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THE CASE OF LITERATURE. II 



By Grant Showekman 
The University of Wisconsin 



II. TREATMENT 

Vive, vale. Si quid novisti rectius istis, 
Candidus imperii; si non, his utere mecum. 

I propose by way of remedy to overturn no idols. What I have 
been criticizing is not so much the system of graduate study as the 
spirit in which it is conducted, and the false conception of scholarship 
which it is allowed to foster. I propose only a shifting of emphasis 
to the proper place by those who are responsible for leadership in the 
teaching of literature. Let the center of literary instruction, ancient 
and modern, be literature, and hterature abundantly. 

I do not mean by this the omission of the study or the teaching of 
the various branches of knowledge which enter into hterary content, or 
have to do with its history; but I do mean the subjection of them all 
to hterature, the use of them merely as a means to an end, and that 
end the interpretation and appropriation of literature. Let us aim 
at this end directly, and cease to pay more attention to the trimmings 
than to the robe itself. Let us recognize and confess that the material 
with which speciahzation in literature deals is rarely essential, even 
when it is interesting or profitable to the investigator and his friends, 
and that in both undergraduate and graduate instruction it is far 
more likely to obscure than to illumine the subject of literature. 

First, then, let us have fewer undergraduate courses. Let there 
be broad courses hmited in number which as nearly as possible all 
students shall take — courses which, with rare exceptions, set before 
them hterature which is worth while for its own sake, and not merely 
for the sake of making the course exhaustive (that first infirmity of 
the speciahst mind), or for the sake of what it tells about the history 
of literature, or archaeology, or phonetics; courses which present 
authors who are significant hterary personalities, not a series of frag- 
ments of no value in themselves, nor mutilated selections serving to 

29 X 



292 THE CLASSICAL JOURNAL 

illustrate movements and influences. These things are interesting 
and profitable, but only as they contribute to the main purpose; 
they are infinitely damaging when made ends in themselves. A 
single course, given on broad lines, ought to give the undergraduate 
all the information that is good for him regarding the movements of 
literary history, and vs^ithout sacrificing the main purpose of acquaint- 
ing him with the best literature. A historical course in which the 
reading of good literature is not by far the major activity will be a 
failure. Ask a student what he thinks of such a course, and the answer 
will be illuminating — if he is not your student. 

Secondly, let us cease to multiply our graduate courses also, and 
let it be understood that those which are given are subordinate to 
the main purpose — the interpretation and appropriation of litera- 
ture. Let the seminary stand for overwhelming interest in literature, 
or let it cease to demand practically all the student's time. And 
when the candidate comes up for examination, let the examiner test 
his powers of interpretation, and ascertain whether he possesses real 
familiarity with his authors and has made them his own. If he is 
a candidate in foreign language either ancient or modern, let him be 
held responsible for the ready translation, elucidation, and appropri- 
ate comment on any of the important works in his field, whether read 
in course or not. 

But what of the dissertation ? If the professor or the student has 
in mind a subject of real importance whose investigation will be of 
service both to the investigator and the world, by all means a disser- 
tation, for the training and experience of a good dissertation form one 
of the greatest factors in the education of both the scholar and the 
teacher. But in branches of learning which are so mature and full 
of dignity that they no longer serve as fields for infant exploitation, 
the professor and the student should be excused from inventing a 
theme whose elaboration is bound to be barren of all except disciplinary 
results because it is called into being to satisfy the demands of a sys- 
tem, and is therefore insincere and perfunctory. It may be all right 
to give a senior a few weeks of thesis discipline, but the amount of 
time demanded by the dissertation is too great to be thrown away 
on mere convention. 

In other words, it is at least worth considering whether we should 



THE CASE OF LITERATURE 293 

not do both the graduate and his field of learning more good if we 
regarded the system as made for the man, and not the man for the 
system. If the candidate is not yet prepared to write something 
original which is worth while, why compel him to write something 
original which is not worth while, at an expense of time which pre- 
judices his future work because it robs him of the opportunity to 
broaden himself ? If we are confronted by the alternative of assign- 
ing either a subject not absolutely virgin which will do the student 
good, or one which will result in original but trivial scholarship, let 
us not sacrifice to the fetich of research the potential four-square 
scholar and teacher of twenty years hence. 

