Certain Diversities of American Life

Certain Diversities of American Life

CERTAIN DIVERSITIES OF AMERICAN LIFE CHARLES DUDLEY WARNER This is a very interesting age. Within the memory of men not yet come to middle life the time of the trotting horse has been reduced from two minutes forty seconds to two minutes eight and a quarter seconds. During the past fifteen years a universal and wholesome pastime of boys has been developed into a great national industry thoroughly organized and almost altogether relegated to professional hands no longer the exercise of the million but a spectacle for the million and a game which rivals the Stock Exchange as a means of winning money on the difference of opinion as to the skill of contending operators. The newspapers of the country--pretty accurate and sad indicators of the popular taste--devote more daily columns in a week's time to chronicling the news about base-ball than to any other topic that interests the American mind and the most skillful player the pitcher often college bred whose entire prowess is devoted to not doing what he seems to be doing and who has become the hero of the American girl as the Olympian wrestler was of the Greek maiden and as the matador is of the Spanish senorita receives a larger salary for a few hours' exertion each week than any college president is paid for a year's intellectual toil. Such has been the progress in the interest in education during this period that the larger bulk of the news and that most looked for printed about the colleges and universities is that relating to the training the prospects and achievements of the boat crews and the teams of base-ball and foot-ball and the victory of any crew or team is a better means of attracting students to its college a better advertisement than success in any scholastic contest. A few years ago a tournament was organized in the North between several colleges for competition in oratory and scholarship; it had a couple of contests and then died of inanition and want of public interest. During the period I am speaking of there has been an enormous advance in technical education resulting in the establishment of splendid special schools essential to the development of our national resources; a growth of the popular idea that education should be practical--that is such an education as can be immediately applied to earning a living and acquiring wealth speedily--and an increasing extension of the elective system in colleges--based almost solely on the notion having in view of course the practical education that the inclinations of a young man of eighteen are a better guide as to what is best for his mental development and equipment for life than all the experience of his predecessors. In this period which you will note is more distinguished by the desire for the accumulation of money than far the general production of wealth the standard of a fortune has shifted from a fair competence to that of millions of money so that he is no longer rich who has a hundred thousand dollars but he only who possesses property valued at many millions and the men most widely known the country through most talked about whose doings and sayings are most chronicled in the journals whose example is most attractive and stimulating to the minds of youth are not the scholars the scientists the men of letters not even the orators and statesmen but those who by any means have amassed enormous fortunes. We judge the future of a generation by its ideals. Regarding education from the point of view of its equipment of a man to make money and enjoy the luxury which money can command it must be more and more practical that is it must be adapted not even to the higher aim of increasing the general wealth of the world by increasing production and diminishing waste both of labor and capital but to the lower aim of getting personal possession of it; so that a striking social feature of the period is that one-half--that is hardly an overestimate-- one-half of the activity in America of which we speak with so much enthusiasm is not directed to the production of wealth to increasing its volume but to getting the money of other people away from them. In barbarous ages this object was accomplished by violence; it is now attained by skill and adroitness. We still punish those who gain property by violence; those who get it by smartness and cleverness we try to imitate and sometimes we reward them with public office. It appears therefore that speed-the ability to move rapidly from place to place--a disproportionate reward of physical over intellectual science an intense desire to be rich which is strong enough to compel even education to grind in the mill of the Philistines and an inordinate elevation in public consideration of rich men simply because they are rich are characteristics of this little point of time on which we stand. They are not the only characteristics; in a reasonably optimistic view the age is distinguished for unexampled achievements and for opportunities for the well-being of humanity never before in all history attainable. But these characteristics are so prominent as to beget the fear that we are losing the sense of the relative value of things in this life. Few persons come to middle life without some conception of these relative values. It is in the heat and struggle that we fail to appreciate what in the attainment will be most satisfactory to us. After it is over we are apt to see that our possessions do not bring the happiness we expected; or that we have neglected to cultivate the powers and tastes that can make life enjoyable. We come to know to use a truism that a person's highest satisfaction depends not upon his exterior acquisitions but upon what he himself is. There is no escape from this conclusion. The physical satisfactions are limited and fallacious the intellectual and moral satisfactions are unlimited. In the last analysis a man has to live with himself to be his own companion and in the last resort the question is what can he get out of himself. In the end his life is worth just what he has become. And I need not say that the mistake commonly made is as to relative values--that the things of sense are as important as the things of the mind. You make that mistake when you devote your best energies to your possession of material substance and neglect the enlargement the training the enrichment of the mind. You make the same mistake in a less degree when you bend to the popular ignorance and conceit so far as to direct your college education to sordid ends. The certain end of yielding to this so-called practical spirit was expressed by a member of a Northern State legislature who said "We don't want colleges we want workshops." It was expressed in another way by a representative of the lower house in Washington who said "The average ignorance of the country has a right to be represented here." It is not for me to say whether it is represented there. Naturally I say we ought by the time of middle life to come to a conception of what sort of things are of most value. By analogy in the continual growth of the Republic we ought to have a perception of what we have accomplished and acquired and some clear view of our tendencies. We take justifiable pride in the glittering figures of our extension of territory our numerical growth in the increase of wealth and in our rise to the potential position of almost the first nation in the world. A more pertinent inquiry is what sort of people have we become? What are we intellectually and morally? For after all the man is the thing ...