Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

National ideals and problems; essays for college English online

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effectiveness. Yet even from that standpoint we have left some-
thing out of account. The principle would be absolutely true
if men were machines, or if the thing desired were always a
concrete object to be attained by cooperation, such as the build-
ing of a railroad, the production of wealth, the winning of
victory in war or on a playing field. But men are human beings
and the progress of civilization is a thing far too complex to be
comprised within any one concrete object or any number of such
objects depending on combined effort. This is where the advan-
tages of liberty come in.

Pasteur, one of the greatest explorers of nature and bene-
factors of the age, remarked that the value of liberty lay in
its enabling every man to put forth his utmost effort. In France
under the ancient monarchy men were very nearly born to trades
and professions, or at least large portions of tie people were


virtually excluded from many occupations. The posts of officers
in the army were generally reserved for men of noble rank. The
places of judges were purchased, and were in fact largely heredi-
tary, and so on through much of the higher grade of employ-
ments. The Revolution broke this system down, and Napoleon
insisted that the true principle of the French Revolution was the
opening of all careers to talent; not so much equality as freedom
of opportunity. Under any system of compulsion or restraint a
man may be limited to duties unsuited to his qualities, so that he
cannot use the best talents he possesses. The opportunities in a
complex modern civilization are of infinite variety, subtle,
elastic, incapable of being compassed by fixed regulations for
attaining definite objects. The best plan for perfecting the post
office, if strictly followed, would not have produced the telegraph;
the most excellent organization of the telegraph would not have
created the telephone; the most elaborate system of telephone
wires and switchboards would not have included the wireless.
The greatest contributions to knowledge, to the industrial arts,
and to the comforts of life have been unforeseen, and have often
come in unexpected directions. The production of these required
something more than a highly efficient organization maintained
by discipline.

Moreover what is nearer to our present purpose believers
in the principle of liberty assert that a man will put forth more
effort, and more intelligent effort, if he chooses his own field,
and works in his own way, than if he labors under the constant
direction of others. The mere sense of freedom is stimulating in
a high degree to vigorous natures. The man who directs himself
is responsible for the consequences. He guarantees the result,
and stakes his character and reputation on it. If after selecting
his own career he finds that he has chosen wrongly, he writes
himself down a fool. The theory of liberty, then, is based upon
the belief that a man is usually a better judge of his own aptitudes
than anyone else can be, and that he will put forth more and
better effort if he is free than if he is not.

Both these principles, of discipline and of liberty, contain
much truth. Neither is absolutely true, nor can be carried to


its logical extreme, for one by subjecting all a man's actions
to the control of a master would lead to slavery, the other by
leaving every man free to disregard the common welfare would
lead to anarchy. In America we are committed, as it were, to
err on the side of liberty; and it is my purpose to consider here
what are the dangers and conditions of liberty in the American
college. It is in college that young men first enjoy the pleasure
of liberty and assume its responsibilities. They sometimes think
themselves still under no little restriction, because they cannot
leave the college during term time without permission, and must
attend the lectures, examinations, and other duties; but these are
slight compared with the restraints which will surround any busy
man in after life. There is no better place than college to learn to
use freedom without abusing it. This is one of the greatest
opportunities of college life, the thing that makes strong men
stronger and sometimes weak men weaker than before.

Liberty means a freedom of choice in regulating one's con-
duct. If you are free to attend a lecture, but not free to stay
away from it, then it is compulsory. You have no liberty
whatever in the matter. A man of wealth has no freedom about
paying taxes. He is obliged to pay them. But he has freedom
about giving money away to relieve distress, or for other chari-
table purposes, because he may give or not as he pleases. A man is
at liberty to be generous or mean, to be kindly or selfish, to be
truthful or tricky, to be industrious or lazy. In all these things
his duty may be clear, but he is free to disregard it. In short,
liberty means freedom to do wrong as well as to do right, else
it is no freedom at all. It means freedom to be foolish as well as
to be wise, to prefer immediate self-indulgence to future benefit
for oneself or others, liberty to neglect as well as to perform the
duties of the passing hour that never comes again. But if liberty
were used exclusively to do wrong, it would be intolerable, and
good sense would sweep it from the earth. The supposition on
which liberty is based, the condition on which it exists, is that
men will use it for right more than for wrong; that in the long
run they will do right more often, and do more that is good, than
under a system of restraint.


