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THIS BOOK is offered in the belief that the main business of freshman 
English is reading and writing, and that these ends are best served when 
the technology of language and its human aims are considered as one. In 
recent years there have been two marked trends in freshman anthologies. 
One has been to center attention on the 'life problems" of the student, and 
the other has been to concentrate on matters of rhetoric. We believe that 
the first of these approaches encourages the student to neglect his practical 
needs as a reader and as a writer, and that the second makes the readings 
so ancillary to strategy and drill that it runs the danger of draining their 
vitality away. This book attempts to wed the best in these two methods, 
and at the same time to keep the focus squarely where we think it belongs: 
on reading and writing, and on language and thinking as they are inex- 
tricably bound up with both. 

In the belief that reading and writing, as subjects, should not be sep- 
arated either from humanistic values or from technical considerations, we 
have designed this book to fuse the practical and the literary, the techno- 
logical and the humanistic to bring into efficient harmony the everyday 
needs of students with their interests. Reading and writing are interactive 
process and result. Unlike the passive radio receiver, the reader responds 
to what he receives and changes it. He analyzes what is sent to him, even 
if badly; and ideally he responds to how it is sent he writes in his turn. 
By fusing the what and the how, Reader and Writer should help to make 
the reading process active, and in so doing should educate the writing- 
sending powers to greater effectiveness. 

This sharpened sense of the aims of freshman English should make it 
easy for the instructor to relate this book closely and effectively to the 
handbook or rhetoric used in the course, supplementing the details of 
grammar and mechanics by putting them to work in a significant context. 
To this end, headnotes lead the student into the reading and writing prob- 
lems which the selections present, and are a connective tissue to articulate 
the book. Questions and theme suggestions are further aids in rhetoric, 
vocabulary, and comprehension. They have been placed at the end of the 
book, where they will be out of the way of the teacher who prefers to 
develop his own. There is also an alternate table of contents, by literary 
types and purposes in writing, and a check list of selections particularly 
suited to the study of such topics as outlining, paragraph structure, sentence 
structure, and rhetorical devices. 

The focus on reading and writing has made it possible to give each selec- 

vi Preface 

tion what might be called an organic setting. In each of the book's twenty- 
three sections, pieces in several genres are clustered round a central theme 
or problem. It has thus been possible to illustrate the almost infinite variety 
which is possible in tl^e handling of themes and ideas by different minds 
working from different points of view. Prose and verse, story and essay, 
report and argument, are grouped in terms of subject where, at first, they 
can be made most meaningful to students. We believe that the subtle, sig- 
nificant relationship between craft and content, technique and subject, is 
best studied when a single subject is seen through different minds and 
eyes, from different intentions, and is manipulated in different styles and 
strategies. Journalists see (hence write) differently from poets, poets from 
essayists, essayists from short story writers, story writers from scholars; and 
all these (perhaps) differently from students. It is a valuable lesson to 
learn that the psychologist's view of the family differs from the poet's, and 
that each is just as valid, in its way, as the educator's, the sociologist's, or 
the short story writer's. It is useful through this multiplicity of genres and 
approaches to learn that "reality," which each seeks to capture, is elusive 
and complex, and each can capture but a part of it. For freshmen, many 
of them making their first foray into writing through reading and thinking, 
it should be illuminating to learn that there are many ways of saying a 
thing, and that this truth has close application to their own writing. 

Our sequence is not sacred, and many teachers will find a different one 
more suitable to their purpose. As we have said, the alternate table of 
contents by types, and the check list of selections most suitable for analysis 
in the study of writing principles, will be of great service to instructors who 
prefer one of those approaches, either in place of our grouping or as an 
occasional supplement to it. Moreover, within each section there is abun- 
dance, and the teacher need not require every item in order to reach impor- 
tant conclusions about a general topic. The organization of the book also 
provides a rough gauge of difficulty, for within each section the pieces are 
arranged from easy to difficult, and in a more general way, the same is true 
of the sections and parts. The book is strictly organized, but not confining. 

Finally, let us repeat: Reader and Writer attempts more openly than 
has been done before to bring together the major language problems as 
such the problems of reading, writing, and thinking with the literary 
and ideational interests of teachers and students. We hope and believe 
that the practical aims are thus made more attractive, that the intellectual 
voyaging is given immediate goals. The technology of language and its 
humanistic aims are made one increasing, we feel, the efficiency of each. 



PART ONE Reader 

Reading as Pleasure and 'Work 

Advertisement, The Greatest Pleasure in Life 3 

Paul D. Leedy, How to Read More Efficiently 5 

Mortimer J. Adler, How to Mark a Book 10 

Francis Bacon, Of Studies 14 

Lin Yutang, The Art of Reading 15 

John Ciardi, What Does It Take to Enjoy a Poem? 20 

Marianne Moore, Poetry 28 

Some Readers at "Work 

James Thurber, Here Lies Miss Groby 30 

W. B. Scott, Clutter Counters Everywhere 33 

Frank O'Connor, The Idealist 36 

John Keats, On First Looking into Chapman's Homer 43 

Readers and College Life 

Roger W. Holmes, What Every Freshman Should Know ' 44 

Robert Benchley, What College Did to Me 51 

Mrs. Glenn Frank, Heartache on the Campus 55 

Geoffrey Gorer, Dating in America 62 

Sir Bernard Mosher, A Student at His Book 66 

Samuel H. Scudder, A Great Teacher's Method 67 

James Bryant Conant, The University 70 

John Holmes, The Bells Rang Every Hour 80 

Karl Shapiro, University 82 

Thomas Gray, Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College 84 

vtii Contents 

PART TWO Writer 

The Writer's lob 

Stephen Leacock, Anybody Can Learn to Write 89 

H. A. Overstreet, The Psychology of Effective Writing 93 

Jonathan Swift, A Writing Machine 95 

John Mason Brown, Pleasant Agony 97 

Jacques Barzun, How to Write and Be Read 101 

Herman Melville, Art 111 

William Butler Yeats, Adams Curse 111 

Sir Philip Sidney, Look in Thy Heart and Write 113 

The "Writer's Aims 

Sherwood Anderson, Two Letters on Writing 114 

Ernest Hemingway, Why I Wrote About Bullfights 119 

Robert Browning, "To Find Its Meaning" 122 

A. E. Housman, "Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff' 9 123 

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 55 125 

Some Precepts and Examples 


William Hazlitt, On the Differences Between Writing 

and Speaking 126 

Bess Sondel, Everybody's Listening! 131 

James Boswell, Dr. Johnson Converses on Composition 135 

Benjamin Franklin, On Disputing 137 

Ring Lardner, On Conversation 138 


Charles Dickens, Sam Wetter s Valentine 140 

Herman Melville, Two Letters 145 

Jay Leyda, Miss Emily's Maggie 150 

John Holmes, The Letter 161 

Contents ix 


Rudolf Flesch, The Shape of Ideas 162 

Student Paper, Notes for a Portrait of Dummy Flagg 170 

Richard C. Blakeslee, Revising a Theme 173 

Henry David Thoreau, Thoughts on Composition 176 

John Holmes, Talk 178 


S. I. Hayakawa, The Language of Reports 181 

Chicago Daily News, How Propaganda Finds Its Way 

Into the Press 185 

Ken Macrorie, World's Best Directions Writer 190 

Grace Brown, The One-Egg Cake 195 

Sydney Smith, Winter Salad 196 


David Daiches, The Literary Use of Language 197 

Howard P. Vincent, Melville Writes of the Whale-Line 200 

William March, A Sum in Addition 203 

John Ciardi, On a Photo of Sgt. Ciardi a Year Later 205 

PART THREE The Arch of Experience 

Jn and 'Beyond the family 

Alfred Adler, The Family Constellation 209 

Edgar Lee Masters, At Grandmothers 215 

Clarence Day, Father Tries to Make Mother Like Figures 218 

Crary Moore, Good-bye, Little Sister 222 

Sherwood Anderson, Brother Death 227 

Walt Whitman, There Was a Child Went Forth 239 

Constance Carrier, Peter at Fourteen 241 

Robert P. Tristram Coffin, The Secret Heart 242 

Emily Dickinson, Returning 243 

Gerard Manley Hopkins, Spring and Fall 244 

x Contents 

Self and Others 

William James, On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings 245 

Oliver Wendell Holmes, John and Thomas 248 

Lloyd Lewis, The Secret Evangel of Otto McFeely 249 

Katherine Mansfield, A Dill Pickle 251 

Edwin Arlington Robinson, Richard Cory 257 

Robert Browning, My Last Duchess 257 

William Butler Yeats, For Anne Gregory 259 

A Number of Things 

Graham Hutton, Midwestern Weather 260 

Editors of Fortune, Riveters 266 

Paul Gallico, The Feel 267 

George Orwell, Shooting an Elephant 275 

Dorothy Baker, Rick Discovers Jazz 281 

Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself 291 

PART FOUR The Ways of Thought 

The Mind's Ways 

John Dewey, Language and the Training of Thought 297 

James Harvey Robinson, Four Kinds of Thinking ^ 308 

James Thurber, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty 316 

Jules H. Masserman, Experimental Neuroses 320 

E. B. White, The Door 329 

Emily Dickinson, Much Madness Is Divinest Sense 333 

Emily Dickinson, The Brain Within Its Groove 333 

Some Logicians at "Work 

Robert Gorham Davis, Logic and Logical Fallacies 334 

T. H. Huxley, We Are All Scientists 343 

Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal 349 

Contents ri 

Russell Maloney, Inflexible Logic 356 

Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress 362 

'Beyond Logic 

Walter B. Cannon, The Role of Hunches 364 

John Livingston Lowes, Imagination Creatrfa 371 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan 375 

C. Day Lewis, How a Poem Is Made 377 

May Sarton, Dialogue 382 

Pitfalls of Th 

S. I. Hayakawa, Symbols 383 

Bergen Evans, Wolf! Wolf! 390 
Gordon W. Allport, Prejudice: A Sickness of Individuals 

and Society 395 

William Faulkner, Dry September 401 

John Godfrey Saxe, The Blind Men and the Elephant 410 

Walker Gibson, The Umpire 411 

freedom for Thought 

Northwestern University Reviewing Stand, God and Man 

in the Universities 413 

PART FIVE The Ways of Language 

The Life of Language 

Edward Sapir, The Social Functions of Language 427 

Albert H. Marckwardt, What Is Good English? 430 

Dwight L. Bolinger, The Life and Death of Words 435 

Samuel L. Clemens, Buck Fanshaw's Funeral 445 

Bernard De Voto, The Third Floor 451 

xii Contents 

"Vices and Virtues of Style 

William Hazlitt, On Familiar Style 458 
William B. Hale, The Style of Woodrow Wilson at Twenty-two 464 

Samuel T. Williamson, How to Write Like a Social Scientist 468 

Frank Sullivan, The Cliche Expert Testifies on the Atom 472 

Elinor Goulding Smith, Story for the Slicks 478 

William Shakespeare, My Mistress' Eyes 482 

Some CNice 'Derangements o/ Language 

Lewis Carroll, Humpty Dumpty on Words 483 

Edith Wharton, Henry James Gives and Asks Directions 491 

Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Pun Question 493 
Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Mrs. Malaprops Diabolical 

Instruments of Knowledge 495 
Arthur Kober, The Guy Is Sittiri There, See, Hangin 

with His Tongue Out 498 

Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky 504 

PART six The Mobilized Word 

The 'Mass JWedia and Maturity 

Wilbur Schramm, A Brief Chronology of Mass Communications 507 

H. A. Overstreet, What We Read, See, and Hear 509 

David L. Cohn, Moonlight and Poison Ivy 523 

Gilbert Seldes, The Art of Licking 527 

Robert Graham, Adman's Nightmare: Is the Prune a Witch? 532 

Rolfe Humphries, The Doubtcaster 541 

Toward Democratic Responsibility 

Frank Luther Mott, The Responsibilities of the Newspaper Reader 544 

Al Capp, It's Hideously True 551 

A. R. Fulton, It's Different from the Book 556 







WHATEVER WE DO, wherever we go, we are never independent of the writ- 
ten word for very long. A headline tells us that "Disaster Strikes Texas 
City." The billboard and the streetcar ad urge us to "Buy Snelling's Soap" 
or "Visit Slippery Rock." We are adjured to "Close Cover Before Striking," 
"Shake Well Before Using," "Open This End," and "Ask the Man Who 
Owns One." We can't even start a car without being reminded that one 
dial registers "gallons," another "miles per hour," a third "amperes" and a 
fourth "temperature." Imagine what it would be like if suddenly all these 
words were erased and we stared out at blank surfaces! We are all readers, 
and we couldn't function in a civilized society if we weren't. 

But all this is "subsistence" reading. To enjoy the "comforts" and "lux- 
uries" we have to be readers on higher levels, too. Success in college 
demands knowledge of fact and grasp of idea, much of it through the 
written word. It is shocking but true that through no defect of native in- 
telligence, some students have to spend two or three times as long on any 
given page, chapter, or book as others do. And more times than not the 
slow reader struggles painfully and comes away from his task with only a 
vague or garbled notion of what he has read. To read competently is to 
grasp another's central meaning in proper relation to its parts, and thus to 
have a view of the whole, very much as one understands the parts of an 
automobile in relation to the whole machine, or the members of a team in 
relation to the game they play. This is the kind of reading we do in text 

2 Reader 

and reference books, in magazine articles, in anything from which we want 
information, ideas, or opinions. Because we read this way not only in col- 
lege but all our lives, it is urgently important that we do it as well as we 

Beyond this kind of reading which we may call technological is yet 
another kind. Do you find a pleasure in words, in their precision and their 
sensitivity? There are many people who savor them as a gourmet savors 
food or an athlete enjoys his game. Do you appreciate word structures? 
Do you agree, for instance, with Winston Churchill that the English sen- 
tence is a noble thing? Do you find books a door to truth, a road to under- 
standing? Do you find them a source of comfort and pleasure? If you can 
answer yes to any of these questions, you are to that extent a "reader." 
The selections in the following pages will tell you why this is true and 
what it can mean for you. 

Reading as Pleasure 
and Work 

"Any questions on this 
paragraph? 99 

The Greatest Pleasure 
in Life ** 

This little essay was written to persuade people to join a book club. 
It is a model of composition that mocks itself by its rhetorical precision, 
at the same time that it really means what it says. Notice how a genuine 
feeling underlies the arguments for reading, even while they are humor- 
ously overstated. 

THERE is A GREAT DEAL, to be said for sex. Nature has been wise to people the 
world with only two sexes, officially. What would we have done with a 
third sex, how might it not have interfered with our pleasures! When a 
member of the male sex and a member of the female sex look upon each 
other, and find each other good to look upon, how pleasurable is the glow 
which suffuses their bosoms! With what deeply felt joy does each go 
through the painful process of presenting that most vital of organs, the 
heart, to the other! In what a luxury of ecstasy does each write tender mis- 
sives to the other! Enveloped in what cozy hedonism, does each receive 
messages conveying the other's regard! The presence of sex in the world 

Reprinted by permission from an advertisement written by George Macy for The 
Readers' Club. 

4 Reader 

produces that tender emotion, love, which is one of our most luscious de- 
lights. To touch the lips of one's loved one, to encase one's loved one in 
one's arms, these are great pleasures indeed. There is much to be said foi 

There is much also to be said^r sports. When you go to bat against the 
opposing pitcher, and you take tf deep lusty swing at the ball, and you hear 
the crack of the bat meeting the ball, and you see the ball sailing far over 
the center-field fence, this is a moment of tangible pleasure. When the op- 
posing eleven is leading by seven to six, and there are twenty seconds to 
play, and the ball is in the possession of your team on the ten-yard line, and 
you drop back for a placement kick which will win the game, and you make 
good the placement kick which does win the game, this is a moment of 
tingling felicity. When your ball is twenty feet from the cup, and the green 
is rough, so that the ball must take three deliberate hops before it reaches 
the cup, what is your state of beatitude as you watch the ball drop into the 
cup! These are pleasures to be derived only from sports. There is a great 
deal to be said for sports. 

One must not forget that there is a great deal to be said for drinking. To 
stand up at the bar, swapping yarns with the bartender and the other bar- 
flies, talking man's talk and comporting oneself generally in mannish fashion, 
this is a pleasure which is yet only the beginning of happiness. For you 
watch your drink being mixed and you hear the genial tinkle of the ice in 
the glass and you feel your mouth suddenly grown dry; then you pour the 
drink down your throat, wetting your mouth, warming your throat, rousing 
your innards; this is an entertainment of the senses closely approaching 
upon sensual bliss. Then you look out of the corner of your eye at the ladies 
wistfully waiting at the door, waiting for the hour to strike when they are 
permitted into the bar, when they are permitted to talk man's talk and com- 
port themselves generally in mannish fashion; and, egged on by the spirits 
already inside you, you find yourself buried in beatitude. There is much to 
be said for drinking. 

But there is a great deal to be said against sex, and against sports, against 
drinking! Love is not always pleasure! Misunderstandings bring misery in 
their wake. Hearts may grieve and break into such small pieces that the 
stomach is affected, so that one may not eat. And one must not forget the 
aftermath of bliss: little ones brought into the world, nuisances to have their 
diapers changed, brats to keep one awake with their squalls in the night. 
^Sports are not always pleasurable! One does not always win, one often 
knows the grief of ignominious defeat. One may be hit with a pitched 
ball, and killed. One may have one's neck broken in a scrimmage. One may 
be beaned by a golfer who was too lazy to cry fore. ^Drinking is not always 
pleasurable! One may drink too much, one may then quarrel with one's 
friend, or one's best girl, or one's friend's best girl. One may awake in the 
morning . . . f No, there is a great deal to be said against sex, there is a great 
deal to be said against sports, there is a great deal to be said against drinking. 

Reading as Pleasure and Work 5 

But nothing can be said against reading. It is reading which is the great- 
est pleasure in life. You may find yourself lonely, deserted by the world; 
in books you will find companions: noble and handsome and honorable 
men, beautiful and desirable and desiring women. You may have insomnia, 
and find yourself unable to sleep; there are books containing printed words 
the reading of which is guaranteed to put you to sleep. You may want to 
know how to win friends and influence people, you may want to know how 
to build a yacht, you may want to know how to keep your account books, 
you may want to know how to cultivate your garden; there are printed 
books the reading of which will give you any kind of education you desire. 
You may long for the sight of foreign shores, the smells of foreign peoples; 
there are books to whisk you miles away: books the reading of which will 
fill your eyes with the sight of foreign shores, fill your nostrils with the 
smells of foreign peoples. 

Reading will educate you. Reading will entertain you. Reading will 
broaden your mind, reading will save you from boredom. There is no other 
pleasure in life which is so full of immediate satisfaction, so devoid of later 
regret. Yes, there is no other pleasure in life which can always be looked 
upon, in retrospect, with equal pleasure. 

How to Read More 
Efficiently & Paul D. Leedy 

All scientific studies of reading habits show that any reader, no 
matter how fast or slow he reads, or how much or little he gets from his 
reading, can improve both his rate and his comprehension by conscious 
practice of the sorts of techniques Mr. Leedy recommends. 

FORMAL READING instruction ceased for most of us in the elementary school. 
Through the upper grades, in high school, in college, and on through life 
the world has assumed that we knew "how to read." The stark and awful 
truth is that most of us read slowly, laboriously, and inefficiently. Few peo- 
ple have had the training necessary to make them masters of the skills of 
reading. Generally we crawl along the printways at a rate of one hundred 
to two hundred words a minute, whereas the efficient reader ought to fly 

From The Wonderful World of Books, edited by Alfred Stefferud. Copyright, 1952, 
by Alfred Stefferud. The New American Library of World Literature, Inc., and Hough- 
ton Mifflin Co., co-publishers. 

6 Reader 

at six hundred to a thousand words a minute, and remember at least 80 per 
cent of everything that he has read! Check yourself against these specifica- 
tions for the first-rate reader. 

This chapter will suggest a few simple techniques for improving your 
reading skill. Put these simple suggestions into practice and watch the 

First, settle clearly in your own mind just what your purpose in reading 
is. Is it that you want merely a rapid, general impression and a surface 
view of the text? In that case you will skim. Or do you wish to read more 
carefully, noting the facts and specific details in order to recall them ac- 
curately later? If so, you will read rapidly with attention to details. Per- 
haps you may wish to understand clearly the more complex organization 
of the thought, to be aware of every shade and nuance of reasoning, weigh- 
ing fact against fact, and to form an opinion on the basis of what your au- 
thor has said. This calls for critical reading. By its very nature this type of 
reading is slower and most exacting in its demands for highly developed 
reading skills. 

In general, skimming is basic to most other types of reading. It is the 
skill that gives the "airplane view" of the printed page. Too many of us 
begin to read without first trying to discover the lay of the land or the 
topography of the thought. The normal procedure is to begin at the first 
word of the first paragraph and plod through to the last word in the final 
paragraph. By so doing, the average adult feels satisfied and congratulates 
himself upon "having read it all." 

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most of us think that when we 
look at each word or the still less efficient reader, when he mumbles each 
word inwardly to himself that we have "read" the selection. It does not 
trouble us that frequently we have lost sight of the organization of the 
selection as a whole, that the facts are jumbled and indistinct, that the ma- 
terial does not stand out with maplike clearness, nor the thought in bold 

The average reader is not aware of paragraph divisions. Before you 
begin to read, look down along the left-hand margin of the column of print. 
See those indentations? 

To the skilled reader each indentation indicates the beginning of a new 
thought development. Try reading the first sentence just the first sen- 
tence only, of each paragraph. Drive yourself through a chapter in a book, 
or an article in a magazine, reading only the first sentence of each para- 
graph. Before long you will be aware that this procedure is making a great 
deal of sense; that the thought is flowing smoothly and progressively. If 
the first sentence does not make sense, try the concluding sentence of the 
paragraph. The main thing is to go on, paragraph after paragraph, merely 
skimming the surface, like a dragonfly skimming over the surface of a pool. 

When you have finished you will be aware of two things: first, you will 
have an over-all view of the entire selection which will be as thrilling 

Reading as Pleasure and Work 1 

upon first experience as looking out over an expansive countryside from 
the cabin of a plane; secondly, you will be aware of motion the on- 
ward, irresistible surge of thought. Until many people have had this 
latter experience, that of a conscious awareness that they were read- 
ing thoughts not words they have not known what real reading isl 
Too often we labor a lifetime under the delusion that reading words is 
reading. Words are merely the symbols through which the thought of the 
author is transferred to the mind of the reader. The skilled reader always 
recognizes that the thought flows through the lines of print as a message 
over a copper wire. The wire indeed is important, but far more so is the 
thought that it conveys. Read with only one question in the background of 
your consciousness: Does this make sense? If it does, spur yourself on. 
More thought lies ahead. Speed down the printways after it! 

Occasionally you will find a writer with whom this method of skimming 
does not seem to bring results. Such writers are the more difficult ones to 
read. They may tuck the "key" sentence away at the end of the paragraph, 
or hide it in the middle. But writers usually follow a consistent pattern of 
thought development, and once you have cracked one or two paragraphs 
and understand how the author works, all the others will likely show a 
similarity of structure and plan. This semblance of structure we call an 
author's "style." 

The skimming technique you may object to as being very superficial, 
and so it is. It was meant to be nothing else. 

"But," you insist, "I want to read with more thoroughness." Good; let 
us go back to the beginning and read the chapter again, this time demon- 
strating the technique of rapid yet careful reading. You see, everything 
depends upon the purpose you have in reading. Your purpose now is a 
more inclusive, a more serious one. You seek a more comprehensive grasp 
of the written word. 

At this point you plunge into the forest. Up to now you have merely 
surveyed its general extent and vastness, and noted the principal land- 
marks. Now, in among the towering trees you go. Every experienced 
woodsman knows that there is a right and wrong way to go into the woods. 
Just so, the skilled reader recognizes a right and wrong way to attack a 
page of print. What is the first step toward reading more comprehensively? 

First, note the main thought of the paragraph. This is exactly what you 
did in skimming. Find it and fix it firmly and clearly in your mind. In 
most cases it will be the first sentence, but occasionally it may occur else- 
where. Do not attempt to memorize the words of the author, but grasp his 
central thought. See if you can immediately rephrase the main idea, mainly 
in your own words. This will help you to fix the thought in your own mind. 
Now, with the thought firmly anchored in your consciousness, read rapidly 
through the rest of the paragraph to glean contributory ideas which ex- 
pand, explain, or enlarge upon the main thought. This is what teachers 
often refer to as the "development of the idea." 

8 Reader 

In reading rapidly look for the words within the paragraph that express 
ideas without adding unnecessary detail. Not all words are equally im- 
portant. You recognize this fact when you send a telegram. The eye sees 
instantaneously much more than the mind actually "reads," and there are 
only certain words within each sentence that the mind needs to dwell upon 
to get the thought of the author. For example, read the following: 

Get the habit of looking for the significant, meaningful words in each line of 
print. Frequently they are few, and whereas your eyes race down the 
crowded printlanes, your mind idles because it need not digest every single, 
solitary word to get the meaning. 

How many words did you read? There are 44 words in that selection, 
and unless you are a skillful reader, you probably read all forty-four of 
them. Here, however, is what you should have read: 


You have lost nothing of the thought. You have reduced your reading 
load by exactly 50 per cent! This means that if you read a 40,000-word 
treatise, you need not give your full attention to each one of the 40,000 
words. While you see all of them, you read only about 20,000 or 25,000. 
You have sacrificed nothing of the meaning, you have merely sloughed off 
the unimportant verbiage. Practice this telegraphic reading. It is one of 
the principal secrets to reading faster, and more comprehensively. 

Always check your reading for comprehension of the facts. This is most 
easily done by your telling yourself the details of what you have read. See 
if you can. Can you enumerate the points in the order in which the author 
made them? Do you know what the main idea of the first paragraph is? 
Could you outline clearly and coherently the thought of the author without 
referring to the text? These questions, and others similar, will test how 
well you comprehend. You should never fall below 80 per cent on any 
quiz you give yourself. 

We also read faster when we see more. The eye picks up an eyeful of 
print as one might gather an armload of wood. As a child I was sent out 
to get wood for the fire. I came in from the woodpile, one stick in each 
hand. I had all, I thought, that I could carry. Then my father showed me 
how to carry an armload of wood. I immediately increased my carrying 
efficiency many times. 

So with the reader. The word-by-word reader brings the thought from 
the printed page in dribs. Because of inefficient reading habits the eye of 
the poor reader has looked at a line of print and has seen only a very small 
fraction of it. When one fixes his eyes on any particular spot, he is aware 
that he is able to see on either side of this point with perfect clarity up to 
a peripheral area where the field of vision begins to blur. This readable 
area, that one sees with a single glance, is the "eye-span/' Span can be 

Reading as Pleasure and Work 9 

developed so that with proper training one can force himself to see more 
and more at one glance. Increased eye-span means greater intake; greater 
intake, more efficient reading. 

A simple exercise with the daily newspaper will help you develop in- 
creased eye-span. Take any column of newsprint and locate a three- or 
four-letter word in the middle of the line. Beginning from either side of 
this chosen word, draw straight, diverging lines about four or five inches 
long with a pen or soft pencil, until the lines widen to column width and 
touch the printed lines that separate the columns. Now place a card or 
blotter over the marked area. Fix your eyes on a spot near the top of the 
triangle that you have drawn. Pull the card down quickly and shove it 
back into position, allowing about half a second of exposure. What words 
did you see between the two lines? Now fix your eyes farther down the 
column that is covered by the card. Repeat the pull-push technique. How 
many words did you see this time? Repeat this again and again. Practice 
every day. Soon you will realize that you are gradually seeing more and 
more at a single glance. Your eye-span will be increasing. 

There are many other factors that may be mentioned in connection with 
learning to read faster and more comprehensively. One of these is the 
arresting of the impulse to glance back over the line of print one has just 
read in order to pick up a word or phrase that one thinks he has missed. 
Such backward glances are called "regressions." Most of the time they 
indicate that the reader is not mentally alert, or that he has formed a poor 
reading habit. For die sake of practice, when you find yourself tempted to 
look back to check on something you think you have missed or not seen 
correctly, arrest your impulse and drive yourself on. Drive yourself to 
get from the oncoming text its full meaning. Frequently you will find that 
you did see and comprehend quite adequately what you thought at the in- 
stant of the impulse to regress that you had missed. The eye sees more 
than we think it sees; the mind often records more word-meanings than we 
realize. Only when the thought goes completely to pieces should you check 
back to locate the difficulty. 

Reading is an extremely complex visuo-psychological process. Marked 
reading retardation should have the best advice of a reading specialist. 
The quickest way for anyone to improve his reading efficiency is to seek 
the help of a reading center, such as are to be found at many of the leading 
universities throughout the country. But for much of our population these 
reading centers are not available. Nevertheless, the average adult can 
improve his reading rate and comprehension and, through persistent effort 
and intelligent application of the suggestions which have been very briefly 
outlined in this chapter, he should notice within a relatively short time that 
he is speeding over the highways of print with more efficiency and less 

How to Mark a Book 

JWortimer *]. Adler - 4902- 

Good readers, reading for blood, know how much it helps to read 
armed with a pencil. Mr. Adler tells how, when, and why to use one. 

You KNOW you have to read "between the lines" to get the most out of any- 
thing. I want to persuade you to do something equally important in the 
course of your reading. I want to persuade you to "write between the 
lines." Unless you do, you are not likely to do the most efficient kind of 

I contend, quite bluntly, that marking up a book is not an act of mutila- 
tion but of love. 

You shouldn't mark up a book which isn't yours. Librarians (or your 
friends) who lend you books expect you to keep them clean, and you 
should. If you decide that I am right about the usefulness of marking 
books, you will have to buy them. Most of the world's great books are 
available today, in reprint editions, at less than a dollar. 

There are two ways in which one can own a book. The first is the 
property right you establish by paying for it, just as you pay for clothes and 
furniture. But this act of purchase is only the prelude to possession. Full 
ownership comes only when you have made it a part of yourself, and the 
best way to make yourself a part of it is by writing in it. An illustration 
may make the point clear. You buy a beefsteak and transfer it from the 
butcher's icebox to your own. But you do not own the beefsteak in the 
most important sense until you consume it and get it into your bloodstream. 
I am arguing that books, too, must be absorbed in your bloodstream to do 
you any good. 

Confusion about what it means to own a book leads people to a false 
reverence for paper, binding, and type a respect for the physical thing 
- the craft of the printer rather than the genius of the author. They forget 
that it is possible for a man to acquire the idea, to possess the beauty, 
which a great book contains, without staking his claim by pasting his book- 
plate inside the cover. Having a fine library doesn't prove that its owner 
has a mind enriched by books; it proves nothing more than that he, his 
father, or his wife, was rich enough to buy them. 

There are three kinds of book owners. The first has all the standard sets 
and best-sellers unread, untouched. (This deluded individual owns 
woodpulp and ink, not books. ) The second has a great many books a 

Reprinted by permission from The Saturday Review of Literature, July 6, 1940. 


Reading as Pleasure and Work 11 

few of them read through, most of them dipped into, but all of them as 
clean and shiny as the day they were bought. (This person would probably 
like to make books his own, but is restrained by a false respect for their 
physical appearance.) The third has a few books or many every one 
of them dog-eared and dilapidated, shaken and loosened by continual 
use, marked and scribbled in from front to back. (This man owns 
books. ) 

Is it false respect, you may ask, to preserve intact and unblemished a 
beautifully printed book, an elegantly bound edition? Of course not. I'd 
no more scribble all over a first edition of Paradise Lost than I'd give my 
baby a set of crayons and an original Rembrandt! I wouldn't mark up a 
painting or a statue. Its soul, so to speak, is inseparable from its body. And 
the beauty of a rare edition or of a richly manufactured volume is like that 
of a painting or a statue. 

But the soul of a book can be separated from its body. A book is more 
like the score of a piece of music than it is like a painting. No great 
musician confuses a symphony with the printed sheets of music. Arturo 
Toscanini reveres Brahms, but Toscanini's score of the C-minor Symphony 
is so thoroughly marked up that no one but the maestro himself can read it. 
The reason why a great conductor makes notations on his musical scores 
marks them up again and again each time he returns to study them is the 
reason why you should mark your books. If your respect for magnificent 
binding or typography gets in the way, buy yourself a cheap edition and 
pay your respects to the author. 

Why is marking up a book indispensable to reading? First, it keeps you 
awake. ( And I don't mean merely conscious; I mean wide awake. ) In the 
second place, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to ex- 
press itself in words, spoken or written. The marked book is usually the 
thought-through book. Finally, writing helps you remember the thoughts 
you had, or the thoughts the author expressed. Let me develop these three 

If reading is to accomplish anything more than passing time, it must be 
active. You can't let your eyes glide across the lines of a book and come up 
with an understanding of what you have read. Now an ordinary piece of 
light fiction, like say, Gone with the Wind, doesn't require the most active 
kind of reading. The books you read for pleasure can be read in a state of 
relaxation, and nothing is lost. But a great book, rich in ideas and beauty, 
a book that raises and tries to answer great fundamental questions, de- 
mands the most active reading of which you are capable. You don't 
absorb the ideas of John Dewey the way you absorb the crooning of Mr. 
Vallee. You have to reach for them. That you cannot do while you're 

If, when you've finished reading a book, the pages are filled with your 
notes, you know that you read actively. The most famous active reader of 

12 Reader 

great books I know is President Hutchins, of the University of Chicago. 
He also has the hardest schedule of business activities of any man I know. 
He invariably reads with a pencil, and sometimes, when he picks up a 
book and pencil in the evening, he finds himself, instead of making in- 
telligent notes, drawing what he calls "caviar factories" on the margins. 
When that happens, he puts the book down. He knows he's too tired to 
read, and he's just wasting time. 

But, you may ask, why is writing necessary? Well, the physical act of 
writing, with your own hand, brings words and sentences more sharply 
before your mind and preserves them better in your memory. To set down 
your reaction to important words and sentences you have read, and the 
questions they have raised in your mind, is to preserve those reactions and 
sharpen those questions. 

Even if you wrote on a scratch pad, and threw the paper away when you 
had finished writing, your grasp of the book would be surer. But you 
don't have to throw the paper away. The margins (top and bottom, as 
well as side), the end-papers, the very space between the lines, are all 
available. They aren't sacred. And, best of all, your marks and notes be- 
come an integral part of the book and stay there forever. You can pick up 
the book the following week or year, and there are all your points of 
agreement, disagreement, doubt, and inquiry. It's like resuming an inter- 
rupted conversation with the advantage of being able to pick up where 
you left off. 

And that is exactly what reading a book should be: a conversation be- 
tween you and the author. Presumably he knows more about the subject 
than you do; naturally, you'll have the proper humility as you approach 
him. But don't let anybody tell you that a reader is supposed to be solely 
on the receiving end. Understanding is a two-way operation; learning 
doesn't consist in being an empty receptacle. The learner has to question 
himself and question the teacher. He even has to argue with the teacher, 
once he understands what the teacher is saying. And marking a book is 
literally an expression of your differences, or agreements of opinion, with 
the author. 

There are all kinds of devices for marking a book intelligently and fruit- 
fully. Here's the way I do it: 

1. Underlining: of major points, of important or forceful statements. 

2. Vertical lines at the margin: to emphasize a statement already under- 

3. Star, asterisk, or other doo-dad at the margin: to be used sparingly, 
to emphasize the ten or twenty most important statements in the book. 
( You may want to fold the bottom corner of each page on which you use 
such marks. It won't hurt the sturdy paper on which most modern books 
are printed, and you will be able to take the book off the shelf at any time 
and, by opening it at the folded-corner page, refresh your recollection of 
the book.) 

Reading as Pleasure and Work 13 

4. Numbers in the margin: to indicate the sequence of points the author 
makes in developing a single argument. 

5. Numbers of other pages in the margin: to indicate where else in the 
book the author made points relevant to the point marked; to tie up the 
ideas in a book, which, though they may be separated by many pages, be- 
long together. 

6. Circling of key words or phrases. 

7. Writing in the margin, or at the top or bottom of the page, for the 
sake of: recording questions ( and perhaps answers ) which a passage raised 
in your mind; reducing a complicated discussion to a simple statement; 
recording the sequence of major points right through the books. I use the 
end-papers at the back of the book to make a personal index of the author's 
points in the order of their appearance. 

The front end-papers are, to me, the most important. Some people re- 
serve them for a fancy bookplate. I reserve them for fancy thinking. After 
I have finished reading the book and making my personal index on the 
back end-papers, I turn to the front and try to outline the book, not page by 
page, or point by point (I've already done that at the back), but as an 
integrated structure, with a basic unity and an order of parts. This outline 
is, to me, the measure of my understanding of the work. 

If you're a die-hard anti-book-marker, you may object that the margins, 
the space between the lines, and the end-papers don't give you room 
enough. All right. How about using a scratch pad slightly smaller than the 
page-size of the book so that the edges of the sheets won't protrude? 
Make your index, outlines, and even your notes on the pad, and then insert 
these sheets permanently inside the front and back covers of the book. 

Or, you may say that this business of marking books is going to slow up 
your reading. It probably will. That's one of the reasons for doing it. 
Most of us have been taken in by the notion that speed of reading is a 
measure of our intelligence. There is no such thing as the right speed for 
intelligent reading. Some things should be read quickly and effortlessly, 
and some should be read slowly and even laboriously. -The sign of intelli- 
gence in reading is the ability to read different things differently accord- 
ing to their worth. In the case of good books, the point is not to see how 
many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through 
you how many you can make your own. A few friends are better than 
a thousand acquaintances. If this be your aim, as it should be, you will 
not be impatient if it takes more time and effort to read a great book than 
it does a newspaper. 

You may have one final objection to marking books. You can't lend them 
to your friends because nobody else can read them without being distracted 
by your notes. Furthermore, you won't want to lend them because a 
marked copy is a kind of intellectual diary, and lending it is almost like 
giving your mind away. 

If your friend wishes to read your Plutarch's Lives, Shakespeare, or The 

14 Reader 

Federalist Papers, tell him gently but firmly to buy a copy. You will lend 
him your car or your coat but your books are as much a part of you as 
your head or your heart. 

Of Studies ^ Francis 'Bacon i56i-i626 

Shakespeare's wise and learned contemporary, Francis Bacon, wrote 
many important works, but his Essays (1597, 1625), as he declared, "of 
all my works have been most current, for that, as it seems, they come 
home to men's business and bosoms/' In them he distilled the practical 
wisdom of books and experience. Most of what can be or has been said 
about "studies" is implicit in this brief essay, ft well repays the labor 
of interpreting its sometimes archaic English and pondering its com- 
pressed expression. 

STUDIES SERVE FOR DELIGHT, for ornament, and for ability. Their chief use 
for delight is in privateness and retiring; for ornament, is in discourse; and 
for ability, is in the judgment and disposition of business. For expert men 
can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars, one by one; but the general 
counsels, and the plots and marshalling of affairs, come best from those 
that are learned. To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them 
too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their 
rules, is the humor of a scholar. They perfect nature, and are perfected by 
experience: for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need proyning, 1 
by study; and studies themselves do give forth directions too much at large, 
except they be bounded in by experience. Crafty men contemn studies, 
simple men admire them, and wise men use them; for they teach not their 
own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by 
observation. Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take 
for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. 
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be 
chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; 
others to be read, but not curiously; 2 and some few to be read wholly, and 
with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and 
extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less im- 
portant arguments, and the meaner sort of books; else distilled books are 
like common distilled waters, flashy 8 things. Reading maketh a full man; 
conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a 
man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he 
had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much 
1 pruning, cultivating. 2 carefully. 8 tasteless. 

Reading as Pleasure and Work 15 

cunning, to seem to know that 4 he doth not. Histories make men wise; 
poets witty; 5 the mathematics subtile; natural philosophy deep; moral 
grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend. Abeunt studia in mores. 9 Nay, 
there is no stond 7 or impediment in the wit but may be wrought out by 
fit studies; like as diseases of the body may have appropriate exercises. 
Bowling is good for the stone and reins; 8 shooting for the lungs and breast; 
gentle walking for the stomach; riding for the head; and the like. So if a 
man's wit be wandering, let him study the mathematics; for in demonstra- 
tions, if his wit be called away never so little, he must begin again. If his 
wit be not apt to distinguish or find differences, let him study the School- 
men; for they are cymini sect ores. 9 If he be not apt to beat over matters, 
and to call up one thing to prove and illustrate another, let him study the 
lawyers' cases. So every defect of the mind may have a special receipt 

4 what. R Poets make men witty, i.e., full of fancy, imaginative. 

6 Studies develop into manners (Ovid). 

7 obstruction. 8 kidneys. 9 hair-splitters. 

The Art of 

Reading *P* Lin Jutang 4895- 

To "study bitterly" as Lin Yutang calls the kind of reading 
Leedy and Adler have in mind is necessary for college students at 
work on their textbooks. But too often the hard work of college reading 
makes both student and teacher forget what ought to be a major pur- 
pose of any course in reading, to get a taste for reading and make a de- 
lightful habit of it. 

READING or the enjoyment of books has always been regarded among the 
charms of a cultured life and is respected and envied by those who rarely 
give themselves that privilege. This is easy to understand when we com- 
pare the difference between the life of a man who does no reading and 
that of a man who does. The man who has not the habit of reading is im- 
prisoned in his immediate world, in respect to time and space. His life 
falls into a set routine; he is limited to contact and conversation with a few 
friends and acquaintances, and he sees only what happens in his immediate 
neighborhood. From this prison there is no escape. But the moment he 
takes up a book, he immediately enters a different world, and if it is a good 

Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living (New York: The John Day Company, Inc.). 
Copyright, 1937, by the John Day Company. Pp. 376-383. 

16 Reader 

book, he is immediately put in touch with one of the best talkers of the 
world. This talker leads him on and carries him into a different country or 
a different age, or unburdens to him some of his personal regrets, or dis- 
cusses with him some special line or aspect of life that the reader knows 
nothing about. An ancient author puts him in communion with a dead 
spirit of long ago, and as he reads along, he begins to imagine what that 
ancient author looked like and what type of person he was. Both Mencius 
and Ssema Ch'ien, China's greatest historian, have expressed the same idea. 
Now to be able to live two hours out of twelve in a different world and take 
one's thoughts off the claims of the immediate present is, of course, a privi- 
lege to be envied by people shut up in their bodily prison. Such a change 
of environment is really similar to travel in its psychological effect. 

But there is more to it than this. The reader is always carried away into 
a world of thought and reflection. Even if it is a book about physical 
events, there is a difference between seeing such events in person or living 
through them, and reading about them in books, for then the events always 
assume the quality of a spectacle and the reader becomes a detached spec- 
tator. The best reading is therefore that which leads us into this con- 
templative mood, and not that which is merely occupied with the report of 
events. The tremendous amount of time spent on newspapers I regard as 
not reading at all, for the average readers of papers are mainly concerned 
with getting reports about events and happenings without contemplative 

The best formula for the object of reading, in my opinion, was stated by 
Huang Shanku, a Sung poet and friend of Su Tungp'o. He said, "A 
scholar who hasn't read anything for three days feels that his talk has no 
flavor (becomes insipid), and his own face becomes hateful to look at (in 
the mirror)." What he means, of course, is that reading gives a man a cer- 
tain charm and flavor, which is the entire object of reading, and only read- 
ing with this object can be called an art. One doesn't read to "improve 
one's mind," because when one begins to think of improving his mind, all 
the pleasure of reading is gone. He is the type of person who says to him- 
self: "I must read Shakespeare, and I must read Sophocles, and I must read 
the entire Five Foot Shelf of Dr. Eliot, so I can become an educated man." 
I'm sure that man will never become educated. He will force himself one 
evening to read Shakespeare's Hamlet and come away, as if from a bad 
dream, with no greater benefit than that he is able to say that he has "read" 
Hamlet. Anyone who reads a book with a sense of obligation does not 
understand the art of reading. This type of reading with a business pur- 
pose is in no way different from a senator's reading up of files and reports 
before he makes a speech. It is asking for business advice and information, 
and not reading at all. 

Reading for the cultivation of personal charm of appearance and flavor 
in speech is then, according to Huang, the only admissible kind of reading. 
This charm of appearance must evidently be interpreted as something other 

Reading as Pleasure and Work 17 

than physical beauty. What Huang means by "hateful to look at" is not 
physical ugliness. There are ugly faces that have a fascinating charm and 
beautiful faces that are insipid to look at. I have among my Chinese friends 
one whose head is shaped like a bomb and yet who is nevertheless always 
a pleasure to see. The most beautiful face among Western authors, so far 
as I have seen them in pictures, was that of G. K. Chesterton. There was 
such a diabolical conglomeration of mustache, glasses, fairly bushy eye- 
brows and knitted lines where the eyebrows met! One felt there were a 
vast number of ideas playing about inside that forehead, ready at any time 
to burst out from those quizzically penetrating eyes. That is what Huang 
would call a beautiful face, a face not made up by powder and rouge, but 
by the sheer force of thinking. As for flavor of speech, it all depends on 
one's way of reading. Whether one has "flavor" or not in his talk, depends 
on his method of reading. If a reader gets the flavor of books, he will show 
that flavor in his conversations, and if he has flavor in his conversations, he 
cannot help also having a flavor in his writing. 

Hence I consider flavor or taste as the key to all reading. It necessarily 
follows that taste is selective and individual, like the taste for food. The 
most hygienic way of eating is, after all, eating what one likes, for then one 
is sure of his digestion. In reading as in eating, what is one man's meat may 
be another's poison. A teacher cannot force his pupils to like what he likes 
in reading, and a parent cannot expect his children to have the same tastes 
as himself. And if the reader has no taste for what he reads, all the time 
is wasted. As Yuan Chunglang says, "You can leave the books that you 
don't like alone, and let other people read them" 

There can be, therefore, no books that one absolutely must read. For 
our intellectual interests grow like a tree or flow like a river. So long as 
there is proper sap, the tree will grow anyhow, and so long as there is fresh 
current from the spring, the water will flow. When water strikes a granite 
cliff, it just goes around it; when it finds itself in a pleasant low valley, it 
stops and meanders there a while; when it finds itself in a deep mountain 
pond, it is content to stay there; when it finds itself traveling over rapids, 
it hurries forward. Thus, without any effort or determined aim, it is sure 
of reaching the sea some day. There are no books in this world that 
everybody must read, but only books that a person must read at a certain 
time in a given place under given circumstances and at a given period of 
his life. I rather think that reading, like matrimony, is determined by fate 
or yinyuan. Even if there is a certain book that every one must read, like 
the Bible, there is a time for it. When one's thoughts and experience have 
not reached a certain point for reading a masterpiece, the masterpiece will 
leave only a bad flavor on his palate. Confucius said, "When one is fifty, 
one may read the Book of Changes" which means that one should not read 
it at forty-five. The extremely mild flavor of Confucius' own sayings in the 
Analects and his mature wisdom cannot be appreciated until one becomes 
mature himself. 

18 Reader 

Furthermore, the same reader reading the same book at different periods, 
gets a different flavor out of it. For instance, we enjoy a book more after 
we have had a personal talk with the author himself, or even after having 
seen a picture of his face, and one gets again a different flavor sometimes 
after one has broken off friendship with the author. A person gets a kind 
of flavor from reading the Book of Changes at forty, and gets another kind 
of flavor reading it at fifty, after he has seen more changes in life. There- 
fore, all good books can be read with profit and renewed pleasure a second 
time. I was made to read Westward Hot and Henry Esmond in my col- 
lege days, but while I was capable of appreciating Westward Ho! in my 
'teens, the real flavor of Henry Esmond escaped me entirely until I re- 
flected about it later on, and suspected there was vastly more charm in that 
book than I had then been capable of appreciating. 

Reading, therefore, is an act consisting of two sides, the author and the 
reader. The net gain comes as much from the reader's contribution 
through his own insight and experience as from the author's own. In 
speaking about the Confucian Analects, the Sung Confucianist Ch'eng 
Yich'uan said, "There are readers and readers. Some read the Analects 
and feel that nothing has happened, some are pleased with one or two 
lines in it, and some begin to wave their hands and dance on their legs 

I regard the discovery of one's favorite author as the most critical event 
in one's intellectual development. There is such a thing as the affinity of 
spirits, and among the authors of ancient and modern times, one must try 
to find an author whose spirit is akin with his own. Only in this way can 
one get any real good out of reading. One has to be independent and 
search out his masters. Who is one's favorite author, no one can tell, 
probably not even the man himself. It is like love at first sight. The reader 
cannot be told to love this one or that one, but when he has found the 
author he loves, he knows it himself by a kind of instinct. We have such 
famous cases of discoveries of authors. Scholars seem to have lived in 
different ages, separated by centuries, and yet their modes of thinking and 
feeling were so akin that their coming together across the pages of a book 
was like a person finding his own image. In Chinese phraseology, we speak 
of these kindred spirits as re-incarnations of the same soul, as Su Tungp'o 
was said to be a re-incarnation of Chuangtse or T'ao Yiianming, 1 and 
Yuan Chunglang was said to be the re-incarnation of Su Tungp'o. Su 
Tungp'o said that when he first read Chuangtse, he felt as if all the time 
since his childhood he had been thinking the same things and taking the 
same views himself. When Yuan Chunglang discovered one night Hsu 
Wench'ang, a contemporary unknown to him, in a small book of poems, 

1 Su Tungp'o performed the unique feat of writing a complete set of poems on the 
rhymes used by the complete poems of T'ao, and at the end of the collection of Sus 
Poems on Tao's Rhymes, he said of himself that he was the re-incarnation of T'ao, 
whom he admired desperately above all other predecessors* [Author.] 

Reading as Pleasure and Work 19 

he jumped out of bed and shouted to his friend, and his friend began to 
read it and shout in turn, and then they both read and shouted again until 
their servant was completely puzzled. George Eliot described her first 
reading of Rousseau as an electric shock. Nietzsche felt the same thing 
about Schopenhauer, but Schopenhauer was a peevish master and Nietz- 
sche was a violent-tempered pupil, and it was natural that the pupil later 
rebelled against the teacher. 

It is only this kind of reading, this discovery of one's favorite author, 
that will do one any good at all. Like a man falling in love with his sweet- 
heart at first sight, everything is right. She is of the right height, has the 
right face, the right color of hair, the right quality of voice and the right 
way of speaking and smiling. This author is not something that a young 
man need be told about by his teacher. The author is just right for him; 
his style, his taste, his point of view, his mode of thinking, are all right. 
And then the reader proceeds to devour every word and every line that 
the author writes, and because there is a spiritual affinity, he absorbs and 
readily digests everything. The author has cast a spell over him, and he is 
glad to be under the spell, and in time his own voice and manner and way 
of smiling and way of talking become like the authors own. Thus he truly 
steeps himself in his literary lover and derives from these books sustenance 
for his soul. After a few years, the spell is over and he grows a little tired 
of this lover and seeks for new literary lovers, and after he has had three 
or four lovers and completely eaten them up, he emerges as an author him- 
self. There are many readers who never fall in love, like many young men 
and women who flirt around and are incapable of forming a deep at- 
tachment to a particular person. They can read any and all authors, and 
they never amount to anything. 

Such a conception of the art of reading completely precludes the idea 
of reading as a duty or as an obligation. In China, one often encourages 
students to "study bitterly." There was a famous scholar who studied 
bitterly and who stuck an awl in his calf when he fell asleep while studying 
at night. There was another scholar who had a maid stand by his side as 
he was studying at night, to wake him up every time he fell asleep. This 
was nonsensical. If one has a book lying before him and falls asleep while 
some wise ancient author is talking to him, he should just go to bed. No 
amount of sticking an awl in his calf or of shaking him up by a maid will 
do him any good. Such a man has lost all sense of the pleasure of reading. 
Scholars who are worth anything at all never know what is called "a hard 
grind" or what "bitter study" means. They merely love books and read on 
because they cannot help themselves. 

With this question solved, the question of time and place for reading 
is also provided with an answer. There is no proper time and place for 
reading. When the mood for reading comes, one can read anywhere. If 
one knows the enjoyment of reading, he will read in school or out of school, 
and in spite of all schools. He can study even in the best schools. Tseng 

20 Reader 

Kuofan, in one of his family letters concerning the expressed desire of one 
of his younger brothers to come to the capital and study at a better school, 
replied that: "If one has the desire to study, he can study at a country 
school, or even on a desert or in busy streets, and even as a woodcutter or 
a swineherd. But if one has no desire to study, then not only is the country 
school not proper for study, but even a quiet country home or a fairy island 
is not a proper place for study." There are people who adopt a self-im- 
portant posture at the desk when they are about to do some reading, and 
then complain they are unable to read because the room is too cold, or the 
chair is too hard, or the light is too strong. And there are writers who 
complain that they cannot write because there are too many mosquitos, or 
the writing paper is too shiny, or the noise from the street is too great. 
The great Sung scholar, Ouyang Hsiu, confessed to "three on's" for doing 
his best writing: on the pillow, on horseback and on the toilet. Another 
famous Ch'ing scholar, Ku Ch'ienli, was known for his habit of "reading 
Confucian classics naked" in summer. On the other hand, there is a good 
reason for not doing any reading in any of the seasons of the year, if one 
does not like reading: 

To study in spring is treason; 
And summer is sleep's best reason; 
If winter hurries the fall, 
Then stop till next spring season. 

What, then, is the true art of reading? The simple answer is to just take 
up a book and read when the mood comes. To be thoroughly enjoyed, 
reading must be entirely spontaneous. 

What Does It Take to 

Enjoy a Poem? * 3^ dardi m6- 

Many people, college students included, have the idea that poetry 
is not for them. Young children always like poems, but somewhere be- 
tween early schooldays and the end of high school the taste is lost 
or, we may fear, is destroyed by teachers like Thurber's Miss Groby in 
the essay following this one. "I too dislike it," declares Marianne 
Moore, one of the finest of contemporary poets, in her poem titled 
"Poetry": and then she goes on to what is probably the best explanation 
of the common dislike: ". . . we do not admire what we cannot under- 
stand." (See the whole poem, page 28.) Not only are poems too often 
taught by a Miss Groby, but poems beyond the interest and under- 

Reading as Pleasure and Work 21 

standing of young people are selected and enforced upon student 
readers. John Cfardi, himself a poet represented in this book, clears 
away some of the underbrush of misunderstandings and seeks to put 
us back on the road to appreciation. 

WHAT DOES IT TAKE to enjoy a poem? 
Let us begin with a really difficult piece of symbolism: 

Hickory, dickory, dock, 
The mouse ran up the clock, 
The clock struck one, 
The mouse ran down, 
Hickory, dickory, dock. 

Not really complicated you say? Consider these questions: What does it 
mean? Why a clock? Why a mouse? Isn't it fairly unusual for mice to run 
up clocks? What is the point of inventing this esoteric incident? And since 
the mouse ran up it and down again, the chances are it's a grandfather 
clock. What does that signify? And isn't it a fairly obsolete notion? Why 
did the clock strike one? (To rhyme with "down"? But is "down" a rhyme 
for "one," or is this another slovenly piece of modernism? Why didn't the 
poem make the clock strike three and the mouse turn to flee? It didn't, of 
course, but why?) What is the origin and significance of all these un- 
explained symbols? ( A symbol is something that stands for something else. 
What is the something else?) Or is this simply nonsense verse? (I find that 
hard to believe.) And even as nonsense, what is there in this particular 
combination of sounds and actions (symbolic actions?) that makes this 
jingle survive a long word-of -mouth transmission in the English voice-box? 
Why mightn't the poem as easily have read: 

Thickery, thackery, tea, 
An owl flew into the tree. 
The tree's down, 
The owl's flown, 
Thickery, thackery, tea. 

I submit: (a) that my parody is a bad poem, that the original is a good 
one, and that a serious and learned series of lectures might be devoted to 
the reasons why each is so; (b) that none of the questions I have raised 
are meaningless and that in fact many critics have made a career of asking 
this sort of question of less perfect poems, and (c) that neither you nor I 
know what the poem "means." I further submit that such considerations 
have frightened many readers away from good poems. 

Originally printed in The Saturday Review of Literature. Reprinted by permission of 
the author. 

22 Reader 

But and this is the point the child in whose babble the poem is 
immediate and alive has no critical theories and no troubles. He is too 
busy enjoying the pleasures of poetry. The moral is obvious: do not ask 
the poem to be more rational than you are. The way to read a poem is with 
pleasure: with the child's pleasure in tasting the syllables on his tongue, with 
the marvel of the child's eye that can really see the mouse run up the clock, 
be panic-stricken, and run down again, with the child's hand-clapping, 
rhythmic joy. In short, to read a poem, come prepared for delight. 

But if a child can do it why can't you? 

That question deserves attention, but before considering it, I should 
like to say one thing of which I am fairly certain: everyone writes poetry 
sometime in his life. Bad poetry is what we all have in common. Such 
poetry generally occurs in three categories: as invective, as obscenity, and 
as love-yelps. 

The obscenity I assume everyone to be capable of documenting. Here 
is an example of invective: 

Billy Billy, dirty coat 
Stinks like a nanny goat. 

And here is a fair example of the love-yelp: 

Have you ever been in love? 

I ask you: have you ever been in love? 

Have you? 

I have I know! 

"Billy Billy," you will recognize as a kind of "Georgie-Porgie puddin' and 
pie," but if you think it peculiar to your childhood or to grandfather's I 
urge you to look in the encyclopedia under Fescennine for an inkling of the 
antiquity of man's pleasure in jingling taunts at other men. "Billy Billy," 
as nearly as I know, was composed in our fourth-grade schoolyard by a 
former young poet now in the coal business and was used to taunt our 
local sloven, who has since washed-up, cleaned-up, grown-up, and joined 
the police force. Almost inevitably it earned its young author a punch in 
the nose: a fair example of the way criticism operates in our society to kill 
the poetic impulse. The love-yelp, a reasonably deplorable specimen of its 
class, was submitted for the Tufts College literary magazine when I was 
an undergraduate assistant editor. Anyone who will take the trouble to be 
reasonably honest can almost certainly summon from himself examples of 
at least one of these forms he has attempted at one time or another, and 
enjoyed attempting. 

If, then, the impulse to bad poetry is so widespread (though I insist that 
"Billy Billy" is not at all bad), why is it so few people enjoy reading what 
passes as good poetry? Why is it, for example, that in a nation of 146 mil- 
lion presumably literate people, the average sale for a book of poems is 

Reading as Pleasure and Work 23 

about 500 copies? Is it that the pleasures and outlets one finds in compos- 
ing are purely private that only one's creation, good or bad, is interest- 
ing? Considering the variety of egos which has banded together to pass as 
the human race, that seems one reasonably good guess, but there is ob- 
viously more to it that is worth some speculation: 

First, it seems fairly obvious that the process of growing up in a nuts- 
and-bolts world inhibits the poetry impulse in most people. Somewhere 
along the line, they learn to say, "Let's face it; we must be practical." 
Dickens's School of Hard Facts is with us all, and poetry, like poor Sissy 
Jupe, is still required to blush because it cannot define a horse as "Quad- 
ruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four 
eye-teeth, and twelve incisive." So the literalist on his rostrum demands the 
rational: "What does hickory-dickory-dock mean? It has to mean some- 
thing." It does indeed, but not anything you can paraphrase, not anything 
you can prove. It means only what every child knows delight. And de- 
light is not a function of the rational mind. As Archibald MacLeish has 
written, "A poem must not mean, but be." Whereby, of course, it does 
mean, but not nuts and bolts. To see what it does mean, you need only 
go read Mother Goose to a child: you will then be observing a natural 
audience busy with the process of receiving poetry as it was intended to be 

Point one, then, is delight: if you mean to enjoy the poem as a poem, 
stop cross-examining it, stop trying to force it to "make sense." The poem 
is sense. Or if you must cross-examine remember at least that the third 
degree is not the poem. Most poems do reveal themselves most richly after 
close examination, but the examination is, at best, only a preparation for 
reading the poem. It is never the reading itself. 

More precisely put, an understanding of the rational surfaces of the 
poem (the prose part of the poem) may, in some cases, point a direction 
toward the poem. The poem is never experienced, however, until it is felt 
in the same complex of mind and nerve from which it arose the sub- 
conscious. That experience sometimes happens immediately, and is some- 
times helped along by our conscious (rational) perceptions. But to sub- 
stitute rational analysis for the larger contact of the subconscious is to reject 
the poem. The kind of communication that happens in a poem is infinitely 
closer to that of music than to that of prose. 

Second, poetry, must never be read as an exercise in "reading-speed," 
that deplorable mental-mangle for increasing the rate of destruction of 
text-book English. The fastest reader is not the best reader any more than 
the best conductor of Beethoven is the man who gets through the "Eroica" 
in the shortest elapsed time. Why not take a stop-watch to the Symphony, 
if this is your measure? Obviously because music declares its own pace. 
But so does good poetry. By rhyme, by the word-values of the poem, by 
the sequence of syllables, and by all these taken together, good poetry 
contains its own notation. "We broke the brittle bright stubble like chaff" 

24 Reader 

can no more be read at the same rate as "Bury the great duke with an 
Empire's lamentation" than allegro vivace can intelligently be played 

Point two, then: leave your efficiency out of this and look for the notation 
within the poem. Every poem is in part an effort to reconstruct the poet's 
speaking voice. Listen for it. Listen to the poet on records and at public 
readings (but know the poems well before you do). You may discover 
more than you could have foreseen. In any case when reading a book of 
poems you must be prepared to linger. That thin volume will take at least 
as much reading as a detective story. 

Third (and of course related to our second consideration): read it aloud. 
Few poems will come whole at one hearing. Few piano pieces will. But 
once you have learned either, their pleasure is always ready to repeat itself. 
Even difficult poems are meant to go into the voice-box. Put them there. 

Fourth: there are still readers who must be specifically cautioned that 
twentieth-century poetry is not nineteenth-century poetry. That fact may 
seem rather obvious, but the point is not frivolously made. Your teachers 
and mine were products of nineteenth-century culture, and almost cer- 
tainly the first poems you were given to read were nineteenth-century 
poems. I hasten to add that the nineteenth century was a great literary 
achievement, but it began with one dreadful flaw: it tended to take itself 
much too seriously. The mind of man seemed to suffer the illusion that it 
lived in a cathedral, and when man spoke he was not only too likely to 
pontificate, but he was pre-inclined to select from experience only the vast, 
the lofty, and divine-in-nature. The result was what Cleanth Brooks has 
called "the poetry of high-seriousness." Opposed to that tradition is the 
poetry of "wit/* poetry in which the mind most definitely does not live in a 
cathedral but in the total world, open to the encounter of all sorts of 
diverse elements and prepared to take them as they come, fusing fleas and 
sunsets, love and charley-horses, beauty and trivia into what is conceived 
to be a more inclusive range of human experience. Judge the poet of "wit" 
by the standards of "high-seriousness" and he will likely appear crass and 
obnoxious; judge the poet of high-seriousness by the standards of wit and 
he will likely appear a rather pompous and myopic ass. 

The point, then, is quite simple: judge the poet by his intent: if you 
tend to the illusion that you are on your way to church when you pick up 
a poem, stop off at the super-market and watch man against his back- 
ground of groceries for a while. The church is still next door, and I am 
quite sure that one of the things "modern" (whatever that is) poetry is 
trying to say, is that the cities of our life contain both church-spires and 
Wheaties, and that both of them, for better or worse, impinge upon man's 
consciousness, and are therefore the material of poetry. 

A fifth consideration I can best present by asking a question: how do 
you, reader, distinguish between your responses to a very bad portrait of 
dear old Aunt Jane, and a very good one of Old Skinflint, the gentleman 

Reading as Pleasure and Work 25 

who holds your mortgage? The question is one that splits the reading 
audience straight down the middle: The tenacity with which the ladies of 
the poetry societies hold on to Aunt Jane with a bluebird in her hair, and 
the persistency with which they reject all-that-is-not-bluebirds, reaches so 
far into the problem of a satisfactory approach to poetry (both reading and 
writing) that it has been necessary to evolve two terms: "poetry" for that 
which exists as an art form, "poesy" for that which exists as the sentimental 
bluebird in Aunt Jane's hair. Confusion is inevitable when these terms are 
not properly applied. The writers and readers of poesy always refer to their 
matter as poetry or true poetry, and defend it with as much violence as 
possible from "the ugly." Here is a piece of poesy a sonnet of course: 


Truth is a golden sunset far away 

Above the misty hills. Its burning eye 

Lights all the fading world. A bird flies by 

Alive and singing on the dying day. 

Oh mystic world, what shall the proud heart say 

When beauty flies on beauty beautifully 

While blue-gold hills look down to watch it die 

Into the falling miracle of clay? 

Say: "I have seen the wing of sunset lift 

Into the golden vision of the hills 

And truth come flooding proud through the cloud rift 

And known that souls survive their mortal ills." 

Say: "Having seen such beauty in the air 

I have seen truth and will no more despair." 

This is a fair example of what I have learned to call "prop-room poesy." 
It fills the stage as a poem might, but it fills it with pieces discarded from 
6Jther poems and left to gather dust in the prop-room of tradition. It makes 
a stage of the stage, and brings the stage's own dust on as the play, rather 
than bring on the life outside the theatre. 

The result may look like a poem, but is really no more than a collection 
of poetic junk. For example: "golden sunsets far away" (question: have 
you ever seen a non-golden one nearby?), "misty hills," "burning eye," 
"fading world," "a bird flies by alive and singing" (question: have you 
ever seen a non-live one fly by?), "dying day," "the proud heart." . . . 

I have tried many times to explain to the enthusiasts of this school that 
any reasonably competent craftsman could concoct such a poem in a 
matter of minutes, and with his tongue in his cheek. I said exactly that 
from a public platform once and claimed I could turn out such an illusion- 
of-the-sonnet in three minutes flat. I was challenged and given a first line 
to start with, but I failed. I discovered it is impossible, simply mechani- 
cally, to write off fourteen lines in three minutes. It took four minutes and 
eighteen seconds. The "sonnet" I have quoted above was the poem pro- 

26 Reader 

duced in answer to that challenge, and by way of further experimentation 
I sent it off to a magazine for "traditional" poetry and had it accepted for 
publication. In a moment of cowardice I withdrew the poem for fear 
someone I respected might see my name attached to it. I was wrong, of 
course; no one whose poetic opinion I could respect would have been 
reading that magazine. 

