Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

National ideals and problems; essays for college English online

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liberal education of which I wish to speak.

The danger of the higher education of a great university is
that it may in widening the horizon destroy the sense of pro-
portion so far as our own country is concerned. The teachings of
a university open to us the literature, the art, the science, the
learning, and the history of all other nations. They would be
quite worthless if they did not do so. These teachings form, and
necessarily form, the great mass of all that we study here. That
which relates to our own country is inevitably only a small part,


comparatively speaking, of the great whole. This is quite
natural. Our own nation is comparatively new. Its history is not
long, and it is not set off by the glitter of a court, or of an ancient
aristocracy. Our literature is young. Our art is just developing.
In the broad sweep of a liberal education, that which relates to
the United States is but one of many parts. Hence there is a
tendency to lose the sense of proportion, to underrate our own
place in the history and life of the world, and to forget that
knowledge of our own country, while it excludes nothing else,
is nevertheless more important to each of us than that of all
other countries, if we mean to play a man's part in life. There
is no danger that liberally educated men will overvalue their own
country, there is great danger that they will undervalue it. This
does not arise from any lack of opportunity here to learn our his-
tory, or to know what we have done as a people. It comes from
a failure rightly to appreciate our history and our achievements.
We are too apt to think of ourselves as something apart and
inferior, and to fail to see our true place in the scale of nations.
Many men of liberal education either expect too much of the
United States, or value too little what has been accomplished
here. As has just been said, we are a young nation. Certain
fruits of a high civilization require time to ripen. It is foolish
to criticise the absence of those things which time alone can bring
to perfection, and their coming is retarded, not hastened, by fault-
finding. On the other hand, we are apt to overlook what really
has been done, and we often fail to judge rightly because we use
superficial comparisions with some other contemporary people,
instead of measuring ourselves by the just standards of the
world's history.

Let us look for a moment at the last hundred years which
cover our history as a nation. In that time we have conquered a
continent, won it from the wilderness and the savages, by much
privation, and much desperate and heroic fighting, unrecorded
for the most part, with nature and with man. Where else in the
nineteenth century will you find such a conquest as that? And
this empire that we have conquered we have saved also from
being rent asunder. That work of salvation cost us four years of


gigantic war. Look again over the nineteenth century and see
where you can find a war of like magnitude, equal to ours in its
stake, its fighting, its sacrifices, or in the noble spirit that it
evoked among our people. As the French traveler said, stand-
ing among the graves at Arlington, "only a great people is cap-
able of a great civil war."

I will not touch upon the material development, unequaled in
history, which has gone hand in hand with this conquest of
waste places and fighting tribes of Indians. It is enough here to
count only those higher things which show the real greatness
of a nation.

Turn to the men. In our hundred years we have given to the
world's roll of statesmen Washington and Lincoln. You cannot
match them elsewhere in the same period. Are there any better,
or purer, or greater than they to be found in the tide of time?
Take up the list of great soldiers. Setting aside Napoleon, who
stands all apart with Caesar and Hannibal, what nation has made
a larger gift to the leaders of men in battle than the country
which added to the list the names of Washington, Grant, and
Lee? Since Nelson fell at Trafalgar, where in naval warfare
will you find a greater chief than Farragut?

In those great inventions which have affected the history and
development of man, the country which has given to the world
the cotton-gin, the telegraph, the sewing-machine, the steamship,
the telephone, and the armored ship holds a place second to

Turn now to those fields which exact the conditions of an
old civilization, wealth, leisure, and traditions. Even here,
despite the adverse circumstances of national youth, there is
much to record, much to give fair promise, much in which to

From the time of Franklin and his kite, we ever have done our
share in scientific work. We have developed a literature of our
own, and made it part of the great literature of the English-
speaking race. The Luxembourg has opened its jealously
guarded doors to give space and place to four American painters,
and the chisel of St. Gaudens has carved statues which no con-


temporary elsewhere can rival. The buildings at the Chicago
Fair came as a beautiful surprise and a great achievement.
They showed that we had the full capacity to take rank among
the great building races of the earth.

It is a great record for a hundred years. Even if we glance
only at the mountain tops, it is a marvelous story of conquest
and growth. If our universities do not teach us to value it rightly,
they are of little worth, for to know the present and to act in it
we must have a just knowledge of our place in history. If we
have that knowledge, we shall realize that a nation which, what-
ever its shortcomings, has done so much and bred such men, has
a promise for the future and a place in the world which brings a
grave responsibility to those who come to the inheritance.

