Tracts and Tract Societies
Tracts and Tract Societies The term tract, although etymologically signifying something drawn out (Lat. tractus), has long been employed in the English language to designate a short or condensed treatise in print. It has primary reference to the form of publication, and is usually applied only to unbound sheets or pamphlets. Thus, a treatise on any topic may be published either in a book or tract form, the tract being much cheaper than the book, but also much more liable to be injured or destroyed. While many political, scientific, and other tracts have been published, yet the vast majority of publications known as tracts are of a religious character; So generally is this true that the word tract used without qualification rarely suggests any other idea than that of a brief religious treatise or appeal. To some extent the idea has been employed by propagandists of error, but far more generally by lovers of truth and by persons willing to make sacrifices for its promotion. Had only miscellaneous tracts been published, or had the publication of tracts on religious subjects only taken place in an accidental or unsystematic manner, there would have been no occasion for this article.
I. Occasion and Character of the Tract Movement. There has, in fact, arisen a great Christian enterprise having for its object the publication and dissemination of religious tracts. This enterprise, like the Gospel itself and other of its auxiliaries, has from small beginnings grown to vast proportions and commanding influence. Although its history is chiefly limited to the last one hundred years, it has already come to be considered one of the cardinal agencies of Christian propagandism, taking rank with the missionary and Sunday school enterprises, and serving as a powerful auxiliary to both. Although asserting no specific divine appointment, it nevertheless claims to be authorized be inspired analogies. The sacred books both of the Old and the New Testaments were issued and circulated as separate treatises or tracts; so that the Bible itself, in its most approved modern form, may be said to be a bound volume of tracts.
The principle involved is that of giving truth a permanent and available expression in written or printed language, thus enabling it to survive the voice of the living teacher, and to reach persons and places to which he could never have access. God, from the beginning, appointed language as the medium of communication between himself and man, as well as between man and man. He spoke to our race, not only through the hearing of the ear, but also through the perceptions of the eve, thus consecrating both spoken and written language to the office of religious instruction. In giving a written law, he not only provided for the moral guidance of the generation to whom it was first addressed, but for all subsequent ages, while he also continued to teach and admonish men by the voice and the pen of prophets and holy men in successive periods. As a counterpart of the spoken language to be used in preaching, the chosen disciples of our Lord were inspired to write narratives of the life, miracles, and death of him who was the eternal Word, together with the acts and letters of the apostles embodying the instructions which they had personally received from the Lord himself, and which were thus handed down to those who should come after them. Spoken language has the advantage of instant readiness, wherever there is a tongue to speak and an ear to hear. It cal also be varied with circumstances, and, adapted to the special wants and changing perceptions of those to whom it is addressed. On the other hand, written language is available at all times and in all places. It can be cheaply multiplied and scattered on the wings of the wind. It also endures from age to age, while living speakers die. Great as was the personal influence of the apostles through the agency of spoken language, the influence of their writings has been infinitely greater. Their voices expired with their natural life, but their written speech was immortal. It survived all persecutions. It became embodied in many languages, and was diffused in every direction. It has come down through the centuries. It has been taken up by the modern printing-press, and having been translated into hundreds of tongues and dialects, is now multiplied more rapidly than ever before for the benefit of the present and succeeding generations. By this adjustment of Providence, the apostles, though dead, yet speak, and will continue to speak to increasing millions while the world endures; and those who read their writings may not only receive their teachings, but become partakers and propagators of like precious faith. They may echo the truth, which has made them free in their own forms of expression and with new adaptations to the ever-changing circumstances of humanity.
A peculiarity of written language is that its dissemination challenges co- operation from many not called to the office of preaching. Copyists, printers, purchasers, and distributors may in their several spheres cooperate to bring the truth of God by means of it into contact with human hearts. The tract enterprise, in fact, employs and combines for a common purpose many and, varied agencies. In order that a religious tract may be produced and started. on a career of usefulness, there must first be a writer imbued with the spirit of truth and love, and willing to labor with his pen, in order to express his thoughts in language at once attractive and impressive." Then there must be pecuniary investment for the publication of the document written. The task of publication, although possible to individuals, is best performed by public institutions, like the existing tract societies, which, having a. corporate existence, live on though their founders die. Such societies can develop and carry out great systems of effort, which their projectors may only live to initiate. Superadded to the publication of tracts, in order to their extended usefulness, there must be co-operative and systematic agencies for their proper and continuous dissemination among readers. When this complicated machinery of moral and spiritual influence is appropriately organized, the humblest Christian may come into working relations with it and be a helper to its highest success. Thenceforward there is a grand co-partnership of results, in which those who write, who print, who circulate, and who read may rejoice together.
