Education for Authority


THE people were astonished, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as those who had gone to college (unauthorized translation). They were astonished that every reference to their sacred books was to contradict them; that over against their hitherto unquestioned authority he should set himself in authority; that these obvious things he said should be so true, so astonishingly new and true: homely, familiar things, not out of books, but out of life and nature.

Except for a faint echo of Isaiah and the Psalmist, and some half dozen references to Old Testament law (which he cited to refute), all the matter in the Sermon on the Mount is from common life and the out-of-doors: the house on the rock; the good tree and the evil fruit; the false prophet; the straight gate; the son who asks a fish; the pearls before the swine; the lilies of the field — familiar matter, and commonplace, but suddenly new with meaning, and startling with authority.

Isaiah had dealt earlier with these things; and one rises from that prophet wondering what more can be said, how better said. Yet Isaiah never spake like the man of this Sermon. This man had the books of Isaiah, but he went behind the books with his observations, as substance goes behind shadow, appealing from the books direct to life and nature.

Life and nature are still the source of originality, the sole seat of authority. Books make a full man. It is life and nature that give him authority. But life and nature are little reckoned with in formal education;small credit is given them in the classroom; yet authority, — authorship, — poet and prophet, are the glory of education. Or is it the end of education to produce the scribe?

Neither scribe nor author is the end of our school education; but that average intelligence upon which democracy rests. Not scribe but citizen, not author but voter, is the business of the school, the true end of its course of study. The schools are the public’s, concerned with the public, with the education of living together. There are several educations, however: one, in the public school, for democracy; another, in and out of school, for individuality; and another distinct and essential education, in life and nature, for authority — as great a national need as democracy. We need peace and prosperity, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; but quite as much does this nation need vision — to walk in truth and beauty. Where there is no vision, the people perish.

Can we educate for vision? teach men authority — to preach a Sermon on the Mount? to land on Plymouth Rock? to write a Walden Pond? to be an Abraham Lincoln? to dare a league of nations? These are visions, daring, dangerous visions, not out of books, but new, out of life and nature. We must educate for vision — for dreams and deeds that are without precedent.

But not in school. Thoreau and Cyrus Dallin went to school, yet they went to nature more. Jesus went little to school. He knew a few great books profoundly; but he was not bound out to books for an education. It is hardly strange that the schools should make nothing of this. It is passing strange, however, that we parents, dreaming dreams for our children, should send them to school for their whole education, getting no hint from an opposite course that was found fit for Jesus.

There were schools and books aplenty, and young Saul of Tarsus had them, and had Gamaliel for his teacher. The boy in Nazareth had a few great books of poetry and prophecy; He had his school, too, but it was the carpenter’s shop, the village street, the wild, lonely hills reaching off behind the town. This was his education; and there is none better — none other perhaps — for authority.

Supreme utterance is always poetic utterance, deeply human, deeply religious, and as fresh and daring as the dawn. Such utterance may come untaught. But if the conscious power for such utterance is the possession of the few, the instinct for it and the joy in it is a quality of all human minds. Deeper within us than our conscious mind, deeper than our subconscious mind, this instinct for utterance is the essence of the unconscious, the inmost, mind, whose substance is the flux of all originals. We can all utter, create, make; and we should have in our education the raw materials out of which new things are made.

There were other boys in Nazareth, who had the books, the work-bench, the village street and the lonely hills, without acquiring authority. This single boy was different. So is every boy — Yet no matter how different this particular boy, the significant thing is that He had for teachers the humble people, work with tools, the solemn, silent hills, and a few beautiful, intensely spiritual books, and that out of this teaching He learned to speak with authority.

So it was with Lincoln: the very same books, work with his hands, elemental people, the lonely backwoods. Lincoln and Edward Everett were different; not so different in genius, however, as in education. ‘Lincoln,’ says a biographer, ‘was a self-made man, in whom genius triumphed over circumstance.’

