxicated by the brilliant picture of poetry, and by the judicious spoonfuls that Taine fed me. I began to read it: some Shakespeare, some Marlowe and Webster. These were in my father’s bookcase. I read a good deal of Byron, Shelley, and Keats. I began to buy the English poets and presently had a fairly complete collection— total cost to this day perhaps thirty dollars. I read Palgrave’s Golden Treasury closely and often. Much of this reading was done in the subway, as I have said. I have never had any trouble concentrating in those tunnels; there is no place where you can get so much satisfaction from shutting out the world about you. In and around this period I went wild over music, and a little later over art. But I kept building up my comprehension of poetry and in April 1922, when I was just twenty-one years old, I found, as my notes in my father’s huge old Shakespeare tell me, that I had read all of Shakespeare’s plays at least once. It seemed a good


time to begin a systematic study of Shakespeare. I could not read any foreign language (my Latin never reached the poets), and po. etry is not very valuable in translation. Shakespeare was much the most essential matter in the English language, and I have always re­ joiced at the good luck or judgment which led me to do the first thing first. I began to read the plays carefully, using little one-volume edi­ tions of each play, with notes. First I read the introductory mate­ rial, then the play. Then I read the notes in the back of the book and reread the play at the same time. Then the play again— a third reading— to get an over-all impression in the light of what I had just learned. A ll this took about a week for each play. I sometimes read the play once more after another week had passed. (The first play I treated in this fashion was Coriolanus.) I also read criticism on Shakespeare, biographical material, etc., and continued this activity for about a year, or as long as it took to cover all the thirty-seven plays. O f course, I read his sonnets and other poems in the same way. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the effect on the mind of a sound knowledge of Shakespeare. T h e lofty ideas, the grand pas­ sions, and above all that incredible language, which I can still hardly believe is real whenever I open Shakespeare, act as an up­ lifting and refining force. A little of the power of it (and the most wonderful thing about art is its power) seeps into you. You won’t be the same if you try it. Literature, along with those arts which are aimed more exclu­ sively at the eye and ear, and with science and learning in general, is a great spiritual, purging influence. People who live in it are better than other people. I have known many of both kinds, and this is one of the things I am surest of. If you want to place yourself a little nearer to heaven, use this mighty tool. It will help you rise above yourself once in a while. Whatever misconception about culture you may have, try to lose this one: that books or good music or good art are effeminate and not for men with deep voices. Just the opposite. A good piece of music is more muscular, much stronger food, than a popular song. Commercial art is weak and childish compared to fine art. Any lit­ tle boy or girl can get something out of Mickey Spillane or the So

Saturday Evening Post, but it takes a man or a woman to read Shakespeare. It is true that most prize fighters and policemen don’t read poetry, but that’s because their bodies have been built up without regard for their minds, and anyhow, as I have said, most people don’t read poetry today. Sir W alter Raleigh, Sir Philip Sid­ ney, Frederick the Great, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon read and wrote poetry or listened to the best music, and they were very tough men. T o return to Shakespeare, there is of course another approach to that mighty man, namely, the actual performance of his work, the stage itself. One obstacle to the enjoyment of Shakespeare on the stage or movies is that the actors speak too fast. Those old plays are lengthy. W e are not used to sitting in one place so long, and the actors seem to fear we w ill walk out on them. For this reason alone, it would be necessary to read a play of Shakespeare before going to see it. I know Shakespeare better than most people in an ordinary audience, and I can’t always make out what is being said, even when I am listening to the remarkable diction of Maurice Evans. People used to argue whether Shakespeare should be acted at all or merely studied in silence. T h e actors think he should be per­ formed, and I think we can go along with these specialists. (Shake­ speare himself felt so too.) T h ey w ouldn’t want to do the parts if they weren’t good theater. However, it is not enough to see Shake­ speare (or Webster or Euripides). Modern culture demands a deeper study than most minds can carry out on the fly, so to speak. You must be your own actor to some extent. You must have your own ideas and interpretations. These can only be had from a study of the text. T h en you w ill be surprised to find how greatly a man of talent, such as Laurence O livier, can deepen and enrich your ex­ perience. You may not wholly agree with him, not if you have any feeling of your own about the play, but you will find that you can­ not help but admire him and learn from him if you have studied the play first. A key I used to unravel the secrets of poetry was rhythm. I think that this walking staff will help most people. You must find the beat, the measure, the count. Every line of verse has a pause or breath or breathing place in it somewhere, besides the usual one at the end of each line. These pauses are clues to the whole anatomy 81

o f the poem . R e a d p o e try a lo u d to y o u rself, if you are too bashful to read it to others, an d try to feel these pauses. A lw a y s so u n d the vow els very fu lly . C h a n t or in ton e the verses if it helps you . I read w ith a stro n g c h a n t fo r m a n y years. N ow I don’t need it so m u ch . N o te th a t som e vo w els m ak e yo u open your mouth w id er, som e close it. T h e s e th in g s re a lly m ean a lot, although I c a n ’t tell yo u w hy. Y o u w ill h a v e to find th a t o u t fo r yourself. Why is m usic som etim es fast an d som etim es slow? T h e r e is no b etter m eans o f e d u c a tin g y o u rself and your whole fa m ily th an b y rea d in g p o etry a lo u d , if yo u are u p to it. The es­ sen tial re q u irem e n t fo r g o o d re a d in g is to becom e so enthusiastic over the con ten t o f the p o em th at the o rd in ary embarrassments w h ich in h ib it alm ost everyo n e from re a d in g to others disappear, an d the poem itse lf tells you h o w to read it. C h a n t it slightly, as I h ave suggested, to find an d b r in g o u t the rh yth m and to train your­ self. T h e ch a n tin g w ill act as sin g in g does; it w ill provide an in­ terp retatio n . I f yo u read alo u d , read y o u r best an d not too long at a tim e. H a lf an h o u r is u su a lly en o u gh . A lw a y s try to p u t on a good show . U se a fu ll, reson an t vo ice an d d o n ’ t be afraid to look like a ham . If you are sincere, y o u r sin cerity w ill co n q u e r everything. O m d r K h ayydm is a go o d starter fo r m an y p eo p le w ho do not feel p oetry easily. H e has a fam ou s passage w h ich shows how poetry sh ou ld be a p art o f life and, m o reover, the best part: A B o o k o f Verses u n d ern ea th th e B o u g h A Ju g o f W in e, a L o a f o f B read— and T h o u B esid e m e, sin gin g in th e W ilderness— Food, shelter, love, m usic, w in e, poetry, a ll at once, as a matter of course, as a w ay to liv e — th at is the id e a l o f every cultivated man. P ractice rea d in g these lines from Om &r this w ay: read rather slow ly, startin g in the rich er p a rt o f y o u r vo ice as if you were mak­ in g an im p o rtan t an n o u n cem en t, b u t h o ld in g it d ow n for emphasis — A B o o k o f Verses (an alm ost uncon scious pause) underneath the B o u g h , (breathe) A Ju g o f W in e (slight pause), A L o a f of Bread (slight pause), and T h o u (try n o t to pause; sail in to the next line) and T h o u beside m e, sin g in g in th e W ilderness. Increase the intensity for singing in the W ilderness, th en take a good, fu ll breath before g o in g on. Y o u r vo ice is u p in p itch , d e n o tin g th at you have 82

not finished the stanza, and conclude the fourth line, A h! Wilder­ ness were Paradise enou, w ith a dying fall. Since I prefer that you go into the technical aspects of poetry (and of all art) rather slowly, I shall give here the few words of in­ formation that those readers w ill need who have never given a thought to the science of prosody. A line of English verse can be analyzed into segments, called feet, thus: A Book/ of Vers/es un/der n eathf the Bough. This line has five such segments. In this case there are exactly ten syllables, two to each foot, but sometimes there are extra syllables, as: T he m u l/titudIinous seas/ incarn/adine. Here we have eleven syllables, three in the third foot. What really matters in English is the accent or stress. In the line A bookI of vers/es un/derneath/ the bough the beat falls on the second syllable of each foot in a perfect one-two, one-two fashion, but often the beat is shifted for variety. Such a one-two arrange­ ment, with the accent on the second syllable of each foot, is called an iambus (adjective, iambic). There are only four kinds of feet which you need give any thought to: Iambus Anapest Trochee Dactyl Look up these four words in a dictionary, think about them for five minutes, and then forget the whole subject until you have read a great deal of poetry. I don’t want to go into the subject of poetry too deeply because there are books by better men for the purpose. I found the writings of Matthew Arnold and Samuel T . Coleridge about poetry and the poets very stimulating, but that was thirty-five years ago. T h ere are so many such books: Tennyson and How to Know H im , Brown­ ing and How to Know H im , T he History of English Prosody, by


G eorge Saintsbury (not recommended for a beginner). Use any such book if you find it helps you. However, you can’t learn poetry by reading about it; you must read the poetry itself. W h ile reading Shakespeare and for two or three years after that crucial year, I read other English poetry, especially Chaucer, Spen­ ser, some of the Elizabethan dramatists, and Milton. This reading was not as thorough as my reading of Shakespeare, which is apt to be the case w ith men who are readers but not scholars. (Mark T w a in seems to be a case in point. He knew Shakespeare and the B ible intim ately; other poetry more or less according to taste and chance.) I want the reader to know the gaps in my reading, the odd omis­ sions, and the strange lazinesses. Otherwise, I may paint too schol­ arly a picture and give the impression that I have done something which is beyond the reach of the ordinary man, whereas I, who ought to know, realize I haven't. So I shall state that I read Chaucer w ith care, taking the trouble to get a rough approximation to the correct pronunciation and prosody (rhythm, rhyme, etc.), but I read only T he Canterbury Tales. I blush in this homely little room to write down that I have never read Chaucer’s other poems, some of which, I am told, are masterpieces. I have also read Ben Jonson’s comedies but not his tragedies. I have plays in the house by other contemporaries of Shakespeare which have remained on the shelves for forty years, and I still haven’t read them. I have never read, even once, a large part of the Elizabethan dramatic literature. I have read T he Faerie Queene by Spenser, but not the Amoretti. Why? I don’t know. I have read all the poetical works of Milton ex­ cept Paradise Regained, which I never finished. Absurd? Of course. Moreover, as often as I have read parts of Paradise Lost in the past thirty years, because I love the poem, I have actually gone through it from beginning to end only once. I have not read any poet from cover to cover except Shakespeare. T h is is not too serious provided one makes no pretensions to scholarship. It m ight be interesting to make up a list of some books of the first importance which I have not read. W hat a list it makes! It would include Xenophon, Horace, Lucretius, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, St. Augustine, T h e Rom ante of the Rose, Ariosto, the Spanish dramatists, T he Promised Bride, Petrarch, Francis Bacon, Newton, St. Thom as Aquinas— in short, it would make a list of books to 84

recommend to the reader just as good as one made out of those I have read. It could be used as a list of the H undred Best Books-^-I checked off the St. Joh n ’s College list of great books a few years ago.* I had then read thirty-seven of them, and I believe it is still thirty-seven. But, like you, dear friend, I haven’t time or strength to read everything I should read. I read Spenser and M ilton in the subways. (Buses and commuter trains will work w ith these.) I remember that the only book I ever lost in my life was a Faerie Queene, donated to someone on the old B.M .T. Jamaica line. I had to buy another one to finish it. Since those youthful days, I have dipped into many poets, old and new, under different circumstances and stresses, and have broadened and deepened my taste and appreciation, but that year with Shakespeare gave me my grip on poetry. I’ll never know as much poetry as I once thought I would, but I'll never lose my power of response either. N ot before I ’m dead; and if I do, you may consider me dead. All our best poets must be sampled at least. I can’t tell you how far to go with each one. R ight now, those of us who read poetry are giving a lot of attention to John Donne and his school. T h ey seem to suit our modern taste. T h e so-called “ metaphysical” poets have great appeal today. So has Andrew M arvell. T h e modern poets can’t be ignored either, although you may have to take them gradu­ ally as best you can. O f the big popular modern names, T . S. Eliot and Robert Frost are, I think, the easiest to see something in. T h e difficulty with most modern poets is that it is hard to feel their value. This is natural, since most of them cannot be great; great poets are not that common. T h e modern poets are not particularly obscure. For beginners, I think that after Shakespeare and his contempo­ raries, the easiest poets to rise to are Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Poe, Tennyson, Emily Dickinson, Shelley, and the Cavalier poets. Gen­ erally speaking, it is best to read the shorter poems of each writer first. This is especially true for M ilton and Shelley. The time will come when a knowledge of the Greek myths be­ comes indispensable— you may start there if you like. You must get some notion of those stories because they permeate all subsequent * See Appendix A.

thought. Someday you will have to read a translation of Homer. I think prose translations are the best, and good translations are available in paperback, pocket-size editions. I like Rouse’s. It is necessary to read some of the Greek tragedies and comedies. V irgil, the Divine Comedy of Dante, and Goethe’s Faust* are also musts. And you should read at least part of Moliere, in translation if you can’t read French (and, generally speaking, most of us can’t). If you are also reading history (and if you aren’t, please don’t read this either), you will pick up from the historians some knowl­ edge of the poets, foreign and our own, and also some knowledge of literature in general. But reading about men is not reading the men; the philosopher Schopenhauer says that a man who prefers to read what a third party has said about the philosophers, instead of reading the philosophers themselves, is like a man who prefers to have someone else chew his food; and this is even truer of the poets. I advise quality rather than quantity in reading. You have all your life to read in if you are young; and if you are old, you know better than to let anyone hurry you. Even a decent detective story deserves a reading slow enough to allow you to feel scared. Poetry must be read slowly. A short poem, say one of less than a hundred lines, might well be read two or three times, then and there, one time after the other. Think how a musician repeats a composition when studying it, how often the actors repeat their lines when learning a part; and each time they try to get more out of it. In general, I like to read slowly. Real scholars cannot always do this; they must often hurry from book to book, furiously making notes, charging their memories, getting on and on and on. Other­ wise, they would never cover the ground. You and I don’t have to read this way. We can go as slowly as we like, savoring each page and each line. I like to catch the writer’s voice, learn his rhythms. T he dullest of writers has his own tone. I let him talk to me, even if I am reading a mathematics textbook. In this way I make litera­ ture out of any book I read. I also like to think my own thoughts as I read. I write two books in my mind for every one I read. I think this the secret of joyous * able.


The Penguin translation of Faust by Philip Wayne is the most read­

reading. One can only pity those unfortunate undergraduates who are encouraged, on account of the lengths of their assignments, while still freshmen, upon their initial experience with literature and learning, to practice reading furiously, recklessly, barbarously. Shades of Plato and the Greek ideal W hat a notion— to read so fast you never pronounce the words even in thought, so that the rhythms of Sir Thom as Browne, Jeremy T aylo r or Edmund Burke becomes a staccato rat-tat-tat of Chinese-like syllables! They can have it. However, I must not be arbitrary even on a matter such as this where I know I am right. Minds differ; since mine is rather slow I really do not have much choice in this; I must read slowly if I am going to know what I have read. You may have a much faster mind. Even if you have not read much, even if your quickness and grasp have gone into machinery, accounting, business administration, practical electricity, or dentistry, you may very well be able to leave me standing at the post when it comes to going through a book and arriving at the meat of it. In this case you quite properly will not wish to hold yourself back when you could instead be reading a second book. But you should still weigh carefully my remarks on slow reading. You may need to slow yourself down just as I might profitably push myself along a little. In particular, do not hurry through imaginative works, such as the better novels or classics in fine w rit­ ing. The matter of planned reading may be the most important of the ideas I shall try to establish in the reader's mind. Even well-read people seldom read with a plan. Specialists mostly read at random, except in their specialty. I did not fully appreciate how uncommon it is to read con­ nectedly for pleasure until I had become deeply enmeshed in this book. Since I have always read in related sequences without think­ ing about it, I did not notice that it was rather strange in a layman, just as I did not notice, when I was nineteen, that few boys hired a private Latin teacher for the fun of it. But a friend of mine, a very cultivated man indeed, recently told me that he had never tried to tie up his reading into thought-out patterns. As he said it, I heard the echo of a conversation I had had with another friend, 87

fo rty years ago, and that frien d had used the same words. This m ade m e think, and I realized that no one I know, even among p eo p le w ho read as m uch as o r m ore than I do, reads with a plan. I f one purpose o f yo u r read ing is self-education, then con­ n ected read in g is fun dam en tal. It is not so necessary to specialists because their studies in their ow n field w ill give a certain rhythm and b earin g to their w hole m ental life, but the man who reads p rim arily for pleasure m ust orient his reading if he expects to re­ tain m uch o f it. It is ju st as en joyab le to read along distinct lines as to wander at random . E ven a stroll on a sum m er’s day needs a direction. You m ay change the direction, b u t not too often. W ho wants to walk zigzag? I have seldom read one book on any subject and then stopped. I h ave read as few as two books and, more often, three books, but that was because those books tied into something else that I was w o rk in g on. A fte r doin g the two or three books when I felt I needed them, I w ent back to my original subject. This makes the difference. It has m ade it possible for me to write this book with its chapters o f exp osition on a variety o f subjects* Had I read exactly the same books at random , it w ould have been impossible for me to h ave done this. B u t I have already told the reader that he should stop whatever he is reading and go into som ething new whenever he feels strongly that way. T h a t ’s right. I did say it, I meant it, and I do it myself. H ow ever, when you are follo w in g one subject in a sensible, consecu­ tive fashion, you w on ’t w ant to abandon it too often or too easily. T h e new topic w ill have to be almost irresistible, like an inspira­ tion. M oreover, you can w alk a zigzag and enjoy it if the turns a ren ’t too frequent. I t’s fun to change your course every few miles b u t not every few feet. M y reading could better be compared to the spokes of a wheel than to a zigzag or a maze. I go along one spoke as far as I feel it profitable and then I start another one, but the design of the wheel and the presence o f a hub m ake certain that I won’t get lost. This book is an attem pt to give you such a spoke-and-hub arrangement for yo u r own reading. B u t surely, you w ill say, the man must pick up a story and read it w hen he feels like it. I certainly do. I ’ve just finished Dr. Zhi-


Dago, and it is as good as the critics have said it is, but on the whole I prefer to read several novels one after the other when I do read novels. I always hold to some one subject as my main reading, which does not mean that I don’t read something different while waiting for dinner or before going to bed. I do sometimes keep two lines of reading going at one time. If you read a lot, this is ad­ visable. For example, very few people should attempt to read po­ etry all day long. You can’t sustain the necessary tension. I have never had to ask myself the question, “W hat shall I read?” I have always known or thought I knew the answer to that ever since I was fourteen. Indeed, I almost think of what I am go­ ing to do next as an obligation, a necessity. However, it is not truly an obligation, so I switch courses every so often. Here are a few suggestions for those who are not fam iliar with book titles. You must own one anthology of English verse. Any one w ill do, but if you have none, a good one is Palgrave’s Golden Treasury. Read it often, all your life. T h e Oxford Book of English Poetry is also easy to find. Louis Unterm eyer’s A Treasury of Great Poems is good. My own favorite is Great Poems of the English Language, by W. A. Briggs. You must own Shakespeare’s plays and you must read them. You may spread the reading out. Complete them in five years and I w ill call it square. If you have never read Shakespeare at all, here is one good order in which to take the plays. R o m e o a n d J u l ie t H am let M acbeth O th ello K in g L e a r A n to n y and C leopatra A

M id s u m m e r

N i g h t ’s D r e a m

T h e M e r c h a n t o f V e n ic e J u l iu s C a e s a r

After these, the order in which you read the plays doesn’t matter, except that the English historical plays are best read chronolog­ ically. This is their chronological arrangement.


in g



ic h a r d








ic h a r d



II IV — 2 parts

V V I— 3 parts III


T h is is not the order in which they were written. I suggested the first list for a start so that, in the event of your ea rly death, you w ould not have to adm it in heaven that you had never read A ntony and Cleopatra. A suprem e exam ple o f English literature is the King James translation o f the B ib le— the A uthorized Version. Reading it pre­ sents problem s for m any persons. T o begin with, it’s a big book; you w o n ’t finish it unless you go at it with the intention of finishing it. M oreover, the w hole look o f the Bible, the way it is printed, is such that it is em barrassing to carry it about with you. I read it in m y twenties, not a common thing except in religious families where Bible-reading is a ritual. It was an ordeal to carry it to work and b a ck for months. I met the problem by covering it with paper, like a schoolbook, and keeping it out of sight as if it were some­ th in g indecent. Even so, I never could open it in the subway but m y neighbor sooner or later spotted it and gave me a look which m ade me feel as if I were using lipstick. You will, in general, be taken for a m inister or a religious fanatic, but surely it’s worth it to have actually read such a book. N o other book has influenced, or possibly could have influenced, English literature and all West­ ern thought so deeply. A n d its language is both supreme and unique. T h e K in g James translation, made in 1611, is the only one with a n English literary history. T h e Catholic, Jewish, and the various revised translations all have their merits, but everyone interested in a general education should read the K in g James version. T h e B ible gives m any clear illustrations of the difference be­ tween poetry and prose. If you try to restate in your own words the m any w onderful stories found in the Bible, you will have no trouble m aking up an interesting and m oving narrative. T h is can be easily 9o

seen by comparing the various translations. T h e authorized King James version is incomparably superior in point of literary power, yet you will find that any account of such prose narratives as Joseph and his Brethren, Jacob and Esau, the Book of Ruth, the Prodigal Son, will draw tears, not only in the language of the various transla­ tions but even in the words of an earnest Sunday-school teacher. But try to restate the Psalms or Deborah’s Songl Everything good will vanish. Those words were poetry in the original Hebrew; the genius of the men of 1611, writing in the age of Shakespeare, ena­ bled them to find worthy English to express such words. But don’t you try it! I put off talking about the Bible as history up to now. I happen to be rereading the Bible at this time of writing. I am now pri­ marily interested in it as history, anthropology, and comparative religion, so I use the Revised Version and the modern-language translations. T h ey are more accurate and distinguish between verse and prose parts. I am compelled, reluctantly, to recommend Keller’s The Bible as History. It is very good as a beginning book in archaeology, even though Mr. Keller has handled the subject of Canaanitish religion in a wholly unworthy and unscientific spirit, which is particularly revolting since he must know better. He praises the Israelites for murdering the Canaanites. Ancient Israel by Harry M. Orlinsky, Cornell University Press, is a good introduction to the Bible and comes in soft covers. For a strong reader The Archaeology of Palestine by Albright is the book to tie in with the Bible read as history. Like most of the books in the Pelican series, you will probably have to read it twice to know what’s in it. Some knowledge of the other principal bibles of the world is necessary, but I have never personally known a man who had completely read the Koran, the Zend-Avesta, the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Chinese religious philosophers. I haven’t, but of course you should. You should own a book about the Greek myths. Any one w ill do, but Bullfinch's is easy to come by and is in cheap editions. Robert Graves has written a wonderful new Greek mythology. He calls it a dictionary, but don’t let it fool you. It’s the kind of a 9i

d ic tio n a ry w h ich has to be read from cover to cover three times b e fo re you can use it as a dictionary at all. I ’ve done that and it's w o rth it. R e a d G raves after B ullfinch— a lon g time after and not u n til yo u kn ow some G reek history, some general literature, and h a v e read H om er. A m o n g novels, anyone who hasn’t read the ones listed below sh o u ld read them as soon as it is convenient.



Sw R F

if t ,


a n ie l ,

R obin son Crusoe G ulliver’s Travels

Jonath an,

ic h a r d s o n , ie l d in g ,


Sa m


T om Jones


S c o t t , S ir W



R o b Roy

Ivan hoe T h e H eart of M id lothian A





Pride and Prejudice


il l ia m


Vanity Fair

H enry Esm ond D

ic k e n s ,


h arles,

O liver Tw ist

D avid Copperfield L ittle D orrit M artin Chuzzlew it Pickw ick Papers H



h o m as,

Tess of the d’ Urbervilles

Jude the O bscure


L es M iserables N otre D am e N in ety -T hree



ic t o r ,

St e n d h a l





e y l e ),

T h e R e d and the Black

T h e Charterhouse of Parma B a l z a c , H o n o r e , E u g en ie Grandet Pere G oriot

Flaubert, G de






M adam e Bovary



B el Am i

B Y RU SSIANS T o ls to y , L eo,

T he Cossacks

War and Peace Anna Karenina D o s t o e v s k i, F e d o r ,

Crime and Punishment

The Idiot T he Possessed The Brothers Karamazov T u r g e n e v , Iv a n , Fathers and Sons The list could go on indefinitely.* It is customary among wellread men to read most of the works of the writers listed above. Be­ sides, there is a long list of other novels running into several hun­ dred titles of which most educated men have read the larger part. I have about four hundred novels in the house, so chosen that I would be surprised to meet an educated man over forty who hadn't read a hundred and fifty of them (no, I haven’t read them all). I have omitted titles and authors as great as the ones mentioned, be­ cause I want a short, connected list, and surely no one will read these and stop. The classic Russian novelists have a peculiar greatness not often found in other literature. They understand the dignity of suffering. Action in this literature responds to ethics instead of evading it. T h e Russians write as though they really believe that suffering has the power to make a thief greater than a bishop, a condemned man greater than a saint. Their only weakness is a tendency to confine the range of their sympathies to the borders of the Russian empire and, moreover, only to those people in the empire who are of Rus­ sian descent. There are, of course, many good living novelists and many more recently dead, but it is not my business in this book to work on modern literature. I am interested in getting more people to know the wonders of the past. T he present can usually do a good enough job of selling its wares. However, if you want suggestions as to some of the more sophisticated literature of the twentieth century, I shall * The novel is the literary form enjoyed by more readers in our country than any other. For a longer list of great novels of the world, see Appen­ dix B.


say that I am a particular admirer of Maxim Gorki, Franz Kafka, Herman Broch, Thomas Mann, Andr£ Gide, James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, and Marcel Proust. We talk about Proust in my home al­ most as often as Shakespeare. America is stronger in the novel than in other imaginative art, which is to be expected, since the country was developed as the novel was coming in and the other arts going out. Fenimore Coo­ per, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Henry James, Thomas Wolfe, and Theodore Dreiser are particular favor­ ites. I would prefer for various reasons that you read some European novels first. Americans, like other people, are subject to the curse of provincialism, and a knowledge of foreign literature helps to cure this. Novels are a very perishable form of art because they are too deeply involved in the current scene. Their life span may be ar­ ranged as follows: (1) Novels that “live” only the few months that are needed to exhaust the first printing, if the publisher is lucky. (2) Novels that die in about two years. (3) Novels that sicken in two years but receive new life each time the author brings out a new book. These may last ten years. Example: To Be a Pilgrim by Joyce Cary. (4) Novels that remain alive as long as the author continues to produce successful books. These may live as long as the writer does. Example: The works of Jack London. (5) Novels that continue to be read in the generation after their author’s death. Examples: Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga and some of the works of George Meredith. (6) Novels that are kept alive indefinitely because the author has written one or more other novels which are still read and which carry the weaker ones along. Example: The Newcombs by Thack­ eray. (7) Novels which endure on their own. Example: Robinson Cru­ soe by Defoe. Only those in the last group are the true immortals, the perma­ nent part of literature. These are the only ones we must read. The rest are for our amusement. The books in the sixth group are often used by literary men to make up books about novels and novel' ists. Those in the fifth group provide much of the material for criti-


cal evaluation because among them lie the classics of the future. Since it takes at least three generations to determine a permanent item of literature, one cannot be certain of any book published in the twentieth century, but two novels look at this time as though they will be read by our grandchildren. They are Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (original in French) and James Joyce’s Ulysses. Neither is profitable for readers ignorant of history, litera­ ture, and aesthetics— in other words, for most readers. Our public circulating libraries would perform a real service for their less learned card-holders if they would maintain in one small section the established masterpieces in fiction. It would not, I imagine, exceed a hundred volumes in all languages. This would give the inexperienced reader a means of making certain that he is reading the most worthwhile things first. The ordinary man has no way of knowing that he should read The Heart of Midlothian before he reads Count Robert of Paris and Cousin Bette before The Government Clerks. Someday you will have to read a history of English literature and a brief history of French literature, so you can smell your way about. You will gradually get on to the best things. For further reading, I have scattered and will scatter enough names among my pages to keep you busy for a while. I don’t want to make this look like a schoolbook; moreover, no man will read even a small part of the books I have mentioned and still need me. This book is only a crutch or walking cart to get the unused part of your mind started. I should not leave the subject of general literature without refer­ ring to the vast literature which consists of correspondence by men of letters, autobiographies by these same men, biographies by writ­ ers about writers, lives of the poets, histories of literature, etc.* These are perhaps the greater part of literature itself. It’s a small poet who can’t make a library grow over his grave. Then there are diaries, memoirs, idle thoughts of- idle or in­ dustrious fellows, essays about odds and ends, and so on. Famous ex­ amples are Pepys’ Diary, Boswell’s Life of Johnson, Bacon’s Essays, * I believe that no history of English literature will ever be written that is as good for the beginner as Taine’s. No one swallows Taine’s aesthetic ideas wholesale today, but that doesn’t matter. His amazing enthusiasm and masterly use of quotations make his book the choice anthology of the English language. Read it at the outset if you like.


M o n ta ig n e’s Essays, A d d ison and C o m p a n y ’s T h e Spectator Papers, B y ro n ’s Letters, L a m b ’s Essays, and so on forever. If you have read at all or have been to school, you have read some o f this literature. H o w m uch o f it to read is largely a question o f taste; I can’t advise you. M y w ife, for instance, is a great reader in this field. She would rather read the diary o f M adam e T o lsto y than read Tolstoy. She w ou ld rather read the letters o f “ M ad am e” (a Germ an princess m arried in to the C o u rt o f France) than read Molifrre, the great con­ tem porary o f M adam e. She w ou ld rath er read the letters of Lieven (an ambassadress) than those o f Shelley. T o m ake it clear for read­ ers w ho know this literature, she w ill read all o f Bosw ell’s other w ritings in preference to his Li f e of Johnson. H er idea o f a really good tim e is six weeks alone w ith P epys’ Diary, w hich I have never read, alth ou gh it was in the house w hen I was born. She has read me a few thousand excerpts. M any people love biography. T h e y can read any am ount of his­ tory and literature as lon g as it is w ritten around some one person at a tim e. I am not one o f these, so I can ’t ju d ge these pleasures. It is p ro b ab ly as good a way as any to m ake a start in the lifelong task o f forehead-raising. H ow ever, you can ’t stay there. Y o u may read abou t Johnson and not read Johnson, b u t you may not read about D ickens and not read Dickens. D ickens said things m uch more valu­ able than an yth in g we can say about him , and those things you must read. W h at is more, you can ’t settle for D icken s’ letters, his Ameri­ can N otes, his Sketches. Y o u m ust read his p rin cip al novels. T hey are w hy he matters. N o r can you read a book by a psychoanalyst about L ad y M acb eth ’s hysteria or H a m le t’s neurosis and not read M acbeth or H am let. A great m any books— enough to reach the m oon— have been writ­ ten about other books. Y o u should read some o f these, as man) as you like. T h e y strengthen and deepen yo u r appreciation o f the orig­ inal writers. B u t it is useless to read m uch abou t books that you h aven’t read, and it is m ore useful, if you have read the original book, to read it again or read a fresh origin al, rather than go endlessly through w h at A has said abou t B. A n d usually it is harder to get through a book abou t a b o ok th an it is to read the first book. Books about books are part o f critical literature. T h e y are also 96

included in what is called aesthetics, the philosophy of criticism and appreciation. T h e word criticism in literature is used both in the good and the bad sense. It means the whole evaluation and understanding of the writing under discussion. I shall put in a few words about critical works for the more ex­ perienced reader. Most people, if they need books about books, about art, about music, about “ civilizations,” about the Greek, Chinese, Sumerian, Swedish, and American “minds,” need such things in a very plain, obvious, palpable form. T he reason Mac­ aulay, Taine, Ruskin, and Matthew Arnold did so much for me in my youth was precisely because they possessed, along with genius, a certain mediocrity and commonplaceness in their criticism. Es­ sentially, they were orators and historians and enthusiasts, not critics, and this is why I could understand them. But there exists an ever-growing body of truly original criticism, which now, in the twentieth century, is becoming a major branch of philosophical literature. This criticism, of which I have read only a little, is superb in depth, subtlety, and especially in con­ quered learning— learning which is tamed and reduced to a tool by the mind of the critic. Only minds of the first order can do this. Unfortunately only minds of a rather high and rare order can expect to obtain much benefit from this body of literature called aesthetics. T h e modern philosophers are the leaders in this field: Santayana, Bergson, Croce, Bosanquet, and so on, but it includes many specialists such as Edgar Stoll, filie Faure, and Andr£ Malraux, and writers from other fields— for instance, T . S. Eliot and Havelock Ellis. A single volume has been published, A Modern Book of Esthetics, by Melvin Rader, which gives samples from a whole cross-section of this remarkable new work. It can be used to give oneself a no­ tion of the scope of this writing. I read little of this literature, as I have said, because I simply haven't the time; it is for another kind of man and for another kind of life. But toward the end, I imagine, I shall devote more time to it. Most readers do not have enough basic material to make these refined analyses profitable. T h e paper­ back books abound in them, which proves that many people would rather read about things that they do not know than try to know them. A reader who thinks he knows substantially less than I do


had better put off most of this reading until he has had more firsthand experience. There will be more discussions of such matters all through this book. I think that anyone who needs critical literature will find enough references to enable him to look into the subject for him­ self. I do not wish to emphasize it because it is too easy to let such reading replace the reading of the original masterpieces. T h e remainder of this chapter is a series of topics and assorted ideas put in at this point because I wanted to bring them to the reader’s attention before going into more technical subjects. I must face once more a problem which must occur frequently throughout this book— namely, when should all my different read­ ers with their different ages, abilities, states of health, and modes of life do all this reading? My answer is that I did all the reading of history and poetry described up to this point in seven active years, between ages seventeen to twenty-four, during which I mas­ tered several jobs, went on and off the road as a traveling salesman, worked very long hours such as no one works nowadays, and did a kind of work which was absorbing and demanding, demanding not only of time and strength but of my whole outlook. I also found a bride. It would be possible to read it all— all the history and the literature I read in those seven years— in one year, and anyone with an I.Q. over ninety-seven could do it in seven years easily, while working as a butcher for the A & P. In the course of this book, I shall lay out a lifetime of study—amateur study for intelligent work­ ing people. How much of it you can use depends on your age, your inclinations, and what you already know. But if you are under fifty, you have plenty of time to do this much, right now, at once, before it's too late. If you are under sixty, you still have a perfect right to all this wonderful experience if you want it. And if you are under ninety and would like a few new thrills, the ideas in this part of my book are still your best bet. I shall suggest many other starting points in later chapters for the reader who feels they would be better for him. Any start is a good start. However, for the younger person who wants a reason­ ably complete outline to occupy his whole life, and whose education is still almost a blank page on which he may write as he pleases, this, as far as we have gone, is the vital portion. 98

Here is a convenient spot to discuss the place of periodicals and magazines in this lifelong scheme of self-education. How large should their place be? My answer is, very small. T he reason is ob­ vious: magazine reading is detached, unco-ordinated, episodic read­ ing at best, and in addition it is miniature reading, whereas our plan requires reading in volume. However, magazines have some use, of course, and I shall try to outline that use. Periodicals may be divided into learned and popular. The learned are beyond the scope of this book. W e may divide the popu­ lar publications into good popular reading for a cultivated audi­ ence and low popular reading for a frankly low-brow audience. Both may be read for pleasure and to learn about new men and ideas, but both belong to television and movie-going pleasure, not pleasure as I have been using the word. A few typical high-brow and middle-brow popular magazines are: Atlantic Monthly Harper's

The New Yorker T h e Partisan Review Scientific American These magazines publish the best short stories obtainable and the best articles (essays) that can be used in a publication for general reading. Their contributors make up a roster of the finest living writers. Nevertheless, if you read all of these devotedly for an entire lifetime and nothing else, you will know very little that you did not know when you left school. T he world is full of people who are full of that kind of culture. The way to learn a subject is to read that subject. Subjects are not pursued connectedly in popular magazines of any brow alti­ tude. Moreover, even the “ best writers” of a given time are seldom among the best writers. T h e best writers, the best books, took the whole time and effort of mankind to produce. Read them first; then you can relax over The New Yorker. If you can’t get to both, don't lose a moment’s sleep over all the wonderful things you missed in the current press. You may also wish to know my opinion about going to lectures. Should you attend lectures for the general public on literature,


poetry, Swiss art, the music of Bart6k, or Old Chateaux of the Loire Valley? T h e answer is no. You can't possibly indulge in that sort o f indoor sport and do any real reading. Go to the ball game if you like it, but do your own intellectual exercises. That's what this book is about. If you belong to a woman’s club which goes in for lectures, re­ sign. T h ey are for people who distinctly do not wish to lay out a plan of self-education for their entire lifetime. They wish to lay out cheese rings, cookies, and canapes. You can find for yourself the difference between Keats and Yeats. W ould you like to hear my views on newspaper and magazine critics and whether you should read their reviews? A good working rule is: read book reviews if you enjoy them, read reviews of con­ certs only if they are written by P. H. Lang, and read reviews of art shows never. These are the reasons. Book reviews are usually written by mak­ ers of books, whereas music and art reviews are not written by mak­ ers of art or music. Book reviewers therefore sometimes understand the creative process, and reading them may not be an utter waste of time. But music and art reviewing is another story; the days of re­ viewers like Ruskin, Berlioz, and Schumann are over. Remember that it is customary to review books favorably. If you try to read a hundredth of the books which are pronounced “monu­ mental,” “distinguished,” “sensitive,” “original,” and “valuable,” you will end up a whirling dervish. The reviews are usually friendly because the reviewers may someday need a friendly reviewer them­ selves, because it is wise to conciliate powerful publishers, at least part of the time, and because they do not wish to discourage talent, even small talent. This last is their main reason. Music critics are a different matter. They review new music only part of the time; when they do, they follow the rule for book re­ viewers, but they report mostly on performances of old music and that is hardly worth reading for the man who wants to learn some­ thing worth knowing. You don’t know why the Mississippi doesn’t flow into Hudson Bay— it hardly pays to put that off while you read how Miss Offenbach played the second theme of Schubert’s Ach Nebich Sonata so coolly that the reviewer’s blood, never very rich, failed to heat. (For a fuller disposition of music critics, see the chap­ ter on music.) 100

As for art critics, since no painting worth looking at can be mas­ tered in time for the next edition or even the next week, newspaper art criticism falls outside the sphere of education altogether. No­ body can succeed here; a Ruskin is as big a flop as our contempo­ rary blunderers. T h e whole practice should be done away with; it degrades the fine arts.* I am speaking at all times in the above of such reviewing as is done by The New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, The New Yorker magazine, etc.; special publications such as the Scien­ tific American and the art reviews sometimes have fine critical material. Reviews in the ordinary press belong to sociology, not edu­ cation; not that the low-brow press hasn't plenty of good writers, but it is against , the principles of their publishers, apparently, to print anything worth reading. I have now put myself so far out on a limb that I shall have to crawl back a little; I have left you with no guide as to how you can select newly published books. This is the main use of book re­ views; they give some indication as to which new books may be worth reading. Advising you on choosing new books is the hardest thing I have attempted. I feel I must say that in my opinion the greater part of a layman’s reading of literature should be in the classics. T h at is why they are called classics: because they are the books which must be read. Moreover, each single working day produces more new books than most men can read in a year. Still we must read some new literature or else writing and literature would come to an end. Moreover, we would fall hopelessly out of touch with the living thought of our own times. Besides, on some fields the newest things are the most worthwhile. I shall tackle this difficult question by dividing knowledge into those subjects whose content, once found good, can never become out of date or invalid, and those subjects in which our knowledge is constantly modified by new discoveries, new techniques, new ideas. Let’s start with the second group. No reader is going to give over * Assuming that you will ignore me on this topic, as most of you will, I shall add that a newer art critic, John Canaday, now writing for The New York Times, does about as well at such an impossible job as can be expected.


m ost o f his tim e to a c c u m u la tin g obsolete in form ation in subjects lik e econom ics, arch aeo lo gy, p sych ology, physics, etc. T h ere is no h arm at a ll in sta rtin g such su b jects w ith an old classic or even an o ld textb o ok, b u t as soon as yo u kn ow en ou gh to find your way ab o u t, you w ill su rely seek the m ost recent results. T h is is not too h ard to do. Y o u can assum e th at any new b ook in science by a quali­ fied m an w ill co n tain things you w o u ld lik e to know . You find such books in bookstores, in p u b lic libraries, and, above all, by noting the references w h ich one n ew w riter m akes to another. You also a cq u ire a lik in g for certain w riters an d tend to fo llow up their new books as they appear. A ll this is q u ite sim ple. B u t w ith creative litera tu re such as novels, plays, poem s, biographies, critical works, ph ilosop h y, religio n , and so on, it is very difficult to tell you how to lead you rself th rou gh the rivers o f new books, most o f which are o n ly m ediocre. H ere are m y suggestions: (1) B o o k review s in new spapers and m agazines give one hint. Af­ ter all, if a frien d recom m ended a book, you m igh t very w ell decide to read it; the o p in io n o f review ers can be accepted to this extent. T r u e , you do not in ten d to give too m uch tim e to reading about oth er m en’s reading, b u t you w ill do some o f this, alm ost involun­ tarily, the w ay I do, and it w ill h elp you on this one point. (2) Y o u w ill be constantly lo o k in g at books and book covers in bookstores, bookstore show w indow s, the hom es o f your friends, p u b lic libraries, and w herever a volu m e happens to catch your eye. Y o u w ill g ra d u ally becom e sensitive as to w hich book w ill do you the most good. Y o u r taste, that p art o f your personality which I told you n o t to bow dow n to, b u t not to despise either, here finds its nat­ u ral outlet. I advised you to use you r ow n ju d gm en t in selecting books from the past. In choosing new books you m ust in the end do the same thing, because none o f us knows en ough to determine on sigh t the w orth o f a new w ork in creative literatu re. (3) T a k e notice o f the gradu al crystallization o f p u b lic opinion in reference to p articu lar books. If everybody, in clu d in g the newspa­ per w orld, keeps talk in g abou t a certain w riter, he must have some en d u rin g q u ality. A great ou tburst o f p u b lic approval, such as has recen tly occurred over Boris Pasternak, cannot be entirely wrong. Please understand that I am not talk in g ab ou t best sellers, although a g ood sale is n o th in g against a book. W h a t I m ean is that if the ac­ 102

claim continues after the first rush of selling is over and for a year or more after that, the writer probably has significance. T o seek out the new poets, I recommend anthologies. Fresh an­ thologies of the newer poets and short-story writers appear yearly. Read some of these and from time to time buy one. The basic problem with new books is one of balance. I can scarcely be wrong in saying that the greater part of your attention in all fields of artistic endeavor— painting, music, or literature— should go to the acknowledged masters, but this is still too gen­ eral, too vague, for you to use as a guide. Fortunately, I have given you a strong lead rope in my remarks about connected reading. Read the newest books as you find they fit into your over-all plans. If you are reading the standard novels, read some new ones to vary the flavor. If you are reading Shakespeare, try Dylan Thomas, for instance, or even someone so new that his first work has not yet ap­ peared and therefore I can’t give you his name. If you have just gone crazy over Beethoven or Wagner, read the next book about them which may appear. If you have just finished W ill Durant’s T he Life of Greece, read a new work on Athens or on the Greek vases and see if you like it. T h at’s all I can find to help you on this difficult subject of select­ ing new books. I assure you that nobody knows the answer pre­ cisely. I shall sum up by remarking that it is natural, quite sound and normal, to wish to know about the newest things. D on’t crush this natural feeling. However, for the very short time that you will need my book, I think you should give most of your attention to those enduring masterpieces which every man must try to under­ stand. You will know when you are strong enough to swim in the uneasy waters of contemporary writing; until then, read first things first. If history teaches literature, literature teaches history. You can­ not acquire a knowledge of Shakespeare without learning, willynilly, quite a bit of English history. T h e reading of Dante is a study in the Middle Ages. Homer teaches us Bronze Age civilization for all countries. If literature were not so pre-eminently worthwhile in itself, we would still have to read it to understand history. Art and music also teach history although they are not enough in


themselves. I am, at this writing, reshaping my whole conception of history as a result of reading P. H. Lang’s great book, Music in West­ ern Civilization, which I have mentioned before. This work, which is not an easy book for beginners, shows that which we should never have forgotten— namely, that people can be interpreted through their songs as well as through their metals. Many people are fascinated by the idea that reading, especially in literature, will improve their power of expression, so that they can overpower other people by the torrent of their eloquence. It can, a little. You can use your increased fluency to push your own thirdrate opinions down the throats of people who have read two less books than you have. You can also use it to write advertising. But please understand that these ideas are the antithesis, the active, dangerous enemy, of true education. I won’t explain why. Read un­ til you find out why for yourself, and then write to me about it. I advise you not to wear yourself out trying to acquire a pronun­ ciation so formally correct that you needlessly separate yourself from those about you. It’s a very small attainment if you make it; you probably won’t make it, and you will only increase that gulf between yourself and your friends which books will dig quickly enough. But I advise you to use the best sentences you can employ and to practice this deliberately. Always speak as well and as rhyth­ mically as you can, with lots of point, emphasis, and life. Don’t force, but don’t be tame either. Use the prevailing accent, but not the prevailing phrases. T ry to express the thoughts your reading suggests in your own words— short, vivid words. T alk about the best subjects you dare venture on, according to your audience. I have a section on conversation under “Sundry Practical Mat­ ters,” where I have explained this in more detail. While your new-found fluency and command of language should be used discreetly and with kindness, it is true that a principal end result of a lifetime of reading is the acquisition of a large number of words. T h e dictionary calls itself the greatest body of knowledge to be found in one volume. This must be correct because the dic­ tionary has all the words and must therefore come close to having all we know. It’s brief, but it's there. A result of reading for a long time is that you become a kind of dictionary. You may not really command all the words you meet, 104

but you eventually get a fair idea of the principal meaning of a sur­ prising number of them. T h is is my main achievement in the way of formal learning. If I were asked to state what I thought I had ac­ complished by forty-five years of reading, besides living those fortyfive happy years, I should say I had learned a great many words. I receive a high score on word tests. Give me a list of two hundred words with m ultiple choices,* such as are made up for higher civilservice examinations, and I am likely to know all of them and at a glance. I think I can pass any word definition test for a nontechni­ cal position given anywhere, as long as the language is English. This is one practical result I promise any reader who will read, es­ pecially if he reads general literature. You won’t have to work at it; it will come by itself. If you like to use dictionaries, then I en­ thusiastically urge their use, but most of us don’t like them, and you can still do amazingly well if you look up only one word a month. The reason I ’ve put in these remarks is that words are the chief difficulty in learning the sciences. You can manage history, litera­ ture, art, music, mathematics, and physics by mastering only a few special terms, as they occur, but biology, anatomy, chemistry, ar­ chaeology, geology and meteorology have their own vocabularies, and this is the big difficulty in amateur self-teaching. Can you face up to it? If you will accept this one burden— learning their lan­ guage— you can learn as much of each of the sciences as any layman needs.f If the psychologists could work out really comprehensive vocabu­ lary analyses, it would be possible for any man to appraise ac­ curately his attained education, at any time of his life, by word tests. It would not give the whole picture of a mind and soul in bal­ anced, rhythmical, flowing life, but it would give a good graph of the shadow that man’s culture casts. Words give an accurate line drawing or map of an education. Most people who read with the idea of self-improvement are con­ cerned with their command of grammar and would like to acquire a pure style of writing. I must reluctantly advise them either to give * The multiple choice is all-important. If I had to define those words, it would be a different story. That’s not for salesmen. f There is a discussion of technical terms in the chapter on science and philosophy. Also remember my remarks about dates, proper names, and geography.


this u p or to take special courses fo r the purpose. If you try it by you rself, you m ay go m ad, esp ecially if, as w ith this writer, you need it. T h e effort re q u ired rea lly to com m an d gram m ar is too great for m ost o f us. Y o u co u ld learn to p a in t w ith less labor. Examine Fow­ le r ’s d e lig h tfu l b o o k on E n glish usage. L o o k at w hat he knows! It’s the w o rk o f three lifetim es fo r m ost o f us. H ow ever, consider my com m ents on lin gu istics (p h ilo lo gy) in the ch apter on science and p h ilo so p h y. T h is gram m ar business is a p ra ctica l skill. Rem em ber, I do not en cou rage self-study fo r p ra ctical skills. W h a t little grammar I learn ed , I learn ed from L a tin . T h is b o o k has m any questionable uses o f w ords. N o t absurd misuses, b u t a disregard of that precise em p lo ym en t o f w ords in th eir p ure, central m eaning, which marks a stylist. I co u ld never m ake it, so I d o n ’t try to acquire a pure style, an d I d o u b t th at you w ill w ith o u t h elp . It is true that I know, b ro a d ly speaking, the m eanings o f m an y words b u t only in a general w ay. T h e ir precise m ean in g is an o th er m atter— I renounced that w h en I gave u p L a tin . H o w ever, you sh ou ld have a p ractical, up-to-date handbook of gram m ar, p u n ctu a tio n , etc., in y o u r hom e for reference and for oc­ casion al read in g. Y o u m ay find th at you take to that sort of thing, an d it is a nice th in g to take to. T h e m an u al I use is College H a n d b o o k of C om p osition (W oolley, Scott, Bracher; fifth edition; D . C. H eath & Co., Boston). It is clear, brief, and w ell printed. An­ o th er good one is W riter's G u id e and In d e x to English (Porter G. P errin ; Scott, Foresm an and C o m p an y, C h icago). I strongly advise everybody to stu d y R u d o lp h Flesch’s T h e Art of P la in T a lk . It is a very h e lp fu l book. It occurs to m e, as I lo o k over these details o f m y reading and consider that such an accoun t occurs in every chapter of this book, th at I m ay have given a false im pression. T h e w hole thing may lo o k too bookish, one-sided, m eager. T h a t w o u ld be a false impres­ sion. Y o u are read in g in a few hours things th at took m e a lifetime to do. V ery little o f m y life has been spent w ith books, b u t that little h appen s to be the su bject o f this story. M y m ain personal life— the lives and loves o f the salesm an as scholar— is o f no interest to the reader. H ow ever, I w ill say here, an d then close the matter, that m y life has been as fu ll o f a ll the activities and pursuits which ac106

tive men usually have as anyone else’s. W hen I was a boy I swam, played baseball, and got in and out of trouble, in the usual fashion. As a man, I took an intense interest in athletics until I reached mid­ dle age. I favored those sports I could participate in over those I could only look at, which is more than most businessmen can say, but I knew about the stars of the popular sports until recent years. I have also thrown myself heartily, and often enjoyably, into busi­ ness. I love crowds, busy streets, old parts of towns, new parts of towns, homes, furniture, cars, clothes, flowers, gardening, damp earth, run­ ning water, a good sweat, a good meal (too well), company, soli­ tude, young people, animals, and Sunday afternoons on the front porch. And above all I love a leisurely Sunday breakfast. I could be enthusiastic about card playing, especially bridge, but I don’t want to yield to it. If you like those things, we pretty well understand each other. This concludes the necessary part of this book. I’m going to have a lot of fun writing the rest of it, and I hope somebody will read it. My own experience, the personal story which I have used to give the book life and authority, is perhaps more interesting, less pedes­ trian, from here on, but what I have already written is the essence of what there is to say. If you can do something along the lines indi­ cated up to now, you’re in, whereas no amount of music and mathe­ matics, art and science, philosophy and psychology— that is, no amount which you can handle by yourself without some of the fore­ going— will enable you to break down the walls that can keep you out of the best that men have done.


