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IN an article entitled the "College Bible" which appeared in the last number of the Advocate, the insidious and baleful influence of the New York Nation was alleged to account for the so-called trait of Harvard indifference." This twofold challenge to the student and the Nation appeals to a state of things in College and to an iconoclastic tendency in the Nation which fail to reveal themselves, I think, to the observer who is conversant in any true sense with the phenomena in question.
The author quoted is not the first to note the critical attitude of the Nation, nor the first to point out what I am pleased to call lack of gush among the undergraduates, but he certainly has all the merit attaching to the discovery of the causal relation of these two facts. In regard to the value of the discovery, I may perhaps be pardoned in quoting the stump orator who said that if the cause named had an infectious disease the effect would not catch it. If the writer would allow that the phrase "lack of gush" covered the whole ground, I would freely maintain that the Nation, as well as all other vigorous writing of a practical nature, had tended to produce that desirable result. But he will insist on attaching a definite significance to that time-honored phrase of "Harvard indifference." Some one has said, "Give ear to no doctrine that has not a beard on its face." If I might be allowed to force the simile, it is in this case the whitened beard of decrepitude that points to speedy demise.
There is assuredly among students, as among all other distinct classes and bodies of men, a cant, - a slang, - a language of words and acts that characterizes and separates them from the mass. It is the result of uniformity of occupation and desires, and is developed by internal laws, proceeding not from the composition of the editorial staff of the Nation, but from the exigencies of college life. I need not stop to point out the various causes that tend to produce the flippant tone among students which has struck our author. It is but the cant of our profession, and is only skin-deep. The curious might go on to analyze it into the effect of sudden accession of liberty upon the "youthful mind," the opportunities for loafing, the half-aimless life of most students, together with the neighborhood of a large city. But it is worth our while to notice that this is a mere surface-view, and is true for the most part only of the entering classes. It is equally patent that there is pretty vigorous-circulation beneath this careless exterior. One must be blind indeed if he do not find in general an eager embracing of the noble opportunities of the University, and activity of mind commensurate with the worth of the instruction. I think we might produce on occasion scholars in the various departments of study, as mathematics, history, chemistry, and philosophy, with possibly the exception of classics, who would not blush before the elect of any College in the land.
In citing athletics to illustrate the doctrine of indifference, the writer failed to see the very weakest spot in his position. A boating meeting in the University may not be attended; but visit the true scenes of activity at the boat-house, the gymnasium, and Jarvis, and, as if to lay the ghost that troubles our author, the College rubs its sleepy eyes, stirs its sluggish blood, and sends eleven men to kick all Canada into the ocean. If enthusiasm is to be judged by the projects started, the Athletic Association and the new club system will both serve to point a significant moral, and the class and various small societies born in the last four years testify to little stagnation in the social circulation.
Desiring to correlate the large circulation of the Nation with the quality of the Harvard student, it was found necessary by our author to discover in that paper some occult and fruitful principle of evil. What then is this incubus that has fastened itself upon our devoted College? What is the Merlin-charm that has drained our life and
"Left us dead to use and name and fame"?
It is the fatal pessimism of the Nation. Behold the iconoclast which rudely defaces the temple and erects nowhere a chime for the devout.
Without allowing at the present point that the Nation is wholly negative and destructive, it may be shown that the function of a good newspaper is to be critical in its spirit. It is the tribunal before which the folly, incompetence, and crime that are enacting around us are to be summoned. I have somewhere heard of an enthusiast who started a paper to record the good deeds of men. It is said to have failed from want of news. But I conceive that it must have failed from other reasons. The good deeds of life are ordinarily to be taken for granted, and if of an extraordinary nature, become the basis of poetry or serve to illustrate a moral code. The positive method is the method of literature. It clothes the good in forms of beauty, and enlists the aesthetic faculty on the side of the true. The newspaper is the doctor rather than the sculptor, and must sternly set itself to dissect, amputate, and prune away the evils of society, and cannot stop to weep maudlin tears over petty virtues, or to create third-rate literature. Let us not then seek to find in the Nation what does not belong there. But we cannot fail to find in its writings a vigor and robustness of thought, a loftiness of aim, that is bred of the highest intelligence and uprightness. We cannot expect the crowd of false opinions and ungrounded rumors that ordinarily pass unchallenged to breathe this rarefied atmosphere. If we set our ideal among the stars, we must be content to find most things falling under the ban. It is precisely this species of writing, of all others, that awakens readers from mental sloth, and it is inconceivable that such a thing as indifference should be quoted as its legitimate result.
When our author, however, states that the attitude of the Nation is universally negative, and is barren of suggestions looking toward a higher state of things, he is approaching the region of facts where it behooves one to tread cautiously. Does he recognize no fixed principle of the Nation in regard to hard money and resumption? I would ask, in regard to the Southern question, who first suggested the ideas that were afterwards embodied in the bill that passed Congress? I would ask, who pointed out the nature of the difficulty in regard to the grangers and railroads? The views lately propounded by C. F. Adams, Jr., as to the over-production of railroads in the West, and the consequent over-cultivation of land, resulting in loss to both railroads and farms, were to be found in the Nation at an early date. The Nation also pointed out the lesson of the California Bank affair. But why multiply instances? The Nation is, or ought to be, in the hands of all our readers.
Occasion was taken, en passant, to revile that serviceable sheet, the Boston Herald. I have no wish to join issue upon every particular statement of the article in question, but it strikes me that in this case, as in the other, injustice is done to a popular favorite. As a news-teller the Herald is unequalled in Boston, and certain editorials occur to me that would do credit to any paper. I might refer to one entitled "An Oriental Lesson," in a Sunday Herald of recent date. Its stand on the currency question is certainly of the soundest, and in general its editorial department will compare favorably with any Boston paper. But I need enter into no elaborate defence of the Herald; the size of its circulation is eloquent enough, and I fear I have already trespassed upon the courtesy of your paper.
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