Son reading the Bible to his parents

The Blessing of Books

Many, who have not the advantage of wealth or high standing in society, are apt to repine at their situation; to regret that they are debarred from much refined and intellectual intercourse. But this deprivation, is, in a great measure, ideal; there is an intercourse more intelligent than of any living society whatever, the great commonwealth of letters, which knows no distinction of persons, admits of no adventitious superiority, where everything is rated at its real value, and reduced to its legitimate standard.

Whatever may have been the rank of authors, the wealth or consequence attaching to their living persons, they exact no further homage; they are entertained without expense, dismissed without ceremony; they are at once our preceptors, masters, servants; they come or go at our bidding: they speak or are dumb at our pleasure.

We open the book, its eloquence streams upon us, we close the leaves, it is instantly sealed in silence. We have the best thoughts, of the best men, in the best form; we benefit by a close communion with great and shining characters, without being annoyed by those foibles and eccentricities which appear to be more particularly inherent in genius. Had we lived in the same time, and possessed the intimacy of Dr. Johnson, we should have been shocked to find, that with all his intelligence and strength of mind, he was contracted in principle, insolent and overbearing in argument.

We should have blushes for the tarnish honor of our common nature, to think that so great a mind as Addison’s could have been meanly jealous of contemporary worth. And, as we all know, poor Goldsmith, amidst innumerable follies and foibles, was so great a glutton of praise that he considered the applause bestowed upon a rope-dancer unjustly diverted from himself; and, in the presence of Dr. Johnson and several others, actually broke his shins in a clumsy attempt to prove he could surpass him.

In books are treasured up the matured fruits of the greatest and most cultivated minds; they contain the pure and condensed intelligence of the human mind, without any proportionate allow of its passions and weakness. Thus the noblest conceptions of our nature are preserved in the odors of language, as formerly the bodies of the great and noble were embalmed in perfumes.

In reading history, for instance, we participate in the actions of the illustrious dead, and exchange with pleasure the dull monotony of our own existence for the glorious achievements and enthusiasm of theirs. Under the pen of the historian the events of time undergo a refining and condensing process; he retains all that is worth preserving, the kernel, without the husks or shell. We thus engage in war without the peril of a wound, and accompany the voyager without encountering the dangers of the seas.

–Professor Culver

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s African American Newspapers Collection. This enormous collection of African American newspapers contains a wealth of information about cultural life and history during the 1800s and is rich with first-hand reports of the major events and issues of the day.


Collection: African American Newspapers
Publication: The Colored American
Date: February 17, 1838
Title: The Blessing of Books
Location: New York, New York

Photo:  Son reading to his parents, Booker T. Washington Collection (Library of Congress)

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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