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The design with which this magazine is established, is the promotion of practical piety, sober and intelligent, but at the same time ardent and active piety. It will endeavor to plead the cause of true religion, chiefly by exhibiting, explaining and illustrating its genuine and practical results.
The truths which constitute the essence of Christianity have been very generally admitted by nominal Christians; at least the admission of them in theory among mankind, has been very far in advance of the practice of the duties which arise from them. The great thing therefore to be done, in order to promote the cause of piety in the world, is not to convince men of religious truth, but to persuade them to the performance of religious duty; not to compel the intellect to admit the claims of Christianity, but to awaken the conscience, and to interest the heart in complying with them.
The Church ought, unquestionably, to see that the great truths of Christianity are explained when misconceived, and defended when attacked. But it has other duties to discharge, towards the community of mind around it, besides discussion and defence. It is to these other duties that our labors are to be devoted. The design of our work therefore, is very different from that of existing periodicals, engaged in controversies upon the essentials of Christianity, with its enemies, or in warm discussions respecting religious forms, or the various aspects of religious truth, among its friends. We aim at the direct exer
tion of a moral and religious influence, by endeavoring to interest our readers in religious and intellectual cultivation, and in the duties of enlightened and warm hearted piety, as they arise in the circumstances and relations of common life.
DIFFUSION OF KNOWLEDGE.
On the Improvement of Society by the Diffusion of Knooledge or an illustration of the advantages which would result from a more general dissemination of rational and scientific information among all ranks. Illustrated with engravings. By Thomas Dick, LL.D. Author of "the Christian Philosopher," &c. &c. London: 1833.
While considering in what form we should lay before our readers some considerations which it seems desirable to present at the outset, we met with the work whose title stands above, among the recent English publications received in this country. It suggests so many sentiments which are appropriate to our present purpose, that we have concluded to give our readers an analysis of its contents.
Every man is professedly in favor of the diffusion of knowledge; that is, every man in this country. In Europe it is a very common opinion that the laboring classes are more likely to be contented and happy in their employments, by remaining in ignorance of all which is not connected with their habitual pursuits. In the United States, however, we have no controversy on this subject. Ignorance has no advocates.
And yet, almost every man looks with a little doubt and a little solicitude, upon the present prodigious activity, and the almost innumerable productions of the typographical art. We go into a bookstore, after an absence of a fortnight, and sigh to see the quantities of new works which have found their place upon the counter. The impossibility that we should ourselves read them all, glides insensibly, and by a process not. very logical, into the idea that they cannot all find readers. Because some of them must be useless to us, we fancy that they must be useless to the community.
Since this article was in type the work has been re-published in this country by the Harpers in their Family Library.
A century ago reading and study were confined to a small and select class of society. Books were few, and of weighty character. Study, where it was pursued at all, was thorough, and patient, and laborious. The great mass of the community had either no access to books, or no taste for reading. So far as they had any intellectual pleasures, they consisted, to a great extent, in traditional stories, recounting wild superstitions, or adventurous exploits, or in conversation, to which dispute or scandal was necessary to give spirit and interest.
Of these two classes, the former remains, or ought to remain, unchanged. Those, who from their profession or situation in life, have the opportunity to devote attention to literary employments, pursue, to a far greater extent than is perhaps often supposed, the patient, solitary study of former days. The appearances of light superficial reading which are every where so manifest, arise from the bustle created by supplying the new masses of our population, who come to the bookstores for an intellectual aliment suited to their powers. It is not that the scholars have become mere readers of reviews and duodecimos; but that, in addition to the scholars, a large class of light readers have arisen, who, from their greater numbers, attract greater attention. In former times, the counter of the theological bookseller would exhibit principally Hebrew lexicons and learned commentaries. Now they show to the eye a very different class of works, but the standard works of the thorough scholar are still there, and though removed a little to make way for the accommodation of a more numerous class of customers, they are still bought and studied, probably, more than in any former age. If any one competent to the task, make the inquiry, he will find that the list of profound scholars, whose lives are devoted to patient, thorough study, and whose works indicate the character of their pursuits, is as great now in this country and in Europe, as at any one time in former ages. The only difference is, that now, there are others besides these scholars to be supplied; for the farmer's family, instead of spending their evenings in sleep or idle talk, or in that most interesting employment, slandering their neighbors, now gather round the fire to silently read their Sunday school books, or to listen to the disclosures of the Penny Magazine. A good exchange, all will admit: and those therefore, who are above or beyond this species of reading, must not object to the bustle necessary for supplying those who are not. It is as idle to complain of popular authors and booksellers, for making more books than any one man can read, as it would be to censure the extensive operations of a pin-manufactory,
because the observer could not put all the pins into his own clothes.
