“The difference between the effect that thinking for oneself and that reading has on the mind is incredibly great; hence it is continually developing that original difference in minds which induces one man to think and another to read. Reading forces thoughts upon the mind which are as foreign and heterogeneous to the bent and mood in which it may be for the moment, as the seal is to the wax on which it stamps its imprint. The mind thus suffers total compulsion from without; it has first this and first that to think about, for which it has at the time neither instinct nor liking.
“On the other hand, when a man thinks for himself he follows his own impulse, which either his external surroundings or some kind of recollection has determined at the moment. His visible surroundings do not leave upon his mind one single definite thought as reading does, but merely supply him with material and occasion to think over what is in keeping with his nature and present mood. This is why much reading robs the mind of all elasticity; it is like keeping a spring under a continuous, heavy weight. If a man does not want to think, the safest plan is to take up a book directly he has a spare moment.
“This practice accounts for the fact that learning makes most men more stupid and foolish than they are by nature, and prevents their writings from being a success; they remain, as Pope has said,
“For ever reading, never to be read.”—Dunciad iii. 194.
“Men of learning are those who have read the contents of books. Thinkers, geniuses, and those who have enlightened the world and furthered the race of men, are those who have made direct use of the book of the world.”
Reading is important because it is a source of knowledge and inspiration. Those who accept everything they read as the truth and do not seek further probably would not have changed the world anyhow, but “thinkers, geniuses, and those who have enlightened the world” use not only “the book of the world” but also the book of man.
Tecumseh was a great leader who fought the British and American invasions of what is now Ohio from the 1780s until his death in 1813. Though he was Shawnee, in the tradition of other great Indian leaders like King Philip and Fools Crow he promoted Pan-Indianism as the only way to defeat the invaders that threatened all Indians. Tecumseh clearly drew very much on “the book of the world” as an excellent huntsman who provided for his family, his brother Liluowathaka’s family, and for others of his tribe during starving times; as a diplomat and war leader who was respected by even his enemies; and as a good, wise, charismatic person even from childhood. Tecumseh would not have been such a great leader if he had not drawn on the wisdom of others, such as his brother Prophet, elders and chiefs. Though their knowledge was not in books, it is certainly from the book of man.
Barack Obama is another great leader and thinker who is both widely read and widely experienced. Though Obama has been President for less than six months, I do have great faith in his abilities and potential. He is clearly a very wise and considerate man. His experience comes from his complicated childhood and his time as a community organizer; he was among common people and read widely in the book of the world. As a Columbia and Harvard Law School graduate, he is obviously very widely read, but that certainly hasn’t hurt him. Understanding history and many different ideas and points of view is crucial to being a wise leader.
Confucius was a scholar in ancient China whose philosophies were greatly influential for thousands of years and are even a huge part of China’s domestic politics and culture today. Confucius was the original thinker – a widely read philosopher who also had accrued much knowledge of the world through travel and correspondence. Many of our great philosophers throughout history have followed the same pattern.
Siegfried, the title character of Richard Wagner’s opera Siegfried, is not widely read or educated at all. The opera reveals him as an idiot and a fool who tries to be a hero but ends up destroying everything. Erda, the wise earth-mother, loses her power and potency over the course of the Ring cycle. Siegfried can represent the “book of the world” without any knowledge of literature; Erda represents the opposite. Their fates show that without a combination, a person cannot remain very powerful. However, even Wotan, who is the wise and experienced chief of the gods, cannot prevent the Götterdammerung – the Twilight of the Gods. Unleashing the wildness of man (Siegfried) without any education to temper it does certainly bring about the downfall of civilizations. Neither Paris, who instigated the Trojan Wars, nor Andrew Jackson, who destroyed the Cherokee Nation, were very educated.
Wisdom comes from knowledge of the world, some of which must come from outside one’s own experience – from books. However, it does take some natural intelligence to be able to comprehend, understand, and qualify all the knowledge one accrues. Not everyone can “enlighten the world and further the race of men.”