« AnteriorContinuar »
classes and classmates were constant, and we stimulated and trained each other in unguided ways and by unscheduled pursuits. We regret very much the going to pieces of college life by its departments, and divisions, and elections; each instructor occupied with his own pursuits. To these separations we must add many fraternities, ostensibly establishing new kinships, but certainly wasting old ones, and making of college life little more than the fragments of a broken feast.
But this consideration, important as we regard it, is secondary to another; this division tends toward narrow-mindedness, not toward large-mindedness. Influences which either restrict the attention or leave it to a natural bias are finding entrance into our instruction in so many ways that they should be challenged at every point. The world is very broad and very abundant in fitting objects of observation. Barren as we often make it, restricted as are the lessons we are willing to derive from it, it offers everywhere the material of inquiry and reflection, combines and interlaces its topics, and urges them, in whatever direction we turn, on our attention-layers of construction, upper and under, outer and inner. We are enveloped in our weak and flickering consciousness, our restricted observation, with so much wisdom, so much accessible knowledge pushing up into the region of thought, ready to take part in the life of the individual and of the community, that we need some like catholicity of temper, some similar alertness of attention, if we would, in any worthy degree, enter into our opportunities. We remain before the unrecognized material of thought as a dusty mirror, waiting to be wiped before it can duplicate within itself and within us the revelation of order and beauty. This form of knowledge may seem to transcend us, and it does transcend us, not as for ever escaping us, but as for ever enlarging itself as we look upon it. The apprehensive use and the serviceable use of the world are different from each other. It is not necessary that we should minutely examine, part by part, the work before us in order that we may understand its structural relations in the make-up of the world. If we are to use it as material in architecture or sculpture, flaws may baffle our labor or make it worthless.
We are not to hasten forward from knowledge to art, from apprehension to action, pledging all things in the doing of one thing. An active-passive attitude of observation is to have sway with us, time to complete itself, before we rush forward to conceive and frame a realm of small devices in gratification of immediate wants. Doing should be the summation of knowing, and knowing must underlie doing as a broad and secure foundation. Our present method is to have one narrow door into our workshop, which, material brought in, is closed with the obtrusive notice, “No admission.” We do not say that there is no need of this seclusion and no wisdom in it. What we do say is that we insist on it prematurely, and follow it out too rigidly. We all need—the busiest workman needs it only the more—that living inspiration which can be gotten in the open air. Large volumes of air, the atmosphere as one whole, begin at once to purify themselves, and put health foremost;—all confined air contracts impurity, and deadens the effort that is expended in it. College life should be full of the force of life, and enter cautiously those restricted efforts, characterized chiefly by what they lay aside. It has to do with those many and primitive elements of strength without which growth ceases, reaching the end of the season. Men expend their labor for that which is not bread, because they have settled too hastily what is bread.
This process of putting ourselves in connection with the unconscious and the unknown in our surroundings, allowing it to play freely upon us and training ourselves to play freely upon it, are the great achievements of college life. This is the tide which, taken at its flood, leads on to fortune. If these days of enthusiasm pass without winning this liberty we shall not gain it. We shall go to our work before the sun is up, and not return from it till the light has forsaken us.
The general library, our medium of contact with the intellectual life about us and before us, must lie open to the eye, familiar to the thoughts, and stand out in odd moments and in accidental ways as the monitor of an existence never idle, never silent, always waiting like a living spring for those single drops that come to it, far and near. It is an irretriev
able loss to shut down prematurely this quiet flow of knowledge; long, long before the presence of the unknown in its vastness, its interlock, its pushing power, has been recognized by us.
