13. The Delight of Books.

   1. Books are to mankind what memory is to the individual. They contain the history of our race, the discoveries we have made, the accumulated knowledge and experience of ages; they picture for us the marvels and beauties of nature, help us in our difficulties, comfort us in sorrow and in suffering, change hours of weariness into moments of delight, store our minds with ideas, fill them with good and happy thoughts, and lift us out of and above ourselves.
   2. There is an oriental story of two men: one was a king, who every night dreamt he was a beggar; the other was a beggar, who every night dreamt he was a prince and lived in a palace. I am not sure that the king had very much the best of it. Imagination is sometimes more vivid than reality. But, however this may be, when we read we may not only (if we wish it) be kings and live in palaces, but, what is far better, we may transport ourselves to the mountains or the seashore, and visit the most beautiful parts of the earth, without fatigue, inconvenience, or expense.
   3. Many of those who have had, as we say, all that this world can give, have yet told us they owed much of their purest happiness to books. Ascham, in "The Schoolmaster", tells a touching story of his last visit to Lady Jane Grey. He found her sitting in an oriel window reading Plato's beautiful account of the death of Socrates. Her father and mother were hunting in the park, the hounds were in full cry and their voices came in through the open window. He expressed his surprise that she had not joined them. But, said she, "I wist that all their pleasure in the park is but a shadow to the pleasure I find in Plato."
   4. Macaulay had wealth and fame, rank and power, and yet he tells us in his biography that he owed the happiest hours of his life to books. In a charming letter to a little girl, he says, "Thank you for your very pretty letter, I am always glad to make my little girl happy, and nothing pleases me so much as to see that she likes books, for when she is as old as I am, she will find that they are better than all the tarts and cakes, toys and plays, and sights in the world. If any one would make me the greatest king that ever lived, with palaces and gardens and fine dinners, and wines and coaches, and beautiful clothes, and hundreds of servants, on condition that I should not read books, I would not be a king; I would rather be a poor man in a garret with plenty of books than a king who did not love reading. "
   5. Books, indeed, endow us with a whole enchanted palace of thoughts, there is a wider prospect, says Jean Paul Richter, from Parnassus than from a throne. In one way they give us an even more vivid idea than the actual reality, just as reflections are often more beautiful than real nature. "All mirrors," says George Macdonald, "The commonest room is a room in a poem when I look in the glass."
   6. Precious and priceless are the blessings which the books scatter around our daily paths. We walk, in imagination, with the noblest spirits, through the most sublime and enchanting regions.
   7. Without stirring from our firesides we may roam to the most remote regions of the earth, or soar into realms where Spenser's shapes of unearthly beauty flock to meet us, where Milton's angels peal in our ears the choral hymns of Paradise. Science, art, literature, philosophy,—all that man has thought, all that man has done,—the experience that has been bought with the sufferings of a hundred generations,—all are garnered up for us in the world of books.