« ForrigeFortsæt »
YALE LITERARY MAGAZINE
WALTER MILLIS CULBRETH SUDLER
JOHN CROSBY, JR. BUSINESS MANAGERS. THOMAS E. HURLEY
PAUL P. BUSHNELL GEORGE W. TOBIN
LEADER. IM n his Education, Henry Adams has exposed the complex, un
imaginative, and chaotic society that we had already imagined to be ours. His earlier book, Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, shows us what we have missed, the serene unity that modern society lacks. In both books Mr. Adams provokes the realization of the shortcomings of our age; both the study of a lost optimism in Chartres and the expression of contemporary pessimism in the Education seem to indicate the cause of the aimless acceleration of our activity. The artists and master-builders of the Middle Ages were apparently never hurried; they appreciated leisure and made the most of it. They believed that nothing could be accomplished without careful planning, without time to develop their ideas by discussion. Their glass and carving show the logical but quiet progress of a beautiful imagination. The expression of legends and philosophy by this glass shows a conception of the fundamental truths that could be crystallized only by patient reading and constructive conversation. Their gargoyles and grotesques may well be the expression of idle hours of mediaeval repartee, for they were too naïve not to express all of themselves in their art. Work they did, nobles and peasants alike labored for the Church, but they also had leisure which they wisely devoted to the deciding of what they thought and what they might do.
The twelfth and thirteenth centuries are incomparable enough to the twentieth, but the Middle Ages achieved the complete realization of their aims and the consequent expression of these aims partly through the use of leisure. The lack of it denies us the same realization. And it is certainly obvious that we have no leisure. We are never content with just “being no-matterwhere," but must continually be "doing something” or “going somewhere." The college should be the best refuge from this physical activity. The curriculum demands comparatively little time. Extra-curriculum routine leaves free hours in spite of itself; but, like the so-called leisure classes of the press, we do nothing with this precious leisure, but dissipate its boredom by action. Perhaps there are large groups of secret readers, furtive conversationalists, and suppressed thinkers, but comparatively few deny themselves the minor hurried activities that they may come to an understanding of the important movements of the day. · Limited as we are by lack of experience, this understanding can be effected only by reading and conversation. The value of reading is admitted as much as the value of conversation is deprecated, but the incidental pleasures derived from one or the other seem to be equally unappreciated.
As the neglected art of a lost leisure, conversation merits some consideration. Repartee is the thoroughly social side of conversation, is its practice during the lighter moments of dining. In its course, rather than in its goal (for it has none), rests its virtue, and the more intricate and wandering its passage becomes, the more brilliant is this virtue. Its effectiveness is based upon its restraint to the impersonal, upon its absence from general conversation where there is always the temptation to carry the otherwise unappreciated epigram by a vocal tour de force. It must also lack self-consciousness, for it fails as soon as a conversationalist includes himself in his audience. Despite the stigma of indolence that the very busy and the very dull have tried to fasten to repartee, it fortunately seems to be reviving. Its abeyance is, perhaps, the fault of society in its more limited sense. The irresistible temptation to giggle at the banal personality or the pseudo-intentional solecism and the gales of laughter at any subtlety we are clever enough to understand have suspended this legitimate and essentially delightful employment of leisure.
February, 1920) JAN 5 '40
But by far the most important kind of conversation is discussion. Here the attitude of mind is the factor upon which success depends. Mere argument is futile, for one should be ready to be convinced without trying to convert anyone else. Intelligent discussion would seem to be the expression of ideas and the definition of terms, supported by the reasons and facts determining those expressions and definitions. But no conclusion can be maintained by the American subterfuge of quoting statistics which, though themselves true, serve to disguise the truth. Rather we should proceed in a discussion by developing a logically conceived and clearly expressed idea with relevant example of events and movements.
Purely literary discussion is usually quiet and might be quite social were it not for the universal distrust of the tea-cup. The only experience necessary is reading, and a general knowledge of the history of literature, knowledge open to us all. But with this same background there is necessarily no agreement; no citing of facts or reasons will effect an understanding. The tendency is to adopt an amused toleration toward another's literary tastes, to laugh at him quietly and to continue to exchange ideas and opinions.
Political and philosophical discussion is of quite another sort. If literary discussion is one of the few quiet amenities of modern society, the spectre of political discussion may be the disruptive force of the most serene gathering. It seems that it is what others feel rather than what they think that disturbs us, that the divergence of political or moral views always involves considerable interest. The reason for this may be that we lack experience, without which our reasoning runs of itself to irreconcilable extremes. But despite their intensity such discussions are the most broadening and interesting; it is through them that we come to know what we believe, that our prejudices are changed to convictions.
As has appeared above, our political and moral thinking is based on study without experience and is crystallized by discussion. This thinking is more than likely to incline to one form of radicalism or another, and, what is worse, is something about which we are extremely sensitive. It thus seems to be an easy prey to the practical man who is fond of satirizing academic idealism and the unique worth of experience. To the superficial logic of this sort of person we would reply that we realize that our ideas are not wholly practical, that they do not seem to admit compromise now through the very nature of their origin. What we can do, is to accomplish a conception of our ideals and convictions that must be extraordinarily strong and clear to persist through the compromise invariably demanded by experience.
Y friend, it is very pleasant here. What more could you
ask? This is an excellent café; you will not find mellower wines in all of southern Europe, I believe. And the late sunlight falling in that long slant, catching all the bright, clear greens from under the lower leaves, and throwing the evening's shadows level into the branches above-is that not worth something? But you are incorrigible. The bit of beach down there and the one little patch of purple sea beyond the red roofs, framed in the soft foliage—ah, that is beautiful, I tell you, and real. Now, when the old cathedral bells let fall their music down across the white houses of the town, while the night is creeping up on the dying sun-rays, will you be so obstinate with this trifling trouble of yours? Pshaw, man, you young people know nothing! What does one person more or less matter to you, or nonsense of that sort, when you have this? It is in just such rare moments of life as these, when all the secrets of the world lie open to the coming of a quiet twilight, or to the glorious breaking of a dawn, perhaps, or to the bright heat of some great mid-day, that you will find the lasting things. Such moments of life, did I say? Such moments are life!
But that goes over your head, of course. You are altogether too much of a boy. It is the young who are so incurably serious and so incurably foolish about it. At my age you will either have learned better and got over your solemnity, or you will have become tired and thoroughly stupid, like most unfortunate old people. Now you are burdened with your soul. All young people have souls, or what they call their souls; it is the price of their folly, I imagine. Yes, I had one myself, now I come to think of it. It was a tremendous nuisance. But I got rid of the thing at last, and so will you. Allow me: to the moment when you conquer your soul! Why should you look offended? The toast was a good one, and drunk in the best of stuff. See it, sparkling in the decanter there. I verily believe that it is laughing