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ON TIE RECIPROCAL INFLUENCE OF THE PERIODICAL PUBLICATIONS,
AND THE INTELLECTUAL PROGRESS OF THIS COUNTRY.
Knowledge is of such a quality, that the more a man knoweth, the more increaseth his desire to know.
Few subjects have received less care chinery, and the scarcely less extraore' ful and minute examination, and, con- dinary power which chemistry has sequently, are less thoroughly under- given to man over the most minute stood and appreciated, than the vast and elementary operations and changes and rapid progress of this nation in of matter, and the rude, feeble, and everything connected with the im- unsteady industry of our ancestors. provement of its inhabitants; and yet In one point, however, and to that what subject can be more important, we mean to confine ourselves, the case or contain within itself the sources of is considerably different; we mean the greater interest ? Our ignorance with literary habits, acquirements, and taste regard to the nature and extent of of the present day, as contrasted with them, ought not, however, to be set those which distinguished this country down to apathy; it arises from diffe- half a century ago. We do not allude rent causes. Our advances in the coin- here principally or exclusively to what forts and luxuries of life, in national is called information, though there are wealth and power, in every species of documents and proofs sufficient in exknowledge, and in literary habits and istence, and easily obtained and apacquirements, have been so gradual, pealed to, which would mark and meathough rapid, that we are as little sen sure with considerable exactness the sible of them, as a person who is con progress that has been made in science stantly with a child, is of his increa- and general information during the pcsing height; or, perhaps, a mo-e close- riod we have mentioned. ly fitting comparison would be, that of Our allusion and object, however, is a person in the cabin of a ship, who, more definite and confined. We mean carried along with her, is quite insen- to maintain that in intellect, properly sible and unaware of the progress she so called, (that is, in the structure and is making. Such a person, however, workings of the human mind, as they has an advantage over the inhabitants are exhibited in its reasoning powers, of a country advancing rapidly in im- in its imagination and invention, in its provement; for he, as soon as he goes taste, as well as in its mode of expressupon deck, perceives that he has been ing them,) the standard is much higher carried forward ; whereas, the whole than it was half a century ago; and state of things, as it existed half a cen- that this position admits of more intury ago, being forced out of existence dubitable and direct proof and illusby modern improvements, there is no tration, by an appeal to obvious and immediate and palpable standard by conducive facts, than any other posiwhich we can compare our present tion relative to the progress of this with our by-gone condition.
country. Of this we shall be sensible, if we To appeal to a most easy and simple endeavour to contrast the domestic proof, let any person compare the coeconomy and habits of our immediate sumns of a newspaper fifty years old ancestors with our own; the roads and with the columns of one published at vehicles for conveying passengers and present, and he will be immediately goods, with which they were obliged and strongly struck with the vast supeto content themselves, with the rapid riority of the latter with respect to the and pleasant mode of intercommuni- power of thought, and correctness of cation among all parts of the kingdom taste, it displays; and not less so with which we possess; and, above all, if the much superior correctness, elewe endeavour to obtain the means of gance, and vigour of its style. such a comparison between the present Let bim next take up any of the results of human industry, aided as magazines that were published half a they are by the gigantic powers of ma century ago, he will be soon wearied
and uninterested with the commons at the same time rest satisfied, that this place topics with which they abound, demand is very limited, and that those with the feeble and common-place who are both able and disposed to make manner in which these topics are treat- it, are very few, compared with the ed, and with the bareness, if not the great mass of the nation. vulgarity, of the style. He will im So it is with regard to periodical mediately decide that the authors of publications ; they are a surer index of such papers must either have possess the state and progress of the mind, than ed very little power of mind original- works of a higher character. As, by ly, or that they could never have im- throwing up a straw, we can easily and proved it by excrcise ; and he will not at once perceive the direction, as well hesitate a moment to draw this con- as the strength, of the wind; whereas elusion, that the public, which could we may often be left in ignorance, or encourage, which could even endure, even be deceived, if we endeavour to such publications, must have been far ascertain them by throwing up a heabehind the public of the present day vier object; so the force as well as the in strength and comprehension of in direction of the public mind may be tellect, as well as in correctness and measured and ascertained by periodipurity of taste, and in the knowledge cal publications, more certainly, as of the structure, the powers, and the well as more easily, than by any other graces of their own language.
