« ZurückWeiter »
had I known it well, I doubt not that I should have been willing to assume the risk of lying in order to escape the punishment that would probably have been meted out to me, had my fault been discovered. What that punishment might have been I had reason later to guess, from the ill luck that befell brother Willet some two years after.
One evening, when Willet, coming from school, was being badgered beyond endurance by some bullying neighbor boy, he turned on his tormentor and told him to 'go to hell.' The report of this dreadful lapse flew on swift wings to our parents' ears. Then the wheels of industry on our farm stopped stock-still. There was a star-chamber session in the West Room - father and mother in prayer with the little culprit, asking God for mercy and pardon for him; and following this, sentence passed on him by father, without mercy or pardon. One of the items of the sentence was that Willet must read nothing for two weeks but the Bible and the Methodist hymn-book. But the peak of the punishment was reserved for the class-meeting on the following Sunday.
At these class-meetings the lay members were waited on in turn by the class leader and asked to 'testify.' Each rose in his seat and gave his religious experience for the week last past, and usually added his hopes and good resolves for the week to come all spoken in a more or less formal and solemn way, as if a punishment were being endured in the process. The leader advised, commended, rebuked, or encouraged, as the case might require, then passed on to the next victim.
When father came to his little shamed and penitent boy, he prefaced his call for a testimony by the general information to the house that Willet had been
a very wicked boy that week, but he hoped he had asked the Lord to forgive him.
Willet did not respond to the call to testify, but hid his burning face in his arms on the school-desk and kept silence. Willet was nine years old. Mother made no interference. I wonder she did not. But from what I learned later of her tender heart, she must have suffered anguish for her sinful little son during this inquisitional torture; and knowing her, later, so well, I wonder that some good angel had not sent blaspheming me to her on that illstarred summer day, to weep my sin out in her gentle arms instead of on a fence-rail.
The terrible conscientiousness of a parent, which could stir up such storm and stress of soul in a child's young life, may seem beyond any justification. But looking back now over a half-century of the world as it is, I am convinced that freedom from the habit of irreverence may be cheaply bought, even at that. Indeed, I came to that conclusion before I was a grown youth.
Ten years or so after my adventure in profanity, I was sent on an early morning errand to the house of a neighboring farmer. A group of rough young men were in the kitchen, waiting for breakfast. It was the very hour when father, in our home, was praying in the midst of his children. One of the men had on his knee a prattling child, evidently struggling with his first coherent speech. There was loud laughter and great merriment among the men. A girl of about fourteen years called to her mother in the next room,
'Maw, O maw! come hear baby! Oh, ain't he cunnin'?'
The baby was practising the same high explosive I had used when the steer jumped over the fence.
ITS TWO LITTLE HORNS
BY FRANCES THERESA RUSSELL
Ir a dilemma would be content to wear only one horn, innocent adventurers into the field of debate and argument would be less dangerously beset by the beast of embarrassing alternatives. Then, for instance, when a college professor catches sight of a fellow traveler, wantonly strayed from the royal road of reason and distressingly impaled on the right horn of a logical dilemma, labeled 'What Do Students Know?' he will not feel called upon to precipitate himself, as a gratuitous exercise in agility, on the left horn, inscribed 'What Do Teachers Know?' There is, to be sure, a safe agnostic front between these two perilous projections, called 'What Does Anybody Know?' But that is a place of unprofitable repose and affords no scope for mental gymnastics.
Such opportunity was offered, however, by the gyrations of Professor Boas, for the play of the intellectual muscles of a certain group of spectators, that I am recording this latter reaction for the entertainment of yet other beholders who may be interested.
This morning I carried the May Atlantic into my classroom and read to my aspiring essay-writers this accepted article, as a sample of how to do it. Quite on their own initiative, the young neophytes discovered that in many respects it was rather an object-lesson on how not to do it. So promptly was the bone of contention pounced upon, so thick and fast came the responses, from Sophomore and Senior, from lads and lassies, that my position demanded all
the tact of the Speaker of the House. Perhaps the total effect can best be conveyed in the form of a colloquy by the members of the class, with the author of 'What Do Teachers Know?' as the object of the inquiries. The general impression was somewhat as follows:
Question. "The writer says, "The ancients were interested in interpreting facts, not in accumulating them." How could they interpret what they had not accumulated and therefore did not have?'