I should rather say that of Everett, the accomplished scholar, Greek professor, President of Harvard College, Governor of Massachusetts, editor, senator, foreign minister, who, in spite of all this circumstance, was something of an orator. But standing beside Lincoln at Gettysburg, he spoke for an hour with this vast book-education, like the Scribes, leaving Lincoln, with his natural education, to speak for five minutes with authority. No, genius and circumstance in Lincoln were by chance joined together; conventional education happily did not put them asunder.

It is not often so with genius. Chance cannot get the consent of circumstance; nor to-day is there any match for convention. The trouble is too much school education and too little natural education. We limit education to the school, as if the school were a whole education! Neither Lincoln nor Everett had a whole education. It is idle to speculate on what Lincoln might have been, had his ancestors stayed in Hingham, where they landed, and had he gone to Derby Academy and to Harvard. What actually happened on the Big South Fork of Nolin Creek is more significant. For here he was born, the son of a carpenter, and he had for teachers his father’s tools, the prairie, the westering pioneers, the great river, the Life of Washington, Pilgrim’s Progress, Æsop, Shakespeare, and the Bible — the large electives that well cover the course of natural education.

This is the education for authority. A child cannot be educated for authority on lesser books, with sophisticated people, with pointless play instead of work, with ordered lessons in school in place of the dear disorder of nature, and her companionship, and his own soul’s. The simple needs of authorship have not changed.


But what child nowadays has such teaching? Who looks after his natural education — his religion? As a factor in education, religion has almost ceased to operate, notwithstanding the church schools. The sensitive spirit cannot seek after God in school. It should have a universe — and have it all alone. As truly as ever do we live, and move, and have our being in God; but at this present moment we have so much more of being in business, and move so much faster by motor, that it seems that our existence in God must have been prenatal, or might become possibly a postmortem affair.

Religion in education is strictly the part of someone — the parental part of education, and no business of any school. Is it because I fail that I seem to see all parents failing in religion? My children have not had what I had in religion — not my Quaker grandfather certainly, who was lame and walked slowly, and so, I used to think, and still think, more surely walked with God. My first memory of that grandfather is of his lifting an adder out of the winding woodpath with his cane, saying, ‘Thee must never hurt one of God’s creatures’ —an intensely religious act, which to this day covers for me the glittering folds of the snake with the care, and not the curse, of God.

Years later I was at work in the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole. Dr. C. O. Whitman was lecturing. He had traced the development of the cod’s egg back to a single cell of jellied protoplasm, when he paused.

‘Gentlemen,’ he said, with dramatic restraint, ‘I can go no further. There is that in this cell we call life. But the microscope does not reveal it. We all know what it does. But who knows what it is? Is it a form of motion? The theologian calls it God. I am not a theologian. I do not know what life is.'

He need not have been a theologian — only a very little child once, with his lame grandfather to tell him the snake is God’s; and in those after years, coming to the end of his great lecture on the embryology of the cod’s egg, and to the greater mystery in that cell of living protoplasm, he would have spoken with authority.

It is not every child whose sleep is as light as little Samuel’s, whose dreams are stirred by strange voices as were Joan of Arc’s; but there are many more such children than there are parents like Hannah, or priests like Eli, to tell them that it is the voice of God.

The crimson was fading into cold October gray as I came upon him — twelve years old, and just an ordinary boy, his garden fork under the hill of potatoes he had started to dig, his face upturned, his eyes following far off the flight of a wild duck across the sky.

‘He who from zone to zone,’

I began, more to myself than to him.

‘Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,’

he went on, as much to himself as to me.

‘Father,’ he added reflectively, as the bird disappeared down the dusky slope of the sky, ‘ I ’m glad I know that piece.’

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘I see so much more when the wild ducks fly over.’

‘How much more do you see?’

‘I see the wild ducks and God flying over together.’

And is he a poet who sees less? Beauty and truth that do not reach religion do not reach the human heart. An education that lacks religion must lack authority, because it cannot know who made the flat-headed adder, who flies with the wild duck, who works in the cod’s egg, to will and to do. Religion is the consciousness of the universe—that it is infinite, eternal, and that it is all God’s!


