Address on the opening of the Free Public Library of Ballarat East, on Friday, 1st. January, 1869
Mr, Mayor, Ladies, and Gentlemen,
It is to me a source of unmixed pleasure, the enjoyment of which will not be limited to the fleeting hour, to have been honored with an invitation to assist to-day at the opening of your Free Public Library.
To have been associated with you, Mr Mayor, and your respected colleagues of the Committee on the occasion of laying the foundation stone of this building was a compliment of which you may believe me to be ever duly sensible. To see your enterprising labors brought to completion in so short a time, in a style which contributes so satisfactorily to the architectural embellishment of your town: to be received in a chamber so spacious, so commodious, so well stored already with so many books, chosen with such creditable discrimination, is gratifying to me in the extreme. You will allow my thanks to precede my warmest congratulations.
In a town so pre-eminently remarkable for industrial vitality as Ballarat, where each day brings to light new projects, blazing forth enticing share lists in companies with limited liability for the exploration of exhaustless mines of incredible richness, this goodly assemblage betokens a healthful condition of the body politic. Here, where we close with full hearts the volume of the departing year, in which are inscribed our sorrows and our joys; when about to enter into new vows of conduct for the year now dawning on us, the performance of a work of this kind, which promises no golden dividends to swell a bank account, deserves to be regarded with the respectful admiration which it commands.
We may feel that your aims are for something higher than the mere accumulation of the
"Yellow, glittering, precious gold,"
that you know the right use of what has been so bounteously bestowed on you. This is indeed an interesting interlude in the exciting turmoil of your week-day existence. It is an interval of graceful repose in the drama of toil-burdened life.
When, therefore, on an occasion such as this, we can abstract our minds from the lodger and the desk and expatiate on things outside the verge of our immediate affairs, we may, by a natural train of reasoning, arrive at the conclusion that the promotion of an object such as this is one of the most useful forms of development which the well-directed intelligence of your community could assume. For there is perhaps no feature of society of the age in which we live more strongly marked than the great desire for knowledge of every kind which pervades all classes. The appetite for knowledge increases as it, is partially gratified, and the gratification of it, instead of leading to satiety, makes it more voracious,—yet more dainty, and ever clamorous for a higher order of food.
Happily for us, the controversy as to the expediency of confining learning to the rich, and the imprudence or impolicy of entrusting it to those in the humbler walks of life, supposed unable to understand or make a rigid use of it, is now closed—to the entire confusion of those prophets of evil consequences, which it was predicted must flow from educating the masses.
Many of us can recollect the lamentations of those alarmists of the old school, and it seems strange that the race of apostles of ignorance was not effectually silenced, and for ever, by the pregnant sentences of Archbishop Cranmer, uttered more than three hundred years ago, preserved by his biographer. Your indulgence will allow me to transcribe them. In the year 1540 a change was made in the Cathedral of Canterbury, and prebendaries, canons, choristers, and scholars were substituted for monks.
A question arose as to the election of scholars and some of the commissioners, amongst whom were the Archbishop, Lord Rich, Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations; Sir Christopher Hales, the King's Attorney-General; Sir Anthony Sentleger, would have none admitted but sons or younger brethren of gentlemen.
"As for husbandmen's children, they were more meet," they said, "for the plough and to be artificers than to occupy the place of the learned sort."
"Whereupon the Most Reverend Father the Archbishop, being of a contrary mind, said—"He thought it not indifferent so to order the matter, for poor men's children are many times endued with more singular gifts of nature, which are also the gifts of God, as with eloquence, memory, apt pronunciation, sobriety, and such like, and more apt to apply their study than is the gentleman's son delicately educated."
Hereunto it was upon the other part replied—"That it was meet for the ploughman's son to go to the plough, and the artificer's to apply to the trade of their parents' vocation, and the gentleman's children are meet to have the knowledge of government and rule in the Commonwealth; for we have as much need of ploughmen as any other sort, and all sorts of men may not go to school."
