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It is remarkable that in none of the Publications of a cheap and popular character are the people addressed as if they were the possessors of the greatest Literature of the modern world. Their ability to read is either applied to the most exciting and dangerous ends ; or modern ingenuity is taxed to produce some new and mostly ephemeral literary currency. Of the treasures in their STANDARD WRITERS they know little or nothing. I propose to publish, in FIFTY-TWO WEEKLY SHEETS, at ThreeHalf pence each,
HALF-HOURS WITH THE BEST AUTHORS;
Selected and arranged by me, with short biographical and critical notices. My plan is to confine the selection, whether in POETRY or PROSE—whether Essays—CHARAC
- STORIES — DESCRIPTIVE, NARRATIVE, or DRAMATIC VERSE— REMARKABLE ADVENTURES—MORAL and RELIGIOUS EXHORTATIONS—to pieces of sufficient length to occupy half an hour's ordinary reading—or to pieces which can be so connected as to supply the same amount of instruction and amusement. EACH WEEKLY NUMBER WILL CONTAIN SEVEN HALF-HOURS, of a varied character ; every seventh day being selected from some theological writer of universal acceptation and authority. The larger extracts, forming distinct “ Half-Hours,” are selected from about two hundred and sixty different writers. In the smaller pieces, which are grouped under some general head, will be found selections from about forty writers, who have not contributed to the larger extracts. The work, therefore, will contain
SPECIMENS OF THREE HUNDRED WRITERS.
Each Number will consist of Twenty-four large Octavo pages.
The issue for the year -OR HALF AN HOUR'S READING FOR EVERY DAY IN THE YEAR,—will thus be formed of Twelve Hundred and forty pages equal in quantity to six ordinary octavo volumes, to be purchased for six shilings and si.cpence, in Weekly Payments of Thrce Half-pence. The Weekly Numbers will form Thirteen Monthly Parts, which may be arranged in Four Quarters or Volumes.
CHARLES KNIGHT. 90, Fleet Street, March 9, 1850.
FRONTISPIECE, containing Portraits of Spenser–Jeremy Taylor Lord Bacon-Dr. Johnson
1.- THE INFLUENCE OF SCIENCE ON THE WELL-BEING AND PROGRESS OF SOCIETY.
HERSCHEL (SIR JOHN HERSCHEL, the author of a Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy' (forming a volume of Lardner's Cyclopædia), from which the following ‘Half-hour' is ex. tracted, stands at the head of the men of science of our own times. This is not the place to enlarge upon his eminent merits as a philosopher; but he claims especial regard from us, and from our readers, as being amongst the ablest and most generous of advocates for the Diffusion of Knowledge. We cannot forbear the pleasure of quoting a beautiful passage from an Address to the Subscribers to the Windsor and Eton Public Library,' delivered by him in 1833. period when many eminent men believed, or affected to believe, that the people might be overinstructed. We give this as a fit introduction to a course of general reading, not selected for a class - not diluted or mangled in the belief that the great body of readers have depraved intellectual appetites and weak digestions — but taken from the best and the highest works in all literature - gems from the rich treasury of instruction and amusement which the master minds of the world, and especially of our own nation, have heaped up for an exhaustless and imperishable store :
“ If I were to pray for a taste which should stand me in stead under every variety of circumstances, and be a source of happiness and cheerfulness to me through life, and a shield against its ills, however things might go amiss, and the world frown upon me, it would be a taste for reading. I speak of it of course only as a worldly advantage, and not in the slightest degree as superseding or derogating from the higher office and surer and stronger panoply of religious principles — but as a taste, an instrument, and a mode of pleasurable gratification. Give a inan this taste, and the means of gratifying it, and you can hardly fail of making a happy man, unless, indeed, you put into his hands a most perverse selection of books. You place him in contact with the best society in every period of history — with the wisest, the wittiest— with the tenderest, the bravest, and the purest characters that have adorned humanity. You make him a denizen of all nations — a contemporary of all ages. The world has been created for him. It is hardly possible but the character should take a higher and better tone from the constant habit of associating in thought with a class of thinkers, to say the least of it, above the average of humanity. It is morally iinpossible but that the manners should take a tinge of good breeding and civilisation from having constantly before one's eyes the way in which the best bred and the best informed men have talked and conducted themselves in their intercourse with each other. There is a gentle but perfectly irresistible coercion in a habit of reading, well directed, over the whole tenor of a man's character and conduct, which is not the less effectual because it works insensibly, and because it is really the last thing he dreams of. It cannot, in short, be better summed up than in the words of the Latin poet
Emollit mores, nec sinit esse feros.'
