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The accumulation of books has ever been regarded with some degree of jealousy—an inundation of paper and print seems to have been thought as formidable to the ideas of men, as an inundation of water to their houses and cattle. In these latter times, the danger to be apprehended has been deemed so imminent, that various dykes or mud-banks have been established and supported, for the purpose of being interposed between the public and the threatened danger. Reviews have sprung up as rapidly, and as well armed, as the fabled warriors from the teeth sown by Cadmus, to stand in the gap in the hour of need ; but it has been "whispered in the state," that, like the same sons of the earth, these self-elected champions, neglecting the public weal, have turned their arms against each other—that having cleared a ring for themselves under the false pretext of a public cause, they have ceased to exhibit themselves in any other character than that of intellectual gladiators; with literature for an arena—the public for spectators—and weapons poisoned with party malice and personal slander.
However this may be, the " cacoethes scribendi," or rather, " cacoethes imprimendi," is regularly set down, as a disease as urgently demanding medical aid, as a disorder of the frame, a typhus, or a dropsy. The writers of satire, ever since the times of Horace and
VOL. I. PART I. A
Juvenal, have been exclaiming, that all the world were scribbling. That the number of books has been increasing—is increasing—and ought to be diminished—is the deliberate resolution even of those who esteem themselves friendly to literature. That a great book is a great evil, is stamped with the sanction of ages—it has passed into a proverb. If, however, the evil of a book is to be measured by its bulk, the mischief we shall do is small; while at the same time, the good we propose to effect, if estimated on a scale of this kind, is such as must call down upon us the approbation of all favourers of the proverb—since it is one of our objects, and indeed no small part of the design of this work, to reduce books to their natural size; a process which we apprehend will compress many a distended publication into a very insignificant tenement. Let no man weep, as the Thracians did, over the birth of a child, and cry, " another book is born unto the world!" For the space we shall empty is greater than that which we hope to fill, should even our future labours ever rival the "piled heaps" of the most favoured periodical that exists. Though some books will undoubtedly stand the test of the critical touchstone, which we propose, from time to time, to apply to the productions before us, and appear the brighter for the trial; many a well-looking and wellbound volume will fall into ashes in our hands, as the tempting fruit does, which is said to float on the surface of the Dead Sea; while from others, ponderous and unwieldy, the essential ingredients shall be disengaged from the superfluous matter, and the deposit presented either for the amusement or instruction of our readers.