« PreviousContinue »
bre, like your quack panacea, professes all cures, is capable of none. Take a young man of an imaginative and excursive mind, and chain him down to the application of mathematical definitions, you bestify the spirit that is within him, you bid the eagle walk. Not that we would depreciate the dignity of the mathematics, subsidiary as they are to the highest and proudest of sciences; we merely differ with the practice of our seminaries of learning, in their apparent reverence for Voltaire's assertion, that there is as much poetry in the “Binomial Theorem” as in the “ Paradise Lost." The name of Voltaire suggests a very opportune illustration of what we claim. His father's solicitude was shocked when he saw the son, in whom he beheld a future judge, engaged on a tragedy. He followed a medium course between a father's will and the tyranny of a ruling inclination, and became what he did, a sort of epitome of all the sciences and arts; now president of a new academy of science and again the crowned poet of a Parisian stage. His poetry shows the loss which imagination sustained by the culture of reason. He has written some great mechanical poetry, but where is the loftier principle— the soul ? Does it animate Zaïre, the best of his dramas, or vivify the elaborate mechanism of the Henriade ? No. We scout the idea that the object of education is to give a “proper balance and furniture” to the mind.
Genius is the intense love for and pursuit of a single object, whether that object be the highest reach of the orator, or the most ridiculous triumph of the buffoon, the loftiest flight of poetry, or the invention of a Yankee clock. A fig for that philosophy which would teach the mathematician to tremble with the poet's holy thrill, at great Nature's thousand contrasts of mountain and of wold ; away with that infatuated nonsense which would bring the poet from his star-home to take the dimensions of a school-room. There is no such thing as equability in genius. Ils office is to explore untrodden and eccentric fields. Under such education we might have more of those solid, practical men, who regulate the mechanism of society, but none of those meteor-minds who reveal strange visions to the world, who create new thought, and speed mankind to higher progress.
Another objection to our colleges is, the distance between instructors and instructed. They do not sustain the relation of co-searchers for a high knowledge, which must remain a novelty to the proudest. The student is placed in a state of subordinacy ill accordant with the spirit of liberal learning. Instructors seem to hold a kind of St. Petership in the heaven of knowledge, and feel the dignity of their station. The student is not admitted to their private hours, but sits waiting, like Lazarus, sor crumbs at the hour of meals, while the wholesome and costlier solids are served at his master's board. Mere skill in the use of a lexicon, dexterity in quibbles, and fluency at recitation, are but the outward forms of scholarship ; the subtle and diviner essence lies deep-deep below. The most essential truths must be got by a sort of induction. This kind of instruction is "banned and barred” to the student in our universities. He is told that such is the right and the truth ; but what makes the right, and how truth has been evolved, are mysteries : he is shown effects, but held ignorant of causes. How different these from the grand old days of Athenian study, of the Lyceum and the Academy, when the disciple was a familiar and even disputant of his master! how different this, too, from the course so successfully pursued in Germany at the present day! In Germany, not only the election of branches for study is yielded to the student, but the times and modes are measurably under his control. Freer scope is also allowed for those genial and relaxing convivialities which rob the hours of austere study of half their gloom, and warm the heart with those holy sympathies which make us members of a great brotherhood.
The secret of success, in any undertaking, is egotism. Ours is a selfish world; and, until a better and more sympathetic race of men shall spring up, no parts, however shining, no ambition, however vaulting, can win for their possessor the “undying meed,” unless backed by a chary and vigilant love of self. We would not be understood to mean an unsympathetic selfishness, but that kind which commands the aid of subordinate minds to the furtherance of its own great design of ennobling an age. Small stars appear larger to common vision than the remoter orbs of suns ; so small men, by dint of active and confident effort, keeping their good deeds before the eyes of men, show greater than those proud autocrats of genius who sit far and solitary in the pure empyrean of knowledge. The first object of education, then, is to teach self-reliance, to bid the young aspirant to bear as " haught a crest" as the loftiest, and in the meantime to nurture those winning qualities which lay hold on the sympathies of his fellow-men.