The first step, then, for our universities, if in the true spirit of
a liberal education they seek to fit men for the life about them,
is to make them Americans and send them forth in sympathy
with their country. And the second step is like the first: A
university should aim to put a man in sympathy with his time,
and make him comprehend it if we would have him take effective
part in the life of his time. As the danger on the first point of
patriotism is that the many-sided teachings of a university will
prevent a just sense of the place of our country, so on the second
point the danger is that dealing largely with the past, the univer-
sity will alienate its students from the present. The past is a
good schoolhouse but a bad dwelling-place. We cannot really
understand the present without the fullest knowledge of the past,
but it is the present with which we are to deal, and the past must
not be allowed to hide it.

There is a very visible tendency in universities to become in
their teachings laudatores temporis acti, and this tendency is full
of peril. The world was never made better, the great march of
humanity was never led by men whose eyes were fixed upon the
past. The leaders of men are those who look forward, not back-

"For not through eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward look the land is bright."


As I say do not undervalue your own country, so I say do not
undervalue your own time. The nineteenth century is dying.
It has been a great century. It has seen Waterloo, and Sedan,
and Gettysburg. As it has passed along it has beheld the settle-
ment of Australia and South Africa, and the conquest of the
American continent. It has replaced the stage-coach with the
locomotive, and united the continents with electric cables. It
has been the century of Lincoln and Bismarck, of Wellington
and Grant, and Lee and Moltke. Scott and Thackeray, Dick-
ens and Hawthorne, have woven stories to rejoice it; and Brown-
ing and Tennyson and Victor Hugo, Longfellow, Lowell,
Holmes, and Poe have been among its later poets. It has been
a time richly worth living hi. Now in its closing years, with the
new and unknown century hard upon us, it is more than ever a
tune worth living in, full of marvelous voices to those who will
listen with attentive ears, full of opportunity to anyone who will
take part in its strifes, fullest of all of profound interest to those
who will look upon it with considerate eyes.

How, then, is a university to reach the results we ought to
have from its teachings in this country and this period? How is
it to inspire its students with sympathy for their country and
their time as the most important of all its lessons? Some persons
may reply that it can be obtained by making the university
training more practical. Much has been said on this point first
and last, but the theory, which is vague at best, seems to me to
have no bearing here. It is not a practical education which we
seek in this regard, even if it was the business of a university to
give one, but a liberal education, which shall foster certain strong
qualities of heart and head. Our search now and here is not for
an education which shall enable a man to earn his living with the
least possible delay, but for a training which shall develop
character and mind along certain lines.

To one man Harvard gives the teaching which fits him to be
an engineer, to another that which opens to him law or medicine
or theology. But to all her students alike it is her duty to give
that which will send them out from her gates able to understand
and to sympathize with the life of the time. This cannot be


done by rules or systems or textbooks. It can come and can
only come from the subtle, impalpable, and yet powerful influ-
ences which the spirit and atmosphere of a great university can
exert upon those within its care. It is not easy to define or class-
ify those influences, although we all know their general effect.
Nevertheless it is, I think, possible to get at something suffi-
ciently definite to indicate what is lacking, and where the peril
lies. It all turns on the spirit which inspires the entire collegiate
body, on the mental attitude of the university as a whole. This
brings us at once to the danger which I think confronts all our
large universities today, and which I am sure confronts that uni-
versity which I know and love best. We are given over too
much to the critical spirit, and we are educating men to become
critics of other men, instead of doers of deeds themselves. This
is all wrong. Criticism is healthful, necessary, and desirable, but
it is always abundant, and is infinitely less important than per-
formance. There is not the slightest risk that the supply of critics
will run out, for there are always enough middle-aged failures
to keep the ranks full, if every other resource should fail. But
even if we were short of critics, it is a sad mistake to educate
young men to be mere critics at the outset of life. It should be
the first duty of a university to breed in them far other qualities.
Faith and hope, and belief, enthusiasm, and courage, are the
qualities to be trained and developed in young men by a liberal
education. Youth is the time for action, for work, not for criti-
cism. A liberal education should encourage the spirit of action,
not deaden it. We want the men whom we send out from our
universities to count in the battle of life and in the history of
their tune, and to count more and not less because of their liberal
education. They will not count at all, be well assured, if they
come out trained only to look coldly and critically on all that is
being done in the world, and on all who are doing it. Long ago
Emerson pointed the finger of scorn at this type when he said:
"There is my fine young Oxford gentleman, who says there is
nothing new and nothing true and no matter." We cannot
afford to have that type, and it is the true product of that crit-
ical spirit which says to its scholars, "See how badly the world is


governed; see how covered with dust and sweat the men are who
are trying to do the world's business, and how many mistakes
they make; let us sit here in the shade with Amaryllis and add
up the errors of these bruised, grimy fellows, and point out what
they ought to do, while we make no mistakes ourselves by stick-
ing to the safe rule of attempting nothing." This is a very
comfortable attitude, but it is the one of all others which a uni-
versity should discourage instead of inculcating. Moreover, with
such an attitude of mind toward the world of thought and
action is always allied a cultivated indifference, than which
there is nothing more enervating.