Question. "If "intelligence is insensitive to mere facts, and reacts only to ideas," where does it get the ideas to react from? What is an idea but a deduction from two or more facts?'
Question. If "artichokes and chameleons and Yale and the date of the battle of Lexington have very little place in the production of understanding and intelligence and critical power," what has?'
Answer. 'A benevolent and humanistic skepticism, and a willingness to weigh and balance, to expound and elucidate, are all that is needed.'
Question. But what is there to be skeptical about but facts? What is there to put in the balance and weigh? What to expound and elucidate about? Answer. Silence.
Question (from a demure maid in the back row). 'Does n't Professor Boas seem to have a good many facts at his command, and use them pretty freely in this very anathema against them?'
Answer. "They speak for themselves.' Question. Socrates is eulogized for his "sublime ignorance." Was it honest-to-goodness ignorance or a sublime assumption of it?'
Answer. Silence from the Oracle, broken by a modest voice from over by the window. 'Seems to me I read somewhere that the Socratic method was simply the wise man's pretense of an ignorance that longed for enlightenment, and that "on this baited hook were caught the unwary whose pretense was to a wisdom when they had it not.'
Question. 'In what "mysterious way" does information come when it is needed?'
Answer (from a sad Sophomore). 'Sometimes, in my case anyhow, through chagrin and bitterness, by first having my ignorance exposed.'
Question. "The Ph.D. is rebuked for writing a treatise on something that nobody had ever thought of before. What would be its value if somebody had thought of it before and done it?'
Question. In that connection, if nobody ever did an unthought-of thing, what would become of pioneering and progress? Who would be in the van and blaze the trail?'
Question. When did the Ph.D. candidate begin being ignorant of everything else in order to write his dissertation?'
Answer (from an irreverent youth next the radiator). 'Since no credit is given him for the eighteen or twenty years of education from the kindergarten through the Master's degree, he must have risen right up from his cradle to "bore, face downward, into his problem, while the world floated by in clouds, and he as unaware as a lamprey of logarithmic functions." He could have had no more information or culture to start in with than a Hottentot.'
Question. Even if a field can be "melancholy," by permission of the pathetic fallacy and in spite of Ruskin, how can it be "evasive"?'
Answer (from the end-man). 'By disregarding mere facts.'
Question. All these English courses that are listed as a waste of time and money does any one student have to swallow them all? And if anyone did have a honing to know about, say, the Bible, or Johnson and his circle, or Celtic poetry, or the American Novel, why should it be forbidden him? Are they not all honorable subjects? If one consumes his beef and bread, can't he add a salad, an entrée, or a dessert?'
Answer (from the teacher). 'If he has a good digestion and a sharp appetite, he may go right through the whole menu, with impunity and profit, from cocktail to cheese and coffee. Nay, for the elect there are still cakes and ale, and ginger shall be hot in the mouth.'
Question. If to one who has been in the army "the university seems as a kingdom of shadows where ghosts teach living men," do the professors who were in the army seem like ghosts, and the students who never left home, like living men?'
Question (from a Sophomore). 'If the cynical Seniors have found out there is "nothing in it," why don't they pass the word down and stave off some of this stampede toward halls of learning? Most failures don't keep on being more and more popular, as the colleges seem to be doing.'
Answer (from a strangely cheerful Senior). Pure maliciousness. They like to see more silly flies walk into the same spider's web.
Question (from the teacher). "The grand climax of the wholesale indictment before us is one on which you should be able to testify. So far as your own experience goes, is it true that "the
Freshmen are keen, eager, and hungry," and "the Seniors disillusioned, cynical, and fed up"?'
Answer. (Concourse of expressive grins from the class; remark from an incorrigibly joyous Junior.) 'When I was a Freshman and herded with the big first-year classes, my hunger was mainly for my dinner or a fight, and I was as keen and eager as the rest of the bunch to jump at the sound of the closing bell. We never allowed any professor to run over the hour.'
