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There is a certain department of social economy which cannot be embraced by legislative enactments; and this, under every form of government, must always be left to the control of reason and religion, operating upon the understanding and conscience of the people. This, therefore, is the peculiar province for the labors of all those who, prompted by the spirit of philanthropy, would devote their time and talents to the cause of individual and social improvement.
It is here that the foundations of the social fabric must be laid; and here the materials for the superstructure must be fashioned and fitted to their respective places. Here public opinion, whether enlightened by the profound truths of philosophy or guided by ignorance and prejudice, rules supreme: giving tone to the morals of the community, form to religion, and direction to the policy of civil government.
It is natural that a social engine, capable of demolishing and reconstructing all civil and social institutions, should be regarded with reverence and awe by weak and timid minds; and that its direction should be assumed by ambitious and daring spirits who look to the accomplishment of their individual ends rather than to the common welfare. And it is a humiliating truth, established by the history of civilized man in all ages, that those who labor to enlighten public opinion, and direct it to the great ends of human happiness, are regarded with less favor than the mere pretenders to philanthropy who beguile mankind of their sympathy and confidence, with a view to the attainment of their own selfish designs.
One who appeals to the passions, prejudices, and immediate wants of men, is sure to arrest their attention, and obtains an audience in every community. While he who proposes to enlighten the understanding, and correct the errors and vices of a people, finds them too much engaged to listen to instruction, and like those who were bidden to the marriage feast, with one consent they make excuse, and turn away: one to his farm, another to his merchandise. :
The common mind is accustomed to a certain depth of thought, and within that range it may act with intelligence and vigor; but it recoils from the investigation of the profound truths of philosophy, and even questions the existence of all truth which is not comprehended within the narrow bounds of its own observation. This apparent disinclination to enlarge the circle of knowledge by the investigation of philosophic truths should not be attributed, however, to a defective organization of the mind: it proceeds from a defective education, and the circumstances within which the individual acts his part in the social drama.
In our own country, every year is productive of new pursuits, of change in the habits and social relations of the people — and the present period is marked by peculiarities which distinguish it from all preceding times. We are in the midst of a great revolution. Mankind have ceased in some measure to wage war against each other, and are uniting in one mighty effort to conquer nature, and subjugate its laws and physical properties to their dominion. This is praiseworthy. It is in obedience to the divine injunction, delivered to man in the day of his creation; and again reiterated after his expulsion. Already much has been achieved. Steam and machinery have done much to relieve the wants of man, and encrease his comforts; but we verily believe that we have as yet only reached the threshold of discovery and conquest. But these new acquisitions have not relieved man from labor, nor were they designed for that end. Thus far, they have serred chiefly as incitements to a greater degree of industry, and seem, indeed, to demand more vigilance in the affairs of business, than was formerly required. The world is on its march: onward is the cry; and woe to him that falls in the rear, for none can stop to help him, without losing their own places in the advancing columns. We would not check this mighty movement: but, with a view to sustaining its strength, and securing all the benefits which it promises to bestow, we would guard the weak points which are occasioned, and exposed by reason of its rapid progress.
Intelligence and morality, quickened by the principles of Christianity, are elements essential to the advancement and support of civilization; and if these be deficient, no acquisition of wealth, or of knowledge in physical science, can supply their defects.
It is generally admitted, we believe, that intellectual and moral improvements do not keep pace with the physical improvements of the day; and it is even believed, by many, that in this respect, there is a retrograde movement. Now, whether these opinions be correct or not, they relate to a subject which claims the highest consideration of all who feel an interest in the social condition of man.
Owing to the rapid progress of the times much of the learning, which the man of forty years acquired in his youth, is obsolete; and if he should possess a desire for knowledge, books are multiplied so rapidly that he finds it impossible to keep up with the press, though he may confine his reading to but one branch of knowledge. But should his time be employed in active business, he finds no opportunity for study, and is compeiled to abandon every source of information except the newspapers of the day; and although it must be admitted that this, in our country, is an essential department of literature, yet its natural and obvious tendency is to limit the mind to superficial and narrow views. But this is not the only objection to newspaper literature: the facts in which it deals are not always collected with sufficient regard to truth, and are sometimes false through design; the arguments and deductions of newspaper writers are generally designed to place their subjects in either the most favorable or odious light; and, indeed, all, except a few, and those generally of little merit, profess to espouse and advocate but one side of a cause. Thus pledged to their patrons, they are continually tempted to suppress or deny all facts and arguments, that are calculated to expose their weak points; and all must admit that few individuals are capable of resisting temptation when placed in a position so perilous.
