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MAR 29 1955
MORE than a century has elapsed since Swift declared, “that, if books went on increasing as they did in his time, it would be impossible for any one to be learned.” But Swift lived but to see the commencement of that extension of literature, which has since spread in proportions he could not have anticipated, and, connecting itself both with education and religion, has effected great changes in the domestic life and social state of the community. That the popular literature of the present day has been of public benefit few would, we suppose, be willing to deny, for its proper and natural tendency is to soften the manners, to refine the amusements, to employ the leisure, to alleviate the cares, and to call, in a greater or less degree, the mental powers into activity, making, as Johnson said, “the past and the future predominate over the present;" and we may hope that in future time it will penetrate still deeper into that class of society which has not yet received its benefits, nor perhaps heard of its existence. But it must be recollected that, while we are giving this just praise to those who are smoothing the difficulties of science, and facilitating the progress of the ignorant on the road of knowledge, this popular literature will depend for its intrinsic value and usefulness on works of a higher class and more original construction, from which it must be taken ; that those who write for the learned are also furnishing the best elements of instruction for the ignorant, and that it is from the most profound and elaborate productions of talent and erudition that the most pleasing and popular essays are compiled. But he who is ambitious either of making discoveries in science, or even acquainting himself correctly with the achievements of others in the field of literature and art, must confine his inquiries within those limits which are suited to the bounded capacities of our nature. Virgil's advice holds true of literature as of the art he was inculcating, “Laudato ingentia rura, exiguum colito.” He who would read to advantage must read with selection. The human mind can never be an encyclopædia of knowledge; and life is too short to wander without a guide
over that vast plain of learning whose horizon seems every day extending to the view, and whose ancient paths and causeways are either falling into decay, or clogged up and entangled by the luxuriant vegetation everywhere springing up upon them.
We are willing to profess that we are not too proud to accept and to retain the office of assisting to keep clear from the incumbrances of time those channels by which information has been conveyed from age to age, and may still be usefully imparted, whenever superior industry and well-directed endeavours are employed to obtain it. If a subject is in itself important, or connected with that which is so, every portion of it is of value, and we therefore earnestly ask our readers and correspondents to continue to assist us, by imparting to us such information as they may consider worthy of attention, and which is placed within the reach of their attainment.
It is of great advantage, as Dr. Johnson said, even to know where the materials of knowledge are to be found. Learning is acquired by such labour as to demand all the assistance that can be given. The communication of one correspondent will clear up the difficulties of another : a paper on literature will throw light on an article on science or on art.
In the Hall of the Muses thousands of mirrors are reflecting light on each other; the most solitary student is living on the production of other minds, and we would willingly retain the place we have so long occupied, of holding at least a few links of that chain that unites in harmonious accordance so many of the various pursuits of the learned, and, by ready communication, renders them of double use.