Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Why You Should Read Old Books

The worst thing about new books is that they keep us from reading the old ones.[1]

—Joseph Joubert

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. . . . It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. . . . We all . . . need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. . . . We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century . . . lies where we have never suspected it. . . . None of us can fully escape this blindness. . . . The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. [2]

—C. S. Lewis

In my library I have profitably and pleasantly dwelt among the shining lights, with which the learned, wise, and holy men of all ages have illumined the world.[3]

—Richard Baxter

The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries.[4]

—René Descartes

—I have a peaceful study, as a refuge from the hurries and noise of the world around me; the venerable dead are waiting in my library to entertain me.

—Samuel Davies[5]

[1] Quoted in Eddie Eddings, More Awesome Truth (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing Co., 1997), p. 65.

[2] C. S. Lewis, “On The Reading of Old Books,” in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), pp. 200-207. Originally published as the introduction to St. Athanasius’ The Incarnation of the Word of God, trans. by A. Religious of C.S.M.V (London, 1944), pp. 200-202.

[3] Richard Baxter, Dying Thoughts: The Christian’s Hope for the Life Hereafter (Welwyn, Herts, England: Evangleical Press, 1976), p. vii.

[4] Quoted in Terry W. Glaspey, A Passion for Books (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1998), p. 57.

[5] Quoted in Iain H. Murray, Revival and Revivalism (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), p. 12.