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It was an observation of one who has been justly regarded as the wisest of men, that "of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Happily for the cause of human improvement, the facility with which books are made, has been wonderfully increased since the days of Solomon. Probably no single product of inventive genius has ever effected more in accelerating the march of the human mind, than the simple, yet wonderful art by which books are indefinitely multiplied. That the fervid eloquence poured forth in a British parliament, or an American congress, should be caught as it flows, and that before the orator had recovered from the fatigue which his exertions produced, his very words should be stamped in permanent characters, on thousands of sheets, and spread over the land in every direction, indicates a perfection of art, which never presented itself to the imagination, grasping and comprehensive as it was, of Israel's most sagacious monarch. And we may reflect that as the facility of making books, has been incalculably increased, so the labour and study of reading have been greatly diminished, since Solomon enlightened the world with his three thousand proverbs, and his thousand and five songs. Inconceivable must have been the labour of spelling out the words couched in the continuous lines of the ancient chirography, when contrasted with the lucid arrangement of modern printing.
But as natural evils are attended with some compensating advantages, so our modern improvements are not without their counterpoising evils. The facility with which books can be both made and read, has unquestionably contributed to the inundation of light and
unprofitable literature, for which the passing age is distinguished. While we admit the force and correctness of the maxim above quoted, the concluding observation is too much or too generally overlooked. “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.”
The practical inference deducible from this latter admonition is not in any degree inimical to the cultivation of those powers, intellectual or physical, which are divinely bestowed upon man; but it leads to such cultivation as to render those endowments conducive to the purposes for which they were conferred. The numerous improvements in science and art, bequeathed to us by the generations that have passed, and are passing away, have not only afforded facilities in the acquisition of knowledge, by the production of books, to which our ancestors were strangers, but, by the use of machinery, have given such impetus to the power of production, as to afford much more ample leisure for intellectual culture. And may we not indulge the belief that the advancing light of civilization and christianity, is slowly but certainly spreading the conviction that peace and brotherhood are the true policy of nations; and that the safety and happiness,
both of individuals and communities are most effectually secured by imbibing the spirit, and conforming to the maxims which the great Founder of christianity, has offered to our acceptance? And we cannot fail to perceive that in proportion as the day advances, which was so eloquently described by the evangelical prophet, under the figure of the wolf dwelling with the lamb, and the leopard lying down with the kid, the means and the opportunity of cultivating the intellect must be increased.
The improvement and expansion of the understanding, if pursued with a due regard to religious considerations, so far from nourishing pride, have a powerful influence of an opposite character. The more deeply we search either into the wonders of creation, or into
the stores and capacities of the human mind, the more clearly shall we perceive how little we really know, and how large a field lies be yond the reach of human vision. And the more the mind becomes inured to the pursuit of real and substantial knowledge, the less danger there will be of being beguiled by the light and frothy productions which unhappily compose so prominent a part of the floating literature of the day.
History, science, art, and rational philosophy, contain stores beyond the capacity of the strongest intellect or the most indefatigable industry to exhaust; why then should any portion of our fleeting and irrevocable time, be squandered upon a species of literature which floats over the mind and leaves nothing behind it? If we estimate the character of the books we read, not merely by their direct, but also by their indirect results—not only by the evil which they produce, but by the good which they exclude—we shall probably find that many
which are usually classed with the innocent, ought to be ranked with the pernicious.
It must, however, be acknowledged, that no inconsiderable share of the matter which is offered to the perusal of the young, and even portions selected for the use of schools, can have but a slender claim to the poor negative credit of doing no harm, or of doing no other harm than the excluding something of a more substantial character. How much do we find, even in books designed for the use of schools, and consequently intended to mould the opinions of the rising generation, which represents the achievements of warriors, though necessarily effected under the influence of the direst passions of the human mind, as highly meritorious and ennobling.
It is an observation which has no claim to novelty, that early impressions are among the most permanent, and it is education which forms the common mind. If, therefore, we expect the succeeding generation to be consistent christians, it is of incalculable importance that the education afforded to the youth, should be such as genuine
on earth peace
christianity would commend, and that the books which are placed in their way, should, as far as possible, be expurgated of every sentiment or doctrine inconsistent with the dispensation which was ushered in by the angelic anthem of “Glory to God in the highest,
and good will to men.” With regard to the following work, it may be briefly stated that the compilers have laboured to select from a great variety of sources, such passages as are calculated to impress sound morality in the world; and without being devoted to the peculiar views of any religious community, may support and impress the great truths of christianity in general; and particularly that great fundamental doctrine which is the glory of the christian dispensation, and which lies at the foundation of all true religion, that a measure and manifestation of the Spirit of truth, is given to every man to profit withal.
PHILADELPHIA, 10th Mo., 1852.