Instead of taking for granted that the candidate already knows, 
or by some undefined process will get to know, the great common field 
of knowledge, instead of assuming that the raw recruit can be a rival or 
companion investigator with a veteran of life and learning, why not 
face the fact that he is rarely capable of investigating for anyone's 
good but his own, try to realize a little more fully that where there is 
no vision the speciaUst perishes, and drop the seductive fiction that 
the requirement of printed dissertations will result in dissertations 
fit to be printed ? Give him a subject which will compel him to 
read and assimilate wholesome literature instead of to search the 
files of musty magazines and paw over scrapheaps of erudition that 
long since went the way to dusty death. 

Let the dissertation serve the twofold purpose of educating the 
student in his chosen field and of developing his stylistic excellence. 
Let discipline in accuracy, exhaustiveness, and method be incidental 
to the main purpose. It is the worst kind of psychology to assume 
that the student knows the general field because it has already been 
entered and explored, and to send him groping about its dark corners 
in the expectation that he will find something which will do some- 
one else good, while he has not yet charted for himself the main 
territory. Instead of encouraging, or rather forcing the graduate 
to neglect the long line of dramatic literature while he is delving 
among debris for evidence of the mask in the time of Menander, 
let him acquire by conquest of his own his ancient and modern 
dramatists. 

By conquest. There may be on the common dining-table of 



294 THE CLASSICAL JOURNAL 

scholarship abundance of literature and of books full of appreciations 
of men and things and movements and influences; but they are not 
the property of the individual until he has reached out after them 
and possessed himself of them. His field is a land of promise, and 
though all the world beside may possess it, and though generations 
before him may have possessed it, it is not his own until he has fought 
his way into it. 

Was du ererbt von deinen Vatem hast, 

Erwirb es, um es zu besitzen ! 

But someone objects : is the work of the graduate to be no different 
from that of the undergraduate ? I once heard it said of a professor 
that the difference between his undergraduate and seminary courses 
in the same author was that on his way to the undergraduate course 
he wore a derby, and on his way to the seminary a top hat. I would 
have the difference amount to more than this, though I sympathize 
with the principle. But there should be no change of front, no essen- 
tial difference. The work of interpretation and appropriation should 
continue, only in a broader and deeper way. The seminary and the 
dissertation should be made the vehicle of it. A doctor in Latin 
ought to have read his Cicero and Horace, and all the most important 
Latin authors, until he is saturated with their thought and language, 
and with the spirit of their times. A doctor in Greek ought to be so 
full of his subject as to think in terms of the Greek masters. The 
candidate in modern literature ought to be saturated with the best 
product of modem times. And all three ought so to have bridged 
the chasm that separates us from antiquity, and so to have related 
the ancient with the modern and the modem with the ancient, that 
with them a literary education is in real truth "the accumulation upon 
the present age of the influence of whatever was best and greatest in 
the life of the past." 

The fact is, scholarship in literature hath committed great mis- 
takes — ^not to use the prophet's rougher word — departing from the 
literary art, and scholars in literature are themselves in need of educa- 
tion in comparative values. Let us define research and scholarship 
in Hterature with less inflexibility. Creative scholarship consists 
not only in the discovery of relationships between things which already 
exist; it consists also in the ability to put things together in relation- 



THE CASE OF LITERATURE 295 

ships not before known — that is, in the production of Hterature 
itself. New associations of ideas, new means of expression to give 
them currency — should not these achievements be recognized as 
equal in importance to dissertations on cooks in Athenaeus or 
suffixes in Shakespeare ? 

