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sings the praises of the earth and the arts, flowers and jewels, wine
and music, in a moonlight, serenading manner, as to the light guitar;
even wisdom comes from his tongue like singing; no one is, indeed, more
tuneful in the upper notes. But even while he sings the song of the
Sirens, he still hearkens to the barking of the Sphinx. Jarring Byronic
notes interrupt the flow of his Horatian humours. His mirth has
something of the tragedy of the world for its perpetual background; and
he feasts like Don Giovanni to a double orchestra, one lightly sounding
for the dance, one pealing Beethoven in the distance. He is not truly
reconciled either with life or with himself; and this instant war in his
members sometimes divides the man's attention. He does not always,
perhaps not often, frankly surrender himself in conversation. He brings
into the talk other thoughts than those which he expresses; you are
conscious that he keeps an eye on something else, that he does not shake
off the world, nor quite forget himself. Hence arise occasional
disappointments; even an occasional unfairness for his companions, who
find themselves one day giving too much, and the next, when they are
wary out of season, giving perhaps too little. Purcel is in another
class from any I have mentioned. He is no debater, but appears in
conversation, as occasion rises, in two distinct characters, one of
which I admire and fear, and the other love. In the first, he is
radiantly civil and rather silent, sits on a high, courtly hilltop, and
from that vantage-ground drops you his remarks like favours. He seems
not to share in our sublunary contentions; he wears no sign of interest;
when on a sudden there falls in a crystal of wit, so polished that the
dull do not perceive it, but so right that the sensitive are silenced.
True talk should have more body and blood, should be louder, vainer and
more declaratory of the man; the true talker should not hold so steady
an advantage over whom he speaks with; and that is one reason out of a
score why I prefer my Purcel in his second character, when he unbends
into a strain of graceful gossip, singing like the fireside kettle. In
these moods he has an elegant homeliness that rings of the true Queen
Anne. I know another person who attains, in his moments, to the
insolence of a Restoration comedy, speaking, I declare, as Congreve
wrote; but that is a sport of nature, and scarce falls under the rubric,
for there is none, alas! to give him answer.

One last remark occurs: It is the mark of genuine conversation that the
sayings can scarce be quoted with their full effect beyond the circle of
common friends. To have their proper weight they, should appear in a
biography, and with the portrait of the speaker. Good talk is dramatic;
it is like an impromptu piece of acting where each should represent
himself to the greatest advantage; and that is the best kind of talk
where each speaker is most fully and candidly himself, and where, if you
were to shift the speeches, round from one to another, there would be
the greatest loss in significance and perspicuity. It is for this reason
that talk depends so wholly on our company. We should like to introduce
Falstaff and Mercutio, or Falstaff and Sir Toby; but Falstaff in talk
with Cordelia seems even painful. Most of us, by the Protean quality of
man, can talk to some degree with all; but the true talk, that strikes
out all the slumbering best of us, comes only with the peculiar
brethren of our spirits, is founded as deep as love in the constitution
of our being, and is a thing to relish with all our energy, while yet we
have it, and to be grateful for forever.


[Footnote 38: The first of two papers on this subject written in 1881-2;
reprinted here, by permission of the publishers, from "Memories and
Portraits" in the Biographical Edition of Stevenson's Works, Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1907.]

[Footnote 39: Kudos (Greek): glory.]

[Footnote 40: Court of love: a mediaeval institution for the discussion
of questions of chivalry.]

[Footnote 41: The Late Fleeming Jenkin - Author's note.]

[Footnote 42: Proxime accessit: he comes very close to it.]



Of what use is a college training? We who have had it seldom hear the
question raised - we might be a little nonplussed to answer it offhand. A
certain amount of meditation has brought me to this as the pithiest
reply which I myself can give: The best claim that a college education
can possibly make on your respect, the best thing it can aspire to
accomplish for you, is this: that it should _help you to know a good man
when you see him_. This is as true of women's as of men's colleges; but
that it is neither a joke nor a one-sided abstraction I shall now
endeavor to show.

