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HARPER'S School District Lierary: Embracing History, Voyages and Travels,
Biography, Natural History, the Physical Sciences, Agriculture, Manufactures, Arts, Commerce, Belles-Lettres, the History and Philosophy of Education, etc. In ninetyfive volumes.
It is doubtless known to most of our readers, that the school districts in the state of New-York are obliged by law to be provided with a library. The sum of fifty-five thousand dollars is given annually by the state, with the condition that an equal amount shall be raised by the towns for this object. The money is directed to be appropriated among the school districts, according to the number of children between the ages of five and sixteen, which they respectively contain; and the whole number of these districts being something more than ten thousand, the average is not far from eleven dollars to a district. Any district may, moreover, raise by tax twenty dollars the first year, and ten dollars in any subsequent year, for the like purpose.
The object here sought to be attained, is obviously, that the whole community may be supplied to a liberal extent with the means of reading ; so that no individual, whatever may be his disadvantages in other respects, shall be without this highly important aid to self-improvement. These libraries may, indeed, be considered, for all useful purposes, as but little different from the same number of volumes being in the possession of each separate family; inasmuch as they are equally free to all, without fee or charge, and, from the moderate extent of the districts, so convenient to all, that books may with the smallest trouble be procured and returned. It is to be expected, therefore, that wherever such libraries are introduced, they will be generally, if not universally read; and it is this consideration which impresses us most deeply with a conviction of their importance, and of the invaluable ends to which they may be rendered subservient, by promoting the evident diffusion of knowledge, in elevating the intellect, refining the taste, and purifying the morals of the community. If the plan of school-district libraries shall be carried faithfully and fully into effect. according to its true intention, and the hopes and anticipations of its enlightened friends, there cannot be a doubt that it must be productive of incalculable good.
There are certain conditions, however, which appear to be indispensable to the securing of this result. The law requires that libraries shall be established, and affords and points out the means of doing it; but it makes no provision of books, nor does it furnish any direction or advice, with regard to their selection ; except, indeed that the superintendent of common schools is authorized, by an act of the last session of the legislature, to recommend to the favorable consideration of the districts, such works as he may consider the most useful and instructive. This is certainly very important, since the recommendation of this officer cannot fail of having great weight with the districts; and in the character and attainments of the distinguished individual at the head of the school department, we have the utmost security that the authority given him will be exercised with all due discrimination and wisdom.
It would, however, be of little avail for the superintendent to recommend particular books, unless special means were at the same time employed to enable the districts to obtain them; inasmuch as the ordinary supply of such books would be wholly insuffi. cient to meet so great a demand. Beside, in many cases, these books would be found published in too expensive a style for the limited means possessed by the districts, or ' perhaps of inconvenient size for popular use, or, admitting their general merits, they might still require more or less careful revision, to render them entirely unobjectionable for this especial purpose.
Now we cannot but regard the enterprise of the Messrs. HARPERS as being precisely the thing that was required to obviate all these difficulties, by securing to the school districts an ample supply of books, selected and prepared with distinct reference to this single object, of a suitable and uniform size, at the lowest possible cost, and, with a view 10 their more convenient purchase, distributed at a great number of different points throughout the state. Nor should we omit to mention, that nothing is admitted into the 'School District Library without the approval of the superintendent of common schools; which gives to this officer a supervisory power over the whole enterprise, enabling him 10 control it, for all useful purposes, almost as effectually as though it were connected directly with his department, by express authority of law. The public, therefore, have the most satisfactory assurance, that the works introduced into this library will be the very best that can be selected, and that the undertaking, generally, will be so prosecuted, as to entitle the enterprising and highly respectable publishers who have engaged in it to the most liberal and extensive patronage.
The series of the School District Library,' for 1839 and 1840, have been already published; both of which have been very favorably noticed by our most respectable periodicals and the public press, have been introduced into a large proportion of our school districts, and are spoken of in terms of the highest commendation, by the former as well as the present superintendent of common schools, by the governor of the state, and his immediate predecessor in that office. A third series, for 1841, is announced as being in course of preparation.
