Tuesday, July 26, 2011

And you are?

The real occupation of [Edward] Gibbon ... was his reading; and this was of a peculiar sort.  There are many kinds of readers, and each has a sort of perusal suitable to his kind. There is the voracious reader, like Dr. Johnson, who extracts with grasping appetite the large features, the mere essence of a trembling publication, and rejects the rest with contempt and disregard. There is the subtle reader, who pursues with fine attention the most imperceptible and delicate ramifications of an interesting topic, marks slight traits, notes changing manners, has a keen eye for the character of his author, is minutely attentive to every prejudice and awake to every passion, watches syllables and waits on words, is alive to the light air of nice associations which float about every subject—the motes in the bright sunbeam—the delicate gradations of the passing shadows. There is the stupid reader, who prefers dull books—is generally to be known by his disregard of small books and English books, btit likes masses in modern Latin,Grœvius de torpore mirabili; Horrificus de gravitate sapientiœ. But Gibbon was not of any of these classes. He was what common people would call a matter-offact, and philosophers now-a-days a positive reader. No disciple of M. Cómte could attend more strictly to precise and provable phenomena. His favourite points are those which can be weighed and measured. Like the dull reader, he had perhaps a preference for huge books in unknown tongues; but, on the other hand, he wished those books to contain real and accurate information. He liked the firm earth of positive knowledge. His fancy was not flexible enough for exquisite refinement, his imagination too slow for light and wandering literature; but be felt no love of dullness in itself, and had a prompt acumen for serious eloquence. This was his kind of reflection.
--Walter  Bagehot, "Edward Gibbon," in Literary Studies (1879) at 25 (Google books).


H/T Richard Sale, via Turcopilier.  .

2 comments:

New York Crank said...
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New York Crank said...

Forget readers. Consider writers. I like writers who think it is their job to interest their readers and then manage to do so.

You'd be surprised, or perhaps you wouldn't be surprised, how many writers think it's the other way around. And you can double down on that statement for academics. Exhibit A: the deconstructionists.

Yours extremely crankily,
The New York Crank

8:47 AM