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Some War Reminiscences 277,319
Songs in Many Keys . . . 151
Sons of Harvard in the Federal
Army and Navy . . . 347
Sunday Horse-Cars . . . 340
Scott and his Writings . .
. 240 William the Norman . . . 330
. 369 Word or Two, A. . . . 17
. 284 Writing in the Time of Homer. 192
The intelligence and integrity of the rulers are important requisites for the prosperity of every nation. But in the United States the people themselves rule; and therefore the intellectual and moral education of the people is much more important here than in other countries. For, under a monarchy, the lower classes are only the foundation of a social pyramid, kept in place by the crushing weight of the layers above them ; while here society is a living tree, in which the people form both root and branches, the power springing from them only to return to them again.
It may be impossible for every man to think for himself, and act as an individual. It may be necessary that the many should be led by the few; that men should act in masses. But this only makes education more important, that the many may not be led blindly to their own destruction, and that they may know whom to follow.
To meet this necessity of education, self-government brings with it free schools. But these only lay the foundation, - an important and indispensable part, it is true, yet not the whole. They educate the merchant, the farmer, the mechanic, but not always the citizen. Colleges being only for the few, something more is needed for the training of the people, and this something we have in the Press, the constant attendant of popular government. The people have no leisure for study ; books they know little or nothing about; but the.
VA. VIII. NO. 68.
newspaper is in the hands of every one ; few are too poor to buy it, or too busy to read it. Its contents intimately concern their business, their pleasure, their every-day life.
This universal and almost exclusive access to the mind of the multitude is the source of great power. The newspaper is the chief avenue through which the popular mind can be reached. It turns the attention of the people to this or that subject, at will. It directs their thoughts and colors their opinions. It even becomes, to some men, an idol. They believe all it tells them, and no more; they follow it blindly, and think and vote as it directs. The editor is often unknown; no man is apparently responsible ; but the paper itself is personified, and listened to as an oracle. It is to the people the principal means of becoming acquainted with the world which lies beyond their horizon; the principal means of knowing the thoughts and acts of their fellow-men outside their own town. Our American press is responsible, mainly, to public opinion, and public opinion finds full utterance only through the press. The press, then, when united, becomes irresponsible, and therefore dangerous ; a good servant, but a bad master. If the newspapers lie, who is to contradict them? We may generally rely upon them to expose each other's faults, yet we are not always safe. For instance, many of the Southern people, certainly, would not have rushed so willingly into rebellion, had it not been for the repeated and uncontradicted misrepresentations of the newspapers, abusing their freedom to mislead and ruin the people whose ignorance or forbearance secured to them that freedom.
A recent article declares, that politicians and the press have been engaged for ten years in “emasculating the public opinion of the country.” This is strong language, and must not be applied universally ; but in regard to a portion of our press the declaration is true. By a mixture of sensation articles and deliberate falsehoods, they attack the public peace and national integrity. They exalt the passions above reason, stir up bad feeling, create and gratify a dangerous love of excitement and novelty. Their minute and shameless details of crime blunt the feelings, and undermine the morals of society. They weaken the respect for integrity, by representing an honest difference of opinion as the wilful perversion of the truth ; by teaching the people that every public act, however disinterested it may appear, must be viewed with suspicion, and considered as the result of selfish motives; by praising and blaming, not virtue anda vice, but
the acts of their own or the opposite party. Their course has tended to extinguish the race of statesmen, and to make politician and rascal synonymous terms. It has made politics distasteful to many men who are well fitted to control politics.
Every man who values bis reputation shrinks, almost involuntarily, from accepting a nomination, and, fancying his influence small, and public affairs wholly corrupt, neglects all his political duties. But some one must nominate and be nominated. If good men stand aloof, bad men must and will step in to take their places ; and that is a happy country which does not contain bad men enough to fill all its offices. This class of “respectable” men are dangerous, not from what they do, but from what they leave undone. They swell the census list, pay their taxes, fill our churches, at least in the forenoon, and support our scientific and our financial credit. They may be rich men, charitable men, learned men, moral men, but, if they are not good politicians, in the best sense of the term, they are only inhabitants, not citizens of the republic.
If the graduate of Harvard profits by the instruction he receives here, if the principles so often set forth in his themes become the guide of his actions, this class will not be recruited from our ranks. But College graduates form a small minority of the people. The great majority have nothing to do with themes. They must be reached through the newspaper. Men are told to make their personal influence felt in primary meetings, to take care of the nominations, and the elections will take care of themselves. But we must first make sure that men are qualified to exert a personal influence, and that this influence will be a good one. The only surety for this is in the intelligence and integrity of the people, the preservation of which requires a healthy press.
The recklessness of what are called sensation writers finds full scope in the present state of the country; and the injurious effect of exaggerated reports, with little or no foundation in fact, is easily seen. When hopes and fears are continually excited and seldom realized, what relief can there be from anxiety, or what firm basis for trade ? Like the woman whose husband was reported, in the first despatch, as killed, but afterwards found to be not even wounded, we may well exclaim, “ Give us the old stage-coach and weekly paper again ; they were slow, but they were sure.”
Notwithstanding these evils, the war is doing a good work, in removing from the press the violent party spirit which has long perverted its influence, and which has now, we may hope, passed its climax.
As we learn the opinions of other nations chiefly through the press, so must they learn ours. Our institutions are not so popular abroad that any failing will be overlooked. Many a statesman in Europe would gladly destroy or pervert the influence of our example. Let not our folly make their task easy.
In one point the press has almost universally abused its power. It holds in its keeping the purity of our language, a trust the more important because its importance is little recognized. Whoever takes the trouble to examine is shocked at the fearful inroads of modern writers on the integrity of our native tongue. For the press guides the language of men, even more than their thoughts and opinions. This corruption extends from the newspaper through all our literature, for, if a writer wishes to be listened to and understood by the people, he must speak in the popular style. The influence of language, as the medium of thought, on our tastes and opinions, is too little understood, even by educated men. The great danger lies in our ignorance of the existence of danger, in the unperceived, and therefore unresisted, course of the evil.
If the editor, then, is the guardian of the vigor and purity of the English language, of our social and political rights, of the public taste and the public morals, how great is his power and responsibility, and how important that he should exercise his power in the right direction! Yet there is a general prejudice against this profession. The importance of the editor, like that of the schoolmaster, has been too often underrated, although two men could hardly be found who have more to do with the character of society. The editor is looked upon as a mere drudge, a literary machine, bound to grind out a fixed amount of matter every day, — a man who is continually "emptying his brain, in vain attempts to fill his pocket.” Such a life seems too confined and unvaried for the exercise of talent. There is nothing brilliant and attractive about it, no room for display. The newspaper is read, eagerly, it is true, at first, but it is soon thrown aside and forgotten. It has its effect, perhaps an important one, but in this effect the cause is not recognized. Of the editor and his work there remains no apparent and lasting memorial.
Such mental suicide men of talent hesitate to commit. The result is, that the character of the editor tends to correspond with his reputation. The profession is left open to narrow-minded and unprin