C h a p t e r S ix

Art So your picture doesn't look like you Art and your head • You open your eyes Own your own museum • What R uskin did to me We visit a museum • Beauty and the salesman

As t h i s b o o k p r o g r e s s e s , my im aginary reader changes and the style changes somewhat for him. T h a t least-schooled reader whose needs I was so conscious of at first is presumably no longer with me at the end. Th ere is no reason why he should be. If I have done him any good at all, he is already off on his own, happily lost in a new world of history and literature, and he w ill never bother with me again. T h e better-trained, but not always happily trained, man has per­ haps rejected my first offers and gone on in search of something which suits him better. H e looks over art and music, and if that piques his imagination, he closes these covers. B ut the arts may not meet his requirements or the bent of his mind. Lucky fellow, in mathematics he has found his happy hunting ground. No? I have still not rung the mystic chord? An omnibus chapter awaits him from which he cannot escape except into nothingness. But this last chapter need not be quite as timid, as explicit, as ele­ mentary as the first. T h a t would be too dull for a whole book. A more rapid, allusive, faintly more learned style is in order by then. T h e style grows with the increasing attainments of the reader as visualized in each chapter. 108

At this point in my journey through your life I have a problem. I no longer see a particular, advantageous order in which to discuss the remaining topics. In my opinion, the chapter on history was a necessary beginning, the one on literature would seem to follow. They are two sides of the same thing. But now I find our subject falls into a series of topics any one of which could come next. Phi­ losophy might seem to be a logical choice, but I think philosophy is the last thing an unschooled man, working on his own, should at­ tempt, and I have put it off until the end. I also wish to touch on several matters which do not need separate treatment, and I shall handle them all when I treat of philosophy. Indeed, for the general, unmathematical reader, the sciences themselves are best treated as gateways to philosophy. This leaves art and music. I shall first speak of art, because art is closer to the study of history than music is, because attitudes es­ sential to the study of art or music can perhaps be presented more concretely in connection with art, and because, since music is so technical, it is best to subordinate it in a book of this kind. So now, my imaginary, perhaps mythical reader— shipping clerk, coal miner, biological technician, or man just out of college and at last in possession of enough time to learn and think— would like to learn something about art, about painting, sculpture, and architec­ ture, that vast world, that eternal expression and record of what man sees and feels and dreams. A rt is as old as man; it began in the caves and can never end until man ends, even if we go back into the caves. Yes, that reader will surely want to know something of art, but, as I have said before, it is not my task to teach it to him. We have books, museums, schools, and artist-teachers for that. I shall suggest a general approach to the subject, which must come before any method of self-instruction. Remember even a good teacher is only a superior means of self-instruction. Man trains animals; he teaches himself. However, in the study of art or music, it often happens that a per­ son feels he has a little talent, as well as a little liking for the thing, and he would like to develop it. In this event, a teacher is necessary. Painting is a skill. Carving is a skill. Music-making is a skill. T h e use of language is a skill. These skills of hand, mouth, ear, and brain should be obtained from an experienced worker in the art. I /op

ca n n o t advise h o w to go ab o u t g ettin g this instructor, because every read er is in a d ifferen t situ atio n , and, m oreover, I do not wish to as­ sum e resp o n sib ility. G en era lly , th o u g h not always, the most expen­ sive teach er w ill be the cheapest in the end. I can g iv e som e ad vice on h o w to use a teacher. A teacher must b e used. H e m ust be read an d studied lik e a book. You must al­ w ays accept the en tire resp o n sib ility o f g ettin g everything out of a teacher. H is resp on sibility, as seen from his point o f view, is not y o u r business. I f you sh ift yo u r jo b o f learn in g to a teacher, you lose com m an d o f yo u r fate. I f yo u r teacher is not a genius (and how often can you ex p ect that?) you w ill be lost. N or should a good teach er be ch an ged often. H e sh ou ld be looked upon as an infinite source o f k n o w led ge w h ich you m ust keep running. If he seems to h ave ru n dry, d ig deeper. R em em b er th at a teacher is hum an. H e may be shy, reserved, in trosp ective. W arm u p to him . H e lp him bridge the gap between the tw o o f you. B e toleran t and good-hum ored. D o n ’t lose control of the situ atio n . O n e cau tion : N ev er hope to learn to p ain t by taking courses in an A m e rica n college. C o lle g e teachers h ave their qualification— a de­ gree. A n y o n e can h ave this if he does as he is told, and that’s the k in d o f m an w h o ends up teach ing p a in tin g in our universities. T h is is go o d en ou gh fo r some studies b u t not for the practice of art. It w o u ld be a waste o f effort to attem pt a practical study of art, m usic, or languages w ith the idea o f d o in g things in these fields un­ less you can really give tim e to it. T w o hours a day is the very least you sh ou ld devote to even that superficial study which would en ab le you to p lay a little, sing a little, sketch effectively, or make y o u rself u nderstood in a foreign language. Unless you can find a w ay to g iv e this m uch tim e to it for several years, it w ould be better to g ive u p the idea o f technical study and concentrate on learning to a p p reciate the arts. D o n ’t get a p ian o teacher because you want to p la y a b it— y o u ’ll never reach that b it that way. Remember you m ust alw ays learn m ore than you need, to learn what you need. In cid en ta lly , a ll study can be considered from two points of view: the a cq u isitio n o f techniques and the use o f techniques. Thus, you learn to read, and then you m ay or m ay not read. You learn F ren ch , an d you m ay or m ay not use it. T ech n iq ues take time, ta le n t, an d effort to learn, b u t th eir in telligen t use takes more than x io

this; it is the work of a lifetime. T h e schools, broadly speaking, teach techniques. You must learn to use your skills yourself. Most of us have so much unused technique at our command in the form of abilities to read, talk, observe, listen, and reflect that it is a waste of time for us to add a little piano strumming or paper coloring to the rest of our neglected accomplishments. T h is book is for those who wish to use the techniques they have. What techniques do you have for the amateur study of art? More than you think, perhaps. You have eyes which have learned to ex­ amine your world, you have some sense of color, some ability to de­ tect lines and shapes, some power of analysis, and the power of feel­ ing. You are a man or woman, much the same as the artist. If he is of a country similar to your own, you have a bond of sympathy be­ cause you are both of one civilization. If his culture is foreign to you, then what is lost in immediate understanding is made up, in part, because novelty is stimulating. Why then can't you and most people use all these advantages to enjoy and understand art? Because you have certain handicaps. A l­ most everybody educated in the Western W orld has these handicaps, and they must be overcome. T h ere is nothing peculiarly American or “materialistic" about this; the great majority of educated Euro­ peans, including those who have had more schooling than is repre­ sented by a degree from an American college, are quite ignorant of art. I will try to indicate the difficulty in this way. A ll arts have a use­ ful, practical, day-by-day purpose. T h e art of the carpenter is to make things which we need out of wood, and the art of the mason is to make them from stone or cement. Both are skilled artists; we call such artists artisans. A carpenter can make a door or a cabinet so that it will be pleasant and graceful to look at as well as useful. This depends on his taste and talent, in addition to his skill— that is, he can add beauty if he is able, to a degree which approaches the requirements of the fine arts. H e may be a fine artist. Music also has many practical uses. It can be used to mark off time for dancing. It can be used to put children or sick people to sleep. It can be used to fill up waiting time in a restaurant. It helps soldiers march and is used to wake them up. It is natural to make this useful product as attractive as possible, and this brings in the idea of beauty, just as it does for the carpenter. It is obvious, howi i i

ever, that B e e th o v e n ’s sym phonies are not designed primarily for such purposes, an d a sim ilar statem ent is true for H olbein’s por­ traits. Perhaps they sh ou ld have been. T h e w hole development of E u ro p ean m usic an d p ain tin g, conceived as an art in itself, particu­ la rly as it has tu rn ed o u t in the tw entieth century, without religious or p ra ctical use, ex istin g on ly for contem plation, enjoyment, and the stirrin g u p o f the em otions, m ay have been an error and the cause o f present-day sterility in art; bu t this is beside the point for us. E u ro p ean art m ust be taken today as art of pure appreciation. It ca n n o t be effectively approach ed from any other point of view. It is art for a rt’s sake. E ven o u r old religious art is merely art for art’s sake so far as w e are concerned. N o w , on the face o f it, a study w hich serves no practical purpose, eith er o f G o d or m an, is a difficult th ing to require of people. The difficulty here is the same as w ith poetry, bu t w ith an added confu­ sion. P oetry tells a story or expresses an idea. So does painting, but the story, the idea, is fu rth er from the heart of the thing in Euro­ p ean art than in p oetry, and yet m ore obtrusive, more in the way. T o cla rify this, consider the art o f p ortrait painting. This was at on e tim e the o n ly m eans we had o f preserving the likeness of a face an d a p erson ality, an d was the only purpose of the art. However, ca tch in g and preservin g a likeness cannot in itself be what we today m ean by art. T h in k o f any acknow ledged masterpiece: for instance, the M ona Lisa. I t is no d o u b t a good likeness, because Leonardo w o u ld h ard ly h ave bothered to change the look of the face in front o f him , b u t we can never kn ow this. N on e of us have met the lady. T h e w h ole interest o f the pictu re and o f every other picture, except fo r p eop le w h o kn ow the person depicted, must be entirely outside the qu estion o f likeness. N o one b u t you and yo u r loved ones cares in the least what you lo o k lik e. If you w ish to give me a pictu re o f yourself, I won’t refuse it, b u t I w o u ld rath er have a good p aintin g. If it happens that you lo o k lik e a horse in the p ain tin g, I m ay even like it better that way. I lik e p ictures o f horses. T h is is con fusin g. A likeness m ay look like the thing painted but n e ed n ’ t. A scene can n ot be spoiled by lookin g like itself, but may lo o k lik e some o th er scene or, in m odern art, lik e no scene at all, w ith o u t artistic loss. O u r on ly interest in it is as a pure art, such as m u sic has now becom e, yet it is not q u ite such a pure art as music 112

because the object depicted is in the world common to both us and the painter. Because reality exists to our eyes at least, we shall always see it in art. We tend to find reality even in paintings which claim to be pure abstraction, just as we try to discover in a realistic painting its ab­ stract properties. These things are not well understood, but they have come to be half understood and blindly acted upon in certain sophisticated, though rather thoughtless and ignorant, circles, so that there are now many homes which have pictures not one of which looks like any recognizable thing. There are many artists who cater to this fad by producing tenth-rate “abstractions,” and there are even colleges whose art departments have fallen into the hands of these oppor­ tunists and now will not give you your degree in painting after you have done your work and taken their courses if the things in your pictures look very much like anything anyone has ever seen. Clearly, this is the obverse of the original error. If the likeness is of no artistic importance, the unlikeness must also be of no interest. Moreover, the whole body of the world’s acknowledged master­ pieces in all countries consists of objects which do seem to resemble the world about us quite closely. A fter all, it is natural to paint and carve what you see. We have only a few choices. (1) We can wipe out the whole art of the past. W e won’t do this. (2) We can split ourselves by a sort of schizophrenia and look at the entire artistic heritage of man in one state of mind and face the future in another.* (3) We can continue to relate art to the visible world. T his would seem to be the most likely course. Your first problem, then, is to give up the habit of looking for likeness or unlikeness in art. Neither matters much. Likeness has an inherent usefulness apart from art (at one time an immense useful­ ness in religious art); unlikeness has none, per se; but neither is art. *We may be compelled to do this in our whole thinking. We may be on the edge of the greatest split in man’s development since he developed speech— certainly since he developed civilization. We may move so fast that the near past will become meaningless for us. The next generation may move further than men did in all the time between the first city and the first World War.. ”


T h e a rtistic sign ifican ce o f a p ictu re o r a statue has to be uncovered in a n y case, a n d the real qu estion , artistically, is which method best h e lp s th e artist a n d his p u b lic. F or instance, you must be able to p u ll th e lo fty ab stractio n o u t o f d etailed and realistic Flemish p a in tin g b e fo re y o u can feel th at you have m ade any progress in a r t a t a ll. W h e n y o u can d o that, the problem of “ m odern” painting w ill b e solved . A ll g o o d art then becom es modern, and “modern” a r t becom es o n ly as v a lu a b le as it happens to be good. However, if y o u n e v e r reach the p o in t o f e n jo yin g B raqu e or Picasso, it is still p o ssib le to o b ta in pleasure and pow er from the study of art. T h is m a tte r is closely tied to anoth er stum bling block. Every per­ son in o u r m o d ern w o rld is exposed to considerable bad art from in­ fa n cy , a n d th erefo re know s en ou gh ab ou t art to have acquired a b a d taste, w h ich m ust be cleaned up. W h a t you really mean when y o u say y o u k n o w w h a t you lik e is that w hen you look at art or liste n to m u sic y o u d em an d that the art or m usic give you certain w e a k pleasures w h ich are outside the business of art or music, and if th ey d o n ’t do th at you d o n ’t approve. Surely you can see that this has n o th in g to do w ith k n o w in g w h at you like in art. It is y o u r jo b to “ lik e ” all art and all music. I brought out this id e a w ith referen ce to p oetry and it is unnecessary to elaborate fu rth e r o n it. So please rem em ber, if you d o n ’t wish to boast, don’t say you k n o w w h at you like. Y o u w ill have to w ork at art for a long tim e before you can say that, and you m ay never make it. T h e th ird p roblem and the main one is that of the use of the m in d , the p ro b lem o f using yo u r head hard enough to begin to grasp the ideas o f a great m an. M ost people don’t like to exercise th e ir brains. M ost p eop le d o n ’t lik e to exercise their muscles, for th a t m atter. G e n e ra lly speaking, n either brain nor muscle is used m u ch , on ce w e get o u t o f school. W e becom e neither athletes nor thinkers, ju st w a lk in g and sleepin g repositories of facts, prejudices an d cliches. T h e process is very rap id; most people over thirty are h a lf dead. A sk yo u r doctor, if you d o n ’t believe me. O r your teacher, o r m inister, o r the puzzled m an w ho stares at your mind as he m akes u p y o u r incom e tax. H o w m u ch better it w o u ld be to keep yo u r brains and muscles in tone by som e real exercise! It m ay be too late for your body, but never for yo u r brain . W h e n you ap p roach an ob ject o f art, the first thing to do is to


gather your wits, concentrate them, and begin to think. It is neces­ sary to push out of the mind the ordinary thoughts that we usually carry along with us— not so much thoughts as daydreams, the re­ laxed, meaningless, run-down activity of a brain which cannot stop altogether because then we would be truly dead, but which has distinct levels of activity, such as when sleeping, when passively re­ sponding to stimulation forced upon it, when deliberately concen­ trated for a specific purpose. W e frequently do this last kind of thinking, but ordinary life needs concentration only in low degree. Art and music need it in high degree. This is difficult for all minds, but especially for those not accustomed to the exercise. Our habits are in some respects especially unfavorable for the study of art and music. Amateurs go to concerts and museums on holidays. They are out to enjoy themselves, which is entirely right, but in this case a penalty must be paid for the enjoyment. If you want to enjoy ocean bathing, you must be w illing to take a cold plunge. In art and music, the enjoyment depends on the concentra­ tion, and unless a considerable effort is made, the enjoyment will be slight. You will only be able to stand a little of it at a time, and then only because you are not really paying attention to the art or music. You are merely using the occasion to amuse yourself either socially or by means of all sorts of irrelevant thoughts. You are enjoying your daydreams, not the art. A rt and music are not worthwhile at this level, and if you are not going to do better than this I would prefer that you give them up altogether. There are still history and literature, science and philosophy. T h e curse of the arts is the people who will neither work at them nor leave them alone. This chapter is therefore intended for those who do not wish to leave art out of their lives and who will try to make the effort needed to bring it in. Unfortunately, I am not able to tell you how to achieve the required pitch of concentration. A right attitude can help. You must approach art seriously and humbly. A rt is of the greatest of the things that we have done. No reverence can be too great. You should be fam iliar with art but not toward art, just as in the old familiar church of your childhood, where you knew almost every stone and blinked sleepily at the altar a thousand times, but never forgot that it was an altar. All your prepossessions, old ideas, and habits of thought should be discarded so far as possible, and you should begin with the thought

W h a t can I learn? Y o u are a student, a p u p il, a worshiper. You m u st re m a in such all y o u r life. I f you find you are losing this ap­ p ro a ch , ch eck you rself. A n y serious artist, w hether of the past or p resen t, is a m an d eservin g o f y o u r utm ost respect. U se every possible h e lp th at w ill increase your concentration. If y o u are lo o k in g at a p a in tin g , try it from near, from far, and from a m id d le distance— the fo cal p oin t, if the p ictu re is in orthodox per­ sp ective. F in d the d istan ce th at is clearest for your particular eyes. T h a t is the p rin cip a l distance for study b u t by no means the only on e. A t close ran ge y o u can exam ine the parts o f the picture and try to u n d erstan d h o w the p a in ter d id it (never an important p o in t fo r you). A t a distance greater than the focal point, much can be learn ed . T h e details o f the p ictu re b lu r and you can see the canvas as a w h ole. Masses o f color, and their positions and relations to o th er masses, becom e m ore noticeable. T h e “ abstract” values be­ com e p ro m in en t. Faces becom e ovals. A picture of three heads, seen from a considerable distance, becom es a com position in ovals, colors, and volum es. (T h is does not m ean that faces should never b e a n y th in g excep t b la n k ovals. M any m odern painters tend to re­ d u ce everyth in g to its m ere general shape and most prominent color, w h ich often reduces the m ean in g o f painting.) T r y this: I f you are w a lk in g through a museum, and a picture o r r u g or statue catches yo u r eye at a distance, go toward it very slo w ly and study it as you approach. D o n ’ t force your eyes too hard at first; you m ay ap proach it alm ost dream ily, as if it were a distant lan d scap e. L o o k at it in this w ay a w h ile. Say to yourself, T h is is a lo v e ly scene. W h a t m akes it so beau tifu l? I like those reds, those grays. W h a t a fine lin e that is! T h ere, it rolls like the sea. That m a n ’s sh ou ld er flows lik e a m ountain. I have seen skies just as fine as that. U n derstan d , there are no seas or skies actually there, or if there be, they h ard ly register as such at this distance. T h e actual o b je c t m ay be a p ortrait, a stone tablet, a vase. I am suggesting ways o f th in k in g yo u rself in to a h elp fu l state o f m ind in which to come n earer to the ob ject, a state o f broader observation and greater in­ tensity. W h e n you feel lik e it, go nearer. N o w the lines, masses, colors, com p on en ts o f a ll sorts, becom e clearer. T h e w hole design, in all its p o w er an d m ean in g, is visible. N o t visible at a glance; we must w o rk a ll o u r lives at it; b u t it is visib le for a lifetim e of study, just as 116

Shakespeare is visible when you have the printed page before you. Some fine painting is rather unfinished, incompletely painted. Find a distance for viewing where this w ill not distract you. If the ob­ jects in the painting seem out of scale, ignore this circumstance. Let the picture act on you on its terms, not yours. Do what you can with the object at this nearer distance. W hen you can do no more, don’t worry about it. It will be there another day; one does one’s best. A t this point, it helps to note the realistic details of the object. W hat does it depict? If it is a rug, is it an ani­ mal rug? W hat nationality is the art? W hat is its date? Is it religious art? Is it primitive or the product of a sophisticated society? Does it have historical information of interest to you? These last questions deal with the mere appurtenances of art, the external trappings in which it is packaged, but they may help you fix the object in your mind, they may help you concentrate, they may provide means by which you can remember it and think of it after you leave it. T h ey are not the thing itself. What is the thing itself? It cannot be put into words. If a statue could be told or a poem painted, then either would do for the other and we would not need both. A rt is its own message and tells its own story. You learn to read it by looking at it and honestly trying to understand. A few hours a month for a few years will do a great deal. Art has some appeal for everyone even at first; that is why there is so much of it. Its message becomes clearer with the years. It may mean something different to every man, for all I know. It does mean some things common to all men, since we all like much the same things, much of the time. W e all admire a fine Chinese vase. Everybody likes a good Persian rug. W e all think the Mona Lisa is a very fine picture. But if I ask you why you like that vase, you must answer, “ Because it is beautiful.” If you ask me why it is beautiful, I can of course smother you under a stream of words, but whether I can say one word which will mean a thing to you, I do not know. You will still think it is beautiful. Here is another point. A ll truths of criticism and appreciation are half-truths. Nothing that we can say about art or literature o l humanity or any big generality can be altogether correct or be ca­ pable of being proved. T h at two and two are four can be proved be­ cause we can all agree as to what we mean by “ two,” by “ four,” and by addition. We say that such proofs follow from the definitions. As ii


soon as we h ave defined such terms, the n ext steps, the inferences, th e proofs, lie laten t, w a itin g for us to notice them. T h is can n o t be said o f art. W e can have no such agreement as to d efin itio n s because differences o f definition in art spring from our feelin gs. B e a u tifu l, rich, p oetic, harm onious, dignified, are words to w h ich each m an ascribes a som ew hat different m eaning, and which n o m an can co m p letely e x p la in to another. I f I find a certain tune, w o m an , o r vase b e a u tifu l, and you do not, there is nothing I can do. E ssen tially, there is som eth in g irratio n al about such ideas. I cannot p ro ve, even to m yself, th at you are wrong. T h e process o f artistic ap p reciatio n is som ewhat like the way in w h ich a je w e le r evalu ates a diam ond. T o begin with, the value of th e d ia m o n d is arb itrary. It depends u pon a num ber of things each o n e o f w h ich is ju st as significan t as the purchaser thinks it is. Do y o u req u ire, above all, th at the stone should have no carbon spots, flaws, or “ b u b b le s” w h en exam in ed by a “ trained eye using a tenp o w er glass” ? O r is it m ore im p ortan t to you that the diamond sh o u ld have no tin t o f yellow ? T h ese things are what you make them , an d the jew eler considers w hat most people are demanding at th e m om ent. M oreover, these considerations cannot be exactly de­ cid ed . H o w y e llo w is yellow ? N o th in g is perfect in nature— how sm all m ust a flaw be before we can ignore it? C u ttin g is very im­ p o rta n t, yet all diam on ds are cut very m uch alike. A bove all, bril­ lian cy, life, beau ty, m ust be considered. In the end, the jeweler guesses the valu e, often m ak in g a very good guess— that is, he often com es very close to w h at the ow ner demands for it and what the b u y er w ill p ay for it. T h is is som ewhat sim ilar to the process of feel­ in g o u t the values in a w ork o f art. T h e criticism o f art changes w ith the times, like everything else, so that the m asterpieces o f one age sometimes seem less wonderful to another. H ow ever, o n the w hole the slow ly grow ing body of c ritica l o p in io n g ra d u a lly comes to a closer and closer agreement on th e greater p art o f the ideas and masterpieces o f art. N o one doubts th e gen iu s o f D an te. N o one doubts the position of Bach. No on e d ou bts the achievem ent o f T in to retto , or o f the cave painters at A ja n ta . A s fiercely as w e disagree am ong ourselves, we disagree on d etails, as tw o jew elers disagree about w hether a diam ond is worth $167.00 p er carat in quarter-carat sizes or $172.00 per carat. T hey do n o t d isp u te that the m erchandise consists o f diamonds, or that 118

the stones are w hite or brown, modern cut or old miners. T h e y know these things. T h is is the situation in criticism. Therefore, when you read some­ thing that seems difficult to prove, remember that it is inher­ ently im possible to prove it. Use this idea and see if it helps you en­ joy the works under discussion. If it does, it is useful, and usefulness is the criterion of the value of an aesthetic or critical idea. You should try to reconcile diverse critical ideas. Both may have value. Suppose I tell you that a certain work is a fine piece of linear patterning, that it intertwines beautifully and effectively. Let us assume that you liked things about the object, but the matter of linear com position d id not arouse much response in you. Still, I have, for better or worse, made a suggestion. Perhaps you can now observe subtle lattice work as you run your eyes along the lines of the work. In that case you have gained ground. Now assume that as you are trying to turn my remark to profit, you hear another per­ son saying that this very work lacks cohesion. T h is w ill certainly seem to contradict w hat I had said, and in any case the world would be as w ell off if neither of us had said anything, but still there may be some value in both comments. Cohesion is not the same thing as patterning although it is rather close. T h e remarks are not ir­ reconcilable. Look for pattern. L ook for rhythm. Look for repetition. Con­ sider color and shape. T h in k about symmetry and also about asym­ metry. T a k e in. Absorb. A nd don’t hurry it. D on’t look too long or even too hard. W hen you are tired, stop. Sit down. Rest your eyes. Go home. A t home you can reflect on w hat you have seen. Analyze your own feelings in retrospect. W hat pleasing sensations did you experience? W hen did som ething strike you? You can try to recapture these sen­ sations when you see the same art again. Avoid bringing your own ways of looking at things into an art gallery. You w ant the artist’s way of seeing. N o two people see alike; therefore no artist can see things the way you do. T r y to abandon your sense of distances, proportions, volumes, colors, sizes, when you study another m an’s visions. H ow can your habits help you? If you value your point of view, paint it; but you must give it up when you look at another m an’s work. Every work of art contains distortions for the sake of emphasis,


se le ctio n , an d fo r m ore tech n ical reasons w hich you can go into la te r. A s lo n g as they are new to you, accept those oddities. Absorb th em p assively u n til the day comes w hen you w o n ’t notice them. A l l a rt in v o lv es sim p lification . T h e artist must leave out, and he w ill le a v e o u t w h a t he doesn’t w ant, though it m ay be precisely w h a t y o u d o w an t. N o th in g can be done about this; if he doesn’t lik e noses, y o u w ill h ave to learn to give them up. H e may stretch a n eck , sh rin k or en large a head, d o u b le the height of a horse, re­ d u ce a cath ed ral to a d o ll’s house. I can only say to you, get used to it. Y o u ’ll see the p o in t som eday— soon, or ten years from now. In w ritin g the above words o f advice, I have tacitly assumed that th e read er has a reasonable store o f art, such as a museum, some­ w h ere at h an d . H o w ever, this is not the case for most people. Do n o t g iv e u p , h ow ever. I shall try to m ake some useful suggestions fo r the ben efit o f the cou n try d w eller and the villager as well as th e city m an; an d then I shall briefly outline, as I have in the e a rlie r chapters, m y ow n first experiences w ith art. I shall end by d escrib in g an im agin ary visit to a great museum. A r t is n o t e q u a lly availab le to all o f us. T h e opportunities are b e tte r in som e states than others, better in the cities than in the co u n try, an d gen erally better in the large cities than the smaller towns. N o t always; the tow n o f W orcester in Massachusetts is stronger artistically than the states of G eorgia, A labam a, and Missis­ sip p i taken together. W e must do the best we can w ith the means a v a ila b le. Y o u can study art through books, photographs, color rep ro d u ction s, transparencies projected on screens, and by looking at a ctu al liv in g art, as it can be seen in colleges, churches, museums, p riv a te hom es, and the studios o f artists. B ro a d ly speaking, on ly the lo o k in g at livin g art is significant and th en o n ly w h en it can be studied lon g and often, over a period of years. H ow ever, I do not feel that I have the right to tell the four fifths o f the p o p u la tio n that cannot possibly do this that they should b lo t a ll art ou t o f their lives. Som ething of art belongs in everyone's life and is indispensable to any genuine scheme o f culture. So, if you live in M on tana or Idaho, take these steps. O btain some go o d co lo r rep roduction s o f p ain tin g and some good photographs o f statu ary and architecture, and study these. Pay the price for the best ones, if possible. W rite to the b ig museums for advice. Natu­ r a lly y o u can afford on ly a few, so these should be acknowledged 12 0

masterpieces, not all of one school, or period, or country. If you want to study these reproductions and photographs seriously, do not hang them on your walls. Set aside a certain amount of time for them each week and stand them up, one or two at a time, on chairs or a table, or on the floor, and examine them patiently. Pre­ tend you have traveled a hundred miles to see them, that you are in a museum. T h e n open your eyes and look. It doesn’t pay to look at a picture for less than ten minutes. I know a man who looks at T h e Tribute Horse in the Oriental wing of the Metropolitan Museum in New York for an hour or more every week for months at a stretch. H e does everything except stand on his head to see it because of the bad lighting. T r y your pictures in different lights. Also buy a few books of explanation and criticism on art and study them. T h ere are thousands of them. I will venture recom­ mendations at the end of this chapter. You must own some books, acquiring them one at a time, of course. You will also eventually need some picture books of art, especially if you live far away from a museum. Also borrow all the picture art books in your library and study them. Never take more than one at a time; even one will prove to have too much in it. It would be worthwhile for anybody who lives far from the mu­ seums to buy a still projector and a screen, and then acquire a stock of color transparencies reproducing fine objects of art. T h e museums will sell you, by mail, as many as you can use. Suppose you eventually invested several hundred dollars in these transparen­ cies. W hat else so good could you do with the money? W hat would do so much for your children? W hat, under heaven? W hen you get a chance, drive to any place within reach where you have heard there is a fairly good picture and look at it. Give it at least an hour since your opportunities are so limited. As far as I know, there are no good pictures in Montana or Wyoming, but Missouri has some. If there is an artist in your neighborhood (God pity him), try to make his acquaintance and then don’ t talk. Just look and listen. If he asks your opinion, say one thing: “ I like it.” A second time you can say, “ It’s beautiful.” A nd that is all. Get him to talk. Ask him to tell you how to look at art. Ask him why some reproductions which you own or he owns are considered so fine. A n d show him you are sincere by keeping your eyes on the 121

p ictu re for a fair len gth o f time. D o n ’t let him draw you out on art. A s soon as you begin to sound off, he w ill begin to weep that he is n ot in Paris. If you w ork him right, even a third-rate artist can teach you a great deal. H e is a first-rate art lover. From tim e to tim e you may be able to get to the big cities. The p rin cip al art centers are N ew York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washing­ ton (include Baltim ore), and Chicago, but all the larger cities now have interesting works, and some small places have fine objects of art in private hands. Find out where they are and make appoint­ ments to see them. (T h e owner is entitled to know who you are— you m ight be a robber.) I f you get to N ew York or Chicago, it is useless to go to the mu­ seums unless you can go there feeling fresh and with plenty of time. T h e m orning is best. If you have just left your car in a garage in dow ntow n M anhattan on Friday m orning and must make two private visits, go to a Broadway revue, go shopping, see a doctor, and leave Saturday night, please don’t go to a museum. Go to bed and rest up a little. N ow let us suppose that a time has come in your life when you can get to a really large museum often, preferably over a period of several months or even years. T h is is that chance for which you have been preparing yourself— to storm the inner citadel of art. H ow shall you tackle it? (1) G o as early in the m orning as possible, before the humdrum life of the day has dampened your fire. You w ill be keener. It is a big study; give it every advantage. (2) D o n ’t stay too long. Some artists of my acquaintance seldom stay over an hour. T h e y become too tired. B ut while they are there, their brains work. Day-long workouts are for art majors and archae­ ologists rather than for art lovers. (3) A cup of coffee is a help after you have worked for an hour or two, if you are going to make a day of it. Most museums will sell it to you. (4) Sit down as much as you can; those floors are hard. You can usually get folding stools to carry with you. (5) Decide before you arrive what you wish to look at, if possible, and go to that part of the museum. Never attempt to look over a whole museum in one day, unless it is a very small one. (6) Look at a few things a long time, a few things a shorter time,


a few things for a moment because they catch your eye, and ignore everything else. You don’t try to read all the books in the library at once (it takes longer to read a great statue than it does a big book). If you can sincerely spend a long time with just one art ob­ ject, so that it tires you out and you can’t look any longer, you have probably made some real progress. D on’t try to force this, however. (7) Generally speaking, you should go to a museum alone. It is not a social function. You don’t read your books while talking to a friend. You are not compelled to look at art; if you do look, look. An artist I know, who likes to go to the museums with me, has ex­ plained that he works too hard when he goes by himself. W ith me to distract him, it becomes an amusement instead of a study. You may, of course, sometimes go to a museum with your wife or a friend. I do. But if you make that your fixed practice, if you will go only when someone else has the time and the inclination, and when someone can divert you from really using your mind, you won’t get far enough for it to matter. In general, go to the zoo with your family, and the museums with just your brains. (Not that you can’t use your brains in a zoo, but you must use them in a museum.) I have had the advantage, not open to many, of visiting the m u­ seums of New York in the company of several gifted artists, and of being able to do this almost at will. These men are brilliant con­ versationalists and have taught me more than any university could offer in art. Still, my genuine studies, my most effective plunges into the depths of the various masterpieces, were done alone. Just the marble, bronze, or porcelain, a little repose, a sense of leisure, a mild light, and a profound intimacy between the long-dead artist ^nd me— it is perhaps the best thing life has. I will outline my own modest hours with art, and then try to de­ scribe a day at a museum in which I shall perhaps violate every one of these seven rules. Study is a thing of moods and changes, as well as programs and methods. But the rules are good rules, and you should try to follow them much of the time. However, before doing this I want to touch on one possibility: that you may be able, at some time, to travel in foreign countries. Although I have not had this wonderful privilege, I feel that m u­ seums should be omitted during a brief trip to Europe. If I could get a month in France or England or Italy, I doubt that I would go into a gallery. T h a t time would be better spent on things that do 12)


not require such prolonged contemplation. T h e new manners, the different civilizations, the Alps, the Seine, the English countryside; Fleet Street, Stratford, Montmartre, Normandy, Tuscany; the strange sounds of a foreign people singing around me— surely that's enoughl I would look at two or three great cathedrals because it would be my one chance to do that, and when I looked, I would look all day. I would watch the sun rise and fall on at least one of them. But I see nothing in roaming through boundless halls, in town after town, each one of them loaded with art, each object of art entitled to as much study as I could give the whole town. There is more art in art-poor America than I can handle in a lifetime. I have haunted the Metropolitan Museum in New York since I was nineteen, and I haven’t broken the surface of it. I spent four months in Boston, about seventeen years ago, work­ ing at my trade, of course, and gave over all my Sundays to the great Museum of Fine Arts. I can hardly remember a thing in the place; only vague memories of grand halls and happy hours remain with me. Yet I was by no means totally ignorant of art at that time. Fif­ teen or sixteen journeys to a really big museum simply are not enough to learn much, except perhaps for a talented artist. When I read about Chancellor Adenauer, with all the business he had on his mind, rushing up to the Metropolitan Museum and marching through it for two hours, accompanied by six policemen and four curators, I almost gave up. Dragging those old bones I It was then I decided the world needed this book. And what did he look at on this all-important excursion while the destinies of na­ tions waited? T h e priceless Oriental wing? T h e Byzantine collec­ tion? No, bewildered reader, he charged in after Hobbema. Molotov has since gone him one better by making an invasion with a task force of sixteen policemen and two Doberman pinschers. Some people would take Holy Communion in gulps from a refuel­ ing ship while parachuting between planes. If you should ever get to Asia, I might have to modify this advice. Most of the great art of Asia is either lost altogether or scattered over the vast continent, so you had better use the opportunity granted you. Go to the Ajanta caves in India or Angkor in Cam­ bodia, if you can. And if you can, stay there. Y ou ’ll never have it so good anywhere else. 124

I cam e to N e w Y o rk from N ew ark, O hio, at the age of twelve. I h a d ce rta in ly never looked at an object of art up to that time, ex­ cept the L ic k in g C o u n ty courthouse. (T h ey had lynched a man in fro n t o f it n o t lo n g before, b ut I missed that piece of Americana.) N o r d id I lo o k at art in N ew Y o rk until I was almost sixteen. I rem em ber m y first journ ey to the Met. I was with another boy, an d w e w a lk ed and walked. O u r greatest pleasure came from the scale m od el o f the C ath ed ral of N otre Dam e of Paris (not on dis­ p la y at this w ritin g; it has been buried somewhere in the cellars w ith the m arvelous Jain tem ple from India). T h e Italian religious p a in tin g got us down. W e could not see ourselves ever feeling the v a lu e o f those repetitious, dreary brow n remnants. B y this tim e I was w orkin g and full of activities. I may have m ade on e or two m ore pilgrim ages to art during the next three years, b u t n o th in g clicked, even though by this time I knew more history, as I have shown, than most people, and one m ight have th o u g h t that this aspect of a great museum w ould have appealed to me. B u t history only helps w ith art and music after you have m oved inside those arts; peering at art through an historical telescope is still on ly lo o k in g at art from a lon g distance. A rt helps history, of course. T h is is w hy a professor o f art history is of little use to an artist, alth o u g h an artist can be o f immense value to an art-history professor, if the professor is modest enough to use him. N ot one of the m an y general historians I have read has ever sounded quite rig h t to me w hen he spoke of art. F ortunately, my father had not only left me T a in e and G ibbon; in the little four-room walk-up flat, four stories above the ground, at 992 Southern B oulevard in the Bronx, there was lurkin g another book. R u sk in was h id in g on one of the shelves. H e always had, since the d ay I was born. H e was dressed in dark blue cloth, in two v o l­ umes, and using as a title four words, T h e Stones of Venice. O n e d ay I opened the book, as one w ill if a book stays at hand long en ou gh , and I read that barbarism was an elem ent of G o th ic art. T h is pleased me vastly; I was interested in barbarism and of a k n ig h tly spirit. I turned to the first page and began to read. “ Since first the dom in ion of men was asserted over the ocean . . . ” I did not k n o w that that act had bound me by an un breakable chain to a n ew m ode o f life that I could never leave as lon g as I sh ou ld live. 725

A r t opened an d p o ured dow n over me, first a trickle, and in time a great flood. I began that course o f art-w orship w hich, subject to all th e deviations inseparable from the life o f a salesman and chainstore m anager, I have never since g iven over. I say I did not know m y destiny w hen I read that first sentence o f R u sk in ’s, but am I honest? I th in k I did kn ow it. I can not foretell m y future, of course, b u t as it now looks, after I have retired I shall find a convenient flat on the east side o f N e w Y o rk betw een Seventy-second and N inety-sixth streets, and every day I shall go over to Fifth Avenue at ten o ’clock sharp and w alk u p the stairs o f the great building. T h e stairs w ill get harder and harder for me to clim b (I am heavy), and, finally, I shall have to enter by the little door through the Cos­ tum e In stitu te and take an elevator, b u t there I shall live out my life. A n d I shall be satisfied if som eday I am found, quiet, gentle­ m an like, and dead, in a deserted room o f the O riental wing. I th in k I should prefer the porcelains. R u skin was a great man. H e had m ore genius than those other gods o f m y youth , M acau lay and T a in e . H is com m and of the word is scarcely to be foun d elsewhere. H e was one of the most eloquent o f m en. H is com plete honesty, his im passioned effort to understand and to teach, his unceasing analysis, and his utter devotion to art m ake him , I think, the greatest m an w ho has ever given his life to the works o f others. H e did not have the critical tem peram ent. H e was a crusader, not a m an o f scales and balances. H e always expressed him self with an u tter certainty, a total absence o f eq uivocation , w hich, since there are no certainties, no un-equivocations in art, has left him stranded, high and dry on a thousand w ordy atolls, w hile the sea of m odern op inion has flowed another way. T h e reader must care­ fu lly avoid R u sk in ’s decisions, his judgm ents, and, unless he thinks he has R u sk in ’s genius, he had better avoid R u sk in ’s w hole attitude in this respect. R u sk in ’s omissions are stranger than his m istakes. H e does not seem to have paid m uch attention to El G reco, D ella Francesca, Breughel, Bosch, or Verm eer. H is ignorance o f O rien tal art was com plete. H is blunders are num erous and enorm ous; moreover, he often makes precisely those kinds of blunders w hich in anyone else w ould lead one to suppose that he sim ply did not understand the nature o f art. For exam ple, he though t that a m an w ho w ould paint 12 6

a little boy stealing apples when he could just as well have painted him helping an old lady across the street must have had a natural love of evil. But Ruskin did understand the nature of art. Men are important for their achievements, not for their failures. T heir failures prove them one of us; their achievements may lift them almost beyond the reaches of our thought. Where Ruskin was right, it mattered; where he was wrong, little harm was done. He rediscovered early Italian art. He modified the admiration of his times for the run-down phase of the baroque. He did away with the mechanical copying of worn-out architectural ideas, and to this extent is a father of modern architecture, even though he would not have welcomed the baby. He re-emphasized Tintoretto, and Tintoretto is so big a man that that is quite enough for most lives. His high placing of Turner was entirely valid. He misunderstood his French contemporaries completely, but most middle-aged men do misunderstand the new generation. There are many books on art in the world, and most of those written in this century seem sounder, more careful, more accurate, and more learned than The Stones of Venice. I have really no choice but to recommend these up-to-date, authoritative texts. But I cannot hope that any of them will do for another plain, everyday workingman what The Stones of Venice did for me; and I still be­ lieve that for the purpose of teaching a man to venture with daring and generosity into the world of art, the book is unique. A gentle­ man has been defined as one who has forgotten his Latin. A very fair description of a man of cultivated mind might be one who has forgotten his Ruskin. In the months that followed this climactic event, I began to think seriously about art. I couldn’t draw at all (or sing, or play an in­ strument), and I have never attempted to sketch a statue; but with­ out using that powerful means of studying art, I gave as much of my time as I could to the museums. Not much time: I worked six days a week, read steadily, went to concerts, swam, played tennis, and courted my wife; but still I looked at the art of New York and learned the paths of her museums. I did not go to art shows at pri­ vate galleries and never have, unless a friend was showing. Shows are too set up, too temporary, too theatrical, for my slow, introspec­ tive, pleasure-seeking, mouth-watering approach to study. In the


same way, I can’t enjoy food at a lunch counter, and I enjoy food. I prefer to look at art when I want to, rather than when someone has put on a show. I do not always attend the special events put on by the museums themselves. There will always be enough for my needs. Museum events are valuable chiefly for professionals and to justify the modest salaries of the museum personnel, who would otherwise be merely the custodians of the immovable— sort of care­ takers of old loves. I learned during those dreamy, yet stirring days to note the traces of old architectural ideas on the blackened buildings of New York, and I examined the feeble Gothic of the churches. (The false Gothic of the late nineteenth century, found all over the United States, is partly attributable to Ruskin. The City College of New York probably cost Ruskin forty years in Purgatory.) I think I was out of work a few weeks during my twentieth and twenty-first years, and I joyously devoted the time to the collections of Messrs. Mor­ gan, Marquand, and Altman. I have had a pretty good thing out of our millionaires; they never got much of my money because I never had any, but look what I have gotten from the statues of Wei and T an g and Sung which Mrs. Rockefeller has so generously put up for me! Believe me, I’ve had the best part of those millions. I read the first two volumes of Ruskin’s The Modern Painters, which affected me almost as much as the Stones had. Whether this was primarily a literary or an artistic experience, I do not know. His rhetoric intoxicated me. I also read some of his other books; Seven Lamps of Architecture* The Elements of Drawing, Fors Clavigera, etc. I went to the library and looked over various books of criticism and history about art, but very quickly came to the conclusion that books about art are valuable in proportion to one’s ability to do something about the art. I did not read, and never have read, a great amount on art. I keep going back to it, but it is never a major part of my reading— I never give any kind of critical writ­ ing more than a month or two out of any two years, and I may go five years without a word of it. This is a good place to warn the reader about a pitfall peculiar to the reading of critical literature. W hen you read the eloquent and exciting words of some able critic, you often become inflamed • I still think the idea of the Lamp of Sacrifice to be one of the finest in aesthetics. 128

by the desire to see the painting, hear the music, or read the poetry, which has aroused all this passion. T h a t’s how you should react, of course; that’s what the man wanted. But when you get around ac­ tually to going up against the masterworks themselves, in most cases no such thrilling experience will be had. The event fails to fulfill your expectation, not because the music and poem are not all that they were said to be, but because they are, and you cannot expect to come up to that on a first attempt. Art, music, poetry, are not so easily conquered. T he wonderful thing that was described by your critic seems to fall flat before your eyes. Do not be discouraged; it was only you who fell flat. The day will come when you will learn to climb at least a little of that enormous mountain, and you will yet glimpse the peak and thank the critic. This can even be applied to personal relationships. If a good friend of yours tells you he knows a splendid fellow and wants you to meet him, don’t expect to discover all those admirable qualities on a first meeting. Assume that your friend is right and make it your business gradually to find out the merits of the third man; he may very well have everything you hoped for if you can bring it out of him. I left New York for ten years after 1932 and had to take most of my art in the same way I have advised you farmers to do. I went to Pittsburgh a few times to see the museum and to see the Interna­ tional Expositions. In 1939 I had wonderful days in Boston, as I have said. Finally in 1942 I came back to New York, anything but happy about giving up my gardens and my vines, and since then have spent more and more time and thought with art. I am somewhat arbitrary about it. I may go to the museums twice a week for the greater part of a year, and then ignore them for months. I have some books on art, of course, and there are paintings on my walls, loaned or given by artist friends, and I have the conver­ sation of artists to fill in the gaps in my serious study. I am a fellow of changing interests, and I shall never be an authority on any phase of art, any more than on anything else. Moreover, I feel such work should be left to men who have some practical talent at art. I do not have this. It is better to be a respectable amateur than a false professional. I shall now attempt to take the reader on an excursion through a museum. We shall use the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New 129