"I grant," replied the archbishop, "much of your meaning herein as needful in a Commonwealth; but yet utterly to exclude the ploughman's son and the poor man's son from the benefit of learning, as if they were unworthy to have the gifts of the Holy Ghost bestowed upon them as well as upon others, is as much as to say that Almighty God should not be at liberty to bestow His great gifts of grace upon any person, nor nowhere else, but as we and other men shall appoint according to our fancy, and not according to His most Godly will and pleasure, who giveth His gifts, both of learning and other perfections in all sciences, unto all kinds and states of people indifferently. … Therefore, if the gentleman's son be apt to learning, let him be admitted; if not apt, let the poor man's child that is apt enter in his room."
If such admirable, such large-souled sentiments ought to regulate those to whom is confided the direction of the primary tuition of youth, are we to trammel by vexatious prohibitions, by restrictions expensive, cumbersome, and useless, the government of institutions like these, intended for men responsible in every sense to every agency recognised as affecting the society in which they move?
Nevertheless, there still linger in existence timid philanthropists, perpetually alarmed at the seductions, as they call them, from honest labor presented by public libraries, who condemn the freedom of admission, the honorable confidence reposed in readers, and lament the inducements to waste time in the perusal of unprofitable, trashy books.
We might meet the first objection by the sober enquiry if it be true?—if it be the fact that men, who can readily earn from six to sixteen shillings a-day, are indeed such bibliomaniacs,—and whether they do throw up or avoid engagements from which they derive support for themselves and their wives and families (if they have any) to become such ill-timed students?
Now, if there ever were a country in which this objection is inapplicable, it is in this. The hours of labor reduced to eight, leave to artisans, tradesmen, and other dwellers in towns a very large portion of the remainder of the twenty-four virtually unoccupied. The high rate of remuneration for every kind of labor places within the reach of all, means to indulge in the sensual excesses so destructive to health, strength, and reputation, temptations to which are so numerous on all sides.
How is this leisure to be disposed of? In the public-house? the singing-hall? the dancing-saloon? which hold out seductions somewhat more dangerous, methinks, to honest labor than those presented by a library; or in listless inaction, in weary unoccupied solitude? That cannot be. While man is a social animal society he must have, and better a thousand times that he should he should seek relief from the tedium of unemployed hours in the improving conversation of worthy authors, dead or living, than in the debasing, brutalising communications from which it is so difficult otherwise to escape.
We may well rejoice, then, when we see a room such as this filled with attentive and reflective readers. And when we occasionally recognise at an unusual hour in the day-time theface of an habitual evening visitor, we may feel assured without inquisitive intrusion upon him for the cause that he can supply a reason which reflects upon him no kind of discredit as a deserter from his necessary avocation.
Respecting the freedom of admission, it seems not only one of the most unreasonable of objections, but singular enough to say, it is only to be heard of in this land of wide equality. Elsewhere it is made matter of astonishment and of envy that a people whose time is supposed by those ignorant of our real position to be altogether engrossed in the pursuit of wealth, relieved only by periodical political convulsions, can nevertheless expend £70,000 in the erection of a Free Library in its metropolis, and place 47,000 volumes of choice and valuable books at the disposal of 200,000 visitors in the course of one year. You will not object to hear the terms in which we are spoken of in a country the circumstances of which resemble in many particulars those by which we are surrounded. The extract is from the 15th annual report of the Mercantile Library Association of the City and County of San Francisco, California, 1868:—
"As a specimen of what a young population can do, we refer, almost enviously, to a catalogue lately received from the Melbourne Public Library. It is true that that establishment has a wealth created by government munificence; but an institution upon which, for building and books, the amount of over half a million of dollars has been expended during a period of ten years, in addition to all that single generosity and effort have performed, might well make us jealous of the reputation of oar entire State for intelligent generosity."
