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“Novels and Novel Readers”
by J.Q.A Crounse
An essay for the Soldier’s Lyceum
Transcribed by Brendan Murphy

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The term Novel, from the L. Novus, or F. Nouvelle, implies something New.  But as the vast abundance of works of fiction, their sameness of character, their general uniformity in details of incident, plot, characters and final catastrophe preclude the idea of anything essentially new or instructive in them, the term in general has become a misnomer.

That Novel reading carried to a great extent, leads to mental dissipation, mawkish sensibility, and a distaste for substantial, instructive reading, is easily proved.  Yet, if not excessive, and if directed to the most approved works of the best authors, and used rather as an adjunct to grave, severe study-as the light dessert follows the heavy dinner of substantiated viands-novel reading is quite exhilarating and by no means unprofitable.

It must be confessed that the Novel affords the most agreeable and entertaining methods of elucidating the great principles and facts of philosophy and general history; and is therefore, frequently, employed for these purposes. The novelist can select his character according to his fancy, arrange his plot, and make everything conspire to the triumph of his favorite ideas.  But he has too much latitude, and is liable to abuse his privilege, and his opinions are not of so much weight as though present in plain, logical prose in the form of a treatise; where the cunning combinations of the plot, stirring adventures and happy coincidences would not avail him.

It needs, after all, a sound discriminating  intellect and well balanced moral powers to read perpetually even the best productions of the school of romance; for the well balanced mind is the only one capable of keeping its poise, and gleaning only sound instruction from that which is made up of both good and evil.

But, if even the best works of fiction may be fruitful of evil in the hands of injudicious readers, what shall be said of vast inundation of cheap, yellow-covered sensation romances that deluge the land?  It is just and generous of the Sins-Diablo-Common-Place Prof. Ingraham, Lyhannus Cobb, etc. tribe to minister so assiduously to a depraved, apathetic and overwrought sensibility?

There is no need to caution men of good sense and intelligence against the current novel literature of the day.  They are in no more danger of catching the yellow-covered infection than they are of swallowing the “life bitters”, “resurrection pills,” “balms of gilead” and “universal panaceas” of the advertising quacks of swindling notoriety.

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New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History
Last modified: April 12, 2011
URL: http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/civil/artillery/11thIndBat/11thIndBat_Essay_Crounse.htm

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