Mark this, liberty and discipline are not mutually exclusive.
Liberty does not mean that good results can ever be attained
without discipline. If rightly used it means only that regu-
lation by others is replaced by self-discipline no less severe and
inexorable. The man who does not force himself to work when
he is disinclined to do so will never achieve anything worth doing.
Some really industrious men affect to do only what they like,
never working save when the spirit moves them; and occasionally
such men deceive themselves in trying to deceive others. If
not, they have usually schooled themselves to want what they
ought to want. Self-discipline has brought their inclinations
as well as their conduct into a happy subjection to their will.
But, in fact, labor carried anywhere near the point of maximum
productivity, the point where a man puts forth his utmost effort,
is never wholly pleasureable, although the moral force required to
drive oneself at top speed varies much in different people.
An idle disposition, however, is no sufficient excuse for shirk-
ing. Many years ago a stingy old merchant in Boston lay dying.
The old miser turned to the brother sitting by his bedside and
said: "John, I wish I had been more generous in giving away
money in my Hie. But it has been harder for me than for most
men to give money; and, John, I think the Lord will make allow-
ance for differences in temperament." Thus do we excuse our-
selves for self-indulgence.

How many men in every American college make an effort
to get through with little to spare, win a degree, and evade an
education? Not an insignificant number. How many strive
earnestly to put forth their utmost effort to obtain an education
that will develop their. intellectual powers to the fullest extent,
and fit them in the highest possible degree to cope with the
problems they will face as men and as citizens? Again not an
insignificant number, but are they enough to satisfy Pasteur's
aspirations, or even to justify his idea of the object of liberty?

Everywhere in the higher education of Europe, whether the
system is one of freedom or restraint, whether as in Germany
a degree is conferred only on men who have real proficiency, or
as in Oxford and Cambridge a mere pass degree is given for very


little real work, everywhere the principle of competition is
dominant for those who propose to make a marked success in
life. Let us take the countries which claim to be fighting in this
war for liberty. A student at Oxford or Cambridge knows that
his prospects, not only of a position in the university, but at the
bar, in permanent public employment and political life, are
deeply influenced by, and in many cases almost dependent upon,
his winning a place in the first group of scholars at graduation.
The man who gets it plays thereafter with loaded dice. It gives
him a marked advantage at the start, and to some extent follows
him ever afterwards. Of course, there are exceptional men who by
ability come to the front rank without it, but on the whole they
are surprisingly few. Mr. Balfour is sometimes referred to as a
man who did not distinguish himself at Cambridge, and Sir
Edward Grey is said to have been an incorrigibly poor scholar
at Balliol in Oxford, yet both of them won third-class honors,
which is not far from what we should consider $ B K rank. To
mention only men who have been prominent in public life, Peel,
Cardwell, Sherbrooke, Gladstone, Harcourt, Bryce, Trevelyan,
Asquith, Haldane, Milner, Simon, Ambassador Spring-Rice,
and many more won honors of the first class at one of the two
great English universities; while a number of other men dis-
tinguished in public life, such as Disraeli, Chamberlain, and
Lloyd-George, did not go to Oxford or Cambridge. It would not
be difficult to add a long list of judges, and in fact, as an Oxford
man once remarked to me, high honors at the university have
been almost a necessity for reaching the bench. No doubt the
fact that men have achieved distinction at their universities
is a test of their ability; but also the fact that they have done
so is a direct help at the outset of their careers.

If we turn to France we find the same principle of compe-
tition in a direct form though working in other channels. The
Ecole Centrale, the great school of engineering, and the Beaux
Arts, the great school of architecture and art, admit only a limited
number of students by competitive examination; and the men
who obtain the highest prizes at graduation are guaranteed public
employment for life. Europeans believe that preeminence in


those things for which higher education exists is a measure of
intellectual and moral qualities; and the fact that it is recognized
as such tends to make it so, for the rewards attached to it make
ambitious and capable young men strive for it, and put forth
their utmost effort in the competition. Let us hope that
some day our colleges, and the public at large, will recognize
more fully than they do today the value of excellence in
college work as a measure of capacity, as a promise of future
achievement, and thereby draw out more effort among the
undergraduates. It is already the case to a large extent in
our professional schools, and ought to be the case in our colleges,
if a college education is really worth the money and labor
expended on it.

At present the college is scholastically democratic. The
world rarely asks how a man got in, or how he graduated.
It is enough that he did graduate somehow. Bachelor degrees,
whether indicating high scholarship or a minimum of work,
are treated by the public as free and equal; and what is worse
they are far too much so treated by the colleges and universities
themselves. Now, the requirement for a college degree cannot
be more than a minimum, and in the nature of things a rather
low minimum, requiring on the part of men with more than ordi-
nary ability a very small amount of work; far less than is needed
to call forth then- utmost effort.