So far as we are competent to judge, from a general examination, we fully unite with our brethren of the press, and the distinguished gentlemen just referred to, in warmly recommending these series to the public favor; as consisting of works of great intrinsic merit, and admirably adapted to interest and instruct the great mass of readers. In history, for example, we notice, among others, Goldsmith's Greece and Rome, and Tytler's excellent Compendium of General History; in biography, Franklin's Life and Works, Paulding's Life of WASHINGTON, the whole of Spark's American Lives, and the inimitable work of Plutarch ; of voyages and travels, Discovery and Adventures in the Polar Seas and Regions, Travels and Researches of Humboldt, and Discovery and Adventures in Africa; in natural history, the Natural History of Insects, two volumes on Quadrupeds, and one on Birds, republished from the interesting series of the British Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge; in agriculture, several volumes prepared by that eminent agriculturist, the late lamented Judge Buel; also Dick on the Improvement of Society, Abercrombie on the Moral Feelings, Pursuit of Knowledge under Difficulties, and Paley's delightful and invaluable work on Natural Theology, edited by Professor A. Potter; there are likewise a due proportion of volumes of a somewhat more familiar, though not less instructive character, as Miss Sedgwick's Poor Rich Man, and Rich Poor Man, Mrs. Hofland's Son of a Genius, Swiss Family Robinson, ete. We notice these particular works, that our readers may judge for themselves, of the merits of the series of which they form a part. Many others, in no respect inferior, might have been mentioned. It is likewise due to the publishers, that we should acknowledge the unprecedented cheapness of these two series, consisting together of ninety-five volumes, handsomely printed on good paper, substantially bound, copiously illustrated with engravings, averaging over three hundred pages, and still afforded to the public at the surprisingly low price of thirty-eight dollars !
It is the remark of a recent writer that, 'When the American system of society shall have been perfected, and the whole population shall have been trained under its influences, the whole population will be a reading population; a population to be moved and charmed by poetry, to be enlightened and elevated by history, to be taught, argued with, persuaded, respecting their interests, their rights, and their duties.' That the progress of improvement, aided by the noblest institutions, and the active and indefatigable spirit of a free people, should ultimately lead to this result, we are ready to admit; nor shall we have accomplished what is indispensable to our highest security, and happiness, and glory, as a people, until we have attained to this point. As yet, however, it is quite certain, that we are far removed from such a consummation. In the best sense of the word, and as it regards the community at large, we can with no truth be called a reading people. There is, we know, a very wide circulation of the productions of the daily and periodical press, and these are extensively read. But something beyond this is required to exalt, and enlarge, and purify the mind of the nation. The peoply must be deeply imbued with the love of knowledge, and trained to habits of intellectual application. This is to be accomplished through the study of productions of a more grave and substantial character than are to be found in the brief and fugitive articles of a newspaper, invaluable as these papers unquestionably are, in diffusing information, and in quickening and invigorating the intelligence of the community. If the people read no more, it is for the reason that they are without books to read. Were each one of the eighty thousand school districts throughout our country furnished annually with such a series of books as those publishing by the Messrs. HARPERS, diffusing through every neighbor. hood a spirit of rational inquiry, and bringing home instruction to every door, a marvellous change would speedily be effected; and we might confidently anticipate that, at no distant day, we should become indeed a reading people; not only ready to learn, but thoroughly understanding, our 'interests,' our rights,' and our 'duties.'
Tas WRITINGS OF John MARSHALL, late Chief Justice of the United States, upon the
Federal Constitution. In one volume. pp. 728. Boston: JAMES MONROE AND COMPANY.