The difference of the degrees in which the individuals of a great community enjoy the good things of life has been a theme of declamation and discontent in all ages; and it is doubtless our paramount duty, in every state of society, to alleviate the pressure of the purely evil part of this distribution as iquch as possible, and, by all
the means we can devise, secure the lower links in the chain of society from dragging in dishonour and wretchedness : but there is a point of view in which the picture is at least materially altered in its expression. In comparing society on its present immense scale, with its infant or less developed state, we must at least take care to eularge every feature in the same proportion. If, on comparing the very lowest states in civilised and savage life, we admit a difficulty in deciding to which the preference is due, at least in every superior grade we cannot hesitate a moment ; and if we institute a similar comparison in every different stage of its progress, we cannot fail to be struck with the rapid rate of dilatation which every degree upward of the scale, so to speak, exhibits, and which, in an estimate of averages, gives an immense preponderance to the present over every former condition of mankind, and; for aught we can see to the contrary, will place succeeding generations in the same degree of superior relation to the present that this holds to those passed away. Or we may put the same proposition in other words, and, admitting the existence of every inferior grade of advantage in a higher state of civilisation which subsisted in the preceding, we shall find, first, that, taking state for state, the proportional numbers of those who enjoy the higher degrees of advantage increases with a constantly accelerated rapidity as society advances; and, secondly, that the superior extremity of the scale is constantly enlarging by the addition of new degrees. The condition of a European prince is now as far superior, in the command of real comforts and conveniences, to that of one in the middle ages, as that to the condition of one of his own dependants.
The advantages conferred by the augmentation of our physical resources through the medium of increased knowledge and improved art, have this peculiar and l'emarkable property—that they are in their nature diffusive, and cannot be enjoyed iu anv exclusive manner by a few. An eastern despot may extort the riches and inonopolise the art of his subjects for his own personal use ; he may spread around him an unnatural splendour and luxury, and stand in strange and preposterous contrast with the general penury and discomfort of his people ; he may glitter in jewels of gold and raiment of needle-work; but the wonders of well contrived and executed manufacture which we use daily, and the comforts which have been invented, tried, and improved upon by thousands, in every form of domestic convenience, and for every ordinary purpose of life, can never be enjoyed by him. To produce a state of things in which the physical advantages of civilised life can exist in a high degree, the stimulus of increasing comforts and constantly elevated desires must have been feit by millions ; since it is not in the power of a few individuals to create that wide demand for useful and ingenious applications, which alone can lead to great and rapid improvements, unless backed by that arising from the speedy diffusion of the same advantages among the mass of mankind.
If this be true of physical advantages, it applies with still greater force to intellectual. Knowledge can neither be adequately cultivated nor adequately enjoyed by a few; and although the conditions of our existence on earth may be such as to preclude an abundant supply of the physical necessities of all who may be born, there is no such law of nature in force against that of our intellectual and moral wants. Knowledge is not, like food, destroyed by use, but rather augmented and perfected. It requires not, perhaps, a greater certainty, but at least a confirmed authority and a probable duration, by universal assent; and there is no body of knowledge so complete, but that it may acquire accession, or so free from error but that it may receive correction in passing through the minds of millions. Those who admire and love knowledge for its own sake ought to wish to see its elements made accessible to all, were it only that they may be the more thoroughly examined into, and more effectnally developed in their consequences, and receive that ductility and plastic