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Visions Of Hope: Literature

William Sykes brings thoughts on the purpose and origins of great literature.,

Literature様iterary culture; realm of letters, writings of country or period; writings whose value lies in beauty of form or emotional effect


E.M. Forster, in his book Anonymity. An Enquiry, wrote that each human mind has two personalities, one on the surface, the other deeper down. The upper personality has a name. It is called S.T. Coleridge, or William Shakespeare, or Mrs Humphry Ward. It is conscious and alert, it does things like dining out, answering letters, and so on, but differs vividly and amusingly from other personalities.

The lower personality, he thought, was a very queer affair. In many ways it is a perfect fool, but without it there is no literature, because, unless a man dips a bucket down into it occasionally he cannot produce first class work. There is something general about it. Although it is in S.T. Coleridge, it cannot be labelled with his name. It has something in common with all other deeper personalities, and the mystic will assert that the common quality is God, and that here, in the obscure recesses of our being, we near the gates of the Divine.

You can imagine how excited I was to read this as it fits in closely with what I believe about being made in the image and likeness of God and of the divine inbreathing. I wonder if all great literature is inspired in this way, and that everyone, in theory at least, has the capacity to appreciate and understand it. I would go even further than E.M. Forster, and include such things as art, music, science, philosophy, and so on, but also to all activities of human life. There is abundant evidence of this in the pages of Visions of Hope.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction.
Romans 15:4

... continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 3:14-15

... something that was greater than Jefferies's books葉he spirit that led Jefferies to write them.
E.M. Forster, Howards End Penguin Books, 1981, page 127

Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.
Ezra Pound, How to Read Desmond Harmsworth, 1931, page 21

Works of fiction are just as wholesome as anything else, if they are read wholesomely.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 102

The Bible stands alone in human literature in its elevated conception of manhood, in character and conduct.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 129

Can anything be called a book unless it forces the reader by one method or another, by contrast or sympathy, to discover himself?
Norman Douglas, An Almanac, Chatto & Windus in association with Seeker & Warburg, 1945, page 31

... a true work of art... is an analysis of experience and a synthesis of the findings into a unity that excites the reader.
Rebecca West, Ending in Earnest, Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1931, page 77

Literature is rather an image of the spiritual world, than of the physical, is it not?熔f the internal, rather than the external.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 'Kavanagh', in The Writings of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, George Routledge and
Sons, volume II, page 366

I tell him prose and verse are alike in one thing葉he best is that to which went the hardest thoughts. This also is the secret of originality, also the secret of sincerity.
J.B. Yeats, Letters to his son, W.B. Yeats and others, Faber and Faber, 1944, page 53

Those writers are to be valued above all others who lay hold of us and gently transform us into a new world, closing communication with the world in which we live.
Mark Rutherford, Last Pages From a Journal, Oxford University Press, 1915, page 280

Dreams, books, are each a world; and books, we know, Are a substantial world, both pure and good: Round these, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood, Our pastime and our happiness will grow.
William Wordsworth, 'Personal Talk', in E. de Selincourt, editor, The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1947, volume FV, page 74

It is a marvel of literature that the most profound conceptions of the sin and guilt of mankind are the subject-matters of a sacred literature more cheerful and hopeful, more invigorating and comforting, than any that has ever existed.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 128

There is, first, the literature of knowledge; and, secondly, the literature of power. The function of the first is葉o teach; the function of the second is葉o move: the first is a rudder; the second, an oar or a sail. The first speaks to the mere discursive understanding; the second speaks ultimately, as it may happen, to the higher under-standing or reason, but always through affections of pleasure and sympathy.
Thomas de Quincey, 'The Poetry of Pope', in De Quincey's Works, A. & C. Black, 1897, volume XI, page 54

The peoples of the West no longer share a literature and a system of ancient wisdom. All that they now have in common is science and information. Now, science is knowledge, not wisdom; deals with quantities, not with the qualities of which we are immediately aware. In so far as we are enjoying and suffering beings, its words seem to us mostly irrelevant and beside the point. Moreover, these words are arranged without art; therefore possess no magical power and are incapable of propping or moulding the mind of the reader.
Aldous Huxley, The Olive Tree, Chatto & Windus, 1936, page 42

