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No matter how much I admire our schools, I know that no university exists that can provide an education; what a university can provide is an outline, to give the learner a direction and guidance. The rest one has to do for oneself.
Historical novels are, without question, the best way of teaching history, for they offer the human stories behind the events and leave the reader with a desire to know more.
Whatever the book, a reader reads.
Do what thy manhood bids thee do, From none but self expect applause; He noblest lives and noblest dies Who makes and keeps his self-made laws. —SIR RICHARD FRANCIS BURTON
It is often said that one has but one life to live, but that is nonsense. For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.
A mistake constantly made by those who should know better is to judge people of the past by our standards rather than their own. The only way men or women can be judged is against the canvas of their own time.
They are out there by the thousands, wonderful stories. Many have never gotten into the histories, although occasionally told by local newspapers or in privately printed booklets. Stories of wagon-train massacres, buried treasures, gun battles, cattle roundups, border bandit raids—no matter where you go, east, west, north, and south, there are stories. People are forever asking me where I get my ideas, but one has only to listen, to look, and to live with awareness. As I have said in several of my stories, all men look, but so few can see. It is all there, waiting for any passerby.
He had strong opinions, with some of which I did not agree, but I was not there to argue but to learn.
The dogs bark, but the caravan passes on. —ORIENTAL PROVERB
Then, as many times since, I did not read from one book alone but started several, anxious to get the flavor of each one and reluctant to wait until one was finished before dipping into another.
Much is not dared because it seems hard; much seems hard only because it is not dared. —PRINCE WENZEL ANTON VON KAUNITZ,
I suppose I was lonely. I know that often I longed for someone with whom I could talk of books, writers, and things of the mind, but that was not to be for a long time, except here and there when I chanced on some other lost literary soul. Loneliness is of many kinds, and the mere presence and companionship of people does not suffice.
One is not, by decision, just a writer. One becomes a writer by writing, by shaping thoughts into the proper or improper words, depending on the subject, and by doing it constantly.
Acquiring an education has many aspects, of which school is only one, and the present approach is, I believe, the wrong one. Without claiming to have all the answers, I can only express my feeling that our methods of instruction do much to hamper a child in learning. Our approach is pedestrian. We teach a child to creep when he should be running; education becomes a task rather than excitement.
We do not at present educate people to think but, rather, to have opinions, and that is something altogether different.
I think the greatest gift anyone can give to another is the desire to know, to understand. Life is not for simply watching spectator sports, or for taking part in them; it is not for simply living from one working day to the next. Life is for delving, discovering, learning.
ONLY ONE WHO has learned much can fully appreciate his ignorance. He knows so well the limits of his knowledge and how much lies waiting to be learned.
(It was Bhartrihari, incidentally, who said of a woman: “She talks to one man, looks at a second, and thinks of a third.”)
They put a number of us to digging holes four feet square and down to hardpan for concrete piers to support a building soon to be erected. There were at least a dozen of us on the job and the ground was partly frozen. After we got down a short distance, water had to be bailed out, so progress was slow. There was a husky young German, a couple of years older than I, and we got into a contest to make the work more fun. The average was two and a half holes per day, while several were doing three. The German and I were doing four holes a day apiece. Our boss was an easygoing Irishman who saw what was going on and wisely stayed out of it, but the management in its wisdom decided he was not gung-ho enough as a boss and brought in a new man. Knowing nothing of any of us, he came suddenly into the area and found the German and me leaning on our shovels, having just finished our second holes for the day, while nobody else had finished one. He promptly fired both of us for loafing, along with another chap who had been doing three holes a day. In his first day on the job he had fired his three best men.
That, too, was education. I learned that when I was in charge I should keep my eyes open and understand the situation before I moved. And I learned it is also risky to break up teams that are used to working together. No matter what seems to be gained, much is also lost.
A book is a friend that will do what no friend does—be silent when we wish to think. —WILL DURANT
Still, a book is less important for what it says than for what it makes you think.
There are so many wonderful stories to be written, and so much material to be used. When I hear people talking of writer’s block, I am amazed. Start writing, no matter about what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. You can sit and look at a page for a long time and nothing will happen. Start writing and it will.
Actors, politicians, and writers—all of us are but creatures of the hour. Long-lasting fame comes to but few. Turning the pages of my notebooks, I see so many names, once well known, now all but forgotten.
Sarah Bernhardt, another great actress of her time, finally got a chance to see [Eleanora] Duse on the stage and, overcome with the greatness of the performance, wrote a very quick note to send backstage. It said: “Sarah Bernhardt says Eleanora Duse is a great actress.” Busy changing costume for the next act, Eleanora Duse had no time to compose a reply, so she picked up a pen and added two commas to the note and returned it. Now it read: “Sarah Bernhardt, says Eleanora Duse, is a great actress.”
