Imatges de pÓgina
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ber of readers, it soon became evident that even in his mother-tongue an author could find an audience worthy of his ambition. Hence the gradual neglect of Latin in each country, and the increased cultivation of the vernacular, until at length the European literature settled into the form which it now bears. And the effect on society was not less striking than the effect on literature. The deliberate culture of a national literature is of itself a social revolution; but a revolution not less important was produced by depriving the European priesthood of what had for ages been their almost exclusive possession. Letters were no longer a scholastic cabala; the medieval distinction between clerk and lay was nullified; the priesthood of Western Europe, ceasing to be the exclusive owners of an art that was to the multitude like a wondrous charm, lost a mysterious power, which was an outward and palpable sign of a divine but imperceptible influence. Here we have a good illustration of the saying that a little learning is a dangerous thing," and that the only cure for the danger is to increase the learning which caused it. The invention of writing helped literature, but helped it under conditions that created monopoly, and subjected the nations to a hierarchy which may have been in some respects beneficial, but which must have been in all respects tyrannical. It required that still further help to literature and spread of education which printing supplied, to remedy those evils which the invention of writing had confirmed, if not generated.

Literature has in our day received an impulse and a development which in some respects may be described as not less extraordinary, not less revolutionary, than the impulse and the development which it derived successively from the creation of an alphabet and from the invention of printing. We cannot, indeed, fix upon any one discovery in the present century that may be compared for importance with either of the grand events to which we have just referred; but we can point to the concurrence of an immense number of new applications and new arrangements that have tend

ed to diffuse education, and not only to cheapen, but also to improve and to enrich books, in a manner previously unexampled. The stereotypic process has been perfected; steam has been applied to the printing-press; the printing-press has been so elaborated that it is possible to throw off 20,000 copies of The Times in an hour; paper is improved and cheapened; various societies have been making the greatest efforts to popularise knowledge; we have been doing our best by "grants in aid" and competitive examinations to raise the standard of education; while, keeping equal pace with these appliances, Government has abolished the stamp on newspapers except for postal purposes, the duty on advertisements has been abrogated, and there is every prospect that very speedily the paper duty, the last of the taxes on knowledge, will go with the rest. Along with such facilities as these should be mentioned the advance that has been made in those arts by which books are illustrated. The art of wood-engraving has been revived, and beyond our expectation refined; printing in colours has been prosecuted with singular success; by the anastatic method, maps can be produced at a cost little beyond that of tracing the design; the sun not only draws pictures for us, but also prints them to any extent, so that books are illustrated directly by photographs. To all this add, that cheap music is the growth of but the last few years, and the most recent result of using movable types is, that one enterprising firm (Messrs Cocks and Co.) have been able to offer Handel's Messiah to the public at the extraordinary price of one shilling and fourpence. Nor ought it to be forgotten that the railway, and the telegraph, and the penny postage, by bringing near to us a vast world beyond our own limited circles, and giving us a present interest in the transactions of the most distant regions, enormously increase the number of readers, and of themselves create a literature. Here, then, we see an immense number of new and powerful processes all converging to one great end. We see the most strenuous public and pri

vate efforts to educate the country, to multiply readers, and to increase the necessity for books; we see what have been called the taxes on knowledge disappearing one after the other; we see the means of communication all over the globe most wonderfully developed; we see that machinery has by a variety of contrivances been so perfected as to render publication as easy and as cheap as possible; and we see a marvellous discovery, as well as admirable inventions, by means of which art is brought to the aid of literature, and the shortcomings of description assisted by the vividness of pictures. What must be the united effect of these manifold forces, some of which are not yet fully developed, and must be regarded as putting forth but half their strength? The employment of electricity, for example, in the communication of thought is as yet in its infancy, and the results which have already been attained are so prodigious that the wildest conjectures we can form as to the future application of this extraordinary power are not to be ranked among the impossibilities. When, three centuries ago, Strada dreamt of a magnetic telegraph, and when, about a century and a-half ago, Addison described to the British public the conjecture of Strada, that by means of a loadstone and a dial-plate engraved with the letters of the alphabet it might be possible for friends separated hundreds of miles to converse with each other, the idea must have seemed to be infinitely more extravagant than it would now be to suggest that electricity, which has been made to print the telegrams, can be made to assist the printer even still more effectually. What, we repeat, must be the united effect of all the forces we have enumerated-some of them still forces in the bud? Is it too much to say that the combination of all together cannot be rated as anything less important than the discovery of an alphabet or the invention of printing? It would be presumptuous to think that we could fully estimate the effects of influences at once so powerful and so subtle. It is not now, when they are but beginning to act, that even the most sagacious reasoner