York City for our little phantasy because I have known it best, be­ cause it is on the whole the most worthwhile, and because it can be reached sooner or later by the greatest number of people. However, all the museums of New York are interesting and extremely useful. After the Met comes the Brooklyn Museum, which is very well laid out. T he Oriental wing of the Brooklyn Museum is outstanding in arrangement, thanks to that fine curator Mr. George Lee.* T h e Frick Collection is a joy to be in, and all the smaller mu­ seums pay off handsomely. T h e Museum of the Hispanic Society would almost be a great national museum if it were not lighted as if it were an old donjon of the Inquisition— you are really in the Dark Ages in that one. A ll the money they can afford for electricity goes to illumine a Hollywoodlike billboard called the Sorolla room. T h e famous Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park is a glorious place to spend a day. Even if you are a tourist with camera and case, and care nothing about art, I suggest you go to the Cloisters. T h e Museum of Modern Art in New York City is a unique in­ stitution, and I suppose I must praise it, though the directors do not always distinguish between the atmosphere of a carnival and the creation of a suitable place for study. This is called making a mu­ seum a vital part of the life of the people, but it usually amounts to throwing the people who care about art (especially the artists) to the lions for the amusement of people who care little about art. The museum has a great collection of modern pictures worth studying, if you are lucky enough to get there on a day when most of it has not been put away to make room for a group of bread boxes in modern design, or the latest thing that Pizzicato of Milan has done with garbage cans. Never go to this museum on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday; all the wrong people are there. In general, it caters to those who can afford to buy expensive furniture rather than to artists, whose clothes seldom exemplify modern design. Incidentally, that truly great New York museum, the Museum of Natural History, has more art than most art museums in America. It too is largely plunged in darkness. Bring your own flashlight.f Now . . . it is nine forty-six in the morning on a weekday. You are walking along Fifth Avenue on the park side, approaching the Mr. Lee is now with the Yale University Art Gallery. Andree Luce Cooney is in charge of the Oriental Departm ent at present . f I mean this and I do bring mine. *


grand entrance hall of the Met. It is October and you enjoy the sight of the trees, which are bare enough to show the pattern of their branches. T h e air is brisk; the sun hovers somewhere over T h ird Avenue. As you climb slowly up the broad stone steps, you turn to look down Eighty-third Street at the clear, blue American sky. You enter the building at ten o’clock when the doors open. A dozen or so leisurely people go in with you. No one is in a hurry here. T h e guards are bracing their souls for another days work, but your soul has already begun to stretch and soar. You leave your hat and coat in the cloak room, take a folding stool, and drift slowly into the main hall. T h e room is big— very big— and it is a good place to finish throwing off anything of the outside world which you didn’t leave with your coat. Take your time; you will be very tired long before the museum closes. And very hungry. T h e walls in the main hall are hung with great tapestries and spotted with armor.* You stroll about a little and get your eyes focused. Look at a helmet, a man armed cap-a-pie, one of the wall hangings. Far to the south lie the Greek and Roman quarters, on the north is Egypt with her forty centuries and with thousands of exhibits, including an exposed mummy whom men have not per­ mitted to return to dust for three thousand years. These two wings are well worth a lifetime of study, but if this is a first visit or, what amounts to the same thing, your first visit since reading this book and deciding really to look at something, it is bet­ ter to omit them. Greek art, in its utter and incomprehensible sim­ plicity, is the hardest of all art for us to understand, and Egyptian art is easily misunderstood by a beginner. So we shall cross the hall to the narrow corridor on the left of the staircase. We creep along, taking in the walls. There are wonderful mosaics, which are differ­ ent in every light and change as you move. They are pictures, made out of bits of colored tile, and they reflect light back at you, like mirrors. Look at each one that you do look at from more than one angle. Always try to find a favorable light. Look in some of the wall cases. T ry to feel the quality of the tiny painted enamels. There is some small sculpture in this little hall which is of the finest quality. Fine sculpture is rare and scattered in this country, so use your op# At the time this section was written. The armor has since been con­ solidated; a gorgeous display.


portunity; there is more great sculpture on many an old-world building than in our whole land. It is true that those prodigious churches and temples have more than one could master in a life­ time. Your eye will eventually be caught by the glow of a tapestry deep toward the rear. This is an opportunity to use that varying distance method. Approach the remote tapestry slowly, zigzagging from one side of the aisle to the other. T h e opening of the rear door cuts off part of it, which heightens the color and drawing of the visible part by concentrating your vision. Make a tube out of your hand and look through it— a good trick with paintings too. After a while, go nearer and finally enter the great Gothic hall. But keep your eye on that tapestry so that it finally unfolds in its entirety. Now that you are in this hall, which leads to many others, I can­ not tell you what to do. You have, by now, been in the museum about three quarters of an hour, or perhaps longer. I would proba­ bly be tired, but you may be younger and stronger. I shall sit down for a while. You may roam at will. A grand world of art has unfolded before you. Mighty tapestries of the great schools, statues, gay and somber, paintings, mosaics— a wealth of beauty which you can study for a lifetime and always gain more and more. There is a little medieval stained-glass win­ dow set up in a tiny chapel which is an incredibly fine piece of painting. This window alone is worth a trip to New York. For the brief time at your disposal you should stay in this hall, byt since this is a first visit and you are more particularly interested in pictures at the moment, we shall climb one of the stairways after a while; surely you can take in no more of the medieval world for the time being and are probably ready for a change. T h e upper floor has an immense collection of European paint­ ings, an Oriental wing with some of the world’s finest art, a col­ lection of American paintings, such as can be seen in any large city, running from fourth to second rate, and a favorite circus called the American wing, where you can find every art hater in the coun­ try who ever goes to a museum. This American wing, which would have some slight justification in a historical museum such as the Smithsonian, is the mecca of all those women, especially from out of town, who know they must not ignore art although it will always ignore them, and who think that some faint odor of the Mayflower f


may blow off on them if they stumble through a room of third-grade metal work from New England, such as the innocuous pitchers of Paul Revere. T o put this goods in the same building with Persian glass, Chinese pottery, and Indian metals is enough to . . . This is also called making a museum part of the life of the peo­ ple. How the death of art can put life into the people I shall leave to you to clear up. If these men, Paul Revere and the rest, founded an artistic tradition in the New World, where is it? In Steuben glass? In East Liverpool pottery? T he sort of spirit that cries this up is very cheap stuff and should be left to the advertising companies. For this first visit, it is perhaps best to enter the main picture gal­ leries of European painting, faced full front by Raphael, no less, as you go in, and do what you can with the boundless wealth they dis­ play. Look at a few of the things in any one of these galleries and then, tired, oh, so tired, start to leave. Go out slowly; try to rid your­ self of the whole conception of hurry when you think of art. Look idly about as you go; store up a few memories. You can buy a book or a catalogue on the way out, if you wish, to act as an aid to your memory later on. You can also buy as many photos and repro­ ductions as you can afford at the bookshop. Finally you are back on the outside staircase with the avenue be­ fore you. It is something of a shock. You have been out of it, out of time itself, really. Art is of the eternal world. T h e material world seems rather detached; you go back into it gingerly. You are genial, however. Things are very pleasant, even beauti­ ful. T h e people are surprisingly pretty dotting the street. Their clothes are much brighter and gayer than usual; there is so much color in them. You did not know that people today use so much color in their clothes. New York has become like Naples or Seville. And the trees, the buildings! Every branch of the autumn trees is distinct and full of pattern. Limbs thrust out in bold, strong hori­ zontals, mindful of gravitation but not afraid of it. They are twisted just as wildly as in the strange contortions of the Chinese painters. Above all, the faces of people are surprising. Everyone is much handsomer than you had realized. Women whom you would not have glanced at before are beautiful; the men are interesting! A ll kinds of complexions have their own life and character. A truth bursts upon you: there is no such thing as an ugly being. A ll women are pretty, all men handsome. Your eye has become trained; those


people look like the people in the masterpieces. T hey are Flemish, Italian, and Chinese art in motion. You are thankful toward the great men, dead so long, who have taught you to see beauty. T h e new sensation and awareness cannot last long. In a half hour it is gone. It will renew each time you look at art, and go away each time, but the day will come when you can call it up at will. The day will come, if you keep at it, when you will find yourself looking at a m an’s eyes and nose with something of the look of a portrait painter. You will be studying the relation of his features in space, the exact distance and the shadows between his eyebrow and his eyelid. You will sense the light on the form. You may someday be able to see, whenever you choose, that all the world is lovely. In walking through a museum, if you want to work for a long time, it is a good idea to go from hot, brightly colored art, to cool, monotone rooms. This rests the eyes and gives the mind a tonic shock. Thus, after an exhausting two hours with the great Indian and Persian exhibits, it may be a relief to look at metal work or statuary. I cannot go to the Chinese sculptures in the Met, however, after looking at any other art. I must start there. They take too much out of me. There is one vast circular room of them, which I call Stonehenge.* It might be a good idea for you to make a particular study of some of the handicrafts instead of looking at too much painting. Painting is a very complex art and cannot be penetrated quickly. A few days spent on porcelain or Persian brasses is very good training for the appreciation of the permanent values of a picture. T h e best of these so-called minor arts are as significant as the greatest painting in the world. T h e great ages of embroidery also shed a strong light on painting. If you haven't much faith in your ability to respond to art, I rec­ ommend the study of Oriental rugs and textiles. No one can miss the point here for long, and no art, no art at all, is finer or stronger. T h e Metropolitan has one room of Persian rugs which is enough in itself to mark the curator who put it together as a superior man. In general the rooms of the Oriental wing are laid out by the hand of love and genius— except the Chinese paintings, where apparently # There was. They move their stuff about, sometimes not to my liking.

*3 4

the problems of preservation and illumination are insuperable. Some of the rooms, made up of a blending of Persian and Turkish tiles, miniatures, pottery, and textiles, are Eastern paradises as­ sembled by men who are artists themselves. Even the guards rec­ ognize this— the ones who are interested in art (yes, some of them are). Incidentally, I frequently have an odd experience. I generally go to the museums in summer without a coat. Sooner or later I come to a halt and look at some things at length. Often people walk up to me while I am doing this and ask for directions of all kinds. T h e y mistake me for a guard or a member of the staff. I suppose they as­ sume that no one in a museum would stay in one place unless he had to. I have suggested that you give as much attention as your locality affords to the so-called minor arts. Tapestry and armor are grateful fields for the beginner. T h en give time, on different days, of course, and over a period of weeks or months, to European paintings and sculpture. Finally, begin to cultivate the Oriental arts as best you can. If you feel Chinese painting to be too much for you, leave it for the first two years. Egyptian and Mesopotamian art can be taken when you get around to them, working them with some kind of handbook or in connection with a book of ancient history. Always give most of your time to the things you take to easiest. T h ey will teach you to appreciate the rest. T h e last things to work on are Chinese painting and Greek sculp­ ture, although they are almost the greatest things. You will ulti­ mately be compelled to read some book or other on Chinese art. Fortunately many Chinese paintings reproduce well. A good col­ lection of Chinese reproductions can teach you more about the es­ sence of art, when you are ready for them, than a third-rate museum can. Moslem miniatures also have been very well reproduced in in­ expensive books. Greek sculptures may be prepared for by the study of Greek vases and vase painting. Very little true Greek sculpture has sur­ vived in the whole world, and almost none of this is in America. A ll we see are Roman copies, and no copies can teach us as much as we can learn from the originals. Even small-town museums usually have a few casts, and you can study these for what they are worth. T h e greatest lesson of Greek sculpture for us is not found in the x35

handful of fragments scattered about the earth but in its influence on all subsequent art. On the other hand, an immense amount of Greek pottery has come to light, and this fine art is not a copied art. It may puzzle and repel you at first, but it can be plumbed in time. D on’t forget that these things cannot be forced. What you don’t understand today, you will appreciate in ten years. Art has now moved into your life to stay. T h e Metropolitan has a whole basement of European pottery, etc. T h e value of this is largely historical, like the American wing. One broken Persian pot is worth the whole of it, and you can be badly misled if you waste time on it. You may tend to confuse the attitude of the collector with that of the artist.' I am a hearty believer in doing with our own hands what­ ever we can do and like to do. I think everybody should dance, sing, carve, paint, if they have a knack for it. It’s a sound part of living. However, I should explain that none of these things, in themselves, can teach much about the nature of the fine arts un­ less they are strictly subordinated to the study of those arts. Thus, it is fun to dance, but your own joy in dancing will hardly bring you nearer to the great art of Cambodia or Japan. It is fun to sing, but this will bring you nearer to the art of Bach only if the singing is used expressly for the study of Bach, as distinguished from the study of your own vocalizations. Even more emphatically, if you like to draw, paint, work with ceramics, or carve, you should under­ stand that, assuming you have no genuine talent in these di­ rections, you are not learning much about art. Indeed, your ungifted attempts at the practice of fine arts can handicap your study of them, in that your petty improvements in your hobby, which are merely gains in common skill, like an improvement in your golf score, may confuse you. You can misunderstand the nature of seri­ ous art in that way. If you sketch a little, it can be a help in study, though great sport in itself, only if it is used to give you better con­ centration when you are looking at true works of art. If I could draw a bit, I would use pencil and paper in front of some fine statue, as a tool to help me to think more concretely about that statue. T hat is the one good it could do me; otherwise it is a harmless or harmful pastime. Architecture cannot be studied as pure art in America, since i) 6

none of our buildings were put up with any idea of eternity about them. Nor do they have, or ever will have, the Lamp of Sacrifice. (You might read the Seven Lamps of Architecture when you like.) Eventually you will begin to acquire a sense of style. T h e con­ cept of style, as I have remarked, is close to the idea of culture itself. Style is distinctness and fineness. It is the way of a thing. A feeling for it in every part of thought is imperative. Eras have their style, continents have their style, nations have their style. Every artist, every fine worker, has his style. Boltzman tells us that the great mathematical physicist J. Clerk-Maxwell had his own style of ma­ nipulating equations and deploying mathematical arguments, so that any mathematician could tell it was Maxwell and only Max well. Johann Bernoulli saw, at a glance, that a solution of a certain problem was by Newton. “ I recognize the lion by his paw,” * he said. Style is a tone of voice, a characteristic handwriting, which be longs to each man as a personal trait and to each civilization as a personal trait. It exists in everything. It becomes significant and valuable, however, when present in great things. It is valuable when sensed in a personality because human personality is a great thing. It matters most in thought and then most in the best thought* You may neglect my style of writing but not Dante’s. Styles enables one to distinguish between Shakespeare, for in­ stance, and other Elizabethan poets, not in a short phrase of course, but always in a whole play. One becomes very sure of these things in time— almost too sure. For instance, I would not believe that Shakespeare had written Henry V if I did not know that we cannot take away a man’s work in this arbitrary fashion. T h e play doesn’t ring like Shakespeare to me. Style is a facet of history— in fact, the main value of history for the interpretation of the arts. If you have a feeling for history, you can never be at a total loss as to style in the presence of any creative work of man. I am absolutely ignorant of the dance, except insofar as it comes up in the study of history and the other arts. Never­ theless, the first time I saw a H indu dance recital I thought the artist might come from the north of India because of the whole ab­ sence of T a m il feeling. Soon you will be able to recognize Rubens and Vandyke, Veldz* E. T. Bell, Men of Mathematics, Victor Gollancz, London (19)y), p. 138.

quez and Goya, El Greco and T itian. Don't let that go to your head. Count your misses as well as your hits. It’s really not a very difficult thing to do and requires no talent. Eventually you will find that you know, without thinking, that you are in the presence of art of a particular nationality— German, Flemish, French, Italian, Spanish, and here also you will be wrong in many instances, but never wrong if a number of objects of one country are before you. Anyone can tell Oriental art from ours, but you can soon tell, within limits, Japanese from Chinese, or M ing from K an g Hsi. Turkish miniatures can be distinguished from Persian (more strength, more horizontal lines, less elegance, more realism). Indian miniatures have a hot, sweaty, tropical quality, and that peculiar, difficult, oppressive Indian color scheme. Climate affects statuary too; an Indian nude is nude obviously because it is too hot to be anything else. T h e Greek nude chills you slightly; the Indian never. You can and must acquire this kind of sensitivity in every field of thought: poetry, architecture, painting, pottery, drama, fiction, epochs of history, styles of prose. You already have some of it. You know that present-day Italian clothing is not quite like ours or like German. French actors, as you have noticed in French movies, are not precisely like ours either. English actors are delightfully or painfully English; German actors are German. Each nationality has its own tempo, rhythm, and gesture. I shall discuss this again when writing about music, where it is amazing to observe how thousands of men can manipulate the same seven notes in the same octave, on the same instruments, and each man fall at once into his own nationality, as distinct as black and white. (This is the result of training, of course; a German taught in Italy composes like an Italian; a Japanese in America paints in a style which I suppose can only be called American.) Style is likeness even more than it is difference. Van der Weyden is distinct from Petrus Christus, but how alike all those Flemings were! Each period paints in like manner in all related countries, but each nation has its own tone. This is obvious in literature. Tw o women writing letters in the year 1750, one in England, the other in France, will sound as unlike as these two peoples usually do 138

but will sound much more alike than if one of them were living in the twentieth century. My remarks hold only if there is some intercourse between the nations at a given time and some similarity in the degree of their civilization. Nothing could be more unlike than the great Japanese novel the Genji Monagatari and the Icelandic Sagas, written a little later. Here, history is your guide as usual. T h e Europeans eventu­ ally entered a stage of civilization similar to that of the Japanese of the tenth century, but it took them 800 years. Then The Grand Cyrus acquired a flavor similar to the Genji Monagatari. Sometimes similarities are so close that they lead you to think you are imagining things. There is an amazing parallel between the transition in European art from high renaissance to baroque, rococco, and on into the nineteenth century, on the one hand, and between Ming, K ’ang Hsi, C hi’en Lung, and nineteenth-century Chinese export ware. Discovery, youth, maturity, decadence, and death are easily found in every art and in all countries. You can feel these things as soon as you have enough history to introduce order into your thinking. T h e ability to ignore detail may be more necessary in the study of art than the ability to observe it. I have so habituated myself to look at the composition as a whole that I have half lost the capacity to note details. This result is partly a matter of temperament, no doubt. Still, it has worked out so that if someone were to ask me sud­ denly just what I had been looking at, after listening to me talk about a picture for twenty minutes, it very well might turn out that I couldn’t tell him. A rather similar statement might be made about my listening to music or reading poetry or novels. I cannot accu­ rately recite a single poem of ten lines. I cannot repeat a story cor­ rectly even if I have read it over and over again. My memory does not retain the details because the details do not interest me, which does not mean that they shouldn’t interest you. W e’re diverse in these matters. This may, however, seem to deny what I have said about analy­ sis in music, poetry, and art. I didn’t mean the kind of analysis I am now speaking of. W hat I want is the intention of the composer or the poet or painter. His means are secondary. I don’t really care whether Mozart chooses to cut through me with a horn or a flute. I


don't care whether Duccio exalts me using a tree or a tower. I can't remember precisely the incidents with which Dostoevski kneads me. I do not respond to Shelley any better after I find out where the Euganean hills are. These details belong to the history of instrumen­ tation, to botany, architecture, to Russian life as distinguished from Russian art, to geography, etc. T h ey are worth knowing, but they are not essential in a minimum education; they are only the bricks of art. Mozart wrote for a piano of a certain kind, Liszt for a differ­ ent one. This is noteworthy but gives no clue to the nature of music. T h e analysis which I have called for is an analysis of ideas, in­ tention, design, structure, color, and mass. A consideration of the mechanical details of a work of art may help you arrive at this. If it does, use it. It has been of very little help to me. I do wish, dearly, that I had a more complete knowledge of the detail of art and literature, but that is because I love knowledge. I am interested in everything, but not at the same time. I would know more history, anthropology, etc., if I had watched the detail of art and literature more closely, but I never had the time. I am always too busy trying to understand the impact of it all. It is nice to recog­ nize an acanthus leaf; I wish I knew such things, but I certainly won't understand art that way. T h e great value of art, music, and literature from the historical point of view is that it gives an interpretation of the soul of man as he has expressed himself in different societies and at different times. Thus we know incomparably more about the caveman of one certain era than of other eras, simply because those particular primitive men achieved a true art, and one which has come down to us. What would it not be worth to know some of their songs, their dances, and their stories I As Gordon Childe has recently im­ plied, we could forgo a vast tonnage of kitchen refuse and arrow­ heads for a little of that. T h e reason I feel much closer to the Hindus and the Chinese than I did twenty years ago is not because I know more details of their lives. I don’t know many details of their lives and probably never will. I know and respond, however, to a great deal more of their art. I still don’t know much about their habits of eating, sleeping, cooking, but I have recognized their soul. Museums are of great help in studying history. For instance, there 140

are innumerable objects from Egypt arranged in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. W ith a little reading, this ordered arrangement of the past is very stimulating. W ith o u t the reading, I doubt that it is worth anything as history at all. M illions look at the exhibit yearly, but all those who seem to learn anything from it could be crowded into the hall of mummies. T h is is not the fault of the museum. T h e y have done everything possible except (1) soften the floors; (2) provide seats; (3) lengthen the time during which things can be seen. A warning: Never allow your interest in the historical aspect of any object to blind you to its artistic value. T h e artistic quality, if it exists, is real, concrete, present. T h e historical is uncertain, ab­ stract, and bygone. T h e artistic is waiting to be a part of your life; it is free from time. Moreover, it is harder to attain and can be got­ ten only directly from the object, whereas you can always read the history the object has inspired. History can be learned from repro­ ductions of art; art itself only in a lesser degree. Moreover, art is a matter of training, whereas history is knowl­ edge. You must train yourself at every opportunity, but you can start to train yourself at once in art without previous knowledge. T h e artifacts of history, on the other hand, mean little as history until you know some history. It’s like trying to use a dictionary if you can’t spell. T h e method of learning is different in art and in history. In his­ tory you learn by breadth, in art through depth. Each increase in your historical knowledge is another stone in the architecture you are building in your mind; each increase in your sensitiveness to art strengthens the mind itself. T h ere is a sense in which these blend; in the end the comprehension of history becomes an artistic act, and art becomes the history of man. A rt helps us understand literature in several ways. T h e most di­ rect use is as an illustration of that past of which, like literature, it was once the contemporary record. O ur grasp of Homer, Aristopha­ nes, and Dante is profoundly strengthened by the art of those times. W e could scarcely comprehend them without it. As with history, the relationship is not fully reciprocal; art gives more than she re­ ceives. H ow much more comprehensible the Puritans might seem to us 141

if great art had survived to explain them— to show that they had that soul which they tried so frantically to save. If only they could have had a Giotto, a Fra Angelico. . . . I promised to suggest some recent books on art. I think I shall rec­ ommend only one here because it will do for your purposes, and only one suggestion is really needed. Your work is to be done in museums, libraries, among picture books, which you can buy almost at random, and by studying history and literature. I recommend Cheney's A World History of Art because I have used it, because it is reasonably clear and detailed, because it won't put you to sleep, and because it is basically sound.* Cheney and your own develop­ ing powers will suggest other books to read. I have a few suggestions at the end of this chapter. I shall close on this personal note. My only excuse for writing this book has been the thought that while many men could write it better, few would be able to point to themselves and their lives as actual examples of self-instruction. I have tried to give you some idea of my experiences in art. I have accomplished something at it. I do not overrate my achievement; my friends wouldn’t let me. Still, the fact that I can form these friendships is something. I made them because of what I had learned, and I never knew a man who knew anything about art until I was forty. Now surely what I, a busy, money-grubbing, though not moneyfinding, salesman could do, in a field in which I was as devoid of talent as salesmen are of beauty, anybody should be able to do. I was not born into an art-loving family. I became the only member of it who could identify both Van Gogh and Van Heusen. I cannot draw, color, model, or indeed do anything with my hands except wrap a package. I have always had a dozen other interests so keen that if I had never seen a picture I would have had very little time to regret it. Nevertheless, I have penetrated far enough into the ideas embodied by the arts, in my spare time— indeed, in my spare spare time— to permit me to promise you that if I have only this to fall back on— only art— I will never need, to my dying day, a shoul­ der to cry on, a psychiatrist to help me, a book on happiness through Artists and aestheticians may wonder that I do not at least suggest fclie Faure and AndrS M alraux. T hese great m en, in my opin ion , cannot help anyone not at home in art, aesthetics, and history. *


positive thinking, or a church to trouble deaf heaven in. T h r o u g h that kind of positive thinking which consists in taking yourself out o f yourself and placing your soul in the world of beauty, I can offer anyone who will take it peace of mind. These books are given for readers who have no library facilities where they can seek out their own reading. M


B ernard

S., Understanding the Arts (Henry H o lt &

Co., N.Y.) B e t h e r s , R a y , H ow Paintings H appen (W. W . N orton, N.Y.) B e r k m a n , A a r o n , Art and Space (Social Sciences Publishers, N.Y.) G a r d n e r , H e l e n , Art through the Ages (Harcourt, Brace & Co., N.Y.) C a n a d a y, J o h n , Mainstreams of Modern Art (Simon and Schuster, N.Y.) Z u c k e r , P a u l , Styles in Painting (The V iking Press, N.Y.) H a m l i n , T a l b o t , Architecture through the Ages ( G . P. Put­ nam ’s Sons, N.Y.)

'4 3

C h apter


Music I plun ge in • W e, the p it • T h e artist as priest T h e books can h elp • You surrender your gavel T h e lady isn't dum b • A living concert T V and your life • Y ou can't take m odern music?

N ow I f i n d m y s e l f confronted with the chapter I have brooded over, the one which should have been the easiest to write and will prove the most difficult. I have tried to evade it. I thought of divid­ ing it into parts and putting them into the other chapters. I thought of making one chapter out of music and mathematics, but I want to use mathematics as the model for all scientific study. Moreover, the interest in music is so widespread, even though very shallow, that to write of culture without a detailed treatment of music would mean giving up the most popular subject in the book. There are several reasons why this is my most difficult job. (1) I am not sure that music appreciation (and I do not write for musical readers any more than for historically minded or liter­ ary or mathematical readers) is a good field for amateur, unin­ structed study. (2) It is already a hobby for millions, apparently with very poor results, and perhaps needs discouragement rather than emphasis. (3) It is a line of work which seems to require some native pre­ disposition— a kind of talent— even to start in. (4) Its intellectual, philosophical, theoretical interest seems to be the most inaccessible of all such activities without an extended special training. (5) It has a stronger, more immediate, sensuous effect upon us


than any other kind of mental activity, an effect both seductive and relaxing, so that it is especially hard to bring the mind vigor­ ously to bear while listening to music. It is almost as difficult as try­ ing to understand the nature of love while practicing it. (6) Its entire existence is in time; it is always over before we can think about it. Obviously this is the worst possible situation for untalented self-instruction. (7) If some particular music does not happen to produce the relaxing effect I have mentioned, and we become stimulated in­ stead, we usually find ourselves so aroused emotionally that thought not merely vanishes but is deliberately repelled for fear that it will spoil the moment. A brilliantly successful music teacher of my ac­ quaintance, a learned musicologist, says that the climaxes of music should rise like orgasms. If this is what the scholarly analyst wants to hear, how can the rest of us hope to dissect these occasions? (8) In no other field are there already so many helps for selfstudy available, which would seem to make my comments un­ necessary. (9) Since considerable time is needed even to give a single hear­ ing to one substantial musical work, the study as a whole requires more time than any other. Even a trained musician after twenty years of serious study is totally ignorant of almost all of the world’s music. It is difficult, therefore, for the amateur to do much with it unless it becomes his pleasure as well as his study, so that he can give it not only a share of his study time but a large part of his play time. This will occur only if the student is what is called "musical.” It would take much longer to hear all of Bach’s works once than to read all of Shakespeare’s plays. Indeed, all the choice poetry in the English language could be read in less time than Bach could be heard just once. One could read all the great poetic drama of the world in less time. Yet Bach is only one of a hundred significant, prolific musicians. To make my meaning clearer I shall list some important phases of education in the order of increasing difficulty for self-study and give briefly my reasons for thinking they are easy or difficult to teach to oneself. I shall then give at once some details of my own ex­ perience with music, so that the reader will be better able to under­ stand my peculiar outlook and evaluate it for what it is worth. I am interested in these questions from the point of view of amateur


self-study only, and it is not to be expected that my opinions should be those of men who have never attempted new work in any field without assistance, and who, moreover, must make their living from their studies. Music teachers will not readily permit themselves to agree with me. I am not interested in the practical study of music at all. That is for the teachers. Everything I say in this chapter assumes that the reader is interested in music appreciation— not in learning to play or sing. However, music appreciation is valid study, even for those who can play or sing. T he two matters can be related and, one hopes, usually are connected in such a way that people who study the clarinet or the voice will also do something to develop a sound taste in music; but they are, nevertheless, two distinct activities. My comments assume either that the reader has had no practical train­ ing, has let it fall into abeyance, or is interested in something be­ yond it. If you have a music teacher, consult him, not me. Here is a list of some main branches of intellectual activity in order of increasing difficulty for self-study, the easiest first, the hard­ est last. 1. Mathematics (the very easiest) History, economics, sociology, anthropology, historical geology Astronomy General prose literature Literary art (fiction, drama, poetry) 2. The plastic arts 3. Physics 4. Chemistry, physical geology, biology 5. Linguistics and language in general as a science Now, suddenly, much harder: 6. Logic Philosophy 7. Purely inductive science— psychology, paleontology* 8. Music, and the speaking of foreign languages. It is understood that I am interested only in elementary study for average readers. I am not interested in professional command of * See qualification of these ideas in the chapter on science and philoso­ phy, pages 229-291. 146

these subjects. High skill in the use of anything is difficult to achieve. None of these subjects are easy. I do not know whether this list has been made up before or even considered by anyone else. Specialists and educators should remem­ ber that I speak of these matters as fields for study by persons who are untalented, working on their own, and who have no access to laboratories or to other people working in the same direction. Generally speaking, the easier a subject is to study by oneself, the harder it is for a teacher to be helpful. A teacher is almost the whole thing in learning to speak a language and almost useless in learning mathematics. My putting mathematics at the head of the list will offend most people. I shall justify this in my chapter on mathematics; there is no question that I am right. Most people will agree with the rest of my listing, except that they may be puzzled at my placing linguistics as early in the table as I have put it, and they will reject my placing music at the end. For linguistics, my reason is that you learn the subject by endless consideration of history and the dictionaries. This is solitary work. A philologist must know something of many lan­ guages but need speak none of them except his own. I shall try to make the problem of music versus mathematics or philology clearer by a comparison between the study of law and of medicine. It is obvious that the law can be learned without regular school­ ing. It requires some aptitude, a taste for argument, and the ability to make distinctions. A flair for rhetoric is useful. The ability to read solidly, remember and organize what has been read, and have one’s knowledge at one’s command are essential. The mind should be quick. In the practical work of getting clients and winning cases, practical business gifts of all kinds are useful. An aggressive personality and a good appearance can make a lawyer. A lawyer must be a hard player, a merciless adversary, a ruthless bargainer. He must like to beat the other fellow. Boldness is useful, discretion invaluable, true courage may be ruinous. In the higher parts of the work, a jurist must have a profound understanding of history and be something of a philosopher. The jurist should, and the trial lawyer should not, be a man of wide and deep culture. Regular teachers can do little for you in all this. We need law schools to save the student time, to lay out and round off the course


of study, to emphasize salient points, to help the weak student, to make up examinations, to eliminate the unfit, and to confer degrees. But you read the law yourself. Many famous lawyers were selftaught. Compare medicine. No man could expect to become a physician by his own unaided efforts, or to expect any society to let him loose on it after such study. The subject is vast and uncertain, and knowl­ edge cannot be separated from skill in using that knowledge. If you know when to say, “ I object/' it makes little difference how you say it, but if you know when to open an abdomen, it makes all the difference how you do it. Moreover, you really can learn when to say, “ I object/' but you can never really know when to open an abdo­ men. You are always guessing. Medicine abounds in general truths, the whole usefulness of which lies in knowing the exceptions. Every step depends on the eye, hands, and judgment of the doctor. He needs a body of laboratory techniques which he must learn from other technicians. Above all, he must accumulate a fund of practi­ cal experience, gotten from the sufferings of his fellow men, suffer­ ings which exist, like music, in time, which rush on in a dreadful symphony, and which will not stand still, like a statue, a theo­ rem, or a rule of law, until he can look it up. He must learn as he saves, as he cures, as he kills. This is not for self-study. Now the study of linguistics is like that of law, although the prac­ tice differs, since the one seeks to reveal truth for the advantage of everyone, the other to bend truth to the advantage of his client. The study of music is rather like that of medicine in that theory and practice are hard to separate and in both a superficial knowl­ edge has little cultural value. On the other hand, a little knowl­ edge of law or philology has a very real cultural value for everyone — I wish I had some of it. Here is a sketch of my own joys and failures with music. I had more advantages for the study of music than most people. I was born into a musical family— the kind of family many of whose members play or sing with or without training. Music was taken for granted, and many relatives who were without an iota of intel­ lectuality nevertheless assumed that everybody liked Beethoven, Mozart, and Mendelssohn. They absorbed their music through their nervous systems, short-circuiting the brain entirely. This is what is usually meant by being “musical,” which has led many intelligent


men into the error of thinking that the understanding of music re­ quires no intellect. The opposite is correct. It is the most intel­ lectual of the arts. Whatever may be the value of this unthinking musicality, I had it. Some of the family had talent. All my father’s relatives played and sang to a certain extent. My father was always playing his flute or listening to music. One aunt was Elsa Leon, a singer mentioned in the book about Carnegie Hall called The House That Music Built. She is in its Hall of Fame. She went to Germany to study when I was about five years of age, and some of my most romantic memo­ ries are of her two homecomings and her singing through the big house in Newark, Ohio. Sometimes other musicians who had been to Europe came with her: Cecil Aires, later Cecil de Horvath, Elizabeth Schiller, Mana Zucca (a Newark girl). Elsa’s sister, my Aunt Sabena, was a pianist so gifted that had she had Elsa’s courage and left home for Europe and the great world, she might have made her mark on the concert stage. It was the age of the virtuoso. I was a famous singer myself at the age of two, known as Mr. Dooley because of my unending renditions of that celebrated ditty. I had a fair alto until I was fourteen, when it broke, and I have never found the pieces. I never learned to read notes. I always had a profound respect for music and musicians, and I always understood that beneath the glamour and clang of the sounds lay a broad intellectual development and a vast edifice of tone which it would be wonderful to enter; but I did not get around to it. I let the sounds roll by me and made no formal study of them, or even thought about such study until I was seven­ teen. In fact, at seventeen, I had never attended a concert except when a relative was performing. My ignorance of the subject was complete. I did not know the names of any composers except Bee­ thoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Bach, and the names that had ap­ peared on my aunt’s programs. In 1917 I had never heard of Tchaikovsky, and I don’t think that I had bothered to note the name of Verdi. This does not mean that their music had not af­ fected me. My musical awakening began while I was working in a paint fac­ tory. One of my fellow workers was Leo Bernhard, a man of about thirty, a bachelor with a negligible salary who had a job in the


stockroom. I attracted his attention one day because I was carrying a book of history, the kind of book which, even among people who think themselves cultivated, usually produces a curious stare. And I suppose I looked to him like a boy who might have a bit of response buried in him somewhere, a capacity for sympathetic vi­ bration toward rhythmic sound, as if one’s breastbone were a tun­ ing fork. One day he asked me if I would care to go to an opera with him— he always seemed to me to be a lonely chap. His timing was perfect. I said yes; we went. T he opera was The Cobbler of Cairo. He warned me it would have no big tenor part. He also told me to buy a libretto and to read it in advance. He went to the opera once a week, year after year. He had studied piano as a boy. He also went to Professor Samuel A. Baldwin’s organ recitals at City College every Sunday afternoon and to a concert every Sunday night. I remember stopping at my Aunt Elsa’s studio in Carnegie Hall to show her the libretto of The Cobbler of Cairo. It did not surprise her. She had always assumed that any nephew of hers must love music. I wonder if she ever realized that I couldn’t play a little on four or five instruments and couldn’t pick over an opera score in my spare time. The Cobbler was followed by Lucia di Lammermoor and by a Sunday-evening pops concert at the Metropolitan Opera House and, on Leo’s recommendation, by Upton’s book, Standard Sym­ phonies. These did the damage; my feet were sunk in the quick­ sand of music, and the rest of my life has been spent trying to find out what I am doing there. One little difference which marked me off from the people who take in their music through their buttocks should have already been noted by the reader: I at once obtained one book, two books, three books on music and musicians, and read enough so that within one month, at the very outset of my experience, I knew more about music (not more music) than most people ever learn. I had already trained my mind not to waste time on any subject without some notion of its history and its vocabulary. I never, after I had heard Lucia and before I had even heard my first symphony (these were those happy days before radio and phonographs when people listened to people), was in that curious condition common to music-lovers whereby one does not know who came first, Weber

or Berlioz; nor in that condition in which one listens to Don Gio­ vanni without knowing that Byron had also referred to the distin­ guished Spaniard. I even read the massive prose works of Richard Wagner. I had always been vulnerable to books. Now they helped me again. I went stark raving mad about music and stayed that way until the day when, some twenty years later, the rise of precise, trained musical knowledge in my own home, due to the develop­ ment of my daughter’s prowess, caused me to return to sanity and turn to mathematics. It was not an exact parallel to my experience with art or poetry, nor to my future experience with mathematics, because I had al­ ways been at home in music even though I knew nothing about it. I only had to give my attention to it. I did not have to approach it gingerly, as a stranger who is not sure of his welcome; I simply went inside and stayed there. In those days I thought about music all day long. I whistled and hummed and sang. I repeated to myself literary phrases from the music books I had read. I scanned the newspapers and read every word in almost every New York paper every day about music and concerts (as I have said earlier, I don’t recommend this). I talked about music all day long— that is, if I could find a victim. The great friendship of my life came about because of music. (I don’t mean Leo. I lost sight of him within a year or two and have never seen him since.) No, I mean that other fellow, the one who was such a fine speaker. Some boys lured me to his home by giving me a bait: he could play the piano. And he could, by heaven, and no pianist has ever given me more pleasure; and we exchanged one glance and knew we were friends (he was only sixteen), and the friendship held until strange events separated us forever, events as strong as and much stranger than death. You could say anything to him and get the right answer. He never made a wrong response. (I’ve finally found one more such, but he’s a little young for me.) However, music was the cement of that friendship. I adored his piano-playing and he adored adoration. I bought an old phonograph with a big horn thrusting out of it, and I found a job in a record store, my first job in retail and the beginning of the end for me, and I studied Beethoven and Wagner on the phonograph and soon learned not to, and went to concerts

and opera fairly steadily until I was thirty-two, when I left New Y ork City for ten years. M y daughter was five years old at this point. In accordance with a fam ily custom not open to question, my w ife thought a few piano lessons were necessary. W e found a good and inexpensive teacher, and the baby practiced for a time on a neighbor’s piano. After about three lessons my wife informed me that we would have to buy a piano. I asked my daughter jvhich she preferred for Christ­ mas, a doll carriage or a piano. She opened her eyes very wide and said, “ T h e piano.” I was surprised at her choice, but not at the early signs of talent. Actually, I was not much interested in music for her. Eventually a piano arrived. My w ife’s fam ily is also musical, and my wife had at one time taken lessons. She began to play duets w ith her daughter, now six years old, and people said the progress was unusual, but I was too accustomed to musical talent in the fam­ ily to become excited until the teacher said that the material she had been giving her (W illiam s’ first and second books, duets by H iller, Thom pson’s Keyboard Attacks, etc.) was now too easy for her, and she was going to start her on Clementi. W e had had a piano in the house for only six months. T h e child was about six and a half. I saw the handwriting on the wall. W ithin three months Clementi was scarcely paying off any more, and it was time for Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn, each of whom had thoughtfully provided easy sonatas for the purpose. I listened to those expressive melodies, that singing tone, those rapid runs in tempo, and such feats as playing three against five as if these were things she did not know some people had trouble with, and I stopped resisting my fate. I resigned myself to life in the wake of a musician, rearranged my thinking and my plans so as to accustom them to the situation, and accepted the opportunity which had been offered to me to make a certain place for myself as somebody's father. I have carried this role with dignity ever since. For the past twenty years, therefore, I have been accustomed to hearing, every day, music of first quality— not phonograph or radio music, but living music in its full dynamic and tonal range, per­ formed, studied and analyzed, and its structure laid open, by a per­ former of sufficient power to do these things. I have made every effort, short of studying the instrument myself, or learning to read

notes, to understand the nature of true piano-playing and the true nature of music. Cohesion, unity, drive, pulse, rhythm, balance, articulation, tone, have been daily subjects of thought and con­ versation. We use more words on music in my home in a month than I could read in five years. I have often tried to give useful counsels and have been called the dean of those piano teachers who cannot read notes. I must suppose that these advantages, which will seem of little importance to many musicians, are still great when compared to ’ the musical life of a farmer in Oklahoma or Georgia, or even of a Scranton coal miner. Add to this picture all the other pianists, singers, violinists, who have played, practiced, and rehearsed in my house, and it might seem that I cannot possibly use my own experi­ ence as a model for the ordinary unmusical small-town man who wishes to get a few ideas as to what some people are beating strings, skins, and their gums about. And a second question might be: since I have had so rich a life as an untrained listener in music, why am I in doubt about it as a field for intelligent self-instruc­ tion? I will take the second question first. I suppose that my life with music has made me too much a musician to be happy around ama­ teurs, without making me enough a musician to have any place among professionals. I have caught the point of view of the pro­ fessionals so that I share in their feeling of helplessness when mu­ sic and the great untaught masses meet. A true musician’s feeling toward the public is peculiar. He cannot do without the public. People must be found to form a public, to give the art breadth and a place in the great world, to take it out of the closet. They are also needed to applaud, to take lessons, to buy musical instru­ ments. Still, this public constitutes an appalling burden of talent­ less ignorance for the artist to drag around. When a musician learns that more and more people are taking an interest in music, he pats himself on the back, decides to buy a new suit, makes a face, and spits. For the public is The Pit, and the indispensable pit is the enemy of all fineness and, still more, all meaning, in art. Music is a fine art. The performance of music is not to be thought of in the same way that one thinks of the performance of an actor. It takes as much talent to make a good actor as a good musical performer,


but the employment of the talent is on an entirely different plane. T h e best actors take what parts they can find, and Olivier or Cor­ nell do things which have no counterpart in music at all, except among popular singers. T h e worst Casadeseus has to handle is Liszt or Ravel, roughly equivalent to an actor's doing Chekhov or Shaw. Most of the musician’s time, all day long, is spent with Bach, Mo­ zart, Beethoven, and their great successors. T his is comparable to an actor’s giving all his life, from childhood, and for a great part of each day, to Shakespeare, Racine, and the Greek dramatists. The musician lives continuously with works of the highest power, dig­ nity, and beauty. How can he bring his public up to it? His faith is wonderful. He is like a curator in a museum, end­ lessly arranging subtle displays of ancient beauty, knowing that hardly anyone except himself understands what he is doing. But the musician cannot hang up his beloved masters and go hide. He must stand out in the open and exert every ounce of the energy and poetry that he has in him to build up a temple of fire and air, which vanishes as it flashes, and which he knows cannot command the serious thought of most of his public. Still, he does it. He never gives up. Although he has perhaps never found an Italian who understands Dante, or an Englishman who understands Donne, or a Chinese who appreciates the Tribute Horse, he still hopes that, before a large, heterogeneous audience made up of people who have stumbled together by all sorts of chances, people ab­ solutely unaccustomed to using the modest powers of concentration and analysis which they possess, he can lay bare the grand mobile architecture of Beethoven. You must agree that this is dedication. Considerations such as these have made me something of a skep­ tic regarding music for everybody. However, this is an argument against popular education itself, and we must remember that argu­ ments against popular education are also arguments against the evolutionary process. In fact, for the position of this book, this is just the place to defeat such arguments. If they can be met here, the victory is won. Victory can be won. T h e difficulty is to get the learner to break through the popular, sensuous, relaxing, romantic, purely emo­ tional aspect of music and bring his mind to bear on it with the very real effort needed to make music intellectually and therefore


culturally significant. It is difficult. Anybody, literally anybody, can learn enough mathematics to understand the special theory of rela­ tivity or some elements of quantum theory, or what a differential equation can do. I am sure of this statement. But I am not sure that very many people can understand what is meant by form— organic growth— in music, even if they are what is usually called "musical.” These are the problems for this chapter. It has seemed to me that it is necessary to emphasize the obstacles here, just as, when I come to mathematics, it will be necessary to emphasize the easiness of the study, because most people are under the two-sided delusion that they do not have enough power to study mathematics by themselves and that they do have enough power to listen to music without any honest effort at study, either with teachers or by themselves. As is usual in such matters, they are wrong in both instances. I have noticed that we are very poor judges of our own native abilities. Whenever a man tells me that such and such a matter is beyond him, I tell him he is probably wrong; he does not even know enough to know whether it is beyond him or not. But when he says, if there’s one thing I know, or can do, it’s such and such, I become very suspicious. His attitude alone is enough to make it doubtful that he has penetrated the surface of whatever it is he is talking about. In short, when you think you are good, you are usually kidding yourself; but often you are not as bad as you think either. After taking all these ideas into consideration over a period of years, I still feel that the appreciation and understanding of music, to some extent at least, is a necessary and valuable part of any man’s culture, and I know that those otherwise highly educated men who are almost deaf to music are being deprived of one of the finest privileges open to the soul and intellect of man. Difficul­ ties notwithstanding, it cannot be left out of my book or your life. My own musical attainments are small indeed, but so are all my attainments. If I had let this stop me, I shouldn’t have attempted this book, and by the same argument no one should attempt to learn anything. Above all, it is not true that since I have accom­ plished so little with such good opportunities, the ordinary man, and I mean the ordinary man, will accomplish nothing in music. For, after all, most of my real musical grasp, insofar as I dare use this expression, has been acquired by the same tried and true method that I have already described in connection with history,

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literature, and art. It is the same method I shall describe when I treat of mathematics and philosophy. I learned what I learned chiefly by concentration and a modest, sincere approach at con­ certs, and, to a much lesser extent, from radio and phonograph listening. A fter that, my chief instruction has come from books, which is the place most learning comes from. I have not read a great number of books on music; that would only increase my stock o f facts about music. I would know the year of Bach’s marriage and where Tosca was first produced, but such knowledge has little cultural value. Even mere chewing-over of the aesthetic ideas of others soon becomes an empty business. T o put blood and life into your relationship with any art, you must develop your own aes­ thetics, built up out of genuine convictions which arise almost spontaneously from the whole of a man’s education. T h e ideas of others are useful chiefly to help in avoiding provinciality and ec­ centricity. But some books are necessary. A man who has never read one book on music is essentially ignorant of the subject, unless he is a prodigious talent. A nd even then he is a narrowly developed tal­ ent. In fact, I doubt that he exists. Every musician reads some of the literature, and those concert-goers who never read are as ig­ norant of music, though not as strange around it, as my imaginary reader. A nd the books can be found everywhere. As in every study, the right attitude, the sound approach, is the main thing. I have developed this idea so fully already I can’t say much more now. If you understand what has been written up to this point, music lies before you— a heavenly pleasure wide open to the open mind and heart. You do not have to have led my life or the life of the trained musician. Even if you are quite ad­ vanced in years, say sixty-five years old, but with some mental vigor and some generosity and pliability left in you, you have plenty of time to make astonishing progress. You have noticed that I woke up to music in about one day. In a month I was no longer a stranger to it, in a year I was teaching everybody I met. You can do the same thing. D on’t assume you are “ unmusical” ; it’s very unlikely. Musicality is very widespread. Everybody probably has music in him somewhere. It’s as natural as dancing, to which it is very close, and we all could have danced, if the m odem world had been saner.

