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oyster, be sure of a third edition, and a place at half the tea-tables of London. The mediocre, the foolish, and the common-place, are the publisher's best customers; and to deprive them of their appropriate reading, would be as politically unjust, as it is economically impolitic. In literature, as in all things, we want a free trade: no embargoes on stupidity, no protecting duties on right opinions. Why should the harınless literature of nations, and the innocent amusement of the mass, be eclipsed or trampled under foot by an arrogant censorship? "Twere worse than the three-piled sanctity of a judaical sabbath, or the anti-cake-and-ale virtue stolen from the puritans of the great rebellion.
But the evil of restraint would not stop here. The wisest and the best are sometimes glad to take refuge in a bad book, and to find relief from the dulness of their own thoughts in the absurdities of another's. It is a rich literary year that produces three first-rate novels, the supply to a moderate consumer, of barely ten days! How then are the public to get through a long summer's course of watering-places, without the aid of the secondary Scotch novelists, and the third-rate imitators of Lord N. and Lady C. B.? In the long vacation, the chancellor himself might be reduced to the Minerva press, or be compelled to a second perusal of Almacks. Your hungry reader is not nice, or at worst he eats, like Pistol, his unsavoury leek, and grumbles. In this respect dulness has great privileges. Genius never writes in folio, and if it ventures in quarto, the bulk is as much owing to the publisher, as a dandy's to Stultz's buckram. Besides, there is a metaphysical length in a bad book, valuable to the literary glutton beyond expression. A volume of S.'s polemics is matter for a week, and a surfeit of all desire for reading for a month afterwards. In short, dulness is in literature, what bread is to a good dinner-it prevents the cayenne and coulis from palsying the palate, and spoiling the digestion. It is the bitter olive to good port, or a Cheshire cheese in a wine merchant's cellar. Certain philosophers have explained the existence of moral evil, as a necessary point of comparison for relishing the blessings of life; and if so, why may not bad books be tolerated, as contributing to the delight with which we enjoy the few that are worth reading ?
The same argument applies equally to error. Truth is “ caviare to the general," and if given undiluted, the scandal would be intolerable. Literature is the food, not the physic of the mind; and till we see the opulent contented with roots and water, we must allow them the luxury of conventional nonsense.
Without literary rogues and false prophets, also, there would be no controversy. Truth and error are too unfairly matched if both must have a fair hearing; but when one error is pitted against another, the quarrel is “ a very pretty quarrel,” and may afford good sport to the byestander. The controversialist puts not up Ajax's prayer for light; but, like Æneas, is concealed in his cloud, and lives and triumphs in the friendly darkness.
If it be the great defect of Catholicism that it closes the door against all inquiry, pure and unadulterated truth is equally liable to the imputation. Men are better engaged in bowling down each other's prejudices, than in not thinking at all.
If error were not recorded in print, it would not be canvassed, and “ on doit savoir gré à ceux qui osent établir les paradoxes. Si la raison reçue se trouve vraie, on a l'avantage de croire par raison, , ce qu'on croyait par habitude ; si elle est fausse, on est délivré d'une erreur."* (Condorcet.)
Few, if any books, are so totally worthless as not to contribute sometimes to the reader's ideas; and what they do not communicate, they may suggest. There are likewise degrees of comparison in absurdity; and as one nail drives out another, a mitigated piece of nonsense is a good cure for that which is more aggravated. One man's opinion may be true, as it respects another's, though false to the nature of things. Such opinions are stages on the journey of knowledge; and they may serve the ignorant, though the philosopher despises them.
I have but one more consideration to urge, and that is the value of bad books as an instrument of
What multitudes are supported by the mere manufacture! What type founders, ink makers, painters, engravers, paper makers, and pressmen! what folders, and stitchers, and distributers, tanners, leather-sellers, and binders, find an industrious and honest subsistence out of the small class of writers alone, who print for their own amusement, and whose circulation extends not beyond the presentation copies! How many live by “parsons much bemused in beer," by visitation charges, libretti for the opera, proceedings of learned societies, experiences of hypochondriacal old gentlemen, and hysterically evangelical ladies ; religious novels by persons of quality, and novels of high life by persons who live in low! But enumeration is useless. All the good books in existence would not supply six months' matter for the London press. It is by the printing of nonsense alone, that booksellers ride in their coaches, that the revenue is supported, and a countless host of sooty artizans maintained in comfort and independence.
* “ We should be thankful to those who dare to broach paradoxes. If the received opinion be the truth, they occasion us the advantage of believing on reason, what before we credited by habit : if it be false, they deliver us from an error."