Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

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1 From McClure's Magazine, vol. xxx, p. 419. (February, 1908.) Reprinted by



sort try to express. You are made into an efficient instrument
for doing a definite thing, you hear, at the schools; but, apart
from that, you may remain a crude and smoky kind of petro-
leum, incapable of spreading light. The universities and col-
leges, on tie other hand, although they may leave you less
efficient for this or that practical task, suffuse your whole men-
tality with something more important than skill. They redeem
you, make you well-bred; they make "good company" of you
mentally. If they find you with a naturally boorish or caddish
mind, they cannot leave you so, as a technical school may leave
you. This, at least, is pretended; this is what we hear among
college- trained people when they compare their education with
every other sort. Now, exactly how much does this signify?

It is certain, to begin with, that the narrowest trade or pro-
fessional training does something more for a man than to make a
skilful practical tool of him it makes him also a judge of
other men's skill. Whether his trade be pleading at the bar or
surgery or plastering or plumbing, it develops a critical sense in
him for that sort of occupation. He understands the difference
between second-rate and first-rate work in his whole branch of
industry; he gets to know a good job in his own line as soon as
he sees it; and getting to know this in his own line, he gets a
faint sense of what good work may mean anyhow, that may, if
circumstances favor, spread into his judgments elsewhere.
Sound work, clean work, finished work; feeble work, slack work,
sham work these words express an identical contrast in many
different departments of activity. In so far forth, then, even
the humblest manual trade may beget in one a certain small
degree of power to judge of good work generally.

Now, what is supposed to be the line of us who have the
higher college training? Is there any broader line since
our education claims primarily not to be "narrow" in which
we also are made good judges between what is first-rate and
what is second-rate only? What is especially taught in the
colleges has long been known by the name of the "humanities,"
and these are often identified with Greek and Latin. But it is
only as literatures, not as languages, that Greek and Latin have


any general humanity value; so that in a broad sense the human-
ities mean literature primarily, and in a still broader sense,
the study of masterpieces in almost any field of human endeavor.
Literature keeps the primacy; for it not only consists of master-
pieces, but is largely about masterpieces, being little more than
an appreciative chronicle of human master-strokes, so far as it
takes the form of criticism and history. You can give human-
istic value to almost anything by teaching it historically. Geol-
ogy, economics, mechanics, are humanities when taught with
reference to the successive achievements of the geniuses to which
these sciences owe their being. Not taught thus, literature
remains grammar, art a catalogue, history a list of dates, and
natural science a sheet of formulas and weights and measures.

The sifting of human creations! nothing less than this is
what we ought to mean by the humanities. Essentially this
means biography; what our colleges should teach is, therefore,
biographical history, that not of politics merely, but of any-
thing and everything so far as human efforts and conquests are
factors that have played their part. Studying in this way, we
learn what types of activity have stood the test of time; we
acquire standards of the excellent and durable. All our arts
and sciences and institutions are but so many quests of perfec-
tion on the part of men; and when we see how diverse the
types of excellence may be, how various the tests, how flexible
tie adaptations, we gain a richer sense of what the terms
"better" and "worse" may signify in general. Our critical
sensibilities grow both more acute and less fanatical. We sympa-
thize with men's mistakes even in the act of penetrating them;
we feel that pathos of lost causes and misguided epochs even
while we applaud what overcame them.

Such words are vague and such ideas are inadequate, but their
meaning is unmistakable. What the colleges teaching humani-
ties by examples which may be special, but which must be
typical and pregnant should at least try to give us, is a general
sense of what, under various disguises, superiority has always
signified and may still signify. The feeling for a good human
job anywhere, the admiration of the really admirable, the dis-

esteem of what is cheap and trashy and impermanent this
is what we call the critical sense, the sense for ideal values. It
is the better part of what men know as wisdom. Some of us
are wise in this way naturally and by genius; some of us never
become so. But to have spent one's youth at college, in contact
with the choice and rare and precious, and yet still to be a blind
prig or vulgarian, unable to scent out human excellence or to
divine it amid its accidents, to know it only when ticketed and
labeled and forced on us by others, this indeed should be ac-
counted the very calamity and shipwreck of a higher education.

The sense for human superiority ought, then, to be considered
our line, as boring subways is the engineer's line and the sur-
geon's is appendicitis. Our colleges ought to have lit up in us a
lasting relish for the better kind of man, a loss of appetite for
mediocrities, and a disgust for cheapjacks. We ought to smell,
as it were, the difference of quality in men and their proposals
when we enter the world of affairs about us. Expertness in this
might well atone for some of our awkwardness at accounts, for
some of our ignorance of dynamos. The best claim we can
make for the higher education, the best single phrase in
which we can tell what it ought to do for us, is, then, exactly
what I said: it should enable us to know a good man when we
see him.

