Professors are, after all, rather idiotic. They straddle the twin steeds, scholarship and teaching, with what grace they can muster; they balance the exactions of rent and food with the pittances of Maccenas and the endowments of his kind--and they have to attend their own nine o'clock. Yet despite all these hardships they repeatedly assert that they like their calling, find it fascinating. "Idiots", insists the busy world. But the busy world knows only a small part of this idiocy, appreciates it in a most trivial way.
For it has ramifications almost illimitable. The professor not only has the Scylla and Charybdis of modern life and academic needs to steer between, he has the waters of misunderstanding and prejudice through which to make his patient way. For when he becomes ironic he loses his prestige as a scholar, and when he loses his irony he becomes dull. Then newspapers and journals to quote George Ross in the "Atlantic"--send back his efforts, kindly but with little scruple about his past prestige. But more than all he must weather the shoals of thought into which the winds of mere courtesy to the world outside continually force him. Last of all, his crew of youngsters, critical and monotonous, helps little to make life a pleasant voyage on a happy sea. But he likes it! The critics from the market place do not half appreciate his idiocy. It is colossal.
Yet history rather favors idiots. Napoleon, Luther, John the Baptist, He-siod--they were all idiots. If they had been sane careful bankers and butchers and bakers of buns they would long since have been adumbrated by the shadows of the passing years. They were idiots, and are remembered. None of them complained of his life work, nor did any of them try to convince an Ohio legislature that he was a conformist, a complacent mind, pedestrian on well worn paths.
Professors are, after all, rather idiotic. George Boas from his study at Johns Hopkins would admit that, for he himself continues as a professor of English literature. Yet idiocy--this kind of idiocy is the leaven in the lump of mediocrity and cultural decadence, so often the apparent heritage of the nation. Without it Ellis Island would be the gateway to oblivion instead of the open sesame to a fairly interesting modern nation. With it America can still believe that such outbursts of insanity as the Cathcart case may not plunge her into complete international disfavor.