Immagini della pagina

Two premiums were offered by the Committee, for the best compositions in landscape and in figures. The prominent candidates in landscape, are Fisher and Birch. Doughty has sent nothing to the Exhibition. Fisher's picture represents what we call by a strange misuse of the word, a freshet,—that is, an inundation from the sudden swelling of a river. Birch's is a storm on the sea-coast. On their comparative merits, it is the province of the Committee, and not ours, to decide. We think we have seen better pictures by both the artists. For the other premium, Mr. Weir is the only aspirant; and he too is unfortunate in not being able to enter his best works for it. If earlier notice had been given of the intention of the Committee to offer these premiums, we have no doubt they would have been more effectual.

ART. IX.-American Library of Useful Knowledge. American Library of Useful Knowledge, published by authority of the Boston Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Vols. I. and II. Boston.


Chancellor Oxenstiern told his son, that by going to the Congress of Westphalia, he would soon see how little wisdom is employed in governing the world. In looking over the roll of history, one is almost tempted to suppose, that most nations have been occupied the greater part of the time in endeavoring to ascertain by experiment the minimum quantity, which is absolutely necessary for this purpose. The Christian world has been for the last fifty years, and is now, very busily engaged in attempting to solve the still more difficult and hazardous problem,—how little power is requisite for the same great object. In this country, in particular, we have reduced the action of Government within narrower limits, and given a wider scope to individual liberty than any people that ever flourished before. Our experiment has thus far been eminently successful. Other nations, struck with admiration at the brilliant results which have attended it, have undertaken to follow our example, and, notwithstanding repeated and most signal failures, are still renewing their attempts with determined perseverance. The emancipated Colonies of the new world,-the

most illustrious and highly civilized kingdoms of the old,—have rallied, like us, and in imitation of us, around the standard of individual Liberty. The genius of Britain herself is at last rebuked in the presence of that of our Republic. The haughty step-mother is now condescending to take for a model the daughter whom she so long treated with derision

and insult.

What will be the issue of these dangerous experiments? Shall we continue our career with a prosperity corresponding to the fortunate auspices under which it commenced? Will the nations that have acted with less discretion or worse fortune upon our principles, after many unsuccessful trials, at last work out the same glorious results? Or shall we all learn in the sad and bloody school of experience, that we have been led astray by false lights, and be compelled to resort to other, and as we now consider them, exploded maxims of polity?


One thing is certain, and that is, that if the experiment succeed, whether in this country or in Europe, it can only be where the extent of individual knowledge and virtue is increased in exact proportion to that of individual liberty. This truth has been generally felt by the friends of improvement, and hence the unprecedented efforts in the cause of education and popular instruction, which throughout the civilized world have marked the beginning of the present century. The great agent in this work is, undoubtedly, the press. all their abuses, which no one is more ready to acknowledge and lament than ourselves, we have no hesitation in saying, that the newspapers are the main-spring in the machine of representative Government, and that the system, without their agency, would be entirely impracticable. Books and pamphlets provide the materials that are afterwards to be distributed through daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly channels, as the various wants of the public may require. Seminaries of instruction, from the infant school to the University, co-operate in the same good work; finally, the ministers of religion proclaim from the pulpit the great truths, which it is the duty of their profession to inculcate, and which furnish a basis and a sanction to the good principles, that may be learned from other sources.

By the concurrence of all these agents, it is hoped that the light of knowledge may be made to penetrate the mass of society, and that a majority of the people will be sufficiently informed and disciplined to do their duty as citizens with


discretion. But is not this very diffusion of knowledge, which is the indispensable condition of liberty, attended itself with dangers and abuses? Undoubtedly it is. same channels which convey to the public mind the intellectual and moral nutriment, which is absolutely necessary to the life of a Republic, are too often made the conduits of the most virulent intellectual and moral poison. What is the remedy? A preliminary inspection of manuscripts,—an almost complete suppression of newspapers,-the severest laws against offensive publications:-such is the mode of treatment provided by the theory of arbitrary Governments, and hitherto generally used throughout the world. But to acknowledge the necessity of these, is to admit that the great experiment in which the Christian world is engaged has already failed. If knowledge, the diffusion of which throughout the community is indispensable to the existence of free Governments, be itself an edge-tool cutting both ways, and too dangerous to be intrusted to popular hands, it is obvious, that free Governments must be abandoned as a thing entirely impracticable. The theory of liberty supposes, that the diffusion of knowledge carries with it an antidote to all the abuses to which it is liable; that the amount of good sense and good principles conveyed through the channels of the press will, on the whole, exceed that of nonsense and falsehood;-that truth is great, and will finally prevail.

