The Spyglass, Views and Reviews, 1924-1930: Selected and Edited by John Tyree Fain

By Donald Davidson | Go to book overview

The Book Business Critic's Almanac August 3, 1930

One hardly expects to find the missionary complex in works of fact, but it is an indulgence that the most earnest researchers nowadays nearly always allow themselves. In Books: Their Place in a Democracy, Mr. R. L. Duffus sets out, originally under the auspices of the Carnegie Corporation, to study quite objectively the conditions of book reading, book selling, book publishing in the United States. He has accumulated and arranged--as clearly as the complicated subject would allow--a valuable and impressive mass of information. But he also has apparently worked under the pleasant illusion that, if Americans curiously refrain from buying and reading many books, many good books, and especially many new books, their condition is highly objectionable, and ought to be and can be remedied, by some kind of organized effort.

I believe [he writes] that the failure of the democratic majority to accept intellectual and aesthetic ideals is due rather to a lack of will to do so rather than to a lack of ability. And I believe that the lack of will is due to false and imperfect systems of education and to other conditions in the environment which may be altered.

This is simply the common progressive notion of our day. We are to achieve civilization--a book-reading civilization--by determining to do so and heartily working according to a program. And always these advocates put the educational prescription at the top of the program. What ardent missionary souls they are! Little do they remember how missionaries of Christ, in the South Sea Islands, introduced measles and tuberculosis along with redemption, and often exterminated the natives they came to save.

It is a dubious thing to begin a study of the book situation in the States with high ideas about civilizing and saving.

-184-

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