« ForrigeFortsett »
A PREFACE is to the reader, what a fence is to a horse, when it obstructs his progress to a field of sprouting herbage, which he considers himself justifiable to enter by leaping over the barrier. The reader wades through a long preface with as much reluctance, as he would pass through the ordeal of a ceremonious introduction to a large assemblage of guests, when invited to dine with a stranger. This repugnance to preface-reading, doubtless, arises out of the fact, that prefaces are generally dull, and often but the prelude to a still duller book.
To the author, a preface is considered as privileged ground. Upon this arena, he deems himself at liberty to act without restraint-to tyrannise over the time and patience of his reader, by giving a loose rein to his fancy, and by pursuing a course as wayward and foreign to the subject before him as either his pedantry or his vanity may dictate. In the after pages of his work, he considers himself under obligation occasionally to cast a sidelong glance at the subject he is professing to diseuss, and to pay some little respect to the laws of unity, and to a systematick arrangement of his thoughts. We cannot, therefore, but admire this bountiful provision secured to him by the power of custom, by which provision he is allowed, after having toiled through the tedious task of manufacturing a ponderous volume, here to throw off the shackles, and revel over this licensed corner of his field, and become as familiar, and egotistical, and inane, as his conscience and common sense will permit. But it might be well for some writers (myself included, undoubtedly) to consider that custom is a fickle dame, and that reason is not always found in alliance with her.
On this subject, however, custom has not been so parsimonious as to confine her liberality exclusively to the author. If she has granted him the privilege of being dull and prolix in his preface, she has as obligingly favoured the reader with the privilege of escaping from his prefatory dulness and prolixity, by skipping over them, and by commencing at the proper beginning of his book. And now, with becoming candour, 1 announce to my very gentle reader, that if he begins to grow weary of my own prosing, I shall not deem it unkind or uncourteous in him, should he avail himself of his privilege by breaking off at the close of this sentence, and by turning over to the pages which follow this my prelusive disemboguement; for, on the score of prolixity, I do not hold myself bound, under cover of my privilege, to show him any mercy. I have on hand a bundle of disorderly and incoherent ideas, which are quite clamorous to be released from bondage; and being very conscientious, and compassionate withal, I seldom have the hardihood to turn a deaf ear to the cries of the distressed. It is, therefore, altogether for the purpose of fulfilling a moral duty, that I give these fugitives their freedom, and allot them a place in this, the most suitable, part of my work.
Prefaces generally open with a stupid apology for the sin of boring the publick with another book. But a book should be its own and its only apologist. If it is well written, and its subject is important, it needs no apology; but if the reversem -if its manufacturer has arrogated to him. self the dignity and responsibility of authorship, without considering whether he is able to manage his subject in a more masterly manner than his predecessors have done, or even if he has deceived himself in his estimate of his own abilities, an apology, so far from shielding him from rebuke for his daring perpetrations with pen and ink, will fut serve as so much dead weight to sink still lower his drowning cause.
An apology is generally deemed a mark of modesty in an author; but whether he render in this token of diffiderrce as an atonement for the transgression of thrusting himself between his predecessors and the publick, or whether he boldly assert his superiority over them, is of little moment; for, by the very act of writing and publishing, he assumes such superiority
Of all the "labours done under the sun," the.labours of the pen meet with the poorest reward. Even in this age of much light and more reading, an author is often compelled to live on short allowance, and trudge on foot, whilst his more fortunate bookseller revels in luxury, and rolls along in his coach. An ignorant fellow may easily grow rich by selling almanacks, tape, toys, turnips, and teakettles, where a talented author would starve.
Writers of dull books, however, if patronised at all, are rewarded beyond their deserts. We are under no obligation to sympathize with those authors who have “passed their nights without sleep, in order to procure it for their readers.” The cumbroys labours of such men prove unavailing, from an apparently trifling difference of opinion between them and the world which they attempt to enlighten. With an honest zeal they maintain, that their productions are brilliant, but the world perversely denounces them as execrable: and thus, merely by being outvoted, their ponderous tomes soon lumber down into the tomb of forgetfulness. As in raising grain, the quantity of sound wheat is diminished by a rank growth of the straw, so, in the production of books, the amount of solid information they contain, seems to decrease in proportion to the fecundity of the crop.
By reflecting upon the pains and penalties of book-making, and the deplorable fate which awaits the vast majority of those who join the craft, one might naturally conclude, that the experiment of authorship has become so hazardous as to deter fresh adventurers from entering the field; but such a conclusion is so far from being justified by facts, that it would seem as if the number of authors were increased in a ratio corresponding with the increase of the difficulties and dangers which beset their path. Indeed, in modern times, authorship has become a mania, or, perhaps I should say, an epidemick, which appears to be infectious, and which threatens to inundate our land, and leave it encumbered with sand and rubbish.