As an illustration of the endless stream of influences, which may flow onward from a single instance of bringing religious truth in a printed form to the attention of the unconverted, the following facts are condensed from authentic documents. In the latter part of the 16th century, a good man, known as Dr. Sibbs, wrote a little book entitled The Bruised Reed. A copy of that book, sold by a poor peddler at the door of a lowly cottage in England, was the agency of the Christian awakening of Richard Baxter, who was born in 1615. "The additional reading of a little piece of Mr.
Perkins's work On Repentance, borrowed from a servant," says Baxter, in a sketch of his own life, "did further inform me and confirm me; and thus, without any means, but books, was (God pleased to resolve me for himself." Thus brought to tie knowledge and experience of the truth, Baxter became one of the most earnest preaches and prolific writers of any age. He died in 1691, having published matter enough to fill twenty-three large volumes. Two of his smaller works The Call to the Unconverted and The Saints' Everlasting Rest-have passed through countless editions both in England and America, and, doubtless, will continue to be widely read in English speaking countries while time endures. Of the full extent of their influence it is impossible to form an adequate estimate, but here and there links in the chain of sequences can be discovered. Philip Doddridge, when young, borrowed the works of Baxter, and in due time became the author of the Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, a work which led William Wilberforce to seek for pardon through the Redeemer. Wilberforce's Practical View of Christianity was the instrument employed by the Holy Spirit to lead to repentance and a true faith in Christ Legh Richmond, the writer of The Young Cottager, The Dairyman's Daughter, and various other tracts. Mr. Richmond was a laborious clergyman, and for many years a secretary of the Religious Tract Society of London. His tracts above named have been translated into many languages, and have been instrumental, under the blessing of God, in the conversion of many precious souls. Only two days before his summons to a better world, he received a letter mentioning the conversion of two persons, one of them a clergyman, by the perusal of his tract The Dairyman's Daughter. Nearly half a century has since passed away, but the tract has lived on, and, by the help of printers, donors, and distributors, has continued to do its work; while many of those converted through its influence have themselves become successful actors in starting agencies of influence, destined to work on with ever-increasing and multiplying power. Volumes might be filled with incidents illustrating the utility and power of tracts as an agency of evangelization and religious influence both in Christian and pagan lands. In fact, judging from the reports and annals of the, various tract organizations, no branch of Christian activity has been more uniformly productive of the best results than tract distribution.
While the tract enterprise may thus be spoken of in its separate character, it should be borne in mind that it seldom acts or stands alone. Its most approved modes of action are in connection with Church work at home and missionary effort abroad; consequently its best fruits will doubtless be found in the great day to have been the joint product of many forms of Christian activity. It may be confidently urged that Christian work in connection with the use of religious tracts is practicable to a greater number of people of every age and circumstance in life than any other generally recognized agency of usefulness. Comparatively few are called to be-ministers or missionaries. Many cannot be Sunday-school teachers. But who cannot be the bearer or sender of a tract who indeed, cannot, with comparatively little sacrifice, circulate many tracts through channels of business, in public thoroughfares, through the mails, and, what is better than any other way, by personal presentation?
The present is a reading age, and while, on the one hand, it is important to antagonize the evils resulting from bad reading in all its forms, on the other hand there is no community in which many person mama not be found who will have little, if any, good reading that is not brought to them by the hand of benevolence. He that searches them out and bestows upon them good gifts in the form of Christian tracts and books, accompanied, if need be, with other acts of kindness, will seldom fail of doing good; but he who adds' to the tract earnest Christian inquiry or conversation will do still greater good, and in many instances secure an interest in such promises as these. He which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall' save a soul from death" (Jas 5:20). "And they that turn many to righteousness [shall shine] as the stars forever and ever" Da 12:3). Ministers of the Gospel especially should consider it a great privilege to have provided and ready to their hand a large supply of Christian truth strongly stated, neatly printed, and specially adapted to aid and render permanent the very work they are endeavoring to do by preaching and pastoral labor. In this respect the publications of the tract societies become an arsenal filled with legitimate weapons of the Christian warfare, a vast store of fixed ammunition with which to defend the citadel of Christian truth, and to assault the positions of the adversary.