It cannot be doubted that the crude and disingenuous character of newspaper literature is calculated to contract the mind, and deteriorate the moral sense of individuals, who look mainly to that source for information. But, in making this declaration, we are not to be understood as desiring to depreciate the value of the newspaper press, as a social agent. It is an essential element of all free governments; and not less essential to the progressive improvement of the age. But we are persuaded that as an intellectual and social agent, it is totally incompetent to supply the wants which arise from the peculiar condition of the times. These wants can only be met by Periodical Literature, as distinguished from the newspaper department.
The office and economy of that department of literature denominated "periodical” have not received that consideration which the subject would seem to deserve. We need a department of literature which shall occupy a place between the voluminous works whose doctrines often become obsolete before they reach the light, and, the newspaper that is compiled, published, read, and destroyed in the same day. Such a department properly organized, and conducted with talent and fidelity, would combine all the substantial advantages of an extensire library with the most solid, and, in some respect, the most useful information derived from newspapers. A skilful and well judging reviewer, by reducing the substance of a volume to the compass of a few pages, enables the common reader to comprehend the objects and design of the author without incurring the expense of purchasing the book, or loss of time in its perusal. Besides, if reviews were liberally encouraged they would exert a healthful influence over the literary taste and pursuits of the community, by banishing from the shops much of the worthless trash that now occupies so large a space in the literature of the day.
The journalist who publishes monthly has time to collect and arrange his matter with care; he keeps himself thoroughly advised, through the medium of the newspapers, of all the important incidents of the times, and by comparing the statements and arguments of all parties, is enabled to form a just opinion of the policy, commerce, and economy of the country; and also to correct the errors, in fact and argument, which are urged upon public notice through the newspaper press.
This department of literature bears a relation to the general subject similar to that which labor saving machinery sustains to the producers of raw material, and the consumers at large of manufactured commodities. And it is worthy of remark that its introduction, every where, has been met by a similar exbibition of coldness and neglect on the part of the community. This how
ever, is but natural, and must be set down as an item in the catalogue of difficulties to be encountered and overcome by all who undertake to benefit mankind by introducing new doctrines or new pursuits which conflict with the established order of society.
*Our readers will perceive that these observations are not applicable to that class of periodicals which conform to the popular taste: these are regarded as gems and flowers of polite literature and are hailed with wellcome whithersoever they appear. The social wants to which we have alluded, demand a different order of literature, and a different class of men to conduct it. A literature germinating in American soil, and growing up with American institutions, developing its flowers to delight, and its fruit to strengthen and sustain us in our onward march to that glorious destiny which awaits the nation. A literature, which, like the atmosphere, shall pervade every part of the land—vitalizing the minds, and refining the morals of all its inhabitants, of every degree. A socializing literature that shall make intelligence and virtue the test of respectability-harmonizing philosophy with religion, and subjecting the minds and hearts of the people to their combined influence.
But such a literature can never be established so long as writers and publishers study to gratify the uncultivated and perverted taste of the million. It requires the learning of a Johnson, the genius of a Macaulay, and the enthusiasm of a Luther, to correct the popular taste, and build up an American literature upon its true foundation. This great work demands the labor of minds which comprehend the subject of social economy in all its departments and bearings. It calls for men of heroic minds, who, fearless of popular prejudice, and scorning the popularizing policy of the times, dare to act up to their own great conceptions of individual and social destiny. It claims the encouragement and support of the patriot, who cheerfully devotes his life to the glory of his country. And, withal, it invokes the co-operation of the philanthropist, who toils for the benefit of humanity and looks for his own reward in the happiness which mankind derive from his labors.