Popular Science Monthly/Volume 60/April 1902/Is This a Degenerate Age?
|IS THIS A DEGENERATE AGE?|
By Professor J. J. STEVENSON,
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY.
TOO many writers and speakers, in discussing the intellectual and social conditions of our time, find little of good and a superabundance of bad. Everywhere they discover evidence of individual and social degeneracy. The love of literature and of pure science is disappearing; college training is debased in that the purely intellectual side is neglected for the practical; everything is dominated by an intense commercialism, which destroys men's finer instincts and lowers the general moral tone of the community.
One may not ignore these utterances; nor may he dismiss them flippantly as wailings of disappointed or unsuccessful men, who would make a virtue of necessity. Men's goals may differ, but their ambition is the same; it ill becomes one to scoff at another; scoffing is bred of ignorance as much in the fortune-chaser who ridicules the student as in the student who contemns the man with the muckrake. The indictment against our age has been drawn by men, who, from their standpoint, have been successful and have no grievance against the world. Many of them belong to the class which, for a long period, dominated thought and controlled the policy of nations. Their statements deserve such careful consideration that one does well to inquire whether or not the conditions are as represented and to what extent they are evidence of either intellectual or social degeneracy. The subject is a broad one and, in treating it, one may adopt only the rambling method of the essay, that he may move hither and yon as necessity may dictate.
Prior to the Civil War, our colleges, modeled for the most part upon German gymnasia, offered such mental training as was supposed to be prerequisite for professional study. But new conditions arose with the close of that war—the country had discovered its mineral wealth and had accumulated capital for development; the world had learned of America, and its surplus population poured in upon us, ignorant of our laws, alien to our modes of thought, yet eligible to citizenship, to a voice in our government. At once, the demand arose for an education adapted to the needs of those who did not intend to become lawyers, clergymen or physicians, who required a broader, stronger training, fitting men to cope with the new difficulties and to solve the new problems.
It is true that, long before the Civil War, many eminent men had recognized the inherent defects in our college system. They asserted that training in classical languages should not be the important feature of college education; that the Roman church no longer controlled thought or education and that Latin had ceased to be the language of learned men, while changed conditions in professional study had rendered thorough knowledge of Greek equally unessential, so that those languages should be replaced by others as necessary now as those had been. The colleges themselves had recognized the transition and Latin and Greek were taught, with few exceptions, not with a view to impart knowledge of the tongues but with a view to mental training. In other words, Latin and Greek were employed for mental exercise as Indian clubs are employed for muscular exercise in a gymnasium. But no material change was made in curricula; natural science was introduced, but was taught in a most elementary way, while the most precious years of a lad's life were spent as before in monotonous study of 'paradigms and syntax.
The abrupt demand for better education found our colleges unprepared to meet it. The faculties were composed for the most part of men trained after the accepted method, students by habit, living in a cosmos of their own and conceiving of the outer world very largely as they constructed it on à priori principles. As they knew practically nothing about the conditions which made a radical change necessary, the demand was like a rude awakening. Makeshifts were offered as tubs thrown to a whale; subjects dealing with everyday life were introduced into the 'regular' course and the student was led to think in a somewhat 'lower intellectual plane,' that is to say, more nearly in accordance with the actual condition of things. Under the old system he was in the nineteenth century world, but very truly not of it; under the modified system, he was permitted, during part of the college hours, to be actually in touch with it; facts were dealt with sometimes in political economy, a bit of physiology found its way into psychology, the chemistry of common things became a legitimate subject of discussion. So-called scientific courses were added in many cases, but usually they were so ill-adjusted as to be laughing-stocks for those taking the formal courses.
But mere makeshifts could not suffice; the country's material development was advancing rapidly but not always profitably. Competent men were too few; the successful pit-boss was a poor mining superintendent amid novel conditions; the land-surveyor was helpless in a new region; the iron-founder of high repute proved himself a hopeless blunderer when tried on strange ores and furnaces. The successful men were those who had been trained in the American technical schools or in those of Germany. Their success marked out the line of needed preparation and emphasized the demand for men broadly educated in principles as well as in practical applications of science. Schools were established and courses planned to meet the requirements. The number of scientific and technical students increased rapidly, and, in not a few institutions, soon exceeded, as it does still, that of students adhering to older so-called literary courses. Certainly this condition affords good ground for the complaint respecting college education.