And besides, let us recognize that the interpretation, appropriation, 
and production of hterature are the logical ends of the study of 
literature. The chemist studies existing combinations of matter in 
order to regulate his conduct in the face of existing conditions, and 
to acquire the power of creating new combinations. Why should 
not literature — ^the great art embodying the experience of mankind — 
be studied with Uke ends in view: to know what combinations have 
already been made in thought and expression, and to acquire the power 
of making and expressing new ones to enter in their turn into the 
sum of human experience? And why should a dissertation or a 
seminary activity which is conditioned for the most part on the 
treatment of poetry as a mine or quarry be accepted as the fulfilment 
of the doctoral requirement, while good essays, novels, plays, trans- 
lations, and poetry (I realize that this last is a most daring utter- 
ance) are refused? These products, even if no more successful 
in their way than the orthodox dissertation is in its way, are more 
sincere, more individual, and more educative; and they may be 
made as severely disciplinary as the scratching over of two bushels 
of chafiE to find two grains of wheat, for the which you shall search 
all day ere you find them, and when you have them they are not 
worth the search. It is no more to be taken for granted that a man 
with an inclination toward literature will be unable in three years 
to write something worth while than that a man with the so-called 
scholarly bent will fail to produce a dissertation whose content shall 
justify its printing. The stilus is not only magister dicendi, but the 
great master also in the art of thinking. 

If, then, the graduate student gives evidence of capacity to do a 
higher type of work than the dissertation grind, why not let him make 
the substitution ? And if the instructor whose eyes are turned toward 
promotion has a heart pregnant with celestial fire, and succeeds in 
really making it flame, why not promote him for it provided he is 
really an inspiring teacher ? The man who can create a fine piece 



296 THE CLASSICAL JOURNAL 

of architecture ought certainly to be honored as much as the one 
who is capable of nothing better than neat piles of brick. 

I am not forgetting that to the poet alone has never been accorded 
the privilege of being mediocre, and I would have no one think that 
I am recommending the publication of all literary substitutions, either 
in poetry or prose. That would be as intolerable to gods and men 
as the publication of all dissertations is now. I intrepret the pro- 
hibition of Horace to be against publishing, not against attempting 
to write, and I would apply it to both literature and dissertations. 
With a strict construction of the other Horatian principle of locking 
up your manuscript for nine years before publication, we should be 
reasonably safe, at least for a limited period. 

And as to the printing of so-called scholarly matter on literature 
after the doctor's degree, if I were a Trebatius, and the would-be 
scholar came to me saying: "There are those who say that I carry 
my efforts beyond the limit, and that what I publish has neither value 
in itself nor interest; what am I to do ?" — I should reply: " Quiescas — 
don't pubHsh." "But if I don't pubHsh I shall get no call and no 
promotion." " Let those who are in that case read three times through 
the world's greatest classics in prose and poetry, garner what they 
can, and share the golden treasure with their students, and then 
go up into the mount and listen for the still small voice of Apollo." 

And if he still persisted in gunning for promotion in the old way, 
I should continue the pubUcation of learned periodicals: only with 
the proviso that authors pay for advertising space, and contribute the 
usual 5 per cent, of their first year's salary after a promotion or call; 
and with the fund thus created I should have the subscribers paid 
for reading the advertisements. Such an arrangement would enable 
us to judge with intelHgence of the real degree of spontaneity and 
genuineness in scholars, and might increase the income of many a 
poor teacher who didn't shrink from hard work on week ends. 

Let us summarize the probable effect of a return to emphasis 
upon literature as the main element in the teaching of literature 
by all who call themselves teachers of literature. 

First, we should attain to something like unity before the public, 
and cease to be the target for shafts of ridicule and wrath. We should 
also become more unified in very reality : our teaching, from secondary 



THE CASE OF LITERATURE 297 

school to graduate, would be homogeneous; we should have some- 
thing like a common body of knowledge, something like community 
of interests, something like a bond of sympathy. It would be possible 
for one teacher of literature to converse with another and to under- 
stand him, and to read his works. Language and literature associa- 
tions would have a common bond in reality, instead of in seeming 
and the reader of a paper on French literature might have a few 
instructors in Greek or German literature in his audience. 

