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fickle dame, and that reason is not always found in alliance with her.
On this subject, however, custom has not been so parsimonious as to confine her liberality exclusively to the author. If she has granted him the privilege of being dull and prolix in his preface, she has as obligingly favoured the reader with the privilege of escaping from his prefatory dullness and prolixity, by skipping over them, and by commencing at the proper beginning of his book. And now, with becoming candour, I announce to my very gentle reader, that if he begins to grow weary of my own prosing, I shall not deem it unkind or uncourteous in him, should he avail himself of his privilege by breaking off at the close of this sentence, and by turning over to the pages which follow this my prelusive disemboguement; for, on the score of prolixity, I do not hold myself bound, under cover of my privilege, to show him any mercy. I have on hand a bundle of disorderly and incoherent ideas which are quite clamorous to be released from bondage; and being very conscientious, and compassionate withal, I seldom have the hardihood to turn a deaf ear to the cries of the distressed. It is, therefore, altogether for the purpose of fulfilling a moral duty, that I give these fugitives their freedom, and allot them a place in this, the most suitable, part of my work.
Prefaces generally open with a stupid apology for the sin of boring the publick with another book. But a book should be its own and its only apologist. If it is well written, and its subject is important, it needs no apology; but if the reverse-if its manufacturer has arrogated to himself the dignity and responsibility of authorship without considering whether he is able to manage his subject in a more masterly manner than his predecessors have done, or even if he has deceived himself in his estimate of his own abilities, an apology, so far from shielding him from rebuke for
his daring perpetrations with pen and ink, will but serve as so much dead weight to sink still lower his drowning cause.
An apology is generally deemed a mark of modesty in an author; but whether he render in this token of diffidence as an atonement for the transgression of thrusting himself between his predecessors and the publick, or whether he boldly assert his superiority over them, is of little moment; for, by the very act of writing and publishing, he assumes such superiority.
Of all the "labours done under the sun," the labours of the pen meet with the poorest reward. Even in this age of much light and more reading, an author is often compelled to live on short allowance, and trudge on foot, whilst his more fortunate bookseller revels in luxury, and rolls along in his coach. An ignorant fellow may easily grow rich by selling almanacks, tape, toys, turnips, and teakettles, where a talented author would starve.
Writers of dull books, however, if patronised at all, are rewarded beyond their deserts. We are under no obligation to sympathize with those authors who have "passed their nights without sleep, in order to procure it for their readers." The cumbrous labours of such men prove unavailing, from an apparently trifling difference of opinion be tween them and the world which they attempt to enlighten. With an honest zeal they maintain, that their productions are brilliant, but the world perversely denounces them as execrable: and thus, merely by being outvoted, their ponderous tomes soon lumber down into the tomb of forgetful
As in raising grain, the quantity of sound wheat is diminished by a rank growth of the straw, so, in the production of books, the amount of solid information they contain, seems to decrease in proportion to the fecundity of the crop.
By reflecting upon the pains and penalties of book-mak
ing, and the deplorable fate which awaits the vast majority who join the craft, one might naturally conclude, that the experiment of authorship has become so hazardous as to deter fresh adventurers from entering the field; but such a conclusion is so far from being justified by facts, that it would seem as if the number of authors were increased in a ratio corresponding with the increase of the difficulties and dangers which beset their path. Indeed, in modern times, authorship has become a mania, or, perhaps I should say, an epidemick, which appears to be infectious, and which threatens to inundate our land, and leave it encumbered with sand and rubbish.
To the no small annoyance of the community, this alarming malady has particularly affected the honourable fraternity of teachers; and thereby plunged many a thriving family into deep-mystification and doubt. When one of them happens to blunder on to the track of a straggling idea that he deems unique, or to get hold of a foolish conceit, or a new-fangled notion, every intellectual current in his cranium runs riot, and gives him no rest, until he has it written out and-printed. Hence, the onerous amount of maudlin abortions in the shape of school-books which is annually disgorged from the press. Without once taking into consideration the enormous difference between carping at the deficiencies, and condemning the faults, of others, and that of avoiding faults and supplying deficiencies, and, losing sight, also, of the important truism, that knowledge derived from experience, in order to subserve any useful purpose either in authorship, or in its application to business, must be drawn from successful experience, many of these bookmongers seem to take it for granted, that, to be able to raise plausible objections to the books that have fallen in their way, and to profess experience in teaching a particular science, constitute the grand climacterick of all that is re
quisite in order to form a successful writer upon that science. But it is not the man who has merely taught, or who has taught long, or who is able to point out defects in authors, that is capable of enlightening the world in the respective sciences which have engaged his attention; but the man who has taught well. It is the man of genius and enterprise, he who has brought to the task of his calling uncommon powers of discrimination and a sound judgment, and whose ambition has led him, not to rest satisfied with following the tedious routine of his predecessors, but to strike out a new and a better track, or, at least, to render smoother and brighter the path long trodden. It is to such men, and such only, that we are indebted for all our great improvements in the construction of elementary works for schools and private learners.
Book-makers are too often like office-seekers, who first procure the place, and then bethink themselves of the qualifications necessary to the discharge of its duties. They too frequently set down merely to make a book, without considering, either the importance of the undertaking, or whether they possess the qualifications requisite for its successful accomplishment. But the course pursued by such writers, is as evidently inverted as that which would induce one to read a discourse backwards, or to commence a speech with the peroration, and close it with the exordium, or to attempt to discover the sources of the Nile, by strolling down the banks of the Scamander. There is not, perhaps, a more prevalent and mischievous errour than that which supposes the writers of bad books to be an innocent set of beings, who do little or no harm, unless, indeed, it is that which imagines that the authors of good books, are generally rewarded according to their merit. Bad books are like bad medicines, which, when they do no good, are sure to produce ill effects. If bad books were
entirely neutral, they would, of course, have no evil tendency; but the misfortune is, they are much read, and lead their unfortunate votaries into errour. One who is pursuing the path of errour, is certainly farther from truth than he was before he set out, for it leads directly from her temple; and before he can enter this temple, he has to retrace his steps.
But does not the publick always discriminate between merit and demerit, and distribute its rewards accordingly? Far from it. The publick is, indeed, a potent umpire, and one that opens a liberal purse to its favourites; but to its greatest benefactors, it generally proves a heartless tyrant, by taking care, that they shall first be duly starved to death, and then handed over to posterity for their rewards, which come in the shape of monuments, reared to perpetuate their memories.
The truth is, the general mass are not proper judges of books. Hence, their liability to be gulled. How often are they robbed of their time, by poring over pages of trifling, inane, and uninstructive matter-to the perversion of their taste and the debasement of their minds-when this mispent time, were it devoted to the perusal of works filled with sound sense and solid instruction, would afford them an intellectual banquet from which they might arise with minds refreshed and richly stored with that wisdom which adorns and dignifies human nature, elevates man to his proper rank in the scale of being, and qualifies him to fulfil, with honour and usefulness, his various offices in life.
But school-books, more especially, as they fall into the hands of children and youth-of such as peculiarly need lights to guide them, and encouragements to excite them, when defective or erroneous, are more pernicious than any others; for they prove either false guides, which lead their readers astray, or no guides, which leave them in darkness.