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To the working classes there could not be anything of greater importance than the establishment of Free Libraries; every effort, every pains should be taken to make these classes a Reading People. It is an object well worthy our attention, and one which if accomplished would more than compensate for any amount of toil employed in its achievement. What greater pleasure, let us ask, could there be to those who feel an interest in the social condition of the poor and fatigued man of toil, than to see him, at the close of each day, take his seat either in the Public Reading Room, or find him surrounded by his little ones on a winter evening, reading some amusing or interesting book aloud by his own fireside. Let us not be told that the poor artizans of our large towns cannot be made a Reading People. Afford them the advantages of becoming so, and no doubt their love of reading will soon inanifest itself The love of reading once diffused among the operative poor, it must necessarily have a most salutary effect. Its great benefit has been felt in England, and why should it not be in Ireland, if opportunity were offered ? Lord Brougham, in his able specch on National Education, alluding to the Public Reading Rooms in Carlisle, says-“This at least is quite certain, that of the hundreds who belong to these libraries and reading rooms, none have even been suspected of joining in any corrupt proceedings, though from accidental circumstances a more than ordinarily long canvas preceded the last general election."
But let us enquire what the nature of the books should be composing a library calculated to suit the tastes of the working portion of the community? This is a matter that requires to be dealt with very cautiously, and one we would leave to be liandled' by
by special authorities, did not our subject demand from us our opinion
so important a point. Now, every educationist must admit that the more entertaining the book, the greater will be the demand for it. We are noir writing, not of a library suited to the Philosopher, the Lawyer, the Doctor, or the Divine, but a library suited to the poor working man. To bave such a library, you must first consult the tastes of those men whose attendance you are endeavouring to secure. To do this you must move among them, speak with them, or become acquainted with their character in every way possible. This, we assure our readers, we have endeavoured to do for many years, and from our experience we can say without fear of contradiction, that to have the working classes of Ireland a reading people, we inust first begin by placing within their reach books of an amusing more than a philosophic-nature. Works of fiction will be eagerly sougut for and greedily read by the people, and such works inust be provided for them or else we fail in the undertaking. Now, be it understood, that we look upon the introduction of those books more as an inducement to secure their attendance, than as sources from which useful knowledge is to be derived. But, at the same time, it cannot be denied that much knowledge is to be derived from the reading of works of the better class of fiction, and their reading is often productive of great good. In our views on this point we are fully supported by Sir J. P. W. Herschell, no mean authority on such matters, who says :
“ In short, you will find that in the higher and better class of works of fiction and imagination duly circulated, you possess all you require to strike your grappling iron into their souls, and chain them willing followers to the car of advancing civilization.
When I speak of works of imagination and fiction, I would not have it supposed that I would turn loose among the class of readers to whom I am more especially referring, a whole library of novels. The novel, in its best form, I regard as one of the most powerful engines of civilization ever invented."
These are the words of one of the most eminent educationists of the age; no mere theorist, but one practically acquainted with the character of the labouring classes of his country. The reason for dwelling so strongly on this class of reading is, that it seems really the inost powerful agent which we could employ to gain the attention of those whoin free libraries are calculated to serve. Of course we would not wish to have a library, opened for the benefit of the poorer classes, to consist of novels only, no matter how good or how high their character might be; but we would urge their circulation on 10 niggard scale ; for, unless we amuse in some way the mechanic after the weary lours of toil, we scar lie will continuc to scek amusement elsewhere, which no doubt will be attended with greater danger to his moral and intellectual culture, than the purusal of a novel coming from the pen of a Goldsmith or a Scott. We must have recourse to light literature if we desire to see the working classes a reading people, or to offer them inducements sufficient to counteract the attractions of the public
“ And with respect of fiction too, though I would not recommend it as giving the same healthy tone and nourishment to the mind as other
house or dram shop. The biographies of great men will also be read with remarkable avidity by the mechanic or the artizan, particularly if the names of such men be familiar to him : consequently, we would recommend the introduction of books of this nature into a Mechanics' Library. If, to the classes of booksjust mentioned, works of a scientific nature, treatises on practical subjects, the leading reviews, selections from travels, and the works of the eminent poets be added, we shall have a library that cannot fail to be regarded as an object of the greatest interest by every well-disposed member of the working poor.
We should be considered as having made a great omission when referring to the class of works that should constitute a library, a library for the working classes, were we to neglect offering some allusion to the introduction of News-papers. Now we do not deprecate the reading of news papers, nor are we in any way opposed to such, but on the contrary luok upon their reading in a inost favorable light, and as a most powerful ineans of instructing man in the history of his age; but notwithstanding all this, we fear very much that their introduction into institutes, the opening of which we are now advocating, would be attended with very unsatisfactory results. No doubt there are many who entertain a different opinion to this, but it inust be remembered that to educate and unite all parties, no matter what their creed or religious sects, are the motives that induce us to take up the subject of the present paper thus carnestly. To insure success in such an undertaking, we certainly think that the most prudent course would be to exclude from every institute, intended for the benefit of the Working Classes, all books and perodicals having a political or sectarian tendency. We are not the only advocates of such a course.
