Read the Classics and Take Notes

“The adventurous student will always study classics, in whatever language they may be written and however ancient they may be. For what are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? They are the only oracles which are not decayed, and there are such answers to the most modern inquiry in them as Delphi and Dodona never gave. We might as well omit to study Nature because she is old. To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem.”

That is a passage from Walden by Henry David Thoreau, and it has become of the the classic pieces of literature of which he was talking.

“Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.”

That is one of the reasons that I take notes as I read and underline key passages. It takes me a long time to transcribe them all, but the effort is worth it. I have quite the collection of wisdom from a variety of authors in a very large word document file.

“A man, any man, will go considerably out of his way to pick up a silver dollar; but here are golden words, which the wisest men of antiquity have uttered, and whose worth the wise of every succeeding age have assured us of; — and yet we learn to read only as far as Easy Reading, the primers and class-books, and when we leave school, the ‘Little Reading,’ and story-books, which are for boys and beginners; and our reading, our conversation and thinking, are all on a very low level, worthy only of pygmies and manikins.

Or shall I hear the name of Plato and never read his book? As if Plato were my townsman and I never saw him — my next neighbor and I never heard him speak or attended to the wisdom of his words. But how actually is it? His Dialogues, which contain what was immortal in him, lie on the next shelf, and yet I never read them. We are underbred and low-lived and illiterate; and in this respect I confess I do not make any very broad distinction between the illiterateness of my townsman who cannot read at all and the illiterateness of him who has learned to read only what is for children and feeble intellects.”

It only makes sense to read the classics and soak up the knowledge contained in them.

This isn’t going to be a comprehensive blog post about this book. Thoreau drops a lot of knowledge about a variety of topics from exercise, to modern progress, to debt, to the affordability of housing, to the accumulation of possessions. There is no way for me to cover it all in one post.

I will leave you with one more quote from the book.

“We spend more on almost any article of bodily aliment or ailment than on our mental aliment. It is time that we had uncommon schools, that we did not leave off our education when we begin to be men and women.”

Lifelong learning is extremely important. You might be getting bored during the time of lockdown and isolation. Why not pick up one of the classics, takes some notes, and pass on what you have learned.

My List of 2020 Reads – my annual reading b(log)