No course is more inefficient toward the attainment of such an end than that pursued in our universities. A college course is a history of mean and cringing obsequiousness to professors and tutors, and a struggle for Commencement honors, rather than of high-headed independence, ambitious for that large furniture of mind which shall arm it to grapple with the iron necessities of life. The student is cooped up in his college cell, muzzing over books and going the mill-horse round of lectures, hall, and chapel, with the reputation of being a vastly regular, plodding, rising kind of young man, while those great stores of collateral information, which lie aside from the mere scholar's path, are to him the “ holy of holies," from which it were sacrilege to withdraw the veil. This latter is the only available knowledge. A course of four years is meagre time to discipline a mind for the rough trials and stormy exigencies of the world. Time and trial are the only sure disciplinarians. We would not be thought by this to question the usefulness of systematic study ; it is the inefficacy of an unalterable course, at which we cavil. There is more mental discipline to be gained from an intelligent study of one of Shakspeare's plays, in tracing the bearing of one character on another, detecting the strokes by which the magician summons up nature from her caves, than in the whole of Euclid. One of these plays is a pantomime, in which a whole epoch of human history is made to live and speak.
The student's moral nature is also governed by the same work-house rules. A guiding presumption appears to be, that all young men are
inherently vicious, and, without arbitrary restraints, liable to the gross. est appetites. Instead of pilgrims to a shrine of study, they are deemed a herd of adventurers after pleasure, in search of means to vent the vanities of youth. They must rise for prayers at fixed hours, attend the church at stated seasons, and conform their private morality to a system of rules. The result of such training is either a factitious morality or a degeneracy into the most wayward vice. If a young man is naturally vicious, there are more effectual means for his recovery than a resort to tyranny over his propensities. Law is not always the best check for the unruly. The subjects of a despot are not better governed than the citizens of a Republic, where each man knows himself a part of the governing power. Such strict ward over a young man's desires awakes a curiosity to indulge his banned desires.
Now mark we the effects of this mental and moral culture. By what sort of men are our colleges filled? They consist of three classes ; the Student, the Dilettante, and a third class, which is an amalgam of the loafer and the “gay deceiver,” tinged with just enough of the qualities of the two first, to make him current.
The first is a dictionary of definitions and quibbles. His quietest hours are haunted with visions of College honors. Look at his stooped and shriveled frame! see his great soul staggering about in his ricketty body! How spirituel! He is wrinkled, not with thought, but with poring over the thoughts of others. He is bowed, but with a load of foreign knowledge. Such men might excel, but they want that re-productive faculty which stamps the thoughts of others with an individual impress ; they know not that precious alchemy which transmutes the baser metals into gold, and each fresh acquirement is an accretion, not an assimilation. A stout man this to set adrift in this crowded and hard-handed world of ours! Without the physical strength to make his acquirements respectable, or the mental originality to leave a legacy for succeeding ages, he lives the wonder of a village school, and dies the victim of a-College honor.
“Oh, yo whose hour-glass shifts its tranquil sands
In the unvexed silence of a student's cell ;
Ye cannot know what ye have never tried !” The second class are of a less decided character. Of a more impulsive nature, and less capable of restraint, they pursue an independent course, and obey, as far as possible, the promptings of inclination; they are Freebooters in every field of knowledge. Their minds are a kind of museum, in which every rare and exotic curiosity in literature is stored. Deficient in those solid acquirements upon which true great. ness rests, they seek a precocious distinction by making show of knowledge which young men are not expected to possess. In this class may be found the genius-he who by a quick intuition gets information for which others strive through long and laborious years. They have a private entrance to the Temple of Fame, and, disdaining to climb the craggy height, shoot gracefully over flowery paths. These comprise the world's future Editors of Magazines, Fourth of July Orators, “ et id omne genus inutile.”
A few words will describe the last class. Half fancy men and half fools, they are entirely devoted to “love and the ladies ;" without the boldness to be vicious, they occupy themselves with the fashionable, kid-glove amusements, pass unnoticed through college, graduate speciali gratia, bilk their tailors, and slink home to their oat-meal and their mothers.
