Hazlitt on Old Books

As something of a counterpoint to the very essence of blogging, the Guardian reprints an essay from 1821 by William Hazlitt “Essay On Reading Old Books”


I hate to read new books. There are twenty or thirty volumes that I have read over and over again, and these are the only ones that I have any desire ever to read at all.


In reading a book which is an old favourite with me (say the first novel I ever read) I not only have the pleasure of imagination and of a critical relish of the work, but the pleasures of memory added to it. It recalls the same feelings and associations which I had in first reading it, and which I can never have again in any other way. Standard productions of this kind are links in the chain of our conscious being.

They bind together the different scattered divisions of our personal identity. They are landmarks and guides in our journey through life. They are pegs and loops on which we can hang up, or from which we can take down, at pleasure, the wardrobe of a moral imagination, the relics of our best affections, the tokens and records of our happiest hours. They are “for thoughts and for remembrance!” They give us the best riches – those of Fancy; and transport us, not over half the globe but (which is better) over half our lives, at a word’s notice!

Whatever you may think of the approach, Hazlitt captures the power of words to trigger the feelings aroused when you first read them.

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