AT a recitation which I recently attended the instructor in his comments upon the text frequently spoke of the lower classes. If this phrase had occurred but once or twice, or if it had been used in reference to the four classes in college, it might have been excusable; but its constant recurrence forced me reluctantly to the perception that the professor in question actually entertained those abominable notions of social distinction which I had hoped that a century of freedom had banished from the mind of every intelligent American.
I feel it my duty to protest against the assumption of such a tone by our instructors. I grieve to say that there exists among the students a class of people who have devoted their lives to the development of their bodies and to the gratification of their more or less depraved tastes, and who have unpardonably neglected the intellect, - the only means we have of attaining truth. These people, glorying in their self-made ignorance, blindly refuse to recognize the great principles upon which our constitution is founded. Their appearance, their manners, their actions, and even their conversation, combine to assert with insolent effrontery that they consider themselves superior to some of their fellow-men. The character of these people is so despicable, and their opinion is known to be so worthless, that I habitually pass them by without notice, and think no more of their prattle than an elephant thinks of the buzz of a fly, which may soar in the air above him, but which in that very flight goes beyond the range of ordinary eyesight, and which can never hope to attract attention while its mighty fellow-creature is at hand.
When, however, these people are publicly encouraged in their insolent error by a person whose authoritative position lends to his most senseless words a certain degree of importance, I feel it my duty as a conscientious man to raise my voice against the fostering of notions which may damn the future of our nation.
The lower classes, indeed! And, pray, who are the lower classes? Are they those whose hardy forms, made strong and firm by the noble labor for which the body of man was made, support the great fabric of the state, which the puny Sybarite would helplessly allow to fall asunder? Are they those whose active minds, unsullied by the thoughts and traditions, which the Old World has left behind as eternal monuments of its infamy, find in themselves the germs of truth, disregard the plaints of the timorous observer of the past, and proudly direct the course of the ship of state in the direction in which their intellect tells them that it should go? Are they those whose fortune does not permit them to clothe their backs with the latest abomination of that world-old tyrant, Fashion? or to shake their sides with beastly laughter over each fresh outburst of loathsome obscenity in gilded dens of sin?
No! These men are good and true. They are the bone and sinew of our people. In them is found that grand American intellect which, unlike the faltering mind of the tyrant-ridden European, perceives the truth and will not wait to hear it disputed. In them is found that noble energy which advances the cause of truth when truth is once perceived, which turns a deaf ear to the sophistical arguments of unprincipled supporters of a state of things which the progress of the modern world has at last made unendurable, and which, having attained one great end, does not rest satisfied, but rushes forward and pushes on to the next. It is to them that we owe the declaration of the great truth that all men are equal.
And equal all men are. Have not all men eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and limbs alike? Have not all men minds and thoughts? Do not all men eat, and drink, and sleep, and talk? And does the fact that a man eats, or drinks, or sleeps, or talks more than his neighbor make him that neighbor's superior? The idea is preposterous, it is shameful, it is damnable. The man who publicly declares that there are lower classes is worthy of the gallows.
But yet I would not be understood to say that we should regard all men alike. There are some whom we should admire and praise; there are others whom we should hate, despise, and execrate. There are two great principles, one of which every man must follow, - the right and the wrong, the true and the false. The truth-teller should be loved, the liar should be hated.
And, above all, should we hate the man who lies in his actions. Words can be contradicted and disproved, but the subtle influence of deeds is far less easily overcome. There is, I grieve to say, a class of students at Harvard whose every act is a lie; and, hard as the duty is, it is the duty of every pure-minded man to hate them, to shake the dust of their rooms from his feet, and to use all his power to crush them out of existence.
I hardly need specify the class which I mean. It is of course composed of those who tacitly deny the great principle of the equality of mankind. There are men among us who, seeing that their fellow-students cannot afford new clothes, flaunt their gayly-colored garments in the faces of these very fellow-students. There are men who smile with self-glorifying complacency on their velvet chairs, who fill their rooms with rare works of art and literature, while they know that there are hundreds of others who cannot do likewise. There are men who, having been favored with early advantages, find in their memories stores of information and experience which they know that others lack, and yet which they take no pains to conceal. There are men, in short, who pass their whole lives in the effort to make an invidious distinction between themselves and their fellows. These are the men whom we ought to despise. These are the men whom our duty orders us to tread beneath our feet. These are the men who, if things were as they should be, and if social distinctions were allowed, would rightly and deservedly be execrated by all as the lower classes.