Yet not so. The desertion of the, so to speak, unapplied side is apparent, not real. There is no such desertion. Unquestionably, of the students now in American colleges and high schools, the percentage taking modified courses of the older type is much smaller than it was forty years ago; but that is not the proper percentage for use in comparison. Not relation to the total number of students but relation to the total population is the basis for comparison. From this standpoint one sees that the proportion adhering to the unapplied side has increased more rapidly than the population—indeed, one may make a greater restriction and say that the number of those taking classical courses has increased out of proportion to the population. There has been no decrease, on the contrary there has been an increase, of interest in literary study, while, on the other hand, thousands are acquiring mental training and much of mental culture by pursuing difficult courses almost unknown to our colleges of forty years ago. Formerly, the majority of college men had professional life in view; now it is 'the thing' to have a college degree, without reference to one's intended calling.
But this avails nothing. The proof of the pudding is in the eating; and we are told that no great poet now lives among English-speaking peoples and that in our country no eminent writer has arisen within two decades—this, because 'every man's mind is turned to material things.' Recently our patriotic pride was wounded by the announcement that America has produced no Shakespeare, no Newton, no Copernicus, no men of some other kinds—and this, too, because of our devotion to gross things. One may remark here, parenthetically, that when we consider that, in all the centuries of English-speaking times, the race has produced only one Shakespeare, the condition is not so saddening as it might be; the less so, since in our own day our country has produced a Newcomb in mathematics, a Rowland in physics and others in other branches of pure science, each of whom deserves a niche, not far, at least, from that of Newton. Were Newton living in the United States to-day he would have no lonely preeminence, he would be but one of a galaxy. A later writer tells us that now, instead of the fires of the creative imagination, we have the fires of the mogul engine—that we cannot have both at the same time.
The creative imagination in the limited literary sense was most unfettered amid primitive conditions, when rhapsodists such as the authors of Homer, the Sagas or the Kalevala chanted the exploits of gods or heroes. As men's experience widened, as their concepts increased in number, as their thought became philosophic, the product of imagination changed in form as well as in character until it dealt not with environments familiar alike to man and beast, but with broad principles. The poem in simple form, possibly the most beautiful form, appeals to the childlike side of our nature. Great poetical works, such as those of Shakespeare and Milton, appeal to us not because of their poetic form, not so much because of their imagery as because of the subtle philosophy which pervades them. Milton appealed to very few in his own day as a poet; he appeals to not many more in our day. Shakespeare's wit has been equaled by later dramatists; his constructive skill has been excelled by some; but his critical insight into human nature remains without rival. The Shakespeares and Miltons of our day write in prose.
Works such as those of Shakespeare and Milton would be an anachronism in our day. Men read carefully, thoughtfully; they think quickly and, as compared with earlier times, accurately. Arguments clothed with rhetorical figures have little power—one has not time in which to scrape off tinsel in order to reach the substance. Reading matter must be trivial or serious; if trivial, thoroughly so, that it may while away hours of weariness; if serious, it must be deserving of study; working hours are too few to be wasted on that which brings no reward. Here one finds reason for the remarkable sale of ephemeral works as well as for the equally remarkable sale of important works. There could be no better evidence of the intellectual growth in our day, a growth not confined to the more favored classes, but characterizing all from the richest to the poorest. Doctrinaires may sneer at the reading propensities of the working classes and may assert that little good can come from reading the stuff which they choose. Others recognize gratefully that the novels now read by such people are better morally and intellectually than those which served as mental food for the more favored classes of a century ago. The vastly increased number of students in our colleges and high schools is but the natural outcome of this intellectual growth.
Unfortunately, this condition gives room for apprehension; the increase in number of students is said to be so far out of proportion to the population that there is danger of over-education; the professions will be overcrowded with ill-paid workers, who might have gained a comfortable living in other callings. This foreboding is not new; it was old a century ago and was as true then as it is now. Many good men, mistaking their vocation, have gone into professions, though fitted by nature to be only hewers of wood and drawers of water, while others have wasted their lives in professional work, who would have been successful as merchants. There is no danger that the condition will be worse because of increased facility for acquiring an education.
