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would then be objectionable; yet, without their assistance, how many would be deprived of the most agreeable sources of information, and of the most interesting modes of improvement. It would require an exposition of facts, the existence of which could scarcely be anticipated, and an ingenuity of deduction of the rarest character, to render it in the least probable that injury would result from any conceivable effects of the widest dissemination of literature.
It appeared evidently of the first importance, that literature should be universally diffused, because it increased the number of the studious and reflecting, and ensured the uninterrupted course and the constant supply of intellectual exertion. To the interests of mankind at large, it was not enough that a few men of transcendant genius occasionally existed; it was necessary, for the cultivation of the general mind, that the number of the labourers should be proportioned to the magnitude of the work. The mind of man was a mine of interminable extent, and an insignificant part only had yet been opened up ages would yet roll on, ere its riches could be fully discovered, or its extent explored. The wider were the channels of conveyance, the ampler the streams, and the more discursive their progress, the greater would be their beneficial effect the intellectual riches of a thousand climes would be congregated; and the degree of every species of improvement that would result from this mighty union, it was impossible too highly to estimate.
The effect of the universal spread of intelligence over the face of society could not be accurately anticipated; but it might reasonably be presumed, that the general enlightenment of mankind would be productive of the grandest consequences. We saw, at present, that one only in a thousand, perhaps in ten thousand, was possessed of learning; yet, with a number so comparatively small, how much had been accomplished! Within the last century, how magnificent had been the improvements in science,-how brilliant the progress of art; and, if so much had been atchieved by such limited means, what might we not expect when the whole globe should be instructed in letters, and illuminated by philosophy?
Thought originated thought, and one idea was the forerunner of another. Of many things, the excellence consisted in a constant accumulation of improvements: perfection was not obtained at a leap. In the concernments which were of the greatest moment to mankind, long experience was essential; and, as the materials accumulated, the superstructures of human knowledge and ingenuity would increase in extent and magnificence. By collision, truth was elicited; and discussion led to discovery, and finally to precision and cer
tainty. The faculties of man required constant exercise to prevent their decay, and preserve them in perfection. Without the excitement of rivalship or opposition, they would not be energetic; they would relax, and become languid. Whatever, therefore, tended to keep alive the impulse to activity, must be of the most signal benefit to human improvement. Now, literature possessed this beneficial effect; for, by displaying the results and advantages of ingenuity and research, it stimulated further exertion in order to obtain a similar or superior degree of success. The means of investigation would thus be indefinitely extended; the quantity of the materials for thinking would be indefinitely enlarged, and the accumulation of knowledge would advance in an infinite progression.
That the diffusion of knowledge was important to the moral, as well as the mental, progress of the species, was apparent from this, that, until the utility of virtue was universally known, it would not be universally practised. So soon as mankind were thoroughly convinced that their best interests would be inseparably connected (as they certainly were) with moral excellence, they would love goodness for its consequences; and, since they could not estimate its inherent beauty, they would be captivated by its advantages. It was idle to say, that mankind should be taught the practice of virtue only upon the highest motives; and that, to lead them by views of self-interest, was degrading to morality. Some men are naturally deficient in the feelings connected with charitable and pious conduct, and in others the moral sense is imperfect. The practice of that which we denominate "virtuous conduct," because it leads to the happiness of society, it is important to secure by every argument of hope or fear, of advantage or penalty, which can be addressed to the imperfect constitution of man; and the dissemination into every region of the globe of those productions which illustrate the principles of morality, must, therefore, tend to the highest benefits.
The happiness of the human race would also be greatly increased by the universal diffusion of literature. The seat of happiness was in the mind, and depended on the agreeable employment of the mind. We were always uneasy unless there existed some means of interesting or exciting the faculties. No punishment could be greater, than to doom to entire indolence those who delighted in activity. Every species of gambling had its root in the desire of excitement. Few men could bear the tedium of their own thoughts, having no object to guide them, and no purpose to effect. The same ideas in the same mind become so insufferably common by
countless repetitions, that any change was agreeable; and hence the multiplied absurdities of human amusement. Thousands rushed into the haunts of vice, only to get rid of themselves, and to change that dull monotonous succession of vapid ideas which soon become identical with their existence. Such were the unintellectual. They were infected with a disease that generally led to misery, and often to madness. The cure was in literature; in the ample diffusion of her stores consisted the remedy. Give to mankind the means of agreeably employing, and, as it were, peopling their imaginations and memory, of exercising their judgment, and amusing their fancy, and the evil ceases.
The discussion of this question occupied two evenings; and many additional arguments were used in favor of the unlimited diffusion of literature; but our space prevents us from reporting them: they were chiefly founded upon the importance of education, and the benefits resulting from the diffusion of knowledge.