The realm of art, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the life of this dear earth admit only little children. Great utterance is universal utterance, simple and unique.

Henry Adams, in the course of his ‘Education,’ had come from the South Seas to Paris with John La Farge. ‘At the galleries and exhibitions he was shocked,’ so he says, ‘by the effort of art to be original; and when, one day, after much reflection, La Farge asked whether there might not still be room for something simple in art, Adams shook his head. As he saw the world, it was no longer simple and could not express itself simply. It should express what it was, and this was something that neither Adams nor La Farge understood.’

But it was precisely this sophisticated world that Adams did understand, and not simple men and women. Adams was not born a babe into life, but an Adams into Boston, with (to quote him) ‘the First Church, the Boston State House, Beacon Hill, John Hancock and John Adams, Mount Vernon Street, and Quincy all crowding on [his] ten pounds of babyhood.’ And the trouble with Henry Adams was that he never got from under.

Jesus was more fortunate. He was born in a stable. Lincoln had the luck of a log cabin on the Big South Fork of Nolin Creek, as had Cyrus Dallin, the sculptor, only his cabin stood within a stockade in wild, unsettled Utah. Boston has found room for Dallin’s Appeal to the Great Spirit, as the world has found ample room for the Gettysburg Address — simple, elemental things of arl that shall never want for room.

The world is not simple; or the cell of the cod’s egg, either. The forces of cleavage are in that cell, the whole fearful fish is there, and future oceans of fish besides, all in that pellucid drop of protoplasm. Society never was, never can be, simple. It cannot be educated for authority, but only to know and accept authority.

God speaks to the man, not to the multitude—to Moses on the Mount, not to the people huddled in the plain. Society commissions, but the individual finds the truth, reveals the beauty. ‘Art,’ says Whistler, ‘is limited to the infinite, and beginning there, cannot progress. The painter has but the same pencil, — the sculptor the chisel of centuries, — and painter and sculptor consequently work alone.’

We forget that scribes get together in schools, but that creators work ‘each in his separate star,’ as lonely as God; and that the education of the creator is strictly in the hands of those responsible for him. The responsibility of professional teachers is for children. They must think children, in terms of men and women; and must educate them for society. We parents must think the child, must educate the child, not for society, but for himself—for authority. The teachers, looking upon their pupils, see the people, equal before the law, sharing alike the privileges, shouldering alike the responsibilities — one another’s keepers, upon whose intelligence and right spirit the nation rests. Thus, as teachers, they see their children and their educational duty.

As a parent, I must see my child as foreordained from the foundation of the world; and looking upon him, I must cry, ‘Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders ;and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor — or poet, or prophet, for he shall have authority.’ So, as a parent, I must think of my child and of my educational duty.

God’s work is not done; and mine may be the son called from the beginning, to complete in line, or color, or word, or deed, the divine thing God started but could not finish. For God is not complete until he is made flesh, and dwells among us.

There is no school that can provide for this Only Son. School education is social — it is for all; for life together; how to even and average life’s extremes. The private school for the brilliant mind is pure sophistry, and Simon-pure snobbery. Averaging, of course, is a process down, as well as up, to a common level — a social level. Democracy is that common social level. Education in a democracy must average — teach the high to come down, the humble to rise, and all of us to walk together. Not trying to do more than this for any, or daring to do less than this for all, it must hinder no mind either by merging individuality, or by setting up a material well-being for the better values of the spirit.

The level of education has risen lately in the public schools; university standards meanwhile have distinctly deteriorated — have sought the average. ‘College education is now aimed to qualify the student, not to give him quality.’ The college has become a business institution; even the college of liberal arts is now a pre-pedagogical, pre-medical, pre-legal, or some other pre-practical vocational school.

