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Greek from most institutions of learning, as an impractical subject, not suited to the training of a materialistic people.
As I look about the world in which I live, I observe that every high-school boy or girl knows his Greek letters. He does not have to be compelled to learn them. He wishes to learn them. He would feel humiliated if he did not learn them. He would be looked down upon by his companions as a person without social ideals. His college brothers are equally conversant with the eponym of all alphabets. So are their sisters and their sweethearts. They may not know the rule of three or the multiplication table; they may be without a single formula of chemistry or a solitary principle of physics; but, rely upon it, they will know their Greek letters. Their parents will know them, too. They will learn them at their children's knee, in all docility and eagerness, for fear of disgracing themselves and their offspring by not always and everywhere distinguishing the illustrious Tau Omicron Pi's from the despised Nu Upsilon Tau's. The fact is, it is difficult to be even a successful delivery boy in our community without knowing one's Greek letters.
I doubt whether the Greek alphabet was ever more widely and favorably known than now. In our midst the celebrated Cato could not have survived till eighty without learning it.
I shudder to think what anguish this must cause the practical educators aforesaid, as they walk abroad and see every house boldly and even brazenly labeled with the hated letters. Even their own favorite students, who show promise in the use of test-tubes and microscopes, insist upon labeling themselves with more of the Greek alphabet. Why will they not be content to call their honor societies by some practical Anglo-Saxon name, like the Bread and
Brick Club, or the Gas and Gavel? But no! These rational considerations have no force with our youth. Nothing will satisfy them but more Greek letters. I have seen a man use twelve of them, or just half the alphabet, to set forth his social and learned affiliations. Of course, to us Greek professors, shambling aimlessly about the streets with nothing to do, these brass signs are like the faces of old friends (no offense, I hope), and remind us of the names of the books of Homer, if nothing more.
But the Greek renaissance has gone much further than the alphabet. It pervades science. It is positively nonplussing to hear one's scientific friends rambling on in the language of Aristotle and Euclid, with their atoms and ions, their cryoscopes and cephalalgias, their sepsis, analysis, and autopsies. The fact is, they really talk very little but Greek, which is one reason why we all admire them so. They are greatest when they are most Greek; and were their Greek vocabulary suddenly taken from them, half their books would shrivel into verbs. Three fourths of them are indeed teaching Greek as hard as they can, though mercifully unconscious of the fact.
The Greek, on seeing a queer animal, waited till it was dead and then counted its toes. He thus soon knew enough to make a distinction between genus and species, which zoölogists are still talking about. Whence it comes about that our little Greek friends, the lion, the elephant, the rhinoceros, and the hippopotamus, are household favorites still. Consistent people who object to Greek will expunge these words from their vocabulary.
The Greek conquest of our social youth and of our grizzled age is nothing, however, to its triumphs in commerce. Here both letters and vocabulary come into their own. It must be
admitted that we English-speaking gulf between the words we see and the
people are poor word-makers. Only in moments of rare inspiration do we achieve a Nabisco or a Mazola. But in this age of new creations one of Adam's chief needs is names for the bewildering things he sees about him. How indispensable to us inarticulate moderns is the voluble Greek! Like one who hides a thimble for you to find, he has named everything in advance, and all we have to do is to discover it. From Alpha Beer to Omega Oil, from Antikamnia to Sozodont, the Greek has taught us names. Even automobile is half Greek, which is really what makes it desirable. Who would want an ipsomobile? And Solon and moron, those twin pillars of the journalistic vocabulary, without which no newspaper could exist a week, are pure Grecian. When I attend the funeral of Greek, therefore, as I am constantly invited to do, I am comforted to observe old Greek himself and his whole family, thinly disguised, heading the chief mourners.
Nowhere is the contrast between things seen and things heard more striking than in language. Very conscientious people have observed this and, fearful of seeming something other than they are, have evolved phonetic spelling. Witty people like Max Beerbohm and Josh Billings have observed it too, and made such use of it as 'Yures til deth,' and ""The laibrer iz werthiov hiz hire," an that iz aul.' Children are proficient here. One I know recently addressed a letter to his 'Dere ant LN.' 'Nit mittenz ar the kynd,' as they spell at Lake Placid. An intelligent-looking man steps in front of you at the club, and murmurs a deferential 'Skewmy,' to which you suavely reply, 'Doughmeshnit.' No one has ever been able to reproduce conversation in print. The
words we say is too great. Feeble efforts in this direction are sometimes made by ambitious writers, but the truth is that, from the standpoint of the printed page, we all speak in dialect.
