Do One and One Make Two?

IT is now, doubtless, too late to hope, even by our improved historical methods, to recover the name of the clever individual who, perhaps in the Stone Age or earlier, arrived at the principle that one and one make two. It is evidently too late to correct him, or even to blame him adequately; and with a handicap of seventy or more centuries, one can hardly hope to undo the mischief he has done. Yet futile as the effort may prove, it is the purpose of these paragraphs to point out the shallow and delusive character of this hoary axiom, and the precarious nature of most of what has been built upon it.

Our cave-dweller Newton may have based his epoch-making equation upon that even more erroneous formula, one equals one, which had doubtless been invented — I will not say discovered — ages before his time. If not, he could have arrived at it by the simple device of subtracting one from each side of his own discovery — an easy achievement for a mind so original and profound as his. Such a performance, indeed, assumes its result before arriving at it; but that is true of not a few of our most logical processes. And it may be true, speaking quite abstractly, that one equals one. That is, one wholly imaginary unit, of a given size and sort, equals one just such unit, of just such a sort and size, under identical conditions. This is what the mathematicians mean. It is only just to them to say so. The danger is that one will forget that one is playing with imaginary values and try to deal with real units on this principle. The cavern professor can have made no such blunder. He knew that one wife was not equal to another, or one weapon to another, or one enemy to another. If he did not know this, his life was neither long nor happy.

Not that his formula had not a certain limited value. It might help him to keep count of his game, his children, or his day’s journeys. But it had no such value as it claimed. It was too broadly and loosely put. Even now, when men have been trying for millenniums to believe in it and make it true, its range of valid applicability is still very limited. For it carries with it a fictitious standardization of units, which breeds a host of misconceptions. In fact, it is precisely as one reduces the application of this equation to narrower and narrower limits that one attains wisdom, culture, and character.

Scarcely had I reached this point in my reflections, when the porter came to remind me that the time changed at Buffalo, and that, if I wished to wake at seven, I must do so at six. So false is it that six and one make seven. But of course the equation is valid only if one remains stationary. It is a survival from man’s immobile, semi-vegetable period.

I was confiding these heresies to a skeptical friend, as we were passing a potato-field. He challenged me at once: did not one potato and one potato make two potatoes? But suppose one potato to be sweet and sound and large, and the other to be small and wilted and Irish. They are numerically, indeed, two potatoes, but only for arithmetical, not for culinary purposes. And who cares for the arithmetical value of a potato?

But if one and one make two, we have at once to ask, two what? Two of whatever one is, doubtless. But which one? This is the heart of the error. One acre plus one acre makes two acres. But suppose one acre is the Isola Bella and the other is selected from the Île du Diable. Or buildings. The Pennsylvania station and the Philadelphia cityhall make two — large buildings. This forgets that one exhibits genius as well as magnitude. Or statues: the Adams monument and the Bacchante — two statues certainly, perhaps two masterpieces; but that is not all, or even half. The things are incommensurable, and the sum-total is a delusion. It has no meaning or worth unless we are counting pieces for museum vigilance, or in preparation for shipment.

Even money, the final type of standardized unit evolved by our race in a last convulsive effort to make the old adage true, for all its failures — even money is not equal to the task. There is a man in California (of course he would be in California) who has to go every quarter to the bank and deposit a dividend of three hundred and fifty dollars, because once, to help a friend, he put five hundred dollars into that friend’s mine. Is the five hundred dollars I lost when my bank failed four years ago equal to his five hundred, and how much are they together? Yet my dollars were just as real and just as numerous as his. There was another five hundred dollars which was not in the bank but long since invested in another mine. Yet that sum in mining stock never sends me toiling to the bank to deposit a quarterly dividend of three hundred and fifty dollars. Indeed it does not function in my daily life at all, except to illustrate poignantly the disparity of dollars and of mining stocks.

But financiers will say that this is comparing dead dollars with living ones. Then let us deal fairly with both. Does the first five dollars I earned for teaching (tutoring a fellow student in Assyrian, may Heaven forgive me!) only equal the five dollars the bank occasionally allows me on an abandoned savings deposit? The former was a bow or promise, radiant harbinger of salary checks to come. The latter was a mere nothing, parsimoniously doled out to me by a soulless financial institution, which had not yet failed. Not even dead and departed dollars are equal each to each. The dollar or two you leave behind you in the dining-car is not equal to the same amount spent on witnessing a play of Bernard Shaw’s. When I was a boy, I found a ten-cent piece under a bench in a deserted picnic ground. Pet no one say that any other dime in my financial history equals that one. It was a symbol, not merely of value, but of romance, of which the finding of lost treasure is one of the classical types.