In the pulpit the minister is chiefly limited to his own thoughts and expressions. In the use of tracts he may avail himself of the best thoughts, the largest experience, and the ablest statements of the wisest men who have used their pen for the glory of God. His own spoken words may vanish with the breath which utters them. At most, they are not likely to be long remembered; but the printed pages which he scatters may remain to be perused when the giver is dead, and may even descend to coming generations. In preaching, the minister is limited to his own personal efforts, and can only address those who come to hear him. In his pastoral work he is at liberty to seek out the people; and often the present of a tract or a book will secure for him the friendship and the interested attention of those who would not have volunteered to enter his congregation. Besides, in the work of tract distribution, a hundred willing hands can help him, and feet "shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace" will run for him in paths of duty farther and oftener than he with the utmost diligence can hope to go himself. Ministers should therefore enlist their people in the practical work of tract-distribution. This is too great and too good a work to be confined to 'a few. Specially appointed tract committees and visitors have their duties; which should neither be omitted nor excused; yet no individual should consider his or her personal responsibility relieved by the official appointment of others. The truth is, that in order to the full accomplishment of tract distribution as a means of evangelical effort in any community, both systematic and occasional, public and individual, exertions must be put forth. The periodical distribution of tracts through districts and towns is very important, but it has disadvantages. For instance, where the district is large there is not time for sufficient personal conversation with different characters — besides, many will not listen to the voice of a stranger. If the Christian acquaintances of such persons should-give them tracts as tokens of friendship, and follow up the gift with affectionate warning and entreaty, the end would be more effectually gained. Thus it is that individual Christians, in their several circles of acquaintance and, business, have a work to do in which well-selected tracts may furnish invaluable aid.
II. History of Initial Tract Enterprises. Aside from the circulation of portions of the Holy Scriptures in fragmentary or tract form, the use of tracts as an agency of religious usefulness dates from the dawn of the Reformation in Europe. Long before the invention of printing, the early Reformers sent out their little tractates to awaken and instruct the people who still sat under the shadow of the Dark Ages. Wycliffe's writings were the means of extensive usefulness. He sent out more than one hundred volumes, small and great, besides his translation of the Bible. Notwithstanding many of his works were burned and people were forbidden to read them on pain of death, yet they spread far and wide. Like seeds of truth borne by the wind, they lodged on the soil of the Continent, and brought forth fruit there in after-years. Works produced by the writers of that period, although extensively useful, were greatly hindered in their circulation by the size and expensiveness of the manuscript form in which they were issued.
The invention of printing in the 15th century removed many formidable obstacles to the diffusion of truth, and greatly stimulated the literary efforts of those who were striving to reform the Church. Luther appeared, and by his powerful writings and those of his associates, millions of people were led to renounce the errors than which they previously knew nothing better. The efforts of the later Reformers are thus characterized by one of their opponents: "The Gospellers of these days do fill the realm with so many of their noisome little books that they be like to the swarms of locusts which' did infest the land of Egypt." Fox, the martyrologist, exults over the work and promise of the art of printing in language like this: "God hath opened the press to preach, whose voice the pope is never able to stop with all the puissance of his triple crown. By this printing, as by the gift of tongues and as by the singular organ of the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of the Gospel soundeth to all nations and countries under heaven; and what God revealed unto one man is dispersed to many; and what is known to one nation is opened to all." In the 17th century several traces are found of associations for promoting the printing and sale of religious works, while-much good resulted from the efforts of individuals, both in England and on the Continent. At length, movements on