When classic writers read
Last week's ''When writers read'' cited books recently enjoyed by contemporary contributors to The Home Forum. Not wanting to discriminate against the authors from previous periods in our Tuesday ''Loose-leaf library,'' we have opened today's page to their comments on selected books.
''There is such a variety of game springing up before me, that I am distracted in my choice, and know not which to follow.'' This was the happy problem of meeting all the characters in Geoffrey Chaucer's ''Canterbury Tales, '' says John Dryden, whose writing (''...on Shakespeare and Jonson'') was sampled in ''The loose-leaf library'' on Feb. 28. '' 'Tis sufficient to say, according to the proverb, that here is God's plenty. We have our forefathers and great-grand-dames all before us, as they were in Chaucer's days.''
''(Thomas) Hardy's genius was uncertain in development, uneven in accomplishment, but, when the moment came, magnificent in achievement,'' writes Virginia Woolf (''...on what to ask of books,'' April 17). ''The moment came, completely and fully, in Far From the Madding Crowd. The subject was right; the method was right; the poet and the countryman, the sensual man, the sombre reflective man, the man of learning, all enlisted to produce a book which, however fashions may chop and change, must hold its place among the great English novels.''
Going back to the 14th century, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (''...on affection ,'' Feb. 14) recommends Manuel Phile's poetical treatise ''On the Properties of Animals'': ''What we find in him is not beauty, what we hear in him is not music , but there is an open feeling for the beautiful which stirs at a word, and we have a scarcely confessed contentment in hearkening to those twice-told stories of birds and beasts and fishes, measured out to us in the low monotony of his chanting voice. Everybody knows what Phile tells us here, that grasshoppers live upon morning dew, and cannot sing when it is dry. Everybody knows that the lady grasshopper sings not at all.''
A whole category of books was found useful by Robert Benchley (''...on superiority,'' Sept. 13): ''By having on hand five or six volumes of pictures, left carelessly about on tables and sofas, I have found it possible to do a whole afternoon's work with a roomful of people at my back. It may take 10 or 12 minutes to get them thumbing, but once they are started, with one holding a book and two others perched on the arms of the chair, there isn't a sign of life in the room except the slow rustle of pages and now and then the wetting of a thumb.''
From John Ruskin (''...on eyes, hands, and hearts,'' Jan. 3) comes appreciation of a play instead of book: ''As, taking the body natural for symbol of the body politic, the governing and forming powers may be likened to the brain, and the labouring to the limbs, the mercantile, presiding over circulation and communication of things in changed utilities, is symbolized by the heart; which if it harden, all is lost. And this is the ultimate lesson which the leader of English intellect meant for us (a lesson, indeed, not all his own, but part of the old wisdom of humanity), in the tale of the Merchant of Venice; in which the true and incorrupt merchant, - kind and free, beyond every other Shakespearian conception of men, - is opposed to the corrupted merchant, or usurer.''
Gertrude Stein (''...against the comma,'' July 24) also picks Shakespeare: ''I remember Henry the Sixth which I read and reread and which of course I have never seen played but which I liked to read because there were so many characters and there were so many little bits in it that were lively words. In the poetry of plays words are more lively words than in any other kind of poetry and if one naturally liked lively words and I naturally did one likes to read plays in poetry.''
Robert Louis Stevenson (''...on going to kirk,'' June 26) enjoyed ''Leaves of Grass'': ''We fall upon (Walt) Whitman, after the works of so many men who write better, with a sense of relief from strain, with a sense of touching nature, as when one passes out of the flaring, noisy thoroughfares of a great city into what he himself has called, with unexcelled imaginative justice to language, 'the huge and thoughtful night.' ''
Richard Henry Dana's ''Two Years Before the Mast'' pleased Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (''...on living,'' Nov. 8): ''It is a very interesting book, written in a simple style, which I think will please you. It reminds one of Robinson Crusoe; and has the advantage of being a record of real adventure.''
John Bunyan (''...on Vanity Fair,'' March 6) notes that he ''found some things that were somewhat pleasing to me'' in Arthur Dent's ''The Plaine Mans Path-way to Heaven'' and Lewis Bayley's ''The Practice of Piety'': ''Though they did not reach my heart to awaken it about my sad and sinful state, yet they did beget within me some desires to Religion: so that, because I knew no better, I fell in very eagerly with the Religion of the times, to wit, to go to Church twice a day, and that too with the foremost, and there should very devoutly both say and sing as others did; yet retaining my wicked life.''
Poet Marianne Moore (''...vs. the denigrators,'' March 20) enjoyed the biography of an educator, ''Carey Thomas of Bryn Mawr,'' by Edith Finch: ''We have here an instance of that difficult but, as Mr. Saintsbury considered, best method of exhibiting a personality - direct quotation; the whole thing so neatly compacted that even a summary of building expansion is not dull. The book is a performance, as biography and as the portrait of one who was for woman an impassioned emancipator.''
John Keats (''...on what poetry should do,'' June 12) was delighted with George Chapman's translation of Homer: ''Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,/ And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;/ Round many western islands have I been/ Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold./ Oft of one wide expanse had I been told/ That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;/ Yet did I never breathe its pure serene/ Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:/ Then felt I like some watcher of the skies/ When a new planet swims into his ken;/ Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes/ He star'd at the Pacific - and all his men/ Look'd at each other with a wild surmise - / Silent, upon a peak in Darien.''
Timothy Flint's ''Francis Berrian, or the Mexican Patriot'' is ''delightful, '' writes Mrs. Frances Trollope (''...on American audiences,'' Jan. 31). ''There is a vigor and freshness in his writing that is exactly in accordance with what one looks for, in the literature of a new country; and yet, strange to say, it is exactly what is most wanting in that of America.''