The fact remains beyond all persuasion, however, that the devotees of 
poesy are violent in their charges against Modern Poetry (their capitals) 
as ugly, coarse, immoral, and debased (their adjectives). My good friend 
Geraldine Udell, business manager of Poetry, a Magazine of Verse, the 
oldest magazine of good poetry in America, once showed me thirty-four 
letters received in one day's mail accusing the magazine of debasing the 
pure tradition of English poetry, and enclosing pages of poesy from two 
magazines of "traditional poetry" as specimens of what should be printed. 

It is, you see, Aunt Jane and Old Skinflint with a vengeance. Poesy 
(which is always anti-poetry) wants it pretty. It wants comfortably worn- 
out props to which comfortable and vague reactions are already condi- 
tioned. Everyone understands the bluebird in Aunt Jane's hair; the re- 
sponse to it is by now so stereotyped that it will do for a birthday card. 
Poetry, on the contrary, insists on battering at life, and on making the 
poem capture the thing seen and felt in its own unique complex. It does 
not repeat, it creates. Therefore, some willingness to dismiss preconcep- 
tion from the reader's mind is necessary if one is to partake of the vital 
process. One is also required to get himself and his own loose-afflatus out 
of the way of the poem. 

The fifth point then is simple: poesy is not poetry. 

A sixth and related consideration follows almost immediately: it con- 
cerns the preconception that demands moral affirmation of oneself from a 
poem, just as poesy demands a loose emotional affirmation of oneself. Con- 
sistently adhered to, this application of one's own morality as a test of the 
poem can lead to ridiculous ends. It would require, for example, the re- 
jection of Milton by all who do not agree with his theology. It might reject 
beforehand all poems containing the word harlot, since harlots are immoral, 
and by that test we should have to reject such great lines as Blake's: 

The harlot's cry from street to street 
Shall weave Old England's winding sheet. 

Or, shifted to politick! concern, it might require a new Communist mani- 
festo against any poem in which the lover is rich in his love, since it is 
bourgeois, decadent, and just plain indecent to be rich. 

Similarly, I have observed many present-day reviewers to reject a poem 
because it seems cheerful ("withdrawal from reality"), because it does not 
("defeatist and negativist"), because it is immediately understandable 
("facile and slight"), and because it requires rereading ("obscurantist"). 
These are cartoons, of course, but they are cartoons of a real trend. The 

Reading as Pleasure and Work 27 

simple fact is that none of us can hope to be wholly free of preconceptions 
of one sort or another. I must confess, for example, that I still find Milton's 
theology a bit silly, and that my feeling prevents me from experiencing 
"Paradise Lost" as richly as I might. Even Milton's language creates blocks 
for me that he could not have intended and for which I am solely responsi- 
ble. For whatever reason, I cannot read of Satan mounted on his "bad 
eminence" without an impulse to smile. I don't know why I want to smile 
at such a phrase, but I am sure the reason is within me and that it has 
nothing to do with the poem. I am being blocked in this case by a pre-set 
subjective response. I must, therefore, recognize the obstruction and try 
to allow for it. Unless I can do so, I am not permitting the poet his right to 
his own kind of vision and existence. 

Point six, then: the poem does not exist to confirm moral, political, or 
religious pre-judgments. The poem as a poem is in fact amoral. The poem, 
I say, not the poet. The poet may be the most moral of men, but when he 
writes poetry he is performing a ritual dance. He may even sermonize, but 
if the poem is to succeed as a poem, it must be a dancing sermon. What 
the poem says is always hickory-dickory-dock, that ineffable, wonderful, 
everlasting dance of syllables that moves the mouse and winds the clock 
over and over again, and sends the child to sleep among the swinging 
nebulae. Or perhaps it is hickory-dickory-God, but still what the poem 
says is what the child dreams: "Look, Universe, I'm dancing." There is no 
immorality more wretched than the habit of mind which will insist on 
moralizing that dance. 

The last necessity for good reading that I shall discuss here is tradition. 
If you will grant me the existence of an unintellectualized basis for poetry 
upon which the responses of all readers may meet, we can probably agree 
that a fair example of such a response may be found in, say, Juliet on her 
balcony swooning into moonlight at the sound of Romeo's song rising from 
the shrubbery. Hers is centainly a non-intellectualized response. And a 
worldwide one: Black Jade in her moony garden in Peiping will respond 
in an almost identical way to Pao-yii's serenade from beyond the garden 

But wait; let us switch singers. Now Pao-yii is in Verona under Juliet's 
balcony, and Romeo is in Peiping outside Black Jade's garden. Both strike 
up a song. Why is it that both girls now hear not a swooning love-cry but 
something closer to the sound of sustained gargling? The answer is 

For the fact is we are being educated when we know it least. We learn 
simply by the exposure of living, and what we learn most natively is the 
tradition in which we live. But the response acquired effortlessly within 
one tradition will not serve us in another, any more than speaking pure 
Tuscan will help us in Peiping. 

In order to read poetry, then, one must read poetry. One may of course 
have read only bad poetry, and in that case he will read badly. The 

28 Reader 

criterion Matthew Arnold set forth as "the touchstone method" may well 
be applied here. This critical theory states simply that all poetry is 
judged by great poetry. Poetry may be called great only when it has been 
acclaimed by so many generations of different poetical taste that its merit 
and universality are beyond dispute. The way to come to a poem, then, is 
with memory of great singing in one's inner ear. 

Greatness, however, can be a dangerous measure, for it immediately im- 
plies rendering a verdict. I for one cannot lose the belief that it is more 
important to experience the poem than to judge it. Certainly there is real 
pleasure to be had from poetry no one will ever consider great or near- 
great. Certainly, too, every mental action implies a kind of judgment. 
Nevertheless, it seems to me more desirable in every way for the reader to 
conceive of himself as a participant in the action of the poem, rather than 
as a trial judge pondering its claim to immortality. 

Time, of course, will hand down that verdict, and in a way from which 
there is no appeal. It may then happen that the verdict will be against 
modern poets, and against the principles on which they write. But until 
that verdict has been achieved, it would be well to bear in mind that the 
reader is as liable to error as the poet, and that when the poem fails to 
communicate, the failure may as reasonably be charged against the one as 
against the other. 


^Marianne JWoore f887- 

J$* For a comment on this poem, see the note which precedes Mr. 
Ciardi's essay, on page 20. 

I, TOO, dislike it: there are things that are important 

beyond all this fiddle. 
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one 

discovers in 

it after all, a place for the genuine. 
Hands that can grasp, eyes 
that can dilate, hair that can rise 

if it must, these things are important not because a 

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but 

because they are 

useful. When they become so derivative as to become 

Marianne Moore, Collected Poems (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1951). 
Copyright, 1951, by Marianne Moore. Reprinted by permission of The Macmillan Com- 

Reading as Pleasure and Work 29 

the same thing may be said for all of us, that we 
do not admire what 
we cannot understand: the bat 
holding on upside down or in quest of something to 

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tire- 
less wolf under 
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a 

horse that feels a flea, the base- 
ball fan, the statistician 
nor is it valid 

to discriminate against "business documents and 

school-books"; all these phenomena are important. One 

must make a distinction 
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, 

the result is not poetry, 
nor till the poets among us can be 
"literalists of 
the imagination" above 

insolence and triviality and can present 

for inspection, "imaginary gardens with real toads in them,* 

shall we have 

it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, 
the raw material of poetry in 
all its rawness and 
that which is on the other hand 
genuine, you are interested in poetry. 

Some Readers 
at Work 

"I suddenly sensed that I was 
being followed." 

Here Lies Miss Groby *> 

Barnes Jhurber 48P5- 

Here we introduce one who needs no introduction who doesn't 
know Miss Groby, under whatever name? Teaching us literature, so 
she supposes, she can't see the woods for the trees, or to apply Thurber's 
figure, she confuses the container with the thing contained. 

Miss GROBY taught me English composition thirty years ago. It wasn't 
what prose said that interested Miss Groby; it was the way prose said it. 
The shape of a sentence crucified on a blackboard (parsed, she called it) 
brought a light to her eye. She hunted for Topic Sentences and Transi- 
tional Sentences the way little girls hunt for white violets in springtime. 
What she loved most of all were Figures of Speech. You remember her. 
You must have had her, too. Her influence will never die out of the land. 
A small schoolgirl asked me the other day if I could give her an example 
of metonymy. (There are several kinds of metonymies, you may recall, 
but the one that will come to mind most easily, I think, is Container for 

Reprinted by permission of the author. Copyright, 1942, The New Yorker Magazine, 


Some Readers at Work 31 

the Thing Contained.) The vision of Miss Groby came clearly before me 
when the little girl mentioned the old, familiar word. I saw her sitting at 
her desk, taking the rubber band off the roll-call cards, running it back 
upon the fingers of her right hand, and surveying us all separately with 
quick little henlike turns of her head. 

Here lies Miss Groby, not dead, I think, but put away on a shelf with 
the other T squares and rulers whose edges had lost their certainty. The 
fierce light that Miss Groby brought to English literature was the light of 
Identification. Perhaps, at the end, she could no longer retain the dates of 
the birth and death of one of the Lake poets. That would have sent her 
to the principal of the school with her resignation. Or perhaps she could 
not remember, finally, exactly how many Cornishmen there were who had 
sworn that Trelawny should not die, or precisely how many springs were 
left to Housman's lad in which to go about the woodlands to see the cherry 
hung with snow. 

Verse was one of Miss Groby's delights because there was so much in 
both its form and content that could be counted. I believe she would have 
got an enormous thrill out of Wordsworth's famous lines about Lucy if 
they had been written this way: 

A violet by a mossy stone 
Half hidden from the eye, 
Fair as a star when ninety-eight 
Are shining in the sky. 

It is hard for me to believe that Miss Groby ever saw any famous work 
of literature from far enough away to know what it meant. She was for- 
ever climbing up the margins of books and crawling between their lines, 
hunting for the little gold of phrase, making marks with a pencil. As 
Palamides hunted the Questing Beast, she hunted the Figure of Speech. 
She hunted it through the clangorous halls of Shakespeare and through the 
green forests of Scott. 

Night after night, for homework, Miss Groby set us to searching in 
"Ivanhoe" and "Julius Caesar" for metaphors, similes, metonymies, apos- 
trophes, personifications, and all the rest. It got so that figures of speech 
jumped out of the pages at you, obscuring the sense and pattern of the 
novel or play you were trying to read. "Friends, Romans, countrymen, 
lend me your ears." Take that, for instance. There is an unusual but perfect 
example of Container for the Thing Contained. If you read the funeral 
oration unwarily that is to say, for its meaning you might easily miss 
the C.F.T.T.C. Antony is, of course, not asking for their ears in the sense 
that he wants them cut off and handed over; he is asking for the function 
of those ears, for their power to hear, for, in a word, the thing they contain. 

At first I began to fear that all the characters in Shakespeare and Scott 
were crazy. They confused cause with effect, the sign for the thing signified, 

32 Reader 

the thing held for the thing holding it. But after a while I began to sus- 
pect that it was I myself who was crazy. I would find myself lying awake at 
night saying over and over, "The thinger for the thing contained." In a 
great but probably misguided attempt to keep my mind on its hinges, I 
would stare at the ceiling and try to think of an example of the Thing 
Contained for the Container. It struck me as odd that Miss Groby had 
never thought of that inversion. I finally hit on one, which I still remem- 
ber. If a woman were to grab up a bottle of Grade A and say to her hus- 
band, "Get away from me or I'll hit you with the milk," that would be a 
Thing Contained for the Container. The next day in class I raised my 
hand and brought my curious discovery straight out before Miss Groby and 
my astonished schoolmates. I was eager and serious about it and it never 
occurred to me that the other children would laugh. They laughed loudly 
and long. When Miss Groby had quieted them she said to me rather coldly, 
"That was not really amusing, James." That's the mixed-up kind of thing 
that happened to me in my teens. 

In later years I came across another excellent example of this figure of 
speech in a joke long since familiar to people who know vaudeville or 
burlesque (or radio, for that matter). It goes something like this: 

A: What's your head all bandaged up for? 

B: I got hit with some tomatoes. 

A: How could that bruise you up so bad? 

B: These tomatoes were in a can. 

I wonder what Miss Groby would have thought of that one. 

I dream of my old English teacher occasionally. It seems that we are 
always in Sherwood Forest and that from far away I can hear Robin Hood 
winding his silver horn. 

"Drat that man for making such a racket on his cornetl" cries Miss 
Groby. "He scared away a perfectly darling Container for the Thing Con- 
tained, a great, big, beautiful one. It leaped right back into its context 
when that man blew that cornet. It was the most wonderful Container for 
the Thing Contained I ever saw here in the Forest of Arden." 

"This is Sherwood Forest," I say to her. 

That doesn't make any difference at all that I can see," she says to me. 

Then I wake up, tossing and moaning. 

Clutter Counters Everywhere * 

W. B. Scott 4907- 

A good reader won't be imposed on. He sees through the strategy 
by which a writer tries to make him follow a certain line of thought, 
and mates up his own mind whether he wants to go along or not. 
W. B. Scott in this humorous essay examines a piece of sales-promotion 
literature. The phrase "clutter counters everywhere" reminds him of 
the protean phrase "Haveth Childers Everywhere" in James Joyce's 
Finnegans Wake. (The drawings in this book are also Mr. Scott's 

MANY MONTHS AGO the writer of this Bulletin received a circular letter from 
the New York Herald Tribune. The letter struck him with such force that 
he immediately ceased the academic routine he had been engaged in when 
it arrived tearing student papers into strips, doodling, staring pensively 
through the window, going for a drink of water, winding his watch, jotting 
down reminders to himself about the nature of tragedy, poking at a cavity, 
consulting the dictionary for the meaning of a word he had pretended 
to understand when a colleague used it at lunch, thumbing through Time, 
briskly bringing his desk calendar up to date and settled down to think 
about it (the letter) and what it might portend. He is tired of thinking 
about it now, and hopes to purge himself of it by getting it into print, to- 
gether with a few of the questions it has raised. 

Dear Sir: [the Herald Tribune begins] 
In these crowded days . . . 

. . . when 69,392,699 magazines are published each week 
. . . when busty pocket-books (the latter-day dime novel) clutter counters 

. . . when TV is revolutionizing the pattern of American entertainment 
. . . and when Western culture is facing its greatest threat since Charles V 
threw back the Turks 

are you finding it hard to keep your students abreast of the really GOOD 
the really IMPORTANT books being published in the U.S.? Would you 
welcome at no expense to you or YOUR COLLEGE the weekly assist- 
ance of the foremost critics and authors writing today? 

(There's more to the letter, but let's stop here.) 

From Fwriott), Winter, 1951. Reprinted by permission of the author and by courtesy 
of Reed Whittemore, editor of Furioso. 


34 Reader 

Now it's clear, in the first place, that to such questions only a chump or 
a traitor could unequivocally answer, "Nol", so packed are these questions 
with all that an American holds dear overwhelming statistics, the bust 
on the pocket book (or was this a misprint for dusty? 1 ), the historical 
parallel with its flattering implications that the reader knows all about 
Charles V and the Turks, plus a chance to get something for nothing. And 
when the letter goes on to assert (as it does) that the Herald Tribune 
BOOK REVIEW Magazine Section is "generally accepted from coast to 
coast as THE authoritative publication in the field of literary criticism," 
the impulsive recipient of the letter is likely to hustle his note of acceptance 
off to the post office without even bothering to turn out the office lights or 
straighten his tie. 

But the writer of this Bulletin is not an impulsive recipient, or at any 
rate an impulsive letter-answerer, partly owing to a firmly-rooted habit of 
not answering letters until months or years have passed, and partly be- 
cause an early training in scientific method taught him to jump at conclu- 
sions only when he feels like it. He did not feel like it in this case, pre- 
ferring (the scientific method churning up in his memory) simply to ask 
a few questions and suggest a few tentative answers. Here are the ques- 
tions. There's nothing very systematic to them you can get just so much 
mileage out of the scientific method. 

( 1 ) Is it really true that 69,392,699 magazines are published each week, or 
did the promotion people at the Herald Tribune, working under a terrific 
pressure to get the letter in the mail, simply grab that number out of the 
air? It is the sort of number that sounds right, as plain round numbers 
would not, and the writer of this Bulletin is perfectly happy to accept it. 
But he would like to know for sure before he risks tossing it out at a 
cocktail party (after painfully memorizing it), only to have the campus 
precisionist snort, "Nonsense!" or "Rubbish!" in the decisive way the 
campus precisionist has of snorting these words. Moreover, the campus 
precisionist is sure to go on and ask something shattering like, "How 
about certain magazines The Hudson Review, for example which 
are not published each week?" (He might ask, "How about Furioso?", 
but being a campus precisionist is not likely to.) Well, how about it? 
Or doesn't the Herald Tribune count non-weekly publications as maga- 
zines? If not, why not? What sort of big-city journalistic arrogance is 
involved here? 

(2) Is "clutter counters everywhere" a deliberate echo of Joyce on the 
part of some suppressed genius in the Herald Tribune's circular-letter plant, 
or is it one of those fragments of accidental poetry which the world could 
ill do without? If it is a muted scrap of song by a hidden genius, is this 

1 Not likely, given the Herald Tribune's reputation for accuracy, and the fact that 
pocket books are usually placed, not on counters, but in racks with plenty of circulation, 
and are thus less likely to get dusty than to get tattered or dog-eared from being 
brushed up against by people rushing for trains or hurrying to have prescriptions 
filled. [Author.] 

Some Readers at Work 35 

genius also responsible for the rather snide distinction implied in "foremost 
critics and authors'? Can it be that this genius, heavy with unborn novels 
and plays, an "author" in his own mind, is getting a bit of his own back 
( in advance ) by this devious belittlement of critics? Would this genius do 
better to become an English instructor, given his tendency to phrases like 
"the latter-day dime novel"? At all events, what personal tragedies lie hid- 
den behind the fagades of great metropolitan newspapers anyhow? 

(3) If the recipient of the letter has a sense of fair play (as every de- 
fender of Western culture has, including nowadays the Turks), he's sure 
to raise some questions about the New York Times Book Review and The 
Saturday Review of Literature before he decides to throw in with the 
Herald Tribune crowd. And surely those publications themselves are not 
going to take lying down the assertion that the Herald Tribune BOOK 
REVIEW Magazine Section is generally accepted from coast to coast as 
THE authoritative publication in the field of literary criticism. (No doubt 
they have long since let fly with their counter punches, but the writer of 
this Bulletin is apparently not on their mailing lists. ) 

All the same, what is a conscientious teacher, the dark splintery corridor 
outside his office jammed with restless, chattering students demanding to 
be kept abreast of the really GOOD the really IMPORTANT books 
being published in the U.S. what is such a teacher to do? Read all 
three? God forbid! Read none of them? That way, in our culture, lies loss 
of face at the very least. One thing he might do, before he goes over to 
the Herald Tribune, is to demand that its critics and authors be able to 
match or top certain touchstone passages from the publication he is al- 
ready committed to. For instance, if he is a Saturday Review boy, he 
might ask the Herald Tribune if it can come up with anything to equal this 
from the SRL: "In this novel Edward Lyons exhibits certain qualities that 
may produce a writer who will have enough to say, and who will say it 
dramatically enough to assure himself a certain future." 

Or, he might ask, "How are the Herald Tribune's triple-adjectives com- 
pared with the following sampling from the Saturday Review?" "re- 
vealing, competent, and important," "beguiling, intelligent, and well done," 
"colorful, provocative, completely absorbing," "absorbing, fast-moving, and 
plausible," "simple, moving, horrifying," "smooth, unpretentious, dove- 
colored writing," "dim, well-intentioned, squirming" (this last triplet from 
a review in which a character is compared to a sea-anemone what do the 
Herald Tribune people know about sea-anemones?). 

If the Herald Tribune can tie or surpass these, well and good. If not, let 
it wheedle and flatter as it will; the canny recipient of its propaganda will 
stick to his SRL (or his Times Book Review), Charles V and the Turks or 
no Charles V and the Turks. 

(4) Finally, what about the statement, "at no expense to you or YOUR 
COLLEGE"? Why 'TOUR COLLEGE" in caps and "you" in lower case? 
Do we have here an instance of the tendency in our society to put institu- 

36 Reader 

tions ahead of people? How about human dignity? Or is the Herald Trib- 
une cynically suggesting that the recipient of its letter is the kind of person 
who will immediately hoof it around to the Chairman or the Dean to 
present this little scheme for saving money for the college, while inciden- 
tally calling favorable attention to himself? Are there such persons in 
American higher education? Or is this an appeal even more cynical in 
effect to some sort of school spirit on the part of the faculty? The an- 
swer is not clear, but behind these words we sense the New York promoter, 
sleekly and expensively tailored as befits the Herald Tribune yet with 
all his glossy exterior, his savoir faire, his memories of the first night of 
South Pacific, a blood brother to the duke in Huckleberry Finn, with his 
cynical, 'There, if that line don't fetch them I don't know Arkansawl" 

Better tell those students in the corridor to come back after lunch. 

The Idealist & frank O'Cowwor 1903- 

Reading has its dangers. An Irish schoolboy finds this out in 
Frank O'Connor's story. But look for more in the story than this dis- 
covery and the boy's wonderful, bitter conclusion about teachers; for 
Mr. O'Connor, one of the most skillful short-story writers not only of 
Ireland but of our time, has implied far more than he has stated in 
what at first seems a simple anecdote. 

READING? I was never struck on it. It never did anything for me but get 
me into trouble. 

Adventure stories weren't so bad, but as a kid I was very serious and 
always preferred realism to romance. School stories were what I liked 
best. The trouble was that even they seemed to be a bit far-fetched, judg- 
ing by our standards. The schools were English and quite different to the 
one I attended. They were always called "the venerable pile," and there 
was usually a ghost in them; they were built in a square that was called 
the "quad," and, to judge by the pictures, were all clock-towers, spires and 
pinnacles like the lunatic asylum with us. The fellows in the stories were 
all good climbers, and used to get in and out of the school at night on ropes 
made of knotted sheets. They dressed queerly; they wore long trousers, 
short black jackets and top-hats. When they did anything wrong they were 

Reprinted from The Stories of Frank O'Connor by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, 
Inc., and by A. D. Peters, London, England. Copyright, 1950, 1952, by Frank O'Connor. 
Originally published in The New Yorker. 

Some Readers at Work 37 

given "lines." When it was a bad case they were flogged, and never showed 
any sign of pain, only the bad fellows, and they always said "Ow! Owl" 

Mostly, they were grand chaps who always stuck together and were great 
at football and cricket. They never told lies, and anyone who did, they 
wouldn't talk to him. If they were caught out and asked a point-blank 
question, they always told the truth, unless someone else was in it along 
with them, and then wild horses wouldn't get them to split, even if the 
other fellow was a thief, which, as a matter of fact, he frequently was. It 
was surprising in such good schools, with fathers who never gave them 
less than five quid, the number of thieves there were. The fellows I knew 
hardly ever stole, even though they only got a penny a week, and some- 
times not even that when their fathers were on the booze and their mothers 
had to go to the pawn. 

I worked hard at the football and cricket, though, of course, we never 
had a proper football, and the sort of cricket we played was with a hurley 
stick against a wicket chalked on some wall. The officers in the barrack 
played proper cricket, and I used to go up on summer evenings to see them. 

Even so, I couldn't help being disgusted at the bad way things were run 
in our school. Our venerable pile was a red-brick building without tower 
or pinnacle a fellow could climb, and no ghost at all; we had no team, so 
a fellow, no matter how hard he worked, could never play for the school, 
and nobody had ever thought of giving us lines. Instead Murderer Molony 
either lifted you by the ears or bashed you with a cane. 

But these were only superficial things. What was really wrong was our- 
selves. The fellows sucked up to the masters and told them everything that 
went on. If they were caught out they tried to put the blame on somebody 
else, even if it meant telling lies. If they were caned, they snivelled and 
said it wasn't fair; drew back their hands the least shade as if they were 
terrified, so that the cane only caught the top of their fingers, and then 
screamed and stood on one leg, and shook their fingers out in hopes of 
getting it counted as one. Finally they roared that their wrist was broken, 
and crawled back to their desks with their hands squeezed under their 
armpits, howling. I mean, you couldn't help feeling ashamed, imagining 
what chaps from a decent school would think if they saw it. 

My way to school led me past the barrack gate. In those peaceful days 
the English sentries never minded you going past the guardroom to have 
a look; if you came at dinnertime they even called you in and gave you 
plum duff and tea. Naturally, with such a temptation on my way, I was 
often late. When you were late, the only excuse, short of a letter from 
your mother, was to say you were at early Mass. The Murderer would 
never know whether you were or not, and if he did anything to you, you 
could easily get him into trouble with the parish priest. Even as kids we 
all knew who the real boss of the school was. 

But after I had started reading school stories I was always a bit uneasy 
about saying I was at Mass. It was a lie, and I knew the chaps in the 

38 Reader 

stories would never have told it. They were all round me like invisible 
presences, and I hated to do anything they wouldn't approve of. 

One morning I was very late. 

"What kept you till this hour, Regan?" asked Murderer Molony, looking 
at the clock. 

I wanted to say I was at Mass but I couldn't. The invisible presences 
were all round me. 

"I delayed at the barrack, sir," I said in panic. 

There was a faint giggle from the class and Molony raised his brows in 
mild surprise. He was a big powerful man with fair hair and blue eyes 
and a manner that at times was deceptively mild. 

"Oh, indeed?" he said politely enough. "And what did you do that for?" 

"I was watching the soldiers drilling, sir," said I. 

The class giggled again. This was a new line entirely for them. I sup- 
pose it was the first time anyone ever told the truth in that class. Besides, 
Molony had a dead set on the English. 

"Oh," said Molony casually, "I never knew you were such a military 
man. Hold out your hand!" 

Compared with the laughter the slaps were nothing and I did not flinch. 
I returned to my desk slowly and quietly without snivelling or squeezing 
my hands, and the Murderer looked after me, raising his brows again as 
much as to say that this was a new line for him too. But the other fellows 
gaped and whispered as if I were some strange animal. At playtime they 
all gathered round me, full of excitement. 

"Regan, why did you say that about the barrack?" 

"Because 'twas true," I replied firmly. "I wasn't going to tell him a lie." 

"What lie?" 

"That I was at Mass." 

"Then couldn't you say you had to go on a message?" 

"That would be a lie too." 

"Cripes, Regan," they said, "you'd better mind yourself. The Murderer 
is in an awful wax. He'll massacre you." 

I knew that only too well. I could see that the man's professional pride 
had been deeply hurt, and for the rest of the day I was on my best be- 
haviour. But my best was not sufficient for the occasion, for I underrated 
the Murderer's guile. From the frown on his face he seemed to be puz- 
zled over something in a book he was reading, and even when he spoke, in 
a low quiet voice, he scarcely raised his blue eyes from it. 

"Regan, was that you talking?" 

" Twas, sir," I replied in consternation. 

This time the whole class laughed. They couldn't believe that I wasn't 
deliberately trailing my coat, and, of course, the laugh must have con- 
vinced him that I was. I suppose if people do tell you lies all day and every 
day it soon becomes a sort of perquisite and you resent being deprived of 

Some Readers at Work 39 

"Oh," he said, throwing down the book, "well soon put a stop to that/' 

This time it was a tougher job, because he really was on his mettle. But 
so was I. I knew this was the testing point, and that if only I could keep 
my head I should provide a model for the whole class. When I had got 
through with it without moving a muscle and returned to my desk with my 
hands by my side, the invisible presences gave me a great clap, but the 
visible ones were nearly as annoyed as the Murderer. After school a half- 
dozen of them followed me down the playground through the smell of 
stale bread and butter. 

"Go on!" they shouted truculently. "Shaping as usuall" 

"I was not shaping." 

"You were shaping! You're always showing off. Trying to pretend he 
didn't hurt you a blooming cry-baby like you!" 

"I wasn't trying to pretend," I shouted, even then resisting the tempta- 
tion to nurse my bruised hands. "Only decent fellows don't cry over every 
little pain like kids." 

"Go on!" they bawled after me. "You ould idiot." And as I went down 
the school lane, still trying to keep what the stories called "a stiff upper 
lip" and reminding myself that my torture was over until the next morn- 
ing, I heard their mocking voices after me. 

"Mad Bill! Yah, Mad Bill!" 

I realized that if I were to keep on terms with the invisible presences I 
should have to watch my step in school. 

So I did, all through that year. But then, one day, an awful thing hap- 
pened. I was coming in from the yard, and in the porch outside our school- 
room I saw a fellow called Gorman taking something from a coat on the 
rack. Gorman was a fellow I disliked and feared; a handsome, sulky, 
spoiled, and sneering lout. I paid no attention to him because I had es- 
caped for a few moments into my dream world in which fathers never 
gave you anything less than fivers and chaps who had been ignored sud- 
ddnly turned up and saved the honour of the school in the last half of the 

"Who are you looking at?" he asked threateningly. 

"I wasn't looking at anyone," I said with an indignant start. 

"I was only getting a pencil out of my coat," he added, clenching his 

"Nobody said you weren't," said I, thinking this a very queer thing to 
start a row about. 

"You'd better not either," he snarled. "You can mind your own business." 

"You mind yours," I retorted, for the purpose of saving face. "I never 
spoke to you at all." 

And that, so far as I was concerned, was the end of it. But after play- 
time, the Murderer, looking exceptionally serious, stood before the class, 
balancing a pencil in both hands. 

"Everyone who left the classroom this morning, stand out!" he said. Then 

40 Reader 

he lowered his head and looked at us from under his fair brows. "Mind, 
now, I said everyonel" 

I stood out with the others, including Gorman. 

"Did you take anything from a coat on the rack this morning?" asked 
the Murderer, laying a heavy, hairy paw on Gorman's shoulder and staring 
into his face. 

"Me, sir?" Gorman asked innocently. "No, sir." 

"Did you see anyone doing it?" 

"No, sir." 

"You?" he asked another lad, but even before he reached me at all I 
realized why Gorman had told the lie and wondered in panic what I should 

"You?" he asked me, and his big red face was close to mine and his blue 
eyes only a couple of inches away. 

"I didn't take anything, sir," I said in a low voice. 

"Did you see someone else do it?" he asked, raising his brows and in- 
dicating quite plainly that he had noticed my evasion. "Have you a tongue 
in your head?" he shouted suddenly, and the whole class, electrified, stared 
at me. "You?" he added curtly to the next boy as though he had given me 

"No, sir." 

"Back to your desks, the rest of yel" he ordered. "Regan, you stay here!" 

He waited until everyone was seated again before he went on. 

"Turn out your pockets!" 

I did, and a half-stifled giggle rose which the Murderer quelled with a 
thunderous glance. Even for a small boy, I had pockets that were museums 
in themselves; the purpose of half the things I brought to light I couldn't 
have explained myself. They were antiques, prehistoric, and unlabelled. 
Among them was a school story borrowed the previous evening from an- 
other chap, a queer fellow who chewed paper as if it were gum. The 
Murderer reached out for it, and, holding it at arm's length, shook it out 
with an expression of deepening disgust as he saw the nibbled corners and 

"Oh," he said disdainfully, "so this is how you waste your time, is it? 
What do you do with these eat them?" 

" 'Tisn't mine, sir," I said against the laugh that sprang up. "I borrowed 

"Is that what you did with the money?" he added quickly, his fat head 
on one side. 

"Money?" I said, getting confused. "What money?" 

"The shilling that was stolen from Flanagan's overcoat this morning," he 
added Flanagan was a little hunchback whose people coddled him: no 
one else in the school would have had that much money. 

"I never took Flanagan's shilling," I said, beginning to cry. "And you 
have no right to say I did." 

"I have the right to say that you're the most impudent, defiant puppy in 

Some Readers at Work 41 

the class," he replied, his voice hoarse with rage, "and I wouldn't put it 
past you. What else can anyone expect and you reading this dirty, rotten, 
filthy rubbish?" And he tore my school story in two halves and tossed them 
to the farthest corner of the schoolroom. "Dirty, filthy English rubbish! 
Now hold out your hand!" 

This time the invisible presences deserted me. Hearing themselves de- 
scribed in those contemptuous terms, they fled. The Murderer went mad 
in the way people do whenever they're up against something they don't 
understand. Even the other fellows were shocked, and heaven knows they 
had little enough sympathy with me. 

"You should put the police on him," they advised me afterwards in the 
playground. "He lifted the cane over his shoulder. He could get the gaol 
for that." 

"But why didn't you say you didn't see anyone?" asked one chap. 

"Because I did," I said, beginning to sob all over again at the memory 
of my wrongs. "I saw Gorman." 

"Gorman?" they echoed incredulously. "Was it Gorman took Flanagan's 
money? And why didn't you say so?" 

"Because it wouldn't be right," I sobbed. 

"Why wouldn't it be right?" one of them asked, gaping. 

"Because Gorman should have told the truth himself," I said. "And if 
this was a decent school no one would ever speak to him again for it." 

"But why would Gorman tell the truth if he took the money?" he asked, 
as you'd speak to a baby. "Jay, Regan," he added pityingly, "you're get- 
ting madder and madder. Now look what you're after bringing on your- 

Suddenly Gorman himself came lumbering up. 

"Regan," he shouted threateningly, "did you say I stole Flanagan's 

Gorman, though, of course, I didn't realize it, was as much at sea as 
Molony and the rest of them. The only way he could explain my silence 
was by assuming that I was afraid of his threats, and now he felt the time 
had come to renew them. He couldn't have come at a moment when I 
cared less for them. Despairingly I lashed out with all my strength at his 
brutal face. He screamed, and his hand came away from his mouth, all 
blood. Then he threw off his satchel and made for me, but at the same 
moment a door opened behind us and a lame teacher called Murphy 
emerged. We all ran like mad and the fight was forgotten. 

But it wasn't forgotten, in other quarters. Next morning after prayers 
the Murderer scowled at me. 

"Regan," he asked, "were you fighting in the yard after school yester- 

For a second or so I didn't reply. I couldn't help feeling that the game 
wasn't worth a candle. But before the spiritual presences fled for ever I 
made one last effort. 

"I was, sir," I said, and this time there wasn't even a titter. The whole 

42 Reader 

class took it solemnly as the behavior of a chap who was quite out of his 

"Who were you fighting with?" 

"I'd rather not say, sir," I replied, hysteria beginning to well up in me. 
It was all very well for the invisible presences, but they hadn't to deal with 
the Murderer. 

"Who was he fighting with?" he asked lightly, resting his hands on the 
desk and studying the ceiling. 

"Gorman, sir," replied three or four voices as easy as thatl 

"Did Gorman hit him first?" 

"No, sir. He hit Gorman first." 

"Stand out," he said, taking up the cane again. "Now," he added, going 
up to Gorman, "you take this and hit him. And make sure you hit him 
hard," he added, giving Gorman's arm an encouraging squeeze. "Regan 
thinks he's a great fellow. You show him now what we think of him." 

Gorman came towards me with the cane in one hand and a broad grin on 
his face. The whole class began to roar as if it were a great joke and even 
the Murderer permitted himself a modest grin at his own cleverness. 

"Hold out your hand," he said to me. 

I didn't. I began to feel trapped and a little crazy. 

"Hold out your hand, I sayl" he shouted, beginning to lose his temper 

"I will not," I shouted back at him, losing all control of myself. 

"You what?" he cried, dashing at me round the classroom with his hand 
raised above his head as though to strike me. "What's that you said, you 
dirty little thief?" 

"I'm not a thief," I screamed. "And if he comes near me I'll kick the 
shins off him. You have no right to give him that cane. And you have no 
right to call me a thief either. If you do it again, I'll go down to the police 
and then we'll soon see who the thief is." 

"You refused to answer my questions," he shouted, and if I had been in 
my right mind I should have known that he was suddenly frightened of 

"No," I said through my sobs, "and I won't answer them now either. I'm 
not a spy." 

"Oh," he retorted with a sarcastic sniff, "so that's what you call a spy?" 

"Yes, and that's what they all are, all the fellows here dirty spiesl 
but I'm not going to be a spy for you. You can do your own spying." 

"That's enough now, that's enough!" he said, raising his fat hand almost 
beseechingly. "There's no need to lose control of yourself, my dear young 
fellow, and there's no need whatever to screech like that. 'Tis most un- 
manly. Go back to your seat now and I'll talk to you another time." 

That day I did no work at all, and no one else did much either. The 
hysteria had spread to the class. I alternated between fits of exultation at 
the thought of how I had defied the Murderer to his face and panic at the 

Some Readers at Work 43 

prospect of how he'd take it out of me after, and at each change of mood 
I put my head in my hands and sobbed all over again. The Murderer 
didn't tell me to stop. He didn't even look at me. The poor unfortunate 
man! When I think of it now I almost feel sorry for him. 

After that I was the hero of the school for a whole afternoon. Even 
Gorman, when he tried to resume the fight, was told by two or three of the 
bigger fellows to hop off; a fellow that took the cane to beat another chap, 
he had no status at all. But that was not the sort of hero I wanted to be. I 
wanted something calmer, more codified, less sensational. 

Next morning I was in such a state of panic that I didn't know how to 
face school at all. The silence of the school lane and the yard put me into a 
fresh panic. I was late again! 

"What kept you, Regan?" the Murderer asked quietly. 

"I was at Mass, sir," said I. 

"Oh, all right," he said, though he seemed a bit surprised. What I hadn't 
realized was the immense advantage of our system over the English one. 
By this time half a dozen of his pets had brought the Murderer the true 
story, and if he didn't feel himself a monster, he certainly felt himself a 
fool, which is worse. 

But by that time I didn't care. In my school-sack I had another story. 
Not a school story this time, though. School stories were a wash-out. 
"Bang! Bang!" that was the only way to deal with fellows like the 
Murderer and Gorman. "The only good teacher is a dead teacher." 

On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer 

"John Keats i795~i82i 

MUCH have I travelled in the realms of gold, 

And many goodly states and kingdoms seen; 

Round many western islands have I been 
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. 
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told, 

That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne: 

Yet did I never breathe its pure serene 
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold: 
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies 

When a new planet swims into his ken; 
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes 

He stared at the Pacific and all his men 
Looked at each other with a wild surmise 

Silent, upon a peak in Darien. 

Readers and 
College Life 

"Forget your Uncle Edgar. 
Read Carlylel" 

What Every Freshman Should 

Know * Jer 1M. Holmes 1905- 

You will probably be surprised to find a professor Mr. Holmes is 
professor of philosophy at Mt. Holyoke College who will give you 
advice that comes so close to your own suppressed good-sense, and 
astounded to find a textbook that will pass it on to you. But professors 
and textbooks are sometimes more sensible than you think. 

I NEVER FACE a class without wondering what would happen if students 
were not so docile. Why do you meet your professors and the academic 
taradiddle of college with such fear and respect? You are everywhere in 
chains because you accept a tradition about college work which at cost to 
you misrepresents its values and overestimates its importance. You re- 
mind me of the elephant chained to his stake at the circus. If the poor 
devil knew his own strength! And if you and your classmates but knew 
yoursl The good things that might happen to our colleges if you would 
take matters into your own hands and pull up a few of the rotted stakes of 
academic tradition are worth dreaming about Consider some confidential 
advice from one who would like to see you gain your freedom, who knows 

Reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher from The American Mercury, 
November, 1940. 


Readers and College Ufe 45 

the weaknesses of academic life from the inside, and can give a few point- 
ers on how to pull at those stakes. 

One of the first things you are told is that you must study hard. But that 
is only half of the story. The other half is that beyond a certain point 
which is easily reached, the more you work the poorer the results. In my 
particular college you would be supposed to devote not more than fifteen 
hours a week to classes and another thirty to outside assignments. That 
means that you should be able to escape academic duties for one whole day 
each week and to take either the afternoon or the evening off almost every 
day. Work hard when you work. Mornings are the best times. But never 
work through both afternoon and evening. And take off part of Saturday 
and most of Sunday. Use three afternoons for exercise in the open air and 
three evenings for movies or concerts or plays or for that novel you want 
to read. Your college work will benefit. 

You will be told that classes are the most important thing at college. 
Don't believe it. President Eliot of Harvard said that if he wished to 
found a college the first thing he would build would be a dormitory. If 
there were money left over, he would erect a library and fill it with books. 
And if he had money to burn he would hire a faculty and build a classroom 
building. Those of us who are willing to remember find it easy to recollect 
that the most valuable things that happened to us in college usually hap- 
pened in our dormitories, and most of them after midnight. We also re- 
call with considerable pleasure the few occasions when we had the time 
and audacity to enter the college library and just browse among books 
utterly unconnected with our courses. Somehow we remember those books. 
We read them not because we had to, but because we wanted to. The 
difference is tremendous. 

You will be told that marks are important. But they are a meager indica- 
tion of a student's worth. Someday we shall have the courage to scuttle the 
whole marking system, and with it, I hope, will go that awful and mean- 
ingless sheepskin. Marks provide the outward and visible sign of the whole 
academic tradition. I wish every college student might come behind the 
scenes and watch his instructors doling out grades on papers and blue- 
books. We have such curious foibles. The odds are definitely in favor of a 
paper read after rather than before dinner. A typewritten paper stands a 
better chance than one in longhand. And that factor of lengthl I know one 
student who got himself an A by sandwiching a dozen pages of economics 
notes into a long term-paper on Beethoven. It is a matter of record that 
given the same set of papers twice we will grade them differently. Given 
the same paper, moreover, various teachers will assign it grades rang- 
ing from D to A, even in mathematics. Some departments give as many as 
40 per cent of their students A's, while others in the same institution allow 
only 5 per cent of the same students to get the highest marks. 

You have probably been told that your academic record as an under- 
graduate will make or break your life. That simply is not so. Are you 

46 Reader 

going into teaching? There is not a college president worth his salt who 
does not know that a Phi Beta Kappa key is small indication of your 
promise as a teacher. Are you going to professional school? Countless men 
and women with average grades as undergraduates have done brilliantly in 
professional school. And in getting jobs, it is what they have been able to 
do in professional school that counts. Are you going to seek work as soon 
as you finish college? Letters of recommendation these days cover numerous 
items which have nothing to do with your academic achievement but are 
just as important. It would not be true to say that marks mean nothing, 
but if you will remember these facts every time you enter a classroom you 
will be on the right track. 

Your professors form part of the academic taradiddle too. We stand on 
little raised platforms, the academic equivalents of the pedestal; we call 
ourselves "doctors" and smile with patient condescension when mistaken 
for medical men; we put high-sounding letters after our names; and we 
march in academic processions, clothed in magnificent medieval costumes. 
All in all we manage by such devices to convey the impression that we 
know what we are talking about. To be sure, we are not as pompous as 
some of our European colleagues in crime. Some of us even have the 
courage to sit on the same level and at the same seminar table with our 
students and listen to what they have to say. But it is not difficult to get 
the impression that your professors are founts of wisdom. 

You will be told to take careful notes on their lectures and to commit 
those notes to memory. This whole business of note-taking is outmoded. 
Students started taking notes in the Middle Ages, before the printing press 
was invented. The student wrote his own books. Today, with large col- 
lege libraries and with textbooks crowding and jostling one another for 
attention, the taking of notes is anachronistic. What you will do, if you 
are like the rest of the sheep, will be to produce pages and pages of notes, 
study them religiously for the examinations, then store them away. If you 
ever look at them again it will be simply to realize that the information they 
convey is far better presented in at least a dozen books immediately avail- 
able, or that it is so thoroughly out of date that the notes are useless. 

One of the major instruments of torture in collegiate education is the 
course examination. By this device the professor is enabled to discover 
how much of what he has said in class you have committed to memory. 
The night before the examination you cram the notes into your head. Next 
morning you enter a room heavy with the atmosphere of suspicion. You 
leave all notes and books in the hall, and you write on questions the an- 
swers to which you will have forgotten within a week, answers which in 
ordinary life no one in his right mind would ask you to remember because 
the information is available in the reference books where it belongs. Either 
you are working under the honor system, an unwitting accessory to the 
hocus-pocus, or you are annoyed and upset by a proctor who marches 

Readers and College Life 47 

around among the desks looking for trouble. The more you understand 
why you are in college, the less seriously you will take examinations. Some 
day you may even educate us to the point where we will compose tests 
which will measure your ability to use your knowledge with originality, 
rather than your ability to ape teacher. When that day arrives we shall let 
you bring notes, texts and even the Encyclopaedia Britannica to examina- 
tions. And then you may take examinations seriously. 

Now that you are in college and going to classes, pause long enough to 
ask yourself why we are teaching and you are learning. In spite of what 
you may have heard from us or your high school teachers or your parents, 
the answer is not that we know the final answers to the problems we are 
discussing. We are teaching because we have studied carefully subjects in 
which you are a beginner, and because we have had more worldly experi- 
ence than you. But neither of these facts makes us omniscient. If the truth 
be known, there are those of you in our classes who are more intelligent 
than we are who will outstrip us in our chosen fields. Question us. 
Doubt us. Raise objections. Make us thinkl Avoid us when we measure 
your achievement in terms of the proximity of your thinking to our own. 
Welcome us when we admit that we do not know the answers to your 
questions, when we help you to find your own answers, when we en- 
courage you to consider views with which we do not agree. 

Why are you going to college? Not to enhance your parents' social posi- 
tion; not to get high marks; not to get the ultimate answers, which not 
even we can furnish. To use our own professional jargon, you come to 
college to get a liberal education. We must admit that we do not altogether 
know what a liberal education is, but we have some fairly good ideas on 
the subject. We do not entirely follow these ideas. None of us, for ex- 
ample, believes that there is a magic in piling up a certain number of hour- 
credits. Yet, sixty credits and you get your diploma. And that diploma is 
supposed to admit you to the company of educated men and women. Why 
not fifty-five, or sixty-five? We do not know. Indeed if you pressed us we 
should have to admit that some students are liberally educated with thirty 
credits while others will not belong to the educated company if they take 
sixty times sixty hours of credit. Do not measure your education by sim- 
ple arithmetic. 

Elect your courses with care. If you go to a college which requires that 
you juggle five courses at once, you will do well to find one easy berth and 
sleep in it; otherwise you cannot do justice to the other four. This is a 
secret practice acceptable and accepted by all. But in general easy courses 
should be avoided simply because they are easy and do not give you your 
father's money's worth. 

Do not select your courses with an eye to a specific job or type of oc- 
cupation. More of you will make this mistake than not, and it is one of the 
most serious you can make. In the first place, we know at least that a 

48 Reader 

liberal education involves a balance and harmony of interests. Secondly, 
your interests and talents are by no means fully appreciated or explored 
when you come to us. You do not want to wake up in your senior year 
and wish that you had not missed many important and interesting things. 
Thousands of seniors do. 

When you come to college you are intellectually very young and have 
not yet learned to proceed safely or efficiently under your own intellectual 
power. You are what your environment and your elders have made you. 
Your ideas are not your own. The first thing you must learn is to stand 
on your own ideas. This is why you should not take us and our ideas too 
seriously. Broaden your horizon so that as you become more and more able 
to take care of yourself you will move intelligently. Do considerable men- 
tal visiting in your first years in college. Try to encounter the major points 
of view represented on the faculty and among the students. Entertain them 
the more seriously the more they differ from your own. You may return to 
your own, but if you do it will be with greater tolerance and broader 

You come to college to gain a liberal perspective. In gaining this per- 
spective you must come to know the nature which surrounds and compels 
you, the society with which you must live and cooperate, the creative spirit 
which is your heritage, and the tools of language and of thought. To ex- 
press it in this specific manner is helpful. It suggests certain intellectual 
virtues which you must possess before you can be considered an educated 
man or woman. This does not mean that there are particular courses which 
can alone provide you with these virtues. Do not take a course solely for 
its specific content. 

For example, we have said that you must come to know the natural 
world. This does not mean that you must study physics and chemistry and 
astronomy and geology. It means that you must acquire the scientific at- 
titude, understand the atmosphere and significance of the exact sciences, 
know their fundamental assumptions, their key concepts, their major con- 
tributions. And the same is true of the biological sciences. A course in 
botany or zoology or physiology or psychology is enough to give you an 
understanding of the important aspects of biology. You have not time for 
them all. But one is essential. Far too many are ignorant of the biological 
forces affecting human conduct. You should get into the laboratory while 
you are in college, and you should work in both the exact and the biological 

You want also to know the society with which you must live and co- 
operate. And one of the ways in which you want to know it is the histori- 
cal. You must be historically minded. You must recognize the importance 
of the past for the present. Man learns by experience, and history is social 
experience. Greek, Roman, European, American history you cannot 
study them all, but you can become historically minded. And you can be- 
come socially minded in your view of the present world. Economic, social 

Readers and College Life 49 

and political forces have your world in their grips. You must study these 
forces, measure them, evaluate them. 

Our heritage in the field of the arts has always been recognized as 
liberalizing. Not so much need to urge you here. Most of the greatest in- 
terpretation of human living is to be found in painting, sculpture, music 
and literature. What are some of the things which the great creative 
geniuses have told us about ourselves? What are modern artists trying to 
do? You must find out these things, not just that you may go to museums 
and concerts, but that you may want to go to museums and concerts. Elect 
some art or music, for pleasure, but also to increase your knowledge. Also, 
get a full and enthusiastic knowledge of the literature of your mother 
tongue. You will have discovered a source of wisdom, good taste and 
pleasure. Such studies need no recommendation. 

Finally, you must come to understand the tools of language and of 
thought. And here urging is necessary. You ought to know another lan- 
guage, ancient or modern, inflected or non-inflected, so well that you dream 
in it. Such knowledge gives a far better understanding of your own tongue, 
both as a tool and as an art, than you could otherwise obtain. And you 
will have open to you another literature. Furthermore, you should be con- 
versant with the structures and powers of thought as an intellectual tool, 
and you should be willing to examine fundamental assumptions. Mathe- 
matics, logic and philosophy are helpful here. You may think them difficult, 
but do not avoid them altogether. 

If you will examine this program for the enlarging of your intellectual 
horizon you will see that it involves some eight subjects spread throughout 
the departments of your college. It is a program which you can complete 
in your freshman and sophomore years and one which you should carry 
through in order that you may be equipped intellectually to proceed to 
the second part of your college education. It will give you necessary 

But you must also specialize, when the foundation has been laid. You 
must do this not because specialization will prepare you for a specific job, 
but because a certain degree of specialization is the second essential of true 
intellectual endeavor. Without specialization your college work is in dan- 
ger of becoming that thin veneer of "culture" which we all recognize as 
superficial. And now you will find the faculty more cooperative. We are 
specialists and we like to encourage specialization. But still be on your 
guard, for we shall mislead you by overemphasizing the importance of our 
particular little corners of learning. The important matter is not what you 
specialize in, but that you specialize. Specialization for its own sake, that is 
my point. If you are going on to graduate work you will find the over- 
whelming advice of graduate school faculties to be that you specialize in 
anything but your subject of graduate study. If you are going into medi- 
cine, you might major in history. If you will be a lawyer, major in art or 

50 Reader 

Even your specialization should be carefully planned. In the first place, 
it will probably be advisable for you to do advanced work in each of the 
four major fields of study: natural science; social science; art and litera- 
ture; and language, mathematics or philosophy. If you studied chemistry 
as a freshman, you might go on to more advanced chemistry and take 
elementary astronomy or geology as allied work. In short, in each major 
field in which you took two elementary courses as an underclassman, you 
should follow one elementary course into advanced work and at the same 
time gain some knowledge in an allied field. 

But this will take only half of your time as an upperclassman. You 
should devote the other half of your last two years to intensive specializa- 
tion in one subject in which you have the greatest interest and for which 
you have shown marked talent. Perhaps you have found history the most 
absorbing of subjects. Goodl Go on in it. Devote half of your junior and 
senior years to history. Show that you can work intensively on the details of 
your chosen major, manipulate these details correctly, and fit them into a 
comprehensive picture of the whole. But remember though your teach- 
ers will work against you here remember that you are studying primarily 
for the sake of the intensive specialization and not of the history. Your 
roommate is getting the same thing from majoring in mathematics or Eng- 
lish literature. 

When you have avoided the Scylla of heterogeneous meanderings among 
elementary facts and concepts and the Charybdis of a study so narrow that 
you are ignorant of what is going on outside your own little corner of in- 
terest, you will have intellectual balance and perspective. Do not take us 
as your models. We represent a special world and we are an academic 
people. You are going into a broader world and a non-academic environ- 
ment. Make us realize that our interests and understandings should spread 
into every field. Make us see that our students are at least as important as 
the subjects we teach. Make us understand that marks and examinations are 
mere administrative conveniences to be taken far less seriously than we 
take them. In short, insist that we get together as a unified organization and 
provide you with a liberal education. Strength to youl If you will do 
these things you will be performing a service to us and to yourselves. 

What College Did to Me 

Robert 'Bencbley 4889-4P45 

Your college education will it be a well-planned program of the 
sort Roger Holmes recommends, or will it turn out to be what Benchley 
declares his was not, but shows it really was, a "haphazard affair"? 
Benchley treats the subject humorously and makes us laugh, but like 
most good humorists, he makes us think too. For he is doing more 
than making fun: he is making fun of something. Of what, mostly? Of 
himself and what he got out of college? Or of college, for what it did 
to him, and does to most of us? Or both? 

MY COLLEGE EDUCATION was no haphazard affair. My courses were all se- 
lected with a very definite aim in view, with a serious purpose in mind 
no classes before eleven in the morning or after two-thirty in the afternoon, 
and nothing on Saturday at all. That was my slogan. On that rock was my 
education built. 

As what is known as the Classical Course involved practically no after- 
noon laboratory work, whereas in the Scientific Course a man's time was 
never his own until four p.m. anyway, I went in for the classics. But only 
such classics as allowed for a good sleep in the morning. A man has his 
health to think of. There is such a thing as being a studying fool. 

In my days (I was a classmate of the founder of the college) a student 
could elect to take any courses in the catalogue, provided no two of his 
choices came at the same hour. The only things he was not supposed to mix 
were Scotch and gin. This was known as the Elective System. Now I under- 
stand' that the boys have to have, during the four years, at least three 
courses beginning with the same letter. This probably makes it very awk- 
ward for those who like to get away of a Friday afternoon for the week- 

Under the Elective System my schedule was somewhat as follows: 

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 11:00: 
Botany 2a (The History of Flowers and Their Meaning) 

Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11:00: 

English 26 (The Social Life of the Minor Sixteenth Century Poets) 

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 12:00: 

Music 9 (History and Appreciation of the Clavichord) 

"What College Did to Me" is reprinted by permission from The Early Worm by 
Robert Benchley. Copyright, 1927, by Harper and Brother!. 


52 Reader 

Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12:00: 

German 12b (Early Minnesingers Walter von Vogelweider, Ulric 

Glannsdorf and Freimann von Stremhofen. Their Songs and Times) 
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 1:30: 

Fine Arts 6 (Doric Columns: Their Uses, History and Various Heights) 
Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1:30: 

French Ic (Exceptions to the verb 6tre) 

This was, of course, just one year's work. The next year I followed these 
courses up with supplementary courses in the history of lace-making, Rus- 
sian taxation systems before Catharine the Great, North American glacial 
deposits and Early Renaissance etchers. 

This gave me a general idea of the progress of civilization and a certain 
practical knowledge which has stood me in good stead in thousands of 
ways since my graduation. 

My system of studying was no less strict. In lecture courses I had my 
notebooks so arranged that one-half of the page could be devoted to draw- 
ings of five-pointed stars (exquisitely shaded), girls' heads, and tick-tack- 
toe. Some of the drawings in my economics notebook in the course on 
Early English Trade Winds were the finest things I have ever done. One of 
them was a whole tree ( an oak ) with every leaf in perfect detail. Several 
instructors commented on my work in this field. 

These notes I would take home after the lecture, together with whatever 
supplementary reading the course called for. Notes and textbooks would 
then be placed on a table under a strong lamplight. Next came the sharp- 
ening of pencils, which would take perhaps fifteen minutes. I had some of 
the best sharpened pencils in college. These I placed on the table beside 
the notes and books. 

At this point it was necessary to light a pipe, which involved going to the 
table where the tobacco was. As it so happened, on the same table was a 
poker hand, all dealt, lying in front of a vacant chair. Four other chairs 
were oddly enough occupied by students, also preparing to study. It there- 
fore resolved itself into something of a seminar, or group conference, on the 
courses under discussion. For example, the first student would say: 

"I can't open." 

The second student would perhaps say the same thing. 

The third student would say: Til open for fifty cents." 

And the seminar would be on. 

At the end of the seminar, I would go back to my desk, pile the notes 
and books on top of each other, put the light out, and go to bed, tired but 
happy in the realization that I had not only spent the evening busily but 
had helped put four of my friends through college. 

An inventory of stock acquired at college discloses the following bits of 
culture and erudition which have nestled in my mind after all these years. 

Readers and College Life 53 


1. Charlemagne either died or was born or did something with the Holy 
Roman Empire in 800. 

2. By placing one paper bag inside another paper bag you can carry 
home a milk shake in it. 

3. There is a double 1 in the middle of "parallel." 

4. Powder rubbed on the chin will take the place of a shave if the room 
isn't very light. 

5. French nouns ending in "aison" are feminine. 

6. Almost everything you need to know about a subject is in the ency- 

7. A tasty sandwich can be made by spreading peanut butter on raisin 

8. A floating body displaces its own weight in the liquid in which it 

9. A sock with a hole in the toe can be worn inside out with comparative 

10. The chances are against filling an inside straight. 

11. There is a law in economics called The Law of Diminishing Returns, 
which means that after a certain margin is reached returns begin to dimin- 
ish. This may not be correctly stated, but there is a law by that name. 

12. You begin tuning a mandolin with A and tune the other strings from 


1. A good imitation of measles rash can be effected by stabbing the fore- 
arm with a stiff whisk-broom. 

2. Queen Elizabeth was not above suspicion. 

3. In Spanish you pronounce z like th. 

4. Nine-tenths of the girls in a girls' college are not pretty. 

5. You can sleep undetected in a lecture course by resting the head 
on the hand as if shading the eyes. 

6. Weakness in drawing technique can be hidden by using a wash instead 
of black and white line. 

7. Quite a respectable bun can be acquired by smoking three or four 
pipefuls of strong tobacco when you have no food in your stomach. 

8. The ancient Phoenicians were really Jews, and got as far north as 
England where they operated tin mines. 

9. You can get dressed much quicker in the morning if the night before 
when you are going to bed you take off your trousers and underdrawers at 
once, leaving the latter inside the former. 


1. Emerson left his pastorate because he had some argument about 

54 Reader 

2. All women are untrustworthy. 

3. Pushing your arms back as far as they will go fifty times each day 
increases your chest measurement. 

4. Marcus Aurelius had a son who turned out to be a bad boy. 

5. Eight hours of sleep are not necessary. 

6. Heraclitus believed that fire was the basis of all life. 

7. A good way to keep your trousers pressed is to hang them from the 
bureau drawer. 

8. The chances are that you will never fill an inside straight. 

9. The Republicans believe in a centralized government, the Democrats 
in a de-centralized one. 

10. It is not necessarily effeminate to drink tea. 


1. A dinner coat looks better than full dress. 

2. There is as yet no law determining what constitutes trespass in an 

3. Six hours of sleep are not necessary. 

4. Bicarbonate of soda taken before retiring makes you feel better the 
next day. 

5. You needn't be fully dressed if you wear a cap and gown to a nine- 
o'clock recitation. 

6. Theater tickets may be charged. 

7. Flowers may be charged. 

8. May is the shortest month in the year. 

The foregoing outline of my education is true enough in its way, and is 
what people like to think about a college course. It has become quite the 
cynical thing to admit laughingly that college did one no good. It is part of 
the American Credo that all that the college student learns is to catch punts 
and dance. I had to write something like that to satisfy the editors. As a 
matter of fact, I learned a great deal in college and have those four years to 
thank for whatever I know today. 

( The above note was written to satisfy those of my instructors and finan- 
cial backers who may read this. As a matter of fact, the original outline is 
true, and I had to look up the date about Charlemagne at that. ) 

Heartache on the Campus * 

"Mrs. Qknn frank ipoo- 

First a dormitory, then a library, then a faculty and classrooms: in 
his essay above, Roger Holmes quotes President Eliot of Harvard as 
listing the essentials of a college in this order. The order recognizes 
that much of what is valuable in a college education comes not from 
books or professors but from the social experiences of college life. For 
many students, fraternities and sororities play the most valued part in 
organizing social life. But for others do they play a cruel and crippling 
part? Notice that President Eliot listed a dormitory, not a fraternity 
house. In this essay Mrs. Glenn Frank (who states her qualifications), 
eloquently argues the case against the fraternity-sorority system, on the 
grounds of the essentially undemocratic and inhumane social attitudes 
she believes it inculcates ih'fhose who"Be7ong, as well as on the grounds 
of the suffering it inflicts upon those who do not. If you believe in the 
system, what answers can you find to her argument, on both grounds, 
not merely on the grounds of its benefits to those who belong? 

A FEW WEEKS ago at a large middle-western university I talked with a stu- 
dent who had recently been discharged from the army for poor health. The 
boy said he liked the school, his courses and his professors. There was one 
thing,however, which he did not like. He had come to the university as a 
(Jegacy^to one of the leading fraternities, but after looking him over the 
fraternity brothers had not invited him to become a member. 

"I guess the war had made me too old," he said, grinning, but for all his 
nonchalance I could see the hurt in his eyes. He had been cruelly snubbed. 
Right at the start of his college career he had discovered that the very 
democracy for which he had fought didn't exist at this great university. 

His discovery is not unique. Reports of friction between returning vet- 
erans and the Greek-letter societies come from many other colleges and 
universities supported by taxpayers' money. Young men who have been 
matured in the hard school of war are finding themselves the victims of a 
ridiculous and iuvenilp oggfp. sysferp which is totally un-American. This 
should not be. It is time for the legislatures of this country to enact stringenf 
laws abolishing both college and high school fraternities and sororities from 
coast to coast. 

To some people that may sound like a strong remedy for a comparatively 
minor evil in our educational system. But I do not consider it minor. 

From the Woman's Home Companion, April, 1945. Reprinted by the kind permission 
of the author. 


56- Reader 


For more than a quarter of a century, as a sorority woman myself and as 
the wife of the president of one of our largest state universities, I have had 
a close view of the operations of the Greek-letter societies. What I have 
jigen has convinced me that any good _which these societies accomplish is 
far Qutwqigfrftfi ^jTtplmhflppi^^and hej^regk.wto 
thousands of young people every year, and by the class-consciousness, 
religious bigotry ^and race prejudice which they foment right in those insti- 
tutions which should be the most liberal. They have no more place in our 
public educational system than a Hitler youth movement. 

Yes, you may say, but if fraternities and sororities should be abolished, 
^wouldn't students organize other cliques and clubs? I admit that they 
would, but such groups would be formed in a normal natural way. Students 
would be judged on their merits and find their own level. A boy or girl 
would not be relegated to a fixed position in campus society during the tirst 
days of school, as is provided under smug Panhellenic rules, merely because 
of the prestige or bank account of his parents, or because of the way he 
flipped a cigarette or handled a cup of tea. 

Only the other day I heard of the case of a dull and unattractive youth 
who was taken into an exclusive fraternity merely because his father, a rich 
alumnus, had presented the chapter house with a pine-paneled library; and 
I know of another case, just as recent, where a brilliant and beautiful girl 
was kept out of a sorority because her father happened to be a railroad 

"What a pity God couldn't have made him a doctor or a lawyer instead," 
one of the sorority members said, but, imbued with the snobbery of her 
group, she voted against the girl just the same. 

Such discrimination is the rule rather than the exception and just as often 
students are casually black-balled because of some trivial or imagined flaw 
in their appearance, dress or manners. Over and over again I have known 
of a boy's being rejected by a fraternity because he failed to dance well or 
wear the latest cut of collar, or of a girl who was made to feel a campus 
outcast because she was a bit overweigiit, perhaps, or made the tatal mistake 
of cutting her lettuce with a knife. 

The high school fraternities and sororities are, if anything, even more 
brutal than the college societies which they imitate because they are un- 
supervised and they victimize students of an even more impressionable 
age. Many needless tears are shed and many hearts are broken every year 
where they flourish. I even know of one adolescent girl who committed 
suicide because her high school sorority refused to admit her sister to mem- 

I realize that in certain places where high school fraternities and sororities 
have been suppressed by law they have sprung up again in the form of 
sub rosa organizations, but this can be prevented by requiring students to 
sign pledges against joining secret societies as is now done in the Milwaukee 
schools. Our main objective, however, should be the college fraternities 

Readers and College Life 57 

and sororities. Once they are eradicated, their high school offshoots will 
wither and die qjuiagv^ - - - - 

The appalling injustice and cruelty of the method by which students are 
rushed and pledged to fraternities and sororities was first brought home to 
me through personal experience. 

The men of my father's family had for generations attended distinguished 
colleges and some of them had made distinguished records. My father felt 
that it was high time that the girls of the family should receive real educa- 
tions too, and since there wasn't enough money to send me to Vassar, he 
decided to send me to the university of my home state, Missouri. 

Before I left home, two of my mother's best friends said that since they 
had been Pi Phi's at Missouri they hoped I might become one too, and that 
they intended to write to the chapter recommending me. This conversation 
made me a bit apprehensive, but Mother brushed it aside. After all, I was 
going to the university to get an education, she said, not to become a Pi Phi. 
What difference did it make whether the sorority asked me or not? 

But during my first hours at the university I was made to feel that sorori- 
ties were the only thing that did matter. Although they represented only a 
minority of the women students, they had apparently taken over the campus. 
They were giving teas, luncheons and dinners. They were helping some 
freshmen to matriculate and escorting others around town in stylish car- 
riages, but only those freshmen, of course, about whom they had received 
letters. The YWCA was arranging parties for all girls, but no one wanted 
to go to them. 

