« ForrigeFortsett »
VOLUME THE SIXTH.
The art of printing, though so peculiarly fitted to be the nurse and guardian of all the other arts of life, must be allowed to have lent them its aid but reluctantly and slowly. For ages, after its introduction, it was almost exclusively devoted to the service of poets, philologists, historians, and philosophers; and it was still chiefly to personal transmission, from father to son, that mankind had to look for the preservation of their acquisitions of mechanical knowledge and skill. Hence the monopoly of particular arts, by particular castes and families; hence the confinement of others to one or two spots on the earth's vast surface; hence the obscurity in which so many of them have remained shrouded, while the clouds of the night of barbarism have been clearing away from all around them; hence that rudeness and imperfection which, in not a few, attest the uniform influence of secresy and seclusion on the progress of improvement; and hence the fact, so fruitful of painful reflection to the man of science and philanthropist, that numerous processes of the greatest value to the arts and to humanity, have been lost for ever to the world.
It is but as yesterday that that master art, which defies all such hazards, and sets at nought all such limitations, has
condescended to take the humbler arts under its protection. Nor, until it did so, could the press be said to have began to diffuse one half of the blessings with which it is fraught to mankind. For, however the circulation of works of literature may serve to exalt the minds and improve the tastes of men, it may be safely affirmed, that the page which makes one useful art better understood, or more extensively known than it was before, does more to promote the substantial welfare of nations, than any hundred pages of reasoning or of fancy that were ever printed.
Now that the arts of the workshop are, equally with the labours of the college and cloister, objects of attention to the press, they seem, as it were, placed beyond the reach of vicissitude and decay. They cannot do else than go ou improving and prospering. Mountains and seas can isolate them no longer; neither obscurity nor oblivion again overtake them. Once transferred to the descriptive page, they must live for ever and for all mankind. Once laid open
to all eyes, and exposed to universal scrutiny, there is not a defect in their details which will not be speedily detected, nor an improvement of which they are susceptible, but what will be, ere long, supplied. The experience of one country will be enlightened by the experience of another; and the rivalry of nations become only a rivalry in improvement. Some shifting of places may be expected to happen; one manufacture to displace another; or one nation to take up and excel in an art which has heretofore been the pride of its neighbours, or cultivated by them to little or no purpose; but in all such changes, we shall but witness the salutary workings of an enlarged state of freedom and intelligence, which enables every individual and nation to occupy themselves with that which they can do best. The arts, like plants, have their genial and adverse soils, and will no more fly the former, than take permanent root in the latter. When artificial and arbitrary mcans are necessary to retain