Classics: Of Reading and Writing

While fixing my stuff, I came across an old textbook of mine we used way back undergraduate days. I browsed through it and while flipping its pages, something caught my eye. It was an excerpt and then I found yet another excerpt from major names in the field of literature. Beautiful essays, they are. I thought I’d share it with you just to have an idea where my passion for reading and writing came from. But in intellectual discussions and conversations, I merely listen. I listen, then I write. 😉


Engraving of Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English philosopher, writer, lawyer, and statesman. His philosophy of science concerning the use of inductive reasoning for scientific inquiry had a significant influence on later scientific methods of investigation.

OF STUDIES by Francis Bacon (excerpt)

Studies serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability. Their chief use for delight is in privateness and retiring; for ornament, is in discourse; and for ability, is in the judgment and disposition of business. For expert men can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars, one by one; but the general counsels, and the plots and marshalling of affairs, come best from those that are learned. To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar. They perfect nature, and are perfected by experience: for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need pruning, by study; and studies themselves do give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience. Crafty men condemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them; for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation. Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books, else distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things. Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know that he doth not. Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtle; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend. Abeunt studia in mores [Studies pass into and influence manners]. Nay, there is no stone or impediment in the wit but may be wrought out by fit studies; like as diseases of the body may have appropriate exercises. Bowling is good for the stone and reins; shooting for the lungs and breast; gentle walking for the stomach; riding for the head; and the like. So if a man’s wit be wandering, let him study the mathematics; for in demonstrations, if his wit be called away never so little, he must begin again. If his wit be not apt to distinguish or find differences, let him study the Schoolmen; for they are cymini sectores [splitters of hairs]. If he be not apt to beat over matters, and to call up one thing to prove and illustrate another, let him study the lawyers’ cases. So every defect of the mind may have a special receipt.

WHAT IS A CLASSIC? by Charles Augustin Saint-Beuve (excerpt)

A true classic, as I should like to hear it defined, is an author who has enriched the human mind, increased its treasure, and caused it to advance a step; who has discovered some moral and not equivocal truth, or revealed some eternal passion in that heart where all seemed known and discovered; who has expressed his thought, observation, or invention, in no matter what form, only provided it be broad and great, refined and sensible, sane and beautiful in itself; who has spoken to all in his own peculiar style, a style which is found to be also that of the whole world, a style new without neologism, new and old, easily contemporary with all time.

This last one was my professor’s paraphrased version of Francis Bacon’s “Of Studies.”  I loved her own style in rewriting it.

Of Studies by Francis Bacon

Studies are for amusement, for showing off one’s education in social institutions and for getting along with skill. For the purpose of amusement, studies are for occupying one’s private, leisure moments. For social situations, studies will allow one to show off how well he can engage in conversations. Studies can also help one make the right decisions, but only within each one’s limited field of expertise. But for more extensive advice and ideas on how to manage in different situations, the advice of the learned may be taken from different readings.

To spend all of one’s time doing nothing but studying is a form of laziness.To display how well-read one is in conversations is a form of pretentiousness or vanity. But to base one’s judgment on what one has learned from reading is all at the same time the sudden whim, the source of excitement and activity and usual habit of a scholar.

The writings of learned men show a way of improving oneself. These writings contain good advice which have been derived from experiences. The natural tendencies and abilities of man may be improved, disciplined or controlled by the knowledge gained from reading. Studies serve as a tool for self-discipline in the same way that pruning makes a plant grow better. Readings in themselves may give too many ideas, directions or advice. But they are to be taken according to how they have been used according to the writer’s experience and according to to how they can be used according to the readers’experiences.

Cunning men look down on what they read. They do not generally put a value on reading. Men of lesser intelligence admire what they read. Readings do not limit their value to teaching how valuable they are or how useful they are. Instead, they teach lessons and even encourage readers to observe and discover truths beyond those contained in the readings themselves.

Do not read only to argue against and disagree with everything that has been read. But do not accept and believe everything that has been read. Do not read for the sake of finding something that can be talked about. Read to understand and consider the value of what was read.

Books are food for the mind – some are to be tasted, meaning, read only its parts; some are to be swallowed, meaning they should be completely read without thinking deeply about their contents; and some books are to be chewed and digested, meaning they should be carefully analyzed, understood and appreciated. Books may sometimes be read through digests, summaries or commentaries prepared by others, but these are good only for less important ideas and works. Not reading a book completely and directly, and relying only on the summaries made by others deprive the reader of the full flavor, full essence and full mental nourishment that can be had from a thorough reading of the work. This can be compared to drinking distilled water, which is purified or strained. It is still essentially water, but all the flavor and mix of mineral elements are missing.

Reading makes a man well-rounded or well-developed. Discussion makes him alert and responsive. Writing makes him an accurate and critical thinker.


Communication Skills, UP Open University

5 thoughts on “Classics: Of Reading and Writing

  1. Hi Christine, I’m so excited to get to know you better from this blog… I think we share a lot of interests! I like literature and philosophy too. Thanks for sharing this snippet of your college days and literary experience. I also liked Francis Bacon as an author in college after reading a passage of one of his essays. It was hard in college, I couldn’t talk much about faith as openly as I wanted to, and the only way I could do it was through writing; but even then it was hard, because I was also still growing in my faith. Anyways, hope to hear more from you!


    • Hi, Kathryn! 🙂

      Thank you for dropping by my blog. It’s always great to find another sister in Christ here in blogosphere. This blog has been my “megaphone” for my faith – a calling back when I got saved.

      Hope we get to grow together in our spiritual journey through this blog and yours too. Keep the faith always! 😉

      More blessings to you,
      Tin ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Tin! that’s so cool you’re following you’re “calling” when you got saved. I hope you continue to grow too in your faith 🙂
    maybe if I encounter a philosophical question, I’ll post a comment here or something…

    Liked by 1 person

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