Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
Religious Books
By Noah Porter (1811–1892)
 
[Born in Farmington, Conn., 1811. Died at New Haven, Conn., 1892. Books and Reading. 1870.]

RELIGIOUS books may be divided into four classes: good books, i.e., books which are very good—goodish books—books which are good for nothing—books which are worse than nothing.
  1
  Good books are such as are positive and conspicuous for one or all of three merits—merits of thought, feeling, and diction. Every good book can show a raison d’être. There is some occasion for its being produced and read. Good books invariably bear marks of having originated in a gifted mind—in a mind set apart by nature or called of God to speak to one’s fellow-men by reason of the gift of genius or of earnestness. They show the signs of this calling and these gifts, and awaken a response in the ear and the hearts of the truly earnest or the truly cultured of those who hear them, and thus prove there was an occasion for their being written.  2
  Goodish books are books of second-hand goodness—books that are consciously or unconsciously imitated from good books—books that repeat old thoughts, by stupid and servile copying, or with such original variations as despoil them of their freshness and life—books which seek to express simple and familiar emotions without just or real feeling—books which strain out affected conceits, or extravagant imagery, with some empty ambition of originality—books whose authors are willing to gain the admiration of the uncultured and the half-cultured by any extravagance of thought or diction. Above all, they are books which utter the words of religious feeling when the writer does not really possess it, or possessing it describes the objects of his excited emotion in borrowed or stereotyped phraseology. Such books are deformed by more or less of cant in the strict and proper acceptation of that term, as characterizing an unsuccessful attempt to sing what another sings heartily and sings well. Goodish books may have more or less positive merit, with all their strained and factitious untruth—they may be eminently useful to readers who do not observe their defects or are not offended by them, who do not require anything better, or who may have a taste so perverted as to prefer them to good books, even though good books would be far better for them. There is unhappily, in the religious world, a very large class of books of whom the remark of a shrewd observer will hold, “Men who are simply and earnestly good, I like exceedingly, but goodish men or those who put on airs of goodness, not at all.”  3
  Religious books which are good for nothing are such as are stupid in thought, feeble in emotion, false in imagery, vulgar in illustration, or uncouth and illiterate in diction, and which are so deficient in all these particulars as to be incapable of doing good to any one which might not be done far more efficiently by books that are better or those less open to objection. Books of this description are very numerous. They are produced by the ton. They thrust themselves in your face in every bookseller’s shop. They are obtruded upon your notice by weak but well-meaning people at every corner. That they serve some useful purpose to very many people does not disprove that they are good for nothing, provided we can show that a good or a goodish book would have answered the same purpose better or equally well.  4
  Religious books that are worse than nothing are such as are positively offensive from defects so gross as to be obvious to people of very moderate cultivation. All books belong to this class which are false in sentiment, fraudulent by over-statement or by suppression, wooden or scholastic in phraseology and conception, dishonest in the caricature or misrepresentation of opponents whether infidel or fellow-Christian, unsound in reasoning, hysterical in emotion, doggerel in verse, or sensational and extravagant in prose. These all dishonor true religion either by conspicuous errors, a bad spirit, bad taste, bad manners, or bad English. Whatever partial or occasional good they may seem to effect among people who are not aware of their falsehood, or are not offended by their extravagance, would be done more effectually by other books, while the positive evil they occasion to the bigoted, the undevout, and the scoffer, is fearful to think of.  5
 
 
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