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- WHY GO TO COLLEGE? - 3/4 -


Yet even if that which is the profession of woman par excellence be hers, how can she be perennially so interesting a companion to her husband and children as if she had keen personal tastes, long her own, and growing with her growth? Indeed, in that respect the condition of men is almost the same as that of women. It would be quite the same were it not for the fact that a man's business or profession is generally in itself a means of growth, of education, of dignity. He leans his life against it. He builds his home in the shadow of it. It binds his days together in a kind of natural piety and makes him advance in strength and nobility as he "fulfils the common round, the daily task." And that is the reason why men in the past, if they have been honorable men, have grown old better than women. Men usually retain their ability longer, their mental alertness and hospitality. They add fine quality to fine quality, passing from strength to strength and preserving in old age whatever has been best in youth. It was a sudden recognition of this fact which made a young friend of mine say last winter, "I am not going to parties any more; the men best worth talking with are too old to dance."

Even with the help of a permanent business or profession, however, the most interesting men I know are those who have an avocation as well as a vocation. I mean a taste or work quite apart from the business of life. This revives, inspires, and cultivates them perpetually. It matters little what it is, if only it is real and personal, is large enough to last, and possesses the power of growth. .A young sea-captain from a New England village on a long and lonely voyage falls upon a copy of Shelley. Appeal is made to his fine but untrained mind, and the book of the boy poet becomes the seaman's university. The wide world of poetry and of the other fine arts is opened, and the Shelleyian specialist becomes a cultivated, original, and charming man. A busy merchant loves flowers, and in all his free hours studies them. Each new spring adds knowledge to his knowledge, and his friends continually bring him their strange discoveries. With growing wealth he cultivates rare and beautiful plants, and shares them with his fortunate acquaintances. Happy the companion invited to a walk or a drive with such observant eyes, such vivid talk! Because of this cheerful interest in flowers, and this ingenious skill in dealing with them, the man himself is interesting. All his powers are alert, and his judgment is valued in public life and in private business. Or is it more exact to say that because he is the kind of man who would insist upon having such interests outside his daily work, he is still fresh and young and capable of growth at an age when many other men are dull and old and certain that the time of decay is at hand?

There are two reasons why women need to cultivate these large and abiding interests even more persistently than men. In the first place, they have more leisure. They are indeed the only leisure class in the country, the only large body of persons who are not called upon to win their daily bread in direct wage-earning ways. As yet, fortunately, few men among us have so little self-respect as to idle about our streets and drawing-rooms because their fathers are rich enough to support them. We are not without our unemployed poor; but roving tramps and idle clubmen are after all not of large consequence. Our serious, non-producing classes are chiefly women. It is the regular ambition of the chivalrous American to make all the women who depend on him so comfortable that they need do nothing for themselves. Machinery has taken nearly all the former occupations of women out of the home into the shop and factory. Widespread wealth and comfort, and the inherited theory that it is not well for the woman to earn money so long as father or brothers can support her, have brought about a condition of things in which there is social danger, unless with the larger leisure are given high and enduring interests. To health especially there is great danger, for nothing breaks down a woman's health like idleness and its resulting ennui. More people, I am sure, are broken down nervously because they are bored, than because they are overworked; and more still go to pieces through fussiness, unwholesome living, worry over petty details, and the daily disappointments which result from small and superficial training. And then, besides the danger to health, there is the danger to character. I need not dwell on the undermining influence which men also feel when occupation is taken away and no absorbing private interest fills the vacancy. The vices of luxurious city life are perhaps hardly more destructive to character than is the slow deterioration of barren country life. Though the conditions in the two cases are exactly opposite, the trouble is often the same,--absence of noble interests. In the city restless idleness organizes amusement; in the country deadly dulness succeeds daily toil.