could venture to predict what must be the infallible consequences. But we can, at all events, take note of tendencies. Already the new life that literature has received from the inventions of an age remarkable for its mechanical genius shows itself in new forms of publication, new habits, new necessities, and we may record these, if we do not profess to comprehend them fully. Even if we exaggerate trifles, it will be a less mistake than to ignore them altogether. When the first newspaper was published at Venice, and called a Gazette, as Mr Disraeli suggests, from the name of a magpie or chatterer, but more probably from the farthing coin which was the price of it, what would have been said if it had been then predicted that the greatest warrior of modern times would estimate the power of four journals at more than 100,000 bayonets? Napoleon is reported to have so estimated the power of the press in his day; and what is it now, at least in this country? What will it be a century hence? What is to be the destiny of all this popular literature which is now produced in almost incredible quantities, and of which the so-called

press " is but a single branch? In the whole range of political thought, there is not a subject that at the present moment is half so suggestive. Call it hope, call it fear-at all events imagination is thoroughly aroused as we watch the giant strides of literature in these days-the universality of print, the omnipotence of ink. For good or for bad, our future is in it; and although no wise man can be insensible to the dangers by which it is beset, and the abuses to which it is liable, yet every candid one must admit that in this country at least, and as far as our experience at present reaches, the rise of this great power in the State, the development of this strange form of public life, the exercise and the extension of this franchise, must be numbered among our greatest political blessings. May it be so in the future! We, as Tories, can look forward to that future, if without exultation, yet also without fear. All the movements of the time tend towards democracy, it is true, and a free press is supposed to he the pecu

liar symbol and engine of the democrat; but when the dreaded deluge comes, perhaps it will be found to come with safeguards in the constitution of the English press, which no previous democracy has ever enjoyed, and which not even the great democracy across the Atlantic can boast. Whatever be the result of our inquiries, however, the subject must not be blinked; we must make up our minds about it one way or another; and it may not be amiss to make some attempt, at least, to generalise the facts from which it is impossible to escape.

Among these facts may here be mentioned the peculiar development of modern periodical literature. The rise of the periodical press is the great event of modern history. It has completely altered the game of politics; it has rendered obsolete more than half the State maxims of European Cabinets; it represents the triumph of moral over physical force; it gives every one of us a new sense-a sort of omniscience, as well as a new power-a sort of ubiquity. That, certainly, and all that it involves, is the most important of the facts which demand our attention; but scarcely less worthy of notice is what may be termed the Tract literature of the country. This, it is true, sometimes takes the periodical form, and connects itself more or less intimately with some kind of magazine or newspaper, but it is not necessarily periodical. It is the literature of clubs, of leagues, of societies-for the most part a propaganda literature, existing for a special purpose, and ceasing when that purpose is attained. In extent it is prodigious, and in interest it is very curious for the marvellous organisation, wheel within wheel and cog upon cog, which it reveals in full activity throughout the country. Not to be confounded with the foregoing species of literature, and yet naturally connecting itself with it, is the system of prize literature which has lately been carried on with immense vigour. Prizes are offered for essays on certain subjects, the competitors being sometimes limited to amateurs of a particular class-to the working classes for example; and the object is partly to get an effective book on