We cannot better convey to the reader an idea of the character of this large and beautifully-executed volume, than by quoting a portion of the editor's modest yet ample preface. "The writings,' says he, 'of Chief Justice MARSHALL on the Federal Constitution possess a twofold value; as presenting the opinions of one who has been justly denominated 'The EXPOUNDER OF THE CONSTITUTION,' and as comprehending the leading decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States on points of law arising under that instrument. The editor of this volume has had two objects in view in its preparation : the one being, to place within the reach of all his fellow-citizens some of the best writings of one of the greatest and best men that have lived in America; the other, to enable every student of the Constitution of the United States to own those leading reports to which he is constantly referred by his text-books. In order to the completeness of the volume in this latter respect, the decisions of the Supreme Court, as delivered by other judges, prior to the death of Marshall, are brought together in an Appendix.' In the selection of cases, the editor has been obliged to use his discretion, that the volume might not be too bulky. He has rejected those cases in which some principle was decided that has since been superseded by positive provision; those, also, in which & mere decision was given, without the reasons producing it; those involving much common-law learning, and but slightly touching the Federal Constitution; and those relating rather to national than constitutional law. Dissenting opinions have, in general, been omitted; one by Mr. Justice Story, is in one instance retained, being an expression of Marshall's view, as well as his own, upon a somewhat dark point; and in another, the dissenting opinion of the Chief Justice himself is given, for obvious reasons. Three
decisions made by the Chief Justice upon the circuit are included in the volume; and also one of the Supreme Court not upon a constitutional point, in which last the peculiar power of Judge Marshall appears so fully as to make it come properly within the collection. To the kindness and assistance of Mr. Justice Story, the editor acknowledges his success in procuring the publication of the volume; and to him, though he is in no degree responsible for the faults in its preparation,' the thanks of the community are declared to be due, if the compilation shall be found useful.
BUBNING OF THE LEXINGTON. A Discourse, by the Rev. ORVILLE Dewey. Published
in the New World' weekly journal. New-York: J. WINCHESTER.
The melancholy disaster of the burning of the Lexington steamer in Long-Island Sound, and the frightful loss of precious human life' which was the result, have formed the painfully prominent topic of the past month. The intelligence was received in this city like the falling of a thunder-bolt from a clear summer sky; and when the rumor was ascertained, past all doubt, to be true, a visible sadness, more deep than we remember to have ever remarked, seemed to rest upon the town. No description can exaggerate the horrors of the terrific scene on that dreadful night ; and the heart almost shrinks shuddering into itself, in its contemplation. We allude to the distressing theme, for the purpose of introducing to our readers, and permanently recording in these pages, a few passages from an eloquent discourse, delivered on the Sunday after the distressing event, by the Rev. Obville Dewey, of this city. We find it in 'The New World,' an excellent weekly journal, of the largest class, under the editorial direction of Park Benjamin, Esq. The reader will find in the following, that calm philosophy, intermin. gled with deep sympathy and feeling, for which the public efforts of the writer are so prëeminently distinguished :
“The dispensation indeed is awful; but it is so in part, let me farther observe, because we look at it too much as a general picture. It is, after all, but the picture of individual life- of your life and mine. It is more or less the lot of us'all; and it is not hurled upon us as a mountain to crush us, but it fows in separate sands through the glass of time, to measure out to us the hours of discipline - the hours of improvement. I must repeat it - that every thing is individualized in human experience. It is this in part which enables us to look, with a feeling that supports us, at the sufferings of the martyr. He stands alone. He is a single object of contemplation. We can see the workings of his mind; they are not whelmed in a mass of horrors. We do not feel as if a hundred deaths were involved and concentrated in his death. But this is what we are apt to feel when we contemplate an event which has involved a hundred lives. And yet this generalizing does not present to us the true view. Every man, in such a scene, dies for himself alone, as truly as have the hundreds, in different parts of the world, who have gone hence while I have now been speaking to you. Every man, it may be emphatically said, is alone when he comes to die.' He is alone with his thoughts — with his prayers; with his affections to those dearest to him: he is alone with his God. Some time he must die; and his time is then; and to him it is his time and not another's. If he had escaped that danger, he might have died the next month from the ignorance of his physician, or he might have fallen the solitary victim of some violent death. Hundreds die thus every year, and they are no more truly alone than he who perishes with a thousand. And this annual aggregate of ills, save to the imagination, is as truly solemn, as any life-destroying catastrophe. Both present the same case under the reign of Providence.
