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THE UTILITY OF MAGAZINES EVINCED.
Is a country whose reigning character is the love of science, it is somewhat strange that the channels of communication should be so narrow and limited. The weekly papers are at present the only vehicle of public information. Convenience and necessity prove that the opportunities of acquiring and communicating knowledge ought always to enlarge with the circle of population, America has now outgrown the state of infancy; her strength and commerce make large advances to manhood; and science, in all its branches, has not only blossomed, but even ripened on the soil. The cottages, as it were, of yesterday, have grown to villages, and the villages to cities; and while proud antiquity, like a skeleton in rags, parades the streets of other nations, their genius, as if sickened and disgusted with the phantom, comes hither for recovery.
The present enlarged and improved state of things gives every encouragement which the editor of a new Magazine can reasonably hope for. The failure of former ones cannot be drawn as a parallel now. Change of times adds propriety to new measures. In the early days of colonization, when a whisper was almost sufficient to have negociated all our internal concerns, the publishing even of a newspaper would have been premature. Those times are past, and population has established both their use and their credit. But their plan being almost wholly devoted to news and commerce, affords but a scanty residence to the Muses. Their path lies wide of the field of science, and has left a rich and unexplored region for new adventures.
It has always been the opinion of the learned and the curious, that a Magazine, when properly conducted, is a nursery of genius; and by constantly accumulating new matter, becomes a kind of market for wit and utility. The opportunity which it affords to men of abilities to communicate their studies, kindles up a spirit of invention and emulation. An unexercised genius soon contracts a kind of mossiuess, which not only checks its growth, but ahates its natural vigour. Like an untenanted house, it falls into decay, ai>d frequently ruins the possessor.
The British Magazines, at the commencement, were the repositories of ingenuity; they are now the retailers of tale
and nonsense. From elegance they sunk into simplicity, from simplicity to folly, and from folly to voluptuousness. The Gentleman's, the London, and the Universal Magazines, bear yet some marks of their originality: but the Town and Country, the Covent Garden, and Westminster, are no better than incentives to profligacy and dissipation. They have added to the dissolution of manners, and supported Venus against the Muses.
America y*et inherits a large portion of her first imported virtue. Degeneracy is here almost a useless word. They who are conversant with Europe would be tempted to believe, that even the air of the Atlantic disagrees with foreign vices; if they survive the voyage they either expire on their arrival, or linger away in an incurable consumption. There is a happy something in the climate of America which disarms them of all their power both of infection and attraction.
But while we give no encouragement to the importation of foreign vices, we ought to be equally as careful not to create any. A vice begotten might be worse than a vice imported. The latter depending on favour, would be a sycophant; the other by pride of birth would be a tyrant. To the one we should be dupes ; to the other slaves.
There is nothing which obtains so general an influence over the manners and morals of a people, as the press; from that, as from a fountain, the streams of vice or virtue are poured forth over a country: and of all publications none are more calculated to improve or infect than a periodical one. All others have their rise, and their exit; but this renews the pursuit. If it has no evil tendency, it dehauches by the power of repetition; if a good one, it obtains favour by the gracefulness of soliciting it. Like a lover it wooes its mistress with unabated ardour, nor gives up the pursuit without a conquest.
The two capital supports of a Magazine are utility and entertainment. The first is a boundless path, the other an endless spring. To suppose that arts and sciences are au exhausted subject, is doing them a kind of dishonour. The divine mechanism of the creation reproves such folly and shews us by comparison, the imperfection of our most refined inventions. I cannot believe that this species of vanity, is peculiarto the present age only. I have no doubt but it existed before the flood and even in the wildest ages of antiquity. It is a folly we have inherited, not created; and the discoveries which every day produces, have greatly contributed to dispossess us of it. Improvement and the world will expire together; and till that period arrives, we may plunder the mine but can never exhaust it. That "we have found out every thing" has been the motto of every age.