If you are old, music will help keep you from drying up. It is the ideal art with which to refine your senses, even though it is such a highly intellectual activity. You consciously try to improve your ear and you make your blood flow faster when you listen to music. Your spirit dances. Your breath sings. Your metabolism finds a keener rhythm. You seek that attitude, that tone, which makes po­ etry significant and painting rich. If you are young, you can use music as your introduction to art, literature, and history. I have suggested history as a starting place, but if you are crazy about music and think history is dull, learn music history. Then learn dance history and the history of the theater. After that some literary and art history, and you are up to your neck in history, where you belong. Should you learn something about music even though it be diffi­ cult? Yes, even if it were impossible! I have a list of practical suggestions, but they are a small matter compared to the right approach, and you could get all my sugges­ tions elsewhere and from better writers. I want to touch on one thing first, because it is the principal stumbling block for all those millions of people who are already trying to understand music. It is simply the deplorable and culturally destructive habit of passing judgments on performances and performers. Let us get this out of the way, once and for all. It is very important. Nothing is as dam­ aging to progress in understanding the arts as the habit of passing judgments. It is not the' real business of you or me to determine how well a composition has been played. To begin with, it is proba­ bly beyond our powers. It is a very technical question. Leave it to specialists in each field. Singers, in general, do not pass judgment on cellists (they may quote the opinion of another cellist, and they may not think it necessary to mention this when talking to a be­ ginner). Pianists do not attempt to classify violinists. Newspaper critics do attempt these things, but (1) they are usually advanced students of one or more instruments and of composition and mu­ sical theory; (2) the critics are, we hope, men of talent and con­ siderable power and all they do, the day long, is listen to music; (3) they make appalling blunders. What can we do? The newspa­ pers cannot afford to carry a whole regiment of specialists in the different branches of music; (4) if the critics did not write down

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judgments, what would they write about? They would soon be off the payroll for lack of enough to say. Your position is different; no one is paying you to be impertinent. I speak of passing judgments on artist-performers. T h e work of students is even more difficult to evaluate because there you must judge potentialities as well as achievement. This is difficult enough even for teachers. I know of a thoroughly competent teacher who once advised a student to give up music. This student became a dis­ tinguished artist, after which event the teacher, who tells the story, says he does not advise people in such absolute terms. I once told a violinist, at that time with the Philharmonic, that a certain woman violinist whom I had heard play a concerto had seemed to me to have a big technique and a fine tone. My listener had played that day in the orchestra along with the soloist. “ You liked the piece,” he told me. "She has a small technique and not much tone.” Since then— twenty-five years ago— I have refrained from telling violinists what “seemed to me” about the violin. I once read a comment by an actress to the effect that most people cannot possibly judge acting because they cannot distinguish be­ tween acting, direction, and manuscript. Reflect on these terms carefully for a moment. You will realize, if you are honest, that when you say, “ T he acting was wonderful,” all you mean is that you enjoyed yourself. You liked the piece. When you say, “The acting was lousy,” you were bored. W hy not just say that? Or say nothing? But all this doesn’t quite explain why you must not attempt to pass judgment on performers or actors. T he real reason is that the attitude of judging is not the attitude of learning. You cannot learn while sitting behind a high desk with a gavel in your hand. You are supposed to learn before you pick up the gavel, and you or I are never going to know that much. This is true even of baseball play­ ing or prize fighting, but there you have no obligation to learn, and therefore you do yourself no harm— it’s customary to make a fool of yourself at a ball game. T h e injury done by the practice of habitually passing judgments goes very deep. It even hurts the professionals. It causes them to think about the playing instead of the music. It causes them to ex­ aggerate the importance of every petty detail in interpretation which differs from their own momentary point of view. It leads to i 58

thinking in terms of how X does the Fifth Symphony, Y does the Schumann, or Z does Phaedra. French actresses speak of “her” Phaedra or “his” Alceste. This is all wrong. It is the main reason we become tired of the most familiar (and greatest) works, such as the Appassionata. We could never tire of these masterpieces if we kept our eye on the ball. Who ever tired of Hamlet? But if all that Hamlet meant to us was X ’s Hamlet, Y ’s Hamlet, or Z’s Hamlet, that might become a bore. Let us think about Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Beethoven’s Appas­ sionata, and Chopin’s Etudes. Consider this. A musical performer first shows possibilities at the age of five. He is placed in the hands of a teacher, and a lifetime of impassioned study begins. For thirty years, the whole waking thought of a powerful, talented mind is bent to one end: the under­ standing and exposition of the meaning of the great masters. Finally this artist-teacher— priest might be a better term— comes be­ fore the public and offers the results of half a life of meditation. You go to this lecture, this rite, this concert. Where will you again find such a teacher? In college? In church? Think again! Mu­ sical performers are teachers who are gifted in teaching their rep­ ertory. They have specialized in explaining the works they per­ form. They only teach; they are not scholars teaching to make a living; they exist to teach. Their preparation exceeds that of priests, doctors, or professors. They offer you man’s highest ideas, analyzed throughout a lifetime, and expounded by love and genius. Surely your duty is to use this unparalleled opportunity to learn; hardly to pass judgment. Even a concert by an artist who, under the fierce competitive conditions of the American concert stage, is unlikely to become a professional traveling virtuoso is a very serious piece of exposition. The new priest will never be a famous cardinal in brilliant red hat, but you must consider that which is being communicated to you. Don’t fix your attention on the cut of his gown or the way he in­ tones the service. These are my recommendations: Regardless of whether you live in a large city, a small town, or in the country, every effort should be made to listen to live music by flesh-and-blood musicians. If you are a farmer, this may be difficult, but somewhere about you is a musical family. Find that family. Somewhere not too far away is a

town which has concerts. Attend as many of these as you can. When occasionally you get to a large town you may be able to go to a really fine concert.

Try to bring as much live music into your home as you can. If you studied music as a child and weren’t too bad, try it again. If your child shows an interest, have him take lessons. Whatever the child may accomplish, you will learn something. In many a family the only genuine cultural activity which ever comes into the home is the child’s music lessons. If you can sing at all, sing. It is easy to learn to read notes well enough to sing a little. Even I would have done this if I didn’t sound like a cow and if there weren’t so much music in the house already. By all means sing in church and have your child belong to the choir. Take part in the musical life of the church. Try to raise the standard of taste and performance. Sup­ port the local music teacher and organist against the crass, the tightwads, and the flat-souled. Join a choral group. Did you know that much of our finest music was written to be played by the composer and his friends— two, three, or more musi­ cians playing in their own homes for their own pleasure? This holds true well into the nineteenth century. People did not always think in terms of public performance the way we do. The modern concert is quite a new idea in the long history of music. When you listen to some friends playing, you are closer to the spirit of the chamber music and the sonatas of Haydn and Schubert than you would be if you were straining your ears in a huge auditorium. Talk about music, especially at home, if the rest of the inhabit- ' ants can be made to stand it. I should have mentioned this point sooner. Talk about everything you learn. Try to raise the conversa­ tional level of the house. Make your home a place where talk about literature, art, history, and music is in place. Naturally you will use common sense. Remember the remark about throwing pearls about. Still, the practice and habit of good talk are valuable and are the marks of a cultivated home. When you go to a concert, or a musicale at a friend’s home, make an effort to listen. Your mind will wander; even musicians have this problem, but keep bringing your mind back to it. Try to note the enunciation and development of the ideas (any book on how to listen to music will explain this).


Acquire a brief, accurate stock of musical terms by suitable read­ ing. No public library is so small that you cannot find something that will do. Read not less than one or more than two books on how to listen to music. It doesn’t matter which books;* they are all as good as is possible, considering the difficulty inherent in ex­ plaining music through words. Read a volume or two on the lives of the best-known composers. Read a one-volume history of music itself if you can find a lively one. A great one, as I have mentioned, is Lang’s Music in Western Civilization, but this requires considera­ ble general culture for its appreciation. If you are strong on history and art, this is just the book for you. However, your public library should have something simpler for the ordinary reader. Books on the history of each of the musical instruments are stimulating. You don’t have to memorize these books. Take as much as you can use. The encyclopedias are full of information on music. Look up the composers by name, the instruments, the types of compositions (sonatas, fugues, symphonies, etc.). A light history of the opera can be interesting. Remember light and short are not the same thing. If you can read notes at all, by all means get an elementary book of musical analysis and go over it (not a book on theory). Books on the symphony or the opera and books of analysis in general may contain quotations of music in musical notation. Do not let this frighten you if you cannot read notes. Examine these quotations (they are usually themes) in the light of the writer’s discussion. Look at the contour, the outline of the melodies, and the general appearance of the harmony as suggested by your au­ thor’s comments. You will find that it makes sense even though the sounds which the music represents cannot spring to your mind as it would if you could read the notes instead of merely observing them. Moreover, you will soon learn to recognize by sight a theme which you know by ear, even though you can’t read the notes. Musical notation is very expressive to the eye. A dramatic sound looks dramatic, a slow passage reveals itself at a glance, a skipping tune bounces all over the page. I will never forget my thrill when I first saw the famous opening theme of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. * A few books are listed at the end of this chapter. 161

I had not yet heard the symphony. When T finally did, half my joy came from identifying the toneless image in my mind with those rich and penetrating vibrations. It may be that some branch of musical prose literature will prove interesting to you. If this happens, read all you want. You can use books on music as introductions to literature, art, history, aesthetics and philosophy, if you find them helpful. Most books on music are either so easy they say little or too technical and not very well writ­ ten. Men who possess the art of lively writing do not usually become musicologists. I therefore cannot recommend for you a Ber­ trand Russell, a Ruskin, or a Taine, in music: a man who by the power of his style can make you love music before you ever hear it. Fortunately, you won’t need such a man; music is its own Ruskin. The biographies and especially the letters of the great composers are just as absorbing as the letters of other great men. The cor­ respondence of Mozart and Mendelssohn are examples. Of course, this reading should be backed by a reasonable knowledge of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.* Many composers have written on music. Famous examples are Schumann, Berlioz, and Wagner. You should read the librettos of Wagner’s operas and perhaps a book on Wagner. Wagner seems to have the power to interest non-musicians. George Bernard Shaw has an amusing book called The Perfect Wagnerite. A book on the standard symphonies is necessary sooner or later. Any library can get you enough of this material to keep you busy for a long time. All the reading suggested here could be done in a few months by a busy man, but it might be just as well to spread it out over a couple of years. You should also buy a few books on the subject, especially if libraries are difficult for you to reach. How­ ever, do not expect to read your way into music. You might as well expect to learn French by reading a book on French literature. The essence of the study is the listening, and that must be sincere, earnest, and analytical. There is more to music than analysis; there is more to everything than analysis (I will discuss this when I come to logic and philosophy), but analysis is the tool by which we learn, and where there is no analysis there is no learning. You are permitted to extract every ounce of pleasure out of music that you * Read the novel Jean Christophe by Romain Rolland (a French novel­ ist, essayist, and music critic). It's in three volumes.


can. You should enjoy the ring and hum of the instruments, the thrill of a great throat happy in its power, the exaltation of mighty climaxes, the excitement and drive of a rushing allegro. You also have the right to enjoy all the other pleasures this earth can give you. You should enjoy the sensation of rich food, the lapping of surf on your stretched-out body. I like cold drinks, bland or sting­ ing. But these pleasures of the senses are not the major part of the learning process. Moreover, they will not suffice, for most people, as a day in and day out occupation, from youth through old age. For that, the mind must be fully engaged. It can be and must be so engaged when listening to music. If you cannot rise to this vigorous, active listening but must only rest in your seat and let the sound roll over you like surf or a pleasant breeze, I would prefer that you give it up altogether, since there are many other ways to enjoy your­ self, and in those other ways you will not so easily delude yourself into thinking that you are improving your mind. Steam baths, good in themselves, perhaps, are in bad taste in the presence of the great composers. Avoid false listening to music. Do not play a radio unless you intend to listen with all you’ve got. Never play a phonograph rec­ ord unless you have the leisure to act as if the performer could see you. Don’t play music at all except to listen, because that will dull your ears. This is very important. It is hard to train the ears to hear; easy to train them to ignore. We ignore sounds all day long. Don’t practice ignoring music; you will be only too successful. If you go in for hi-fi use it as a means toward an end, the end being the furtherance of your understanding of music. Don’t compare your sound system or record collection with everybody else’s; that con­ fuses a hobby with education.* These vanities, which are all right if you are collecting American bottles or old pipes, are false cul­ ture, something like cultivating an English accent when one’s life is to be spent in Iowa. Don’t fall into affectations about music. There is more pretense around music than around anything else except religion and art.f Listen quietly. Don’t beat time to display your emotion. Don’t say * If your hi-fi. has six speakers, it might be wise to shut off five of them and use your ears on the sixth one. f Not by the musicians; by their public.


anything about music you don’t really want to say; it's a poor sub­ ject for polite chatter. N ever put on a Beethoven symphony, start to clean out a closet, stop after thirteen minutes, transfix the nearest person w ith your glittering eye, and cry out, “ T hat's beautiful!” A few words on etiquette. D on't say too much to a performer after a concert. Your best bet is, " A wonderful evening, Miss Rosencavalier." T h e next time you may tell her, “ I thought it was won­ derful.” T h e third time (by this time she knows you), “ It was beautiful.” T h e n you can start repeating. T h e re ’s a good reason for this advice. A nything you say will seem superficial to the lady if she's much o f a musician. A ll she wants to know is whether you enjoyed yourself or not, and you can't very w ell say not. She knows you don’t know much, but she hopes she can fuse the audience, overcome its apathy and ignorance, and bring the concert to life. She wants to hear from you that she has succeeded. (Similar remarks apply to the painter who shows you a picture or the poet who lets you read some o f his verses.) Don't try to flatter until you are sure you know how. A fter all, nothing flatters any artist like close attention. It is necessary sometimes to go alone to concerts, the same as to museums. I know that everybody likes to go to a show in com­ pany. Even trained musicians like to go to concerts together. But real study is done by oneself, and the quality of the listening is a little different when you are alone. If you wish to find out whether you mean business in music, use this test: go alone. A ll mechanically obtained music is inherently inferior to the real thing, because a concert or friendly musicale at home is a liv­ ing event, a unique occurrence, one evening, one group, one mood. T h e next evening is different. Records lose this and therefore lose half the show. Use records to prepare for your musical experiences but don’t let them replace true music in your life. You must throw yourself into a musical event. N o great man ever wrote or builded so you might sleep better. Make yourself a vital part of the performance. T h e artist feels the quality of your attention. Ask any performer. Artists like audiences so quiet you can hear a pin drop, not because a few noises will throw them off but because those noises mean they haven’t got that audience where they want it. A t any show, even a review or melodrama, applaud long and

loud. That’s part of your share of the evening’s work. If you don’t come through, the performer will become discouraged and lose the feeling of victory which should lead him to do better and better work, so that the night will end in a triumphant fusion of talent and appreciation. Indeed, a difficulty of music study for the untrained is the specta­ cle itself. A performance of music, at least in the Western world, is a show, a display of the personality and talents of one or more persons. This show, which is very interesting, is very distracting. It is hard, all at one time, to sympathize with artists in the act of crea­ tion, watch a dramatic and moving panorama of human behavior, and concentrate our minds for purposes of study. An object of art stands still for us; a poem rests on the page while we try to come up to it. A performance of Shakespeare is indeed distracting if one is trying to grasp Shakespeare’s ideas in full, but we can prepare for this or make it up in the quiet of our study afterward. But how does one recapture a musical performance? Only if you can read notes and can go over the scores. Such study lies outside the scope of this book. Your best tool, here, is the phonograph. Suppose you expect to go to a concert on a certain date to hear, let us say, Mozart’s Requiem Mass. I have just had this sensation today, thanks to Mr. Walter, the Philharmonic and the Westminster Choir. If you can afford it, and if it is a rare event in your life, you can obtain the records of the Requiem and a score, even though, like me, you cannot read notes. You can still follow the contour of the music, as indicated by the notes, while the record is playing, and can study the text. Repeating the record several times, a portion at a time, you can prepare yourself for the performance. Then, after the show is over, a few days after, you can play the record through as often as you like, and the performance will come to mind. This will also be useful to teach yourself the inherent insuffi­ ciency of any reproduction of a concert. Consider a living per­ formance of the Mozart Requiem. The world is gathering on Fiftyseventh Street as one approaches Carnegie Hall. Eager persons, young and old, are working their way into the building and up the stairs. Many are musicians; the complete score is on sale in the lobby, but many have brought their own. The couple in front of me have an old German edition.

T h is audience is prepared to take its part in the performance, to give all the life which three thousand eager pairs of eye% and ears, and applauding hands and happy smiles, can add to what that great man Bruno W alter, eighty years old, is about to accomplish as he leads his superb instrumentalists and the fine choir through a journey into the m ind of the eighteenth century. W hen the Mass starts the choir rises, one hundred and fifty angels in long red robes, some looking like Japanese girls, others like M ogul mourners in a Persian m iniature, their black hair let down and their mouths open to wail. T h e men are terra cottas by Della R obbia. In front are four singers, one a man of fine build, a Negro w ith a deep voice, another a tenor, pale under the lights, singing high and clear, and two beautiful women in black gowns that cover them from neck to floor. A n d the shock of the great fortissimos, the brilliant lighting of the orchestra, the swift, bustling zigzag of the themes, leaping about the stage, the tender cries of the weeping angels in the back! In front of it all three thousand people are praying with the per­ formers, hundreds are follow ing the score, heads in the music, others, old, fat, and middle-aged, are trying to hide their emotions. T h e y quietly dry a tear. N ow consider that frozen, hardened, immovable, made-up, patched-up, perfected, and inhum an thing, a phonograph record. It has its uses, of course. I even use it myself. A n d now, television. T h e things that need to be made plain about television are hard to make plain, and I have had little luck in explaining them to people. It happens that I work where television sets play all day long. I do not own a television at this time. T h is perplexes my fellow workers, who, since I have an un­ avoidable reputation as a long-hair, naturally think that I consider television unworthy of my majestic intellect. T h ey assure me that they seldom play their own televisions(l) or that some programs are very educational (and so they are). T hese points are outside of the problem entirely, but I cannot m ake myself clear to my fellow workers because they have no con­ ception of a filled and crowded life such as mine, nor of an attitude toward life such as mine. T o begin with, I w ill buy a television set as soon as I can use one— probably after my daughter and her


pianos are set up in their own home. Then there will be a want in our lives which may need a little soothing sirup.* Moreover, after they go, we will have time to look at the damn thing, but, for the present, consider these facts. Each day of our lives my wife and I wish to do a little reading. We do not know how to live without this. We often have company, and no one comes to our home to look at television. The piano takes several hours out of every day, seven days a week, all year round. This not only cuts down the time we would have to look at television but it satisfies our need for entertainment, especially audible entertainment. Yet this much music in the home is not too much for anyone who is interested in music. I, during 1956, heard the Fourth Beethoven Concerto, fif­ teen Mozart violin and piano sonatas, and two complete piano recital programs, all worked up and every detail inspected and made plain in my own house— enough entertainment for anyone who wants a moment with his thoughts. It is true that television would often teach me something that I do not know. But such cheaply bought knowledge is not very en­ during in its effects; it is good enough for the purpose of jamming millions of unwilling youths through high school, or forcing in­ formation down the throats of soldiers, but after all I have said about our own responsibility for culture, it should be obvious that it couldn’t meet my needs. But all this isn’t quite the kernel of the idea. The real point is that we should not spend our lives in the lives of others. We should not spend our whole lives looking at plays, even Shakespeare’s, or listening to music, even Bach’s, or looking at ballets, movies, or scenes from foreign places, no matter how fine they are. Actors, di­ rectors, playwrights, and singers may spend their lives in the thea­ ter; that’s their work; hard labor it is and the right thing for them. Musicians listen to a great deal of music when they are not making it. They know how to work as they listen better than I do. But we must live our own lives as they live theirs, and it is a horrible thought that the American nation, and eventually the whole world, will do nothing its whole life long except scratch for bread while the sun shines and sit the rest of life away, peering short-sightedly into a box, where other people are presumably living real lives. • I have one now (1958). Somebody pitied me.

This is utter stagnation— death. It is fit only for a nation of slaves. Shakespeare as an opiate is still an opiate. Coleridge, De Quincey and Baudelaire used opium, but when they turned to Shake­ speare they snapped out of their dreams and went to work. Go places, do things: read and think about your book, make or hear music on your own, look at paintings directly and find your own thoughts about them, digest the philosophers and historians and the nation’s politics for yourself, but don’t try to buy culture at ten per cent down and the balance in eighteen months. Whether you care two straws about culture or not, don’t live your life dreaming other people’s dreams. I have no hope that these remarks will mean a thing to anyone who needs them. To sum up these thoughts, I say ag?in, use live music wherever possible. If it really cannot be had, the machines, I suppose, are better than nothing, but then you will have to treat them with the same respect you would living musicians. And the concentrating will be harder than for the living. All in all, I am inclined to say that if you are so situated that it is impossible for you to hear real music, and if you feel you are too untalented or too uninterested to learn to do your own singing and playing, then this might be the part of your education which you could best put off for a time. You have so much to learn, and progress is faster in so many other branches of learning. Your life may change; you may not always live in Mudville; perhaps genuine musicians will someday come to live in a neighboring village. In the meantime, there is history and literature and art and science. I would not advise adults to study the playing of any instrument, even as an amusement, unless they think they can keep it up for several years. One or two years of casual, halfhearted, irregular piano or violin study will teach very little, culturally, whereas the same time put into books, the museums, or mathematics can yield a mighty harvest. This assumes that you are not “musical,” of course. If you are, you won’t wait for my permission. Just enough piano study to enable you to read notes and accompany your own singing, after a fashion, can pay off, however, provided the knowl­ edge gained is used in the reading of solid books on music and in following scores while listening. No adult is justified in starting to learn a musical instrument in


the hope of having a concert career. You would be confusing an emotion with a talent. Talent doesn’t take that long to show, and an entire laborious youth is scarcely long enough to acquire the depth of musical culture needed for the concert stage. Many people would like to crystallize their ideas on (1) popular music and (2) “modern” music. As to popular music, it can never be a means of achieving an education because it lacks the first requirement— there is no place for the intellect in it. Its emotional impact is another matter; it seems to excite some people the way whisky does, but do not con­ fuse culture with booze; they should not be taken at the same time. Popular songs in this country are written to a few simple, fixed patterns which offer little scope for originality, compared to the music of the concert stage.* Moreover, the lyricism the American popular dance song once had seems to me to be dying out. It sounds like mere orchestration and rhythmic effect to me. If it does occasionally rise to a certain charm or excitement, please remember I am offering you Dante, Plato, Della Francesca, Wagner. They have enough excitement, enough charm. Modern serious music is a difficult subject to discuss. Even the most experienced musicians have trouble with it. All music was mod­ ern when it first was heard, but that is not what we mean by modern music, modern art. Poetry, drama, and the novel differ from the past, where they do differ, only in respect to power and beauty. Our best modern poets are good in precisely the same way, although they are not necessarily of the same quality, as were the Renaissance poets. Their difference in subject matter is the inevita­ ble and proper result of a difference in the world around them; their modest innovations in form are not greater than those which were made in the Renaissance and later. The development of the heroic couplet was as great a change as the development of free verse, which, after all, has been implicit in English literature since Piers Plowman and the King James Bible. Our poets are weaker, in my opinion, than at any time prior to 1890, but this is not be­ cause of the changes they have made in poetry itself. • In Western-type music. It would offer scope enough in other music, such as ancient or Oriental music. But we have no means of entering into that world. Ours has grown the way it has, and we must live with it. 169

By “ modern” music and “modern” art we mean something which has come over music and art in our own time and transformed it so that a drastic change appears in both arts, beginning, say, about 1910; a cleavage between the old and new, greater and, above all, stranger, more alien, more incomprehensible, than anything which has occurred in Western art since Giotto, or which has appeared in Western music since the passing of plain chant. Indeed, no change that we know of in the entire history of art and music was ever so sudden and so baffling to the people who endured it. Previous changes took the form of a luring of the eye and ear into richer or else more easily understood forms (though not necessarily better forms), but the changes of the twentieth century are all toward leanness and remoteness from the ordinary man. If somewhere in the soul of the age there was a call toward cubism and atonality, it was a singularly inarticulate yearning. And this modern music and modern art have not come upon us gradually, like the change from Romanesque to Gothic, or from polyphony to homophony, but suddenly, almost in a day, almost as if on Thursday next everyone were to stop speaking English and change to a Scandinavian tongue. No wonder wise men approach the subject cautiously! I shall risk this much. Both modern music and modern art are here to stay for a while. T h e triumphs of modern art are clearer and firmer than those of modern music and have won a big fol­ lowing. For this reason, modern art may have run the best part of its course. It is already a fixed and ruthless bureaucracy in our col­ leges, something that every talentless pedagogue with an M.A. can mercilessly ram down the gagging throats of all the young artists in the country. This academism (and rest assured “modern” art in our colleges is the new academy) is usually the symptom of de­ cay in any art. I think that nonrepresentational art, pure abstrac­ tion, at any rate, is on the dusty road that vers libre took twenty years ago. But we are not going back to Ingres or Mozart. Whatever is coming will be new, not old. Our youngest painters, those who have talent, are once more painting what they see, but they do not see as their fathers saw. Unfortunately art is a fad as well as an emotion and a study, and the modern fad of modern art is led on by the interior decorator who likes “modern” painting, especially bad modern painting, be-


cause its lack of character makes it ideal as a device to sum up his furniture arrangements. An American decorator would cheerfully hack an orange patch out of a Da Vinci and hang it either end up to furnish the “accent” he needed to complete one of his en­ sembles, and the decorator’s customers, the dangerously ignorant, silly women who patronize him, now have the “modern” craze. Picasso must loathe these people. When an art reaches this depth it is usually dead. Time will tell. Music is different. We have no decorators in music, thank God, and musicians are generally the sincerest people alive. Of course, there is the highly dramatized, faintly nauseating conductor, the bellowing tenor (now a vanishing bison), the oversuccessful in­ strumental performer who has long since given up music for gym­ nastics; but these are only the performers, the servants, of music — everybody has a servant problem, even Apollo. The modern composers are a terribly honest bunch of people. From Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Bart6k to the newest men, scratching out a living by engraving music, like Ben Weber, or driving a taxi, as Spartaco Monello did for a time, or teaching, like Miriam Gideon, they are in deadly earnest, and as sincere as the Witnesses of Jehovah. But whether they are doing a thing with all those notes, I do not know. I have heard a number of contemporary piano compositions studied until they began to make sense, but that hasn’t helped me. I can make sense out of them, but I can’t find much point to them. Hindemith, for example, seems to write a musical prose, clear and dry, but scarcely needed in a world already conquered by prose. Contemporary music, unlike contemporary art, appears to be a cold-blooded, made-up thing. There is emotion in the composer, no doubt, but it doesn’t seem to reach the listener. Modern music has no following at all. If the composers did not stick together and push it on us by an iron resolution, little of it would be performed and less heard. Performers like to decorate their programs with the newest things; they also like to become acquainted with composers by playing their music. A composer, if he goes over, can make a whole generation of players. T o be the first man to have played Brahms or sung Debussy is to have won a place in musical history, and who can say which of these strange, strange songbirds is the next Brahms? Modern music is either still­ born or fifty years ahead of its time.


One difficulty with modern serious music is that you have no way of knowing which composers to take seriously. Most of them must be mediocrities or worse, because that is normal, but which ones are the great ones? Which one is the Beethoven of our age? You are willing to make every effort to understand Beethoven, but you, a mere amateur, can hardly be asked to make an elaborate study of every one of Beethoven’s undistinguished contemporaries. This was not so to the same degree in the past. Men like Men­ delssohn and Goethe and Weber knew who Beethoven was. And so did all Vienna and London. It is true that many unimportant contemporaries of Beethoven were also taken seriously, but that was because the public enjoyed their music. You are being asked to listen to all the undistinguished composers of our day for fear you’ll miss the good one, and without extracting one iota of enjoy­ ment from any of them. I can’t ask you to. For my reader, who is trying to find out what music is about, I must say that if you don’t take to modern music at a concert, let it go. You have to rest at some point during the performance; you are probably all worn out from trying to listen and stay awake; if you must sleep somewhere, sleep here. Incidentally, speaking of modern, romantic, classical, music, a sense of style is fundamental in the appreciation of music and is easily acquired up to a certain point. One soon learns to classify music by periods, such as pre-Bach, classic (Haydn, Mozart, etc.), early romantic (Schumann, Mendelssohn), post-Wagnerian, and unmistakably, modern. Then it becomes easy in many cases to carry the process a step further and identify by sound the works of Brahms and Schumann, even though you can’t identify the specific piece. It is desirable not to overrate this achievement. It’s mostly mem­ ory. We do not know exactly what we remember. Often when we identify a work as being by a certain composer, we have heard it before and forgotten the occasion. Music is very suggestive and lies in the memory until needed. Moreover, this trick is the very lowest form of musical knowledge and must be carried to great perfec­ tion to be noteworthy. When for the first time you find yourself able to answer someone’s “What is that?” with the correct state­ ment, “Handel,” don’t let it go to your head. And please, if you score yourself, count your errors as well as your hits. I made simiIJ2

lar remarks about art. This kind of superficial knowledge should be acquired but must not be confused with serious study. What is much more valuable is to have such a feeling for the characteristics of each country and each epoch of history that you can say of any example of art, literature, or music, in any part of the world at any time, “This is archaic, classic, or decadent,” if these words should be significant. Such appreciation comes from culture as a whole, based on and made vigorous by a firm grasp of history. It is a kind of thinking which is natural to every educated man, and I cannot attach any meaning to the word educated which does not take it for granted. And now, the last topic under this heading: music and peace of mind. I am sorry to say that for the only reader I could presume to write for, the man who is not in need of a doctor, but who is sad, depressed, unstable, bored, discontented, overemotional, and use­ lessly worried, suffering from anxiety or neurosis, but not to the point where he dare intrude on those overworked men, the psy­ chiatrists, I cannot recommend music. The doctors may if they wish, but it’s not in my materia medica. Music lacks precisely those qualities which I have found helpful in so many other aspects of culture. It is too hard to concentrate on music for the amateur to be able always to raise his listening to the level of a serious study. It is too relaxing; it is an ideal accompani­ ment to introspection, to meditation, to thinking about your own troubles, about everything you should forget. Instead of taking you out of yourself, it plays a sinister obbligato to your worst moods. I first heard the finale of Mozart’s G-Minor Symphony, which has been called the expression of the very joy of life, on one of my few sad days. How sad that music seemed! That penetrating, probing theme! That pitiless exposition of despair! No, music may soothe the savage but that won’t help you much. Savagery is not your trou­ ble, but mawkish self-pity and what you think is the tastelessness of life. Read a book, go to a museum, spell out a foreign tongue, solve an equation, meditate with Aristotle, reflect on Byzantium or the Crusades, but if you fear despair, you had better not dissolve your­ self in music. I don’t see how it can help.


This list of books on listening to music is given for readers who have no library facilities where they can seek out their own reading. U l l r i c h , H o m e r , Design for Listening (Harcourt, Brace, N.Y.) C o p l a n d A a r o n , What to Listen For in Music (McGrawH ill, N.Y.) B e r n s te in , L e o n a r d , The Joy of Music (Simon and Schuster, N.Y.) H a r m o n , C a r t e r , A Popular History of Music (paperback) (Dell Publishing Co., N.Y.) B a u e r & P e y s e r , H o w Music Grew (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, N.Y.)

C hapter

E ig h t

— — < m >— —

An Interpolation A t t h i s p o i n t I shall interpolate a little discussion which attempts to answer a question every thinking person asks himself sooner or later. I could have put it in anywhere, at the beginning or at the end, but here, after I have brought the reader through history, literature, art, and music, it might be timely to try to answer the question “What is all this for?” What is the use, the true, honest, practical use, of culture as I am using the word? It is to build for your own a personal society, subject to your own control— a society which has only one member, which will be a richer, finer, fuller society than that which the uneducated man can have. In the sophisticated, mechanical, book-learned society of the twentieth-century white man, the unedu­ cated are forced to lead relatively meager, impoverished, under­ lived lives. This is not necessarily true for the Eskimo, the Siamese, the Hopi Indian, or the Maori, but it is true for the American and the Englishman, especially if he is a city-dweller. Your life can be no better than your ability to enjoy that which your society offers, and a city society does not offer a rich life to those who cannot use the best parts of the city. Leave out of the city its books, universi­ ties, museums, concerts, newspapers, its gifted men, and what have you left? Dirty streets, flavorless tenements, foul air, smoky skies, and a dull, meaningless, mechanical life. Now the things that are most valuable in city life are the things that cost the least money, but they are not the things that cost the least. They cost in effort, thought, and patience. They can be had by anybody but not at once, without effort and time. We must train ourselves to use the best that urban civilization offers or we will have to put up with nearly the worst. And the worst is bad.


So the true use of personal culture, in the way that money or food is useful, is to preserve the benefits of the simple but rich and sound social culture of so-called primitive peoples. The man who has made a fortune at the expense of his spirit over the greater part of his life finally buys an estate in the country, sets it out with gardens, parks, a swimming pool, and a comfortable house, all to enjoy at the end of his span those things which primitive people have had naturally and unconsciously throughout their lives. This is a good solution, but it has two faults: it comes too late in life and very few of us can even hope to have it. It is bad enough to live out most of your life in a grim rat-race in order to get a few years of rational existence at the end, but how much worse to run that race knowing that you will never get those few years? For my part, I have refused to fall for such a shell game. I can count. I can figure the chances. It is very plain that it doesn’t pay me to give up everything I have at those odds. Instead I choose to live today. I am stuck in the city; that’s all I have. I am stuck in business and routine and tedium; I must live as I can. But I give up only as much as I must; for the rest I always have lived, and always will live, my life as it can be lived at its best, with art, music, poetry, literature, science, philosophy, and thought. I shall know the keener people of this world, think the keener thoughts, and taste the keener pleasures, as long as I can and as much as I can. I will never own an estate, or even a little farm, I fear. But I shall smell the flowers and see the meadows of the painters. I shall ride the prancing steeds of poetry. I shall hear the winds and forest sounds of music. I shall walk with the thinkers and listen to grand truths. I go with travelers and learn the ways of peoples. What more could I buy if I gave up my life to getting money? And I don’t think I could get the money, whereas this is mine now. So this is the real practical use of self-education and self-culture. It converts a world which is only a good world for those who can win at its ruthless game into a world good for all of us. For your education is the only thing that nothing can take from you in this life. You can lose your money, your wife, your children, your friends, your pride, your honor, and your life, but while you live, you can’t lose your culture, such as it is. What it is, is up to you. I assure you it is up to you only. I know


that any man can give himself most of the best things in this world, beginning at once and at will. For this is no meager, enclosed, bookwormy life that I speak of, arid that I live. In this life you see further, as well as nearer, hear more not less, know people who get more out of life. You will read a good deal, it is true, because books are one great gateway to the best in life, and they are the cheapest, most practical way. But they are not an end in themselves any more than money is. Books bring you things in much the same way that money does, and it takes a lot of money to buy what books can bring. If you had enough money never to need to work, espe­ cially during your best years, and if you could use those years and the money to attract to yourself the most interesting people and buy the best things, and if you could train yourself directly from the wisest men, you could live a fine life, even in this fierce world of ours, without books, although you would hardly want to. But kings find it hard to have all this; for you and for me, the books are more practical.