The big event of the Pi Phi rushing program was an evening party at the 
chapter house where candidates for pledging were given a final once-ovei 
by the members. I shall never forget that party. While stunning girls, gor- 
geously gowned, looked us over critically, I felt the way a person must feel 
on his way to the gallows. My pink-dotted mull dress and hair tied with a 
ribbon were all wrong, I felt, and I knew that one false move, such as spill- 
ing my coffee, would bar me forever from Pi Phi. I was frightened and 
homesick and my throat was parched. 

When I got back to my room that night, I wrote to Mother begging her 
to let me come home. I pleaded homesickness, not daring to tell her that I 
was a failure that there was no use in staying on, no use getting an edu- 
cation or anything else, because the Pi Phi's hadn't asked me and apparently 
weren't going to ask me. Never before or since have I felt so rejected, so 
hopelessly unattractive. 

I started packing, but one afternoon there was a call from the Pi Phi 
house. Would I come over? I was so excited that I thought my quaking 
knees would not carry me several blocks. When I got there, one of the 
members pinned the Pi Phi's colors on my jumper dress. I was in! 

It is impossible for me to put into words the relief which I experienced at 
that moment. It was like a reprieve from death. If I live to be a hundred, 

58 Reader 

I shall never forget, either, the deep sense of inferiority which I felt during 
the period when I thought I was not going to be pledged. Life for me 
simply wasn't worth living. 

All this happened a long time ago, but the heartless and undemocratic 
methods used in rushing and selecting pledges have not been changed one 
iota. In 1925, when my husband started his long term of office as president 
of the University of Wisconsin, I thought I might find conditions there dif- 
ferent, because Wisconsin had a reputation for liberality. But I discovered 
the system there was just as brutal as at Missouri, and it still is. 

Every autumn at Wisconsin, as at many colleges, there would come a 
Sunday which always seemed to me the saddest day of the year. It was the 
Sunday on which the sororities sent out their invitations. It might be a 
beautiful fall day, but in boarding houses all over Madison, I knew, hun- 
dreds of teen-age girls would be waiting tensely for bids which would never 
come. As dusk fell all hope would die in their hearts and many, many of 
those youngsters would cry themselves to sleep that night. 

I know, moreover, that the injury which is inflicted upon a young student's 
pride and self-respect when he is turned down by a Greek-letter society is, 
all too often, a permanent injury 

Not long ago I had a chat with a woman who failed to make a sorority 
during her stay at Wisconsin and who now lives in a fashionable suburb of 
Chicago. She has a successful husband, a lovely home and devoted children, 
but she confessed to me that if a guest in her house mentions colleges she 
gets up and leaves the room for fear she may be asked what sorority she 
belongs to. 

Yes, and there is the case of Zona Gale. A short time before her death 
she told me how, more than thirty years before when she was a student at 
Wisconsin, she had wistfully watched the Delta Gammas starting off on 
picnics and had wished they would ask her to go with them. 

Think of it Zona Galel Wisconsin's most famous daughter! Possessed 
of beauty, character, genius. Winner of the Pulitzer prize and holder of the 
highest honorary degrees which the university could confer. Yet the old 
cut of being ignored by the sororities had never healed. It was not vanity. 
Zona Gale had the least vanity of any woman I have ever known. It was 
just plain hurt hurt inflicted by a system which doesn't make sense. 

The scars which fraternities and sororities deal out gratuitously to the 
thousands of students whom they turn down every year are reason enough 
alone, it seems to me, to condemn them to extinction, but they are guilty 
of other gross crimes against democracy. 

kecently a pretty s^irority^inTfoiaine that she had been invited to a glee 
club concert by a brilliant nonfraternity man whom she really liked. Did 
she accept him? No indeed. Her sorority sisters might have made remarks. 
Instead, she went to the concert with a nitwit whom she didn't like. He 

Readers and College Life 59 

didn't have an idea in his head, but he belonged to a good fraternity and 
her choice was highly approved. 

Once in a sorority or fraternity, a student is compelled to conform to a 
caste system whether he approves it or not. If he doesn't join one, on the 
other hand, he is apt to find himself excluded from leadership in many 
college activities. Greek-letter students are a minority on most campuses 
but are so tightly knit and politically organized that they generally control 

At Wisconsin, for example, which is typical of most state universities, the 
highest social honor obtainable is that of being chosen king or queen of the 
junior prom, but only once since 1925 has a nonfraternity man been elected 
prom king, and there has been only one prom queen who was not in a 

Some defenders of the fraternity and sorority system contend that this 
condition is proof positive that nonfraternity and nonsorority students lack 
inherent aggressiveness and leadership. That is utter bosh. 

The most brilliant boy in my class at Missouri, a man who is now known 
throughout America, was rejected by the fraternities because he was con- 
sidered countrified, and just a few months ago middle-western newspapers 
carried long obituaries about another nonfraternity man whom I knew years 
later. He wasn't considered good enough to enter a fraternity because his 
mother was guilty of the heinous crime of working for a living. He was 
good enough, though, to become a well-known lawyer in his state within a 
few years after leaving college, and to give his life for his country while 
serving with our air forces in the South Pacific. 

No, under the present Panhellenic system, even Abraham Lincoln 
wouldn't possess leadership enough to make a fraternity, but a brief study 
of Who's Who in America proves that fraternities have no monopoly on 
ability. Just as many non-Greeks as Greeks make names for themselves 
after college. 

Even more sinister than thejrtfaer forms of^ snobbery is the religious 
bigotry and race prejudice wfiich fraternities anostfrorities foster in the 

mmas of the y6uiig. 

The dean of women at one of our large universities told me only the 
other day that Catholic girls were admitted to sororities there under a quota 
system which permitted only a limited number of Catholics to be pledged 
each year. This quota does not in any way compare with the percentage of 
Catholic girls at the university. The same system prevails, I know, whether 
it is admitted or not, at many other colleges and universities. 

As for Jewish students, they are excluded generally by leading fraternities 
and sororities. A few weeks ago I heard a group of liberal-minded youths 
in one fraternity at an eastern college who rebelled against this taboo. By 
threatening to resign all at once the group forced this chapter to pledge a 
popular Jewish student. That was splendid, but I regret to say it is the only 

60 Reader 

case of the kind I have ever heard of. In most houses, anti-Semitism is 
almost a part of the ritual. 

In self-defense the Jews have formed their own fraternities and sororities, 
but they have been brutally snubbed year after year by a stuffy faction in 
Panhellenic which has refused to grant them national charters. 

Now why, in a nation which is pouring out its substance to provide equal 
rights for all people, do we permit a cruel caste system to flourish in our 
public schools? 

One of the reasons, I think, is the attitude of parents. 

I knew a woman in Madison who devoted sixteen years of her life, from 
the time her daughter was born until the child was of college age, to making 
social contacts which would enable her to get her daughter into an exclusive 
sorority, and that kind of thing is not uncommon. At a cocktail party re- 
cently, I talked with a number of mothers of teen-age children. Almost 
without exception they were much more concerned about getting their sons 
and daughters into fraternities and sororities than getting them an educa- 

Those women were not hopeless snobs. Most of them agreed that fra- 
ternities and sororities are unkind and undemocratic. Others deplored the 
added expense to which they are put a sorority girl has to be equipped 
with a wardrobe comparable to that of a society debutante but, well, 
since these organizations existed, they naturally wanted their children to 
belong to the best ones. 

This same viewpoint is too often found among college faculty members. 
Not long ago I received a letter from a professor, famed for his liberal views, 
in which he asked me to help him get his daughter into a certain sorority. 
Since the fraternity and sorority system is deeply entrenched, he and many 
other professors who personally don't approve of it seem to feel that we 
must have it with us always, like death and taxes. 

Such an attitude, it seems to me, is lazy and un-American. This country 
of ours has had many other deeply entrenched evils in ifs day, including 
slavery and inhuman child labor conditions, but we found ways of getting 
rid of them. 

Among the most ardent exponents of the Greek-letter societies are the 
rofessional alumni I've noticed they are often people who have not been 
very successhiTStnnfe leaving college who maintain that fmtgoiitLas^and 
sororities bestow a kind jpjnagical pdBsh upon the boys and girls who 

belong ia them. ~ ~ 

That is mostly pure nonsense. During twenty-five years around college, 
I have never observed that the Greek-letter students acquired any better 
manners than the others, but if they did it would be a petty gain indeed 
compared to the dangerous caste ideas they are likely to absorb at the 
same time. 

The only valid argument which the defenders of the system can muster 
is that the abolition of fraternities and sororities would create a housing 

Readers and College Life 61 

shortage at many schools* True, but the problem isn't unsolvable. Why 
shouldn't state universities buy chapter houses outright and convert them 
into dormitories run under college management? The total value of chapter 
houses at both public and private colleges is about $100,000,000. A sizable 
sum, yes, but less than we were spending every day^ .fight -awar^f or 
democracy. It would be a cheap price to pay for thdemocratization)of 

1 ,. ' i -- = ' ^^^^^^A-^.. ^ ----------- . ^^^ |||t ,||J 1J _I__ I' " "*"""*' 


The time for this democratization is now Because of the war, the fra- 
ternities are in a weaker position than they have been in a generation. 
Twenty per cent of all chapters are inactive, and most of the others are 
depleted in membership. More important, the war veterans who are enter- 
ing our colleges are bringing with them a more adult point of view than 
the students of peace years. A man who has learned democracy in foxholes 
does not mold so easily to the fraternity pattern as a teen-age boy right out 
of high school. 

Recently at one university I talked with a wounded veteran whose view- 
point, I believe, is typical of that of thousands of other servicemen. Because 
of his unusual heroism in a bloody action in the Pacific, three different 
fraternities tried to pledge him when he entered college a few months ago, 
but he turned them all down. 

When I asked him why he did so, he said that he considered himself 
grown up and fraternities childish. Why should he, after what he had been 
through, scrub a sidewalk with a toothbrush during hell week because some 
upper classman ordered him to? Why should he let a lot of so-called 
brothers dictate what girls he might or might not go out with? 

Yet we cannot depend upon this attitude of returning servicemen alone to 
end the fraternity and sorority evil. The Greek-letter societies cannot be 
laughed out of existence as they deserve to be. They are too deeply rooted. 
Concerted actionJ^LStudentS^ parents and educators will be needed before 
our legislatures can be ^xp^^tfi(jj^grjBt tows .. 

Tcannof Tepeat loo Soften tKat this should be done right away. On foreign 
battlefields, a whole generation of American boys of college age jeopardized 
their lives, and many of them gave their lives, to safeguard democracy. 
Here at home, the most powerful agency for the preservation of democracy 
is the public school system from primary grade through university. To make 
that system wholly worthy of what our boys fought for, we must wipe out 
fraternities and sororities while the time is ripe! 

Dating in America 

Qeojfrey Qorer iP05- 

When we read an anthropologist's account of the Trobrianders or 
the Australian Bushmen we are amused by the strange customs and 
rituals of those queer people. When an anthropologist turns his gaze on 
our own customs and rituals we find the shoe on the other foot and 
realize that we too behave from deep unchallenged ceremonials, act on 
unconsidered but potent assumptions. Here an English anthropologist 
studies one of the most interesting of campus (and off-campus) rituals. 

THE pRESENCE^jthe attention, the admiration of other people . . . becomes for 
Americans a necessary component to their self-esteem, demanded with a 
feeling of far greater psycHoIogical urgency than is usual in other countries. 
This gives a special tone to the social relationships of Americans with their 
fellows (with the exception, on occasion, of marital and parental relation- 
ships ) : they are, in the first instance, devices by which a person's self-esteem 
is maintained and enhanced. They can be considered exploitative, but this 
exploitation is nearly always mutual: "I will assure you that you are a 
success if you will assure me that I am" might be the unspoken contract 
under which two people begin a mutual relationship. The most satisfying 
form of this assurance is not given by direct flattery or commendation ( this 
by itself is suspect as a device to exploit the other ) but by love, or at least 
the concentrated, exclusive attention which shows that one is worthy of in- 
terest and esteem. 

It is only against this psychological background that what is probably 
the most singular feature of American social life can be understood: the 
"dating" which occupies so much of nearly every American's leisure time 
from before adolescence until betrothal, and which for many continues even 
after, if separation or satiety lessens the satisfactions to be derived from 
the betrothed, or if excessive individual anxiety demands more reassurance 
than betrothed or spouse or lover can give. "Dating" is idiosyncratic in 
many ways, but especially so in that it uses the language and gestures of 
courtship _and love-making, without necessarily implying the reality of 
either. The overt differences of behavior which distinguish "dating" from 
C5urtship are so slight as to be barely perceptible; yet only in rare cases, 
and those involving unbalanced people, does confusion result when both 
partners are American. "Dating" is a highly patterned activity or group of 
activities, comparable in some ways to a formal dance, in others to a very 

Reprinted from The American People by Geoffrey Gorer. By permission of W. W. 
Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright, 1948, by Geoffrey Gorer; pp. 108-117. Also by 
permission of The Cresset Press, Limited, London, England. 


Readers and College Life 63 

complicated competitive game; it is comparable to a dance in that the ges- 
tures employed do not have the significance they would have in other set- 
tings (witness the bows and curtsies of the minuet, the close embrace of the 
waltz and later ballroom dances ) ; but it is more nearly comparable to such 
a competitive game as chess, in which the rules are known to, and observed 
by, both parties, but in which each move, after the opening gambit, is a 
response to the previous move of the other player. As in dances and games, 
the activity is felt to be enjoyable and rewarding for its own sake, and the 
more enjoyable the more nearly the partners or players are matched in skill 
and other necessary qualifications. The comparison with competitive 
games, such as chess, can be carried further; both partners must play with 
concentration and seriousness, using all their ingenuity, within the accepted 
rules, to be the victor; apart from the pleasure of the game, there is also 
the pleasant enhancement to one's self-esteem that winning the game pro- 
vides. There is one aspect, however, in which the comparison of "dating" to 
chess breaks down; in a succgjsfuJL elate ther^-^houl^no^beji loser; both 
parjies_shQuld feel their self-esteem, their a^urarice, enhanced. 

As far as I know, no other society has been recorded which has developed 
a similar institutionalized type of behavior for its young people. A number 
of societies, of which the Samoans and the Trobrianders are well-known 
examples, allow for a period of sexual license and experiment before be- 
trothal and marriage; but these are, and are meant to be, years of sensual 
and sexual satisfaction, sought for their own sake. In American "dating" 
sensual and sexual satisfactions may play a part ( though this is by no means 
necessary ) as counters in the game, but they are not the object of the exer- 
cise; the object of the exercise is enhanced self-esteem, assurance that one 
is lovable, and therefore a success. ~ 

A further complication arises from the fact that the words and gestures 
of love are regularly employed in "dating" without either party taking them 
for anything but counterfeit, moves in the game; and yet Americans believe 
very deeply and passionately in love ( a concept not shared by the Samoans, 
nor the Trobrianders, nor many of the people of whom we have adequate 
studies ) . It is difficult to find comparisons for thus using frivolously in one 
context words and gestures which may be of the greatest importance in 
another. A very far-fetched one could be derived from the game of chess. 
In a period of monarchical passions and court intrigue "Your queen is cap- 
tured" or "Your king is threatened" could have completely different signifi- 
cance according to the settings in which the phrases were used. 

There is, finally, the complication that "dating," employing and being 
known to employ the words and gestures of love-making, is admitted and 
abetted by parents and teachers who, many of them, hold the puritan atti- 
tudes toward sex and the pleasures of the body, even though these attitudes 
do not seem to be held by most of the younger generation. 

Because "dating" is so idiosyncratic to Americans ( though the generality 
of Americans do not suspect this, believing, like the rest of the world, that 
the behavior they are used to is "human nature") and because it employs 

64 Render 

the form but not the content of love-making, it has been the cause of 
innumerable and serious misunderstandings whenever young Americans 
have come in contact with foreigners of the opposite sex. An invitation to 
a "date" a pleasant and mutually profitable evening to enhance each 
other's self-esteem and demonstrate one's skill in the game is almost 
always interpreted by a non-American as an attempt at seduction; if it is 
indignantly repudiated, both parties are left angry and dissatisfied: if it is 
immediately acceded to, the American, at least, feels defrauded, as if one 
had set out for a hunt and the fox had insisted on sitting down in one's 
back yard. 

In a "date" the opening move, at least overtly, should come from the 
boy, in the form of an invitation to the girl to spend the evening in his com- 
pany. The basis of selection is somewhat different for the boy and for the 
girl. For the girl the object is to have as many invitations as possible, so 
that she can choose among them the partner whom she thinks can give her 
the best time, or who will be the most fun to compete with; for the boy the 
object is to have as his partner the girl who is most admired and most 
sought after by his companions and fellow rivals. A girl who only got a 
single invitation to an important social event (say a commencement dance), 
even though it was from the most desirable boy, the captain of the football 
team, would be doubtfully pleased (this, of course, on condition that they 
are not courting ) ; a boy whose invitation is accepted by the local "belle" in 
similar circumstances has already gained a major social triumph. Conse- 
quently, participation in the "dating" pattern is somewhat different for the 
two sexes: all boys can and should take part in it, the level to which they 
aspire being dependent on their qualifications; but only the most successful 
and popular girls in each set do so fully, the rest having to be content with 
a steady boy friend, or even the companionship of a fellow unfortunate. 

Unless an American boy is very poor, very maladjusted, or for some reason 
almost totally excluded from social life, "dating" and earning money for 
"dates" will occupy the greater part of his leisure time from early adoles- 
cence until betrothal. The social pressure toward doing so is very great. 
Thus in a typical Midwestern college fraternity the senior members insisted 
that the juniors have at least three "dates" a week; and further that these 
"dates" should be with girls who did honor to the fraternity, and, barring 
betrothal, should not be too frequently with the same girl. Such open con- 
trol and supervision is unusual, but few Americans would quarrel with the 
standard of behavior demanded. 

The experience of girls is much less uniform, since they are dependent 
on the boys' invitations, and the boys will invite the most popular girls 
obtainable. As a consequence some girls will have almost all their time 
taken up by "dates," while others have at most an occasional one, and many 
others drop out of the competition altogether until betrothal. The picture is 
clearest in formal dances. The hostess attempts to have at least three men 
for every two girls, so that at any moment at least a third of the men are in 

Readers and College Life 65 

the "stag line," whereas all the girls are dancing. A man from the stag line 
"cuts in on" a dancing couple by tapping the man on the shoulder and tak- 
ing his place. By etiquette one cannot refuse to be cut in on, nor can one 
cut in on one's immediate successor; a third man must intervene before one 
can resume one's partner and conversation. A man should not abandon his 
partner until cut in on; and one of the greatest humiliations a girl can bear 
is not to be cut in on before her partner is satiated with her company. Such 
an unfortunate girl is not likely to be invited again, nor, if invited, to accept. 

For many girls, consequently, the "dating" period is one of humiliation, 
of frustration, of failure. fluFBiSugliirrs"^^ usually psycho- 

logically crlppIingT'Slich unsuccessful girls are often betrothed and married 
earlier and better than the "belles" who, many of them, find it difficult to 
give up such prebetrothal triumphs: and moreover a "belle" is rated by the 
amount of money spent on her, among other things, and the standard is too 
high for most young men to maintain regularly. 

The "date" starts as an invitation from a young man to a girl for an eve- 
ning's public entertainment, typically at his expense, though since the de- 
pression girls occasionally pay their share. The entertainment offered de- 
pends on the young man's means and aspirations, and the locality; but it is 
in a public place always, and nearly always includes eating food together, 
the food being anything from an ice-cream soda at the local drugstore to 
the most elaborate and expensive meal that the locality can provide. Besides 
the food, the most usual entertainment is dancing the place of the dance 
ranging anywhere from the cheap roadside caf6 with a jukebox to the most 
expensive cabaret or country club. The male (the "escort") should call for 
the girl in a car (unless he be particularly young or poor) and should take 
her back in the car. If the entertainment proposed is of a formal or expen- 
sive nature, the man should provide a corsage flowers for the girl to wear 
on her dress or in her hair. 

The corsage is the first sign of the man's estimate of his partner for the 
evening, partly through the expense of the flowers, and partly according to 
the extent to which they are particularly suited to the girl's appearance, 
personality, or costume. Every item of the subsequent entertainment gives 
further signs; the relative amount of money spent is important for the girl's 
self-esteem, and not in itself. 

"Showing the girl a good time" is the essential background for a "date," 
but it is not its object, as far as the man is concerned^ its object is to get the 
girl^to prove that he is worthy ofJov^^^niA^i^^^^r-^u^ee^. In some 
cases supenoF^fficIelacy Tn dancing will elicit the necessary signs of ap- 
proval; but typically, and not unexpectedly, they are elicited by talk?) Once 
again, the importance of words is paramount. ^~ "" 

nSmceTon first "dates" the pair are normally comparative strangers to one 
another, a certain amount of autobiography is necessary in the hopes of 
establishing some common interest or experience, at the least to prove that 
one is worthy of the other's attention. These autobiographies, however, 

66 Reader 

differ at most in emphasis, in tone of voice, from those which should accom- 
pany any American meeting between strangers. What distinguishes the 
"date" from other conversation is a mixture of persiflage, flattery, wit and 
love-making which was formerly called a "line" but which each generation 
dubs with a new name. 

The "line" is an individual variation of a commonly accepted pattern 
which is considered to be representative of a facet of a man's personality. 
Most men are articulately self-conscious about their "lines" and can describe 
them with ease; they are constantly practiced and improved with ever 
differing partners. The object of the "line" is to entertain, amuse, and cap- 
tivate the girl, but there is no deep emotional involvement; it is a game of 

The girl's skill consists of parrying the "line" without discouraging her 
partner or becoming emotionally involved herself. To the extent that she 
falls for the 'line" she is a loser in this intricate game; but if she discourages 
her partner so much that he does not request a subsequent "date" in the 
near future she is equally a loser. To remain the winner, she must make the 
nicest discriminations between yielding and rigidity. 

The man scores to the extent that he is able to get more favors from the 
girl than his rivals, real or supposed, would be able to do. The proving time 
is the return journey from the place of public entertainment to the girl's 
home. A good-night kiss is almost the minimum repayment for an evening's 
entertainment; but how much more depends on the enterprise of the man, 
the self-assurance of the woman, and the number of "dates" the pair have 
had together. This love-making is still emotionally uninvolved; it is still part 
of the game, though the gestures and intimacies and language are identical 
with true love-making; it is not, save most rarely, an attempt at seduction; 
and the satisfactions sought are not, in the first instance, sensual but self- 
regarding. The man should demonstrate his enterprise and prove that he is 
worthy to be loved by pressing for ever further favors; but the girl who 
yields too much, or too easily, may well be a disappointment, in exactly 
the same way as too easy a victory in tennis or chess may be a disappoint- 

A Student at His Book 

Ascribed to Sir "Bernard JWosber i497-i580? 

Perhaps old Sir Bernard Mosher's sixteenth-century student should 
have had the advantage of reading Geoffrey Gorer's twentieth-century 
explanation that dating isn't to be confused with courtship. Anyway, 
his wry little poem is a warning against a too-hasty running from book 
to wife. 

Readers and College Life 67 

A STUDENT at his book, so placed 
That wealth he might have won, 
From book to wife did fleet in haste, 
From wealth to woe did run. 
Now, who hath played a feater cast, 
Since juggling first begun? 
In knitting of himself so fast, 
Himself he hath undone. 

A Great Teacher's Method 

Samuel Jf. Scudder i837-i9ii 

What makes a teacher great? A great personality? Great learning? 
A great method? Thinking of the poor, ineffectual Miss Groby's (see 
pages 30-32), think also of great teachers you have known and try to 
analyze what made them great; or take only one whose teaching has 
made a real difference in your life and try to explain how that teacher 
achieved the effect. In this instance, Scudder shows how Agassiz used 
an apparently simple method to teach a great lesson. 

IT WAS more than fifteen years ago [about 1858] that I entered the laboratory 
of Professor Agassiz, and told him I had enrolled my name in the Scientific 
School as a student of natural history. He asked me a few questions about 
my object in coming, my antecedents generally, the mode in which I after- 
wards proposed to use the knowledge I might acquire, and, finally, whether 
I wished to study any special branch. To the latter I replied that, while I 
wished to be well grounded in all departments of zoology, I purposed to 
devote myself specially to insects. 

"When do you wish to begin?" he asked. 

"Now," I replied. 

This seemed to please him, and with an energetic "Very well!" he reached 
from a shelf a huge jar of specimens in yellow alcohol. 

"Take this fish," said he, "and look at it; we call it a haemulon; by and by 
I will ask what you have seen." 

With that he left me, but in a moment returned with explicit instructions 
as to the care of the object entrusted to me. 

"No man is fit to be a naturalist," said he, "who does not know how to 
take care of specimens." 

I was to keep the fish before me in a tin tray, and occasionally moisten 

From Evtry Saturday (April 4, 1874) 16, 369-370. 

68 Reader 

the surface with alcohol from the jar, always taking care to replace the 
stopper tightly. Those were not the days of ground-glass stoppers and ele- 
gantly shaped exhibition jars; all the old students will recall the huge neck- 
less glass bottles with their leaky, wax-besmeared corks, half eaten by in- 
sects, and begrimed with cellar dust. Entomology was a cleaner science than 
ichthyology, but the example of the Professor, who had unhesitatingly 
plunged to the bottom of the jar to produce the fish, was infectious; and 
though this alcohol had a "very ancient and fishlike smell," I really dared 
not show any aversion within these sacred precincts, and treated the alcohol 
as though it were pure water. Still I was conscious of a passing feeling of 
disappointment, for gazing at a fish did not commend itself to an ardent 
entomologist. My friends at home, too, were annoyed when they discovered 
that no amount of eau-de-Cologne would drown the perfume which haunted 
me like a shadow. 

In ten minutes I had seen all that could be seen in that fish, and started in 
search of the Professor who had, however, left the Museum; and when I 
returned, after lingering over some of the odd animals stored in the upper 
apartment, my specimen was dry all over. I dashed the fluid over the fish 
as if to resuscitate the beast from a fainting-fit, and looked with anxiety for 
a return of the normal sloppy appearance. This little excitement over, 
nothing was to be done but to return to a steadfast gaze at my mute com- 
panion. Half an hour passed an hour another hour; the fish began to 
look loathsome. I turned it over and around; looked it in the face ghastly; 
from behind, beneath, above, sideways, at a three-quarters' view just 
as ghastly. I was in despair; at an early hour I concluded that lunch was 
necessary; so, with infinite relief, the fish was carefully replaced in the jar, 
and for an hour I was free. 

On my return, I learned that Professor Agassiz had been at the Museum, 
but had gone, and would not return for several hours. My fellow-students 
were too busy to be disturbed by continued conversation. Slowly I drew 
forth that hideous fish, and with a feeling of desperation again looked at it. 
I might not use a magnifying-glass; instruments of all kinds were inter- 
dicted. My two hands, my two eyes, and the fish: it seemed a most limited 
field. I pushed my finger down its throat to feel how sharp the teeth were. 
I began to count the scales in the different rows, until I was convinced that 
that was nonsense. At last a happy thought struck me I would draw the 
fish; and now with surprise I began to discover new features in the creature. 
Just then the Professor returned. 

"That is right," said he; "a pencil is one of the best of eyes. I am glad to 
notice, too, that you keep your specimen wet, and your bottle corked/* 

With these encouraging words, he added: 

"Well, what is it like?" 

He listened attentively to my brief rehearsal of the structure of parts 
whose names were still unknown to me: the fringed gill-arches and mova- 
ble operculum; the pores of the head, fleshy lips and lidless eyes; the 
lateral line, the spinous fins and forked tail; the compressed and arched 

Readers and College Life 69 

body. When I had finished, he waited as if expecting more, and then, with 
an air of disappointment: 

"You have not looked very carefully; why," he continued more earnestly, 
"you haven't even seen one of the most conspicuous features of the animal, 
which is as plainly before your eyes as the fish itself; look again, look 
again!" and he left me to my misery. 

I was piqued; I was mortified. Still more of that wretched fish! But now 
I set myself to my task with a will, and discovered one new thing after an- 
other, until I saw how just the Professor's criticism had been. The after- 
noon passed quickly; and when, toward its close, the Professor inquired: 

"Do you see it yet?" 

"No," I replied, "I am certain I do not, but I see how little I saw before/' 

"That is next best," said he, earnestly, "but I won't hear you now; put 
away your fish and go home; perhaps you will be ready with a better an- 
swer in the morning. I will examine you before you look at the fish." 

This was disconcerting. Not only must I think of my fish all night, study- 
ing, without the object before me, what this unknown but most visible 
feature might be; but also, without reviewing my discoveries, I must give 
an exact account of them the next day. I had a bad memory; so I walked 
home by Charles River in a distracted state, with my two perplexities. 

The cordial greeting from the Professor the next morning was reassuring; 
here was a man who seemed to be quite as anxious as I that I should see for 
myself what he saw. 

"Do you perhaps mean," I asked, "that the fish has symmetrical sides 
with paired organs?" 

His thoroughly pleased "Of course! of course!" repaid the wakeful hours 
of the previous night. After he had discoursed most happily and enthusi- 
astically as he always did upon the importance of this point, I ven- 
tured to ask what I should do next. 

"Oh, look at your fish!" he said, and left me again to my own devices. In 
a little more than an hour he returned, and heard my new catalogue. 

"That is good, that is good!" he repeated; "but that is not all; go on"; and 
so for three long days he placed that fish before my eyes, forbidding me 
to look at anything else, or to use any artificial aid. "Look, look, look," was 
his repeated injunction. 

This was the best entomological lesson I ever had a lesson whose in- 
fluence has extended to the details of every subsequent study; a legacy the 
Professor had left to me, as he has left it to many others, of inestimable 
value, which we could not buy, with which we cannot part. 

A year afterward, some of us were amusing ourselves with chalking out- 
landish beasts on the Museum blackboard. We drew prancing starfishes; 
frogs in mortal combat; hydra-headed worms; stately crawfishes, standing 
on their tails, bearing aloft umbrellas; and grotesque fishes with gaping 
mouths and staring eyes. The Professor came in shortly after, and was as 
amused as any at our experiments. He looked at the fishes. 

"Haemulons, every one of them," he said; "Mr. drew them." 

70 Reader 

True; and to this day, if I attempt a fish, I can draw nothing but 

The fourth day, a second fish of the same group was placed beside the 
first, and I was bidden to point out the resemblances and differences be- 
tween the two; another and another followed, until the entire family lay 
before me, and a whole legion of jars covered the table and surrounding 
shelves; the odor had become a pleasant perfume; and even now, the sight 
of an old, six-inch, worm-eaten cork brings fragrant memories. 

The whole group of haemulons was thus brought in review; and, whether 
engaged upon the dissection of the internal organs, the preparation and 
examination of the bony framework, or the description of the various parts, 
Agassiz's training in the method of observing facts and their orderly ar- 
rangement was ever accompanied by the urgent exhortation not to be con- 
tent with them. 

"Facts are stupid things," he would say, "until brought into connection 
with some general law." 

At the end of eight months, it was almost with reluctance that I left 
these friends and turned to insects; but what I had gained by this outside 
experience has been of greater value than years of later investigation in my 
favorite groups. 

The University ** 

Barnes 'Bryant Conant 4893- 

What is a university? What are its functions? How does it differ 
from a college? For the national good, not simply for personal ad- 
vantage, who should have a higher education? The earlier essays in this 
section take up some issues of college life and learning, but mostly in 
immediately recognizable, personal terms of students and teachers, 
their life and ways. In this essay James Bryant Conant, until recently 
president of Harvard, goes into some basic questions about the nature 
and functions of our institutions of higher learning. You will probably 
find the essay rather difficult because the terms are impersonal, the 
perspective broadly historical and philosophical, and the language some- 
what abstract. But you will also find it valuable to your understanding 
of your actual situation, for the chances are that, like most students, 
you have moved up from high school into college or university with 
only the haziest conception of what these advanced schools are, in their 
institutional nature and functions. 

Reprinted by permission of the publishers from James Bryant Conant, Education in 
a Divided World. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Copyright, 1948, by The 
President and Fellows of Harvard College. Pp. 153-171. 

Readers and College Life 71 

THE CRITICAL PERIOD in a young man's life as far as the relation of his educa- 
tion to his career is concerned lies between the ages of sixteen and twenty- 
one. If he drops out of high school, or finishes high school and does not go 
on to a university, many roads are barred; for example, only with the 
greatest difficulty can he become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. On the 
other hand, if he graduates from a four-year liberal arts college, in many 
cases he will consider that his "higher education" was thrown away if he 
takes up an occupation largely recruited from non-college men. Assuming 
for the moment that all barriers of economics and geography and national 
origins were swept aside by a magic wand, how would a wise educator 
proceed to plan the education of thousands of young men in any one of the 
forty-eight different states? Is everyone to go to college? If so, what kind 
of college? If not, on what basis are some to be denied "the privileges of 
a higher education"? 

To my mind the crux of the problem is to be found in such phrases as 
"the privileges of a higher education." If we could eliminate the word 
"higher" we could at least make a start toward thinking more clearly about 
the relation of our colleges to the structure of American society. For the 
adjective "higher" implies at once that those who do not go to a university 
or a four-year college are forever on a lower plane. And any discerning 
teacher in our secondary schools will testify that the social implications of 
"going to college" weigh quite as heavily with parents and children as does 
proven aptitude for college work. Furthermore, any placement officer of a 
college knows full well that it is a rare holder of a bachelor's degree who is 
eager to take up as his lif ework a trade or vocation for which he might have 
been trained in a technical high school. 

In the last fifty years in many sections of the country the colleges have 
been considered to no small degree as vocational ladders (though many a 
professor would shudder at the term ) not because of the intellectual content 
of their curricula or the training of the mind, but because of the "friends 
one made." The tendency of management to hire only college men as junior 
executives is merely one manifestation of the undefined but very definite 
recognition on the part of ambitious people that "without a college educa- 
tion you cannot get ahead." The practice of the Armed Services during the 
war and the public statements of some high ranking officers have increased 
this feeling. The extent to which such ideas confuse our thinking about edu- 
cation beyond the high school can hardly be exaggerated. 

Let us eliminate all the hierarchical overtones from the word "higher" 
and get squared away for a discussion of high school and college in terms 
of the ideal of equality of educational opportunity. Instead of raising the 
question, "Who should be educated?" let us rather consider the problem, 
"How long should be the education of the members of each vocation?" Of 
course, those who consciously or unconsciously reject the premise of work- 
ing toward a more fluid social order should stick to the phrase "higher 
education" and underline the adjective. Anyone who wishes to solve our 

72 Reader 

educational problems along hereditary class lines is well advised to support 
an educational pattern in which collegiate training is primarily for students 
who can pay for it this training to be suitable both for those who enter 
the professions and for those who are to be managers of industry and com- 
merce. Public education would then be largely concerned with providing 
another type of terminal schooling for future clerical workers, still another 
for manual workers, and so on through a close-knit stratified social system. 
The exceptionally brilliant boy, measured in academic terms, can be taken 
care of under such an arrangement by a relatively inexpensive system of 
scholarships, or at least he can in theory. 

On the other hand, if we want to move toward a more flexible social 
structure, we must consider the final years of formal education not as a 
privilege of those who can afford to pay, or to be won by a few with high 
scholastic skill but something open to all who deserve it and need it. 
And the emphasis on the word "need" is all-important, provided we define 
"need" in terms of subsequent vocation. 

It seems evident at first sight that certain vocations require longer periods 
of formal training than do others. As now conceived, public health tops the 
list; medicine and the academic careers requiring a Ph.D. in arts or letters 
are next; research in science is not far behind; then come law and engineer- 
ing to name only a few of the well-recognized professions. All of these 
have demanded, in the past, at least four years beyond high school, medi- 
cine usually eight. Not only do these vocations require a long period of 
formal education, but the nature of the general as well as the specialized 
work corresponds to the orientation of the able student measured in terms 
of college grades. The path to these occupations might well separate from 
the main educational road at the end of high school. In the first years of 
this century this path was the main road and indeed almost the only way to 
the learned professions. The universities supplied professional education; 
the four-year colleges either as separate institutions or within the universi- 
ties fed the university professional schools. 

But, as already indicated, during the last fifty years the four-year col- 
leges have been the pathway not only to the professions but to white-collar 
jobs in business. The number and nature of the professions have expanded, 
to be sure, and the success of the agricultural colleges has blurred the dis- 
tinction in certain states. By and large the opinion that higher education 
is to be equated with a bachelor's degree from a four-year institution has 
been gaining ground for a generation. 

I hope to show in this and the following chapter that this pattern can 
and should be altered. The time has come, it seems to many educators, 
when we must distinguish more clearly between professional training (the 
characteristic educational function of a university) and a combination of 
general education and vocational training which may be accomplished in 
local two-year terminal colleges. In presenting this thesis, it would be 
logical to consider the two-year college first and then go on to analyze the 

Readers and College Life 73 

functions of a university. But such a procedure would be unrealistic, for 
today the two-year local college is still in the process of development 
whereas the university has already assumed a very definite status. Before 
urging reforms, therefore, which alter to some degree the accepted pattern 
of education beyond the high school, we need to examine the present state 
of advanced education in the United States. In particular, we must under- 
stand the history of American universities and the way their growth has 
reflected some of the characteristics of our society. 

A century and a half ago no one could have foreseen that the university 
tradition as imported to this continent in the seventeenth and eighteenth 
centuries was to undergo a significant mutation. No one then could have 
predicted that exposure to the social and political climate of the United 
States, to alternate blasts of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy in 
particular, was to bring about an academic revolution and that the state 
universities were to play a leading role in the transformation; but such was 
in fact the case. 

Only in the last fifty years has the reality of the change in species become 
apparent to all observers, and only in the last twenty-five years has the true 
significance of the alteration been widely understood. Even today there are 
those who regard the change as a mere temporary and extremely regrettable 
aberration to be attacked by drastic surgery pruned or cut back, as it 
were, to conform to the older European model of a perfect university. 

But what is this university tradition which has undergone a revolution in 
American hands a revolution equivalent to a biological mutation? In- 
deed, what is a university? How shall we define the genus? For nearly a 
thousand years there have been universities in the Western World; to un- 
derstand the present institutions, we must therefore comprehend something 
of their history. For while there have been several clear and distinct 
changes in the pattern, the essence of the university tradition has through 
all these years remained constant. We can describe a university, it seems to 
me, as a community of scholars with a considerable degree of independence 
and self-government, concerned with professional education, the advance- 
ment of knowledge, and the general education of the leading citizens. To 
accomplish these three ends, it has been found desirable often but not 
always to incorporate into the community of scholars a community of 
students. Thus arose what has been termed the "collegiate way of living." 
Thus came about the emphasis on what we now call the "extracurricular" 
educational values. 

As the university tradition came to America, it was based on four ultimate 
sources of strength: the cultivation of learning for its own sake, the educa- 
tional stream that makes possible the professions, the general educational 
stream of the liberal arts, and, lastly, the never-failing river of student life 
carrying all the power that comes from the gregarious impulses of human 
beings. According to my view, universities have flourished when these four 
elements have been properly in balance; on the other hand, when one or 

74 Reader 

more of these same elements has diminished or dried up, the academies of 
advanced instruction have failed signally in performing a relevant social 

The cultivation of learning alone produces not a university but a research 
institute; sole concern with student life produces in these days either an 
academic country club or a football team maneuvering under a collegiate 
banner; professional education by itself results in nothing but a trade 
school; an institution concerned with general education, even in the best 
liberal arts tradition, divorced from research and training for the profes- 
sions is admittedly not a university but a college. Therefore, to my mind, 
the future of the American university depends primarily on keeping a 
balance between these four traditional elements of strength. These four 
elements were the basis of the properly balanced plan in a time when 
universities were flourishing; they must continue to be in balance if the 
American university is to fulfill its proper functions in the times that are to 

But what is there new, one may ask, about the American university, and 
how does the novelty (if any) affect the prospects for its future? The 
mutation, I believe, occurred in two of the four historic elements of which 
I speak: namely, professional education, and general education of the 
leading citizens. The first was a change in content, an enormous growth; 
the second, a change in type of student. Both represent a vast broadening 
of the educational goals; both present us with problems still unsolved. The 
changes have been to a large degree unconscious responses to social forces, 
and often the rationalization of the transformations has been in other 
terms than I shall use. 

As public secondary education expanded in the last decades of the 
nineteenth century and in the first half of the twentieth, the colleges and 
universities likewise expanded. Not only were the applicants more numer- 
ous, they were much more heterogeneous as to backgrounds and ambitions. 
Furthermore, the political, social, and economic development of the United 
States vastly altered the way in which the public regarded education. As 
the years went by, it became more and more evident that in our complex 
industrialized society mere ability to read and write, added to native wit, 
was not enough. With the passing of the frontier, the pioneer spirit was 
turned away from new lands toward new industries. And to manage mod- 
ern industry requires more than a high school education at least for all 
but the very exceptional man. 

With increasing industrialization went increasing urbanization, a higher 
standard of living, and a vast number of services available for city and 
town dwellers, more and more new mechanical and electrical devices dis- 
tributed widely among the population automobiles, electric refrigerators, 
and radios, to mention the most obvious examples. All this industrial expan- 
sion required more and more men and women with a larger and different 
educational experience than would have been necessary fifty years earlier 
to run a farm, a store, or even a bank. 

Readers and College Life 75 

The pressure on the universities, therefore, to educate men and women 
for specific vocations both increased and diversified. Beginning with the 
Morrill Act, the public had recognized the need for education in agriculture 
and the mechanical and industrial arts. Many a state in the Union made the 
significant step of combining the new agricultural and industrial arts 
colleges with an older state college of arts and letters. Perhaps one could 
say that from this union came the new American university. But, if so, the 
transformation rapidly spread elsewhere. Even before the great influx in 
numbers, the pattern had been set in publicly controlled and privately 
controlled universities alike; the mechanical and industrial arts (later to be 
known as engineering) and agriculture were recognized as being on a par, 
at least in theory, with divinity, medicine, and law. 

As the twentieth century grew older, both the enrollments in our uni- 
versities and the diversity of the training increased with each decade. The 
word "profession," in danger of being stretched beyond the elastic limit, 
was supplemented by the phrase "semi-profession." But soon the voice of 
the critic was heard in the land. Able and distinguished citizens became 
alarmed at this transformation of the idea of a university in American hands. 
When you once abandon the concept of a university as a home of learning, 
a place where the life of the mind is to be cultivated at all costs, you destroy 
our centers of higher education, they declared. 

But in spite of those outcries and lamentations, the development pro- 
ceeded on its way. One of our oldest universities strengthened its school of 
business administration, another continued to give degrees in forestry and 
nursing, while privately controlled universities in urban areas were as 
catholic in their offerings as any financed by the state. One element of the 
ancient four professional education had received nourishment from 
the combination of democracy and industrialization. It was forced to pro- 
liferate in a way to shock the admirers of the ancient stem. All manner of 
new vocations were assimilated within the sacred walls of a university, and 
graduates armed with special training in a variety of skills stood on the 
commencement platform as proudly as the future members of the clergy or 
the bar. 

In short, in the course of seventy-five years or so the forces of democracy 
had taken the European idea of a university and transformed it. The 
American university today is as different from the nineteenth-century 
British or Continental universities as the Renaissance universities of Italy 
and the Netherlands were different from those of the Middle Ages. Per- 
sonally, I think the basic philosophy which almost unconsciously has shaped 
the growth of the modern American university is sound, for it is none other 
than a philosophy hostile to the supremacy of a few vocations: it is a 
philosophy moving toward the social equality of all useful labor. 

As an offset to this increased emphasis on professional training (for I 
regard all university vocational education as a derivative of the ancient 
professions), there came about a strong movement to make American uni- 
versities centers of scholarly work and scientific investigation. This move- 

76 Reader 

ment was not only to some degree a counterbalance to the educational 
forces associated with the agricultural and mechanical colleges, but also a 
response to a challenge to make of some of the older institutions something 
more than advanced boarding schools for a special group. 

In the middle of the last century the head of one of the Oxford colleges, 
an eminent scholar and educational reformer, saw no evidence that the uni- 
versity tradition had ever taken root in the United States. ''America has no 
universities, as we understand the term," he wrote, "the institutions so-called 
being merely places for granting titular degrees." Taken literally this harsh 
judgment is undoubtedly false; yet it probably is not a gross exaggeration 
of the situation which then existed. The new spirit moving within the edu- 
cational institutions of the country had not become evident to those outside 
our academic walls. 

It was not until the Johns Hopkins University was opened at Baltimore 
that the idea of a university as a center of advanced learning came to have 
a prominent place in the public mind. It was not until Gilman had boldly 
proclaimed that "all departments of learning should be promoted" and that 
"the glory of the university should rest upon the character of the teachers 
and scholars . . , and not upon their number nor upon the buildings con- 
structed for their use" it was not until then that scholarship came into 
its own again as part of the university tradition of the United States. 

From this development, as we all know, came the growth of the graduate 
schools of arts and sciences, the introduction of new standards of excellence 
in regard to original work by scientists and scholars, and the growth of 
what is now sometimes referred to as the Ph.D. octopus. All this was slow 
at first but, like the other changes in the universities of America, gained 
speed during the period just before and just after the first World War. As 
a consequence, the American university has been in recent years something 
of a mental patient suffering from a schizophrenic disorder: on one day, or 
during one administration, the disciplines grouped under the banner of the 
arts, letters, and sciences represent the dominant personality; on another 
day, or during another administration, it is the vocational procession led by 
law and medicine that sweeps all before it. 

But, as so often happens in the delightful chaos of American democracy, 
the various pressure groups to a large degree canceled out. Looking back 
over the history of this century, we can see that the American universities 
drew strength from many different sources. The fact that the forces making 
for the new developments were not only often totally unrelated but at 
times apparently working one against another made little difference; the 
expansion and strengthening of the entire institution continued almost 
without interruption. The nature of the typical American university had 
emerged; whether any given institution was state-controlled or privately 
supported made little difference in the pattern. In some states there was a 
comprehensive system comprising several constituent members; in others all 
work was included in one academic institution. 

As to the variety of the vocational training, one university or one uni- 

Readers and College Life 77 

versity system might show considerable divergence from another; as to 
the strength of the faculties, there were, of course, wide differences; but 
as to their ideas of undergraduate education and their devotion to the 
welfare of the students, there was remarkable uniformity among them all. 
The significant fact was that no university which gave degrees in the 
ancient professions of medicine or law remained aloof from also giving 
degrees in such modern subjects as business administration, engineering, 
journalism, forestry, architecture, nursing, or education. And many were 
awarding the bachelor's degree for courses of study in vocational fields very 
distant, indeed, from the traditional disciplines of the arts and sciences. 

To complete this brief and inadequate account of the Americanization 
of the university idea, it remains only to discuss general education as apart 
from vocational education. I have earlier referred to the "general education 
of the leading citizens" as one of those traditional elements in the university 
pattern which have remained constant through the centuries. A volume 
would be required to do justice to this aspect of the work of universities in 
different countries and in different periods of history. In a sense, this phase 
of university education is a by-product of the two main preoccupations of 
the scholars: the advancement of learning, and education for the professions 
which includes, of course, the training of new scholars. In a sense, it is a 
by-product yet a by-product which in the public eye ( including the eye 
of future students) has often loomed as large as all the other functions of 
the university put together. And the larger it loomed the more emphasis 
we find put on student life, which has manifested itself in ways as different 
as the Oxford colleges, the German dueling clubs, and the American zest 
for intercollegiate athletics. 

If we examine the role of the universities in the English-speaking coun- 
tries in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we find a fair proportion 
of the students preparing not for the church or the bar, but for public 
service or a career in letters. In England only slowly, in the Colonies more 
rapidly, the merchant families came to send their boys to a college or uni- 
versity in order to obtain the sort of general education required by the 
business positions they would later occupy. In terms of the total popula- 
tion, the number of young men who pursued this road, however, was small 
indeed. For the most part, only a special set of relatively wealthy families 
patronized the colleges and universities for this purpose; the poor boy 
entered only if he desired to become a scholar or a member of a learned 

The numbers were small in the eighteenth century and the first part of 
the nineteenth, because, except to those in the professions I have men- 
tioned, the education thus acquired was of but little significance in later 
life. The same may be said of the situation throughout America as late as 
the middle of the last century. But then matters began to change. As part 
of the educational expansion more and more boys began to enter colleges 
and universities, not to study for the professions but for a general educa- 
tion as a preparation for later life in the business world. An acute observer 

78 Reader 

reared in another culture might have seen at the turn of the century that 
American educational policy was steering American educational philosophy 
toward an ugly problem. As long as education beyond the high school was 
a matter for a very small fraction of the population and, except for learned 
and literary men, of no great moment in terms of subsequent success, it 
mattered little who went to college. But as more and more doors of oppor- 
tunity in an increasingly industrialized society became closed to the non- 
college man, the question of who went to college raised new social and 
political problems. Today we are faced with the awkward questions 
raised in the beginning of this chapter: Have we real equality of educa- 
tional opportunity at the college level? If not, what is the proper remedy? 
Is everyone to go to college? 

Of one thing we can be sure not everyone should have a professional 
training, even using this word in the broad American sense. This proposi- 
tion requires no documentation. A second premise, almost equally obvious 
to those who are convinced of the validity of our American ideals, is that 
those who do obtain a professional education should be chosen on the basis 
of pure merit. This follows as a consequence of the doctrine of equality 
of educational opportunity which has been emphasized so frequently 
throughout this book. But it may be supported on entirely different grounds 
on the basis of the welfare of the nation. A modern industrialized, highly 
urbanized country can prosper only if the professions are full of capable, 
imaginative, and forward-looking men. We must have extremely able 
lawyers, doctors, teachers, scientists, and public servants. There is no place 
for nepotism in the recruitment of this corps of specialists. To the extent 
that we now fail to educate the potential talent of each generation, we are 
wasting one of the country's greatest assets. In the world today a highly 
industrialized nation simply cannot afford this type of waste. Yet no one 
familiar with the situation would deny that such a waste occurs. 

In spite of the fact that America had remade the university and expanded 
the facilities for university students several fold, before the war there were 
many able youths for whom the professional world was barred. Evidence 
on this point has already been presented in Chapter 3, and it need not be 
repeated here. In the immediate postwar years, 1946-1948, thanks to the 
G. I. Bill, the universities and colleges have been crowded, and because of 
the large amount of Federal money expended, it is true that any adequately 
prepared veteran who wants a college education can obtain it. But when 
this war generation has been educated, what is then to come? Shall we 
revert to the prewar situation? Can we afford to do so either in terms of 
our ideals or our need for talent? 

We must remember that as matters stand today the opportunities for 
professional education at low cost are very unequally and unfairly dis- 
tributed in the United States. As was pointed out earlier, the urban family 
with a low income is in a relatively favored position since every city of any 
size has one or more universities (often tuition free). By living at home 

Readers and College Life 79 

the student can receive professional training with only a small outlay in 
cash. On the other hand, those who grow up in smaller cities, towns, and 
rural areas are with rare exceptions beyond commuting distance to a uni- 
versity. For these young men and women, to attend an academic institution 
which gives professional training means living away from home with a 
consequent high expense. Clearly scholarships, loan funds, and opportuni- 
ties for part-time work are the methods by which youths from rural areas 
must surmount the economic barriers which bar the road to the professions. 

Since the major cost of advanced education, if the student is away from 
home, is board and lodging, one can argue that as far as possible the expan- 
sion of public education beyond high school should be arranged locally. 
Otherwise in order to offer equal opportunities we should have to envisage 
using public funds to provide years of free board and room for a consider- 
able fraction of our high school graduates. But there are various types of 
professional and vocational education which can be given at only a few 
centers in even a very populous state. It is literally impossible, for example, 
to give adequate instruction in clinical medicine except in cities of sufficient 
size to support large hospitals. Similarly, advanced work in the arts, 
sciences, and letters can be done only where adequate libraries and labora- 
tories are at hand. It is clearly in the national interest to find all the latent 
talent available for the lengthy training that research careers demand. Yet 
to establish research centers at every point in the United States where gen- 
eral education beyond the high school is desired would be not merely 
uneconomical, but impossible. The alternative, to strengthen our present 
universities and establish a national system of scholarships, seems the only 
answer. The way this might be done and how it might be financed will be 
the subject of the next chapter. 

I venture to conclude this discussion of the universities by returning to 
my original proposition: the health of our universities depends on keeping 
a balance between the advancement of knowledge, professional education, 
general education, and the demands of student life. From time to time, 
every institution will be threatened by the overgrowth of one of these four 
elements or the atrophy of one or more. But by and large it seems clear 
that in the next few years it is the advancement of knowledge which will be 
in need of the greatest encouragement and support. I say this in spite of 
the present public concern with supporting research in the physical and 
biological sciences. I say it in part because of this concern. I am afraid 
that there will be so many research institutes founded by industry and 
philanthropy for very specific purposes that the university faculties will be 
drained dry of their productive men. Few laymen seem to realize the simple 
fact that it is men that count, and that first-rate investigators and original 
scholars are relatively rare phenomena and require long and careful train- 
ing. That is why, to me, the spending of the taxpayers' money on a scholar- 
ship policy is fully as important as the establishment of a National Science 
Foundation to support basic research in our universities* 

The Bells Rang Every Hour 

John !Ho/mes 

Looking backward upon his college days, Holmes tries to evoke the 
feeling of what college was like and what its experiences meant to him. 
Contrast his celebration of the enriching personal values of college life 
with Benchley's humorous exposure of its poverty of significant mean- 
ing, and also with Shapiro's indictment of its spiritual bankruptcy. Re- 
member that each of the writers is limiting himself to effective literary 
expression of a single attitude among the many possible ones. 

THE BELLS RANG every hour from the tower in the trees 
In the springtime every day. A bell said, Go, 
And we went, from gym to Greek to chlorophyll, 
To coffee at ten in the morning, back to the Bible, 
And met the girls we were in love with, after class. 

We had been fourteen when the War was over, too young 
For that one; then, as it happened, too old for the next. 
We were graduated in nineteen-twenty-nine, a year, 
We were told at Commencement, great, the greatest, 
Opening out like a broad road up the map 
From youth to yonder, to heaven, to anywhere. 

We shall never know so much as long as we live 
About God or verbs again, or be so in love. 
Here it is: bells, books, coffee, evenings in spring. 
Here's the night we walked. Streetlights. Leaves in rain. 
We made notes. We were very good at making notes 
On what the professor thought we thought he said, 
And at gazing at him and thinking of something else, 
Poems, maybe ... or maybe last night ... or something. 
Not Sacco and not Vanzetti, in the papers then. 
We were very important, were very busy, expected 
At all the dances, and always seen there dancing. 
We spoke our mind in print, in the college weekly, 
Definitely against the examination system. 

The bells rang every hour from the tower in the trees. 
What was it going to be like, we had asked ourselves? 

Everyone reading, we thought. The books! The books! 
Not drudgery, but all blown in a new exciting light, 

Reprinted from Map of My Country (New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1943). Copy- 
right by John Holmes. 

Readers and College Life 81 

Fiercely, and not indoors, but everywhere, 

Walking, working, talking everywhere about new ideas. 

College is a place where no one reads the papers. 

College is a long four years that will never end. 

But the secret of civilization was ours to ask for: 

A magic: kneel in the classroom, rise, and know all. 

The thing for the map is the thick crowd of names, 

Not of heroes or readers, but names of those who were there, 

Assigned to our dormitories by the registrar, 

Chosen by upperclassmen to join our clubs, 

Beside us in lectures because of the alphabet, 

Therefore our friends. 

Only the careless and hard, 

The gay, the stubborn, the wild self -powered, were worth it, 
And most of them never obeyed or heard the bells 
In the stone tower, at twenty minutes past the hour. 

Their hour was midnight, or after, reading aloud, 

Talking, eating, listening to Bach and to Beethoven, 

Drinking coffee, laughing, talking, reading aloud, 

Working their way to France on a freighter, and home, 

Crazy and glorious, poor, always poor, and talking. 

Maybe the secret of civilization was this, off-campus, 

Proving that Dante is best if read in Italian, 

And somebody's new album of Brahms' First Symphony; 

Witty and careless, with coffee and more music, and midnight. 

In the morning the President, by special appointment, 
Would see the editor, campus figure, and sleepy. 
If only he could be told about Brahms, and Italian, 
And coffee and civilization and books and no money. 
And he could have been told, but I couldn't tell him. 
I couldn't tell him, and now I can't tell even myself. 
I can't call back what it was I wanted to say. 
And what if he'd asked me how I liked the college? 

It was not what we thought. Better? Well, different. 

Duller? No. Different, not what we thought. Worth it? 

Yes, worth it. But not for the reasons they told us. Then what? 

For the people. For the professor of chemistry I hated, 
Who knew it, and showed me his dearest research, as if 
Two artists consulted, so shouldering me toward my art; 
For the professor whose B was precious, as some A's were not; 

82 Reader 

For Tommy, for Peg, for Larry, for Chan, for Duke; 
And for the letter-carrier, and the night watchmen. 

Tha seeing so many people, and naming them every day. 
For the people; the place; the times hung in memory; 
Nights on the Chapel steps whispering closely, or not; 
The crazy excitement of May in our senior year, 
The last classes, the last everything, the remembering 
Supper hours warm and noisy at the fraternity house, 
The tired silence when at last the presses were running 
Too loud for talk when the college paper was yours 
And you knew every word in type in the forms by heart. 
O God, you say, that was all good, and it was good. 

Then they all come in a whirl of mornings and faces, 
Too many men and women, a photograph-album world. 
Here's the spring night we walked in, after the movies, 
Here's Braker Hall, I think this was our junior year. 
The book riffles. There's Gene remember Gene Goss he 
Played the banjo he died there's Henry remember Henry 
Thompson he died look there's what was her name look 
Mark's married who's that Jim I saw Jim the other day 
He asked for you who's-that-who's-Dave-there's-Joe- 

Shut the book. It's a good book. But a long time ago. 


*Karl Shapiro 1913- 

In a quite different tone from Holmes, Karl Shapiro, a leading con- 
temporary poet, indicts the university for its institutional denial of the 
democratic values envisioned by Jefferson (to whom allusion is made in 
the last stanza as founder of the University of Virginia), and cham- 
pioned by Mrs. Frank and President Conant in their essays above. 

TO^HURJ the^fegro^and avoid the Jew 
Is the cun^ujum. In mid-September 
The jenterin boys, identified by hats, 
Wander in a maze of mannered brick 

Karl Shapiro, Person, Place and Thing. Reprinted by permission of Random House, 
Inc. Copyright, 1940, by Karl Shapiro. 

Readers and College Life 83 

Where boxwood and magnolia brood 
And columns with imperious stance 
Like rows of ante-bellum girls 
Eye them, outlanders. 

In whited cells, on lawns equipped for peace, 

Under the arch, and lofty banister, 

Equals shake hands, unequals blankly pass; 

The exemplary weather whispers, "Quiet, quiet," 

And visitors on tiptoe leave 

For the raw North, the unfinished West 

As the young, detecting an advantage, 
Practice a face. 

Where, on their separate hill, the colleges, 
Like manor houses of an older law, 
Gaze down embankments on a land in fee, 
The Deans, dry spinsters over family plate, 

Ring out the English name like coin, 

Humor the snob and lure the lout. 

Within the precincts of this world 
Poise is a club. 

But on the neighboring range, misty and high, 

The past is absolute; some luckless race 

Dull with inbreeding and conformity 

Wears out its heart, and comes barefoot and bad 

For charity or jail. The scholar 

Sanctions their obsolete disease; 

The gentleman revolts with shame 
At his ancestor. 

And the true nobleman, once a democrat, 
Sleeps on his private mountain. He was one 
Whose thought was shapely and whose dream was broad; 
This school he held his art and epitaph. 

But now it takes from him his name, 

Falls open like a dishonest look, 

And shows us, rotted and endowed, 
Its senile pleasure. 

Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College 

Thomas Qray i7i6i77i 

Is college, or should it be, a refuge from the "real world"? Is it a 
cloistered, ivied, bell-ordered little world of unreality where, as Holmes 
says, "no one reads the papers," where "regardless [unaware] of their 
doom, the little victims play'? The eighteenth-century poet, Thomas 
Gray, looks upon Eton College (actually what we would call a prep 
school) from a distance, and upon his own happy days there from a 
distance in time; and he reflects on the contrast between the innocent 
happiness of the schoolboy world and the evils of the real world that 
lies ahead. He concludes with the famous lines, "Where ignorance is 
bliss, 'Tis folly to be wise." Is this a satisfactory conclusion, to you? 

YE DISTANT spires, ye antique towers, 

That crown the watery glade, 
Where grateful Science still adores 

Her Henry's holy shade; 
And ye, that from the stately brow 
Of Windsor's heights th' expanse below 

Of grove, of lawn, or mead survey, 
Whose turf, whose shade, whose flowers among 
Wanders the hoary Thames along 

His silver-winding way. 

Ah, happy hills! ah, pleasing shadel 

Ah, fields beloved in vain! 
Where once my careless childhood strayed, 

A stranger yet to pain! 
I feel the gales that from ye blow, 
A momentary bliss bestow, 

As waving fresh their gladsome wing, 
My weary soul they seem to soothe, 
And, redolent of joy and youth, 

To breathe a second spring. 

Say, Father Thames, for thou hast seen 

Full many a sprightly race 
Disporting on thy margent green 

The paths of pleasure trace, 
Who foremost now delight to cleave 
With pliant arm thy glassy wave? 
The captive linnet which enthrall? 
What idle progeny succeed 

Readers and College Life 85 

To chase the rolling circle's speed, 
Or urge the flying ball? 

While some on earnest business bent 

Their murmuring labours ply 
'Gainst graver hours, that bring constraint 

To sweeten liberty: 
Some bold adventurers disdain 
The limits of their little reign, 

And unknown regions dare descry: 
Still as they run they look behind, 
They hear a voice in every wind, 

And snatch a fearful joy. 

Gay hope is theirs by fancy fed, 

Less pleasing when possessed; 
The tear forgot as soon as shed, 

The sunshine of the breast: 
Theirs buxom health of rosy hue, 
Wild wit, invention ever-new, 

And lovely cheer of vigour born; 
The thoughtless day, the easy night, 
The spirits pure, the slumbers light, 

That fly th' approach of morn. 

Alas! regardless of their doom, 

The little victims play; 
No sense have they of ills to come, 

Nor care beyond to-day: 
Yet see how all around 'em wait 
The ministers of human fate, 

And black Misfortune's baleful train! 
Ah, shew them where in ambush stand 
To seize their prey the murderous band! 

Ah, tell them, they are men! 

These shall the fury Passions tear, 

The vultures of the mind, 
Disdainful Anger, pallid Fear, 

And Shame that skulks behind; 
Or pining Love shall waste their youth, 
Or Jealousy with rankling tooth, 

That inly gnaws the secret heart, 
And Envy wan, and faded Care, 
Grim-visaged comfortless Despair, 

And Sorrow's piercing dart 

86 Reader 

Ambition this shall tempt to rise, 

Then whirl the wretch from high, 
To bitter Scorn a sacrifice, 

And grinning Infamy. 
The stings of Falsehood those shall try, 
And hard Unkindness' altered eye, 

That mocks the tear it forced to flow; 
And keen Remorse with blood defiled, 
And moody Madness laughing wild 

Amid severest woe. 

Lo, in the vale of years beneath 

A grisly troop are seen, 
The painful family of Death, 

More hideous than their Queen: 
This racks the joints, this fires the veins, 
That every labouring sinew strains, 

Those in the deeper vitals rage: 
Lo, Poverty, to fill the band, 
That numbs the soul with icy hand, 

And slow-consuming Age. 

To each his sufferings; all are men, 

Condemned alike to groan, 
The tender for another's pain; 

The unfeeling for his own. 
Yet, ah! why should they know their fate, 
Since sorrow never comes too late, 

And happiness too swiftly flies? 
Thought would destroy their paradise. 
No more; where ignorance is bliss, 

Tis folly to be wise. 

Part j^Tl Two 


EXCEPT under rare conditions of shyness or stress, few people are tongue- 
tied. But nearly all of us are pen-tied when faced with the painful neces- 
sity to write a theme, an essay, or an examination. Paper and pen mysteri- 
ously dry up the stream of thought and the easy flow of words, and what 
finally squeezes out is likely to be no more like us than a bad snapshot or 
a reflection in a warped mirror. 

How can we account for this strange difference between writing and 
ordinary speech? One reason is that we talk far more than we write. 
Another is that writing is a kind of full-dress performance we have to 
be on our best behavior as we seldom do in conversation. An even subtler 
reason is that we are deeply convinced that writing is something special. 
The same words won't do; our thoughts have to be organized, our sen- 
tences correct; we have to have an introduction, a conclusion, well-rounded 
paragraphs, and topic sentences. 

Of course all this is true, to some extent. Most of your writing the 
writing you do for your classes, at any rate is more formal than talk, re- 
quires more orderly development and more careful planning before the 
actual writing is even begun. But there are more similarities between writ- 
ing and talk than we are likely to realize, and recognizing these similarities 
can help you break through the barrier which the act of writing so often 
imposes. Whether you talk or write, you are you an individual human 
being, unique in all the world. And you are trying to establish communi- 

88 Writer 

cation with other human beings. You have things to say (many more than 
you probably yet realize) that will be of interest to others, and you can 
interest them best by being your honest and natural unassuming self. Most 
of the words you write are the words you speak, and if you try sincerely 
to be yourself as you write, your words will have the natural ring of your 
voice in them, and the rhythms of your speech. For good writing, by all 
modern standards, is natural writing. 

Good writing is something else: it is packed; it is continually saying 
something. Every sentence and every word adds to the thought and the 
experience. And much thought goes into it which does not necessarily 
appear on the surface like an iceberg, which is nine-tenths out of view. 

The Writer's Job 

"But you can't -write a theme 
in twenty minutes!" 

