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Town and gown

during the two years when the writer was a member of a State legislature, he was often asked if he did not encounter a certain widely spread prejudice against college-bred men. Truth compelled him to reply that he did, but that it almost always proceeded from other college-bred men. Having all his life been in the habit of attending caucuses and political meetings, and having very often presided over them, he has had some opportunity of testing the alleged prejudice of the uneducated against the more educated, in a democratic community, and he can truly say that he never happened to encounter it; but he has very often encountered the attempt to create it among those who should have known better. In the close contests of politics there is often a temptation to find a weapon against an opponent in the charge of being college-bred or having written a book; but the persons who [162] yield to this temptation are mostly those who have themselves suffered from a similar impeachment, and fancy that they can score a point by turning States' evidence on their own training. But I have never seen that the effort had more than a very temporary influence in the community at large; and this for obvious reasons.

To begin with, there is very little of this prejudice among the poorer classes in any American community, for these classes are, whether Protestants or Catholics, not yet very remote from the time when they reverenced their clergy, and when this body represented leadership in all the walks of life. Among the Puritans, as is well known, the colleges existed to train clergymen, and the clergy existed to fill all the posts of leadership. There was no separate legal profession, for instance; and Chief Justice Sewall—whose racy journals make him the more sombre Pepys of the New England Colonial period—was educated for the ministry and took a seat on the bench by way of collateral pursuit, precisely as he accepted the command of the Ancient and Honorable [163] Artillery Company and paraded with it on the Boston Common. Professor Goodale, the Harvard botanist, has lately shown that the beginnings of natural science in the curriculum of that institution were due to the fact, that being organized for the rearing of Christian ministers it must give them some knowledge of anatomy and the Materia Medica, in order that they might prescribe for their sick parishioners. Even business matters were to some extent within their grasp, and this lasted into this century. An eminent lawyer, distinguished for his skill in the charge of great trust properties, having lately died in Boston, I was calling attention to the fact that when I knew him, in college, he never gave the slightest sign of peculiar business aptitude; but I was at once told by one who had known his father, a country clergyman, that this good pastor was the business adviser of his whole parish, and did for rural traders what his son afterward did for great capitalists. Thus much for the Protestant side; and among our Catholic citizens it is so the custom to see the clergy intrusted with great financial responsibilities, that no [164] sneer against educated men ever comes from them; they err on the other side, in too great willingness to intrust their savings to their spiritual advisers.

The supposed prejudice against the incapacity of men of scholarly pursuits does not, therefore, come from the poorer class, whether Catholic or Protestant, nor does it come from the great intermediate and powerful class of the Silas Laphams; on the contrary, the college-bred man is more often touched by a certain covert and needless humility on the part of this class. The organizers of labor, the heads of great enterprises, are often mute and timid before those very much their inferiors in real training, simply from their consciousness that they are weak in things which are really of secondary importance. Just as an Englishman who has once discovered that he misplaces his H's will sometimes hold his tongue when he has things to say more important than all the separate letters of the alphabet put together; so is it often with the uneducated American who seems to exult in all the glory of material success. In the Massachusetts Legislature I [165] have had men come and beg me to make their speeches for them in regard to a certain measure, they putting all the facts and material into my hands, although they knew ten times as much about it as I, and could, consequently, make a far more effective speech; and this simply because they knew that their verbs did not always agree with their nominative cases, and they attached an exaggerated importance to this minor matter. Whatever may be the defects of the much-discussed American temperament, obtuseness is certainly not one of them. The unschooled American recognizes and laments his ignorance, and, indeed, commonly exaggerates it; that is, he does not reflect that he perhaps knows things which are vastly more important than the things which he does not know, and which his college-bred neighbor knows. That is why he sends his son to college. A friend of mine, a merchant by training and a most acute observer, had a theory that the college graduates did not care so very much to send their sons where they had been, as knowing that it had not done very much for themselves; but that the nonuates [166] were very anxious to send theirs, because they attributed their own shortcomings to the want of that early advantage. Thus, he reasoned, every alternate generation goes to the university.

In the same way, I think that the college-bred man, or at any rate the man of literary pursuits, is apt to be more humble for himself than he is wished by others to be. It is like that curious self-humiliation, at the beginning of our Civil War, of those who had not been trained in the militia, in presence of those who had received such training. A book of tactics looked, when one opened it, harder than Euclid's Geometry; and it took a little time to discover that it was, for a man with tolerably clear head, as simple as the spelling-book. So the student is apt to think that the elementary principles of business, or the rules of parliamentary law, are things requiring long and difficult training; whereas they do not, in acquiring, prove very hard. Then it must be remembered that, in this country at least, the scholar has very commonly made his own way in the world and has had to develop the practical [167] faculty, in a small way, from the very beginning. Nothing is more interesting, in a university town, than to see the variety of antecedents, usually involving some knowledge of men, with which the older students have come together. In a nation where small mechanics and country shopkeepers become millionnaires and presidents, it is not strange that the student whose early life was perhaps not very different from theirs should also have his practical side.

It must be remembered that the supposed prejudice against educated men in practical affairs is not confined to our own country, but exists in England, in France, in Germany; and in each case with the additional condition which I have pointed out, that it is found more among other educated men than in the general public mind. We think of England as a place where they put authors forward in public life; and we instance Beaconsfield, Gladstone, Morley, and Bryce, by way of illustration. But the acute Sir Frederick Elliot wrote to the poet Sir Henry Taylor, in 1876: ‘I think that literati, when they have not been exercised in [168] practical affairs (note that exception!) are the worst of politicians.’ He has especially in mind historians, and makes the point, which is worth noticing, that they are a little apt to confound the dead and the living. ‘Look at Freeman; he digs into forgotten records and finds that the ancestors of some people oppressed the ancestors of another, four hundred years ago; upon which he forthwith exhorts their descendants, living in peace and amity, to hate each other now. Another is more moderate: he only unearths the misgovernment of a hundred years ago as a present motive for mutual detestation.’ In this country, I should say, this last tendency prevails most with those who are not historians, but politicians. A more substantial drawback is the absorbing preoccupation of both the literary and the practical life; and the fact that there are only twenty-four hours in every day. Hamerton speaks of a Greek philosopher, who was suspected by the business men of incapacity for affairs, but who devoted a year to proving the contrary and traded with such skill that he went back to his studies a capitalist. The practical man is [169] often benefited by being forced into study, and the student by taking, when it comes to him, his share in practical affairs; but no one supposes that their work, in the long run, can advantageously change hands.

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