Harvard University has excellent equipment. Harvard University excellent scholars. Nowhere in the modern world are more or greater thinkers assembled in one body. Yet a Plato, an Aristotle, wandering about from lecture to lecture, might reflect, and justly, upon the absence of what, in ancient Greece in the days of the School and the Academy, was an absolute necessity for intellectual progress.
And though these gentleman might, unfamiliar with the inductive method of reasoning and all that it implies, fail to realize what real background such a situation has, no one, who, even in the most trivial way, attempts a glance at educational conditions and the forces which have effected them can escape some conception of the causes of the status quo. When those who were interested in changing educational institutions in this country to make them more adequate as training centers for modern youth transformed the classical college of the early and middle years of the Nineteenth Century into the broad and catholic university of the late years of that century and the early years of this, they forced from his chair the professor who had spent his life in a small, confined, though definite teaching of small, confined, yet definite truths. With the advent of natural history, modern languages, and the multifarious, subjects necessary to equip the modern youth for his complicated world a new type of scholar was developed. The German tradition swept in with its directorate, its Teutonic philology, its attempt to grasp the fundamentals of the inductive system. Where one had been able to deliver ancient and musty truths which followed easily and logically from general premises, he was now confronted with the necessity of building from so many roots, verbal and cerebral, his particular system. No could he continue long in a world of scientific research to be complacently content with his system. It must change with the advent of more knowledge.
So the crop of pedants grew and keeps growing. As part of a regime where one must know so much before he can dares teach, the teacher who has not covered a sufficient territory in the particular realm of roots is at a loss. Nor is he wanted at a university. The degree of Doctor of Philosophy has become the only criterion by which one can easily prove his knowledge of the roots--and, thus, are modern teachers made.
Few of them are real teachers. One can know multiple roots and have no sense of pedagogy. One can be sure of himself in the oral quizz for a doctorate and lack the vital spark which makes for communication of ideas. Yet some can play through the grind of procuring a doctorate and remain sane, interesting. Not even three years, when they should be broadening their minds, spent in fitting an esotericism in scholarship to their mental decorations can completely dull these men. Furthermore, they like university life. It means the companionship of cultivated minds. It means refuge from the mechanical efficiency of a complacent world. But they are human. They want wives, families. And they want for those wives and families some measure of what other men are getting. A salary of certainly small compass is all that the university can give them. They leave for the forum and the market place. The game is not worth the candle.
Thus the young teachers at Harvard are either those who delight in pure pedantry or those who take sections that they may help themselves to live while they go through the mill of the doctorate. Some of the latter know something of what they are teaching. They are in the position of an undergraduate, concentrating in French, who spends so many hours a week teaching classes in French at his preparatory school. These are the men who are assisting in courses with big ideas unopened in minds where parcels of roots are being unwrapped and put on shelves.
So much for the young men. What of the older men. There are, widely, three classes of older professors at Harvard: those who have risen through the ranks at Harvard, those who have been transferred from other colleges, and those who are occasionally brought in from editorships or whatnot to lecture. the first class includes such a man as Professor Kittredge. Author of such a masterful and interesting work as that on Chaucer, he annually blinds men to those sweeping, swinging thoughts in Shakspere which a Bradley can uncover and which such a seeker after truth as Professor Kittredge must surely appreciate. Yet in his Eng. 2 he is content to worry words and peck at lines. The second has among its members men like John Livingston Lowes whose "Convention and Revolt in Modern Poetry" is so grand an achievement as to take its place in the rank of masterpieces of literary criticism, whose "Two figures of Earth" in a recent number of the Yale Review is stimulating in the vastness of its concept, in the directness of its approach. He spends classroom hours expounding the benefits to be derived from an accurate appreciation of Gray's use of he comma. The third class embraces such men as Bliss Perry, formerly editor of the "Atlantic", who in his fear of being less the scholar for being more the teacher does a forensic tightrope act between vitality and the verbal norm. None of these three classes apparently dares give to the undergraduate food for thought, for all appear in constant trepidation lest undergraduates enjoy their lectures. Nor is this word "enjoy" used in any vulgar sense. No one wants Will Durant's "Outline of Philosophy" for his text book and aphorisms for his lecture room diet. But every undergraduate, except the born scholar with the ability to see life through the minute details of knowledge--and he is not to be disparaged, comes to Harvard University to be taught to think so that he may be better litted for the modern world.
President Eliot in his Inaugural Address suggested that "two kinds of men make good teachers--young men and men who never grow old." There is apparently no better method for aging a man prematurely than an over dose of modern scholarship. Professor Kirsopp Lake in his course on the Old Testament has a twofold method of instruction. He reads the King James Version of the Bible to his students so beautifully, so inspiringly, that they want to discover for themselves the beauty and the inspiration of the work. And be delivers for themselves the beauty and the inspiration of the work. And he delivers thoughtful, though provoking lectures on the content of the Old Testament. He is a great teacher. Though Plato and Aristotle might balk at implied Hebraism, they would be pleased at his efforts. Why must his method remain eccentric? It is difficult for the undergraduate to answer. And when he has read the Outlines of Courses it is even more so.