This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body. The poet shall not spend his time in unneeded work. He shall know that the ground is always ready ploughed and manured others may not know it but he shall. He shall go directly to the creation. His trust shall master the trust of everything he touches and shall master all attachment.
Literature alone is something that conceals itself; for no one can force you to read advertisements or literary supplements; and withdraws itself, hiding in shelves and libraries and bookshops, until the exact moment arrives, propitious, auspicious, and under the right astrological influences, when you need just that particular book and no other. The outward destiny which places you near a good library is one of the redeeming aspects of a big town or a big university; but the nucleus of your culture will never abide in such a library, no! not even if it be the very Bodleian itself. It will abide in your own mental fortress. Your mind will be its own little round tower of Montaigne the Essayist. And as for collections of books, how independent of outward destiny is the man whose great library of Alexandria is contained in one small, portable shelf! Small enough that shelf can be to stand at your bed’s head or even on the ground of your nomad’s tent or beneath your charts in your ship’s cabin.
Every cultured man, every cultured woman will have his own secret ecclesia of precious books. The present writer’s would be the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” the texts of the Chinese “Tao” in James Legge’s translation, the Psalms of David, the four great novels of Dostoievsky, Goethe’s “Faust,” Shakespeare’s Plays, Wordsworth’s Poems, Pater’s “Marius” and as many of the volumes of Proust as such a tiny shelf had room for. It is, as we have hinted, a matter of your outward destiny what music, what drama, what sculpture, what paintings, what architecture, what delicate bric-a-brac your wanderings may have enabled you to light upon. But it is a matter of your inward destiny–beyond heredity and beyond environment–what books your mysterious daimon, upheaving from out the eternal through the phenomena of the temporal, has given you the grace to select.
The reason why [the artist] has such a miserable time of it is because he elects to do his work gratuitously. He forgets, as you say, that he has to live. But that’s really a blessing. It’s much better to be preoccupied with wonderful ideas than with the next meal, or the rent, or a pair of new shoes. Of course when you get to the point where you must eat, and you haven’t anything to eat, then to eat becomes an obsession. But the difference between an artist and the ordinary individual is that when the artist does get a meal he immediately falls back into his own limitless world, and while he’s in that world he’s a king, whereas your ordinary duffer is just a filling station with nothing in between but dust and smoke. And even supposing you’re not an ordinary chap, but a wealthy individual, one who can indulge his tastes, his whims, his appetites: do you suppose for one minute that a millionaire enjoys food or wine or women like a hungry artist does?