I had previously read Proust's piece called "On reading" which he had published in 1905 as the preface to his translation of Ruskin's Sesame and lilies. It is a lovely, thoughtful essay, which I have discussed before in OnFiction (click here). It has now been republished by Hesperus, along with a lecture by Ruskin entitled, "Sesame: Of kings' treasuries" (part of Sesame and Lilies) together with Proust's erudite and thoughtful footnotes on it that he added to his translation.
Not far into his lecture, Ruskin says, on the subject of friends of the ordinary kind, that circumstances restrict our choice, and at this point Proust remarks in one of his footnotes, that "the idea seems very beautiful in truth because we can feel the spiritual use to which Ruskin is about to put it." This use is what the lecture is about, the friends we can choose, "the main characters of the lecture: books." Books-as-friends is the idea, too, that Proust made the centre of his essay, "On reading."
A few pages into his lecture, after introducing his idea of choice, Ruskin distinguishes books of the hour—which can be useful, or pleasant, or both—and books for all time. Then, as he begins (on pp. 55 -56 of the Hesperus edition) to talk of books for all time, he says this, which I think is the part of Ruskin's lecture with which Proust would have fallen in love:
A book is essentially not a talking thing, but a written thing; and written, not with a view of mere communication, but of permanence … The author has something to say which he perceives to be true and useful, or helpfully beautiful … this, the piece of true knowledge, or sight, which his share of sunshine and earth has permitted him to seize. He would fain set it down for ever; engrave it on rock, if he could; saying "This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved, and hated, like another; my life was as the vapour, and is not; but this I saw and knew: this if anything of mine, is worth your memory."
Proust, M. (1913-1927). À la recherche du temps perdu (In search of lost time). London: Penguin (Current edition 2003).
Proust, M. & Ruskin, J. (2011) Marcel Proust and John Ruskin: On reading. (Ed & trans, D. Searls). London: Hesperus Press.