Some abuses of the privilege of free admission may be easily corrected by a firm adherence to your regulations. If your visitors will not qualify by a decent attention to their persons, by respect for the fee] of others in abstaining from habits which offend against delicacy; if they will not conform to the rules of behaviour prescribed for their comfort and convenience as well as of those around them, they cannot complain if they are excluded from these walls. If they disregard your right of property and steal your books let them be punished as they deserve to be; and let those who have the management of these institutions consider well whether they cannot devise some means of holding up to public reprobation, and of meeting out exemplary and ignominous chastisement to those guilty of a more insidious injury than open theft of a volume—those who cut out paragraphs, or articles from scientific works—no common men these—that they may earn some imaginary triumph in a newspaper correspondence by the exclusive possession of what has been gained through the disgraceful act of felonious plagiarism of double dye,—of the author's ideas,—and of the vehicle through which they are promulgated—who with a selfish meanness more dastardly still excise prints and illustrations from rare books, which it is impossible to replace here. Against such men, who have not the poor excuse of the hypocrite pretending poverty and extenuating his petty larceny under the subterfuge of the want of bread, it is most difficult to he prepared, however constant the vigilance.
Still, although a few representatives of this most disreputable and odious band of pilferers molest us occasionally, are all the honest and the true to suffer an abridgment of their just rights in consequence of indiscriminating suspicion including them in the criminal class? Let me presume to answer for you — emphatically No!—certainly not. The rigorous visitation of the law and the universal execration of all insulted by such conduct will suffice. Meanwhile let the innocent remain unscathed by the imputation.
The insinuation of the waste of time in the perusal of unprofitable, trashy books must be met also by the enquiry—What does the expression mean?
It is not to be presumed that those honored with the management of this institution could be so destitute of acquaintance with the calibre of mind of the public for whom the}' cater, as to allow its shelves to be occupied with such works. From my inspection of them, careful and scrutinizing, it may be confidently assorted that of the seven thousand volumes, the use of which is so liberally offered to the public, there is not one of an avowedly hurtful character, while very many of the highest order of useful literature are by their costliness altogether beyond the reach of the vast bulk of the reading population.
But why this indignant crusade against class. works at the least harmless and entertaining, I though their aim may not openly be that of positive instruction in some particular branch of abstruse learning or favorite doctrine?
Men's minds are not cast in one mould—what charms one may repel another—nor is one man's mind at all times in the same frame. It will vary as the cloud of adversity lowers over him, or the sunshine of well-being smiles upon him. It will vary with the tone of his bodily health. Of the men who will avail themselves of the privilege of admission to this library many will have been educated at different schools, in different countries, under different habits of thought; many may be self-educated: all are not approachable through the direct avenue of cold, stern reason. Variety must therefore be provided. It is a question, moreover, whether the cause of religion itself, of temperance, or of any other virtue which it is desirable to inculcate through secular channels, can be most effectually promoted by tendering to all readers alike, under all circumstances, and at all seasons, works exclusively devoted to the treatment of those subjects and of none other.
As the Rev. Henry Allon informs us:—"When the excellent John Wesley was told that one of his preachers made it a boast that he never read any book except his Bible, his reply was, "We may expect to hear that he will soon cease to read that."
Persons of wavering religious principles are not always to be captivated by a tract. Those who partake too freely of intoxicating drink are not usually allured by a Rechabite lecture. Whereas works professedly on other topics which under the garb of fiction, narrative, or description, introduce sound doctrine, moral instruction, or persuasive argument may win the attention, and operate more powerfully on the mind of the materialist, the indifferent, the libertine, or the drunkard, than austere volumes for which, at the outset of their studies, their minds are nut fully prepared.
With some it is customary to speak in disparaging terms of the cheap literature of the present day. Here, again, discernment is required, for it is only to Beotian dulness or to culpable prejudice that a sweeping condemnation of books of that nature can be ascribed.
