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not read, and Kings were scarcely able to sign their names, and hence the use of seals and sealing. These were the ages in which superstition, witchcraft and priestcraft obtained an ascendency so universal. Several centuries after Charlemagne, who died early in the ninth century, the German tribes considered no knowledge of use, but that of managing the lance and the steed. The barbarism was so great, that most of the laity, even the most distinguished, could scarcely read or write. He who was instructed in these was considered a distinguished scholar, and he who obtained more knowledge, particularly in mathematics or natural science, exposed himself to the danger of being burnt as a sorcerer. Macaulay tells us, that in the twelfth or even in the fourteenth century, there was, through the greater part of Europe, very little knowledge, and that little was confined to the clergy. Not one man in five hundred could have spelled his way through a
In the time of Charles the Second, few English country squires could write their names—the peasantry, none of them. Of the wits about his court, few or none could spell with decent correctness; and the great Duke of Marlborough, we know, could scarcely spell at all. To most of the court belles, and ladies of honor, an English maunscript was all Greek; and Queen Mary, of William III, wrote of her own and husband's “crownation,” for coronation. The literary stores of the lady of a manor and her daughters, generally consisted of a prayer book and a receipt book; while the English country clergyman's library was · limited to a bible, prayer-book, and a well-thumbed cookery book, the latter the dowry of his wife, who had frequently. been his patron's cook.
EARLY SCARCITY, AND HIGH PRICE OF BOOKS. Before the art of printing, books were few, and bore an incredible price. It required the labor of two years of a faithful copyist to transcribe the Bible, and hence copies of it were very costly. Plato, who was not rich, paid 10,000 denarii, or about $1,600, for three books of Philolaus, the Pythagorean; and Aristotle paid three Attic talents, nearly $3,000, for a few books which had belonged to the philosopher Speusippus. Pliny refused what was equivalent to about $16,000 for his common place book — Electorum Commentarii. When publicly exposed, books were frequently protected by chains, and in some ancient libraries, they are chained to this day; they were subjects of grave negotiation; and were only loaned to the higher orders, upon ample pledges of deposit for their safe return. We are told, that even so late as 1471, Louis IX. was compelled by the
faculty of medicine at Paris, to deposit a valuable security, and give a responsible endorser, in order to obtain the loan of the works of Rhasis, an Arabian physician. It is not strange, therefore, that the solemn injunction was often, in former ages, written upon the fly leaf,“ Cursed be he who shall steal, or tear out the leaves, or in any way injure this book.” The materials upon which the earliest books were written were paper made of the Egyptian papyrus plant, the inner bark of trees, skins, palm leaves, wood, stone, ivory, lead and other metals.
In more modern times, instances of extraordinary prices paid for books are not wanting. A copy of the Roman de la Rose was sold for about £30; a Homily, we are told, was exchanged for 200 sheep, and five quarters, or forty bushels, of wheat. The first book printed in England was by Caxton, in 1471, and bore for its title, “ Willyam Caxton's Recuyel of the Historye's of Troye, by Raoul le Feure;" a copy of which, in modern times, has been knocked down at auction, to a bibliomaniac, for £1,060 188., or nearly $4,400. At the far-famed sale of the great Roxburg Library, in London, in 1812, a copy of the first or Valdafar edition of Boccaccio's Decameron, published at Venice in 1471, in folio, a collection of tales, written in the finest style, satirical on the monks and others, was purchased by the Marquis of Blandford, at the enormous price of 2,260 pounds sterling, or over $10,000, when he before possessed a copy of the same edition, but which wanted five leaves—for which five leaves, as Lord Spencer observed, he might be said to have given £2,260.
LARGE PUBLIC LIBRARIES. When we reflect upon the comparative scarcity of books before the discovery of printing, we are amazed at the extent of the famous Alexandrian Library, of 700,000 volumes, and of other large collections of ancient times ; of the twenty-eight public libraries in Rome, mentioned by Publius Victor ; of the seventy public libraries which the Moors had in Spain, in the twelfth century, of which that at Cordova contained 250,000 volumes. Since the facilities for the multiplication of books by means of the press, immense libraries have been collected in almost every part of the civilized world ; among the largest of which may be mentioned, the National Library, at Paris, with its million of volumes ; the British Museum, occupying nearly a square in the heart of London, with its over 800,000 volumes of books, rolls, manuscripts and pamphlets—upon which the British Government has expended over $12,000,000, to say nothing of the value of the numerous magnificent bequests of individuals. Of this wonderful collection, the manuscript cat
testhe facilities fortCordova conta, Spain, in the
alogue alone, which serves to give us some practical idea of its extent, comprises 623 folio volumes, from the letter A to the letter I ; and, when completed, it is expected to reach well nigh 2,000 folio volumes. The largest libraries in the United States, are the Astor collection, in New York, and that of Harvard College, at Cambridge, numbering each one bundred thousand volumes.
OUR MODERN BLESSINGS—THE OBLIGATIONS THEY IMPOSE.
Let us turn from the contemplation of the social condition of our ancestors, when land in England was valued at less than a cent an acre, and cows at six English shillings a piece ; when wheat brought less than four English pence per bushel, three gallons of beer commanded but a penny, and labor a penny and a half per day ; and when few or none of the common people could read a letter in the alphabet. How few must then have been the comforts and luxuries of our ancestors! It may be suggested, that longevity was the reward of the simplicity of ther lives. Facts do not warrant any such conclusion. In 1685, which was not accounted an unhealthy year, more than one in every twenty-three of the citizens of London died; while at present, by the improved condition in the means and comforts of living, only one inhabitant in forty die annually—thus has the term of human life been greatly extended.
