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The Opal Library

Creator: n/a
Date: May 1853
Publication: The Opal
Source: New York State Library

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"Tell me your company and I will tell you the man," is an old adage of wisdom, and most truly illustrates the volumes of interesting works with which our world now I abounds. Reading, says Lord Bacon, makes a learned man, and King David says, "study to show thyself a man."


It is not the number or the value, but the subject and the quality that determines the utility of books. All the external conditions in which thought is presented to the mind, does not vary the character of the thought itself, but tends only to produce an agreeable or favorable avenue to the conducting of it. To look at pretty books, adorned with gold leaf and embellishments, is gratifying to the sight, but is often like those persons of quality (?) who keep their furniture and carriages covered up, and are up in arms if any one disturbs or soils them. To be in a parlor, where there has been so much trouble to look nice, and such a reproving look, as if fearful that the guest might innovate, is irksome indeed. Show! Show!! To have a library in a beautiful book-case, and never read a book, though in a splendid garb, is very wicked; and some persons have a desire to be librarians for our old friend Fashion's sake, and who endeavor to plane off the rough edges of their rudeness by a splendid library-room, adorned by the master-pieces of upholsterers and book-binders.


And yet it is better for all person, to have books, and to patronize the arts and letters as much as they are able. Although strong minds should read all and everything, children of weaker capacities should be discriminate, or friends should for them. The minds of men are as various as their tastes, and require very different degrees of cultivation. The different styles and subjects should be adapted to the states of improvement in individuals. Generally, books are read for fashion's sake. It is really too bad to say we have not read Bulwer, or Scott, or Johnson, or Shakespeare: and but a few months back, the tide of fashion, in consequence of Mr. Thackeray's Lectures, set strongly in favor of Smollert, Fielding, &c. and it was fashionable for gay belles to read Roderick Random, Tom Jones, Humphrey Clinker, &c., &c. But all who desire respect should cultivate their minds by reading, for people -- intelligent people -- will form an idea of us as we read. "Wise heads keep their mouths close," except for proper occasions, and do not gabble for the sake of it, and annoy good folks by thoughtless common-places, that libels the intelligence of those who think at all; and some read books they would be ashamed to have people see them reading; and disown the charge of mental aberration or vitiated tastes. To "own up" is the best rule in errors, and frankly declare that it is more a taste to know what is going forward than to patronize what is wrong. Persons live in the midst of books who are very poor thinkers.


In colleges there are five classes, -- freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, and resident graduates who pursue various kinds of reading. "Oh," said a graduate "if I had to live my college life over, I would confine myself entirely to the college studies, and leave reading till afterward; I would discipline my mind for the tasteful and discriminating perception of ideas." Study leads to originality, and to anticipations of what books contain, and he who reads the book of nature with prayer and skill, is in a state of preparation for those other works that ornament the shelves and firesides and parlors of those who live in and feel interested in the world; and those who do not become college-ized can study and read some or all the authors studied, and be as proud as collegians, declaiming in their silk-gowns the splendors of Greece and Rome.


In our College here are no pre-requisites of study required on entrance; no three grammars, Caesar, Virgil, Cicero, Greek Reader, Four Gospels, Arithmetic and Geography are necessary to enter this Freshmen Class and President Benedict, Professors Gray, Headley and Wolcott, award a course of study not altogether consonant with the freeness of collegiate life, still it must be allowed that appearances, which are very deceitful, are here truly characteristic of a respectability that will bear probing. Painful, indeed, is the ignorance under which people labor with regard to Asylums, or the minds therein; and when crowds come here to see, how aptly could this scripture be applied, -- "what went ye up for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?" Bruised reeds, tender and pliant; whose bending and growth is to be sustained and advanced by the science here.


The question naturally arises -- Is the mind, in its incoherent state, prepared for the exercise that engenders thought? Is it to be abstracted by book, from external objects and directed to subjects that tend to edification? Yes; and through books that mothers place in the hands of their children, some simple narrative, or novel story, a taste for reading is created, which lends the mind to thoughtfulness, and to that calm contemplation, incident to cultivation. Dr. Macdonald recommends narrative for certain classes of mind, and earn Mother Goose's Melodies and Riddles and Morals, the mind ascends in order to the apprehension of all things comprehensible by mortals. The mind that appreciates truthful narrative is prepared for the genius of fiction, and not with the jealous cant that it is falsehood, but that it is imaginative and instructive. Some will not justify any deviation from truth on any pretence whatever, and they become narrow-minded, bigoted and superstitious. Nursery Tales adapted to the variations and intellectual combinations properly regulated become a source of incalculable good, whereas, if uncontrolled, become an evil.

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