‘A book being a literary prescription, it should be carefully put up. Thus I learned, when I looked up the subject, that a proper prescription should always contain: —
‘(1) A basis, or chief ingredient, intended to cure.
‘(2) An adjuvant, to assist the action and make it cure more quickly.
‘(3) A corrective, to prevent or lessen any undesirable effect.
‘(4) A vehicle, or excipient, to make it suitable for administration and pleasant to the patient.
‘I do not propose to go into literary pharmacy more than to say that there are sufficient tests of what is called literary style. In regard to a book, I ask, Does it have any basis or chief ingredient? Does the author furnish any corrective for his own exaggerations? Above all, is the remedy presented in a pleasant vehicle or excipient, so that it will go down easily?
‘I have said,’ continued Bagster, ‘that certain books are stimulants. They do not so much furnish us with thoughts as set us to thinking. They awaken faculties which we had allowed to be dormant. After reading them we actually feel differently and frequently we act differently. The book is a spiritual event.
‘Books that are true stimulants are not produced every year. They are not made to order, but are the products of original minds under the stress of peculiar circumstances. Each generation produces some writer who exerts a powerfully stimulating influence on his contemporaries, stirring emotion and leading to action. The book does something.
‘So Carlyle stimulated his generation to work, and Ruskin stimulated it to social service and to the appreciation of Art. Tolstoi stimulated the will to self-sacrifice, and Nietzsche has overstimulated the will to power. Rousseau furnished the stimulant to his generation, both to a political and educational revolution. In the sixteenth century. Lord Burleigh said of John Knox, “His voice is able in an hour to put more life in us than six hundred trumpets blaring in our ears.”
‘When the stimulants are fresh, there is no difficulty in getting them into use. Indeed, the difficulty is in enforcing moderation. The book with a new emotional appeal is taken up by the intelligent young people, who form the volunteer poison squad. If the poison squad survives, the book gets into general circulation among the more elderly readers whose motto is “Safety first.”
‘It is to be noticed that the full stimulating effect of most books is lessened after they have been kept long in stock. When to-day you uncork Rousseau, nothing pops. Calvin's Institutes had a most powerfully stimulating effect upon the more radical young people of his day. It is now between three and four centuries since that work was exposed to the air, and it has lost its original effervescence.
‘We must also take into effect the well-known principle of immunization. When a writer sets forth in a book certain powerful ideas, they may produce very little disturbance because everybody has had them before. There was a time when the poetry of Byron was considered to be very heady. Young men went wild over it. It stimulated them to all sorts of unusual actions. It modified their collars and their way of wearing the hair. Young men may still, as a necessary part of their college education, read The Corsair, but this required reading does not impel them toward a career of picturesque and heartbroken piracy. Pessimism has its fashions, and to-day is realistic rather than romantic and sentimental.