Anybody Can Learn to Write *F 

Stephen Leacock i869-i944 

What's likely to bother you as you begin writing in college is the 
twofold problem; what to say, how to say it. You may think you have 
nothing to say, no information, no ideas, nothing worth mentioning; 
and you probably suppose you must write in a quite different way than 
you would ordinarily speak. The thing college students somehow find 
hardest to learn is to be themselves in writing, to discover the endless 
wealth of idea and experience they have already accumulated, and to 
set it forth in a natural and straightforward way. Leacock says: Don't 
think your knowledge, your interests, your experiences, your ideas, can't 
be any good because they're merely yours, and don't be afraid to put 
them into your own familiar words. If you learn this much in your 
whole freshman writing course, you will have learned the most im- 
portant lesson of all about writing. 

WE HAVE DEOD^thenJ^al^wiJting hafi gyt to hft. 

can t wait for it to come. On these terms, I claim that anybody can learn 

to write, just as anybody can learn to swim. Nor can anybody swim with- 

Reprinted by permission of Dodd, Mead & Company from How to Write by Stephen 
Leacock. Copyright, 1943, by Dodd, Mead & Company, Inc. 


90 Writer 

out learning how. A person can thus learn to swim up to the limits im- 
posed by his aptitude and physique. The final result may not be worth 
looking at, but he can swim. So with writing. Nobody can learn to write 
without having learned how, either consciouslf^br unconsciously. But it 
fortunately happenrthat what we call our education supplies to all of us 
the first basis for writing, the ability to read and to spell. Indeed our 
ordinary education, even in any elementary school, gives us a certain 
training in putting words together. Under the name of "composition" we 
go through a harrowing set of little exercises in correcting errors in the use 
of English; we put poetry back into prose, and go as far as to reach up to 
writing a composition on An Autumn Walk, or The Fidelity of the Dog. 
This is not "writing" in the sense adopted in this book but it is as essential 
a preliminary to it as learning to drive a nail into a board is to carpentry. 
People of exceptional native ability and no schooling sometimes write, and 
sometimes have reached great eminence without such training. But that is 
because the bent of their minds was so strong in that direction that un- 
consciously they weighed and measured words and phrases, fascinated with 
the power of expression, as an artistic genius, a young Giotto, with the 
pictured line. 

Indeed, an ordinary environment of today gives us an even further 
start, and nowadays our sight and hearing, through moving pictures, in- 
troduces us to a vast world of history, of actual events, and imaginary 
stories. These and the little circumstances of our own life give us plenty of 
material for thought. If we put our thoughts into words and write them 
down, that is writing. There's no more to it. It's just as simple as that. 

In bffieFwoFdsr, anybody can write who has something to say and knows 
how to say it. Contrariwise, nobody can write who has nothing to say, or 
nothing that he can put into words. 

NOW it so happens that most of us have a good deal to say, but when we 
try to turn it into writing it gets muddled up by all kinds of preconceived 
ideasjrf how writing should be done, or is done by other people. So much 
so that when we write anything down it sounds false from start to finish. 
Each one of us is the custodian of one first class story, the story of his own 
life. Every human life is a story is interesting if it can be conveyed. 
The poet Gray wrote down the "short and simple annals of the poor" 
sleeping under the elm trees of a country churchyard, with such pathos 
and interest that they have lasted nearly two hundred years. But the poor 
couldn't have done it for themselves. Neither can we. We can't surround 
the story of our life with the majestic diction and the music of Gray's 
Elegy. But it is interesting, just the same, if we can tell it. Have you 
never noticed how at times people begin to tell you of their early life and 
early difficulties, and tell it utterly without affectation or effort, and how 
interesting it is in such form? Like this: 

Our farm was fifteen miles from a high school and it was too far to walk, 
and I didn't see how I could manage to go, and I couldnt have, but Uncle 

The Writers Job 91 

Al (he was the one who had gone out West) heard about it and he sent me 
fifty dollars and I started. I boarded Monday to Friday and walked home 
Fridays after school . . . and so forth. 

That's the way the man talks in an unguarded moment. But set him 
down to write out his life and see what happens. Either he sits and chews 
his pen and can't start, or he writes with the result a hopeless artificiality. 
The same facts are there but dressed with a false adornment like ribbons 
on a beggar's coat. Something like this: Our farni was situated some ten 
miles from the nearest emporium of learning, to wit, a high school, a dis- 
tance beyond the range of Shank's mare, the only vehicle within reach of 
my, or my family's, pecuniary resources . . . etc., etc. 

This failure happens because the man in question has been, unknow- 
ingly, taught how not to write. The necessarily somewhat artificial train- 
ing of the school-room has led him unconsciously to think of writing as 
something elevated above ordinary speaking--^ : Iike "company manners^ 
ThisTnbcks ouFaTonce-the peculiar quality of "sincerity** whiclils~the very 
soul of literature. "Sincerity" is the nearest word for what is meant; it im- 
plies not exactly honesty but a direct relation, a sort of inevitable relation 
as between the words used and the things narrated. This is the peculiar 
quality of many of the great writers who wrote without trying to write. 
Caesar wrote like this and John Bunyan, and better than all as an example 
is the matchless, simple Greek of the New Testament as put before us by 
King James's translators . . . They were all with one accord in one place . . . 
and suddenly there came the sound as of a rushing mighty wind. Or again: 
And they said "Behold! There is a lad here that hath five barley loaves and 
three small fishes, but what are they among so many? 9 ' And he said, "Make 
the men sit down" And the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 
And there was much grass in the place . . . 

Now we can see from this the difficulty so many young people find when 
they try to "practise" writing. They are suddenly attempting to be someone 
else. Thus it crften happens that when the conscious age of trying to write 
begmsT young people use^ their correspondence with their friends as a form 
of practise. Ebenezer Smith, let us say, writes from Temagami camp a 
letter to a friend. Hitherto he had just written letters straight off, after this 
fashion: We got the canoes into the water about five o'clock, just after the 
sun rose. The lake was dead calm and we paddled down to the portage in 
half an hour. I never saw the lake so calm. But suddenly Ebenezer be- 
comes sophisticated and when he sits down to write, the result is such a 
passage as this: 

A clear morning with just a faint sheen of mist before the sun kissed it 
away. I watched it vanish from the still surface of the lake and thought it 
seemed like some thin cerement, reverently drawn from the still face of 
death. Oh, no, you didn't, Ebenezerl You thought that afterwards; stick 
to the canoe and portage stuff. It's more like Xenophon. 

This collapse of Ebenezer Smith's correspondence as a method of begin- 

92 Writer 

ning to write, leaves us sfcUl with the problem, how do you^ begin anyway? 
Where do you get the &$. and the (practise 9 ^ 

We have just said that the ordinary 7 Education of the great mass of 
people, who go to school but don't go to college, supplies them with at 
least a sort of elementary beginning in "composition," in the expression of 
thought in words. What? they get is at least something; indeed it is much. 
But it is maijUy negative/. It says whatnot to do. It tells them what errors 
to^avoid. But you can't avoid anything if you are writing nothing. You 
must write first and "avqfid" afterwards. A writer is in no danger of splitting 
an infinitive if he has no infinitive to split. 

It might, therefore, be thought that in order to become a writer it is 
necessary to go on from school to college, and learn the "real stuff." For- 
tunately for the world at large this is not true. To go to college may be 
helpful but it is certainly not necessary. Writing is a thing which, sooner 
or later, one must do for oneself, of one's own initiative and energy. Those 
who are debarred from the privilege of attending college may take courage. 
The college kills writers as well as makes them. It is true that a gifted 
professor can do a lot; he can show the way, can explain what are the 
things in literature that the world has found great and why, in his opinion, 
they are so. Better still, he can communicate his own enthusiasm, and 
even exalt his pupils on the wings of his own conceit. More than that, the 
college gives companionship in study; it is hard to work alone, harder still 
to enjoy. Appreciation grows the more it is divided. 

But as against all that, college training carries the danger of standardized 
judgments, of affected admiration, of the pedantry of learning. Students 
read with one eye, or both, on the examination, classify and memorize and 
annotate till they have exchanged the warm pulsation of life for the post- 
mortem of an inquest. 

43ointis that writing^jwhether done in and by college or 


witKout a college, has got Fo'Te^Jone^for^Lnd by oneself . If you want to 
write, start and write ^SwnTyour thoughts. If you haven't any thoughts, 
don't writeTHem down. But if you have, write them down; thoughts about 
anything, no matter what, in your own way, with no idea of selling them 
or being an author. Just put down your thoughts. If later on it turns out 
that your thoughts are interesting and^jf _youget enpughpractise to be 
able to set down what they really are in languageH0hSfconveys them 
properly the selling business comes itself. There are many things in 
life, as we have said, that come to us as it were "at back rounds." Look for 
happiness and you find dust. Look for "authorship" and you won't find it; 
look for self-expression in words, for its own sake, and an editor's check 
will rustle down from Heaven on your table. Of course you really hoped 
for it; but you won't get it unless and until self-expression for its own sake 
breaks through. 

What doj^oii write about? You write about anything. Your great dif- 
as you apprehend this method, that you can think 

The Writers Job 93 

things but can't say them. Most people live and die in that state; their 
conversation is stuffed with smothered thoughtjthat can't get over. 

Take an example: Two people are walking out with the crowd from the 
roar and racket of a football game, just over. One says, "I don't know that 
I quite believe in all that rooting stuff, eh?" And the other answers, re-' 
flectively, "Oh, I don't know; I'm not so sure." That's as far as they can 
get. What the first man means is that organized hysteria is a poor substi- 
tute for spontaneous enthusiasm; and what the other means is that after 
all even genuine enthusiasm unless organized, unless given the aid of 
regularity and system even spontaneous enthusiasm degenerates into 
confusion; our life, itself artificial, compels a certain "organization." They 
can't say this, but either of these two spectators would read with pleasure 
a well-written magazine article under such a title as Should Rooting Be 
Rooted Out? 

The Psychology of Effective 

Writing * Jf. A. Overstreet i875- 

The all-important discovery about writing is that you do have some- 
thing, many things, to say. Actually, when you say something, aloud or 
on paper, you almost always say it in such a way that people grasp 
your bare meaning. But they may not believe it, they may not think 
it is important or interesting, they may not take it as you wish it to be 
taken. Oyerstreet bids you to remember your reader that you are 

purpose 6Faffeci:7hg~lnnT in a certain 

wav_. The "rules" of rhetoric, that is of effective composition, are easy 
to understand if you think of them in this way. 

THERE ARE MANY excellent books on the art of writing;/ buy they approach 
their subject chiefly from a literary point of view. One finds among them 
scarcely any consideration certainly no systematic one of the psycho- 
logical aspectj^f_wjtting. Grammar, sentence and paragraph structure, 
logical sequence, proportion, metaphors, similes, etc. All of these are im- 
portant; nay, the knowledge of them is quite indispensable. Writing, how- 
ever, like speaking, is something more than a mechanics of word-combina- 
tion. It is^ssentiaJKji a psychologica^enterprise. It has the aimjofarousing 
the atte^on^^d^ It is, in ' 

Reprinted from Influencing Human Behavior by H. A. Overstreet. By permission of 
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright, 1925, by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 
Pp. 87-95. 

<ft Writer 

stimulus which seeks to win favorable response. Now it is obvious, of 
course, that if one uses unclear words, confus/ed sentences, and drearily 
long paragraphs, no favorable response is likely to be evoked. Hence there 
is indispensable value in training along these lines. But it is a question 
whether expertness in these literary matters/ is enough. Must "one riot go 
farther- and understand the psychological factors involved in good and in 
poor writing? ^ 4 4-' ^ *+ U *- < - 

Writing, we have said, is a form of stimulus which seeks a response. 
Good writing does something to the reader. Poor writing does something 
else. What is it that good writing does, and that poor writing fails to do? 
Most of us who write at all, simply write, without any thought of how cer- 
tain quite fundamental matters affect our readers. . . . 

What makes writing dull? Apparently one or more of the following: 

1. Siodginess. No "unfamiliar in the familiar." No phrases that hit off 
the ideas in ways that are different. Cliches, platitudes, "standard verbal 
equipment." ^ ""\ * 

2. Verbosity. Too many verbal 'stimuli! for the required effect, inducing 
weariness, tempting us to skip. 

3. Circumlocution. The stimulus always coming; never arriving; hence 
the reader always uncertain, impatient, irritated. "Do, in heaven's name, 
get to the point!" 

4. Lack of clearness. Involved phrases, long sentences, ideas badly ar- 
ranged. The stimulus never quite clear. The reader makes no swift favor- 
able response, because he does not know what it is all about. 

5. Lack of dramatic quality. No "luring" quality. No awakening of the 
reader's curiosity. Hence the reader nods. 

6. Abstractness. No vivid pictures. Pale. Slips out of the mind. Leaves 
no impression. 

7. Absence of Rhythm. Nothing that "carries on." Jerky, disordered, 

8. Monotony of Rhythm. Movement all the same. No variety. . . . 

It should be clear that in the above we have been considering matters 
which are fundamentally psychological. When is writing dull, we asked 
and .ofjcomse J^jteplificl when it is dull to the reader. When is it fasci- 
nating to the reader? ApparentTyTsb"^ answers ran, it is dull or fascinat- 
ing wheri the writing-stimuTiis does or does not evoke certain? fundamental 
response^ : ir^ the reader. Commonplace phrasing, for example, is not just a 
literary quality> It js a^psyeholpgical one inasmuch as it implies no effective 
response to the ^oveltj^ wish'/ ojthe reader. Verbosity, circumlocution, 
lack of clearness ara^sychological in that they. Qtpg' r the stimulu^. Ab- 
stractness is_ps)^h6logical in that it places too great^a tax upon our es- 
sentially(concrete Jninds. Lack of dramatic quality is psychological in that 
it fails to^fouse the reader's "basic interest in the "chase." And so on. 
Once we note this, that the qualifies which have been found to be requisite 
in good writing are requisite becaus^ they are kinds of stimuli which 

The Writer's Job 95 

evoke kinds of responses, most of the mystery which resides in the "prin- 
ciples" of the art of writing disappear. The reason, in short, why every one 
qfjhe above excellent qualities is excellent is that : the ~ reader likerthem. 
There are, in other words, no canons of literary art which prescribe "them. 
They are prescribed, simply and solely, by the likes and dislikes of the 

One who wishes to write well, therefore, will make his most effective ap- 
proach to the art, not by asking "What does the art of writing require of 
me?" but rather, "What does my reader require of me?" 

A Writing Machine * 

Jonathan Swift - i667-i?45 

You probably think of Gulliver's Travels (1726) as a delightful 
book for children, and so it is, in shortened versions that leave out 
much of its real meat. Actually it is a profound and savage attack upon 
the vices and follies of Swift's time and of human nature at all times. 
On his third voyage, to Laputa, a floating island where philosophers, 
scientists, and other learned men are pretty much "up in the air," 
Gulliver visits a laboratory where some experimenters are carrying on 
various preposterous projects. By these Swift meant to ridicule con- 
temporary scientific pursuits which he thought were vain and useless, 
but he was getting at more fundamental follies. What common human 
shortcomings are illustrated in the following attempt to invent a ma- 
chine to take over the labors of composition? 

THE FIRST PROFESSOR I saw was in a very large Room, with forty Pupils 
about him. After Salutation, observing me to look earnestly upon a Frame, 
which took up the greatest part of both the Length and Breadth of the 
Room, he said perhaps I might wonder to see him employed in a Project 
for improving speculative Knowledge by practical and mechanical Opera- 
tions. But the World would soon be sensible of its Usefulness, and he 
flattered himself that a more noble exalted Thought never sprung in any 
other Man's Head. Every one knew how laborious the usual Method is of 
attaining to Arts and Sciences; whereas by his Contrivance, the most 
ignorant Person at a reasonable Charge, and with a little bodily Labour, 
may write both in Philosophy, Poetry, Politicks, Law, Mathematicks and 
Theology, without the least Assistance from Genius or Study. He then led 
me to the Frame, about the sides whereof all his Pupils stood in Ranks. It 
was twenty Foot Square, placed in the middle of the Room. The Superficies 

96 Writer 

was composed of several bits of Wood, about the bigness of a Dye, but 
some larger than others. They were all linked together by slender Wires. 
These bits of Wood were covered on every Square with Paper pasted on 
them, and on these Papers were written all the Words of their Language 
in their several Moods, Tenses, and Declensions, but without any Order. 
The Professor then desired me to observe, for he was going to set his 
Engine at Work. The Pupils at his Command took each of them hold of an 
Iron Handle, whereof there were fourty fixed round the Edges of the 
Frame, and giving them a sudden turn, the whole Disposition of the Words 
was entirely changed. He then commanded six and thirty of the Lads to 
read the several Lines softly as they appeared upon the Frame; and where 
they found three or four Words together that might make part of a Sen- 
tence, they dictated to the four remaining Boys who were Scribes. This 
Work was repeated three or four times, and at every turn the Engine was 
so contrived, that the Words shifted into new Places, or the square bits of 
Wood moved upside down. 

Six Hours a-day the young Students were employed in this Labour, and 
the Professor shewed me several Volumes in large Folio already collected, 
of broken Sentences, which he intended to piece together, and out of those 
rich Materials to give the world a compleat Body of all Arts and Sciences; 
which however might be still improved, and much expedited, if the Publick 
would raise a Fund for making and employing five hundred such Frames 
in Lagado, and oblige the Managers to contribute in common their several 

He assured me, that this Invention had employed all his Thoughts from 
his Youth, that he had employed the whole Vocabulary into his Frame, 
and made the strictest Computation of the general Proportion there is in 
the Book between the Numbers of Particles, Nouns, and Verbs, and other 
Parts of Speech. 

I made my humblest Acknowledgment to this illustrious Person for his 
great Communicativeness, and promised if ever I had the good Fortune to 
return to my Native Country, that I would do him justice, as the sole In- 
ventor of this wonderful Machine; the Form and Contrivance of which I 
desired leave to delineate upon Paper as in the Figure here annexed. I 
told him, although it were the Custom of our Learned in Europe to steal 
Inventions from each other, who had thereby at least this Advantage, that 
it became a Controversy which was the right Owner, yet I would take such 
Caution, that he should have the Honour entire without a Rival. 

Pleasant Agony ** 

JWason 'Brown IPOO 

Swift's writing machine, in the passage above, is one labor-saving 
gadget we can sadly predict will never be perfected. The job of express- 
ing what is in your mind is your own job; no machine can do it for 
you, and no nine easy lessons can make you a master at it. Even for 
professionals it is hard work. As Brown says here, the job is often an 
agony if you are taking it seriously; but it is a pleasant agony; nothing 
can give you more satisfaction than struggling with it successfully. 

AT A SEASON'S END, when the country is calling, it may be permissible to 
talk shop before shutting it up, however temporarily. For four and a half 
years now, mine has been the privilege, hence the pleasant agony, of filling 
these pages each week, or almost every week. I say pleasant agony be- 
cause I know of no other words with which to describe what writing is to 

I claim no singularity in this. There may be, there must be, writers to 
whom writing comes as effortlessly as breathing. There may even be 
(though I doubt it) writers whose happiness is complete while they are 
actually writing. But most of us who live by putting words together are 
not so fortunate. We are tortured while we write and would be tortured 
were we not allowed to do so. Although when we are done we feel "de- 
livered," as Sainte-Beuve put it, this delirium of delivery is not accom- 
plished without labor pains for which medicine has, as yet, provided no 
soothing drugs. If all attempts to coerce words into doing what we would 
have them do are at best painful pleasures, the pains and pleasures of 
summoning the right words to meet a weekly deadline are of a special 

A cook faced with getting dinner when lunch is over knows something of 
the routine, if not all the anguishes, of a columnist. No mortals, however, 
have appetites as insatiable as a column's. A column is an omnivorous 
beast. Its hunger is never appeased. Feed it, and almost at once it de- 
mands to be fed again. 

Though he used a different image to express this same idea, even Shaw, 
seemingly the most easeful of writers, knew this. When he abandoned the 
job of drama critic on London's Saturday Review, he protested against the 
weekly deadlines which had confronted him for nearly four years. He 
likened himself to a man fighting a windmill. "I have hardly time," wrote 

From The Saturday Review of Literature, June 25, 1949. By permission of the pub- 
lishers and the author. Copyright 1949 by Saturday Review Associates, Inc. 


98 Writer 

he, "to stagger to my feet from the knock-down blow of one sail, when 
the next strikes me down." 

His successor in the same job on that same fortunate magazine shared an 
identical dislike of deadlines. For twelve years, Max Beerbohm admitted 
in his valedictory article, Thursdays had been for him the least pleasant 
day of the week. Why Thursday? Because that was the day, the latest pos- 
sible one, he set aside each week to get his writing done. On every 
Wednesday, therefore, he would be engulfed by "a certain sense of op- 
pression, of misgiving, even of dread." It was only on Friday, when once 
the danger was passed, that the sun would shine again. Then he would 
move on dancing feet. 

I quote my betters to console myself by the reminder that they, too, 
knew the pangs of weekly columnizing. Yet the consolation I seek is 
denied me when I discover, for example, that it took Beerbohm one, and 
only one, short day of pain to turn out the delectable copy which he could 
write. Shaw, I am certain, was also a one-day man. I wish I were. I wish 
even more ardently that I could claim any of the merits which glorify their 
reviews for what it takes me two, three, or sometimes five days of ceaseless 
sweating to produce as fodder for these columns. 

Beerbohm ascribed his disrelish for the act of writing to "the acute 
literary conscience" with which he had been cursed. It was this con- 
science, he maintained, which kept his pen from ever running away with 
him. I know what he means. Unblessed with any of his gifts, I am none the 
less cursed with something of his conscience. Beerbohm insisted that "to 
seem to write with ease and delight is one of the duties which a writer 
owes to his readers." If he worked hard at his sentences, it was because 
Beerbohm hoped they would read easily. In other words, he was in com- 
plete agreement with Sheridan's "easy writing's vile hard reading." One 
statement of Beerbohm's I could truthfully apply to my own efforts for the 
SRL. It runs, "I may often have failed in my articles here, to disguise labor. 
But the effort to disguise it has always been loyally made." 

There is a passage in "The Goncourt Journals" which has haunted me 
since I read it. Envy has kept it green for me, and wonder (or is it dis- 
belief?) has kept it alive. I have in mind Gautier's boast that he never 
thought about what he was going to write. "I take up my pen," he ex- 
plained, "and write. I am a man of letters and am presumed to know my 
job. ... I throw my sentences into the air and I can be sure that they -will 
come down on their feet, like cats. . . . Look here: here's my script: not a 
word blotted." 

When I think of the one-legged kittens that land on my pages; when I 
remember the false starts, illegible scribblings, unfinished sentences, dis- 
carded drafts, changed constructions, and altered words which mark my 
beginnings, my continuings, and my endings, I blush with shame and, like 
the voyagers in Dante's realm, abandon all hope. 

In these journalistic days the first word that pops into an author's mind 

me writers jot) vv 

is held to be the acceptable, if not the best, word. We are supposed to 
smile because Wordsworth, at a day's end, was wearied from his quest for 
the exact word. But where Wordsworth the man may win a smile, Words- 
worth the writer, fatiguing himself by doing what is a writers duty, is far 
from laughable. The mot juste is not just any word. Even if it eludes its 
pursuer, the search for it seems to me to remain among the obligations of 
authorship. Indeed, the true hope of anyone who loves the language and 
respects it is to stumble upon, not the correct word or phrase, but the word 
or phrase which is so right that it seems inevitable. 

The word and the phrase are not the only hurdles and joys of 
authorship. The sentence and the paragraph, by means of which points 
are made, thoughts communicated, emotions transferred, pictures painted, 
personalities caught, rhythms established, and cadences varied, offer other 
challenges and should supply their own sources of delight and pride. When 
so much hurried writing is done for hurried reading, I find it comforting to 
have Shaw, a veritable geyser with words and ideas, admit in his "Sixteen 
Self Sketches" how depleting he found his labors as a weekly feuilletonist 
for ten years. Why? Because, says he, of "taking all the pains I was capa- 
ble of to get to the bottom of every sentence I wrote." 

One of the modern world's luckier occurrences was what happened at 
Harrow when a boy named Winston Churchill was being "menaced with 
Education." Three times, he tells us in "A Roving Commission," his back- 
wardness as a classical scholar forced him to remain in the same form and 
hence repeat the same elementary course in English. "Thus," writes he 
(and who can question him?), "I got into my bones the essential structure 
of the ordinary British sentence which is a noble thing. . . . Naturally I 
am biased in favor of boys learning English. I would make them all learn 
English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honor, and 
Greek as a treat. But the only thing I would whip them for would be for 
not knowing English. I would whip them hard for that." One trembles to 
think how many of us whose profession is writing would be flogged today 
if lapses in English, or American, were whippable offenses. 

Later on in that same grand book, Churchill has his more precise say on 
the subtleties, intricacies, and possibilities of the writer's craft. It is his 
opinion, and one worth heeding, that, "just as the sentence contains one idea 
in all its fulness, so the paragraph should embrace a distinct episode; and as 
sentences should follow one another in harmonious sequence, so the para- 
graphs must fit on to one another like the automatic couplings of railway 

I quote Churchill and these others belonging to the peerage of prose- 
writers because, for any author with a memory, one of the disheartening 
and humbling aspects of writing is the recollection, as his own pen moves, 
of how those whom he admires have faced and solved identical problems. 
This recollection of what has been done, this sensing of what could and 

100 Writer 

should be done, this awareness of what one hopes to do regardless of 
whether one can or cannot do it these are parts of that literary con- 
science, mentioned by Beerbohm, which keeps a writer's pen from run- 
ning away with him. I know they are factors in retarding my own pen 
(meaning my typewriter, pencil, or dictation) even on those happy days 
when a subject seems to write itself, when sentences come easily, and one 
paragraph gives way to another. 

Style is a strange and mysterious thing. Some contemporary writers ap- 
pear to get along without it and to want to do so, and most of us rightly 
disparage it when it shows the effort that has gone into it. Few of us, for 
example, can read Pater today without being irritated and put off by the 
deliberate intricacies and involutions of his sentences. His style, once held 
to be a model, remains a model, although as we see it it is one to be avoided 
rather than followed. Pater could not bring himself to say a simple thing 
simply. His orchestration is so elaborate that the melody of his thought is 

Hazlitt comes closer to present-day tastes. More than being the enemy 
of the gaudy and "Occult" schools of writing, Hazlitt was not only a 
champion but at his best a matchless practitioner of "The Familiar Style." 
Although he had the art to make a long sentence seem short, he knew the 
value of short sentences. "I hate anything," wrote he, "that occupies more 
space than it is worth. I hate to see a load of band-boxes go along the 
street, and I hate to see a parcel of big words without any meaning in 

The perpetual challenge of writing, the challenge presented by each new 
sentence is to say exactly what one wants to say exactly as one wants to 
say it. This is where the anguish of composition mixes with the delights. 
This is where, too, style, as I see it, comes into the picture. Style is merely 
the means, chosen or instinctive (doubtless both), by which a writer has 
his precise say. 

Certainly, style is not affectation. Conscious though it may be, when 
self-conscious it is an obstruction. Its purpose, to my way of thinking, is to 
give the reader pleasure by sparing him the work which the writer is duty- 
bound to have done for him. Writers, notwithstanding their hopes or am- 
bitions, may or may not be artists. But there is no excuse for their not 
being artisans. The style is the man, we are told. True in the final and 
spiritual sense as this is, style is more than that. It is the writing man in 
print. It is, so to speak, his written voice and, if it is truly his voice, even 
in print it should be his and his alone. The closer it comes to the illusion 
of speech, perhaps the better. Yet the closeness of the written word to the 
spoken can, and in fact should, never be more than an illusion. For the 
point of the written word is planning, as surely as the charm of the spoken 
one is its lack of it. 

Without shame I confess that, regardless of how unsatisfactory the re- 
sults may be, I labor when writing these weekly pieces to lighten the labor 

The Writer's Job 101 

of those who may read them. That I fail again and again I know to my own 
chagrin, but I can honestly say I try. I not only rewrite; I often rewrite and 
rewrite again. I do this though I am well aware that the result is sentences 
and paragraphs which do not bear rereading. I rewrite partly in longhand, 
partly by dictation, occasionally sitting down, sometimes walking, but most 
often snaking my way across the floor on my stomach. My desk, a migratory 
one, is the small piece of beavcrboard I push before me. On it are sheets of 
typewritten paper darkened with hieroglyphics which must be deciphered 
immediately to be read at all. 

Endeavoring to square my writing with my writing conscience, and hav- 
ing to live with the difference between what I would like to have done and 
am able to do, is one of the reasons why writing is to me an agony, how- 
ever pleasant. There are other contributors to the pleasures and the 
agonies of trying to keep these columns fed. Upon these I shall touch next 
time. Since there is no earthly reason why anyone should be interested, 
this can be taken as a threat, not a promise. I can delve into these personal 
problems of authorship only at a season's end. What is more, I find I want 
to do so. Surely this is as good a reason for writing as any, and a better one 
than so regular an offender as the conductor of a weekly column can al- 
ways claim. 

How to Write and Be Read 

Jacques Tlarzun 

Here and there a touch of good gram- 
mar for picturesqueness. 


Lite Swift and Brown, Barzun looks at writing as a job, one that 
is too often not done in a workman/ike way. in this essay lieTis speaking 
not to students but to teachers, from a teacher's point of view. You may 
find it enlightening to see your problem from this novel perspective, by 
eavesdropping on a teachers' discussion. 

WRITING comes before reading, in logic and also in the public mind. No 
one cares whether you read fast or slow, well or ill, but as soon as you put 
pen to paper; somebody may be puzzled, angry, bored, or ecstatic; and if 

From Teacher in America by Jacques Barzun by permission of Little, Brown & Company 
and the Atlantic Monthly Press. Copyright, 1944, and 1945, by Jacques Barzun. Pp. 



the occasion permits, your reader is almost sure to exclaim about the 
schools not doing their duty. This is the oldest literary tradition, of which 
here is a modern instance: 



Recently a letter came into my of- 
fice from a boy who described him- 
self as a first-year high school student. 

He wanted infirmation about Africia, 
because for his project in the social 
studies class he had chozen Africia. 
If we could not help him, were could 
he write? In closing, he was ours sin- 
ceerhj. His handwriting was compara- 
ble to that of my 6-year-old nephew. 

Too bad, but I am not alarmed. This student of "Africia" may or may 
not learn to spell: it is not nearly so important as his diction and his sen- 
tence structure, which the plaintiff withheld, though they would have bet- 
ter enabled us to judge what the schools were really doing. What I fear 
about this boy is that when grown-up and provided with a secretary who 
can spell, he will write something like this: 


As you know, security prices have been advancing rapidly in the recent past 

in belated recognition of the favorable fundamentals that exist. [Italics mine] 


What is decadent about this I shall shortly explain. Meantime, the fact 
should be faced squarely that good writing is and has always been ex- 
tremely rare. I do not mean fine writing, but the simple, clear kind that 
everyone always demands from others. Tjisjruth is that Simple English 
isno ones mother tongue. It has to be worked for. As an historian, 1 have 
plowed through state papers^memoirs, diaries^ and letters, and I know that 
the ability to write has only a remote connection with either intelligence, or 
greatness, or schooling. Lincoln had no schooling yet became one of the 
great prose writers of the world. Cromwell went to Cambridge and was 
hardly ever able to frame an intelligible sentence. Another man of thought 
and action, Admiral Lord Howe, generally refrained from writing out his 
plan of battle, so as to save his captains from inevitable misunderstanding. 
Yet Howe managed to win the famous First of June by tactics that revo- 
lutionized the art, and led directly to Nelson's Trafalgar plan itself a 
rather muddled piece of prose. Let us then start with no illusion of an 
imaginary golden age of writing. 

Which leaves the problem of doing the best with what nature gives us. 
And here I have some convictions born of long struggle, with myself and 
with others. First, I pass by all considerations of penmanship and elemen- 
tary spelling to remark only that I think it a mistake to start children writ- 
ing on typewriters, and worse yet to let them grow up unable to do any- 
thing but print capitals. 

Above the beginner's level, the important fact is that writing cannot be 

The Writers Job 103 

taught exclusively in a course called English Composition. Writing can 
only be taught by the united efforts of the entire teaching staff. This holds 
good of any school, college, or university. Joint effort is needed, not merely 
to "enforce the rules"; it is needed to insure accuracy in every subject. How 
can an answer in physics or a translation from the French or an historical 
statement be called correct if the phrasing is loose or the key word wrong? 
Students argue that the reader ot the paper knows perfectly well whaFls 
meant. Probably so, but a written exercise is designed to be read; it is not 
supposed to be a challenge to clairvoyance. My Italian-born tailor periodi- 
cally sends me a postcard which runs: "Your clothes is ready and should 
come down for a fitting." I understand him, but the art I honor him for is 
cutting cloth, not precision of utterance. Now a student in college must be 
inspired to achieve in all subjects the utmost accuracy of perception com- 
bined with the utmost artistry of expression. The two merge and develop 
the sense of good workmanship, of preference for quality and truth, which 
is the chief mark of the genuinely educated man. 

This is obviously a collective task, in which every department and every 
faculty has a common stake. But it is not enough to give notice that these 
are the faculty's sentiments. Even supposing that all teachers were willing 
and able to exert vigilance over written work, there would still be many 
practical problems of detail. And first^ what motive for writing well can 
the student be made to feel? jfliere is only one valid motive: the desire to 
be i^ad. Tou will say that most students have no urge either to write or to 
be read. True, but ( a ) they know that they have to write and ( b ) most of 
them want to be well thought of. They should accordingly be made to see 
that reading the ordinary student paper can be a nuisance and a bore to 
the teacher, and that the proper aim of writing should be to make it a 
pleasure. This is another way of saying that most school writing is bad 
because student and teacher play at writing and reading instead of taking 
it seriously. The teacher expects second-rate hokum and the student sup- 
plies it. Let the teacher assert his rights just as the students do: in many 
college classes the men protest quite rightly when they are asked to 
read a dull or ill-organized book. Similarly, the instructor may warn the 
students that when they turn in filler and padding, jargon and lingo, stuff 
and nonsense, he will mark them down, not only in his grade book, but in 
his violated soul. 

s vae su. ^ -- - ^ 

Naturally, this conscious brutality must go with a(helping handJ in fact j. 
reyisigrLof all jisnal practicesjs in order. The embargo on hokum will al- 
eady work a healthy elimination oFbad^)rose. Then the long Term Paper 
must be discarded and replaced with the short essay, not more than five 
typewritten pages in length. Students always ask how long a final paper 
should be and they are absolutely right in believing that most instructors 
are impressed by mere bulk. But when one knows how difficult it is to 
articulate even three measly thoughts around a single point, it is folly to 
ask eighteen-year-olds to produce thirty- or forty-page monographs that 

104 Writer 

shall be readable. What they produce is an uncarded mattress of quota- 
tions, paraphrase, "however's" and "Thus we see's." Size being aimed at, 
there is no time for rewriting or reordering the material culled from half a 
dozen books, and the main effort goes into the irrelevant virtues of neat 
typing, plentiful footnotes, and the mannerisms of scholarship. 

The short paper and I speak from a large pile accumulated over 
twelve years aims and arrives at different ends. It answers the reader's 
eternal question: Just what are you trying to tell me? It is in that spirit that 
student writing must be read, corrected, and if need be rewritten. When 
first presented, it must already be a second or third draft. The only reason 
I can think of for the somewhat higher average of good writing in France 
is that the brouillon is a national institution. The brouillon (literally: 
scrambled mess) is the first draft, and even the concierge writing to the 
police about anarchists on the third floor begins with a brouillon, later 
found by his heirs. 

Of course it is no use telling an American boy or girl that the essay must 
be written, laid aside, and rewritten at least once before handing in: the 
innocents do not know what to do after their first painful delivery. So the 
simplest thing is to ask early in the term for a good five-page essay, which 
turns out to be pretty bad. This is fully annotated by the reader and turned 
back before the next one is called for. But the corrections on it are not 
merely the conventional sp., ref., punc., and awk. which the writers have 
seen in their margins from the seventh grade on. The comments are in- 
tensely and painfully personal, being the responses that an alert reader 
would feel if he were encountering the essay in print. The result is that 
even the best students feel abashed, if not actually resentful. To^whicL-ene 
qgn only say that they should resent the neglect in which all their previous 
teachers have left them. " "^ ' " " 

^ This neglect has not damaged their grammar so much as their vocabu- 
lary. Since the last thing any writer learns is the uses of words, it is no 
wonder if untutored youths of ability write like the stockbroker whom I 
quoted about "favorable fundamentals that exist" spineless, vague, and 
incoherent prose. Indeed, the exact parallel comes this moment under my 
hand, taken from a very able student's report on Newman's University 
Sketches: "A University that rests on a firm financial foundation has the 
greater ability to unleash the minds of its students." Despite the difference 
m names, the stockbroker is that boy's putative father. Their failure comes 
from a like inattention to meaning their own and that of the words they 
fise! ~""~ * 

'pjisjnfiasstiiat words and tone are the main things to be taught. Spell- 
ing, grammar, and punctuation do not precede bill fulluvv liftKeTorder of 
importance. They follow also quite naturally in the order of facility. Ac- 
cordingly, the teacher-critic must slowly and carefully explain to the student 
what each word conveys in its particular context. I find that in the essay 
just cited I have written such comments as: "I can't follow This repeats 

The Writers Job 105 

in disguise 'avocational fruit' suggests alligator pears: why? We now 
have about eight 'problems' on hand: Beginl What! more issues and 
problems? Commercial lingo Who is 'we? Why 'cradle': the meta- 
phor is lost Who says this? 'Patina' is not 'clothing' Don t scold and 
then trail off in this way This is your point at last." In addition, images 
are changed, synonyms proposed, and bad sentences recast, sometimes in 
alternative ways, in order to show precisely how the original misleads and 
how clarity is to be reached. 

Tone grows naturally out of diction, but the choice of words betrays 
feelings of which the young writer is usually unaware. "Are you pleading, 
denouncing, coaxing, or laughing? Do you back up this exaggeration? Why 
suddenly talk down, or turn pedant? If you want to change the mood in- 
side the piece, you must modulate, otherwise your reader will stumble and 
you will lose him." The student who learns to quiz himself in this fashion 
over his first draft is learning not only something about English, about 
writing, and ahnnt thinking but about the human heart as well. 

At the risk of tediousnesS I repeat that what has to be done is to drama- 
tize the relation between writer and reader. The blunt comments are just 
a device to break the spell of routine, and though they administer an un- 
pleasant shock at first, they are also flattering. "Somebody cares about what 
I want to say." The teacher is no longer a paid detective hunting stray 
commas. - r "" (^^Jbi^l^- *- s*4^~t~ '^^ ' 

To point these lessons up in minute detail to a student of average powers 
is of course time-consuming but what else is the teacher there for? Time 
spent on reading and writing, in any subject, is never a waste, and the 
reward almost always comes, often astonishingly great. The excitement 
aroused by the discovery that words live is like finding that you can 
balance on skates. A new world of motion and of feeling is opened out to 
the student, a source of some anguish balanced by lifelong delight. George 
Gissing writes somewhere that he saw an excursion steamer advertised as 
being "Replete with Ladies' Lavatories" and he comments on how many 
people could pass by the sign without a smile. My own favorite recollec- 
tion is of a guarantee pasted on a modest shop window: "Hats fitted to the 
head exclusively" fun in every ad and at the company's expense. 

The pleasure to be taken in words is as innocent and satisfying as the 
moral effect is clear: unless words are used deftly to set the imagination on 
its travels, language, literature, conversation, and friendship are full of 
snares. Much of our modern anxiety about the tyranny of words and of our 
desire for foolproof Basic comes from the uneasy suspicion that we have 
lost the art of diction and with it the control over our own minds. This is 
more serious than it seems, for there is no doubt that the world outside the 
school largely checks what present instruction attempts, as we shall see. 
But having spoken of the imagination, let me first meet a likely objection 
to the advice here proposed. I can fancy some reader for whom school 
compositions were torture shaking a skeptical head and saying: "Most 

106 Writer 

young children have very little to say and school assignments blot out even 
that little." I agree and the second great practical problem is, What to ask 

girls to write about? 
The clones are easy, Don't ask them for "A vacation experience" or "My 

most embarrassing moment," or "I am the Mississippi River." Such topics 
will only elicit the driest kind of hokum, though to be fair I must say that 
they are an improvement on the older practice of expecting infant moraliz- 
ing and "What the flag means to me." Although as a child I enjoyed writ- 
ing history chiefly I can remember the blankness of mind that over- 
took me when we had to do a dissertation morale. I still have a school text 
with some of those themes checked as having been done for example: 
"The Faithful Dog. A poor man has resolved to drown his dog. Thrown 
into the river, the dog tries to scramble up the bank, but his master lunges 
out to kill him with a stick. In so doing, he slips and falls. The dog saves 
him. Remorse of the owner." 

I regret to say that French school life is stuffed with such thorns as these, 
but I am not sure that the opposite "progressive" extreme of turning chil- 
dren into researchers on their own is desirable either. The eleven-year-old 
son of a friend of mine once told me that he was writing a "project" on 
Papyrus. Why papyrus? Well, the class had been "doing" Egypt and each 
child was assigned one aspect of Egyptian civilization. Where was the in- 
formation to come from? From encyclopedias, museums, friends, and 
paper manufacturers hence such letters to strangers as the one about 
"Africia" quoted earlier. As I see it, two things are wrong with this scheme. 
One is that it gives a false freedom; the other is that it hardly trains in the 
art of composing. Did this boy care at all about Egypt, let alone about the 
technicalities of papyrology? A child should select a topic that truly en- 
gages his interest. To eliminate pretense he must be helped to do this by 
means of questions and suggestions. At any age, it is very reassuring to be 
told that you don't really want to write about the Tariff. After two or 
three casts a real subject emerges, satisfactory to both parties. 

Next should come into play the single good feature of the French dis- 
sertation, namely its furnishing a plan or program. Depending on the 
child's age a briefer or longer table of contents should be set out for each 
theme, either in logically organized form, or pell-mell for the student him- 
self to disentangle. After all, what is wanted is prose, not a riot of fancy. 
In my experience, even examination questions are answered better when 
they consist of five or six sentences outlining a topic for discussion. This 
means further that brevity should never be accounted a fault in itself. 
After thirty, we can all spin tall tales, mostly secondhand, 1 but students, 
even of college age, have had very little conscious experience of life or 
books and it is no wonder their minds are bone dry. One should moreover 

1 No course, therefore, should ever be called Creative Writing. Let us have at least 
a collective modesty and leave to charlatans the advertising of "How to Write Powerful 
Plays." [Author.] 

The Writers Job 107 

keep in view the possibility that in some of them brevity may come from 
genius. American schoolmarms who relate the anecdote of Lincoln's "fail- 
ure" with the Gettysburg Address are just as likely to say at one glance, 
"Jane, this is too short." How do they know? Perhaps they unwittingly 
agree with the Gettysburg crowd that Everett's speech, being longer, was 

Some secondary schools, particularly the private ones, require the writ- 
ing of verse as well as of prose. If the students are really shown how to go 
about versifying and are not expected to be "poetic," there is no harm in 
it. Verse writing is excellent practice for the prose writer and the striving 
for correct rhythm and rhyme gives the student of literature a feeling for 
words that may not otherwise be obtained. What can be done in this way 
before college by a gifted teacher has been shown by the experience of 
my friend, the poet Dudley Fitts, formerly at Choate and now at Andover. 
In collegiate circles, it is now well known that a freshman prepared under 
him is a literate, sometimes a polished writer, who can be safely allowed to 
skip into advanced work. No doubt Fitts has had his failures like all of us, 
but it is the successes we are looking for and that count in leavening the 

1 am not so foolish as to think that carrying out my few suggestions 
would get rid of illiterate A.B.'s. I am too conscious of my initial point 
about "Education," which is that the school does not work in a vacuum 
but rather in a vortex of destructive forces. As regards writing, we in the 
twentieth century must offset not only the constant influence of careless 
speech and the indifference of parents, but the tremendous output of 
jargon issuing from the new mechanical means at man's disposal. Worst of 
all, circumstances have conspired to put the most corrupting force at the 
very heart of the school system. It is not newspapers, radio scripts, and 
movies that spoil our tongue so much as textbooks, official documents, 
commencement speeches, and learned works. 2 

The rise, at the turn of the century, of what James called "the softer 
pedagogy" is responsible for a debasement of language beyond all bounds 
of forgiveness. The desire to be kind, to sound new, to foster useful at- 
titudes, to appear "scientific," and chiefly also the need to produce rapidly, 
account for this hitherto unheard-of deliquescence. In the victims, the 
softness goes to the very roots of the mind and turns it into mush. And 
among the "new" educators thus afflicted, the Progressive vanguard has 
naturally outstripped the rest. I shall not multiply examples from cata- 

2 See Mr. Maury Maverick's excellent denunciation of what he calls Gobbledygook 
in the New Yorfc Times for May 21, 1944. The rebuttals attempting to show that 
roundabout expressions spare shocks to the sick are hardly to the point. The healthy 
ought to be able to stand directness and even mention of "death and taxes." "Loss of 
life" and "fiscal levies" cost just as much in the end. [Author.] 

108 Writer 

logues, reports, and speeches, though over the years I have gathered a 
blush-making collection. I want only to identify the evil because it spreads 
like the plague. 

It consists mainly of what our forefathers called "cant phrases/' strung 
together without continuity, like wash on a line. At a faculty meeting, a 
teacher asks the Director of Admissions why there seem to be more music 
students applying than before. The Director replies, "Well, I should say 
that the forces undergirding the process are societal." Or a committee 
chairman wants to know what we do next. "I think," says the secretary, 
"that we should go on to institute actual implementation." 

Teachers steeped in this medium are bound to ooze it out themselves, 
particularly if weekly and daily they receive official instructions like these: 
"Specify the kinds of change or permanence the student seems to crave, 
reject, or fear; the reasons given for liking-disliking, giving up-persistence; 
complaining-boasting. ... It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the 
observations of characteristics associated with age and background are not 
being made in the general area of adolescent behavior but under specific 
and limited conditions those set by the aims, emphases, and assump- 
tions of one particular faculty. 3 Moreover, the observations of what appear 
to be the interests of freshmen conceal a possible ambiguity. The term 
'interests' may refer to fairly superficial interests in the sense of surprise, 
pleasure, enjoyment, which are comparatively temporary; or 'interests' may 
involve an awakening curiosity which leads to consistent inquiry along the 
lines of some project." The reader must imagine not merely a paragraph 
taken at random, but pages and pages of similar woolly abstractions, 
mimeographed at the rate of nine and one-half pounds per person per 
semester. If the words "specific" and "objective" were blotted out of the 
English language, Progressive Education would have to shutup _._. . shop. 

As for students in teachers' colleges, the long climb up tlie ladder^of 
learning comes to mean the mastering of this ghoulish Desperanto, so that 
with the attainment of the M.A. degree, we get the following utterance: 

In the proposed study I wish to describe and evaluate representative pro- 
grams in these fields as a means of documenting what seems to me a trend of 
increasing concern with the role of higher education in the improvement of 
interpersonal and intergroup relations and of calling attention in this way to 
outstanding contributions in practice. 

Some readers might think this quotation very learned and highbrow in- 
deed. But in fact it says nothing definite. It only embodies the disinclina- 
tion to think. This is a general truth, and nothing is more symptomatic of 
the whole jargon than the fantastic use and abuse it makes of the phrase 
"in terms of." The fact is worth a moment's attention. "In terms of" used to 
refer to things that had terms, like algebra. "Put the problem in terms of 

3 I regret to say that "faculty" here means "faculty member" a usage so far con- 
fined to the progressive schools. [Author.] 

The Writers Job 109 

a and b. n This makes sense. But in educational circles today "in terms of 
means any connection between any two things. "We should grade students 
in terms of their effort" that is, for or according to their effort. The New 
Yorfc Public Library Bulletin prints: "The first few months of employment 
would be easier . . . and more efficient in terms of service ..." that is, 
would yield more efficient service. But no one seems to care how or when 
or why his own two ideas are related. The gap in thought is plugged with 
"in terms of." I have been asked, "Will you have dinner with me, not 
tonight or tomorrow, but in terms of next week?" A modern Caesar would 
write: "All Gaul is to be considered in terms of three parts." * 

From this Educator's patois, easily the worst English now spoken, we 
ought to pass to the idiom of textbooks, since they are written either by 
educators or by teachers. Happily, there is a standard set by other books 
trade books and it is not true that all textbooks are as badly written as 
those on education. On the contrary, it is very encouraging that the leading 
ones in every field are usually well planned and well written. The success 
of Morison and Commager's Growth of the American Republic is only the 
most recent case in point. Students, nevertheless, are asked to read many 
ill-written books. There is no excuse for this, though it is by no means the 
only source of error. We must remember that students do not read only 
books; they read what every man reads, and this would do no harm it 
does no harm when the mind is trained to resilience by the kind of 
writing practice I have advocated. 

Unfortunately, with the vast increase in public schooling since 1870, an 
entirely new notion of what is good English has come to prevail. Awakened 
by free schooling, the people have shown worthy intentions. They want to 
be right and even elegant, and so become at once suspicious of plainness 
and pedantic. They purchase all sorts of handbooks that make a fetish of 
spelling, of avoiding split infinitives, of saying "it is I" (with the common 
result of "between you and I") in short, dwell on trivialities or vulgar- 
isms which do not affect style or thought in the slightest. But with this in- 
tolerance towards crude and plain error goes a remarkable insensitivity to 
inflated nonsense. Most bad journalism is only highbrow verbosity, yet the 
popular mind continues to believe that the pedantry which it likes is simple 
and the simplicity which it finds hard is complex. Here is the opening of a 
serial thriller in a Boston paper: 

Strange things happen in Chinatown. But even that exotic and perverse 
district seldom presented drama as fantastic as the secret that hid among the 
silk and jade and porcelain splendors of the famous House of the Mandarin on 
Mulberry Lane. 

There is a certain art in this, and I take note of "porcelain splendors" as 
the mot juste for bathtubs on exhibit. But the passage as a whole contains 

* The objectionable phrase is now to be found in newspapers, business reports, and 
private correspondence. It is a menace in terms of the whole nation. [Author.] 

110 Writer 

nothing but arty and highfalutin words, joined by the good will of the 
reader rather than the mind of the writer. Still, every newspaper reader 
feels he understands it. Take now a well-known sentence composed of 
common words, all but two of them single syllables: "If there are more 
trees in the world than there are leaves on any one tree, then there must 
be at least two trees with the same number of leaves." Read this aloud 
and almost any listener will respond with "Huh? Say that again/' For this 
sentence records a thought, and the Chinatown "drama" did not. 

The close logic in the truly "simple" sentence makes the contrast sharper, 
but it would be just as sharp between a feeling clearly put and a feeble 
attempt to thrill. Thus there is a superstition that the novels of Henry 
James are written in a "difficult style." Yet if you examine them, you will 
find that the words and sentences in The Ambassadors, for example 
are in themselves quite usual. But the feelings they convey are unusual and 
subtle, and require attention. At the same time they also compel it, which 
is all that an artist takes pains for in writing. 

Conversely, the only thing that can be asked of a writer is that he should 
know his own meaning and present it as forcibly as he can. The rule has 
not changed since Byron affirmed that "easy writing makes damned hard 
reading." Hence there is great value, as I think, in having college gradu- 
ates recognize good prose when they see it, know that a tolerable para- 
graph must have gone through six or seven versions, and be ready to follow 
athletically on the trail of articulate thoughts, rather than look for the soapy 
incline to muddled meaning. 

One does not have to go very far for the enjoyment of precise, sinewy 
writing. The same newspaper that furnishes tripe for the morning meal 
also brings such rarer tidbits as these: "They [the robot bombs] are of much 
the same shape and size as a small fighter plane, with stubby wings. They 
come over with tails aglow from the propelling rocket force, like little 
meteors moving at a nightmare pace by dark, and by day like little black 
planes with tails afire." This is perfection; and here is poetry: "Mr. Mc- 
Caffrey, himself the father of two children, and therefore schooled in ap- 
prehension, ran across the street . . . shouting a warning." 

When the daily reporter, harried by falling bombs or hustled by a city 
editor, can write like this, it is depressing to return to agencies closer to the 
school and find verbal laziness encouraged and imbecility taken for 
granted. One publisher of reference works sends out a circular stressing 
the fact that his books give the pronunciation of "all difficult 'hard-to-say' 
words." Is this where we are after fifty years of quasi-universal literacy? 
Is the word "difficult" so difficult that it has to be translated in its own 
sentence? The question is one for readers, and it is to the subject of read- 
ing that I now turn. 

The Writers Job 111 

Poets, too, have written of their problems. But writing is writing, 
whether it be labeled "freshman theme/' "journalism," "business Eng- 
lish," "technical report/' or "literary art." The difficulties these poets 
talk of are relevant to your own writing problems. To Melville, the 
hard thing is to bring all the conflicting qualities of his emotional and 
intellectual nature into harmonious response to life, to express the full- 
est human significance of his subject. To Yeats, the struggle is with the 
materials, words: every fine thing since Adam's fall needs much laboring; 
poetry, woman's beauty, love, must seem spontaneous, but each re- 
quires labor and the practical world these days cares little for any of 
these as an art. Sidney, struggling to find arguments and present them 
artfully to his beloved, discovered that the most moving words would 
be the most direct expression of his feelings. 


Herman JWelville iSi9~i89i 

IN PLACID HOURS well-pleased we dream 
Of many a brave unbodied scheme. 
But form to lend, pulsed life create, 
What unlike things must meet and mate: 
A flame to melt a wind to freeze; 
Sad patience joyous energies; 
Humility yet pride and scorn; 
Instinct and study; love and hate; 
Audacity reverence. These must mate 
And fuse with Jacob's mystic heart, 
To wrestle with the angel Art. 

Adam's Curse 

"William 'Butler yeats iS65~i939 

WE SAT together at one summer's end, 
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend, 
And you and I, and talked of poetry. 
I said, 'A line will take us hours maybe; 
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought, 
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught. 

William Butler Yeats, Collected Poems (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1950). 
Copyright, 1940, by Bertha Georgie Yeats. Reprinted by permission of Mrs. William 
Butler Yeats and of The Macmillan Company ot Canada, Ltd. 

112 Writer 

Better go down upon your marrow-bones 

And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones 

Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather; 

For to articulate sweet sounds together 

Is to work harder than all these, and yet 

Be thought an idler by the noisy set 

Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen 

The martyrs call the world/ 

And thereupon 

That beautiful mild woman for whose sake 
There's many a one shall find out all heartache 
On finding that her voice is sweet and low 
Replied, To be born woman is to know 
Although they do not talk of it at school 
That we must labour to be beautiful/ 

I said, It's certain there is no fine thing 

Since Adam's fall but needs much labouring. 

There have been lovers who thought love should be 

So much compounded of high courtesy 

That they would sigh and quote with learned looks 

Precedents out of beautiful old books; 

Yet now it seems an idle trade enough/ 

We sat grown quiet at the name of love; 
We saw the last embers of daylight die, 
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky 
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell 
Washed by time's waters as they rose and fell 
About the stars and broke in days and years. 

I had a thought for no one's but your ears: 

That you were beautiful, and that I strove 

To love you in the old high way of love; 

That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown 

As weary-hearted as that hollow moon. 

Look in Thy Heart and Write 

Sir Philip Sidney i554-*586 

LOVING IN TRUTH, and fain in verse my love to show, 

That she, dear she, might take some pleasure of my pain, 

Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know, 

Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain, 

I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe; 

Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain, 

Oft turning others' leaves to see if thence would flow 

Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sun-burned brain. 

But words came halting forth, wanting Invention's stay; 

Invention, Nature's child, fled step-dame Study's blows, 

And others' feet still seemed but strangers in my way. 

Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes, 

Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite, 

Tool," said my Muse to me, 'look in thy heart and write.* 


Writer's Aims 

"Is that really what you meant 
to say, Miss Tomkins?" 

Two Letters on Writing 

Sherwood Anderson 1876- i94i 

An American writer who did as much as any other to free later 
writers to deal honestly and directly with their own experience was 
Sherwood Anderson, whose brooding fictional account of small-town 
life in Winesburg Ohio (1919) brought Americans of his generation 
face to face with themselves. Here are two letters of advice and en- 
couragement he wrote to a young writer. 

TROUTDALE, VIRGINIA, August 27, 1938 

It sometimes seems to me that I should prepare a book designed to be 
read by other and younger writers. This not because of accomplishment on 
my own part, but because of the experiences, the particular experiences, I 
have had. 

It is so difficult for most of us to realize how fully and completely com- 
mercialism enters into the arts. For example, how are you to knowTEat 
really^tte opinion of the publisher or the magazine editor in regard to your 

From The Letters of Sherwood Anderson. Selected and edited by Howard Mumford 
Jones, in association with Walter B. Hideout (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 
1953). Reprinted by permission of the publishers and of Mrs. Eleanor Anderson. 


The Writers Aims 115 

work, what is a story and what isn't, means nothing? Some of my own 
stories, for example, that have now become almost American classics, that 
are put before students in our schools and colleges as examples of good 
storytelling, were, when first written, when submitted to editors, and when 
seen by some of the so-called outstanding American critics, declared not 
stories at all. 

It is true they were not nice little packages, wrapped and labeled in the 
O. Henry manner. They were obviously written by one who did not know 
ffie~answersr~Tfaey were simple little tales of happenings, things observed 
and felt. There were no cowboys or daring wild game hunters. None of the 
people in the tales got lost in burning deserts or went seeking the North 
Pole. In my stories I simply stayed at home, among my own people, 
wherever I happened to be, people in my own street. I think I must, very 
early, have realized that this was my milieu that^Jq^say^ common 
everyday American lives. The ordinary beliefs of^the people about me, 
that" love JasfecT indefinitely, that success meant happiness, simply did not 
seem true to me. 

Things were always happening. My eyes began to see, my ears to hear. 
Most of our American storytelling at that time had concerned only the rich 
and the well-to-do. I was a storyteller but not yet a writer of stories. As I 
came of a poor family, older men were always repeating to me the old 

"Get money. Money makes the mare go." 

For a time I was a laborer. As I had a passion for fast trotting and pac- 
ing horses, I worked about race tracks. I became a soldier, I got into 

I knew, often quite intensively, Negro swipes about race tracks, small 
gamblers, prize fighters, common laboring men and women. There was a 
violent, dangerous man, said to be a killer. One night he walked and talked 
to me and became suddenly tender. I was forced to realize that all sorts of 
emotions went on in all sorts of people. A young man who seemed out- 
wardly a very clod suddenly began to run wildly in the moonlight. Once 
I was walking in a wood and heard the sound of a man weeping. I stopped, 
looked, and listened. There was a farmer who, because of ill luck, bad 
weather, and perhaps even poor management, had lost his farm. He had 
gone to work in a factory in town, but, having a day off, had returned 
secretly to the fields he loved. He was on his knees by a low fence, looking 
across the fields in which he had worked from boyhood. He and I were 
employed at the time in the same factory, and in the factory he was a quiet, 
smiling man, seemingly satisfied with his lot. 

I^bgganjto^ather these impressions. There was a thing called happiness. 
to^^d-JKhich-HMe^we^ They never got to it. All of life was 

amazingly accidental. Love, moments of tenderness and despair, came to 
the poor and the miserable as to the rich and successful. 

It began to seem to me that what was most wanted by all people was 

116 Writer 

love, understanding. Our writers, our storytellers, in wrapping life up into 
neat little packages were only betraying life. It began to seem to me that 
what I wanted for myself most of all, rather than so-called success, acclaim, 
to be praised by publishers and editors, was to try to develop, to the top of 
my bent, my own capacity to feel, see, taste, smell, hear. I wanted, as all 
men must want, to be a free man, proud of my own manhood, always more 
and more aware of earth, people, streets, houses, towns, cities. I wanted 
to take all into myself, digest what I could. 

I could not give the answers, and so for a long time when my stories 
began to appear, at first only in little highbrow magazines, I was almost 
universally condemned by the critics. My stories, it seemed, had no 
definite ends. They were not conclusive and did not give the answers, and 
so I was called vague. "Groping" was a favorite term. It seems I could not 
get a formula and stick to it. I could not be smart about life. When I wrote 
my Winesburg stories for the whole series I got eighty-five dollars 
such critics as Mr. Floyd Dell and Henry Mencken, having read them, 
declared they were not stories. They were merely, it seemed, sketches. 
They were too vague, too groping. Some ten or fifteen years after Mr. 
Mencken told me they were not stories, he wrote, telling of how, when he 
first saw them, he realized their strength and beauty. An imagined con- 
versation between us, that never took place, was spoken about. 

And for this I did not blame Mr. Mencken. He thought he had said 
what he now thinks he said. 

There was a time when Mr. Dell was, in a way, my literary father. He 
and Mr. Waldo Frank had been the first critics to praise some of my earlier 
work. He was generous and warm. He, with Mr. Theodore Dreiser, was 
instrumental in getting my first book published. When he saw the Wines- 
burg stories, he, however, condemned them heartily. He was at that time, 
I believe, deeply under the influence of Maupassant. He advised me to 
throw the Winesburg stories away. They had no form. They were not 
stories. A story, he said, must be sharply definite. There must be a begin- 
ning and an end. I remember very clearly our conversation. "If you plan 
to go somewhere on a train and start for the station, but loiter along the 
way, so that the train comes into the station, stops to discharge and take 
on passengers, and then goes on its way, and you miss it, don't blame the 
locomotive engineer/' I said. I daresay it was an arrogant saying, but 
arrogance is also needed. 

And so I had written, let us say, the Winesburg stories. The publisher 
who had already published two of my early novels refused them, but at 
last I found a publisher. The stories were called unclean, dirty, filthy, but 
they did grow into the American consciousness, and presently the same 
critic who had condemned them began asking why I did not write more 
Winesburg stories. 

I am telling you all of this, I assure you, not out of bitterness. I have 
had a good Me, a full, rich life. I am still having a full, rich life. I tell it 
only to point out to you, a young writer, filled as I am made aware by 

The Writers Aims 117 

your letter to me^f tenderness for life, I tell it simply to suggest to you 
plainly 'what you are up against. For ten or fifteen years after I had written 
and published the Winesburg stories, I was compelled to make my living 
outside of the field of writing. You will find none of my stories even yet in 
the great popular magazines that pay high prices to writers. 

The Winesburg stories, when first published, were bitterly condemned. 
They were thrown out of libraries. In one New England town, where three 
copies of the book had been bought, they were publicly burned in the 
public square of the town. I remember a letter I once received from a 
woman. She had been seated beside me at the table of a friend. "Having 
sat beside you and having read your stories, I feel that I shall never be 
clean again," she wrote. I got many such letters. 

Then a change came. The book found its way into schools and colleges. 
Critics who had ignored or condemned the book now praised it. 

"It's Anderson's best work. It is the height of his genius. He will never 
again do such work." 

People constantly came to me, all saying the same thing. 

"But what else of mine have you read since?" 

A blank look upon faces. 

They had read nothing else of mine. For the most part they were simply 
repeating, over and over, an old phrase picked up. 

Now, I do not think all of this matters. I am one of the fortunate ones. 
In years when I have been unable to make a living with my pen, there 
have always been friends ready and willing to help me. There was one man 
who came to me in a year when I felt, when I knew, that I had done some 
of my best and truest work, but when, no money coming in, I was trying to 
sell my house to get money to live. 

He wanted, he said, one of my manuscripts. "I will lend you five thou- 
sand dollars." He did lend it, knowing I could never return his money, but 
he did not deceive me. He had an affection for me as I had for him. He 
wanted me to continue to live in freedom. I have found this sort of thing 
among the rich as well as the poor. My house where I live is filled with 
beautiful things, all given to me. I live well enough. I have no quarrel 
with life. And I am only writing all of this to you to prepare you. In a 
world controlled by business, why should we not expect businessmen to 
think first of business? """" * 

And do bear in mind that publishers of books, of magazines, of news- 
papers are, first of all, businessmen. They are compelled to be. 

And do not blame them when they do not buy your stories. Do not be 
romantic. There is no golden key that unlocks all doors. There is only the 
joy of living as richly as you can, always feeling more, absorbing more, and, 
if you are by nature a teller of tales, the realization that by faking, trying to 
give people what they think they want, you are in danger of dulling and in 
the end quite destroying what may be your own road into life. 

There will remain for you, to be sure, the matter of making a living, and 
I am sorry to say to you that in the solution of that problem, for you and 

118 Writer 

other young writers, I am not interested. That, alas, is your own problem. 
I am interested only in what you may be able to contribute to the advance- 
ment of our mutual craft. 

But why not call it an art? That is what it is. 

Did you ever hear of an artist who had an easy road to travel in 

TROUTDALE, VIRGINIA, August 27, 1938 

Writing can be, like the practice of any other art, a way of life. It is 
what we all want, to find a way to live. There is this town, the people of 
the town or of a city street, trees along a street, familiar fields, old houses 
with children playing in the yard, a fat prosperous-looking man coming out 
of a big house set far back from the street. What is he like? 

He is rich. He employs a chauffeur to drive his car. He cannot help 
wondering what his chauffeur thinks of him. Many of our rich people are 
a little frightened when they think of their wealth. 

We live in a world in which most of the channels of public expression 
are ruled by the advertisers, and it is difficult to write of human life, giving 
yourself to the life immediately about you, without getting upon forbidden 

It can be done. Trick writing can be learned. It is a trade, not an art. It 
may be all right. Formerly I used to grow indignant because so many 
writers seemed to be selling out. Now I think it doesn't matter. I think 
every man writes as well as he can. Ordinary people need to be amused, 
taken away from thought. Life itself is too terribly real for them. We hear of 
great statesmen, scientists, etc., who spend their leisure hours reading de- 
tective stories. Why not? The statesman might begin thinking of how he 
got to where he is. The scientist had made some great discovery, but he is 
using his knowledge for his own private ends. He is no better or worse than 
the rest of us. But above all things he doesn't want to think. 

We live, you see, in a thin age. We can't take it. There may have been 
times, periods in die history of man, when man did face the moral obliga- 
tion of living. In our age we can't do it. Don't blame us too much. 