This is one of many illustrations of the well-known fact that
education moves slowly, and follows rather than leads the spirit
of the time. We live in a strenuous age, a time of activity and
energy. I think it was Bagehot who remarked that the change of
habits was evident even in the casual greeting of friends. He
says that we ask a man whom we have not met for some time,
"What have you been doing since I saw you last?" as if we
expected him to have been doing something. I remember some
time ago reading a story in a magazine about travelers in a rail-
road train, who were stopped at a custom house to have their
baggage examined, and found, that, instead of holding clothes,
their bags and trunks contained the works they had done in
life. It was the last judgment, and several well-meaning persons


found their many pieces of luggage sadly empty. A gentleman
among the number came forward to explain that they had sup-
posed their duty to consist in avoiding sin, and they had done
so; that their lives had been spent in pleasures, for the most part
wholly innocent, and that this was all they had understood to
be required of them.

The story illustrates a change of attitude which has come
over the world, and men who have passed fifty have seen it
come in, comparing -the generation that went before them
with that which has followed them. Thou shalt is quite as
important as thou shalt not. Professor Munro in speaking in a
college chapel some time ago on the importance of positive as
well as negative morality remarked that most people if asked
the meaning of the fourth commandment would think only of its
forbidding work on Sunday; whereas its opening words are "Six
days shalt thou labor." We live not only in a strenuous world,
but in the most strenuous part of the world. Innocent leisure
is no longer quite respectable here, except in college; and it is
getting not to be respectable there except in study.

Most of us feel that the American college is a very precious
thing. It is a clean and healthy place, morally, intellectually,
and physically. I believe that no large body of young men any-
where in the world live on the whole such clean lives, or are
cleaner or more honorable in thought. The college is a place
where a man may, and where many a man does, develop his
character and his mental force to an almost indefinite extent;
where he may, and often does, acquire an inspiration that sus-
tains him through life; where he is surrounded by influences that
fit him, if he will follow them, for all that is best in the citizen of
a republic. The chief defect in the American college today is
that it has not yet been stirred by the strenuous spirit of the
age, the spirit that dignifies the principle of liberty, or at least
it has been stirred mainly in the line of what are called student
activities. These are excellent things in themselves, to be en-
couraged in full measure, but they do not make up for indolence
and lack of effort in the studies which are, after all, the justifica-
tion for the existence of the college. Let us put this matter per-


fectly plainly. The good sense of the community would never
approve of having young men devote the whole of their best four
years to the playing field, or to those other accessories of college
lif e, the management of athletic or other organizations, or writing
for college papers. These, as I have said, are excellent as acces-
sories, but if they were the whole thing, if instruction and study
were abolished, the college would soon be abolished also. What,
then, in a land of restless activity and energy is likely to be the
future of a college in which a large part of the undergraduates
regard extra-curriculum activities as the main interest, and edu-
cation as an accessory; and where a smaller, but not inconsider-
able fraction regard all activity as irksome? If our young men
cannot answer that question themselves, let them ask some man
who is not himself a college graduate but has worked his way up
in the world by his diligence, perseverance, pluck, and force of

The danger that under a system of liberty men will fail to
put forth their utmost effort lies not merely, or perhaps mainly,
in a lack of moral force. It is due quite as much to a lack of moral
and intellectual vision, an inability to see any valuable result
to be accomplished by the effort. This is particularly true in
college. Many a man who intends to work hard thereafter in his
profession or business, tries to get through college with a small
amount of study. He is fully aware that in his future career he
will make no use of a knowledge of the force of the Greek aorist, of
the properties of a regular parallelopipedon, or of the effect of the
reign of Edward the First on English constitutional history; and
hence he is inclined to think these things of no great practical
consequence to him. In no form of human productivity of
far-reaching importance is the direct practical utility of every
step in the process visible to the man who takes it. The work-
man in a factory may not know why he mixes certain ingredients
in prescribed proportions, why he heats the mixture to a certain
temperature, or why he cools it slowly. It might be difficult
to explain it to him; and he does these things because they are
ordered by the boss.

The difficulty of perceiving the connection between the means


and the end is greater in the case of education, as distinguished
from mechanical training, than in almost anything else, be-
cause the processes are more subtle, more intangible, less capable
of accurate analysis. In fact the raw material that is being
worked up is not the subject matter of the work but the mind of
the worker himself; and the effect on his mind is not from day to
day perceptible. His immediate task is to learn something, and
he asks himself whether it is really worth learning; whereas
the knowledge he acquires is not of the first importance, the
vital question being how much he has improved in the ability
to acquire and use it. At school the process is equally obscure,
but the boy learns his lessons because he is obliged to do so. If
he is a good boy he learns them well, because, although blind to
the meaning of it all, he knows it is his duty. He does not seek
to understand the process; and I recall now with amusement the
ridiculous attempts we sometimes made in our school days to
explain to our girl friends why it was worth while to study Latin.
Many a boy who has ranked high at school, without asking
himself the use of studying at all, does little work in college,
because he asks himself why he should make the effort and cannot
answer the question. The contrast illustrates the difference
between a system of discipline and one of liberty. In both the
relation of the work of the day and the result to be attained is
invisible, but the motive power is not the same.