If higher education were merely preparation for service in the so-called learned professions of law, medicine and theology, there might be room for anxiety. But higher education has no longer an aim so narrow as that—it is not to meet the needs of the few, it is to fit the many for life's work. Fifty years ago, college life certainly tended to unfit men for the sterner realities of life, for the whole course of training was as far removed as possible from relation to the ordinary conditions; but not so to-day. For the most part, college professors are no longer recluses; they are expected to take part in social movements; even in politics; many of them, especially of those on the scientific side, are interested in vast business enterprises, partly because they gain greater opportunity for investigation and partly because, as investigators, they need incomes greater than the meager salaries paid by colleges. Training by such men is very different from that by closet students.
All this is conceded, but only that one may make more strongly the assertion that everything looks to the practical, that real culture is neglected, that we are living on the literature of an earlier generation, for nothing new is produced. The difficulty lies in the vagueness of the terms 'culture' and 'literature.' The writer has made diligent search among college men for a clean-cut definition of 'culture.' The results are not wholly satisfactory. Among professors, there is a tendency to regard culture as that mental condition attained through close application to the studies embraced within the definer's department; some in professional life appear to think that it is a something acquired only by close application to such studies as have no practical application; they are inclined to deny the title of culture study to modern languages; had they lived a century and a half ago, doubtless they would have denied that title to the ancient languages, which at that time were studied solely with a view to use; a great majority of the older college graduates maintain that it is that peculiar mental polish derived from pursuit of the old classical course, and regard themselves as examples—a comfortable frame of mind, truly. Evidently mental culture and mental refinement are synonymous terms to most of those who use the former term, but this is not sufficient; mere refinement must not be all, there must be strength in addition. The all-important culture studies are those which make also for robustness, which enable a man to see broadly, to make inductions safely and to tell to others clearly what he wishes to communicate. Such studies are taught now as never before and with them are taught, also as never before, other studies which make mostly for refinement. A boy entering college to-day must have better acquaintance with history and English literature than had seniors in most of our colleges fifty years ago. Long steps have been taken by several of our States toward making law and medicine actually, instead of nominally, learned professions. Men must have some education before entering upon professional study.
Similarly, the significance of 'literature' must be made definite; it changes with the times. Medieval literature consisted almost wholly of treatises upon harmless topics—such as involved no danger of dispute with church authorities; after the revival of learning, literature was based chiefly upon the newly revealed classics of Greece and Rome; still later, historical disquisitions and philosophical discussions in various forms made up the mass—in each period, that mass concerned matters then most widely interesting. The survivors of each preceding period must have chanted jeremiads over the intellectual decline. In our age, those who love the poem, the essay, the drama, the polished novel and philosophical history, written with a purpose, do find themselves lost. They cannot see good in the development of a new literature, embracing philosophy, archeology, sociology, the natural sciences—a strong literature, often as polished as the old, and showing on the whole a virility unknown even fifty years ago. It reflects the spirit of the age, it is truthful, accurate, honest.
And this brings us to the essence of the whole matter. Stripped of all incidentals, the assertion is that, neglecting mental culture, we have been led to neglect man's higher interests; we have fallen into a slough where everything is subordinated to gain and the rights of man are not regarded; a grasping selfishness brings about combinations in manufacturing interests and makes possible the accumulation of vast fortunes; a base 'commercialism' pervades all society; the body politic is corrupt and honesty has well-nigh disappeared.
The charge that mental culture has been neglected has been considered; it is not true. The other charges remain.