I have become a veteran among American writers. Where have the years 
gone? How little I have done. 

Young writers, new men among writers, are always writing letters to me. 
They come to see me. "How can I write as I please and still make a 
living?" It is a question for which I have no answer. To tell the truth, 
I am not interested in how you make a living. 

I am interested only in what you give me, in how much you extend my 
own knowledge of life. You came from a different environment. You were 
born in a rich or a well-to-do family, while I came from a poor one. 

What was the tone of life in your house? How did you feel? What made 
you what you are? 

The Writers Aims 119 

There are a thousand questions I want to ask you. Tell me in your work. 
Tell me. Tell me. The tales you tell, the way you tell them, the tone, color, 
form, all of these should reveal yourself to me. Give me a little of yourself. 
Extend a little my own knowledge, my own capacity for feeling, for un- 
derstanding. I am a lustful man. I want everything. I knew a painter once 
who said to me, "I want to make love to a thousand, a hundred thousand 
women." I understand him. He didn't really want to bed the women. He 
wanted to go into them, penetrate into the mystery of women. It was be- 
cause of something he wanted in his art. 

It seems to me that we shall have more and more writing. People, it 
seems to me, are becoming more conscious of thinness. Now[a]days I my- 
self no longer hope or want to be a popular writer. I write for myself and 
for other writers. It doesn't matter to me now that I am often misunder- 
stood. I have come to realize that I have dreadful limitations. Once I 
thought, I will write so well, so clearly, will tell my tales so clearly, with 
such verve and gusto that everyone must accept me, but now I do not care 
for such acceptance. If you are mine, I cannot lose you. If I am yours, 
I will remain yours. 

It is a way of making love. It is a way of losing self. It must be that the 
painter, as he paints, becomes always more and more conscious of nature, 
its moods, of the strange beauty coming unexpectedly out of what seems 
to others commonplace scenes. Why should I care whether you, the young 
writer, have had your breakfast, whether or not you have money to pay 
your rent or buy a car? I care only that you may broaden my own vision, 
increase my own capacity to feel, add a little to my understanding of others. 

Why I Wrote about Bullfights 

rmst Hemingway 1898 

These are the opening paragraphs of Hemingway's magnificent ex- 
position of bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon (1932). Here the 
artistic purpose he has faithfully followed through his distinguished 
career in fiction is directly and simply stated. 

Ax THE FIRST BULLFIGHT I ever went to I expected to be horrified and per- 
haps sickened by what I had been told would happen to the horses. Every- 
thing I had read about the bull ring insisted on that point; most people who 
wrote of it condemned bullfighting outright as a stupid brutal business, 

Reprinted from Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway. Copyright, 1932, by 
Charles Scribner's Sons. Used by permission of the publishers. 

120 Writer 

but even those that spoke well of it as an exhibition of skill and as a 
spectacle deplored the use of the horses and were apologetic about the 
whole thing. The killing of the horses in the ring was considered indefen- 
sible. I suppose, from a modern moral point of view, that is, a Christian 
point of view, the whole bullfight is indefensible; there is certainly much 
cruelty, there is always danger, either sought or unlooked for, and there is 
always death, and I should not try to defend it now, only to tell honestly 
the things I have found true about it. To do this I must be altogether frank, 
or try to be, and if those who read this decide with disgust that it is written 
by some one who lacks their, the readers', fineness of feeling I can only 
plead that this may be true. But whoever reads this can only truly make 
such a judgment when he, or she, has seen the things that are spoken of 
and knows truly what their reactions to them would be. 

Once I remember Gertrude Stein talking of bullfights spoke of her ad- 
miration for Joselito and showed me some pictures of him in the ring and 
of herself and Alice Toklas sitting in the first row of the wooden barreras at 
the bull ring at Valencia with Joselito and his brother Gallo below, and 
I had just come from the Near East, where the Greeks broke the legs of 
their baggage and transport animals and drove and shoved them off the 
quay into the shallow water when they abandoned the city of Smyrna, 
and I remember saying that I did not like the bullfights because of the 
poor horses. I was trying to write then and I found the greatest difficulty, 
aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were 
supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel, was to put down what 
in action; _what the .actual things were which produced 
^ emotionrthat youTexpenenced. In writing for a newspaper you told 
what happened and, with "one trick and another, you communicated the 
emotion aided by the element of timeliness which gives a certain emotion 
to any account of something that has happened on that day; but the real 
thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which 
would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you stated 
it purely enough, always, was beyond me and I was working very hard 
to try to get it. The only place where you could see life and death, i.e., 
violent death now that the wars were over, was in the bull ring and I wanted 
very much to go to Spain where I could study it. I was trying to learn to 
write, commencing witKTKe~SlifipIes*t thingvSnehone of the simplest things 
of all and the^ most ^fundamental is violent/ death) It has none of the com- 
plications of death by diseaseTof soncallea nSEural death, or the death of 
a friend or some one you have loved or have hated, but it is death never- 
theless, one of the subjects that a man may write of. I had read many 
books in which, when the author tried to convey it, he only produced a 
blur, and I decided that this was because either the author had never seen 
it clearly or at the moment of it, he had physically or mentally shut his 
eyes, as one might do if he saw a child that he could not possibly reach or 
aid, about to be struck by a train. In such a case I suppose he would prob- 

The Writer's Aims 121 

ably be justified in shutting his eyes as the mere fact of the child being 
about to be struck by the train was all that he could convey, the actual 
striking would be an anti-climax, so that the moment before striking might 
be as far as he could represent. But in the case of an execution by a firing 
squad, or a hanging, this is not true, and if these very simple things were 
to be made permanent, as, say, Goya tried to make them in Los Desastros de 
la Guerra, it could not be done with any shutting of the eyes. I had seen 
certain things, certain simple things of this sort that I remembered, but 
through taking part in them, or, in other cases, having to write of them 
immediately after and consequently noticing the things I needed for instant 
recording, I had never been able to study them as a man might, for in- 
stance, study the death of his father or the hanging of some one, say, that 
he did not know and would not have to write of immediately after for the 
first edition of an afternoon newspaper. 

So I went to Spain to see bullfights and to try to write about them for 
myself. I thought they would be simple and barbarous and cruel and that 
I would not like them, but that I would see certain definite action which 
would give me the feeling of life and death that I was working for. I found 
the definite action; but the bullfight was so far from simple and I liked it 
so much that it was much too complicated for my then equipment for writ- 
ing to deal with and, aside from four very short sketches, I was not able 
to write anything about it for five years and I wish I would have waited 
ten. However, if I had waited long enough I probably never would have 
written anything at all since there is a tendency when you really begin to 
learn something about a thing not to want to write about it but rather to 
keep on learning about it always and at no time, unless you are very egotis- 
tical, which, of course, accounts for many books, will you be able to say: 
now I know all about this and will write about it. Certainly I do not say 
that now; every year I know there is more to learn, but I know some things 
which may be interesting now, and I may be away from the bullfights for a 
long time and I might as well write what I know about them now. 

'To Find Its Meaning" 

Robert 'Browning i8i2-i889 

In the dramatic monologue Fra Lippo Lippi (1855), from which 
these lines are taken, a painter-monk of the early Renaissance in Italy 
expounds the theory of art that leads him to paint things as he sees 
them, "realistically," rather than in a way that "instigates to prayer." 
He loves the physical things of this world too much to blur them for 
other-wordly purposes. 

. . . YOU'VE seen the world 

The beauty and the wonder and the power, 

The shapes of things, their colors, lights and shades, 
Changes, surprises, and God made it all! 

For what? Do you feel thankful, aye or no, 
For this fair town's face, yonder river's line, 
The mountain round it and the sky above, 
Much more the figures of man, woman, child, 
These are the frame to? What's it all about? 
To be passed over, despised? or dwelt upon, 
Wondered at? oh, this last of coursel you say. 
But why not do as well as say, paint these 
Just as they are, careless what comes of it? 
God's works paint any one, and count it crime 
To let a truth slip. Don't object, "His works 

Are here already; nature is complete: 
Suppose you reproduce her (which you can't) 
There's no advantage! you must beat her, then." 
For, don't you mark? we're made so that we love 
First when we see them painted, things we have passed 
Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see; 
And so they are better, painted better to us, 
Which is the same thing. Art was given for that; 
God uses us to help each other so, 
Lending our minds out. Have you noticed, now, 
Your cullion's hanging face? A bit of chalk, 
And trust me but you should, though! How much more, 
If I drew higher things with the same truth! 
That were to take the Prior's pulpit-place, 
Interpret God to all of you! Oh, oh, 
It makes me mad to see what men shall do 
And we in our graves! This world's no blot for us, 
Nor blank; it means intensely, and means good: 
To find its meaning is my meat and drink. 


" Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff " 

Jf. . IHousman 485P~493<5 

You will have no trouble understanding the writer's aim set forth 
here if you notice that the quotation marks indicate two speakers in the 
poem; a poet's friend accuses him of writing "stupid stuff" that is just 
too melancholy he wants "a tune to dance to"; the poet, Terence, 
replies that there are better means of cheering yourself up than poetry, 
and goes on to justify his writing poems that dwell on the dark side of 
life. Housman's famous book, A Shropshire Lad (1896), from which 
this poem is taken, pipes many melancholy but lovely lyrics that carry 
out this purpose. 

"TERENCE, this is stupid stuff: 
You eat your victuals fast enough; 
There can't be much amiss, 'tis clear, 
To see the rate you drink your beer. 
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make, 
It gives a chap the belly-ache. 
The cow, the old cow, she is dead; 
It sleeps well, the horned head: 
We poor lads, 'tis our turn now 
To hear such tunes as killed the cow. 
Pretty friendship 'tis to rhyme 
Your friends to death before their time 
Moping melancholy mad: 
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad." 

Why, if 'tis dancing you would be, 
There's brisker pipes than poetry. 
Say, for what were hop-yards meant, 
Or why was Burton built on Trent? 
Oh many a peer of England brews 
Livelier liquor than the Muse, 
And malt does more than Milton can 
To justify God's ways to man. 
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink 
For fellows whom it hurts to think: 
Look into the pewter pot 
To see the world as the world's not. 

From A Shropshire Lad by A. E. Housman. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt 
and Company, Inc., U.S.A., and by permission of the Society of Authors as literary 
representative of the Trustees of the Estate of the late A. E. Housman, and Messrs. 
Jonathan Cape Ltd., publishers of A. E. Housman's Collected Poems. 


124 Writer 

And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past: 

The mischief is that 'twill not last. 

Oh I have been to Ludlow fair 

And left my necktie God knows where, 

And carried half-way home, or near, 

Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer: 

Then the world seemed none so bad, 

And I myself a sterling lad; 

And down in lovely muck I've lain, 

Happy till I woke again. 

Then I saw the morning sky: 

Heigho, the tale was all a lie; 

The world, it was the old world yet, 

I was I, my things were wet, 

And nothing now remained to do 

But begin the game anew. 

Therefore, since the world has still 
Much good, but much less good than ill, 
And while the sun and moon endure 
Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure, 
I'd face it as a wise man would, 
And train for ill and not for good. 
Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale 
Is not so brisk a brew as ale: 
Out of a stem that scored the hand 
I wrung it in a weary land. 
But take it: if the smack is sour, 
The better for the embittered hour; 
It should do good to heart and head 
When your soul is in my soul's stead; 
And I will friend you, if I may, 
In the dark and cloudy day. 

There was a king reigned in the East: 
There, when kings will sit to feast, 
They get their fill before they think 
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink. 
He gathered all that springs to birth 
From the many-venomed earth; 
First a little, thence to more, 
He sampled all her killing store; 
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound, 
Sate the king when healths went round. 

The Writers Aims 125 

They put arsenic in his meat 

And stared aghast to watch him eat; 

They poured strychnine in his cup 

And shook to see him drink it up: 

They shook, they stared as white's their shirt: 

Them it was their poison hurt. 

I tell the tale that I heard told. 

Mithridates, he died old. 

Sonnet 55 

"William Shakespeare i564-46*6 

Several of the sonnets in Shakespeare's famous sequence addressed 
to his young friend and to his "Dark Lady" promise to give lasting fame 
to the one celebrated. This of course has been one of the ma/or aims 
of writing, "to embalm and treasure up," as Milton said, "to a life be- 
yond life" those things which the writer cherishes. 

NOT MARBLE, nor the gilded monuments 

Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme; 

But you shall shine more bright in these contents 

Than unswept stone besmeared with sluttish time. 

When wasteful war shall statues overturn, 

And broils root out the work of masonry, 

Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn 

The living record of your memory. 

'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity 

Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room 

Even in the eyes of all posterity 

That wear this world out to the ending doom. 

So, till the judgment that yourself arise, 

You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes. 

"Perhaps I can make it clearer 
with a couple of examples." 

Some Precepts 
and Examples 


On the Differences Between 
Writing and Speaking * 

"William Jiazlitt 4778-4830 

Logically, speaking and writing go together, since both involve ex- 
pressing, or putting forth, our thoughts in words. So, offhand, one 
would suppose that a person who can speak well can also write well, and 
vice versa; that if, in Leacock's words, one "has something to say and 
knows how to say it," it makes no difference whether he is speaking or 
writing. In important ways the supposition is correct, but in other im- 
portant ways, which Hazlitt explores in this essay, it is not. Some ex- 
periments even seem to show that there may be more correlation be- 
tween ability in writing and mathematics than between writing and 
speaking/ After testing the differences Hazlitt points out against your 
own experience, you might try to think out the similarities. 

"Some minds are proportioned to that which may be dispatched at 
once, or within a short return of time; others to that which begins 
afar off and is to be won with length of pursuit." BACON 

IT is A COMMON OBSERVATION that few persons can be found who speak and 
write equally well. Not only is it obvious that the two faculties do not al- 
ways go together in the same proportions, but they are not unusually in 
direct opposition to each other. We find that the greatest authors often 


Some Precepts and Examples 127 

make the worst company in the world, and again some of the liveliest fel- 
lows imaginable in conversation or extempore speaking seem to lose all 
this vivacity and spirit the moment they set pen to paper. For this a greater 
degree of quickness or slowness of parts, education, habit, temper, turn of 
mind and a variety of collateral and predisposing causes are necessary to 
account. The subject is at least curious and worthy of an attempt to explain 
it. I shall endeavor to illustrate the difference by familiar examples rather 
than by analytical reasonings. The philosopher of old was not unwise who 
defined motion by getting up and walking. 

The great leading distinction between writing and speaking is, that more 
time is allowed for the one than the other, and hence different faculties are 
required for, and different objects attained by each. He is properly the best 
speaker who can collect together the greatest number of apposite ideas at 
a moment's warning; he is properly the best writer who can give utterance 
to the greatest quantity of valuable knowledge in the course of his whole 
life. The chief requisite for the one, then, appears to be quickness and 
facility of perception for the other, patience of soul and a power in- 
creasing with the difficulties it has to master. He cannot be denied to be 
an expert speaker, a lively companion, who is never at a loss for something 
to say on every occasion or subject that offers. He, by the same rule, will 
make a respectable writer who, by dint of study, can find out anything 
good to say upon any one point that has not been touched upon before, or 
who by asking for time, can give the most complete and comprehensive 
view of any question. The one must be done off-hand, at a single blow; the 
other can only be done by a repetition of blows, by having time to think 
and do better. 

In speaking, less is required of you, if you only do it at once with grace 
and spirit; in writing, you stipulate for all that you are capable of, but you 
have the choice of your own time and subject. 

We see persons of that standard or texture of mind that they can do 
nothing but on the spur of the occasion; if they have time to deliberate 
they are lost. There are others who have no resource, who cannot advance 
a step by any efforts or assistance beyond a successful arrangement of com- 
monplaces; but these they have always at command, at everybody's serv- 
ice. Set the same person to write a common paragraph and he cannot get 
through it for very weariness; ask him a question, ever so little out of the 
common road and he stares you in the face. What does all this bustle, 
animation, plausibility and command of words amount to? A lively flow 
of animal spirits, a good deal of confidence, a communicative turn, and a 
tolerably tenacious memory with respect to floating opinions and current 
phrases. Beyond the routine of the daily newspapers and coffee-house 
criticism, such persons do not venture to think at all; or if they did it would 
be so much the worse for them, for they would only be perplexed in the 
attempt and would perform their part in the mechanism of society with so 
much the less alacrity and easy volubility. 

128 Writer 

The most dashing orator I ever heard is the flattest writer I ever read. In 
speaking, he was like a volcano vomiting out lava; in writing, he is like a 
volcano burnt out. Nothing but the dry cinders, the hard shell remains. 
The tongues of flame with which in haranguing a mixed assembly he used 
to illuminate his subject and almost scorched up the panting air, do not 
appear painted on the margin of his woiks. He was the model of a flashy, 
powerful demagogue a madman blest with a fit audience. 

It is not merely that the same individual cannot sit down quietly in his 
closet and produce the same or a correspondent effect but sit down your- 
self and read one of these very popular and electrical effusions (for they 
have been published), and you would not believe it to be the same! The 
thunder-and-lightning mixture of the orator turns out a mere drab-colored 
suit in the person of the prose writer. We wonder at the change and think 
there must be some mistake, some legerdemain trick played off upon us, by 
which what before appeared so fine now appears to be so worthless. The 
deception took place before; now it is removed. The orator's vehemence 
of gesture, the loudness of the voice, the speaking eye, the conscious at- 
titude, the inexplicable dumb show and noise, all "those brave sublunary 
things that made his raptures clear," are no longer there and without 
these he is nothing his "fire and ire" turn to puddle and ditch-water, and 
the god of eloquence and of our idolatry sinks into a common mortal, or an 
image of lead, with a few labels, nicknames, and party watchwords stuck 
in his mouth. The truth is that these always made up the stock of his in- 
tellectual wealth, but a certain exaggeration and extravagance of manner 
covered the nakedness and swelled out the emptiness of the matter. 

An orator can hardly get beyond commonplaces; if he does he gets be- 
yond his hearers. The most successful speakers, even in the House of 
Commons, have not been the best scholars or the finest writers. Those 
speeches that in general told the best at the time are not now readable. 
What were the materials of which they were chiefly composed? An im- 
posing detail of passing events, a formal display of official documents, an 
appeal to established maxims, an echo of popular clamor, some worn-out 
metaphor newly vamped up, some hackneyed argument used for the 
hundredth, nay thousandth time, to fall in with the interests, the passions, 
or prejudices of listening and devoted admirers some truth or falsehood 
repeated as the Shibboleth of party time out of mind, which gathers 
strength from sympathy as it spreads, because it is understood or assented 
to by the million, and finds in the increased action of the minds of num- 
bers the weight and force of an instinct. A commonplace does not leave the 
mind "sceptical, puzzled, and undecided in the moment of action"; "it 
gives a body to opinion and a permanence to fugitive belief." It operates 
mechanically and opens an instantaneous and infallible communication 
between the hearer and speaker. A set of cant phrases, arranged in sound- 
ing sentences, and pronounced "with good emphasis and discretion," keep 
the gross and irritable humors of an audience in constant fermentation, and 

Some Precepts and Examples 129 

levy no tax on the understanding. To give a reason for anything is to breed 
a doubt of it, which doubt you may not remove in the sequel, either be- 
cause your reason may not be a good one or because the person to whom it 
is addressed may not be able to comprehend it or because others may not 
be able to comprehend it. He who offers to go into the grounds of an 
acknowledged axiom risks the unanimity of the company "by most admired 
disorder," as he who digs to the foundation of a building to show its 
solidity, risks its falling. But a commonplace is enshrined in its own un- 
questioned evidence, and constitutes its own immortal basis. 

The writer must be original or he is nothing. He is not to take up with 
ready-made goods, for he has time allowed him to create his own materials, 
and to make novel combinations of thought and fancy, to contend with 
unforeseen difficulties of style and execution, while we look on and admire 
the growing work in secret and at leisure. There is a degree of finishing 
as well as of solid strength in writing which is not to be got at every day, 
and we can wait for perfection. The author owes a debt to truth and 
nature which he cannot satisfy at sight, but he has pawned his head on 
redeeming it. It is not a string of clap-traps to answer a temporary or 
party purpose violent, vulgar, and illiberal but general and lasting 
truth that we require at his hands. We go to him as pupils, not as partisans. 
We have a right to expect from him profounder views of things, finer ob- 
servations, more ingenious illustrations, happier and bolder expressions. 
He is to give the choice and picked results of a whole life of study, what 
he has struck out in his most felicitous moods, has treasured up with most 
pride, has labored to bring to light with most anxiety and confidence of 
success. He can wait. He is not satisfied with a reason he has offered for 
something; let him wait till he finds a better reason. There is some word, 
some phrase, some idiom that expresses a particular idea better than any 
other, but he cannot for the life of him recollect it; let him wait till he does. 
Is it strange that among twenty thousand words in the English language the 
one of all others that he most needs should have escaped him? There are 
more things in nature than there are words in the English language, and 
he must not expect to lay rash hands on them all at once. You will allow 
a writer a year to think of a subject; he should not put you off with a truism 
at last. You allow him a year more to find out words for his thoughts; he 
should not give us an echo of all the fine things that have been said a 
hundred times. A person in habits of composition often hesitates in con- 
versation for a particular word; it is because he is in search of the best 
word and that he cannot hit upon. In writing he would stop till it came. 
It is not true, however, that the scholar could avail himself of a more 
ordinary word if he chose, or readily acquire a command of ordinary 
language; for his associations are habitually intense, not vague and shallow, 
and words occur to him only as tallies to certain modifications of feeling. 
They are links in the chain of thought. His imagination is fastidious, and 
rejects all those that are "of no mark or likelihood." 

130 Writer 

To conclude this account with what perhaps I ought to have set out with 
a definition of the character of an author. There are persons who in 
society, in public intercourse, feel no excitement, 

Dull as the lake that slumbers in the storm, 

but who, when left alone, can lash themselves into a foam. They are never 
less alone than when alone. Mount them on a dinner table, and they have 
nothing to say; shut them up in a room to themselves, and they are in- 
spired. They are "made fierce with dark keeping." In revenge for being 
tongue-tied, a torrent of words flows from their pens, and the storm which 
was so long collecting comes down apace. It never rains but it pours. Is 
not this strange, unaccountable? Not at all so. They have a real interest, 
a real knowledge of the subject, and they cannot summon up all that in- 
terest, or bring all that knowledge to bear while they have anything else 
to attend to. Till they can do justice to the feeling they have, they can do 
nothing. For this they look into their own minds, not in the faces of a 
gaping multitude. What they would say (if they could) does not lie at 
the orifices of the mouth ready for delivery, but is wrapped in the folds of 
the heart and registered in the chambers of the brain. In the sacred cause 
of truth that stirs them they would put their whole strength, their whole 
being into requisition; and as it implies a greater effort to drag their words 
and ideas from their lurking places, so there is no end when they are once 
set in motion. The whole of a man's thoughts and feelings cannot lie on 
the surface, made up for use; but the whole must be a greater quantity, a 
mightier power, if they could be got at, layer upon layer, and brought into 
play by the levers of imagination and reflection. Such a person then sees 
farther and feels deeper than most others. He plucks up an argument by 
the roots, he tears out the very heart of his subject. He has more pride in 
conquering the difficulties of a question, than vanity in courting the favor 
of an audience. He wishes to satisfy himself before he pretends to en- 
lighten the public. 

Everybody's Listening! *> 

'Bess Sondel 1894- 

Just as speaking and writing are logically paired, so are listening and 
reading. Curiously, however, we have usually assumed that listening is 
a passive process, that we can't help listening, and that somehow all the 
difficulties we have in reading disappear when we take in words by ear 
rather than by eye. Recently students of communication have begun to 
realize the importance of listening after all, most of us listen more 
than we read, speak, or write. In this popular article, Bess Sondel lists 
five basic abilities of an active good listener. Consider the comparison 
between listening and reading, as you did between speaking and writ- 
ing in Hazlitt's essay. Wherein are the techniques of listening and 
reading similar? Wherein different? 

SOME PEOPLE think a good listener is a person who pretends to be interested 
while the other fellow mows him down. This is certainly a whopper if there 
ever was one. Listening is active. Listening is participating in at least five 
important ways. You are a good listener if 

1. You can "see" an idea when you hear it. 

2. You can distinguish between essential points and details. 

3. You can distinguish between facts and opinions. 

4. You can distinguish between information and persuasion. 

5. And if you can then make up your own mind about what has been 


Most people use a lot of words to express their ideas. They talk at us 
by the hour to explain just one thought. They lecture from platforms, from 
pulpits, from soapboxes, from armchairs. They toss around the same idea 
on the radio, in town hall, at a conference table, at a club meeting. One 
good idea may certainly be worth all those words, but when they come our 
way too fast sometimes twisted, emotion-packed, ill-assorted they are 
meaningful to us only if we can see the idea bare as bones. No matter how 
many words are used, a listener should be able to sum up the idea in one 
sentence or less. If he can do that, he understands what is being talked 
about. If he can't, he is hazy about the controlling idea that all those words 
refer to. 

You can see an idea because it has form. An idea is not simple; it is 
complex, made up of parts. To know what the parts are and how they 

Reprinted by permission from the National Parent-Teacher, January, 1951. 


132 Writer 

hang together is to discover the structure of the idea. Now these parts may 
be related to one another in various ways. Notice how the idea itself 
establishes the relationship between the parts: "World government will be 
the means of attaining the end, peace." "These operations in the labora- 
tory will cause this effect." "This problem will permit of this solution." 
Parts of an idea may thus be related as means to end, cause to effect, prob- 
lem to solution, and in many other ways. Parts may be related in time 
as when we describe any operation. Parts may be related in space, as 
when we describe a trip. Parts may be related as sections that make up a 
whole idea: "Arguments for and arguments against world government as 
a means to peace." Here we have two parts two sections (for and 
against) that together cover the whole subject. 

A good listener will see the idea, then, as something that has structure 
(pattern), as something with definite parts which together make up the 
whole. When the controlling idea is discovered, all the words, however 
many and in however disorderly a manner they come, find their rightful 
place and their special significance in relation to that controlling idea. 
There is order, and where there is order there is understanding. 


This second point really explains itself if you understand and accept the 
first. After you boil down a torrent of words to a controlling idea and after 
you see that idea as having structure (pattern), you will automatically be 
able to distinguish the essential points from the details. 

The essential points are summed up in the controlling idea. All amplifica- 
tion of these parts every description and every explanation of a part, 
every example used to illustrate a part, every fact or opinion that is called 
on to bear witness for or against a part is a detail. These are details be- 
cause the speaker chooses them from several possibilities, each of which 
would do perhaps equally well. In talking to you, for instance, he would 
choose an example that fits into your experience and your interests. 

The ability to distinguish between essentials and details is a great ad- 
vantage to a listener. Indeed it is indispensable to understanding, and it is 
the first requisite for judging, since judgment without understanding is 

As a listener, and as a participator too, the person who can distinguish 
between essentials and details will know at once whether a point is relevant 
or not relevant to a discussion. If it doesn't fit into the structural pattern, 
it is obviously irrelevant. A good listener notices when a speaker stresses 
details to the neglect of essentials and is soon bored by this untidy and 
inefficient procedure. 

Perhaps the greatest advantage in being able to make this distinction is 
that you hear words, so to speak, in perspective. The essentials stand out 
in bold outlines against a background of details. There is no confusion. 
All things fall into place and assume tjleir proper degree of importance. 

Some Precepts and Examples 133 

It is the essentials that make the structural plan. Everything else is a 
detail that must fall into place in that plan. Details are fillers. A detail is 
a detail because we can introduce as many relevant ones as we wish with- 
out disturbing the structural pattern of the controlling idea. 


A fact is a statement that can be checked. There are historical facts, 
observable facts, and experimental facts. Historical facts come to us by 
indirect evidence. Observable facts can be directly perceived by qualified 
witnesses. Experimental facts are subject to control. All facts are objective 
that is, impersonal. 

An opinion cannot be checked; it is personal. An opinion is a guess, a 
hunch, a projection into the unknown. It is an opinion because all the facts 
are not in. 

Opinions, however, should not be depreciated. In some ways they 
actually go beyond facts. There is a vastly important area in our lives in 
which opinions play the dominant role. Every time we look into the future 
in an effort to shape our lives, we depend on opinions, for nobody can 
predict with certainty about human beings. Every time we attempt to 
judge facts, every time we call facts better, worse, right, wrong, beautiful, 
ugly, moral, unethical, and so on, we depend on opinion. Every judgment 
is an opinion. And every time we attempt to advance into the realm of the 
not-yet-factually-known, we depend on opinion. 

So let us not depreciate opinions. As listeners we must try instead to 
find a method for evaluating the worth of an opinion. The first step, of 
course, is to be able to distinguish between a fact and an opinion. In our 
efforts to do this, these questions are relevant: "Is the statement personal 
or not personal?" "Can it be checked?" "Can it be verified?" If the state- 
ment is impersonal and subject to verification, it is a fact. Even so, it may 
be worthless to you as a listener. 

Unless a fact is hitched to an idea, it floats. Don't try to listen for 
isolated facts. Don't try to remember them. Ask yourself, rather, "What 
idea holds these facts together?" When you see that, you will automatically 
grasp the significance of the fact to the idea which it supports. 

Now as to opinions. When some of the facts are not available and all 
the facts are not in, when a statement has its personal side and therefore 
cannot be checked, you will of course call this an opinion. A good opinion 
rests on the facts that are in: "He's a liarl" "How do you know?" "I saw 
him take the box, and he said he didn't." 

A sharp listener will soon discover that many opinions rest on other 
opinions, without ever getting down to facts, thus: "He's a liar!" "How do 
you know?" "He never was any good. When he was a kid he was always 
in trouble. All the kids in that neighborhood were wild. Nobody trusts 
him." All opinion and not good opinion at that. There is not one fact to 
substantiate these judgments! 

134 Writer 

Notice the words never and always. These are traps for falsification, to 
say nothing of prejudice. These words make no allowance for change. Yet 
in human behavior the one indisputable scientific fact is that of constant, 
inescapable, and largely unpredictable change. All life is a process of 
change, and it never repeats itself exactly. 

Then notice the words all and nobody. When applied to human behavior 
these words deny the scientific fact that every living being is absolutely 
unique. They assume an absolute exactness in some respect of every- 
one. This is a tall order and one that cannot be filled. Such words are 
signals to the listener for extra alertness. Falsehood and prejudice lurk in 
their seeming authority. 

A good opinion makes no pretense to be anything else. We listen with 
respect when a speaker says, "This is my opinion now. Maybe 111 revise 
it tomorrow when we have more information. But today, with the facts we 
have, I look at it this way." We listen with skepticism to the dogmatic 
speaker who forgets that opinions are subject to revision in the light of 
further knowledge. We listen with downright distrust to the speaker who 
tries to palm off his opinions as facts. 

One of the slickest ways of doing this palming off a poor opinion as 
a fact is to use the scientific device of classification. When scientists 
classify, they are interested in the similarities of the things they are classi- 
fying, not in the differences left out. But to classify people, without regard 
to their individual differences, to throw them into sacks and label them is 
a risky business that leads to false and prejudicial opinions. A good 
listener will remember the differences left out when human beings are 
classified according to race, color, political affiliations, religion, occupation 
anything! Distinguish between facts and opinions, but take the further 
step of distinguishing between good opinions and ungrounded opinions. 


Every time a person speaks, he speaks with a purpose. Maybe he isn't 
aware of his purpose, but it's there. Otherwise why would he speak to you? 
Maybe he wants to amuse you. Maybe he wants to inform you. Maybe he 
wants you to like him or trust him or sympathize with him. Maybe he 
wants you to take a stand for him and with him. Maybe he wants you to 
do something. 

Words are used for an infinite variety of purposes, but we can boil these 
down to three: (1) Speakers want their listeners to understand them. 

(2) They want their listeners to take an attitude, to feel something. 

(3) They want their listeners to do something. 

When a speaker asks only for understanding, his words are informative. 
When he asks for a feeling response or an action response, or both, his 
words are persuasive. The distinction is a fine one, for sometimes in- 
formation in itself is persuasive. 

Some Precepts and Examples 135 

Information is presented in words that have a factual basis. If the 
speaker asks only for understanding (as far as you can determine from his 
tone, his manner, and his words), then you will call his words informative 
terms. When you hear words that appraise things that call things better, 
worse, useful, not useful, right, wrong, beautiful, ugly you will be a good 
listener if you recognize these statements as opinions, as judgments. And 
you will know that they have their personal side. The personal side in- 
volves you, the listener, for those words are intended to arouse an attitude 
response in you. Before you are persuaded to go hot or cold, dig out the 
informative statements that support the judgments, the facts that can be 

When you hear words that are frankly incitive, the speaker is trying to 
persuade you to respond by a specific action. "Do this. Don't do that," he 
will say. Look for statements of fact and statements of approved opinions 
before you respond. 

Sometimes it is beneficial to the listener to respond in the way intended 
by the speaker; sometimes it is not. A good listener responds warmly and 
actively, but intelligently. He does not move forward blindly. 

And remember, to know what a speaker is up to helps you to know why 
he chose these facts as against other facts, and this highlights the sixty- 
four dollar question "What facts are left out?" 


And finally, can you make up your own mind? You will be bombarded 
with words, words that are aimed at you with a purpose. Can you dis- 
tinguish between facts and opinions, between a good opinion and a phony 
one? Do you know when you are being persuaded? Do you get bogged 
down in details so that you lose all sense of direction? Can you see an 
idea sharp and clear against a background of details? Can you recognize 
the pattern, the structure that gives order to the stream of words that 
assails you? 

Dr. Johnson Converses on 

Composition * Barnes Boswe/1 4740-1795 

One of the world's great biographies is Boswell's Life of Johnson 
(1791). From the time of their first meeting in 1763, to Johnsons death 
in 1784, BosweJl carefully kept notes of their conversations, and it is 
these as much as anything which bring that great personality so vividly 
to life in the biography. Far from practising the tact recommended be- 
low by Franklin, Dr. Johnson was overbearing and dogmatic, often dis- 

136 Writer 

coursing rather than conversing. On one occasion Boswell writes, "When 
I called on Dr. Johnson the next morning, I found him highly satisfied 
with his colloquial prowess the preceding evening. Well, (said he), we 
had good talk/ Boswell. Tes, Sir; you tossed and gored several per- 
sons/ " But Johnsons superior wit and wisdom earned him the ac- 
knowledged right to lord it over even the distinguished company he 

[APRIL 30, 1773] . . . Goldsmith being mentioned; JOHNSON. "It is amazing 
how little Goldsmith knows. He seldom comes where he is not more 
ignorant than any one else/' SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. "Yet there is no man 
whose company is more liked." JOHNSON. "To be sure, Sir. When people 
find a man of the most distinguished abilities as a writer, their inferiour 
while he is with them, it must be highly gratifying to them. What Gold- 
smith comically says of himself is very true, he always gets the better 
when he argues alone; meaning, that he is master of a subject in his 
study, and can write well upon it; but when he comes into company, grows 
confused, and unable to talk. Take him as a poet, his 'Traveller' is a very 
fine performance; ay, and so is his 'Deserted Village/ were it not some- 
times too much the echo of his Traveller/ Whether, indeed, we take him 
as a poet, as a comick writer, or as an historian, he stands in the first 
class." BOSWELL. "An historian! My dear Sir, you surely will not rank his 
compilation of the Roman History with the works of other historians of 
this age?" JOHNSON. "Why, who are before him?" BOSWELL. "Hume, 
Robertson, Lord Lyttelton." JOHNSON. (His antipathy to the Scotch 
beginning to rise.) "I have not read Hume; but, doubtless, Goldsmith's 
History is better than the verbiage of Robertson, or the foppery of Dalrym- 
ple." BOSWELL. "Will you not admit the superiority of Robertson, in whose 
history we find such penetration such painting?" JOHNSON. "Sir, you 
must consider how that penetration and that painting are employed. It is 
not history, it is imagination. He who describes what he never saw, draws 
from fancy. Robertson paints minds as Sir Joshua paints faces in a history- 
piece: he imagines an heroick Countenance. You must look upon Robert- 
son's work as romance and try it by that standard. History it is not. Besides, 
Sir, it is the great excellence of a writer to put into his book as much as 
his book will hold. Goldsmith has done this in his History. Now Robert- 
son might have put twice as much into his book. Robertson is like a man 
who has packed gold in wool: the wool takes up more room than the gold. 
No, Sir; I always thought Robertson would be crushed by his own weight, 
would be buried under his own ornaments. Goldsmith tells you shortly 
all you want to know: Robertson detains you a great deal too long. No man 
will read Robertson's cumbrous detail a second time; but Goldsmith's 
plain narrative will please again and again. I would say to Robertson 
what an old tutor of a college said to one of his pupils: 'Read over your 
compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is 

Some Precepts and Examples 137 

particularly fine, strike it out/ Goldsmith's abridgement is better than 
that of Lucius Florus or Eutropius; and I will venture to say, that if you 
compare him with Vertot, in the same places of the Roman History, you 
will find that he excels Vertot. Sir, he has the art of compiling, and of 
saying everything he has to say in a pleasing manner. He is now writing 
a Natural History, and will make it as entertaining as a Persian tale." 

On Disputing * 

'Benjamin franklin i706-i790 

Franklin's famous Autobiography, from which this passage is taken, 
was begun as a long letter to his son, and had as one of its chief pur- 
poses to explain some of the means by which he had risen in the world. 
He was famous for his ability to "win friends and influence people/' 
and these paragraphs show how conscious he was of the importance of 
tact in conversation. 

WHILE i WAS intent on improving my language, I met with an English 
grammar ( I think it was Greenwood's ) , at the end of which there were two 
little sketches of the arts of rhetoric and logic, the latter finishing with a 
specimen of a dispute in the Socratic method; and soon after I procur'd 
Xenophon's Memorable Things of Socrates, wherein there are many in- 
stances of the same method. I was charm'd with it, adopted it, dropt my 
abrupt contradiction and positive argumentation, and put on the humble 
inquirer and doubter. And being then, from reading Shaftesbury and 
Collins, become a real doubter in many points of our religious doctrine, I 
found this method safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against 
whom I used it; therefore I took a delight in it, practis'd it continually, and 
grew very artful and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, 
into concessions, the consequences of which they did not foresee, en- 
tangling them in difficulties out of which they could not extricate them- 
selves, and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always 
deserved. I continu'd this method some few years, but gradually left it, 
retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; 
never using, when I advanced anything that may possibly be disputed, the 
words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness 
to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and 
so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; 
or / imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I be- 
lieve, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to in- 

138 Writer 

culcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been 
from time to time engag'd in promoting; and, as the chief ends of con- 
versation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish 
well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good 
by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create 
opposition, and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was 
given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure. For, if you 
would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your senti- 
ments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you 
wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet 
at the same time express yourself as firmly fix'd in your present opinions, 
modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave 
you undisturbed in the possession of your error. And by such a manner, 
you can seldom hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to 
persuade those whose concurrence you desire. Pope says, judiciously: 

"Men should be taught as if you taught them not, 
And things unknown propos'd as things forgot;" 

farther recommending to us 

"To speak, tho' sure, with seeming diffidence." 

On Conversation 

Ring Gardner - 4885-4933 

Ring Lardner had an uncanny ear for the way Americans talk and 
an almost Swiftian gift of satire in exposing our banalities. Perhaps the 
following "conversation" bears enough resemblance to the way most of 
us converse to make us see why Dr. Johnson's friends valued his talk in 
spite of his overbearing manners. 

THE OTHER night I happened to be comeing back from Wilmington, Del. to 
wherever I was going and was setting in the smokeing compartment or 
whatever they now call the wash room and overheard a conversation be- 
tween two fellows who we will call Mr. Butler and Mr. Hawkes. Both of 
them seemed to be from the same town and I only wished I could repeat 

Reprinted from First and Last by Ring Lardner. Copyright, 1934, by Ellis A. Lardner. 
Used by permission of the publisher, Charles Scribner's Sons. 

Some Precepts and Examples 139 

the conversation verbatim but the best I can do is report it from memory. 
The fellows evidently had not met for some three to fifteen years as the 
judges say. 

"Well," said Mr. Hawkes, "if this isn't Dick Butlerl" 

"Well," said Mr. Butler, "if it isn't Dale Hawkes" 

"Well, Dick," said Hawkes, "I never expected to meet you on this train." 

"No," replied Butler. "I genally always take Number 28. I just took 
this train this evening because I had to be in Wilmington today." 

"Where are you headed for?" asked Hawkes. 

"Well, I am going to the big town," said Butler. 

"So am I, and I am certainly glad we happened to be in the same car." 

"I am glad too, but it is funny we happened to be in the same car." 

It seemed funny to both of them but they successfully concealed it so 
far as facial expression was concerned. After a pause Hawkes spoke again: 

"How long since you been back in Lansing?" 

"Me?" replied Butler. "I ain't been back there for twelve years." 

"I ain't been back there either myself for ten years. How long since you 
been back there?" 

"I ain't been back there for twelve years." 

"I ain't been back there myself for ten years. Where are you headed for?" 

"New York," replied Butler. "I have got to get there about once a year. 
Where are you going?" 

"Me?" asked Hawkes. "I am going to New York too. I have got to go 
down there every little wile for the firm." 

"Do you have to go there very often?" 

"Me? Every little wile. How often do you have to go there?" 

"About once a year. How often do you get back to Lansing?" 

"Last time I was there was ten years ago. How long since you was back?" 

"About twelve years ago. Lot of changes there since we left there." 

"That's the way I figured it. It makes a man seem kind of old to go back 
there and not see nobody you know." 

"You said something. I go along the streets there now and don't see no- 
body I know." 

"How long since you was there?" 

"Me?" said Hawkes. "I only get back there about once every ten years. 
By the way what become of old man Kelsey?" 

"Who do you mean, Kelsey?" 

"Yes, what become of him?" 

"Old Kelsey? Why he has been dead for ten years," 

"Oh, I didn't know that. And what become of his daughter? I mean 

"Why Eleanor married a man named Forster or Jennings or something 
like that from Flint." 

"Yes, but I mean the other daughter, Louise." 

"Oh, she's married." 

140 Writer 

"Where are you going now?" 

"I am headed for New York on business for the firm.* 

"I have to go there about once a year myself for the firm." 

"Do you get back to Lansing very often?" 

"About once in ten or twelve years. I hardly know anybody there now. 
It seems funny to go down the street and not know nobody." 

"That's the way I always feel. It seems like it was not my old home town 
at all. I go up and down the street and don't know anybody and nobody 
speaks to you. I guess I know more people in New York now than I do 
in Lansing." 

"Do you get to New York often?" 

"Only about once a year. I have to go there for the firm." 

"New York isn't the same town it used to be neither." 

"No, it is changeing all the time. Just like Lansing. I guess they all 

"I don't know much about Lansing any more. I only get there about 
once in ten or twelve years." 

"What are you reading there?" 

"Oh, it is just a little article in Asia. They's a good many interesting 
articles in Asia." 

"I only seen a couple copies of it. This thing I am reading is a little 
article on 'Application' in the American" 

"Well, go ahead and read and don't let me disturb you." 

"Well I just wanted to finish it up. Go ahead and finish what you're 
reading yourself." 

"All right. We will talk things over later. It is funny we happened to 
get on the same car." 


Sam Weller's Valentine 

Charles Dickens t8i2-i870 

How many of your own good or bad habits, traits, or impulses in 
letter-writing can you see in this humorous sketch from Pickwick 
Papers (1837), and what useful hints do you find scattered along the 

As HE was sauntering away his spare time, and stopped to look at almost 
every object that met his gaze, it is by no means surprising that Mr. Weller 
should have paused before a small stationer's and print-seller's window; 

Some Precepts and Examples 141 

but without further explanation it does appear surprising that his eyes 
should have no sooner rested on certain pictures which were exposed for 
sale therein, than he gave a sudden start, smote his right leg with great 
vehemence, and exclaimed with energy, "If it hadn't been for this, I should 
ha' forgot all about it, till it was too latel" 

The particular picture on which Sam Weller's eyes were fixed, as he said 
this, was a highly coloured representation of a couple of human hearts 
skewered together with an arrow, cooking before a cheerful fire, while a 
male and female cannibal in modern attire, the gentleman being clad in a 
blue coat and white trousers, and the lady in a deep red pelisse with a 
parasol of the same, were approaching the meal with hungry eyes, up a 
serpentine gravel path leading thereunto. A decidedly indelicate young 
gentleman, in a pair of wings and nothing else, was depicted as superin- 
tending the cooking; a representation of the spire of the church in Lang- 
ham Place appeared in the distance; and the whole formed a "valentine," 
of which, as a written inscription in the window testified, there was a 
large assortment within, which the shopkeeper pledged himself to dispose 
of to his countrymen generally, at the reduced rate of one and sixpence 

"I should ha' forgot it; I should certainly ha' forgot it!" said Sam; and 
so saying, he at once stepped into the stationer's shop, and requested to be 
served with a sheet of the best gilt-edged letter-paper, and a hard-nibbed 
pen which could be warranted not to splutter. These articles having been 
promptly supplied, he walked on direct towards Leadenhall Market at a 
good round pace, very different from his recent lingering one. Looking 
round him, he there beheld a signboard on which the painter's art had 
delineated something remotely resembling a cerulean elephant with an 
aquiline nose in lieu of trunk. Rightly conjecturing that this was the Blue 
Boar himself, he stepped into the house, and inquired concerning his 

"He won't be here this three quarters of an hour or more," said the 
young lady who superintended the domestic arrangements of the Blue 

"Wery good, my dear," replied Sam. "Let me have nine penn'orth o' 
brandy and water luke, and the inkstand, will you, miss?" 

The brandy and water luke and the inkstand having been carried into the 
little parlour, and the young lady having carefully flattened down the coals 
to prevent their blazing, and carried away the poker to preclude the pos- 
sibility of the fire being stirred, without the full privity and concurrence of 
the Blue Boar being first had and obtained, Sam Weller sat himself down in 
a box near the stove, and pulled out the sheet of gilt-edged letter-paper, 
and the hard-nibbed pen. Then looking carefully at the pen to see that 
there were no hairs in it, and dusting down the table, so that there might 
be no crumbs of bread under the paper, Sam tucked up the cuffs of his 
coat, squared his elbows, and composed himself to write. 

To ladies and gentlemen who are not in the habit of devoting them- 

142 Writer 

selves practically to the science of penmanship, writing a letter is no very 
easy task, it being always considered necessary in such cases for the writer 
to recline his head on his left arm so as to place his eyes as nearly as pos- 
sible on a level with the paper, and while glancing sideways at the letters 
he is constructing, to form with his tongue imaginary characters to cor- 
respond. These motions, although unquestionably of the greatest assistance 
to original composition, retard in some degree the progress of the writer, 
and Sam had unconsciously been a full hour and a half writing words in 
small text, smearing out wrong letters with his little finger, and putting in 
new ones which required going over very often to render them visible 
through the old blots, when he was roused by the opening of the door and 
the entrance of his parent. 
"Veil, Sammy," said the father. 

"Veil, my Prooshan Blue," responded the son, laying down his pen. 
"What's the last bulletin about mother-in-law?" 

"Mrs. Veller passed a wery good night, but is uncommon perwerse, and 
unpleasant this mornin' signed upon oath S. Veller, Esquire, Senior. 
That's the last vun as was issued, Sammy," replied Mr. Weller, untying his 

"No better yet?" inquired Sam. 

"All the symptoms aggerawated," replied Mr. Weller, shaking his head. 
"But wot's that, you're a doin' of pursuit of knowledge under difficulties 
eh, Sammy?" 

"I've done now," said Sam with slight embarrassment; "I've been a 

"So I see," replied Mr. Weller. "Not to any young 'ooman, I hope, 

"Why, it's no use a sayin' it ain't," replied Sam. "It's a walentine." 
"A what!" exclaimed Mr. Weller, apparently horror-stricken by the word. 
"A walentine," replied Sam. 

"Samivel, Samivel," said Mr. Weller, in reproachful accents, "I didn't 
think you'd ha' done it. Arter the warnin' you've had o' your father's 
wicious perpensities; arter all I've said to you upon this here wery subject; 
arter actiwally seein' and bein' in the company o' your own mother-in-law, 
vich I should ha' thought wos a moral lesson as no man could ever ha' 
forgotten to his dyin' day! I didn't think you'd ha' done it, Sammy, I 
didn't think you'd ha' done it." These reflections were too much for the 
good old man. He raised Sam's tumbler to his lips and drank off its con- 

"Wot's the matter now!" said Sam. 

"Nev'r mind, Sammy," replied Mr. Weller, "it'll be a wery agonizin* trial 
to me at my time of life, but I'm pretty tough, that's vun consolation, as 
the wery old turkey remarked ven the farmer said he wos afeerd he should 
be obliged to kill him, for the London market." 
"Wot'll be a trial?" inquired Sam. 

Some Precepts and Examples 143 

"To see you married, Sammy to see you a dilluded wictim, and 
thinkin' in your innocence that it's all wery capital," replied Mr. Weller. 
"It's a dreadful trial to a father's feelin's, that 'ere, Sammy." 

"Nonsense," said Sam. "I ain't a goin' to get married, don't you fret your- 
self about that; I know you're a judge o' these things. Order in your pipe, 
and I'll read you the letter there." 

We cannot distinctly say whether it was the prospect of the pipe, or the 
consolatory reflection that a fatal disposition to get married ran in the 
family and couldn't be helped, which calmed Mr. Weller's feelings, and 
caused his grief to subside. We should be rather disposed to say that the 
result was attained by combining the two sources of consolation, for he 
repeated the second in a low tone, very frequently; ringing the bell mean- 
while, to order in the first. He then divested himself of his upper coat; and 
lighting the pipe and placing himself in front of the fire with his back 
towards it, so that he could feel its full heat, and recline against the mantel- 
piece at the same time, turned towards Sam, and, with a countenance 
greatly mollified by the softening influence of tobacco, requested him to 
"fire away." 

Sam dipped his pen into the ink to be ready for any corrections, and 
began with a very theatrical air 

" 'Lovely ' " 

"Stop," said Mr. Weller, ringing the bell. "A double glass o' the inwari- 
able, my dear." 

"Very well, Sir," replied the girl; who with great quickness appeared, 
vanished, returned, and disappeared. 

"They seem to know your ways here," observed Sam. 

"Yes," replied his father, "I've been here before, in my time. Go on, 

"'Lovely creetur,'" repeated Sam. 

" 'Tain't in poetry, is it?" interposed the father. 

"No, no," replied Sam. 

"Werry glad to hear it," said Mr. Weller. "Poetry's unnat'ral; no man 
ever talked in poetry 'cept a beadle on boxin' day, or Warren's blackin* or 
Rowland's oil, or some o' them low fellows; never you let yourself down to 
talk poetry, my boy. Begin again, Sammy." 

Mr. Weller resumed his pipe with critical solemnity, and Sam once more 
commenced, and read as follows. 

" 'Lovely creetur i feel myself a dammed' ." 

"That ain't proper," said Mr. Weller, taking his pipe from his mouth. 

"No; it ain't 'dammed/ " observed Sam, holding the letter up to the light, 
"it's 'shamed,' there's a blot there 1 feel myself ashamed/" 

"Wery good," said Mr. Weller. "Go on." 

" Teel myself ashamed, and completely cir ' I forget wot this here 

word is," said Sam, scratching his head with the pen, in vain attempts to 

144 Writer 

"Why don't you look at it, then?" inquired Mr. Weller. 

"So I am a lookin' at it," replied Sam, "but there's another blot: here's a 

"Circumwented, pYaps," suggested Mr. Weller. 

"No, it ain't that," said Sam, "circumscribed, that's it/' 

"That ain't as good a word as circumwented, Sammy," said Mr. Weller 

"Think not?" said Sam. 

"Nothin' like it," replied his father. 

"But don't you think it means more?" inquired Sam. 

"Veil, p'r'aps it is a more tenderer word," said Mr. Weller, after a few 
moments' reflection. "Go on, Sammy." 

" 'Feel myself ashamed and completely circumscribed in a dressin' of you, 
for you are a nice gal and nothin' but it/ " 

"That's a wery pretty sentiment," said the elder Mr. Weller, removing his 
pipe to make way for the remark. 

"Yes, I think it is rayther good," observed Sam, highly flattered. 

"Wot I like in that 'ere style of writin'," said the elder Mr. Weller, "is, 
that there ain't no callin' names in it, no Wenuses, nor nothin' o' that 
kind; wot's the good o' callin' a young 'ooman a Wenus or a angel, Sammy?" 

"Ah! what, indeed?" replied Sam. 

"You might jist as veil call her a griffin, or a unicorn, or a king's arms at 
once, which is wery veil known to be a col-lection o' fabulous animals," 
added Mr. Weller. 

"Just as well," replied Sam. 

"Drive on, Sammy," said Mr. Weller. 

Sam complied with the request, and proceeded as follows, his father 
continuing to smoke, with a mixed expression of wisdom and complacency, 
which was particularly edifying. 

"'Afore I see you I thought all women was alike/" 

"So they are," observed the elder Mr. Weller, parenthetically. 

" 'But now,' continued Sam, 'now I find what a reg'lar soft-headed, ink- 
red'lous turnip I must ha' been for there ain't nobody like you though 7 
like you better than nothin* at all/ I thought it best to make that rayther 
strong," said Sam, looking up. 

Mr. Weller nodded approvingly, and Sam resumed. 

" 'So I take the privilidge of the day, Mary, my dear as the gen'lem'n 
in difficulties did, ven he valked out of a Sunday, to tell you that the 
first and only time I see you your likeness was took on my hart in much 
quicker time and brighter colours than ever a likeness was took by the 
profeel macheen (wich p'r'aps you may have heerd on Mary my dear) 
altho it does finish a portrait and put the frame and glass on complete with 
a hook at the end to hang it up by and all in two minutes and a quarter/ " 

"I am afeerd that werges on the poetical, Sammy," said Mr. Weller, 

Some Precepts and Examples 145 

"No, it don't," replied Sam, reading on very quickly, to avoid contest- 
ing the point 

"'Except of me Mary my dear as your walentine and think over what 
I've said. My dear Mary I will now conclude/ That's all," said Sam. 

"That's rayther a sudden pull up, ain't it, Sammy?" inquired Mr. Weller. 

"Not a bit on it," said Sam; "shell vish there wos more, and that's the 
great art o' letter writin'." 

"Well," said Mr. Weller, "there's somethin' in that; and I wish your 
mother-in-law 'ud only conduct her conwersation on the same gen-teel 
principle. Ain't you a goin' to sign it?" 

"That's the difficulty," said Sam; "I don't know what to sign it." 

"Sign it 'Veller/ " said the oldest surviving proprietor of that name. 

"Won't do," said Sam. "Never sign a walentine with your own name." 

"Sign it Tickvick,' then," said Mr. Weller; "it's a wery good name, and a 
easy one to spell." 

"The wery thing," said Sam. "I could end with a werse; what do you 

"I don't like it, Sam," rejoined Mr. Weller. "I never know'd a respectable 
coachman as wrote poetry, 'cept one, as made an affectin' copy o' werses 
the night afore he wos hung for a highway robbery; and he wos only a 
Cambervell man, so even that's no rule." 

But Sam was not to be dissuaded from the poetical idea that had oc- 
curred to him, so he signed the letter 

Your love-sick 

And having folded it, in a very intricate manner, squeezed a downhill di- 
rection in one corner: "To Mary, Housemaid, at Mr. Nupkins's Mayor's, 
Ipswich, Suffolk"; and put it into his pocket, wafered, and ready for the 
General Post. 

Two Letters & Herman JWelvilk i8i9-i89i 

One of America's most distinguished writers, the author of Moby- 
Dick (1851), Herman Melville wrote delightful personal letters. The 
first of the two which follow was written to his friend Evert Duyckinck, 
editor of a New York literary journal. Melville was in the midst of 
Moby-Dick at the time. The second letter was written to his eleven- 
year-old son Malcolm from a clipper-ship on which Melville was sail- 
ing round the Horn to San Francisco. 

146 Writer 


Tuesday Evening [December 12, 1850] 

Pittsfield [Mass.] 

If you overhaul your old diaries you will see that a long period ago you 
were acquainted with one Herman Melville; that he then resided in New 
York; but removing after a time into a remote region called Berkshire, and 
failing to answer what letters you sent him, you but reasonably supposed 
him dead; at any rate did not hear anything of him again, & so by degrees 
you thought no more about him. 

I now write to inform you that this man has turned up in short, my 
Dear Fellow in spite of my incivility I am alive & well, & would fain be 

Before I go further let me say here that I am writing this by candle 
light an uncommon thing with me & therefore my writing wont be 
very legible, because I am keeping one eye shut & wink at the paper with 
the other. 

If you expect a letter from a man who lives in the country you must 
make up your mind to receive an egotistical one for he has no gossip 
nor news of any kind, unless his neighbor's cow has calved or the hen has 
laid a silver egg. By the way, this reminds me that one of my neighbors 
has has [sic] really met with a bad accident in the loss of a fine young colt. 
That neighbor is our friend Mrs Morewood. Mr Doolittle my cousin 
was crossing the R.R. track yesterday (where it runs thro the wooded part 
of the farm.) in his slay sleigh I mean and was followed by all three 
of Mrs Morewood's horses (they running at large for the sake of the air & 
exercise). Well: just as Doolittle got on the track with his vehicle, along 
comes the Locomotive whereupon Doolittle whips up like mad & steers 
clear; but the frightened horses following him, they scamper off full before 
the engine, which hitting them right & left, tumbles one into a ditch, 
pitches another into a snowbank, & chases the luckless third so hard as to 
come into direct contact with him, & break his leg clean into two pieces. 
With his leg "in splints" that is done up by the surgeon, the poor colt now 
lies in his straw, & the prayers of all good Christians are earnestly solicited 
in his behalf. Certainly, considering the bounding spirit and full-blooded 
life in that colt how it might for many a summer have sported in pastures 
of red clover & gone cantering merrily along the "Gulf Road" with a 
sprightly Mrs Morewood on his back, patting his neck & lovingly talking 
to him considering all this, I say, I really think that a broken leg for him 
is not one jot less bad than it would be for me tho' I grant you, even as 
it is with him, he has one more leg than I have now. 

I have a sort of sea-feeling here in the country, now that the ground is 
all covered with snow. I look out of my window in the morning when I 
rise as I would out of a port-hole of a ship in the Atlantic. My room seems 

Some Precepts and Examples 147 

a ship's cabin; & at nights when I wake up & hear the wind shrieking, I 
almost fancy there is too much sail on the house, & I had better go on the 
roof & rig in the chimney. 

Do you want to know how I pass my time? I rise at eight there- 
abouts & go to my barn say good-morning to the horse, & give him his 
breakfast. (It goes to my heart to give him a cold one, but it can't be 
helped) Then, pay a visit to my cow cut up a pumpkin or two for her, 
& stand by to see her eat it for its a pleasant sight to see a cow move 
her jaws she does it so mildly & with such a sanctity. My own break- 
fast over, I go to my work-room & light my fire then spread my M.S.S. 
on the table take one business squint at it, & fall to with a will. At 2tt 
P.M. I hear a preconcerted knock at my door, which (by request) continues 
till I rise & go to the door, which serves to wean me effectively from my 
writing, however interested I may be. My friends the horse & cow now 
demand their dinner & I go & give it them. My own dinner over, I rig 
my sleigh & with my mother or sisters start off for the village & if it be 
a Literary World day, great is the satisfaction thereof. My evenings I 
spend in a sort of mesmeric state in my room not being able to read 
only now & then skimming over some large-printed book. Can you send 
me about fifty fast-writing youths, with an easy style & not averse to pol- 
ishing their labors? If you can, I wish you would, because since I have 
been here I have planned about that number of future works & cant find 
enough time to think about them separately. But I dont know but a 
book in a man's brain is better off than a book bound in calf at any rate 
it is safer from criticism. And taking a book off the brain, is akin to the 
ticklish & dangerous business of taking an old painting off a panel you 
have to scrape off the whole brain in order to get at it with due safety 
& even then, the painting may not be worth the trouble. I meant to 
have left more room for something else besides my own concerns. But 
I cant help it. I see Adler is at work or has already achieved a 
German translation. I am glad to hear it. Remember me to him. In 
the country here, I begin to appreciate the Literary World. I read it as 
a sort of private letter from you to me. 

Remember me to your brother. My respects to Mrs Duyckinck & all 
your family. The "sad" young lady sends her regards. 


Mrs Melville with Malcolm is in Boston or that lady would send 
her particular regards. 

148 Writer 


Pacific Ocean ( Off the coast of South America 
On the Tropic of Capricorn) 
Saturday September 1st 1860 

It is now three months exactly since the ship "Meteor" sailed from 
Boston a quarter of a year. During this long period, she has been 
continually moving, and has only seen land on two days. I suppose you 
have followed out on the map (or my globe were better so you get 
Mama to clean it off for you) the route from Boston to San Francisco. 
The distance, by the straight track, is about 16000 miles; but the ship 
will have sailed before she gets there nearer 18 or 20000 miles. So you 
see it is further than from the apple-tree to the big rock. When we 
crossed the Line in the Atlantic Ocean it was very warm; & we had 
warm weather for some weeks; but as we kept getting to the Southward 
it began to grow less warm, and then coolish, and cold and colder, till 
at last it was winter. I wore two flannel shirts, and big mittens & over- 
coat, and a great Russia cap, a very thick leather cap, so called by sailors. 
At last we came in sight of land all covered with snow uninhabited 
land, where no one ever lived, and no one ever will live it is so barren, 
cold and desolate. This was Staten Land an island. Near it, is the big 
island of Terra del Fuego. We passed through between these islands, 
and had a good view of both. There are some "wild people" living on 
Terra del Fuego; but it being the depth of winter there, I suppose they 
kept in their caves. At any rate we saw none of them. The next day 
we were off Cape Horn, the Southernmost point of all America. Now 
it was very bad weather, and was dark at about three o'clock in the after- 
noon. The wind blew terribly. We had hail-storms, and snow and sleet, 
and often the spray froze as it touched the deck. The ship rolled, and 
sometimes took in so much water on the deck as to wash people off their 
legs. Several sailors were washed along the deck this way, and came 
near getting washed overboard. And this reminds me of a very sad thing 
that happened the very morning we were off the Cape I mean the 
very pitch of the Cape. It was just about day-light; it was blowing 
a gale of wind; and Uncle Tom ordered the topsails (big sails) to be 
furled. Whilst the sailors were aloft on one of the yards, the ship rolled 
and plunged terribly; and it blew with sleet and hail, and was very 
cold & biting. Well, all at once, Uncle Tom saw something falling through 
the air, and then heard a thump, and then, looking before him, saw 
a poor sailor lying dead on the deck. He had fallen from the yard, and 
was killed instantly. His shipmates picked him up, and carried him 
under cover. By and by, when time could be spared, the sailmakers 
sewed up the body in a piece of sail-cloth, putting some iron balls 
cannon balls at the foot of it. And, when all was ready, the body was 
put on a plank, and carried to the ship's side in the presence of all hands. 
Then Uncle Tom, as Captain, read a prayer out of the prayer-book, and 

Some Precepts and Examples 149 

at a given word, the sailors who held the plank tipped it up, and im- 
mediately the body slipped into the stormy ocean, and we saw it no 
more. Such is the way a poor sailor is buried at sea. This sailor's 
name was Ray. He had a friend among the crew; and they were both go- 
ing to California, and thought of living there; but you see what happened. 
We were in this stormy weather about forty or fifty days, dating from 
the beginning. But now at last we are in fine weather again, and the 
sun shines warm. (See page 5th) 

Pacific Ocean, on the Line, Sep. 16th 1860 

Since coming to the end of the fourth page, we have been sailing in 
fine weather, and it has continued quite warm. The other day we saw 
a whale-ship; and I got into a boat and sailed over the ocean in it to the 
whale-ship, and stayed there about an hour. They had eight or ten of 
the "wild people" aboard. The Captain of the whale-ship had hired them 
at one of the islands called Rarotonga. He wanted them to help pull in 
the whale-boat when they hunt the whale. Uncle Tom's crew are now 
very busy making the ship look smart for San Francisco. They are tar- 
ring the rigging, and are going to paint the ship, & the masts and yards. 
She looks very rusty now, oweing [sic] to so much bad weather that we 
have been in. When we get to San-Francisco, I shall put this letter 
in the post office there, and you will get it in about 25 days afterwards. 
It will go in a steamer to a place called Panama, on the Isthmus of 
Darien (get out your map, & find it) then it will cross the Isthmus by 
railroad to Aspinwall or Chagres on the Gulf of Mexico; then, another 
steamer will take it, which steamer, after touching at Havanna in Cuba 
for coals, will go direct to New York; and there, it will go to the Post 
Office, and so, get to Pittsfield. 

I hope that, when it arrives, it will find you well, and all the family. 
And I hope that you have called to mind what I said to you about your 
behaviour previous to my going away. I hope that you have been obedient 
to your mother, and helped her all you could, & saved her trouble. Now 
is the time to show what you are whether you are a good, honorable 
boy, or a good-for-nothing one. Any boy, of your age, who disobeys 
his mother, or worries her, or is disrespectful to her such a boy is a 
poor shabby fellow; and if you know any such boys, you ought to cut 
their acquaintance. 

Now my Dear Malcolm, I must finish my letter to you. I think of you, 
and Stanwix & Bessie and Fanny very often; and often long to be with 
you. But it can not be, at present. The picture which I have of you & 
the rest, I look at sometimes, till the faces almost seem real. Now, 
my Dear Boy, good bye, & God bless you 

Your affectionate father 
I enclose a little baby flying-fish's wing for Fanny 

Miss Emily's Maggie 


Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) is now recognized as one of Amer- 
ica's greatest poets and one of the great woman poets of all literature. 
She published few poems and had no chance for recognition during her 
lifetime, which was spent quietly in her father's house in the town of 
Amherst, Massachusetts, with few journeys beyond her native region. 
Legends have grown up around her outwardly quiet life, portraying her 
as a complete recluse and dramatizing the supposed unhappy love 
which her poems seem to spring from. Mr. Ley da is engaged on a 
documentary biography of Emily Dickinson which will do much to 
dispel such romantic legends by revealing the wealth of human as- 
sociations she enjoyed both near at hand and through her wide corre- 
spondence. In this article he opens one window into the Dickinson 
household, which we see through the eyes of their Irish maid, Maggie, 
in simple and direct letters that at the same time recreate Maggie her- 
self for us. 

