Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

in life and morals. A collection of statistical notes lies before us, which, if not absolutely complete, we have reason to believe accurate, as far as they go, in determining the quantity and quality of the popular literature now circulating among the working classes and idlers of this vast metropolis.

Seventy-eight weekly periodicals are enumerated, of which nearly two-thirds are issued at the price of one penny, none exceeding twopence: twenty-eight of these are devoted to miscellaneous matter; seven to more political subjects; fifteen to the publication of novels, romances and tales; sixteen to biography of celebrated individuals ; four to scientific intelligence; three to the drama; two to medicine; two are collections of songs, and one registers the progress of the Temperance cause. More than two-thirds of these have the attraction of illustrations. It is not our purpose to enumerate these separate publications by name, for obvious reasons; a few of their leading features, however, are not to be passed over. It is remarkable, that, of those devoted to miscellaneous matter, the larger half,-namely, such as succeed by caricaturing, for the use of the apprentice and the domestic servant, those personalities to which their masters have long weakly and thoughtlessly lent an ear,-are compelled, over their unblushing vileness, to cast a flimsy show of respect for appear

There is not one of them but has public morals in its tender care, and if its word might be taken, only lashes and destroys and sullies with the intent of holding up Folly and Corruption to indignation and ridicule. Some, professing to take the physical health of their clients in their charitable keeping, by the wholesale and vulgar quackery of their counsels, compel us to consider the parties advised as little more enlightened than their ancestors, who put trust in the spells of the fortune-teller, and sickened under the terrors of the evil eye. In some the trade in reputations is publicly announced as a part of their system, and the price for the suppression of intelligence quoted with a mercantile coolness and accuracy. Some, taking their example from the journals which brought themselves into notice by whimsically dramatizing the proceedings of our courts of justice and police, thrive upon the accidents and offences of the day. There is hardly a haunt of infamy which is not branded by its mis

ances.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

calmer times, the standard of taste sank lower; the virtue of sincerity became a despised thing; the great arena of popular criticism was possessed by coteries, each more mercenary and more unscrupulous than its predecessor; until to catch the ear of the demoralized and satiated public, it was necessary to descend into the broad, the farcical, the grimly real, or the grossly personal-witness late biographies and “ reminiscences” — witness “ Jack Sheppard,” and “The

“ Factory Boy!”

But if the disease of popular taste in the middle class be evidenced by a demand for such tawdry and morbid productions, how much the worse must be the consequences of the distemper when laying hold of the less informed! For they have no recollections of a higher and purer literature to woo them back, when the fit shall have passed, -no acquaintance with the machinery of composition to destroy their implicit trust in the truth of a printed book,—and the grinding cares of life impel them with an unparalleled blindness of eagerness to those sources of instruction from which they fancy aid and counsel may be derived, or to those pastimes the excitement of which shall be the most intoxicating. If such be the light reading of the educated, what is the light reading of the uneducated ? Let us inquire what the Press is doing for them-conceiving that, in their case too, the journal is the guide as well as the mirror ;-and not merely of their opinions, when it enters upon political controversies, but also of their tastes, when it busies itself with matters of recreation and pastime.

To possess an accurate knowledge, without omissions or exaggerations, of such an extensive subject, is impossible. Every week produces its new periodicals, its new libraries of entertainment, its new scandalous journals. Distinct from those whose origin is in the metropolis, it is more than probable that every large provincial community has its own publications circulating among its own humbler classes to an extent undreamed of. But, inasmuch as some knowledge of a part enables us to speculate upon the form and character of the whole, we may form some idea of the general nature of the publications current among those who crowd the in life and morals. A collection of statistical notes lies before us, which, if not absolutely complete, we have reason to believe accurate, as far as they go, in determining the quantity and quality of the popular literature now circulating among the working classes and idlers of this vast metropolis.

