The Contributors' Column
PATRIOTISM in its earliest and purest form vibrates in Howell Vines’s idyll of Alabama: not love of a nation, but of one’s native horizon and clan. ‘My book is one about Woodlanders,’ he writes, ‘as much so as Hardy’s . . . and in no sense about hillbillies, mountaineers, “poor white trash.” My people are woodlanders, and that goes first of all. I do not regard any who are poor as poor white trash. Again, they are people of the great Southern woods and river folks, and are in no sense mountaineers. . . . The topography, the land, the countryside itself can be found in the book.’ The curious reader can easily delimit on the map the region of the Warrior Rivers which provides the book with its scene. ∆ Lawyer, author, and diplomatist, honored alike by Belgium and America, Brand Whitlock is well qualified to diagnose an ill that lies much deeper than any of its loudly disputed symptoms. ∆ With so many evidences to the contrary, it is comforting to be assured by so eminent a mathematician and logician as Bertrand Russell that the universe is becoming gradually more probable.
Frank Jewett Mather, Jr., is Director of the University Art Museum at Princeton. Graham Munro teaches in a Western college. Frank H. Vizetelly is managing editor of the Funk and Wagnalls Dictionary. ∆ The second stage of the schooner Tagua’s voyage finds Robert Dean Frisbie and his friends ashore for the last stop before San Francisco. E. C. makes universal poetry of an intimately personal experience. Joseph Wood Krutch gives life to a novelist who has lain neglected on the shelf these many years. George E. O’Dell is the founder and editor of the Standard, the official publication of the American Ethical Union. Francis P. Miller and H. D. Hill are collaborating in a volume entitled The Giant of the Western World, a study of the many effects of America’s economic and social power abroad, from which their paper in the present Atlantic is drawn. Alfred F. Loomis writes: —
Since 1923 ocean racing has been the most vital factor in the sport of yachting. From the Pacific coast yachtsmen race every other year to Hawaii, while here we have our biennial races to Bermuda, in which more than thirty yachts engage. In England the Fastnet and Santander (Spain) ocean races annually attract large numbers of sportsmen. In 1928 occurred the transatlantic race to Spain, and next summer (1931) there will be an even more important race from New York to England. All this blue-water racing is building up a class of amateur sailors whose seamanship need bow only to that of the clippership sailors of the ’fifties. Unsung, except in the yachting press, they are the keenest, most audacious sailors plying the seas to-day.
Lawrence Hyde, a young Englishman, served as a Flying Officer during the war. His book, The Learned Knife, has enjoyed a succès d’estime. It is the first volume of a projected trilogy defending a religious and æsthetic attitude toward life against the claims of the sciences. Ellis Parker Butler does not write with the authority of Wall Street, but with the natural lucidity of an unfettered mind. Julian S. Huxley’s critique of education in Africa is the fruit of a recent sojourn in the dark continent. Charlotte Kellogg makes a discerning and sympathetic analysis of the attitude of the Polish people toward the problems that confront them.
We print below a letter on a vital problem, apropos of a paper which seems to have found many sympathetic readers.
NEW YORK CITY
DEAR ATLANTIC, —
In Dr. Reynolds’s arresting article in the June issue, ‘How Necessary Is Illness?’ are startling facts as to the scarcity of doctors — 102 towns in Vermont without physicians, et seq.
The tragedy of the present situation is that it has developed out of the desire to strengthen the foundation of medical knowledge by raising the intellectual standards of students of medicine. In seeking an ideal perfection we have banished the men who were willing to serve poor communities at modest rates — men who at least were better than no doctors at all.
The cause was shown to me a few years ago by my neighbor, the late Dr. John L. M. Willis, of Eliot, Maine. He said: ‘The medical school of Bowdoin College has closed its doors after one hundred years of honorable and useful service to the people of the State of Maine. It can no longer find students, since the law requires that before beginning to study medicine the student must have the B.A. degree or its equivalent. Our young men cannot afford this.
