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- The Valley of Vision - 20/31 -
"You exaggerate the part played by what you call the mind. Human conduct is mainly a matter of heredity and environment. Most of it is determined by instinct, impulse, and habit."
"Granted, for the sake of argument. But may there not be a mental as well as a physical inheritance, an environment of thought as well as of bodily circumstances?"
"Perhaps so. Yes, I suppose that is true to a certain extent."
"A poor phrase, my dear Hardman; but let it pass. Will you admit that there may be habits of thinking and feeling as well as habits of doing and making things?"
"And do you recognize a difference between bad habits and good habits?"
"And you agree that this difference exists both in mental and in physical affairs? For example, you would call the foreman of a machine-shop who directed his work in accordance with the natural laws of his material and of his steam or electric power a man of good habits, would you not?"
"And you would not deny him this name, but would rather emphasize it, if in addition he had the habit of paying regard to the moral and social laws which condition the welfare and efficiency of his workmen; for example, self-control, cheerfulness, honesty, fair play, honor, human kindness, and so on. If he taught these things, not only by word but by deed, you would call him an excellent foreman, would you not?"
"Without a question. That machine-shop would be a great success, a model."
"But suppose your foreman had none of these good mental and moral habits. Suppose he was proud, overbearing, dishonest, unfair, and cruel. Do you not believe he would have a bad influence upon his men? Would not the shop, no matter what kind of work it turned out, become a nest of evil and a menace to its neighbors?"
"It surely would."
"What, then, would you do with the foreman?"
"I would try to teach him better. If that failed, I would discharge him."
"In what method and by what means would you endeavor to teach him?"
"By all the means that I could command. By precept and by example, by warning him of his faults and by showing him better ways, by wholesome books and good company."
"And if he refused to learn; if he remained obstinate; if he mocked you and called you a hypocrite; if he claimed that his way was the best, in fact the only way, divinely inspired, and therefore beyond all criticism, then you would throw him out?"
"Certainly, and quickly! I should regard him as morally insane, and try my best to put him where he could do no more harm. But tell me why this protracted imitation of Socrates? Where are you trying to lead me? Do you want me to say that the German Kaiser is a very bad foreman of his shop; that he has got it into a horrible mess and made it despised and hated by all the other shops; that he ought to be put out? If that is your point, I am with you in advance."
"Right you are!" cried Dick joyously. "Can the Kaiser! We all agree to that. And here the bout ends, with honors for both sides, and a special prize for the Governor."
The professor smiled, recognizing in the name more affection than disrespect. He leaned forward in his chair, lighting a fresh cigar with gusto.
"Not yet," he said, "O too enthusiastic youth! Our friend here has not yet come to the point at which I was aiming. The application of my remarks to the Kaiser--whom I regard as a gifted paranoiac--is altogether too personal and limited. I was thinking of something larger and more important. Do you give me leave to develop the idea?"
"Fire away, sir," said Dick.
Hardman nodded his assent. "I should like very much to hear in what possible way you connect the misconduct of Germany, which I admit, with your idea of the present value of classical study, which I question."
"In this way," said the professor earnestly. "Germany has been living for fifty years with a closed mind. Oh, I grant you it was an active mind, scientific, laborious, immensely patient. But it was an ingrowing mind. Sure of its own superiority, it took no counsel with antiquity and scorned the advice of its neighbors. It was intent on producing something entirely new and all its own--a purely German _Kultur_, independent of the past, and irresponsible to any laws except those of Germany's interests and needs. Hence it fell into bad habits of thought and feeling, got into trouble, and brought infinite trouble upon the world."
"And do you claim," interrupted Hardman, "that this would have been prevented by reading the classics? Would that have been the only and efficient cure for Germany's disease? Rather a large claim, that!"
"Much too large," replied the professor. "I did not make it. In the first place, it may be that Germany's trouble had gone beyond any cure but the knife. In the second place, I regard the intelligent reading of the Bible and the vital apprehension of the real spirit of Christianity as the best of all cures for mental and moral ills. All that I claim for the classics--the works of the greatest of the Greek and Roman writers--is that they have in them a certain remedial and sanitary quality. They contain noble thoughts in noble forms. They show the strength of self-restraint. They breathe the air of clearness and candor. They set forth ideals of character and conduct which are elevating. They also disclose the weakness and the ugliness of things mean and base. They have the broad and generous spirit of the true _literae humaniores._ They reveal the springs of civilization and lead us--
'To the glory that was Greece, To the grandeur that was Rome.'
Now these are precisely the remedies 'indicated,' as the physicians say, for the cure, or at least the mitigation, of the specific bad habits which finally caused the madness of Germany."
"Please tell us, sir," asked Dick gravely, "how you mean us to take that. Do you really think it would have done any good to those brutes who ravaged Belgium and outraged France to read Tacitus or Virgil or the Greek tragedies? They couldn't have done it, anyhow."
"Probably not," answered the professor, while Hardman sat staring intently into the fire, "probably not. But suppose the leaders and guides of Germany (her masters, in effect, who moulded and _kultured_ the people to serve their nefarious purpose of dominating the world by violence), suppose these masters had really known the meaning and felt the truth of the Greek tragedies, which unveil reckless arrogance--_Hybris_--as the fatal sin, hateful to the gods and doomed to an inevitable Nemesis. Might not this truth, filtering through the masters to the people, have led them to the abatement of the ruinous pride which sent Germany out to subjugate the other nations in 1914? The egregious General von der Goltz voiced the insane arrogance which made this war when he said, 'The nineteenth century saw a German Empire, the twentieth shall see a German world.'
"Or suppose the Teutonic teachers and pastors had read with understanding and taken to heart the passages of Csesar in which he curtly describes the violent and thievish qualities of the ancient Germans--how they spread desolation around them to protect their borders, and encouraged their young men in brigandage in order to keep them in practice. Might not these plain lessons have been used as a warning to the people of modern Germany to discourage their predatory propensities and their habits of devastation and to hold them back from their relapse into the _Schrecklichkeit_ of savage warfare? George Meredith says a good thing in 'Diana of the Crossways': 'Before you can civilize a man, you must first de-barbarize him.' That is the trouble with the Germans, especially their leaders and masters. They have never gotten rid of their fundamental barbarism, the idolatry of might above right.
They have only put on a varnish of civilization. It cracks and peels off in the heat.
"Take one more illustration. Suppose these German thought-masters and war-lords had really understood and assimilated the true greatness of the conception of the old Roman Empire as it is shown, let us say, by Virgil. You remember that splendid passage in the Sixth Book of the AEneid where the Romans are called to remember that it is their mission 'to crown Peace with Law, to spare the humbled, and to subdue and tame the proud.' Might not sucn a noble doctrine have detached the Germans a little from their blind devotion to the Hohenzollern-Hollweg conception of the modern pinchbeck German Empire--a predatory state, greedy to gain new territory but incapable of ruling it when gained, scornful of the rights of smaller peoples, oppressing them when subjugated, as she has oppressed Poland and Schleswig-Holstein and Alsace-Lorraine, a clumsy and exterminating tyrant in her own colonies, as she has shown herself in East and West Africa? I tell you that a vital perception of what the Roman Empire really meant in its palmy days might have been good medicine for Germany. It might have taught her to make herself fit for power before seeking to grasp it."
"Granted, granted," broke in Hardman, impatiently poking the fire. "You can't say anything about Germany too severe to suit me. Whatever she needed to keep her from committing the criminal blunder of this war, it is certain that she did not get it. The blunder was made and the price must be paid. But what I say now, as I said at the beginning, is that Latin and Greek are dead languages. For us,
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