And these things are no pale abstractions because they are in
their nature purely matters of sentiment and thought. When
Cromwell demanded the New Model, he said, "A set of poor
tapsters and town apprentices would never fight against men of
honor." They were of the same race and the same blood as the
cavaliers, these tapsters and apprentices; they had the same
muscles and the same bodily form and strength. It was the right
spirit that was lacking, and this Cromwell with the keen eye of
genius plainly saw. So he set against the passion of loyalty the
stern enthusiasm of religion, and swept resistance from his path.
One sentiment against another, and the mightier conquered.
Come nearer to our own time. Some six thousand ill-armed
American frontiersmen met ten thousand of the unconquered
army of Wellington's veterans hard by New Orleans. They beat
them in a night attack, they got the better of them in an artillery
duel, and finally they drove back with heavy slaughter the onset
of these disciplined troops who had over and over again carried
by storm defenses manned by the soldiers of Napoleon. These
backwoodsmen were of the same race as their opponents, no
stronger, no more inured to hardships, than Wellington's men,
but they had the right spirit in them. They did not stop to
criticise the works, and to point out that cotton-bales were not
the kind of rampart recognized in Europe. They did not pause to
say that a properly constituted army ought to have bayonets and
that they had none. Still less did they set about finding fault
with their leader. They went in and did their best, and their


best was victory. One example is as good as a hundred. It is
the spirit, the faith, the courage, the determination of men, which
have made the world move. These are the qualities which have
carried the dominion of the English-speaking people across con-
tinents and over wide oceans to the very ends of the earth. It is
the same in every field of human activity. The men who see noth-
ing but the lions in the path, who fear ridicule and dread mis-
takes, who behold the faults they may commit more plainly than
the guerdon to be won, win no battles, govern no states, write no
books, carve no statues, paint no pictures. The men who do not
fear to fall are those who rise. It is the men who take the risks
of failure and mistakes who win through defeats to victory.

If the critical spirit govern in youth, it chokes action at its
very source. We must have enthusiasm, not indifference, will-
ingness to subordinate ourselves to our purpose, if we would
reach results, and an imperfect result is far better than none at
all. Abraham Lincoln said once, speaking of Henry Clay: "A
free people in times of peace and quiet, when pressed by no com-
mon danger, naturally divide into parties. At such times the man
who is of neither party, is not, cannot be, of any consequence.
Mr. Clay was therefore of a party." This which Lincoln said
of politics merely expresses in a single direction the truth that a
man cannot succeed who is a mere critic. He must have the faith
and enthusiasm which will enable him to do battle whether with
sword or pen, with action or thought, for a cause in which he
believes. This does not imply any lack of independence, any
blind subservience to authority or prejudice. Far from it. But
it does imply the absence of the purely critical spirit with no pur-
pose but criticism, which dries up the very springs of action.

"That is the doctrine simple, ancient, true;
Such is life's trial, as old Earth smiles and knows.
Make the low nature better by your throes;
Give earth yourself, go up for gain above."

There is nothing fanciful in all this. It is very real, very near,
very practical. You cannot win a boat-race, or a football match
unless you have the right spirit. Thews and sinews are common


enough. They can be had for the asking. But the best will not
avail if they are not informed with the right spirit. You must
have more than trained muscles; you must have enthusiasm,
determination, brains, and the capacity for organization and
subordination. If the critical spirit prevails, and everyone is
engaged in criticising, analyzing, and declaring how much better
things would be if they were only different, you will not, you
cannot win, other things being equal. Differences in physical
qualities may often determine results, but such differences come
and go like luck at a game of cards. But if the critical, indif-
ferent spirit reigns, it means sure and continued defeats, for it
saps the very roots of action and success.

As it is in the struggles of the playground or the river, so it is
in the wider fields of serious life. If a university breeds a race
of little critics, they will be able to point out other men's faults
and failures with neatness and exactness, but they will ac-
complish nothing themselves. They will make the world no
better for their presence, they will not count in the conflict, they
will not cure a single one of the evils they are so keen to detect.
Worst of all, they will bring reproach on a liberal education,
which will seem to other men to be a hindrance when it should be
a help.