Seventy-eight weekly periodicals are enumerated, of which nearly two-thirds are issued at the price of one penny, none exceeding twopence: twenty-eight of these are devoted to miscellaneous matter; seven to more political subjects; fifteen to the publication of novels, romances and tales; sixteen to biography of celebrated individuals ; four to scientific intelligence; three to the drama; two to medicine; two are collections of songs, and one registers the progress of the Temperance cause. More than two-thirds of these have the attraction of illustrations. It is not our purpose to enumerate these separate publications by name, for obvious reasons; a few of their leading features, however, are not to be passed over. It is remarkable, that, of those devoted to miscellaneous matter, the larger half,-namely, such as succeed by caricaturing, for the use of the apprentice and the domestic servant, those personalities to which their masters have long weakly and thoughtlessly lent an ear,—are compelled, over their unblushing vileness, to cast a flimsy show of respect for appearances. There is not one of them but has public morals in its tender care, and if its word might be taken, only lashes and destroys and sullies with the intent of holding up Folly and Corruption to indignation and ridicule. Some, professing to take the physical health of their clients in their charitable keeping, by the wholesale and vulgar quackery of their counsels, compel us to consider the parties advised as little more enlightened than their ancestors, who put trust in the spells of the fortune-teller, and sickened under the terrors of the evil eye. In some the trade in reputations is publicly announced as a part of their system, and the price for the suppression of intelligence quoted with a mercantile coolness and accuracy. Some, taking their example from the journals which brought themselves into notice by whimsically dramatizing the proceedings of our courts of justice and police, thrivę upon the accidents and offences of the day. There is hardly a haunt of infamy which is not branded by its mis

a

chievous Cave !in one or other of these publications, hardly one vicious principle, whether of politics or morals, not denounced with a coarse and graphic phraseology far more dangerously exciting than direct recommendation ; for even the rudest and most audacious spirits love to cheat themselves—to palter with their own consciences, and, by misnomers and symbols and decorations, to hide the ugliness of knavery and theft and murder and rebellion, if not from themselves, from their neighbours. Upon the tone of those devoted to politics it is needless to descant. Every one who has grieved to observe how largely courtesy and sincerity are obscured in debate, who remembers what glaring contradictions must be reconciled, what extravagant propositions be defended for partizanship’s sake, in our leading journals—will readily imagine in what manner the theory and the practice of political science will be presented by ignorant or knavish adventurers to readers, more qualified, alas ! from the imperfections of education, to feel hunger and cold and nakedness, than to reason upon the difference of ranks, or upon the impolicy of appeals to physical violence ! Melancholy is the extent to which their passionate blindness is presumed upon by their guides. The Editor of one of these weekly publications, now imprisoned in one of our county jails for political offences, who the other day, addressing the women of England, wrote to them (to quote his own words), deprived though he be of the use of pens, ink and paper, included in this plaint less of contradiction and absurdity than most of his fraternity, when enlarging upon matters of far more imminent importance. A few may be found addressing their public with a crude and angry eloquence, born of the mistaken conviction, that among them and upon their shoulders lies the salvation of their country; but the larger part come under the denomination of those described in Scripture, “madmen who fling about fire, and say, Am I not in sport?"

Grievous would be this picture did it display the whole of the subject. But it must not be exposed and recommended to the attention of all dispassionate and benevolent thinkers, among our sages and law-givers, and authors, and journalists, responsibility, and bears more or less directly and weightily upon the class beneath him,-without an exhibition also of the remainder part. The same examination which compels us to lament the amount of poisonous and abominable trash poured out by the press for the consumption of the public, enables us also to enjoy the knowledge that a more healthy movement is simultaneously going on, which must in time neutralize and overcome an evil so virulent. As regards original creations, we are living in a time of all but barrenness,—with only here and there a glimpse of true poetry, to remind us that we have produced Miltons and Shakspeares, -with but a scattered essay or sermon, to stand in place of the noble testimonies uttered by the philosophers and divines of old. But we know that never was the press sọ active in placing before the people the master-pieces of our literature, the historical records of our country, in accessible and useful forms; that there was never so large a body of consumers of our really valuable classics as at present; and, we may add, consumers not merely of the works of positive and direct utility, but of those more recondite productions of human intellect,-fountains, as it were, opened by the loftiest minds, from whence those of a second order minister to those of a yet lower degree of intelligence and cultivation. The very papers whence we derive the facts just laid before the public, concerning the “ literature of debasement,” in its lowest developement, announce also unhesitatingly, that the circulation of the cheapest miscellanies of wholesome and well-considered instruction, of the publications devoted to the mechanical arts, to natural history, and to the recording of such actions, past and present, as contain ennobling examples, exceeds largely the circulation of those odious publications which we would not bring to light by naming. While this remains to be the case,-in spite of the fever and ferment of the last forty years,—in spite of the real nature of criticism having been so long misunderstood among us,-in spite of authors of brilliant genius having flourished and passed away, without ever having dreamed of the high responsibilities of their mission,—we will not fear for the ultimate recovery and progress of the middle class from its present taste for the

« AnteriorContinuar »