To WATCH Emily Dickinson sitting in Amherst amid the shades of fading 
Puritanism has been, too often, the narrow critical frame for examining 
the contents of her surprising poems and equally surprising life. The 
other evasion to pretend that she was totally isolated from all sur- 
roundings and to examine nothing in her life but its abundant creativity 
leaves one just as far from a comprehension of the breathing artist. 
All these fractional truths and cramping legends tend to hold the fullness 
of her work and her life out of our reach. It is my belief that the total 
reality of Emily Dickinson's circumstances and relationships (as far as 
these can be reconstructed) is the best of all levers to pry off accumulated 
speculation and romancing in order that we may see what sort of woman 
it was who wrote those poems. If the result seems contradictory and un- 
satisfactory and impossibly complex, so much the truer. 

To manipulate the larger scale of reference, the tinier scale of the 
immediate, the intimate, even the trivial offers itself as lubrication. Minu- 
tiae can give movement to every sensible generalization about her life, 
and no analyst of the poems can ignore that life, whether or not he 
writes of it. To the biographer too sure of what is "unimportant," to 
the scorner of the momentary, the transiently trivial, Dickinson offers her 
own formulation "Forever is composed of Nows." 

Reprinted from New World Writing: Third Mentor Selection (New York: The New 
American Library, 1953) by permission of the author and the publisher. Copyright, 
1953, by Jay Leyda. 


Some Precepts and Examples 151 

One of the several harmfully false aspects of the "Emily legend" is 
that she lived and worked alone. The more one looks into the reality 
of the matter, the larger grows her circle of friends, acquaintances, cor- 
respondents the more continuous her exchange with other minds and 
other temperaments. She was ingenious enough to reduce the number 
of outside pressures to suit the work she was determined to do, but there 
was a point beyond which she could not and would not go in her 
social housecleaning. Amherst society bounced off the tight little body 
of Dickinsons, but there was one Dickinson bent on absorbing every 
ray of light beamed from any direction even from within the two 
Dickinson houses. Everyone who established any degree of contact with 
the poet writing there requires investigation. The people who worked 
for the family, for example should they do no more than slide along 
the backdrop of this drama, carrying their dish and pitchfork? 

There was no real fall from the close cluster of the Dickinson family 
until Austin's marriage. The family had known sickness, and death out- 
side and on the edges, but Emily Dickinson was 25 before anyone's 
departure actually changed the family structure. When Austin married 
Susan Gilbert, the new family thus installed in the newly built house next 
door made both division and increase in the Dickinson colony on Main 
Street, now poised above both the center of Amherst to the west and 
the Irish settlement to the east, down over the new railroad tracks. It 
had taken Edward Dickinson's sharp dealing and blustering to buy back 
the Main Street brick house sold fifteen years before, in 1840, to settle 
the debts of his father's estate. But Edward managed; and the easier 
life of those past fifteen years in the frame house on Pleasant Street 
was changed to something more rigid and formal. He had officially 
retired from the pursuit of political office, and now occupied the position 
of Amherst's elder statesman. The growing influence of Amherst Col- 
lege added to its Treasurer's social responsibilities; when Massachusetts' 
governors attended Amherst commencements, they stayed at the Dickin- 
sons, and Wednesday tea at Hon. Edward Dickinson's during Commence- 
ment Week became a rite that would alter only with Edward's death. 

This all meant more work the house was larger and Mrs. Dickinson 
was older. When she had last lived in this house she had had three 
young children, and employed all the Delias and Catherines and Jameses 
who made housekeeping possible. But when the Dickinsons had moved 
to Pleasant Street, the children spent much of the daytime at school, and 
Mrs. Dickinson got along with less "help" the girls gradually assuming 
some of the chores. Both sisters disliked these chores, though Emily's 
introduction to bread-making at the age of 14 does not seem so dreadful: 

Mother thinks me not able to confine myself to school this term. She had 
rather I would exercise, & I can assure you I get plenty of that article by stay- 

152 Writer 

ing at home. I am going to learn to make bread to-morrow. So you may 
imagine me with my sleeves rolled up, mixing flour, milk, saleratus, etc., with 
a deal of grace ... I think I could keep house very comfortably if I knew how 
to cook. 

By 1850 she did know how to cook, but the girls were learning resistance, 
or their mother was weakening, for Edward inserted in the newspaper a 
somewhat agonized 


To hire a girl or woman who is capable of 
doing the entire work of a small family. 

There were no satisfactory applicants perhaps the Irish girls who sought 
"constant employment" had not yet arrived in Amherst. With Lavinia 
away at school and her mother ill, Emily's view of housework grows dim 
indeed, while washing the noon dishes in the "sink-room," or preparing 
three meals a day. There is plenty of reasonable self-pity in her letter 
to Abiah Root even though it is guarded with humor: 

I am yet the Queen of the court, if regalia be dust, and dirt have three 
loyal subjects, whom I'd rather relieve from service Mother is still an 
invalid, tho' a partially restored one Father and Austin still clamor for food, 
and I, like a martyr am feeding them. Wouldn't you love to see me in these 
bonds of great despair, looking around my kitchen, and praying for kind 
deliverance, and declaring by "Omai's beard" I never was in such a plight? 
My kitchen I think I called it, God forbid that it was, or ever shall be my own 
God keep me from what they call households, except that bright one of 

Her talent for baking, at least, was carried to the brick house in 1855, 
and she played the roles of prize-winner (75c) and judge in successive 
Cattle Shows Division of Rye and Indian Bread. Perhaps because her 
father demanded that she be the sole author of all his bread, these talents 
were not displayed so publicly thereafter. Never a "waited-upon" girl, 
Emily must have been the most relieved member of the household when 
they acquired their first steady maid. 

Irish-born Margaret O'Brien may have joined the Dickinsons on Pleasant 
Street, but she was a fixture of the brick house just Emily's age when 
they moved there and recognized her own power inside those walls. 
In early October Margaret would object "to furnace heat on account of 
bone decrepitudes, so I dwell in my bonnet and suffer comfortably," 
Emily once reported. When away from home, Emily sent back soothing 
messages to Margaret, but showed no especial affection for her, and when 
Margaret married and left in 1865, Emily wrote to her friend, Mrs. Hol- 

Some Precepts and Examples 153 

Besides wiping dishes for Margaret, I wash them now, while she becomes 
Mrs. Lawler, vicarious papa to four previous babes. Must she not be an 
adequate bride? 

I winced at her loss, because I was in the habit of her, and even a new 
rolling-pin has an embarrassing element, but to all except anguish the mind 
soon adjusts. 

It was some time before Margaret was permanently replaced; meanwhile 
a succession of trial maids passed through the house the Dickinsons 
were not comfortable employers. And there were other jobs to be done 
for the Main Street house: Horace Church, in control of orchard and 
meadow, was pure Yankee to judge by the recording of his ripe speech 
("Squire, ef the Frost is the Lord's Will, I don't popose to stan in the 
way of it") that Emily sent to Mrs. Holland at the time of his death. 
There was also a procession of seamstresses professionally quiet and 
always changing, because, as one of them said, "The Dickinsons didn't 
like strangers . . . Outsiders weren't welcome there." 

One entire family was semi-attached to the house. Richard and Ann 
Mathews were immigrants from England who lived behind the Pleasant 
Street house, and whose sons and daughters fell victim to the diseases 
of poverty nearly as fast as they came. Our poet's interest in birth and 
death could have been trained in the Mathews shack during her life- 
time sixteen Mathews children were born, and nine died. The Mathews 
boys who survived headed the large and fluid corps of Miss Emily's mes- 
sengers, which included Johnnie Beston, the Kelley boys, and many others. 
But Pat Mathews (baptized Francis Joseph) had a knack for trouble that 
must have especially endeared him to Miss Emily: 

Accident. A horse became unmanageable in the street on Tuesday eve- 
ning about 10 o'clock, near Dea. Mack's, in consequence of the music of the 
band employed by the serenaders, and plunged in among a parcel of boys, 
throwing down the son [Pat] of Mr. Richard Matthews, a boy about 8 
years of age, and cutting a gash in the back of his head five or six inches in 
length. The wound was dressed by Dr. Smith . . . The same boy came very 
near being killed at the depot only a few days since. 

From this date Emily's letters to her brother, then at Harvard Law School, 
and to his fiancee, visiting her family in Geneva, New York, report regu- 
larly on Pat's condition. The death of another Mathews child, Harriet, 
brought a bleak November letter to the Hollands: 

I cant stay any longer in a world of death. Austin is ill of fever. I buried my 
garden last week our man, Dick, lost a little girl through the scarlet fever. 
I thought perhaps that you were dead ... Ah! dainty dainty Death! Ah! 
democratic Death! Grasping the proudest zinnia from my purple garden, 
then deep to his bosom calling the serf's child! 
Say, is he everywhere? Where shall I hide my things? Who is alive? 

154 Writer 

When her uncle, Loring Norcross, died, she sent his daughters sympathy 
from everyone she saw, including Dick and Ann: 

Even Dick's wife, simple dame, with a kitchen full, and the grave besides, if 
little ragged ones, wants to know "more about" you, and follows Mother to 
the door, who has called with bundle. 

Dick says, in his wise way, he "shall always be interested in them young 
ladies." One little young lady of his own, you know, is in Paradise. That 
makes him tenderer-minded. 

Nineteenth-century journalists thought that Ireland would be emptied, 
deserted, so steady was the stream of Irish to America. What awaited 
them here bore so little resemblance to paradise that it is hard to realize 
that famine and rent laws could have produced a hell by comparison 
with the alien terrors of American cities and villages. In a city the new 
arrivals had a fighting chance, but those who left the crowded coastal 
cities for the inland towns of New England in the 1850s found the same 
poverty of opportunity that there confronted the Jew, the Negro, and 
those Chinese imported by a North Adams shoe manufacturer who had 
heard hopefully that Chinese eat very little. As a group the immigrant 
Irish had even fewer freedoms than American women. 

Every fence was employed to isolate the Irishman from the community; 
his religion, of course, made an excellent barrier in the tightly buttoned 
Congregationalist villages of western Massachusetts; the only political 
parties that offered him any pride were the enemies of the dominant 
Whigs; if he had a taste for irony, he would have appreciated that the 
whole English repertoire of Celtiphobiac humor and contempt had been 
imported for development in the American press with such an advanced 
newspaper as the Springfield Daily Republican being jocular about any 
local Irish tragedy, or with such a civilized magazine as Scribner's Monthly, 
even as late as the 70s, supporting its shabby Irish anecdotes with threaten- 
ing editorials. 

A symptom of the social level to which the Irish community was con- 
fined in Amherst is the cavalier treatment of the "alien" Irish names in its 
press and town records. One family was variously reported and recorded 
as Scanlan, Scanlin, Scanel, Scanelly, etc., though it seems to have been 
always clear that their name was Scannell. It was Dennis Scannell who 
came to work in the barns and gardens of both Dickinson houses at some 
time in the mid-1870s. The death from typhoid of his wife Mary in 1876 
produced a not unreasonable crisis in his affairs that the Dickinsons helped 
him to weather. That something was going wrong appeared more than 
a year after that death when Emily Dickinson sent a half-warning, half- 
laughing message to her nephew: 

Dennis was happy yesterday, and it made him graceful I saw him waltzing 
with the Cow, and suspected his status, but he afterward started for your 
House in a frame that was unmistakable 

Some Precepts and Examples 155 

You told me he hadn't tasted Liquor since his Wife's decease then she 
must have been living at six o'clock last Evening 
I fear for the rectitude of the Bam 

A Christmas later the Scannell difficulties worsened, this time rating local 
newspaper attention: 

Jerry Scanlan, a lad of 14 summers, who has suddenly disappeared from 
home once or twice and then returned several days after, wandered away a 
few days ago and his father, Dennis, was summoned to Springfield, yesterday 
. . . This morning's Republican states that Mr. Burt refused to give the boy up 
to his father after investigating the case . . . 

Miss Dickinson's comment on this, in a letter to Mrs. Holland: 

A Little Boy ran away from Amherst a few Days ago, and when asked 
where he was going, replied, "Vermont or Asia." . . . My pathetic Crusoe 

But things were somehow worked out perhaps "arranged" by the pas- 
sionate, influential Austin for Dennis stayed to die in the service of "the 
other house" with unusual death-bed attentions from Austin, and an 
obituary-testimonial written by Susan for the town's paper. 

Another Irish family watched by Emily was to lose a daughter and 
Emily wrote to her Norcross cousins of the death of Margaret Kelley, in 

Little Irish Maggie went to sleep this morning at six o'clock, just the time 
Grandpa rises, and will rest in the grass at Northampton to-morrow. She has 
had a hard sickness, but her awkward little life is saved and gallant now. Our 
Maggie is helping her mother put her in the cradle. 

By this time "our Maggie" knew that she was in the Dickinson house 
to stay. It was almost four years before the gap in the household, left 
by Margaret O'Brien's marriage, was filled, and the young woman who 
came in March 1869 was to be the pillar of the home and a blessing to 
Miss Emily and Miss Vinnie. Margaret Maher was more than cook and 
maid to the Dickinson sisters; for both she was a protective bulwark 
keeping intrusion from the poet, and pain from the poet's sister. Emily 
Dickinson's letters show a more active function for Maggie, too a fount 
of stubbornness and decision and invincible belief. Her healthy presence 
made her as vital to the skeptic poet as any member of "the peculiar race" 
of Dickinsons. Yet Maggie Maher first entered the house for a brief time, 
while waiting for a better job, and was most reluctant to stay. 

Past 20, she was well equipped for independence: with her sister and 
brothers she had made the journey from Parish Kilusty in Tipperary. 
The boys may have come to Amherst to help build the railroad that was 
begun with so much jubilation and mouth-watering commercial prospects 

156 Writer 

in 1852. When settled, Maggie, perhaps alone, returned to Ireland to 
bring their father and mother to the new Amherst home. The older daugh- 
ter Mary soon married an earlier Irish arrival, Thomas Kelley, and when 
her parents died and her brothers departed, home meant the Kelley 
house to Maggie. But the Maher family was intact when the youngster 
Maggie took her first job, working for the Boltwoods. 

Against the considerable odds of time and chance Maggie's letters to 
Mrs. Clarinda Boltwood have been preserved, and in them we can hear 
her actual intonation, not only because their Irish accent is recorded 
phonetically, but the very flow of her straight, dignified speech, is directly 
attached to her warm heart "y ure letter this wet evening was a grate 
treete to me for I watched for it very eagrly" and " I eather dreaming or 
thinking of you I dont know what the reason" and "y oure letter of Mon- 
day came to me last night I was glad to see youre hand Writting on the 
out side and to read what it cantain on insoid . . ." 

When the younger Boltwoods left Amherst for Hartford, Maggie Maher 
took other work, though always with the hope of rejoining her beloved 

You spoke of I going to work to youre mother with anny when I get true 
with my one work But I dont care where a weeks wages go I shant charge it 
you you nede not fere ... I dont wish to go to Work untill I here whether 
you go or not then I will try to get a plase 

She did get to Hartford, but a few months later in June 1868 a 
double tragedy brought her back to Amherst and kept her there: 

(June 4) 

My letter will give you a grate surpris But it is hard for me My dear Father 
is so bad that We dont expect he to live only a few days so that you see that 
My Joy is turned to griefe Father only New me I am glad that his reasons 
to Now me and that I am here [to] take care of him as poor sister is Worn 
out from Care It is Write that I should care My parants as there is now other 
thing that I can do for them 

Her father died and within the week: 

(June 16) 

This is a World of trouble our trouble was Never so much as it is at preasant. 
My dear Brother Thomas [Kelley] was almost killed last saterday at 4 o clock 
he still lives But we dont know how long he may My dear sister what will 
she do the father of seven children the lord may comfort her . . . 

he fell 30 feet from a building ... I dont know whether it is day or night 
sence I left hartford 
(June 25) 

Brother is a little more comfortabler than he have been sence he was hurt 
docter Dole tends him 2 a day his arm was not set yet but it will on Sunday 
next with gods help we cant tell how it is going to be yet all say that it got to 

Some Precepts and Examples 157 

be cut of [f] ... the dath of dear father lies in a cloud of sadness on me and 
I can't get over it he died in my armes and I never can forget it I must hope 
he is better of [f] . . . But how nice it would be to have all friends lay down 
and die so that we would not have to suffer the loss of those that gone 

Maggie stayed in Amherst, near her broken family; among her several 
employers was Edward Dickinson. The senior Boltwoods, still living in 
Amherst, were irritated to find their Maggie committed, even temporarily, 
to the Dickinsons there was a scene, reported by Maggie to the junior 
Boltwoods in Hartford: 

(1869, March 2) 

... I waited all this time to tell you when I would go to California No, 
that if nothing dont happen to me I will go the first of May ... I will lave my 
plase the first of April to get ready My oldest Brother will meet me in 
Panama ... I was not in to father Boltwood sence I went to see you only 
once and then no one spoke to me father went true the kitchen But he did not 
spak to me . . . the reason a I was told the[y] have to me is when I left Mrs. 
tolcott they came down after me to go to work there But I could not go for I 
was ingaged to Mr. Dickenson 2 weeks before ... I dont want to disapoint any 
person or Brake my word if i be Poor and working for my living I will always 
try to do rite . . . 

She has no eagerness to stay with the Dickinsons: 

... I like it very well But it is not my home my home is with you I am as 
strange here as if I came here to work yester 

Vinnie's cats, with whom Emily was always at war, were getting on Mag- 
gie's nerves, too. But she was finding it harder to leave the Dickinsons 
than she had guessed. The California plan had to be forgotten and 
Mr. Dickinson had to have his way. 

(March 24) 

We have so many cats to take care of that I would like to have some help 
But for I ntend to lave very sone I would be very cross to them But I will 
keep my temper for a nother while I am always very patient . . . Brother 
tommy wrote to me last week and told me not come out there for there is to 
much sickness there he have the eagy very bad 

(April 6) 

... I have tried every way to go to hartford to live this summer but I must 
stay here for the sumer I tried to get a girl for them But the[y] would not 
take any one that I would get it is what Mr Dicksom said he would Pay me 
as much more wages soner then let me go so that I have desided to stay for 
the Preasent I went to Pa[l]mer the day that Mr. Boltwood was up here to 
get the girl that worket for them before me and she would come But the[y] 
would not take her . . . But there [is] one thing sure I will do as I like when 

158 Writer 

I will get a chance without giving much notice all that is in the house is very 
fond of me and dose every thing for my comfort in fact thefy] are to kind to 
there help the only reason that I dislike is that I am lonsom in Amherst . . . 
last night that I settled with Mr. D if I would lave Now and go to you it 
would caus them to be very angry with us all so we will wait for a nother 
time the[y] get very excited when you write to me for fere that [I] will go to 
you there is one grate trouble that I have not half enough of work so that I 
must play with the cats to Plase Miss Vinny you know how I love cats 

For Mr. Dickinson to threaten "to be very angry with us all" affected more 
than Maggie's income. Her niece Margaret was serving in "the other 
house," and, too, no vulnerable person in Amherst wished to excite Mr. 
D's anger. The Boltwoods were already receding into a pink past: 

(November 2) 

I think you for youre kind offer and also hope you will plas excuse me for 
not writting to you before it was not the reason that I did not love you for I 
always love you and Mr B and the Boys and you alwas was a kind mother to 
me so kind that I fere that I Never could Pay you for youre care and interest 
in me . . . youre offer to me is what I wold like to do But I cant lave Sister 
Mary this winter for she needs me for comfort . . . 

But Maggie had found her place in life and history; Clarinda Boltwood 
had lost a good maid Emily Dickinson had found a priceless ally. A 
letter written this same month to Cousin Louise Norcross shows us that 
she was beginning to guess the value of Margaret Maher (Tim is the 
new coachman, and Dick the horse): 

Tim is washing Dick's feet, and talking to him now and then in an intimate 
way. Poor fellow, how he warmed when I gave him your message! The red 
reached clear to his beard, he was so gratified; and Maggie stood as still for 
hers as a puss for patting. The hearts of these poor people lie so unconcealed 
you bare them with a smile. 

There is a family photograph of this time that tells us more about Mag- 
gie. In the center sits her handsome, one-armed brother-in-law, Tom 
Kelley; on his left is his daughter Margaret, then working for Austin and 
Susan; and on his right stands the pleasantly sturdy figure of Maggie 
wide mouth, inquiring eyes; both Margarets are wearing identically styled 
dresses, perhaps giving the occasion for the group photograph. 

The outwardly placid life of the Dickinson family was about to ex- 
plode in a series of crises from which it would never fully recover 
unless the transmutation of tragedy into poetry can be called "recovery." 
Edward Dickinson's brief return to legislative life, for the railroad's sake, 
was unwise: the heat of argument and of Boston brought apoplexy and 
sudden death. His wife's dependent life was shattered, and on the first 
anniversary of his death she was paralyzed with a stroke. The lives of the 
two daughters and Maggie now revolved around a half-lifeless center 

Some Precepts and Examples 159 

that demanded their time and attention. In the confusion something was 
allowed to happen to one of the family's dependents that Edward's chil- 
dren may never have forgiven themselves: Dick Mathews was admitted 
to the Alms House, where he died ten days later. 

The community of Amherst was aware that the brick house on Main 
Street housed the most dangerous type of alien a poet. And Emily 
Dickinson must have sensed the taboos placed around her, so sensitive 
was she to the atmospheres and dramas of the village. Though we would 
call her an "insider," to the town she was an "outsider"; and they were 
willing to believe any gossip or "revelations" about the Dickinson sisters: 
madness was one of the gentler accusations. How often Emily must have 
looked at Maggie as a fellow exile for community snobbery was directed 
as much against the "lower class" Irish as against the "upper class" Dick- 
insons, especially that queer writing woman! There is a wistful poem 
written in that house about Paradise, ending: 

Maybe Eden aint so lonesome 
As New England used to be! 

In 1880 there was a scene that Emily Dickinson had to report to the 
son of her recently dead friend, Samuel Bowles: 

Our friend your Father was so beautifully and intimately recalled Today that 
it seemed impossible he had experienced the secret of Death 

A servant who had been with us a long time and had often opened the 
Door for him, asked me how to spell "Genius," yesterday I told her and 
she said no more 

Today, she asked me what "Genius" meant? I told her none had known 

She said she read in a Catholic Paper that Mr. Bowles was "the Genius of 
Hampshire," and thought it might be that past Gentleman . . . 

I congratulate you upon his immortality, which is a constant stimulus to 
my Household . . . 

As a personality seal for the letter, she asked the "servant" Maggie 
to address the envelope, a typically half-hidden Dickinsonian gesture. 
When, later in the year, Maggie was ill with typhoid fever at the Kelley 
house, "Her Grieved Mistress" sent another typical gesture few dared 
to be playful with the very ill. 

The missing Maggie is much mourned, and I am going out for "black" 
to the nearest store. 

All are very naughty, and I am naughtiest of all. 

The pussies dine on sherry now, and humming-bird cutlets. 

The invalid hen took dinner with me, but a hen like Dr. T[aylor]'s horse 
soon drove her away. I am very busy picking up stems and stamens as the 
hollyhocks leave their clothes around. 

What shall I send my weary Maggie? Pillows or fresh brooks? 

160 Writer 

She knew when not to be playful, too. In the following year she wrote 
to her Norcross cousins: 

Maggie's brother is killed in the mines, and Maggie wants to die, but Death 
goes far around to those that want to see him. If the little cousins would give 
her a note she does not know I ask it I think it would help her begin, 
that bleeding beginning that every mourner knows. 

Emily Dickinson seemed never to tire of defining Maggie's virtues and 
qualities, for herself as well as for her friends. To Mrs. Holland she wrote, 
"Maggie, good and noisy, the North Wind of the Family, but Sweets 
without a Salt would at last cloy " and she sympathizes with the Nor- 
cross sisters in their new Cambridge quarters: "I am glad the house- 
keeping is kinder; it is a prickly art. Maggie is with us still, warm and 
wild and mighty . . " 

"With us still" Maggie seemed always there to give emergency 
treatment when it was inconvenient to summon Dr. Fish to feed Austin 
an early breakfast when his own household couldn't be bothered to 
help out "at the other house" in a crisis to ease Vinnie away from the 
door when an arousing enemy called to slip clandestine letters under 
the door of Emily's bedroom (Emily aimed to make all her correspondence 
so private that it all became slightly clandestine) to take Emily's excuses, 
in the forms of clover, rose or jasmine, to the door when an uninvited 
visitor knocked. The friends of the house knew Maggie as well as did 
the house's antagonists: when Christmas packages were sent to the Dick- 
inson sisters, something for Maggie was packed, too. 

The instructions left by Emily Dickinson for her funeral sound like the 
directions for a pageant of her allegiances. Following her father she was 
also to avoid the hearse, with its mock solemnity; he had been borne to 
the graveyard by the professors and successes of Amherst; she asked to be 
carried by the six Irishmen she had known. Led by Thomas Kelley of the 
single strong arm, Dennis Scannell, Stephen Sullivan, Patrick Ward, Daniel 
Moynihan and Dennis Cashman carried Emily Dickinson to the place she 
still occupies. When Edward Dickinson was buried, the town had closed 
in his honor, but his daughter's plan was quieter: she asked to be carried 
out the back door, around through the garden, through the opened barn 
from front to back, and then through the grassy fields to the family plot, 
always in sight of the house. 

When Emily Dickinson's poems found an audience, and a photograph of 
her was needed, Maggie offered a daguerreotype that the family (includ- 
ing the sitter) had disliked and discarded. Without her love we would not 
have the only photographic image of a great poet. 

There is a letter that Margaret Maher wrote in 1891, five years after the 
poet's death: 

Some Precepts and Examples 161 

Vinnia has not being very well this last few weeks. . . to tell the truth of it 
she is not strong, and cant get a long with things that she have no write to be 
troubled with it will always be so as far as I see all are well around here But 
a few are happy . . . 

We have 5 cats 2 in the house and 3 in the Barren all well and good 
apetited so far . . . 


The Letter 

3-fo/mes 4904 

The first line of this poem is an allusion to one of the snatches of 
song in the mad scenes of Shakespeare's King Lear: "Childe Roland to 
the dark tower came. . . ." This haunting fragment has stirred the 
imagination of later poets, among them Robert Browning and Louis 
MacNeice, to invent dramatic situations to explain it. Childe Harold 
is the romantic wandering hero of Byron's famous narrative poem, 
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Mr. Holmes has fused the two allusions, 
to suggest the feeling that going to the postoffice for a letter may be as 
stirring an adventure as the sort those heroes were engaged upon. 
"Childe": a youth of noble birth. 

CHILDE HAROLD to the dark tower, L-two 
Four turns, R-three, and the notches 
Lined up. I guess through beveled glass 
Miracles by mail, air-mail, all mine, 
Checks and love, if dial to dial matches. 

Silent as a safe-cracker, I twirl and try, 
Intent as the other burglars, and ahl it 
Opens. They too break in on their lives. 
They clutch stuffing from the mailbags. 
Rip and read, then and there, no matter what. 

Reprinted from New Poems by American Poets, edited by Rolfe Humphries. Copy- 
right, 1953, by Ballantine Books, Inc. 

162 Writer 

They stand around like the spaced columns 
That hold up public buildings, stunned 
By something not in, or in, the envelope. 
They go away, and more move up, robbers 
Rubbing the dials for a break long planned. 

I never read letters in the post office. 
I carry them to the cottage. There, alone, 
I divide the loot with myself, not fifty-fifty. 
Counterfeit. Dead-end. Non-negotiable. 
But one is currency. One is mine. One. 


The Shape of Ideas & 

Rudolf Jlescb i9ii- 

Suppose you have all the materials for a piece of writing assembled 
in your head or in your notes. Jfjft isn't a simple chronological narra- 
tive, hovv dp you arrange the materials for presentation? Most hand- 
books of composition go into the mysteries and technicalities of formal 
outlining at this point, and certainly the piece must be put into some 
logical shape. But why one rather than_ another? The books have 
little to say about the agonized mental churning that usually has to go 
on before the ideas take shape out of their chaos. Flesch suggests a few 
principles of shaping that may help diminish the agony. 

Success in solving the problem depends on choosing the right aspect, 
on attacking the fortress from its accessible side. 


WHEN the Saturday Evening Post, in its article series on American cities, 
got around to St. Louis, it assigned Associate Editor Jack Alexander to the 
job. Alexander went to St. Louis, spent ten days collecting material, and 
returned to his desk in Philadelphia. But he wasn't yet ready to write. He 
wasn't even ready to draw up an outline. According to the Saturday Eve- 
ning Post, this is what he did: "His first job was to organize all his in- 

Rudolf Flesch, The Art of Readable Writing (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1949). 
Copyright, 1949, by Rudolf Flesch. 

Some Precepts and Examples 163 

formation and ideas. It was partly a mental and partly a mechanical 
process. He spread out his typewritten notes on a big table. Gradually he 
sorted his notes and, more important, the facts and ideas in his head 
into classifications. This process is-hard fo^-Jack ta^plftir he- doesn't 
know^'ust what happened. Somehow, after a day of work, he got to the 
point where he could think through the whole mess. He was ready to 
start planning the actual writing job." 

Think of what this means. After he had collected his raw material, and 
before he felt ready to make an outline, Mr. Alexander put in a full day's 
work getting his ideas in shape. This seasoned professional writer assigned 
a full work day to what amounts to ]^5t sitting and tb in ^ {n g 

This may seem strange to you. Yet actually it isn't strange at all. Every 
professional writer knows that this period of just-sitting-and-thinking be- 
tween legwork and outline is the most important part of the whole writing 
process. It's what makes a piece of writing what it is. 

You won't find anything about this in the textbooks. Students are not 
supposed to just srt and think. Open any English composition textbook 
and you'll find that note-taking is followed by outlining without even a 
five-minute break for a smoke. 

If you want to find out about this mysterious business of just-sitting-and 
thinking, you have to go to the psychologists. They know quite a bit about 
it; but the trouble is that they don't write English but their own special 
language. They talk about recentering, restructuring, and configurations, 
and the whole school of psychology that deals with these matters goes by 
the formidable name ofGestalt Psychologtf. 

Let me do a little translating for you. In the original German, the word 
Gestalt means nothing particularly exciting; it simply means shape. And 
that's what this whole business is about: when you do this kind of just- 
sitting-and-thinking, you jire trymgjo grasp the shaye^of your ideas. The 
configurations, the recentering, the restructuring all these words mean 
that your mind is operating just like your eye or your camera when 
it is looking at an object. To see the object clearly, you have to find the 
right fogus, the right perspective, Jhe right angle of vision. Only when all 
tKesethings are taken care of~do you really see what the object is like. 

The same way, in your writing you must first go over your material in 
your mind, trying to find the focus, the perspective, the angle of vision 
that will make you see clearly the shape of whatever it ts you are writing 
about. There has to be one point that is sharply in focus, and a clear 
grouping of everything else around it. Once you see this clearly, your 
reader will see it too. And that, the shape of yourjdeas,jsusually ^ 
going, {p. arry_&way from his reading. , ""77, 

I know of course that all this still sounds vague. But don't worry: From 
this point on we are getting down to brass tacks. 

The most widely used device for getting ideas in shape is to buttonhole 
some unsuspecting victim 1 the kind of person who is apt to read later 

164 Writer 

what you have written and to rehearse your ideas aloud. This has two 
advantages: first, it forces you to funnel your ideas into a limited number 
of words; and second, the other person will tell you what your ideas look 
like from where he sits. Allan Nevins, the historian, puts it this way: 
"Catch a friend who is interested in the subject and talk out what you 
have learned, at length. In this way you discover facts of interpretation 
that you might have missed, points of argument that had been unrealized, 
and the form most suitable for the story you have to tell." 

This is fine, except that Mr. Nevins says "at length." Actually, the 
rule here is, the shorter the better. If you can manage to spring your ideas 
on your friend in one sentence, then you have found the sharpest focus of 
them all. Everything else will arrange itself around this one sentence or 
phrase almost automatically. This is what newspapermen call writing 
"from the headline" or "from the lead." It's a useful trick. 

Let me give you a few examples of this. The most famous editorial on 
the atomic bomb was written by the editor of the Saturday Review of 
Literature, Mr. Norman Cousins. It was firmly built upon an inspired 
title: "Modern Man is Obsolete." The best-known advertisement of the 
same year was run by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. It proceeded 
straight from an unbeatable headline: "A Hog Can Cross the Country 
Without Changing Trains But YOU Can't!" 

Or think of the remarkable sentence-building career of Mr. Elmer 
Wheeler, the author of Tested Sentences that Sell. This man spends his 
life thinking up sentences that will bring salestalk into sharp focus. In his 
book he proudly tells of the millions of square clothespins that were sold 
hvith the words: "They won't roll!" 

But to come back: A good way of using someone else for focus and 
perspective is to gut.,siicEr person right into your piece of writing. You 
present youFf acts and ideas as seen by an observer with a detache$ point 
of view. This will make things clearer to yourself and will help your reader 
in catching on. Take, for instance, the following "Duet on a Bus" by 
Douglas Moore: 

I overheard a bus conversation the other day. It was a long one, lasting 
from Grant's Tomb to Forty-second Street. A young Frenchman, recently ar- 
rived, was apparently being shown the city by a lady of middle age who took 
her culture as a heavy responsibility ... It went something like this: 

"I shall be happy to attend the opening of the opera." 

"Yes, it couldn't be nicer. 'Faust/ you know." 

"It will be amusing to hear 'Faust' in English." 

"Oh, this won't be in English. All our operas are done in the original lan- 

"Why? Do American audiences understand French?" 

"No, but it is much more artistic that way and the singers' French is 
usually so poor even French audiences wouldn't be able to understand them." 

"The singers aren't French then?" 

"Only one or two. Albanese will be Marguerite and Pinza Mephistopheles. 
They are both Italian." 

Some Precepts and Examples 165 

"What happens in the Italian operas? Are they sung by Italians?" 

"Well, now let's see. In 'Rigoletto' there's Tibbett, Kullman as the Duke, 
Antoine as Gilda, and Kaskas as Maddalena." 

"They're all Americans, aren't they?" 

"So they are. Well, they sing Italian anyway. Isn't it wonderful so many 
of our best singers are American now." 

"It is an amusing idea, operas in the original language. Is 'Boris Godounov' 
sung in Russian?" 

"No, that would be too hard except for Kipnis. He's Russian. The rest of 
them sing Italian." 

"You mean at the same time?" 

"Yes, most of them are not Italians but it seems a good language to use." 


"Well, you see in the old days there were really two companies at the 
Metropolitan, the German and the Italian. I suppose when this opera came 
into the repertory the Italian wing sang it." 

"Why don't they sing it in English? That is closer to the Russian in sound 
and the audience might understand it better." 

"Well, we have tried some operas in English but I don't believe the public 
likes it." 

"Why not? Are they afraid they might catch a few words?" 

And so oru^(Sorry I can't print the whole thing here.) You see how 
useful thp stoogeYvith another viewpoint is to a writer. 

iTut ot : frHuse'-you canTcfartfais suit uf thing atHhe-tinre. What else can 
you do to gain focus and perspective? 

It depends on the material you are working on. Often the answer will 
suggest itself. Whenever you are writing about a group or an organization, 
for instance, the naturaljthing to jiojsjto focus on a typical membejrjjf the 
group. Start by describing him (or her) and go on from tKere. 

TEis sounds simple, but there is a pitfall in it. It's hard to look away 
from the eye-catching, outstanding and therefore not typical members 
of the group. I once talked to a writer who was working on an employee 
pension-plan booklet. He had all details worked out for a "given case" 
but his "given case" was a $10,000-a-year man! This meant that he got 
nice round figures when it came to working out percentages; but it also 
meant that the example didn't mean a thing to the average $3,000-a-year 

So keep your eyes on the ground when you use fhft typjj^]-pftrson Aftyfan. 
See what Bernard DeVoto did when he had to cover an American Medical 
Association meeting: 

Back home which might have been Iowa or West Virginia or Oklahoma 
they probably called him Doc, and most likely Old Doc; for he would be 
close to seventy, his untidy Van Dyke was white, his shoulders were stooped 
and there was a slight tremor in his fingers. Seersucker will not hold a crease 
and God knows how old his straw hat was. He liked to stand in a corner at 
one of the pharmaceutical exhibits in the Technical Exposition. Behind him 
were large charts showing the molecular structure of the firm's newest product, 

166 Writer 

photographs three feet by four showing how it was synthesized, and equally 
large graphs with red and green lines curling round the black to show its 
results in the treatment of anything you please rheumatic fever, hyper- 
tension, duodenal ulcer. 

Doc stood there and talked with the young man from the drug house who 
had all the statistics by heart and because he had been trained in public re- 
lations never gave a sign of boredom but went on smiling and nodding. Doc 
described his cases back home and told how he handled rheumatic fever or 
hypertension, and said he had always got good results from potassium iodide, 
and ended by taking out a pad and writing down his favorite prescriptions for 
the young man's consideration. 

It must have been a different Doc from hour to hour and from exhibit to 
exhibit but he always seemed the same. One observer remembers him as 
clearly as anything else at the Centennial Celebration (and ninety-seventh 
annual meeting) of the American Medical Association, at Atlantic City in the 
second week of June. 

Everybody else was there too . . . 

Sometimes this device is strikingly effective in a situation where you 
wouldn't think it possible to arrive at any average. Look at this (from 
John Gunther's Inside U.S.A.): 

Composite Portrait of a New England Legislator 

He is tall, gaunt, wrinkled, and there are great reserves of character in the 
face and raspy voice. He earns a living in a garage, and also owns a bit of 
real estate. His salary as legislator (which in New Hampshire would be two 
hundred dollars a year plus traveling expenses; in Vermont four hundred) is 
an important addition to his income. His wife is a farmer's daughter from the 
next county; they have been married twenty-four years and have three chil- 
dren. The eldest son was a carpenter's mate first class, another son is in his 
third year in the public high school, and is crazy about gliders; the daughter 
wants to go to Vassar. Our legislator has two brothers: one is a lobster fisher- 
man in Stony Creek, Connecticut, and the other left Massachusetts many 
years ago, and is believed now to own a small farm in Iowa. Several genera- 
tions back there were some complex marriages in the family; one distant rela- 
tive is Greek born, and another married a Finn; but also our legislator is 
related to no less a personage than a former governor of the state. He believes 
in paying his bills on the dot, in the inherent right of his children to a good 
education, and in common sense. He gives ten dollars a year to the Red 
Cross, believes that "Washington ought to let us alone," knows that very few 
Americans are peasants, and feels that the country has enough inner strength 
to ride out any kind of crisis. In several respects he is somewhat arid; but no 
one has ever fooled him twice. He is a person of great power. Because, out of 
the community itself, power rises into him. What he represents is the tremen- 
dous vitality of ordinary American life, and the basic good instincts of the 
common people. 

So much for groups and types. How about describing a series of events? 
[Tie principle is the same:Focus on one point that is so significant that you 
*m hang your story onto it. Invariably there &liucE~a~po^^ 

Some Precepts and Examples 167 

jng point, the key event that explains everything before and after. The 
^problem is to find it; and it is important, with events just as with people^ 
not to overlook the simple because of the more glamorous or spectacular. 
Turning points have a way of happening long before the big fireworks start. 
Early in 1945, for example, when everybody was talking about Beardsley 
Ruml and his pay-as-you-go tax plan, The New Yorker ran a profile on 
Ruml by Alva Johnston. But the profile was not written around the pay- 
as-you-go tax. Instead, after a few introductory paragraphs, the writer 
focused on an earlier turning point in Ruml's life: 

Ruml was projected into commercial life by a quirk in the mind of the late 
Percy Straus, head man of Macy's. Unlike most business men, Straus spent 
much of his time mixing with the intelligentsia. He knew that Ruml was re- 
garded as a two-hundred-and-forty-pound imp and enfant terrible because of 
his habit of challenging established ideas and cross-examining everything. "I 
want to get Ruml in as treasurer," Straus said to Delos Walker, then general 
manager of the store. "We need somebody to challenge our thinking. We're 
in danger of becoming too self-satisfied. It's good to be shaken up." 

Ruml was thirty-nine at the time and had a distinguished academic berth 
Professor of Education and Dean of the Social Sciences at the University 
of Chicago. He had no training to fit him for a job like that of treasurer of a 
department store. "You'll have no duties whatever," said Straus, "except to 
annoy me." This was an irresistible offer, particularly since Ruml felt that his 
accomplishment in three years as dean had been disappointing. One of his 
colleagues at Chicago said that Ruml was suffering from the occupational 
disease of university executives which was described by President Gates of 
Pennsylvania as "being pecked to death by ducks." Mrs. Hutchins, wife of the 
president of the University of Chicago, was the author of Ruml's academic 
epitaph. "He left ideas for notions," she said. 

Or take this passage from a Readers Digest article on Federal Mediator 
Ching. The writer goes even further back to find hisjocal turning point: 

One day in 1904 a husky young trouble shooter was trying to fix a loose 
shoe fuse on a stalled Boston subway train. As he leaned over he slipped, and 
a terrible voltage flashed through his body. It enveloped him in blue flame, 
blew the powerhouse and stopped the entire subway system. 

Six days later the young man regained consciousness. The doctors thought 
he had a chance to live but would be permanently blinded. Actually, within 
four months he was well recovered and his sight restored. 

This obscure happening more than 40 years ago has had a pervasive in- 
fluence on labor relations in America. The young man, Cyrus Stuart Ching, 
survived for a long and useful career as an industrial peacemaker and sage, 
And he remembered something. During the long weeks of his convalescence 
nobody from the company management came to see him. There was nc 
workmen's compensation in those days, but when he returned to his job the 
company magnanimously gave him a new suit of work clothes. This treat- 
ment set his ruminative mind to work on the queer chasm between the boss 
and the worker. He has been thinking about it ever since. 

168 Writer 

And now Mr. Ching 71 years old, but still carrying his six-foot-seven-inch 
frame with jaunty vigor has taken over the touchy post of director of the 
Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, as set up by the Taft-Hartley Act. 

Proper focusing becomes difficult when you have neither a group of peo- 
ple nor a series of events. Then what? There is a way, but it's rather hard 
-to put in simple words. Let me try. 

What you are after, as you are turning your material over in your mind, 
is something like the one-sentence headline, the typical group member, 
the turning point in the chain of events some one thing, that^ will point 
up the significance of the subjgctjis^a whole. Even if your material looks 
at first like a shapeless mass of totally different items, there must be one 
point at which_thj6jL.jalL converge ^otherwise you wouldn't, or shouldn't, 
treat jifim^all together in one piece of writing. The trouble is that this 
Common denominatorT^usually so simple and obvious that it's practically 
invisible.T^slHelhing you take so much for granted that you never bother 
to give it a second thought. And that's exactly the trick: find the under- 
lying feature that you have taken for granted and try to give it a second 

To come back, for instance, to Jack Alexander's Saturday Evening Post 
article on St. Louis. Alexander's problem was this: He had returned from 
St. Louis with a heap of notes but didn't know how to pull them together 
into an understandable whole. After having spent a day in thinking, he hit 
upon the solution. The obvious way to describe a city is to stress the things 
in which it is outstanding; but somehow, in the case of St. Louis, these 
things were hard to find. Alexander gave that a second thought and de- 
cided to write his piece around the theme that St. Louis made a virtue of 
not being outstanding in anything. He wrote: 

The spell which the city exerts is paradoxical ... St. Louis pursues the 
commercial strategy of limited objectives. It has no vast industries ... (Its) 
citizenry is simultaneously hospitable and suspicious of the East, gay and 
stubborn, serious about living and yet fun-loving ... A booster crude enough 
to preach the common American gospel of giantism achieves no more than a 
dry rattle in his throat ... St. Louis has never fallen for skyscrapers ... St. 
Louis might have grown up to be another Chicago or Detroit a fate which 
now seems to St. Louisans to be worse than death . . . 

In this fashion, Alexander wrote a memorable article by turning the 
underlying theme upside down. ~ --- ~~.. 

are aH -sorts of ways of doing this, and I cannot pos- 
sibly show you exactly how the principle applies in every case. But I can 
give you a few more examples: 

Shortly after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there appeared an unforgettable 
article on the atomic bomb. It was written by Bob Trout in the form of an 
imaginary news broadcast of the day atomic bombs hit the United States. 

In 1947, Harpers Magazine printed a highly illuminating article about 

Some Precepts and Examples 


the British crisis by the economist Barbara Ward. It too started "upside 
down" by explaining that there was not one British crisis but four: "the 
country has been struck by four different crises simultaneously." 

Another frequent topic of magazine articles in 1947 was the community 
property law which gave married couples in certain states the advantage 
of splitting their income tax. Before Congress incorporated this feature in 
the federal income tax law, the subject was a natural for popular presenta- 
tion provided the writer could really make it interesting. One writer 
(Bernard B. Smith in Harpers Magazine) was highly successful; his piece 
was widely read and quoted. Let's compare it with an example of the 
garden- variety approach (by John L. McClellan in the American maga- 

Divorce Is Cheaper Than Marriage 
by Bernard B. Smith 

Only one marriage in three these 
days winds up in the divorce courts, 
which must mean that two-thirds of 
America's husbands think it is worth 
paying the Collector of Internal Rev- 
enue a substantial premium for the 
privilege of maintaining the institution 
of the family. For that is precisely 
what they are doing. The amend- 
ments to the Internal Revenue Code 
enacted by the 78th Congress in 1942 
made it cheaper for a man to get a 
divorce and pay alimony than to stay 
married, and this is economically prac- 
tical for anybody whose net taxable 
income is more than $2,000 a year . . . 

Where You Pay Less Income Tax 
by John L. McClellan 

Although there has been much de- 
bate about it in Congress, few persons 
realize how the community-property 
law in a few lucky states has perpe- 
trated a system of special privilege 
that has reduced the federal income 
taxes of a favored minority at the ex- 
pense of a majority. 

Most husbands and wives assume 
that if they live in New York, Illinois, 
or Wisconsin, for instance, they pay 
the same federal income tax that is 
paid by couples with the same in- 
come in California, Texas, or Okla- 
homa. They are wrong. They pay 
more. Frequently a great deal more. 

It's high time for Congress to set 
this absurdity straight, and make the 
institution of marriage as attractive 
financially as the institution of divorce. 

It is the duty of the Federal Gov- 
ernment to provide an equitable sys- 
tem of income taxes, and it is the re- 
sponsibility of the Congress to amend 
present law, so as to remove this in- 
justice and provide equality under the 
law to all citizens alike, irrespective of 
their state domicile. 

There can hardly be any question that Smith's upside-down treatment of 
the subject is more effective than McClellan's conventional approach. Mind 
you, I am not saying that the McClellan article is bad: it's a good, crafts- 
manlike popular-magazine piece. But the divorce-is^-cheaper-thaii-jnarriage 
ideajs the_jjpd nf t*" n g *kflt sticks in the mind; it's that extra something 
by which we remember what we have read. 

Notes for a Portrait of 

Dummy Flagg & Student Paper 

Here are several pages of preliminary notes made by a student 
getting ready to write a sketch of an old deaf and dumb man he re- 
membered from childhood. The author is thinking on paper, jotting 
down items as they occur to him, in no particular order at first, then 
searching for some principle of organization. Notice the different kinds 
of items and the ways in which the author shifts and combines them. 
The last page is the beginning of his first draft. 

First page 

Frank Flagg Dummy always called 

his smell 


fish bones in his bed 

his trunk 

his yah-yah-yah 

his runny, red eye 

sagging mouth corner 

shooting medals, frequent trips 

shot over his shoulder, looking in mirror 

slit around finger, looking at Ruth 

made me a beautiful jack o' lantern, cow jumping over moon 

I hated it, wanted a face like the others had mother scolded 

didn't stay to get moved with the others to the new poorhouse 

would go out to greet people on Sunday 

saw him downtown once 

greasy strings 

his writing on the wall Tie has gone down to the schoolhouse 

with his mother" 
writing in odd spots 

holding hand at different heights to mean different people 
own chair and table 

pimples on Henry's pasty face pie crust 
molasses candy made me sick tobacco in it 
we threw apples at him by the old car shook his stick 

feared but I used to go over there 


Some Precepts and Examples 171 

Second page 

Physical appearance: 

smell harness, tobacco, leather smell 

runny red eyes 

sagging mouth 

greasy clothes wouldn't wrinkle, so greasy 

his yah-yah-yah 


shoemaker's wooden bench with wooden vise 
Sunday front yard 
his cats, sleek 
trips away 

writing schoolhouse 
designating heights 
own chair and table 
dirty adhesive on finger 


slit around finger at Ruth 

pelted with apples P 

Jack o' lantern P 

cats in trunk PR? 

fish from shed chamber & bones in bed R 

dolls shoes for me P 

get out when poor moved P 
showed up one day, me alone, sword, old Pew R 
molasses candy sick P 

P pity 

R repulsion 

pull down mouth & eyes & mock 
effect of looking at his eyes 

Third page 

OBJECT: to produce a picture 

to set up emotional reaction 

Disgust repulsion 

pity understanding sickness 

should I move him to one place to focus on him as impression to leave? 
set a rhythm before begin 

172 Writer 

avoid subjective statements 

One picture desired to leave strongly 

sharp sense of him 

repeat "greasy" clothes, fish in bed, when he returns last time, 

greasy pencil stub that he would lap before writing 

his wax 

ooze, oil, was, always 

I don't know why he tried to talk; perhaps he didn't know he was mak- 
ing a noise. 

Narrative not purposive of Dummy would give effect of how cruel I 

Pretending to ignore Dummy have him merely incidental? 

Fourth page 

I Explain introductory 

II Narration with interspersed habits 

(against his background his habits) 
slit finger at Ruth didn't get along 

jabber own table, chair 

repulsive laugh cats, fish in bed 

apples, molasses candy, jack o' lantern, finger & circle, me alone 

III Some time after, I heard he was dead. They all died 

Fifth page 

His lips were always moist and sagged at one corner. 

His mouth sagged at one corner and was always loose and moist. 

gazed, stared, watched, looked 

One day in the barn Dummy 

I had a tent down in the woods where my sister and I and the others 

used to play. 

In the big downstairs room he had his own chair and his own table 

where he always ate by himself. Over in the corner by the cupboard. 

There was always a big pile of whittlings (shavings) in the corner behind 

his chair. 

Sixth page 

When my father kept the city poor-farm there were always five or ten 
old men living in the poorhouse behind us. Dummy Flagg was one of 
them. He was deaf and dumb and greasy. His mouth sagged at one 
corner and was loose and always moist, and his eyes watered. When he 
tried to talk he made a noise in his throat, like a dog trying to talk. He 
smelled like an old harness chest and tobacco and stale grease. A lot of 
people felt afraid of him, and so did I, but not so much as the other chil- 
dren who came to play with me. 

Some Precepts and Examples 173 

One day when he had first come, my sister and another little girl 
named Ruth, and I, were in the milk-room while he was trying to tell 
one of the hired men something, with his hands and fingers twisting 
into all sorts of strange shapes. Sometimes he would write on the wall 
with a little green pencil stub that he would lick before he began to 
write. This time he only used his hands. He pointed across his shoulder 
down at the woods and then up the road, and held out his palm low 
that meant the little girl who lived up the road, Ruth. We watched, not 
understanding. He held up a finger, carefully drew his jackknife blade 
around the end of it, looked toward us there, and laughed his noise like 
a dog trying to laugh. He brushed the water from his eyes and wiped 
his hands on the front of his coat. The hired man laughed too, and 
looked at us. 

"What does he mean by that?" I asked the hired man. 

He laughed again. "He says he's going to cut Ruth's head off down 
in the pine woods!" The hired man's face had a lot of pimples and was 
the color of the top of a pie. His name was Henry, and I hated them 
both, suddenly. 

Ruth ran home crying. Henry said Dummy was only joking, but 
Ruth did not come again to play with us for a long time. . . . 

Revising a Theme 

Richard C. Ittakeslee i92i- 

Perhaps the least welcome lesson for a beginning writer to learn 
is the value and the necessity of rewriting. When we read the finished 
pieces of professional writers, we are likely to suppose they wrote them 
right off, j'ust as they stand; but this is not so. Most good writing is 
the result of careful rewriting; the first draft is only the beginning of a 
finished /ob, and some professional writers carry revising on and on, 
changing and improving a piece each time they republish it. The fol- 
lowing article may be more useful to you than an example of a pro- 
fessional writer's revisions. It was written not for students but for the 
instructors in a freshman composition course, to give them some advice 
about dealing with freshman papers. 

THE INSTRUCTOR'S comments on a paper are designed to help the student 
improve his writing, not to show the instructor's firm grasp of correction 
symbols. It is admittedly difficult not to lash out at each mistake, but a 

Reprinted by permission of Richard C. Blakeslee, Northwestern University. 

174 Writer 

paper with every error marked is usually more terrifying than helpful. 
After thumbing dutifully through his handbook for five or six assorted 
errors in the first paragraph, the student is very likely to lose all perspec- 
tive as to what is wrong with the paper as a whole and consequently 
have no idea how to improve it. 

One solution is for the instructor to read each paper through com- 
pletely before making any comments or marks. Then he can decide what 
are the errors (or types of errors) that are causing the damage, that need 
stressing. These can then be dealt with quite fully, with positive sugges- 
tions for improvement. This technique is particularly effective in marking 
papers which are to be revised. Instead of scattering his thinking in all 
directions, the student is led by the instructor's comments to concentrate 
on one or two particular weaknesses in his writing. 

Here is a student paper written in class early in the first quarter on the 
admittedly vague assignment, "Describe an incident from your personal 
experience which you consider to be of general interest and which is 
limited enough to cover in two or three hundred words." 

Late in October last year I spent an eventful day at Hawk Moun- 
tain that I will always remember. Hawk Mountain is a recent bird 
sanctuary which was formerly a place for gunners to develop their 
skill in shooting. Each Fall thousands of hawks as well as other 
birds pass by this mountain in Pennsylvania creating an unforget- 
table spectacle. 

I had heard about Hawk Mountain from a friend who was im- 
pressed by a book he had read about it. We got together last Fall 
and made plans to visit this sanctuary. 

We arrived at the sanctuary a little before noon on October 

twenty-third. It was a bitter cold day and although the sun was 

out and the sky was clear, the wind was raw. We sat hunched up 
against a twisted tree all that afternoon and until early in the 

^0*2/-tf?2/ >&*2x5*tC/ 

evening we were slightly disappointed for we had not seen even one 
bird of prey that afternoon. Then about five-thirty a group of 
rcdtailed Hawks passed so close to our ridge that I felt I could 
reach out and touch some of the birds. We made a try in estimating 

Some Precepts and Examples 175 

the number but they were at all altitudes which made an even 
fairly accurate estimate impossible. We won't forget that spectacle 
for some time. 


You have selected an incident which might be very interesting, but you 
don't leave yourself any room really to describe it and get it across to the 
audience. Despite the fact that the core of the paper is the flight of the 
hawks, you have only two sentences on that flight. In fact, you don't even 
arrive at the sanctuary until the third paragraph. 

Your sentence about "estimating the number" is too statistical to be 
vivid; try to make the reader visualize or "feel" the hawks. The sentence 
about touching them is a little standard, but it is still more effective than 
talking about an "accurate estimate." Speaking of being standard (trite), 
how about "bitter cold," "wind was raw." Three "never forgets" are too 
many for such a short theme. 


The comment on this paper would be the same if the paper were far 
worse mechanically than it is. The big problem here is the lack of stress 
on the main point, which means that much of the revision will consist of 
new material. Correcting minor errors will distract the student from his 
main job of getting across the flight of the hawks, and correcting sentences 
which will then have to be scrapped may well seem to him a rather point- 
less business. 

The errors in the punctuation of sentences seem related and fairly seri- 
ous. His corrections should be followed up by watching for this sort of 
trouble in the revision. The other comments are based on the theory that 
the most valuable kind of correction is forward looking, forcing the stu- 
dent to think constructively about a new piece of writing rather than 
merely to dissect last week's theme. 

This was an actual paper. The revision got the boys onto the mountain 
in two sentences and did, in the main, a good job of focusing on the hawks 
themselves. Here is the hawk section: 

We spent all the afternoon hunched up against a twisted tree with- 
out seeing- even one bird of prey. Then about five-thirty a trio of 
soaring redtailed hawks passed over us at a high altitude. Then 
even before the trio had passed from sight the show had begun. A 
single hawk flashed by so suddenly and low that it sent the photog- 
raphers scrambling to get in a shot. But their opportunity was just 
beginning. A group of hawks passed so close to our ridge that I 

176 Writer 

felt I could reach out and touch some of them. Our view was limited 
by the jagged peaks at each end of the ridge so it seemed as if an 
endless stream of birds passed before us before the main body of 
the migrating hawks had passed. Even by dusk a few hawks were 
still sailing by. 

One point of interest, in addition to the great improvement in detail, is 
the fact that the error "redtailed Hawks," which appeared in the first 
version but was not marked, was corrected by the student on his own. 
This is a frequent result when the student is warned that no attempt has 
been made to mark every mistake and that he himself must take an active 
part in the improvement of his writing. 

At this point, with the theme beginning to assume some shape, the in- 
structor should point out how the student can improve his effect by the 
revision of certain sentences, etc. For example, the details in the next to 
last sentence are really fine. The student should be told this and then 
shown how several awkward repetitions mar the effect of his good think- 

Thoughts on Composition & 

Henry David J^boreau i8i7-i862 

One of the most useful strategies writers have discovered is to 
keep a notebook or journal of their ideas, observations, and experiences, 
as a quarry for future writings. The notebooks of many writers have 
been published, as books in their own right. Among these are Thoreau's 
Journals from which he quarried the materials for Walden (1854), the 
classic account of his experiment in simplified living and high think- 
ing. There are many passages on writing, among which the following 
selections offer usable suggestions. 

[THE VALUE OF KEEPING A JOURNAL]: To set down such choice experiences 
that my own writings may inspire me and at last I may make wholes of 
parts. Certainly it is a distinct profession to rescue from oblivion and to 
fix the sentiments and thoughts which visit all men more or less generally, 
that the contemplation of the unfinished picture may suggest its harmoni- 
ous completion. Associate reverently and as much as you can with your 
loftiest thoughts. Each thought that is welcomed and recorded is a nest 
egg, by the side of which more will be laid. Thoughts accidentally thrown 

Some Precepts and Examples 177 

together become a frame in which more may be developed and exhibited. 
Perhaps this is the main value of a habit of writing, or keeping a journal, 
that so we remember our best hours and stimulate ourselves. My thoughts 
are my company. They have a certain individuality and separate existence, 
aye, personality. Having by chance recorded a few disconnected thoughts 
and then brought them into juxtaposition, they suggest a whole new field 
in which it was possible to labor and to think. Thought begat thought. 

Journal, 22 January 1852 

. . . The one great rule of composition and if I were a professor of 
rhetoric I should insist on this is to speak the truth. This first, this sec- 
ond, this third. This demands earnestness and manhood chiefly. 

Journal, 6 December 1859 

. . . The forcible writer stands bodily behind his words with his experi- 
ence. He does not make books out of books, but he has been there in 

Journal, 3 February 1852 

. . . Whatever wit has been produced on the spur of the moment will 
bear to be reconsidered and reformed with phlegm. 1 The arrow had best 
not be loosely shot. The most transient and passing remark must be re- 
considered by the writer, made sure and warranted, as if the earth had 
rested on its axle to back it, and all the natural forces lay behind it. The 
writer must direct his sentences as carefully and leisurely as the marksman 
his rifle, who shoots sitting and with a rest with patent sights and conical 
balls beside. He must not merely seem to speak the truth. He must really 
speak it. If you foresee that a part of your essay will topple down after the 
lapse of time, throw it down now yourself. 

Journal, 26 January 1852 

... I wish that I could buy at the shops some kind of india-rubber that 
would rub out at once all that in my writing which it now costs me so 
many perusals, so many months if not years, and so much reluctance, to 

Journal, 27 December 1853 

... In correcting my manuscripts, which I do with sufficient phlegm, I 
find that I invariably turn out much that is good along with the bad, 
which it is then impossible for me to distinguish so much for keeping 
bad company; but after the lapse of time, having purified the main body 
and thus created a distinct standard for comparison, I can review the 
rejected sentences and easily detect those which deserve to be readmitted. 

Journal, 1 March 1854 

1 Phlegm: calmness. 

178 Writer 

... If you are describing any occurrence, or a man, make two or more 
distinct reports at different times. Though you may think you have said 
all, you will to-morrow remember a whole new class of facts which per- 
haps interested most of all at the time, but did not present themselves 
to be reported. If we have recently met and talked with a man, and 
would report our experience, we commonly make a very partial report 
at first, failing to seize the most significant, picturesque, and dramatic 
points; we describe only what we have had time to digest and dispose 
of in our minds, without being conscious that there were other things 
really more novel and interesting to us, which will not fail to recur to 
us and impress us suitably at last. How little that occurs to us in any 
way are we prepared at once to appreciate! We discriminate at first 
only a few features, and we need to reconsider our experience from 
many points of view and in various moods, to preserve the whole fruit 
of it. 

Journal, 24 March 1857 

... I would fain make two reports in my Journal, first the incidents and 
observations of to-day; and by to-morrow I review the same and record 
what was omitted before, which will often be the most significant and 
poetic part. I do not know at first what it is that charms me. The men 
and things of to-day are wont to lie fairer and truer in to-morrow's 

Journal, 27 March 1857 


John Holmes i904~ 

About the origin of this poem and the way its unifying idea came 
to him, Mr. Holmes wrote: 

"The long piece, 'Talk/ is a memory of E. W. Ottie, who did make 
beautiful ship-models, and was deaf because he had two cauliflower ears 
from wrestling. He had enough small tools and power-machinery to 
have launched a navy, and I used to hang around his shop, in what had 
been a Universalist church, because my father's cousin had some sort 
of part interest there; maybe he paid some of the rent. Mr. Ottie has 
long since disappeared from view, and my father's cousin is dead; most 
of the other facts are in the poem. But at first I wrote an outpouring 
memory of a time and place I had not thought of for years; when I 

Reprinted from Map of My Country (New York: Dueil, Sloan & Pearce, 1943). 
Copyright by John Holmes. 

Some Precepts and Examples 179 

had written myself out, it meant nothing, it was a sort of self-in- 
dulgence. But there was something. I have always lilced plans, build- 
ing, tools, the accuracy and Tightness of machine-shop work, and car- 
pentry, and models of anything. Suddenly, by rearranging the order of 
my merely reminiscent lines, I knew that I had learned in his shop the 
inviolable rules and the unspeakable mystery of good craftsmanship. I 
didn't know it then. But I used the strange paradox of his deafness 
and our unthinking communication; and I had a picture in my mind 
of the East Indiaman. I did some research in a friend's library, and at 
a naval museum, to be sure; the East Indiaman was big and heavy, for 
certain historical and economic reasons, and was soon superseded by 
smaller, faster, and more profitable ships. But that was merely the 
checking of a fact. The boy's impression remained true, and it was 
good talk." 

SOME of the best talk I ever had 

Was with a deaf old near-sighted wrestler who had been to sea, 

And made ship-models for a living, and didn't say much. 

I was a small boy, I stared. I hung around his shop after school. 

He was very deaf, and it made a good silence for me to think in. 
He spoke once or twice in an hour. He whittled out whaleboats, peering. 
"Good," he would say, with a sharp knife and the wood near his nose. 
When he held it to the window, I could see light through the boat's bows. 
"Damn," he'd say, if he dropped his knife, no tone, a deaf "Damn." 

I'd be learning the shapes of ships from big slippery magazines, 

Or I'd be turning crinkly blueprints and deck-plans, unrolling the rolls, 

Using his tack-hammers and wood-scraps to make them lie flat. 

Oh, and there once I saw 

Alone with him one dim afternoon 

The strict thin purposeful lines 

On the flat plan, soar, live, sail, 

Deck above deck, mast over deck, flag 

Topping mast, and knew what he knew while he whittled. 

What he said, he said with his hundreds of tools, sharp, meaningful, 

Red-handled, a blade for every cut, a drill-size for everything. 

He talked, I mean I knew what he was saying, 

When he pushed the white pine planks into the power-saw 

To cut out the rough curved layers he built up into hulls, 

Then planed, whittled, sand-papered, rubbed with stub fingers into ships 

Then he painted them green under the waterline, or bronze; 

Then he rigged them, he sewed sails for them finer than a handkerchief. 

180 Writer 

He could paint pictures, too, 

Another way of talking; ships of the line, water-colors in red and blue, 

Tacked on the shop walls above rubbish and bright tools and lumber. 

He cast his own anchors, cannon, blocks; I fingered the moulds; 

I breathed smells he made of hot metal, of oil, glue, sawdust, turpentine, 

I smelled the color of the paint, I heard the shavings curl, a way of listening. 

My pulse was the beat of the idle belts on the shafting, a way of talking. 

I made believe I walked the decks, hung in the main-tops, rode 

The piling swell of the green seas in the bowsprit chains. 

I stared up from the afterdeck at the huge flowing balance, the color, 

The riding cloud above me of sails, flags, rigging, masts, and sky. 

"What are you doing now?" he would say, and I did not answer. 

I've seen his ships sailing in glass cases in the great museums. 
I still make believe. I still stare. I'm there 

On the small perfect decks perfectly empty; up out of the crew's hatch- 

I climb to take my turn at the night-watch in the bow. 
He's there, too. That's why he built them, I think now. 
It's a special thing, building them, collecting them, making believe. 
But I understand why it's good. He told me. 
I wouldn't have known that you throw work away 
When you spoil it half-done. I guessed that he guessed 
Like a cook with a cookbook sometimes, one look at the blueprints 
And three at the wood. I wouldn't have known that. 
I wouldn't have known that however you build it, 
The ship must sail; you can't explain to the ocean. 
But the pure grain of the wood achieving shape under tools, 
The masts long like flower-stems, the spars tapered, 
The blunt round of the bows of the finger-length whale-boats, 
Smooth-dusty from sandpapering, no paint yet, the wood 
That was the best talk. 

