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to a certain amount for the purchase and annual increase of district libraries. But here the question arose, “ How shall these libraries be selected ? What assurance is there, that in many districts, from the ignorance or negligence of committees, the money raised for this purpose may not be worse than wasted ? By what mark are those but little conversant with general literature, to choose out the precious, and eschew the vile, from among numberless books of fair exterior and good report?” This difficulty suggested to the members of the Board of Education the plan of recommending a series of books for district libraries. An enterprising publishing firm stood ready to print, in uniform editions, whatever they might recommend. On considering the range of subjects to be embraced in such a plan, the Board found that, while on many subjects there were extant treatises in every way suited to their proposed series, on others there were none, or at best only such as must be abridged or modified in order to be made available. It was determined, therefore, to embrace in the series republications, abridgments, and original works. The School Library is issued in pursuance of this plan. It is not, as many might inser from its name, a library for strictly school use ; but a library designed to be kept in every schoolhouse for the use of the families of the whole district. The principal series consists of works designed no less for adults ihan for intelligent youth. The juvenile series is for children only.
This enterprise is not conducted under legislative enactment or patronage. It is a private enterprise sanctioned by the Board of Education. There is no obligation on the part of any district to purchase the works thus published. Committees are left entirely free in their selection of books. But those, who are disposed to avail themselves of the superior judgment of others, are by this plan enabled to enjoy the advice of a body of men eminently qualified for the trust they hold. We have in the well-known fidelity and zeal of the Board collectively, and in the sound judgment and pure taste of its individual members, the highest possible assurance, that this plan will be judiciously and happily executed. Their imprimatur is not a mere form ; but given only after a deliberate and thorough examination of each separate work.
We have a further guaranty for the “ School Library” in
the authors of the highest eminence in their respective departments, who have engaged to furnish original volumes for it. It will suffice to mention such names as those of Judge Story, President Wayland, and Professor Silliman, among many others, which hold an equally high place in the public esteem.
The publishers propose issuing fifty volumes of each series, in sets of ten each, with an interval of several months between the decades, so as to enable individuals or school-districts, to purchase the whole series with but little expense at any one time. The first decade of the larger series is now before us, together with the first two volumes of the smaller or juvenile ; and we avail ourselves of the earliest opportunity of recommending these volumes, and the plan generally, to the public interest and patronage.
The volumes already issued do credit to the taste of the publishers, and we cordially hope, that the enterprise will prove as lucrative to them, as they may aim to render it worthy of general patronage. The paper of the volumes before us is fair and strong, the type new and clear, the binding both substantial and elegant, the engravings, maps, and cuts, numerous, tasteful, and ornamental. The books are handsome enough for a drawing-room library, and yet are done up in a style well adapted to the rough and tumble of promiscuous circulation.
On the editorship of these volumes too we must bestow unqualified praise. We find in them all the unobtrusive, but essential graces of systematic punctuation and accurate typography. They are amply and judiciously provided with notes and pictorial illustrations. No obscure point or remote allusion in the text of the republished works is left unexplained. Every thing in the series is carefully adapted to American readers of ordinary advantages and attainments. Each volume, which admits of it, is furnished with a full alphabetical index. Each has appended to it a copious glossary of scientific terms, foreign words and idioms, proper names, and obsolete or unusual modes of expression.
The first volume is Irving's “Columbus,” abridged by himself, and enriched by the Author's narrative of his visit to Palos, (the port at which Columbus embarked for America,) now first given to the public in a permanent form. It is needless to multiply remarks on a work so well known as this in
its original dress, or to say a word in vindication of the appropriateness, with which it is made to occupy the first place in the series under review. Suffice it to say, that the present abridgment is made at the expense, neither of minute detail, nor of good taste ; but the narrative has gained in graphic power by condensation, so that it will be read with new interest in this edition.
A considerable portion of this volume is occupied by an ably written, or rather a felicitously compiled “ Introductory Essay,” which brings together the testimony of a large number of eminent American statesmen and scholars, in behalf of the cause of popular education, and in favor of legislative enactments and systematic efforts for the diffusion of knowledge.