‘Before this requirement was adopted a village youth who wanted to be a doctor finished in high school, taught school for a few years, living at home, and saved the money to put him through medical school. Meanwhile he helped the local doctor in his work and, with his help, prepared for entrance to medical school. During these years he had clinical and bedside experience with the doctor which served him well when he began to care for the sick. On graduation he was willing to practise in his home neighborhood, earning a livelihood and rendering a real service. He could afford to do it.
‘To-day the cost of four years in college makes it impossible for young men of this type to study medicine. By the time the student has paid for his college course and his four years in medical school he has spent on his education from $20,000 to $30,000 (i.e., education plus living), and his first aim is to get that money back, or pay it to those who advanced it, as soon as he can. He becomes a specialist in a city, where fees are large. He cannot afford to go into general practice in a village.’
You will find this subject well worth while. It is of vital interest to the entire nation, for the academic requirements for medical students are uniform in most states. New Hampshire, Vermont, and many other states have suffered the loss of medical schools as good as Bowdoin’s, and the country doctor and the general practitioner are extinct. Instead we have specialists who cannot treat an entire patient.
W. O. I.
ROCHESTER, NEW YORK
As a high-school teacher of the social sciences, I am interested in Mrs. Langer’s stimulating article in the May Atlantic, ‘Just Think,’ and particularly in her reference to the mind of the high-school pupil. She regards his inability to think as due to no innate mental weakness, but to a lack of training in analysis, summarizing, and the formulation of concepts and abstractions.
The author suggests that something is wrong with the educational system, but she fails to mention the reason why the high-school pupil is graduated with little ability for abstract thinking and with a knowledge of ‘more facts than he can possibly ever use or enjoy.’
The trend of high-school teaching has always been directed by the college, in spite of the fact that in the past a ridiculously small minority of those going to high school have gone to college. Let a person who wonders why the teaching of history in the high school does not lead to an understanding of the present social order glance over the college entrance examinations in history. Remember that the passing of such an examination with a satisfactory grade is the basis for the admission of high-school pupils to college.
The following questions were selected from the examination papers in history between 1921 and 1929.
The spaces are to be filled by the correct name.
1. — was killed by a mob in the Roman forum.
2. — was defeated by the Persians at the Battle of Eurymedon.
3. After the victory of —, Lysander placed harmosts in Athens.
4. The bull, Unam Sanctum, was issued by —.
5. — was killed at Liitzen in 1632.
6. The Black Prince was the father of —.
7. The treaty of — was signed a few days before Jackson’s victory at New Orleans.
8. Henry II claimed the English throne through his mother—, who was the daughter of—.
There are better questions, however; for example: —
1. Name three important inventions or discoveries which hastened the Industrial Revolution and show in each case how the invention or discovery influenced the life of the people.
2. What was the influence of physical geography upon the people of Hellas?
3. Name three religions of the ancient world and compare any two of them in regard to their teachings, their forms of worship, and their social writings.
That is valuable and fundamental knowledge for historical thinking.
On the 1929 European history examination there are no questions calling for an understanding of such abstract concepts as imperialism, internationalism, self-determination of nations, submerged nationalities, autocracy, militarism, communism, or industrialism; although nationalism and democracy are mentioned. The nearest approach to the World War were the following: —
1. Write fully on the career and importance in history of one of five men (among them Briand).
2. Turkey fought on the side of — in the World War, and Roumania on the side of—.
9. locate two mandates held by Great Britain.
4. Locate the most important German naval base before 1918.
5. Trace the steps in the formation of the Triple Entente, giving the reasons for each step.
Again, the last question calls for important knowledge, but what is the value in knowing the reasons for the formation of the Triple Entente if it has n’t helped the student to understand the relation in the past between such alliances and war, and also the present-day attitude on such alliances and the reason for it?
Statistics taken in 1925 show that 32 per cent of the graduates of the secondary schools in the United States entered the liberal colleges, to which admission might have been gained by the passing of the college entrance examinations. The other 68 per cent were given the same diet even though they had no intention of going to the institutions where such food is supposed to be transmuted into intellectual strength.
