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THE PLAN OF THE BOOK
There is no enlargement, unless there be a comparison of ideas one with another, as they come before the mird and a systematizing of them. We feel our minds to te growing and expanding then, when we not only learn, but..., refer what we learn to what we know already.”
- CARDINAL NEWMAN.
The object of this volume is to present a set of essays which form a close sequence of ideas, a little philosophy, about the present interests and the future problems of the undergraduate. It is hoped that he may find in them a series of facts and opinions that will be naturally productive of further opinions and investigation on his part. The chief intention of the book is to be gathered from the order of the essays, which enables the writer of themes to proceed from one discussion to another logically resulting discussion, accumulating thought instead of "writing himself out” in rather scattered and casual efforts. Owing to the variety of the materials, which illustrate many kinds of writing, he has an unusual chance to gain true impressions of manner and method, because he can here see what different styles do for the drift of the same general argument. The essays make chapters of a book that may be read from cover to cover as a unit.
A brief commentary will serve here better than elsewhere to describe some of its practical uses as a text for courses in writing.
I and II. The two preliminary articles, which constitute Part I, deal with the general question of learning to write, and may, it-is hoped, clear up certain perplexities which sometimes long encumber the student. What is style? What is technique? What is originality? What are some of the practical methods for organizing detail, for raising expectation, for guiding the reader, and for maintaining an effective tone? The discussion of these points looks forward specifically to the subject-matter of the essays which follow. .. HII and IV. Articles III and IV, of Part II, contain descriptions of Oxford University, from which the student is expected to form his opinion of an institution different, in all probability, from his own.
To write a parallel account of life at his own college, to compare the two places in detail as regards athletics or scholarship, to give his chief reason for preferring one place to the other, are, for example, exercises that will naturally suggest themselves to him. They are exercises that will test the logic of many of his prejudices and prove to him the difficulty and the profit of forming opinions fairly from an array of facts. He may supplement these facts by such reading as is suggested in the little bibliography at the end of the volume. Here at the start he is asked to think justly and vividly about a set of ideas and customs which are new to him, and which make a sharp criticism of the ideas and customs he has always accepted. This teaches him to see the essential character of the place he lives in and prepares him to understand and to criticise the point of view of many of the succeeding articles, especially of the next three, which deal with the general objects and advantages of liberal education. If, after reading them, or at some later period, he is asked to discuss again the relative merits of Oxford and his own university, there will at once be apparent a new and more vivid picturing of what both Oxford and his own college really are.
V, VI, and VII. For meanwhile many questions have come up. What do we really go to college for—what combination of social and intellectual training? Which of these two objects best includes the other? What is the difference between character and intellect? After reading President Wilson's essays, should one regard the qualities of character discussed by Professor William James as “by-products” of education? What is for most men the valuable "by-product” of the college course? How closely is it related to the training of intellect? These are pretty heavy questions, and they should be approached through illustration and personal experience. In this way there may be avoided a certain monotony and ineffectiveness which comes, in undergraduate writing, from a tendency to generalization and mere assumption. Properly answered, these questions teach one how to bring experience and evidence of all kinds to bear in such a way as to give both solidity and relief to abstract argument.
VIII and IX. In the midst of this general discussion of the purposes and ideals of college life, it seems well to introduce a test case, about which nearly every student will have his own definite opinion. What is the importance and influence of sport in college life? Is the example of phenomenal athletic skill more inspiring to college students than the example of wide-spread athletic habits? Will not emphasis of the second produce the first, and emphasis of the first diminish the second ? Articles VIII and IX put before us information and opinions which are sure to call out a good deal of prejudice and a good deal of pointed explanation. It is probable that, relative to the three preceding essays, the writer has already committed himself in a general way on the issues here, and he must now attempt to be both outwardly consistent with what he has already said about the objects of college life, and true to his own convictions for many students a stimulating process of thought.1
X. The essays on the function of athletics in college life, which are attempts to define and to make vivid the moral relation of a single important college interest to many others, lead to a general study of what may be called the balance of interests, or the sense of proportion, in college life. Professor Gayley finds that this sense is growing defective. Democratic ideals have rather upset the aristocracy of learning. We have been able neither to keep the old standards nor to make a proper readjustment to changed conditions, as we have been called on to educate a whole nation instead of a chosen few. In place of ideals we have thought it necessary to substitute idols. "Idols of Education,” from which Article X is taken, is at once the most stimulating and amusing of books on the trouble with the modern college. It is a sane, witty corrective of those incongruities and confusions in the thought of college men --trustees, faculty, and students—who mistake the flashy and the specious for the solid and the thorough, or who actually prefer the advertisement to the real thing. Is Professor Gayley's satire justified by what the student has seen of college life? What are college “activities”? How does the modern curriculum compete with them for
1 The purpose of all these essays and exercises in their specific order is to furnish a training, that shall be natural rather than arbitrary, in constructive, consequential thinking; and the critical emphasis should be laid on the logic, the importance, the pointedness of what is said. The effort to think logically and pointedly is a positive cure for incorrect and slouchy diction.