Again, with the placing of proper emphasis upon literature and 
upon teaching, there would come a measure of alleviation to secondary 
teachers. The experience of successful teaching ought to be regarded 
as a valuable addition to the doctor's education, and secondary teach- 
ing ought to be an avenue to the college career, instead of a bypath 
to Doubting Castle and Giant Despair, or a stage on the way to 
matrimony or money-making. 

Thirdly, we should have not only homogeneous instruction, but 
better instruction. The modification in spirit which has been 
suggested would breed a race of teachers and scholars with more 
genuine qualifications. There would still be masters of fact and 
method, but the Gradgrind — the aptness of whose name tempts one 
to credit its inventor with prophetic vision of the attitude of American 
scholarship toward him, and the desire for anticipatory revenge — 
would find the atmosphere less congenial than now. It would be 
impossible for men who ought to have been statisticians or engineers 
to occupy chairs of literature. 

Again, with our community of interest in the humanistic side of 
literary study, and with comparative freedom from the unessential, 
its breeding of false standards, and its attendant waste of time and 
energy, we should also have a more mature, a more sincere, and 
therefore a broader, deeper, and more human scholarship; and 
because of its better grade we should have fewer typographical mani- 
festations of it; and because of that we should make no inconsiderable 
gain in time and shelf room, and perhaps save regents and trustees 
money enough to enable them to bid for a really good professor against 
rival institutions in the neighborhood, or even where the gorgeous 
east with richest hand showers on her professors barbaric pearl and 
gold. 



298 THE CLASSICAL JOURNAL 

But greatest of all the results of the rehumanization of literature 
would be the rapprochement between life and the literary art. The 
intimate relation of art to life is not appreciated. Art is not some- 
thing merely to be placed on exhibition in galleries, museums, and 
showcases; nor merely something which entails a burdensome obliga- 
tion upon the membership of women's clubs and others who pursue 
the phantom culture. It is a part of the business of ordinary life, 
whether it is so recognized or not. It is a crystallization of the best in 
human experience ; it is sprung from life, and its teachers should see 
that it gets back into life. To interpret literature, the greatest of all 
the arts — ^greatest because it includes all the others — ^is surely worthy 
to be the ruling passion of the teacher of hterature. To help instill 
into the lives of the sons and daughters of the nation the purifying, 
consoling, and ennobling influence of literature, and to make them 
happier and more contented citizens, is surely no doubtful form of 
service to the commonwealth. 

And finally, if we seek in this way the kingdom of literature, not only 
shall genuine literary scholarship be added unto us, but we shall be 
in a position to make something like effective resistence to the advan- 
cing ranks of the common foe of all liberal culture. The arch-enemy 
of literary study is not to be found in the defects of the graduate sys- 
tem, though they give him aid and comfort. The real enemy is to 
be found in the lack of idealism which characterizes modern educa- 
tion and modern life. In a country where education is sometimes 
called by observers from abroad the national fetich, it is nevertheless 
baldly sought after in the spirit of commerce: by technical students, 
of course; but also by prospective teachers in the schools, who elect 
nothing but the subjects which in their minds have an immediate 
value for their tasks or which will bring them recommendations; 
by graduates, who must have a degree in order to get a college position 
rather than a place in a secondary school; by instructors who aspire 
to professorships; and by professors who are after calls. The value 
of a study is estimated not by its liberalizing influence, but by its 
immediate usefulness. Culture is copartner with commerce. The 
idea of it as a necessary constituent in the personahty of a lady or 
gentleman has hardly found lodgment as yet in the minds of the best 
of our people; and the indispensability of it in the teacher's career. 



THE CASE OF LITERATURE 299 

if we are to judge by what we see, is admitted only by those who define 
it so loosely that they place on the same level the graduate who 
is rich in acquaintance with the wisdom of the ages and the graduate 
who is superintending a line of telephone construction, and who 
confesses with indifference, if not with pride, like a certain young 
engineer, that he has never heard of "Sheats and Kelley." 