The courteous innuendo of his conclusion reminded me that our own gong had sounded forty seconds before, and I speedily turned the rascals out, commending them to the next dose of frothy and venomous facts with which they were being fed up ad nauseam. And as I prepared to measure out another sickening spoonful for my own helpless victims, I thought of Strunsky's fallacy-puncturing observation in
his "The Everlasting Feminine,' that any statement whatever made about Woman is true. So is any generalization about students and professors. Some Freshmen are indeed wonderfully keen and eager; others are an incredible miracle of sodden stupidity and indifference. Some Seniors are flaccid and unstrung; others are just being keyed up to concert pitch. Some teachers are
anything you like; others are everything you do not like. Accordingly, when it comes to students versus teachers, or facts versus ideas, or information versus intelligence, or summer versus winter, or food versus fresh air, the dialectician may well take a cue from the canny Ruggles girl, confronted with a choice between hard versus soft sauce, and take ‘a little of both, please.'
For in the logical realm there remaineth classification, interpretation, and discrimination, of parent facts and progeny ideas; and the greatest of these is discrimination.
WILLIAM JAMES AND HIS LETTERS
BY L. P. JACKS
FOR William James the 'facts' of chief importance in the universe were persons. He began his thinking from that end. Among those who have earned the name of philosopher there is none whose philosophy is a more sincere and complete expression of his own personality. The kites that he flew were all anchored in himself. His philosophy is, in fact, himself writ large. This in a
sense is true of all philosophers, though they are not always aware of it; but James knew it and accepted it as one of his guides to the meaning of Truth. His 'will to believe' is fundamentally nothing else than the right to be yourself, and to express yourself in your own way, without entangling your freedom in alliances with those big classifications or abstractions which reduce man
kind to the dead levels of thought, action, and character. Or, to put it from the other side, the Universe that he interprets is just the same kind of highspirited, restless, inconsistent, adventurous, unaccountable being that each man who has attained to self-knowledge finds within his own breast. Against the idea of the Universe as a Big Institution, governed' by a system of inviolable law, the idea which has become so dear to those who are bewitched by the catchwords of modern science, -James reacted with the strongest aversion; and the reason for the reaction lay in his temperamental inability to live in such a world himself, or to conceive that any free spirit would be at home under its cast-iron conditions. Writing to Theodore Flournoy in 1895, the year before the publication of The Will to Beliere, he says, 'I do hope [your daughters] are being educated in a thoroughly emancipated way, just like true American girls, with no laws except those imposed by their own sense of fitness.' There are those, perhaps, to whom a statement such as this will appear as heralding a general disrespect for the Ten Commandments. The best answer to their fears is the picture of James revealed in these letters. It is the picture of a very perfect gentleman, of a finely tempered ethical nature, of a large and tender heart, and of personal loyalty raised to the highest power.
Perhaps the greatest service rendered by James to the spiritual life of his age is that he makes philosophy interesting to everybody. Whatever the merits of his doctrine may be, and that is a question into which the present writer does not propose to enter, there is not a doubt that philosophy in his hands is always something that 'makes a difference,' a vitally important exercise, which no man who would live a full life can afford to neglect. Its problems are not mere themes for discussion, but
critical points in the battle of life. His work, in consequence, has given an immense impetus to philosophic study all over the world. What the number of his actual disciples may be cannot of course be said, though it is probably very large; but that he has raised philosophic study to a higher level of importance, increased the number of those who pursue it, and conferred a new zest upon the pursuit, is beyond question. There are few professors of the subject who do not owe him a heavy debt for redeeming it from the dullness and futility into which it was otherwise falling.
And the secret of his influence is unmistakable. Long before these letters appeared, readers of his works were conscious of being in contact with a mind whose insight was the direct outcome of the breadth and depth of its human sympathy. That impression is now confirmed. Thanks to the admirable selection that has been made of the letters, and to the unobtrusive skill with which they have been woven together, the reader has now a clear apprehension of the man whose personality he had dimly felt or imagined in his published works. The effect is almost as if James's philosophy had been visibly acted on the stage. We see how inseparably connected the man and the doctrine were. The only doubt that remains is as to which is the text and which the commentary.
It is not as 'a disinterested spectator of the universe' that James addresses himself to the great problems that concern us all. On the contrary, the force of his appeal springs precisely from the profound and living interest that he took in the universe, and especially in that part of it which consists of his fellow men. He appears before us, not as a 'spectator' at all, but as an actor in the drama of life; and we see that his philosophy is merely his 'action' con