Students still come to college to serve, come seeing visions too, being young — but visions of business. In the multitude of twenty college classes passing through my lecture-room I know of but one student to finish his course, bent as he was born, to poetry. He is now spinning a Ph.D. cocoon for himself, the poet about to emerge a college professor!

This is not the fault of youth. Trailing clouds of glory do they come from God who was their home. But they land in America for business. And in such numbers!

I believe in numbers, in business. I freely trust the work of the state with this safe, sane average — but it was none of them who wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Proclamation of Emancipation, or the Covenant of the League of Nations.

The poet cannot be the direct product of the schools. His education is more out of things than books, more out of solitude than society, more out of nature than schools. The author is single, original, free; he uses raw materials, elements, earths that are without form and void. In him is the pattern of all new worlds. His life is to shape them, and give them suns and stars. But in place of raw materials, the unattempted yet in prose or rhyme, we give him only the graded systems of the schools, which make for many essential things, but which may be more deadly to his creative faculty than anything the headlong angels fell on in Hell. For they had, at least,

The dark, unfathomed, infinite abyss,

through whose obscure one of them must find his uncouth way; whereas our unfallen children are run into the school machine at five, and earlier, as oranges into a sorter, the little ones dropping out through their proper hole into shop or office, the bigger ones rolling on until they tumble into college.

Human nature is unique, and not to be handled by machine. It is active, a doing nature, fit for unfinished earth, not heaven, the earth-partner, and cocreator in God’s slowly shaping world. Send human nature to school? But if school can make them, why are we without ‘a great poet, a great philosopher, a great religious leader’ ? Why is it that ‘the great voices of the spirit are stilled just now’? It is because education is too far removed from the simple, the original — from life and nature.


A poet is still-born in Boston every day — killed by toys in place of the tools that make them; by books in place of the life they tell of; by schools, museums, theatres, and stores, where things are pieced and ordered, filmed, collected, canned, and labeled, in place of a whole world of whole things, until the little poet asks me, as one did the other day, ‘What does cream come from?’ a sterilized concoction in a bottle, brought by the grocer, his nearest approach to a cow and a milking-stool! Yet he was to have written of

Wrinkled skin on scalded milk!

The educating process is started wrong, and started too early. It should start with work. Watch a child at mud-pies or building a dam. Such intense application, such concentrated effort, such complete abandon! Play? The sweat on that little face, the tongue tight between the teeth, the utter unconsciousness of burning sun and cooling dinner, are the very signs of divine creative work.

Every son of God needs, if not a world to create,an earth to subdue. But instead of allowing him to work, we teach him to be amused, as if his proper frame were passive, his natural action irresponsible; as if he must be kept busy at winding things up and watching them run down.

We have not the courage of our convictions— if indeed we have educational convictions! No father, asked for bread, would give a stone; but when asked for truth and beauty and reality, how few of us have the courage to give a son what Jesus had, or Lincoln had, or the two years before the mast that young Richard Henry Dana had!

Quitting his cultured home, his sophisticated college, his conventional city, Dana escaped by way of the old, uncultured sea, with men as uncultured. He had plum-duff on Sundays. Two Years Before the Mast tells the story of that escape from scribbling into living, from a state of mind like Boston, out and down around the Horn.

To save the poet and prophet now standardized to scribes, shall we do away with schools? I have known too many freak poets, too many fool prophets, to say that. Genius is unique; it is also erratic, and needs to toe the mark in school. The training for expression is more than wandering lonely as a cloud. There is much for the poet in trigonometry, and in English grammar. He must go to school to meet his fellows, too, and his teachers — but not until he is able both to listen to the doctors and to ask them questions.

Education for authority must both precede and continue with conventional education; equal place made for chores, great books, simple people, and the out-of-doors; with that which is made for texts, and recitations, and schoolroom drill; parents sharing equally with professional teachers in the whole process, unless we utterly nationalize our children.

Two of my children are in a Boston high school, having five hours of Latin, five of German, five of French, three of English, three of mathematics, three of history, two of military drill — twentysix hours in all. And they call it educational! That is not education. That is getting ready for college — which is not to be confused with education. It fits for college, not for authority; it is almost certain death to originality and the creative faculty.

