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all day long.” Point after point these matters were conceded, to this extent at least, that a considerable number of those who feared the diffusion of knowledge, began to admit that a little something did exist which the workman might be permitted to know. Hence came in useful knowledge; and the Society, which showed by its first prospectus that it intended to promulgate every knowledge except religious knowledge, * took this limitation into its name. The time was not come when it might be openly asserted that all knowledge should be put in the way of all, and every one should be invited to take all he could get. Peace to the memory of an exploded prejudice! The Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge is now working side by side with the Society of which we are speaking, in the diffusion of that secular learning which it once held in horror; and those who would have something to fear, have left off with knowledge, and taken up temperance. Yes! abstinence from whiskey has positively been denounced as the mark of a rebellious temper, and as an invention of the devil,—the very charges that were made against a desire to learn. This is not all the mere spirit of opposition to good : there is a quality of the human mind which the phrenologists ought to find a corner for-fear of change. A few years ago, the Government withdrew some of its offices from
and abandoned the vacant rooms to some public societies. Down went the old desks; the floors and walls got such a scrubbing as nothing but the march of intellect would have dared to give in a government office; and some rebellious spirits, having very much the air of journeymen carpenters, brought in new seats, tables, &c. An elderly and very respectable-looking man put his head into one of these rooms, just after the above changes had been made; and after staring fearfully wild (as a novelwriter would say) addressed a functionary of one of those societies, who was superintending matters, thus: “Great
*" As numerous Societies already exist for the dissemination of religious instruction, and as it is the object of this Society to aid the progress of those branches of general knowledge which can be diffused among all classes of the community, no treatise published with the sanction of the committee shall contain any matter of controversial divinity, or interfere with the principles of revealed religion.”—First Prospectus. A very odd announcement! Try to connect the premises and the conclusion. The ill-expressed meaning is clear enough, with fair construction: but we very much wonder that some of the numerous early enemies of the Society did not insinuate that controversial divinity and interference with revealed religion were implied to be permitted luxuries to the higher classes.
I sat there—no, it was there—for twenty years: I don't know what'll be the end of it!"
At their first starting, the committee of the Society had very strongly in their heads the notion that they had a vocation for direct communication with the uneducated classes, and that their forte (or, at least, their first forte) was to be the simplification and popular illustration of the material sciences. The introductory treatise on the objects, advantages, and pleasures of science (well known to have been written by Lord Brougham), was the incarnation of the genius of popular writing, with all the best and worst points which had distinguished the previous productions of the votaries of that spirit, standing out in the strongest relief. It was as clear as writing could be; it abounded in instances drawn from every corner of the universe, and put together with such skill that the interest never flagged, from the beginning to the end: but it teemed with inaccuracies, sometimes in words, sometimes in things.
These were amended in later editions; and if we consider the legal and political avocations of the writer, we shall simply see reason to regret that he did not submit his work, before publication, to the eye of some one to whom scientific truths were matters of hourly familiarity: we have only here to do with the indication this pamphlet gave of the set which the Society seemed to wish to take. But the most amusing circumstance connected with these slips, is the manner in which the periodical press proceeded to correct them : for when a politician writes on science, the newspapers on the opposite side write against him, right or wrong; nay, let but a great parliamentman translate Demosthenes, and you shall have dozens of columns of verbal criticism, all on stamped paper, and with more Greek than English. One of the misdemeanors we allude to, was the statement that the force of gravity varies from the surface of the earth, instead of the centre; so that whatever may be the weight at any height above the ground, that at twice the height was said to be only the fourth part, and so on. This was a bad exposition of the truth; so bad, that a Tory newspaper could not endure it, and inserted a letter from a correspondent about it. This correspondent was a supposed shopkeeper, who first weighs his little boy in the shop, and then on the first-floor, and finds, to his utter astonishment, that the urchin weighs the same in both places. The wit was good, but only on condition that the ultimate laugh should be against the critic; for it is obvious, that had gravity varied from the surface, as incorrectly stated, the experiment would not have detected it; for since both boy and weights were carried up-stairs together, the weights would have abated of their weight in the same proportion as the boy, and the equilibrium would have been as true as before. As in other things then, here action and reaction were equal and contrary: if a Whig fail in one direction, straightway a Tory fails in the other, and the balance of Europe is kept up
The treatises of the Library of Useful Knowledge continued to advance rapidly; the wits about town called their editors the “ Sixpenny Science Company,”—a very useful name, since it kept before the public the cheapness of their productions, and had not much of a sting after all. Nicknames only thrive at the commencement of an undertaking ; by the time the Penny Magazine appeared, nobody remembered to christen it Goody Two-Sous, which would doubtless have been a knock-down argument. The “Useless Knowledge” Society, and the “ Confusion of Knowledge” Society, were of course immediately snapt up by the lower tribe of punsters, the better ones holding back one instant to give them a chance, just as a good shot will do sometimes, when out with a new hand. But both names were well earned ; for the Society soon began to disseminate that knowledge which had been voted useless by those who fought as long as they could for no knowledge at all; and as to the confusion, what better name did they deserve, who would willingly have made a mechanic as wise as a bachelor of arts? In the meanwhile--that is to say, while punsters were punning, and funsters were funning—the adverse principle got its “ three warnings” in rapid succession; on came the repeal of_the Test Act, the Catholic Emancipation, and the Reform Bill, with only a breathing time between each. The world became political, to an extent unheard of before; and the zealots had nothing to throw away upon so comparatively unexciting a matter as a society for publishing treatises on science and history. We remember individuals who could not mention the Society without disgust at its first establishment, and who afterwards, pending the furious spirit of the time of change, not only ceased their abuse, but bought and read the works of the Society, just as they would those of Murray or Longman.