There is a revolution or at least a rebellion on foot to-day in the secondary schools. Nationwide surveys have shown how futile much of the teaching in the past has been. Such a conclusion has brought the objectives of high-school teaching into the open; a wide study of these objectives has followed in all of the larger school systems, with the hope that as these aims of education became defined anew methods and material might be revolutionized to make the teaching conform to these newly defined ends. The bugbear of college entrance examinations and Regents’ (used as a basis for the distribution of scholarships in New York State) forms one of the biggest problems in carrying out a progressive programme. The taxpayer expects his child to be prepared for college. The teacher is torn asunder. Certainly no one can deny that the college has been responsible for the trend of teaching in the high school in the past, and this teaching has not been conducive to making America a land of thinkers. But now that the high school wants to reform and is trying to recognize this ‘completely neglected factor in American education.’ the college, denouncing from its hilltop the lack of the ability on the part of its freshmen to think, continues to block the attempt of the high school to change these conditions.
The conflict of objectives which results — teaching for examinations, or teaching for an understanding of life — is not conducive to the accomplishing of either end in a satisfactory manner.
Ave atque vale !
SCHENECTADY, NEW YORK
DEAR ATLANTIC, —
As one of the hosts of friends of the late Dallas Lore Sharp, I wish to thank you for including in your June number ‘Machete Trails.’ Several of my Schenectady friends have told me how interested they were in seeing something again from his pen.
It happened that I was in Ancón in February 1929, and called up the laboratory to reach Professor Sharp, only to find that he was on the way to town. So we had the pleasure of an afternoon together, and I think I was more fascinated by his conversation upon Barro Colorado than by the ‘Machete Trails.’ It is good, however, to have the permanent record.
Very truly yours,
M. F. WESTOVER
DEAR ATLANTIC, —
To the author of ‘Tenth Reunion’ in the June Contributors’ Club, and through her to others like her, may I address a few heartfelt words from a much harassed reunion chairman.
Since reunions are decreed by the powers that be in the collegiate world for financial and, we hope, for other valid reasons, there must be such unfortunate mortals as myself who for love of a college or a friend, for pure love with very little glory attached, labor unremittingly for weeks to find out from just such contemplative souls as the author of ‘Tenth Reunion’ whether or not they expect to favor their Alma Mater with their presence on a certain Saturday in June.
Certainly, she is right: the bond salesman’s wife, the poor engineer’s wife, the disgruntled schoolma’am will all be there. But perhaps they might be glad to see their reluctant classmate even if she does not thrill at their approach. Taken separately, they are probably as nice as they ever were. Any mixed group of women are apt to register insipidly. After all, one can’t sit by the fire with a classmate who lives in Oklahoma or Seattle, very often, no matter how much one admires her. Perhaps she’ll be there, too.
So reach for the blank, and for heaven’s sake mail it! Say yes or no, and don’t wait, next time, until you have written to the Atlantic about it.
A GLASS CHAIRMAN
In a letter to the editor from Kathryne Mary Frick, the blind and deaf girl whose memorable account of her education concluded in the JuneAtlantic,is contained this information: ’I am wondering if you have heard that I am enjoying radio music. To be sure, not in the sense that hearing persons do, but it is music to me and I enjoy the uplift — or, should I say, soul soaring — that it produces within me. Mr. A. Atwater Kent, Philadelphia, the manufacturer, had a special set devised for me. I understand that the Kent engineers, under the direction of Frank Aiken, constructed the special set for me.’
Commenting upon Miss Vida Scudder’s statement, in her paper on ‘The Franciscan Adventure,’ that the profoundest and clearest evidence of the Franciscan defeat is found in the fact that the Franciscan Order formed a spiritual aristocracy apart from the social structure of the time, a member of the Capuchin branch of the Franciscan Order, whose name we are not at liberty to give, writes: —
This idea . . . has always, whenever it has been expressed, seemed erroneous to me. To my own mind it was because the Franciscan Order developed as a democratic entity within an autocratic whole that it met defeat. . . . The Friars . . . in all their contacts stood for a vital democracy within the Order; in its government it fought valiantly for the preservation of democratic ruling. Unfortunately the time was not ripe for a general acceptance of its characteristic principles. Then, as now, the Franciscan Order militated against the trend of the times. . . . Franciscan spirituality, on the one hand, definitely made war upon the idea that only within the cloisters of the monk could Christian perfection be found, and the essential Franciscan gospel was surely then that all men, being equal in the sight of God, should therefore be equal in the sight of one another. If the Order became an exclusive group, as it necessarily did, then I venture to assert that this fact must be stressed, that its exclusiveness was caused, not by any inherent principle ruling its life, but simply and solely by the attitude adopted towards it by the forces at work within its sphere of labor. . . .