To the no small annoyance of the community, this alarming malady has particularly affected the honourable fraternity of teachers; and thereby plunged many a thriving family into deep-mystification and doubt. When one of them happens to blunder on to the track of a straggling idea that he deems unique, or to get hold of a foolish conceit, or a new-fangled notion, every intellectual current in his cranium runs riot, and gives him no rest, until he has it 'written out and-printed. Hence, the onerous amount of maudlin abortions in the shape of schoolbooks which is annually disgorged from the press. Without once taking into consideration the enormous difference between carping at the deficiencies, and condemning the faults, of others, and that of avoiding faults and supplying deficiencies, and, losing sight, also, of the important
uism, that knowledge derived from experience, in order to subserve
any useful purpose either in authorship, or in its application to business, must be drawn from successful experienee, many of these book-mongers seem to take it for granted, that, to be able to raise plausible objections to the books that have fallen in their way, and to profess experience in teaching a particular science, constitute the grand climacterick of all that is requisite in order to form a successful writer upon that science. But it is not the man who has merely taught, or who has taught long, or who is able to point out defects in authors, that is capable of enlightening the world in the respective sciences which have engaged his attention ; but the man who has taught well. It is the man of genius and enterprise, he who has brought to the task of his calling uncommon powers of discrimination and a sound judgment, and whose ambition has led him, not to rest satisfied with following the tedious routine of his predecessors, but to strike out a new and a better track, or, at least, to render smoother and brighter the path long trodden. It is to such men, and such only, that we are indebted for all our great improvements in the construction of elementary works for schools and private learners.
Book-makers are too often like office-seekers, who first procure the place, and then bethink themselves of the qualifications necessary to the discharge of its duties. They too frequently set down merely to make a book, without considering, either the importance of the undertaking, or whether they possess the qualifications requisite for its successful accomplishment. But the course pursued by such writers, is as evidently inverted as that which would induce one to read a discourse backwards, or to commence a speech with the peroration, and close it with the exordium, or to attempt to discover the sources of the Nile, by strolling down the banks of the Scamander. There is not, perhaps, a more prevalent and mischievous errour than that which supposes the writers of bad books to be an innocent set of beings, who do little or no harm, unless, indeed, it is that which imagines that the authors of good books, are generally rewarded according to their merit. Bad books are like bad medicines, which, when they do no good, are sure to produce ill effects. If bad books were entirely neutral, they would, of course, have no evil tendency; but the misfortune is, they are much read, and lead their unfortunate votaries into errour. One who is pursuing the path of errour, is certainly farther from truth than he was before he set out, for it leads directly from her temple; and before he can enter this temple, he has to retrace his steps.
But does not the publick always discriminate between merit and demerit, and distribute its rewards accordingly? Far from it. The publick is, indeed, a potent umpire, and one that opens a liberal purse to its favourites; but to its greatest benefactors, it generally proves a heartless tyrant, by taking care, that they shall first be duly starved to death, and then handed over to posterity for their rewards, which come in the shape of monuments, reared to perpetuate their memories.
The truth is, the general mass are not proper judges of books. Hence, their liability to be deceived. How often are they robbed of their time, by poring over pages of trifing, inane, and uninstructive matter—to the perversion of their taste, and the debasement of their minds—when this mispent time, were it devoted to the perusal of works filled with sound sense and solid instruction, would afford them an intellectual banquet from which they might arise with minds refreshed and richly stored with that wisdom which adorns and dignifies human nature, elevates man to his proper rank in the scale of being, and qualifies him to fulfil, with honour and usefulness, his various offices in life.
But school-books, more especially, as they fall into the hands of children and youth-of such as peculiarly need lights to guide them, and encouragements to excite them, when defective or erroneous, are more pernicious than any others; for they prove either false guides, which lead their readers astray, or no guides, which leave them in darkness. Hence, such books are worse than no books. What, then, is to be done, in order to avert the evil influence of bad books—an evil which has been rapidly increasing ever since Cadmus had the kindness to invent letters ?-If this evil cannot be remedied, surely it may be easily retarded in its progress. Let parents, and guardians, and publick functionaries, at once set themselves at work to elevate the profession of school-keeping to the rank and dignity of the other, less important, learned professions, by increasing the salaries of instructers, so much as to enlist in this noble calling, none but men of genuine talents and truly liberal acquirements, and, not only will bad books soon hide their diminished heads, but the youth of our country will receive twice as good an education as they now do, at a less expense, because, in a far shorter time.
