( Originally Published Late 1800's )
A discussion upon clubs and club-life would not be complete without some reference to the literary club. In one form or another. it has existed for centuries. First they were established at the seats of learning in the great literary universities. Then they were organized among writers and professional men, and finally have come to be a regular institution among all classes of people. The reader will doubtless remember the literary clubs of London, which were so famous a century and more ago—clubs in which eminent litterateurs met together for social enjoyment and general improvement. Dr. Johnson was the life and centre of such a club. Edmond Burke and Sheridan of another, and the custom has never entirely disappeared from that day to this. Every city in our land of any considerable size can boast of its literary club, in which are associated eminent writers, scholars, and divines. But it is a club of another sort of which we wish to speak—the literary club now so popular in our small towns, where a few young people organize themselves into a society for mutual improvement. A simple organization in which the attention of young people is drawn to the works of some author which they read in common and discuss at their meetings. We are rejoiced to note that this kind of a club is growing more and more popular with our young people. In almost all our towns we have one or more of these organizations. There are Longfellow clubs, and Emerson clubs, and Shakespeare clubs, and so on to the end of the list of those noble authors whose works it is the privilege of young people to read and enjoy.
We look upon this simple custom with much favor. Any means that may be used to draw the attention of our young people away from the frivolities of life to an intelligent use of their time is confessedly a public blessing. We can think of no better way in which young people can spend the winter evenings and the leisure hours of the year than to form these little clubs of a dozen or twenty members and diligently study the life and works of some celebrated English writer. It furnishes a means for intelligent self culture. It helps to carry the education of the school into the education of practical life. Aside from giving the mind a rational activity, it adds very materially to one's mental attainments and develops a store of knowledge for the practical uses of life. We welcome this tendency as a salutary means to enlighten the young and keep them rationally employed. If once the taste of reading can be formed in one of these clubs, the individual members thereof will soon be able to separate themselves from the organization and go to work in earnest in the great field of literature. We believe one of the greatest philanthropists of the present century is that earnest practical man who conceived and developed the Chautauqua Reading Circle. And through the influence brought to bear upon the young through these simple reading clubs, thousands of our young people have been drawn to the reading of good books; and so strong is our faith in the beneficial influence of reading that we feel sure the lives of all these young people have been immeasurably benefited and improved. We can only wish a hearty God-speed to every little band of boys and girls who feel that they ought to organize a club and do something to improve their immortal minds.
But why should these beneficial institutions be con-fined to the towns and cities? Why not transfer the reading club to the rural districts ? Why not let the light of literature shine into the farmer's home and enlighten the heart of his child as well as that of his kinsman in the town ? One of the knotty questions of the present day is, how to keep the boys upon the farms. The universal tendency is for farmers' sons to seek some other employment as soon as they have reached the age when they can leave home. We think the true explanation is found in the fact that social life in the rural districts is dull and profitless. Country boys and girls have active and vigorous minds. In every particular, excepting the one of appearing in society, they are superior to town and city boys and girls of the same age. If something could be done for them intellectually and socially ; if there was a joyous life in rural homes ; if there was fun and frolic, and music, and good reading, we fully believe that farm-life would not be so repulsive to those who are brought up on the farms. We can think of no more sensible way in which young people could spend long evenings of the winter than by forming good literary clubs in their country homes. Let the club take in all the young people within a radius of three miles. Let them meet at the different houses within this area about twice each week. Let two hours be spent in reading or in some form of literary pursuits. If there be an organ in the house, or a piano, let the exercises be interspersed with music. Let there be a joyful social feeling encouraged. Let there be occasional refreshments and an occasional meeting of the club where the books are laid aside and a good social time prevails. Let the evenings between be spent at home in reading and in making preparation for the club. Let this organization be once fairly tried in a community, and we wager the opinion that farm-life will seem more joyful ever afterwards. It is the total lack of any rational means of intelligence, the total lack of the social element that fills our boys and girls in the country with such a longing for the city and its allurements. Here, as elsewhere, the scramble for the almighty dollar has crowded out of the country home everything that can interest or rejoice an active, restless youth or maiden. We know that many of our farmers are poor, that they could not afford to purchase costly libraries and fill the house with expensive apparatus to make their children happy. But, because a farmer has to practice economy he does not expect to deny his children suitable food and clothing for the body, and he has no right to deny his child all the means of intellectual life and growth on the score of economy. We, therefore, think that the young in country homes should be encouraged in all forms of legitimate amusement and social improvement. And especially in the formation of these simple literary clubs, which may be made the means of great social enjoyment and intellectual improvement. We sincerely wish that the custom might prevail throughout the country districts of our land, of forming these clubs and making them prosperous and enthusiastic. Too much attention cannot be paid to legitimate literary improvement among the people. There is far too little reading done by the laborers, farmers and tradesmen of our country, at the very point in society where it would do most good and afford the highest dee of happiness.
If any words of mine, therefore, could add to this tendency of forming literary clubs in the small towns and country neighborhoods, it would be by no means one of the least rewards of writing these pages. Let the literary club become a permanent institution ; let the children learn rather to read and reflect than to learn the superficial arts of so-called good society ; let the reading circle and the book be glorified ; let the mere accomplishments of social life be made subservient to the wisdom of a scholarly life, and society will at once be immeasurably benefitted by the change. We like the reading club.