Such is a general summary of the characters which our universities send forth into the world. There are, however, exceptions—some on whom the royal gist has been conferred of receiving and transmitting the sacred legacy of the past to the coming years—who are to become a part of the great thought of all time. America offers a peculiar field for this ambition. The restless life which pervades our whole body politic, equality of political condition, a free press, and the new phases which society has assumed-all full of inspiring promise, invite to aspiring effort. Here no flattery wins its way to the hearts of Princes, or wrings unwilling pittance from haughty patrons ; the unbought suffrage of princely hearts, and the support of a free, thinking people, is guaranty of success. The bold, brave man can never fail. He may meet with untoward fate, but like the mystery-sounds which echo from the Laras de Musica, even from the rocks and steeps which frown above him, come tones of encouragement and cheer; he hears the rustle of spirit-wings, and the whisper of angel voices-above the slough and the mire, stirring his soul with solemn prophecies. Let him then be of cheer; though lonely he toil “ through the sad midnight watch,” his is the mission to mould the young literature of a nation, and his reward will be the blessings of other times, when that nation shall have crumbled and gone.
Who does not like an open-hearted, ready-handed man, whose honest, rough voice, though it sound like the roaring of a bull, still assures you, that his words speak his real sentiments ? But there are people as honest as he, and who are as true, that speak more softly. The former is very likely unpolished, and for this reason appears somewhat repulsive ; the latter are equally removed from boorishness and hypocrisy. These two varieties of the frank sort of people are somewhat rare, for most men are too wary, or have too much to conceal, to be perfectly
frank. Hypocrisy of some sort seems natural, and few are they without it. But so long as the concealment of trifles, the polite speech, the professions of good will, meaningless though they be, may do no harm, we are content to endure them; it is that conduct which conceals the true character, which cloaks the base design, that receives the merited contempt of mankind.
So far, then, as affectation is a hiding of the true character, and so far as it arises from a desire to appear different from the reality, it is hypocritical, and to stigmatize it thus may be enough. But usually it springs from vanity or the desire of singularity. And we may say that it is like a good thing abused—it is often some right habit or peculiarity exaggerated. Heads, for example, are very good things in their way, and few care to part with them. It would seem quite odd, certainly, to meet an acquaintance out walking without his head; and hardly less odd, if you should find it swelled to twice its usual size. You would keep thinking of his head all the time you were talking with him, and when you thought of your friend, you would be sure to recollect, that he had a head, though you might forget body and legs. Thus, some very worthy people become consummately ridiculous, by having their natural peculiarities exaggerated, or by planning some way of behavior to distinguish them from the or non doi.
Now, there never was a greater mistake, in our opinion, than to be affected. I have seen a very worthy young man, who had excellent natural parts, and whose learning was quite extensive, well-nigh spoiled by this conceit. He used to take very well with the ladies, till they found what an inveterate habit he had of punning, and how much he thought that it recommended him. He had naturally no particular taste for this jingling of sound and spoiling of sense, but through some freak took it into his head to become distinguished in this line. You could not make mention of a doctor in his presence, but he would remark about his sobriety, and insinuate that he was a grave sort of man. And if you spoke of a general dearth of news, he would very innocently inquire what brigade this military man commanded.
Affectation does not of necessity imply a want of talent or good sense, though one is prone to infer that the latter, at least, of these is lacking, where the former exists. At any rate, affectation hides the good qualities the man may possess. It will vitiate every part of lifedress, habits, style of thinking and speaking, nothing escapes the influence of this propensity. Lord Byron wore a seaman's collar, and straightway all the clerks in England added a quarter of a yard of linen to the shirts they were supposed to wear; sentimental young gentlemen neglected their hair, looked despairing, and made love to people they had no business to look at. Every fool that could make a rhyme, wrote himself a poet, and made proposals to the booksellers. All this mania of affecting one whom we know not whether to consider the greater poet or libertine, has, happily for this generation, pretty much passed away; though even now we find some who try to imitate his collars and licentiousness. This bad imitation of notorious characters is no new thing. Alexander had a wry neck, and every courtier, of VOL. XI.