C h apter

N in e

Mathematics I join the m illion • F does equal M A Printer versus teacher • You do it • T h e Calculus is hard? You use your new power • Mathematics takes you climbing

on mathematics was first written in 1955. I did not foresee the launching of Sputnik, nor the talk about mathematics that the new planet would engender. My concern with the subject is simply one more example of the concern which thoughtful men have felt for generations about popular apathy toward this allimportant division of knowledge. Rockets and ballistics do not increase the need for a general diffusion of mathematical learning. The need has been present for centuries and is only more urgent now than in Newton’s time because there is so much more mathe­ matics to know. If there were no other reason for an immediate and universal in­ crease in mathematical culture, it would be fully justified because it is the only culture open to the peoples of all countries. Only mathematics can look around the world. We have had to endure a German genetics and a Soviet biology, to say nothing of French “grandeur” and T he American Way, but the language of mathe­ matics is one. It has many dialects, but all men use them. It happens, however, that this chapter does show with peculiar timeliness how mathematical knowledge can be universally ex­ tended. If the schools can find a way to use the ideas of this text, then a vast general increase in popular understanding is possible. If we wait until scholarships and serious college training are availa* T

h is c h a p t e r

ble for “all,” we may no longer need them. Now is the time to teach democracy to teach itself. This chapter should be read with special care by those persons who are certain that they will have nothing to do with mathemat­ ics-. I have here made plainest my methods of study for any subject. The ideas developed in this section apply to all learning and can open knowledge in its entirety to any man. I said at the beginning of this book that in order to learn how I studied mathematics, you should read my chapter on history. Now I say, to learn how I studied history, read this chapter. As a child I had the usual instruction in arithmetic, complete with decimals. I did poorly, and that was a cause of my being left back on one occasion. The whole matter was very dull to me and rather vague. When I was about eighteen, I studied bookkeeping briefly and even held one or two sad jobs as a sort of bookkeeper, which improved my ability to add and gave me a slight command of mental arithmetic; but I had trouble finding employers who would further the development of these talents. After I decided to qualify myself for college, I went to that cram school previously mentioned and “ took” algebra. I took the course twice at night, but it did not take to me. The results were the same both times. It was my first period in the evening, and I arrived tired from work. I slept through the entire time, every single night, and awoke forty-five minutes later, refreshed and ready for my next subject. Since no homework is required in a school of that kind, I never learned one thing. I never knew how to square a -\- b. I think I learned the rule of signs but remained overwhelmed by it. I certainly never got one single idea or performed one single alge­ braic operation. Of course, I couldn’t take Regents or college entrance examina­ tions on the subject. I did take a four-year New York City College examination at the age of nineteen in English, and examinations in ancient, modern, American and English histories, and passed them all without having studied these subjects in any school or even having prepared myself for the examination by special read­ ing. Gibbon and Macaulay, Taine and Dickens had done their work and were all I needed. But mathematics, the one thing I had tried in school, outside of Latin, was a blank. 179

W hen I decided that I didn’t need a degree and would merely read my life away, I was deciding after the fact. My failure in mathematics was the true cause of my decision. As I sit here this hot summer’s day and begin this essay on the art of studying mathe­ matics, I cannot help but think about the fact that only the failure of our public schools in teaching arithmetic kept me from becom­ ing a lawyer or an engineer. In my youth I could have been ad­ mitted to the bar without attending academic college at all. Three years of law school were required, but the only prerequisite was a high-school “ education," and I simply couldn’t get the math credits— not without squaring a b. I have already given some idea of my life up to my thirtyseventh year, when I was living in a small town in Pennsylvania. I remember that I was reading steadily at the time and had recently acquired my two unabridged dictionaries. These had started me off again on an old track. I had read all the prefatory material in them. I studied Piers Plowman briefly. I thought of learning a little Anglo-Saxon. I started to work up my forgotten Latin and resumed the study of Shakespeare. But a certain man had been about in the world for some time by 1938 and had been walking up and down in it. I would hear his footsteps. Sometimes they became very loud. I would have liked to open my door and admit him to my home for a few minutes so we could become acquainted, but I did not have a proper introduc­ tion. His name was Einstein. He had done a thing called rela­ tivity, and I could not get the sound of it out of my head. I had in my day read Herbert Spencer and some of Bertrand Russell and John Dewey, and had heard something fascinating about the square of the distance, whatever that meant. It was mysterious but it was challenging. The square of the distance— what a mouth-filling phrase! However, it was Einstein chiefly that was troubling me. About this time I paid out about fifty cents for a ten-volume set of books called The Science History of the Universe. The little volumes, even then badly out of date, were very well written, and I think I looked over the one on mathematics, which had some lovely words: asymptote, determinant— all very fine. My gentle musical life, complete with flower and vegetable garden and a dash of philology, was being rippled by a breeze, the last, distant puffing 180


of a gigantic hurricane which had tom its course through the learned world around 1905. My wife often decides that I need some book which she finds in a library. She decided that I should look at the new book Mathe­ matics for the Million, by Lancelot Hogben. She brought it home. I started to read it. Suddenly, in one hour, I knew I was done for. I had always known that an education which excluded astronomy and physics and mathematics from a man’s thinking was not really an educa­ tion. I always knew that half of it was missing. I had also suspected that I could not live out my life and never know what Einstein meant when he walked over the earth and muttered, “Relativity.” Einstein was the target. Hogben offered a bow. In that hour I realized how silly I had been to have deprived myself of this won­ derful accession of power. As I read the first few pages of that great triumph of popular education, I felt such sensations of strength and perception, such a brilliant light shining for my illumination, that I knew the great hour of my life had struck. I knew I could do it. I decided to learn enough mathematics, necessarily on my own, to find out something of what Einstein was talking about, and that became one decision I have seen through. Mathematics for the Million is a unique book. No idea of what it can do for a man can be appreciated by reading the comments of the reviewers, necessarily trained mathematicians themselves, men who cannot comprehend in its detail the problems Hogben tackled. Of those who, like myself, have used the book as it was intended to be used, I may be the first to write about it. This book has sold ^enormously all over the world. We shall never know what its final effect will have been on the minds of this and of subsequent genera­ tions. It is a job well done. The impact of Einstein, however, on a man remote from the scientific world, is not unusual. Great original geniuses have always had this earthquake effect on large numbers of ordinary people, most of whom can never hope to comprehend the man who has excited them. The ability of Wagner to arouse interest among un­ musical people is well known. Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Dickens, Hugo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, are other examples. Newton forced men all over the world to study physics. 18 1

Men like Newton or Einstein are thunderstorms which blow us off our comfortable sun porches and force us to look to our cellars— to the foundations of our thinking. I shall discuss the technique of teaching oneself mathematics after I dispose of my own experience. It is enough for the moment to say that Hogben soon proved too rapid for concrete practical results, and I had to resort to a humble schoolbook. I used an old Wentworth, 1904, I think, for algebra, and a Durell, 1910, for geometry. I worked first on geometry, since I was afraid of symbols, and did all right until Mr. Durell threw in a few formulas some­ where in Book II (bisector of an angle, etc.). The simple factoring was incomprehensible, and I saw I must learn algebra. I decided to learn it with some thoroughness, since I realized that the ability to manipulate quantities was essential to genuine progress. I can never forget that wonderful first year. I gave all my time to it, except the time I put into a miserable chain store, which I had to manage as a sideline. Even while I was at work I gave as much thought to mathematics as possible. I sat on Sundays from nine in the morning to twelve midnight, practically without leav­ ing my desk. I did all the problems in Wentworth. My daughter, then eight years old, played sonatas and impromptus, my wife worked and read, and I rushed into a new world where a man could really get his mind against something hard and bear down on it. Don’t miss this, brother; life hasn’t anything better. In the course of a couple of years, spread over various towns, jobs, and experiences, I completed what is called elementary and college algebra, using mostly Wells, College Algebra, 1890. I did all the problems in the book, giving myself a much sounder training than college courses now offer, since I included continued fractions, series, and much more theory of equation than the colleges use in their first courses (Sturm’s theorem was a little tough, I admit). After completing this and cleaning up my plain and solid geome­ try, I went into trigonometry. Here I gave extra attention to identi­ ties and the theoretical discussions. By this time I was using several texts and, as might be expected, was reading mathematical litera­ ture and dipping into physics and astronomy. I read Number, the Language of Science, by Dantzig, several of Bell’s admirable popu­ lar books, some of Cajori and D. E. Smith, a wonderful little book by Augustus De Morgan on the study of math, etc. I also read text­

V books. When I came across a new textbook, I read it. I worked one book but read many. This was my one advantage over the ordinary student of mathematics. I was a very ordinary mathematician, but I was not an ordinary reader. I couldn’t use math, but I could read math. I could read a book about mathematics as easily as a book about history. Gibbon, Ruskin, and Shakespeare taught me my mathematics. Naturally my comprehension of the matter in the books was im­ perfect, but so is my comprehension of the matter in any book. So is my comprehension of historical matter. So is the historian’s. I hope that I do not have to explain by now that this reading included reading in the history of mathematics. There were difficulties. Hogben, who professes to despise text­ books (very wrongly, but excusably— after all, he has had no ex­ perience in learning mathematics by himself) rushes the student too much. I shall never forget how I tried to reduce to some sense that astounding statement: ax* -j- jx — / = o. Why zero? Why bother with the whole thing if that was all it came to? What was Descartes getting at? It never occurred to me that it was the same thing as 2xi -|- jx = i. And that reckless assertion: (a -j- by = a* -j- 2ab -j- 6*1 How did he get it? I never thought to put one beneath the other and multiply them out. I tried it in one line and got a* and b* all right, but where did the two ab’s come in? And as for (a — by ! ! 1 It can be seen that my natural talents were not such as to put my achievements beyond the reach of ordinary minds. Pascal could have figured those things out while he was still in the womb. In Altoona, Pennsylvania, in 1941, I met a college teacher of history who knew a mathematician. I asked him to get the math teacher to recommend an analytic geometry. He did better; he introduced me to the math man himself, a very fine fellow, and we had one brief conversation. He remains the only mathematician I have ever spoken to, except in that cram school. He advised Analytic Geometry, by Curtiss and Moulton, and even ordered it for me. It was an excellent choice, and I spent a couple of years with it, on and off. By this time, my progress had begun to slow down, not only because I was back in New York where retail men often work grotesque hours, four and five nights usually, but because I 18 }

had begun to feel the absence of my accustomed reading in other directions. I read Bertrand Russell at this time, not his popular works but the Principles of Mathematics and Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy. I became interested in symbolic logic and physics. I read elementary books on relativity— Born, Russell, etc. In 1946 I found myself out of work one clear spring morning. I was in New York, the best city in the world to be out of work in. I went down to the bookstores on Fourth Avenue and presently stood looking over a fine technical collection. I remember that I held a textbook on mathematical logic in my hand. I knew some­ thing of the subject and was interested in it. I would have liked to command enough of the symbolism to be able to read Principia Mathematica. But on a shelf above was a row of books about the calculus. I ought to know that subject. Which way should I turn? I had a little leisure for a week or so— it was a minor crisis. I reached up and took a calculus by Bacon— Harold Maile Bacon. One look at the beautiful print, the clear illustrations, the full, de­ tailed, explicit text, the elaborate introduction, and I made my choice. I have never regretted it. I came to love that book. It is a model of textbook writing and perfect for self-instruction. A man who can’t learn the calculus from that book will never learn it. Happy days followed. I have read on many subjects in the years since then. I have learned something of differential equations and of advanced calculus. I have read Einstein’s explanation for the general reader of his special theory of relativity. I have read the amusing, but solid, fuller exposition by the Liebers. I have learned just a little about quantum theory. I have read on the history of science. However, the pleasure of studying analytic processes under the guidance of Professor Bacon is a joy I shall never surpass, even though I suspect that I have done almost all the systematic study in mathematics I am likely to do— I have a lot to read and to re­ read, and it is time to put what I know to work.* Several things stand out from this bit of autobiography: (1) any man, no matter how ungifted, unless he has a hopelessly low I.Q., can learn enough mathematics to put himself inside this mode of thought; (2) it is, almost above all other activities, eminently * Wrong again. I ’m back at it (1958).

worthwhile; (3) for me, there was something radically wrong with our elementary schools. Let’s first talk about why mathematics is worthwhile. It is the model of all sciences. It is the ideal science, that ideal toward which we would like to bring other sciences. Then, it is the language of the other sciences. It is the logic, the mode of operation, of quanti­ tative thinking. It therefore combines the highest perfection in it­ self with the highest usefulness for other things. It has an almost magical power of affecting the whole outlook of any man who commands even a little of it. It is power. It is precision. It means things; it always means things. How little of what we say and think and read and hear means much! So much is mere commonplace— idle repetition of old empty phrases, lazy reproductions of noises which echo from mouth to mouth! Even literature, even history, even philosophy, has so much of this. It is the unavoidable weakness of our unaided minds. Math­ ematics is a world where every idea, every phrase, every word, has an exact and useful meaning. There is no substitute for this great experience with meaningfulness.* A strange idea that some people have is that it is more difficult to reason with mathematics than with words. What an absurd notion! If true, it would mean that we have invented mathematics to make things harder. The opposite is the truth; words are good enough where we do not wish or cannot get beyond elementary thinking, but precise, advanced thinking soon becomes too difficult for our unaided minds to handle. We need help. Miraculously, wonder­ fully, man, that absurd animal, has invented a help for himself. He always does. He invented a knife and a wheel and a container; the earth was rough and he made shoes. His needs increased; his ideas expanded. How could he handle them? He invented speech. His needs increased further; his ideas became too much for speech. He invented mathematics. It is easier to move loads by means of a wheel, and this pays, even though it is work to make a wheel. It is easier to think with the help of mathematics, even though it is work to learn mathematics. * As a boy I had noticed that while most people who did not know Greek were in doubt as to its value, all those who did know it were in no doubt. Believe me, this applies to mathematics. Moles may not think it pays to fly, but ask the eagles! 185

And it pays. If it were more difficult to think mathematically, what would we want it for? We must learn to work it, of course, but the same thing applies to an automobile. I want to emphasize these ideas: (1) mathematics is the easiest of all subjects to learn by oneself; (2) it is essential to a balanced education; (3) it is a most enjoyable use of the mind; (4) it is the only means one has of opening whole portions of the greatest human thought. From these ideas it follows that the mere aesthete who refuses to enter this great world of ideas can have only a sissy’s education. It would be good enough for a girl’s education— for some girls— but it would be unreal, frothy, boneless. If you rest content in this twentieth century with the kind of superficial cul­ ture which excludes the mathematical world, your work is empty and vain. T o show you why mathematics is the perfect subject for selfinstruction I must first make clear what mathematics is. There are numerous learned definitions in the literature of the subject, but they are so concerned with avoiding error that they tell you very little. A definition in this case is not worth much; a description is needed. Mathematics is the tool or language for dealing with quantity. Why should you worry about quantity? Because quantitative knowl­ edge is exact knowledge. It is not certain that there is any true knowledge except quantitative knowledge. There are many things we cannot measure, but this may be only a measure of our weak­ ness; we certainly would measure them if we could. I do not mean that nothing exists except in quantity but that our knowledge of it may be purely quantitative. The simplest statement you can make— for instance, “I am”— has a quantitative element. That part of the statement “I am” which cannot be precisely stated mathematically is perhaps merely the inchoate striving of poor pitiful man trying to understand. We now may stand in the same relation to such qualitative expressions as “love,” “man,” “ being,” “ truth,” “mind,” “ God,” as primitive man once stood in relation to “seven,” “ inch,” point. Without trying to settle these philosophical questions, the degree to which you know something, the extent, depth, and firmness of your conception, depend upon your ability to state it quantitatively. I recently noticed an interesting example of this. In the Republic, 186

Plato tells us (Book II, Jowett translation), “If we suppose a change in anything, that change must be effected either by the thing itself or by some other thing. . . . ” I had an opportunity to ask an engineer who had not read Plato if he could restate this in the language of Newton. He at once said, as I had expected he would, “Leaving out the part about changing itself, which we can’t allow, it is simply Newton’s law of inertia, F = MA” (force = mass multiplied by acceleration). There are about two thousand years between Plato and Newton. Those words had lain fallow in Plato’s famous work all that time, until Newton, by reducing them to a precise, quantitative state­ ment, made them the fundamental theorem of dynamics. At once they became fruitful; the whole of modern science and technology followed. “Change effected by some other thing”— nothing hap­ pens. F = MA— the idea goes to work. Now we can measure the force; it is the arithmetical product of the mass involved and the acceleration of that mass, measured in some suitable way. Better men than I have written on the value of mathematics, and I shall make some recommendations later as to their books. My comments are to give you some idea of its use, but if it doesn’t move you, I must resort to brute strength and, using all the advan­ tage which paper and ink give me, declare you must know some­ thing of mathematics. Without it, I shall refuse, by virtue of the authority I have arrogated to myself, to confer upon you the degree B.L.L.S. (Bachelor of at Least a Little Something). Why is math so easy to study by oneself? Because it is a deductive science. You do not have to know anything. You do not have to develop your senses so that you can appreciate rarer and rarer things, as in art, music, and poetry. You have only to reason. We say to you, “ Let us think this out.” It is much easier to draw a con­ clusion from given data than to accumulate that data. Even a child soon learns to say brightly, “If this is so, then this is so.” It has taken man his whole time on this planet to get our data, our knowledge, together, but you can start to draw inferences as soon as you are given one assumption. In mathematics you are in business, so to speak, as soon as you begin to study. You are given a few easy ideas: a straight line, a circle, the idea of the numbers 1, 2, 3. You know from school that two and two are four. Instantly, as soon as you agree to this much, 187

we can plunge you into the thing. No long period of waiting while you learn all about verbs, nouns, and accents, stumbling through years of study, at the end of which you are lucky if you can speak two sentences in a foreign language. No years of scales and arpeg­ gios which leave you unable to play a piece. T h e difficult thing in business is to get the capital to start with; here you need no capital, no stock of goods, no building in which to do business; your stock is literally in your hat. In other words, you don’t need a teacher to build up for you a supply of knowledge sufficient to get going. Nor do you need a teacher to mark out your route. You are always sure of where you are and where you are going. Given this, to go to that; what could be simpler? W hat can a teacher do? You must take the steps. A teacher is like a banker. You try to borrow from his resources of knowledge and experience, but here you need neither knowledge nor experience. He can give you only what you can get as well for yourself— namely, an outline of the subject. But isn’t it silly to pay a man to say back to you what is already waiting for you as plain as day in any textbook? A teacher cannot make you think any more than a guide can make you walk or a banker make you sell. He can drum information into your memory, but we do not seek in­ formation in mathematics. A teacher can force your hands to do things so that you acquire skill, but we do not use our hands in mathematics. A teacher can submit masses of learning for your inspection, but we do not use learning in mathematics, nor is it a subject like geology* where we learn by inspection and comparison. W hat no teacher can do for you is open a door in your head, climb in, and think for you. No one ever learned any mathematics except by himself. T h e reason some people believe the subject is difficult to learn is because they must do it for themselves, and this terrifies them. They are walking without their nurse for the first time. T he nurse stands by, all sympathy and love, but she cannot walk for them. Since the teacher cannot help you, evidently this is the opportunity for you if you wish to help yourself. We have no authorities in mathematics. Nothing is taken on trust. You do not know, of your own observation, that the earth is round. You do not know that it moves around the sun. You do • N o t that you can’ t use mathematics in geology! 188

not know that there are thousands of different peoples on this earth, or that they speak different languages. You do know where you live, and if I tell you, and if you will believe me, you can “know” where I live. You can look up my address in the directory, if you will believe the directory, and if I haven’t moved since it was printed. But when I say that if A implies B and B implies C, then A implies C, you can figure it out for yourself if you want to, but you can’t believe it merely on my authority, because it has no meaning until it is thought out. It is not a fact; it is a process, and you only know it if you go through the process. A man who knows what color is can accept on my authority that roses are red. If he doubts me, he can look into it for himself, or consult another au­ thority. But a man who has never seen anything, who was born blind, cannot accept on my authority that roses are red, because red has no meaning for him. He can neither accept nor reject it. This is the real reason why no one can teach you mathematics. I can tell you that amo means I love, but I cannot tell you the mean­ ing of — b ± yj b2 — 4 ac because such a statement has no meaning unless you understand the process out of which the formula arose. I can, however, prove it to you. Above all, there is no need to accept the authority of others. Surely the greatest single aim in education is to learn to think for ourselves. It is mostly a missed aim; we learn precious little of it; but here is a place where we not only can do it, we must do it. Here we take no man’s word for anything; he doesn’t ask us to. Here we are using our education (not merely acquiring it) from the beginning. The acquisition of culture and the use of culture be­ come one. We are in business from the outset. False thinking about this is widespread. I once met a really edu­ cated man, particularly at home in philosophy, economics, and sociology, who found me with a book of mathematics in my hands. He was surprised at this in view of my mature years, because he had assumed, as most people do, that no one looks at mathematics once they have left school. When he learned that I was studying it because I hadn’t had it in school, he was astounded. i8 p

“ I don’t see how a man can study mathematics by himself,” he said to me in all sincerity. (Remember, this man was accustomed to using his mind. On the whole, he was a better-read man than I, and he was trained to vigorous thinking.) “ How did you learn it?” I asked. “ You must have passed your examinations to have taken your degree.” “T h e professor put it on the board,” he answered, “and then I learned it.” A t this point I changed the subject. I didn’t think it would be tactful to ask this student of philosophy if he really thought that reading a blackboard differed from reading a book. T h e man was the victim of a delusion. The delusion begins in childhood when we necessarily first learn from our mother’s lips and, in most cases, never get the power to learn any other way. In particular, most of us never learn to learn from the books. This power must be acquired. The written word is in general clearer and more precise than the spoken word; it stays in place while you ponder it; it is more condensed; it can be read much faster than a man can talk or than you can profitably listen; and, above all, it is there when you want it, whereas you cannot keep a college faculty on leash all your life to answer your questions and do your think­ ing for you. T he ability to learn from the printed page is the first necessity of a modern education. Acquire this and you’ve won; miss it and you must remain an ignoramus all your life. Now, mathematics has the great advantage of having to be learned from a book. You can copy it out on a blackboard and then learn it if you like the long way round, but still you must read it. No one can learn it by merely listening to another man talk. Therefore, mathematics offers the ideal opportunity to learn how to learn. This is its true value as “mental training.” My mind, for example, was just as good or bad before studying mathematics as it is now, but it is now a much more confident mind, especially since I have come to realize that the methods by which I learned mathematics are pre­ cisely the methods by which I have learned everything else (I would not have written this book if I had not studied mathemat­ ics). Music, art, poetry, and mathematics require the same ap­ proach. Mathematics is the easiest because you are working on the bare structure of the edifice; whereas in art, music, or poetry you ipo

are confronted by a bewildering growth of ornament which you have to see through and beyond, at the same time not ignoring that second growth. In mathematics you are studying from the skeleton; in music you must X-ray through the flesh and do it with­ out harming the flesh. But the technique of learning— concentrated analysis— is the same. It is for this reason that I have made so much use of my own experience in education. It is not that I am conceited; that I think I know much. Conceit doesn’t take that form in me. I have my share and perhaps more than my share— I doubt that a man could find the courage to write a book without it— but I know I’m not a fine scholar, nor do I have a fine intellect. In fact, any scholar could tell, by what has been detailed here as the achieve­ ment of a lifetime, that I am what I claim to be: a man of ordinary abilities whose feats could be duplicated by anyone— anyone who wanted to duplicate them. In particular, I am not a natural mathe­ matician. This is my problem. It is the problem of this book. If I could convince enough people that they can do what I have done, as I know they can, I could change the whole course of popular edu­ cation. Most people lack confidence in their power of study. They have plenty of confidence in directions which are much less im­ portant. They admire their own beauty; they think the other sex droops their way. They think they are very cunning; they think they can outsmart the whole world. They think they should have been lawyers so they could outsmart God. They think their wives and children don’t see through them— what a mistake! They think .they could have done all kinds of things they haven’t done, with a little luck. They even think (and this is sad) that they can raise children properly and create a home— gifts so rare that perhaps no one has them. But they don’t think they can learn mathematics. Here they are all modesty. Everyone is humble in this department. People may cry down mathematics. They may speak of mere mathematicians. They may console themselves by reflecting that their passionate and sensitive souls cannot come down to the humble foot rule. They are above counting. But at least they are not disposed to put them­ selves forward in this field. We have a twofold error. Mathematics is both overrated and unig i

derrated. On the one hand it is a splendid domain for the free use of imagination and the mind. Millay knew what she was talking about when she said that Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare. But, on the other hand, the mind of a mathematician is made of the same stuff as anyone else’s mind. He does not have a special kind of material out of which a special brain has grown. Mathe­ matical reasoning is exactly the same as any other kind of reason­ ing. Reasoning can be divided into several logical compartments, but the same mind draws all the different types of inferences. No special part of the brain has been reserved for squaring a -\- b. (If there is such a part, I wish I could find it.) T he difference in minds is perhaps only one of degree. A great mind may be just what the word says: a big mind. There is quite a difference between an amoeba and a whale, but they are both protoplasm; there is a greater difference between Aristotle and this writer, but it is probably measurable, if we had tools to make the measurements. T h e first, most important steps in learning mathematics are cer­ tainly not hard. T he difficulty, if any, is that few people are at ho .c in ordinary arithmetic. I did not know how to add fractions when I began my study of algebra. We are ruined by the elemen­ tary schools who make the subject terrifying, and by the neglect of parents who know less than their children. As a result, the slightest arithmetical operations are painful. Most people today cannot command simple arithmetic after one hundred years of universal education. We may be able someday to do something about this, because it certainly is not a necessary evil. We do teach most peo­ ple to write with some ease, and that is surely harder than long division. Fortunately there is very little need of arithmetic in the elemen­ tary, amateur study of mathematics, and by the time some skill is needed, the new studies will have almost imperceptibly taught arithmetic to you. Further on in this chapter, when I get down to practical matters, it will turn out that I never perform an operation in mathematics which requires more arithmetic than I need when I write up a sale, and in both cases I generally make a mistake. What I want at the moment is to overcome in the reader that feel­ ing of dread, that sinking sensation, at the thought of arithmetic. You won’t need much arithmetic for a purely cultural study, but you do need to think arithmetically. You won’t need a lot of numIp2

bers, but you must appreciate number. In fact, you must someday think about what number is. I have labored the thought that I am not a man of exceptional abilities and that anyone can do what I have done, particularly in mathematics. No teacher of mathematics would deny this. It is true that I have acquired as much math as is needed for a B.S. in engineering— that is to say, not very much; but the schools give out those degrees by the tens of thousands yearly. I had ten years in which to do what those boys do in five, and I gave more time to it than they can. Moreover, I was mature and sure of myself. Habits, not abilities, had prepared me. The reader may try to get around me another way in his effort to show that he cannot do what I can do. He may argue, using enough ingenuity to teach himself to complete a square, that even if I was not naturally gifted at scholarship or mathematics, I have trained and strengthened my mind so that I can do what he can­ not be expected to do. I doubt that. We do not know what strengthens a mind. We can­ not tell whether mathematicians have more basic mental power because they use mathematics, or use mathematics because they have more power. The means of testing the powers of reasoning are the same as the means of exercising it. This situation permits accurate testing in the world of gymnastics but not in the world of thought. We give a man a series of bar bells of increasing weight and tell him to perform a certain fixed lift. We note his maximum. Now we have him do this lift a few times a day or week for a few weeks using a weight somewhat under his limit. Presently, if his health is good and he is young, he will be able to handle a heavier weight using the same controlled lift. The process doesn’t go on forever; he soon approaches a limit and his further progress be­ comes infinitesimal, but the method of testing is accurate. Unfortunately, the method fails when it is applied to the mind. The mind cannot lift the weight at all until it learns how, and then it is too late to use it as a test. A man cannot reason in law or mathematics or philosophy without training, after which it is no longer possible to ascertain whether we have strengthened his mind or merely caught up to it. In general, the testing of a mind is a hard thing. Even memory tests are uncertain. The man does not re­ member: Is it because he is incapable of remembering, too lazy to

rem em ber, or has a p sychological block w ith respect to the test we are using? D o all form s o f testing affect his memory? Is his lack of h ealth h o ld in g h im back, even though the doctors have not as yet fou n d an ythin g w ron g w ith him ? A n d it is m uch harder to test reasoning pow er than mem ory. In other words, if you w ill p u t in h a lf a lifetim e of study at m athem atics, science, philosophy, literature, etc., some kind of guess can be m ade as to w hat kind o f a brain you had to begin with, b u t to determ ine that in advance is difficult. C ertain ly, you can’t. Y o u m ay assume, w ith some safety, that y o u ’re no Einstein, but if you assume before trying that you can ’t do w hat I can do, I can o n ly say you are a very m odest fellow . N o r do I w ant to present this as an exercise in w ill power. I don’t h ave the righ t to do that. I d o n ’t know that there is a m oral reason w h y you should do these things. I have never learned anything my­ self by m ere w ill power. T h e th in g is divin ely interesting. If you are interested in self-im provem ent or in know ledge at all, and you certain ly h aven ’t read this far if you are not, then I say to you that no p art o f self-instruction is so easy as m athem atics, no part more interesting, and outside o f history and general literature, no part so indispensable. F urther on, I shall discuss again the question of w hen you should learn all these different subjects. It w ill turn out that you have a lot of leew ay as to ju st when you should take up each topic and how far you should go in it. B ut you cannot escape m athem atics altogether, unless you really are too old for it to mat­ ter one w ay or the other. B efore starting on actual m ethods o f study I want to say a few words about m athem atics and philosophy. M ost people w ould like to know som ething about philosophy. W e feel almost instinctively that it is at once the crown o f all know ledge and an end in itself. I shall go into this at greater length further on. B ut in this place I w ant to say that any person who w ould like to read the great phi­ losophers but finds them difficult to follow can smooth the way for h im self by a modest study of m athematics. T h ere are several rea­ sons for this. 1. T h e great philosophers were, in general, men of considerable m athem atical culture, and some of them were key figures in the history o f mathem atics. T h e ir thinking and their underlying as­ sum ptions are often influenced by a profound respect for number,


so that some grasp of mathematics helps you place yourself at their starting point when you begin to read them. 2. Philosophy is often very abstract, sometimes as abstract as we can make it, and mathematics is the natural language of ab­ straction. Most of us do not readily raise ourselves to abstract theory. Mathematics trains one in this faculty, which is also useful in practical life. 3. Mathematics is a good starting point for the much more diffi­ cult study of logic. It is difficult to understand the philosophers without some knowledge of their logical background. 4. The vocabularies of logic and philosophy are large and diffi­ cult; a knowledge of the vocabulary of mathematics helps, since it is easy to get and is a part of the vocabulary of philosophy. And now to work— let’s study mathematics! Where should we start? With a little algebra and plane geometry, I think. These two subjects do not depend upon each other at the outset, and a good start can be made with either one of them. De Morgan says that both could be studied at the same time, but I do not recommend this for self-instruction on a part-time basis. It is best to stay with one thing until enough has been learned to give a feeling of achievement and self-confidence, and also to stamp some of it into the memory. First I must classify my readers. I have had several kinds of read­ ers in mind for this book, but not all of them will need this chap­ ter, and some who could use part of my ideas will not need the re­ mainder. So I shall write on the assumption that the reader of this chapter either has had no high-school training in math (which is true for many people but not perhaps true for most people who read this book) or that the reader has had a little algebra and geometry which he has joyously forgotten. He may even have had that year of so-called study known as freshman mathematics and has sent it to join his algebra. That is why it is called freshman mathematics: you are fresh out of it as soon as you have made your grades. I have also assumed that some people will read this book who have had mathematical training, including some engineers, chem­ ists, etc. They will not need the following paragraphs directly, but they may find in them ideas which they can turn to other study, or they may become interested in the philosophy of mathematics J95

itself, to which few technicians have given thought. There may also be something here for teachers. Elementary mathematics is so named because in it are developed the elements out of which the whole structure is raised. Obviously these first ideas must be the most important ones. It doesn’t matter where you stop, but you must start here. Elementary ideas are brought out in the early pages of each book, and these are the critical pages. Most students complete their math studies without ever grasping the first two chapters of their textbooks. Elementary ideas are introduced particularly in plane geometry, in common algebra, and in trigonometry. Solid geometry adds the idea of space; analytic geometry (the application of algebra to geometry, graphs, etc.) brings in the idea of a frame of reference. Elementary algebra and geometry are more or less independent of each other. Trigonometry uses a little of both and introduces its own elements. Analytic geometry uses algebra, geometry and trigo­ nometry freely and adds fresh elements. Cdlculus is based on a new kind of numbers, obtained by using the ideas of infinity and con­ tinuity. It uses the other branches of math continually; they are its “ elements” (more correctly, its tools). Beyond the calculus an unlimited field is open into which few persons will venture who are beginning mathematical study after leaving school. No field for study is wider than mathematics; you might as well hope to read all the books in the world as learn all the mathematics. No man knows it all. Every advanced mathemati­ cian is a specialist, just as in any other study. Most amateurs will read their mathematics rather than master it, once they get beyond elementary calculus, exactly the way you read books on other subjects even though you do not plan to master them. Mathematics enables you to read mathematical literature, just as English enables you to read English literature. T o begin your study you must decide between algebra and ge­ ometry. If you hate all arithmetic you can begin with geometry and work for quite a time without much inconvenience. That was my method. Select a textbook and start in. No preparation is needed, and any schoolbook for beginners in geometry will do. However, for self-instruction a book with good paper, large clear type and attractive diagrams is desirable. T hat book is going to be a part of you for a long time. It is your teacher. You will hear its 196

voice ringing in your ears for many days. Pick one with a style, a look, a tone, which appeals to you. It should have notes on the great geometricians and give you some idea of the history of the subject. Unfortunately, no one textbook does this well enough to mean much, but you can read the notes, chapter headings, etc., in several books and supplement this with outside reading. Make one book your regular study. Follow that text. Read as many text­ books as you like, but do the exercises in only one book until you have finished it. Along with your formal beginning studies you will need some­ thing to read, since I presume that you do read, and you cannot always have a pencil in your hand. The first book to read is Mathe­ matics for the Million. You had better buy this one, and of course you buy your textbooks as you need them. In Mathematics for the Million* you will get your first idea of the scope, history, and use of mathematics. Many other books cover these things, and I shall recommend some of them later, but none can replace Million. Somebody had to write the very best book for encouraging a beginner to start a subject, and Mr. Lancelot Hogben happens to have been the man. The lively style, the stream of ideas, the splendid drawings and diagrams, the fascinating bits of extra information, the constant interpolation of historical tidbits, the clever, easy, understandable connections with philosophy and general culture, make the book a necessity for every man who isn’t a mathematician. Not only every general reader but every techni­ cian and engineer should read it. You won’t find it in a second­ hand bookstore. People who buy it keep it. You cannot learn mathematics from Million. Mr. Hogben planned to make this possible, but it cannot be done by the ordinary student. The book is too rapid. The steps are large. There are not enough examples. The whole approach is wrong for the purpose of obtain­ ing any command of mathematics. But this is a small matter. Many good textbooks are available for learning mathematics. What no textbook ever written can do is create interest, and lack of interest is the terrible ogre who keeps the fair damsel, learning, in durance. * Million has been rivaled in only one other field. T h e Science of Life by H. G. Wells, Julian Huxley, and G. P. Wells, which I have recommended before, is a triumph of instructive exposition. The two books should give rise to a new era of general education. 197

Sir Lancelot Hogben has hurled against that ogre a mighty spear. You may read M illion slowly. You have plenty of time. You are no schoolboy with an examination coming up. This is your pleas­ ure. You dip into those clear waters from day to day. T ry an exercise if you like and see how you get along with it; read on ahead of the work you are doing with your textbook and get, in advance, an idea of analytic geometry and the calculus. You may never really know higher math, but you want to know some­ thing about it, so that you can see where you are heading and what you are missing. W hile this pleasant reading has been going on, you have been trying to learn the first propositions of Euclid. These you work from your schoolbook with no regard to Mr. Hogben’s sneers. (Re­ member I know more than he does about learning geometry or algebra by oneself.) Read carefully. Observe the form and the successive steps of each demonstration. Understand what is meant by a hypothesis. Satisfy yourself on each point. You must have a feeling of conviction after each demonstration. If you are not convinced, stay with it. T ry again another day. Look it up in some other textbook; the second man may say some­ thing which will break it for you. Draw the diagram carefully to a large scale and see if that helps. See how far you can go with a problem without the book’s help. Don’ t lose faith. T he solution will become clear if you don’t reject it. T he problem is designed to be grasped by ordinary people in ordinary schools, and by millions. You can do it too— if you don’t hurry. Don’t get nervous over it. There is a feeling almost of pain which we all have when we are required to bring our minds down hard on something. We may start eagerly, but as soon as it is necessary to push the mind a little, we act the way we do on the job when we are asked to do work that is a bit more difficult for a little longer time and at a little faster pace than we are used to doing. You can yell for the shop steward on most jobs, but here you are in business for yourself. This is the critical point in the study of mathematics, science, philosophy, etc. It is really the critical point in thinking about politics, or human relations, but in those subjects we usually evade it by sliding down to a lower level of concentration, really habit and emotion, so that we seem to be reasoning but are not. This lower level won’t work in 198

math. You must learn to raise your mind up (or pull it down) to the point at issue and honestly pose the problem to yourself. If you see what the problem is, you will generally understand the solution. Grasp this important point: If you can’t see the solution, you usually haven’t seen the problem. By the time you have finished the first chapter of your geometry and done the exercises, you will be convinced that you can do it, and you will ask yourself why you once thought it so impossible to learn. Now tackle three more chapters. In most books this will take you through the primary construction problems, through a chapter about circles, and, most important, through the celebrated proposi­ tion called the Pythagorean: that the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other sides. At this point you may stop studying plane geometry— for life if you choose— and be content to read the subject. Read the rest of your book. You do not have to do the exercises (up to this point you must do all the exercises— you are not trying to fool some teacher; you need those exercises). The reason you may stop at this point is that you now know all the geometry you actually need for the study of trigonometry, analytic geometry, and the differential calculus. Whatever you find you lack later on, you can always work up. Needless to say, if you like geometry and don’t want to leave it, stay with it. It’s as broad as the sea, and you can spend a lifetime studying the properties of space. This idea applies to any branch of education.* However, the subject soon becomes awkward without a little algebra, and in most cases I think the student should go over to this study. In fact, it is usual to start with algebra and take up geometry after doing a high-school year in algebra. Algebra cannot be learned by halves. The main reasons most people can’t get along in math are: (i) they don’t know arithmetic; (2) they don’t know algebra. Algebra is generalized arithmetic. If you learn algebra, you will * Some of us have, by nature, minds that take more easily to geometry, others to algebra. The day comes when we tend to study more in one direc­ tion or the other, according to taste. 199

find that you have learned arithmetic, so don’t stint on time and trouble. I don’t care if you never go beyond algebra provided that you really learn it. You should give about two years to algebra (I presume you are working, have a family, etc.) and about six months to a year to geometry. M any good texts are available in algebra. I think you should use two: a first elementary book, such as is used in high school, and an “ advanced” algebra. Do not confuse the “ advanced” or “college" book with a book on higher algebra, which is something quite dif­ ferent. Read the preface carefully to make sure you have the right book. T h e books I myself used are old and not easy to buy, so I recom­ mend any first book which is used in the academic high schools of your town. D on’t use a commercial algebra, or a practical algebra, or anything intended for trade schools. T h e books put out by Wil­ liam L. H art are good. Your college algebra should contain answers to the problems. You need this in all your texts. Unfortunately, it is hard to find an elementary algebra with answers. However, you can check your own algebra problems. Problems are of two kinds: one is technical ma­ nipulation of letters, which you can check by substituting small numbers for the letters; thus: Suppose you are multiplying (a + b + c) by (* + y + z)• Let a = 1, b = 2, c = 3, x = 4, y = 5, z = 6. Then (a -j- b -(- c) =. 6 and (x -f- y -f- z) = 15- Your answer must add up to 6 x *5 = 9°- T h e other type of problem will involve equations. If your value for x satisfies the equation, your answer is right and you don’t need answers in the book. It is a good idea to go to the library and examine all the algebras on the shelves for one you like. T ry to avoid a text with over­ crowded pages. Eventually, after you have finished your first book and have started on your college algebra, you should buy A College Algebra, by Henry Burchard Fine, if it is still in print. This text has in­ formation not found in most books and presents the subject in a mature way. T h e most important part is the first part, which can become your introduction to mathematical philosophy. T he book, however, is too severe to make it your main workbook. More­ over, the print is too fine and it has no answers. It should become your reference algebra. In addition, when you see an algebra that 200

you like, buy it. It is advisable to have three or four in the house.* Having picked a text and made a start, it is of prime importance that you do all the exercises in the book thoroughly. No topics developed in elementary or college algebra should be omitted ex­ cept one: if your text contains arithmetical cube root, you may skip it— I nearly broke my head on that one. Your elementary textbook on algebra is the most important sin­ gle book you will ever read in your life. Give it all the time in the world. No other single book will open so wide a horizon for you. Do not revise the order of presentation. Take the chapters as they come. You have nothing to guide you but the book, so this rule is best. The most interesting part of algebra is the equation and its theory. It can be pursued further in special treatises if you become interested. However the main thing is to acquire a decent ability to manipulate algebraic quantities and to be able to follow alge­ braic arguments. Without this, no progress in mathematics or sci­ ence is possible. The man who is interested in mathematics only as a phase of culture need not make an exhaustive study of geometry. He need not do much work with tables of logarithms or become expert in solving triangles. He may rest content with a modest technique at integration and need not practice to any great extent with differential equations. I shall even let him off from analytic geometry outside of the conics. But he must master the methods of algebra, and the small amount of it in American textbooks is not a bit too much. If you don’t get it sooner or later, your progress will be illusory. Once you confer upon yourself this magical power, the possession of which does more to mark a man off from the great world of the ignorant than anything he can acquire except history, a whole literature of interesting reading is open to you. You will be able to read with enjoyment books on the foundations of the number system, on the meaning of numbers, on the relation between mathe­ matics and logic, and between philosophy and mathematics. A surprising amount of physics and astronomy will be open to you, especially with just a little trigonometry. You can dip into physical * You can ask any math teacher in your town to recommend an equiva­ lent for Fine’s book. New books come out all the time, and I am not up to date on them.


chemistry. You can read and enjoy the history of science and civilization, and the history of ideas in general. It is all you need to read such an interesting magazine as Scientific American. There is a whole literature of popular scientific writing by many of the greatest men of the twentieth century which anyone can read who knows what is meant by — b =fc y/ b2 — 4 ac But you must be at home in ordinary algebraic computations. You must not be in the condition I was in in my thirty-seventh year, plugging away at Piers Plowman and ignorant of the whole development of science. I shall now relent a little and admit that if you are too weak in the knees, too old, or too bored to learn everything in your two books of algebra (and if you think that’s much algebra, someday look into Crystal’s two-volume treatise), I can cut it down a little. Here is your stripped-down course: Everything on addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, ex­ ponents, surds (irrationals) in your algebra books. If you won’t do this much, don’t bother to start. Everything about solving equations of the first and second degree in one unknown. Everything about solving systems of equations (simultaneous equations) of the first degree in two unknowns, and at least read carefully about the solution of sets of equations of the second degree. Everything about proportion, variation, series, and complex num­ bers. Everything about the binomial theorem. You can put off until after you study trigonometry and analytic geometry the following: Permutations and combinations Probability (most interesting) Partial fractions (good for understanding algebra but first needed in integral calculus) Continued fractions Determinants (essential later on) Theory of equations (a beautiful subject) 202

You do not need synthetic division, detached coefficients, and methods of approximating the roots of equations of higher degree than the second. These items are chiefly for practical mathematical workers. Of course, you must tell me why you should want to leave all this fascinating knowledge out of your life. One skill is vital. Your whole success in mathematics depends on your comprehension of the principles of factoring. The idea of factor is a great advantage which algebra has over ordinary arith­ metic, and you must understand all the methods thoroughly. Give particular attention to the factoring of (an -f- bn) and (an— bn). They are much more important than they look— you can’t follow the simplest discussions if you can’t factor. Don’t memorize one thing in algebra. Keep looking things up as you need them until they stick. Be very, very, very sure you read and understand all proofs. And convince yourself. Take nothing on authority except where the book tells you that the proof is too advanced and had best be de­ ferred until you know more. This is sometimes done with the proof for the binomial theorem, that remarkable proposition about the two little letters which someone has called the most beautiful thing in the world. Many students have trouble with problems in words, problems which ask how old is Anne and when did the train fall off the track. The chief reason for their trouble is that they are poor readers. However, such problems are not too important at an early stage of the game. Do what you can with them, enjoy them if possible, but if they are too hard for you, go on. They will become easier almost of themselves. They are only conundrums to see if you can detect the equation embodied in the verbiage. I will give you one clue. The word is in “John is 4 years older than James” can always be replaced by the equal sign; thus: “John = James -f- 4.” I should warn the reader that I shall have to change my tune a little in one respect when I discuss mathematics. Culture, I have emphasized, is a unity. It is also essentially unprogressive. You do not progress as you cultivate yourself. You enjoy. You live. You grow. The idea of progress is as meaningless as the idea of progress in love. You don’t improve in love— it doesn’t get better. But while culture does not progress, a study can progress. This means little to 20)


an amateur such as I; indeed, I think that the sense of progress in a study is greatest at the beginning. However, if you were working toward a degree, for instance, you could be said to progress in the sense that you finally achieved those letters and were free to forget what you learned. However, there is a peculiar progressive quality about mathe­ matical study that is not present in the same degree in history or in music appreciation. You build, in mathematics, as you build a house. You start at the bottom and go up. It is like a skyscraper. You can go up as high as you want; the sky is the limit if your basic structure is sound. I am compelled to admit that from this point of view some topics can be omitted in a given course. There is noth­ ing to gain by omitting them in strictly amateur work, but it can be done without blocking future “progress.” Some stops are essen­ tial for any next step; others are needed only if you want to make certain additions to your building. A ll branches of mathematics are beautiful and interesting, but it is true that most amateurs will never need to solve or plot an algebraic equation of the eleventh degree, whereas you must know all about the equation of the second degree. Also I must keep in mind the possibility that some readers will want to commercialize on their study of mathematics, even though they are studying by themselves— a thing which is possible in this one subject. Or they may wish to go into physics or chemistry as quickly as possible. Therefore, I shall continue to indicate topics which can be omitted from textbooks. It should be understood that it is merely a concession on my part. I don’t like it, and it is futile in work done purely for love, because there will only be an­ other topic, another subject, another pleasure, to follow, but it is true that you can leave out a lot from any given subject in mathe­ matics and still go on and on. I shall now discuss the further study of mathematics for those who had some algebra but have gone no further. Such persons should learn trigonometry, analytic geometry, and the calculus. You already have so much; why not cash in on it? Modern schools include some trig and logwork in their algebra course. They also make up survey courses which take in a bit of analytic geometry and calculus. I consider this wrong for schools and absolutely wrong for self-teaching. Waste no time on omnibus 204

books of freshman mathematics. You will learn nothing. Indeed, you can get that much out of Mathematics for the Million. Buy a good trig such as Kells, Kern, and Bland; WentworthSmith or Lennox and Merril.* Any college treatment of the subject should do. Study that book. You must learn some parts thor­ oughly; others can be taken once over lightly. The topics to learn thoroughly are those up to and including the chapter on the right triangle. You must learn all the rather plentiful formulas even though you forget them at times, particu­ larly the addition formulas and the laws of cosines and tangents. You can read over the chapter on the oblique triangle. Absorb the illustrative examples worked out for you. You can do one problem under each heading if you like, to fix the idea. Learn thoroughly all about the inverse trigonometric functions and about complex numbers as presented from the very fruitful point of view of trigo­ nometry. Digest De Moivre’s theorem and that entire chapter. Learn very thoroughly the theory of logarithms; it is indispensable. Do enough actual work with logs to be sure you understand them. Learn to use tables, but you don’t have to become a skilled com­ puter for progress of this kind. Be sure you understand what is meant by characteristic, mantissa, and how they relate to the num­ ber of digits in the quantity under discussion. You may omit studying spherical trigonometry, but be sure to read it over. The same applies to solid geometry. Read it. In fact, read every word in every textbook you use, but you need not study the solid maths because you can always look them up when you want them. Above all, become skillful at manipulating trigonometric identi­ ties. They are interesting and essential for further study. What was said about algebraic techniques applies to these identities, which will give you no trouble if you have learned algebra (nor will the whole subject). So much for trig— a powerful, stimulating, easy, and extraordi­ narily useful branch of mathematics. If you choose to think of mathematics as an organization for ascertaining truth and getting work done, then geometry and arithmetic might be conceived as * Hobson has a treatise on trigonometry which would make a good second book. It is too rapid and too repulsive, typographically, for a main text, but is well worth owning. It is available in soft covers. 20$

the raw material, algebra as the basic energy such as steam or electricity, and trigonometry as being the set of tools which will do the various jobs. Analytic geometry furnishes the blueprints and the calculus is the engineering office which uses all this organiza­ tion. Quite a few people have learned not only geometry and algebra but also trigonometry, and then gone no further. This is even true of some schoolteachers. T o stay at such a point on the educational stairway is ridiculous. You might as well cook a delicious dinner and then throw it out; it’s sinful. Let’s learn analytic geometry! First, choose a good book with answers. Get advice if you can from a local math teacher. Don’t use a short course. Get a book with plenty of reading matter, detailed explanations, and, if pos­ sible, one that claims in the preface to have kept the needs of the teacherless student in mind. Curtiss and Moulton, Analytic Geometry, is a good one. Don’t use a book which combines analytic with other math such as the calculus. For this reason I must regret­ fully reject Miller’s admirable Analytic Geometry and Calculus. It does make a good auxiliary book or reference book, but there is too much in it for a first book. As soon as you start to study analytic geometry you will be de­ lighted to find that everything you know from your previous math is now put to work. Trig, algebra, and geometry are used on every page. Everything ties up. Mathematics becomes a broad subject, a river of many currents and tributaries, but of one substance and with one destination. Learn thoroughly everything about straight lines in your book. This is the most difficult part of the subject and still bothers me sometimes. Do every exercise on straight lines. You will enjoy the conics so much it is unnecessary to tell you to learn them. They are one of the crowns of mathematics. Learn everything about curve tracing, transformation and rotation of axes, and how to discover the equation to a curve when you are given in words the law of its formation. This ability gives a great sense of power and will give you the strength to use and understand mathematics as a tool of science and of thought. For the rest, read the book and study as much as you like. The things I have referred to are the most necessary parts. You can leave the remainder if you want to until you know more, although 206

the general equation of the second degree is a lot of fun. You can omit solid analytic geometry, except to read it, until you need it in further mathematical work. And now look what is waiting for us. You know presumably all the math discussed up to this point either because you “had” it in school (along with chickenpox) or because you have been so in­ spired by me that you have rushed right out and learned it. And what does it get you? The Calculus! You should agree this is quite a bonus. You are glad to take a miserable week’s salary or so from the boss as a bonus for a year’s work. I now promise, if you will do two years’ work in your spare time, as you can get to it, that I will give you the greatest single invention of the human mind, the most powerful engine of thought, the crown and glory of mathematics, the proudest achievement of Leibnitz and of Newton, the biggest boost to your own ego which the whole range of education affords, the Infinitesimal Calculus. I won’t waste much time telling you about it or its history. If you are half the man you should be to have gotten this far in this book, you are champing at the bit, furiously trying to charge off and learn everything there is to know about this romantic realm. How can a man who has once learned to square a -\-b possibly be con­ tent to remain in ignorance of the calculus? However, a few hints about the extraordinary value of the calculus may be stimulat­ ing. The first and most natural application of the calculus is to prob­ lems of physics. In particular the calculus is the natural language for treating motion, and motion is the universe as far as we are concerned. We only perceive, cognize, become aware of, see, hear, feel, smell, taste, as a result of motion. Motion is of the essence of life. We do not understand the relationship as yet, but we know that without motion there is no life and moreover there would be no world. Try to visualize a world in which nothing moved. If nothing moved, nothing would affect anything else. Cause and effect would vanish. You would be unable to perceive yourself. You see because light moves and because your brain cells move. Thought is a result of motion. Gravitation, cohesion, repulsion, elasticity, force, matter, time, space, are manifestations of motion. None of these abstractions can be formed without it, and if the universe is to have any reality for us at all, motion is the starting 207

point of our quest. Even God is only known to us through motion. Now the calculus is a marvelously successful device for measuring motion. Its applicability is, however, based on the idea of con­ tinuity. Modern science has discovered that continuity in the physi­ cal world is an illusion, and what is much more important, an illusion we can learn to live without. T he world is discrete, and we are groping to comprehend this discreteness. We don’t fully, as yet. W e have separated electricity and light into little pellets; treating the path of the pellets discontinuously is not easy. It is not impos­ sible, however, and this points up the usefulness of other branches of mathematics, not continuous like the calculus but essentially atomic, discrete. I shall never know much about them, but you are perhaps under fifty-seven years of age and can, if you wish. None of this menaces the invincible usefulness and beauty of the calculus. Indeed, analysis (a convenient term for all branches of mathematics which use the basic idea of the calculus) is constantly growing, and the real problem of analysis seems to be how to put a limit on the growth. Someday a giant, a true superman, is going to invent a super math, which will do away with the need for nine tenths of our present mathematical foliage, but you and I can’t afford to wait for this fellow. One more thing: A ll more elementary mathematics, no matter how interesting, turn out to be a minor joy once you plunge into the heady waters of analysis. You get a thrill, a feeling of exultant power, which makes you wonder what you have been waiting for. In fact, what are we waiting for? First buy an elementary text on the differential and integral cal­ culus. There can be no other like Bacon’s for self-instruction, but many are good. If you have taken a course in analytic geometry but wish to refresh your knowledge, then Frederick H. M iller’s Analytic Geometry and Calculus is good. Miller has also written a calculus which you might look at. Sherwood and T aylor’s Calculus is good. A splendid book is Calculus by Smith, Salkover and Justice; it is a little austere and concise perhaps— unless you think you are good at math— but impeccable as to writing, presentation, and the value of the numerous worked-out examples. It has been my second book and I have read it from cover to cover. Indeed, I recommend it merely for the quality of the English. If only the mathematicians could write our sociology textbooks! 208

However, I have not seen a textbook which I like as well as Bacon’s for self-instruction. My reasons are: (1) The print. (2) The exposition of the idea of the limit. (3) The completeness and fullness of the explanations. (4) A certain friendliness and geniality in the tone of the book which can mean a lot when you are living with a book for say a thousand hours of intense communion. (5) A true appreciation of the way a beginner’s mind works. Professor Bacon seldom assumes that a step is obvious unless it is. Incidentally, I’d like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to that lovely lady whom Professor Bacon thanked in his preface, Miss Mary Sunseri. I do not know precisely why the profes­ sor was grateful, but her charming, musical name has sung me through many a dark passage. However, I must not exaggerate the importance of any one text­ book. If you can’t learn from one book you are probably unwilling to learn from another. Any of them will do, and if one is hard to buy or out of print, use the next one. Don’t buy in error an ad­ vanced calculus or a book on differential equations. Be sure you have a beginning book. Use one book only for your steady book and use other texts as aids in understanding difficult passages. Each writer presents things a little differently, and one will clear up what the other leaves ob­ scure. It is as if the principal book were your teacher and the other book were a coach who helps out in a pinch. You will want to know exactly how difficult the calculus is. This has no meaning for the reader who has no mathematics, because then it is all equally difficult, but if you have enough math to begin the study, I can answer it. The calculus is exactly as hard and no harder than anything else, if you are properly prepared for it. Arith­ metic is the hardest math to learn because you have no prepara­ tion for that, except the first six years of your life. The memory of your horror when at that tender age you were first asked to con­ sider quantities closely is the real reason you think math is difficult; whereas of all forms of mental activity, it is the easiest to teach to yourself (arithmetic is still the most difficult for me). Algebra is hard because you don’t know arithmetic. If you do, it /


presents no difficulty. O rd in ary p lan e geom etry is really a little hard because there is no p rep aratio n possible for it, except general habits o f careful thinking, w h ich take tim e to develop. T he older you are, the easier it should be for you. A better course in mechanical draw ing in the elem entary schools w o u ld help all of us. In fact, m any more elem entary construction problem s than are now taught could be taught to children o f ten and eleven as projects, and even m ild proofs could be given for some o f them. B ut this would hurt the sale of m od elin g clay for the m ore usual kind of projects. Projects have done so m uch to m ake the average Am erican a crea­ tive personality that art cou ldn 't stand the loss o f those muddy messes. T rigon o m etry and analytic geom etry present no difficulty at all if you have a proper com m and o f algebra. I think it is impossible that a man w ho has taken courses in elem entary and advanced algebra and obtained grades over 75 could fail at trig, unless personal reasons intervened. In any case, you have nothing to w orry about; nothing that you learn by yourself can be a failure. A ll forms o f solid geom etry present the obstacle of visualizing in space. T h is is more difficult for some than for others. If it is difficult for you, om it it. By the time you need it in the calculus, the difficulty w ill have disappeared, and you can always work it up a little. T h e calculus presents no special difficulties except one. It fully uses all your previous math, and if you can’t m anipulate success­ fully, or sketch a curve, you are at a disadvantage. However, you can use the calculus to repair deficiencies in your earlier education. T h e calculus w ill teach you w hat you d id n ’t learn before. It will do for your algebra, trig, and analytic w hat algebra could have done for your arithm etic. In fact, if you have already had math, includ­ in g some analytic geometry, but w eren’t too good at it or think you have forgotten it, don’t bother to review; start the calculus at once and review as you need to. T h is is another chance to apply that maxim: Go on but look back frequently. I have said that the elementary calculus is not difficult. This is true, but the calculus is a thorough study. It goes into many things w hich you have been able to ignore up to now in math and in ordinary thinking. A ll things are difficult if you carry them far enough. A nybody can learn to use a votin g machine, but if you 210

really try to figure out whom you should vote for, you won’t live long enough to pull your first lever. Anybody with the down pay­ ment can buy a car, but how do you break through the lies and de­ ceptions of the automobile companies and decide which is the best one for your needs? The calculus is a baby’s job by comparison. Now, in algebra, arithmetic, and geometry, your teachers quietly eased you past the real difficulties. You never felt the bumps. But in the calculus it becomes advisable to consider what is really meant. This is inherently rather subtle. We must look at the foundations, and it is just as big a study as you choose to make it. Many mathe­ maticians of the nineteenth century gave their lives to it. It was easy for me, as far as the textbooks go, because I had read about the meaning of number, the foundation of the number system, and some of the basic ideas of science and philosophy before I came to the study of the calculus. Therefore, considerations of limits, continuity, area, summation, infinity, etc., were a pure joy to me, and they will be to you if you use the over-all ideas of this book. (If you are an engineer who has already had the calculus and half forgotten it, don’t resume the study until you have done some of the other things suggested in this book. Your particular cultural need is to widen out a little. You already can compute.) As soon as you have done a little work on the calculus— say, up to a point where you have had your first taste of maximum and mini­ mum problems— it is time to add some general books on mathe­ matics to your library. You will read them as you go along, in trains and buses, during your lunch hour, and whenever you don’t feel like using a pencil. I recommend: C o u r a n t and R obbins, W ha t Is M athem atics?