There must be a course of study in school and college, and it must be shaped to some end. Is it, however, the right end of four years in high school, to get to college? or the right end of four years in college, to get into a job? There is a certain Spartan virtue in this high-school study, something that makes for push and power, but nothing of preparation for great utterance in sermon or song.

The children do not know that the poet in them is being killed. I know — but I only half believe the poet to be in them!

The sin of the fathers — this fear of the divine fire! Mine are ordinary children. I should have adopted them, foundlings of unknown elfin parentage. Then I had believed, and had given them to Merlin, as Arthur was given, or to the Lord, as Hannah gave little Samuel.

I did have them born and brought up in the hills of Hingham, forced out of the city when the second one came. I gave them the farm, the woods, the great books, the simple people, and religion, but timidly — allowing them at this day to take fifteen hours of study in foreign languages to three meagre hours in their glorious native tongue. And these are to be poets and prophets!

Then they must needs speak in German, French, and Latin. English is a foreign tongue in the Boston high schools. John Gower did his Confessio Amantis in three languages, but Geoffrey Chaucer found it a life’s task to conquer his native English, sighing, —

The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.

Poets have scarcely time to learn their own language. If any of them are going through American high schools, they will learn a few French irregular verbs, know that Weib is neuter, and how Amo is conjugated, but they will not know the parts of the verbs ‘lay’ and ’lie,’ and their vocabulary of adjectives will be limited to ‘some’ and ‘dandy’ or to ‘some-dandy.’

‘We don’t need to study English, we inherit it,’ one of my college men said to me.

‘How much did you inherit ? ’ I asked; and as a test turned to Whittier’s SnowBound, which lay on my lecture-room desk, and read to him, —

Meanwhile we did our nightly chores
Brought in the wood from out of doors —

and the ten lines that follow, finding eight words — ’littered,’ ‘mows,’ ‘walnut bows,’ ‘herds-grass,’ ‘stanchion,’ ‘chores,’‘querulous,’and ‘birch’—that were foreign to the majority of the class — without meaning, and so without image and poetry. It chanced that I was wearing a brown Windsor tie, and I saw one student nudge another and whisper, ‘The cows had “walnut bows” on like the professor’s.’

Rubbing it in a little, I declared that I could open any English book, and on any page find a word that none of them had ever used, and that most of them would not even understand. On my desk lay a small wrapped book from some publisher. I cut the string; found it a supplementary reader for the eighth grade, and opening it in the middle, took the middle paragraph on the page, and began to read, —

‘The ragged copses on the horizon showed the effect of the severe shelling’ — a war-story, reprinted from the Youth’s Companion!

‘Copses,’ I said to the young man who had inherited the English language, ‘what does “ragged copses” mean?’

He took one profound look into his heritage, — in the region of his diaphragm, — then cast his eyes slowly around the horizon of the room, and answered, that he did n’t know what the ragged policemen were doing there in No Man’s Land!

I turned to a young woman student. ‘What does “ragged copses” mean?’ I asked.

She raised her hands to her face, shivered cruelly, and replied that she just hated such horrid words — she just hated to think of that battlefield all strewn with ghastly tattered corpses !

And what shall be said of another college man, reporter on the Boston Globe, whose chief told me of sending him to get a story about a little bay colt that was prancing gayly up Newspaper Row. Turning at the office door, the reporter asked doubtfully, ’You said a bay colt — Is that some kind of sea-horse?’

‘Who said sea-horse?’ snorted the editor. ‘I said a bay colt out on the street.’

‘Is that a new breed of horse?’

‘Breed?’ roared the editor. ‘Breed?

I said a bay colt —a color, not a breed! ’

‘Oh, come now,’ said the undone reporter, ‘don’t jolly me. There is n’t any such color in the rainbow.’

‘Nor among neckties either,’ added the editor; ‘but there is among horses, as any farm-boy knows.’

