"If I am asked, 'What is it that has
produced this change so far, what is
it that keeps power in check and
humanises the breast? I answer-
Books- books of poetry and philosophy.
Some may think that Law ought to be
mentioned first; but I should say,
No; for law itself is the creature of
opinion, and floats on its bosom like
'the swan's feather on the tide,' or
is swayed by it as the waves are agitated
and driven by the least breath of Heaven.
I believe there is still a law to burn
witches. Is it executed? Even the
rabble, whose ignorance keeps up their
prejudice as pride does those of their
superiors, expose themselves to universal
execration, by still occasionally acting
upon this exploded superstition...Books,
then, teach us (and they alone do it,
'To see ourselves as others see us.'
Or they may be truly said to 'show vice
its own image, scorn its own feature, and
the very age and body of the time its form
and pressure.' An act of oppression,
a stretch of power and authority, are
monstrous in themselves; but our self-love,
as well as habitual prejudice, blind us
to their enormity, which is also screened from
the centsure of others within the sphere of our
local and personal influence, by fear of favour...
The reading public- laugh at it as you will- is
after all (depend upon it), a very rational
animal, compared with a feudal lord and his
horde of vassals..."
"The Influence of Books on the Progress of Manners"
*New Monrhly Magazine*