Literature: Six reasons to read the classic on your shelf


You've just read the first page of that classic and have no idea what the author has said.  
The style is too ponderous, the thoughts are too weighty, the tenor is set at such a high pitch that you're certain only a dog could hear it. Henry Norman Hudson, a nineteenth century Shakespearean scholar, describes some classic literary styles as "very severe", so severe, in fact, that the work seems frozen and unattainable, "the thought, the imagery, the diction feel, to the touch, as if chiseled out of the finest and hardest marble."
So, why not end the suffering now? Well, before you toss that book under the bed, consider the reasoning used to justify the value of classic literature. 

From the Classical English Reader by Henry Norman Hudson:

In Nuce: Literature and Language Geekland
Books that have already lived so long carry with them some guarantee that they will continue to do so. You are reading a living work. 
In Nuce: Literature and Language Geekland
It's not a bad idea--in fact its a good idea--that among the frivolous, trendy, and sometime base books we read, a few "should be put before...minds, of a quality to apprise them of heights which they have not yet scaled,--something of a nature to invite them further onward, and to draw them further upward.
We will call this the suction effect.

In Nuce: Literature and Language Geekland
Most of us are prone to underestimate our own and others' receptiveness to a good literary challenge. Not only can we read this stuff, but we might learn to like it.
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty!

It follows that sooner or later we will respond to works that are "charged to the utmost with strength and solidity of thought: no hollowness whatsoever here; no 'sweet smoke'; nothing of mere surface-splendor...No frequency of reading or hearing can wear the freshness and verdure out of them." In fact, like great music, the more we hear it, the more we grow to love it. Fine literature ages as well as fine wine.
In Nuce: Literature and Language Geekland
There is a "natural alliance of taste and morals" which is "much closer than most people suppose." Some literature has stood the test of time not because it avoids dealing with human foibles, but rather because it exposes the weaknesses and strengths of human nature and the very real consequences of the choices we make in life. For, says Hudson, "it is not what pleases at first, but what pleases permanently, that the human mind cares to keep alive. What has thus withstood the wear of time carries solid proof of having strength and virtue in it."

In Nuce: Literature and Language Geekland
People sometimes think there is danger of falling behind times by reading classics rather than the popular works of the day. Not so. To know the past is to understand the future, "...for the wisdom that has had the long and strong approval of the past, is most likely to be the wisdom of the future, and the way to keep pace with the age is by dwelling with its wisdom, not with its folly."

In Nuce: Literature and Language GeeklandAnd finally,
To love worthy objects, and in a worthy manner, is indeed the top and crown of earthly good...and surely, no greater blessing can be conferred on the young than by making them familiar with things that will still be sweet and noble to them as they grow old. But, in the present, the louder noises of its folly commonly drown the voice of its wisdom. So, let our youth breathe and listen an hour or two, now and then, in the old intellectual Fatherland, where the foul noises have long since died away, leaving the music to sound up full and clear.
Enough said. May you spend a lifetime enjoying what Cicero calls the "austere and solid sweetness" of classic literature.

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