What any farm-boy knows is the beginning of the knowledge and the foundation of the vocabulary of authority. The farm-boy’s elemental, but amazingly varied, word-horde is the very form of universal speech. Poets and prophets have always used his simple words; and poets and prophets must ever live as he lives, and learn what he has learned of language and things.

And Nature, the old nurse, took
The child upon her knee,
Saying, ‘ Here is a story book,
Thy father has written for thee.’

That was the first story-book. It still remains the greatest of sourcebooks. Here the human story begins; against this background the plot unfolds; and here ends. Here is written that older tale of Limulus polyphemus, the horse-shoe crab, and that ancienter story of the stars. Into the Book of Nature are bound all the ‘Manuscripts of God’ — the originals of all authors, whether they create in words, or notes, or colors, or curves; the originals of the past, of the present, and that longer, richer future.

‘Come wander with me,’ she said,
‘Into regions yet untrod;
And read what is still unread
In the manuscripts of God!’

Mother of us all, Nature should be the teacher of all, lest she be denied that chosen one to whom she would give authority. It is she who shall show him how, ‘in the citron wing of the pale butterfly with its dainty spots of orange,’ he shall see ‘the stately halls of fair gold, with their slender saffron pillars’; and ‘how the delicate drawing high upon the walls shall be traced in tender tones of orpiment, and repeated by the base in notes of graver hue.’

But these things are written in books, and hung in galleries, and can be taught more quickly there? They cannot be taught at all there. Nature keeps no school. She teaches her pupils singly, revealing to each what is for him alone. He can learn many things in school, but not authority — not how to paint Whistler’s Mother, or how to write Wordsworth’s ‘Stepping Westward,’ or how to cut a single marble of the Parthenon.

‘By what authority doest thou these things?’

The poet answers: ‘Nature is my authority,

‘And that auxiliar light
Which on the setting sun bestows new splendor.’

Yet the schools overflow, as if authority were there! Students come to paint and to play, before they learn to see and hear; they come to write, before experience has given them anything to say. They must come to school, the prophet from the wilderness, the poet from the fields and hills, when twice ten summers have stamped their minds forever with

The faces of the moving year.

The first Monday of September, labor is on parade. The Tuesday after, and the school-children of America are on the march — a greater host than labor’s, as its work is greater. This is the vastest thing we Americans do, this mighty making of the democratic mind — the average mind. But it is not a poetic-prophetic mind we are making — not educated for authority.

Too, too few of all this marching multitude are coming to their little books well read in the Book of Nature; and to their little teachers from earlier, elemental lessons with the thoughtful hills, with the winds, and the watchful stars.

Earth and the common face of nature

have not spoken to them

. . . rememberable things.

This is not for the schools to do; this is beyond the schools to do; and besides, it is then too late; for Derwent, or some other winding stream, should murmur to the poet-babe while still in arms, and give him

Amid the fretful dwellings of mankind,
A foretaste, a dim earnest of the calm
That Nature breathes among the hills and groves.

We Americans do not give beauty and joy to our children. We are not a happy-hearted, imaginative people. It is the foreign children who steal the flowers from our parks; who dance to the hurdy-gurdy; who haunt our picture galleries — little lovers of warmth, and tone, and color!

Every worker bee in the hive might have been a queen, had not the pitiless economy of the colony cramped her growing body into a worker cell, till, pinched and perverted, she takes her place in the fearful communism of the tribe, an unsexed thing, the normal mother in her starved into an abnormal worker, her very ovipositor turned from its natural use into a poison-tipped sting.

Theoretically, we are not communistic, but in industry and education we have put the worker-cell theory into operation, cramping the growing child into practically a uniform vocational system, intellectually overfeeding, and spiritually underfeeding the creator in him into a worker — a money-maker.

Some fathers of us, more mothers, perhaps, might ask prophets and poets of the Lord; but who of us would have the courage to educate such children for poetry and prophecy?