The next two volumes of the “ School Library,” we have no hesitation in pronouncing the most perfect and valuable edition extant of Paley's “ Natural Theology.” Dr. Bartlett has taken for the basis of his labors the late English edition, with notes by Lord Brougham and Sir Charles Bell, with supplementary dissertations by the latter. Most of those notes he has retained, and has added notes of his own, wherever additional explanations seemed necessary. He has also retained the numerous wood-cuts of the English edition, and furnished others himself, so that there is hardly a passage, capable of pictorial illustration, which is not accompanied with an appropriate cut. Such of the supplementary dissertations as Dr. Bartlett thought best to republish, he has incorporated into the body of the work, in connexion with those of Paley's chapters, which they were designed to illustrate. The second volume contains Lord Brougham's “ Analytical View of the Researches on Fossil Osteology, and their Application to Natural Theology,” also his “ Dialogues on Instinct and Animal Intelligence.” The whole is followed by an accurate and ample Glossary and Index. The aspect of the work is such as to tempt those most familiar with Paley to a re-perusal ; and we cannot but rejoice to see this incomparable treatise offered to the public in so inviting a form, that even a school-boy could hardly look without reading, or begin without finishing.
The next three volumes of the “Library” are selected from Sparks's “ American Biography,” containing, (with several portraits and fac-similes of handwriting,) the lives of Robert Fulton, John Stark, David Brainerd, John Smith, Sebastian Cabot, Ethan Allen, Henry Hudson, Joseph Warren, Israel Putnam, David Rittenhouse, Sir Henry Vane, William Pinkney, Anthony Wayne, William Ellery, and Richard Montgomery. It is intended that the series shall be peculiarly rich in the department of American Biography ; and these already well known and elegantly written memoirs may be regarded as an earnest of future, similar, and no less valuable contributions to the series.
The remaining four volumes of the first decade are, “ The Sacred Philosophy of the Seasons,” by Dr. Duncan, of Ruthwell, Scotland, arranged and adapted to American readers by Dr. Greenwood. These volumes contain appropriate reflections on the divine attributes, as displayed in the phenomena of nature and of human life, for every day in the year, each volume being devoted to a season, and divided into as many chapters as the season contains days. The range of subjects, introduced into these reflections, is vast. There are chapters dedicated to almost every department of natural history and science, to the various useful and ornamental arts, to the resources, habits, and manners of different nations ; in fine, to every familiar theme, from which a devout mind might draw arguments for religious gratitude and adoration, while, in the Sunday papers, we find edifying trains of thought on a wide diversity of ethical and theological subjects. The chapters are short ; the illustrations, well-chosen and entertaining ; the religious considerations, inwoven into the texture of the work, and running through the whole, instead of standing out in stiff, frigid relief, in the shape of a formal moral, at stated intervals. The variety of subjects, taken up in these volumes, their affluence in curious facts and anecdotes, and their familiar, easy style, will render them universally popular. They will be invaluable as family books, which may always be put into young hands in the certainty, that they will furnish an unfailing fund of entertainment and improvement, and in which a judicious parent may find suggested many profitable themes, to be carried out in fireside conversation and instruction. Had Dr. Duncan written his work for the express purpose, for which it has now been republished, we know not how he could have varied his general outline for the better. But we are reminded, in every part of the work, of the care, skill, and taste, exercised by the American editor, who has occasionally inserted short papers, original and selected, and has been indefatigable in the task of revision, correction, and adaptation.
The succeeding works, of this series, will embrace a great variety of subjects. Besides several ethical and political works, and several biographies and histories, treatises are in the course of preparation on Agriculture, Chemistry, Technology, Volcanic Agency, and numerous other subjects, on which there are no works, adapted for general circulation, now extant.
Of the Juvenile Series we can say but little. The two specimen volumes before us give a fair promise. They are such books as every parent would be glad to have his children read. Mrs. Embury's Sketches are fresh and glowing ; some of them full of the truest pathos, and all of a highly moral tendency. Two or three of them, perhaps, approach a little too nearly the character of the nouvelleite. Were we to write any thing about Jane Taylor, we should want to devote a whole article to her. Though somewhat eclipsed by the cloud of writers for the young, that have recently risen up, to our taste she remains unrivalled. Her more playful tales, and her graver lessons, alike flow from a true simplicity of heart, from a close intimacy with childhood, and a deep religious love for the young spirit. It seems to us, that the words of the great Teacher, “ Suffer little children to come unto me, are never dismissed from her thoughts. In Mrs. Hale's selection, while we miss much that we should be glad to see, we find nothing with which we should be willing to part.
We will only say, in conclusion, that we anticipate, from the further progress of both series of “ The School Library,” a succession of instructive, suggestive, and thoughtnourishing works, which will do much to cure both young and old of the habit of reading merely for pastime, or for appearance' sake, and to excite the desire, and lay open the field, for serious reflection and diligent study on many subjects of the highest interest and moment.