the theme proposed, but chiefly to stimulate an interest in a foregone conclusion. Under this head it is natural to inquire what must be the effect of such amateur writing up to a predetermined issue, and how far the principle of such competitions is congenial to the English mind? From literature of such an order to commercial literature the transition is not very violent. The adaptation of literature to commercial necessities is one of the most curious of the phenomena of our time, and not only curious, but important, since to a very large extent it may be regarded as the genuine outcome of the uneducated roughand-ready popular mind. Nor while in such effusions as these we trace the more serious attempts at literature, ought we to forget the lighter aspects which the cheap publications of the day present. And at this point it is to be noted, as the principal fact, that pictorial illustration enters into every attempt to amuse the British public. What are the limits and what is the influence of illustration are inquiries that in this connection ought to be fairly met. Advancing in our inquisition, we come to an immense number of publications which might have been treated of under the head of periodical literature, but which may not unreasonably receive separate considerationwe allude to a multitude of journals and serials, most of them profusely illustrated, and all of them devoted to fiction, published at a penny or less, and intended for the most ignorant class of readers. This is the lowest and the most questionable kind of literature, and it is mainly the product of our modern facilities of publication. How far these facilities have influenced the comic literature, the ballad and song literature, the nursery and educational literature of the country, are cognate inquiries scarcely less worthy of investigation, although far more difficult of solution. Some of these subjects have been already discussed by Maga, and that, too, very recently. Even were it not so, however, we could not pretend to take any adequate survey of the vast and fertile field of observation indicated in the foregoing sketch. We must be content to seize a few of the

more important points; and we begin with the most important of all-the PERIODICAL PRESS.

A periodical differs from a book in being calculated for rapid sale and for immediate effect. A book may at first fall dead upon the market, and yet may endure for ages, a wellspring of life to all mankind. A periodical, on the other hand-be it a daily paper, a weekly journal, a monthly magazine, or a quarterly review - is a creature of the day: if each successive number does not attain its object in the short span of existence allotted to it, then it fails for ever it has no future. The newspaper of to-day supplants the newspaper of yesterday. The Saturday summary of news scarcely lives till the following Saturday. The magazines are thrown aside before the month is out. It is necessary, therefore, to the success of a periodical, that it should attain an instant popularity—in other words, that it should be calculated for the appreciation, not of a few, but of the many. Periodical literature is essentially a popular literature, and, enormously as our literature has been increased of late years, it is in the direction of periodical publications publications for the million -that it has been especially developed. Even in the issue of works which are not of an ephemeral nature Standard Libraries," Family Libraries," "Travellers' Libraries," "Useful Libraries," encyclopædias, and the like-publishers find the advantage of serial production. There is no reason why a man who has purchased Sheridan's dramatic works should next invest his money in Wheatley on the Common Prayer; yet Mr Bohn counts upon his doing so, and treats the public as the children of habit. Such a fact as this brings into prominence another characteristic of serial or periodical literature; it is not only popular, it is a necessity of its popularity that it should also be to a very large extent miscellaneous. In the "Bibliothèque Charpentier" we find the Paradise Lost bound up in the same yellow volume with the Sentimental Journey; in any of our own magazines or reviews there will be an essay on fly-fishing immediately after an ex

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posure of the weakness of the Turkish Empire, or a tale of the most exalted love after a long dissertation on the nebular hypothesis. This wide range of subjects is indeed both cause and effect of popularity-a popularity of which it is extremely difficult to convey any adequate idea. It would be easy to heap up statistics, but, unfortunately, statistics are signs rather than ideas. An arithmetical operation is an expedient to save thought; a sum total is a number which we express in so many figures, not a quantity which the mind actually grasps. The most vivid idea of the enormous diffusion of periodical literature will be obtained by a visit to any flourishing newsvender; by seeing how his shop is loaded with periodicals of all sorts and sizes, and at prices from a halfpenny up to a shilling; by noting the rapidity with which he disposes of all these, each transaction being for the most part limited to the value of a penny; and by considering how many hundreds of such shops and stands there are in London alone, not to speak of the country, where we find every shire, every town, almost every village, with its local newspaper, strong in itself, and stimulating the absorption of the metropolitan literature. It is out of such an organisation, which is continually spreading in its influence, that we obtain journals whose daily or weekly circulation is to be measured by tens and hundreds of thousands.