a larger scale began to be made in the line of associated efforts for the diffusion of truth in printed form. The earlier organizations of this kind, though not strictly tract societies, were preliminary, and in some sense introductory, to the great institutions subsequently formed for the exclusive object of printing and circulating religious tracts. In 1701 the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge was established in England. In 1742 the Rev. John Wesley, in the prosecution of his evangelical work in Great Britain, commenced printing and circulating religious tracts by personal effort and the co-operation of the preachers associated with him. In 1750 the Society for Promoting Religious Knowledge among the Poor was organized. In 1756 societies for a similar object were commenced both in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Although the three societies named accomplished good, they did not remain permanently established. In 1782 Mr. Wesley instituted a Society for the Distribution of Religious Tracts among the Poor. In his published proposals in behalf of the society, he said," I cannot but earnestly recommend this to all those who desire to see true scriptural Christianity spread throughout these nations. Men wholly. unawakened will not take the pains to read the Bible. They have no relish for it. But a small tract may engage their attention for half an hour, and may, by the blessing of God, prepare them for going forward." Membership in the society required the subscription of half a guinea or more, for which a quota of tracts would be delivered yearly. The publications of the society at that date were thirty in number, embracing Alleine's Alarm, Baxter's Call, Ten Short Sermons, Tokens for Children, A Word to a Soldier, A Word to a Sailor, A Word to a Swear, A Word to a Sabbath-breaker, A Word to a Drunkard, etc. It is not difficult to see in the above scheme the germ of the largest tract societies now in existence. Its tenor, more especially when taken in connection with Mr. Wesley's methods of supplying religious books wherever his societies existed or his preachers went, fully authorized the following assertion of his biographer, Richard Watson "He was probably the first to use, on any extensive scale, this means of popular reformation." About 1790 Hannah More appeared as a writer of popular tracts. Her first tract, entitled William Chip, was published anonymously. Having been encouraged by its reception, she prepared, with the aid of her sisters, a series of small publications, entitled The Cheap Repository Tracts. In a private memorandum, published after her decease, she said, "I have devoted three years to this Work. Two millions of these tracts were disposed of during the first year. God works by weak instruments to show that the glory is all his own." From that time forward the number of persons who made themselves useful by publishing and circulating tracts in various ways became considerably increased. Among them honorable mention may be made of Mrs. Rebecca Wilkinson, of Clapham; Rev. Charles Simeon, of Cambridge, and Rev. John Campbell, of Edinburgh.
III. Tract Societies distinctively so-called. The time had now arrived for broader and more thoroughly organized movements in behalf of the tract enterprise. The Religious Tract Society of London was initiated in May, 1799. Rev. George Burder, Rowland Hill, Matthew Wilks, Joseph Hughes, and others were among its organizers. A rule of the society, like that of Mr. Wesley, before noted, provided that its membership "consist of persons subscribing half a guinea or upwards annually." The society was placed upon a basis of broad catholicity. Its object was defined to be the publication of "those grand doctrinal and practical truths which have in every age been mighty through God in converting, sanctifying, and comforting souls, and by the influence of which men may have been enabled, while they lived, to live to the Lord, and when they died to die unto the Lord." It is impossible to give in this article a detailed history of any of the societies enumerated; brief and general notices must suffice. But in the briefest notice of the Religious Tract Society of London, it is not too much to say that in the eighty years of its existence it has well and faithfully illustrated the catholic and evangelical principles announced by its founders in the beginning. In so doing it has accomplished its objects on a grand scale and to an unforeseen extent. An incidental event of the most interesting character grew out of the operations of the Religious Tract Society in the third year of its existence. It was no less than the preliminary step towards the organization of the British and Foreign Bible Society-the parent Bible Society of the world. SEE BIBLE SOCIETIES.