"Did I, at present, address any one of those to whom this affliction has come near, I would pray them to consider this : to see that their case is not to be taken from beneath the general law of Providence. It is only as if their friend had died singly by an accident; or had fallen dead in the street, struck with apoplexy or paralysis; or, may I not say, as if he had died in his bed: for how often is the privilege and comfort of ministering love, purchased by the agonies of the sufferer! I know that it is common to deprecate sudden death — to pray against it: but for myself, I cannot join in that prayer. To me it appears that it would be a privilege - life's work done, the hour come - to drop suddenly from the course; no agonized partings, as full of agony perhaps as to feel ihat the tie is broken. Nay, how often does the survivor say, when the long and bitter struggle is
ended, "Thank God! it is over ! I do not wonder at that desire of the celebrated James Otis, so signally fulfilled, 'that he might die by lightning.'. I have stood on the very threshhold where the bolt, from the black retiring storm, descended upon him; and I confess, it seemed to me, as I stood there and thought of it, tha that lightning flash was not the bolt of wrath, but the bright angel of release. The lingering pains that are usually appointed to man as the termination of his life, I believe, are less for his own sake than for what he may do for the good of others; it is his trial-hour, their hour of improvement. But, for the same reason, death is occasionally sudden, and seems disastrous. That very character of disaster arouses men's minds, and puts them upon devising guards and defences against danger. This very event, the most dreadful that ever brought horror and heart-ache into our bosoms, may be commissioned eventually to save more lives than are lost by it. Let me not seem, in saying all this, to be a cold philosopher. God is my witness how far I am from it.' I know that in many a family this event is the sudden and awful wrenching of a thousand quivering ties twined all in one. But agonized sympathy seeks some relief. And I can find none but in the great providence of God; but in seeing that this event is not a chance blow, a random accident, set apart from its beneficent dominion. I know no other comfort for the mourner ; and, hard as it may be for him to turn there - hard as it may be to turn away from seeing this event as a frightful catastrophe, and to look at it as a sacred and solemn dispensation of Heaven - this I would pray each one to do, to lean upon the bosom of the all-wise Providence, and to say, even as the Great Sufferer said in the dread hour, when all earthly evils and sorrows were leagued against him, 'Father! thy will be done!'"
Mr. Dewey will find many a reader ready to echo his own preference of a sudden over a lingering death. When one comes to the last broken arches of Mirza's bridge, rest from pain bounds his ambition. 'Implora Pace !' is his only prayer. The lengthened illness, the protracted death-scene, these are not thoughtfully invoked for the helpless sufferer. Such lessons are for the living; and one has faithfully depicted the emotions of a bereaved and stricken mourner, who has 'laid them to heart:'
The watch that ticks so loud,
• That this hath run.'
The shutter half unclosed,
To welcome day.
• The months shift on and on,
The sick doch lie.
The long, long night.
With nervous doubt.
The moon so oft invoked,
But marked our grief.
Oh, never after dawn,
That pale day break.
Mr. Dewey proceeds to illustrate the duty of an unshaken faith in the decrees of Providence, how dark soever and inscrutable they may seem :
“Shall this event shake our faith in that Providence? The principle that would allow it to do so, would drive all faith in Providence from the world. Can we give up that faith? It is our only refuge from the overwhelming ills of life. We must cling to it. Suffering, struggling, bereaved, broken-hearted, we must cling to it
, for it is our only refuge. And for my own part, as clearly do I see it, and as truly do I believe in that wise Providence reigning over life, as I see and believe that I live at all. And could one of those who have passed through that dread dispensation which we deplore, to a better life, speak to us, I doubt not he would say to his agonized friends: Be comforted, as far as mortal trial can be comforted. All is well. I see that, in which you struggle to beliete. For me it was better to depart, for you it is sorrow; but that sorrow shall yet be turned into joy. The breath of a momentary life passed away, and we shall meet again. I have died for the world's improvement, for your virtue; and beneath the great and loving Providence of God, I see that all is well. Oh! then be comforted! The serene heaven which spreads over you, is but an image of the all-enfolding love of God, in which we sball yet rejoice for ever!'