mode. Occasionally, however, it must be There is still another point of view confessed, there appeared in the pe- in which this subject may be regardriodical publications of the period to ed. We have hitherto confined our which we allude, essays that display- remarks to the comparative nature and ed a vigour and reach of thought rising quality, in respect to matter and style, far above the level of the mass of the of the periodical publications of the contributions; but the rareness of these present day, and of those which existessays only proves the paucity of the ed half a century ago; and from this readers, who were able and disposed to comparison we have drawn the sure peruse and understand them. Not inference that the public mind and only does the supply of every article, taste have advanced very much within whether it be the production of the that perioch. But the periodical pubsoil, of the forge, of the loom, or of the lications of the present day, besides haintellect, adapt itself in less time than ving wonderfully improved in the quawould seem possible, with most adini lity of their contents, rise above their rable precision and fitting, to the exact predecessors in as wonderful a degree, demand for it; but the nature and par- in their variety and numbers, as well ticular quality of the article supplied, as in the extent of their respoctive follows invariably the fancy and the sales. ability of those who are able and will Fifty years since, reallers of such ing to pay for it. This remark applies works were content with one or two in to all articles; and we can as surely a month; the number at present puband safely pronounce, that the intellished weekly, monthly, and quarterlect of the public generally is feeble, ly, we shall not stop to calculate, even and its taste puerile and incorrect, if we possissed the means for accurate when we see it supplied with common- and complete enumeration. Their place essays in the principal periodical vast increase, an:) the constant addiworks, written in a bald and school- tions which are almost daily making boy style, as we can pronounce that a to their number, are too notorious to nation is little advanced in civilization require proof or illustration. Another and wealth, when we perceive the pro- point of comparison, however, though ducts of its industry not only few, but equally important and decisive of the awkward, rude, and imperfect. truth of our position, not being so ob-'
The parallel may be carried still far vious and palpable, requires soine eluther. If, amidst the rude, awkward, cidation. If we may judge from the and in perfect products of a nation's in contents of the periodical publications dustry, we perceive some few that in- balf a century ago, their readers must dicate greater skill and science, we may have consisted of persons to whom an be assured that these would not bave essay on some common-place topic, been produced unless there had exists such as anger, pride, the shortness and ed a demand for them ; but we may vanity of human life, or those of a
similar nature, with just as much in- literature which consists in a knowfusion of intellect as was necessary to ledge of the classics--but that, which, give the symptoms of vitality to the as contradistinguished from science, is words, and this essay written in a conversant about man, his intellectual most loose, feeble, and incorrect style, and moral constitution—his duties, quite on a par, however, with the feelings, and character: from the nathoughts—was a high treat, as being ture of the papers, however, on other exactly on a level with their intellects, topics, we may draw inferences regard and adapted to their comprehension ing our immediate subject. If we peand taste. Even if we turn to the pa- ruse such papers as relate to facts, or pers on any other topics, the solution conclusions deduced from those facts, of which would seem to imply a con we are immediately struck with the sciousness of intellectual power, we ignorance and credulity which the for shall find them equally tame, feeble, mer display, and the unsoundness of and common-place in their thoughts, the inferences drawn, even when the and bare, inelegant, and incorrect in facts are accurate and appropriate. their style. It may, however, be al. How many superstitious, how many leged, that, at this period, only very absurd things were believed thed, to common-place authors wrote for pe- which, at present, even the lowest and riodical works; but this plea will not least informed of the populace would avail ; for, allowing such to have been not give credit? We do not exclusivethe case, does it not prove that the in- ly allude to such things as could not tellect of the mass of readers was also be known to be true or false, without common-place; for the mass of readers more observation or investigation than then, as now, though not nearly so men in general have inclination or leinumerous, principally engaged them sure to give-but to such as, in the very selves in reading periodical works. statement of them, would, at the pre
Besides, in what work, however low sent day, be perceived to involve or its literary character, can we, at this suppose something extremely absurd day, find essays so feeble and des- and improbable. titute of thought, as those which fill In the attempts at reasoning from ed the pages of all the periodical works the facts, there appears an equal inaphalf a century ago ? is not then ano titude to attain and distinguish the ther inference plain and undoubted;- truth. Instances of almost every spethat the level of mental habits and ac cies of false logic may be found ; either quirements—the level of intellectual authority alone supplies the place of power, both in writers and in readers, argument; or the whole question is has risen very considerably within the taken for granted; or the position to stated period?
