Gentleman and Scholar
THERE died not long ago in an academic community a man of whom men said, with singular unanimity, “ He was a gentleman and a scholar, and he was the last of his kind.” We are prone to call certain figures the last of their kind. Cato was “ the last of the Romans,” Maximilian I., Bayard, Sidney, and I know not how many others, were each “ the last of the knights,” and so on. What we mean by the phrase is that when a certain type of man has become well fixed and has done its special service in the world, there comes a time when it inevitably gives way to some new type. In the period of transition, when the two are in conflict, it is as if the older type became intensified in the persons of those who have to maintain it against the assaults of new and strange ideals. Instinctively they gather themselves together for the shock. They seem to feel the foundations of all true things slipping away, and they brace themselves to resist, with all the tenacity of a faith founded upon generations of experience. They become therefore to the men of a new day even more strongly marked specimens of their type than those earlier men who really founded it, but who were not forced by opposition into quite so clear a consciousness of their own quality.
The man whom we carried to his grave was eminently formed by such a process of transition. He stood for a conception of scholarship which had dominated the world for many generations. In naming him thus instinctively “ gentleman and scholar ” we did not mean that scholars had ceased or were likely to cease to be gentlemen ; nor did we mean that gentlemen would no longer turn to the profession of the scholar. The phrase was meant to convey rather the idea of a certain necessary and inevitable connection of the two things, — scholarship and gentle living. This man had not begun life as a “ gentleman,” and then sought scholarship as an adornment, a kind of decoration suited to his class. Nor had he, because he was a scholar, come to put on the outward seeming of a gentleman as being the appropriate livery of his profession. Both these devices are familiar to the observer of academic types. We know the man of refined tastes and easy fortune who comes into the scholar’s life from above, — choosing it rather than chosen by it, and expecting to gather its rewards without going through its sacrifices of drudgery and obscurity. We know also the man of parts, capable of hard work and gifted with all the technical qualities of the scholar, who is driven into the formal relations of cultivated intercourse without ever really grasping its spirit or sharing its refining influence.
The man whose memory we are recalling would never have suggested even the inquiry whether he was gentleman first and scholar afterward or the reverse. One felt that the very distinctive quality in his type was the inseparable interfusion of the two. His outward man gave instant assurance not merely of the gentleman, but of the refining touch which a true spirit of scholarship ought to add. His dress, his gait, his bearing all combined to give the impression of careful dignity which yet had no suggestion of effort. He wore no uniform of a class, but was equally far from following the caprices of fashion. His linen was scrupulously neat, but it would have been hard to name its precise brand. His clothes were always of sober black, neither of antique nor of the latest fashion. His high hat, of no particular mould, was always carefully brushed, and his ivory-headed cane suited his measured but businesslike step. His manner was cordial, but not effusive; his greeting always expressing a hint of surprise, as if he had been suddenly called out of his own world of thought, but was glad to meet the human being who had called him.
Modest as some women, he was firm in his opinions, and knew how to express them in language that was always forcible and often seemed to him on reflection to have been violent. Then, with what eager haste he would try to repair the wrong of which no one could ever have suspected him, — to take away the sting no one but himself ever felt. “ Old-fashioned ” he undoubtedly was, in the fair sense that most good fashions maintain themselves to a ripe old age, but one never quite thought of him as a piece of the antique world, so fresh and vital was his interest in all that was best and finest in the new world around him. As to his whole outward bearing among men there could be but one natural expression for it, — the grand simple name of gentleman.
So was it also with his scholarship. It sat upon him lightly, as something into which he had grown by a natural process of evolution. How he had got it no one ever thought of inquiring. In what schools he had been taught, what academic degrees he had gained, to what faction of scholars he belonged, — these were all indifferent things. Even the question, now so often asked, and not always quite relevant, “ What has he done ? ” was never asked of him. What he had “ done ” was of no importance compared with what he was. He had never written a book. He could only with difficulty be persuaded to do now and then some little editorial work. His ideal of what books ought to be was so high that his modesty shrank from the risk of adding to the stock of the world’s mediocrity. There was so much always to be learned, and, as he came to know more and more, his own attainment seemed ever so much the more inadequate, that he simply and naturally went on always making himself a fuller man, and pouring out his surplus upon the unresponsive youth in the intimate circle of the classroom and the study.
