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The peace of the country, and the stability of the government, could not be more effectually secured than by the universal diffusion of this kind of knowledge. The abuses which through time have crept into the practice of the constitution, the errors committed in its administration, and the improvements which a change of circumstances requires even in its principles, may most fitly be expounded in the same manner. And if any man or set of men deny the existence of such abuses, see no error in the conduct of those who administer the government, and regard all innovation upon its principles as pernicious, they may propagate their doctrines through the like channels. Cheap works being furnished, the choice of them may be left to the readers. Assuredly, a country which tolerates every kind, even the most unmeasu
sured, of daily and weekly discussion in the newspapers, can have nothing to dread from the diffusion of political doctrines in a form less desultory, and more likely to make them be both well weighed at the time, and preserved for repeated perusal. It cannot be denied, that the habit of cursory reading, engendered by finding all subjects discussed in public cations, which, how great soever their merits may be, no one looks at a second time, is unfavourable to the acquisition of solid and permanent information,"*
Soon after,—that is, in April 1825,--Mr Brougham, with Lord John Russell, Dr Lushington, Mr Crawford, William Allan, and other known friends to the education and improvement of mankind, formed themselves into a society, under the name of the “Society for Promoting the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge;" and raised a fund by subscription, Among others, the Duke of Bedford evinced his wonted liberality, and that desire of promoting the best interests of his country which, in all times, has ennobled his illustrious house. The agitations of the times, however, that year and the next, impeded the Society's progress; and they did little more than institute inquiries, and make preparations for prosecuting their grand object with effect. But in the month of December 1825, about a year after Mr Brougham's tract appeared, a prospectus was put forth by some booksellers, whom we decline naming, purporting to be from the “ Society “ for Diffusing Useful Knowledge,” and announcing a work consisting of treatises on all subjects, and to be called, “The " Library of the People.” Now we happen to know, that not one member of the Society had ever spoken or written to those booksellers; or directly or indirectly communicated with them on that, or on any other subject. It was a scandalous imposition, therefore, thus practised on the community, and a usurpation upon the Society, to use their name in addressing
* At the end of the tract, Mr B. alludes to the scientific education of the higher classes, and proposes the establishment (p. 32) of a University in London.
the public; and when complaint was made, and, we believe, proceedings of a different kind threatened, the booksellers defended themselves by proving, satisfactorily enough, that they had been themselves deceived by another tradesman, who pretended to have thought first of the plan, and even sold the title for a sum of money to the present undertakers ! This person, being applied to, said he never meant to use the Society's name, but that, in fact, there existed another society under the same name, of which he was, he said, a member !-and on being asked where it met, and who belonged to it, he could only name Sir John Sinclair, who was living in Scotland. The worthy Baronet certainly printed, some time afterwards, a list of persons out of whom he proposed forming some kind of Association. They were chiefly old Scotch peers and placemen, with some English Lords of the Bedchamber, and other public functionaries; and the only operation pointed out as the proposed labour of the society, was, circulating copies, at their own expense, of the “ Code of Health and Longevity,” and other works of Sir John's,—whose reputation and circulation are, we imagine, believed very sincerely by him to be far inferior to their merits. The invention of a society by the bookseller was a manæuvre wholly unexpected, and not perhaps to be paralleled in the history of inventions. It was as if the same learned wight (for he writes as well as sells) had published an address from The Royal Society, stating, that they highly approved his refutation of the Newtonian Theory, and on being asked by Sir H. Davy what authority he had, were to say, he never meant the Royal Society of which Sir H. was president, but one held by himself and Sir J. Sinclair, in their cups. This, however, was the whole amount of the defence made for assuming the title of the “ Society for “Diffusing Useful Knowledge,” announcing works in its name, and publishing an address from it in favour of those works.
When the preparations of the Society were at length completed, its prospectus came forth; and soon after appeared a prospectus by those same booksellers, repeating the announcement of their " Library of the People," but dropping the address, and suppressing all mention of any society, except that sometimes there was reference to a society of gentlemen of the first literary distinction." Nothing, we will venture to say, ever appeared less calculated to command respect by its style, than this prospectus; —and some of the works which it ushered into public notice, were of the kind that might have been expected from such an introduction.