The need of this comprehensive mind, this sympathetic temper, is seen on every side. Narrow belief, undue intensity, a non-receptive and incommunicable temper, are the hourly infirmities of man. Intense convictions remain unsoftened and unsupplemented till classes and nations and races run against each other like frightened cattle, and destroy each other in the mere waste of ignorance and fear. In each calling, each profession, there comes to be a professional temper which approaches folly, and at times borders on madness. In the practise of law, a too controlling importance is attached to legal possibilities and methods, till at length they become a convenient cloak of fraud. This is accomplished with a narrowness and yet a candor of thought quite anomalous. We come to be afraid of the lawyer in the degree in which he is true to his profession and zealous in its pursuit. The physician is often dangerous in the degree of his technical knowledge. He has undue confidence in remedies, and little confidence in hygiene; while hygiene itself, in the mind of some devotee, sinks into extravagance. We use our reasoning powers to bewilder and mislead ourselves. As body and mind are companion agents, we hit upon a faith-cure, and in the attention we give to one of the two terms, lose sight of the other. Religious belief above all discloses the narrow grooves in which the mind runs. We have an infallible faith and a devilish unbelief. There rush in upon us convictions from all points of the compass, as positive in form as obscure in substance. The rulers of a nation frequently rest their conclusions avowedly or tacitly on a doctrine of force, which thrusts aside the spiritual world and lapses into fraud and violence. The military man incloses himself in his own thoughts, and while regarding suitable arms and impregnable fortifications as the only defenses of national life, suffers them actually to become the terms of tyranny. We discover, as in the war of 1870 between Germany and France, that the military leaders
of a nation have been for months and years in a minute preparation of the means of attack, which suddenly close in like the jaws of a trap. This may at times mean success, but it means at all times intense narrow-mindedness, a hardening of the arteries of our intellectual life which utterly unfits them for activity.
In a critical presidential election, like the one we have recently past thru, what currents, undercurrents, cross-currents and conflicting currents are at work; what tendencies which those who entertain them are hardly aware of and those who oppose them fail to measure; what obscure influences, private gains masked as public welfare, and public welfare identified with personal profit, harass, distract, and scatter voters to the four winds. In all this there is one wide stretch of ignorance and of knowledge, illuminated by mere flashes of thought and waiting for some sufficient revelation.
We are not overlooking the fact that human thought is necessarily ill informed and narrow, but are urging the fact that for this very reason the largest inlets of truth are to be kept open, the most varied and habitual play of influences to be maintained, that, if may be, we may each find his own path more certainly. We have no reason to shut ourselves up when the atmosphere is already too close. We must seek every avenue of approach to the world about us, the world behind us, the men that have been, the men that are; not pushing, but finding, our way forward. We are not to “cut ourselves off from the past, but to hold, unbroken in life and death, the ties which exist for us only in history.” “Love, passionate curiosity, a sympathetic tentacular sensibility,—to these all worlds, spiritual or material, past, present or to come, yield the romance of discovery." While it is quite plain, and not to be regretted, that we are forced by the practical claims of the world to bring our powers to a point, and thin them down to a cutting edge, this constitutes no reason why we should not, or, rather, it constitutes a reason why we should, lay hold of the suggestions and inspirations of the large universe to which we are united, cease to treat them as impediments to success, and regard them as central terms in any ample fulfilment. There is a joy in the ingress of thought quite beyond daily achievement. The pleasure of accomplishment is great and may be infused with a feeling of personal powers and personal distinction, but it is not comparable with that relaxation and recreation with which one faces the whole world, of which he is so insignificant and so significant a part. This is life among the hills and mountains, whose winds blow for all, where one watches things and forces as they enter into the universal, creative process. Our knowledge, so called, is chiefly of superficies and successions. The eye and the ear give these, and little more. But our superficies must be broad, our sequences go far, if they are to be the garment of the invisible world. It is narrow surfaces and restricted events that usurp thought, and get in the way of knowledge. It is strange how many men walk into a chasm, or drop into a fissure, possest with the idea that they are about to reach the interior of things and read their ultimate inscriptions. The visible and the invisible are commensurate. We lap ourselves in the invisible, as we float upon the ocean, with a profound sense of its depth. To come out frequently at odd moments, moments touched with divine concord, into the vision of the world, is to fill our lungs with air and feel a new impulse in viscera and limb. One of the places at which, even if it be but rarely, where a pervasive joy in life may be felt, is the general library, an unmeasured expression of individual and race activity in exploring the realms of thought. The more aware one is of the largeness of this kingdom of knowledge, the less can he afford to neglect the appeals which, unbidden, may find their way into consciousness, and pierce with new windows the thick walls of custom that have been built up about him.
The one consideration, which in some sense embraces this breadth of thought and depth of feeling, is spiritual health. That life is truly wholesome which is in habitual interaction with all the world about it. The one distressing thing in human life is that it so often fails to understand itself. Yet is not this failure a testimony to its scope? The failure may be in outward form or in inward force. We guard in various