It would have been impossible for him to describe his method in learning or in teaching. It probably never occurred to him that he had any method. What he did was to keep himself always busy reading, and ordering what he read in such fashion as would best serve him in giving it out again to untrained minds. That was all there was of it, and if he had been asked how he did it, he would have flashed upon his inquirer with some bit of epigram that would have been worth a volume of pedagogic lore. Only now and again, in the fierce academic battles of his later years, as the new ideals of scholarship began to shape themselves in discussion, he would speak with no uncertain voice in defense of principles which were only clearly revealed to him when others began to crowd them from their place.
He died with his harness on, vigorous and beautiful to the last, reverenced by those who fancied themselves the prophets of better ideals, as embodying, after all, a something they could hardly ever hope to reach.
One thing there could be no doubt of : the ideal he so clearly set forth has pretty well passed from our sight. Again let me say that this does not mean an inevitable and general divorce between scholarship and gentle living. It does not rest upon any single or narrow definition either of the gentleman or the scholar. It means that the two are no longer thought of as necessarily combined or as forming two essential parts of a single complete and beautiful whole. The standards of scholarship are in many ways more exacting than in the generation now closed. The standard of the gentleman is a thing so elusive, so dependent upon the unreasoning sentiment of a day or of a nation, that one would hardly venture to formulate it; but it would be rash to say that it is lowered in any essential degree. The change has come, not in a lowering of these two ideals, but in a separation of them. The gentleman may or may not be a scholar ; the scholar may or may not be a gentleman.
With the phrase “gentleman and scholar ” have been disappearing at about equal pace certain others of similar suggestion,— “the education of a gentleman,” a “ liberal education,” “ an educated man.” One hardly dares use these phrases to-day, so sure is one to be called upon with a certain accent of contempt to define them in terms that will be acceptable to all hearers. Until our generation we thought we knew what an educated man, in the ordinary use of language, was. He was a man who knew, or had known, certain things, and it was assumed that in the process of acquiring these things his mind had gained a certain kind of power and an openness to certain orders of ideas which made this man, in distinction from others not so disciplined, a man of education By virtue of this academic discipline — assuming, of course, that he had done his part in the process — he entered into a fellowship of unspeakable value to himself. He became one in an order of men who had enjoyed a great and precious privilege, and were therefore bound to justify themselves by doing so much the better whatever work they might have to do in the world. Nothing was more common than to hear it said of a man, “ He is an admirable lawyer, or doctor, or engineer, or architect, but he is not an educated man.” He might have been educated in the school of life infinitely more effectively than he could have been in any college, but it was felt, and by no one probably more keenly than himself, that a certain kind of capacity and certain orders of ideas were lost to him forever by reason of that lack. This thing lacking, such as it was, he and others agreed to call “an education.”
If we try to analyze this somewhat vague conception, we find that the essential quality of this earlier education was that it was in no sense professional. That is what men tried to express by the word “ liberal,” a word one hesitates now to use, because one fears to be understood as thereby describing all other education as “ illiberal.” No such opposition was ever intended, nor was it felt by the generations which came and went under those conditions. They rejoiced in the privilege of spending a certain period of youth in studies, and in a mental attitude which had in view no direct practical use of what they were acquiring; in other words, no professional or technical aim. At the conclusion of that period they were not, and knew they were not, fitted to carry on any given work of life. They did believe, however, that they had made the best preparation for living, no matter what specific line of work they might follow. If, at that moment, they were to enter the world of scholarship they were without technical training in any field. That was all to come, and they were as ready to begin the necessary professional discipline in their way as were the lawyer, the physician, and the engineer in theirs.
