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knew, that mankind is to be led, coaxed by opportunity and the insensible magnetism of attractive surroundings, into the paths of virtue and education, and is not to be driven by whips, and goads, and tracts. us try a little amusement with the refinement of art, and see what that will do."
It must be a great satisfaction to you, Mr. President [turning to Mr. Greenough), to find yourself so identified with this great and good work,
the bringing of libraries to the homes of our people all over the city. The tendencies of those having control of libraries is to look upon the library as too sacred for use. They pile up books, keep them under lock and key, and almost forbid their use to ensure their safety. You measure the library's value by its use.
You do not tell us how many volumes you have lost, but how many people use the volumes.
The present management does not seek to crowd all the books it is possible to collect into one great building, placed as ornaments where they are not needed, but to scatter them among the people, to send them where they will do the greatest good. This is carrying out your common-school system beyond the anticipations of even Joshua Bates himself.
It is all in the right direction, and I am glad to see so many who are connected with the city government here to-night. Let us go on as we are now going, and all will be well.
At any rate, I assure you that the people of South Boston will so second your efforts that you will recur with pride and pleasure to the part you have taken in the establishment of this Branch Library.
The next speaker was the Rev. GEORGE A. THAYER, who
Dr. Johnson's famous recipe for educating a boy was to. turn him loose into a library.
We have good reason for congratulating this community that it is now in our power to carry out this prescription for the large class whom it is important for our highest well being to have educated. And, indeed, who among us are not to be reckoned in that class ? What the school cannot do, this Library can do. The school, for those who are so fortunate as to enjoy its privileges, but introduces the child into the way of education. It gives him a glimpse of the immense field of wisdom. Not only a glimpse - he stands, as it were, on the threshold of the world's thought, as one might stand at the entrance of some world's fair or any museum of treasures, knowing there was something excellent and grand within, but capable of realizing its wonders only by ranging through the several apartments, and inspecting the various marvels.
In the school one is told that famous persons have lived, that great discoveries have been made, that great thoughts and institutions have been wrought out; but it is only through the larger reading of books that great men, great institutions, and great thoughts become substantial realities.
And such is the character of our people and of our government, that this finishing process of intelligence appears to me as much a necessity as is the common school. There are, and must be, large classes whose early schooling is limited. There are many whom poverty has stopped from the high school and the college, who are still anxious to go farther, and who would be glad to spend their leisure hours in self-improvement. It is from these needy classes that we draw many of our sturdiest citizens, our ablest leaders in every department of thought and activity. Thank Heaven there is no limit to men's power and influence in this land, save that.of honesty and intelligence, and there are multitudes who have taken advantage of the facilities extended to them on every side, to fit themselves for the highest fields of usefulness. But every man and woman has a field. Every one is a power for good or ill. This is a democracy, - every one a sovereign, and it is of the highest importance that all should be intelligent sovereigns.
More than ever, do we, to-day, want intelligent, thoughtful citizens. The great problems of civil and religious liberty, which we are endeavoring to solve in this country, are becoming more complex as we receive large immigrations. We cannot trust for their satisfactory solution to the leaders; we must have the minds of the masses, trained by thought, capable of manly, independent judgment. If there hangs over any city or state of America an ominous cloud foreboding mischief to our institutions, its source and nourishment are among the ignorant classes. And therefore do we need to put before every person the free invitation to know more, to think more, to uplift and develop the nobler faculties of the soul.
As I have said, there are multitudes who only want the opportunities. Give them the chance, and they will gladly show their appreciation. Give them a chance, and they will show that within them were precious seeds of character, which might otherwise have been left undeveloped. Seeing how much we have been blessed by the self-educated men, by those who have trusted for the cultivation of their powers to the casual facility of some stray book, none of us can fail to feel deeply the importance, the sacred duty, of making the avenues of knowledge as free as the access to water.
Experience shows that there is no lack of readers in our libraries. The American people are peculiarly a reading people. Nowhere else in the world, I may safely say, do books and papers have so wide a dis
semination. Even the foreign authors obtain their greatest popularity
Dickens has a larger audience in America than in England. I know that sone of the most thoughtful works of the distinguished men of the old world have fobtained their strongest reputation with us, and have reaped their greatest pecuniary profit from our purchases.
Look at the magazines, the daily and weekly papers, and the circulating books at every street corner! Grant that much of this reading is almost worse than' none. Grant that too many people care only to stimulate a false imagination ; still there is the disposition which awaits to be controlled.
Mr. Beecher, when asked at Yale, the other day, about the propriety of making people laugh in church, said, in substance,“ When I can move an audience to a right sort of laughter, I ask no man for the next move. I can soon have them in the higher moods.” So it is with the reading of inferior literature; there is the taste for something. We have got hold of people with the reading desire, and the possibility is easier of turning that disposition into better channels.