The following graphic description, designed to represent the Englishman of moderate means at the present day, applies with equal force to a far more numerous class in our own country : “I am lodged,” says the Englishman, “in a house that affords me conveniences and comforts which even a king could not command some centuries ago. Ships are crossing the seas in every direction to bring what is useful to me from all parts of the earth. In China, men are gathering the tea leaf for me ; in America, they are gathering cotton for me ; in the West India Islands, they are preparing my sugar and my coffee ; in Italy they are feeding the silk worms for me ; in Saxony they are shearing the sheep to make me clothing ; at home, powerful steam engines are spinning and weaving for me. Although my patrimony is small, I have post-coaches running day and night on all the roads, to carry my correspondence. I have roads, and canals and bridges, to bear the coal for my winter fire ; nay, I have protecting fleets and armies around my happy country, to secure my enjoyment and repose. Then I have editors and printers who daily send me an account of what is going on throughout the world ; and in a corner of my house, I have books—the miracle of all my possessions, more wonderful than the wishing cap of the Arabian Tales ; for they transport me
instantly, not only to all places, but to all times ! By my books, I can conjure up before me to vivid existence, all the great and good men of antiquity. I can make them act over again all their exploits. The orators declaim for me; the historians recite; the poets sing ; and from the equator to the pole, or from the begining of time until now, by means of my books, I can be where I please.” .
How wonderful an improvement in the social condition of our race ! To the invention of the art of printing, to literature, education and Christianity, are we mainly indebted for these manifold blessings. Their possession increases our obligation to transmit them to our children, not merely unimpaired, but actually augmented in number and measure. “ COMMON SENSE," says BANCROFT, “implies by its very name, that each individual is to contribute some share toward the general intelligence. The many are wiser than the few; the multitude than the philosopher; the race than the individual ; and each successive generation than its predecessor.”
BOOKS A NECESSITY AND A BLESSING. Next to the Common School, we want, in an educational point of view, more and better books for the people to read ; and this is the great subject I wish respectfully, yet faithfully, to urge upon the attention of the Representatives of the people. I will introduce the subject by a few citations of high authority, as to the necessity of good books, and the inestimable blessings they are calculated to confer.
“It is chiefly through books,” observed the late Dr. CIANNING, “that we enjoy intercourse with superior minds, and these invaluable means of communication are in the reach of all. In the best books, great men talk to us, give us their most precious thoughts, and pour their souls into ours. God be thanked for books! They are the voices of the distant and the dead, and make us heirs of the spiritual life of past ages. Books are the true levellers. They give to all who will faithfully use them, the society, the spiritual presence of the greatest of our race. No matter how poor I am. No matter though the prosperous of my own time will not enter my obscure dwelling. If the Sacred Writers will enter and take up their abode under my roof, if Milton will cross my threshold to sing to me of Paradise, and Shakspeare to open to me the worlds of imagination, and the workings of the human heart, and Franklin to enrich me with his practical wisdom, I shall not pine for want of intellectual companionship, and I may become a cultivated man, though excluded from what is called the best society in the place where I live. To make this means of culture effectual, a man must select good
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books, such as have been written by right-minded and strongminded men, real thinkers, who, instead of diluting by repetition what others say, have something to say themselves, and write to give relief to full earnest souls ; and these works must not be skimmed over for amusement, but read with fixed attention and a reverential love of truth. In selecting books, we may be aided much by those who have studied more than ourselves.
“One of the very interesting features of our times,” continues Dr. CHANNING, " is the multiplication of books, and their distribution through all conditions of society. At a small expense, a man can now possess himself of the most precious treasures of English literature. Books, which were formerly confined to a few by their costliness, are now accessible to the multitude ; and in this way a change of habits is going on in society, highly favorable to the culture of the people. Instead of depending on casual rumor and loose conversation for most of their knowledge and objects of thought ; instead of forming their judgments in crowds, and receiving their chief excitement from the voices of neighbors, men are now learning to study and reflect alone, to follow out continuously, to determine for themselves what shall engage their minds, and to call to their aid the knowledge, original views, and reasonings of men of all countries and ages ; and the results must be a deliberateness and independence of judgment, and a thoroughness and extent of information, unknown in former times. The diffusion of these silent teachers, books, through the whole community, is to work greater effects than artillery, machinery and legislation.Its peaceful agency is to supercede stormy revolution. The culture, which is to spread, whilst an unspeakable good to the individual, is also to become the stability of nations.”
“For many years," remarks that faithful friend of education, GEORGE B. EMERSON, “and many times a year, I have passed by the shop of a diligent, industrious mechanic, whom I have often seen busy at his trade, with his arms bare, hard at work. His industry and steadiness have been successful, and he has gained a competency. But he still remains wisely devoted to his trade. During the day, you may see him at his work, or chatting with his neighbors. At night, he sits down in his parlor, by his quiet fireside, and enjoys the company of his friends. And he has the most extraordinary collection of friends that any man in New England can boast of. William H. Prescott goes out from Boston, and talks with him about Ferdinand and Isabella. Washington Irving comes from New York, and tells him the story of the wars of Granada, and the adventurous voyage of Columbus, or the legend of Sleepy Hollow, or the tale of the Broken Heart. George Bancroft sits down with him, and