Now, the first conclusion to which people who think of our periodical literature jump is, that, being ephemeral, being miscellaneous, and being popular, it must necessarily be superficial. They say it is every year becoming more and more superficial, and they ask, where is all this to end? Is the national character to lose its solidity? Is the staple of our instruction to be derived from the columns of a newspaper, from magazine articles, and from slashing reviews? It would be too much to say that the periodical press does not too often give occasion for reproaches such as these: Here we find superficiality, there ignorance, elsewhere absolute nonsense. But these are weaknesses which we find just as frequently in publications that are not

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periodical, and we cannot believe that periodical literature, spite of the rapidity of writing which it implies, necessarily entails superficiality. The periodical literature itself, as we shall presently show, gives the most effectual answer to the charge of superficiality; but we may, in passing, advert to the fallacy of the principle on which such an accusation proceeds. It is the schoolboy's fallacy that learning is a punishment; it is the ploughman's fallacy that medicine is a cheat if it does not make him very sick; it is the old woman's fallacy that a sermon ought to set her to sleep; it is the classical fallacy that the owl is the bird of wisdom. On the contrary, it is capable of distinct proof that popular writing ought really to be of the most profound. If it costs the reader little trouble, it costs the writer much. On the same principle that dictated the apology of South for a long sermon-"I had not time to make it shorter," or the antithesis of Sheridan-" Easy writing 's curst hard reading,"-it follows that the simplicity and the clearness which are the essentials of periodical writing frequently imply a much more perfect grasp of the subject, a much more valuable digest, than the tedious details, the incomprehensible digressions, and the technical phraseology of more ambitious performances. We do not indeed say that these more ambitious performances are not also more able than the ordinary run of compositions which emanate from the periodical press, but only that their tediousness and intricacy are not necessarily signs of superiority. Truth is generally simple, and can be simply told. The popular writer is compelled to shun irrelevancies and to study brevity. That necessity is an unmixed good-it is bad only for show. Those who see superficiality in popular writing are much like the people who, more than two centuries ago, were accustomed to hear their favourite preachers interlard their discourses with copious quotations from the Greek and Latin authors, and who deemed it a sad falling-off when this practice was discontinued, and no one could judge from the sermon whether the preacher were a "Latiner" or not. As a sermon may be effective

without a display of learning, so within the short limits of a newspaper article the whole truth may be conveyed as in a nutshell, and the simplicity which vulgar minds mistake for weakness may be the most certain test of profound knowledge and clear vision. Or if, granting that the articles themselves are not superficial because they happen to be readable, it may be said that, since they appear in an ephemeral form, the effect on the reader's mind must be superficial, it must be remembered that the very idea of a periodical implies frequency of repetition. A subject is not treated once for all and then dismissed for ever. Hundreds of periodicals treat of it, and recur to it again and again, never letting it drop until it is thoroughly exhausted, and the public are quite sick of it.

But the most remarkable characteristic of periodical literature, and that which supplies the principal antidote to any superficial tendency, is the multiplicity and specialty of its divisions. This fact is the key to the position and influence of the press. Without seizing it in all its significance, the power of the press will be to us but a name like the dread name of Demogorgon." And here the great point to be kept in view is that periodical literature is essentially a classified literature. No matter on what principle the classification proceeds, the result is still the same-to divide and subdivide this kind of literature more and more. It is the rarest thing in the world for a periodical to succeed which does not either represent a class of readers or select a class of subjects. We have in our time seen a great number of journals started with not a little capital, and conducted with no ordinary ability, but yet utterly failing because of the want of a specialty.

Even a daily paper which is supposed to concern itself with the whole universe of thought must have its preferences, and, although aspiring to represent an entire nation, can at best be the mouthpiece of a majority. Certain subjects must be overlooked, certain interests must be ignored, certain classes must be neglected. It cannot hope to give anything like a complete record of all

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