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A PROFESSORIAL RECANTATION
All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. Perhaps that the words of the myriad-minded poet might be fulfilled, the Professor himself had been guilty of a little acting
Not on the real stage, of course. No, he had been guilty of representation more serious by far than this: he had acted a part on the literary stage, with results that proved both surprizing and disconcerting. Literary dramatics are something less than certain; for there the audience has no playbill, and your player is often believed to mean not only what he says, but a great deal more-or a great deal less; or the illusion he is trying to create does not succeed at all, and what he thinks he is making to resemble a cloud appears to the eye of the spectator as very like a camel, or a weasel.
The Professor had not intended to deceive any living soul. He had made up before the literary foot-lights as a teacher of English literature, supposing that no one would fail to see thru his thin disguise. That was to be the humor of it: it might be mildly amusing for readers to detect the ass in the lion's skin; for the Professor was a classicist, and a teacher of Latin.
But the illusion had seemingly been complete, at least outside the circle of his acquaintance, and he had been writ down, not an ass, but a lion. After one or two appearances, certain of the multitude began to inquire who the professor
of English was who wrote those things. The tangled web of deception could have been no greater if he had really practised to deceive.
He indeed soon came to understand why it had been taken for granted that he was not a classicist: a letter from a hitherto unknown classical colleague had let him into that secret. “ It really seems so strange for any of us classical people to be doing anything of this kind,” wrote the gentleman, “ that I pinched myself to be sure I was awake. It was eleven o'clock and I was tired, but after I got started I read it thru, and have advised my friends to do the same. When the Professor came to think of it in the light of lectures and dissertations, and the average printed utterance of classical professors, there was something strange in the appearance, over a classicist's name, of an article which even a single person could read thru to the end, and which he was not afraid to recommend to his friends.
But if the Professor found his readers blameless in this respect, he could not so readily absolve them from the guilt of having been too easily deluded into thinking him a professor of English literature. If he had really wanted them to believe that, he would not have gone about it by manifesting a familiarity with Milton, Shakspere, and the Bible. That might in the long ago have been the sign by which professors of English literature were known, but not now. No, he would have dropt a few hints on the Celtic question—just enough to make it appear that he had read the majority of the 4,000 dissertations and articles on the subject—and scattered thru his article a few references to the sources of Beowulf and the commentaries of Saxo-Grammaticus, and let it be known that his main interest and his real mission as a scholar was the determination of the number and size of the knot-holes in the stage of Shakspere and a solution of the question as to whether their distribution was the result of nature pure and simple, or of rules of dramatic art formulated by Aristophanes, practised by Menander, and transmitted by Terence.
But this unintentional delusion of the public, tho regretable enough because it defeated his humorous intent, was not the very head and front of the Professor's offense. He had deceived his readers in general, and his fellow professors in particular, in a more serious way.
Here again, he had really intended nothing but a little mild humor; but he felt guilty, nevertheless, and the sting of conscience was lessened only by the reflection that he had but allowed them to be deceived, and had not actually compelled them to be. After all, they ought to have known better than to take a professor's word for anything outside the domain of scholarship, especially if it involved the practical. Let them look to him for information on the comparative frequency of the letter S under Cæsar and Septimius Severus, but when it came to common sense, let them go to a professor of mathematics, or economics, or world politics, or education, or some one else who was accustomed to deal with hard facts.
What the Professor had really done was to make up before his audience as a hard-working teacher with a large family of small children, engaged in a desperate struggle to keep the wolf from the door. His literary disguise had been merely incidental.
In other words, he had been publishing a few thoughts on the subject of salaries, and, without really intending it, had proven to the satisfaction of all members of the teaching profession that they were pitifully inadequate and unjustthe salaries, of course—and that they ought to be made to meet the requirements of the calling. Again I mean the salaries. It had been no part of his purpose to convince his fellow-professors of what he felt sure they had no need to be told, or to confirm them in the conviction that they were in a bad way. He had merely wisht to laugh them into good-humored endurance of their lot, or perhaps into a belief that their lot was not so bad, after all. If any one at all was to take him literally and seriously, he wisht it might have been the lay public, especially legislators, trustees, regents, and beneficent billionaires.
But his dramatics had suffered no such fortunate accident