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CO IVI MITTEE.
Chairman-The Right Hon the LORD CHANCELLOR.
Treasurer-WILLIAM TOOKE, Esq., F.R.S.
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UPON the completion of the First Volume of the ' Penny Magazine,' it may not be inexpedient to offer few observations to the purchasers of this little work, whose sale has been justly regarded as one of the most remarkable indications of the extent to which the desire for knowledge has reached in the United Kingdom.
It was considered by Edmund Burke, about forty years ago, that there were eighty thousand readers in this country.
In the present year it has been shown, by the sale of the Penny Magazine,' that there are two hundred thousand purchasers of one periodical work. It may be fairly calculated that tlie number of readers of that single work amounts to a million.
If this incontestable evidence of the spread of the ability to read be most satisfactory, it is still more satisfactory to consider the species of reading which has had such an extensive and increasing popularity. In this work there has never been a single sentence that could inflame a vicious appetite; and not a paragraph that could minister to prejudices and superstitions which a few years since were common. There have been no excitements for the lovers of the marvellous—no tattle or abuse for the gratification of a diseased taste for personality-and, above all, no party politics. The subjects which have uniformly been treated have been of the broadest and simplest character. Striking points of Natural History
- Accounts of the great Works of Art in Sculpture and Painting-Descriptions of such Antiquities as possess historical interest—Personal Narratives of Travellers Biographies of Men who have had permanent influence on the condition of the world--Elementary Principles of Language and Numbersestablished facts in Statistics and Political Economy—these have supplied the materials for exciting the curiosity of a million of readers. This consideration furnishes the most convincing answer to the few (if any there now remain) who assert that General Education is an evil. The people will not abuse the power they have acquired to read, and therefore to think. Let them be addressed in the spirit of sincerity and respect, and they will prove that they are fully entitled to the praise which Milton bestowed upon their forefathers, as “a nation not slow and dull, but of a quick, ingenious, and piercing spirit,acute to invent, subtile and sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any point the highest that human capacity can soar to."
It must not, however, be forgotten that some of the unexampled success of this little work is to be ascribed to the liberal employment of illustrations, by means of Wood-cuts. At the commencement of the publication, before the large sale which it has reached could at all have been contemplated, the cuts were few in number, and partly selected from another work of the Society—the Library of Entertaining Knowledge.' But as the public encouragement enabled the conductors to make greater exertions to give permanency to the success which the · Penny Magazine' liad attained, it became necessary to engage artists of eminence, both as draughtsmen and wood-engravers, to gratify a proper curiosity, and cultivate an increasing taste, by giving representations of the finest Works of Art, of Monuments of Antiquity, and of subjects of Natural History, in a style that had been previously considered to belong only to expensive books.
In the prosecution of this undertaking there have been great mechanical difficulties. The wood-cuts, as well as the text, are transferred to stereotype plates—and the impressions are rapidly printed from these plates by machinery. In this process there can of course be no delicate and careful adjustment, such as is found necessary in printing wood-cuts by the common press. The average number of the Penny Magazine,' printed daily from two sets of stereotype plates, is sixteen thousand, on both sides ;-at the common printing press, one thousand impressions, on both sides, can only be obtained, even where particular care is not required. Seeing, therefore, that the speed with which the · Penny Magazine' is printed, is sixteen times greater than in ordinary printing, some indulgence must be made for defects in the wood-cuts, as they appeared in a few of the early numbers. Those defects have been now almost entirely overcome, by the talent of the engravers, adapting their art to a new process.
It may not be uninteresting to mention two or three facts here, which may possibly be more systematically and fully pointed out hereafter, for the purpose of showing that such a work as the 'Penny Magazine' could not exist in its present state—and its present state is dependant upon its large sale except in a country where civilization is carried forward to very high degrees of persection. The vast number of the existing race of readers, to which we have already alluded, might be supposed sufficient to warrant this assertion; but let us examine it a little more in detail.