For a score of years the business of the Religious Tract Society was of such a moderate extent that a small hired depository sufficed for its transaction. From 1820 the business so expanded as to require the occupation of enlarged premises in Paternoster Row, where, in 1843-44, its present commodious buildings were erected. The design of the society contemplated the double purpose of sales at or near cost, and gratuitous distribution. Both phases of its work were therefore limited to its supply of funds.. Its only income, at first, was from the annual subscriptions of its members. But by degrees, and as necessity required, additions were made from other sources, such as congregational collections, auxiliary societies, life-memberships, legacies, and special donations. As the operations of the society increased, new and varied forms of action were developed, including not only sales through depositories, but by hawkers or peddlers throughout the provinces. Donations were made not only of tracts, but of assorted libraries to soldiers barracks, to sea-going vessels, to emigrant and convict-ships, to workhouses, to coastguard stations, to missionaries' families, to clergymen, to schoolmasters, and city missionaries, to be used for loaning to persons in destitute circumstances. During the first five years of the society's existence, it published only sixty-six different tracts in the ordinary form. Subsequently it began to enlarge the variety as well as the number of its publications. Broadsheets, handbills, children's books, periodicals adapted to different ages and classes, monthly volumes, standard works, and even commentaries on the Scriptures came in turn to be regularly and constantly issued under the imprint of the society. From active work in different parts of Great Britain, the society was led to extend its work into foreign fields. Such an extension had not been originally contemplated, but nevertheless took place in the order of Providence, and became a striking illustration of the expansive nature of true Christian benevolence. The circumstance which first led to the preparation of tracts in foreign languages was the obvious duty of giving religious instruction to a number of prisoners-of-war confined in England; and the first foreign languages in which the society's tracts were published were the French and the Dutch. As was to have been expected, the foreign prisoners, when released, carried more or less of the tracts they had received to their own countries, and thus, to some extent, created a demand for more and similar publications in those countries. About the same time, a correspondence sprang up between the society and representative evangelical Christians in most of the nations of Europe. Soon afterwards the enterprise of foreign missions began to be extended to various pagan nations. By similar processes, the work of the Religious Tract Society has been expanding and enlarging ever since, with a prospect of continuous expansion and usefulness in time to come.
The Reports of the society from year to year have been replete with interesting details, not only of progress, but also of results; and yet it may safely be inferred that the good which has been directly and indirectly accomplished through its instrumentality has not half been told. Eternity only can reveal the full extent of influences that have been so far-reaching, and in many instances so remote from ordinary human observation. A few items, condensed from the society's official documents, may serve as partial indications of the magnitude to which, from the small beginnings noted above, its operations have grown. The society has printed important tracts and books in one hundred and twenty different languages and dialects. Its present annual issues from its own depositories and those of foreign societies, through which it acts, are about sixty-three millions, and its aggregate issues during eighty years past have been about two thousand millions It has co-operated with every Protestant Christian mission in the world. It has assailed popery on the Continent of Europe, Mohammedanism in the East, and paganism of various forms in heathen lands. It has given a Christian literature to nations just emerging from barbarism. Its publications have passed the wall of China, and have entered the palace of the Celestial emperor. They have instructed the princes of Burmah, and opened the self-sealed lips of the devotee in India. They have gone to the sons of Africa to teach them, in their bondage, the liberty of the Gospel. They have preached Christ crucified to the Jew and also to the Greek; while in the home land they have continued to offer the truths and consolations of religion to soldiers, to sailors, to prisoners, to the inmates of hospitals, and, in short, to rich and poor in every circumstance of life. In the year 1849, the Religious Tract Society celebrated its semi-centennial jubilee. In connection with that interesting event, a large jubilee fund was raised to increase the usefulness of the society. A jubilee memorial volume was also published, setting forth in an able and interesting manner the history of its first fifty years of work and progress. When, in the year 1899, the society shall celebrate its centennial, a still grander showing of results may be expected.
The additional tract societies of Great Britain, aside from merely local organizations, are not numerous. The following are the principal: The Religions Tract and Book Society of Scotland (Edinburgh). The primary organization of this society dates back to 1793. It is not a publishing society, and for many years had a feeble existence. About 1856 it adopted a system of colportage similar to that of the American Tract Society, and, since that period, has greatly multiplied its influence and usefulness. It embraces branch societies at Glasgow and Aberdeen, and employs some two hundred colporteurs. The Stirling Tract Enterprise, founded in 1848, is chiefly a publishing institution, issuing both tracts and periodicals. The Dublin Tract Society issues tracts in large numbers. The Monthly Tract Society, London, was instituted in 1837.
In passing from Great Britain to other countries, the number of tract societies is found to be very great. For the most part, they combine publication with distribution, receiving aid from the Religious Tract Society of London to enable them to publish tracts and books in their several localities. It is therefore deemed sufficient to give the title and date of organization, omitting details of history and statistics, although in many instances of great interest.