We friars admit that in these days it is well-nigh impossible to observe the literal life of poverty beloved of Saint Francis. But attempts within the Order are being made to preserve as far as possible, and in as many ways as possible, the literal observance of the rule. I suppose we shall not arrive at the happy state of affairs until the world outside is reorganized economically; but in the meantime we are really doing our best, and I do think that in every treatise on the history of or spirit of the Order due credit should be offered to my own brethren.
By word of mouth.
CATSKILL, NEW YORK
DEAR ATLANTIC, —
Last summer in excursions throughout Southern England I visited Cirencester Church and heard from the delightful old verger the story of its siege when Cromwell’s men lay before it. ‘I have it by word of month,’ said he.
In response to a startled look — I thought the man had gone mad — he continued with gentle dignity: ‘My people have been vergers here for centuries.’
The incident reminded me of the tale in Scott’s Journal of a boatman once pointed out to him as being representative of the hereditary gardeners to the Earl of Monteith, The speaker’s son asked:—
‘Feyther, when Donald dies will not the line be extinct?’ but was answered: —
‘No; I believe there is a man in Balquhidder who takes up the succession.’
And here is the question: Is it finer to inherit one’s humble duties and proudly perform them well and pass them on to one’s children, or to feel the spur of discontent that has made many — most — of our great Americans? We should have had no Lincoln, no Edison, no Carnegie, had they not moulded their lives to bigger issues than their parents dreamed of. ‘Rise, rise!’ is the cry of a republic, and yet we miss much in forswearing the serene beauty of that verger’s content in the tradition ‘by word of mouth’ from the day of Charles the Martyr to this of His Gracious Majesty, George the Fifth.
What a formidable race editors are!
DEAR ATLANTIC, —
Whenever my brains have become surcharged with ideas of one kind or another I have put these ideas down on paper in the form of letters and sent them to my relatives. This practice has given me mental relief, but no money.
I decided one day that if I could sell this refuse of my brain it would mean to me what the realization of that long-cherished dream of a market for cornstalks would mean to a farmer.
Then I commenced reading writers’ magazines to acquaint myself with the proper method of selling. In summing up what I have learned from these magazines I find that the only proper way to approach an editor is to go to the alley door, prostrate one’s self, and wriggle into the throne room, face down. To write a letter to an editor, to ask his advice or opinion, to treat him as one self-respecting citizen would treat another, would damn forever any chance of selling a manuscript to the Busy Editor. I notice that ‘busy’ precedes ‘editor’ as inevitably as ‘honest’ precedes ‘farmer,’
I am a busy countrywoman with a husband and five children to wash, iron, and cook for; but if you were to drive into our place and ask for a gallon of gas, or a drink of water, or a handout, I could find plenty of time to serve you; and if it was n’t wash day I could even give you a square meal.
I may have stepped on the toes of all editorial rules in writing this letter, but I send it to you with as much confidence as you could feel if you stopped at our place on your way to California and asked for some of the favors that tourists are always in need of. We have a very friendly shepherd watchdog.
I. A. R.
It is odd what paradoxes can receive the most solemn acceptance without affecting the prestige of human thought. ‘We live in a world of chance’ is a statement of common experience to which we should all subscribe, and some writers on modern physics tell us that the one law to which there is no exception states that the element of chance in the universe is continually increasing. Yet in press, pulpit, and conversation we all join to honor science for its progressive revelation of a world of order, in which events do not happen by hazard, and in which the behavior of nature can be controlled for man’s benefit by understanding of its principles. That this dilemma, in one form or another, has been bolted without intellectual colic by every age in turn since man began to think is an example of his indestructible belief in his own sanity despite strong evidence to the contrary.