IN OPPOSITION to the foregoing statements, it was contended, that the question was not-whether a partial or even a general dissemination of literature could be injurious, but whether its universality would be so. Many things were exceedingly good in moderation, which were bad in excess; and, if it might be said, "be not righteous over-much," surely there could be nothing dangerous in warning mankind (if warning were necessary) against being "learned over-much." Literature was not the summum bonum of existence; it formed one of the modes of obtaining happiness, but did not constitute it to cultivate it too much, was to mistake the pursuit for the object, and to sacrifice the end to the means. The happiness of the majority would not be increased by the extension of literature, and the higher classes possessed it to an extent, that, as far as respected themselves, could not well be surpassed. There were already more books on every subject than the longest life was capable of mastering.
It was necessary, however, to ascertain what was intended "by the universal dissemination of literature." The term was most comprehensive, and allowed of no exception; but, though every human being was thus to be made a partaker of the benefits of literature, it was perhaps designed that the measure of the benefit should be exceedingly small, and that "literature," in this sense, meant the teaching of reading and writing. But such an interpretation of the question could not be permitted; for, were that so, it would be nothing more than the old debate upon educating the lower orders. The present was a much larger question. Although the elements of instruction were necessarily included in the discussion, it
was not confined to them. Of what, then, did literature consist? In the first class of history, of poetry, of rhetoric, and of criticism; and, in the second, of magazines, newspapers, and tracts. Philosophical works must be referred to the department of science, and were not included in the term "liteterature." Now, was it desirable that all these productions should be universally disseminated? The mere circulation of them would not, however, be sufficient; to produce any effect, they must be read. Would not the business of life, and all upon which its convenience depends, stand still amidst this universal taste for literature?
To afford education to those who are disposed to seek it, and thus enable them, if they possess natural talent, to advance their interests, may be well and wise; but, to enter upon an intellectual crusade, to conquer the empire of ignorance, and establish the dominion of letters in every quarter of the globe, (and what else can be meant by universal dissemination?) appeared about as rational as the enterprize of the hero of La Mancha. The truth was, that the instruction which was of the greatest moment to the happiness of mankind was moral, rather than literary cultivation. It was obvious, also, that the diffusion of literature must at the best be exceedingly superficial. In proportion as the trade of authorship was encouraged, it would continue to extend itself; books would become infinitely more numerous, and their number would be no surety of their excellence. Indeed, the history of literature proved, that, as it advanced in extent, it decreased in originality; and, as it became more polished, it diminished in power: and literature, so far from imparting greater stability to the interests of mankind, was itself subject to all the vicissitudes of other earthly concerns, and, like every thing else, had its seasons of maturity and decay. It was not improbable, that, instead of retarding the fall of nations, it might accelerate their decline. Its perfection followed in the train of luxury and refinement; and, in many of its departments, it joined in their effect, and frequently assisted their influence.
It was, perhaps, fortunate that the literary were, as a class of mankind, comparatively few; and that thus the affairs of the world proceeded along tolerably well amidst all the taste and the competitions for learned distinction. It was impossible, constituted as mankind were, to disseminate literature universally. A large portion of those who had passed through the ordinary routine of education had no relish for study, and never read from choice: they were too indolent or too active for intellectual pursuits. It was not indolence alone that un
fitted the mind for thought and exertion, but an excess of physical activity was also unfavorable to studious habits. The human race were endowed with different capacities, each adapted to perform a proportionate part of those duties and services, upon which not only the welfare and stability, but the very existence of society depended; and the human character, in this its endless variety, was more interesting both to observation and philosophy, than it could be in any other state or condition. It was the order of nature, that some should plan, and others execute. The division of labor was the great principle of improvement; and it was not only absurd, but injurious, to attempt to excite an universal taste for any particular department of knowledge. Chemistry and botany were exceedingly important; but it was not necessary, nor expedient, to instruct every body in the details of those sciences. All the important facts and principles which bore upon the wants and the luxuries of society were diffused, as soon as known, without the aid of literature. The uses of the steam-vessel, for instance, and of the safety-lamp, were well ascertained and applied, without the intervention of books. The continued intercourse between different nations ensured the diffusion and interchange of each other's discoveries, and depended but little upon either the literary or the studious.
The remark that had been made upon the singularity of discussing such a question in a literary society, might be well to bring forward; but it could have little weight in the decision. Literature was advantageous, and these institutions were beneficial when confined within rational bounds; but, as it would be absurd to recommend every human being to enrol himself amongst us, so it was ridiculous to attempt to make the whole world literary. That it was important to diffuse knowledge, no one would dispute; but knowledge was not identical with literature. Amidst the mass of publications which were put forth in the present age, there was more error than truth, and more trash than usefulness. Both the bad and the good were equally read, and there was more time lost than well-spent. It did not belong to the majority of readers to discriminate accurately; and to increase the number would not diminish the mischief.
It was very agreeable to anticipate the result of a state of universal intelligence; but it might be fairly suspected that the picture was drawn by the pencil of imagination rather than of judgment, and that hope stood in the place of experience. The anticipation that new exertions would result from the increases of competition, was not warranted by the past progress of the human mind. The truth was, that the