'To write well' means far more than choosing the apt word or the telling arrangement of syllables, though it means these things as well; it is a matter of feeling and living at the required depth, fending off the continual temptation to be glib and shallow, to appeal to the easily aroused response, to be evasive and shirk the hard issues. It is a matter of training oneself to live with reality, and, as our greatest living poet has warned us: 'Human kind cannot bear very much reality'. But, if one is to write well, one must bear it: increasing the dose, perhaps, until one can absorb it in quantities that would unhinge the ordinary person.
John Wain, Sprightly Running, Macmillan & Co., 1962, page 263

Tolstoi comes before us as a man who has himself lived deeply, a man who has had an intense thirst for life, and who has satisfied that thirst. He has craved to know life, to know women, the joy of wine, the fury of battle, the taste of the ploughman's sweat in the field. He has known all these things, not as material to make books, but as the slaking of instinctive personal passions. And in knowing them he has stored up a wealth of experiences from which he drew as he came to make books, and which bear about them that peculiar haunting fragrance only yielded by the things which have been lived through, personally, in the far past.
Havelock Ellis, Affirmations, Constable and Company, 1915, page 140

This is the age of books. And we should reverence books. Consider! except a living man there is nothing more wonderful than a book預 message to us from the dead, from human souls whom we never saw, who lived perhaps thousands of miles away, and yet in those little sheets of paper speak to us, amuse us, terrify us, teach us, comfort us, open their hearts to us as brothers!
We ought to reverence books, to look at them as awful and mighty things. If they are good and true, whether they are about religion or politics, trade or medicine, they are messengers of Christ, the Maker of all things, the Teacher of all truth, which He has put into the heart of some men to speak.
Charles Kingsley, Daily Thoughts, Macmillan and Co., 1884, page 57

There are some books, when we close them; one or two in the course of our life, difficult as it may be to analyse or ascertain the cause: our minds seem to have made a great leap. A thousand obscure things receive light; a multitude of indefinite feelings are determined. Our intellect grasps and grapples with all subjects with a capacity, a flexibility and a vigour before unknown to us. It masters questions hitherto perplexing, which are not even touched or referred to in the volume just closed. What is this magic? It is the spirit of the supreme author, by a magnetic influence blending with our sympathising intelligence, that directs and inspires it. By that mysterious sensibility we extend to questions which he has not treated the same intellectual force which he has exercised over those which he has expounded. His genius for a time remains in us.
Benjamin Disraeli, Coningshy, Peter Davies, 1927, page 129

Reading ought to be an act of homage to the God of all truth. We open our hearts to words that reflect the reality he has created or the greater reality which he is. It is also an act of humility and reverence towards other men who are instruments by which God communicated his truth to us. Reading gives God more glory when we get more out of it, when it is a more deeply vital act not only of our intelligence but of our whole personality, absorbed and refreshed in thought, meditation, prayer, or even in the contemplation of God.
Books can speak to us like God, like men or like the noise of the city we live in. They speak to us like God when they bring us light and peace and fill us with silence. They speak to us like God when we desire never to leave them. They speak to us like men when we desire to hear them again. They speak to us like the noise of the city when they hold us captive by a weariness that tells us nothing, give us no peace and support, nothing to remember, and yet will not let us escape. Books that speak like God speak with too much authority to entertain us. Those that speak like good men hold us by their human charm; we grow by finding ourselves in them. They teach us to know ourselves better by recognizing ourselves in another.
Books that speak like the noise of multitudes reduce us to despair by the sheer weight of their emptiness. They entertain us like the lights of the city streets at night, by hopes they cannot fulfil.
Great though books may be, friends though they may be to us, they are no substitute for persons, they are only means of contact with great persons, with men who had more than their own share of humanity, men who were persons for the whole world and not for themselves alone.
Ideas and words are not the food of the intelligence, but truth. And not an abstract truth that feeds the mind alone. The Truth that a spiritual man seeks is the whole Truth, reality, existence and essence together, something that can be embraced and loved, something that can sustain the homage and the service of our actions: more than a thing: persons, or a Person. Him above all whose essence is to exist. God, Christ, the Incarnate Word, is the Book of Life in whom we read God.
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, Burns & Oates, 1958, page 52


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