Novel Reading” is an element in editor Howard Durham’s self-proclaimed “war” against “the opiate” of “corrupt” fiction:

Too much of our present literature is corrupt in its tendency, and too many of our publications couple the obscene jest with the good and useful reading that we would otherwise be proud of. We refer to many large weekly literary newspapers. There may be exceptions, but we see but few of them that do not contain vulgarities, the perpetrations of which, in the social circle, would be but the prelude to expulsion. …

Here, in keeping with other contemporary works on fiction, Durham equates sensational fiction with alcohol (unsurprisingly, he was also pro-temperance). Granted, Frederick Gleason—Durham’s primary target—was responsible for giving the world such titles as The Haunted Bride; or, The Witch of Gallows Hill and Ned Buntline’s Black Avenger of the Spanish Main. Still, Durham’s piece is amusingly quotable, with its “mentally disordered victims” whose “moral faculties [are] buried in the grave of fiction,” that “beverage of Romance, blasting soul and body.” Reader, beware!
“Novel Reading” (The Western Gem, October 1853; p. 5)

A distillery of liquor is generally conceded, by the moral portion of mankind, to be a fountain of misery and degradation, and to our mind, distilleries of romance, such as that of Gleason’s & Co., Boston, and many others which might be named, are fully entitled to a place in the same category. The young who have been ruined by the one establishment named above, would form an army, if they could be collected, that would startle the whole moral fraternity. What an array of mentally disordered victims would be found? Alas! for the youth who falls into the enchanting meshes of the web of Romance. He sees such works puffed by the religious press and tempted by the recommendation, imbibes his first mental draught. The opiate lulls his mind into a dreamy state, and tasting again, he becomes mentally intoxicated, and ere he is aware of it, he finds his moral faculties buried in the grave of fiction. His taste for the useful is gone—the Bible loses its charm, and wholesome reading becomes insipid.

“I am rooming,” remarked a friend of ours, “with a couple of young men who are confirmed novel readers. Their nights are spent chiefly in poring over ‘the last Romance,’ and their studies are neglected in the strange reverie in which they are continually lost. Speak to them of a matter of History, and they stare vacantly, entirely ignorant of the principal events that have transpired in the world since its doings began to be recorded.” It has been considered among the “upper ten,” an unpardonable breach of intelligence not to be able to discuss “the last novel.” Fashion is the mother of half our iniquities. She has stood before the young and pure, with the wine cup and the beverage of Romance, blasting soul and body, and her right has been considered indisputable; but we hope a better day is coming. May the time speedily hasten when the purity of our literature shall be encouraged by all the professed lovers of morality, and when the relig[i]ous press shall cease to puff the miserable trash that is conteracting the influence which Christianity might exert in the world.

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