Parasitical Vergil, Dismal Sophocles, Stupid Terence

John Ruskin, Praeterita *:

It is extremely curious to me to find that from my earliest years, whatever stuff I might be writing myself, or whatever nonsense I might be thinking, I never liked a bad book — and even began very early indeed to rank the good ones at their true value. I sometimes disliked, or did not value, a good one — yet never without some right cause. Both Virgil and Milton were too rhetorical and parasitical for me; Sophocles I found dismal, and in subject disgusting, Tacitus too hard, Terence dull and stupid beyond patience ; — but I loved my Plato from the first line I read — knew my Ethics for what they were worth, (which is not much) and detested with all my heart and wit the accursed and rascally Rhetoric, — which my being compelled to work at gave me a mortal contempt for the whole University system, which little helped my Oxford labours in general.

The quantity of that work which my being able already so to judge of all these books meant, must have been considerable, and partly accounts for my having no spare energy for the pursuit of such English history as the buildings of Oxford and its within-walk district ought to have provoked me, and pleaded with me, to know. If any of my tutors had only had the sense to stop off the books I did not like, see that I mastered the dialects of those I did, and taken two or three summer afternoon walks with me to Godstow and Abingdon, telling me what the places meant, I count that it would have saved me good seven years of strong life, spent in finding out for myself what I might have been told in a summer term.

*[From manuscript, deleted in published edition, but found in The Works of John Ruskin (Library Edition) Vol. XXXV]


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