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2. The School Library, Juvenile Series. (1.) Pictures of Early Life ; or Sketches of Youth. By
Mrs. EMMA C. EMBURY. 12mo. (2.) Selections from the Writings of Miss JANE TAYLOR,
by Mrs. S. J. Hale. 12mo. pp. 288.
Our age has often been qualified with the epithet of laborsaving, though it would be hard to say, with how much justice, when, of slaves, both bond and free, there were never so many millions of the human race, as now, bound down 10 a life of mere drudgery ; when men are everywhere trained to work in gangs, by fifties and by hundreds ; when every man, instead of being the master, makes himself the slave of his profession; when all head-work is held in light esteem, except so far as it enters into partnership with handicraft ; and when manual-labor schools, furnished with work-benches and ploughs, are established all over the country as the best nurseries for genius, taste, and eloquence. We have fallen upon an age of toil, of hard and grovelling toil, helped indeed by mechanical inventions innumerable, but by inventions which only take the laborer from the solitude of his field, or the quiet of his home, where he could exercise his own ingenuity and forecast, and make him the unreflecting tender of a machine, amidst the blaze of furnaces, the puffing of steain, or the din of a thousand spindles. The fact is, that men work more and harder for every labor-saving invention ; for the demand for every article of manufacture outspeeds, in a manifold ratio, the increasing ease of supply.
But in the various departments of intellect, the economical tendencies of the age have been far more successful. There exists, in the most active operation throughout the civilized world, a vast system of thought-saving machinery. This is, indeed, a knowing, but not a thinking age. Knowledge is substituted for thought ; loads of food, for the power of healthy digestion. Book-learning, and learning by rote, are supplanting self-communion. The mind is made a storehouse, rather than a laboratory. The books, that multiply so fast, are mainly products of compilation and dilution. Never were these words of Chaucer more true ;
“Out of the olde fieldes, as men saithe,
And out of olde bookes, in good faithe,
Cometh all this newe science that men lere." It is no generation of thinkers, we fear, that our popular school-systems are training up. Within the memory of many of our readers, pupils were compelled to think by the poverty of both their school-books and their teachers. No straw was given them, and yet the full tale of bricks was demanded under peril of the scourge ; aud both straw and bricks were elaborated and duly delivered. When the young arithmetician wrought out the most complex problems, with no aid except a misty and arbitrary rule at the beginning of the list, his own mind was obliged to mingle itself largely with the process. When he had wrought an example, he understood it, and his intellect had grown by the exercise. Thus the very abstruseness of many of the ancient school-books was a benefit to those who would study ; for there were numberless chasms, which thought alone could bridge, and for which the mere task-masters, miscalled teachers, were, for the most part, unable to provide. And the young mind was not loaded beyond the power of digestion, or so as to clog appetite ; nay, the very meagreness of the fare contributed to keep up a healthy inward working.
But now, every thing is brought to the last degree of simplification. If, in any existing school-book, it is discovered, that room is anywhere left for the action of the scholar's mind, a new book comes out, at once, expressly to remedy that defect. The wholesome theory, that there should be a copartnership of intellect between the writer and the learner, is all exploded. The process of instruction is like the decanting of old wine into new bottles ; and books are the tunnel. The fancied perfection of teaching consists in making it as much as possible like play. The beau idéal of a schoolmaster is, literally, a ludimagister. The sundamental maxim of fashionable educationists is, “ The mind is not to be taxed”; and the mind, on which no tax is levied, pays none.
Mathematics are taught by toys ; geography and history must be mixed with equal portions of Peter Parley's mythology ; the mysterious differences between active, passive, and neuter verbs, instead of being beaten into children's brains, as of old, by hard blows, are more kindly, yet not more wisely, illustrated by the picture of a whipping ; while all the mooted points in moral philosophy, which have baffled the wisdom of ages, are despatched in a thin 18mo, which treats but of tops and whistles, broken glass, and stolen sweetmeats. Even in the study of the ancient languages, the good old way, of hard work and thoughtful analysis with the grammar and dictionary, is almost deserted ; and patent gerund-grinders are getting into use so fast, that, as regards educational processes, it will soon be said of the critical scholar, “ Nascitur, non fit.”
And what shall we say of the thought-killing quantities of printed paper, which children are expected to con and recite ; and of the standard, by which the merits of different schools are judged, the same by which race-horses are estimated, — that school bearing away the palm, where the greatest space is gone over in the shortest time? In the cant of the day, the seeds of knowledge are said to be sown broadcast. But the figure is an inadequate one.
