Saturday, October 3, 2015

Lichtenberg on Good Books

In the course of an email exchange with a friend yesterday evening, a paragraph from Lichtenberg's The Waste Books seemed apposite, but I did not feel like typing it out. Meaning to save the draft message, I sent it, and deferred the typing for this morning. Having typed it out, why not include it here? The paragraph is entry 43 of  Notebook E:
A sure sign of a good book is that the older we grow the more we like it. A youth of 18 who wanted and above all could say what he felt would say of Tacitus something like the following: Tacitus is a difficult writer who knows how to depict character: and sometimes gives excellent descriptions, but he affects obscurity and often introduces into the narration of events remarks that are not very illuminating; you have to know a lot of Latin to understand him. At 25 perhaps, assuming he has in the interim done more than read, he will say: Tacitus is not the obscure writer I once took him for, but I have discovered that Latin is not the only thing you need to know to understand him—you have to bring a great deal with you yourself. And at 40, when he has come to know the world, he may perhaps say: Tacitus is one of the greatest writers who ever lived.

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