Sir John Herschell, in his address delivered to the subscribers of the Windsor and Eton Library, thus speaks:
« The caution which I would hold out is, that an extreme scrupulousness should be exercised, with reference to the admission of works on Politics and Legislation, into such a department. In. deed I should strongly advocate their exclusion altogether.
more practical pursuits, yet I am pleased to think, especially in later times, that writers of fiction have treated it with so much refinement, and so much enlargement of view, that lessons may be derived from the best pages of the best writers of fiction, be they male or female, scarcely interior to what can be derived from the study of facts.”—Earl of Car. lisle's Address at the Bradford Mechanics’ Institute.
We shall be taking on ourselves a deep responsibility, and one for which I may conscientiously, for my own part, say I am not prepared, by any step which may tend to interfere one way or the other, with the free formation of public opinion on such subjects; nor indeed can I conceive a more probable cause of disagreement anong ourselves, which is of all things the most to be deprecated, than the discussions which might arise on this point--the only way to keep clear of which is to exclude such works altogether."
There can be no doubt that the safest course would be that recommended here; in fact so strongly do we concur with this able authority, that we should give our strenuous opposition to the introduction of works of this nature. But, as we have already stated, it is not from any jealousy of discussion, or out of any spirit of opposition, that we recommend the non-introduction of News-papers,—we wish to prevent, as far as in us lies, an institute intended to be purely educational, from becoming the arena of political discussions and party manifestations. We do not desire men who join a Mechanics’ Institute for the sake of reading News-papers-10, those are the very men that a Mechanics' Institute would do better without. The members we seek for are those whose object is the acquirement of knowledge of a loftier character than the mere perusal of a ners-paper can bestow; and for such men, no matter how humble their station in life, we advocate the opening of Mechanics’ Institutes and Free Libraries. We agree with the Attorney General for England, that by excluding news-papers from these institutes we are depriving the portion of the Working classes who would join them, "of one of the principal attractions to be found in Public Houses.” But if we can compensate them for it by placing in their hands works of equal interest and of greater general entertainment, we contribute to their social happiness and intellectual improvement much more durably and effectively; with more benefit to the man, himself, and with greater advantage to the commonwealth.
Scotland is an example worth our notice; Institutes of the first character exist in many parts of that country, and the noblest of her aristocracy are to be found presiding at the meetings of their members. It may not be out of place here to give the following extract from an address, delivered to the Members of the Glasgow Athenæum, by his Grace the Duke of Argyle, relative to newspaper reading
“Now the first advice which I would give to the young men of Glasgow would be this,not to spend their time too much I lay
stress upon the words too much'_not to spend their time too much in mere newspaper reading. I should have given this advice at any time, and upon any occasion on which I might have appeared before the citizens of Glasgow with a similar object in view ; but I have a particular desire to give this advice upon this occasion, because, at a late ineeting of a similar institution in the city of Manchester, a person very eminent in the political world--I mean Mr. Cobdengave a directly contrary advice. Mr. Conden told the young men of Manchester, if I recollect his words, that no reading could be more useful than that of newspapers. Now, with all respect for Mr. Cobden, I wholly differ from such a sentiinent. I do not wish to undervalue the high character and the very great ability of the better portion of the British Press. In that character we are all deeply interested, and we should be ungrateful if we did not acknowledge that that character does stand high. I will not hesitate to say that there are articles continually appearing in the daily press which, for vigour ofexpression and for grace of composition, are equal to the best specimens of English literature. All that I would say is-and I again repeat it-do not spend. too much' of your time in newspaper reading ; and I give that advice upon this ground, that the knowledge which you acquire from newspapers is necessarily more or less of a desultory and superficial character. I would say then to the young men of Glasgow-if you wish to be living always in the present-if you wish to have the din of its contentions always in your ears, and the flush of its fleeting interests for ever on your brow-above all, if you wish to have your opinions ready made for you, without the trouble of enquiry and without the discipline of thought-then I say coine from your counting-houses, and spend the few hours of leisure which you may have in exhausting the columas of the daily press ; but if your ambition be a noble one-if your aim be higher---you will often find yourselves passing from the door of the news-roon into that of the library—from the present to the past from the living to the dead-to commune with those thoughts which have stood the test of time, and which have been raised to the shelves of the library by the common consent of all men, because they do not contain mere floating information, but instruction for all generations and for all time."
I'rom this extract it is manifest that the Duke entertains opinions quite at variance with those of Mr. Cobden relative to newspaper reading, and though we cannot altogether coincide with either gentleman, we must admire the principles of the former. But, it is probable, had his Grace been addressing a similar assembly of the young men at Dublin, lie would have recommended the exclusion of newspapers altogether. On this point we liave nothing further to observe, as it will be for those who may take up the matter to adopt or reject the suggestions we have made.
The primary cause of our advocating the opening of Me