For one hundred years the civilized world has been undergoing repeated transitions. At the beginning of the nineteenth century men lived in quiet; there was no haste. With unfavorable wind, a sloop might require five days instead of two for the voyage from Albany to New York, just as a vessel, under similar conditions, thirty years later, might be six or seven weeks on the way from London to New York; but the delay caused little more of irritation among the passengers than would be caused to-day if the Empire Express were two hours late. Even sixty years ago, a journey to St. Louis was an undertaking equal to that of crossing the ocean; in each case, the expectant traveler made his will and his friends assembled to bid a sorrowful farewell. Now one makes less preparation for a tour around the globe. Sixty years ago, mails were irregular and postage was from ten to twenty times what it is now. The arrival of a stranger in a village was an event; he brought information from the outer world. The man who had been one thousand miles from home, received more consideration in a large town than is granted in a petty hamlet to a full-developed globe-trotter. Even sixty years ago, forges or petty furnaces, scattered about the country supplied the necessities of the community.
But steamboats, railways and telegraphs brought all parts of the land into actual contact; the discovery of petroleum and the cheapening of kerosene by improved methods of refining carried light into the most secluded corners, and added several hours of life to each day among farming communities; the vast expansion of manufactures during the Civil War led to modifications in educational methods, which in their turn made possible the utilization of our mineral resources. Each advance made others imperative. The repertoire of discoveries in physical science was ransacked in search of those which could be utilized by inventors; every discovery, every invention was welcomed and tested.
Improvements followed in such rapid succession that one, in reviewing the last thirty years, becomes confused and the movements appear as irregular and unrelated as those in a quickly-revolving kaleidoscope. The age of Holley-Mushet-Bessemer steel burst upon us and revolutionized not merely our railroad systems but also our ship-building and architecture. Henry's telegraph, introduced by Morse's energy and Vail's receiver, was spread as a network over the whole country; the researches of Helmholtz and Lissajou led up to Bell's telephone; Faraday's discovery grew into the dynamo, which introduced the age of electricity.
But these changes made more of life, thrust more into life so that more was required of life. The transition or rather the series of transitions was severe. It is the commonplace of history that no great advance is made, except, for the time, at the expense of human life or comfort. Steamships have driven from the sea fleets of vessels and have made the sailor almost a thing of the past; railroads destroyed the prosperity of communities bordering the great turnpikes crossing Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, and compelled abandonment of the furnaces whose ruins have been described as picturesque additions to Pennsylvania's scenery. The sewing-machine caused untold misery, as did the power-loom, the shoe-machine and other inventions, which the world now regards as unmixed blessings.
Progress in manufactures, combined with increasing ease of communication and transportation, made the business world more compact and intensified competition. The struggle for existence led to frequent changes in method, at once destructive and constructive. In iron manufacture, small furnaces soon brought only loss to their owners; in trade, the small shopkeeper, who idled for half the day waiting for chance customers, found himself neglected. The story was alike for all. The owner of the petty furnace, like the keeper of the petty shop, was displaced by his more energetic rival, who recognized the coming change and so arranged that by smaller percentage profits on greater sales he might secure increased profit on his business capital. Men may groan in bitterness of spirit as they please, they may denounce the avarice of a manufacturer who sees fit to make the iron and to convert it into the finished product, all within one plant; or that of the merchant, who chooses to sell dry goods, shoes, groceries and hardware on a great scale under one roof; they may denounce, if they will, the man who, having gained the advantage over his less energetic neighbors, strives to prevent another from depriving him of it—the denouncing amounts to nothing. The condition is normal to the advance of the race, for, while bringing disaster to the few, it brings increasing comfort to the many. The energetic man, other things being equal, wins in the race for money, fame, usefulness; in this world every man receives practically full pay for the net average of his abilities. This is nature's law; no legislation avails for its repeal.
This is not the place to discuss the propriety of placing limitations upon combinations of manufacturing interests; the wisdom of permitting the accumulation of vast fortunes; the justice of permitting such fortunes to be inherited so as to support descendants in idleness or dissipation. Such questions are irrelevant in this connection, for we have merely to ascertain whether or not the commercial development of the last half-century has led to a lowering of the moral tone and to the injury of mankind.
Just here one may halt. The term 'commercialism,' like 'culture,' is so vague, so comprehensive as to be elusive. It certainly is serviceable. If a man fail to secure funds for some object dear to him, the failure is not due to any deficiency on his part or even to the nature of the project, but only to 'commercialism.' In such cases, the term is usually synonymous with common sense.
