It had been suggested by Dr. Leete that we should devote the next
morning to an inspection of the schools and colleges of the city, with
some attempt on his own part at an explanation of the educational
system of the twentieth century.
"You will see," said he, as we set out after breakfast, "many very
important differences between our methods of education and yours, but
the main difference is that nowadays all persons equally have those
opportunities of higher education which in your day only an
infinitesimal portion of the population enjoyed. We should think we
had gained nothing worth speaking of, in equalizing the physical
comfort of men, without this educational equality."
"The cost must be very great," I said.
"If it took half the revenue of the nation, nobody would grudge it,"
replied Dr. Leete, "nor even if it took it all save a bare pittance.
But in truth the expense of educating ten thousand youth is not ten
nor five times that of educating one thousand. The principle which
makes all operations on a large scale proportionally cheaper than on a
small scale holds as to education also."
"College education was terribly expensive in my day," said I.
"If I have not been misinformed by our historians," Dr. Leete
answered, "it was not college education but college dissipation and
extravagance which cost so highly. The actual expense of your colleges
appears to have been very low, and would have been far lower if their
patronage had been greater. The higher education nowadays is as cheap
as the lower, as all grades of teachers, like all other workers,
receive the same support. We have simply added to the common school
system of compulsory education, in vogue in Massachusetts a hundred
years ago, a half dozen higher grades, carrying the youth to the age
of twenty-one and giving him what you used to call the education of a
gentleman, instead of turning him loose at fourteen or fifteen with no
mental equipment beyond reading, writing, and the multiplication
"Setting aside the actual cost of these additional years of
education," I replied, "we should not have thought we could afford the
loss of time from industrial pursuits. Boys of the poorer classes
usually went to work at sixteen or younger, and knew their trade at
"We should not concede you any gain even in material product by that
plan," Dr. Leete replied. "The greater efficiency which education
gives to all sorts of labor, except the rudest, makes up in a short
period for the time lost in acquiring it."
"We should also have been afraid," said I, "that a high education,
while it adapted men to the professions, would set them against manual
labor of all sorts."
"That was the effect of high education in your day, I have read,"
replied the doctor; "and it was no wonder, for manual labor meant
association with a rude, coarse, and ignorant class of people. There
is no such class now. It was inevitable that such a feeling should
exist then, for the further reason that all men receiving a high
education were understood to be destined for the professions or for
wealthy leisure, and such an education in one neither rich nor
professional was a proof of disappointed aspirations, an evidence of
failure, a badge of inferiority rather than superiority. Nowadays, of
course, when the highest education is deemed necessary to fit a man
merely to live, without any reference to the sort of work he may do,
its possession conveys no such implication."
"After all," I remarked, "no amount of education can cure natural
dullness or make up for original mental deficiencies. Unless the
average natural mental capacity of men is much above its level in my
day, a high education must be pretty nearly thrown away on a large
element of the population. We used to hold that a certain amount of
susceptibility to educational influences is required to make a mind
worth cultivating, just as a certain natural fertility in soil is
required if it is to repay tilling."
"Ah," said Dr. Leete, "I am glad you used that illustration, for it is
just the one I would have chosen to set forth the modern view of
education. You say that land so poor that the product will not repay
the labor of tilling is not cultivated. Nevertheless, much land that
does not begin to repay tilling by its product was cultivated in your
day and is in ours. I refer to gardens, parks, lawns, and, in general,
to pieces of land so situated that, were they left to grow up to weeds
and briers, they would be eyesores and inconveniences to all about.
They are therefore tilled, and though their product is little, there
is yet no land that, in a wider sense, better repays cultivation. So
it is with the men and women with whom we mingle in the relations of
society, whose voices are always in our ears, whose behavior in
innumerable ways affects our enjoyment,—who are, in fact, as much
conditions of our lives as the air we breathe, or any of the physical
elements on which we depend. If, indeed, we could not afford to
educate everybody, we should choose the coarsest and dullest by
nature, rather than the brightest, to receive what education we could
give. The naturally refined and intellectual can better dispense with
aids to culture than those less fortunate in natural endowments.
