Ever since members of early civilizations used simple hieroglyphics to
communicate their thoughts, hopes and aspirations, there has been a close
connection between reading and refinement. For this purpose, the terms
'refinement' must be extended to include far more than 'good manners' --
otherwise, the only reading necessary to produce he 'refined' person would be a
book on etiquette ! Refinement, however, really implies culture and civilization
in the widest sense, a combination of those qualities which differentiate man
from the animal world, and it is the bearing of reading on the development of
these qualities which we must examine.
A high standard of personal morality
and unselfishness is cultured man's first characteristic. This, he largely owes
to the books of his religion, whether it be the Christian Bible, the Muslim
Koran, the Hindu Upanishads, the Philosophy of Buddha or Confucius. Such books
teach him the meaning of family life and virtues of honesty, peaceful living and
integrity. But, the best of secular literature helps him to achieve the same
object. The innocence of Ophelia, the nobility of Sydney carton cannot fail to
impress and attract the reader.
Greek tragedy was intended to induce in the audience a 'Catharsis,' or
purging of the emotions, primarily those of 'pity and terror'. But the general
reader finds that all good literature has a salutary effect on the emotional
side of his nature. Great emotional pleasure may be derived from a good novel,
as we enter fully into the life of the hero or heroine, an the best of writing,
whether it takes the form of poetry, drama, or the novel has an undoubtedly
maturing effect on our emotional nature.
For most people, however, the 'refined' person is the 'educated' person, the
person whose intellect has been developed through reading intelligent books. The
clear, logical thinker owes much to his grounding in the school-room, and even
more to the love of reading which this grounding has fostered. Reading becomes a
stimulating function of adult life, and ceases to be a child's tool for passing
an examination or getting a job.
Cultured living requires that people should be 'well-informed,' and wide
reading has the added advantage of imparting useful general knowledge. Thus, the
well-read man or woman is more fitted to live in the community and travel,
profitably, outside it. Such knowledge is obtained from a variety of sources
ranging from the newspaper and magazine to the many available volumes of
specialized non-fiction books.
An added benefit of good reading is the development of a love of language for
its own sake. Style, imagery and figurative language, the 'atmosphere of prose
and poetry, its emotional intensity and its intellectual content-all these
things inculcate a love of beauty, the mark of a truly civilized person.
No reader of good literature can fail to be influenced by the attitudes to
life to members of the family, to the community and to the nation which it
contains. He constantly checks his own philosophy against what eh finds, and in
analyzing it, refines it. we do not necessarily try to behave like people in
books, but at least we can learn from them.
Sometimes, however, we rightly desire to model our lives on those of great
men and women, in so far as we can, and in this connection, the importance of
reading biographies cannot be over-estimated. it is a poor scientist who does
not emulate the achievements of a Michael-Angelo or an Einstein, it is a poor
nurse who does not admire the forcefulness and devotion of Florence Nightingale.
Today, we live in a cosmopolitan community, which has become sophisticated
and matured by the admixture of foreigners, with their own languages, ways of
life and special gifts. Furthermore, few of us nowadays, spend all our live sin
our own small village or town. And so, it becomes increasingly important to know
about other countries, other people. To know about other countries, other
people. To know something about them from books, perhaps to learn their
languages, at once smoothes the path to friendship, and it is a characteristic
of a refined person to wish to make friends with other nationals -- not to
regard them suspiciously as 'foreign devils.'
The refined person is the mentally disciplined person -- the person who
demands a full and intellectually satisfying life.