There is, however, no doubt, great need of caution on the part of professed scholars, lest the influences of these measures to supply the mass of the community with light reading, should be injurious to those habits of profound and thorough study, without which no valuable attainments can be made. We cordially adopt the sentiments expressed in the following passage, which we copy from an able article in the first number of Edwards' Quarterly Observer.
"We cannot believe with some that the way to bring back the age of Reflection is to publish fragments, or selections, or even "Beauties" of the old English writers. This it is true is most acceptable to a superficial generation, inasmuch as it saves the trouble of connected thinking, and enables many to feel that they are acquainted with a writer, when all which they know of him consists of a few striking expressions. It seems to be the popular rule to know a little of every thing, and this method of bringing the great masters of thought and language before the public, is a sure way to prevent them in many instances from being studied in their original connected form. The common plea, that to give men a taste of such writings will lead to a further acquaintance with them, might be admitted in the case of a newly discovered work; but so long as the natural indolence of man continues, many will be satisfied with so much of an acquaintance with those standard writers, of whom it is a shame to be entirely ignorant, as is afforded by the "Extracts." A royal road to learning has been laid out within a few years, though it is said to be exclusively for the benefit of the common people. Lectures are the railways of knowledge. Those who can afford the time and expense, may pursue the old road of investigation and reflection, of comparison and analysis, but those who have but little time for such a course, and those who are ambitious of being general scholars, are warranted a quick and easy, and sure passage to all kinds of information. Those learned men who devote themselves to the improvement of others from motives of real philanthropy, and spend their time and strength in the illustration of truths of great importance, that they may be apprehended, and, as far as possible, reduced to practice, are deserving of gratitude and praise; but those who neglect severe study when they are capable of it, because a popular lecture-room furnishes knowledge without labor, and saves the anxiety and toil of investigation, will, inasmuch as they receive their learning at second hand, always be second rate scholars."
The justice of these remarks, and the reality of the danger pointed out in them so clearly, no one, at all acquainted with the characteristics of the age, will deny. The work of diffusing knowledge throughout all the ranks of society, in which so large a portion of the literary community are engaged, will be very likely to interfere, unless the danger is carefully guarded against, with those habits of patient, and thorough investigation, and solitary thought, which can alone make the real scholar. But we must not forget that the mass of mankind can never be expected to be real scholars. They
can, however, be intellectual beings; they can have intellectual pursuits and pleasures, and the work of supplying their intellectual wants ought to go on, though we must carefully guard against the dangers by which it is necessarily attended.
In the effort to arouse the mass of the community, to something like an intellectual life, the relations and properties of the external world, must necessarily be the first means employed. Not that what is without, is more interesting in itself, than what is within, but because it is more easily observed and described, and the field of view which it presents, can be more easily seen and appreciated by a mind just awakening from its slumbers. Hence the interest in science, which is so manifest among the mass of readers in this country and in Great Britain. "The truth is," as the writer above quoted strongly but justly expresses it, "the world has gone after what it calls SCIENCE, and the press groans with a multitude of books made to teach the people the why and the wherefore of all things." This is obviously true. But the "world" alluded to, is not the world of scholars. It is the world of mind hitherto uncultivated, which is now arousing itself to incipient intellectual action, and which seeks simple food, to nourish it at first. The field of mind would have afforded, it is true, food, perhaps as simple and more conducive to a vigorous growth. But it requires higher genius to prepare it, and that genius has not appeared.
But we must come to our author. His object is to recommend the universal cultivation of the human mind, and he addresses himself throughout, to the very minds which he wishes to allure to the work of cultivation. The author aims, too, to communicate knowledge, while he advocates its claims. He constantly exhibits specimens, and endeavors to awaken interest and arouse attention by bringing into view some of the very objects on which he wishes to fix them.
Of course, the book is very miscellaneous in its contents. Far too much so, if it had been intended for professed and thorough scholars, but liable to no objection on this score, if we consider its real design. Its plan, however, and arrangement are strictly logical. The following analysis will exhibit them. The argument for the utility of the universal diffusion of knowledge is based on the following grounds:
"1. It will dissipate the superstitious notions and vain fears, now extensively prevalent in some classes of the community.
"2. It will save a great deal of sickness and suffering, and many accidents, now arising from ignorance.
"3. It will promote the progress of science.