But there is a second reason why a girl should acquire for herself strong and worthy interests. The regular occupations of women in their homes are generally disconnected and of little educational value, at least as those homes are at present conducted. Given the best will in the world, the daily doing of household details becomes a wearisome monotony if the mere performance of them is all. To make drudgery divine a woman must have a brain to plan and eyes to see how to "sweep a room as to God's laws." Imagination and knowledge should be the hourly companions of her who would make a fine art of each detail in kitchen and nursery. Too long has the pin been the appropriate symbol of the average woman's life--the pin, which only temporarily holds together things which may or may not have any organic connection with one another. While undoubtedly most women must spend the larger part of life in this modest pin-work, holding together the little things of home and school and society and church, it is also true, that cohesive work itself cannot be done well, even in humble circumstances, except by the refined, the trained, the growing woman. The smallest village, the plainest home, give ample space for the resources of the trained college woman. And the reason why such homes and such villages are so often barren of grace and variety is just because these fine qualities have not ruled them. The higher graces of civilization halt among us; dainty and finished ways of living give place to common ways, while vulgar tastes, slatternly habits, clouds and despondency reign in the house. Little children under five years of age die in needless thousands because of the dull, unimaginative women on whom they depend. Such women have been satisfied with just getting along, instead of packing everything they do with brains, instead of studying the best possible way of doing everything small or large; for there is always a best way, whether of setting a table, of trimming a hat, or teaching a child to read. And this taste for perfection can be cultivated; indeed, it must be cultivated, if our standards of living are to be raised. There is now scientific knowledge enough, there is money enough, to prevent the vast majority of the evils which afflict our social organism, if mere knowledge or wealth could avail; but the greater difficulty is to make intelligence, character, good taste, unselfishness prevail.

What, then, are the interests which powerfully appeal to mind and heart, and so are fitted to become the strengthening companions of a woman's life? I shall mention only three, all of them such as are elaborately fostered by college life. The first is the love of great literature. I do not mean that use of books by which a man may get what is called a good education and so be better qualified for the battle of life, nor do I mention books in their character as reservoirs of knowledge, books which we need for special purposes, and which are no longer of consequence when our purpose with them is served. I have in mind the great books, especially the great poets, books to be adopted as a resource and a solace. The chief reason why so many people do not know how to make comrades of such books is because they have come to them too late. We have in this country enormous numbers of readers, probably a larger number who read, and who read many hours in the week, than has ever been known elsewhere in the world. But what do these millions read besides the newspapers? Possibly a denominational religious weekly and another journal of fashion or business. Then come the thousands who read the best magazines, and whatever else is for the moment popular in novels and poetry-- the last dialect story, the fashionable poem, the questionable but talked-of novel. Let a violent attack be made on the decency of a new story and instantly, if only it is clever, its author becomes famous.

But the fashions in reading of a restless race--the women too idle, the men too heavily worked--I will not discuss here. Let light literature be devourered by our populace as his drug is taken by the opium-eater, and with a similar narcotic effect. We can only seek out the children, and hope by giving them from babyhood bits of the noblest literature, to prepare them for the great opportunities of mature life. I urge, therefore, reading as a mental stimulus, as a solace in trouble, a perpetual source of delight; and I would point out that we must not delay to make the great friendships that await us on the library shelves until sickness shuts the door on the outer world, or death enters the home and silences the voices that once helped to make these friendships sweet. If Homer and Shakespeare and Wordsworth and Browning are to have meaning for us when we need them most, it will be because they come to us as old familiar friends whose influences have permeated the glad and busy days before. The last time I heard James Russell Lowell talk to college girls, he said,--for he was too ill to say many words--"I have only this one message to leave with you. In all your work in college never lose sight of the reason why you have come here. It is not that you may get something by which to earn your bread, but that every mouthful of bread may be the sweeter to your taste."

And this is the power possessed by the mighty dead,--men of every time and nation, whose voices death cannot silence, who are waiting even at the poor man's elbow, whose illuminating words may be had for the price of a day's work in the kitchen or the street, for lack of love of whom many a luxurious home is a dull and solitary spot, breeding misery and vice. Now the modern college is especially equipped to introduce its students to such literature. The library is at last understood to be the heart of the college. The modern librarian is not the keeper of books, as was his predecessor, but the distributer of them, and the guide to their resources, proud when he increases the use of his treasures. Every language, ancient or modern, which contains a literature is now taught in college. Its history is examined, its philology, its masterpieces, and more than ever is English literature studied and loved. There is now every opportunity for the college student to become an expert in the use of his own tongue and pen. What other men painfully strive for he can enjoy to the full with comparatively little effort.

But there is a second invigorating interest to which college training introduces its student. I mean the study of nature, intimacy with the strange and beautiful world in which we live. "Nature never did betray the heart that loved her," sang her poet high priest. When the world has been too much with us, nothing else is so refreshing to tired eyes and mind as woods and water, and an intelligent knowledge of the life within them. For a generation past there has been a well-nigh universal turning of the population toward the cities. In 1840 only nine per cent of our people lived in cities of 8,000 inhabitants or more. Now


WHY GO TO COLLEGE? - 3/4

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