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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

Hence it is that this indisposition is generated


effect is the following. The Quakers conceive that there is among professed novel readers a peculiar cast of mind. They observe in them a romantic spirit, a sort of wonder-loving imagination, and a disposition towards enthusiastic flights of the fancy, which to sober persons has the appearance of a temporary derangement. As the former effect must become injurious by producing forwardness, so this must become so by producing unsteadiness, of character.

A third effect, which the Quakers find to be produced among this description of readers, is conspicuous in a perverted morality. They place almost every value in feeling, and in the affectation of benevolence. They consider these as the true and only sources of good. They make these equivalent, to moral principle. And actions flowing from feeling, though feeling itself is not always well founded, and sometimes runs into compassion even against justice, they class as moral duties arising from moral principles. They consider also too frequently the laws of religion as barbarous restraints, and which their new notions of civilized refinement may relax at will. And they do not hesitate, in consequence, to give a colour to some fashionable vices, which no christian painter would admit into any composition, which was his own.

To this it may be added, that, believing their own knowledge to be supreme, and their own system of morality to be the only enlightened one, they

fall often into scepticism, and pass easily from thence to infidelity. Foreign novels, however, more than our own, have probably contributed to the production of this latter effect.

These then are frequently the evils, and those which the Quakers insist upon, where persons devote their spare-time to the reading of novels, but more particularly among females, who, on account of the greater delicacy of their constitutions, are the more susceptible of such impressions. These effects the Quakers consider as particularly frightful, when they fall upon this sex. For an affectation of knowledge, or a forwardness of character, seems to be much more disgusting among women than among men. It may be observed also, that an unsteady or romantic spirit or a wonder-loving or flighty imagination, can never qualify a woman for domestic duties, or make her a sedate and prudent wife. Nor can a relaxed morality qualify her for the discharge of her duty as a parent in the religious education of her children.

But, independently of these, there is another evil, which the Quakers attach to novel-reading, of a nature too serious to be omitted in this account. It is that those who are attached to this species of reading, become indisposed towards any other.

This indisposition arises from the peculiar construction of novels. Their structure is similar to that of dramatic compositions. They exhibit characters to view. They have their heroes and heroines in the same manner. They lay open the checkered incidents in the lives of these. They interweave into their histories the powerful passion of love. By animated language, and descriptions which glow with sympathy, they rouse the sensibility of the reader, and fill his soul with interest in the tale. They fascinate therefore in the same manner as plays. They produce also the same kind of [7] mental stimulus, or the same powerful excitement of the mind. Hence it is that this indisposition is generated. For if other books contain neither characters, nor incidents, nor any of the high seasoning, or gross stimulants, which belong to novels they become insipid.

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