When we reflect upon the mighty influence which early impressions have over the minds and conduct of men, the importance of putting good books into the hands of the young, as well as, of giving them proper, oral instructions, presents itself with increased magnitude. Errours imbibed in early life, are seldom rooted out in riper years. As a mere pebble may turn the course of a stream at the fountain-head, so, a virtuous hint, or a poisonous errour, instilled into the mind of a youth, may not only influence his career through this life, by directing him into the path of honour and usefulness, or by leading him into the road of infamy and disgrace, but its influence may extend to his well or ill being through the endless ages of eternity.
It may be justly said, that teachers and authors, in no small degree, preside over the destinies of a free people. According to the bias which they give to the minds of those who receive instructions from them, they either exalt or lower the dignity of a nation. How high a meed of praise, then, does he merit, whose labours are successful in improving our systems of learning in such a manner as to give a new impetus to the intellectual energies of the rising generation. The seeds of knowl, edge which he sows, will be continually springing up in a more and more genial soil, as generation succeeds generation, and will produce more and more abundantly those luxuriant germes of liberty and science which adorn, and beautify, and polish, and exalt a free people. The benefits of his labours will shine forth with increasing lustre through those brilliant geniuses who will hereafter arise and pour fresh floods of light into the moral world-streams that will blaze along the track of time, bearing light and glory down to the remotest posterily.
When we take into consideration the vast and growing resources of our country, and associate them with the intellectual advancement she has already made, it may not be altogether forlorn to hope, nor chimerical to suppose, that the day is not remote in which the attention of our statesmen and publick functionaries generally, will be more singly directed to the all-important object of raising our literary character to a far loftier height than has hitherto been attained by any nation. In such a day of prosperity as this, when it has become a moot point of national legislation how to dispose of surplus revenue-when the highest honours and rewards await the man of genius and scientifick enterprise, what but the want of enlightened views and liberal measures can prevent literary, and scientifick, and political, and religious knowledge, from soon
flowing through our land in channels broad and deep—knowledge, pure as the mountain rill, abundant as the waters of the ocean? What but the want of such views and such measures, can prevent this republick from soon raising a literary, as well as a political, standard, that shall wave as a proud beacon to all the nations of the earth? I must confess my unwillingness to abandon the hope, that to us such a day of national prosperity and literary pre-eminence is rapidly rolling on-a day in which our statesmen will become far more enlightened and liberalized; when talented authors will be more substantially encouraged; the profession of teaching, elevated; and bad books, discarded; when our national dignity, rising in its literary greatness, will shed an undying halo of glory around our political horizon; when our publick institutions will extend their civilizing, and humanizing, and christianizing influence over every island, sea, and mountain, and penetrate the remotest corners of the earth-a day in which Europe, Asia, and Africa, will thankfully look up to her for light and direction, and be proud to imitate her noble example—an era of literary redemption, and the advent of science, in which national prejudices will be overthrown, national animosities, trampled down, national restrictions, rescinded, and the sons of science rise up in every republick, and kingdom, and country, and hold communion at the fountain of Apollo-in short, a literary millennium, in which the Alps will salute the Alleganies, the Himalayas will make obeisance to the Andes, the Niger, the Volga, the Ganges, and the Nile, will claim kindred with the Columbia, the Mississippi, and the Colorado, and the waters of the Caspian and of the Superiour, will rise up and embrace each other.
Courteous reader, lest, by this time, you may think me inclined to be garrulous, if not flighty, upon topicks quite foreign to the subject before me, I will now put a bridle upon my wayward thoughts, and lead them directly into the channel marked out for preface-makers by the good old rules of criticism. Possibly the following pages will justify the conclusion, that the author of them does not possess the qualifications which he has prescribed as indispensable to the successful writer; and that, whilst he deals out his censures to others with an unsparing hand, he is himself guilty of greater faults than those he condemns. Every one knows how much easier it is to point out faults, than to produce original excellences. But whatever may be the defects of the work now merging into being, as author and compiler of it, I have one strong consolation, which is, that its utility will not depend alone on the efforts of my own talents. If the pages penned by myself, present little that is new and useful, a redeeming virtue may be claimed, by presenting in those which follow, much that has been long tried in the crucible of criticism, and which, like pure gold, has been found always to grow brighter by the process of refining.
It may not be altogether inappropriate, in passing, for me to explain the grounds on which is based the presumption of my coming forward to enrol my humble name upon the list of authors on Elocution. It is well known, that, but a few years ago, the tide of grammatical science, as it pertains to the English language, was at a very low ebb in our country, as well as in Great Britain. What the efforts of a few individuals have since done to swell this tide, and conduct it into the humblest walks of life, is equally known. Among those who have successfully laboured in the philological field, Mr. Lindley Murray stands forth in bold relief, undeniably at the head of the list. That the writer's own labours in the same field, have also contributed, in some degree, to