CONTINENT OF EUROPE. Tract Society of Norway and Denmark, 1799; Stockholm Evangelical Society, 1815; Religious Tract Society of Finland, 1818; Tract Society of Copenhagen, 1820; Stuttgart Tract Society, 1813; Prussian Tract Society, Berlin, 1815; Tract Society of Wupperthal, 1814; Lower Saxony Tract Society, Hamburg, 1820 ; Tract Society of Leipsic, 1821; The Netherlands Tract Society, 1821; The Belgian Tract Society, 1835; The Belziain Evangelical Society, 1839;
Religious Tract Society of Paris, 1820; Evangelical Society of France, 1829;. Religious Book Society of Toulouse, 1835; Tract Society of Berne, 1802; Tract Society of Basle, 1810; Tract Societies of Lausanne, Neufchaitel, and Geneva, 1S28; Evangelical Society of Geneva, 1831: Tract Societies of St. Gill, Zurich, and Chur., 1834; Tract and Book Publishing House of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Bremen, 1850.
INDIA. Native Tract Society at Nagercoil, Travancore, 1824; Calcutta Book and Tract Society, 1825; Tract Societies of Madras, Bellary, Belgaumn, Bombay, Suralt, and Benares, 1825-26; Tract Societies of Bamngalorle, Orissa, AlleIpie, Chunar, and Quilon, 1829-3(0; Tract Societies uof Mirzlnpore, Vizagapatam, Cuddapah, Neyoor, aind Mangalore, 1832-40; Jaffna Religious Tract Society, 1825; Tract Societies of Cotta and Colombo, 1835; Ceylon Christian Vernacular Education Society and Religions Tract Society, 18(0; North Indian Tract Society, Allahabatd; Pnujmaub Religious Book Society; The Christian Union of Java, 1833; Tract Society of Mauritius, 1824; Burmah Bible and Tract Society, 1861.
CHINA. From the beginning of Christian missions in China the circulation of religious tracts and books has been diligently prosecuted. To that end nearly every separate mission has served as a publishing agency of greater or less extent. Almost all the missions have received from the tract societies of England and America aid for their work of publication. In 1878 the Chinese Religious Tract Society was organized at Shanghai. It is composed of representative missionaries of various churches, and proposes to organize auxiliaries and local societies wherever Christian churches are established.
JAPAN. Active measures are in progress for the preparation and diffusion of Christian tracts and books in Japan. But as yet such efforts are limited to the various missions aided by the principal Bible and Tract societies of England and America.
AUSTRALIA. Tract Society of Sydney, 1S23; Tract Society of Van Diemen's Land, 1837; Religious Tract Society of Victoria, 1855; Victoria Tract Distribution Society, 1858.
NEW ZEALAND. New Zealand Tract Society, 1839; Wellington Tract Society, 1848.
SOUTH AFRICA. Cape Town Auxiliary Tract Society, 1820; South African Ladies' Tract. and Book Society, 1832.
WEST INDIES. Jamaica Tract Society, 1835; New Providence Tract Society, 1837.
CANADA. Tract Society of Quebec, 1824; Tract Society of Montreal, 1825; Religious Tract Society-of Toronto, 1824; Religious Tract Society of Halifax, 1824; Religious Tract Society of St. Johns, N. B., 1825; British American Book and Tract Society, Halifax, 1868.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Massachusetts Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, 1803; Connecticut Religions Tract Society, 1808 Vermont Religious Tract Society, 1808; The Protestant Episcopal Tract Society, 1809; New York Religious Tract Society, 1812; Evangelical Tract Society, Boston, 1813; Albany Religions Tract Society, 1813; New England Tract Society, 1814; Religions Tract Society of Philadelphia, 1815. Religious Tract Society of Baltimore, 1816; New-York Methodist Tract Society, 1817; Baptist General Tract Society, 1824; American Tract Society, Boston, 1823; American Tract Society, New York, 1825; New York City Tract Society, 1827; New York City Mission and Tract Society, 1864; Willard Tract Society, Boston, 1866; Monthly Tract Society of the United States, New York, 1874.