The Trustees of this Library have worldly wisdom. They do not expect to accomplish miracles: They do not expect to make those who resort here take only the higher class of literature. They do mean that the poorest books they offer shall be far above the rubbish that people resort to, because they know of nothing else, or can get nothing else. The books most used here will be the novels and the juvenile literature. But from that class all absolutely pernicious and vile stuff is to be excluded so far as is within the power of the collectors. The habit of reading something is to be cultivated, and in due time it is to be hoped that the boys and girls may come to desire something more profitable than Mayne Reid and Oliver Optic; that they shall be tempted to go among the histories, the poems, and the sciences.
This Library is to be an auxiliary of virtue; a co-worker with the churches and the reform societies. I know of no niore efficacious way of stimulating virtuous thought in people than by putting them in virtuous company; and that is nowhere more surely found than in a library of good books, which are the expression of the ripe and pure thought of the best men and women who have lived. It is a somewhat common reflection, and yet always worth recalling, that from yonder shelves speak a multitude of sweet and solemn voices of all the centuries. How eagerly we rush to see the great authors who visit us ! What crowds followed Dickens and Thackeray! What honor was it to speak with Scott and Irving, to have some relic of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, or any of the long list who have been the inspiration of the race! And yet, in the contact with their books, we are in the presence of the very best part of them, the quintessence of their souls. Many of them put their
complete lives into their works, and as we tread a library their spirits are ready for immediate communion with us. Old Greeks, Romans and Egyptians are with us; our early English ancestors converse with us; the poets, the sweet singers who make the hymns on which our Sunday devotion rises, and who compose the songs that inspirit the nations, like drum-beats, in their hours of peril, – these, and their like, are all at hand, ready to make our acquaintance; and if we will but know them our estimate of life is immeasurably raised. Emerson has said that men's faith in immortality depends upon the company they keep. Go with mean people, and life seenis mean. Read some of the masters of thought, and the world becomes peopled with men of positive quality, with heroes and demi-gods. Let us keep the company of the saints and scholars in our Library, and learn to appreciate and enjoy them, and life will be grander and more beneficent than it could be in the common ruts of daily duty.
But there is a more practical consideration than this. Good books furnish materials for feeding minds, and driving out mischievous thoughts. A large part of the crime that infests our community springs out of brains that have no profitable resources. See what an utter absence of means of enjoyment a large proportion of homes display. Mere feeding and sleeping places they are, and not of the most attractive sort, either; and their occupants have no resort for leisure, except at the street corner and the grog shop, where they are ripe for the evil that keeps our police so busy. We all know who patronize our groggeries, who make our streets unsafe, who fill our jails. They are the people whose heads are empty, and who, instead, fill their stomachs, and get hands and feet into trouble.
There is no sure remedy for crime save the putting something better into the heads. Dr. Holmes has wittily said that nature leaves no vacuums, but has some patent live time-keeper for even every crack and joint of a tavern bedstead. There are no vacuums in people's minds; either good is there, or evil.
In farming, fin the country, I used to be annoyed by the sorrel, which, like the evil tendencies of which I am speaking, has an antipathy against allowing anything useful to grow. Hoeing it up didn't do any good; there were little rootlets left which would bring forth again a double harvest. The soil must be cultivated by a free use of manure, giving the good sturdy seeds a chance to start, and then the sorrel would disappear.
Our books are the fertilizers, which, in connection with other moral persuasives are to do the work which no laws or strong arm of police can ever effect. Why, the mere ability to read a daily newspaper is often a man's salvation against criminal thoughts. If the newspapers deal too largely in accounts of criminal proceedings, they also deal with politics, with the great industrial questions, and with the questions of religion and reform; and for every acquaintance a man makes with a more dignified and important subject than is found in the lower routine of life, he may be able to remove one evil companion. If too poor to travel, he may, with the help of history, biography, and romance, range through the world, and obtain something of that culture and breadth of view which intelligent travel always imparts. He sees through the eyes, and with the experience of keen observers and profound scholars, and therefore may derive more profit in this way than do scores who travel to Europe without the faculties of right discrimination and intelligent observation.
I welcome with great joy all such adjuncts to education and reform as this institution. I hope that we who understand its utility will show by our patronage that it is appreciated. Practically, the whole City Library is in our reach, and the special student, as well as the general reader, is thus enabled to satisfy every literary need.
I am happy, also, to endorse the statement of Mr. Dean with regard to the intentions of the Hawes trustees, and to say that it seems entirely probable that, at no distant time, another institution of education, - in the art direction, — will be established among us, of which this Library will be a valuable auxiliary.
After further singing by the choir, the Mayor introduced Colonel ALBERT J. WRIGHT, who in an address of a few minutes' length, mingled sound sense with much good humor, and closed by pledging the continued interest of the citizens of South Boston in the institution which had been committed to their fostering care.
He was followed by the Rev. L. H. ANGIER, who dwelt upon the salutary influence of such institutions upon the manners and morals of youth. He closed with inviting the citizens of South Boston to join him in making a monthly contribution for one half year to the stores of the library.
Before separating, the entire assemblage joined in singing " Old Handred."