A vindication of the merits of (what are termed) "popular works" is not called for now, but the zenith and the nadir are not more far apart than the vile trash and ribald effusions given forth by those who trade upon the ignorance and licentious propensities of the vulgar—be they rich or poor—and the books carefully prepared with a sacred regard for the moral edification, as well as the material instruction of the people.
A bare allusion to the name of the fervid veteran Brougham and his zealous coadjutors, of those of Herschel, Airey, Whewell, Whately, Brewster, De Morgan, Lindley, with a galaxy of fine spirits who have rendered intelligible and familiar sciences previously sealed to the majority of the present generation; as well as of those of Constable, Lardner, Bohn, Chambers, Cassell, and a host of enterprising compilers and publishers who have devoted their lives and employed their capital in giving circulation in cheap form to the choicest standard writers of past ages, and to the productions of the pen of the historian, philosopher, traveller, economist, and moralist, should suffice to put such detractors out of court at once.
Why, then, this insatiable desire for superintending the studies of our guests? The majority of mankind will not become painful students, and are we to attempt to make them all philosophers?
There must be hours of relaxation; these must be recruited by what relieves the mind from the stern exactions of business. Prurient tempers may skulk to gloat in private, unobserved, over base and impure thoughts perpetuated by a prostitution of the talents destined one might imagine for a more decent use—but those who come here to read their own books, provided for them by the prudent dispensers of public funds, require no screen to hide their studies from the broad daylight of the public gaze. Are they then to be dragooned into a formal course of compulsory self-improvement? Books free from demoralising or dangerous principles are supplied, let them be used without interference or dictation.
In physical life nature displays a marvellous faculty for assimilation of what is wholesome and nutritive, and for the rejection of what is baneful to the system. There are few well regulated minds in which a similar compensating principle is not to be found. Though it be doubtless true that people cannot be much wiser or better by acquiring a vague superficial smattering of knowledge, we may give our readers credit for common-sense,—we may rest assured that they will not select for study what they cannot understand. What you have collected for them here will do no harm, and, unless their perceptions be woefully blunted and perverted, must do them good. And finally, without descending to recrimination, it might perhaps affirmed that the truly unprofitable, the mawkish, the falsely exaggerated style of writing of modern times is found rather in private reading clubs and societies, on the tables of drawing-rooms—possibly in the holy places of such censors, than on the shelves of our free public libraries.
"What, however, may be asked is sought by you beyond making provision for the recreation, or self-imposed instruction, be it light or grave, as caprice may affect them, of those who may frequent this hall.
Your aspirations must be seriously misapprehended if it be assumed that no higher motive be yours than that of entering into sentimental opposition with a gin-palace.
This work which you have engaged in should be acknowledged to be a philosophic recognition, and a faithful discharge of that obligation which not merely binds those who may be permitted to move for a few more short years within the direct influences of this institution, but which links the past with the present, the present with the future, and completes the chain of eternal time.
It is a trite saying, that Australia has no history.
Whether uttered in disparagement or commiseration is immaterial, for in either sense it is equally unsound. It disregards the principles which should make the history of man embrace all common to humanity, and dwarfs it to the dimensions of a parish register.
If unmindful of the lofty sentiment of the Roman poet,
"'Homo Sum,' humani nihil a me alienum puto"
it be uttered in the former spirit, are we to be divorced from all that connects us with the countries from which we have come? True indeed it is that in contrast with other parts of the earth the darkness of unillumined human intellect may have brooded over this fair continent for an unusually long time, still history consists not of years or centuries, of Olympiads or Lustrums, but of events. That of our connexion with this land is not without its special interest.