Culture is getting to be as much a rarity among teachers as among 
other highly specialized professions, and they are as eager as others 
to take the short cut. The Latin teacher has had no Greek; the 
modern language teacher in many cases has had neither of the ancient 
literatures; the prospective teacher of history, economics, English, 
or science often not only omits Greek and Latin, but takes only a 
minimum of modern foreign language — and, if the trend does not 
change, will take none at all. For a year or two of advantage in 
time, or for a thin and watery acquaintance with some thin and watery 
subject — we shall soon begin to speak of subjects of the hour, and 
publish in our catalogues annual lists of the six best elected courses 
— ^they sacrifice what time has shown to be of enduring value in educa- 
tion, trading the broader and deeper foundation for a lifetime for 
mere preparation to teach a first semester in the high school. 

And when they have begun to teach, they hand on to their pupils 
the same conception of liberal culture. They argue for their subjects 
only on the ground of practical value: for history and economics 
because they are modern and vital, with the implication that nothing 
is vital which is not modem; for the modern languages because they 
may be used in trade; for Enghsh because it will help in letter- writing, 
canvassing, and winning cases; for the sciences because they have 
to do with material and measurable and therefore practical things. 

And meanwhile the teacher of literature, having few or none of 
these reasons for existence, assumes an apologetic attitude, and writes 
to ask her old college professor if he can't tell her where to read up on 
the value of hterature. Years of severe study in hterature have not 
taught her the raison d'etre of liberal culture, or even that authority 
in such matters is not lodged in the notebook and topical method. 
While her colleagues are boasting of the practical value of their sub- 
jects, and principals and pedagogical lecturers and the press are talk- 
ing about the usefulness of education, the way to succeed, and topics 



300 THE CLASSICAL JOURNAL 

of a similar nature, the teacher of the less apparently practical subjects 
by silence concedes the field — by silence born of httle faith, of real 
suspicion that the study of literature does not pay, or at least of inabil- 
ity to demonstrate its connection with the actual world. 

How are teachers of literature to have faith — and if they have it, 
how are they to demonstrate it — after having been for a lifetime in 
the atmosphere of an educational system whose catechism from the 
grades to the graduate school teaches that the chief end of man is 
to attain to success in specialization and to hold on to it forever, and 
instills into the mind of the student the idea that he is being educated 
for success not forty years hence, but four? How can we expect 
amphorae if all our wheels are run by potmakers ? Commercialism 
is a madness; and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a 
whip as madmen do: and the reason why it is not so punished and 
cured is, that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are mad 
too. Yet I profess curing it by counsel. 

By counsel. Whatever men may say, literature is the vanguard 
of culture and the one fortress of idealism besides religion. Every 
student who has been conducted to the inner shrine of literature is 
a happier individual and a more contented citizen. If, however, 
literature is to have this efEect, it must be taught with the main 
emphasis upon interpretation and appropriation. It must be treated 
as an art, not as a science, and teachers of literature must present a 
solid front. 

In making this plea for unity, and in picturing the potential results 
of unity, I am laboring under no delusions. I know that there are 
a great many teachers of literature whose primary interests are in 
philology and history, and who think that without these the study 
of literature would not have backbone enough to command respect, 
who think appreciation a gift of nature, and who think appropriation 
something to be left more or less to the individual. I shall not stop 
to argue against these articles of faith, which seem as reposeful to 
those who hold them as articles of faith usually are. If these persons 
are perfectly sincere in the views they entertain and in the course they 
take, perhaps it would be undesirable for them to try to conform to 
other ideals. The teaching of literature calls for peculiar qualifi- 
cations; in some hands it might not prove a success. 