Let out ideas travel a little into antiquity, and we shall find larger portions of it than now; and so unwilling were oar ancestors to descend from the mountain of perfection, that when any new discovery exceeded the common standard, the discoverer was believed to be in alliance with the devil. It was not the ignorance of the age only, but the vanity of it, which rendered it dangerous to be ingenious.
The man who first planned and erected a tenable hut, with a hole for the smoke to pass, and the light to enter, was, perhaps, called an able architect; but he who first improved it with a chimney, could be no less than a prodigy; yet, had the same man been so unfortunate as to have embellished it with glass windows, he might, probably, have been burnt for a magician. Our fancies would be highly diverted could we look back, and behold a circle of original Indians haranguing on the sublime perfection of the age: yet, it is not impossible but future time may exceed us almost as much as we have exceeded them.
I would wish to extirpate the least remains of this impolitic vanity. It has a direct tendency to unbrace the nerves of invention, and is peculiarly hurtful to young colonies. A Magazine can never want matter in America, if the inhabitants will do justice to their own ahilities. Agriculture and manufactures owe much of their improvement in England, to hints first thrown out in some of their Magarines. Gentlemen whose abilities enabled them to make experiments, frequently choose that method of communication, on account of its convenience. And why should not the same spirit operate in America? I have no doubt of seeing, in a little time, an American Magazine full of more useful matter than ever I saw an English one: because we are not exceeded in abilities, have a more extensive field for inquiry, and, whatever may be our political state, our happiness will always depend upon ourselves.
Something useful will always arise from exercising the invention, though, perhaps, like the witch of Endor, we shall raise up a being we did not expect. We owe many of our noblest discoveries more to accident than wisdom. In quest of a pebble, we have found a diamond, and returned enriched with the treasure. Such happy accidents give additional encouragement to the making experiments; and the convenience which a Magazine affords of collecting and conveying them to the public, enhances their utility. Where this opportunity is wanting, in any little inventions, the forerunners of improvement are suffered to expire on the spot that produced them ; and as an elegant writer beautifully expresses on another occasion,
"They waste their sweetness on the desert air."
In matters of humour and entertainment there can be no reason to apprehend a deficiency. Wit is naturally a volunteer, delights in action, and under proper discipline is capable of great execution. It is a perfect master in the art of bush-fighting; and though it attacks with more subtlety than science, has often defeated a whole regiment of heavy artillery. Though I have rather exceeded the line of gravity in this description of wit, I am unwilling to dismiss it without being a little more serious. It is a qualification, which, like the passions, has a natural wildness that requires governing. Left to itself, it soon overflows its banks, mixes with common filth, and brings disrepute on the fountain. We have many valuable springs of it in America, which at present run in purer streams, than the generality of it in other countries. In France and Italy, it is froth highly fomented. In England it has much of the same spirit, but rather a browner complexion. European wit is one of the worst articles we can import. It has an intoxicating power with it, which dehauches the very vitals of chastity, and gives a false colouring to every thing it censures or defends. We soon grow fatigued with the excess, and withdraw like gluttons sickened with intemperance. On the contrary, how happily are the follies of innocent humour calculated to amuse and sweeten the vacancy of business! We enjoy the harmless luxury without surfeiting, and strengthen the spirits by relaxing them.
The press has not only a great influence over our manners and morals, but contributes largely to our pleasures; and a Magazine, when properly enriched, is very conveniently calculated for this purpose. Voluminous works weary the patience, but here we are invited by conciseness and variety. As I have formerly received much pleasure from perusing these kind of publications, I wish the present success, and have no doubt of seeing a proper diversity blended so agreeably together, as to furnish out an olio worthy of the company for whom it is designed.
I consider a Magazine as a kind of bee-hive, which both allures the swarm, and provides room to store their sweets. Its divisions into cells gives every bee a province of its own; though they differ in their taste for flowers, and extract with greater dexterity from one than from another. Thus we are not all Philosophers, all Artists, nor all Poets.