In Sesame and Lilies, Ruskin argues that books constitute a “living aristocracy” into which anyone can enter, by “labour” and “merit” and by nothing else. We can enjoy the company of saints, kings, nobles, and men far above our pathetic intelligence, simply by making the effort to read.
A book should challenge us: “Very ready we are to say of a book, ‘How good this is—that’s exactly how I think!’ But the right feeling is, ‘How strange that is! I never thought of that before, and yet I see it is true; or if I do not now, I hope I shall, some day,’” (18).
The good things in books, the wisdom of the ages, is like gold—we need to dig for it, painfully (18-19).
True education teaches us to speak correctly, to name the world properly: “The entire difference between education and non-education (as regards the merely intellectual part of it), consists in this accuracy. A well-educated gentleman may not know many languages,–may not be able to speak any but his own,–may have read very few books. But whatever language he knows, he knows precisely; whatever word he pronounces, he pronounces rightly; above all, he is learned in the peerage of words; knows the words of true descent and ancient blood, at a glance, from words of modern canaille; remembers all their ancestry, their intermarriages, distant relationships, and the extent to which they were admitted, and offices they held, among the national noblesse of words at any time, and in any country. But an uneducated person may know, my memory, many languages, and talk them all, and yet truly know not a word of any,–not a word even of his own,” (20-21).