Introduction to The National: A Library for the People (1839), edited by W. J. Linton:

This lone volume was conspicuously tucked among bound 19th Century periodicals in the remotest part of the library. Luckily the rare books department left it on the shelves for my perusal, or I would never have found it. This appears to be the British antecedent to The Practical Cogitator by well over a hundred years. There are a handful of pencil marks highlighting passages, and judging from the penmanship of the squiggly lines, this person probably no longer lives. I just love the muscular eloquence of his verbs, and agree with the entire passage.

“Gentle Friends!–We entreat your careful attention to our exposition of the objects of the The National. We purpose that it shall most fully justify its title; that it shall be a Library for the People, a Magazine of popular information. We well know how to appreciate the struggles of the Unmonied in their pursuit of knowledge. Our design is–to assist them in their difficulties, to aid the inquirer, to encourage the learner, to cultivate moral and intellectual power,–be it understood that we assert the supremacy of morality, to which the intellect should ever be subservient–to disseminate and aid the fructification of Truth, to assist to the uttermost the progression of humanity. Many of the noblest productions of our best writers are sealed books to the People: their scarcity or high price is an effectual bar to their general appreciation. The grandest and profoundest thoughts of our master intellects are as yet utterly unknown to a vast majority of the People. We would remedy this by presenting to them, at a price within the reach of all, choicest gems from the treasure-houses of our best authors, giving to the millions for a sure possession the thoughts and opinions of the noblest spirits of the world, more especially those of our own country, whether of the bygone or of the present time. In addition to these The National will contain original articles in prose and verse–Tales, Essays, Poetry, History, political and theological Criticisms, and Reviews of literature and art. We shall endeavor in all cases to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: considering no subject above inquiry, nothing too sacred for investigation. We would enlighten the people, we would respond to their feelings and consult their interests, we would assist their inquiries, we would supply their wants, and reason with them on their errors. To the tender-conscienced we would say–we wish not to insult or wound your feelings, we acknowledge your illimitable right of opinion as we claim to possess the same right ourselves, and on this principle wherever we see error we shall strive, even for own conscience’ sake, persuasively to controvert it, whatever we deem prejudice we shall endeavor to overthrow, though it wear the most antiquated dress, though it should appear in the guise of Divinity. Our political opinions may be briefly yet comprehensively stated:–The equal rights of all, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, and the never-ceasing improvement of humanity. We trust to render The National interesting to the Millions, not only by introducing them to a companionship with the brightest geniuses of the world, not only by filling their homes with the purest and most ennobling delights, the mighty aids and comforts of a beneficent intelligence, but also by our thorough identification with them, the at-present degraded class, in all their hopes and exertions for the attainment of liberty and happiness. Our choice of illustration will be directed by the same desire of advantaging the community, having ever reference to our one great object, moral and intellectual improvement. We are of opinion that to accustom the eye to the study of beauty is one way, and no inconsiderable way, of ennobling and beautifying the mind. “The mind becomes that which it contemplates.” We therefore intend that every illustration shall bear the impress of Beauty and convey some useful lesson. Our first number shall not be our best–on the usual principle of samples, but we promise much after-improvement, and hope to make every number better than the one preceding it. We also request contributions from all those who as faithful ministers of Love and Truth seek earnestly for the overthrow of ignorance and poverty by the removal of all monopolies, who dare unflinchingly advocate the full acknowledgement of universal rights, and who are determined to employ their most strenuous and untiring exertions to hasten the consummation of universal morality and happiness.

P.S. We beg of our readers not to pass over the shortest of our extracts: we promise they shall never be mere make-weights ; but often the one line may contain as much wisdom as all the rest of the number.”

The book can be found in PDF form–you miss the priceless quality of letterpress text and wood engravings–here:


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