More Gerald Stanley Lee
Draft of 2007.11.15 ☛ 2015.04.07
from The Lost Art of Reading (1903):
I had finished writing these chapters on the philosophic mind, and was just reading them over, thinking how true they were, and how valuable they were for me, and how I must act on them, when I heard a soft “Pooh!” from somewhere way down in the depths of my being. When I had stopped and thought, I saw it was my Soul trying to get my attention. “I do not want you always reading for principles,” said my Soul stoutly, “reading for a philosophic mind. I do not want a philosophic mind on the premises.”
“Very well,” I said.
“You do not want one yourself,” my Soul said, “you would be bored to death with one—with a mind that’s always reading for principles!”
“I’m not so sure,” I said.
“You always are with other people’s.”
In the meantime I notice one thing about the philosophic mind. It not only does not do things. It cannot even be talked with. It is not interested in things in particular. There is something garrulously, pedagogically unreal about it…
and, regarding a philosophically-minded friend “Meakins”,
As fond as I am of him, I cannot get at him nowadays in a conversation. He is always just around back of something. He is a ghost. I come home praying Heaven, every time I see him, not to let me evaporate. He talks about the future of humanity by the week, but I find he doesn’t notice humanity in particular. You cannot interest him in talking to him about himself, or even in letting him do his own talking about himself. He is a mere detail to himself. You are another detail. What you are and what he is are both mere footnotes to a philosophy. All history is a footnote to it—or at best a marginal illustration. There is no such thing as communing with Meakins unless you use (as I do) a torpedo or battering-ram as a starter. If you let him have his way he sits in his chair and in his deep, beautiful voice addresses a row of remarks to The Future in General—the only thing big enough or worth while to talk to. He sits perfectly motionless (except the whites of his eyes) and talks deeply and tenderly and instructively to the Next Few Hundred Years—to posterity, to babes not yet in their mothers’ wombs, while his dearest friends sit by.
and finally, for tonight,
Originality may be said to depend upon a balance of two things, the power of being interested in other people’s minds and the power of being more interested in one’s own. In its last analysis, it is the power a man’s mind has of minding its own business, which, even in another man’s book, makes the book real and absorbing to him. It is the least compliment one can pay a book. The only honest way to commune with a real man either in a book or out of it is to do one’s own share of talking. Both the book and the man say better things when talked back to. In reading a great book one finds it allows for this. In reading a poor one the only way to make it worth while, to find anything in it, is to put it there. The most self-respecting course when one finds one’s self in the middle of a poor book is to turn right around in it, and write it one’s self.