Is this theory correct? This, as will be seen, is the same question under another form with the one proposed above,whether political institutions as free as those under which we live, are in their nature practicable. We are sometimes visited with strange misgivings on this subject, when we witness the unbridled licentiousness of a portion of the newspaper press, and we incline to think, that further experience will suggest some improvements in the state of legislation, which, without materially infringing on the liberty of the citizen, will put a check upon the grosser forms of this great evil. But even as things now are, we are encouraged by the consoling fact, that the system, with all its inconveniences, has thus far worked well. It is, however, generally felt by the wise and well-meaning, that every effort should be made to strengthen, as far as possible, those principles which tend to good. With this view, associations have been formed for the distribution,-either gratuitously, or at very low prices,-of useful publications. The

most active, important, and every way remarkable of these, is the Bible Society. Should the future progress of that noble institution correspond,-as there is every reason to hope, with its present flourishing condition, it will prove, of itself, a sufficient antidote to the mischiefs of a corrupted and corrupting press. Such is our opinion of its utility, that we consider the establishment of it as one of the most important events in the history of the country. Next in order, are the associations for the diffusion of merely secular knowledge, and of these the British Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge is the model. It was founded under the influence of the present illustrious Lord Chancellor of Great Britain. The conception was every way worthy of his great and enlightened mind. The American institution of the same name was established in this city in imitation of it about three years ago; and although the sphere of its action has been thus far comparatively limited, will, as it gradually extends and developes its resources, effect incalculable good.

The publication of the work before us, which is announced as coming out under the sanction of this institution, is the most considerable effort which it has yet made for the promotion of its great object. Should the undertaking meet, as we have no doubt it will, with the degree of favor which will enable the publishers to make the collection pretty extensive, it will prove a real and lasting benefit to the community. The object is to issue in a cheap form a series of works, partly original and partly selected, in all the most important branches of learning. In the ordinary course of trade, our publishers labor under a constant inducement to deal in the very worst books that are offered them, that is, in such as gratify the public appetite for scandal and vicious excitement. Every popular novel that issues from the London press is seized upon at New-York with a kind of fury, and is in the hands of the reader within twenty-four hours after it reaches the port. No matter how extravagant the style, how detestable the principles :-provided they keep within the line where the public toleration for the time being stops. The greater the scandal the greater the sale. The Pelham and Vivian Grey novels, for example, distinguished as they are for the worst taste in style, and the worst principles of every description, are re-printed in cheap forms, thrust into all the most accessible depositories of books, and forced, as it were, upon the reading public. In the

mean time, books of real value,-books that will be read and admired through the world for centuries, are not to be procured for love or money. The Essay on Ethical Science by Sir James Mackintosh, a work (if we may judge by the extracts from it, which we have casually seen in the newspapers, and the character of the author) not inferior in elegance and substantial value to the celebrated treatise on Morals by the Father of Roman Eloquence, is not to be bought in this country. Notwithstanding the apparent abundance of books, and the constant outcry about their rapid multiplication and wide circulation, it is a literal fact, that the best which appear are not accessible to the reading public, who, for want of them, are compelled, to the great detriment of their taste and morals, to take up with such as they can get. The effect of the present undertaking will be to apply a partial remedy to this evil; to place at the disposal of the community, in a cheap though at the same time very handsome form, a series of really valuable works on the several branches of learning, which, taken together, will constitute of themselves a tolerably complete family library. Such a plan, if judiciously executed, as we doubt not that it will be, cannot but do a great deal of good, and is well deserving the encouragement of all who have the cause of improvement at heart.

The introductory volume, which is now before us, is occupied by a number of lectures and dissertations on the value and importance of knowledge, which have been delivered or published at different times, by several distinguished persons in this and the mother country. It gives us pleasure to be able to say, that the American portion of the volume is quite equal, in point of literary execution as well as strength and originality of thought, to the European, although the latter is undoubtedly of the highest order of merit. It is not our purpose to examine in detail the scope of each of these Essays, some of which have been before the public in other forms. The Discourse of Judge Story, before the Mechanic Institution, and the Essay of Mr. Edward Everett, on the Importance of Scientific Knowledge, are now published for the first time. We extract from the former, an interesting account of a conversation between the distinguished author and the late lamented Robert Fulton.

'It was in reference to the astonishing impulse thus given to mechanical pursuits, that Dr. Darwin, more than forty years ago, broke out in strains equally remarkable for their poetical enthu

« IndietroContinua »