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EVERY one who has gone through college must have noticed a greater or less change among his acquaintances. We do not mean a "change of heart," any moral improvement, or the reverse, but a sort of intellectual development, and alteration in the point of view from which men regard life. Now these changes are so various that it never occurred to us that they could be comprised under a single formula, till we stumbled across a remark in De Bernard's Gerfaut, one of the most worthless of French novels. The clown of the story has a social theory which he is constantly uttering, - that mankind is comprehende din three classes: gentilsh mmes, bourgeois, artistes, and to these he always adds, "et moi, je suis artiste." Gentilhomme, as he uses it, is equivalent to our gentleman, and the meaning of bourgeois must be familiar to every one with the slightest familiarity with French literature. In passing, however, we may say generally that the difference between bourgeois and gentlemen is that the former are governed in their conduct by religion as they understand it, and the latter by their sense of honor.* The term artiste, however, requires more explanation: an artiste, then, is a person, most likely of bourgeois extraction, who somehow or other picks up a taste and appreciation for literature, or art, or what not, which raises him above the commonplace and dulness and ever-present mediocrity of his bourgeois relatives, but does not make him a gentleman. His smattering of real knowledge, say of art, enables him to despise bourgeois ignorance of it. His superior cleverness makes him writhe under the conventionality which keeps the others on a level of stupidity and complacency. Reaction against particular points of a system naturally produces contempt for the whole, and this rule applies, of course, more strongly to the "volatile" French than to other nations; so the genuine artiste despises bourgeois virtues as much as their narrow-mindedness.
In this respect the artiste of France and his double of England or America are very different persons, for practical morals are never questioned here, nor have we different codes for different classes of society. But in essentials they are the same. The accident which changes a bourgeois into an artiste does not give him the social training, or, as the French call it, the savoir vivre, requisite of a gentleman, much less his delicacy of feeling. Wordsworth certainly was superior to bourgeois, but De Quincey might well be pardoned for denying the name of gentleman to a man who cut the leaves of a book, in the author's presence, with a table-knife covered with butter. This indeed is a trifle, and for the perfection of the English bourgeois-artiste character we must go to Dr. Johnson. There is a good deal, after all, to be said in excuse of the first gentleman of his time letting him wait in the anteroom among the lackeys; for except in his learning and moral character, he was little better than they; while in personal habits and delicacy of feeling they were probably his superiors.
It should not be understood that the artiste is merely a hybrid between a bourgeois and a gentleman, - the term connotes more than this. The moment a man's taste so changes that he fails to appreciate the exquisite beauty of chromos, and Dickens's pathos, and prayer-meetings, or in regard to anything else, ceases to be enrapport with bourgeois ideas, he becomes artiste, and a bourgeois-gentilhomme is as much an artiste as anybody. A thing to be noticed in the metamorphosis from bourgeois to artiste is that the change is unnatural and revolutionary. Bourgeois should and do gradually change to gentlemen, as the art-hating, witch-burning society of Massachusetts has become the clientele of the Harvard College of to-day. Unnatural development must be one-sided, and artistes are, as it were, permanently preserved tailless tadpoles.
In our view, we confess, American college life seems a hot-house, producing, not gentlemen, but artistes. The majority of men coming to college from elsewhere than the social world of the great cities are pure bourgeois. They have the big virtues and the little, - regard for the truth and virtuous recoil from ponying. They have read nothing but the Requirements for Admission and high-toned books, and scorn all literature but such as "fits them for the work of life." Cards are not only a waste of time, but evil in themselves; and the theatre an abomination. Now, a few of these leave as they came, but what is the result with those who change?
So far as we can see, the book-learning or literary culture bestowed by a college education is no more than a daub of paint over the bourgeois figure. Not that the book-learning acquired is superficial, - it is usually sound and thorough, - but the relation of this culture to the man generally is at best merely that of a coat of paint. Nor is it merely a case of scratch a Russian and find a Tartar, for the oil of the paint corrodes and spoils the bourgeois beneath. No bourgeois needs to be told that he is as good as the next man and a good deal better, and though as poeta nascitur, etc., a man can't make himself a gentleman, he can become the pinchbeck imitation thereof, and if he cannot attract notice in one way he can in another. No one would bear any ill-will to a man who snorted in chapel through ignorance, but if he continued to disgust a crowd of men because he thought it funny, he would be in a very different position. Nor is a young man's failure to make a good speech at a public dinner at all inexcusable, but "funny" allusions to the Faculty as an old hen reflect no credit upon the society which permits them.
*"The exact meaning of 'honor' it would be very difficult to lay down, but it may be possible to sum up some of the leading notions contained in the word. The chief of these is that of self-respect. In the first place it has nothing to do with morality except in the department of fidelity arising out of self-respect. A man may get drunk every night, or keep a harem, or hold every heresy that theologians have denounced, and yet be a strictly honorable man. Lady Hamilton did not make Nelson less than the pink of honor, nor did Pitt's port prevent his being one of the purest and noblest statesmen that ever lived."
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