« AnkstesnisTęsti »
footing, this institution is lost. I know that this was done with the concurrence of your late lamented treasurer. It was not a rule which I felt could ever succeed or prosper; but, however, so long as his influence was with you, which you respected and revered, the injury was not felt, because he supplied the place of that intelligence from which you have cut yourselves off. But let that rule remain, live in the spirit of jealousy and suspicion, believe that the upper classes mean you ill, that in the great town of Brighton no man of any rank or wealth above your own can assist you with advice but he must do so from interested motives, and I cannot see how this institution is to last at all.
I now wish to put before you two or three reasons why it seems to me that, on grounds of fairness, these books ought to be rejected. The first reason is, that they are contrary to the very objects of your institution. I find in the address put forth by the committee to the members, these words: "We are only carrying out the objects of our institution and the wishes of its members, by affording mental amusement for all tastes of our supporters." I will not severely criticise that sentence, though it lies open to much criticism. I have a much more important work before me than the criticism of sentences. I am willing to admit
that it is loosely expressed, and I do not wish to take advantage of an incorrect expression. There are members of this institution little above 12 or 13 years of age; and if I wanted to turn it into ridicule, I might ask the committee whether they meant to say, in stating that principle, that they consider themselves bound to furnish books level to the capacity of children of 13 years of age? There are persons among you, I fear it must be said, of licentious feelings; I am sure the members of the committee will not say they are bound to furnish mental amusement fitted to the taste of such persons. Yet if they mean anything, they must mean this,—that if there be in the society a large body of working men who hold certain views and opinions, it is their bounden duty to provide intellectual food suited to each of such classes. For example: take the books objected to, and if there be a man who has a taste for socialism, it is then their duty to provide such books as Robert Owen's works; or, if there be a taste for infidelity, it is their bounden duty to furnish the works of Tom Paine; or, if a man descends in taste to a lower depth still, if he can revel in such works as, the "Mysteries of London," it is the bounden duty of the committee to furnish him with books of that character. Admit that principle, and your society is shattered into fragments.
Let there be a change of expression. The true way of stating the principle, is this; not that it is their bounden duty to furnish mental food for all tastes, but that it is their duty to furnish books adapted for the tastes of all their supporters. There is an immense difference. If you lay down this principle, that they are bound to furnish books adapted to all tastes of supporters, then every taste must be represented. But if you say they are to furnish books for the tastes of all supporters, then they are bound to furnish those which shall meet the wishes of all, and be disagreeable to none, such as shall be suited to those tastes which are common to all. Let me give you a parallel case. In the higher classes of society, men of different ranks and attainments, and very various tastes, unite to form a society similar to yours. The clergyman, the medical man, and the lawyer, ladies and antiquaries, all join and form a lending library, book society, or whatsoever it may be called. Now it is plainly the duty of their committee to provide works which they may all read in common. There are certain tastes and principles in which they all agree. There is a large variety of books which meet all their tastes. This is the very principle of their union in a society. It is for this they have met and clubbed their money together. They perceive that they
have certain tastes in common, and they combine, in order that they may be able to read more books than they could by buying them singly and separately. This is the principle.
Now suppose, instead of that, the committee were to resolve that there must be a shelf of divinity and a shelf of chemistry, for clergymen and medical men, and another shelf of black-letter books for antiquarians, and you will at once observe that the whole meaning of a society such as this is lost. The medical man and the clergyman join the general society to read books of general and not of special interest. If the clergyman wishes for his book of theology, and the medical man his medical authority, the one must form a clerical library, and the other must form his medical society. But in that case he must be content with limited numbers and limited means, exactly in proportion as the object of association becomes limited and definite. Precisely so with this society. I do not say that the members of this Institute have not a perfect right to form unions amongst themselves; but once give utterance to this principle, that it is the duty of the committee to furnish food for all tastes, then you will have, not a society but societies, not an institution, but a knot of clubs.
I call your attention to another point. In this
paper, your committee hold it to be their duty to afford mental amusement for all tastes. Again I say, I will not rigorously press the exact meaning of words. It is a duty always to endeavour to ascertain what men mean, instead of ungenerously binding them by their words, which are often inexact. And, indeed, on looking at the titles of these books" of amusement," I find that some are anything but amusing, but are books which require great exercise of intellectual faculties. But still some remark must be made on this idea of works of amusement. It is the duty of the committee, in part, to furnish books of amusement. I said so in my opening address. I was greatly sneered at for saying so. Many well-meaning and religious persons said I had forgotten my place as a clergyman in speaking of works of fiction as fit for labouring men. They were shocked and startled that I dared to reckon it a matter of rejoicing that there is a moral tone in that well-known publication which is dedicated to wit and humour, or that I even named it. They were scandalised that I could find anything of moral significance in the works of Dickens. I stand to what I said. I do not like to characterise that kind of language severely; otherwise I should call it cant. It exhibits a marvellous ignorance of the realities and the manifoldness of human life. I am prepared to