The following article originally appeared as "Reading and Reflection" in The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 23/30 (27 July 1861): 469-470:
There are many attainable sources by which the mind of man may be refined and improved. Reading is one of these sources - a source from which many invaluable advantages may be obtained; but, like all other pursuits, reading, by its abuse, is rendered a source of evil, rather than being prolific with good.
Reading may justly be said to be the staff of life to the mind. Reading is one of the most nourishing and beneficial kinds of good with which the mind can be supplied. There is no other mental enjoyment which is so interesting, instructive, and advantageous. By reading we are enabled to become acquainted with every branch of science and knowledge. We may learn the natural features of the countries in the whole world, and learn the habits of their inhabitants; we may obtain a knowledge of the starry heavens; we may descend into the earth, and learn its different geological structures &c. In short, there are no bounds to the knowledge to be obtained by reading; and especially is this the case with the Saints of God. They can have his Spirit to guide them in their efforts; and truly there is no bounds to the knowledge to be obtained by the Saints. But there is another thing to be taken into consideration in connection with reading - namely, reflection.
Montesquieu has said that reading is only idleness in disguise.
It is so for those who read rather than meditate - who desire rather to know what others have said than to take the pains of developing their own ideas - who love reading rather than books. A lady, who was in the habit of devouring every modern work, especially romances, said - "What matters it whether their tendency be injurious to me or not? It is enough for me that I am amused."
Reading is a useless labour, if we know not how to reflect and how to compare - if the good thought of a writer does not kindle our spirit, sharpen our intellect, and purify our judgment.
If we read books without consideration and without forming any judgment upon them, the ideas of others only weaken our own, and deprive our minds of all originality. If we do not oblige ourselves to give an account of our reading, it leaves no trace, and forms no treasury of wisdom within our minds. We must not only heap up, but select; not gather all which offers to our hand, but rather pluck those fruits alone which have reached maturity. It is in the moral as in the physical world - that which nourishes us is not the quantity which we swallow, but rather that which we digest.
We must be careful in selecting good food (or reading) for the mind, and then in not over-gorging our minds, but giving it a sufficient quantity, so that we may well digest it, and it may do us good. Especial care should be taken in selecting for, and supplying the wants of, the minds of the young. Care should be taken lest, in our earnestness for their welfare, we force so much upon them, and as a natural result make them loathe that which, if carefully applied, is of great good. To this one cause may be accounted the existence of so many scholastic dullards.
The seed does not grow, unless we both choose good seed and cultivate the ground into which it is to be cast. Who does not know that a man may be deeply read in learned lore, and yet be a fool? The wise man is not he that reads most, but he that reflects. "Read," said Seneca, "not that thou mayest know more than others, but that thou mayest know better than others. It is not the study itself, but the fruit of study, which we require to see."