Dr. John Clifford once remarked, — and as he does not recall saying it, I may appropriate it without scruple, — that the difference between one man and another is very little, but that little is of very great importance. It is just that most important little that the equation loses sight of. It assumes that one man equals another, which is surely the dullest of human blunders. As soon as we identify our units, the equation’s absurdity appears. What is the sum of Mr. Hoover and Von Tirpitz? We can only say, Mr. Hoover and Von Tirpitz make two literate male human beings. But this is false, for each is more than a literate male human being. What we have been forced to do is to reduce both units to their common terms; and our equation ought, if it is to be true, to read, ‘Mr. Hoover and Von Tirpitz make two literate male human beings, plus all the elements that distinguish each of them from the other.’

There are actually people so convinced that one experience is like another, that they have lost that exquisite thing, the capacity for surprise, and go through life in a state of virtual insensibility. Some of us, who beguile our wartime evenings by appearing in moving-picture theatres disguised as those prophets of publicity, the FourMinute Men, know that no two of these adventures are alike. Though all managers be polite and audiences patient, yet something always marks the evening with distinction. (I do not of course refer to our speaking.) It would be a pity to grow callous and lose one’s sense for the variety of these new Arabian Nights.

I went into them, indeed, with my senses sharpened by a remark of our publicity chairman: ’If any of you gets heckled or shot,’ said he, ‘notify the Publicity Committee.’ This personal interest in my fate on the part of a perfect stranger I found very moving. About the same time the London Times gladdened us by reporting, with pardonable exaggeration, that the FourMinute Men were each to make ten speeches daily! The powers of the American speechmaker are fully recognized abroad; he is the automatic among orators.

I shall not soon forget my emotions as I presented myself at my first appointment and sought the manager’s face. From the darkness of the spacious interior I caught the music of an organ playing a dirge, and I gained the impression that a funeral was in progress. On entering, I perceived that it was in prospect only, for the action of the drama seemed to be moving inevitably toward one. I sat down close to the screen, upon which a hungry and restless lion alternated with a toothsome child of the softer sex, in tropic garb. I became at once so absorbed in trying to comprehend the situation that I straightway forgot the four heads into which my speech, like the River of Eden, was divided.

A flash uncompromisingly labeled ‘The End’ awoke me to the realization that I, and not the toothsome child, was the victim of the occasion; and with the first letters of ‘The United States Government Presents ’ — I was mounting the narrow stair and facing the terrible public. They did not at once attack me, and with a conciliatory sentence I began. Scarce was I embarked upon my first river when a starshell gracefully ascended from the first balcony and I knew no more. They had turned the spot-light on me. I forgot my second head and desperately snatched up Hiddekel to replace it, trembling to recall that I had promised them four: four heads in four minutes. What if I had lost number 2 forever? No, it comes back to me: Gihon! What matters the transposition? War remakes geography; and so, on to Euphrates and my closing volley. Even now the lion did not attack, but spared me, rubbing his paws together in satisfaction. Such was my first escape.

I found myself one winter night pushing my way into a theatre from which an acolyte was expelling a recreant boy. A crowd of people standing before the doors showed that the house was already full. It had room for six hundred spectators and they were all there. Five hundred of them seemed to be little boys, and one hundred of these had their caps on. Little boys compose the one element in an audience which will not brook neglect. If they are present, they insist upon your addressing your remarks to them. I had learned this, and acted accordingly. Little boys are not ungrateful, and they are in a position to acknowledge a kindness, for they are masters of the art of applause. These five hundred little boys recompensed me handsomely for my brevity, with a storm of cheers and piercing whistles. How different would have been my fate had I overlooked their highnesses and addressed my remarks to the grown-ups; or had I, like a certain Four-Minute Man I wot of, protracted my discourse to nine minutes! I shudder to think what those little boys would have done to me.

We were talking ships that week, and to my great satisfaction I had two inquirers after the meeting was over. One was a mechanic who wished to enter a shipyard. The other wanted some inside information on whether the following Monday would be heatless, as reported.

Yet ours is a Spartan discipline. The other night I descended from the platform with the warm consciousness of having done my best. In the foyer I met the courteous manager. ‘I want you to meet Mr. Bumper,’said he genially. ‘ Mr. Bumper is one of your men.'

Mr. Bumper greeted me without enthusiasm. ‘You spoke six and a half minutes,’said he reproachfully.

The manager came to my relief. ‘Well, he put it over,’said he comfortingly. ‘No man, I don’t care who he is, can tell to a minute how long he’s talking. But when they talk for nine minutes, I tell you, I lose money.'