THE CASE OF LITERATURE 301 

But if those for whom I am spokesman do not ask them to modify 
their methods and purposes, they do with good right demand a change 
of attitude. Let the philologist and the historian not impose their 
idea of scholarship and instruction upon those whose nature and 
reason tell them that the idea is false. Let them recognize and confess 
that all scholarship in literature which is not directly literary is to be 
justified only as it contributes to the interpretation of literature, and 
that the philologist and historian are not masters, but servants, to 
those whose main concern is the teaching of literature itself. If 
they cannot see that original production and criticism are the highest 
forms of literary scholarship, let them at least grant these activities 
equal consideration with their own. Let us have an end of the tyranny 
of those whose main business is with the letter over those who are 
concerned with the spirit. Dilettantism is dreadful, but the dilettante 
is no worse than the scholastic Dryasdust. Whatever may be the 
dilettante's faults — and I hate them with perfect hatred — he at least 
loves literature for its peculiar message. 

My plea resolves itself into one for more freedom for both pro- 
fessor and graduate. Graduate study should be more individual 
than undergraduate, instead of less. Let the sponsors for the candi- 
date for a higher degree give him what they have in their own garner 
to give, not what they know, from catalogues, that others give; and 
let the candidate himself not be stretched upon the bed of Procrustes 
and tormented into trying to become what he was never intended to 
be, and prevented from developing toward the full stature of what 
he was intended to be. Let both be judged by their fruits. Let the 
professor who is by nature humanistic stand forth as a humanist, and 
let it be known that the doctor of philosophy under him is to be a 
humanist first of all, and not a German doctor, diluted by an admix- 
ture of Yale or Harvard or Johns Hopkins, and that his work is 
informed by the professor's own spirit rather than by a spirit which 
the professor thinks is the German spirit. Let the graduate have a 
torch of his professor's own make and lighting, not a machine-made 
product, second-hand, burnt out and black, made in Germany and 
picked up at a bargain. 

After all, my words are not addressed with so much hope to those 
who disagree with me as to those who are in accord. Many a graduate 



302 THE CLASSICAL JOURNAL 

student and many a graduate instructor are being made unhappy, and 
many a good teacher and literary scholar are being spoiled, by con- 
scientious effort to conform to an ideal which the present atmosphere 
of graduate study imposes upon him. To such my mission is, and 
but for such I would not venture the expression of my thoughts. Let 
these teachers of literature know that their own ideals are deserving 
of all commendation, and have the courage to follow them. 

In conclusion, to insure myself as much as possible against mis- 
understanding and misrepresentation, let me summarize in a few 
words. I beheve in scholarship and in the desirability of its aUiance 
with teaching. I believe in specialization, but only if it is based on 
a broad and firm foundation. I beheve in system, but not in the 
tyranny of a system. I beheve in method, but I believe that Hterature 
should be treated as an art, not as a science, and that it should be 
interpreted and appropriated, not merely handled. I believe in the 
doctor's degree in hterature, but not unless it stands for taste and 
wide knowledge rather than capacity for industry in the collection 
of data about hterature. I beheve that the dissertation should be 
made the vehicle of education, rather than a disciplinary task imposed 
to meet the demands of a system. I beheve that much of what is 
called scholarship in hterature is not that at all. I beheve that the 
highest type of production in the study of hterature is hterature itself, 
and that next to it stands the criticism of hterature, and that when our 
activities go beyond those limits the result is a confusion of hterature 
with other fields of study and a state of disunion among its teachers. 
And finally, I exhort again those who beheve that the study of 
literature is being abused to have faith in their own ideals and to come 
out and be separate, and to be dominated no longer by a false concep- 
tion of hterary scholarship, or frightened by the cry of dilettantism. 
The change which I have recommended is not one to an easier, but 
to a more difficult programme — as much more difficult than the pres- 
ent programme as art is greater than artificiality, men greater than 
mechanics, and the body more than raiment. It is a change, too, 
which is coming, and is even now on the way. The spirit of inde- 
pendence is rising, 

cui si concedere nolis, 
multa poetanim veniet manus, auxilio quae 
sit mihi (nam multo plures sumus) ac veluti te 
ludaei cogemns in hanc concedere turbam.