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[301] public library in Boston;—I mean a library open to all the citizens, and from which all, under proper restrictions, can take out books. Such, at least, I understand to be your plan; and I have thought, more than once, that I would talk with you about it, but accident has prevented it. However, perhaps a letter is as good on all accounts, and better as a distinct memorandum of what I mean.

It has seemed to me, for many years, that such a free public library, if adapted to the wants of our people, would be the crowning glory of our public schools. But I think it important that it should be adapted to our peculiar character; that is, that it should come in at the end of our system of free instruction, and be fitted to continue and increase the effects of that system by the self-culture that results from reading.

The great obstacle to this with us is not—as it is in Prussia and elsewhere—a low condition of the mass of the people, condemning them, as soon as they escape from school, and often before it, to such severe labor, in order to procure the coarsest means of physical subsistence, that they have no leisure for intellectual culture, and soon lose all taste for it. Our difficulty is, to furnish means specially fitted to encourage a love for reading, to create an appetite for it, which the schools often fail to do, and then to adapt these means to its gratification. That an appetite for reading can be very widely excited is plain, from what the cheap publications of the last twenty years have accomplished, gradually raising the taste from such poor trash as the novels with which they began, up to the excellent and valuable works of all sorts which now flood the country, and are read by the middling classes everywhere, and in New England, I think, even by a majority of the people.1

Now what seems to me to be wanted in Boston is, an apparatus that shall carry this taste for reading as deep as possible into society, assuming, what I believe to be true, that it can be carried deeper in our society than in any other in the world, because we are better fitted for it. To do this I would establish a library which, in its main department and purpose, should differ from all free libraries yet attempted; I mean one in which any popular books, tending to moral

1 Mr. Ticknor was much struck by the publication of a cheap edition of Johns' Translation of Froissart, by the Harpers, of which he found a copy in a small inn of a retired village of southern New York, in 1844; and he always watched the signs of popular taste, both in publishers' lists and in the bookshelves of the houses which he entered, in his summer journeys, or in his errands of business and charity in the winter.

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