What they had had was a chance to fix solidly in their mental character the largeness and the beauty of the intellectual life. They had had time to think and to ripen without concern as to just whither their thinking and their unconscious development were leading them. No matter into what direction they might now turn their activity, they were bound to carry with them that essential thing which, for lack of a better name, we agreed to call the liberal spirit. If they had made a proper use of their chance they could never be mere specialists in their field. Their special and technical skill must always be infused with that higher and larger spirit of culture to which the professional spirit is always and necessarily more or less antagonistic. Expressed in terms of the inner life, such a scholar was, and was felt to be, a gentleman. No one cared what his origin might be. There was no fixed type to which he was forced to correspond. There might be endless diversity in his outward expression of himself; only, through all diversity and with every allowance made for original advantage or disadvantage, there was the inevitable stamp of the gentleman and the scholar.
Unquestionably the origin of this typical man is to be found in the traditions of English scholarship. It is only a few months since an English scholar said to the writer in all seriousness: “ Education in England is intended for the sons of gentlemen, and if by chance any one else gets possession of it, he is sure to find himself bitterly reminded that he has gone out of his class.” He was using the word “ gentleman ” in its narrowest sense, and his statement, if it were true, as I do not believe it is, would be an indictment against English education more fatal than any that could be pronounced. It serves, however, to show that there still survives, though here expressed in a degrading and perverted form, the idea of an essential connection between the notions of gentle breeding and intellectual culture. Its expression by my English friend was perverted, because it assumed the man of gentle birth who let himself be educated as a necessary decoration of his class.
But behind this perversion there lies the long history of an association of the two ideas from which we in America have derived our now rapidly fading tradition. English scholarship has, as a matter of fact, not only been largely in the hands of gentlemen, technically so called, but when men outside that mysterious circle have become scholars, they in their turn have cultivated the ideal of a necessary and vital union between life and learning. In other words, English scholarship has never been in any strict sense professional. Naturally, as we in America were forming our educational ideals, we followed largely in the same direction. To be sure we rejected, long since, the narrow use of the word “ gentleman ” which still widely prevails in England; but we clung fondly to the notion of the gentle life as a life not primarily devoted to a practical calling, and we still thought of it as associated almost necessarily with intellectual culture.
Within a generation, however, this tradition has been interrupted, and again, without drawing national lines too sharply, we may fairly say that the new conception of scholarship is German in its origin. German life has long been marked above all else by the quality of professionalism. The typical German is not a man of culture ; he is a man of training. Earlier than elsewhere the ideal of scholarship was modeled in Germany upon this fundamental notion of training. Above all things else the German loves a system, and will have it at any cost. So far as German scholarship has affected the world, it has done so less by the intrinsic value of its contribution than by the help it has given to other peoples in the systematic ordering of their study and thought.
A generation ago German scholarship was practically without direct influence upon American methods. Here and there an isolated scholar or writer, himself perhaps an importation, was calling attention to a new something which Germany had to offer to the world of scholarship. The discovery of German system coincided with the vast widening of the intellectual field produced by our new interest in natural science, — an interest, by the way, which did not in any sense originate in Germany. “ Science,” “ the scientific method,” “ truth by induction,” have been the cry of the generation now coming to its close. To meet this new demand, education has had to modify its ideals. It has had to emphasize “ training ” instead of “culture” as its main purpose. It has come to aim at making a man fit for something in particular, rather than for anything he might afterward decide upon.
Education has felt powerfully the reaction of the immense material advance of this past generation. Not only have the subjects of education been greatly increased in number, and that chiefly in the direction of material and technical branches, but the mechanism of all education has been developed to an almost alarming extent. We have been learning from the Germans something of their own Systemsucht, and we have shown signs of our usual determination to better our instruction. There is not an educational nostrum from the elaborate fooleries of the kindergarten up to the highly sublimated pedagogical psychology of the “ graduate schools ” that we have not been willing to try.
It has been a period of great activity, and, misdirected as much of this activity has been, there can be no absolute waste of serious and conscientious effort. Great good things have come to pass and greater are to come. Only let us ask ourselves, just now, at the close of one generation of energy, what shape our ideals have come to take, and whether we may well modify them in any particular. The merest glance at the programmes of our schools and colleges shows the enormous advance in all the mechanism of education, and in the term mechanism I would include not merely the material equipment, but all that great chapter of our subject which in the books comes under the head of “organization,” — grouping of topics in departments, gradation of instruction, quality of textbooks, — opportunities of every sort for getting the most out of the great educational “ plant.”