be proved, is first made the basis of We are by no means unaware that the principle or argument on which in the periodical works of our imme, afterwards the proof is more exclusivediate ancestors, there appeared, occa- ly to rest; or we have the mere semsionally,
, essays which required and blanceof logical arrangementand proof; displayed considerable range and depth everything, in short, set down and conof thought, or a clear and familiar in- ducted according to the most legitisight into the workings of the human mate and popular system, of what was heart, or a cultivated and refined taste; called logic in those days, and then and that these essays were written in the inference drawn in terms and mana perspicuous, correct, vigorous, and, ner equally agreeable to the rules of it may be, an elegant, or even eloquent this logic. But as, when we examine style. But such were very rare, and the best written papers in the periodic it puzzles us extremely to conjecture, cal works of this period, we most frehow a magazine, filled as it usually was, quently find an excessive paucity and by common-place papers, could be en feebleness of thought, concealed under dured by those readers who were able to a flowing and interesting style; so, comprehend and relish such essays. when we examine those papers which
We have already stated, that in com- profess to argue on any subject, we paring the intellectual character of the find merely the skeleton-the dry present day with that of our imme- bones of logic, destitute utterly of vi. diate ancestors, we did not mean to tality. enter on the investigation, except so No one can take up a periodical work far as it related to literature—not that of the period to which we refcr, and
read twenty pages of it, and not be con not of much interest or importance : vinced of the truth and justice of our probably a feeble, confined, and scarceremarks: and if they be true, can our ly living spark of superior intellect, inference be doubted ?-will it not rå was struggling into a flame, and in its ther receive immediate and full assent struggles was assisted by the fuel apthat the intellectual character and plied to it from the sources we have attainments of authors and readers, or, mentioned:
: we need only reflect on in other words, of the public at large, our own acquirements in knowledge have risen very considerably within the and taste, to be convinced how often last fifty years? The facts, that perio- they have sprung up from the accidical publications are infinitely more dental perusal of some work, which numerous at present, than they were neither our literary habits would have then-and that they are so various in induced us, nor our acquirements their character and subjects, or in their would have enabled us, to enter on the individual contents, as to suit all tastes, list of our regular and appropriate habits, and pursuits,-prove, with studies. equal force, that the cultivation of the It is much more interesting, and of mind, the acquisition of knowledge, much more consequence, to reflect on and a desire to acquire more, are infi- the undoubted fact, that literature acts nitely more common at present, than on the public acquirements and taste, they were at the former period. and that these re-act on the character
Here are two grand and most inte- of the literature. The period at which resting facts evidently connected: more an evident and essential improvement powerful intellect, and more accurate and elevation of our periodical publicaand extensive information, spread over tions took place, may be traced back to a larger surface of the community :— the first French revolutionary war. All this is one fact : periodical publications sudden, violent, and extreme chandisplaying infinitely more ability, ges, are highly injurious to the phy. treating of a much greater variety of sical, as well as the intellectual and subjects--a vast increase in the num moral nature of man; but while these ber of them respectively; and a still changes often produce the most fatal greater increase in their individual results to his physical constitution, circulation, and consequently in their and seldom any good at all proporaggregate sale : this is another fact. tionate to the evil, they are, generally Which is the cause, and which the speaking, ultimately and permanently effect? Or rather, shall we not find that beneficial to the intellectual and moin this, as well as in most cases of ad- ral portion of his nature. Much and vancement in the progress of mankind dreadful mischief undoubtedly results, in civilization,comfort, wealth, political, and the influence of this spreads far, civil, and religious freedom, and in in- and often lasts long: the belief, which tellectual and
moral habits and attain was grounded on superstition, igno. ments generally-that circumstances rance, authority, and mere habit, and change their character—sometimes ap- which, of course, embraced and con. pearing as undoubted causes, the ten. founded much that was erroneous and dency, operation, and precise results hurtful with some undoubted and vaof which, can be traced with clearness luable truths, is shaken from its founthrough all their ramifications; and at dation, and in its fall involves in its other times, appearing as effects, which fate doctrines sound and unsound, flow, as from their natural and obvious those that solace and elevate man, causes, from those circumstances, with those that terrify and degrade which previously had been brought him; those that render him a cheerinto existence by those means which ful subject of a free government, with now are their results ?
