Lori's Book Nook

“Sesame: of Kings’ Treasuries”

Posted on: October 15, 2006

In the 1800s, people used to sit and listen to much longer lectures than we have the patience for today…the one I’m reading now (in my trusty Harvard Classics), is one by John Ruskin, with the intriguing title above. It’s 42 pages long. (good number, really)

How long is that?


I just timed myself reading, nay, emoting, a page, and it took me 2 minutes. Okay, so I lied. It’s an 80+ minute lecture. But it is definitely thicker than what we’re accustomed to today.

Here are some of the more delightful samples (courtesy of this site, which saved me from typing it all in myself!):

Practically, then, at present, “advancement in life” means, becoming conspicuous in life; – obtaining a position which shall be acknowledged by others to be respectable or honorable. We do not understand by this advancement in general, the mere making of money, but the being known to have made it; not the accomplishment of any great aim, but the being seen to have accomplished it. In a word, we mean the gratification of our thirst for applause. That thirst, if the last infirmity of noble minds, is also the first infirmity of weak ones; and, on the whole, the strongest impulsive influence of average humanity: the greatest efforts of the race have always been traceable to the love of praise, as its greatest catastrophes to the love of pleasure.

This brings to mind Alain de Botton’s book, Status Anxiety, which is on my ‘everyone must read’ list.

Another bit from Ruskin’s essay that I liked, more specifically about reading (the main theme of the lecture):

Very ready we are to say of a book, “How good this is – that`s exactly what I think!” But the right feeling is, “How strange that is! I never thought of that before, and yet I see it is true; or if I do not now, I hope I shall, some day.” But whether thus submissively or not, at least be sure that you go to the author to get at his meaning, not to find yours. Judge it afterwards, if you think yourself qualified to do so; but ascertain it first. And be sure also, if the author is worth anything, that you will not get at his meaning all at once; – nay, that at his whole meaning you will not for a long time arrive in any wise. Not that he does not say what he means, and in strong words too; but he cannot say it all; and what is more strange, will not, but in a hidden way and in parables, in order that he may be sure you want it. I cannot quite see the reason of this, nor analyze that cruel reticence in the breasts of wise men which makes them always hide their deeper thought. They do not give it to you by way of help, but of reward; and will make themselves sure that you deserve it before they allow you to reach it.

Seems a wise approach to any new book.

My other exposure to Ruskin is through one of his books on architecture, The Stones of Venice. That link is its Library Thing page, and the copy of the book I have is pictured on the sidebar, right at the bottom…the Folio Society version. So beautiful.



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