The actual process is, as if a farmer, in the spring, should dig a great trench, pour in his seed by the bushel, and then cover it up. And what would he find there in the autumn ? Identically the same seed in various stages of decay. How often, where the harvest of assiduous mental culture should appear, are we compelled to witness this very spectacle, — the seed, originally consigned to the virgin soil, because it was planted too thick to germinate, lying where it fell, useless, putrescent, and offensive !
Another feature of a thought-saving age may be found in the prevalent literary tastes and habits. The master-pieces of reasoning, such books as really aid reflection, books which one cannot read without deep thought, how little are they read! How few are the devoted readers of such men as Cudworth and Butler! How little quarter is given to the modern writer, who presents metaphysical truth in a purely philosophical form, who communicates, in manly simplicity, the results of clear intuition and sound reasoning, and leaves his readers to digest and apply them! Even on the deepest subjects, on subjects, which no one can fathom without girding up all his force of intellect, and placing his whole soul in the attitude of solemn attention, the demand is for popular books, for interesting books, that is, for such books as one can doze over and laugh over, for books as full of trivial illus
trations as a nursery volume is of pictures. And the reader seizes upon these illustrations as arguments, deals with facts as if they were principles, and remains self-satisfied with such glimmer of spiritual truth, as may be reflected from tawdry material imagery. The writer, who would have the popular suffrage, must make it his business to macerate the strong meat of manly minds into food for babes.
Of course, the same thought-saving tendency marks the prevailing habits of reading. There exists among all classes of the community a desire to be deemed or styled intellectual. And this sadly-abused term is applied rather according to what one reads, than to what he is. The good mother, who has read her New Testament all her days, has inwardly digested it, and has made it a fountain of deep practical wisdom, is respected for her virtues, but pitied or derided for lack of those intellectual attributes, which are ascribed in full to her daughter, simply because she has read some thousands of pages, no matter how stupid, foolish, or wicked. “She openeth her mouth with wisdom,” said Solomon, when he described a paragon of female excellence. " She hath devoured a circulating library,” is an endorsement, which, we fear, many a fair one of the present day would rather covet. The idea is universally prevalent, (and it cannot be too generally entertained,) that it is unworthy of a rational being to live without some intellectual pursuit. Few, however, are willing actually to task their minds, either without books, or by means of books. The majority regard reading as a more dignified and worthy employment than thinking; and, well knowing that it is the easier of the two, read much and think none. It is to meet the demands of such readers, that the press groans. It is for such, that hosts of pettifogging pens rest not day or night, that fourth-rate novels are cast with undoubting faith upon the public hospitality, that Libraries innumerable and interminable are projected and published, that the sweepings of a by-gone literature are reproduced in those weekly sheets, which are vaunted each as equivalent to an octavo volume.
This general appetite for books is at present so poorly catered for, as to be productive of very nearly as much harm as good. In our cities and larger towns, the fountains of a pure literature are open for all who will drink at them, and
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there is a sufficiently strong literary influence to give the public taste a right direction. But in the villages and thinlysettled districts, the choice of books is mainly left to chance, and yet worse, to a chance with loaded dice, - to the chance of auctions and pedlers' packs. Nor is this fortuitous selection controlled by the combined or representative wisdom of each little community ; for in the country towns there are very few public or social libraries of general literature. Such libraries were to be found some twenty or thirty years ago, in most of the towns, and even now they have a name to live; but have either remained without increase and grown obsolete, or else have become church or parish property, and are replenished with sectarian theology. People now prefer taking a newspaper and a magazine, and buying ever and anon a shop-worn novel, to paying an annual assessment to be expended for the general edification, at the grave discretion of the village priest and lawyer.
Moreover, were these central institutions as liberally and judiciously sustained as could be desired, they would be very far from meeting the wants of the whole community. They must necessarily be the property of the few and the near, not of the many and the remote. How little for the improvement of a thousand people scattered over a town five miles square, could a single library of three or four hundred well-chosen volumes do! The village library might supply with reading a hundred out of the thousand. The remaining nine hundred will read, or might be induced to read. Should they not then be provided with books, or saved from the curse of bad books ? 'There is but one way of supplying the whole population of New England with profitable reading; and that is by furnishing every school district with a library. To such libraries all may have access ; for the place of deposit would be within the
easy reach of all, and most families would have in the younger members daily inducements and facilities for sending thither. By this arrangement, each school district is made a literary society; and the place of instruction for the young becomes the seat and source of knowledge to those of every age. Moreover, where the library is supported by a tax on all the inhabitants of the district, the very fact that all had helped in paying for it would insure general use.
Considerations of this kind led the Massachusetts legislature of 1837 to authorize by law the taxing of school-districts