Monday, February 9, 2015

Books of an "Inflammatory Effect"

Books of an "Inflammatory Effect"

[Today’s “Living Philosophies” column comes from the writings of one of my favorite authors–Samuel Smiles.  Here he gives several examples of how people were inspired toward their own work in life by reading a biography or autobiography of someone–a book which had an "Inflammatory Effect" upon them. This is a good reason for those who are uncertain about what they want to do in life to read widely, especially in biography and autobiography.  For the rest of us such books are often a source of inspiration or new resolution.  Is there a book that has had an "Inflammatory Effect" in your life? If so, share your story with us.]

Sometimes a book containing a noble examplar [sic] of life, taken up at random, merely with the object of reading it as a pastime, has been known to call forth energies whose existence had not before been suspected. Loyola, when a soldier serving at the siege of Pampeluna, and laid up by a dangerous wound in his leg, asked for a book to divert his thoughts: the “Lives of the Saints” was brought to him, and its perusal so inflamed his mind, that he determined thenceforth to devote himself to the founding of a religious order. Luther, in like manner, was inspired to undertake the great labors of his life by a perusal of the “Life and Writings of John Huss.” Dr. Wolff was stimulated to enter upon his missionary career by reading the “Life of Francis Xavier:” and the book fired his youthful bosom with a passion the most sincere and ardent to devote himself to the enterprise of his life. William Carey also got the first idea of entering upon his sublime labors as a missionary from a perusal of the voyages of Captain Cook.
Of Condorcet’s “Eloge of Haller,” Horner said: “I never rise from the account of such men without a sort of thrilling palpitation about me, which I know not whether I should call admiration, ambition or despair.” And speaking of the “Discourses” of Sir Joshua Reynolds, he said: “Next to the writings of Bacon, there is no book which has more powerfully impelled me to self-culture. He is one of the first men of genius who has condescended to inform the world of the steps by which greatness is attained. The confidence with which he asserts the omnipotence of human labor has the effect of familiarizing his reader with the idea that genius is an acquisition rather than a gift; whilst with all there is blended so naturally and eloquently the most elevated and passionate admiration of excellence, that upon the whole there is no book of a more inflammatory effect.”  It is remarkable that Reynolds himself attributed his first passionate impulse towards the study of art, to reading Richardson’s account of a great painter; and Haydon was in like manner afterwards inflamed to follow the same pursuit by reading of the career of Reynolds. Thus the brave and inspiring life of one man lights a flame in the minds of others of like faculties and impulse; and where there is equally vigorous effort, like distinction and success will almost surely follow. Thus the chain of example is carried down through time in an endless succession of links–admiration exciting imitation, and perpetuating the true aristocracy of genius.

Samuel Smiles, Happy Homes and the Hearts that Make Them.  (Chicago: U. S. Publishing House, 1889), pp. 596-598, bold emphasis added.

Let’s think together again, soon.

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