The title is, “ Library for the People,-calculated at once to “ amuse and interest, and to instruct and enlighten, the entire
“ population of the United Kingdom.” “An assertion is then made, that the first prospectus was published in 1825, (we have stated under what auspices, and with what honesty,) and that the delay in bringing out the work had “furnished a well-known “ party with an opportunity of taking up the plan, with all the “ imperfections which never fail to distinguish between imita“tion and originality!” The Society, certainly, is in no condition to retort the description of “a well-known party” upon those who put forth this charge,—for nothing, we presume, can be more obscure than the quarter it proceeds from; and the kind of originality claimed is as little likely to be disputed by any author, as the example of style and method here set is to be imitated. It is then laid down as an original principle, that a work of this kind must be popular from the selection of subjects, as well as in its display and execution. “ Cold mathematical pro“ ductions, and formal scientific disquisitions,” it is said, “may
properly issue from the London University, but they will ne“ ver reach the firesides of the universal population.” The modesty of these pretensions to originality, as far as regards the plan, and the fairness of the charge of imitation, we have already illustrated by written documents. Any attempt to imitate the execution of such works as we are citing would be hopeless. But it seems, after all, that even the plans of the two works are wholly different, not to say opposite. The one before us professes to amuse, and only to teach what may be conveyed in the shape of entertainment. The Society's plan is, to convey instruction upon all subjects. The scheme of the prospectus before us is more fully given in the arrangement announced for the Library of the People. It is to consist of four divisions, entitled, “The Arts of Life and Society ;"_“ The Wonders of “ Nature and Art ;"_" The Worthies of the United Kingdom ;" and, “ The Chimney Corner Companion.” We defy any head but the writer of this arrangement of human knowledge to match it. The two first classes plainly run into each other,there being hardly anything of the first that belongs not to the second, unless arts are to be classed by the degree of wonder they excite-a standard somewhat difficult of application. The Worthies are confined to this country; and the last head mayindeed must-contain matter common to all the other three. The description given of the Chimney Corner Companion (the division plainly most relied on for attraction) is entertaining certainly, though not very dignified or philosophic. “An exhaustless andever“ lasting magazine of the curiosities and good things in the entire “ circle of literature, books, and knowledge, adapted to all
tastes, fancies, ages, and conditions, and containing the quint
“ essence of many thousand volumes, and everything worthy of “ being read that ever was printed in history, biography, natural “ history," &c. &c. &c. We are then told that, “ To make “ promises of perfection, would be empirical ; but it may be wise “ and just to declare, that all that ingenuity and learning can “ effect, shall be honestly and honourably performed, to render “ the Library for the People a work of unparalleled popularity “and sterling permanent worth.” A declaration, we presume, not at all empirical.
We are very happy to find that this most unpromising announcement has not been followed by works nearly so bad as there was every reason to expect. The arrangement is, no doubt, as absurd as possible, and indeed is wholly unintelligible. Thus, under “ The Arts of Life and Society,” we have the science of Astronomy, with Cookery, Gymnastics, Oil-painting, Road-making, Chemistry, Brewing, and Chronology. The execution too, is, in most places, of a very depraved taste ;-take, for example, the following passage with which the Treatise on Astronomy opens-after a tawdry engraving, which represents an old man in a nightcap, or Welsh wig, poring over a globe, - a young man looking through a telescope, and a lady reading a book-" The Earth, out of the dust of which man was originally “ formed, the scene of our joys and our sorrows during life, and “ the receptacle of our remains when its brief measure is run
out, and the Heavens which are spread over us as a dome of “ the most stupendous magnitude, and the most lively colour, “ lighted up by the glories of the sun during the day, and glit“ tering with the countless myriads of the starry host during “ night, and beyond which every good man hopes to find an “ everlasting abode, when the earth shall have gone into obli“ vion, and all its history been forgotten, are subjects to which “ even the most incurious of the human species cannot remain “ indifferent.” It is shameful in those who pretend to instruct the people, or even undertake to provide amusement for them, to debase and corrupt their taste by such trash as would be rejected from the rhapsodies of a tenth-rate preacher, and is as truly disgusting as it is misplaced in a work of science. The Treatise of the Atmosphere is begun by an effusion in the same wretched taste, about the “oak building its lofty tower in the “ sky,” and “ the eagle leaning motionless on the breast of the
sky,” occupying about one-eighth part of the number. The Series of Lives is really much better, because more plainly executed; and the Wonders contain much entertainment, and even information, which cannot fail of improving the reader. The selection is, of course, perfectly miscellaneous, and merely
extracted or abridged from known books. The Chimney Corner Companion might be, for the subject, the same series_it is a collection of scraps of all kinds, from every sort of work.
Humble as the merits of this publication appear to be, with the exception of the bad and vulgar taste of which we have complained, it is wholly innocent, and must be of considerable benefit in encouraging habits of useful reading.
Upon one thing, however, we certainly must express our opinion very frankly and without reserve: T'he public are not dealt fairly by, in the prospectus, where it announces the extreme cheapness of these tracts :-“ Every number will contain as much “matter as is usually sold for five shillings, even in elementary “ works, but for twice that sum in ordinary works.” Never was a more scandalous misrepresentation. Each number consists of 24 pages of single column-and there being under sixty letters in a line, and 44 lines in a page, there are in each page at the amount of 2600 letters, and in each number under 63,000 letters. Now, take the reviews, which sell for six shillings, and are certainly not at all cheap publications, but among the dearest;---the page has 45 lines, of 50 letters each; consequently, each page contains 2250 letters, and therefore there is equal to 28 pages of the review in each number of the Library, which is equal to one-ninth part of a number sold for six shillings. Printed at the rate of the Library, then, the review would sell for four and sixpence instead of six shillings. This is the whole difference; that is, 25 per cent., or one-fourth cheaper, instead of being, as is most untruly pretended, ten times cheaper than some books, and twenty times cheaper than others. The review being a dear book, it follows that the Library is not at all a cheap one; and if we compare the bulk of volume, this will appear still more plainly :
-An octavo of 500 pages sells for six or seven shillings; 500 pages of the Library sell for ten shillings, and the engravings are, generally speaking, below contempt. Compare the work with any of the really cheap publications, and the deception is at once perceived. The Mechanics' Magazine has nearly as much matter in one of its numbers as the Library, and the plates are both numerous and beautifully executed. We have made the calculation-there are in the Magazine 57,000 letters; in the Library 63,000. But the Library sells for sixpence, and the Magazine for threepence. Taking quantity and execution together, the Library is much more than twice as dear as the Magazine. The Library of Useful knowledge published by the Society is also twice as cheap, without making any allowance for its vast superiority of execution, in every respect. Each treatise has 32 pages, and each page two