That the phrase is anything but an empty epigram follows
from the fact that if you ask in what line it is most important
that a democracy like ours should have its sons and daughters
skilful, you see that it is this line more than any other. "The
people in their wisdom" this is the kind of wisdom most
needed by the people. Democracy is on its trial, and no one
knows how it will stand the ordeal. Abounding about us are
pessimistic prophets. Fickleness and violence used to be, but
are no longer, the vices which they charge to democracy. What
its critics now affirm is that its preferences are inveterately for
the inferior. So it was in the beginning, they say, and so it will
be world without end. Vulgarity enthroned and institution-
alized, elbowing everything superior from the highway, this,
they tell us, is our irremediable destiny; and the picture-papers


of the European continent are already drawing Uncle Sam with
the hog instead of the eagle for his heraldic emblem. The privi-
leged aristocracies of the foretime, with all their iniquities, did
at least preserve some taste for higher human quality and honor
certain forms of refinement by their enduring traditions. But
when democracy is sovereign, its doubters say, nobility will form
a sort of invisible church, and sincerity and refinement, stripped
of honor, precedence, and favor, will have to vegetate on suf-
ferance in private corners. They will have no general influence.
They will be harmless eccentricities.

Now, who can be absolutely certain that this may not be the
career of democracy? Nothing future is quite secure; states
enough have inwardly rotted; and democracy as a whole may
undergo self-poisoning. But, on the other hand, democracy is
a kind of religion, and we are bound not to admit its failure.
Faiths and Utopias are the noblest exercise of human reason, and
no one with a spark of reason in him will sit down fatalistically
before the croaker's picture. The best of us are filled with the
contrary vision of a democracy stumbling through every error
till its institutions glow with justice and its customs shine with
beauty. Our better men shall show the way and we shall follow
them; so we are brought round again to the mission of the
higher education in helping us to know the better kind of man
whenever we see him.

The notion that a people can run itself and its affairs anony-
mously is now well known to be the silliest of absurdities.
Mankind does nothing save through initiatives on the part of
inventors, great or small, and imitation by the rest of us
these are the sole factors active hi human progress. Individuals
of genius show the way, and set the patterns, which common
people then adopt and follow. The rivalry of the patterns is the
history of the world. Our democratic problem thus is statable
in ultra-simple terms: Who are the kind of men from whom our
majorities shall take their cue? Whom shall they treat as
rightful leaders? We and our leaders are the x and the y of
the equation here; all other historic circumstances, be they
economical, political, or intellectual, are only the background


of occasion on which the living drama works itself out
between us.

In this very simple way does the value of our educated class
define itself; we more than others should be able to divine the
worthier and better leaders. The terms here are monstrously
simplified, of course, but such a bird's-eye view lets us im-
mediately take our bearings. In our democracy, where every-
thing else is so shifting, we alumni and alumnae of the colleges
are the only permanent presence that corresponds to the aris-
tocracy in older countries. We have continuous traditions,
as they have; our motto, too, is noblesse oblige: and, unlike them,
we stand for ideal interests solely, for we have no corporate
selfishness and wield no powers of corruption. We ought to
have our own class-consciousness. "Les intellectuels !" What
prouder club-name could there be than this one, used ironically
by the party of "red blood," the party of every stupid prejudice
and passion, during the anti-Dreyfus craze, to satirize the men
in France who still retained some critical sense and judgment !
Critical sense, it has to be confessed, is not an exciting term,
hardly a banner to carry in processions. Affections for old
habit, currents of self-interest, and gales of passion are the
forces that keep the human ship moving; and the pressure of the
judicious pilot's hand upon the tiller is a relatively insignificant
energy. But the affections, passions, and interests are shifting,
successive, and distraught; they blow in alternation while the
pilot's hand is steadfast. He knows the compass, and, with
all the leeways he is obliged to tack toward, he always makes
some headway. A small force, if it never lets up, will accumu-
late effects more considerable than those of much greater forces
if these work inconsistently. The ceaseless whisper of the more
permanent ideals, the steady tug of truth and justice, give them
but time, must warp the world in their direction.

This bird's-eye view of the general steering function of the
college-bred amid the drif tings of democracy ought to help us to
a wider vision of what our colleges themselves should aim at.
If we are to be the yeast-cake for democracy's dough, if we are
to make it rise with culture's preferences, we must see to it that


culture spreads broad sails. We must shake the old double
reefs out of the canvas into the wind and sunshine, and let in
every modern subject, sure that any subject will prove human-
istic, if its setting be kept only wide enough.

Stevenson says somewhere to his reader: "You think you are
just making this bargain, but you are really laying down a link
in the policy of mankind." Well, your technical school should
enable you to make your bargain splendidly; but your college
should show you just the place of that kind of bargain a pretty
poor place, possibly in the whole policy of mankind. That
is the kind of liberal outlook, of perspective, of atmosphere,
which should surround every subject as a college deals with it.