those that fit him to become the bruBut which is the primary and ori. tified and stupid slave of despotism. ginal cause ? Did a demand exist in But in this dreadful overthrow and the more extended and influential lic destruction, the finger of wisdom and terary habits and tastes of the people benevolence is still visible: what was for a greater number and variety, and erroneous and prejudicial can never a higher class, of periodical publica- again take its former powerful root; tions; or were these first produced, and what is true and beneficial, fixed and thence resulted the improvement on its own peculiar basis, will have of the popular inind? The inquiry is greater stability, uphold a loftier an.'
broaie substructure, and easnot gadations, even of some duration, the possibly in future run acy risk of onward movernent of mankird towards being involved in the overthrow of greate civilization and happiness is error, or, indeert, be essentially injured going on and, in certain periods of time, by any catastrophe. In the dreadfal may easily be observed and measured. crisis of sudden, violent, and extreme but to suppose that mankind can changes, not only will all ancient be advance in civilization and happiness, lief be attacked, and the most absurd without at the same time advancing and dangerous speculative and practie in knowledge, is to suppose the consee cal maxims be propounded and enfor- quenee to exist independently of its ood, but the obliquity of the under natural and proper cause ; and, in standing, which these indicate and reality, we deed no other proof that a Encourage, will be still farther drawn Dation has advanced in knowledge and aside from the path of truth, daty, and the general tone and elevation of its happiness, by the induigence and nou in:ellect, than the circumstance of its rishment of the inost fierce, intract- being more civilized and prosperous able, and poisonous passions of the hu. than it was before. man breast.
But it is scarcely necessary to enThe dominion of the worst passions dearour to prore these positions by geof the human breast, even when they neral and abstract reasoning: whoever are directed and aided by the coolness will compare the present state of the of a satanic understanding, are, how- national mind in Britain as it is now, ever, from the wise and benesolent with the state in which it was thirty constitution of our nature, and the years ago, will be convinced of the equally wise and benevolent course of fact, that it is stronger, more comhuman events, as little capable or being prehensive in its grasp, more active permanent and lasting as the dcmi- and capable of digesting and assimi. nion of error. The impulse and agita- lating a greater portion of more noution of such a dreaciul crisis cannot rishing food: its growth is evident; rouse and exercise the mind with- and it is equally evident, that the ciroat benefiting it: it produces, in- cumstances in which this country was deed, a moral earthquake, bringing to placed during the last thirty years, the surface the lava which destroys though many of them frequently and overwhelms all in its progress; threatened to inflict a fatal blow on but this lav. itself, in a short time, is the intellectual as well as the moral converted into a fertile soil, fitted to portion of our nature, and actually did nourish and rear, not only the com- infiict a blow, that, but for that prinmon produce, but to cause those seeds ciple which wisely and benevolently .to germinate, which, but for this connectsevil with good,must have been convulsion, wouli hare still lain dor- fatal- these circumstances, we repeat, mant and useless in the bosorn of the were mainly instrumental in effecting earth.
the advancement to which we have To permit ourselves to believe that alluded. all the dreadful evils of misery and The exertion of intellect called for vice that flow from such events as and provoked by these circumstances, those France exhibited during her re- was nourished and supported by varivolutionary state, will not be followed ous other subordinate circumstances, and compensated in the course of time which, though, like the grand and peby a still greater portion of benefit to ramount ones, they did much mischief the human race, is to permit ourselves in their direct and immediate conseto lose faith and confidence in the quences, produced ultimately permawisdom, power, or benevolence of nent good. We allude to the publicaProvidence-one, or other, or all of tions that sprung out of the French them. We may not be able to sei so revolution, and the part that this counclearly and so far as to observe these try took on that occasion. The strucbenefits, any more than we can pe- ture of human belief must at first be netrate into the wisdom and bene- built up, in part at least, of improper volence of Providence, in the pro- materials, and must rest on a foundaduction of earthquakes, or any other tion not exactly of the broadest and physical calamity. But such must be firmest kind; in the saine manner as the course and tendency of events both the edifices erected in ignorance of the in the poysical and moral world; principles of mechanics and architec'jongh there may be occasional retro- ture cannot be so stable and conveni