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It was the custom in days of yore for authors to bespeak the indulgence of the public by the timid and respectful phrase “ Gentle Reader.” This phrase I am much inclined to adopt, from a persuasion that my little book will not become attractive and popular unless my readers make up their minds to be as “gentle" as possible.
That a considerable number of them will preserve the quality of gentleness throughout the book, I am pretty comfortably assured beforehand. But I cannot answer for any who, with numerous excellencies, have the defect of being more or less angry with erery writer whose opinions differ from their own, or whose mode of writing does not suit their taste. For my own part, I have read hundreds of volumes, in which opinions are expressed and modes of illustration adopted which I could not approve, with perfect composure, because I felt that the authors had a right to express their views and present them in that form which suited best with their own genius ; and also because I saw so much that I did approve, that I could not be angry
without the meanness of bigotry and the guilt of censoriousness. I do not say this from an absurd notion that every man who finds fault with me will be wrong; but that the reader, while just as a critic, may be charitable as a Christian. Some London reviewers have complimented my other little books on account of their alleged “good humour.” Well, it is a real comfort that an author in a small way, who can make no pretensions to great erudition and whose works are not yet selling by tens of thousands and enlightening all the nations on the face of the earth, has something in him to make him tolerable and endurable. Now, this said compliment appears to me to indicate that the men who made it were in “good humour” as readers. The very thing I like ; the thing I want to be perpetuated.
It is Dr. Samuel Johnson, if I mistake not, who says, “ Without good humour virtue may awe by its dignity, and amaze by its brightness, but must always be viewed at a distance, and will scarcely gain a friend, or attract an imitator.'' The doctor is right.
And yet this must be a very questionable virtue, that does little else but frighten people—virtue in the abstract, and were it not a contradiction in terms, I should say, a proud virtue ;-a well meaning thing which, while honourably enough avoiding contact with wilful and irreclaimable sinners, (knowing that “evil communications corrupt good nianners,”) stands aloof, but too often, even from good men whose virtue is less ascetic and more sociable.
The day is fast approaching when condescension and affability will be demanded of all who “profess and call themselves Christians ;" when stiffness, pomposity and ostentation, both in religion and literature, will be regarded as spurious dignity; when the pure and undefiled religion of our Lord Jesus Christ will be maintained in speech and in writing against the fictitious holiness of the delusionist and Pharisee; when, while “honour is cheerfully given “ to whom honour is due," and all lawful authority sincerely respected, pride in all its forms will be protested against and treated with ineffable contempt.