A person looking at the first announcements of the committee, and comparing them with four out of five of the
treatises which followed, might have thought that, under cover of the professed intention to elevate the lower, the im-provement of the middle classes was really contemplated. It was a manifest and notorious truth, that these productions were above the persons for whom they were nominally intended. We shall presently speak more at length upon the causes and consequences of this practical departure from the theoretical scheme; but first we may mention the new enemy which it raised up. As long as it seemed to be intended to write only for the lower orders, the booksellers cared no more about the Society than about the vendors of penny ballads; but as soon as it became evident that their works were to be competitors with those of “the trade,” this last association began to murmur, then to cry out, and finally to talk about taking steps for the utter suppression of the right to associate for purposes of publication. Meetings were held (or at least summoned) to consider about petitioning Parliament against the wicked company which was to ruin the publishers. Common-sense, however, prevailed at last; and instead of exposing themselves to the ridicule of the country by a demand of a protecting duty against cheapness, the “trade” thought it would be as well to publish cheap works for themselves. Of all the services which the Diffusion Society has rendered to the cause of knowledge, this one of bringing the “trade” to a better view of its own interests, has been the greatest,-for it has thereby created twenty diffusion societies besides itself.
It is perfectly true that efforts had been made by one or two publishers to bring down the better sort of reading, by republishing cheap editions of standard works; but it is as true that these publishers were discountenanced by others as shabby fellows, who hurt,—not religion, not morals, not society—but the trade. These cheap editions were for the most part helped to their cheapness by bad print and
paper: the principle of relying on large sales and quick returns had not yet been thought of. The manner of publishing the great works of great authors was as follows: A large number of booksellers combined to publish what was called a trade edition. If the work were not of the most universally interesting kind, such as Gibbon's Decline and Fall, it was in many volumes, and dear: if it were such as invited competition, as Shakspeare or Tom Jones, it was in small type, and cheap (comparatively: Tom Jones, in two wretchedly printed small volumes, cost ten shillings). As to the matter of these
trade editions, all additions, explanations, glossaries, &c. were sometimes tolerable in the dear editions, and almost always vile in the (comparatively) cheap ones. Let us take a trade edition of Shakspeare, published in 1826 (the year before the Society began its operations), with a sketch of his life (two pages) and a glossary (sixteen pages), and nothing more for the understanding of an author who now presents difficulties in every page. The title-page bears the names of the following booksellers: Rivington, Egerton, Cuthell, Longman, Cadell, Clarke, Booker, Booth, J. and J. M. Richardson, Evans, Mawman, Scholey, Bohn, Pheney, Baldwin, Baynes, Newman, Harding, Hamilton, Wood,' Whitmore, Fenn, Tegg, Duncan, Mason, Mackie, Bohte, Whitaker, Kingsbury, Hurst, Robinson, Simpkin, Saunders, Smith, Elder, Wicksteed, Deighton, Wilson, Stirling, Slade, Black, Brown, Fairbairn,-forty-four booksellers, --with Co.'s, probably upwards of sixty,—with sleeping partners, or persons who had invested
money in these several concerns, perhaps one hundred. One hundred English capitalists combining to print an edition of one of the most celebrated English writers ! We look into the glossary of the hundred English capitalists, and we find that an A, B, C, book,” is a catechism, doubtless because the catechism begins with—“Qu. What is your name? Ans. M or N.” We add a few more glosses, some of which will surprise by the information they give, and others by the want of it. Keep in mind-Shakspeare,-glossary of sixteen pages,—one hundred capitalists.
“Acquittance, requital.—Adversity, contrariety.—Afeard, afraid. - Arm, to take up in the arms.— Art, practice as distinguished from theory, theory. * — Avaunt, contemptuous dismission.- Augurs, auguries or prognostications.- Authentic, an epithet applied to the learned.—Banquet, a slight refection, a desert.-Baselisks, a species of cannon.-Beaver, helmet in general.—Bridal, the nuptial feast. -Card, perhaps a sea-chart.-Chamber, ancient name for London. - - Child, a female infant. — Constancy, consistency.--Deny, to refuse.-Kinsman, near relative.-Royal, due to a king.–Setebos, a species of devil.—Sot, a fool.- Traitress, a term of endearment. -Summer-swelling, that which swells or expands in summer.
If any of our readers remember the little dictionaries attached to the old style of spelling-books, they will find
* These two diametrically opposite meanings are actually given. We put this note, for fear of it being supposed that our own printer bas casually doubled a word: perhaps their's did.