"To borrow a phrase which was often used in your day, we should not
consider life worth living if we had to be surrounded by a population
of ignorant, boorish, coarse, wholly uncultivated men and women, as
was the plight of the few educated in your day. Is a man satisfied,
merely because he is perfumed himself, to mingle with a malodorous
crowd? Could he take more than a very limited satisfaction, even in a
palatial apartment, if the windows on all four sides opened into
stable yards? And yet just that was the situation of those considered
most fortunate as to culture and refinement in your day. I know that
the poor and ignorant envied the rich and cultured then; but to us the
latter, living as they did, surrounded by squalor and brutishness,
seem little better off than the former. The cultured man in your age
was like one up to the neck in a nauseous bog solacing himself with a
smelling bottle. You see, perhaps, now, how we look at this question
of universal high education. No single thing is so important to every
man as to have for neighbors intelligent, companionable persons. There
is nothing, therefore, which the nation can do for him that will
enhance so much his own happiness as to educate his neighbors. When it
fails to do so, the value of his own education to him is reduced by
half, and many of the tastes he has cultivated are made positive
sources of pain.
"To educate some to the highest degree, and leave the mass wholly
uncultivated, as you did, made the gap between them almost like that
between different natural species, which have no means of
communication. What could be more inhuman than this consequence of a
partial enjoyment of education! Its universal and equal enjoyment
leaves, indeed, the differences between men as to natural endowments
as marked as in a state of nature, but the level of the lowest is
vastly raised. Brutishness is eliminated. All have some inkling of the
humanities, some appreciation of the things of the mind, and an
admiration for the still higher culture they have fallen short of.
They have become capable of receiving and imparting, in various
degrees, but all in some measure, the pleasures and inspirations of a
refined social life. The cultured society of the nineteenth
century,—what did it consist of but here and there a few microscopic
oases in a vast, unbroken wilderness? The proportion of individuals
capable of intellectual sympathies or refined intercourse, to the mass
of their contemporaries, used to be so infinitesimal as to be in any
broad view of humanity scarcely worth mentioning. One generation of
the world to-day represents a greater volume of intellectual life than
any five centuries ever did before.
"There is still another point I should mention in stating the grounds
on which nothing less than the universality of the best education
could now be tolerated," continued Dr. Leete, "and that is, the
interest of the coming generation in having educated parents. To put
the matter in a nutshell, there are three main grounds on which our
educational system rests: first, the right of every man to the
completest education the nation can give him on his own account, as
necessary to his enjoyment of himself; second, the right of his
fellow-citizens to have him educated, as necessary to their enjoyment
of his society; third, the right of the unborn to be guaranteed an
intelligent and refined parentage."
I shall not describe in detail what I saw in the schools that day.
Having taken but slight interest in educational matters in my former
life, I could offer few comparisons of interest. Next to the fact of
the universality of the higher as well as the lower education, I was
most struck with the prominence given to physical culture, and the
fact that proficiency in athletic feats and games as well as in
scholarship had a place in the rating of the youth.
"The faculty of education," Dr. Leete explained, "is held to the same
responsibility for the bodies as for the minds of its charges. The
highest possible physical, as well as mental, development of every one
is the double object of a curriculum which lasts from the age of six
to that of twenty-one."
The magnificent health of the young people in the schools impressed me
strongly. My previous observations, not only of the notable personal
endowments of the family of my host, but of the people I had seen in
my walks abroad, had already suggested the idea that there must have
been something like a general improvement in the physical standard of
the race since my day, and now, as I compared these stalwart young men
and fresh, vigorous maidens with the young people I had seen in the
schools of the nineteenth century, I was moved to impart my thought to
Dr. Leete. He listened with great interest to what I said.
"Your testimony on this point," he declared, "is invaluable. We
believe that there has been such an improvement as you speak of, but
of course it could only be a matter of theory with us. It is an
incident of your unique position that you alone in the world of to-day
can speak with authority on this point. Your opinion, when you state
it publicly, will, I assure you, make a profound sensation. For the
rest it would be strange, certainly, if the race did not show an
improvement. In your day, riches debauched one class with idleness of
mind and body, while poverty sapped the vitality of the masses by
overwork, bad food, and pestilent homes. The labor required of
children, and the burdens laid on women, enfeebled the very springs of
life. Instead of these maleficent circumstances, all now enjoy the
most favorable conditions of physical life; the young are carefully
nurtured and studiously cared for; the labor which is required of all
is limited to the period of greatest bodily vigor, and is never
excessive; care for one's self and one's family, anxiety as to
livelihood, the strain of a ceaseless battle for life—all these
influences, which once did so much to wreck the minds and bodies of
men and women, are known no more. Certainly, an improvement of the
species ought to follow such a change. In certain specific respects we
know, indeed, that the improvement has taken place. Insanity, for
instance, which in the nineteenth century was so terribly common a
product of your insane mode of life, has almost disappeared, with its