But in a broader way, the term refers to a supposed general deterioration of personal honor, due to the commercial life of our community. As the whole commercial system is based upon buying and selling, men have come to regard all things as fairly objects for barter and to look upon honor as something transcendental. This conception, the foundation for so many pessimistic forebodings, reflects no credit upon the knowledge or good sense of those who accept it and it may be dismissed as purely à priori. There never was a time when business honor was so high as now; the whole commercial fabric is based upon it. Whether the moral sense has been quickened or experience has taught that honesty is the best policy, matters not—the fact remains that in business a man must be honest and honorable; dishonest dealing is fatal. Dishonesty certainly exists as it always has existed and as it always will exist until mans nature changes. It is no novelty, for long ago it was asserted that every man has his price. But there is proportionately less now than ever before.
If 'commercialism' be that which destroys man's better part and makes him ready to subordinate everything to success in his ventures, which induces a soulless indifference to the welfare and even rights of neighbors, competitors and employees, surely we have here no nineteenth century disease over whose discovery so great ado should be made. If perverted ambition, selfishness, lack of principle and indifference to the rights of others be what is meant by 'commercialism,' we have but a new name for that which is as old and as widespread as the human race. It is the same thing, whether in the merchant's counting room or in the clergyman's study. When Napoleon asked contemptuously 'What are the lives of a thousand men to me?' his spirit was the same as that of an oppressive employer; the efforts made by the great 'trusts' of to-day to overcome competition differ in no wise from the cutting of prices between cross-road stores of fifty years ago, or the tricky manipulation of ecclesiastical councils in Constantine's time—or even later.
Inordinate anxiety for wealth and for the power which its possessor can wield is not peculiar to the commercialism of our time. It was quite as inordinate in the quiet days of one hundred years ago as in the golden days of Rome. It has always led to oppression and it has always contaminated society and politics. The satirists of Rome inveighed against its evils as bitterly as do the moralists of our day; the Israelites knew the burden long enough before Solomon's day to make proverbs respecting it; it led the Assyrians along many a bloody path in western Asia; the patrician of ancient Italy lusted for gold as earnestly as did the merchant and in modern Italy one can find no distinction in this respect between the noble and the contemned 'commerciante.' Avarice corrupted politics in the golden age of Rome and in the Elizabethan age of England as thoroughly as during the Second Empire of France or during the Croker Empire in commercial New York. The conditions which some would have us believe due to commercialism are but manifestations of man's fundamental belief that might makes right.
In this twentieth century, when the peoples of this world are no longer isolated communities, when bonds of steel bind all together, when through causes determined in long past geological ages some nations are agricultural, others manufacturing and others still confined to mining, so that all are mutually dependent, modes of thought and expression, proper enough in medieval times, are no longer wise, are truly anachronisms. One exhibits no evidence of knowledge or of good judgment who asserts that a professional life is of necessity purer, truer or loftier in aim than a life devoted to commercial pursuits. It is not long, in human history, since the only honorable profession was that of arms—thence to theology, law and medicine was a far reach and that to commerce still further. Then each caste, like Sophomores in college, avenged its injuries on that below. But that day has passed, never to return, and thoughtful men everywhere recognize that, in all callings alike, success depends on intellectual power of much the same type, and that the old-time distinction between professional and non-professional men exists in name rather than in fact.
Ours is an age of commerce, an age of devotion to material things; but that devotion has none of grossness nor is it in any sense inconsistent with a just devotion to higher things. Thus far, the argument has been largely negative, an effort to show that this age is not worse, but possibly better than its predecessors. The positive argument remains, to show that, because of commercialism, this age on the whole is vastly better than its predecessors.
