The following essay first appeared in the March 1897 edition of the Free Presbyterian Magazine (Vol. 1, pg. 435)
The Glasgow Evening Citizen reports that nine-tenths of the reading done at the present time is the perusal of fiction. This witness, we believe, to be true; ‘‘wherefore,” says the apostle in such a case, “rebuke them sharply.” Let the reading public note the fact that one of themselves, a prophet of their own, to wit Thomas Carlyle, has testified that all novel writing is akin to lying. A public feeding on lies is not much better off than a public dosed with opium. Instances of good resulting from the reading of certain select novels may be adduced, but the abandonment of a whole generation of men and women to a species of mental drunkenness cannot be atoned for by that. Wholesale novel reading is not one of the things that make for success in life, to speak nothing of the loftier business of the soul; nor are the victims of the habit without reminders of this. “Strive,” saith Christ, “to enter in at the strait gate,” but the novel reading habit is palpably at war with the disposition of mind implied in that command. Nero fiddled while Rome was burning — a frivolous wicked proceeding — but the idle play of the emotions induced by the sensational turns of the novelists’ plot is just a species of fiddling as pernicious and ill-timed as the other. It is too much to expect that the popular leisure should be spent in devout reading, seeing that the mass of young and old people are unconverted, but parents and all who have any influence should strive by every means to confine the reading to the domain of fact and reality. This will not cure the radical depravity of human nature, but it at least tends to conserve virtues which are useful in civil society.