We of the colleges must eradicate a curious notion which
numbers of good people have about such ancient seats of learn-
ing as Harvard. To many ignorant outsiders, that name suggests
little more than a kind of sterilized conceit and incapacity for
being pleased. In Edith Wyatt's exquisite book of Chicago
sketches called Every One His Own Way, there is a couple who
stand for culture in the sense of exclusiveness, Richard Elliot
and his feminine counterpart feeble caricatures of mankind,
unable to know any good thing when they see it, incapable of
enjoyment unless a printed label gives them leave. Possibly
this type of culture may exist near Cambridge and Boston, there
may be specimens there, for priggishness is just like painter's
colic or any other trade-disease. But every good college makes
its students immune against this malady, of which the microbe
haunts the neighborhood-printed pages. It does so by its gen-
eral tone being too hearty for the microbe's life. Real culture
lives by sympathies and admirations, not by dislikes and dis-
dains under all misleading wrappings it pounces unerringly
upon the human core. If a college, through the inferior human
influences that have grown regnant there, fails to catch the
robuster tone, its failure is colossal, for its social function stops;
democracy gives it a wide berth, turns toward it a deaf ear.

"Tone," to be sure, is a terribly vague word to use, but there
is no other, and this whole meditation is over questions of tone.
By their tone are all things human either lost or saved. If


democracy is to be saved it must catch the higher, healthier
tone. If we are to impress it with our preferences, we ourselves
must use the proper tone, which we, hi turn must have caught
from our own teachers. It all reverts in the end to the action
of innumerable imitative individuals upon each other and to
the question of whose tone has the highest spreading power. As
a class, we college graduates should look to it that ours has
spreading power. It ought to have the highest spreading

In our essential function of indicating the better men, we now
have formidable competitors outside. McClure's Magazine,
the American Magazine, Collier's Weekly and, in its fashion, the
World's Work, constitute together a real popular university
along this very line. It would be a pity if any future historian
were to have to write words like these: "By the middle of the
twentieth century the higher institutions of learning had lost
all influence over public opinion in the United States. But the
mission of raising the tone of democracy, which they had proved
themselves so lamentably unfitted to exert, was assumed with
rare enthusiasm and prosecuted with extraordinary skill and
success by a new educational power; and for the clarification of
their human sympathies and elevation of their human prefer-
ences, the people at large acquired the habit of resorting ex-
clusively to the guidance of certain private literary adventures,
commonly designated in the market by the affectionate name of
'ten-cent magazines.'"

Must not we of the colleges see to it that no historian shall
ever say anything like this? Vague as the phrase of knowing
a good man when you see him may be, diffuse and indefinite as
one must leave its application, is there any other formula that
describes so well the result at which our institutions ought to
aim? If they do that, they do the best thing conceivable. If
they fail to do it, they fail in very deed. It surely is a fine
synthetic formula. If our faculties and graduates could once
collectively come to realize it as the great underlying purpose
toward which they have always been more or less obscurely
groping, a great clearness would be shed over many of their


problems; and, as for their influence in the midst of our social
system, it would embark upon a new career of strength.



[For biographical note, see page 224. This selection was originally an
oration delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard University,
June, 1892. The title then used, "True Americanism," has been here changed
to one which indicates more clearly that the writer was discussing how a
liberal education should be productive of a high type of Americanism.]

One of the best known and least read of Queen Anne's men
is Sir Richard Steele. His good and evil fortune, his kind heart,
his ready wit, his attractive but somewhat imperfect character,
are all familiar to a large posterity with whom he has ever been
popular. But his writings, in which he took so much simple
pride, are, it is to be feared, largely unread. The book of quo-
tations contains only two sentences of his writing, and one of
these can hardly be called familiar. But the other fully deserves
the adjective, for it is perhaps the finest compliment ever paid by
a man to a woman. Steele wrote of Lady Elizabeth Hastings
that "to love her was a liberal education," and thus rescued her
forever from the oblivion of the British Peerage. He certainly
did not mean by this that to love the Lady Elizabeth was as good
as a knowledge of Latin and Greek, for that would have been no
compliment at all, unless from Carlyle's friend Dryasdust, a very
different personage from the gallant and impecunious husband of
"Prue." No, Steele meant something very far removed from
Latin and Greek, and everybody knows what he meant, even if
one cannot put it readily into words.

To the mind of the eighteenth century, a liberal education
entirely classical, if you please, so far as books went, meant the
education which bred tolerance and good manners and courage,

iFrom Harvard Graduates' Magazine, vol. iii, p. g. (September, 1892.) Reprinted
by permission.


which taught a man to love honor and truth and patriotism and
all things of good report. Like the history of Sir John Froissart,
it was the part of a liberal education "to encourage all valorous
hearts and to show them honourable examples." Such, I think,
we all believe a liberal education to be today, in its finest and
best sense. But yet this is not all, nor are the fields of learn-
ing, which a great university opens to its students, all. Besides
the liberal education of Steele and the ample page of knowledge
which a university unrolls, there is still something more, and this
something is the most important part. . . .