The twentieth century opens with the establishment of a Permanent Court of International Arbitration, for which the world is indebted to the great commercial nations. The Hague conference was called by the Emperor of Russia, a nation not usually regarded as commercial, but that conference was due primarily to the course of Great Britain and the United States, which had tested arbitration and, by submitting to awards, not always just, had set the example for other nations. Peace between nations depends no longer merely upon armies and navies. War is no longer a matter affecting only the internal affairs of the nations directly involved; it concerns all, for commercial bonds unite all. Divine right of kingly authority is becoming an abstraction; the king bows to his subject and restrains his greed for conquest when bankers refuse to finance his loans. The exigencies of commerce have aroused a public opinion which curbs rapacity and demands arbitration of international disputes. War between Great Britain and the United States is well-nigh impossible—it would lead to financial ruin in both countries. The terrible conflict between Slav and Teuton, for which so many wait in dread, is likely to remain a nightmare. Great Britain needs Russia's grain; Russia needs the manufactures of Britain and Germany. Germans control Russia's trade even in far-off Siberia, and Germans are teaching Russians how to develop their resources. The rabble in each country may rave as they please—a power mightier than they makes for peace.
The same influence is exerted for maintenance of friendly relations within the commercial nations themselves. Compulsory arbitration of labor disputes has been established in some portions of the British empire and several of our own states have taken the initial step by appointing arbitration commissions to serve when called upon. The trend of public opinion among us was shown during the recent steel strike, when arbitration was urged not only by journals defending the strikers but also by those which denounced the strike as wholly unjustifiable. Individual differences, settled in olden time by combat, are settled now by arbitration before judge or jury in open court; the day is not far distant when differences between organizations, large and small, will be settled in the same way. Here, too, our vast commercial organizations make for peace, since their gigantic interests are so interwoven with the equally gigantic interests of labor that serious interruption of friendly relations threatens destruction to both.
Improvement in politics is not very distinct to those living in our great cities, for the present degradation is of comparatively recent origin and due largely to foreign immigration. Cities, like sieves, permit most of the good to pass through and the worthless to remain, while universal suffrage enables this residuum to convert them into sinks, which receive partial cleansing only when rogues disagree and the 'outs' seek revenge by temporary combination with decent people. Leaving the cities out of consideration as temporary anomalies, one finds that men holding positions of honor and trust are expected to perform their duties faithfully. Charges of corruption are not bandied about freely by reputable journals as they were sixty years ago; in Great Britain and the United States, errors in policy are not charged to venality, but to lack of common sense. Fair dealing is so ingrained in commercial life that we are coming to expect it naturally in political life. 'Senator Sorghum,' the creation of a jester, belongs so much to the past that his utterances afford only amusement. Commercial Britain has the best city governments in the world; its civil and diplomatic service shows a sense of honor as high as that of the American army; within the United States, civil service reform has gone far toward removing the evils of patronage which degraded our politics even less than thirty years ago. It is true that politics here and in Great Britain are far removed from millennial conditions, but another half-century of equal advance would bring them very near to the ideal condition.
The American employer discovered, long before the missionary, that the condition of a man's body has much to do with his openness to reason. Men, well-fed, well-clad and comfortably housed, are more efficient in every respect than are men scantily supplied and embittered against the dealings of Providence. The recognition of this fact—the recognition of manhood in the employee—is the basis of American commercialism, the true secret of its success. This recognition is less marked in Great Britain, where all are bound by traditions from which men free themselves slowly and with difficulty, but the keenness of American competition is compelling the recognition. In our land, mere animal strength counts for little in man, machinery takes its place; the steam shovel has displaced thousands of hands, but it has made necessary an immense number of intelligent men; our rolling mills are no longer crowded with an army of laborers, dull, sluggish, automatic; the work is done by a, so to speak, handful of men, keeneyed and alert. Of course, this recognition may be due to no altruism on the employer's part, but that is wholly aside from the issue—we are considering conditions, not motives.
Increased wages came with increased value of service—whether through the employer's wisdom or through compulsion, matters not. Decreased cost of living came with increased wages, for, owing to the introduction of machinery, wages did not keep pace with capacity for production. The condition of the mechanic in respect of food, lodgings and general surroundings has shown steady improvement during the last thirty years. In the United States, food is cheap and abundant; the homes of our laboring classes are better than anywhere else. Away from towns, owners of mines or great manufacturing establishments, knowing that men, to do good work, must be well cared for, build comfortable homes for their employees and charge low rental. Many of them recognize a certain responsibility; they encourage thrift and urge, even assist, employees to own their dwellings. Mr. Carnegie is not the single instance of this type of employer, as many suppose. He was one of the first to develop the plan, but many have followed in his steps. Even in New York city, where the tenement problem is so complicated, owing to the form of Manhattan Island, the accommodations for those with mechanics' wages are inviting, while the wretched conditions in the Italian quarter are, to say the least, an improvement upon those in Naples.
