Imágenes de páginas

is in conceiving it to be something that ought to be separated from our common avocations. The Gospel is in no danger of being contaminated, or of losing its divine energy, when it is brought into close contact with any right undertaking. Its office is to sanctify life. And though we may resist its admonitions, neglect its promises, scorn its benign precepts and set at nought its holy authority, we cannot, by whatever our frail mortality may do, defile its original purity or tarnish its heavenly lustre. We honor it best by giving it a wider sway. We raise its dignity in the eyes of the world, whenever we afford new illustrations of its righteous spirit, in the humblest sphere. No task that a man's hearty labor can be put to, is beneath the notice of Christ, or his genuine followers. Bring Christian principles to cover any new field of human endeavors, apply them so that they shall be felt and their fruits seen in one new department of human toil, and you win a noble triumph for your Master, for the Church and its Head. To every real Christian these truths are, or ought to be, familiar.

Our purpose now is, especially, to inquire if they may not be applied to the writing and reading of printed publications; particularly of periodical publications, newspapers, and such other serial and cheap works, as come under the same general description. The printing-press, for it is the custom to personify that useful agent, in a state of such diffusion of elementary knowledge as obtains among us, wields an immense influence. For good or for evil it operates, and must plainly continue hereafter to operate, powerfully. Like other strong forces exerted on a large scale, it is capable of doing indefinite mischief as well as bestowing unspeakable benefactions. Its power for harm is proportioned to its power for good. Everything depends on the moral control that regulates it, the moral direction given to it. Let it follow a high aim, be guided by a lofty integrity, and it becomes an instrument of vast utility, of most solemn significance. Conceive it to be put under the unprincipled management of reckless, insubordinate, vicious minds, and how soon it may corrupt a people's heart, nullify their laws, abrogate their government, undermine their best institutions, and despoil them of their righteousness. Does it not become, then, a matter of pressing importance, that its moral character be conscientiously considered?

There is room for a great deal to be said respecting the flood of exceedingly cheap literature of which the age in general, and booksellers in particular, make so loud a boast. Exceedingly cheap literature has undoubtedly become, after making all due allowance for a reduction in the quality of type, paper and binding. Considering the competition. created by the multiplication of book-manufacturing establishments through the civilized countries, no other result was to be expected. Demand and supply have acted and reacted on each other in a perpetually stimulating process, provoking from their obscure retreats a throng of loquacious authors, some inspired and others hungry, till the ragerage of starvation and the divine frenzy combined - has come to be tremendous. For a moderate fortune, comparatively, one might now-a-days purchase a library equal in size, to say nothing of quality, to the Alexandrian. For a few shillings our enterprising bibliopolists will now equip the amplest shelves with volumes, learned or other, of poetry and law, fiction and theology, voyages and biography, travels and history, and the whole circle of the sciences. And this is a subject of congratulation. We would not breathe a whisper of lamentation that such a state of things has been introduced; let us glory in it rather. It is a noble achievement. Knowledge is a grand blessing. Ignorance is fatal; it was never the legitimate parent of a decent offspring. Universal education, notwithstanding all the foolish declamation, the school-boy exaggeration and rhodomontade that in sweeping generalities are lavished upon it, remains a very sublime idea. But why should we deceive ourselves? It would be weak enough for us to be duped into the notion, that all these outward signs are infallible proofs of an enlarging knowledge; that all these writers are men and women of profound genius, or even strict honesty of purpose. We must examine and discriminate, or we shall be cheated. We must take heed what we read, as well as observe the Apostolic precept and take heed what we hear. Let the community fully understand that not everything that gets into print, gets there by virtue of any merit of its No small portion of it might be included justly under Carlyle's definition" a non-entity, embodied with innocent deception in foolscap and printer's ink, and named book"; and in yet other cases we are obliged to question


even the innocence of the deception. Amidst so much chaff and so little wheat, we must choose, and choose carefully, or our fare will be poorer than the prodigal son's. If all the printed material that finds its way upon counters in this nineteenth century were of sterling value, the product of a high order of talent and a pure morality, the renovation of the world needs not wait the tardy lapse of many years for its accomplishment.