The history of other peoples has its eras of tedious infancy, insecure youth, wanton manhood, and helpless old age. In certain periods, when the evil passions of mankind have been predominant, history has been,—alas, too often!—stained with long accounts of desolating wars, undertaken either to enslave other nations, to tread out the embers of freedom, to gratify a lust for power, or to feed the appetite of bigotry, intolerance, or pride. Fortunately for us the pages of ours are as yet unsullied by such records. But when the kindlier elements of a divine nature have been in the ascendant these have produced results which are perennial, imperishable, nay, reproductive, expanding into a growth which adapts itself to all ages, to every clime, to every new association of the human family.
Thus we may apply the ever memorable words of Pericles in his funeral oration over his Athenian fellow-countrymen.
"Of illustrious men," says he, "the whole earth I sepulchre, and not only does the inscription upon columns in their own country testify to this, but of their greatness is found a monument in every land, an unwritten memorial in every heart."
And uniting in a population so composite as is ours the qualities, the memories, the traditions—not of a single people, but of all which represent civilisation; formed, like that of Great Britain itself, of the sons of many soils, it may he said without presumption that we have come into the possession of our estate in the full vigor of matured manhood, with, for our guidance, all the material advantages which the ripe experience of other nations in affairs social, commercial, scientific, practical, affords; and for our inheritance, all which in religion, charity, literature, and the arts cultivates, refines, and gives dignity to man.
Have we not, then, a smile for such commiseration?
In the migrations of ancient times the household gods and the statues of heroes accompanied the adventurous wanderers. The Greek of Asia, of Africa, of Sicily, of Naples, of Marseilles bethought him with a patriotic glow of his Homer, his Æschylus, Miltiades, Aristides, Phidias, or Zeuxis. The Roman of Gaul, of Germany, of Spain, of Britain, looked back with equal delight on his simple and hardy predecessors who had scorned the yoke of kingly tyranny, and raised to its proud pre-eminence the power of the commonwealth.
So in like manner our new compatriots, who enjoy with us the same freedom, engage themselves in the same toils, who are affected by the like trials, touched by the like sympathies, have brought with them the revered names of their illustrious men, now common to us all alike, to be enshrined amongst us with our Bacon, Shakspere, Milton, Newton, and the other countless men who have rendered Britain glorious.
We may now have visibly before; us the noble acts of patriotism, heroism, piety, and virtue, not of the the narrow area of our own Britain—fertile as it is in great names—but those which adorn the history of all lands represented amongst us. "We may disown a heritage in the deeds of oppression, cruelty, and crime, which, local in their influences, may be relegated to the spots in which they were enacted, and claim a purer, holier endowment in the love of freedom, of order, and self-respect—in all that is exalted, great and good which antiquity has bequeathed to us.
And where can the testimony of these virtues be preserved more suitably than in Public Libraries, free of access to all who esteem such recollections, who desire that their minds may be refreshed and their principles confirmed by intercourse with the great exemplars, in which
"Conducted by historic truth,
You tread the long extent of backward time."
In entering on the threshold of which you feel conscious of the thoroughness of the poet's sentiment—
"The place that does contain
My books, my best companions, is to me
A glorious court, where hourly I converse
With the old sages and philosophers;
And sometimes, for variety, I confer
With kings and emperors, and weigh their counsels,
Calling their victories, if unjustly got,
Unto a strict account, and in my fancy
Deface them as ill-placed statues."
And in which the copious stores of accumulated instruction which modern ingenuity, sagacity and discernment give to the world almost daily, find an appropriate place. As the eloquent Channing observes—
"In the best books the best men talk to us, give us their most precious thoughts, and pour their souls into ours. God be thanked for books! they are the voices of the distant and the dead, and make us heirs of the spiritual life of past ages."
Or in the quaint words of Richard de Bury—
"They are the masters who instruct you without rods, without anger, and without reward. If you approach them, they are not asleep; if you interrogate them, they do not hide themselves; if you are ignorant, they do not laugh at you."