The fact is, almost everything we hear is more or less conventionalized in type or in telling. People exchange fragments of news, or funny stories of a few familiar types. Newspaper items can easily be grouped under five or six thoroughly conventional heads. An observant friend once remarked that the women of literature were mere pallid contrivances compared to the actual ones we know, and I was really startled to perceive that he was right. Even in books no one will go to the pains of relating things as unconventionally as they really happen. We are accustomed to stereotypes, and we expect and desire them. In reality, of course, things happen much more intricately than anyone will bother to report them, or to hear them reported. This is probably what is meant when we say that truth is stranger than fiction. It is vastly more complex.
Take a simple example. As you plod homeward of an autumn morning, fatigued by the labors of the professorial day, you are met by a colleague of high degree, who declares that he has been looking for you. Will you go and meet the Cardinal? Like the Sage of Concord, you like a church, you like a cowl, and you are careful not to say No, as you conceal your gratification and fence for more definite information. You fortify yourself by the reflection that you have encountered cardinals and dukes before this, and struggle to remember which is His Eminence and which His Grace. It seems that the Archbishop is to bring the Cardinal out from the other end of town, and at onefifteen they will hesitate at a certain down-town corner long enough to pick
you up. All you have to do is to carry your cap and gown, to mark you off from the passing throng. And you would better give the motor-cycle man who will lead the way a memorandum of the route he is to follow.
You do not decline. You move on homeward, thinking quite without effort of some flattering things you will say to the Archbishop and some observations you will address to the Cardinal. In particular, you decide to ask him if, when the German Cardinal condescendingly remarked, 'We will not speak of war,' he really did answer, 'We will not speak of peace.' Your simple preparations are soon made, and you make your way down-town in some preoccupation.
Promptness has been said to be the courtesy of princes and you do not wish to disappoint a Prince of the Church. At one-five you take your stand at the curb beside the streaming boulevard. Traffic is at its highest. You are less inconspicuous than you could wish, for no one else is carrying an academic cap in his hand and a doctor's gown upon his arm. But to conceal these accoutrements may defeat the purpose of your vigil. It is precisely by a wave of that Oxford cap that you are to bring the whole proud sacerdotal cortège, motorcycles and all, to a stop. You scan each south-bound car with eagerness. It becomes one-fifteen. The Archbishop is the soul of promptitude. He should be almost here. You perceive approaching a particularly stately limousine, which conforms to your preconceived ideas of the archiepiscopal in automobiles. It proves to be empty. You have now scanned hundreds of passing cars. It is one-twenty-one-twenty-five thirty. Great Heavens! Have you missed the Cardinal's car, Archbishop and all? Even in your dawning dismay habits of scientific observation reassert themselves. The stately limousine you
had once taken for his reappears, from the same direction as before and still empty. You are not mistaken. You recognize the chauffeur. You almost think he recognizes you. It strikes you that these cars that you have been seeing are not all different ones, but are simply circling about before you, like Cæsar's army on the stage.
It is two o'clock. You despair. The party has eluded you. It has probably already arrived at the University, having gone out some other way. After all, why should you have escorted the Cardinal out? He is escorted everywhere by two archbishops, five motor-cops, five plain-clothes men, and a civilian guard of honor. This should suffice. He is indeed a stranger in the city, but he can hardly go astray. You begin to feel sadly superfluous, yet, following a Casabiancan instinct, you stay on. A friend who has observed your situation goes into the club and telephones. He returns to inform you that, owing to the Cardinal's fatigue, the programme has been postponed one hour. It is twoten. You observe that it is just time for him now to be appearing. The stately and mysterious limousine, already twice seen, now passes for the third time. It is still vacant.
The mystery of it fascinates you. Is it inextricably caught in the circling current, like some flying Dutchman on wheels, powerless to make a port? It occurs to you that, if the cars before you are in some instances merely running around in circles, the foot-passengers behind you may be doing the same thing. Two-twenty-five, and again that silent, vacant, funereal limousine sweeps by, for the fourth time. It is getting on your nerves. Is it possible that public-spirited owners send their limousines on idle afternoons to circle showily about the Avenue, hour after hour, to swell the concourse and thus contribute their mite, as it were, to the
gayety of nations? Or is this mysterious vehicle, with its hawk-like circling, bent on some sinister errand of abduction, or worse?