I remember the words of the wood, and his grimed quick fingers 
Telling truth with a knife, reaching for the other tools, 
Knowing his need, and the grain of the wood knowing. 
Have you seen the most beautiful of all ships? 
Not the clipper, the whaler, the yacht, the gray battle-cruiser, 
It isn't the galley with banked oars, or the shouldering galleon. 
It's the East Indiaman, four decks, and flaring with flags, 
All the rails mahogany, the figurehead carven and colored, plunging, 
The captain's gallery all windows at the great stern, 
And the mountains of sail, the enormous lift of the long decks. 
A castle, a country sailing, so proud, so golden and slow and proud. 

He was an old man when I knew him, deaf and bad eyes. 
He wore a gray sweater, and a very old cap, always. 

Some Precepts and Examples 181 

"What have you been doing, John?" he would say, every day. 

And I would say nothing. He couldn't hear. 

"Do you know what this is I am making?" 

I knew what he was making, even before it seemed to be. 

I could hear. I could make believe. I could see. 

He always had half a dozen ships on the bench, thinking them into shape. 

He hummed, whittled, peered, swore, studied blueprints. 

It was some of the best talk I ever had. 


The Language of Reports * 

S. 1. Jiayakawa 4906- 

The distinctions Hayakawa draws in this essay between facts, 
inferences, and judgments can be very useful. They will help you in- 
terpret what others say or write and will make you more aware of the 
actual nature of your own statements. The best way to find out whether 
you grasp the distinctions would be to try to carry out his suggested 
exercise of writing a purely factual report. Can you manage to exclude 
all inferences and judgments? 

FOR THE PURPOSES of the interchange of information, the basic symbolic 
act is the report of what we have seen, heard, or felt: "There is a ditch 
on each side of the road." "You can get those at Smith's hardware store 
for $2.75." "There aren't any fish on that side of the lake, but there are 
on this side." Then there are reports of reports: "The longest waterfall 
in the world is Victoria Falls in Rhodesia." "The Battle of Hastings took 
place in 1066." "The papers say that there was a big smash-up on High- 
way 41 near Evansville." Reports adhere to the following rules: first, 
they are capable of verification; second, they exclude, as far as possible, 
inferences and judgments. (These terms will be defined later.) 


Reports are verifiable. We may not always be able to verify them our- 
selves, since we cannot track down the evidence for every piece of history 

From Language in Thought and Action, by S. I. Hayakawa. Copyright, 1941, 1949, by 
Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., pp. 38-44. 

182 Writer 

we know, nor can we all go to Evansville to see the remains of the smash- 
up before they are cleared away. But if we are roughly agreed on the 
names of things, on what constitutes a "foot," "yard," "bushel," and so on, 
and on how to measure time, there is relatively little danger of our mis- 
understanding each other. Even in a world such as we have today, in 
which everybody seems to be quarreling with everybody else, we still 
to a surprising degree trust each others reports. We ask directions of 
total strangers when we are traveling. We follow directions on road signs 
without being suspicious of the people who put them up. We read books 
of information about science, mathematics, automotive engineering, travel, 
geography, the history of costume, and other such factual matters, and 
we usually assume that the author is doing his best to tell us as truly as 
he can what he knows. And we are safe in so assuming most of the time. 
With the emphasis that is being given today to the discussion of biased 
newspapers, propagandists, and the general untrustworthiness of many 
of the communications we receive, we are likely to forget that we still 
have an enormous amount of reliable information available and that 
deliberate misinformation, except in warfare, still is more the exception 
than the rule. The desire for self-preservation that compelled men to 
evolve means for the exchange of information also compels them to regard 
the giving of false information as profoundly reprehensible. 

At its highest development, the language of reports is the language of 
science. By "highest development" we mean greatest general usefulness, 
Presbyterian and Catholic, workingman and capitalist, German and Eng- 
lishman, agree on the meanings of such symbols as 2 X 2 = 4, 100C., 
HNOs, 3:35 A.M., 1940 A.D., 5000 r.p.m., 1000 kilowatts, pulex irritans, and 
so on. But how, it may be asked, can there be agreement about even 
this much among people who are at each other's throats about practically 
everything else: political philosophies, ethical ideals, religious beliefs, and 
the survival of my business versus the survival of yours? The answer is 
that circumstances compel men to agree, whether they wish to or not. If, 
for example, there were a dozen different religious sects in the United 
States, each insisting on its own way of naming the time of the day and 
the days of the year, the mere necessity of having a dozen different calen- 
dars, a dozen different kinds of watches, and a dozen sets of schedules for 
business hours, trains, and radio programs, to say nothing of the effort 
that would be required for translating terms from one nomenclature to 
another, would make life as we know it impossible. 

The language of reports, then, including the more accurate reports of 
science, is "map" language, and because it gives us reasonably accurate 
representations of the "territory," it enables us to get work done. Such 
language may often be what is commonly termed "dull" or "uninteresting" 
reading: one does not usually read logarithmic tables or telephone direc- 
tories for entertainment. But we could not get along without it. There 
are numberless occasions in the talking and writing we do in everyday 

Some Precepts and Examples 183 

life that require that we state things in such a way that everybody will 
agree with our formulation. 


The reader will find that practice in writing reports is a quick means of 
increasing his linguistic awareness. It is an exercise which will constantly 
provide him with his own examples of the principles of language and 
interpretation under discussion. The reports should be about first-hand 
experience scenes the reader has witnessed himself, meetings and social 
events he has taken part in, people he knows well. They should be of 
such a nature that they can be verified and agreed upon. For the purpose 
of this exercise, inferences will be excluded. 

Not that inferences are not important we rely in everyday life and 
in science as much on inferences as on reports in some areas of thought, 
for example, geology, paleontology, and nuclear physics, reports are the 
foundations, but inferences (and inferences upon inferences) are the main 
body of the science. An inference, as we shall use the term, is a statement 
about the unknown made on the basis of the known. We may infer from 
the handsomeness of a woman's clothes her wealth or social position; we 
may infer from the character of the ruins the origin of the fire that de- 
stroyed the building; we may infer from a man's calloused hands the 
nature of his occupation; we may infer from a senator's vote on an arma- 
ments bill his attitude toward Russia; we may infer from the structure of 
the land the path of a prehistoric glacier; we may infer from a halo on an 
unexposed photographic plate that it has been in the vicinity of radioactive 
materials; we may infer from the noise an engine makes the condition of 
its connecting rods. Inferences may be carelessly or carefully made. They 
may be made on the basis of a great background of previous experience 
with the subject-matter, or no experience at all. For example, the inferences 
a good mechanic can make about the internal condition of a motor by 
listening to it are often startlingly accurate, while the inferences made by 
an amateur (if he tries to make any) may be entirely wrong. But the 
common characteristic of inferences is that they are statements about mat- 
ters which are not directly known, made on the basis of what has been 

The avoidance of inferences in our suggested practice in report-writing 
requires that we make no guesses as to what is going on in other people's 
minds. When we say, "He was angry," we are not reporting; we are mak- 
ing an inference from such observable facts as the following: "He pounded 
his fist on die table; he swore; he threw the telephone directory at his 
stenographer." In this particular example, the inference appears to be 
fairly safe; nevertheless, it is important to remember, especially for the 
purposes of training oneself, that it is an inference. Such expressions as 
"He thought a lot of himself," "He was scared of girls," "He has an in- 
feriority complex," made on the basis of casual social observation, and 

184 Writer 

"What Russia really wants to do is to establish a world communist dictator- 
ship/' made on the basis of casual newspaper reading, are highly inferen- 
tial. One should keep in mind their inferential character and, in our 
suggested exercises, should substitute for them such statements as "He 
rarely spoke to subordinates in the plant," "I saw him at a party, and he 
never danced except when one of the girls asked him to," "He wouldn't 
apply for the scholarship although I believe he could have won it easily," 
and "The Russian delegation to the United Nations has asked for A, B, 
and C. Last year they voted against M and N, and voted for X and Y. 
On the basis of facts such as these, the newspaper I read makes the in- 
ference that what Russia really wants is to establish a world communist 
dictatorship. I tend to agree." 


In our suggested writing exercise, judgments are also to be excluded. 
By judgments, we shall mean all expressions of the writers approval or 
disapproval of the occurrences, persons, or objects he is describing. For 
example, a report cannot say, "It was a wonderful car," but must say 
something like this: "It has been driven 50,000 miles and has never re- 
quired any repairs." Again statements like "Jack lied to us" must be sup- 
pressed in favor of the more verifiable statement, "Jack told us he didn't 
have the keys to his car with him. However, when he pulled a handker- 
chief out of his pocket a few minutes later, a bunch of car keys fell out." 
Also a report may not say, "The senator was stubborn, defiant, and unco- 
operative," or 'The senator courageously stood by his principles"; it must 
say instead, "The senator's vote was the only one against the bill." 

Many people regard statements like the following as statements of "fact": 
"Jack lied to us," "Jerry is a thief" "Tommy is clever" As ordinarily em- 
ployed, however, the word "lied" involves first an inference (that Jack 
knew otherwise and deliberately misstated the facts) and secondly a judg- 
ment (that the speaker disapproves of what he has inferred that Jack did). 
In the other two instances, we may substitute such expressions as, "Jerry 
was convicted of theft and served two years at Waupun," and "Tommy 
plays the violin, leads his class in school, and is captain of the debating 
team." After all, to say of a man that he is a "thief" is to say in effect, 
"He has stolen and will steal again" which is more of a prediction than 
a report. Even to say, "He has stolen," is to make an inference (and 
simultaneously to pass a judgment) on an act about which there may be 
difference of opinion among those who have examined the evidence upon 
which the conviction was obtained. But to say that he was "convicted of 
theft" is to make a statement capable of being agreed upon through veri- 
fication in court and prison records. 

Scientific verifiability rests upon the external observation of facts, not 
upon the heaping up of judgments. If one person says, "Peter is a dead- 
beat," and another says, "I think so too/' the statement has not been veri- 

Some Precepts and Examples 185 

fied. In court cases, considerable trouble is sometimes caused by witnesses 
who cannot distinguish their judgments from the facts upon which those 
judgments are based. Cross-examinations under these circumstances go 
something like this: 

WITNESS: That dirty double-crosser Jacobs ratted on me. 

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Your honor, I object. 

JUDGE: Objection sustained. (Witness's remark is stricken from the record.) 
Now, try to tell the court exactly what happened. 

WITNESS: He double-crossed me, the dirty, lying ratl 

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Your honor, I object! 

JUDGE: Objection sustained. (Witness's remark is again stricken from the 
record.) Will the witness try to stick to the facts. 

WITNESS: But I'm telling you the facts, your honor. He did double-cross me. 

This can continue indefinitely unless the cross-examiner exercises some 
ingenuity in order to get at the facts behind the judgment. To the witness 
it is a "fact" that he was "double-crossed." Often hours of patient ques- 
tioning are required before the factual bases of the judgment are revealed. 
Many words, of course, simultaneously convey a report and a judgment 
on the fact reported, as will be discussed more fully in a later chapter. 
For the purposes of a report as here defined, these should be avoided. 
Instead of "sneaked in," one might say "entered quietly"; instead of 
"politicians," "congressmen," or "aldermen," or "candidates for office"; in- 
stead of "bureaucrat," "public official"; instead of "tramp," "homeless un- 
employed"; instead of "dictatorial set-up," "centralized authority"; instead 
of "crackpots," "holders of uncommon views." A newspaper reporter, for 
example, is not permitted to write, "A crowd of suckers came to listen to 
Senator Smith last evening in that rickety firetrap and ex-dive that dis- 
figures the south edge of town." Instead he says, "Between seventy-five 
and a hundred people heard an address last evening by Senator Smith at 
the Evergreen Gardens near the South Side city limits." 

How Propaganda Finds Its Way 
Into the Press *> 

Chicago Daily 

It says right here in the paper ---- " Are there any college students 
who still don't know you can't believe all you read in the papers? But 
even if you do know this sad fact, are you actively aware of the particu- 

Reprinted by permission of the Chicago Daily News. The article appeared in the 
issue of October 15, 1938. 

186 Writer 

lar bias of the paper you habitually read? Do you apply Hayakawa's 
distinctions between facts, inferences, and judgments to your daily 
paper? What really opens one's eyes to the way newspaper "reports" 
can garble and slant facts is to read reports of an event in which one 
was personally involved. Why not write an analysis of such a report 
from your own experience? Or compare reports of a single event by 
two or three different papers? 

WITH RIVAL SECTIONS of the class press, engaged in bitter recrimination 
over the publication of propaganda as unbiased news, you are invited this 
week to sit in and see just how the truth can be poisoned and converted 
into propaganda that meets the views of the publisher. 

A reporter working against deadlines gathers the facts as he sees them and 
telephones those facts to his city desk. The man on the desk turns the re- 
porter over to a rewriter, and in this article a fictitious labor story will be 
traced from its inception. 


The facts of this hypothetical story follow: The owners of the Blank 
Foundry at Dash street and Ogburn avenue refused to bargain collectively 
with their employes. 

Three weeks ago a strike was called by the union which was an affiliate of 
the C.LO. 

Twelve men were picketing the plant. 

No disorders of any kind had occurred up to today. 

About 3 P.M. a police squad from the Cloud Street Station under the direc- 
tion of Lt. Thomas Raider arrived at the plant and ordered the pickets to 
disperse because "y u are blocking traffic." 

The pickets refused. 

The police went after them with swinging clubs. Four of the pickets were 
injured, two seriously, and taken to the County Hospital. Five other pickets 
were jailed for disorderly conduct. 

Howard Bystander, a salesman, witness of the clash, said the police as- 
saulted the pickets without ordering them to disperse. He also told how a 
policeman had beaten a picket unmercifully. 

The striker in charge of the picket line also insisted the police had not 
ordered them to disperse. 

The police refused to reveal the source of the complaint upon which they 
said they had acted. 

Simple little story, isn't it? Below you'll see how these simple little facts 
can be twisted to demoniac proportions. 


An armed mob of C.I.O. strikers, carrying banners hailing communism, at- 
:acked a police squad at the strike-dlOsed plant of the Blank Foundry, Dash 

Same Precepts and Examples 187 

street and Ogburn avenue, today and before order was restored four strikers 
vere injured. Five others were jailed. 

Police said they had been summoned to the plant on a telephone complaint 
hat the enraged mob were strikers who were blocking traffic and threatening 
o seize physical control of the foundry. 

XsThey approached, police Spokesman said, they were met by a fusillade 
)f rocks; then some^f the strikers drew guns. 

"I calletT^o~the stnKerT to drop" their weapons," said Police Lt. Thomas 
Raider, who was in charge of the squad. "My call brought more rocks. I 
again pleaded with the men and when they again replied with rocks, I told 
the boys to disperse them. 

'Tm very sorry we had to hurt four of them, but I think the police did their 
duty," added Lt. Raider. "After all, the police have no interest in these labor 
fights other than to see that the laws are enforced." 


Before the police went to the strike scene reports had come to the Cloud 
Street Station that C.I.O. agitators were fomenting trouble, that the strikers 
were being trained in army formations and instructed in the use of firearms. 

As the rewriter finishes his lead it goes to the city desk. There it's read 
and passed along to the news editor with the suggestion that it would make 
a good story to put a line on. 

The news editor agrees and marks the copy, "8-col. 96-pt. Gothic with 
one col. 30-pt. Gothic cap readout." The man in the slot (he's the head 
of the copy desk) next receives the story. He tosses it to a copyreader who 
does the editing and writes the heads. 

This copyreader goes over the story, then begins playing with words for 
the eight-column line. He looks up suddenly and gazes contemplatively 
at the man in the slot, his immediate superior, then a smile flickers as he 


The count isjcight. Now for the readout: 


The copyreader hands the story and heads to the slot man. Maybe a 
sardonic grin flashes as he sees the approval of his boss, but in about twenty 
minutes the paper's on the street and another crime against the reputable 
press of the nation has been committed. 

188 Writer 


Four striking foundry workers were injured today in a clash at the gates of 
the Blank Foundry Company, Dash street and Ogburn avenue, when police 
used their clubs to disperse 12 pickets who were walking on the sidewalks 
near the foundry gate. 

The injured men, all suffering from head contusions, were taken to the 
County Hospital, where physicians said two of them, William Jones of 23 West 
Thorn street, and James Howard of 69 West Dash street, may have suffered 
fractured skulls. The other two in the hospital were Thomas Joyce of 2236 
Blank street and David Oval of 6453 Blank avenue. 

Arrested and jailed in the Cloud Street Police Station, charged with dis- 
orderly conduct, were these four pickets: Carroll Judge and William Guest of 
2654 Blank avenue; William James and Thomas Johnson of 6932 Blank street. 

An eyewitness of the disorder, Howard Bystander, a salesman employed by 
the Oil Refining Company of 33 West Jason boulevard, said he protested to 
a policeman who was clubbing Jones while he lay on the sidewalk, and the 
policeman later identified as Patrolman Walter Tory, said, "Get the hell out of 
here or you'll get it, too." 

Patrolman Tory termed Mr. Bystander's recital a "lie." In charge of the 
police squad was Lt. Thomas Raider, His version of the clash ran this way: 
"We received complaints that these picket guys were obstructing traffic, so we 
came down here and told them to go home. They wouldn't listen to reason, 
so we had to touch them up a bit. The police are here to enforce the laws and 
we're going to do just that, strike or no strike." 

Tom Blank, secretary-treasurer of the Foundry Workers Union, a C.I.O. 
affiliate, who was in charge of the picketing, said after the fight: 

"We had 12 pickets walking back and forth. They carried no banners of 
any kind and none was armed. We called this strike three weeks ago when 
our demands for collective bargaining were ignored despite the Wagner act. 

"For the last week we had been getting warnings to quit picketing or the 
police would come over here and slug us. We naturally did nothing about 
the warnings because we were breaking no laws. 

"This afternoon the squad car came up and ordered the men away from 
the plant. They refused and the police began to swing their clubs. 

"I'm going to have our lawyers get writs to free the men held in jail and 
we'll likely file suit for damages against the city, but where politics and crime 
are bedfellows I fear we haven't much chance of collecting a penny." 

This story also goes to the city desk. But on this paper the city desk has 
been instructed to be fair at all times, so the city editor passes it along to 
the news editor. He also knows that this publisher demands fairness and 
decency in the news, so he orders a one-column 30 point chelt. head and 
places the story on page 15. The head reads: 


Some Precepts and Examples , 189 


Armed with riot guns and strike clubs, an enraged squad of ponce thugs, 
acting on orders from their capitalistic overlords, today interrupted the peace- 
ful picketing of the Blank Foundry at DasfTstreet and Ogburn avenue by 
beating four of the strikers so badly that they were taken to the County 
Hospital, where physicians indicated two of them would likely die. 

If two more lives are sacrificed on the altars of capjtajistic^reed the 
workers of Jonesville said they would petition President Roosevelt to send in 
federal troops to patrol the strike zone. 

The absurdity of the police assertion that they had been summoned to the 
scene because the pickets were obstructing traffic was shown when it was 
established that but 12 men were in the line at any time since the strike was 
called three weeks ago after the company had repeatedly refused to recognize 
the existence of the Wagner act which compels collective bargaining. 

When questioned as to the identity of the persons who had filed the com- 
plaint, the police were evasive, saying no record had been kept of the calls. 

From sources close to the Cloud Street Police Station, whose officers did 
the work of their capitalistic employers, came the information that the 
foundry barons paid the police $5,000 to disperse the pickets. 

This could not be confirmed for obvious reasons, but the source from which 
it came has hitherto been most reliable. 

Workers throughout the Jonesville district were incensed over the outrage 
and preparations were made for a march on the City Hall, where redress will 
be demanded of Mayor Sketch. 

One of the wounded pickets, William Jones, was beaten unmercifully by 
the uniformed city-paid gunmen. He was knocked to the street and kicked. 
As he pleaded with the policemen they laughed at him and continued to kick 

When an onlooker went to his assistance he, too, was slugged; then the 
assassins returned toTKeir gory task of pounding Jones as he Pegged for his 

"Please, please, please," he begged, "don't kill me. I have a wife and chil- 
dren. . . . Please." 

As the last word came he was kicked in the mouth. Blood spurted to the 
sidewalk. The police laughed. What did they care? Were not the united 
forces of capitalism at their beck and call? 

After the injured were taken to the hospital and the police had arrested 
several pickets, the wives of the injured men appeared at the gates of the 
foundry. They were weeping. Clutching their skirts were their children. 

It was a pathetic picture. 

The head that appeared over this story was this eight-column line: 

The readout went like this: 


190 Writer 

There you have the story of how the truth can be twisted to fit the pat- 
tern of the publication in which it appears. First you have the violently 
anti-labor newspaper; then you have the honest newspaper and third comes 
the ardent pro-labor publication. 

World's Best Directions Writer *> 

JWacrorie i9i8 

How do I get to Elmwood Avenue?" "What's the right way to 
wash a car?" "How do you play cribbage?" "How do f get this cake to 
come out right?" We all ask and are asked such questions every day. 
And weVe all had the maddening experience of ending up ten miles 
from Elmwood Avenue, with a soap-streaked car, with a handful of 
incomprehensible cards, or with a flat cake or of condemning our 
inquirer to the same frustration. To give clear, accurate, and concise 
directions is a real challenge to one's mastery of language and informa- 
tion. In this amusing interview "the world's best directions writer" 
talks about some of the problems a professional encounters and some 
of his principles for dealing with them. 

As WE TURNED to the elevator on the third floor of the Business Associates 
Building at 1115-20 Horace Street, we saw the scratched black letters on 
the frosted glass: "Edward Zybowski Best Directions Writer in the 
World." We let the elevator go down without us. 

Mr. Zybowski was willing to talk to us, he said, because at the moment 
he was stuck. Tve got 45 words for a label and I've got to get it down 
to 25." 

As he spoke, he lifted the rod that held his paper against the typewriter 
roller and squinted at the words. He was ordinary-looking, about forty, 
the black hair at the back and sides of his head emphasizing the whiteness 
of the balding front part. Except for his face: it was kindly but looked 
mashed in. 

"Not kicking about copy they gave me," he said. "Never do. More copy, 
more challenge to cut it till you wouldn't believe it was possible. That's 
what keeps customers comin' to me." 

"We don't want to keep you from your work. . . . " 

That's O.K. I'm stuck. No use worryin' and worryin' over a label. Don't 

Reprinted by permission of the author from College English, February, 1952 pp. 275- 

Some Precepts and Examples 191 

think consciously about it for a few hours when you're stuck. Then sud- 
denly your unconscious comes through for you whaml There it is. 
Needs only final touches. No ulcers for the writer that way/' 

"Inspiration?" we ventured. 

"Inspiration! That's a literary myth. Purely a matter of the unconscious 
memories and tips your mind has stored up. Then they spill over. 

"This job's more than just writing," he said. "Deciding position and size 
of type very important." He picked up a brightly colored jar lid. "Ad on 
top for radio program, see? Where's the direction? On side of lid where 
you put your fingers to open it. Why there? Most logical place in the 

We read the instructions printed in blue along the fluted edge: 


"You're opening the jar," he said, "and you see the word OPENING. Stops 
you, doesn't it? Same thing appears on other side of lid. Don't ordinarily 
believe in presenting any direction twice, but got to here. So important 
food'll spoil if you don't follow these directions." 

"We're just curious, Mr. Zybowski. What is difficult about writing a 
direction like that? Seems the only way one could say this idea." 

Mr. Z. looked affronted for a second, then smiled. "Yeah, no one can 
see it at first. And that's really a compliment to me. Shows I did it the 
simplest and most natural way it could be done. Now take this jar-lid 
direction copy came to me like this: 

"'When stored at normal refrigerator temperature this food will retain 
its taste, lightness, color, and value as a food product; but when exposed 
to air or kept at freezing temperature will suffer a chemical change which 
may render it unfit for human consumption. It is therefore recommended 
that it be kept at refrigerated temperature when not being used. However, 
it may be stored at room temperature safely if the lid has never been 

"I get that essay on the subject, figure I got a space a half an inch high 
around the lid, and a damned important direction. So I write: 


Our respect for Mr. Z. was growing. "You must be quite an expert on 
the English language," we said. 

"I hate to put it this way," he said, "but I think I know more about Eng- 
lish usage than 90 per cent of the college teachers in the country. And 
also how to use English that's a different thing, you know. Under the 
how-to-use part, for example, there's this business of adjectives. The col- 
lege experts who think they're up on the latest, say don't use adjectives. 
They got it from Hemingway, they claim. I read all the books and maga- 

192 Writer 

zines on English, too. Almost never learn anything from them. When you 
got a space half an inch square facing you and an important idea to get 
across, you learn something about language. What was I going to say?" 

"You were speaking of not using adjectives." 

"Yeah. They say don't use 'em. In a way they're right. Adjectives are 
usually weak as hell." Without looking, he pointed to the wall behind him 
where hung a half-letter-size sheet of blue paper framed in black. "That 
one up there," he said, "has no adjectives. Shouldn't have any. It's true 
you should use 'em sparingly. But take this tea-bag carton." He pulled 
a box from a desk drawer. "After I told 'em how to make hot tea on the 
left panel here, then I say: Tor perfect iced tea, make hot tea and steep 
for 6 minutes.' The word perfect is a selling word there plug. I don't 
like to write any plug angles into directions. Leave that slush to ad-writers, 
damn their lyin' souls. This business of mine you can be honest in. Givin' 
directions is really helpin' people, educatin' them." 

We could see Mr. Z. was in the first glow of a long speech, but we 
wanted to find out how he wrote directions. So we interrupted. "We can 
see that it is an honorable occupation in a dirty business world. Would you 
mind telling us more about this tea-bag label? You said you used no ad- 
jectives except for perfect, but in the hot-tea instructions we see the words 
warmed teapot, fresh, bubbling, boiling water." 

"Glad you mentioned it. Easy to misunderstand. You see, warmed tea- 
pot is what you've got to use, one of the important tricks of tea-making. 
So warmed isn't an idle little descriptive word thrown in. It's the kind of 
teapot you've got to use or else you don't get first-rate tea. And the same 
way with fresh. I hate a word like that usually because it sounds like those 
damned ad-writers' slush. You know how you always see the word on the 
package when you buy five-day-old stale cupcakes in a grocery store. But 
when used with water, the word fresh means something. When water 
stands around, it loses a lot loses, to be exact. ..." He reached for a 
chemical dictionary. 

"Oh, don't bother," we said. "We know you're right there." 

"And bubbling' 9 he said, pushing the book back in the case behind him. 
"I'm sure you know there are many different stages of boiling, and 'bub- 
bling' identifies the stage we want." 

"Yes, so in that sense of basic meaning, you don't consider these words 
adjectives," we said. 

"Right," he said, beaming with satisfaction as he leaned back in his 
chair. "One point those modern English teachers are straight on: use active 
verbs whenever possible. I use 'push,' 'lift,' 'scoop,' 'unscrew.' Never say 
anything like, 'The turn of the cap is accomplished by a twist.' " He smiled. 
"I would say, Twist cap to left.' " 

"We'll have to go soon," we said. Mr. Z. looked crestfallen. "Could 
you show us the direction that you consider your masterpiece?" 

"Well," he said, "there can be only one masterpiece done by any one 

Some Precepts and Examples 193 

artist. I couldn't pick which is best. I try not to let any of 'em get out of 
this office till they're at least pared to the minimum. They may not always 
be brilliant, but they gotta be the minimum or they don't go out." 

"How about that one in the frame? Any special significance in putting 
it on blue paper?" 

He stood up and unhooked it from the wall. "Blue paper, use it for all 
final O.K.'d directions, so as not to make a mistake and let one of the 
earlier versions call them scratches get out when there's a better one 
been done." He held the frame out to us. "This one, I'll admit, is pretty 

We read: 





"I like this one," he said, "'cause no adjectives and no plug. First line 
there got the concentration of a line from Milton's Samson, my favorite 

We noticed the adjective white before appearance, but knew now that 
it wasn't an adjective to Mr. Z. and, for that matter, to us any more. "Why 
so little punctuation?" we asked. "One period at the end and then only 
two hyphens in the first line." 

"Glad you asked," he said, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief. 
"Damnedest thing, punctuation! Spent years mastering American English 
punctuation when I started this business. Had to know it first but all along 
thought I wouldn't use it much." He picked up the framed direction from 
the desk. "Didn't either. 

"Now first of all, you see these words," said Mr. Z. 


Ordinary punctuation usage says comma before 'causing,' but I take care 
of that by ending one line and starting another. Never need punctuation 
when eye has to stop and move over and down to a new line. In first line 
I use hyphen instead of dash because public doesn't know hyphen from 
a dash anyway. Hyphen saves space, and, when you don't use both in 
same copy, you don't need to differentiate between them. Remember, 
my context for a direction is not a chapter or a book or even a page, just 
the round top of a jar lid or one side of a package. Sometimes no other 
words except the direction. No chance for confusing with antecedents or 
references several pages before. And thank GodI No footnotes! I won't 
allow any asterisks. Every explanation's gotta be complete in itself." 
"How about that middle dot in the first line?" we said. 

194 Writer 

"Oh, that? I'm proud of that middle dot. Easier to see than period. 
A better stop really. We ought to use 'em in all writing, but you know 
the power of convention in usage. And this particular middle dot is in 
center of eight words, four on each side, with equal meaning and im- 
portance. A really logical and rational mark here, don't you think?" 

We had to agree. "Anybody can see it's a very intelligent job of direc- 
tion writing," we said. "There is only one thing that seems inconsistent 
with what you have said today." 

"What's that?" 

seems that the 'THIS' is a waste of words. Couldn't you say 'CAUSING AIR 


"Good point," said Mr. Z. "A really fine point of the trade. I'm glad, 
though, you didn't object to 'THIS' and say it is a vague reference. Any- 
body can see the reference is perfectly clear. But I'll tell you why I used 
the 'THIS/ Gettin' to be a pretty long sentence, that one. And if you say 
'RESULTING,' you have to look back to be sure what the relationship is be- 
tween 'RESULTING' and 'CAUSING.' In a sense it would be no vaguer than 
'THIS' in its reference, but in reality it would be harder to follow because 
that kind of parallelism is not in common everyday speech use. But the 
'THIS' construction is. Remember my audience is everybody. A lot of those 
everybodys really don't read, so you gotta talk, not write, to 'em." 

"What would you say is the secret of this job, if there is one, Mr. Zy- 

"Funny thing," he said, "but I've thought that over a lot and come to an 
awfully egotistic conclusion. The secret is the same as for writing a great 
book or doing anything else that really gives something to people. That is 
to learn to put yourself in the other guy's place." 

We knew nothing to say to such a statement. "It's been a pleasure," we 
said, getting up. 

"Come in again. Sure enjoyed talkin* to you," he said. 

As we got to the door, he looked up from the typewriter. "I forgot to 
tell you one other thing about this peanut-butter direction. Notice last 
phrase: 'IN NO WAY AFFECTS QUALITY OR TASTE.' That's the time I beat the 
ad-writers at their own game and still didn't misrepresent anything or 
slush the customer. The way I put it, it's a statement of fact, yet a subtle 
idea creeps into customer's mind that the quality and taste of this butter 
is exceptionally good. This time language did even more than it was 
expected to do." 

"Goodbye," we said, shaking our head in wonder as we closed the frosted- 
glass door. We believed the words on it now. 

The One-Egg Cake ** 

Qrace 'Brown 4859 *92P 

These are supposed to be foolproof directions for making a fool- 
proof cake. Could you write similarly foolproof directions for perform- 
ing some simple operation tying a bow tie, hanging a dress, making 
an omelet that often goes wrong? The problem is to reduce the 
operation to its essential steps and to foresee where the performer is 
likely to go wrong. 

THE ONE-EGG CAKE is not one of those haughty, high-bred confections that 
must have the refinement of thrice-bolted flour and dry-whipped whites of 
eggs, that cannot allow a rude foot to cross the kitchen floor while they 
grandly bake, lest their sensitive, poised delicacy swoon from shock. The 
one-egg cake is sturdy, stocky, humble. It asks for only the simplest of 
materials, and shrinks not from hastiness in the handling. It evolved, like 
the hoof of the horse or the wing of the bird, in answer to a natural need; 
or in answer to two natural needs: that of the impecunious, for dessert; 
and that of the busy housewife, for time. It is indigenous anywhere. 
It would undoubtedly be edible to the last crumb if, flour lacking, it 
were made of hominy grits or bran and shorts. But in spite of its modesty, 
it may easily attain to the distinction of the cake in Katherine Mansfield's 
story: "And God said: 'Let there be cake/ And there was cake. And God 
saw that it was good/' 

Its implements are such as any igloo might keep on the kitchen shelf: 
one mixing bowl, one cup, one tablespoon, one teaspoon, one sheet of 
waxed paper, one baking pan. Its one regret is that it must occasionally 
deviate in material from the absolute unity which is its ideal. But its 
method of procedure wastes not one movement. Anyone who wishes to 
attempt this adventure toward perfect unity should proceed as follows. 

Into the one mixing bowl sift an indeterminate quantity of flour any 
kind of flour. From this measure two cupsful on to the waxed paper and 
return the remainder to wherever it came from. Measure one cup (the 
same cup) of sugar into the bowl. Add to it six tablespoons of soft shorten- 
ing. If you have a good eye for quantity, guess at it and put in one six- 
tablespoon lump. Cream them together with one clean right hand 
after first oiling the baking pan with it, and thus saving one washing. 
Next break the one egg the egg of the title role into the bowl and 
beat it briskly with the tablespoon into the creamed sugar and shortening. 

Reprinted from Expository Writing by Mervin James Curl (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 
Co., 1931), pp. 158-159. 


196 Writer 

Into the cup (the same cup) measure two thirds of a cup of milk. Pour 
one third into the bowl and shake in half the measured flour. Beat the 
mixture briskly. Into the remaining flour measure three teaspoons of 
baking powder. Shake the flour and baking powder into the sifter held 
over the bowl and sift them in. Pour in the rest of the milk. Beat again 
in a lively manner. Flavor with one teaspoon (the same teaspoon) of 
vanilla or one teaspoon of cinnamon or one square of melted chocolate. 
Pour it into the oiled pan and bake it in one oven. If no oven is handy, 
use one pressure cooker. If it is served to one husband, one daughter, and 
one son, it will disappear in one meal. 

Winter Salad 

Sydney Smith {771-1845 

Can you separate the factual part of these directions from the 
judgment part? What is gained or lost by such a separation? 

Two LARGE POTATOES, passed through kitchen sieve, 

Unwonted softness to the salad give; 

Of mordant mustard add a single spoon 

Distrust the condiment which bites too soon; 

But deem it not, though made of herbs, a fault 

To add a double quantity of salt; 

Three times the spoon with oil of Lucca crown, 

And once with vinegar procured from town. 

True flavor needs it, and your poet begs 

The pounded yellow of two well-boiled eggs. 

Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl, 

And, half-suspected, animate the whole; 

And lastly, on the favored compound toss 

A magic tea-spoon of anchovy sauce. 

Then, though green turtle fail, though venison's tough, 

Though ham and turkey are not boiled enough, 

Serenely full, the epicure shall say, 

"Fate can not harm me I have dined today ." 


The Literary Use of Language 

David Daiches 

HayaJcawa's distinctions between facts, inferences, and judgments 
are useful, but we have the right to ask: "Are there really any pure facts, 
untainted by inference or judgment, and unwarped by the act of per- 
ceiving them?" This is a question to puzzle even professional philoso- 
phers, but a simpler one is relevant to our reading and writing: "How 
often do we want statements to be entirely objective, even supposing 
they can be so? Are we not sometimes more interested in what events 
mean than in their mere existence?" Certainly in literature, as Daiches 
points out, the writer's effort is to give his subject a human significance. 

LIFE is A JUNGLE of events whose meanings are at once too casual (and to 
that extent insignificant) and too full of possible implication (without offer- 
ing us any guidance as to which implication or set of implications we 
should choose). The skilled storyteller makes those meanings at once 
more significant and less confused. He chooses or invents a tractable piece 
of life and proceeds both to define its meaning more precisely than the 
meaning of any event in real life can be known (Can we even talk of the 
"meaning" of events in real life, unless we mean simply their causes and 
effects?) and to enrich its meaning in a wholly unique manner. Is it pos- 
sible simultaneously to define a meaning more precisely and to enrich 
it? We can see that this is possible if we consider what the skillful writer 
of fiction (and, indeed, of any kind of creative literature) actually does. 
Let us take a very simple example. Consider that a journalist has been 
asked to stand for a while in a city street and then write up an account 
of the street and what took place there. As soon as he begins to write 
he will have to make his own definition of his subject. What in fact is 
meant by "the street and what took place there"? To define even the street 
requires a choice: is it simply the thoroughfare leading from one place to 
another, or are we to include the buildings which flank it, and if we in- 
clude the buildings what aspects of them are we to include? A street, in 
fact, can be considered in an indefinite number of ways. As for defining 
"what took place there," we strike here immediately the problem of selec- 
tion. Clearly, it would be physically impossible as well as wholly pointless 

David Daiches, A Study of Literature (Ithaca, New York: The Cornell University 
Press, 1948), pp. 29-34. 


198 Writer 

for the writer to give an account of every single event which in fact oc- 
curred while he was there, or even of every single event which he observed. 
Our journalist would have to select from among the plethora of events 
the actions and gestures of people, the movement of traffic, all the in- 
numerable activities of city life what he considered of importance or 
of interest on some standard or other. He would have to define "street" 
and "what took place there" before writing or in the process of writing. And 
he would have to make up his mind about his perspective. Should he try 
to get closer to some things than to others; should he vary the distance at 
which he stood from people and things, or maintain a simple gradation 
from foreground to background? These and other questions he will have 
to answer, consciously or unconsciously, in presenting us with a verbal 
picture of that street at that time. Having done so, he will have presented 
to us aspects of a situation which we can recognize as one which we 
either have known or might have known. If he can use the language with 
any ability at all, even if he can put together a number of sentences which 
say, however badly or crudely, what he saw (or rather, what he thought 
he saw ) that he considered worth mentioning, we shall be able to recognize 
his account as corresponding to something of which we have had ex- 
perience assuming, of course, that we are products of the same civiliza- 
tion and are familiar with that kind of city street. That is to say, we 
should recognize the description as, in a general sort of way at least, true. 
The writer, without using any other skill than is required of a reasonably 
competent journalist, would have defined his subject intelligibly and recog- 
nizably. Out of the moving chaos of reality he will have isolated a static 
picture, which a certain class of readers would consent to, as reflecting in 
some sense an actual state of affairs. 

Our journalist might do more than that. He might manage to convey 
to readers who have not had experience of that kind of city street at all a 
sense of the authenticity of his picture. He can do this by "style," by the 
selection and organization of his imagery, by using words in such a way 
that the reader is persuaded into recognizing not what he has seen but 
what he might have seen. The first stage is where we recognize what we 
know, the second is where we recognize what we might have known, and 
there is a third where, while we recognize what we have known or 
might have known, we at the same time see, and know to be authentic, 
what we should never have seen for ourselves. The interesting fact is that 
where a writer succeeds in making authentic a picture of a kind that his 
readers might not have seen, he will very probably be doing more he 
will be giving them at the same time a new insight which coexists with the 
feeling of recognition. This is because "style," that way of writing which 
makes convincing in its own right what would otherwise be merely recog- 
nizable, can rarely do this without going further. For such a style is the 
result of the ability to choose and order words in such a way that what is 
described becomes not merely something existing, something which hap- 

Some Precepts and Examples 199 

pens to be in a particular place at a particular time, but something that is 
linked with man's wider fate, that suggests, and keeps on suggesting the 
more we read, ever wider categories of experiences until there is included 
something with which we can make contact, which touches what we, too, 
find recognizable. And then it becomes irrelevant whether what is de- 
scribed exists in fact in the real world or not. The mere journalist drops his 
words one by one, and there they lie, in the order in which he dropped 
them, specific but still, corresponding accurately enough to what the au- 
thor intends to say, but having no further life of their own. But the true 
creative writer drops his words into our mind like stones in a pool, and the 
ever-widening circles of meaning eventually ring round and encompass the 
store of our own experience. And to continue the metaphor in doing 
so they provide a new context for familiar things, and what has been lying 
half dead in our mind and imagination takes on new life in virtue of its 
new context, so that we not only recognize what we feel we knew but see 
the familiar take on rich and exciting new meanings. 

If, therefore, the journalist who described what went on in a particular 
city street during a given period of time had the literary skill (and the 
initial combination of feeling for life and feeling for language which alone 
can make such a skill realizable) to present his observations in such a way 
that when he wrote of businessmen entering and leaving the bank, children 
coming home from school, housewives out shopping, loiterers, barking 
dogs, lumbering busses, or whatever else he cared to note, he was able to 
convey to the reader something of the tragedy or the comedy of human 
affairs, wringing some human insight out of these multifarious incidents so 
that the reader not only sees what he already knew or even admits as 
authentic what he did not know, but sees simultaneously what he knew and 
what he never saw before, recognizes the picture in the light of his deepest, 
half -intuitive knowledge of what man's experience is and can be and at the 
same time see it as a new illumination if he can do this, then he has 
moved from journalism into art. He has shown that he can make the means 
of expression comment on what is expressed so as simultaneously to define 
and expand his subject matter: define it by using words that block off the 
wrong meanings, which show with complete compulsion that what is meant 
is this rather than that, and expand it by choosing and arranging words 
and larger units of expression so that they set going the appropriate over- 
tones and suggestions which help to elevate a description of people's be- 
havior to an account of man's fate. 

Melville Writes of the 

Whale-Line & Howard P. Vincent 4904- 

In his best novel, Moby-Dick (1851), Herman Melville made much 
use of factual material on whales and whaling from the books of 
scientists and travellers. However, everything Melville "took" he trans- 
formed, i.e., he added significance to it. The following account shows 
Melville's skill in transforming and heightening ordinary "facts." 

MELVILLE'S ACCOUNT of "The Line" turns out, as we now might expect, to 
be both a clear description of the whale line and a metaphor. The whale 
line is a physical fact and a "linked analogy/' The chapter is short, de- 
scribing (a) the English whale line, (b) the American, (c) the whale 
line's use, and (d) the metaphorical extension of the physical object. Also, 
here is the first of another doublet, for as the author says in the opening 
paragraph, he mentions the whale line because of "the whaling scene 
shortly to be described, as well as for the better understanding of all 
similar scenes elsewhere presented." When we read the next chapter, we 
notice the emphasis given to the whale line, just as promised. We also re- 
call "The Line" as we read the closing episode of Ahab's life, just as we will 
remember the Line's "hempen intricacies" when we see the corpse of 
Fedallah entwined by the rope around Moby Dick's back. There is al- 
most no expository fact in Moby-Dick which does not have some narrative 
or thematic function besides. 

The books by Beale and Bennett furnished Melville with information 
for his chapter. Although the description of the American manila rope, 
which had superseded the English hemp, was perhaps from Melville's 
memory there is no description of one in the whaling books he used 
nevertheless, for his description of the hemp rope Melville adapted the 
following passage from Bennett: 

The whale-line, provided for British South-Seamen, combines so com- 
pletely the best qualities of cordage, that it may be regarded as the height of 
perfection in our rope manufacture. It is constructed of the best hemp, 
slightly but uniformly imbued by the vapour of tar; is two inches in cir- 
cumference; and composed of three strands; each strand containing seventeen 
yarns, each of which is calculated to sustain the weight of one hundred and 
twelve pounds. Of this line, 220 fathoms is the ordinary complement of each 
boat. It is coiled, continuously, in two tubs, and in neat and compact horizon- 
tal layers, or "sheaves," each extremity of the line being kept exposed, the 

Howard P. Vincent, The Trying-out of Moby Dick (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.), 
pp. 227-231. Copyright, 1949, by Howard P. Vincent. 


Some Precepts and Examples 201 

one for attachment to the harpoons, the other (which is provided with a 
loop, or "splice,") for connecting it to the line of a second boat, should any 
probability arise that its entire length would be taken out by the whale. 

When ready for running, the commencement of the line is passed over the 
logger-head at the stern, and thence forward, over the oars, to be fastened to 
the harpoons in the bow: about fifteen fathoms, termed "box-line," being kept 
coiled in the head, or box, of the boat, to accompany the harpoon when it is 
first darted. At the spot where the box-line commences, a mark, commonly a 
piece of red cloth, is attached, to enable the whaler to judge at what distance 
the boat may be from the harpoon, and consequently from the whale, when 
the sea is turbid with blood. 

Melville's enrichment and vivification of Bennett's description is an illustra- 
tion of expository writing at its best. Memory as well as imagination have 
been added to the "source" passage: 

The line originally used in the fishery was of the best hemp, slightly 
vapored with tar, not impregnated with it, as in the case of ordinary ropes; 
for while tar, as ordinarily used, makes the hemp more pliable to the rope- 
maker, and also renders the rope itself more convenient to the sailor for 
common ship use; yet, not only would the ordinary quantity too much stiffen 
the whale-line for the close coiling to which it must be subjected; but as most 
seamen are beginning to learn, tar in general by no means adds to the rope's 
durability or strength, however much it may give it compactness and gloss. 

Of late years the Manilla rope has in the American fishery almost entirely 
superseded hemp as a material for whale-lines; for, though not so durable as 
hemp, it is stronger, and far more soft and elastic; and I will add (since there 
is an aesthetics in all things), is much more handsome and becoming to the 
boat, than hemp. Hemp is a dusky, dark fellow, a sort of Indian; but Manilla 
is as a golden-haired Circassian to behold. 

The whale-line is only two thirds of an inch in thickness. At first sight, you 
would not think it so strong as it really is. By experiment its one and fifty 
yarns will suspend a weight of one hundred and twenty pounds; so that the 
whole rope will bear a strain nearly equal to three tons. In length, the com- 
mon sperm whale-line measures something over two hundred fathoms. To- 
wards the stern of the boat it is spirally coiled away in the tub, not like the 
worm-pipe of a still though, but so as to form one round, cheese-shaped mass 
of densely bedded "sheaves," or layers of concentric spiralizations, without 
any hollow but the "heart" or minute vertical tube formed at the axis of the 
cheese. As the least tangle or kink in the coiling would, in running out, in- 
fallibly take somebody's arm, leg, or entire body off, the utmost precaution is 
used in stowing the line in its tub. Some harpooneers will consume almost an 
entire morning in this business, carrying the line high aloft, and then reeving 
it downwards through a block towards the tub, so as in the act of coiling to 
free it from all possible wrinkles and twists. 

In the English boats two tubs are used instead of one; the same line being 
continuously coiled in both tubs. There is some advantage in this; because 
these twin-tubs being so small they fit more readily into the boat, and do not 
strain it so much; whereas, the American tub, nearly three feet in diameter 

202 Writer 

and of proportionate depth, makes a rather bulky freight for a craft whose 
planks are but one-half inch in thickness; for the bottom of the whale-boat is 
like critical ice, which will bear up a considerable distributed weight, but not 
very much of a concentrated one. When the painted canvas cover is clapped 
on the American tub-line, the boat looks as if it were pulling off with a 
prodigious great wedding-cake to present to the whales. 

Both ends of the line are exposed; the lower end terminating in an eye- 
splice or loop coming up from the bottom against the side of the tub, and 
hanging over its edge completely disengaged from everything. This arrange- 
ment of the lower end is necessary on two accounts. First: In order to facili- 
tate the fastening to it of an additional line from a neighboring boat, in case 
the stricken whale should sound so deep as to threaten to carry off the entire 
line originally attached to the harpoon. In these instances, the whale of 
course is shifted like a mug of ale, as it were, from the one boat to the other; 
though the first boat always hovers at hand to assist its consort. Second: This 
arrangement is indispensable for common safety's sake; for were the lower end 
of the line in any way attached to the boat, and were the whale then to run 
the line out to the end almost in a single, smoking minute as he sometimes 
does, he would not stop there, for the doomed boat would infallibly be 
dragged down after him into the profundity of the sea; and in that case no 
town-crier would ever find her again. 

Before lowering the boat for the chase, the upper end of the line is taken 
aft from the tub, and passing round the loggerhead there, is again carried 
forward the entire length of the boat, resting crosswise upon the loom or 
handle of every man's oar, so that it jogs against his wrist in rowing; and also 
passing between the men, as they alternately sit at the opposite gunwales, to 
the leaded chocks or grooves in the extreme pointed prow of the boat, where 
a wooden pin or skewer the size of a common quill prevents it from slipping 
out. From the chocks it hangs in a slight festoon over the bows, and is then 
passed inside the boat again; and some ten or twenty fathoms (called box- 
line) being coiled upon the box in the bows, it continues its way to the 
gunwale still a little further aft, and is then attached to the short-warp the 
rope which is immediately connected with the harpoon; but previous to that 
connexion the short-warp goes through sundry mystifications too tedious to 

But what gives the chapter importance is Melville's metaphor of the 
whale line as one of the dangers threatening all men, death being ready to 
seize suddenly any one of us even as the loop of the whale line seizes the 
whaleman even, as we are to find, Ahab. Melville comes out into the 
open with his point, with an ironic and unexpected twist in the last sen- 

All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round 
their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, 
that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life. And if you 
be a philosopher, though seated in the whale-boat, you would not at heart 
feel one whit more of terror, than though seated before your evening fire 
with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side. 

A Sum in Addition 

"William JWarch 1894 

"Facts" by themselves may very well be like the random ink-blots 
of the psychologists' Rorschach test in which the person being tested 
reveals something about his own personality by saying what shapes he 
thinks he sees in the blots. In this story several different characters re- 
veal fundamentally different attitudes toward life by the different ways 
they interpret the same set of facts. 

COLLINS said: "Sure there's a corkscrew in there. You'll find it chained to 
the wall. ... All hotels have 'em." And Menefee answered from the bath- 
room: "Well, there's not one in here. Look for yourselves if you boys don't 
believe me." 

"That's a fine way to treat drummers," said Red Smith. "I'll write and 
complain to the management." He got up and stretched himself. "I'll look 
in the closet," he said. "Maybe I'll find something to open it with in there." 

Menefee came back into the room and put the unopened bottle on the 
dresser, his head drawn backward and turned at an angle, his eyes squint- 
ing up. He ground out the cigarette that had been burning between his 
relaxed lips. "You boys keep your pants on," he said; "I'll go down and 
borrow a corkscrew off a bellhop." He put on his coat and went into the 
hall, closing the door behind him. 

Collins sat back and rested his legs on the vacant chair, looking lazily 
over his shoulder at Red Smith. Red was pulling out drawers noisily, or 
standing tiptoe to peer at shelves just above his head. Then he stopped, 
picked up something and came into the room with it. It was a sheet of 
hotel stationery covered with writing, and it had been crumpled into a ball 
and thrown into the closet. 

Red opened the sheet and smoothed it flat, and when he had read it, he 
passed it to Collins, a peculiar look on his face. "Read this, Wade," he said. 

Collins read slowly, the paper held close to his eyes. At the right of the 
sheet, and commencing it, was the following entry: Cosh on hand $17.45. 
Then, to the left, were the following entries: 

Expenses babyies fuiierel (about) $148.00 

Wifes hospital bill (about) 65.00 

Owe to grocery store 28.17 

Back Rent (2 mo. make it 3) 127.25 

Incidentals 25.00 


From Trial Balance. Copyright, 1945, by William March. Reprinted by permission of 
Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., pp. 31-34. 


204 Writer 

A little farther down the paper were the following words: Will borrow 
four hundred dollars from Mr. Sellwood. This sentence was repeated, like 
an exercise in penmanship, over and over, until the paper was filled with it. 
At first the words were written boldly, heavily, and there were places where 
the pen had broken through the paper behind the determination of the 
writer; but as the writing progressed, the man seemed less sure of himself, 
as if his courage and his certainty were fading away. The sentences were 
more perfect here, with an occasional mended letter; they were written 
more slowly, as if each letter were pondered. The last sentence was not 
finished at all. It dwindled thinly into wavering illegibility. 

Collins had read the thing through and sat with it in his hands. He said 
sympathetically: "Tough! Tough!" then added: "He knew he couldn't work 
it out. He knew he was fooling himself; so he crumpled up the paper and 
threw it in the closet." 

Red Smith sat down, resting his elbows on his knees, his bright, coppery 
hair shining in the light. Suddenly he had a picture of a shabby little man 
sitting in this same, cheap hotel room, going over his problem, over and 
over, and finding no answer to it. Finally he said: "Don't you suppose Mr. 
Sellwood let him have the four hundred bucks after all? Why not?" 

Collins sighed, the Masonic emblem resting on his fat stomach rising with 
his breath. He spoke mockingly: "Of course not, Little Sunshine. ... Of 
course not! Maybe our friend went to see Mr. Sellwood all right, but Mr. 
Sellwood said that times were hard right then and he had a lot of expenses 
of his own. ... I guess that's about the way it worked out." 

Red lifted his alert face. "I think you're wrong, Wade, I think everything 
worked out all right/' 

But Collins shook his head. "Not a chance, young fellow!" he said. "Not 
a chance!" 

Red replied; "Just the same, I think Mr. Sellwood let him have the four 
hundred bucks. He was an old friend of the family, you see. . . . Then he 
got a good job for this fellow that paid more money, and this fellow came 
back home almost running. He came up the steps three at the time to tell 
his wife. Everything worked out fine for them after that." 

"Maybe he met Santa Glaus on the way home," said Wade heavily, "and 
old Santa slipped the money in his stocking." Then he said more seriously: 
"The fellow who wrote that is sitting in some other cheap hotel tonight 
still figuring, and still trying to find an answer, but he won't, because there 
isn't any answer for him to find." 

The door opened then, and Menefee stood before them, a corkscrew in 
his hand. "Everything's okay," he said. "Everything's all set." 

"We'll leave it to Menefee," said Red Smith. "Give him the writing, 
Wade, and let's see what he thinks." 

Collins passed over the paper, and Menefee examined it carefully, as if 
he did not understand it, before he looked at the two men, puzzled a little. 

"What's it all about? This doesri't make sense to me." 

Some Precepts and Examples 205 

Collins shook his head. "Good old Menefee! Trust him!" 

Red laughed a little and said earnestly: "Don't you see the point, Mene- 

Menefee read the thing through again, turned the paper over and 
examined the writing once more. 'Tm damned if I do," he said helplessly. 
Then a moment later he added triumphantly: "Oh, sure, sure, I see the 
point now! Sure I do. It's added up wrong." 

Red Smith looked at Collins, and they both laughed. "It is added up 
wrong!" said Menefee, indignant and a little hurt. "Eight and five are 
thirteen and eight are twenty-one . . . seven makes twenty-eight and five, 
thirty-three not thirty-four like it is here." 

But Collins and Red Smith continued to laugh and to shake their heads. 

"All right," said Menefee. "I'm dumb; I admit it." He pulled in his lips 
and spoke in a high, quavering voice: "Come on, boys: let your poor old 
grandmother in on the joke!" He picked up the bottle and poured three 
drinks into three tumblers, grumbling a little to himself: "I never saw such 
superior bastards in all my life as you two are," he said. 

On a Photo of Sgt. Ciardi a Year Later 

John Ciardi i9i6 

"The camera never lies. . . ." Or does it? This poem takes up again 
our problem of "fact" and interpretation. 

THE SGT. stands so fluently in leather, 

So poster-bolstered and so newsreel-jawed 

As death's costumed and fashionable brother, 

My civil memory is overawed. 

Behind him see the circuses of doom 
Dance a finale chorus on the sun. 
He leans on gun sights, doesn't give a damn 
For dice or stripes, and waits to see the fun. 

The cameraman whose ornate public eye 
Invented that fine bravura look of calm 
At murderous clocks hung ticking in the sky 
Palmed the deception off without a qualm. 

"On a Photo of Sgt. Ciardi a Year Later," from Other Skies (Boston: Little, Brown 
and Co., and the Atlantic Monthly Press, 1947), reprinted by permission of the author. 
Originally published in The New Yorker. 

206 Writer 

Even the camera, focused and exact 
To a two dimensional conclusion, 
Uttered its formula of physical fact 
Only to lend data to illusion. 

The camera always lies. By a law of perception 

The obvious surface is always an optical ruse. 

The leather was living tissue in its own dimension, 

The holsters held benzedrine tablets, the guns were no use. 

The careful slouch and dangling cigarette 
Were always superstitious as Amen. 
The shadow under the shadow is never caught: 
The camera photographs the camerman. 

Part x k. * s Three 

"I used to feel 
that way myself." 


MOST of the selections in Part Three deal with events universal to man- 
kind: birth, family relations, growing up, love, the passage of time, death. 
Other selections in this part of the book have grown out of special experi- 
ences or skills which are the product of specialized knowledge. All these 
pieces relate experiences to which none of us can be indifferent. You will 
find that reading them will heighten your interest in and your awareness 
of similar experiences you have already known or heard about. Noticing 
this, you may well come to the conclusion that here is one of the greatest 
values of reading and writing that it heightens and deepens, widens and 
concentrates, whatever you have done and are doing now. Seeing into 
other people's lives increases your understanding of your own. 

You will also find here some answers to one of your immediate and 
pressing questions: "What shall I write about?" The principal answer is, 
"Write about what you know." If you say that this is obvious, you have 
not denied its truth. If you say that you know nothing, then the selections 
which follow should show you that, on the contrary, you have a great deal 
to write about Perhaps you have merely undervalued your own experi- 

208 The Arch of Experience 

ences, and their capacity to interest others. Perhaps you have never really 
examined them face to face, never put their real significance into words, 
never analyzed and phrased the things that have happened to you and what 
these things have meant to you. 

For the secret is not in answering the question, "What shall I write 
about?" It is in answering, well and searchingly, the deeper question, "What 
shall I say about my subject?" Here is the significance, the meaning, of 
what you can say; here, as you will see when you read the following pages, 
is the real thing these writers have to offer you. And what it comes down 
to is the thinking they have done about their subjects, not the subjects them- 

Everything lies before you for your writing: your family, and your feel- 
ings about them; your school experiences, in class and out; playmates and 
classmates; the teachers who terrorize, inspire, or bore you. You can write 
about your roommate, your last night's date, the heavy snow that fell this 
morning, the tedium of a laboratory on a spring day, or the excitement of 
a laboratory when you finally identify the unknown. And all this your- 
self is only a starting point. Beyond that lies the world of ideas, of skills 
and special knowledge, hobbies, interests, and subjects you have started 
to explore. Tennyson said, 

All experience is an arch wherethro gleams that untravelled world whose 

margin fades 
For ever and for ever when I move. 

You cannot fail to find that your experiences, by the very act of writing 
about them, have been sharpened, made more enjoyable or more bear- 
able than before you faced them in the fret of the class assignment. 

and 'Beyond 
the family 

"My sister Hazel was the 
pretty one." 

The Family Constellation & 

Alfred Adler - *87O-i937 

Here is a provocative example of how the theories of psychologists 
can give us insights into the forces that shaped our own personalities. 
This essay will give you food for lively thought as you read the other 
pieces in this section particularly Anderson's "Brother Death" 
and as you consider possible subjects for writing in your own family 
experiences or those of your friends. Of course you need not accept 
Adler's generalizations; such attempts to find consistent patterns in 
human behavior usually have a recognizable amount of truth in them, 
but equally valuable may be the truths you discover in arguing against 
them. Adler's particular contribution to psychology was the "inferiority 
complex/' the idea that it is our feeling of inadequacy rather than of 
superiority which drives us to keep proving to ourselves and others that 
we amount to something. You will see how he applies this theory to 
the special problem of "the family constellation." 

WE HAVE often drawn attention to the fact that before we can judge a 
human being we must know the situation in which he grew up. An im- 

Alfred Adler, Understanding Human Nature (New York: Greenberg, 1946), pp. 149- 


210 The Arch of Experience 

portant moment is the position which a child occupied in his family con- 
stellation. Frequently we can catalogue human beings according to this 
view point after we have gained sufficient expertness, and can recognize 
whether an individual is a first-born, an only child, the youngest child, or 
the like. 

People seem to have known for a long time that the youngest child is 
usually a peculiar type. This is evidenced by the countless fairy tales, 
legends, Biblical stories, in which the youngest always appears in the same 
light. As a matter of fact he does grow up in a situation quite different 
from that of all other people, for to parents he represents a particular child, 
and as the youngest he experiences an especially solicitous treatment. Not 
only is he the youngest, but also usually the smallest, and by consequence, 
the most in need of help. His other brothers and sisters have already ac- 
quired some degree of independence and growth during the time of his 
weakness, and for this reason he usually grows up in an atmosphere warmer 
than that which the others have experienced. 

Hence there arise a number of characteristics which influence his at- 
titude toward life in a remarkable way, and cause him to be a remarkable 
personality. One circumstance which seemingly is a contradiction for our 
theory must be noted. No child likes to be the smallest, the one whom one 
does not trust, the one in whom one has no confidence, all the time. Such 
knowledge stimulates a child to prove that he can do everything. His 
striving for power becomes markedly accentuated and we find the youngest 
very usually a man who has developed a desire to overcome all others, 
satisfied only with the very best. 

This type is not uncommon. One group of these youngest children excels 
every other member of the family, and becomes the family's most capable 
member. But there is another more unfortunate group of these same 
youngest children; they also have a desire to excel, but lack the necessary 
activity and self-confidence, as a result of their relationships to their older 
brothers and sisters. If the older children are not to be excelled, the 
youngest frequently shies from his tasks, becomes cowardly, a chronic 
plaintiff forever seeking an excuse to evade his duties. He does not be- 
come less ambitious, but he assumes that type of ambition which forces 
him to wriggle out of situations, and satisfy his ambition in activity outside 
of the necessary problems of life, to the end that he may avoid the danger 
of an actual test of ability, so far as possible. 

It will undoubtedly have occurred to many readers that the youngest 
child acts as though he were neglected and carried a feeling of inferiority 
within him. In our investigations we have always been able to find this 
feeling of inferiority and have been able also to deduce the quality and 
fashion of his psychic development from the presence of this torturing 
sentiment. In this sense a youngest child is like a child who has come into 
the world with weak organs. What the child feels need not actually be 
the case. It does not matter what really has happened, whether an individ- 

In and Beyond the Family 211 

ual is really inferior or not. What is important is his interpretation of his 
situation. We know very well that mistakes are easily made in childhood. 
At that time a child is faced with a great number of questions, of pos- 
sibilities, and consequences. 

What shall an educator do? Shall he impose additional stimuli by spur- 
ring on the vanity of this child? Should he constantly push him into the 
limelight so that he is always the first? This would be a feeble response to 
the challenge of life. Experience teaches us that it makes very little dif- 
ference whether one is first or not. It would be better to exaggerate in 
the other direction, and maintain that being first, or the best, is unimportant. 
We are really tired of having nothing but the first and best people. History 
as well as experience demonstrates that happiness does not consist in being 
the first or best. To teach a child such a principle makes him one-sided; 
above all it robs him of his chance of being a good fellow-man. 

The first consequence of such doctrines is that a child thinks only of 
himself and occupies himself in wondering whether someone will over- 
take him. Envy and hate of his fellows and anxiety for his own position, 
develop in his soul. His very place in life makes a speeder trying to beat 
out all others, of the youngest. The racer, the marathon runner in his soul, 
is betrayed by his whole behavior, especially in little gestures which are 
not obvious to those who have not learned to judge his psychic life in all 
his relationships. These are the children, for instance, who always march 
at the head of the procession and cannot bear to have anyone in front 
of them. Some such race-course attitude is characteristic of a large number 
of children. 

This type of the youngest child is occasionally to be found as a clear cut 
type example although variations are common. Among the youngest we 
find active and capable individuals who have gone so far that they have 
become the saviors of their whole family. Consider the Biblical story of 
Joseph! Here is a wonderful exposition of the situation of the youngest 
son. It is as though the past had told us about it with a purpose and a 
clarity arising in the full possession of the evidence which we acquire so 
laboriously today. In the course of the centuries much valuable material 
has been lost which we must attempt to find again. 

Another type, which grows secondarily from the first, is often found. 
Consider our marathon runner who suddenly comes to an obstacle which 
he does not trust himself to hurdle. He attempts to avoid the difficulty 
by going around it. When a youngest child of this type loses his courage 
he becomes the most arrant coward that we can well imagine. We find 
him far from the front, every labor seems too much for him, and he be- 
comes a veritable "alibi artist" who attempts nothing useful, but spends 
his whole energy wasting time. In any actual conflict he always fails. 
Usually he is to be found carefully seeking a field of activity in which 
every chance of competition has been excluded. He will always find ex- 
cuses for his failures. He may contend that he was too weak or petted, or 

212 The Arch of Experience 

that his brothers and sisters did not allow him to develop. His fate be- 
comes more bitter if he actually has a physical defect, in which case he is 
certain to make capital out of his weakness to justify him in his desertion. 

Both these types are hardly ever good fellow human beings. The first 
type fares better in a world where competition is valued for itself. A 
man of this type will maintain his spiritual equilibrium only at the cost 
of others, whereas individuals of the second remain under the oppressive 
feeling of their inferiority and suffer from their lack of reconciliation with 
life as long as they live. 

The oldest child also has well defined characteristics. For one thing 
he has the advantage of an excellent position for the development of his 
psychic life. History recognizes that the oldest son has had a particularly 
favorable position. Among many peoples, in many classes, this advan- 
tageous status has become traditional. There is no question for instance 
that among the European farmers the first born knows his position from 
his early childhood and realizes that some day he will take over the farm, 
and therefore he finds himself in a much better position than the other 
children who know that they must leave their father's farm at some time; 
in other strata of society it is frequently held that the oldest son will some 
day be the head of the house. Even where this tradition has not actually 
become crystallized, as in simple bourgeois or proletarian families, the 
oldest child is usually the one whom one accredits with enough power and 
common sense to be the helper or foreman of his parents. One can im- 
agine how valuable it is to a child to be constantly entrusted with respon- 
sibilities by his environment. We can imagine that his thought processes 
are somewhat like this: "You are the larger, the stronger, the older, and 
therefore you must also be cleverer than the others." 

