Ruskin on books

Posted by September Blue Tuesday, 29 May 2007

(From John Ruskin's 1872 preface to the later editions of Sesame and Lilies.)

[L]ife being very short, and the quiet hours of it few, we ought to waste none of them in reading valueless books; and [...] valuable books should, in a civilized country, be within the reach of every one, printed in excellent form, for a just price; but not in any vile, vulgar, or by reason of smallness of type, physically injurious form, at a vile price. For we none of us need many books, and those which we need ought to be clearly printed, on the best paper, and strongly bound. And though we are, indeed, now, a wretched and poverty-struck nation, and hardly able to keep soul and body together, still, as no person in decent circumstances would put on his table confessedly bad wine, or bad meat, without being ashamed, so he need not have on his shelves ill-printed or loosely and wretchedly-stitched books; for though few can be rich, yet every man who exerts himself may, I think, still provide, for himself and his family, good shoes, good gloves, strong harness for his cart or carriage horses, and stout leather binding for his books.
I have a copy of one of these later editions, printed in 1908. It's showing its age a little: the white ink has nearly rubbed off the lilies stamped on the front cover, and there's tiny burn-marks dotted across the spine. Two previous owners have inscribed their names inside, and the author of the second (dated 17.2.1949) has meticulously crossed out the first (Wed., Sept. 27th, 1911). But for £4 from a secondhand bookshop, it's in good enough condition that it'll last another hundred years.