The chief purpose of reading, it must be admitted, is to excite and encourage thought, to strengthen the mind's own capacities, to enable it to think for itself. Even the furnishing of information is secondary to this. Now when reading is carried beyond the bound where it fulfils this office, it begins to be worthless. Too many books may provide the temptation, and thus do a serious injury to habits of solid reflection. The mind is pampered to a gluttonous excess, beyond its power of digestion, and so the mental stature is dwarfed. "It is a vanity to persuade the world one hath much learning by getting a great library," says an old author; "as soon shall I believe every one is valiant that hath a well-furnished armory." It is a pernicious mistake, too, to imagine that when much has been read on a given subject, that subject is mastered. We have often thought this a prominent danger, connected with the system of Lyceum lectures that has become so popular among us; and for that reason have not felt unmingled regret that more recently their popularity has waned. To give the young the impression that because they have heard or read a course of treatises on any topic, they therefore understand it, and may be satisfied without going further, is to blind them with a sad delusion. It is to betray them into a false confidence, and puff them up with a belittling vanity. If there is anything that puts sound science in peril, anything that lowers the literary standard and exposes us to a superficial life, it is this. Patient, long protracted, laborious study must continue to be the indispensable condition of intellectual eminence and success.

It is not the least of the dangers attending the extension of cheap literature, that it may unite with other causes to diminish men's respect for secluded contemplation. The tendency now is quite too much in that direction. Deep and lasting works are "born of silence." The bustling forVOL. XXXVIII. 4TH S. VOL. III. NO. III.


wardness of the times interrupts that stillness of solitary meditation, in which true greatness finds its most sustaining and congenial atmosphere. The age has too much haste, and too little stopping to take breath. The eyes are more used than the brain. There is small disposition to emulate that Thracian philosopher who is said to have voluntarily destroyed his own sight, that he might labor the more freely in the discovery of immortal truths. "Many run to and fro," but the effect is not always that "knowledge is increased." The hurry that characterizes other matters commerce and travel, creeps into our literary customs. Men measure their attainments by an arithmetical computation of the number of pages they go over. Ideas are sacrificed to words. The rule to "proportion an hour's meditation to an hour's reading of a staple author," has but few observers. And yet it is not a mere acquaintance with facts that gives the mind intelligence, or the power of intelligence. One of the first wants of the day is a more complete development of the faculty of thinking. So far as the distribution of books, by means of lowering their prices and putting them within the reach of the multitude, helps that sort of culture, it is an inestimable blessing. When it ceases to do that, it no longer deserves our patronage, and the high-sounding glorification of it is thenceforth turned into "wasteful and ridiculous excess.'

[ocr errors]

Still another qualification of our confidence in the desirableness of an unlimited diffusion of books arises from the fact, that among such a mass of material there must be much that is essentially and positively bad in itself, much that has a moral character decidedly and directly hurtful. We need not rely on any a priori reasoning, any alleged imperfection in the constitution of human nature, to support this statement. The facts learned by observation speak for themselves. We find setting through our streets, into our dwellings, from city to city, and from the metropolis into the country, a tide that bears with it an appalling amount of sheer nonsense, unredeemed flimsiness. Purchasers suppose, that because they get so much bulk for their money, they of course get the worth of their money. There could not be a more egregious blunder. Publishers do not in every case, like honest apothecaries, label their poisonous drugs. There are loads of books emptied daily

into the market, which instead of imparting to the reader's intellect, will or affections any healthful spring, kindling in him any pure emotion, or nerving him for any manly struggle, only enervate and defile him, eating away all the elastic energies of his being. There is just attractiveness enough in their style, or just fascination enough in the succession of incidents they narrate, to make them palatable to a diseased, unnatural appetite. Proceeding from a morbid fancy, they generate a deadly contagion. Perhaps their title is captivating; perhaps their prefatory manifesto has so much of arrogant pretension as to impose on the credulous, or so much of assumed modesty as to mislead the well-disposed, while the adder-sting and the serpenttooth are carefully hidden till the wound is inflicted. We do not speak now of the very worst species of publications -those forbidden by the legal statutes, openly and avowedly infamous, whose sale is visited by legal penalties. We speak of others, that the law does not and cannot easily suppress; in which the false intention is disguised, the diabolical impress concealed. They come most frequently in the form of vapid and silly romances. There is

a tissue of improbable events, strange, artificial occurrences, set forth with the trick and tinsel of a meretricious rhetoric. They appeal to all the baser elements in our nature. They minister to a depraved curiosity. They suggest no elevating conceptions, call forth no generous resolves, prompt to no disinterested deeds, instil no right principles, awaken no holy aspirations. A group of unworthy characters are set forth to utter sickly sentiments, and practise detestable vices. If we complain that villainy is represented as successful, sin garnished and clothed in fine raiment, knaves pictured as happy fellows, debauchees as gentlemen, and treachery and blackest guilt unvisited by any adequate chastisement, why, then, forsooth, we are told that iniquity does not need any external punishment, that it is its own retribution, that things are here only represented as they are in actual life, and that all the novelist has to do is to go on dressing up pollution and publishing the arts of vile rascality! The awful accountability is not to be escaped in this way. Before the solemn judgment of Heaven, at the tribunal of Him who looketh on the heart, such shallow excuses will avail nothing.

« AnteriorContinuar »