A great man's house is filled chiefly with menials and creatures of ceremony; and great libraries contain, for the most part, books as dry and lifeless as the dust that gathers on them: but from amidst these dead leaves an immortal mind here and there looks forth with light and love.
From the point of view of the bank president, Emerson tells us, books are merely so much rubbish. But in his eyes the flowers also, the flowing water, the fresh air, the floating clouds, children's voices, the thrill of love, the fancy's play, the mountains, and the stars are worthless.
Not one in a hundred who buy Shakspere, or Milton, or a work of any other great mind, feels a genuine longing to get at the secret of its power and truth; but to those alone who feel this longing is the secret revealed. We must love the man of genius, if we would have him speak to us. We learn to know ourselves, not by studying the behavior of matter, but through experience of life and intimate acquaintance with literature. Our spiritual as well as our physical being springs from that of our ancestors. Freedom, however, gives the soul the power not only to develop what it inherits, but to grow into conscious communion with the thought and love, the hope and faith of the noble dead, and, in thus enlarging itself, to become the inspiration and source of richer and wider life for those who follow. As parents are consoled by the thought of surviving in their descendants, great minds are upheld and strengthened in their ceaseless labors by the hope of entering as an added impulse to better things, from generation to generation, into the lives of thousands. The greatest misfortune which can befall genius is to be sold to the advocacy of what is not truth and love and goodness and beauty. The proper translation of timeo hominem unius libri is not, "I fear a man of one book," but "I dread a man of one book:" for he is sure to be narrow, one-sided, and unreasonable. The right phrase enters at once into our spiritual world, and its power becomes as real as that of material objects. The truth to which it gives body is borne in upon us as a star or a mountain is borne in upon us. Kings and rich men live in history when genius happens to throw the light of abiding worlds upon their ephemeral estate. Carthage is the typical city of merchants and traders. Why is it remembered? Because Hannibal was a warrior and Virgil a poet.
The strong man is he who knows how and is able to become and be himself; the magnanimous man is he who, being strong, knows how and is able to issue forth from himself, as from a fortress, to guide, protect, encourage, and save others. Life's current flows pure and unimpeded within him, and on its wave his thought and love are borne to bless his fellowmen. If he who gives a cup of water in the right spirit does God's work, so does he who sows or reaps, or builds or sweeps, or utters helpful truth or plays with children or cheers the lonely, or does any other fair or useful thing. Take not seriously one who treats with derision men or books that have been deemed worthy of attention by the best minds. He is false or foolish. As we cherish a human being for the courage and love he inspires, so books are dear to us for the noble thoughts and generous moods they call into being....