The title page of Robert Greene’s play Pandosto — published in 1588 and providing a model for Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (1611?) — has some wonderful phrases which, incidentally, have a universal application to much fiction. This ‘pleasant Historie’ is claimed to show that, although Truth may be concealed ‘by the meanes of sinister Fortune’
yet by Time in spight of fortune it is most manifestly revealed.
In these post-truth times it may be heartening to believe that truth will eventually out, though that’s little consolation when we’re in the middle of so much that causes us grave consternation. Greene’s expressions of optimism are underlined by the first half of a statement he gives and which are attributed to the astronomer Johannes Kepler: Temporis filia veritas; cui me obstetricari non pudet. (‘Truth is the daughter of time, and I feel no shame in being her midwife.’)
A little further on we’re assured that this Historie is ‘pleasant for age to avoyde drowsie thoughtes’ — that’s us older readers — as well as ‘profitable for youth to eschue other wanton pastimes’ — though what these wanton pastimes might be that younger readers should eschew we can only guess. The final promise is that it shall bring ‘to both a desired content’, thereby turning tragic thoughts to happy ones.
Yet another quote is appended, this time from Ars Poetica by the Roman writer Horace. The full sentence (Greene includes only the first part) is Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci, lectorem delectando pariterque monendo. One translation gives this as, ‘He wins every hand who mingles profit with pleasure, by delighting and instructing the reader at the same time.’
Delight and instruction, pleasure and profit: these are the twin virtues of reading, are they not, especially in the sum of their parts. Instruction and profit may to the epicure seem like dirty words, sullied as they often are by puritan ethics, but reading fiction can be a relatively painless way of learning and of gaining insights, all to our intellectual advantage and increase of wisdom. I need not add that reading is also a consolation devoutly to be wished.
I turned to the internet for the source of the Kepler and Horace quotes, in addition to the image of Greene’s title. I mention this because I don’t want my concluding comments to suggest that I disparage electronic forms of providing reading material: after all, I’m editing this on my mobile phone as well as a laptop, and you doubtless will also be reading this on one screen or another. No, what I want to do is affirm that I personally prefer a printed format for my extended reading material, and that I will continue to read both fiction and non-fiction on organic matter. I am no Luddite but when what appears online is frequently ephemeral, so often of dubious veracity and seldom reliably sourced I find books have a comforting solidity and, moreover, a sensuousness that electronic devices lack.
Many of you may have seen buttons similar to that shown at the bottom of this post, all reiterating a pledge to read the printed word, a pledge outlined in wording at the head of the page at http://readtheprintedword.org and which I also include here:
We support the printed word in all its forms: newspapers, magazines, and of course books. We think reading on computers or phones or whatever is fine, but it cannot replace the experience of reading words printed on paper. We pledge to continue reading the printed word in the digital era and beyond.
Click on the button if you want to add a button of your choice from the link, and from there simply copy the code below your chosen button to add it to your page.