The dictionary defines a text-book as "a standard work in any branch or course of study." It is well to bear in mind, therefore, that when one takes up a text-book on any given subject, he is not taking up a book which was written for purposes of entertainment, or of easy assimilation by indifferent perusal, or of uncertain purpose, or of indirect aim, but one which drives straight to a given point by the shortest route and in the most vigorous scientific terms, like a well-constructed tunnel through huge mountains of loose language, that the reader may be undeviatingly led to the clear and open country. A novel may lead one to some pleasant, temporary mental experience, and, if the writer is moved by a high purpose, it may leave in the thought of the reader some helpful suggestion, but one must wade through a hundred or more pages to learn a general proposition concerning a state of facts which have no immediate bearing on the problem of the hour. A text-book, on the other hand, is full of explanation and rules of instruction, is written with no thought of being entertaining, and is not in sympathy with the thought that seeks mere entertainment. A text-book is not merely a dandy's cane with which to flick the tops off the daisies and clover as one walks the country lanes, but rather a stout staff on which we may lean in moments of mental discord; and it must be so used to get the good of it.

When one is in doubt concerning a mathematical proposition, he does not pick up a novel hoping to find somewhere in its pages a thought that will clear the mental atmosphere, nor does he pick up a mathematical text-book and open it at random expecting to find haphazardly the solution of his problem. He takes up his text-book with a definite inquiry in mind, and perhaps by the aid of a table of contents or an index he turns to that part of his book which deals with the subject in hand, and seeks such instruction on that particular point as will enable him by proper mental activity to solve his problem and arrive at the proper conclusion. When one has a mathematical problem to solve, one does not read indiscriminately in a text-book on mathematics trusting that somehow, somewhere, in the course of an hour's reading, he will find himself generally better informed in the science and better equipped therefore to meet the specific problem on which he is engaged; rather, if he is wise, he seeks to find specific instruction on his specific problem, a rule which he can instantly apply. Having found it, he applies it to the matter in hand, intelligently securing for his immediate use the axioms of his text-book as they were intended to be applied.

May 25, 1912

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