Thoughts are like flowers; those gathered in the morning keep fresh the longest. —ANDRÉ GIDE
The key to understanding any people is in its art: its writing, painting, sculpture.
There has been comment from time to time, usually by people with little discernment, on the lack of sex in my stories. It is very simple. I am not writing about sex, which is a leisure activity; I am writing about men and women who were settling a new country, finding their way through a maze of difficulties, and learning to survive despite them. My stories are not concerned with sex but with entering, passing through, or settling wild country. I am concerned with people building a nation, learning to live together, with establishing towns, homes, and bridges to the future. Those unfamiliar with the world’s literature might find it interesting to realize that sex, except in its romantic sense, has little to do with seventy-five percent of what has been written. My greatest complaint with present-day sexual writing is that nobody seems to be having any fun. Sex is an ordeal, or it is rape, or an athletic endeavor. Only the French find it amusing—as it certainly is. Many of those who choose it for subject matter linger on the most unpleasant aspects or treat it like a discovery. Actually, they needn’t. It’s been here all the time.
Someone has said that culture is what remains with you after you have forgotten all you have read, and I believe there is much truth in that.
It is not enough to have learned, for living is sharing and I must offer what I have for whatever it is worth.
Associate with the noblest people you can find; read the best books; live with the mighty. But learn to be happy alone. Rely upon your own energies, and so not wait for, or depend on other people. —PROFESSOR THOMAS DAVIDSON
The beauty of educating oneself as I was doing, or as anyone can do, is that there are no limits to what can be learned. All that is learned demands contemplation, and so one is never at a loss for something to do.
Many of the buffalo hunters, for example, disliked the killing, but it was their way of making a living, and no matter what one thinks now, the buffalo had to go. On those vast plains where buffalo roamed (and where a buffalo wants to go, he goes!) there are now great universities, hospitals, homes, and food enough raised to feed half the world.
Often I am sad that our interests have turned away from the short story, for so many beautiful and great stories have been written and are now on the back shelf of the world’s literature. The writing of a really fine short story is like the carving of a gem.
Looking back over my years of reading, I am amazed at how much really wonderful stuff there is out there, and it is a pity that anyone should deprive himself of the chance to read it, yet many do. Ours is not a leisurely time, and our readers prefer page-turners, stories or other books that lead one eagerly from page to page. It is also important, to those for whom reading is difficult, to have books that demand one read on, and on. Yet many of the great books of the past were written for a more leisurely time, when people could sit and read by the fire, or comfortably in some great country house or cottage. Despite the fact that they were written for a different time and different audience, they have much to offer: great stories, brilliant characterizations, interesting ideas. Someone has said that one has no right to read the new books unless one has read the old. I do not agree, yet one should read the old books also. Anatole France wrote, “A good critic is one who relates the adventures of his soul among masterpieces.” Unfortunately we have too few of those today, and too little appreciation of just how much good writing there is out there.
Knowledge is like money: To be of value it must circulate, and in circulating it can increase in quantity and, hopefully, in value.
Upon the shelves of our libraries, the world’s greatest teachers await our questions.
Yet for those who have not been readers, my advice is to read what entertains you. Reading is fun. Reading is adventure. It is not important what you read at first, only that you read.
BOOKS ARE THE building blocks of civilization, for without the written word, a man knows nothing beyond what occurs during his own brief years and, perhaps, in a few tales his parents tell him. Without books, we would never have known of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, or Hannibal. George Washington would have been forgotten and Abraham Lincoln a vague memory. When the Saxons landed in England and discovered Roman ruins, they believed them the work of giants. For without books there is no history; without books there would be no Greece, no Rome, no Babylon, and no Egypt. The pyramids would stand, and the Parthenon and many scattered ruins would slowly fall before the years. Not understanding what they were, man would make no effort to preserve them. Without books we should very likely be a still-primitive people living in the shadow of traditions that faded with years until only a blur remained, and different memories would remember the past in different ways. A parent or a teacher has only his lifetime; a good book can teach forever.
We are, finally, all wanderers in search of knowledge. Most of us hold the dream of becoming something better than we are, something larger, richer, in some way more important to the world and ourselves. Too often, the way taken is the wrong way, with too much emphasis on what we want to have, rather than what we wish to become.
In Sinkiang and the Pamirs, the Taklamakan and some parts of Tibet, when one party meets another on the way, the greeting is often “May there be a road!” It is a land of frequent snow-slides, rockslides, and cave-ins. Roads are casually made; bridges are usually hanging from ropes, so the saying is apropos; One hopes the way will be clear, the road open. So as one pilgrim to another, I leave you with that wish: “May there be a road!”