Letter XIX

Two notes from Letter XIX:

[103] * Probably, there never was a period in which more books were read, than the present; yet it is to be feared that trifling publications, and a desultory mode of reading, render even this employment of little utility to many. In order to read with advantage, a plan should be adopted; and those who have least leisure, should most steadily adhere to it. The proper choice of books is of great importance to those young persons who are really desirous to improve in wisdom and virtue; and the advice of a sensible and religious friend, will be found of great service in making a judicious selection. Locke’s Conduct of the Understanding, Watts on the Improvement of the Mind, Mrs. Chapone’s Letters, and Miss More’s Essays, are amongst those which a judicious parent would wish to place in every juvenile library.

[104] concerning Circulating Libraries and novels, she writes in another note:

* The author would not be understood, as indiscriminately attributing the same pernicious tendency to all works of this sort. But it s surely to be lamented, that writers of talents and eminence, do not give their sentiments to the world in a less exceptionable, and a more permanent form. If it be alleged, that a novel is but a picture of life, and the delineation of character is highly interesting and important; it will be allowed that scarcely any thing can be more interesting, or more important, than the contemplation of human nature; but the real studier of mankind, the reader of the world, would see it as it is, neither distorted by fiction nor decorated by fancy. Extraordinary characters do exist, and extraordinary virtues are practised. Events, as unlooked-for and as trying as the exigencies of a novel-heroine, do occur; and were the world of fact known, it would scarcely be in the power of that of fiction, to surprise. Why then should pains be taken to conceal what is, and to give interest only to what is not? The exhibition of events as they actually happen, and the development of causes as they really operate, might surely be rendered interesting to all: and while the thoughtless was warned, and the superficial amused; the philosopher would be informed, and the Christian benefited.

[105] I do not here allude to those storehouses of falsehood and folly, termed “Circulating Libraries;” where, in general, little is to be found that can be read with advantage, or even safety, as they almost exclusively consist of romances and novels.* Perhaps it is not so much [105] the false representations of life, the gay delineations of alluring character, nor the gaudy colouring of romantic felicity, which are most to be dreaded in works of this sort; but that the whole taste will be injured, and the powers of the mind so much weakened by reading them, as to be rendered incapable of attending to more solid, more useful literature.

There are persons possessed of excellent understandings, which, had they been properly directed, would have enabled them to make almost any attainment, who are so much vitiated by a taste for novel-reading, that, at a later period, when the want of more satisfactory enjoyment is felt, and the happiness of useful pursuit desired, have found themselves incapacitated for attending to close argument and deep investigation; and consequently, have lost that sublime pleasure, which the full exercise of the intellectual faculties is calculated to afford. Delighted with wonderful story, and eager for the event, the habitual readers of novels hurry on from page to page. Very little attention, and no reflection is required; and the brain is filled with a jumble of ideas, of distorted characters and improbable events. The common occurrences, the daily duties of life, appear insipid and uninteresting; and the injured being is left to sign after fictitious excellence, and imaginary [106] bliss. I will add no more, but that, if you aim at the happiness of usefulness, you will endeavour to acquire a taste for valuable society, and important literature.