What talk do we commonly hear about the contrast between college
education and the education which business or technical or professional
schools confer? The college education is called higher because it is
supposed to be so general and so disinterested. At the "schools" you get
a relatively narrow practical skill, you are told, whereas the
"colleges" give you the more liberal culture, the broader outlook, the
historical perspective, the philosophic atmosphere, or something which
phrases of that 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 petroleum,
incapable of spreading light. The universities and colleges, on the
other hand, although they may leave you less efficient for this or that
practical task, suffuse your whole mentality 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 professional
training does something more for a man than to make a skillful 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, 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 humanities 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 masterpieces, 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 humanistic value to almost anything by teaching it
historically. Geology, 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, not that of
politics merely, but of anything and everything so far as human efforts
and conquests are factors that have played their part. Studying in this
way, we learn what type's 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 perfection on the
part of men; and when we see how diverse the types of excellence may be,
how various the tests, how flexible the 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
sympathize with men's mistakes even in the act of penetrating them; we
feel the 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 humanities 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 disesteem 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 accounted 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 surgeon'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 cheap-jacks. 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 skillful, 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 institutionalized, 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
privileged 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 sufferance 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 anonymously 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 in 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 immediately take our bearings. In our
democracy, where everything else is so shifting, we alumni and alumnae
of the colleges are the only permanent presence that corresponds to the
aristocracy 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 accumulate 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 driftings 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 humanistic, 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

We of the colleges must eradicate a curious notion which numbers of good
people have about such ancient seats of learning 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 painters' 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 general tone being too hearty for the microbe's life. Real culture
lives by sympathies and admirations, not by dislikes and disdains - 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,
in 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 power.

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 preferences, the people at large acquired
the habit of resorting exclusively 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, 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.


[Footnote 43: First published in 1908. Reprinted by permission from
_Memories and Studies_, 1911. (Messrs. Longmans, Green and Co.)]



What, then, is the law of human progress - the law under which
civilization advances?

It must explain clearly and definitely, and not by vague generalities or
superficial analogies, why, though mankind started presumably with the
same capacities and at the same time, there now exist such wide
differences in social development. It must account for the arrested
civilizations and for the decayed and destroyed civilizations; for the
general facts as to the rise of civilization, and for the petrifying or
enervating force which the progress of civilization has heretofore
always evolved. It must account for retrogression a well as for
progression; for the differences in general character between Asiatic
and European civilizations; for the difference between classical and
modern civilizations; for the different rates at which progress goes on;
and for those bursts, and starts, and halts of progress which are so
marked as minor phenomena. And, thus, it must show us what are the
essential conditions of progress, and what social adjustments advance
and what retard it.

It is not difficult to discover such a law. We have but to look and we
may see it. I do not pretend to give it scientific precision, but merely
to point it out.

The incentives to progress are the desires inherent in human nature - the
desire to gratify the wants of the animal nature, the wants of the
intellectual nature, and the wants of the sympathetic nature; the desire
to be, to know, and to do - desires that short of infinity can never be
satisfied, as they grow by what they feed on.

Mind is the instrument by which man advances, and by which each advance
is secured and made the vantage ground for new advances. Though he may
not by taking thought add a cubit to his stature, man may by taking
thought extend his knowledge of the universe and his power over it, in
what, so far as we can see, is an infinite degree. The narrow span of
human life allows the individual to go but a short distance, but though
each generation may do but little, yet generations, succeeding to the
gain of their predecessors, may gradually elevate the status of mankind,
as coral polyps, building one generation upon the work of the other,
gradually elevate themselves from the bottom of the sea.

Mental power is, therefore, the motor of progress, and men tend to
advance in proportion to the mental power expended in progression - the
mental power which is devoted to the extension of knowledge, the
improvement of methods, and the betterment of social conditions.

Now mental power is a fixed quantity - that is to say, there is a limit
to the work a man can do with his mind, as there is to the work he can
do with his body; therefore, the mental power which can be devoted to
progress is only what is left after what is required for non-progressive

These non-progressive purposes in which mental power is consumed may be
classified as maintenance and conflict. By maintenance I mean, not only
the support of existence, but the keeping up of the social condition and
the holding of advances already gained. By conflict I mean not merely
warfare and preparation for warfare, but all expenditure of mental power

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