Ordinarily we think of a college simply as a place where
men receive their preliminary training for the learned professions,
where they lay the foundations for a life of scientific or historical
investigation, for classical scholarship, or for the study of
modern languages or literature, and where they gather that gen-
eral knowledge which constitutes the higher education, even if
the student leaves learning behind him at the college gate to enter
on a life of action or of business. Yet in reality these are but
the details of a liberal education, and we do not want to lose
sight of the city on account of the number of houses immediately
around us.

The great function of a liberal education is to fit a man for the
life about him, and to prepare him, whatever profession or pur-
suit he may follow, to be a useful citizen of the country which
gave him birth. This is of vast importance in any country, but
in the United States it is of peculiar moment, because here every
man has imposed upon him the duties of sovereignty, and in
proportion to his capacity and his opportunities are the responsi-
bilities of that sovereignty. . . .

If a man is not a good citizen it boots little whether he is a
learned Grecian or a sound Latinist. If he is out of sympathy
with his country, his people, and his time, the last refinement
and the highest accomplishments are of slight moment. But it
is of the last importance that every man, and especially every
educated man, in the United States, no matter what his profession
or business, should be in sympathy with his country, with its
history in the past, its needs in the present, and its aspirations for


the future. If he has this, all the rest will follow, and it is pre-
cisely at this point that there seems to be a real danger in our
university life and in our liberal education. The peril, moreover,
is none the less real because the wrong influence is subtle.

We are apt to gather here at the end of each college year in a
kindly and very natural spirit of mutual admiration. Those of
us who come from the busy outside world come to renew old
memories, and to brighten, if only for a moment, the friendships
which time and separation would darken and rust. We are in
no mood for criticism. Yet it is perhaps as well not to let the
mutual congratulations go too far, for we have the advantage of
coming from without, and are not likely to mistake the atmos-
phere which gathers about a university for that of the world at
large. A Lord Chancellor of England on one occasion at Oxford
said that he had listened with delight to the general admiration
which everyone had expressed for everybody else, and for the
university in particular, and that he was glad to see the great
advances that had come since his time, and to know that Oxford
could boast that the tide of thought and civilization had risen
in the university as high almost as that which flowed without the
college walls. The sting of the satire lay as usual in its leaven
of truth. The danger of every university lies in its losing touch
with the world about it. This is bad anywhere. It is worse in a
republic than anywhere else.

We must, however, be more definite again if we would reach
any result. "Losing touch" is a vague expression, "lack of sym-
pathy" is little better. It is not easy to put my meaning in one
word, but perhaps to say that the first duty of an American uni-
versity and its liberal education should be to make its students
good Americans comes as near to it as anything. Still we must
go a step further, for many persons are prone to sneer at the
demand for Americanism, as if it meant merely a blatant and
boastful Chauvinism, employed only for the baser political uses.
There is always an attempt to treat it as if it were something like
the utterances which Dickens satirized long ago in the persons of
Jefferson Brick and Elijah Pogram. That was certainly neither
an agreeable nor creditable form of national self-assertion. Yet


it was infinitely better, coarse and bragging as it was, than the
opposite spirit which turns disdainfully even from the glories of
nature because they are American and not foreign, and which
looks scornfully at the Sierras because they are not the Alps.
The Bricks and the Pograms may have been coarse and vulgar,
yet the spirit which they caricatured was at least strong, and
capable of better things. But the other spirit is pitifully weak,
and has no future before it except one of further decay.

True Americanism is something widely different from either of
these. It is really only another word for intelligent patriotism.
Loud self-assertion has no part in it, and mere criticism and carp-
ing, with their everlasting whine because we are not as others
are, cannot exist beside it. Americanism hi its right sense does
not tend in the least to repress wholesome criticism of what is
wrong, on the contrary it encourages it. But this is the criticism
which is made only as the first step toward a remedy, and is not
mere snarling for snarling's sake. Such Americanism as this
takes pride in what we have done and in the men we have bred,
and knows not the eternal comparison with other people which is
the sure sign of a tremulous little mind, and of a deep doubt of
one's own position.

To all of which the answer is constantly made that this is
merely asserting a truism and a commonplace, and that of course
everyone is intelligently patriotic. Of the great mass of our
people this is true beyond question. They are thoroughly patri-
otic in the best sense. Theoretically it is true of all. Practi-
cally there is still much left to be desired among our liberally
educated men. It is this precise defect among those who have a

Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonNational ideals and problems; essays for college English → online text (page 24 of 39)