The only serious question before us at this moment is whether our machinery is not too dangerously complete. When we had less machinery we were compelled to rely more upon personal quality. A perfect machine does its work almost without human aid ; set it going, supply it with raw material, and it turns out the finished product with inevitable success. More than this, the highly developed machine is able by its very perfection to give to comparatively poor material an apparent finish, which may deceive the unwary. The very uniformity of the machine product conceals many a defect and irregularity. On the other hand, a comparatively poor tool working on good material may, in the right hands, give the best results. One theory of manual training has been that pupils ought to be required to work first with dull and ill-contrived tools, lest they learn to depend too much on the tool, and too little on their own skill and talent.
There is precisely the question as to our new educational methods. Not really, of course, whether we have made our machinery too good. No one could advise going back one step along the road we have already traversed in that direction. Let us go on even, gaining always better apparatus, better organization, better comprehension of detail; but while we do this let us not forget that our ultimate salvation is never to be found in these things. While we present to ambitious youth the pathways of scholarship, and hang out all the lights we can to guide him, we must guard him carefully from the delusion that he has only to march through these pathways in order to attain to the desired goal. We may prescribe conditions and defend them by every practicable test; but all conditions must be graded to a certain level of capacity, and all tests must be held within certain limits of human fairness. The more precisely conditions are defined, and the more formally accurate the tests applied, the more we appeal to an average grade of capacity.
Our machinery will enable us to turn out men trained to certain definable forms of mental activity, men who can be ticketed off in groups and applied in various kinds of work in the world. It will never give us any guaranty that these are men of real intellectual power, whose personal quality can of itself command respect. Underneath all the machine work there must lie the same quality upon which the scholar of the earlier generation exclusively relied. He had no training by any organization whatever. If he were trained at all, he trained himself. He came to be what he was by virtue of the inner impulse which alone, maintained through years of action and intensified by time, can guarantee the quality of a man.
Obviously this quality is difficult to describe. It cannot be measured in terms of academic honors. Erasmus of Rotterdam, explaining why he felt obliged to take a doctor’s degree in Italy, says: “Formerly a man was called 1 doctor ’ because he was a learned man; but nowadays no one will believe a man is learned unless he is called ‘ doctor.’ ” A college president seeking a professor not long since made it a sine qua non that the candidate should be a doctor of philosophy. Another man might know more, be more highly qualified as a man, and a more effective teacher, but he must give way to the man, very possibly of less value, who had the trade-mark of his profession. I have known many a man, whose great fundamental need was intellectual refinement and culture, sacrificed to this semi-civilized demand for a certifiable kind of expert training.
So we come round again to the point from which we started, and the ideal of the past is seen to be also the truest ideal of the present. “ Gentleman and scholar ” remains the best expression of the product by which the new education must justify itself before the world. The mechanical appliances are pretty well completed. It remains for us to use them and not to let them use us. The American scholar of the future is undoubtedly to be a trained man in a sense quite different from that in which the older scholar could be said to be trained. Is he to be nothing else ? The question is not an idle one. It is coming to us from many sides, not by any means solely from the laudatores temporis acti, who might be expected to cling fondly to traditions. It comes already from institutions which have made trial of men “ trained ” upon no foundation of scholarly character, and found them wanting. It comes from young men who have found their own best development checked and hampered by the mechanical processes of the academic mill. And it is coming also in vague and indistinct forms from that great helpless thing, the public, which misses, to its pain, the sacred something it was wont to associate with the name of the scholar.
The answer is to be found in a return to the conception of a necessary and essential union between learning and the higher life of the spirit. This conception must be made to enter vitally into every grade of our education from lowest to highest. It must not be set in opposition to the other conception of learning as essentially applicable to some human purpose. It must be united with it, so that our youth may grow up steadily to the conviction that a gentleman is a better tool than a scrub, — that he will work better, play better, and fight better ; and conversely that he who will not work well, play well, and fight well, is no gentleman. In that sense I should be glad to have it said of our education, as my English friend said of his, that American education is primarily intended for gentlemen.