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THE CHIEF ELEMENTS OF A MANLY CULTURE.
INAUGURAL ORATION, JUNE 27, 1877.
CERTAIN occasions seem to prescribe their own
U themes of discourse, and certain themes are endowed with perpetual life. There are problems with which each coming generation and each last man grapples as freshly as the first.
How shall the ripest growth of the ages be imparted to one young soul ? Twice, at least, in a lifetime, is this great question wont to rise solemnly before each thoughtful man — when he looks forward in youthful hope, and when he looks back in parental solicitude. It is a question of many forms and multiplying answers. Shall there be a long fundamental training, wide and general ? or shall it be closely professional ? Shall it be predominantly classic, or scientific, or æsthetic, or empiric? Many or much? For accomplishment or for accomplishing ? Shall it fit for the tour of Europe or for the journey of life? Masculine and feminine or vaguely human ? Shall it rattle with the drumbeat, bound with gymnastics, court fame by excursive “nines " not known on Helicon, and challenge British Oxford, alas ! with its boat crew? Shall the American college student follow his option or his curriculum ? And shall the college itself be a school for schoolmasters, a collection of debating clubs, a reading room with library attached, an intellectual quarantine for the plague of riches ? or a place of close and protracted drill, of definite methods, of prescribed intellectual work? Shall it fulfill the statement of the Concord sage — “You send your son to the schoolmasters, and the schoolboys educate him”? or shall a strong faculty make and mark the whole tone of the institution ?
In these and other forms is the same fundamental question still thrust sharply before us. I do not propose to move directly on such a line of bristling bayonets, but to make my way by a flank movement across this “Wilderness” of conflict. It will go far toward determining the methods of a liberal education if we first ascertain, as I propose to do,
THE CHIEF ELEMENTS OF A MANLY CULTURE.
Obviously the primal condition of all else must be found in a self-prompted activity or wakefulness of intellect. The time when the drifting faculties begin to feel the helm of will, when the youth passes from being merely receptive to become aggressive, marks the advent of the true human era. As in the history of our planet the first remove from the tolu va-vohu was when the Spirit of God brooded on the deep, and, obedient to the command, light shot out from darkness, so in man the microcosm, the brooding spirit and commanding purpose mark the first step from chaos toward cosmos. The mechanical intellect becomes dynarnical, and the automatic man' becomes autonomic. It may be with a lower or a higher motion. The mind gropes round restlessly by a yearning instinct ; it may be driven by the strong impulse of native genius; or it may rise to the condition of being the facile servant of the forceful will. When the boy at Pisa curiously watches the oil lamp swinging by its long chain in the cathedral, a pendulum begins to vibrate in his brain, and falling bodies to count off their intervals; and when afterwards he deliberately fits two lenses in a leaden tube, the moon's mountains, Jupiter's satellites, and Saturn's rings are all waiting to catch his eye. A thoughtful meditation on the spasms of a dead frog's leg in Bologna becomes galvanic. The gas breaking on the surface of a brewery vat, well watched by Priestley, bursts forth into pneumatic chemistry. A spider's web in the Duke of Devonshire's garden expands in the mind of my lord's gardener, Brown, into a suspension bridge. A sledgehammer, well swung in Cromarty, opened up those New Walks in an Old Field. The diffraction of light revealed itself to Young in the hues of a soap-bubble. As the genie of the Oriental tale unfolded his huge height from the bottle stamped with Solomon's seal, so the career of Davy first evolved itself out of old vials and gallipots. When the boy Bowditch is found in all his leisure moments snatching up his slate and pencil, when Cobbett grapples resolutely with the
grammar, when Cuvier dissects the cuttlefish found upon the shore, or Scott is seen sitting on a ladder, hour after hour, poring over books, they will be further heard from
If such instances illustrate the propulsive force of native genius, they also indicate what training must do when the impulsive genius is not there. No idler plea was ever entered for an idler than when he says : “I have no bent for this, nor interest in that, and no genius for the other." The animal has his habitat, and stays fast. A complete man is intellectually and physically a cosmopolite. Till he has gained the power to throw his will-force wherever the work summons him, most of all to the weak points of his condition, till he has learned to be his own taskmaster and overseer, he is but a “slave of the ring."
In most lines the highest gift is the gift of toil. Indeed, men of genius have often been the most terrible of toilers, and in the regions of highest art. How have the great masters of music first welded the keys of the organ and harpsichord to their fingers' ends and their souls' nerves before they poured forth the Creation or the Messiah, the symphonies and sonatas ! Think of Meyerbeer and his fifteen hours of daily work; of Mozart's incessant study of the masters, and his own eight hundred compositions in his short life; of Mendelssohn's nine years' elaboration of Elijah. Or in the sister art, how we track laborious, continuous study in the Peruginesque, the Florentine, and the Roman styles successively of Raphael, and in the incredible activity that crowded a life of thirty-seven years with such a vast number of portraits and Madonnas, of altarpieces and frescoes, mythological, historical, and Biblical. And that still grander contemporary genius, how he wrought by night with the candle in his pasteboard cap, how he had dissected and studied the human frame like an anatomist or surgeon before he chiseled the David and Moses, or painted the Sistine chapel, and how the plannings of his busy brain were always in advance of the powers of a hand that, till the age of eightyeight, was incessantly at work.
The servant is not above his master. The lower intellect can buy at no cheaper price than the higher, and the hour of full intellectual emancipation comes only when the student has learned to serve — to turn the whole freshness and sharpness of his intellect on any needful theme of the hour; it may be the scale of a fossil fish, or the annual movement of a glacier, the disclosures of the spectrum, or the secrets of the arrow-headed tongue. All great explorers have been largely their own teachers, and each young scholar has made the best use of all helps and helpers when he has learned to teach himself. His emancipation, once fairly purchased, confers on him potentially the freedom of the empire of thought; and, as evermore, the freeman toils harder than the slave. The strong stimulus of such a self-moved activity, thoroughly aroused, becomes in Choate or Gladstone the fountain of perpetual youth, and forms the solid basis of the titanic