“It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.” (C.S. Lewis, On the Reading of Old Books)I found that quote in a magazine, but was curious to see it in context. Online, I found that it came from the introduction to a translation of St. Athanasius’ “The Incarnation of the Word of God.” I found the entire introduction here and here.Lewis starts by saying:
There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books … [I]f the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium … The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him.
He wrote that one of the areas where this mentality was rampant was in theology. Instead of reading the Gospel of Luke or the letters of Paul, or flipping open St. Ignatius or St. Augustine, readers will turn to someone like, well, C.S. Lewis himself or a contemporary of his like Dorothy Sayers. He pointed out that as an author he of course hopes that readers will some modern books; but if they had to choose between one of the other, he would advise that person to choose the old.
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books … The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.
Do you agree?And do you read that way—new book followed by an old book?