Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/135

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

"Two hundred and twenty compositions of all sorts and sizes, the work presumably of the best boys and girls of the schools of literary New England! What anticipations the first sight aroused! What originality, what fresh sincerity of thought and expression must lie in all this new work of new minds, unconfined by any narrow limitation of subject! Yet the end was almost absolute disappointment. The faults are greater than of mere immaturity. There is a painful constraint, a self-consciousness almost invariably present. There is an effect of insincerity, an inability or disinclination to write out real thought, that gives to the whole work a wearisome, perfunctory appearance. It may fairly be claimed that these compositions are typical. This, then, the best work that the best scholars of our schools can accomplish fails so completely of its object that the fault must be essential either to system or subject."

The general result was that, of the two hundred and twenty who competed, the vast majority simply made themselves ridiculous. What, then, may we infer of those who did not compete—the remaining members of the graduating classes, whose number must have been to that of the competitors as at least ten to one? We can only suppose that their average condition of culture would be markedly below that of the competitors. It is evident, then, that our grammar schools, indispensable as their work is, are not adequately providing for the culture even of the comparatively limited class attending them. It would indeed be making an altogether excessive demand upon them to require that they should. As to our universities, they are all doing useful and many of them excellent work, and if we looked only at the ever-extending recognition which our scholars and savants are receiving in the centers of learning of the Old World, we should have every reason to be satisfied with the intellectual progress of our country. More than this is wanted, however, for the object we have now in view—the spread of true culture throughout the mass of the community. As lately noticed in these columns, a hopeful attempt in this direction is being made by the university-extension system, which we can not doubt has a great and useful future before it; but, in view of the very recent articles we have published on this subject, we need not dwell specially on it to-day.

Another agency for the spread of culture is the public library, an institution existing in nearly every town of any size, and which might be turned to very good account. A generation ago the lecture system was in full activity, and was an important agent of popular education. In the present day it has been to a large extent supplanted by the newspaper and magazine press, the extraordinary development of which is one of the marvels of the age. The lecture had, however, one advantage which the magazine or newspaper does not possess, and that is that it drew people together and gave them a common interest in the subjects treated. This we consider to be a more hopeful foundation for culture, as far as it goes, than individual reading of books and papers; and here we are brought to the main point we desire to make on the present occasion which is that culture can only become general by being socially pursued. Every educated man and woman who has a living interest in the things of the intellect might and should carry on a kind of university extension work in a quiet way among his or her own friends. Let little informal societies be formed for mutual help—let us say, in the understanding and appreciation of works of literature, or in the comprehension of social questions, or in intellectual effort of any kind—and let it be understood that the ulterior object is to promote in some small measure the great end of right and