Whether there are sailors who sail without charts is doubtful, but there certainly are travellers who prefer to journey with no map to guide them, and readers who are contemptuous of books about books. They gain no profit, they say, by looking at things through the eyes of others. But this impromptu, uninstructed way of grasping at masterpieces in spontaneous leaps of feeling is but a poor way of learning how to enjoy them. The first surprise and flush of prompt delight is, of course, of great, perhaps the greatest, value; but a true appreciation is based on something more than feeling: it demands that we should not only enjoy, but understand our pleasure, and make it food for thought; should learn the esthetic reasons for it, and learn also all we can about the origins and environments of the monuments and masterpieces we gaze on. To understand them we must know their place in history, and their relative position among other masterpieces. And I at least find that my vision of the things I like is greatly enhanced and clarified by seeing them reflected in the luminous minds of other people. Esthetic appreciation is, luckily, a thing that can be communicated, can be learnt from others—the glow of it is a catching fire. How often an admiration spoken of by someone we admire—sometimes the mere mention of a preference—has opened for us the gate into a new world of beauty ! And certainly the debt I owe to the great interpreters of literature is far too large to allow me to join in the common abuse of critics; they have given me ears, they have given me eyes, they have taught me—and have taught all of us really—the best way of appreciating excellence, and how and where to find it. How many sights unguided travellers pass by! how many beauties readers of great works will miss, if they refuse to read the books about them!

— from On Reading Shakespeare, by Logan Pearsall Smith

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