It is not within the design of this article to give the history of the tract societies enumerated; but it is proper to remark that various modifications have taken place in the title and specific character of some of the earlier American organizations. In several instances primary associations have been merged in the formation of more important societies, while others have continued under new names and with modified forms of action. With increasing experience, the tendency has been to centralize the work of publication in a few strong societies and to multiply the agencies of distribution outward from the great centers of publication. A few examples of combination and reconstruction may be noted. 'The New England Tract Society, organized in 1814, became in 1823 the American Tract Society, having its location in Boston. The same society in 1878 was merged in the American Tract Society, which was organized in New York in 1825. The last-named arrangement was consummated none too soon, as great confusion had arisen from having two publishing societies of the same corporate name. The Baptist General Tract Society, organized inl Washington in 1824, was subsequently transferred to Philadelphia, and in 1840 became, with enlarged designs, the American Baptist Publication Society. The New York Methodist Tract Society, organized in 1817, subsequently became incorporated as the Tract Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
As a counterpart to the above sketch of the rise and development of the Religious Tract Society of London, and as a specimen illustration of results from about half a century's operations of a similar American organization, the following facts are condensed from official publications of the American Tract Society; The society has a large and commodious building in Nassau Street, New York, with twenty steam-presses, tens of thousands of stereotype plates, and every facility for composing, printing, binding, storing, and issuing its own publications to the number of 4000 books, 30,000 tracts, and 20,000 papers daily. It is therefore enabled to abate, in fixing the prices of books, what otherwise would have to be added for rent of buildings hired, and for the profits of trade. It numbers on its list about 6000' distinct publications, including, besides tracts and handbills of various kinds, 1240 volumes of biography history, and helps to Biblical study. Among what are called its home publications, 1584 distinct issues are in foreign languages viz. German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Welsh, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, and Hungarian, designed for immigrants coming to the United States. Of its home publications in the English language, 28,000,000 volumes, besides about 3,000,000,000 pages of tracts, have been issued. Of its periodicals, several of which are illustrated and printed in the highest style of typography, over 5,000,000 are issued yearly to 350,000 subscribers. This society has become distinguished for its faithful and systematic prosecution of the work of colportage. By its agents, employed chiefly in frontier and destitute sections of the country, it has within a period of forty years done a work equal to that of one man for more than 5000 years. It has sold more than 11,000,000 volumes, and donated 3,000,000 to destitute persons and families. It has made more than 12,000,000 visits to families; in about 1,000,000 of which no religious book was found, with the exception of Bibles in. about one third of the number. It has thus done much to meet the moral and religious wants of our frontier population in advance of schools and churches. It is accustomed to make grants each year of fifty thousand dollars' worth of its publications for circulation in prisons and hospitals, in Sabbath-schools and mission-schools, in cities and remote and lonely hamlets, to soldiers and to sailors on our inland waters, and in hundreds of outward-bound vessels for every corner of the globe. The foreign work of the society has been chiefly accomplished through donations of money granted to missionaries in seventy different foreign stations.. By means of some $700,000 thus appropriated, the society has printed, in 145 different languages and dialects, not less than 4211 distinct publications, including 640 volumes. Thus "fruits" of the society's sowing may be found in almost every land from Russia to the Cape of Good Hope, and from China in the East to Hawaii in the West." As a summary of the work accomplished by a distributing tract society, the following items are copied from the Report of the American Tract Society for 1890:
SUMMARY VIEW OF COLPORTAGE FOR FORTY-NINE YEARS
Time employed, months 69,601 Volumes sold 12,341,183 Volumes granted 3,134,305 Public meetings addressed, etc. 463,208 Families destitute of all religious books except the Bible 1,155,377 Protestant families destitute of the Bible 686,097 Families of Roman Catholics visited 1,733,438
Protestant families habitually neglecting Evangelical preaching Families conversed with on personal religion or prayed with 1,946,959
7,792,963 Family visits 13,775,030
In addition to the above regular operations, more than $150,000 have been expended for the erection of mission stations and chapels. The total amount of grants in publications for 65 years amount to $2,109,890.84, The foreign grants in cash amount to $696.949.93. Number of pages printed since the formation of the society, 9371,832,882.
The detailed statistics of the tract enterprise in its various forms of action would fill many volumes with facts of intense interest and form a just basis not only of admiration for its past success but also of high expectation for its expanding and multiplying influence in the years and centuries to come.
