On not a few occasions we have heard persons vainly boast of the quantity of books they had read; we place a higher estimate upon that intellect which makes quality the touch-stone of excellence. There are persons who can chatter a string of nonsense twenty-four hours long—speak against time— but twenty words spoken by a sensible man is of more value than all they say in a whole day. There are books," of the making of which," as Solomon said, " there is no end ;" but of the prodigious quantity which have bee ? published, those of sterling merit form a very small proportion to the number oi useless ones. Of the readers of books and periodicals what shall we say ? Do the majority read to derive pleasure by increasing their knowledge 1 Do they seek the teaching of Truth with gladness, or prefer to recline on the lap of Fiction ? To the latter question an affirmative, and to the former a negative answer must be returned. It is a sad truth that twenty works of fiction are read for one of fact; this is not very flattering to human dignity. For all this, however, we believe that knowledge is spreading, and that there is a growing desire for it. Some appear to have an exceedingly vague idea of what knowledge is—to such we say, it is simple truth—nothing more and nothing less ; there is no knowledge apart from truth. In our experience, since the Scientific American commenced its career, we have had opportunities of knowing something of an improving taste, and a spreading desire for useful information by many and in many places, where such desires and tastes were not before displayed. We know that myriads derive much pleasure from reading works of fiction—and the majority perhaps always will—and some of these works answer a very good purpose ; but we know that the pleasure derived from reading useful works is more solid and lasting, and produces substantial benefits. A taste for, useful reading, even if dry, can be acquired and it would be well if every person would cultivate this taste, for the judgment pays it reverence. We sincerely desire, independent of business considerations, to see knowledge increasing ; and in endeavoring to extend the circulation of the Scientific American, our feelings are enlisted for the spread of useful information, because we know it does benefit, and in no case can do injury to the people. " Knowledge is power," and he who is without it at the present day, is like a sheep among wolves, an idiot among sages. Those, especially men in business, unless they read reliable and uselul works connected with the progress of science, art, and invention, are continually liable to be imposed upon by plotting Dousterswivels and speculating pretenders.
This article was originally published with the title "Let Knowledge Increase" in Scientific American 8, 50, 397 (August 1853)