Companionship of Books
A man may usually be known by the books he reads as well as by the company he keeps; for there is a companionship of books as well as of men; and one should always live in the best company, whether it be of books or of men.
A good book may be among the best of friends. It is the same today that it always was, and it will never change. It is the most patient and cheerful of companions. It does not turn its back upon us in times of adversity or distress. It always receives us with the same kindness; amusing and instructing us in youth, and comforting and consoling us in age. Men often discover their affinity to each other by the love they have each for a book --- just as two persons sometimes discover a friend by the admiration which both have for a third. There is an old proverb, “Love me, love my dog.” But there is more wisdom in this:“Love me, love my book.” The book is a truer and higher bond of union. Men can think, feel, and
sympathize with each other through their favorite author. They live in him together, and he in them.
“Books,” said Hazlitt,“wind into the heart; the poet's verse slides in the current of our blood. We read them when young, we remember them when old. We feel that it has happened to ourselves. They are to be had very cheap and good. We breathe but the air of books.”
A good book is often the best urn of a life enshrining the best that life could think out; for the world of a man's life is, for the most part, but the world of his thoughts. Thus the best books are treasuries of good words, the golden thoughts, which, remembered and cherished, become our constant companions and comforters. “They are never alone,” said Sir Philip Sidney,“that are accompanied by noble thoughts.”
The good and true thought may in times of temptation be as an angel of mercy purifying and guarding the soul. It also enshrines the germs of action, for good words almost always inspire to good works.
Books possess an essence of immortality. They are by far the most lasting products of human effort. Temples and statues decay, but books survive. Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh today as when they first passed through their author's minds, ages ago. What was then said and thought still speaks to us as vividly as ever from the printed page. The only effect of time has been to sift out the bad products; for nothing in literature can long survive but what is really good.
Books introduce us into the best society they bring us into the presence of the greatest minds that have ever lived. We hear what they said and did; we see them as if they were really alive; we sympathize with them, enjoy with them, grieve with them; their experience becomes ours, and we feel as if we were in a measure actors with them in the scenes which they describe.
The great and good do not die even in this world. Embalmed in books, their spirits walk abroad. The book is a living voice. It is an intellect to which one still listens. Hence we ever remain under the influence of the great men of old. The imperial intellects of the world are as much alive now as they were ages ago.
--- from Lee's Rhetoric