Mad with activity, ruled by the iron hand of mob psychology how can the college of today foster genius, cherish the artist, inspire the idealist? Mr. Henry Rood, writing in the February Scribner's, would like to know. And he would like to know, too, what place the modern college would find for Emerson, Poe, Bret Harte, Mark Twain, and their great contemporaries. Being a shrewd observer Mr. Rood answers his last question as every thoughtful undergraduate could answer it: the college would first force these men "to wear hats and caps of the same style, suits and overcoats of the same cut, collars, ties, hosiery, shoes of the same pattern," then ostracize them until they were "out" for a team, a glee club, a publication, even brand them as "queer" until they thought like and acted like everybody else, and finally teach them in remaining leisure to dine elegantly, dance gracefully, and bridge skillfully.
To the student caught up in the wild whirl of activity before he becomes conscious of his own individuality these words come as a shock--and more shocking because true: "Practically incessant activity with little opportunity for reflection is of at least debatable value for the average student." And for the potential creative artist? "Is it reasonable to expect Creative Genius to germinate, take root, unfold the buds--to develop steadily, surely--in such soil, such atmosphere?" With anguish the student must realize that his four years at college are not favorable--even hostile--to what true genius lies latent is his breast.
Time is wanting time to reflect, to ponder, to dream; idle hours when fancy sets the spirit free. Can one imagine Plato or Shakespeare in a managership competition? The thought is absurd, and yet just as absurd is the ceaseless round of petty activities that make up "college life."
Harvard is fortunately free of many of the restraints and restrictions against which Mr. Rood justly complains. Mob spirit and the dreadful "drive" are not as irresistible as in other colleges; yet even here they are all too powerful. When bitterness and reproach are hurled at the "authorities" for these and other defects it is well to remember that much of what is worst at Harvard, as in all other colleges, is caused by the materialistic philosophy of the undergraduates themselves. The student body itself tends to crush genius and exalt conformity.