(This belongs in every

library) Gam ow, O n e, T w o , T h r e e — In fin ity

(available as a pocketbook)

E. T., M en o f M a th em a tics B e l l , E. T., M a them a tics, th e Q u een o f th e Sciences (out of print, but try libraries) B e l l , E. T., M a them a tics, th e H a n d m a id en o f the Sciences (out of print, but try libraries) B e ll,

B e l l , E. T ., M a them a tics, Q u e e n and Servant o f Science D a n tzig, N u m b e r, th e L a n g u a g e o f Science (now in soft covers)


to Solve It (now in soft covers) ussell, B e r t r a n d , Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (What a book I)

P o ly a , H ow R

E. T . Bell has fused his two earlier ladies into a single book: Mathematics, Queen and Servant of Science. It is a fine work, but the two-headed beauty is not as easy as those old-time gals. I read the books in the above list before I knew any calculus. I am told that What Is Mathematics? is used as a textbook in some colleges. It gives a mature discussion of points in elementary mathematics and a description of many branches of higher mathe­ matics about which you and I would otherwise know nothing. It has very good chapters on the concepts at the base of the calculus. A t this time you should also read Fine’s introduction to his Col­ lege Algebra. I make here a few further recommendations for engineers, technicians, and anyone who is not afraid to read a book: The World of Mathematics, edited by James R. Newman, has cre­ ated much talk among laymen. I have looked it over carefully, partly with the idea of buying it myself, and partly because I was interested in it as a convenient home library of mathematics for my readers. It would be a very nice thing, indeed, to have in the house. Not many laymen, I imagine, would sit down and read the four volumes right off, but any layman who has learned mathematics, in­ cluding a slight knowledge of the calculus, and who has first tested himself on some lighter books, such as those I have already referred to (Mathematics for the Million; Men of Mathematics; Number, the Language of Science), would find this a compact mathematical library of general ideas. You cannot learn mathematics from such a book, but you and I would acquire a good idea of the sweep of mathematics from a careful reading. If you do decide to attempt it, it would be wise to start at the beginning and follow the editor’s arrangement. Use a stout bookmark; you probably will be years getting through these volumes. A recent book, Elements of Algebra, by Howard Levi, gives the first practical, elementary, working textbook on the foundation of the number system. It is an imperfect book, like most groundbreakers, and will be improved, I believe, in a subsequent edition. It is used at Columbia University in the School of General Studies. 212

Bell’s Development of Mathematics gives a broad view of the whole history of the subject. It does not replace or duplicate the older historians such as Ball, Cajori, etc. Of those books which can be handled by the general reader, Bertrand Russell’s Principles of Mathematics is perhaps the most influential work on math published during this century. It contains no actual mathematics (symbols or equations). It is not light read­ ing, but I have never enjoyed a book more. I wish it were possible for that man to live forever. I hope he outlives me; I don’t want to lose him. I shall go into the literature further when I speak of logic and philosophy. This list is intended for your incidental reading while studying mathematics. Here are a few specific suggestions for all your mathematical study: Don’t time yourself. It makes no difference how long you take on a subject, page, or problem. You are giving your life to the pursuit of culture and of the pleasures culture gives. It will do you no good to hurry. There will only be something more to study and there will never be an end. The study is the end of the study. Time, it is true, is money, and that is the place to hurry: where the money is. Speed is also important for the man who must complete some work before he dies. None of this is for you. Your aim is enjoyment. You want to raise, widen, and intensify your pleasures. You must enjoy yourself as you go along. Later on is too late. You don’t sacri­ fice today to enjoy tomorrow. You enjoy today so that you can enjoy yourself still more tomorrow. No one is such a ruthless egotist as the man who seeks the cultivation of himself. I am an absolute Epicurean. Therefore when you do a problem, do not hesitate to get all the pleasure that lies in that problem. Take a week on it if you like. Work out every idea it creates in you. Review past knowledge. Read other books about that problem. Try it from other points of view. Remember that the textbook was written to be a tool in the hands of a teacher responsible to his superior for his success in enabling the student to meet a deadline. This has nothing to do with you. Your only deadline is the last day of your life. You may demand of yourself that which no school dare ask. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you are wasting time. One idea, one problem, worked out in exhaustive fashion by your­ 21 )

self, from every point of view, is worth fifty done mechanically and without thought. Using the calculus as the type for all mathematical study, I shall go over a few steps in actual work. You can adapt the ideas to any part of mathematics. In the differential calculus the main things are the ideas of the limit and of continuity. After you are at home in these (give them all the time in the world), try to get a good technique at differentia­ tion. This will consolidate your past knowledge of mathematics and put you in a position to go further. Give special attention to logarithmic, exponential, and transcendental functions. The in­ verse trigonometrical functions will now further reveal their useful­ ness. Read Courant and Robbins on the idea of the transcendental in mathematics. Rates of change are the central application of the differential cal­ culus, and time-rates of change the most important of these. Give unlimited time to absorbing these ideas; there is nothing better in life anyhow. Read the applications of the differential calculus to geometry, such as tangents, normals, etc., and do some of the exercises under these headings. I did all the exercises on the differential calculus in Bacon’s book but I suppose I had better compromise with you. Grasp the ideas of curvature, vectors,* and simple harmonic mo­ tion. You may cut down on polar co-ordinates if you want to, and work them up later if you go into more advanced work; also curve tracing, except maximum and minimum problems, which are too fruitful to skimp. Please note that I am outlining a minimum; I have no objection if you wish to spend ten years on the differential calculus. Do not start the study of integration until you complete the dif­ ferential calculus. Many books insert a chapter on easy integrations almost at the beginning, but this is not good for the man who teaches himself. Read the chapter if it is in your book, but don’t work it until you are ready to begin the integral calculus as a whole. Bacon separates the two branches completely. Courant starts with the integral calculus in What Is Mathematics? * T h e treatment of vectors in a first book on calculus is very slight. Every engineer should do a regular book on vectors. I vastly enjoyed Vector and T ensor Analysis, C. E. Hay, Dover Publications— a paperback. 214

The calculus sheds light on the theory of equations. If you are weak in that interesting subject, a good time to look into it would be after you know some calculus. The integral calculus is supposed to be more difficult than the differential. Insofar as this is true, it is because the student never ob­ tained a good command of differentiation. Integration has two in­ trinsic difficulties: (1) The relation between areas and sums which leads to the fundamental theorem requires careful thought.* This is no prob­ lem for you, however, because time and care is what you have noth­ ing else but. If you don’t see it one year, you will the next. The ordinary college student is through his finals and miraculously gradu­ ated before he ever gets around to looking into what he is talking about. (2) You must learn to classify integrals. Remember how you formerly learned to classify equations as being of the first, second, third degree, in one, two, three unknowns, etc. If you know what type of integral is in front of you, you can integrate it, look it up in a table, or know to give it up as unintegrable, but you must learn to recognize what you are up against. This is an example of the morphological side of mathematics; there is an element of empiri­ cism here. You may omit the following, except to read about them: Reduction formulae Physical applications of integration Approximate integration Hyperbolic functions You can cut down the exercises on partial derivatives,f geometric application of the integral in three variables such as tangent and plane to surfaces, maxima and minima in three variables (in space), and multiple integration. Do one problem in each kind and * It is treated more fully in books of advanced calculus, such as Sokolnikoff’s. If you know elementary calculus, I would prefer you to do an ad­ vanced calculus before working very hard on differential equations. The first few chapters in a book on differential equations are a necessity in a rounded education; the later chapters are more technical. f Partial derivatives are of the first importance, but you can hold back on them until you need them, which won’ t be long if you go very far.


as many more as you like. T h e interest of these for you will depend on how much further you go in mathematics and what kind of work you may prefer. You may wish to get into physics, for instance, as soon as possible. You can always look up topics as you need them, once you understand integration. Remember your second book on calculus must be carefully read and all the illustrative examples fully assimilated. Here is a good trick. Read a worked-out example. T hen close the book and see if you can do it. If you get stuck, open the book and find out where and why. Often this will prove to be all you need to grasp an idea, especially where the idea has essentially nothing new to offer, as in a triple integral.* I found that I could coach an engineering student in multiple integrals at a time when I had done only one prob­ lem on them myself. I had read through the chapter. When the stu­ dent came to me with a book which I had not used, I questioned him as to what was expected, and drew enough out of him to solve the problem. Here the student was one chapter ahead of the teacher, but the teacher had a better hold on the idea. Bacon’s and some other textbooks have an easy chapter on differ­ ential equations. Such a chapter is very much worthwhile, especially if you never go further into them. Differential equations are fasci­ nating and of enormous importance in science. Einstein said that with a knowledge of ordinary differential equations and of electro­ dynamics, you can read his work on the special theory of relativity. Then by a brief study of the tensor calculus, now available in books written especially for relativity, you can follow the general theory. This is the next math for me. I don’t know much about differential equations and I don’t know the tensor calculus, so I still don’t un­ derstand general relativity, but I ’ll get to it in the next five years. . . . Or will I? f The great science of statistics has a profound and growing mathe­ matical theory and enormous applicability to almost every depart­ ment of human thought, but as far as that fellow who never goes * N othing new in its evaluation. T h e thing itself is something new. A single integral can be defined as an area, but a triple integral cannot be defined as a volume in a space of less than four dimensions. An integral is an operation; areas and spaces are merely opportunities for its use. f I ’m getting there (4/18/58). 216

home, the man in the street, is concerned, statistics comes down to two types of problems: (1) to arrive at and understand an average, of which there are many kinds; (2) to estimate a probability. Ele­ mentary probability, as taught in high school, and a grasp of the most frequently used probability curves, plus knowing what is meant by the mean, the mode, the median, and so on, will enable you to understand a large body of knowledge which the citizen really needs to know. One month of application to this subject will make you a man apart— one in a hundred— when you are con­ fronted with those numberless situations in ordinary life where statistics are used. Of course, if you have not studied physics in school, you will want to know something of it after learning all this math. I treat of physics later but should say here that a textbook of physics for be­ ginners should be read as soon as you know a little algebra and geometry, and a good first college text should be studied as soon as you become interested, certainly before you have reached the cal­ culus. Also, you should have read such books as Dampier’s History of Science, Lynn Thorndike’s History of Magic and Experimental Science, and at least one elementary text on the great science of astronomy.* A man who can contemplate Kepler’s laws without a fast-beating heart is probably not worth knowing. (This rules out a great many people, but I’ve never let that worry me. In people as in books, selection is everything.) There is such a variety and thoroughness of misunderstanding about the relation between reading and studying that it may be a good idea to discuss it. It is possible to read without studying and to study without reading. If both words are used in their widest sense — that is, including reflection and meditation— they embrace, be­ tween them, the learning process. In a considerable area of learning, the two are identical, and this area is the one this book is most interested in. Art, music, and geology are examples of subjects which cannot be mastered merely by reading. Poetry, since the bards have departed, cannot be learned except by reading. For the most part, however, the culti­ * The soft-cover books have many good and cheap texts on historical and philosophical aspects of science. 217

vated layman is interested in those parts of subjects which can be learned by reading, leaving laboratories, instruments, practice, and field work to the specialists. Let us apply this idea to the learning of mathematics and phys­ ics. Obviously the layman should do most of his learning in these sciences by reading. This does not mean that he should content himself with reading popular descriptions of mathematics, for in­ stance. He should read directly the books which expound the subject, first the necessary schoolbooks, and then, as his powers in­ crease, the more advanced regular treatises. The elementary schoolbooks contain exercises and problems as well as exposition. These are to help the reader fix his ideas, test them for firmness, and prepare him to go on. They are also to de­ velop his technique if he is going to do practical work in the sub­ ject. Since most people never learn anything unless they think it can be converted into cash, the elementary books naturally give great space to the technical aspect. The more advanced books do not, since they assume that the reader has at least enough tech­ nique to read them. Now you, teacher of yourself, must learn when to acquire skill in the practical working of any subject and when to ignore the purely technical parts and concentrate on the philosophical and cultural aspects of the matter. Obviously you want to understand how life begins, but you don’t want to put in years learning the sensitive techniques of the microscope. You want to know something about the atom without spending ages over a spectroscope. You want to learn about ancient times without leaving your home to become an excavator. You want to know something about painting and music without long specialized training. In each case you must learn where to go into techniques and where to stop. Let us apply this to mathematics because in this sub­ ject you can eventually, by yourself, become as much of a techni­ cian as you choose, yet no technique, merely as technique, is more unenlightening than in mathematics. A mere computer, if there could be such a creature, would know no more than a mere brick­ layer (if there could be such a creature). I have already made plain the minimum technical requirements: a complete vocabulary, a good stock of definitions, axioms, and postulates, a good fluent fundamental skill in algebraic manipula218

tion, a grasp of how trigonometrical identities can be transformed, a slight knowledge of the methods of plane geometry and of curve sketching, the ability to differentiate easily and to integrate the easier cases. Add to this a small skill in detecting the equations which lie concealed by the words of a problem. But all this is nei­ ther rewarding enough in itself nor does it constitute mathematics. You must now read the subject. You read your book on mathematics precisely the way you read any other book. It goes slower than a novel, but not slower than a major philosophical work or a book on economics. Suppose you have as much math as I have just outlined. What should you do with it? (1) Read a good text on analytic geometry, including solid analytic geometry. (2) Read a good elementary textbook on calculus from begin­ ning to end. (3) Read an easy book on differential equations, taking time on the earliest part and skipping as it gets difficult. (4) Read an advanced calculus, carefully absorbing all the ideas and giving plenty of thought to those parts which cover the same ground as your earlier book but from a deeper foundation. Learn what derivatives, integrals, multiple integrals, and line integrals are — not merely how to evaluate them. You can become quite good at evaluating these things without knowing what they are, and you can know what they are very well and hardly be able to evaluate them at all. The two forms of knowledge are not the same. Now read what you wish. It would be silly for me to advise you further since by this time you are quite a philosopher yourself, but books on vector and tensor analysis, on matrices and the algebra of groups, and on function theory are indicated. I am trying to get in some of this reading myself. The point is that you are to read these books. You can read, to great advantage, everything I have advised without using pencil or paper, although they are helpful. There is even something to be gained by reading an advanced calculus from cover to cover without once using a pencil— something which few engineers ever get the benefit of. For one thing, although it is not the main thing, you improve your manipulatory skill merely by following the arguments, just as a shorthand writer improves his skill by reading books printed in shorthand. 2 /p

People see me reading a book like Carslaw’s Fourier Theory. “Are you studying this?” they ask. “ N o,” I answer, “reading it.” * One man, an educated man, nodded his head after such an ex­ change and said, “Just going over it superficially?” “ No,” I answered. “ There is nothing superficial in the process.” Modesty forbade me to say that I was just going over it profoundly, but that was what I was doing. I have as much need to use a Fourier series as I have to use a helicopter, but I had several reasons for reading the book. They were: (1) T o follow arguments in other books involving Fourier functions. (2) T o know what Fourier functions are and how they are used, for their own sake. (3) T o improve my power of reading mathematical books and deepen my grasp of the foundations and nature of mathematics. (4) T o learn to grasp mathematical ideas as a whole, without becoming lost in the details. (5) T o improve my manipulatory skill by watching a better man work. (6) T o understand better the relation between mathematics and physics, to try to understand how a mathematical development can almost become a physical development by itself. These were the superficial purposes behind my superficial read­ ing. Intelligent readers will realize that I did not completely accom­ plish my intent; there is more for me to do along these lines— say, six lifetimes more. Now, applied to physics, for example, these ideas mean that you read a textbook on physics— an elementary one— and use as much pencil and paper as you find helpful. Then you read more advanced books and go on and read and read. After a time you will get to books which are both mathematical and profound, but which have no problems or exercises, and when you do you will be able to han­ dle them because you learned to read a book. Lindsay and Margenau, Foundations of Physics, is an example of such a book. If you * For the record, I have not yet finished Carslaw’s book, and it may be that I never will. It’s rather advanced for me. My point is that it is good to read such books, or to read the parts of them which seem interesting or useful. 220

can’t read mathematics, you can't read that book. There is no way to compute your way through it. Differential equations further illustrate this idea. This branch of mathematics seems particularly to be one in which a reading knowl­ edge without a big technique would be meaningless, owing to a certain lack of generality and the supreme importance of special methods, but that does not turn out to be true. Differential equa­ tions are the chief means of stating the laws of science; we must know something about them if we are going to understand the great dis­ coveries of the modern world. It is possible, however, to read the literature of science, dotted all over with differentials, and achieve considerable understanding without being able actually to solve, on one’s own, anything harder than the easiest forms. If you have read a book on differential equations and thought about it, if you understand what is meant by a solution of a differential equa­ tion, if you can classify them and recognize the forms of the more common solutions, you can follow many advanced, complicated, and beautiful arguments where you would be unable to take a step by yourself. This is entirely legitimate. You will be forced to assume that your writer has correctly calculated his solutions, but this is a small thing to swallow compared to accepting the results of these in­ numerable delicate and problematical experiments, not done by oneself, which you accept all the time. Even the scientists accept the results of other men’s work. You do understand, by making suffi­ cient effort, how the writer assembled his equation, you do recog­ nize its type, you do recognize the solution as having a certain re­ semblance to the standard solution for that type of equation— that’s good enough. Go on! Of course, had I begun to study mathematics at seventeen instead of thirty-seven, I certainly would have thoroughly mastered dif­ ferential equations. Now it wouldn’t pay, just as it wouldn’t pay me to learn Greek. I must work with that which I have. So should you. Always learn more, but at the same time work with what you have. Eve Curie, in her admirable biography of her mother, speaks of Marie Curie’s fine mathematical culture. These words illustrate well the idea that mathematics is a culture, a world that one enters 221

as one enters into the culture of painting, of poetry. Marie Curie was not a mathematician; she was an experimental physicist. She did use mathematics in her work; so does a bookkeeper. But her soul was attuned to mathematics; after she had taken an M.S. in physics, she took a second Master's in mathematics, even though she was handicapped by extreme poverty. This was not an absolute necessity for the furtherance of her work; it was undoubtedly her appreciation of the beauty and meaning of mathematics as a life in itself that drove her into this rather uncommon step. I have referred to this to make clear to you that mathematical culture and scientific culture are not very different from the fine arts when considered as aesthetic and emotional experience. All sciences are arts. They are all of them children of our spirit; all spring from common clay and all carry the imprint of man. It is obvious that I am not in two worlds or in two different emotional states when I look at closely related arts such as sculpture and paint­ ing. Both are art, although they are not precisely the same art. Poetry and mathematics, painting and zoology, have the same one­ ness, but at a greater remove. That is, painting and sculpture, or symphony and opera, are related to the highest degree of closeness; painting and music or poetry and dancing to the second degree; and literature and geology or art and mathematics to the third degree. But culturally, as part of a “ fine culture,” their sameness is more relevant than their difference. I am the last man in the world to imply that you should listen to music as if you were looking at a picture; still less, as if you were solving an equation. Such confusion is always a sign of superficial­ ity. But I do mean that when you discover a new idea in painting or in mathematics, in music or in biology, the emotion you will experi­ ence as the thought grows in you is much the same. Rachel Carson has produced a fine book, The Sea Around Us, which illustrates this idea. Critics emphasize the glowing fusion of poetry and science in her vision of nature. Her achievement stems from the fact that when Miss Carson considers the ideas in Schuchert and Dunbar’s His­ torical Geology, for example, she is possessed by the same feeling, in essence, that she has when she looks into a hidden pool in the in­ tertidal zone, or when she opens the pages of her Shelley. Poetry, art, geology, zoology, and nature worship rise in single emotion. 222

The day will come when you, too, in your smaller way, will have this vision, this emotion. It may happen that my explanation of the ease with which mathematical studies may be pursued will give some persons the idea of studying by themselves for professional purposes. This is outside the scheme of this book altogether, but the ideas of this chapter can be used for such a plan. Certain problems must be con­ sidered. (1) No one should attempt such a study unless he feels he is mathematically inclined and wants to spend his life with mathe­ matics. (2) If you have a degree of any type, you should be able to en­ ter industry as a mathematician even though your mathematical knowledge is self-obtained, if you are good enough. If you are, the fact that you are self-taught will impress most businessmen, but there is no bluffing in mathematics. You must acquire the equiva­ lent of an M.A. in math, merely for a starter, and then must study for years as you work, if you want to accomplish much. (3) You cannot get recognition in the schools for work done by yourself, but if you have a degree of any kind, the coming shortage of math teachers may open up temporary teaching positions for you. It would then be easy to take the courses needed for an M.A. provided you already know the work, and in that manner you can fully certify yourself as a mathematician. When should you learn mathematics? I will set up a few possible cases, and then you should be able to work out your own schedule. Suppose you are under thirty. You should resolve to learn mathematics through the calculus at least. If you are learning an­ other subject at present and don’t wish to stop, you can hold off on math for a reasonable length of time, unless you are altogether ignorant of it. In that sad event you had better learn algebra as soon as possible. That will enable you to judge your gifts and your taste for math, and so decide how far to go. If you once had some math in school, disregard the fact that you didn’t like it. I loathed it. Start a book and see what happens. Read Mathematics for the Million. In fact, readers of all ages and conditions should read some 223

of the general literature I have discussed and see how it affects them. If you are as ignorant of math as I was at thirty-seven but are a good reader, a book on the philosophy of mathematics may shake your soul. If you are over forty and have a poor general education, with lit­ tle reading up to now, it will be necessary to get in some history and literature first. Read a book on the history of science when you get a chance and see if it does anything to you. Are you a farmer or a man living far from the arts? Then mathematics is a wonderful study for you. You need no museums, no orchestra or opera house, no friends to sympathize with you. A ll you need is a pencil and paper. Here is something for those long winter nights, snowbound on your mountain. Are you really pressed for time because of your work? Mathe­ matics may be the answer. You can’t give enough time to music and, above all, not enough relaxed and sensitive appreciation— not if you are an airline hostess with a busy life on the ground as well. But you do have many odd moments which are hard to turn to ac­ count. So take out a pencil and paper and solve an equation. It’s cheaper than bourbon. Math is an ideal study for people with little time. If it’s incon­ venient to carry a textbook, you can copy out a day’s work in a pocket notebook and work on it when you get a chance. Math is good at night before going to bed, too, but don’t let it excite you to the point that you can’t sleep. If you are like most people, take half an hour of math at ten-thirty and you will sleep like a top, be­ sides learning something in the course of a few years. If you are past fifty, mathematics may help you if you find it diffi­ cult to become interested in other cultural subjects. It requires so much concentration and is so concrete in practice that if you have dried up a little and can’t sympathize easily with Romeo and Juliet, or with T itian and Gauguin, or can’t listen to symphonies, this may be just the thing to arouse your rusting powers and teach you how much is still left in you. If you are a woman of sixty, to take an extreme case, and lack cultural instincts— or so you think— try this one. It is a good study for people who lack confidence at literature and the arts. It will force you to work your rigid brain a little, and you may be dumfounded at the result. I guarantee that


you can learn it, just as far as you wish, which is more than I dare say for music, art, or poetry. If you find that you have a flair for literature or history, but do not seem to be so hot at mathematics, you will naturally prefer to work your gifts. I can’t blame you for this, but try to keep in mind the over-all picture of your cultural needs. Mathematics is a perfect study for salesmen. They often have a bent of mind which will help, and the frightful overdevelopment of the acquisitive instincts, characteristic of all good salesmen, will not hurt here, whereas it is destructive for most study. You already do crossword puzzles in your spare time, or play poker and solitaire. Math is not very different and it adds up to something. It pays, and that ought to appeal to you, my brothers. Mathematics is one subject where self-study and school study are identical in method. Therefore, if you hope to go back to school someday, do your math work for yourself. If you can pass an ex­ amination— and if your home study is done correctly you can, much more surely than after merely “ taking a course”— you will probably get college credit for the work. I have laughed at those people who can learn anything they are told by word of mouth but cannot read it. Such people are the vic­ tims of a weakness which they must overcome if they are ever to know much. Only kings can expect to be instructed all their lives. But there are people who have the opposite trouble: they cannot listen. Lectures bore them. Even a good lecturer is far too slow for them. Their minds are quick, and they like to think as they learn. This can be done over a page but not while the man talks. I am this type myself and I know many others like me. I like to rephrase what I learn in my own words and I never feel I know it until I do this. If you are of this kind, if teachers bore you and you don’t like too much talk, the remedy is in your hands. Teach yourself. If you go to college, by all means sit through your classes, but learn from the books. Above all, learn your math in this way. Free yourself from the teacher altogether. By this method I guarantee you very high marks in mathematics. It will work for other subjects as well, provided the subjects are definite enough. It will work for physics, chemistry, geology, etc. It may fail in those courses where the big thing is to give back to the teacher precisely what he has given you.


Thus, it may fail in aesthetics or philosophy. Those courses—as taught in colleges— are guessing games; you must be able to esti­ mate what the instructor thinks he wants and not deviate. For in­ stance, if you are taking a course in art history, all knowledge which you acquire outside of the specific demands of the instructor will hurt you. Give him back his own ideas, in your language, but using his terms. Never replace a cliche by an idea on an examination. I have been trying to offer some ideas to people who are not happy, whose minds are not at peace. Since mathematics is the per­ fect study for self-instruction, it follows that it is also the perfect study to free the mind from a burden of despair, depression, or ennui. It is a strong remedy. I suppose the people who need it most w ill be most reluctant to consider using it. Women, so many of whom suffer from the emptiness of their lives after their children are grown, are usually unwilling to tolerate the idea of mathematics as a study for themselves. It is not because they make bad mathe­ maticians. T h e opposite is correct. Women seem to be poor artists but good scientists. It may be that women are less capable of rising to the bisexuality, the suprasexuality of the arts than men are. They may lack impersonality or, to put it another way, a man can per­ haps reach feminine qualities easier than a woman can achieve masculinity. This is largely the result of training and custom, no doubt. T h at is Margaret Mead’s opinion, and her opinion should carry weight. Still, I realize that this age of ours, which has pro­ duced so many wonderful women— Margaret Mead, Suzanne Langer, Ruth Benedict, Lisa Meitner, Marie Curie, Lillian Lieber and all those archaeologists and astronomers— has not been distinguished for women artists. True, this is not an age of great art in any direc­ tion. T he women may have started too late. But women reason as well as men. Any woman can learn mathe­ matics. Even if she be sick, though not feeble, unhappy but capable of exertion, I earnestly, if futilely, recommend mathematics. Any form of science or philosophy is just as good therapeutically, but mathematics is the easiest for home study. If I had had nothing more to do during the past seventeen years than run a house, I would have a Ph.D. in mathematics by now. It’s the ideal study to fit into the odd hours of a day and can be picked up and dropped at will. Its value for the neurotic lies in what you are forced to do when 226

you do pick it up. Here is a kind of nirvana, a sort of ecstasy, a hypnotic state, a complete abandonment of self and of everything which distresses the self. If you do mathematics at all, you do it to the exclusion of all other things. You pick up your mind, that mind which has been roaming all over your world looking for trou­ ble and making it when it can’t find any, and you put it where it can’t possibly get into difficulties. Here is peace; here is quiet. The soul, turned with all its force to the utterly abstract, sheds those itchings and prickings of the unconscious, sheds all that meditation on one’s own stomach, heart, circulation, liver, husband, wife, business associates, “friends,” in-laws, parents; one’s past, future, mis­ takes, needs, plans, lack of plans, money, other people’s money— all the intellectual garbage which lies festering in the septic tank of the mind— and the poor, sodden soul expands and breathes. A breath of new life, new air, goes through one. The soul becomes ac­ tive and purposeful, instead of passive, dreamy, and idle. This can­ not fail if you are up to it. Nobody was ever anything but perfectly sane while thinking about mathematics. I realize that this may not be the solution for everyone. The sick are entitled to everything which is medicinal, and whatever comes easiest is the right thing to use. Use art, music, social work, a social life, travel, hobbies, athletics, or contract bridge, if they are the things for you, but if these have failed and if you have the strength, if there is any real fight left in you, mathe­ matics cannot fail. I like music when I am perfectly happy, art and poetry when I am less relaxed, philosophy and mathematics when things are at their worst. They are strong remedies suitable for real trouble. If you are too old and dry to turn to poetry, if music only makes you feel worse, if art is a closed door to you, if you can’t become in­ terested in history, then I will guarantee, with money cheerfully refunded, that if you will set yourself the task of learning some mathematics and will see it through, you will discover that you sim­ ply don’t have troubles. Here’s a sure cure— the universal panacea — and the price is not a thousand dollars, not even fifty dollars, but is so ridiculously cheap you will wonder how I do it. You believe in self-help? Then prove it. Get a book, a pencil, some paper. Prove yourself. Men, we have been told, sometimes try to solve their personal 227

problems by going to high places, to mountain tops. There, far above the squirming world, in a clear, thin air, they seek to iron out the wrinkles in their psyche. How unimaginativel In mathematics, we have a Tibet, an Everest, which every man can climb. In that stinging wind his soul, long-cramped scroll, can unfurl. He can find his fresh beginning, his new start.



h apter



Science and Philosophy My ear and Darwin • Physics w ithout cyclotron T h e stars above • T h e m olecules Earth’s spawn • Psychology w ithout psychosis Sociology to taste • A t last, philosophy Logic, our ladder • E v o lu tio n lends a hand

I h a v e g i v e n quite a bit of space to mathematics even though I know the majority of readers w ill never consent to study it. I have also given some reasons for my emphasis on the importance of math — particularly that it is such an easy study to pursue by oneself, and that it is so useful in putting firmness into one’s education. I had another reason, however: it can serve as a model for self-study in any science. Mathematics is eminently suited for this, for the following rea­ sons: (i) everyone knows what subject I am talking about. (2) it is not necessary to refer to many books; (3) it is possible to cover the subject in some detail without being too long-winded; ^(4) any­ body who has been to school at all knows a little mathematics; (5) my experiences in mathematics seemed to me to be interesting. It is neither necessary nor practical to treat all the sciences in this manner. That would not be a chapter but an encyclopedia. It would not be particularly helpful to the reader who has borne with me this far. He surely knows everything I have to say on how to plan a program of instruction for oneself in a given subject. My personal experiences in science and philosophy add little to what I have already written. Above all, I am not competent to write in detail on all or indeed any of these subjects. Instead, I shall make up one chapter in which I shall try to show how history and mathe22p

matics may be used to enter into the remaining world of human knowledge, as I am using them in my own life at this moment; and I shall refer to a few problems I have already met. I shall also try to indicate the relative difficulty of teaching oneself the branches of science and philosophy that I have attempted to learn up to now. First, a little biography. As soon as I was old enough to want to learn at all, say around my fourteenth year, I began, like everybody w ho reads, to wonder about those mighty topics: philosophy, eco­ nomics, evolution, religion, geology, astronomy, and so on. The huger and more remote the subject, the more fascinating it was. I d id not have the slightest desire to learn to compute the amount of w allpaper needed to cover a room, but I was ready at once to plunge to the center of the earth or to the farthest reaches of the stars. T h e strength of this feeling among all kinds of people is shown by the interest in science-fiction. Readers of science-fiction are usu­ ally ignorant of science. Science-fiction is antiscientific; it is really related to magic and fable. Still, the wonders of science, even false science, do charm m illions.* I remember an argument, at once ontological and scientific, which I constructed for the benefit of another boy of fourteen years as we escaped from school one day. I thought that I had perhaps found an explanation of the origin of the universe. I was not sure of this and only put it forth tentatively. I argued: in the beginning there were only coldness and darkness. Now these are mere nega­ tives of heat and light. B ut two negatives make a positive (see eighth-grade grammar); m ight not this positive be the beginning of the universe itself? From this position I leaped into D arwin’s Origin of Species, as ■soon as I was through with school and had begun reading in the subways (I had the book in the house). Evolution was not quite as settled a question in the popular mind in 1915 as it is today, and it had a certain charm for young people. I worked long hours that year, and the subways were slow and hot. It was important to me to get a seat in order to read. Therefore, I would get on at the old Thirty-third Street station, ride down­ town, cross over at Fourteenth Street, get a seat, and slowly trickle * Some scientific workers do read science-fiction, which shows that scien­ tists like fable and magic just as the rest of us. 2)0

uptown in the local. T h is added up to about seventy minutes of travel; allowing forty minutes to get to work in the morning gave me almost two hours to give to Darwin, plus my lunch hour and whatever time I found at night. I got through the book. N o tired boy ever gave himself a sleepier, hotter course of reading. I never extracted a single idea, nor do I to this day have the least notion of what is in that book, with the ex­ ception of one thing— and I mean one thing. Darwin had told me, as an instance of rudimentary survival, that some people have the power of wiggling their ears. He also said that others have been able to awaken the venerable technique by conscious effort com­ bined with massage. I worked on the idea and after about a month of practice, mostly in bed before going to sleep, I acquired this use­ ful faculty. Alas! I succeeded only with the left ear, and to this day the right remains dormant whenever I ceremoniously oscillate its fellow. This result, though greater than that which many people seem to get out of their reading, is not perhaps proportionate to the work put in, and shows that there is a place for guidance when begin­ ning a lifetime of self-culture. T here is a well-known rule: Things hard to read are hard to remember. So far we have been consider­ ing things pleasant and easy to read— history, art, music, literature, mathematics. But books on anatomy, botany, geology, economics, philosophy, require a considerable effort, and the concentration must be maintained through many pages a day and through many days, if anything is to be accomplished. T h e general reader is de­ pendent on books; he has no laboratory, no field work, no elucidat­ ing instructor. It is therefore of prime importance that he take such reading in the easiest and most inviting way. I had neglected this consideration. Darwin disposed of, I tried my hand at economics. I worked at The Wealth of Nations, an old classic by Adam Smith, and I shall risk admitting that I tried to read M arx’s Das Kapital. I gave up after the first volume, of course. T h is book, one of the most influen­ tial in history, must be a choice candidate for first place in any list of important books which have been least often read through. H ow­ ever, those two incomplete readings, plus a few much simpler books on economics, did me some good, and for many years they were my only formal reading in political economy. 23 I

I did not ignore philosophy. I tried a little Nietzsche and I tried a little Schopenhauer. I became frightfully interested in the name Herbert Spencer (not entirely extinct in 1915), as a result of read­ ing Martin Eden by Jack London. A powerful emotion vibrated through me the first time I saw First Principles on a library shelf. It was as if I had not believed there really could be such a book; as if the book were something compounded of fable and awe, like the Holy Grail; and all because M artin Eden had liked it. Imagine ray joy when I found I owned a copy, left in a trunk in the cellar. T h e book remained only a symbol in my life. I looked at it from a comfortable viewing distance but did not do much with the con­ tents for many years. I also tried Hegel and Aristotle and Plato (I enjoyed the Gorgias). But I have become in recent years rather proud of the fact that I soon understood that this kind of study, on a foundation of ignorance and inexperience, was unfruitful. I did not know enough to read philosophy. I stopped such reading, started the course of history I have described, and put off philoso­ phy and science, deliberately and with a plan, until I should be ready for them. I always intended to read those subjects. I felt and said, while still in my teens, that it was absurd to educate oneself with all the care and love that one inspires in oneself, and leave out, for in­ stance, astronomy. I kept this idea latent for at least fifteen years and only tried various subjects cautiously as I felt myself growing stronger. Mathematics broke the barrier once and forever, and I now as­ sume that scientific and philosophical thought will be my principal reading in old age— although you never can tell; it would be lovely to give Shakespeare a few years again, and I am not so sure that I'll never learn Greek. My “plan” for the study of science and philosophy was undefined, to put it mildly, and there were stretches of years when it seemed to be forever out of reach. There is more than interest in these mat­ ters. I had perhaps a little natural flair for literature and the arts. Criticism and aesthetics came easy— that is, Ruskin was glamorous whereas Darwin had been dull, even though I had wanted to read Darwin and was not at first interested in Ruskin at all. Another reader would have had a different experience. A friend of mine as a mere boy started to read First Principles one day, sat up all night, 2)2

and finished it by morning. Yet he was a musician and has retained through his life a horror of mathematics! After the fatal day when I met Mr. Hogben, I began, as a sort of commentary on mathematics, to read along various lines in phi­ losophy, physics, and logic. I also read some popular books on astronomy, chemistry, biology, and evolution. I had been preparing for this, perhaps unconsciously, by the magazine articles and in­ cidental books which are part of the flotsam of a literary life. However it came about, I found I was ready at last, and the only “ difficulties” I have found with these subjects since have been those difficulties which exist for the philosophers themselves. Bertrand Russell became my guide. I can no more explain why the writings of this remarkable man are so fascinating to me in my later years than I can explain my earlier enthusiasm for Macaulay, Taine, and Ruskin; but whatever the reason, that peculiar and familiar thrill struck home when I opened the Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy. As soon as Russell had outlined Peano’s five famous assumptions, my goose was cooked, and I was compelled to give most of my reading time to such things for some years. These subjects, my daughter’s piano playing, and the museums are now my life. I break away frequently. I’m a good novel reader. I recently put in two years on Greek history and literature.* I often stop to read some fine book that I should have read long ago. I have to keep archaeology and pre-history up to date. But my fate is decided, and when they find me in the Oriental W ing of the museum that quiet Tuesday afternoon, I shall probably by lying on The Philosophy of Leibnitz. I shall assume that I need not show that science and philosophy are a necessary part of any person’s education. If you don’t thihk so, skip this chapter; it is not worth arguing about. Read history until you know better; the historians will show you your error. However, I should touch on that odd skepticism, almost an article of faith, which many otherwise highly cultivated people passion­ ately hold to: that science is beyond them, that they can never un­ derstand it, that they can’t read a popular book about it. There is something sad about this. It always arouses in me the utmost in kindness and pity that I can feel. I ’m not the most tenderhearted • Written in 1956.


man in the world; I can ignore a good deal of tragedy, but I don’t like to see people without proper confidence in themselves. People who feel themselves to be weak or inadequate upset me. I am moved to tears by some fellow who is confused and weakened by a false hu­ mility, though I could look on his corpse with indifference. Now what could be sadder than a man or woman who can read the Times, or T he Guermantes Way, and who thinks he or she can not read a popular book on astronomy? Once such a woman, a widely read woman, asked me in all seriousness whether she could read Gamow’s Biography of the Earth! I would like to see Mr. Gam ow’s face if he ever hears anything like this. Does he know he is considered more difficult to make out than Proust or Gibbon? He must wonder why he bothers to write at all. Is it worth it? he must ask. Yes, Mr. Gamow, it is worth it. And yes, dear reader, you can read Gamow and any writer who writes on science and philosophy if you know his language. If he writes in German and you don’t know German, you’re stopped. If his treatment is purely mathematical and you haven’t got the mathematics, or purely technical and you know none of his terms, you can’t read him unless you learn his language. But you w ill never live long enough to read all the fine scientific books that are within your grasp, and your mind will swell and stretch and strengthen as you read them, until you will wonder someday how people can put off such pleasures so obsti­ nately. T his does not mean that you will plumb such books to their depths. Whoever felt that he had gotten the last drop out of a good book? T h at would mean that greatness had nothing we could not reach. But you will understand more of Mr. Gamow on a first read­ ing, even if you are totally ignorant of mathematics, than you will of Dostoevski. I will now attempt to classify the various aspects of that unity, science, with the idea of helping the reader decide where and when he wishes to read it, and I will include any experiences or ideas of my own which seem useful. A ll science may be considered as deductive or inductive— logical or empirical. This division will be arbitrary, like all the dissec­ tions which the weakness of our minds imposes on reality, but it will be useful as long as we do not mistake it for a fundamental differ*


ence in things. This book is interested in one unity, culture— personal culture. T h e unity science is an aspect of another unity, human knowledge; and human knowledge is an aspect of yet another unity, our mind. T h e world might or might not exist without our knowledge of it, but the knowledge itself, human knowledge, is a psychological fact and has the same unity as love or fear. So with induction and deduction, metaphysics and logic; these helpful fracturings of our knowledge are conventions like — or — . Obviously, 2 b we don’t really divide one by two; we set up a convention as a con­ venience. Deductive science works from initial concessions and assump­ tions: postulates and axioms. From these we make inferences— draw the conclusions implied in the assumptions. These conclusions can then be used as a base for more inference. T h e process is purely logical, and all such thinking is of the same kind as when you say, “The train leaves at eleven o’clock; it is now ten-thirty; we have half an hour to catch it.” Some of your assumptions are: your clock agrees with the railroad’s, you can read the clock correctly, the train may leave on time, and arithmetic itself is not to be argued about. Examples of such sciences are mathematics and logic. Inductive or empirical sciences are sciences wherein we accumu­ late information, compare our data, look for suggestions from the data, and try to find, to guess at, broad general conclusions. If we can find a conclusion which is useful and which never seems to fail, we call it a “law of nature” (until we meet with a failure) and use it as a basis for deductions. T h at is, we assume its truth. Every em­ pirical science seeks to become as theoretical, deductive, logical as In some fields we can make experiments to prove our theories or to discard them. Such sciences are called experimental. Physics and chemistry are peculiarly fit for experiment. Biology (the study of plants and animals) is an experimental science, but our freedom to experiment is restricted. Direct, controlled experiments are impos­ sible in astronomy, geology, history, comparative religion, eco­ nomics, politics, and anthropology. T h e concept of experiment is meaningless in mathematics and formal logic. The principal technique for using deduction in science is mathematics. A ll the sciences use counting, weighing, and measur­


in g wherever possible, and most use this in its higher development, statistics. Here are some rough classifications of science: Purely deductive Logic

Mathematics D eductive in large part through the use of mathematics Physics Astronomy Physical chemistry W ith a large deductive mathematical except for Biology Biochemistry Chemistry Geology

element from general laws, but nonstatistical analysis Archaeology ] These three might Linguistics < ■be placed in the Anthropology I group below

Sciences which are entirely empirical, with no general laws other than working rules suggested by statistics or by hunches Economics Sociology Comparative religion Politics, government, and jurisprudence History Psychology

Such sciences have a large element of the artistic, like medicine, and also involve philosophy. It is questionable whether we should call these last subjects sci­ ences at all. We seek knowledge for the sake of the future, not the past. Our concern is with what may happen to us, primarily in the immediate future— in the next instant, hour, day— and after that, with what is going to happen to us later on. W ithout this motive, I see no reason to learn anything. True, knowledge gratifies curiosity, but evolution would not have developed curiosity in us if it were not useful to have concern for the future. Let us consider science and the sciences from this point of view. 236

Some aspects of science lie entirely in the past, both with respect to our investigations and to the use of our results; some aspects lie out­ side of time altogether with respect to the investigations, but the re­ sults can be applied to all time; and with others, our knowledge is confined almost entirely to the past, but our results are mainly use­ ful, if useful at all, with respect to the future. Sciences whose sources of information are entirely in the past and whose interest for us is in effect confined to the past History Archaeology Sciences which are outside of time, but can be applied to any time Logic Mathematics Physics Chemistry Sciences made up out of combinations of the preceding sciences Biochemistry Physical geology Physical chemistry Sciences whose sources of information are partly in the past, partly in the present, and whose results are substantially appli­ cable both to the past and future Historical geology Biology Qualitative psychology Physical anthropology Sciences whose sources are almost entirely in the present but whose results and interests are applicable to the past and future Astronomy Quantitative psychology Sciences whose researches and interest include both the past and present, and whose results can be applied very slightly to the future 237

C ultural anthropology Linguistics Sociology Politics, government, and jurisprudence Sciences whose sources of inform ation and applicability are largely in the past, including the immediate past, but whose usefulness, except for the purposes of history, would be chiefly in the future Economics Com parative religion

W e must discuss this array a little. History obviously lies entirely in the past; its applications to the future are artistic and pedagogic. It helps us to understand events as they occur; it helps us to arrange and classify; it is the index of our knowledge; but it must never be used for specific, detailed prediction. Logic, mathematics, physics, and chemistry are assumed to be true w ithout regard to time. In the form in which we have set them up they were valid before the dawn of the universe, provided a universe were at least possible, and w ill continue to be valid after its close. T h ey may therefore be used with freedom in our estimates of the future. Historical geology, biology, and qualitative psychol­ ogy exam ine the present and the past, and their conclusions are of great historic interest. T h e ir results for the future are also of the greatest interest, but of altogether different degrees of immediacy. W e are interested biologically in the next instant; in geology, we need concern ourselves only w ith long intervals of time. Psychology ranges both near and far. Astronomy and num erical psychology reconstruct the past and predict the future w ith great accuracy in some respects, but their sources of study are almost entirely contemporaneous at present. C ultural anthropology, linguistics, sociology, politics, etc., all study the past and the present. N ot much can be asserted about the future from them, but they have great historical interest. Economics and comparative religion are subjects in which we are peculiarly interested in the immediate future. Unfortunately, they have no answers. A ll that can be said is that since inertia is great, things w ill resist change, but since things never remain the same, great changes impend. Such predictions could be made if these 238

sciences did not exist. Economics particularly must be called the disappointing science. It fans desires it cannot gratify. Prediction is everything here, and prediction is impossible. The purpose of this discussion is to point out to the amateur the problems attached to the study of each particular science. T h e more need we have for laboratories, apparatus, laboratory skills, wide observation, and sensitive training in observation, experimenta­ tion, and the interpretation of results, the more difficult the sub­ ject will be for self-instruction. T h e nearer the subject comes to pure deduction, so that we can learn a few laws and definitions and then proceed largely by reasoning— that is, the nearer the matter is to mathematics— the easier it will be to learn by oneself. Therefore we self-teachers, unless we are gifted, should expect to learn some subjects with at least an approach to thoroughness, some to only a modest extent, and in many others we must be con­ tent to read an account, a description of them, without really study­ ing them at all. In these last, true study must be given up unless we can get help, which usually means unless we can go to school. For instance, it is probably a waste of time for most of us to study paleontology or medicine by ourselves, even from a purely cultural point of view.* Some subjects are difficult to learn either in school or by oneself — for example, practical music and languages. In these cases a private teacher is best. Indeed, a private teacher or even an edu­ cated friend or a fellow student can be of the greatest help in any study, as a guide and to save time at a difficult point. As you in­ crease your general culture and range of interests, your chances of forming valuable friendships increase. However, this book must assume that no help is within your reach. Any branch of human thought can be called the fundamental one and all the other conventional categories derived from it. Thus, biology can be considered as basic, because we are first of all living creatures; or psychology because all knowledge is a projection of our minds; or physics. because physical laws rule the world; or history because all knowledge is a part of history. Many such schemes have been put together. You may find it instructive to de­ sign a few diagrams yourself. It is obvious that these schemes are made up to suit the convenience of particular discussions. * But not anatomy or zoology. I’m working on them now (3j 2^58').


