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LEST some one, with hard, critical brow, and eyes in which sympathy never found a home, should ask us why we make another book, let us think the matter over, and satisfy ourselves on that point. Taken unawares, we might be at a loss; for even where reasons are plenty as blackberries, they sometimes grow on very high branches, as our torn fingers and flounces at this moment testify. Rural surroundings make us saucy and independent, and we shall take advantage of the shelter of these beetling rocks, and the murmur of this wild river, to say forth boldy what we think of book-making. There is, at least, a Brown Thresher on the sumach over our heads that thinks as we do, for he pours forth his heart in good earnest, trusting Providence for listeners, or finding a justification in the impulse.
Books are, in general, what we make them. To some they are hardly more than a certain weight of paper and print, put together in a guise more or less attractive, and forming a genteel article of furniture. Others, though they go deeper, meet them always with a demurrer, and never open their covers without being inspired with some disparaging thought, or some
destructive criticism. To such, the representative of another's thoughts and feelings always wears the aspect of an antagonist. 'Do you bite your thumb at me, sir?' asks one of the retainers of a belligerent house, the moment he meets any body not wearing his colors. 'I do bite my thumb, sir,' is the reply, and this is sufficient excuse for a fight. Disputatious people will seize still slighter occasions, and deal black eyes and cracked crowns, like wild Irishmen, 'for the pleasure of it.' Preserve us and our pages from such attentions! We know several persons who have reared, and who sustain, formidable literary pretensions, upon no better foundation than a habit of ridiculing and abusing every book they open. Simple hearers think there must be knowledge where there is so much confidence, and measure the speaker's judgment by his self-complacency; so the fault-finders pass for critics. But, in truth, 'we receive but what we give,' in this as in many other cases. A mathematical treatise requires a prepared reader; so does the most unpretending volume, aiming at no higher destiny than the innocent amusement of a listless hour. On our moods must depend very much the value of any book to us, and of the lighter books most of all. There are moments when this bird's song would be, to the ear that now drinks it in with delight, a mere 'iteration,' to which disgust might apply the harshest adjective. Yonder woody height, with its studs of rock and its thick curtains of evergreen, is to the farmer an image of impertinent hindrance. It keeps the sunrise off his chilly corn-fields two or three hours; it harbors his stray cattle in unapproachable fastnesses; and is, in every way, and for every purpose but the mere article of firewood, a very eye-sore to him. Yet there sits a painter, sketching it with delight; enriching his
portfolio with studies of single stones among its thousands, and thinking himself happy when he can seize the character of one of its mosses. Nature neither placed it there to please the artist, nor will remove it to gratify the farmer. It is for those who can use it, and pursues not those who cannot.
The multiplicity of books is not surprising. There needs many to suit all; and it is this that humble writers think of, if they think of the matter at all, when they venture to call attention and ask sympathy for their private thoughts. Somebody may be ready to listen, to be cheered; even, perhaps, to be a little instructed, sometimes, by another's fancies, or reflections, or experience. The pleasure of being listened to, is very great. There is even a necessity in the human mind to communicate. The silent cell is ever the home of horror, distrust and despair. It is the greatest of human misfortunes to be precluded from speaking; even to be hindered speaking out thoughts of a particular class, has been thought, at no remote period, cause enough of war to the knife, and the risk of all else that man holds dearest. Speech, with reason or without reason, in season and out of season, is one of the necessities; and personal intercourse being limited in a thousand ways, there must be other means of transporting thought. Books, then, become spiritual telegraphs; they annoy none that let them alone; they answer some of the dearest needs of those that use them. If conversation could be universal, there would be less writing; yet there would always be some, for ears weary sooner than eyes. When friends live together, their letter-cases need not be roomy, and posterity asks in vain for their 'correspondence.' They have had it, be sure; else they had been no friends. Now, books are the correspondence of
friends that have never seen each other. They conquer the limitations of human intercourse, and unite those, who, if personally present with each other, might never really and effectively meet.
For how hard it is to pierce or to surmount that semi-transparent wall of personality, which can only be sapped by long and intimate intercourse, and never thrown down even by that! What is it that keeps us apart, when each would fain meet the other? Here, in these delicious shades where we are writing, with earth, air, and sky preaching love and harmony, numbers of human beings, every one more or less alive to the beauties of scenery and the softening influence of agreeable circumstances, pass each other, daily and hourly, with scarce a look or word of recognition, though there is nothing but good will, or, at worst, indifference, among them. But if by chance there be one among them who has spoken to the world through a book, that one is felt as an acquaintance; the mind-portrait having had a wide circulation, no introduction seems needed. Here, then, is an excuse for books-one of many.
Then look at the groups and solitary walkers, scattered through these grounds; in the park, among the rocks by the stream, under the shadow of yon weeping elm, and on every sofa and lounge in the great house. A book is in the hand or the pocket of each, unless, indeed, as sometimes will happen, the reader has been lulled by the silent friend into the most benign of slumbers, and has let the volume fall. Happy authors to conduce to so much amusement-to such sweet repose! Who would not make books!
Tourists are proverbial for book-making, and certain critics seem to feel annoyed by the propensity; yet how natural is it!