So much for the past, gazed on by the hindmost face of Janus. Of the present, it behoves us to speak with diffidence and modesty. Voluntary immigration has, within the brief space of the third part of allotted human existence, drawn together the majority of our population to these shores, retaining still the fondest affection for the scenes and associations of our youthful days, but undepressed by the craving heart-sickness which weighs down the spirit and unnerves the energy of the exile.
We are assembled in a country rich in all to encourage and reward industry—all that can make life useful and respected—all that, under the direction of a wise and just Providence, can render man grateful, obedient, and contented—a country
"Where nature pours her bounties forth
"With such a full and unwithdrawing hand"
"———That no corner might
Be vacant of her plenty, in her own loins
She hutch'd the all-worshipped ore and precious gems
To store her children with."
The opportunities presented to enterprise and continuously sustained exertion have not been disregarded; of this ample proofs are given on all hands. The activity displayed in our harbors and towns, in the conduct of rural operations of every description, crowned this year with an abundance unexpected,—the opening of new branches of manufacturing industry, establish this to demonstration. But most conspicuously is it seen in your wealthy and flourishing city.
As far, then, as material progress and success are represented by our labors, we may without unseemly ostentation compare ourselves with the other hardy children which Britain, the mother of nations, cherishes in her bosom, or gives to reproduce her greatness in her out-lying possessions in the remote corners of the earth. How far we are redeeming the pledges imposed on us by the opportunities which prosperity creates, and fulfilling the missions which each in his sphere of duty has to fulfil, is not for me to say beyond secular and temporal matters, it is not my province to lead you; but what a field does the subject of education embrace? The vista through which the eye is led, from the hour of lisping infancy to that of adolescence, is broken by many an object which the solicitude of parents and relations has caused to intervene. These have each their several uses, but they overleaped, and the scene is closed by the edifice which crowns the view. The Hall in which the people combine to lay up stores of intellectual wealth, not provided for the amusement of amateurs and dilletanti, but of which all are invited freely to partake. If it may be recorded of this generation that it provided means of education for the middle-aged and the old, as well as for the young, it will have acquitted itself of one of the most burthensome debts which it owes to posterity.
Of the arts which embellish life fostered under the sustaining influence of those who with cultivated minds and refined leisure can and will apply superfluous wealth to the development of genius, we cannot yet say much—at these our hard worked community has not yet arrived. Not of poetry alone may it with truth be said—
Vacuæ carmina mentis opus.
The aphorism applies also to the kindred arts, her graceful associates. But they will come in due season to flourish with healthy natural vigor in a congenial soil, fostered by such a generous culture as that which has called into existence this building, and stimulated with such remarkable success the foundation of this Institution.
Of the future it is not given to man to speak with certainty, yet the least observant cannot fail to be struck with the necessity to prepare for changes to come. Already, not far from two millions of European descent are scattered, literally broadcast, over Australasia. When community of interest and of feeling shall have welded these separate provinces into a confederation like the "Dominion of Canada," bolder views of internal as well as of relative and mutual duties must be taken. What has been achieved by your generous perseverance—not yet accomplished in many an ancient city in Great Britain—may impose an obligation to emulate you and imitate elsewhere around us what you have done.
Then will be acknowledged the undeniable truths, that the education of man virtually begins when he arrives at manhood; that, however well he may have been prepared by initiatory training, it is when forced to wrestle daily with his fellow men in business, in a profession, or in public affairs, that the value of that training, the Weight and influence of his integrity and force of character will be tested; that to win eminence he must ever continue a patient and untiring student; and that to enable him to pursue efficiently that course in countries the circumstances affecting which must for some time be anomalous. Institutions of this kind must be multiplied.
It does not become me to detain you longer from participation in the festivities appointed for this auspicious day. The year 1868 has closed happily upon you. 1869 opens well. In the forefront of the good calculated to make it memorable is the inauguration of your Free Public Library. Let me ask you to join me in hoping that in its establishment and administration you may realise the fullest measure of expected benefits and blessings, and beg that you will accept from me for yourselves my respectful good wishes.