Physics, often called the most fundamental of the sciences, pre­ sents certain difficulties to the self-instructor. T h e difficulties must be accepted and the subject pursued to a reasonable extent, be­ cause an education without some physics is no education at all. It is a common experience for one who has a slight reputation for knowledge in his own circle to be asked, “ Could you, without taking me through the whole encyclopedia, give me a brief idea of what relativity is about (or the atom, or the new satellite)?” Yes, you can be given a brief idea, which is much better than no idea, about various results of modern science if you know any sci­ ence whatsoever. You can know something of Einstein, but not with­ out knowing something of Newton, or at least of Galileo, or at least of Archimedes. Most people, even though they can read, write, and drive a car, know less about science than the Druids knew. W hat they are really asking is “ Could you, in a few well-chosen words, give me an education?” It is not that cheap. T o know enough physics to understand why Archimedes ran through the streets of Syracuse screaming, “ Eureka!”, or what the thing was that Galileo had to recant and why it was impossible for him to recant it, is an essential of education. It can be gotten with­ out school, atom-smasher, or telescope from the books. Knowledge so acquired w ill not be knowledge so useful, sure, and vital as could be had with the aid of a cyclotron, the giant reflector at Palomar, T h e Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and perhaps a wind tunnel, but it will be much cheaper, and it is open to everybody, whereas there must be a limit somewhere to wind tunnels. It is not in the nature of things that any man should command knowledge and be able to put it to practical work in many different fields. A ll of us must be satisfied to know something of the results of the work of others in most matters and leave its use to professionals. It is therefore not to be expected that you or I should speak Chi­ nese, but it is not too much to be asked to know that Chinese is written in ideograms and that it is monosyllabic. T he impossibil­ ity of knowing everything is no excuse for knowing nothing, and knowledge is possible where skill is out of reach. You can under­ stand baseball even if you have no arms. You can understand why a bridge stands up, even though you cannot draft a blueprint. My own use of such small scientific knowledge as I have 240

(amounting to a first college course in some parts and to scarcely a high-school course in others) is very capricious. I take my pleasure. For instance, the interest which I take in plants is largely aesthetic. When I water the plants growing about my apartment, I never think of science. I spill the water, I twist a vine around a stick with­ out a thought except of amusing myself and perhaps decorating the home.* Plant life for me is an artistic activity— almost a sporting event. The same applies to a trip to the zoo. When I see a tiger, I don’t classify the beauty; I look him in the eye and feel the terror. But when I read about a man-made satellite, I get a kick out of taking a pencil and paper, drawing a diagram, and figuring out all over again why the speed will be a little better than five miles a second and why it will fall back to earth after a length of time. Also it is pleasant to understand why the President isn’t afraid it will fall on Congress and ruin all that talent. (An explanation may be found in a popular book by Jeans published thirty years ago. Newton explained it.f) I cannot hope to know enough technology to explain just how they get the rocket off the ground— that’s what engineering schools are for; but anyone who can read a page of print can learn to understand the basic problem. This arbitrary use of one’s culture is part of the fun. W e— you and I— are not professionals. Our only obligation in these matters is to human dignity and the respect we owe ourselves. We do not need to see every Shakespearean revival, but if we do see one, we give it all we have, including reading the play both before and after. It is not necessary to be always listening to music, but it is a duty to do nothing else if we do listen. In the same way, we are binder no obligation to repair our own car, but there is something substandard about not having an idea of the place of the wheel in history, of not understanding the meaning of horsepower, of not knowing why the car stops (we hope) when the brakes go on and why it is necessary to translate rectilinear into circular motion. A substantial body of such knowledge is obtainable with less time and effort than it would take to learn how to grind valves. Nor is it necessary to make a study of the chemistry of paint before going to * That was before I read The Science of Life. I shall soon be compelled to make some study of botany. f This was written two years before Sputnik. Now an explanation can be found everywhere.


an art gallery. Even the distinction between tempera and oil is only a detail. But it is essential to feel the revolution in artistic aims which came about through the use of oil paint, and it is funda­ mental that we understand the transformation of our whole intel­ lectual outlook which is associated w ith the names Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton. Here are the minimum requirements in physics and astronomy for anyone who is not content to abandon education when he aban­ dons school. You must have some faint notion of mechanics, in its two branches (arbitrary, of course) of dynamics and statics. You must read one elementary college text on the subject. For this you will need only a little algebra and even less trigonometry. So little trig w ill be needed that you can look it up as you meet it, if you don't want to learn it first. T h e first three chapters of any book on trigonometry have more than is needed for a first book of college physics. You might also profitably read a high-school text on phys­ ics. T ry to do a few easy problems in mechanics and make a mild effort to understand what is meant by units. D on’t worry about those problems in the physics books you can’t do. T h eir real use is for schools, to test knowledge and prepare for further work. You can learn a surprising amount if you never do one problem. You can learn enough to read the main body of sci­ entific literature, if you have the mathematics to follow it. But read and study all problems worked out for you, and this should be done through several texts, as previously explained with reference to mathematics. These worked-out problems force you to think, and keep you from falling into a false security in which you think it is all quite simple because it’s all quite unlearned. T h e most difficult things, as always, are the fundamental ideas. Ponder long and often on the meaning of such quantities as force, acceleration, energy, work, velocity, time, space, vector, curvilinear motion,*rotation, elasticity, friction, field, etc. These mathematical concepts are of the greatest importance in philosophy. They are ideas, not things. T ry to understand what is meant by such state­ ments as: modern thinkers have been able to do away entirely with the idea of force; it was disputed earnestly during the eighteenth century whether energy was a linear or a squared quantity; ClerkM axwell said that elasticity was at his time of writing a finality in 242

science; the concept of displacement is fundamental in the idea of work, etc.* Remember, no one ever saw motion or force. We see things, now in one position relative to some other thing, now in another. All that can be seen is a change in relationship— that is, all we know is matter. We see it, hear it, which is to say some matter hits our eyes, ears, and so on. Or does it actually touch us? What is con­ tact? Do things ever really touch? This is the sort of discussion you wish to open for yourself, but it cannot be made useful merely by talking about these words. It is necessary to apply some mathematics to the question, to weigh and measure. A merely qualitative discussion is not enough. Almost since the time of the caveman, wTe have known too much for that. Our knowledge is too great— above all, our questioning is too pre­ cise— to be satisfied without measurement. The matter always becomes too subtle and complicated to handle without tools. Fortu­ nately, we have the tool— mathematics. It turns out that very ele­ mentary mathematics will carry you a long way provided you are willing to think, because elementary mathematics is very powerful. This thinking should go on throughout your spare time. Your best flashes of insight will come to you when you are not bent over a book following someone else’s thoughts. From time to time as the moment arises you ask yourself: W hat does it really mean to say that every material particle in the universe is attracted to every other particle as if by a force, and this force seems to do its work in such a way that its results when measured turn out to be as if it acted directly as the product of any two masses and inversely as the square of the distance between them? As with other subjects, it is good to have several college textbooks on hand, one of which should be your basic text and the others your commentary. Hausman and Stack or Sears and Zemansky are good. Michels and Patterson have written a textbook, Elements of * For example, it is interesting, if the reader has a little mathematics, to appreciate D’Alembert’s observation that the scientific use of the two con­ cepts of change of momentum and of energy may be looked upon as the result of two different integrations of the same idea. See Lindsay and Margenau, Foundations of Physics. It is also pleasant to know at least who D’Alembert was. I first met him in Macaulay’s essays when I was sixteen.


M odern Physics, which reads like a regular reading book for real people. This book also has clever discussions of relativity and quantum theory. However, any book used by any college in your area should be good enough. Look for decent print, plenty of read­ ing matter, and a lively style. Your physics textbook will go on to heat, hydraulics, electricity, magnetism, sound, light, etc. You must read all this and in more than one book, but how much to study, and how many problems to attempt, is something for you to decide. I have never done any problems in physics except in mechanics. I seem to be able to read the literature without doing problems. I recommend, for those who have a little calculus, Loeb’s Electricity and Magnetism and Stranahan’s T h e Particles of M odern Physics. These two books are by men who can write well. Introduction to A tom ic and Nuclear Physics by Henry Semat is good and more recent. In each of these topics the basic concepts should get most of your effort. T h e big philosophical constructs of each subdivision, such as entropy in heat, Pascal’s principle and Bernoulli’s principle in hy­ draulics, the concepts of capacity, current, resistance, charge, poten­ tial, field, etc., in electricity, must have your principal attention. They are the fascinating, culturally significant ideas which you can expect to understand a little and which will build up your power to understand philosophy and the universe. Along with or even before putting yourself through your college course in physics, you should read books on physics and astronomy intended for the general reader. It is understood that you have read Mathematics for the M illion. If you ever knew trigonometry, you can review it from Hogben’s book. If you never learned trig, you can get enough from Hogben for a first college course in physics. T he popular, nonmathematical works of James Jeans, Eddington, and Bertrand Russell’s book, T h e A . B.C. of Relativity, might be read at this time. Read as many more such books as these texts sug­ gest or as you see on your library shelves. There is no end to this nonmathematical literature, and it’s most stimulating as far as it goes. You can buy all you can use of it in soft covers. As soon as you have trained your mind a little by working on the ideas in your textbook, you can begin to read more seriously about relativity and quantum theory, provided you have some faint knowledge of analytic geometry and at least the differential cal244

cuius. The best all-around book I know for the not hopelessly ignorant layman is Relativity by the Liebers. Don't let its odd ap­ pearance fool you; theres plenty in it. You can't really know what the authors are talking about on general relativity (neither do I), but it's fun to read something a little bit beyond oneself now and then. Einstein himself has the following popular books, all within your grasp mathematically, and all very invigorating: Essays in Science, Relativity, T he Evolution of Physics (with Infeld). I find I can now read Lindsay and Margenau's Foundations of Physics. It requires the calculus. T o say that it gives me a thrill when I puzzle out one of their arguments is an understatement. Their book will make a splendid introduction to philosophy for anyone who has mathematics equivalent to that required for a first degree in engineering, chemistry, etc. The chapter on quantum mechanics is beyond me as yet, but I am remedying that, and as soon as I know a little about matrices, I shall clean up that chapter. In the chapter on general relativity, I was forced to accept a few arguments on trust since my command of tensor calculus is almost zero, but I still found it very beneficial to read that section carefully. The Gibbsian ensemble gave a few hard moments but not as hard as running for a bus, and a lot safer. I don’t know the calculus of variations so I had to accept several statements where that was used. I skipped Darwin and Fowler. Outside of this, my success was good and so will yours be if you ever knew the calculus and would like to think a little. You won’t need any practical physics at all to read the book.

From this point I shall discuss the study of the sciences only in a sketchy, general way, since the details of my methods are the same for all such study. Some special difficulties must be expected from each science. The more a subject demands of your reasoning powers and the less of your memory, the easier it is to learn by yourself. This means that you should seek out and emphasize the most logical, and therefore least technical, parts of each subject, as long as you are pursuing it only for fun and for general culture. Applying this idea to astronomy, for instance, you should concen­ trate chiefly on celestial mechanics and the solar system. T h e rest of


astronomy is much more difficult to appreciate and remember with­ out teacher, telescope, and long lists of technical terms. Astronomy and geology are two aspects of one thing: the physical universe considered in bulk (macroscopically, not microscopically). T h at part of the universe which we can observe but not touch, we call astronomy; geology is the part which we can touch but cannot stand off from and look at. No studies elevate the mind in the same way as these two. Time and space and man’s place in it— please learn something of this as soon as you can fit it in. There is an immense popular literature on both geology and astronomy. George Gamow’s books The Birth and Death of the Sun and T h e Biography of the Earth will make excellent starters, and his references will furnish more titles. Learn Kepler’s three laws. No human being should ever be obliged to admit that he cannot state them and explain them. You owe this much to your grandchildren. A new, easy book on astronomy is T his Is Astronomy by Lloyd Motz. T h e World of Copernicus by Angus Armitage is an interest­ ing Mentor book. Geology is divided into physical geology and historical geology. You should know a little, a very little, about physics and chemistry before going further into this subject than Gamow’s book. I read Schuchert and Dunbar, Historical Geology, because Mr. Gamow told me to, and I thank him kindly for his advice. It’s an experience, that book. However, it cannot be mastered without a dictionary at hand, as I have explained earlier. You will know when you are ready for it. Chemistry makes great demands on the memory. Therefore, the self-student should concentrate first on broad general ideas: atom versus molecule, the concepts of atomic weight, valence, atomic number; certain laws, really physics such as Avagadro’s, Charles’s Boyle’s, etc., the appreciation of the key roles played by oxygen, hy­ drogen, carbon and nitrogen, the concept of the isotope, and if you know the calculus, the fascinating subject of physical chemistry. T h e history of chemistry is particularly interesting, and the efforts of the earlier men, working with “ false” theories, offer a profound lesson for those who would like to understand how scientific ideas arise. T h e history of phlogiston is as provocative as the history of France; both words are abstractions. 246

The line between physics and chemistry is arbitrary, although it is ingeniously drawn. In general, those facts of chemistry which are close to physics are the only parts you can expect to know much about, unless you go to school or are deeply interested. Chemistry is largely an experimental science, and its experiments require an ex­ act technique. I don’t think much of home-made chemistry experi­ ments, just as I don’t think much of foreign-language studies by means of phonograph records. Read your chemistry even though you can hardly expect to master it. But if you once had so much as a solid high-school course in chemistry the situation is different. By all means go right at it and study as energetically as you like. You can use your little highschool course as a tool to open the whole of science for yourself. (I assume you will not neglect mathematics in such a case.) Chemistry is an extraordinarily useful science. It has been called the handmaiden of the other sciences. So has mathematics, but there is a difference. Mathematics is something like an efficiency expert at your command. Chemistry is a true servant who w ill try to do anything she is told to do. In any case, read at least one popular book about chemistry, such as Creative Chemistry, by E. E. Slosson, one high-school or col­ lege textbook, and one short history of chemistry. After that, the question of how much w ill decide itself. Biology is more difficult than chemistry to master by yourself. The number of technical terms is enormous, and the subject does not safely lend itself to broad, useful generalization. T h e fruitful use of the ideas of biology requires the mind of the artist as well as the thinker. Imagination and talent play a big part in grasping them. Consider the doctor, who is quite a biologist: how much more he needs than sciencel T h e difference between what a doctor knows and what he does is often the difference between life and death. And this element is present in all the uses, even the purely cultural uses, of the ideas of biology. Darwin was more than a reasoner. So were Linnaeus, Lamarck, Pasteur, De Vries. All in all, I can’t advise you how much biology you should at­ tempt to learn by yourself. It depends on your tastes, your talent, and your opportunities. O nly a limited knowledge can be gotten from books. On the other hand, I must encourage you to attempt to learn something of it, because of its overwhelming importance, its


nearness to us and our bodies, and the greatness of those dark, un­ certain, menacing, yet inspiring ideas which lurk in the depths of that world. You have one advantage over the college student in such subjects as biology, geology, evolution, philosophy, etc. You have leisure to meditate. Y ou ’re not racing toward examinations. You can take time to think, to mull over each idea. T h e big ideas of biology cannot be grasped as if they were little details, nor can they be rea­ soned out and packed away until needed, like the deduction of a mathematical formula. T hey must be absorbed, lived with, turned over. You have this inestimable gift— time. It is reserved for amateurs. You can keep bringing your mind to the central ideas almost the way an artist studies an object he is thinking of painting, or the way a musician meditatively repeats— actually inspects— a phrase. So, in your own time and place, you will get in your share of these grand ways of considering the world. Anyone can learn as much biology as is contained in a highschool course, because there is almost nothing in such a course. It is ridiculously easy. I passed, in 1920, a New York City College entrance examination in biology without even pretending to study it. T h e first steps are mostly common knowledge for a man or woman over twenty (after all, a high school is intended only for teen-agers). Any properly read man or woman knows something about his own body: the alimentary canal, the veins and arteries, the nervous system, etc. And you know your garden, your dog, your children, hunting, fishing, etc. These things are biology. You only need to read up on cell structure, the vertebrate system, and a few generalities in botany, and you are ready for your examination. Get a high-school textbook and read it, if you haven’t taken the course. T hen follow whatever impulses this reading gives you, going into botany, zoology, or physiology, as far as you find it prac­ tical. Comparative anatomy is very interesting although not some­ thing you can expect to master without work. In general, read a lot and don’t worry about what you forget; you can be no worse off than you were to begin with, and besides, you may learn to wiggle your ears. Read the history of the subject, the lives of the great biologists, especially Pasteur and Darwin, and such books as The 248

Voyage of the Beagle. Books of travel by naturalists are also books about biology. It is now time for me to go off again on one of my raves about a book. Some years ago I first read Julian H uxley’s essay “ T h e Uniqueness of M an” in a little paperback pocket book called Man in the Modern World. T his essay was worth five volumes of philoso­ phy to me. It expanded what small mind I have until I could hear it crackle. I read it frequently and I ponder it constantly. No writ­ ing of equal length ever gave a man more inspiration to think for himself. You should read it at least three times in the next six years, regardless of any conflicting advice I may have given you. But something more was waiting for me. Not so long ago, far too many years after it was published, I came upon a massive volume in a Salvation Arm y store. It was T he Science of L ife by Julian Huxley, H. G. W ells and G. P. Wells. T h is book has more in it that boys and girls of all ages should know than any volume I have ever seen. I am almost ashamed to praise it. W ho am I? But in style, interest, method of presentation, clearness, wise selection, and wise emphasis it is perfect. It’s the only book on science for the general reader I have come across which has not one single obscurity in all its seven hundred thousand words and yet gives solid information and firm ideas on every page. Buy this one. Read it at once and re­ peat it about five years hence. If you can, back up your reading of the book with visits to a mu­ seum of natural history. W e have a great one here in New York. Learn your museum— the one nearest your town if you live in the hinterland. Learn it thoroughly. Make up for yourself a composite museum-study of geology, astronomy, biology, anthropology, ar­ chaeology, crystallography, mineralogy, geography, and along with it a surprising amount o f art. Those museums have all this in them. Such a synthesis is perhaps better for unaided study than an ex­ cessive reliance on mere reading on such matters. O n the other hand, your museum w on’t mean a thing w ithout some reading. You need the books to organize your ideas. It w ill pay you to invest a few dollars in various guidebooks and catalogues of the musum. The big museums are gigantic worlds in which you could study for the rest of your life. I had read a college text on zoology shortly before reading T he


Science of Life, which helped that book considerably. You should have at least one such text for reference. Pay careful attention to the idea of morphology— the art of classification by forms. Classifi­ cation is one way we think. It can be opposed, in a sense, to causal­ ity. It’s not merely a matter of words: phylum, class, order, family, genus, species, are things to think about. Memorize the phyla and try to visualize some of the animals and plants they represent. T h e big New York Museum has a marvelous show made up of examples of all the animal phyla arranged for comparison. Anatomy is a key to remembering and understanding what you read in biology. T h e vocabulary is the trouble here, but it is worth learning, and, like most things, it can be learned to a reasonable ex­ tent and by oneself. A model of a skeleton* would be useful if you can’t get to a museum. Things are retained more easily if you can relate them in a time sequence; therefore the history of men’s ideas about living things is helpful. It is easier to remember that Columbus discovered the West Indies than it is to visualize the location of the West Indies with­ out a map. It is easier to remember that the dinosaurs were re­ placed by the mammals than to remember the names of the facts of mammalian anatomy or of the different kinds of dinosaurs. It is easy to remember that Goethe thought the skull grew out of the vertebrae; difficult to remember which is in front, the cerebrum or the cerebellum. In any study use history to arrange your knowledge in a systematic order. T h at way, if you forget everything else, you will know some history. I will treat of evolution, the central idea in biology, further on in this chapter. It should be your main concern when reading in these fields. It gives history, anthropology, geology, biology, and philosophy a coloring so strong that we can no longer conceive of these subjects without it. T he Science of L ife can act as your intro­ duction to evolution, and everything else that you read in science will help you build up your conceptions. Technical terms are a subject in themselves. It may pay to discuss it. It should be realized that all nouns begin as technical terms— that is, they have one precise meaning at first. Cat was in the be­ * You can buy a skeleton in plastic for five dollars. 2}0

ginning a technical term meaning the first animal so named. But as cats became common, the word followed suit. Cat can now mean a whole family of animals, a woman, a kind of tractor, a fish, a game, a boat, etc. Therefore, when a zoologist wants to refer to a cat and be sure he won’t be misunderstood, he gives it a technical name, Felis catus, which has the virtue of not meaning anything else. A ll our lives we endlessly learn technical terms. People who read use them all the time without always knowing their precise mean­ ing, until they meet up with someone who asks them what they are talking about. In some subjects the technical terms necessarily come up at the outset; in others they can be learned gradually. History, literature, art, music, are subjects that require only a few technical terms to begin with, since most of their vocabulary has passed over into common speech. Still, they have their special terms: geography, proper names, words belonging to grammar and prosody, etc. You meet only a few in one volume, but by the time you have read a hundred volumes you have enc ountered thousands of them. In the sciences the words are the first difficulty and in some sub­ jects the principal difficulty, until one gets into advanced work. Mathematics is easy in this respect, because each technical word is used constantly from the time it is mentioned, so that there is no effort involved in learning it. No one ever forgot what a paral­ lelogram or a differential equation was, once he learned it. Psychology, economics, sociology, physics are sciences which ex­ plain and use their technicalities naturally as they go along. On the other hand, zoology, botany, physiology, anatomy, geology, as­ tronomy, chemistry have two classes of technicalities. T h e one kind is like the technicalities found in history or mathematics and can be remembered easily. T h e other kind consists of true technical names, which are difficult to retain. Here are two lists of terms from the sciences for comparison. Easy means easy to retain, once learned. Su b j e c t

history literature astronomy

E asy T


authority exposition planetoid

D if f ic u l t T


ecumenical dactyl Alioth 25/

music art mathematics physics chemistry anatomy botany psychology biology geology philosophy logic linguistics

triad fresco polygon acceleration oxygen esophagus cotyledon complex species geosyncline nominalist syllogism aspirate

inversion gesso ground argument adiabatic polymer femur rhizome apperception class Beltian category comprehension fricative

T h e one set of words is used constantly or else is inherently vivid and interesting. T h e others are either used only occasionally or are only of narrower interest. It is a valuable skill in reading any subject as an amateur to de­ velop a sixth sense as to which words hold general ideas that will be pleasurable to think over and which ones are only bricks in the building of knowledge. Obviously, you only handle bricks as you need them— that is, you will only handle them if you are interested. But the more general technical words belong in your thinking and you can’t have much of an education without them. How far you should go into sciences bristling with technicalities depends on many things, but I ’ll give you one hint: never give up reading any book merely because it has some strange words at the beginning. Skip them till later or look them up then and there but go on, go on. If you find yourself snowed under after several chapters, find out if there isn’t an easier book on the subject. Read the easier one and if your interest holds up, go back to the first book. I shall give another hint. It is much easier to learn a technical term than a new idea. Diplodocus is difficult to spell, pronounce, or remember, but there’s only one m eaning for the word. Evolution or heart are easy to remember, but it is very difficult to understand how they work. I mentioned Historical Geology by Schuchert and Dunbar. It is the second volume of a set and presumes a knowledge of physical geology. Therefore it does not have a glossary and few words are 252

explained. It presents a rather subtle difficulty. It uses ordinary words in a technical sense. I thought I knew the meaning of such words as profound, unconformity, intrusion, etc., but these are all technical terms in geology. Fortunately, I had the nose to detect them almost at once and I found I could manage very nicely as long as I kept a dictionary at hand. I used T he Merriam-Webster New Collegiate Dictionary, a relatively small one, and found a full explanation of almost every word I needed— one hundred or more terms. This is an impressive performance for an abridged dic­ tionary. Tw ice it failed me, once on a word which is not even in my unabridged dictionary and which must be very new. T he other word I found by finding a related word. This is a good trick. You can often get the meaning even of foreign words by looking up similar English ones. There is a break-through point in any book beset with technical terms. This place may occur near the beginning of the book or near the middle, but it can hardly lie beyond the halfway mark. You will know the break-through when you reach it because the book, which up to that point may have been very dull and annost intolerably difficult, suddenly begins to read. T h e feeling is unmistakable. You realize you have reached it; you are enjoying yourself. When I was trying to read Neal and Rand, Comparative Anatomy, the break occurred near page 115. A t page 100 I was inclined to give up; by page 120 I was absorbed in what I was reading. The glossaries furnished with such books as Neal and Rand’s are quite inadequate for purposes of self-instruction. It is necessary to keep a dictionary at hand. The point of all this is that technical terms, in themselves, can­ not stop you if you are interested. Don’t hesitate to tackle geology or anatomy, if that’s what you want. It would be as silly as giving up history because you don’t remember dates or because you never heard of Dio Cassius.

My discussion of the profound science of biology, plus my com­ ments on technical terms, goes as far as I dare ask of most readers. However, it is inadequate. For one thing, the account is biographically out-of-date. I have read no book for the purpose of writing “tins one; such reading would not be honest, since this book is sup­


posed to be the product of a varied and vigorous but ordinary life, such as any man can build. No special scholarship is permissible. I have not consulted a single page of any other book while writing this one, except to verify names and numbers. But I have not stopped reading during the years since 1954. This reading influences my ideas. Many things which I put down in my first rough draft no longer represent my thoughts. Moreover, my more recent reading is part of my learning experience and has the same rights in this book as my earlier efforts. It so happens that I have made, and am still making in 1959, an attempt at a deeper insight into the science of life. I would like to give you my results. In addition, biology, because of its vast sweep and its intense, peculiar, personal interest for every man and woman, is in itself, like history or anthropology, an entirely suitable domain in which to center a life of reading. It is not as easy to learn by one­ self as mathematics, but neither is history nor literature. Just as I included in my chapter on history a few words for the already in­ terested reader and, in the same way, inserted a detailed discus­ sion on the study of the calculus for the mathematically inclined, I am now going a little further into the technique of studying biology by oneself. T h e general reader can look over these ideas for possible future use, but they are primarily for those who are interested in, and not absolutely unacquainted with, the subject. Here is the remainder of what I have done, mostly in the last two years: First I read Guyer’s Animal Biology, a college text. I was unprepared for it and did not know much after I had finished; but it seems to be as good a book of its kind as any other. T h en I encountered T he Science of L ife, as I have previously mentioned, with devastating results. I saw that I must do a little work. I had Neal and Rand, Comparative Anatomy, in the house, picked up somewhere because it was a bargain. I had found, in trying to read Guyer, that the anatomical ideas were the most troublesome of my problems. Neal and Rand themselves state in their preface for teachers (prefaces I always read since I am my teacher) that a reasonable supply of technical terms was the princi­ pal “difficulty” in learning their subject. I decided to overcome this difficulty by mastering some anatomy and I applied myself to the book. It was difficult at first, and, as I have said, I had almost given it up when suddenly it was difficult no longer. I had ca u g h t


the idea and had learned enough words. I now went back to Guyer and read him carefully. A ll difficulties had vanished. Anatomy, expecially human anatomy, is indeed a key to biology. The reason is not far to seek. Biology and geology, between them, are the world. T o study the world we need a map. Anatomy gives that map. I learned something more. T o understand a map we need co­ ordinates— lines of latitude and longitude. T he skeletal structure gives these co-ordinates. By merely learning the plan and the names of the two hundred and six bones of the human body, you can lay open for yourself the whole literature of biological science. T he nerves, the veins and arteries, the digestion, the organs, and the reproductive processes, all become knowable as soon as you can find them on the map— that is, in the body. And by the names of the nearby bones, you can find them. O f course, you don’t need to learn two hundred and six names of bones. Almost every bone comes in pairs and even in sets of three, five, and up to twelve. I doubt if one need learn more than fifty names. Believe me, friend, no man objects to memorizing more than I. But sometimes a stitch in time saves nine. It takes time to learn a few dates, a few towns, rivers, countries, and a few bones; but in the long run, you are way ahead. I now use bones the way I have always used dates. I did not learn the little anatomy I have learned merely from the books. I also went to the American Museum of Natural History here in New York. Some such place is available to you, in a school, college, or museum, wherever you may live. However, if you can’t solve the problem any other way, remove the meat from a chicken and look for yourself. You can use the chicken meat for chop suey. The most difficult thing to understand is the plan of the skull, be­ cause the bones are in three layers and the inner layer is difficult to visualize from drawings. I went to the museum with a flashlight and peered until I got it. I did not waste much time learning the muscles. It is not neces­ sary. A ll muscles are pretty much alike. Learn how they work; in particular, grasp their relations to their nerves and blood suppliers, and the discrete nature of their fundamental fibers. It is enough to know the names of the external muscles— biceps, triceps, etc.— and you know these anyway, if you were ever an athlete. 25 5

T h e nervous system is a mighty topic, but don’t let it throw you. T h e kind of knowledge you need you can easily get if you don’t get cold feet. T his subject is very useful, incidentally, if you want to read psychology. Be sure you understand that the diagrams of the spinal chord found in books do not include, ordinarily, the bony structure which surrounds the cord. T h e whole thing, gray matter, white matter, dorsal and ventral roots, etc., is inside the spine itself, inside what are called the neural arches. Textbooks on biology invariably assume a teacher and a laboratory; this influences the presentation. It’s a nuisance, but it can’t be helped. You must learn something about those fundamental matters the cells and the tissues (called cytology and histology), but you will want to, anyway, and that will help. Heredity must also be studied at some length and in more than one book. I can only hope that, if you have barred mathematics from your life, you can at least think arithmetically. Please read a chapter on probability in an algebra before reading heredity. Naturally, I have not confined my museum work to human anatomy. I have duly reflected on fishes and crustaceans, and have meditated over amphioxus. I read every word on the placards as­ sociated with each exhibit. It takes me about two hours to go through four or five displays. T o float through a whole museum in one day is as huge a demonstration of ignorance in natural history as in art. I recommend a new book by Relis B. Brown, Biology (D. C. Heath 8c Co., Boston, Mass.). It has particularly good illustra­ tions and gives an introduction to botany. Please try to absorb the comments of your writers on the proto­ zoa, the one-celled animals that can tell us so much about ourselves. If anatomy gives the map of the biological world, and your skeleton gives its co-ordinates, then the cells are its units. Nations are such units in history, societies in sociology, cultures in anthropology, numbers in mathematics, individual human minds in psychology. You may rest assured that if you understand the cell, you under­ stand biology. I am now going through T he Cell in Development and Heredity by Edmund B. Wilson. It has too much in it for me, but I assume that if I do get through the thing, the broad ideas will stick. However, a shorter treatment would have done and, in addi­ tion, the book is slightly out of date. 256

A Pelican book, Heredity, Race and Society, by Dunn and Dobzhansky, may be used to good effect. Please do not recoil from the very simple application of the binomial theorem. The suggestions for future reading should be carefully noted, espe­ cially The New You and Heredity, by Amram Scheinfeld. An admirable first book on physiology is The Human Body by Logan Clendenning. It can be read once before studying anatomy, as a preparation, and again much more profitably afterward. It is hardly necessary for me to mention once more Rachel L. Carson, since she certainly can get around on her own. But be as­ sured that such books as T he Sea Around Us and The Edge of the Sea are as good as they are popular. Note carefully her refer­ ences to other writers. A general survey of the animal kingdom should someday be gone through. You will probably need two volumes, one on the chordates, and one on the lower phyla. Such a survey is profitable only if you know a little anatomy. A n easy first book is Man and the Vertebrates, by A. S. Romer, a Pelican book in two volumes. I shall discuss evolution under philosophy; the reading I have outlined will give you a foundation for that most basic study. However, I will list one book, The Meaning of Evolution, by George Gaylord Simpson. It is a very fine work, now available in soft covers (Mentor). Like all books on evolution, it requires care­ ful, slow reading, with plenty of time out for thought. T he refer­ ences to the literature are especially useful. All in all, I think this is your best order of reading: 1. The Science of Life 2. The Human Body 3. Any college biology 4. Any college zoology 5. Any of the other reading I have done or, much better, any you have found out about by yourself. The reader may wonder how much of this biology I expect to retain in memory, since I do absolutely no work in this direction and, moreover, it is not my favorite reading. How much anatomy do I actually command at this minute? How much cytology? Hered­ ity? Taxonomy? Geology? The answer is: enough to read any book I want to read; enough to set me free, and that’s all I need. I have opened the literature to 257

myself, as I have done with mathematics and physics. What more could I ask? C ould I pass undergraduate pre-med examinations? Not with* out some cramming, but neither can the pre-medics, as a rule, and I ’ll bet I think in these subjects as well as many of those who have passed them. I can orient any piece of information in these mat­ ters which comes my way. You must orient anything you see or hear. You find its co-ordinates in time by considering dates and sequences, in space by its relations to geography, geology and astronomy, and internally by the numerical properties of the matter. One reason for reading so many books to remember so little is that, after all, you and I have no lecturer, no laboratory, no class discussion. Something must replace these. One book becomes your textbook, another your lectures and your notes of these lectures, a third your laboratory, and so on. T h in k this over and you will see that you must read more to learn a subject than would be needed if you took a course in college. A n instructor talks three or four volumes into you during a semester. Since you are your own teacher, you must read, talk, and think them into yourself. D on’t forget the thinking. T h at is what makes it all jell. Schopen­ hauer tells us that when you read, your mind is a blank slate on which another hand writes. Therefore, you must frequently stop and think things out for yourself unless you want to be a blank all your life. He says that anything you work out for yourself is of the greatest value to you, even if it has been done before. It is still an exercise of original power; moreover, it often takes less time to think a thing out than it would to read up on it. And that which you have thought out for yourself you will not readily forget. Psychology divides into several parts: (1) Numerical, or experimental psychology; the measuring of intelligence and of everything else about the mind, soul, and per­ sonality which admits of precise, mathematical treatment. This is the scientific portion of psychology. It is still in its infancy, but growing soundly. (2) Epistemology, or the theory of knowledge. Psychologists, biologists, and philosophers divide this among them. It is in its old age and not doing too well but is so fundamental for philosophy 258

that it cannot be ignored. Its next great forward step will probably come from an increased understanding of the physiology of the brain. I discuss it when I come to philosophy. (3) Psychiatry, a branch of medicine which tries to treat the mentally ill. It succeeds very poorly. Mental illness is a blanket term which covers a variety of disease as broad as is implied by the words common cold, influenza, tuberculosis, cancer. If you could have pulled through in any case, psychiatry can help you; if you are seriously ill, you might as well call in a witch doctor. It is a very old art, and no man knows whether it is progressing, but we need it so badly we must continue to support the efforts of the heroic band of men and women who are trying to learn. Psychiatry includes psychoanalysis. This is a subtle and uncertain art, peculiarly unfitted for inquiry by the layman. I read a little about it when it was new, until I came to understand the absurdity of trying to grasp ideas which have no meaning except in practice, and which are probably too difficult for the most skillful to handle. Too much rather than too little is now being read by laymen about psychology. As far as I am concerned, it is enough if you read the history of the subject. It is still in the purely empirical phase and may never be able to get beyond that stage. More­ over, all its certainties are statistical; some teachers of psychology start their courses with a course in statistics. If you hate numbers, the true science of psychology is closed to you, and if you read what is left after the numbers are extracted, you will merely turn it into a romantic excursion through a misty realm of incest, murder, and madness. There is no more reason for you to learn psychiatry or clinical psychology than there is for you to learn surgery or materia medica, and that’s the only part of psychology most people care for. Psychiatry belongs to the doctors; give it back to them. Above all, don’t practice it yourself. You are dealing with people; show some sense of responsibility. Practice solving equations. Read chem­ istry and biology. Leave psychiatry alone. It’s as useful to most people as the quantum of action to a cannibal. Moreover, it’s largely an art. Everything depends on the training, experience, judgment, and talent of the worker. You haven’t a chance to know it. Still more important: if you think there is something wrong with your own mind, by all means get professional assistance


but don’t read about it. Don’t be your own doctor. I would sooner you set your own broken leg with a home-made splint than tried to treat your own broken spirit by a home-made course in psy­ chiatry. The fact that people everywhere shun mathematics and read psychology shows the widespread ignorance of the whole nature of the learning process. The reason is partly our excessive interest in ourselves, not taken collectively but personally and egotistically. But it is also because people are seeking peace of mind. It’s all wrong. Peace of mind comes from using the mind on objects out­ side of the mind. The mind is a dangerous object of personal interest, in the same way that it may be dangerous for laymen to learn too much about heart disease and cancer. The mind is a tool of the whole entity called you, to be used for living, learning, thinking, and enjoying. Professionals think about the human mind, but not about their own minds. You will only sicken yourself by trying to understand that which you will never know well enough really to understand, especially when your whole approach is wrong because it is personal and therefore unscientific. Even if you are healthy, you will never teach psychiatry to yourself; if you are sick, the attempt will make you worse. However, convention and curiosity make every educated man read a bit of Freud— say, the Psychopathology of Everyday Life and the little book Psychoanalysis. And you can read Behaviorism by Watson. If you are a reader of philosophy, you will of course read William James’s celebrated book on psychology, but then you won’t ask me what to read. Read psychology as part of the history of medicine, as part of anthropology and sociology, and as a branch of philosophy. T h at’s enough for an unschooled layman. You do need to know something of the methods of numerical psychology and have an idea of its scope. The methods enter into everything from the operations of schools for infants through col­ lege entrance examinations. They are widely used in business and may determine your next job. Therefore, try to get some idea of the principles behind statistics. This can be done by (1) learning the section in any college algebra on probability; (2) reading (not necessarily learning) a brief text on very elementary statistics; (3) reading some nontechnical discussion of the ideas behind statistics— discussion of the philosophy of statistics and of the whole concept 260

of probability. T h in k about the question How probable is probabil­ ity? Many books on mathematics and physics have discussions of probability. D on’t be afraid to read these discussions even though you can’t handle the math.* Unless people will learn this much statistics, our practical psy­ chologists w ill become medicine men performing mystic incanta­ tions before stupefied savages. They might someday take over the place. I have many references scattered throughout this book which will furnish the reader with some first ideas on quantitative psy­ chology. T he Science of Life can be used as a beginning. James Harvey Robinson’s The M ind in the Making is a good, short, starting book. Anything you read in anthropology and sociology will furnish references to books on psychology. A warning: most books on psychology written before the twentieth century either belong to philosophy rather than science or are out of date. T he non-clinical phase of the science began to acquire true empirical validity only with the appearance of the behaviorists, the intelli­ gence testers, and the methods of Pavlov, in our time.f There is another side to psychology illustrated by the works of Jung— its interaction with myths, religion, etc. I haven’t read Jung up to now; he’s terribly learned and I am getting older, but I imagine I ’ll get to some of it in the next five years, because I’m now reading mythology and comparative religion. Writers like Graves and Albright can’t stand Jung, or Freud either. I should mention, to avoid misunderstanding, that I consider Freud to be possibly the most influential writer who ever lived. His work threatens to cause so complete a break with the past as to make the art, poetry, religion, ethics, and morals of our fathers literally incomprehensible. T h e motivations of the past five thou­ sand years are losing their meaning. Our grandparents would have felt more at home in the moral world of the Sumerians than they will in that of the twenty-first century. Freud’s most lasting in­ * Of course, for strong readers, such a book as Bertrand Russell’s Human Knowledge is excellent on probability. f A good first book is Uses and Abuses of Psychology, by H. J. Eysenck, a Pelican book. He is a very powerful writer. It is customary to read Gesell to some extent, especially if you have young children. Any recent first col­ lege text in psychology can be used for an over-all survey. 261

fluence will prove to be, I think, as a moralist. Recently everybody has been reading the new life of Freud by Jones. I have appreciated anthropology only in recent years. It’s a grand field for self-instruction. True, you are not in a position to go to the Fiji Islands and eat starfish, but the results of the work of others make fascinating reading, and some wonderful generaliza­ tions are coming to the fore. Anthropology is easy to remember. However, I knew some history, art, literature, geography, and had some notion of comparative religion and of science before starting to read anthropology. I think that, as with every subject, some reading of general history should come first. History and an­ thropology are linked in somewhat the same way as history and philosophy or history and art. Anthropology has great breadth. It utilizes everything you know. It can be used to tie up your knowledge and give it pattern. It can be used as the whole body of education, fitting all the customary parts of schooling into it.* Recognized branches are cultural an­ thropology, physical anthropology, ethnology, historical an­ thropology, etc. It’s another way of considering human knowledge. You can start with some easily found pocket books, such as Pat­ terns of Culture, by Ruth Benedict, and Coming of Age in Samoa, by Margaret Mead. These will suggest others, and you can then read as much as you like. T h e works of Franz Boas are standard in this field. The Tree of Culture, by Ralph Linton, is a splendid book which should be read by everybody. Remember that the word culture as used by these writers does not have the meaning it has in this book. It is a tech­ nical term in anthropology. W hen Ralph Linton says that Arnold Toynbee has no cultural perspective, he doesn’t mean Toynbee is illiterate. Semantics, the science of meaning, is becoming a popular study. I have not given it special attention, but obviously it is of great value. It could be used as a starting point for the intellectual life. History, anthropology, and semantics all have close ties with lin­ guistics, a topic most laymen, including this writer, touch gingerly. T h e works of Mario Pei are very attractive on this subject. His * I notice that Columbia University’s catalogue of studies strongly sug­ gests anthropology as the central study for a liberal arts degree. 262

Language for Everybody makes a good introduction and has a sensi­ ble bibliography. I have just read Stuart Robertson, T h e D e­ velopment of M odern English, an excellent book for anyone who knows some history, some general literature, and has studied, even briefly, a foreign language.

