Ruskin in Reading in Bed

“Of King’s Treasuries” by John Ruskin

“There are good books for the hour, and good ones for all time; bad books for the hour, and bad ones for all time.”

The good book of the hour… is simply useful or pleasant talk of some person whom you cannot otherwise converse with, printed for you. Very useful often, telling you what you need to know; very pleasant often, as a sensible friend’s present talk would be. These bright accounts of travels; good-humored and witty discussions of questions; lively or pathetic storytelling in the form of novel; firm fact-tellin by the real agents concerned in the events of passing history – all thse books of the hour, multiplying among us as education beocomes more general, are a peculiar possession of the present age.

Ah, I think they were not unique to Ruskin’s age, but perhaps began in Ruskin’s age. But think, is this “good book” described by Ruskin much like the internet of today. Think about it. That book versus literature that NEA was talking about is this one.

“We ought to be entirely thankful for them [the good book of the hour], and entirely ashamed of ourselves if we make no good use of them.”

“But we make the worst possible use if we allow them [books of the hour] to usurp the place of true books; for, strictly speaking, they are not books at all, but merely letters or newspapers in good print.”

“A book is not a talked thing, but a written thing, and written not with a view of mere communication, but of permanence. The book of talk is printed only because its author cannot speak to thousands of people at once; if he could, he would – the volume is mere multiplication of his voice. You cannot talk to your friend in India; if you could, you would. You write instead; this is a mere conveyance of voice.”

Wow! He’s introducing the telephone, talking to your friend in India. And the internet “printed only because its author cannot speak to thousands of people at once.” But they can now! Amazing.

“…[A] book is written, not to multiply the voice merely, not to carry it merely, but to perpetuate it. The author has something to say which he perceives to be true and useful. So far as he knows, no one has yet said it…. In the sum of his life he finds this to be the thing or group of things, manifest to him – this the piece of true knowdege or sight which his share of sunshine and earth permitted him to seize. He would fain set it down forever….”

That is a high definition of “book.” I think it is what NEA calls literature.

“…whatever bit of a wiseman’s work is honestly and benevolently done, that bit is his book, or his piece of art. It is mixed always with evil fragments – ill-done, redundant, affected work. But if you read rightly, you will easily discover the true bits and those are the book.”