IV. Collateral Publishing Organizations. Before proceeding to enumerate the more important of them, some words of explanation seem necessary. In the development of the tract enterprise, various kinds of organizations have been found necessary or expedient. Only a few have become great publishing institutions, and no other one has attained such a magnitude of operations as that of the Religious Tract Society of London. Nevertheless, societies for the effective and appropriate distribution of tracts have been found essential to the object of the enterprise as a whole. They have worked in more limited spheres, but have proved indispensable to the highest forms of success. Religious reading, when merely printed, has no more value than other merchandise. A single tract, brought to the eye and heart of an interested reader, accomplishes more for God and humanity than millions of pages resting upon the shelves of a depository. Societies, therefore, that circulate religious publications, and especially by the agency of skilful and sympathetic Christian workers, deserve high respect. Not all of them bear the specific name of tract society. Some of them have mingled the work of Bible and tract distribution. Some have adopted colportage as their chief form of work, while others have devoted their energies largely to other forms of evangelization. In this state of the case, it may not be possible to give a complete list of all the societies that have been organized to promote the circulation of religious tracts. Still less possible would it be to give, within a convenient space, the full historical data of all such institutions. Fortunately, however, numerous details are quite unnecessary, since specimen sketches like those given above are sufficiently descriptive of all similar institutions and their auxiliaries, whether conducted on a larger or smaller scale.
As to plan of organization, there are two classes of tract and book publication societies. One class represents united Christian effort in the sense of being composed of the members of different churches. The other is denominational inn the sense of separate church action. These two classes of societies, though distinct from each other, are by no necessity antagonistic. They may, and usually do, simply represent different modes of accomplishing the same or similar objects. While in England, owing to the pre-eminence and catholicity of the Religious Tract Society, denominational action has generally limited itself to the work of dissemination, there is at least one important example of separate church action-it is that of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. By that body the joint enterprise of tract and book publication and circulation has been continued from the time of its inception by the Rev. John Wesley min the first half of the 18th century. The publications of the Wesleyan book-room embrace a large assortment of tracts, a variety of periodicals, and a large list of religious books. A due proportion of its tracts and books has been prepared and printed in foreign languages, in adaptation to the wants of the various mission fields of that Church. Book affairs constitute a standard topic of business at the annual meeting of the Conference, which officially appoints a publishing agent and the requisite editors. It also appoints. a tract committee charged with the duty of promoting the circulation of tracts by means of auxiliary and-loan societies and suitable grants. As a branch of church work, cities, villages, and country neighborhoods are districted for consecutive and: periodical visitation by tract distributors. In America, several of the more prominent denominations maintain publication societies both of tracts and books on a similar plan, although few are, as thorough in the work of dissemination.
The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, founded in London in the early part of the present century, deserves in several respects to be classed alongside of the publishing tract societies of England. It issues, chiefly on business principles, a large assortment of books adapted to juvenile, Sunday-school, and popular reading, all of which have for their object at least indirect Christian influence, besides many thousands of religious tracts.
In addition to facts heretofore stated, it must be borne in mind that the Sunday-school unions (q.v.) of the United States have to a large extent provided the Sunday-school tracts and books used by the different churches, and thus covered an important department of publication embraced within the operations of the Religious Tract Society of London. Besides these, several denominational religious publishing houses have grown up, in which vast numbers of tracts, books, and periodicals are printed.
The oldest and largest of these is the Book Concern of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which was a direct outgrowth of Mr. Wesley's publication enterprise in England, mentioned above. It was begun in Philadelphia by official action of the Church in 1789, and in 1804 was removed to New York, where its principal establishment has since remained. It has branch publishing-houses in Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis; together with depositories in most of the large cities.
Corresponding in character to the above are the American Baptist Publication Society and the Presbyterian. Board of Publication, both located in Philadelphia. All the institutions thus far named publish more or less books and tracts on the subject of temperance. But in 1866 the National Temperance Society was organized in New York, for the express purpose of providing a cheap and sound literature on all subjects relating to theoretical and practical temperance. The National Temperance Publication House may therefore be numbered among the tract and book publishing institutions of the United States. Its publications, already six hundred in number, are circulated to some extent through Sunday-schools, but more extensively through auxiliary temperance organizations in all parts of the land. It may thus be seen that from small beginnings less than a century ago, a vast system of tract and book publication in the interest of Christianity has sprung up and spread abroad its influence in most of the countries and languages of the world.
V. The literature of the subject is as yet chiefly to be found in the annual reports of the various societies and institutions above enumerated. The Jubilee Memorial Volume of the Religious Tract Society (Lond. 1850, 700 pp. 8vo) is a specimen of many similar volumes that will hereafter be forthcoming from that and other societies. (D. P. K.)