For any reader with a speculative turn, no more fascinating excuse to try his powers can be found than Bertrand Russell’s essay on probability. Iconoclast, whose privilege it is to speak with the temerity of ignorance, wonders whether it was really necessary for Mr, Russell to make such a devastating confession of helplessness. ‘Probability rests on muddle,’ he writes. And again, ‘I do not mean to deny that all this will probably happen; I only mean to assert that people have not the least idea what they mean when they say so.’
Yet if we say, ‘It will probably rain this morning; I shall need an umbrella,’we ought to be able to give a fairly rational account of what we mean. We no doubt mean that some of the causes of rain are present, or some of the circumstances that in our past experience have been followed by rain — dark clouds, east wind, and the like. We are making an empirical judgment, which involves our belief in causation, the order of nature, and the familiar sense of expectancy, based on empirical foundations. All this seems fairly clear. Logic can confuse it, as it can confuse anything, because it deserts the empirical basis on which our judgments are founded. Is not this the source of most of the confusion in Mr. Russell’s paper?
It would be quite impossible for logic to prove that it had ever rained at all. But somehow it arrogates to itself the right to discuss whether it will probably rain or not to-morrow. Yet really it is not rain that logic is talking about. Rain we know only from experience. Logic is talking about an abstract event, which could more appropriately be called A or Z, And since logic could not even imagine such a thing as rain, what might cause it or why it should be caused, it states that the chances that it will rain to-morrow, or that the sun will rise to-morrow, or that a kettle placed over a hot fire will freeze, are precisely equal. All these events are mere A’s and Z’s to logic, while to experience they are parts of a great system of natural causes. What is logic really doing when it pretends to measure the probabilities of rain? It is only ostensibly making a statement about the facts; actually it is following out, and incidentally revealing, the necessary way in which our minds at their best must work when they confront an unpredictable situation. If, after we have sallied out properly armed with an umbrella, it does not rain after all, we may be surprised. But we do not assume that anything paradoxical has happened in the physical universe. Our judgment of the probabilities was purely subjective, and indifferent nature went its own course.
If the world were deterministic, and every smallest event ordained in advance, as Calvinists and materialists once held, it is hard to see what other view of probability would be possible. But modern physics tells us that the world is not deterministic, that even the laws by which bridges are built or eclipses predicted rest ultimately on ‘statistical probabilities.’ What this means it is fortunately not our duty to explain. If Mr. Russell would assert that this kind of probability rests on muddle, we should give him a hearty vote of confidence. But suppose that a dynamo is constructed by laws which are in the last analysis laws of chance. Suppose, to take liberties with Kipling, that
. . . all unseen Statistical probabilities brought up the nine-fifteen.
What is the connection of these remote and mysterious probabilities, the familiar spirits and playmates of the atoms, with the logician’s theory? They are certainly not the same thing. The probabilities at work among the atoms were discovered empirically by scientists in their laboratories. For aught we know, they might cut logic dead if they met it on the street. The theory of probability as such may have no more to do with the real world than the theory of infant damnation, which was a logical deduction from its own premises, but fortunately lacked an empirical basis.
Iconoclast hereby solemnly takes the view, to be held until further enlightenment drives him from it, that probability is a canon of judgment in the mind, with empirical roots, and logical corollaries, and that as such it is just as explicable and free from muddle as many other things in this odd world, as long as we do not try to hold the facts accountable to it. In pursuance of this idea, he would like to put one or two questions, and only wishes that Mr. Russell were at hand in person to humor his ignorance with indulgent answers. To begin with, what does the overcoming of a mathematical improbability really mean? Mr. Russell has hailed a taxicab as an illustration. Let us do the same. It is the most inexpensive way of hailing a cab we shall ever find. Suppose that in a city where 100,000 cabs are licensed we summon one by telephone, and then guess that its number, when it appears, will be 23,479. According to the theory of probability, our guess will have one chance in a hundred thousand of being right. Yet suppose that 23,479 happened to be the cab that appeared. What would it really mean that a mathematical improbability of 100,000 to 1 had been overcome? Would it be equivalent to the defeat of an army corps by a single trembling private? Or to the rout of 100,000 atoms by a solitary particle gone berserk? A comparable victory in the physical realm would bring us to our feet waving our hats and cheering. We should feel as the children of Israel felt when they sang, ‘Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands,’ or as the Athenians when the runner staggered in from Marathon. Perhaps, in a faint way, this is how we do feel. But we should be put to it to say what has really happened. The corpses of the slaughtered digits do not strew the field in bloody testimony of the victory, nor can we crown with laurel the one brave unit that prevailed. What really brought the taxi to our door was a chain of physical events, and not the abstract numerical triumph of one chance against a hundred thousand.