The time in which we live is full of questions of the deepest
moment. There has been, during the century now ending, the
greatest material development ever seen, greater than that of all
preceding centuries together. The condition of the average man
has been raised higher than ever before, and wealth has been
piled up beyond the wildest fancy of romance. We have built
up a vast social and industrial system, and have carried civiliza-
tion to the highest point it has ever touched. That system and
that civilization are on trial. Grave doubts and perils beset
them. The economic theories of fifty years ago stand helpless
and decrepit in their immobility before the social questions which
face us now. Everywhere today there is an ominous spirit of
unrest. Everywhere there is a feeling that all is not well when
wealth abounds and none the less dire poverty ranges by its
side, when the land is not fully populated and yet the number


of the unemployed reaches to the millions. One is not either an
alarmist or a pessimist because he recognizes these facts, and it
would be worse than folly to try to blink them out of sight. I
believe that we can deal with them successfully if we will but set
ourselves to the grave task, as we have to the trials and dangers of
the past. I am sure that, if these great social problems can be
solved anywhere, they can be solved here in the United States.
But the solution will tax to the utmost all the wisdom and cour-
age and learning that the country can provide. What part are
our universities, with their liberal education, to play in the his-
tory that is now making and is still to be written? They are the
crown and glory of our civilization, but they can readily be set
aside if they fall out of sympathy with the vast movements
about them. I do not say whether they should seek to resist, or
to sustain, or to guide and control those movements. But if they
would not dry up and wither, they must at least understand them.
A great university must be in touch with the world about it,
with its hopes, its passions, its troubles, and its strivings. If
it is not, it must be content

"For aye to be in shady cloister mewed,
Chanting faint hymns to the cold, fruitless moon."



[Abbott Lawrence Lowell (1856 ) has been, since 1909, president of

Harvard University. He is distinguished as an authority on the science of
government, and is the author of many books and articles in this field.]

We are living in the midst of a terrific war in which each side
casts upon the other the blame for causing the struggle; but in
which each gives the same reason for continuing it to the bitter
end that reason being the preservation from destruction of the
essential principle of its own civilization. One side claims to be
fighting for the liberty of man; the other for a social system based

iFrom Yale Review, vol. v, p. 741. (July, 1916.) Reprinted by permission.


on efficiency and maintained by discipline. Of course the dif-
ference is one of degree. No one believes in permitting every
man to do whatever he pleases, no matter how it may injure
his neighbor or endanger the community; and no country refuses
all freedom of action to the individual. But although the dif-
ference is only of degree and of emphasis, it is none the less real.
Our own people have always asserted their devotion to the
principle of personal liberty, and in some ways they have carried
it farther than any other nation. It is not, therefore, useless to
compare the two principles that we may understand then- rela-
tive advantages, and perceive the dangers of liberty and the
conditions of its fruitfuhiess.

Americans are more familiar with the benefits of discipline,
in fact, than conscious of them in theory. Anyone who should
try to manage a factory, a bank, a railroad, a ship, a military
company, or an athletic team, on the principle of having every
employee or member of the organization take whatever part
in the work, and do it in whatever way seemed best in his
own eyes, would come to sudden grief and be mercilessly laughed
at. We all know that any enterprise can be successful only if
there is coordination of effort, or what for short we call team
play; and that this can happen only if the nature of each man's
work, and the way he is to perform it, is arranged with a view
to the whole, so that each part fitting into its place contributes its
proper share to the total result. Experience has taught us that
the maximum efficiency is attained where the team play is most
nearly perfect, and therefore, the subordination of the individual
to the combined action is most nearly complete. Then there is
the greatest harmony of action, and the least waste by friction
or working at cross purposes. But everyone is aware that such
a condition does not come about of itself. Men do not fit
into their places in a team or organization spontaneously.
Until they have become experts they do not appreciate the
relation of their particular work to the plan as a whole; and
even when they have become familiar with the game or the
industry, they are apt to overestimate their own part in it, or
disagree about the best method of attaining the result. Every-


one likes to rule, and when Artemus Ward suggested that
all the men in a regiment should be made Brigadier Generals at
once to avoid jealousy, he touched a familiar weakness in
human nature. He was not obliged to explain the joke, because
no one fails to see the absurdity of having everybody in com-
mand. But that would be exactly the situation if nobody were
in command. If there is to be a plan for combined action, some-
body must have power to decide what that plan shall be; and
if the part of every performer is to be subordinated to the
common plan, somebody must have authority to direct the action
of each in conformity with the plan. Moreover, that authority
must have some means of carrying its directions into effect. It
must be maintained by discipline; either by forcing those who do
not play their parts rightly to conform to the general plan, or
by eliminating them from the organization.

This principle of coordinated effort maintained by discipline
applies to every combination of men where the maximum
efficiency for a concrete object is desired, be it a business, a
charity, or a whole state. It is a vitally important principle
which no people can afford to lose from sight, but it is not
everything. Whether it conduces to the greatest happiness or
not is a question I leave on one side, for I am now discussing only

Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonNational ideals and problems; essays for college English → online text (page 25 of 39)