This recognition of those, who in non-commercial countries are regarded as the 'mudsills of society,'—to use the language of an antebellum senator from North Carolina—has had a reflex influence upon those living amid more favorable surroundings. One hundred years ago any hovel answered for the poor man, while the rich neglected what, in our day, are called ordinary sanitary precautions. Now a board of health is an essential part of city government and it has powers which, in other departments, would be regarded as despotic. Problems of ventilation, space of living apartments, sewage disposal and street cleaning are those for the sanitary engineer, whose profession is dignified and requires years of preparation. The hydraulic engineer no longer expends his chief efforts upon quays, harbor walls or dams; those are still important, but far more important are problems relating to water-supply for cities, towns and even small villages. Nothing bearing upon public health is too insignificant for notice; neglect by a traction company to provide closed cars on a cool day awakes editors to write indignantly. Sanitary regulations have led to sanitary living, so that, in spite of the fact that men work more intensely than ever before, they break down less rapidly and fourscore is more nearly man's expectation of life now than was threescore and ten fifty years ago.
The rights of man as man before the law are acknowledged by the two great commercial nations as never before and as by no other nations. A defendant no longer rests under the assumption of guilt; he is innocent until the charge has been proved; a married woman is no longer merged in her husband; in the eye of the law, she is at least her husband's equal. The poor man and his wealthy neighbor stand on a common level in the court room and at the polls. Taxes are distributed justly and the rich, as well as the less favored, bear an equitable share of the governmental burdens.
Having granted universal suffrage, the two great commercial nations have been compelled to recognize man's intellectual needs. They offer opportunity for education to all, even straining the prerogative of government to do so. Education, free from ecclesiastical control, is no longer a privilege obtainable only by purchase, it is the right of every man. More, it is maintained that government is bound not only to offer the opportunity, but also to compel its acceptance. The poorest man has the way open in our land from the primary school to the close of professional preparation, practically without cost. Machiavelli has grouped the people of any nation into three classes—those who think for themselves, always few in number; those who think as others think, the intelligent middle class; those who do not think, the great mass of the population. His grouping is still applicable to Great Britain and the United States, but our schools, our sharp political contests and the wide circulation of journals have led to great changes in the relative proportions of the classes. The growth of liberal parties and the increasing independent vote, with which politicians have to reckon, are manifestations of the change.
Commercialism, leading to such broad results for all, has a marked influence upon those who have led in the advance. American men of commerce, be they lawyers, merchants, manufacturers, bankers or railroad managers, acknowledge the community of interest and seek fame or immortality as philanthropists. They cherish hospitals, they endeavor to improve the condition of the poor, they found universities, they endow public libraries, they establish vast museums. A Howard, a Shaftesbury was a strange phenomenon. There are many Howards and Shaftesburys in our great cities, who, having acquired or inherited great wealth, spend their hours not in selfish indulgence but in devoted efforts to make the world better and happier.
One cannot ignore the fact there are many, whose only enjoyment apparently is found in flaunting their wealth in the face of the poor, but they are no longer objects of admiration on the one hand or of fear on the other; the community looks upon them with mingled pity and contempt. Selfish employers are not unknown, oppression has not ceased, poverty, suffering and crime are on every side; in many respects, the evil more than counterbalances the good; all this we know; but we know also that, in all that makes for good, the condition in the two great commercial nations to-day is far, far beyond that existing in the golden age of Rome or Greece or in the Elizabethan age of England. The very anxiety to relieve the oppressed makes us familiar with the prevailing sorrow and leads those, who under former conditions would have been ignorant or unobserving, to their gloomy pessimism respecting the future.
As for the fires of creative imagination, one may say only that they are as brilliant now as at any previous time—with this difference, creative imagination is about better business now than formerly—it no longer wastes itself in cultivating merely the esthetic side of man, it works for his uplifting, physically, morally, intellectually.