I withdrew, crestfallen. They could not realize what an achievement it is for a professor to close in six and a half minutes.

Sometimes we are permitted to speak in theatres of the ’legit’ type, and as I was about to appear in one of the largest of these, I asked the obliging doorman about the distribution of his audience. He assured me that they were all over the house, but that the calisthenics were so good that speaking in it was easy. This left me in some doubt as to what might be required of me in the acrobatic line. A picturesque youth, in a caftan and afghan, or some such casual arabesques, conveyed me across the stage to a wicket-gate in the steel curtain, through which I was propelled into the presence of the astonished public for my brief act. You remember Denry making his first speech: how hundreds and hundreds of eyes were fixed piercingly upon him, and after what seemed hours he heard some one talking. It was himself.

There is a third form of dramatic art to which in the plenitude of my powers I finally attained. It is Vaudeville. With some anxiety I looked over the bill in the evening paper, to see what the competition would be, and noted with the greatest interest that it included Jenks’s Mules. Solicitous friends warned me not to get behind these animals; but when I arrived in the wings, they were stamping and rolling about the stage, and no sooner had the curtain fallen upon their antics, than the stage manager cried sharply, ‘Come on; this way! You ’re next! ’

I perceived that he was addressing me, so, while he escorted my predecessors downstairs, I set about entertaining his public; and I confess to a certain inward exultation when I saw that the really elegant audience gave me the same polite and absorbed attention they had given to Mr. Jenks’s protégés. It is something to know that one can hold the pace even for four minutes with such accomplished quadrupeds. But could I have matched their Elberfeld cousins as successfully in square root?

At our weekly luncheons we exchange adventures in eloquence and accumulate courage for the week’s engagements. One of our most imperturbable comrades was recently speaking in a down-town theatre when he noticed that the audience seemed to be looking past him at the curtain behind and above his head. They next began to point to it, and finally a friend in the audience cried out, ‘Look out, Jim! He did so, and became aware that the steel curtain had been silently descending like the bed-canopy in Conrad’s story, and had stopped only a few inches above his head. It reminded me of a service on shipboard, when the minister’s white tie broke from its moorings and worked gradually up toward the top of his collar, while we wereall dreading the moment when it should pass the summit and dangle about his neck. The point of resemblance is perhaps slight. It must be the speaker’s unconsciousness of a peril which all his hearers saw but were powerless to avert.

Publicity is, of course, the very breath of our nostrils, and the other day the talk turned upon reaching the magazines. A youthful comrade across the table caught at the suggestion. ‘If you will get the names of some that will take our material,’ said he eagerly, ‘I will write the articles myself.’ I really did not know how to thank him.

One of our recent subjects was binoculars, which we asked everybody to turn in for the use of the navy. We also requested the loan of telescopes, spy-glasses, and sextants. In response to these appeals countless binoculars flowed in to the appointed dépôt, and with them a mysterious instrument which our civilian authorities turned over to the chief optician of the city for diagnosis. He unhesitatingly pronounced it a genuine sea-going sextant. So true it is that we do not always recognize the answer to our prayers.

One and one make two! It has a mathematical sound, but we have in this case dragged mathematics whither it would not. It tacitly reduces all men and events to their lowest common terms and, disregarding their differentia, tranquilly proceeds with its meaningless computation. It is the formula of the inexact, the index of

All the world’s coarse thumb
And finger failed to plumb.

The old vulgar effort to reduce all men to a dead level of uninterest, and all experiences to a dead level of commonplace, finds its justification here. We must not lose the varied flavors of life. Above all, we must not lose discrimination of personality. That would be sacrilege. We have snatched up a mathematical abstraction, true in its limited sphere, and applied it far beyond its proper field, to our own misleading.

The truth is, we must count less. Counting seems a short way to reality. It has its place. But the deeper values of life are not so glibly determined. To this is perhaps due the widespread suspicion of statistics. We distrust these large figures because we know that from every unit covered by them there have been clipped off its distinctive traits, which are not always unessential to the problem. At the bottom of all statistics lies an illusion: that one and one make two.

It is precisely when they are combined that this fundamental unlikeness of units has its most far-reaching consequences, Chemically, one and one may make an explosion. Socially, one and one may make a scene. Spiritually, one and one may make a salvation. Who was it said, ‘A skin for a skin’? He thought that one man was like another, and that one and one made two.

Hitherto I have reasoned. Let me appeal to authority. The commander of the fortress of Verdun was entertaining some literary visitors. The talk turned upon the Germans. ‘Ah! the Germans!’ said he. ‘They are not like us. They think that one and one make two.’