Religion must be studied from the cultural point of view if one is to possess any depth of education. T h e cultural point of view as­ sumes that all religions are of equal value except on Sunday. R eli­ gion can best be read by oneself; a teacher only adds another set of prepossessions to your own luxuriant growth. History and anthropology afford the natural approaches to such a subject. T h e phrase comparative religion is often used. Compara­ tive methods may or may not be scientific, depending on whether the writer is an anthropologist or a theologian. No completely dis­ interested book about religion is possible since disinterest itself is a controversial position. You must therefore always ascertain the re­ ligious background and particular prejudices of each writer on this subject and correct his remarks carefully for such factors. Any book of history takes religion into account. By the time you have some idea of the history of the most ancient world, of Greece, of Rome, of Europe and of Asia, you will have laid a foundation for the study of religion. You can easily select your own books on comparative religion. I read Orpheus, by Salomon Reinach, many years ago and found it very enjoyable. A good easy introduction is given by Bouquet, Com ­ parative Religion. T h e Golden Bough, Frazer, is inspected by every­ body, mostly in its condensed, one-volume form. A knowledge of mythology, especially Greek mythology, is essen­ tial. So is a reading of the Bible. In fact, it would be silly for a man to attempt to read about religion if he hadn’t enough interest in it to read the Bible at least once. Robert Graves’ so-called dictionary of the Greek myths has proved very stimulating to me. So has Jane Harrison’s Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, although it is not for people who are afraid of the Greek alphabet. W rite out a Greek alphabet, keep it in the book, and transliterate those Greek words. This book comes in soft covers. Albright’s From the Stone Age to Christianity is as good as anything I have ever seen in this field, although it is 263

not an easy book. Spengler and Toynbee are interesting but rather bulky for most of us and, moreover, very opinionated. Books on art and music help teach religion. My often recom­ mended Music in Western Civilization gives a fine view of the place of music in religion. In turn, religion is necessary to an understand­ ing of plastic art; indeed, it is not certain that they can exist with­ out each other. Religion also helps explain literature and music, but here the relationship is not fully reciprocal, since we seldom know enough of the literature and music of other civilizations to use them comparatively. Here are a few rules that will help you correct writers for bias. Is your writer of some particular religious faith? Then correct accord­ ingly; faith is a declaration of prejudice. Is he comparing twore­ ligions equally remote from his own? It is still necessary to ask: W ould he have written this way if he had been an agnostic? How about politics? A Chinese writer who cares nothing about Oriental religions as a matter of belief must support them so that he can up­ hold the East against the West. If our historian is an agnostic like Gibbon, Hume, and most moderns, it is necessary to ask: Can he ap­ preciate enthusiasm? Does he understand the great emotional im­ pulses in the human heart? Nothing is worse than the kind of writer who tries to explain the Crusades on economic grounds; St. Francis of Assisi was not trying to sell birdbaths. And now we come to those popular but uncertain sciences: so­ ciology, economics, and government. These are hard to study, either by oneself or with a teacher, but a teacher can be a great help. T h ey are not true sciences; they are rather huge collections of data, arranged by hands necessarily too weak to handle such a heap. The difficulty may be that the original material, the statistics, has ac­ cumulated through the ages without getting the attention of the best-trained minds, until too much was piled up. In the meantime, theories, not closely related to the evidence and easy to spin, were evolved by philosophers and now lie like cobwebs all over the evi­ dence. These subjects were treated either by mere bookkeepers or mere philosophers until the twentieth century. No generalizations in these fields are at once fruitful and valid. No sure working rules can be used to guide your thinking. You can never make their “laws” the basis of a decision, or feel that you can 264

use them to handle a problem. T h e subjects need at least fifty years of modern analysis before the general reader will be able to do much with them. Moreover, these subjects cannot be discussed in cold blood by cool heads. T h eir matter is really the stuff of modern religion and, along with questions of nationalism, is not worth debating because no one is interested in learning— only in teaching. Or, worse yet, preaching. You might as well attempt a disinterested discussion of boundary questions with an Israeli, or racial questions with a Negro or an Afrikaan, as try to talk economics or sociology as if there existed on earth someone who was looking for truth about them. The general laws of economics cannot be applied to solve prob­ lems. Supply and Demand tells you nothing when you want the answer to a question. M arx’s theory of value has no practical use. You can never anticipate a coming event or decide on a course of ac­ tion by such means. What is the use of M arx’s contention that nineteenth-century capi­ talism was fundamentally unstable, since nineteenth-century capital­ ism can no longer be found? Obviously, the laws of economics and sociology are either mere empirical results of statistics or they are arbitrary predictions about “human nature.” They may reveal a fact but they can never furnish a guide, since the element of cause is wanting. T ru e causal laws are not going to be easily found amidst the unimaginable complexities of economics, sociology, psychology, and government. T hey may not even exist. It may be that nothing but the resultants of innumerable and incalculable chance throws can ever be found. T his may be a field where indeterminacy is the only law. All in all, I advise the uninformed reader who is looking for ad­ vice on how to improve his own mind and senses to take his eco­ nomics and sociology and government from T h e New York Tim es and such magazines as the Reporter , the N ation, the New R epublic, Harper's, the Atlantic M onthly, etc. You can acquire all the misin­ formation, false conclusions, worthless advice, and cocksure conde­ scension you need from these eager sources, without bedeviling yourself with books that are dull, badly written, confusing, and very long. However, I assume that few readers who need my advice will fol­ low it on this point, so here are some halfhearted recommendations. 265

A fter all, I had to plow through my own sloughs of despond; why shouldn’t you suffer? History is the only wise approach to all such sciences. T he mod­ em historians are the best in this respect. Tawney and Ogg are two eminent examples whose works are found everywhere. Their books are well written. Waste no time on dull books— there are too many to choose from. If the writer is flat, stale, and unprofitable, and, above all, if he is full of gobbledegook, find another man. Scholars must put up with the learned inarticulate; you are entitled to the privileges of the amateur. You might look into Adam Smith and read him, if you are inter­ ested, because of his great effect on history. Om it that brilliant idiot Ricardo; you can get his ideas from secondary sources and then for­ get them. Nothing will stop you from starting M arx’s Das Kapital, but if you want to finish something, you might try his Eleven Theses on Feuerbach, which is readable. You are not of the elite until you have peered into Henry George’s Progress and Poverty; or until you have read Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class; although what good the theory can do you when the class is gone, and never existed in America, I cannot imagine. T his is one reason why only the his­ torical approach is worth much in these studies; the books are al­ ways a generation behind their subjects, and always will be. Yet, in such matters, it is the future that we are really interested in. It is like the problem of weather prediction; it takes longer to chart the course of the weather than the weather takes to burst upon you. I have recently read a book on meteorology and it reads for all the world like a book on economics. It tells you what ought to happen but probably won’t. T h e sun may shine tomorrow and the depres­ sion may not be too bad. A well-written and careful textbook on economics is Taussig’s Economics* in two volumes. It dates from 1915 and earlier, but it is still quoted. Or you can use a recent college text after testing sev­ eral for readability. T aw ney’s Rise of Religion and Capitalism in England is a classic and comes in paperbacks. John Maynard Keynes has been very influential since 1919, and he can write. T ry his Eco• Rexford G. Tugwell tells us to read nothing entitled ‘‘principles of economics” and only to read books written since 1925. But he wrote that around 1932, so I suggest that you read nothing written before 1950. Only theology generates waste paper like economics. 266

nomic Consequences of the Peace. Economic Systems in Action, Alfred R. Oxenfeldt, gives a fine survey. You should read an elementary handbook on government and politics, of which there are hundreds, unless you had a course in school. A popular book on law is instructive and so is a history of the law. Be sure you get one for laymen. If you do not have a good public library to help you, ask a lawyer friend, provided you know a lawyer who has read a history of the law.* I cannot sincerely recommend any school textbook on sociology, since I have never been able to finish one. As Ogden Nash has said, you may choose your own tedium, rare or medium. However, I must say that I hope no reader will confuse my lack of interest in written sociology with a want of respect for that altogether superior body of men and women, the social workers. Theirs is one life I might have preferred to my own. T hey are among the best of us and the natural enemies of the world’s crumb-bums. Wherever the world gets better, they are usually the cause. Wherever you read some syndicated trash sneering at them, you have found somebody who wants to make something at somebody else’s expense. T he word sociology and the study gathered up around that word were created in the nineteenth century. Sociology has always seemed to me to have something inhuman about it, and I suspect that society is not a convenient unit of study. I think that we shall someday cut off this entity, but not before sociology swallows eco­ nomics. Psychology, anthropology, and history will then absorb so­ ciology, and the curriculum will have shrunk to a more manageable size. In the meantime I advise you to waste no time on books that outline, delineate, and define the subject; in general, read no schoolbooks on sociology. Read mature works by the best writers, prefer­ ably from the points of view of the various related sciences, and let your formal “sociology” take care of itself. In particular, you may omit those tiresome analyses of the American town, the American woman, the American coming of age, the advertising, radio, televi­ sion industries, etc., etc. Read the reviews of such books— that’s enough. Max Weber is a great name in sociology and social history. I * I am advised that I will run no risk suggesting Ancient Law, by Sir Henry Maine, even though I haven’t read it.


hope to read some of his works soon. You w ill encounter his name as you read recent historians. A nd I shall soon read Sorokin, God willing. Man and Society, Samuel Koenig, can be used as a survey and for additional bibliography. T h e reader of modest attainments who has followed me through this parade of the sciences must by now feel he is in the presence of a prodigy of intellect, especially when he takes the earlier chapters into account. “ I can do all this?” he asks. “T h is man thinks every­ body is a genius.” Scholars and men of talent w ill smile at this impressionable chap. T hey know the difference. For, you see, constant and dogged one, nothing written in this chapter up to now, and very little in this en­ tire book, requires sustained study. T h is chapter on the sciences could be written by any man with a good general experience in reading. Almost no special knowledge is required. I have read, in my entire life, precisely three books on geology, two of them very light ones. I have read possibly three books on chemistry. I have read a dozen or maybe two dozen on physics. I certainly have not read two dozen on biology. I have told you the extent of my read­ ing in the remaining sciences. And this reading has been spread out over forty years 1 W hat really made it possible for me to put this chapter together was not the little scientific literature I have read, as such, but the training I have obtained from the reading of history, literature, and mathematics. A ll the rest simply fell into place. I don’t know where I picked up that little bit and neither will you, if you learn some history and some mathematics. T h e rest of this pretentious learning will rise like oil on water. I have not hesitated to suggest more study in some of the sci­ ences than I have done myself. T his is because no reader is pre­ cisely the same as I, nor can he lead my life. You have your own bent of mind and your own native abilities. Many readers of this book w ill have greater talent for the sciences than I have, and will go much further than I w ill ever go, even though they, too, are only reading for amusement. I have not guaranteed every reader a grasp of poetry, art, and music equal to mine, small as mine is, although many can surpass me easily if they wish. But this I guarantee: if you w ill learn a rea­ 268

sonable amount of history, general literature, and mathematics, then the amount of science in this chapter, as well as the philoso­ phy still to be discussed, is surely yours for the taking. You will have trouble ending up with less, at my age. No science or other knowledge, for that matter, is worth learning unless it becomes part of your thinking. Science tucked away (if that were possible) and hauled out only in bitter need— in order to make a living, for example— would have no cultural value. At best, it would be like a knowledge of carpentry. T he thing must come to life inside you. W hether it be poetry, art, history, mathematics, or chemistry, it is only worth to you what it does to you. Even a very small amount of exact information can strengthen enormously your power to see, think, appreciate, and enjoy, if you can make it live in the stream of your consciousness. W hich is why these things are needed: vocabulary, to make knowledge accessible; history to give knowledge sequence; mathematics— that is to say, arithmetic— to make knowledge effective. A few months ago, at a time when I had read precisely two books on geology in my life, my wife and I were talking about the conti­ nents’ rising steadily to compensate for the loss of matter washed down by rain. “ How long can it take to wear out a continent?” I asked. “ Let’s figure it out. First, what is the average height of the continents— at a guess? T h e mountains run from 2,000 to 10,000 feet, broadly speaking. Peaks don’t count in the over-all picture. Whenever I have gone into a town and the elevation has been given, it has usually been 700 feet, or something like that, except on the coast. Since we’re guessing, shall we use 1,000 feet as an easy number to handle? “Then how fast does the whole surface wash down? Most of the mud you see in rainwater ends up somewhere on land. I’ve never noticed the slightest drop in the surface of any land I ’ve lived on. I never saw a porch step weaken or the foundation of a house ex­ posed unless there had been a flood. It must be a very slow business. For round numbers, shall we call it 1/100 of an inch in a year? That’s over the whole surface of the world, and that would make a lot of mud at the river mouths. After all, only a few rivers on the whole globe reach the oceans. 269

“ Now, 1/100 of an inch in one year is one inch in 100 years; it’s one foot in 1,200 years; and 1,200 times 1,000 feet of elevation gives 1,200,000 years to obliterate the earth, if the rate were constant, which it isn’t because it must slow down to nothing as the land gets worn down to sea level. “ Since we’re guessing, call it a m illion years, for round numbers. Allowing that I might be wrong by as much as ten times, the earth, nevertheless, must have been worn out at least forty times in 400,000,000 years if it hadn’t kept the dough rising to feed its enemy — water. There must be a lot of yeast down there!” A thoughtful reader can see that it didn’t matter for my purpose whether it was forty times or ten times or a hundred times. The point was that the land does come up and go down like a fat, round accordion, and it never stops and never will as far as we’re concerned. But it so happened that a short time after that bit of domestic chatter, I found an article in the Scientific American in which a man who knew enough had calculated it, as near as it can be done, and I was wrong only by a factor of two and one half. If I had used centimenters where I had used inches, I would have hit it. A t least that's how I remember the article at this time of writing. T h e magazine is in the house. I could look it up and make sure in one minute, but what good would it do? I don’t have to know pre­ cisely how long it takes to wash down a world, and neither do you. T h a t’s for experts. It’s the general picture and the practice of using what one knows in a rational, effective, habitual way that counts. Heaven knows you don’t have to be a wonder to do that bit of thinking. A really gifted boy of nine could do it— and would. All you need is interest in the thing and the habit of using arithmetic, or thinking mathematically. But, simple as it is, I have never found one single soul among all the thousands of people I meet who ever do, except a few engineers, and they do it as a matter of course. W ith a little mathematics ingrained into your thinking, you can learn more physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, psychology, eco­ nomics, genetics, sociology, than I shall ever know. W ithout it, you hardly know enough to come in out of the rain. And now we have reached the last of these discussions, the crown of the efforts of mankind, the great study— philosophy. I suppose it is an ambition with most people who have ever tried to learn, read, 270

and think to know som ething of philosophy. Indeed, it would seem to be the object of all other learning and the ultimate aim of every educated man. W ith most of us, however, it remains a forlorn hope. Philosophy demands so much in preparatory study, and then so much effort and time and, still more, so much of a kind of courage, merely to leap into it, that I imagine few men or women, of all those who read, ever do much with it. It is also a dangerous study. In no field are we so likely to read so much and learn so little. So many correctives must be applied; so much balance and judgm ent is needed. It is easy to sail along, peer­ ing vacantly through the ship’s glass and turning before every wind, all the while not forming the least idea of where or why we are cruising. No study needs so badly to be made in the light of a ma­ ture sophistication, a grasp of history, and of the setting in civili­ zation of each philosopher. Yet no study attracts clever, uneducated young men so strongly. It seems bold to take those dizzy flights with the great minds. T here is so much of adventure in it. It is pedes­ trian to square a -f- b or to conjugate amare, but to meditate, using the other man’s thoughts, on the nature of being, or of becoming, or of good and evil, is exciting. W e cannot expect that the nimble spirit of youth will pass up such a challenge. And why should it? No one should study as if study were a mere routine which we follow the way we follow the routine of our eat­ ing; carrying out a sanctified plan which, after all, can lead only to the same place in the end for all of us. T h e time for study is when it thrills you, when you can go to it as to a woman, with abandon and generosity. A boy of fifteen, who had never read a thing but the Reader’s Digest, would be a puny article indeed if he backed down from trying to read Kant merely because he knew he was young and inexperienced. W hen Siegfried found the Valkyrie inside the burn­ ing circle, he didn’t go home first to practice on the farmer’s daugh­ ter, or to buy an asbestos suit. I haven’t worried about this matter while planning my formidable scheme of self-instruction, since I have felt that anyone who would be afraid to read Hegel because I told him to read Hogben wouldn’t be likely to get far, in any case. However, this is a practical, conscientious, humdrum sort of book, and I am obligated to provide a safe and sane plan which most of us ordinary people will find feasible, and by means of which we may 27 /

hope someday to learn a little about this thing called philosophy. I shall draw on my own experience, but without much biography, since by now I have few secrets held back from the reader. It is evident that my attack on philosophy was by way of science and history, done almost unconsciously, so that it is hard to say at precisely what point I could be said to have read philosophy at all. I have acquired the usual “ cultivated layman’s” stock of philosophi­ cal ideas gradually, over a period of forty years of reading; and since habits of reflection and analysis are by now ingrained, I have so gradually built up my own assortment of philosophical ideas that it is impossible to give a closely connected account of the little regular study I have done. I wonder if this may not be a good approach to philosophy, quite as useful for the ungifted as an elaborate course of systematic read­ ing. It has a fault, certainly; the mind is not steeped thereby in philosophical literature for a succession of years, and the peculiar mental training inseparable from such concentration is not obtained. But how valuable is this for the ordinary man? Such a person can read only as an avocation. He cannot give over unending hours and days to high meditation, wherein he reflects seriously and at length on the tautological character of syllogistic inference, or on the dis­ tinction between being and existence. Even Whitehead’s “simple lo­ cation” cannot receive much impassioned thought from most of us. Our philosophical reading must be superficial, fragmentary, hodge­ podge. Might it not be better that we rise to it gently, as our knowledge and powers grow, reading first the special philosophies of history, literature, aesthetics, and science, then a little logic, and so finally learn to commune directly with the cherub Contempla­ tion? I shall be forced to suggest such a method because I know no other. Philosophy and logic are excellent subjects to study in school, in groups, with teachers. We always do the thinking and the read­ ing for ourselves, but the discussion, the guidance, and the stimula­ tion of a good instructor would be of the greatest help. I never had it, and most of us can never have it. Here is how I escaped total ignorance. I made my direct assault by means of the study of logic. This was an accident, but a lucky one. I had first met the science of logic when I read Taine’s review of John Stuart M ill’s work, in my sixteenth year. I understood at 272

once that there was more to the subject than could be detected from the sneers of nineteenth-century empiricists such as Macaulay. Then De Quincey, whom I have read since boyhood, corrected my initial false ideas of the work done by the great scholastics of the Middle Ages. I found it difficult to follow Taine and Mill. Simple as they may seem to a student, it was not until I studied mathematics, twenty years later, that they became easy for me, even though I had made it a practice to try my luck on that chapter in Taine every few years. I don’t take my earlier philosophical reading at all seriously, because I never moved into the subject, and all my reading in it was essentially of the quality of my reading of Origin of Species. It is interesting to note that a younger man of my acquaintance, then and now pretty ignorant of science, read Origin of Species and The Descent of Man when he was twenty-seven, and they had the greatest effect on him. At twenty-seven he was ready, and it profited him. At fifteen I wasn’t, and it was a waste of time. While reading popular books on mathematics, such as Num ber, the Language of Science, by Dantzig, I came to understand that a rational logic was the necessity behind all mathematical and sci­ entific ideas. As soon as I met up with Bertrand Russell’s Introduc­ tion to Mathematical Philosophy, my interest was fully aroused, and I began systematic reading. Many people do not know precisely what logic is, so I shall try to explain its nature. Numerous definitions, admirable for brevity and vigor, might be copied from the books of the eminent logicians. Such definitions, however, are of little pedagogical use. I shall at­ tempt a rough description. T h e learned will never see this, and the reader who becomes interested will soon replace my crudities with more exact though not necessarily more illuminating ideas. Logic might be called a certain formal abstraction made from thought. Thought is a word which identifies a biological process, something which takes place in our bodies. We abstract logic from the living reality in much the same way that we abstract mathe­ matics from the quantitative transactions of our lives. For instance, the number three is a logical abstraction which can be arrived at by considering groups. Each of these groups is made up of things. Call these things units. Groups of different sizes shall mean groups containing a different quantity of units. W e disregard the character


of each unit; it can be a mouse or a mountain. Note that these units are purely abstract. T hey are that which a mouse, a mountain, and a spirit have in common: the property of oneness. W e can, in thought, arrange our groups in such a way that all groups containing the same number of units are included in one class. Such a class is a class of groups, a class of classes. Then all those groups which contain what we ordinarily call “ three” units w ill be in one class. Following Russell, we can call this class the class of triads, and from it form the abstraction three. Three is a property which the entire class of triads, consisting, for instance, of three mice, three mountains, two mice and one mountain, or two mountains and one mouse, have in common. They have one thing in common which we are interested in, an abstract quantitative property which makes each group a triad, and which we shall call the number three. W e can abstract this concept out of groups of concrete things as often as we wish, and in this manner form all of our common numbers. T h e idea of number itself can be formed out of all the numbers taken together. It is a class of classes of classes. And from this it is possible to build up mathematics, and it has been so done.* Note that these various groups may have other things in common in which we are not interested. For instance, they may all be created things or material things. Also note that I have not defined group, class, property in common, etc. Something must be left undefined; logicians (not I) like to reduce these undefined things to the fewest possible number. Now thought itself can be treated in a similar way, and it is not a waste of time to do so. It may not help you think better in ordinary life, just as a knowledge of differential equations will not help you count your change, but differential equations are extremely useful in their place, and so is logic. Logic is only one kind of abstraction made out of our thoughts; the psychologists make other abstrac­ tions, and the theologians still others. I shall attempt a simple such abstraction of the kind called logical. Let us make the following statements: Socrates was a man. A ll men are mortal. * Also in other ways. It can even be done with no regard for the idea of quantity.


Therefore Socrates was mortal. The form of this is: A is a B. All B ’s are C ’s. Therefore A is a C. More compactly, if A implies B and B implies C, then A implies C. We can even invent symbols and write it like algebra: A c C ; B C C; A C C. T h e little horseshoe C stands for “implies” and we can make symbols for our and, therefore, etc. W e have abstracted the form of the thought from the thought. T o show that this is a mere form, note that the truth of the state­ ments has nothing to do with the question. Suppose I say: Socrates was a man. All men have wings. Therefore Socrates had wings. or: A is a B. A ll B ’s are C ’s. Therefore A is a C. T h e abstraction, the logic, the form, are identical, although the one is usually considered true and the other false. Logic is inter­ ested in valid, formally correct processes. It does not treat of the actual truth content of these processes, which must be ascertained by experience. How then does logic become useful? Because it helps us analyze the nature of our concepts and the validity of. our conclusions. When the science is fully developed, it enables us to subject our basic ideas to an exact questioning, so that we know what parts of our ideas are formally correct, logically valid, and what parts are only presumptions. W e can better ascertain what we know and what we do not know. It helps us free ourselves from our human limitations and permits us to use our reason with greater certainty, more as if we were gods. It does not succeed fully in doing this, but these attempts are part of what has brought us up from the apes. In fact, logic could be defined as the study of that which makes men men. Man is sometimes defined as a rational being, and logic is the study of the rational. As such, it is closely connected with sci­ ence and mathematics; it is claimed that mathematics and logic are indistinguishable at the place where they join. Logic is so close to 275

philosophy that the great philosophers constantly use logical con­ cepts as if they were real things and as if every reader were accus­ tomed to them. That is one of the first difficulties to be met with in the study of philosophy. Logic has its own vocabulary, which, when mastered, is a key to the most difficult thing in elementary philosophy: the vocabulary of philosophy. It is best for the self-teacher to study classical logic first, notwith­ standing the opinions of some moderns. Classical logic is the logic of Aristotle, the schoolmen, and John Stuart Mill. It is the only logic taught in Catholic colleges, and was the only logic known until the nineteenth century. Therefore it is the logic of the great phi­ losophers, from the scholastics to Kant, and its knowledge insures that you can read them with some degree of comfort. I used Cohen and Nagle’s Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method as my first book, and I have never seen a better textbook. You can learn all the logic that can be fairly demanded of a selfeducated workingman from this one book. It also furnishes an in* troduction to the newer, broader, and more powerful symbolic mathematical logic (a kind of algebra of thought). Another brilliant piece of work for the layman, written specifi­ cally for self-instruction, is The Rhyme of Reason, by R. W. Holmes, not quite as elementary as Cohen and Nagel. These two books are certainly enough for most readers. Think of itl Two clever books by three fascinating writers and you are raised at once to the level of the great thinkers of the past. You cannot say that I am asking too much of your time and energy for an introduction to Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, and Kant. People go to more trouble than that to meet the president of the local Lion’s Club. These books will give you a notion of what logic is about. If you want to go further, however, I am forced to admit that difficulties will arise. The subject is not perfectly suited for self-study by minds no better than mine. It is one of those subjects which cannot be mastered merely by reading. It is necessary to do exercises if one is to advance beyond a certain point, and the exercises of logic are not self-correcting. You can’t substitute the answer you get into the original equation and see for yourself if it works. Even a book of answers (and I know of none in logic) will not help much, because, as the schoolbooks say, the answer would destroy the usefulness of 276

the problem. T h ere is an element of sheer knowledge and judg­ ment in checking the results of a logical exercise, and this can be supplied only by someone who knows more than you do. It is for this reason that I have not made a major assault on it myself, al­ though I would like to read the great modern works in the field, especially Principia M athem atica. After I retire on my Social Secu­ rity, I shall take a year of it in some college and free myself of this annoying lim itation. Or, better yet, hire a teacher and pick it up in six months. You can go further than I have described so far, of course, if you are w illing to wrestle a little. Here is the remainder of my own journey. I have read, with some care, Cooley’s A Primer of Logic, a book so good that I don’t believe a better first book on symbolic logic can be put together. He keeps it easy at first and creeps up on you, never asking anything unreasonable. I also read the ad­ mirable Sym bolic L o g ic * by Suzanne Langer, one of those mysteri­ ous and wonderful women who fascinate me beyond Helen of Troy, and whose intellect, fem inine and powerful, reaches to me like a perfume. I first read Bertrand Russell’s Principles of Mathematics in 1944. This is a famous book which seems to have influenced half the philosophers, logicians, and mathematicians of the twentieth cen­ tury. Morris Raphael Cohen thanked the book for enabling him to forge the intellectual tools with which he could break the fetters of prejudice and habit. It did not do this much for me, not because Russell could not teach the use of the forge, but because I am not strong enough to lift the hammer. However, I enjoyed it immensely, as much as any book I ever read, and I see no reason why anybody should not read it who has had the slightest practice in the use of his head. It has no symbols or equations to frighten you; just ideas and a strong music, if you like to hear a great man think.f I have dipped into other books on logic and have still others in the house, but these are the only ones I have done enough with to make my experience an example for the reader. I am certain they will help anyone, and they w ill provide a strong lever to open up the study of philosophy. * Now available in paperbacks. f Russell's new book, My Philosophical Development, gives a delightful commentary on his older works. 277

Some knowledge of logic is necessary if you are interested in the­ ology. In particular, Christians who wish to understand the doctrine and the history of their churches w ill find it almost indispensable. N o one disparages the subject except those who are ignorant of it. It has this virtue, in addition: a little time and effort give a large re­ turn. One has to look at art or listen to music for ages to learn much, whereas three months of honest reading in logic will pay off bril­ liantly. In view of this discussion, I shall therefore make these recom­ mendations to the reader who wishes to study philosophy but who knows no mathematics or science, having forgotten whatever he or she once learned. (I shall assume you have some reading in history and literature, because anyone who hasn’t this much learning should attempt nothing else until he has.) You should at least read some of the popular authors on mathematics whom I have men­ tioned: Hogben, Bell, Dantzig, Ball, Cajori, Gamow, Kasner (Mathematics and the Imagination), etc. A few such volumes can be read in as many weeks by anyone who considers reading philos­ ophy at all, even though he is working and has only a couple of hours a day to give to it. If the reader has some mathematical edu­ cation, Courant and Robbins, What Is Mathematics, is an ad­ mirable introduction to philosophy. H e should also read a reasonably full history of science (I used Dampier), and go over at least one book on physics, unless he has taken a course at college. In addition, popular books on biology, chemistry, and evolution should be read.* (Please note, I am keep­ ing this to a minimum. My real advice to the amateur reader with a family on his hands is not to read philosophy at all until he has ten years of solid miscellaneous reading under his belt, including a de­ cent knowledge of the history of civilization; but I am writing this passage for the man who thinks he is ready.) Now the brief course in logic which I have outlined is in order. A ll in all, I would say that my requirements for an adult are about one year of preparatory reading before beginning philosophy. It should be appreciated that all the reading of your life has been a preparation for the study of philosophy. Shakespeare is philos­ ophy. Rabelais is philosophy. Anything you have learned in reli* Hogben’s Science for Citizens might be helpful in a rapid course of reading. 278

gion, politics, economics, sociology, etiquette, the decoration of houses, certainly in art, music, and so on, will help you read philos­ ophy. Indeed, a definition of philosophy might be: that which gives significance to everything else. If you are over thirty and have been reading all your life, the year of work I have outlined should give you a preparation, far beyond the requirements of any college, for the study of the subject. If you are a young fellow just out of college, but your courses did not include these studies, then I consider them indispensable. The young man who has just taken a degree in business adminis­ tration, law, or engineering is usually under no delusion as to his readiness or lack of it, but those whose degrees are in literature, dramatics, art, foreign languages, etc., are apt to be a conceited lot, and I warn you, you will probably only exalt your already ex­ cessive ego if you plunge into philosophy merely because you con­ tributed to the college newspaper. You need science, mathematics, and logic. W hy kid yourself? It makes you feel good to carry Hegel or Bergson under your arm, but nothing in your education has really taught you to concentrate, and, moreover, you simply don’t know enough. However, let us assume that in one way or another you have given yourself a basic training sufficient to take a fling at the great study. You are looking for a first book. You know, by now, that I will surely recommend a history. There are many histories of philosophy, and you might start by reading two of them, but let the first one be Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy. It is the only history of philosophy by a true philosopher, and it is extraordinarily interesting and stimulating. T h e second one can be of the type which professors make up to provide background for their courses, and which make a few empty remarks about as many names as can be crowded into one volume. After this you are on your own. There are many roads, and each reader will choose his own. However, I advise reading the modern philosophers first. Here are my reasons: By the nature of philoso­ phy, none of its questions are ever settled. Philosophy is not a progressive subject like mathematics. In this respect it resembles the arts. The fundamental questions are argued back and forth, restated, rejected, restated again, modified, refuted, and reargued, and this will go on, I suppose, forever. T h e reason for this seesaw-


ing may be that whenever temporarily we settle a philosophical question, we drop it out of consideration. It becomes knowledge, not philosophy, until a new advance of science forces us to look at it again. Philosophy is the study of the simplest things, things so simple that they cannot be defined in terms of anything still simpler, and must therefore be argued about, described, and worked over, end­ lessly. The usual methods of study are reversed. We here define simple things by means of more complex things. Then the defini­ tions are discussed with ever-growing complexity. This has gone on throughout the ages, yet when we are done, we still have left the original, simple, elementary ideas waiting for new evaluations, new expositions, new definitions, and new refutations. Thorndike tells us that man cannot increase his first small stock of elementary ideas any more than he can add a cubit to his stature. Because of this, philosophy, and particularly metaphysics, its core, has been in bad repute at times with various clever but im­ patient men. However, unless we are going to leave the considera­ tion of the most fundamental ideas we have out of all thought, there is no help for it. We cannot ignore such questions as whence, whither, why, when, where, what, and how; or such problems as matter, motion, life, death, evil, good, love, hate, beauty. We can­ not exclude them from our thoughts or leave them out of a rational education. Indeed, without them, we could not justify a rational education. But they are difficult to explain and more difficult to dispose of. They are ultimates. If we could replace one of them by some other concept, little would be gained, because the second idea would then become an ultimate. These ideas are end points of thought. We are up against the final reaches here, the extremes. We know that if we get past one of them, we will only find another jumping-off place behind it; but that is philosophy, and this is the reason why philosophy cannot, in a significant sense, advance. Philosophy should not progress. Progress is not our business here. We are interested in eternal values, in permanence. We wish to get outside of time and space, in a sense, and find a vantage point from which we can look at things. We can never hope to leave them; it will be enough if we are to go around them forever and try to see what they are. Progress is a matter of measurement, but philosophy wishes to 280

transcend measurement. T h e question is not how much but what is it. The aims of philosophy are in part those of religion, and its means are often related to those of religion. T h e chief difference is that philosophy cannot believe in the one true answer. There is always more under heaven and earth than is comprehended in our philosophy. (Certainty is for the churches, yours being the true one.) Therefore, the modern philosopher necessarily deals with the same questions as the ancients. T h ere is no idea in Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, or Kant which is not considered by the philosophers of the twentieth century. Indeed, there are few ideas in Plato (if any) which were invented by him. T h e original philosophers are those whose works have not come down to us. Primitive work usu­ ally perishes, although it is key work. W ho invented the wheel, or writing, or first smelted metal? W ho taught us to sow the earth? It is the same with philosophy; we try to discover the true, early, first thoughts by inference from faint echoes of unknown voices. W e try to guess at the philosophy of Plato’s teachers by noting what Plato tells us about them, but they remain shadows, those earlier ones: Parmenides, Pythagoras, Anaxim ander, Thales. And they are far from the first.* This is true for Asia as well as Europe. Philosophy has somewhat different assumptions in Asia and sometimes has different aims, but no books we have today can possibly be the first books. A ll philoso­ phers are chewers-over of other m en’s ideas, and when you have read the most recent, you have, in one sense, read them all. T h ere are many reasons for reading pre-twentieth-century philosophers: for one thing, it is important to know their place in the history of civilization; for another, reading the earlier philosophers helps in the better understanding o f the later men. However, it is best here to study in reverse order, as we do when first we read a recent historian and then read his authorities, and, finally, if we can, the authorities of his authorities. O r as when we first read the history of the time and places nearest us and gradually reach back and out. When you read the modern philosophers, you are reading the older thinkers in modern dress. T h e problems of Plato and Aris­ totle are still the problems of philosophy, but modern philosophy knows incomparably more. W e have science, history, logic. T h e an* See Frankfort et al, Before Philosophy, a good starting book.


cients had no history. T h in k of it! Plato, Zeno, Democritus wrote in a world with no known past. W e know incomparably more of early history than Plato did. T h e n again the modern writers have our point of view. We can never hope really to rediscover the outlook of the ancients. We can never really understand what was troubling them when they worried about those absurd, childish little matters which belong to the infancy of philosophy. No one before Bacon and Descartes seems to have appreciated the value of evidence as a check on speculation— as a means of distinguishing daydreams from investi­ gations. In other words, today’s thinkers have a broad, world-wide, timeseasoned point of view which puts the same old difficulties in the clearest obtainable light. T his was impossible even for Locke or Descartes. Clearly, we should read the older writers from this modern position, which means we must first learn that position -ourselves. And, above all, for you, the reader, the moderns will be easier. W hitehead does not have the false clarity of Plato or Aquinas, but •when you have read some of him, you will know you have been thinking, whereas you can slide along the surface of the Platonic ■dialogues and never realize you haven’t found out where you’re go­ ing. You and I will hardly achieve the profound historical and anthropological evaluation which would make the Greeks or the •schoolmen even partially comprehensible. Now I seem to have proved too much. I don’t mean that we un­ learned ones should not read the schoolmen or the Greeks at all. W e need them just as our betters do, but we should first acquaint ourselves with the basic question of philosophy as seen by the twentieth century. Surely the questions are more important than the questioners. W e need the best new thought, the clearest and best-defined treatment. Then we shall also find we need the older writers, because they are nearer the sources, because they are great literature, because they are the spirit of their times and a key to its history, because we want to understand, if we can, a point of view which is not ours. Selection is needed among the new philosophers. Some men write better than others, and you and I are family men who must work for a living and cannot afford needlessly to dissipate our little 282

leisure in useless boredom. Russell, W hitehead, W illiam James, Santayana, Bergson, are superb writers. T h ey could make anything interesting. T h eir books are the best literature of our age. Not all of our original thinkers are as interesting. Most foreign writers lose a great deal in translation. Many English and American writers are difficult to keep awake over. Even John Dewey is, for me, a tame writer although a great one. In any case, these are the men to read first. You will decide for yourself which one to start on after you have read the two histories of philosophy I have suggested. A popular book, Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell, w ill serve as a further introduction. Reconstruc­ tions in Philosophy is a good opener for John Dewey. Science and the Modern World is your starting place for Whitehead. Bergson’s main work, Creative Evolution, is perhaps the best one with which to begin that writer. Croce and Santayana are great critics, great aestheticians.* It would be absurd for me to advise you further, if you cover even a part of this reading, since you w ill then have virtually as much experience as I have, especially if your preparation is respectable. Speaking, however, not as a student of philosophy but as an old hand at self-education, I think it might then be wise to go all the way back and start Plato. Begin with the Republic. The modern philosophers I have referred to are not the most recent. I am an old man; new men keep coming up. A good way to become familiar with the newest work in science and philosophy is to read the book reviews of the Scientific American. You might begin by going to a library and starting several years back. Since you are reading only the reviews, you can do six or eight issues at a sitting. T h e reviewing is excellent, an education in itself, and in keeping up with reviews you w ill know who the best new men are. The Scientific American w ill fully satisfy the needs of most people for a learned periodical. A few general ideas which have helped me may be of some use to the reader. T h e broad generalizations of the nineteenth and * There is no harm in reading Will Durant’s popular books on philoso­ phy, such as The Story of Philosophy, provided you fully understand that you still know no philosophy after you have finished them. They are only meant to be introductions. A good series of introductory books is the Mentor series, The Mentor Philosophers, six small volumes. 283

twentieth centuries must be kept constantly in mind in any presentday attitude toward philosophy, and the reader who wishes to build for himself a consistent and meaningful view of man and the uni­ verse must start with them. These questions must be taken into account before philosophy can mean much to a modern mind: (1) The epistemological question— that is, the question of how and what we can know, if we can know. There is a constant seeking to escape this all-pervasive difficulty by belittling it, by claiming that it threatens to eat up philosophy itself. So it does. If we cannot satisfy ourselves that we can make sense, what is the use of going further? We usually assume that we can make some sense, but how much? Nothing can be gained by trying to hide our heads in the sands of the past. A gnawing skepticism will remain in our hearts if we have not convinced ourselves that we can hope, at least, to know what we are talking about. Fear of skepticism will never allay skepticism, but full investigation will help us meet it. Books on the foundation of science, especially physics, are a great help here. (2) The destruction of the concept of the absolute is now so complete that a beginning student must learn what is meant by the relativist position in philosophy. We live in a relativist world. No other idea is taken into account except in mere speculation. Abso­ lutes are absolutely abstract. They have no practical meaning ex­ cept as absolute relations. If you must have absolutes, you need re­ ligion, not philosophy. We are compelled to attempt to grasp the meaning of such ideas as that we cannot determine an absolute velocity, position, or time— that the idea is meaningless. This is best done by a little scientific preparation. (3) The implications of quantum theory with respect to our old ideas of continuity, energy, and space are formidable. We are living in the midst of a total revolution of the common-sense basis of our thinking, and each of our assumptions must be checked against these ideas. Here again modern physics becomes the starting point for the student of philosophy. (4) Modern psychology has deeply affected our theory of knowl­ edge and still more deeply our ethics. So have anthropology and the newer history. Right and wrong are not the same for us as they were for our ancestors. Anyone who has read a few pages of Plato’s Republic must realize this. Today, we will not declare an act right 284

or wrong unless we know the frame of reference of the act. This ties in with the pragmatism of W illiam James and John Dewey. For instance, original sin, the fall of man, and the Asiatic idea that the usefulness of this world lies in getting free of this world made sense to the whole former world of man but not to us. No one be­ lieves these things today in the Western world, although many claim to. I have no faith in their claim. Anthropology has shown us that no particular culture corre­ sponds to anything inherent in human nature, while recent history and modern psychology have reduced our faith in the ultimate value of Western civilization. Many cultures and societies now ap­ pear to develop human health and happiness at least as well as ours does. Our superiority looks more and more like a superiority of the gun, and others are getting the gun. But philosophy itself is a product of our civilization and must be re-evaluated if our civiliza­ tion falls to second place. History says that all civilizations pass in their turn. Psychology, moreover, is undermining our old concepts to such an extent that the old aesthetics will not do much longer. Aesthetics is a major branch of philosophy which will have to be done over if we are to sympathize in the future with the emotional bases of the art of the past. (5) T h e psychology of conviction is growing in importance. Not merely how or what we believe, but why we believe and what we mean when we say, I believe, is being probed to its depths. T h e foundations of all belief are emotional, built up of habit, interests, and passions. W e believe because we want to. (Why else would I think that a reader exists who would accept the point of view of this book?) But what is it which determines these wants? (6) Biology has made deep inroads into all philosophy since 1850. W e cannot ignore its truths any longer. T hey concern us too intimately. T h eir impact is shattering. For instance, everything now alive is alive because it has eaten an ancestor. Life feeds life, and all of us are cannibals not very far removed. A descendant of the microbe which consumed your father’s body floated into your stomach. This kind of thing introduces difficulties into the older philosophy. Such ideas as the resurrection of the body become more difficult. People who will not eat swine’s flesh must consider that they daily eat the cow that ate the grass that took root in a dead 285

swine’s liver. Nor can a dish be protected from the bacteria which blow back and forth from m ilk to meat and from sheep to pig. Dietary laws stop at the microscope. A major problem of philosophy during the past hundred years has been to rescue some kind of ethics, justice, or religion from the impact of these realities. Soc­ rates’s justice cannot be reconciled with a fundamental absence of justice in nature or, better yet, Socrates’s peculiar justice is perhaps the only justice in nature. I use the great doctrine of evolution as my guide in deciding for myself which ideas I can put some faith in. It is my test. I ask my­ self, Is it likely, evolution considered, that this or that can be true, or that we can understand this matter? As far as I know, no generalization of science is so thoroughly established, so deep and permanent a part of our thinking, as the doctrine that existing forms of life have sprung from older forms of life and, in particular, that man is descended from other species. T h is idea is now so all-pervasive that no one in the civilized world is capable of thinking without it. No scientifically trained person on earth doubts it at all, but this is not strong enough. I doubt that anyone who reads this book ever tries to think in any other way. It is to life what entropy is to physics— it provides a direction. It is an arrow to show which way time points. If Kant were alive today, he would abandon time and space as a priori intuitions and build his system on the idea that only the relations between things can be invariant, and that the only permanence is change. Matter, space, extension, location, energy, cause, continuity, infinity, are now nebulous uncertainties in what may be a fundamentally in­ determinate world; but if the universe exists, it exists in transforma­ tions. Evolution gives new life to the old ideas of religion. Hell becomes the life men grew out of, purgatory that which they have, heaven the state we hope to evolve into. If we look at life and compare it to what it should be, another destruction by fire and water cannot come too soon. If we consider what man has come up from, we can believe that he may become as the angels. N othing is too much to hope from a creature who has already done so much. Man may yet become human. Now how can we use this idea in forming, for example, a theory o f knowledge, so that we can decide whether we should hope to 286

understand something? W e must first consider the rare, peculiar sequence of events which lead to that oddity of the world, man, Julian Huxley, in his essay “ T h e Uniqueness of M an” has sketched the strange course of events which led to that result. T h e events turn out to be of such a rarity, such an odd concatenation, and so utterly unforeseeable, that the im probability of the occurrence of man seems to approach certainty. No one would believe in man if he did not exist. A n infinite number of things might have hap­ pened. T his did. Life is so abundant and so insistent that almost anything could occur. Still, the odds against any one line of evolution occurring are immense, and line upon line, improbability upon improbabil­ ity, must be piled up before we can arrive at Homo sapiens. W e are so unlikely that it is possible that we are unique, even though there may be an infinity of solar systems for us to evolve in. So tre­ mendous is the position o f manl Now let us suppose that we wish to examine some idea to esti­ mate the likelihood that it may be really true; that we have in this idea a picture of the real world. For example, is it likely that man, by means of his reason, can form in his brain, by way of his eyes, ears, nose, and hands, a true explanation of the world about him? This is obviously a difficult thing for man’s reason to accomplish. I am writing with a pencil. I can see only one side of it. If I want to see the other side, I must turn it around, but then I lose the sight of the first side. By a mirror I can “see” both sides but at a loss to my sense of reality. I can “feel” both sides, but feeling is vague in some respects compared to sight. My other senses will give little help as regards my understanding of the reality of this pencil. Can I really grasp the idea of my pencil at all? I am not sure, and neither are the philosophers. Even if I am awake and not dreaming all this, I still must feel that my grasp o f this portion of reality, if grasp and portion mean anything in this connection, is incomplete, and this is only my pencill If my in­ tellect is so inadequate in such a simple matter, if I must dilute, thin out, abstract, omit, so much to comprehend a pencil, what is the probability that I or anyone else can understand the whole uni­ verse itself, in all its complex elusiveness? Evidently my idea of the world is a miserable little abstraction, a mere stirring about of something inside me, provoked by the im2