— John Lancaster Spalding Catholic bishop 1840 - 1916
Source: Aphorisms and Reflections (1901), pp. 11-12
Contexte: The multitude are matter-of-fact. They live in commonplace concerns and interests. Their problems are, how to get more plentiful and better food and drink, more comfortable and beautiful clothing, more commodious dwellings, for themselves and their children. When they seek relaxation from their labors for material things, they gossip of the daily happenings, or they play games or dance or go to the theatre or club, or they travel or they read story books, or accounts in the newspapers of elections, murders, peculations, marriages, divorces, failures and successes in business; or they simply sit in a kind of lethargy. They fall asleep and awake to tread again the beaten path. While such is their life, it is not possible that they should take interest or find pleasure in religion, poetry, philosophy, or art. To ask them to read books whose life-breath is pure thought and beauty is as though one asked them to read things written in a language they do not understand and have no desire to learn. A taste for the best books, as a taste for whatever is best, is acquired; and it can be acquired only by long study and practice. It is a result of free and disinterested self-activity, of efforts to attain what rarely brings other reward than the consciousness of having loved and striven for the best. But the many have little appreciation of what does not flatter or soothe the senses. Their world, like the world of children and animals, is good enough for them; meat and drink, dance and song, are worth more, in their eyes, than all the thoughts of all the literatures. A love tale is better than a great poem, and the story of a bandit makes Plutarch seem tiresome. This is what they think and feel, and what, so long as they remain what they are, they will continue to think and feel. We do not urge a child to read Plato—why should we find fault with the many for not loving the best books?