But at this instant a police-gong clangs down the thronging street. Five motor-cops appear, and in the car behind them a mediæval saint, a modern archbishop, and divers celebrities such as one sees in guards of honor. One knows them instinctively by their tall hats, and observes that there are still occasions for such hats the cardinal points of existence, as it were. But you have scarcely registered this observation and handed the leading motor-policeman his typewritten instructions, when you are aware that one of the hats is pointing you to the second car. You turn swiftly to it. The gentlemen in it spring out with surprising agility and make a place for you among them. The cortège has hardly stopped. The nimble gentlemen spring in again (the car is an open one), and you are off.
You experience a momentary disappointment that you are not to hobnob with the illustrious prelates, but bend your attention upon their distinguished their distinguished representatives about you. They are little given to conversation. If they are not communicative, neither are they inquisitive. They are of a negative demeanor. They drive at a frightful speed, shepherding all other traffic to the curb out of their way as they advance. They achieve this flattering effect by blowing a siren, sounding a loud gong, and hurling deep-throated objurgations, much deeper than you are accustomed to, at anyone who crosses their path. Who are these supreme autocrats, you ask yourself? Mere money could not behave thus. A suspicion crosses your mind and you ask what car this is. You are informed that it is the Police Car!
Of course, you do in the end meet the Cardinal and set his feet upon the long
carpet pontifically stretched for his reception. That is all there is to be said about it. You did meet the Cardinal, and you 'acted' (admirable word!) as his escort. But as you look back upon that day, that bald statement does not summarize or even adumbrate its impressions.
In one respect alone that I detect does observation agree with rumor. Both are generally inconclusive. Miss Repplier has recently remarked how frequently one who reads is told the beginnings of things and left to conjecture the end. It is just as true of life. We are always wondering what 'finally' became of this man and that, once of our acquaintance, and of this movement or that, once brought to our ears. Life and print are alike full of mysterious fragments, which we have not time to fit into their exact places in the general order.
Domestic rearrangements drove me, on a recent winter night, to go to rest in a room at the back of the house, overlooking what I call the garden. Before retiring I put up a window, so that a refreshing whiff of the stock-yards might perfume my dreams and reassure me that there was no immediate danger of famine.
The night was cold, and my efforts at slumber were frustrated by a strange, steadily recurring sound like a man shoveling coal or clearing frozen slush from a sidewalk. But the hour, between eleven and twelve, seemed an improbable time for such operations. About midnight, however, it ceased and I fell asleep.
The next morning I mentioned the sound to a member of the family who had also been sleeping on the gardenside of the house, and she declared that she too had noticed it and been much mystified about it. It did not seem a
reasonable time to shovel off the hardened snow for it was, of course, hardest at night, when the thermometer was low. What was my astonishment, however, when I retired on the following night, to hear the same harsh, grating, sound patiently repeated for an hour or two toward midnight. I thought again of the possibility that it was coal that was being shoveled. Perhaps some poor unfortunate neighbor was hoarding coal, and his enjoyment took the form of shoveling his hoard over and over, and gloating over it through the midnight hours. This theory appealed to me strongly as I lay awake and listened to the sound, until I noticed that the shoveled stuff, whatever it was, made no sound when it fell. It therefore could not be coal.
It must, of course, be snow, or at least must fall upon a bed of snow, which made it noiseless. But why this tireless shoveling of hardened snow from the concrete walks night after night in the dead vast and middle of the night? Was it some wretch who had formerly neglected his sidewalks and so wrought an involuntary homicide, who now, sleepless with remorse, must pick away with ringing shovel at the icy crust till midnight came to his relief? I never learned.
Should these lines ever meet the eye
of an elderly seafaring man, a pigeontamer by trade, who called upon me last Saturday on his way home to Pittsburgh from his second mother-inlaw's funeral five miles from Madison, Wisconsin, which he had attended because he considered a wife the best friend a man has in the world, and his second wife, with whom he had become acquainted through advancing her eight dollars to enable her to reach Pittsburgh, was one whom he could not surpass if he married a thousand times; but in returning from which to Chicago by train, overcome by grief and fatigue, he had been robbed of all his money except fourteen dollars and was forced in consequence to seek out his old employer, a professor variously pronounced Riddle, Griggle, and Gridley, but spelled Lelley, in default of finding whom or the grand master of his fraternal order in Englewood, he was reduced to borrowing enough money to make up the price of a ticket to Pittsburgh, or four dollars and eighty-seven cents, from me, a perfect stranger I should be glad to hear from him again. Till when, I shall continue to reflect on the disparity of what I have seen with what I have heard. Perhaps he was an actor out of work. If so, the performance was worth something, and it certainly had a plot.