Under a system of external discipline the motive power is
supplied by the habit of obedience, enforced where necessary
by penalties. For the good man the habit or duty of blind
obedience is enough. As Colonel Mudge expressed it when
he received a mistaken order to charge and sprang forward to
lead his regiment at Gettysburg, "It is murder, but it is the
order." Some of the greatest examples of heroism in human his-
tory have been given in this way. But blind obedience cannot be
the motive power where liberty applies, and a man must deter-
mine his own conduct for himself. In the vast number of actions
where the direct utility of each step cannot be seen, he must act
on general principles, on a conviction that the particular step
is part of a long process which leads forward to the end. The


motive power of liberty is faith. All great enterprises, all great
lives, are built upon and sustained by an overmastering faith
in something.

Faith is based upon imagination which can conceive things
the eye cannot behold. Young people are prone to think of
imagination as fantastic, the creation by the mind of impossible
forms and events, distortions of nature, or caricatures of man.
But it is a higher imagination which pictures invisible things as
they are, or as they might reaUy be. Historic imagination does
not people the past with impossible beings doing senseless acts,
but with living men who thought and acted as men do not think
and act today, but actually did under conditions that have long
passed away. The true reformer is not he who portrays an ideal
commonwealth which could never be made to work, but the
man whose imagination has such a grasp on the springs of
human nature that he can foresee how people would really
conduct themselves in conditions yet untried, and whose plans
work out as he designed them.

If faith is thus based upon imagination, its fruition requires
a steadfastness of purpose that is not weakened by discourage-
ments or turned aside by obstacles that shut out the view and
cast dark shadows across the path. The doubter, who asks
himself at every stage whether the immediate effort is really
worth while, is lost. Prophesy confidently of him that he will
never reach his goal.

President Pritchett in a walking tour in Switzerland asked
a mountaineer about the road to the place whither he was
bound. The man replied that he had never been there, but
he knew that was the path which led to it. Such is the pathway
to the ventures of life. None of us has ever been over the road
we intend to travel in the world. If we believe that the way we
take leads to our destination we must follow it, not stopping or
turning back because a curve in the mountain trail obscures the
distant scene, or does not at the moment seem to lead in the
right direction. We must go on in faith that every step along
the road brings us nearer, and that the faster we walk the farther
we shall go before night falls upon us. The man who does not feel


any reason for effort because he cannot see the direct utility of
the things he learns has no faith in a college education; and if
he has no faith in it he had better not waste time on it, but take
up something else that he has faith in, or that is better suited
to men of little faith.

Every form of civilization is, not only at its inception and
in critical times, but always and forever, on trial. If it proves
less effective than others it will be eliminated, peacefully or
forcibly, by a gradual process of change or by a catastrophe.
Now the test of a civilization based on liberty is the use men make
of the liberty they enjoy, and it is a failure not only if men use
it to do wrong, but also if they use it to do nothing, or as little
as is possible to maintain themselves in personal comfort. This
is true of our institutions as a whole and of the American col-
lege in particular. A student who has no sustaining faith in the
education he can get there; who will not practise the self-disci-
pline needed to obtain it; who uses his liberty to put forth not his
utmost, but the least possible, effort; who uses it not to acquire,
but to evade, a thorough education, fails to that extent in his
duty to himself, to his coUege, to his country, and to the civiliza-
tion he inherits. The man who uses his liberty to put forth his
utmost effort in college and throughout his life, not only does
his duty, but is helping to make freedom itself successful. He is
working for a great principle of human progress. He is fighting
the battle of liberty and securing its victory in the civilization of

Never have I been able to understand and even less than
ever in these terrible days, when young men, on whom the
future shone bright with hope, sacrifice from a sense of duty
their lives, the welfare of those dearest to them, and every-
thing they care for less than ever can I understand how any
man can stand in safety on a hillside and watch the struggle of
life in the plain below without longing to take part therein; how
he can see the world pass by without a craving to make his mark,
however small, on his day and generation. Many a man who
would be eager to join a deadly charge if his country were at war,
lacks the insight or imagination to perceive that the warfare of


civilization is waged not more upon the battlefield than in the
workshop, at the desk, in the laboratory, and the library. We
have learned in this stress of nations that men cannot fight with-
out ammunition well made in abundance; but we do not see that
the crucial matter in civilization is the preparedness of young
men for the work of the world; not only an ample supply of the
best material, but a product moulded on the best pattern, tem-
pered and finished to the highest point of perfection. Is this the
ideal of a dreamer that cannot be realized; or is it a vision which

Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonNational ideals and problems; essays for college English → online text (page 26 of 39)