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Literature and Universities


The skilled performer in any of the arts but literature must have a training whose technique sets him apart from ordinary men: His education in the handling of paints and brushes, chisels and marble, counterpoint and chords, columns and domes, is a thing for the rest of the world to admire but not to share. But the man of letters has no such monopoly of his art. He has merely pursued it further than the laboring man who knows how to order a meal in English. The language is common property. The man who develops his manner of using it to the plane of art may use tools that are more finely tempered, but they are of the same shape as those employed by the most commonplace writer. Words must give the thought its visible form. So the man who aspires to write with grace and distinction tries to create an artificial separation. It should last long enough to give him the feeling that he is working in a medium as different from the speech of the man in the street as a dry-point is different from a circus billboard.

Resources and associations of university life offer just such a retreat. The undergraduate is provided not only with an education, but with a mode of life, leisurely, tranquil, suitable to study and quiet thought. The men who were steeped in the beauties of the peaceful streams and meadows around Oxford or Cambridge, who passed long, quiet years in the cool courts and gardens of the colleges, who found congenial friends and tutors, read much classical and modern literature and exchanged ideas with stimulating minds, naturally here afterward the mark of those years.

Undergraduates enter classes nowadays which are guaranteed to turn them out "sure-fire" playwrights or novelists or short-story writers. They specialize in something, which will bring them speedy fame and wealth, and care little for the pleasures of quiet, leisurely reading. Oscar Wilde said that our youthfulness was our oldest tradition. "It has been going on now for 300 years." Perhaps it is now giving way to the beginnings of a new one, noted these last fifty years a flair for early specialization. The broad base of the pyramid may be done away with altogether, and the apex will be erected on a scaffolding of light, standard-size steel girders. --New York Times, Nov. 21.

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