Again we should like to ask Mr. Russell if the physicist is really sensible when he says that the sun is no more likely to rise to-morrow than not. If he were to say merely that the sun may not rise, he would be sensible enough. He would be speaking on broad grounds as a human being familiar with the shocks of experience. But when he says ‘no more likely than not,’ he speaks neither as a physicist nor as a human being, but as a logician. What he says may be true, but we should agree with Mr. Russell that he could not possibly know what he meant by saying it. For he would make of the sun not the empirical fact that it is, but any abstract event, A or Z, with which logic cared to concern itself. He would equate it with the coin that we flip in the air, not knowing whether it will come down heads or tails. Is this really a sensible equation? Each flip of the coin is, at least relatively, a fresh event, the result of which is unpredictable. But the rising of the ‘glorious orb,’ as Squibob called it, is part of a continuous system of natural events. A cataclysm might interrupt the system, and the sun might fail to rise. But has such a cataclysm equal chances of happening or not? The physicist can only say so by throwing overboard his physics, which is founded on experience, and speaking from pure abstract theory. And when he does this, he is making a statement, not about the sun, but about the way his mind finds it necessary to work.
Suppose we look a little deeper into the matter of the coin. We say that it has equal chances of coming down heads or tails. We ought to say that no chances of any kind are open to it. Its course is determined by the muscular propulsion given it, by the position of the hand in catching it, and the like. Experience has taught us that about fifty out of a hundred times it will come down heads, and the other fifty times tails. But when in a given instance we say that the chances are equal, we are simply saying that we are totally at a loss to predict what the result will be.
It is even more absurd to say that if enough men go on placing kettles over hot fires for a sufficient number of times the water in one kettle may sooner or later be expected to freeze. What leads us to expect the water to boil is the empirical discovery that this is what it usually does when we try it. When we attempt to turn this discovery into a rational principle, we are led to the theory of induction, which says that if we invariably find an experiment producing the same result, and if this holds true for a very large number of cases, it looks as though it must be the natural result, and will hold true for all cases. At this point Mr. Russell appears to tell us that, no matter how many instances we count, we have not established a logical proof that the next one may not upset all the others. Well and good, so far as logic is concerned. But to say that because induction lacks a logical basis the kettle over the hot fire may freeze if we give it chances enough is to make an absurdity of logic. Perhaps logic is absurd. At least it is entertaining.
A cataclysm might prevent the sun from rising, and perfectly regular and familiar causes bring the coin down now heads, now tails. But even a cataclysm that destroyed the solar system might well fail to alter the familiar relation that makes a kettle boil over a hot fire. It might destroy all the kettles and turn all the water to steam, yet not bring about a state in which water (if there were any) placed over a lively burner would turn to ice. Will Mr. Russell say that the laws of heat have equal chances of being stood on their heads to-morrow? Perhaps the pure theory of probability would compel him to say so. But we shall take it as one more evidence that the theory of probability is a mental construction that does not take into account the natural scheme of causation. Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas! It is a more formal and less sensible way of saying that we live in an unreasonable world, and never know what will happen next.
Thus the great god Chance is given his quietus. Yet we feel a shiver of apprehension about Mr. Russell’s army of monkeys strumming on typewriters. What if they should produce all the books in the British Museum? It would be an unhappy day for publishers. The price of books would decline still further if it became known that monkeys could write them. Still, we think it improbable that they will ever be given their chance.
THE: OFFICE ICONOCLAST