If his development in this direction goes on without disturbance then 
we shall find him with the traits of a guardian of law and order. Such 
persons have an especially high evaluation of power. This extends not 
only to their own personal power, but affects their evaluation of the 
concepts of power in general. Power is something which is quite self- 
understood for the oldest child, something which has weight and must 
be honored. It is not surprising that such individuals are markedly con- 

The striving for power in the case of a second born child also has its 
especial nuance. Second born children are constantly under steam, striv- 
ing for superiority under pressure: the race course attitude which de- 
termines their activity in life is very evident in their actions. The fact 
that there is someone ahead of him who has already gained power is a 
strong stimulus for the second born. If he is enabled to develop his powers 
and takes up the battle with the first born he will usually move forward 
with a great deal of lan, the while the first born, possessing power, feels 
himself relatively secure until the second threatens to surpass him. 

This situation has also been described in a very lively fashion in the 

In and Beyond the Family 213 

Biblical legend of Esau and Jacob. In this story the battle goes on re- 
lentlessly, not so much for actual power, but for the semblance of power; 
in cases like this it continues with a certain compulsion until the goal is 
reached and the first born is overcome, or the battle is lost, and the re- 
treat, which often evinces itself in nervous diseases, begins. The attitude 
of the second born is similar to the envy of the poor classes. There is a 
dominant note of being slighted, neglected, in it. The second born may 
place his goal so high that he suffers from it his whole life, annihilates 
his inner harmony in following, not the veritable facts of life, but an 
evanescent fiction and the valueless semblance of things. 

The only child of course finds himself in a very particular situation. He 
is at the utter mercy of the educational methods of his environment. His 
parents, so to speak, have no choice in the matter. They place their whole 
educational zeal upon their only child. He becomes dependent to a high 
degree, waits constantly for someone to show him the way, and searches 
for support at all times. Pampered throughout his life, he is accustomed 
to no difficulties, because one has always removed difficulties from his 
way. Being constantly the center of attention he very easily acquires the 
feeling that he really counts for something of great value. His position 
is so difficult that mistaken attitudes are almost inevitable in his case. 
If the parents understand the dangers of his situation, to be sure, there 
is a possibility of preventing many of them, but at best it remains a diffi- 
cult problem. 

Parents of "only" children are frequently exceptionally cautious, people 
who have themselves experienced life as a great danger, and therefore 
approach their child with an inordinate solicitude. The child in turn 
interprets their attentions and admonitions as a source of additional pres- 
sure. Constant attention to health and well being finally stimulate him 
to conceive of the world as a very hostile place. An eternal fear of diffi- 
culties arises in him and he approaches them in an unpractised and clumsy 
manner because he has tested only the pleasant things in life. Such chil- 
dren have difficulties with every independent activity and sooner or later 
they become useless for life. Shipwrecks in their life's activity are to be 
expected. Their life approaches that of a parasite who does nothing, but 
enjoys life while the rest of the world cares for his wants. 

Various combinations are possible in which several brothers and sisters 
of the same or opposite sexes compete with each other. The evaluation 
of any one case therefore becomes exceedingly difficult. The situation of 
an only boy among several girls is a case in point. A feminine influence 
dominates such a household and the boy is pushed into the background, 
particularly if he is the youngest, and sees himself opposed by a closed 
phalanx of women. His striving for recognition encounters great difficulties. 
Threatened on all sides, he never senses with certainty the privilege which 
in our retarded masculine civilization is given to every male. A lasting 
insecurity, an inability to evaluate himself as a human being, is his most 

214 The Arch of Experience 

characteristic trait. He may become so intimidated by his womenfolk that 
he feels that to be a man is equivalent to occupying a position of lesser 
honor. On the one hand his courage and self-confidence may easily be 
eclipsed, or on the other the stimulus may be so drastic that the young 
boy forces himself to great achievements. Both cases arise from the same 
situation. What becomes of such boys in the end is determined by other 
concomitant and closely related phenomena. 

We see therefore that the very position of the child in the family may 
lend shape and color to all the instincts, tropisms, faculties and the like, 
which he brings with him into the world. This affirmation robs of all 
value the theories of the inheritance of especial traits or talents, which 
are so harmful to all educational effort. There are doubtless occasions 
and cases in which the effect of hereditary influences can be shown, as for 
instance, in a child who grows up removed entirely from his parents, yet 
develops certain similar "familial" traits. This becomes much more com- 
prehensible if one remembers how closely certain types of mistaken de- 
velopment in a child are related to inherited defects of the body. Take 
a given child who comes into the world with a weak body which results, 
in turn, in his greater tension toward the demands of life and his environ- 
ment. If his father came into the world with similarly defective organs 
and approached the world with a similar tension, it is not to be wondered 
at that similar mistakes and character traits should result. Viewed from 
this standpoint it would seem to us that the theory of inheritance of ac- 
quired characteristics is based upon very weak evidence. 

From our previous descriptions we may assume that whatever the errors 
to which a child is exposed in his development, the most serious conse- 
quences arise from his desire to elevate himself over all his fellows, to 
seek more personal power which will give him advantages over his fellow 
man. In our culture he is practically compelled to develop according to 
a fixed pattern. If we wish to prevent such a pernicious development we 
must know the difficulties he has to meet and understand them. There 
is one single and essential point of view which helps us to overcome all 
these difficulties; it is the view-point of the development of the social feeling. 
If this development succeeds, obstacles are insignificant, but since the 
opportunities for this development are relatively rare in our culture, the 
difficulties which a child encounters play an important rdle. Once this is 
recognized we shall not be surprised to find many people who spend their 
whole life fighting for their lives and others to whom life is a vale of 
sorrows. We must understand that they are the victims of a mistaken 
development whose unfortunate consequence is that their attitude toward 
life also is mistaken. 

Let us be very modest then, in our judgment of our fellows, and above 
all, let us never allow ourselves to make any moral judgments, judgments 
concerning the moral worth of a human being! On the contrary we must 
make our knowledge of these facts socially valuable. We must approach 

In and Beyond the Family 215 

such a mistaken and misled human being sympathetically, because we 
are in a postion to have a much better idea of what is going on within 
him than he is himself. This gives rise to important new points of view 
in the matter of education. The very recognition of the source of error 
puts a great many influential instruments for betterment into our hands. 
By analysing the psychic structure and development of any human being 
we understand not only his past, but may deduce further what his future 
probably will be. Thus our science gives us some conception of what 
a human being really is. He becomes a living being for us, not merely 
a flat silhouette. And as a consequence we can have a richer and more 
meaningful sense of his value as a fellow human than is usual in our day. 

At Grandmother's 

Edgar Lee ^Masters i869-i950 

Rich memories of childhood are brought bade by Edgar Lee 
Masters, author of Spoon River Anthology (1915), in the first chapter 
of his autobiography. He remembers a place of wonder, an old family 
homestead, whose rooms and furniture, sights and sounds, books, ani- 
mals, food, and old people enchanted him. All of us have similar 
memories of places, where we made magical discoveries in bureau 
drawers, trunks, attics, or tool shops, and where grandparents, aunts, 
or uncles told stories of legendary moments in family history. We 
remember other places, too, and people and things associated with 
them, which filled us with opposite emotions. 

WE WENT FREQUENTLY to the old homestead, often for Sunday dinner. So 
gradually the house emerged to my eyes, and became a place of enchanting 
charm. My own home very early, really from the first, seemed a poor and 
barren place compared with the house of my grandparents. There were a 
thousand reasons for this, chief of which might be mentioned the many 
objects of wonder, the books and curios that my grandparents had gathered 
and cherished; the grindstone in the yard which could be driven by a pedal; 
the tools in the carpenter's shop; my grandmother's canaries and redbird; 
the fascinating pictures on the walls; the wonderful parlor with its piano, 
and much else. But there was such order, such comfort at that old house. 
The meals were always on time and the table was filled with delicious 
things. My grandmother was always laughing; my grandfather always sing- 

From Across Spoon River by Edgar Lee Masters. Copyright, 1936, by Edgar Lee 
Masters, and reprinted by permission of Rinehart & Company, Inc., Publishers. 

216 The Arch of Experience 

ing, or saying quaint things; and both of them were so full of affection for 
me, and so indulgent toward me. Soon this old house became a very heaven 
to my imagination; while in point of fact it was not much of a house, and 
not to be compared with some of the other farmhouses around it, a number 
of which were of brick and much larger. 

It was only a story and a half high, and had but nine rooms. But it was 
built of walnut and hickory timbers set upon a brick foundation. Its 
weather boarding was of walnut, for in 1850 when the house was built, the 
woods abounded in walnut trees, which the farmers ruthlessly cut down to 
make rails for fences, or logs for hogpens, or what not. There was a board 
fence painted white in front of the house; and a brick walk leading from the 
gate to the front door. My grandmother had planted red and yellow roses 
under the windows of the living room; and she had flower beds of tulips and 
phlox; and she had lilac bushes. The ubiquitous pine trees adorned either 
side of the walk; and to one side were fine maples under which we used to 
sit on hot days. Entering the front door one came into a hallway from which 
ascended a stairway with a walnut banister. To the left of this was the 
parlor, a room where my aunt's Mathushek piano was. At the windows were 
lace curtains held back by cords fastened around large glass knobs. The 
couch was upholstered in horsehair, as were some of the chairs. There were 
two mahogany tables, one lyre shaped. There was a large ornate lamp with 
a glazed-glass shade on one of these tables. There were two paintings on 
the wall, of country scenes, paintings of the sort which are done by copyists 
and can be bought anywhere for a small price. There was a wood stove of 
Russian iron, always in a high state of polish; and back of it a wood box 
papered with wallpaper. Back of the parlor was the spare bedroom, always 
smelling musty and rarely really aired. In it was a walnut bedstead heavily 
built up with quilts of my grandmother's making. At one side was a stand 
holding a bowl and pitcher. 

At the end of the hallway was a door leading to the dining room. To the 
right was the living room where my grandfather and grandmother spent 
nearly all of their time, and where they slept. There was a lounge in the 
room where my aunt Mary lay for those long years of illness; and a ma- 
hogany bureau. In one corner was an old mahogany chest which Rebecca 
Wasson had brought from North Carolina to Illinois, and which she had 
given my grandmother. On this chest was a walnut case for books. The 
chest had two drawers, one used by my grandfather for his awl, needles, flax 
and wax for harness mending. The other drawer was my grandmother's 
where she kept her daguerreotypes, and the watch of a beloved son who was 
drowned in the Platte River in 1862; besides sticks of cinnamon and trinkets 
of various sorts. In the east wall of the room was a huge fireplace, in which 
cordwood could be burned; and the mantel over it had a clock with weights, 
and a bell which rang loudly when the clock struck. In one corner was my 
grandmother's trunk; and in a closet near by she kept her shoes and dresses, 
her hats and apparel. 

In and Beyond the Family 217 

The dining room was a long room running east and west the full width of 
the house except for a small dark room at the west end which was used as 
a spare bedroom. Between the dining room and the separate building con- 
taining the kitchen and the hired man's room there was a long porch, with a 
shelf against the kitchen wall where were hung old gloves, turkey wings, or 
what not; and on one end of which was a water tank supplied with ice in 
summer. For my grandfather was one of the few farmers about who had an 
icehouse. Outside this porch was the workhouse, so called, where saws and 
augers and other tools were kept on a workbench, or hung over it. This was 
one of my delights from the time that I could saw a board or bore a hole, 
when I made windmills for myself. 

The upper rooms were sleeping chambers, one of them being occupied by 
my uncle who was nine years my senior. Back of the chambers was a place 
under the roof, called the Dark Ages, where old trunks were stored, con- 
taining, as it turned out, many books which became my delight as the years 

But my favorite room was the living room, where as a child and long after 
I sat with my grandparents before the fireplace: the big burning logs cast a 
light about the room and on the ceiling. The heat made sizzling sounds in 
the frozen apples which had been brought from the cellar and placed there 
to thaw out. Meanwhile the wind whistled from over the prairies and the 
snow beat at the windows. Here I listened to my grandmother tell about the 
buffalo grass that overgrew all the country about when she first saw Menard 
County, and about the days that they lived in the log house on the lower 
lot when my father was a baby, and until the new house was built, that 
being this house just described. . . . 

Now the other room of my delight in this house was the kitchen, where for 
many months of the year in autumn after the heat of summer, in the cold 
winter, and in the raw spring the long table was kept set, spread with a 
red tablecloth and full of delectable food when we sat down to eat. I loved 
the fragrance and the taste of the sassafras tea which my grandmother made. 
The kitchen stove kept the room warm; and it was a great delight to run 
from my cold room to this kitchen, and there find my grandmother laughing 
and frying cakes, or baking corn bread. Back of this kitchen was the hired 
man's room; and this functionary was always sitting by the stove when the 
meal was about to be served, or if he was in his room I could run in there to 
see his treasures, like his harmonica and nickel cigars perfumed with cin- 

This was the house and these the rooms that emerged into my imagination 
and my comprehension of my world. It was full of magic. And when on 
Sundays we set off from the Atterberry farm to have dinner with my grand- 
parents my heart leaped up, my happiness knew no bounds. All their long 
lives, Uncle Beth Vincent and Aunt Minerva showered presents on me and 
my sister; as they had given my uncle Will a great many books wonderfully 
illustrated, such as The Babes in the Wood, Grimm's Fairy Tales, besides 

218 The Arch of Experience 

wonderful tops and toys, field glasses, cabinets of tools, and much else that 
delights a boy. There were these things for me to see; besides my grand- 
mother's trinkets, her illustrated books, and the like. And then there was 
the dinner. 

That long table was filled with wonderful food: fried chicken and boiled 
ham, and mashed potatoes and turnips, and watermelon pickles and peach 
pickles, stuck with cloves; and in season fresh strawberries and cream or 
blackberries, and sponge or jelly cake. All this was enough to fascinate any 
boy, particularly if his own home was not run on a scale of such plenty and 
variety, such order and punctuality. 

Father Tries to Make Mother 

Like Figures * Clarence Day i874-i935 

Of recent years we have had a spate of family reminiscences, turn- 
ing upon no great revelations about famous people but upon everyday 
household happenings which reveal the traits of Father and Mother, 
Brother and Sister the family constellation illustrated. One of the 
best of such books is Clarence Day's Life With Father, from which the 
following is a representative episode. A portrait of your own father, 
mother, sister, brother, cousin, uncle, aunt could be equally amusing. 

FATHER WAS always trying to make Mother keep track of the household 
expenses. He was systematic by nature and he had had a sound business 
training. He had a full set of account books at home in addition to those 
in his office a personal cashbook, journal, and ledger in which he 
carefully made double entries. His home ledger showed at a glance 
exactly how much a month or a year his clothes or his clubs or his cigar 
bills amounted to. Every item was listed. He knew just how every one 
of his expenses compared with those of former years, and when he allowed 
the figures to mount up in one place, he could bring them down in another. 
Before he got married, these books had apparently given him great satis- 
faction, but he said they were never the same after that. They had sud- 
denly stopped telling him anything. He still knew what his personal ex- 
penses were, but they were microscopic compared to his household ex- 
penses, and of those he knew nothing, no details, only the horrible total. 
His money was flowing away in all directions and he had no record of it. 

Reprinted from Life With Father by Clarence Day, by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, 
Inc. Copyright, 1934, 1935, by Clarence Day. 

In and Beyond the Family 219 

Every once in so often he tried to explain his system to Mother. But 
his stout, leather-bound ledgers, and his methodical ruling of lines in red 
ink, and the whole business of putting down every little expense every 
day, were too much for her. She didn't feel that women should have any- 
thing to do with accounts, any more than men should have to see that 
the parlor was dusted. She had been only a debutante when she married, 
not long out of school, and though she had been head of her class, and 
wrote well and spelled well, and spoke beautiful French, she had never 
laid eyes on a ledger. Every time Father showed her his, she was unsym- 

Figures were so absorbing to Father that for a long time he couldn't 
believe Mother really disliked them. He hoped for years that her lack of 
interest was due only to her youth and that she would outgrow it. He 
said confidently that she would soon learn to keep books. It was simple. 
Meanwhile, if she would just make a memorandum for him of whatever 
she spent, he would enter it himself in the accounts until he could trust 
her to do it. 

That day never arrived. 

Father knew where some of the money went, for part of the expenses 
were charged. But this was a poor consolation. Although the household 
bills gave him plenty of data which he could sit and stare at, in horror, he 
said that many of the details were not clear to him, and most of the rest 
were incredible. 

He tried to go over the bills regularly with Mother, as well as he could, 
demanding information about items which he did not understand. But 
every now and then there were items which she didn't understand, either. 
She said she wasn't sure they were mistakes, but she couldn't remember 
about them. Her mind was a blank. She behaved as though the bill were 
a total stranger to her. 

This was one of the features that annoyed Father most. 

Mother didn't like these sessions a bit. She told us she hated bills, any- 
how. When they were larger than she expected, she felt guilty and hardly 
dared to let Father see them. When some of them seemed small to her, 
she felt happy, but not for long, because they never seemed small to 
Father. And when she spotted an error when she found, for instance, 
that Tyson, the butcher, had charged too much for a broiler she had 
to fly around to the shop to have it corrected, and argue it out, and go 
through a disagreeable experience, and then when she told Father how 
hard she had worked he took it as a matter of course, and she indignantly 
found that she never got any credit for it. 

Sometimes I had to do this kind of thing, too. There was a man named 
Flannagan over on Sixth Avenue who supplied us with newspapers, and 
I used to be sent to rebuke him when he overcharged. Father said Flan- 
nagan had no head for figures. After checking up the addition and re- 
computing the individual items, he would generally discover that the 

220 The Arch of Experience 

bill was anywhere from three to fourteen cents out, He then sent for me, 
handed me the correct amount of change and the bill, and told me to 
go over to see Flannagan the next day, after school, and warn him that 
we wouldn't stand it. 

I got used to this after a while, but the first time I went I was frightened. 
Flannagan was a large man who looked like a barkeeper and whose face 
was tough and belligerent. When I marched into his dark little shop and 
shakily attempted to warn him that we wouldn't stand it, he leaned over 
the counter, stared down at me, and said loudly, "Har?" 

"Excuse me, Mr. Flannagan/' I repeated, "here is your bill but it's 


"It seems to be just a little wrong, sir. Eight cents too much for the Sun." 

Flannagan snatched the bill from me and the money, and went to his 
desk. After working over it with a thick pencil, and smudging the bill 
all up, front and back, he snarled to himself, and receipted it the way 
Father wished. Then he chucked it disdainfully on the counter. I picked 
it up and got out. 

"Confound it all," Father said when he got it, "don't muss my bills up so." 

"It was Mr. Flannagan, Father." 

"Well, tell him he must learn to be tidy." 

"Yes, sir," I said, hopelessly. 

I liked figures myself, just as Father did, and I thought it was queer 
Mother didn't. She was as quick at them as anybody, yet she didn't get 
any fun out of writing them down and adding them up. I liked the prob- 
lems in my school arithmetic, and I deeply admired Father's account 
books. I didn't dare tell him this, somehow. He never offered to let me 
examine those big, handsome books. He kept them locked up in a desk 
he had, down in the front basement. 

If I showed Father one of my arithmetic lessons, he was interested 
he got up from his chair and put down his newspaper and sat at the dining- 
room table with a pencil and paper, to see how well I had done. But 
Mother didn't want to go into such matters. 

Every month when the bills came in, there was trouble. Mother seemed 
to have no great extravagances. But she loved pretty things. She had a 
passion for china, for instance. She saw hundreds of beautiful cups and 
saucers that it was hard to walk away from and leave. She knew she 
couldn't buy them, and mustn't, but every so often she did. No one pur- 
chase seemed large by itself, but they kept mounting up, and Father 
declared that she bought more china than the Windsor Hotel. 

Father couldn't see why charge accounts should be a temptation to 
Mother. They were no temptation to him. He knew that the bill would 
arrive on the first of the month and that in a few days he would pay it. 
He said he had supposed that Mother would have the same feelings that 
he had about this. 

But Mother was one of those persons for whom charge accounts were 

In and Beyond the Family 221 

invented. When she bought something and charged it, the first of the next 
month seemed far away, and she hoped that perhaps Father wouldn't 
mind he might be nice about it for once. Her desire for the thing was 
strong at that moment, the penalty was remote, and she fell. 

She was a different woman entirely when she had to pay cash. It was 
hard to get cash out of Father, she never got much at one time, and as 
she looked in her pocketbook she could see her precious little hoard dwin- 
dling. She fingered a purchase and thought twice about it before she 
could bear to part with the money. But shopping on a charge account was 
fun. She tried not to let herself be tempted, but of course she was, all 
the time, and after she had conscientiously resisted nine lovely tempta- 
tions, it didn't seem really wicked to yield to the tenth. 

Father did his level best to take all the fun out of it for her. Once every 
month regularly he held court and sat as a judge, and required her to ex- 
plain her crimes and misdemeanors. When she cried, or showed that she 
was hurt, it appeared that Father, too, felt hurt and worried. He said 
again and again at the top of his voice that he wished to be reasonable 
but that he couldn't afford to spend money that way, and that they would 
have to do better. 

Once in a while when Father got low in his mind and said that he was 
discouraged, Mother felt so sorry that she tried hard to keep count of the 
cash for him. She put down all sorts of little expenses, on backs of en- 
velopes or on half-sheets of letter paper of different sizes, and she gave 
these to Father with many interlineations and much scratching out of other 
memoranda, and with mystifying omissions. He would pore over them, 
calling out to her to tell him what this was, or that, in a vain attempt to 
bring order out of this feminine chaos. 

Mother could sometimes, though not very often, be managed by praise, 
but criticism made her rebellious, and after a dose of it she wouldn't put 
down any figures at all for a while. She had to do the mending and market- 
ing and take care of the children, and she told Father she had no time 
to learn to be a bookkeeper too. What was the use of keeping track of 
anything that was over and done with? She said that wasn't her way of 
doing things. 

"Well," Father said patiently, "let's get at the bottom of this, now, and 
work out some solution. What is your way of doing things? Tell me." 

Mother said firmly that her way was to do the very best she could to 
keep down expenses, and that all her friends thought she did wonderfully, 
and the Wards spent twice as much. 

Father said, "Damn the Wards! They don't have to work for it. I don't 
wish to be told what they spend, or how they throw money around." 

Mother said, "Oh, Clare, how can you! They don't. They just like to 
have things go nicely, and live in a comfortable way, and I thought you 
were so fond of Cousin Mary. You know very well she is lovely, and she 
gave the baby a cup." 

Father declared that he might be fond of Cousin Mary without wanting 

222 The Arch of Experience 

to hear so damned much about her. He said she cropped up every minute. 

"You talk of your own family enough," Mother answered. 

Father felt this was very unjust. When he talked of his own family he 
criticized them, and as severely as he knew how. He held tightly onto 
himself in an effort to keep to the subject. He said that the point he was 
trying to make was that Cousin Mary's ways were not his ways, and that 
consequently there was no use whatever discussing them with him. 

Mother said, "Goodness knows / don't want to discuss things, it's always 
you who are doing it, and if I can't even speak of Cousin Mary " 

"You can, you can speak of her all you want to," Father hotly protested. 
"But I won't have Cousin Mary or anyone else dictating to me how to run 

"I didn't say a word about her dictating, Clare. She isn't that kind." 

"I don't know what you said, now," Father replied. "You never stick 
to the point. But you implied in some way that Cousin Mary " 

"Oh, Clare, please! I didn't! And I can't bear to have you talk so harshly 
of her when she admires you so." 

Something like this happened to every financial conversation they had. 
Father did his best to confine the discussion to the question at issue, but 
somehow, no matter how calmly he started, he soon got exasperated and 
went galloping fiercely off in any direction Mother's mind happened to 
take; and in the middle of it one of the babies would cry and Mother 
would have to go off to see what was wrong, or she would have to run 
down to leave word for Mrs. Tobin, the washerwoman, to do Father's 
shirts differently, and when Father complained Mother reminded him re- 
proachfully that she had to keep house. 

Father was baffled by these tactics. But every time he went back down 
to the basement and ruled neat lines in his ledgers, he made up his mind 
all over again that he wouldn't give up. 

Good-bye, Little Sister * 

Crary JVtoore 

This story takes as its materials the old freshman-theme favorite, 
"My First Date," but it makes something more than an amusing or 
embarrassing episode of that universal experience. For the older sister 
who tells the story sees it as both an end and a beginning for her Little 

Reprinted by permission of the author. Copyright, 1952, by the Atlantic Monthly 
Company, Boston, Mass. 

In and Beyond the Family 223 

THE BIGGEST and best coming-out parties in New York are in Christmas 
Vacation. There's just nothing like it, I think: down Park Avenue in a taxi 
at seven o'clock, with the lights flashing green, red, green, and the white 
path of Christmas trees down the middle, dazzling in the dark. Your 
stockings make a sleek little hiss as you cross your knees under all that 
tulle; you can smell your own perfume; and the Sophomore beside you 
seems wonderfully dark and dangerous. At home, the closets bloom with 
pink and white crinolines (Don't touch it, Betsy! It's got to be fresh for 
the Junior Assembly!); flowers arrive; and the phone rings all the time. 
Sometimes a photographer's velvet voice inquires if you'd like a nice 
cabinet-size portrait, real Hollywood type; or a distraught hostess wants 
to speak to your mother about an extra boy or the table will be ruined: 
"Can't you ask Betsy? She knows so many boys!" 

I was coming out, and adoring it, when my little sister Emily went to 
her first big dance. The subdeb parties are terribly important if you want 
to have a good time in your big year. We had put off the dreadful day 
until she was fifteen. Emily was skinny and romantic, and in the summer 
she didn't sail much or play tennis; she goated, so we were awfully wor- 
ried about her social career. She had a huge brown billy goat she called 
Master of Ballantrae, and Daddy called Auld Reekie. When he was stub- 
born, which was always, she towed him around by his grubby beard, so 
she was usually pretty gamy herself. She saved up to buy him a wife 
(the family couldn't say no); but he abominated the creature, whose name 
was Flora Macdonald, and Emily couldn't seem to comfort her. 

It's only reasonable to be afraid of your first dance. Even the naturals, 
the little pussycat blondes, are scared to death, and I told Emily so. But, 
like poor old Flora, she bleated and skittered around; she said her dress 
showed all her bones. It didn't; Mother chose it to hide them. Then she 
got fractious, and said only idiots wore pink. 

On the day before the party she threw up twice and got a rash where 
it showed. Two weeks earlier, she had told me, as a dark secret, that she 
was terrified of meeting Amory Standish, who was the idol of the Tenth 
Class. He'd almost been fired from Exeter for smoking, and Emily was 
sure he was a rip in every respect. I thought it was immensely sweet of 
her to tell Mother that there was no one she'd rather go to the party with. 
You're supposed to ask the boys to go with you, rather than the other 
way round; they look after you, and see that their friends cut in on you; 
so presentable, well-behaved ones are in tremendous demand. Unless 
you're lucky enough to have a real beau, your unfortunate mother has to 
go to one of those Witches' Sabbaths they call Patronesses' Meetings, and 
see if any of her old schoolmates has an appropriate son. Usually, the son 
doesn't prove too fascinating: if no spots, then no chin. 

Ma had come back swollen with pride about having collared Amory, 

224 The Arch of Experience 

who was well and favorably known to the mother-cabal. Emily thanked 
her with real grace, ran back to our room, gave me a tragic glare, and 
wept bitterly. I told her that most fatal charmers absolutely lived on 
flattery, and that all she need do would be to lard Amory with compli- 
ments. But Emily, who'd never said an artificial thing in her life, looked 
at me with glazed red eyes as though I'd recommended speaking Swahili, 
and I almost gave her up, then and there. 

The Awful Evening finally came for her, and with it Amory. I found him 
delightful: no spots, plenty of chin, tall without that celery look, and a 
merry black eye. Even dimples. Emily was having a frenzied time with 
her stockings, so Daddy asked Amory, in a man-to-man voice, if he 
wouldn't have a little sherry in the library. My father has responded 
splendidly to training; but I saw that Ma was about to get wayward and 
panicky, perhaps to ask Amory if he played on any teams, so I dragged 
her upstairs to Emily. "Look, Em," I said, "he's brought you a terrific 
corsage. No forget-me-nots." 

Emily stared listlessly at her two camellias. "Is he cute?" she said in a 
graveyard voice. 


"Oh God." 

"Not like that, Em. In a sweet way. He's awfully nice too." 

'Then hell be sorry for me," and she nearly wept. I saw the time had 
come for shock treatment, so I said Amory had better things to be sorry 
for, and not to make her eyes repulsive. I bustled her into her pink dress, 
stuffed her silver-mesh bag into one hand, her white gloves into the other, 
and dabbed her with my perfume. I told her it was sure-fire. 

Mother gave her an apprehensive kiss and said, "If you don't like it by 
eleven o'clock, darling, I'll be up in the Patronesses' Gallery." 

Emily said in a quavering voice that she knew she'd have a good time 
in such a nice dress. I wanted to kiss her too, for that, but thought it 
might set her off. 

"Now, Em," I said, "one last thing. Ma and I'll go out; and you stand 
by the mirror and take a darn good look and think how pretty you are. 
Because you are, and all you have to do is to believe it." 

We started downstairs, both frozen with nerves. Mother stopped me on 
the landing and said she was positively queasy. "It was different with you, 
Bets, you were just automatic. . . . Damn those spoiled little boys," she 
said, "I feel as though I were throwing her to the lions." 

"If she'd only realize how cunning she looked." I heard Daddy and 
Amory laughing in the library, which sounded auspicious. "You were 
wonderful to get Amory, Ma," I said. "He's so cheerful, he'll end up by 
making her think it's fun." 

"Do you suppose he has a hip flask?" 

I reminded her, gently, that Prohibition was over before Amory was 
born; and we went on downstairs. Emily finally appeared; I hoped she'd 

In and Beyond the Family 225 

taken a good long look. You can hypnotize yourself into feeling a belle; 
then you often are one. She seemed stiff and blushful, but she really did 
look very pretty. I thought her dark oval face had infinitely more distinc- 
tion than the little pink-china dolls', whose necks I would gladly have 

They said how-do-you-do, and Amory put on her white rabbit cape 
with a practiced air. She was paralyzed with shyness; even her voice was 
hoarse. Amory did a charming thing: looked straight at Mother, sparing 
Emily, and said, "We're going to a terrific party, Mrs. Crane. All the men 
from my dorm'll be there. I just hope I get to dance with Emily even 
once." From the way he shook hands with Daddy, I gathered that he'd 
just been given the usual five dollars, for after the party. There was 
manly understanding in that handshake, and a good deal of reassurance. 
I thought of Two Strong Men meeting Face to Face. Emily gave us a 
last nervous glance, and preceded him out the door. 

Mrs. Standish had sent along her elegant town car, so they didn't have 
to hunt taxis in the snow. I hoped arriving in such style would reinforce 
Em's confidence at least a little, and that Amory 's good manners would 

I knew everything was all right, as soon as I woke up, early next morn- 
ing. The shades were drawn, but enough chilly snow-light came in so that 
I could see the pink dress, thrown down inside-out, and a fine abandoned 
tangle of silver slippers, underwear, and stockings on the floor. If she'd 
been a wallflower, she would have hung everything up with a sad tidiness 
and made dogged, don't-care noises going to bed. I had slept right through 
her return. Then I saw her camellias, brown and messy, placed tenderly 
by her pillow, and that really surprised me. All I could see of Em was 
her tangle of long brown hair. She made such a small ridge under the 
blue quilt. 

I dozed off again it had been my first full night's sleep that week 
and when I woke up, there was a sunny square on the carpet. I could hear 
a faint slithering and chinking from the distant traffic on Park, and Emily 
seemed to be stirring. I mumbled, as though still asleep, and turned over 
to watch her through my eyelashes. 

I nearly died of shock. Her skinny, childish arms embraced the pillow, 
and her cheek was laid on it delicately, instead of being rammed in. The 
upper half of her face was like a musing angel's: eyebrows exquisitely 
raised, black lashes sweeping her cheeks. But her mouth was curved into 
a tiny, knowing smile. And, as I watched, she fluttered her eyelids and 
whispered, "Oh, thank you, no; I rarely smoke." Then she let go the 
pillow, turned luxuriously onto her back, raised her hands with a swanlike 
gesture, and contemplated her pale pink nails. 

Enchanted and amazed, I watched, and didn't say a word. After about 

226 The Arch of Experience 

five minutes with her fingernails, she rose gracefully from her bed and 
stood, in flannel pajamas, looking down at the faded camellias. She picked 
them up, gave them a farewell glance, and dropped them nonchalantly 
in the wastebasket by the dressing table. Then she took the stopper from 
my "sure-fire" perfume. It was a sacred bottle, given me by my then best 
beau, who couldn't bear to wait until Christmas. She waved it dreamily in 
the air, and walked a step or two forward. For a moment, I was mystified 
by that maneuver, until I realized that some precocious Grottie might 
have said something suave about a cloud of fragrance. Showy boys, I 
thought, a little annoyed because she didn't put the stopper back in tight. 

Emily walked, barefoot and on tiptoe, into the square of sun, stretched 
this way and that, and closed the window. She raised the shades, flooding 
the room with sunlight, and gazed benignly down into our yard. It took 
her several minutes to account for one bare ailanthus tree (shimmering 
prettily with ice), an awning frame, and a couple of overturned flower 
pots. Then she spun slowly toward the long mirror (in the brilliant re- 
flected light, I could see through the blue flannel to her shadowy little 
bones) and posed, hip-shot, like a model. She ran a tender, wondering 
finger along her jawline (which was sharp as a terrier's in those days), 
and I thought, One night that shook the world. The whole thing came to 
a fine climax as she turned away from the mirror. Glancing lightly back 
over her shoulder, she said, in crystal accents, "Oh, Amo. You utter child." 

I decided, almost embarrassed, that it was about time to wake up. My 
groans and yawns must have been convincing, because, quite without 
self-consciousness, the Terrestrial Venus disappeared. She even became 
pigeon-toed again. I said the expected things: "Hi, Em. Was it okay? 
Did you make out all right?" 

Emily asked, in a social voice, very deliberately, if she'd wakened me 
last night when she came in. I said no, also in a social voice. 

It was then, and only then, that she told me about her lovely time. 
The music, the compliments, the balloons on the ceiling. Good-bye, goats, 
I thought, a trifle sadly; good-bye, little sister. After she'd gone through 
her impressive list of partners, gloating just a bit; after she'd said exactly 
what there was for supper (Rome wasn't built overnight), I said, "I bet 
Amory calls up today." 

Emily dropped her eyelashes. "I bet so too," she said, and we both 
burst out laughing. 

Brother Death 

Sherwood Anderson i876i94i 

The imaginative writer often arrives by sympathetic observation 
and "intuition" at understandings of experience that coincide with the 
logical or experimental formulations of the social scientist. This story 
by Sherwood Anderson follows very closely the theory of the family 
constellation set forth by Adler, but its terms are quite different. 

THERE WERE the two oak stumps, knee high to a not-too-tall man and cut 
quite squarely across. They became to the two children objects of wonder. 
They had seen the two trees cut but had run away just as the trees fell. 
They hadn't thought of the two stumps, to be left standing there; hadn't 
even looked at them. Afterwards Ted said to his sister Mary, speaking of 
the stumps: "I wonder if they bled, like legs, when a surgeon cuts a man's 
leg off." He had been hearing war stories. A man came to the farm one 
day to visit one of the farm-hands, a man who had been in the World 
War and lost an arm. He stood in one of the barns talking. When Ted 
said that Mary spoke up at once. She hadn't been lucky enough to be at 
the barn when the one-armed man was there talking, and was jealous. 
"Why not a woman or a girl's leg?" she said, but Ted said the idea was 
silly. "Women and girls don't get their legs and arms cut off," he declared. 
"Why not? I'd just like to know why not?" Mary kept saying. 

It would have been something if they had stayed, that day the trees 
were cut. "We might have gone and touched the places," Ted said. 
He meant the stumps. Would they have been warm? Would they have 
bled? They did go and touch the places afterwards, but it was a cold 
^ay and the stumps were cold. Ted stuck to his point that only men's 
arms and legs were cut off, but Mary thought of automobile accidents. 
"You can't think just of wars. There might be an automobile accident," 
she declared, but Ted wouldn't be convinced. 

They were both children, but something had made them both in an 
odd way old. Mary was fourteen and Ted eleven, but Ted wasn't strong 
and that rather evened things up. They were the children of a well-to-do 
Virginia farmer named John Grey in the Blue Ridge country in Southwest- 
ern Virginia. There was a wide valley called the "Rich Valley" with a 
railroad and a small river running through it and high mountains in sight, 
to the north and south. Ted had some kind of a heart disease, a lesion, 
something of the sort, the result of a severe attack of diphtheria when he 

Sherwood Anderson, Death in the Woods. Copyright, 1926, by Eleanor Anderson. Re- 
printed by permission of Harold Ober Associates. 


228 The Arch of Experience 

was a child of eight. He was thin and not strong but curiously alive. The 
doctor said he might die at any moment, might just drop down dead. 
The fact had drawn him peculiarly close to his sister Mary. It had awakened 
a strong and determined maternalism in her. 

The whole family, the neighbors on neighboring farms in the valley, 
and even the other children at the schoolhouse where they went to school 
recognized something as existing between the two children. "Look at 
them going along there," people said. "They do seem to have good times 
together, but they are so serious. For such young children they are too 
serious. Still, I suppose, under the circumstances, it's natural." Of course, 
everyone knew about Ted. It had done something to Mary. At fourteen 
she was both a child and a grown woman. The woman side of her kept 
popping out at unexpected moments. 

She had sensed something concerning her brother Ted. It was because 
he was as he was, having that kind of a heart, a heart likely at any moment 
to stop beating, leaving him dead, cut down like a young tree. The others 
in the Grey family, that is to say, the older ones, the mother and father 
and an older brother, Don, who was eighteen now, recognized something 
as belonging to the two children, being, as it were, between them, but the 
recognition wasn't very definite. People in your own family are likely at 
any moment to do strange, sometimes hurtful things to you. You have to 
watch them, Ted and Mary had both found that out. 

The brother Don was like the father, already at eighteen almost a grown 
man. He was that sort, the kind people speak of, saying: "He's a good 
man. He'll make a good solid dependable man." The father, when he 
was a young man, never drank, never went chasing the girls, was never 
wild. There had been enough wild young ones in the Rich Valley when he 
was a lad. Some of them had inherited big farms and had lost them, 
gambling, drinking, fooling with fast horses and chasing after the women. 
It had been almost a Virginia tradition, but John Grey was a land man. 
All the Greys were. There were other large cattle farms owned by Greys 
up and down the valley. 

John Grey, everyone said, was a natural cattle man. He knew beef 
cattle, of the big so-called export type, how to pick and feed them to make 
beef. He knew how and where to get the right kind of young stock to 
turn into his fields. It was the blue-grass country. Big beef cattle went 
directly off the pastures to market. The Grey farm contained over twelve 
hundred acres, most of it in blue-grass. 

The father was a land man, land hungry. He had begun, as a cattle 
farmer, with a small place, inherited from his father, some two hundred 
acres, lying next to what was then the big Aspinwahl place and, after 
he began, he never stopped getting more land. He kept cutting in on the 
Aspinwahls who were a rather horsey, fast lot. They thought of them- 
selves as Virginia aristocrats, having, as they weren't so modest about 
pointing out, a family going back and back, family tradition, guests always 
being entertained, fast horses kept, money being bet on fast horses. John 

In and Beyond the Family 229 

Grey getting their land, now twenty acres, then thirty, then fifty, until 
at last he got the old Aspinwahl house, with one of the Aspinwahl girls, 
not a young one, not one of the best-looking ones, as wife. The Aspinwahl 
place was down, by that time, to less than a hundred acres, but he went 
on, year after year, always being careful and shrewd, making every 
penny count, never wasting a cent, adding and adding to what was now 
the Grey place. The former Aspinwahl house was a large old brick house 
with fireplaces in all the rooms and was very comfortable. 

People wondered why Louise Aspinwahl had married John Grey, but 
when they were wondering they smiled. The Aspinwahl girls were all 
well educated, had all been away to college, but Louise wasn't so pretty. 
She got nicer after marriage, suddenly almost beautiful. The Aspinwahls 
were, as everyone knew, naturally sensitive, really first class but the men 
couldn't hang onto land and the Greys could. In all that section of Vir- 
ginia, people gave John Grey credit for being what he was. They respected 
him. "He's on the level," they said, "as honest as a horse. He has cattle 
sense, that's it." He could run his big hand down over the flank of a 
steer and say, almost to the pound, what he would weigh on the scales 
or he could look at a calf or a yearling and say, "He'll do," and he would 
do. A steer is a steer. He isn't supposed to do anything but make 

There was Don, the oldest son of the Grey family. He was so evidently 
destined to be a Grey, to be another like his father. He had long been 
a star in the 4H Club of the Virginia county and, even as a lad of nine 
and ten, had won prizes at steer judging. At twelve he had produced, 
no one helping him, doing all the work himself, more bushels of corn on 
an acre of land than any other boy in the State. 

It was all a little amazing, even a bit queer to Mary Grey, being as she 
was a girl peculiarly conscious, so old and young, so aware. There was 
Don, the older brother, big and strong of body, like the father, and there 
was the young brother Ted. Ordinarily, in the ordinary course of life, she 
being what she was female it would have been quite natural and 
right for her to have given her young girl's admiration to Don but she 
didn't. For some reason, Don barely existed for her. He was outside, 
not in it, while for her Ted, the seemingly weak one of the family, was 

Still there Don was, so big of body, so quiet, so apparently sure of him- 
self. The father had begun, as a young cattle man, with the two hundred 
acres, and now he had the twelve hundred. What would Don Grey do 
when he started? Already he knew, although he didn't say anything, that 
he wanted to start. He wanted to run things, be his own boss. His father 
had offered to send him away to college, to an agricultural college, but he 
wouldn't go. "No. I can learn more here," he said. 

Already there was a contest, always kept under the surface, between the 
father and son. It concerned ways of doing things, decisions to be made. 
As yet the son always surrendered. 

230 The Arch of Experience 

It is like that in a family, little isolated groups formed within the larger 
group, jealousies, concealed hatreds, silent battles secretly going on 
among the Greys, Mary and Ted, Don and his father, the mother and the 
two younger children, Gladys, a girl child of six now, who adored her 
brother Don, and Harry, a boy child of two. 

As for Mary and Ted, they lived within their own world, but their own 
world had not been established without a struggle. The point was that 
Ted, having the heart that might at any moment stop beating, was always 
being treated tenderly by the others. Only Mary understood that how 
it infuriated and hurt him. 

"No, Ted, I wouldn't do that." 

"Now, Ted, do be careful." 

Sometimes Ted went white and trembling with anger, Don, the father, 
the mother, all keeping at him like that. It didn't matter what he wanted 
to do, learn to drive one of the two family cars, climb a tree to find a 
bird's nest, run a race with Mary. Naturally, being on a farm, he wanted to 
try his hand at breaking a colt, beginning with him, getting a saddle on, 
having it out with him. "No, Ted. You can't." He had learned to swear, 
picking it up from the farm-hands and from the boys at the country 
school. "Hell! Goddam!" he said to Mary. Only Mary understood how he 
felt, and she had not put the matter very definitely into words, not even 
to herself. It was one of the things that made her old when she was so 
young. It made her stand aside from the others of the family, aroused in 
her a curious determination. "They shall not." She caught herself saying 
the words to herself. "They shall not." 

"If he is to have but a few years of life, they shall not spoil what he is to 
have. Why should they make him die, over and over, day after day?" The 
thoughts in her mind did not become so definite. She had resentment 
against the others. She was like a soldier, standing guard over Ted. 

The two children drew more and more away, into their own world and 
only once did what Mary felt come to the surface. That was with the 

It was on an early Summer day and Ted and Mary were playing in the 
rain. They were on a side porch of the house, where the water came pour- 
ing down from the eaves. At a corner of the porch there was a great 
stream, and first Ted and then Mary dashed through it, returning to the 
porch with clothes soaked and water running in streams from soaked hair. 
There was something joyous, the feel of the cold water on the body, under 
clothes, and they were shrieking with laughter when the mother came to 
the door. She looked at Ted. There was fear and anxiety in her voice. 
"Oh, Ted, you know you mustn't, you mustn't." Just that. All the rest im- 
plied. Nothing said to Mary. There it was. "Oh, Ted, you mustn't. You 
mustn't run hard, climb trees, ride horses. The least shock to you may do 
it." It was the old story again, and, of course, Ted understood. He went 
white and trembled. Why couldn't the rest understand that was a him- 

In and Beyond the Family 231 

dred times worse for him? On that day, without answering his mother, he 
ran off the porch and through the rain toward the barns. He wanted to go 
hide himself from everyone. Mary knew how he felt. 

She got suddenly very old and very angry. The mother and daughter 
stood looking at each other, the woman nearing fifty and the child of 
fourteen. It was getting everything in the family reversed. Mary felt that 
but felt she had to do something. "You should have more sense, Mother," 
she said seriously. She also had gone white. Her lips trembled. "You 
mustn't do it any more. Don't you ever do it again." 

"What, child?" There was astonishment and half anger in the mother's 

"Always making him think of it," Mary said. She wanted to cry but 

The mother understood. There was a queer tense moment before Mary 
also walked off, toward the barns, in the rain. It wasn't all so clear. The 
mother wanted to fly at the child, perhaps shake her for daring to be so 
impudent. A child like that to decide things to dare to reprove her 
mother. There was so much implied even that Ted be allowed to die, 
quickly, suddenly, rather than that death, danger of sudden death, be 
brought again and again to his attention. There were values in life, im- 
plied by a child's words: "Life, what is it worth? Is death the most terrible 
thing?" The mother turned and went silently into the house while Mary, 
going to the barns, presently found Ted. He was in an empty horse stall, 
standing with his back to the wall, staring. There were no explanations. 
"Well," Ted said presently, and, "Come on, Ted," Mary replied. It was 
necessary to do something even perhaps more risky than playing in the 
rain. The rain was already passing. "Let's take off our shoes," Mary said. 
Going barefoot was one of the things forbidden Ted. They took their 
shoes off and, leaving them in the barn, went into an orchard. There was 
a small creek below the orchard, a creek that went down to the river and 
now it would be in flood. They went into it and once Mary got swept off 
her feet so that Ted had to pull her out. She spoke then. "I told Mother," 
she said, looking serious. 

"What?" Ted said. "Gee, I guess maybe I saved you from drowning," 
he added. 

"Sure you did," said Mary. "I told her to let you alone." She grew 
suddenly fierce. "They've all got to they've got to let you alone," she 

There was a bond. Ted did his share. He was imaginative and could 
think of plenty of risky things to do. Perhaps the mother spoke to the 
father and to Don, the older brother. There was a new inclination in the 
family to keep hands off the pair, and the fact seemed to give the two 
children new room in life. Something seemed to open out. There was a 
little inner world created, always, every day, being recreated, and in it 
there was a kind of new security. It seemed to the two children they 

232 The Arch of Experience 

could not have put their feelings into words that, being in their own 
created world, feeling a security there, they could suddenly look out at 
the outside world and see, in a new way, what was going on out there in 
the world that belonged also to others. 

It was a world to be thought about, looked at, a world of drama too, the 
drama of human relations, outside their own world, in a family, on a farm, 
in a farmhouse. . . . On a farm, calves and yearling steers arriving to be 
fattened, great heavy steers going off to market, colts being broken to 
work or to saddle, lambs born in the late Winter. The human side of life 
was more difficult, to a child often incomprehensible, but after the speech 
to the mother, on the porch of the house that day when it rained, it seemed 
to Mary almost as though she and Ted had set up a new family. Every- 
thing about the farm, the house and the barns got nicer. There was a new 
freedom. The two children walked along a country road, returning to the 
farm from school in the late afternoon. There were other children in the 
road but they managed to fall behind or they got ahead. There were plans 
made. "I'm going to be a nurse when I grow up," Mary said. She may 
have remembered dimly the woman nurse, from the county-seat town, who 
had come to stay in the house when Ted was so ill. Ted said that as soon as 
he could it would be when he was younger yet than Don was now he 
intended to leave and go out West ... far out, he said. He wanted to be 
a cowboy or a bronco-buster or something, and, that failing, he thought he 
would be a railroad engineer. The railroad that went down through the 
Rich Valley crossed a corner of the Grey farm, and, from the road in the 
afternoon, they could sometimes see trains, quite far away, the smoke 
rolling up. There was a faint rumbling noise, and, on clear days they 
could see the flying piston rods of the engines. 

As for the two stumps in the field near the house, they were what was 
left of two oak trees. The children had known the trees. They were cut 
one day in the early Fall. 

There was a back porch to the Grey house the house that had once 
been the seat of the Aspinwahl family and from the porch steps a path 
led down to a stone spring house. A spring came out of the ground just 
there, and there was a tiny stream that went along the edge of a field, 
past two large barns and out across a meadow to a creek called a 
"branch" in Virginia, and the two trees stood close together beyond the 
spring house and the fence. 

They were lusty trees, their roots down in the rich, always damp soil, 
and one of them had a great limb that came down near the ground, so that 
Ted and Mary could climb into it and out another limb into its brother 
tree, and in the Fall, when other trees, at the front and side of the house, 
had shed their leaves, blood-red leaves still clung to the two oaks. They 
were like dry blood on gray days, but on other days, when the sun came 
out, the trees flamed against the distant hills. The leaves clung, whisper- 

In and Beyond the Family 233 

ing and talking when the wind blew, so that the trees themselves seemed 
carrying on a conversation. 

John Grey had decided he would have the trees cut. At first it was not 
a very definite decision. "I think I'll have them cut," he announced. 

"But why?" his wife asked. The trees meant a good deal to her. They 
had been planted, just in that spot, by her grandfather, she said, having in 
mind just a certain effect. "You see how, in the Fall, when you stand on 
the back porch, they are so nice against the hills." She spoke of the trees, 
already quite large, having been brought from a distant woods. Her 
mother had often spoken of it. The man, her grandfather, had a special 
feeling for trees. "An Aspinwahl would do that," John Grey said. "There 
is enough yard, here about the house, and enough trees. They do not shade 
the house or the yard. An Aspinwahl would go to all that trouble for trees 
and then plant them where grass might be growing." He had suddenly 
determined, a half-formed determination in him suddenly hardening. He 
had perhaps heard too much of the Aspinwahls and their ways. The con- 
versation regarding the trees took place at the table, at the noon hour, and 
Mary and Ted heard it all. 

It began at the table and was carried on afterwards out of doors, in the 
yard back of the house. The wife had followed her husband out. He al- 
ways left the table suddenly and silently, getting quickly up and going out 
heavily, shutting doors with a bang as he went. "Don't, John," the wife 
said, standing on the porch and calling to her husband. It was a cold 
day but the sun was out and the trees were like great bonfires against 
gray distant fields and hills. The older son of the family, young Don, the 
one so physically like the father and apparently so like him in every other 
way, had come out of the house with the mother, followed by the two 
children, Ted and Mary, and at first Don said nothing, but, when the 
father did not answer the mother's protest but started toward the barn, he 
also spoke. What he said was obviously the determining thing, hardening 
the father. 

To the two other children they had walked a little aside and stood 
together watching and listening there was something. There was their 
own child's world. "Let us alone and we'll let you alone." It wasn't as 
definite as that. Most of the definite thoughts about what happened in the 
yard that afternoon came to Mary Grey long afterwards, when she was a 
grown woman. At the moment there was merely a sudden sharpening of 
the feeling of isolation, a wall between herself and Ted and the others. 
The father, even then perhaps, seen in a new light, Don and the mother 
seen in a new light. 

There was something, a driving destructive thing in life, in all relation- 
ships between people. All of this felt dimly that day she always be- 
lieved both by herself and Ted but only thought out long afterwards, 
after Ted was dead. There was the farm her father had won from the 
Aspinwahls greater persistence, greater shrewdness. In a family, little 

234 The Arch of Experience 

remarks dropped from time to time, an impression slowly built up. The 
father, John Grey, was a successful man. He had acquired. He owned. He 
was the commander, the one having power to do his will. And the power 
had run out and covered, not only other human lives, impulses in others, 
wishes, hungers in others ... he himself might not have, might not even 
understand . . . but it went far out beyond that. It was, curiously, the power 
also of life and death. Did Mary Grey think such thoughts at that mo- 
ment? . . . She couldn't have. . . . Still there was her own peculiar situation, 
her relationship with her brother Ted, who was to die. 

Ownership that gave curious rights, dominances fathers over children, 
men and women over lands, houses, factories in cities, fields. "I will have 
the trees in that orchard cut. They produce apples but not of the right 
sort. There is no money in apples of that sort any more." 

"But, Sir ... you see ... look ... the trees there against that hill, against 
the sky." 

"Nonsense. Sentimentality." 


It would have been such nonsense to think of the father of Mary Grey as 
a man without feeling. He had struggled hard all his life, perhaps, as a 
young man, gone without things wanted, deeply hungered for. Someone 
has to manage things in this life. Possessions mean power, the right to 
say "Do this" or "Do that." If you struggle long and hard for a thing it 
becomes infinitely sweet to you. 

Was there a kind of hatred between the father and the older son of the 
Grey family? "You are one also who has this thing the impulse to 
power, so like my own. Now you are young and I am growing old." Ad- 
miration mixed with fear. If you would retain power it will not do to 
admit fear. 

The young Don was so curiously like the father. There were the same 
lines about the jaws, the same eyes. They were both heavy men. Already 
the young man walked like the father, slammed doors as did the father. 
There was the same curious lack of delicacy of thought and touch the 
heaviness that plows through, gets things done. When John Grey had 
married Louise Aspinwahl he was already a mature man, on his way to 
success. Such men do not marry young and recklessly. Now he was near- 
ing sixty and there was the son so like himself, having the same kind of 

Both land lovers, possession lovers. "It is my farm, my house, my 
horses, cattle, sheep." Soon now, another ten years, fifteen at the most, and 
the father would be ready for death. "See, already my hand slips a little. 
All of this to go out of my grasp." He, John Grey, had not got all of these 
possessions so easily. It had taken much patience, much persistence. No 
one but himself would ever quite know. Five, ten, fifteen years of work 
and saving, getting the Aspinwahl farm piece by piece. 'The fools!" They 

In and Beyond the Family 235 

had liked to think of themselves as aristocrats, throwing the land away, 
now twenty acres, now thirty, now fifty. 

Raising horses that could never plow an acre of land. 
And they had robbed the land too, had never put anything back, doing 
nothing to enrich it, build it up. Such a one thinking: Tm an Aspinwahl, 
a gentleman. I do not soil my hands at the plow." 

"Fools who do not know the meaning of land owned, possessions, money 
responsibility. It is they who are second-rate men." 

He had got an Aspinwahl for a wife and, as it had turned out, she was 
the best, the smartest and, in the end, the best-looking one of the lot. 

And now there was his son, standing at the moment near the mother. 
They had both come down off the porch. It would be natural and right 
for this one he being what he already was, what he would become 
for him, in his turn, to come into possession, to take command. 

There would be, of course, the rights of the other children. If you have 
the stuff in you (John Grey felt that his son Don had) there is a way to 
manage. You buy the others out, make arrangements. There was Ted 
he wouldn't be alive and Mary and the two younger children. "The 
better for you if you have to struggle." 

All of this, the implication of the moment of sudden struggle between a 
father and son, coming slowly afterwards to the man's daughter, as yet 
little more than a child. Does the drama take place when the seed is put 
into the ground or afterwards when the plant has pushed out of the 
ground and the bud breaks open, or still later, when the fruit ripens? 
There were the Greys with their ability slow, saving, able, determined, 
patient. Why had they superseded the Aspimvahls in the Rich Valley? 
Aspinwahl blood also in the two children, Mary and Ted. 

There was an Aspinwahl man called "Uncle Fred," a brother to Louise 
Grey who came sometimes to the farm. He was a rather striking-looking, 
tall old man with a gray Vandyke beard and a mustache, somewhat shab- 
bily dressed but always with an indefinable air of class. He came from the 
county-seat town, where he lived now with a daughter who had married a 
merchant, a polite courtly old man who always froze into a queer silence 
in the presence of the sister's husband. 

The son Don was standing near the mother on the day in the Fall, and 
the two children, Mary and Ted, stood apart. 

"Don't, John," Louise Grey said again. The father, who had started to- 
ward the barns, stopped. 
"Well, I guess I will." 

"No, you won't," said young Don, speaking suddenly. There was a queer 
fixed look in his eyes. It had flashed into life something that was be- 
tween the two men: "I possess" ... "I will possess." The father wheeled 
and looked sharply at the son and then ignored him. 
For a moment the mother continued pleading. 

236 The Arch of Experience 

"But why, why?" 

"They make too much shade. The grass does not grow.* 

"But there is so much grass, so many acres of grass." 

John Grey was answering his wife, but now again he looked at his son. 
There were unspoken words flying back and forth. 

"I possess. I am in command here. What do you mean by telling me 
that I won't?" 

"Hal So! You possess now but soon I will possess." 

"I'll see you in hell first." 

"You fool! Not yet! Not yet!" 

None of the words, set down above, was spoken at the moment, and 
afterwards the daughter Mary never did remember the exact words that 
had passed between the two men. There was a sudden quick flash of 
determination in Don even perhaps sudden determination to stand by 
the mother even perhaps something else a feeling in the young Don 
out of the Aspinwahl blood in him for the moment tree love superseding 
grass love grass that would fatten steers. . . . 

Winner of 4H club prizes, champion young corn-raiser, judge of steers, 
land lover, possession lover. 

"You won't," Don said again. 

"Won't what?" 

"Won't cut those trees." 

The father said nothing more at the moment but walked away from the 
little group toward the barns. The sun was still shining brightly. There 
was a sharp cold little wind. The two trees were like bonfires lighted 
against distant hills. 

It was the noon hour and there were two men, both young, employees on 
the farm, who lived in a small tenant house beyond the barns. One of 
them, a man with a harelip, was married and the other, a rather hand- 
some silent young man, boarded with him. They had just come from the 
midday meal and were going toward one of the barns. It was the begin- 
ning of the Fall corn-cutting time and they would be going together to a 
distant field to cut corn. 

The father went to the barn and returned with the two men. They 
brought axes and a long cross-cut saw. "I want you to cut those two trees." 
There was something, a blind, even stupid determination in the man, John 
Grey. And at that moment his wife, the mother of his children . . . There 
was no way any of the children could ever know how many moments of the 
sort she had been through. She had married John Grey. He was her man. 

"If you do, Father . . ." Don Grey said coldly. 

"Do as I tell you! Cut those two trees!" This addressed to the two 
workmen. The one who had a harelip laughed. His laughter was like the 
bray of a donkey. 

"Don't," said Louise Grey, but she was not addressing her husband this 
time. She stepped to her son and put a hand on his arm. 

In and Beyond the Family 237 


"Don't cross him. Don't cross my man." Could a child like Mary Grey 
comprehend? It takes time to understand things that happen in life. Life 
unfolds slowly to the mind. Mary was standing with Ted, whose young 
face was white and tense. Death at his elbow. At any moment. At any 

"I have been through this a hundred times. That is the way this man 
I married has succeeded. Nothing stops him. I married him; I have had 
my children by him. 

"We women choose to submit. 

"This is my affair, more than yours, Don, my son." 

A woman hanging onto her things the family, created about her. 

The son not seeing things with her eyes. He shook off his mother's 
hand, lying on his arm. Louise Grey was younger than her husband, but, 
if he was now nearing sixty, she was drawing near fifty. At the moment 
she looked very delicate and fragile. There was something, at the moment, 
in her bearing . . . Was there, after all, something in blood, the Aspinwahl 

In a dim way perhaps, at the moment the child Mary did comprehend. 
Women and their men. For her then, at that time, there was but one male, 
the child Ted. Afterwards she remembered how he looked at that moment, 
the curiously serious old look on his young face. There was even, she 
thought later, a kind of contempt for both the father and brother, as 
though he might have been saying to himself he couldn't really have 
been saying it he was too young: "Well, we'll see. This is something. 
These foolish ones my father and my brother. I myself haven't long to 
live. I'll see what I can, while I do live." 

The brother Don stepped over near to where his father stood. 

"If you do, Father . . ." he said again. 


"I'll walk off this farm and I'll never come back." 

"All right. Go then." 

The father began directing the two men who had begun cutting the 
trees, each man taking a tree. The young man with the harelip kept 
laughing, the laughter like the bray of a donkey. "Stop that," the father 
said sharply, and the sound ceased abruptly. The son Don walked away, 
going rather aimlessly toward the barn. He approached one of the barns 
and then stopped. The mother, white now, half ran into the house. 

The son returned toward the house, passing the two younger children 
without looking at them, but did not enter. The father did not look at him. 
He went hesitatingly along a path at the front of the house and through a 
gate and into a road. The road ran for several miles down through the 
valley and then, turning, went over a mountain to the county-seat town. 

As it happened, only Mary saw the son Don when he returned to 

238 The Arch of Experience 

the farm. There were three or four tense days. Perhaps, all the time, 
the mother and son had been secretly in touch. There was a telephone in 
the house. The father stayed all day in the fields, and when he was in the 
house was silent. 

Mary was in one of the barns on the day when Don came back and when 
the father and son met. It was an odd meeting. 

The son came, Mary always afterwards thought, rather sheepishly. The 
father came out of a horse's stall. He had been throwing corn to work 
horses. Neither the father nor the son saw Mary. There was a car parked 
in the barn and she had crawled into the driver's seat, her hands on the 
steering wheel, pretending she was driving. 

'Well," the father said. If he felt triumphant, he did not show his feel- 

"Well," said the son, "I have come back." 

"Yes, I see," the father said. "They are cutting corn." He walked toward 
the barn door and then stopped. "It will be yours soon now," he said. "You 
can be boss then." 

He said no more and both men went away, the father toward the distant 
fields and the son toward the house. Mary was afterwards quite sure that 
nothing more was ever said. 

What had the father meant? 

"When it is yours you can be the boss." It was too much for the child. 
Knowledge comes slowly. It meant: 

"You will be in command, and for you, in your turn, it will be necessary 
to assert. 

"Such men as we are cannot fool with delicate stuff. Some men are 
meant to command and others must obey. You can make them obey in 
your turn. 

"There is a kind of death. 

"Something in you must die before you can possess and command." 

There was, so obviously, more than one kind of death. For Don Grey 
one kind and for the younger brother Ted, soon now perhaps, another. 

Mary ran out of the barn that day, wanting eagerly to get out into the 
light, and afterwards, for a long time, she did not try to think her way 
through what had happened. She and her brother Ted did, however, 
afterwards, before he died, discuss quite often the two trees. They went on 
a cold day and put their fingers on the stumps, but the stumps were cold. 
Ted kept asserting that only men get their legs and arms cut off, and she 
protested. They continued doing things that had been forbidden Ted to do, 
but no one protested, and, a year or two later, when he died, he died dur- 
ing the night in his bed. 

But while he lived, there was always, Mary afterwards thought, a curious 
sense of freedom, something that belonged to him that made it good, a 
great happiness, to be with him. It was, she finally thought, because having 
to die his kind of death, he never had to make the surrender his brother 

In and Beyond the Family 239 

had made to be sure of possessions, success, his time to command 
would never have to face the more subtle and terrible death that had come 
to his older brother. 

There Was a Child Went Forth 

JValt "Whitman iSi9-iS92 

Walt Whitman was almost spongelike in his absorption of the 
sights and sounds that were necessary for the later creation of the 
poems which went into Leaves of Grass (1855). This poem shows 
Whitman's awareness of the formative effect of experience. You, too, 
have "known" just as much as did Walt Whitman at your age. Could 
you "know" those experiences as well as he knew his in later years, 
through introspection and reflection? What, for instance, do you 
think were the important events of your childhood that have made you 
the person you are? 

THERE WAS A CHILD went forth every day, 

And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became, 

And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, 

Or for many years or stretching cycles of years. 

The early lilacs became part of this child, 

And grass and white and red morning-glories and white and red clover, and 
the song of the phoebe-bird, 

And the Third-month lambs and the sow's pink-faint litter, and the mare's 
foal and the cow's calf, 

And the noisy brood of the barnyard or by the mire of the pond-side, 

And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there, and the beauti- 
ful curious liquid, 

And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads, all became part of him. 

The field-sprouts of Fourth-month and Fifth-month became part of him, 
Winter-grain sprouts and those of the light-yellow corn, and the esculent 

roots of the garden, 
And the apple-trees cover'd with blossoms and the fruit afterward, and 

woodberries, and the commonest weeds by the road, 
And the old drunkard staggering home from the outhouse of the tavern 

whence he had lately risen, 

And the schoolmistress that pass'd, and the quarrelsome boys, 
And the tidy and fresh-cheek'd girls, and the barefoot negro boy and girl, 
And all the changes of city and country wherever he went. 

240 The Arch of Experience 

His own parents, he that had father'd him, and she that had conceiv'd him 

in her womb, and birth'd him, 
They gave this child more of themselves than that, 
They gave him afterward every day, they became part of him. 
The mother at home quietly placing the dishes on the supper-table, 
The mother with mild words, clean her cap and gown, a wholesome odor 

falling off her person and clothes as she walks by, 
The father, strong, self-sufficient, manly, mean, anger'd, unjust, 
The blow, the quick loud word, the tight bargain, the crafty lure. 
The family usages, the language, the company, the furniture, the yearning 

and swelling heart, 
Affection that will not be gainsay 'd, the sense of what is real, the thought if 

after all it should prove unreal, 
The doubts of day-time and the doubts of night-t ; me, the curious whether 

and how, 

Whether that which appears so is so, or is it all flashes and specks? 
Men and women crowding fast in the streets, if they are not flashes and 

specks, what are they? 

The streets themselves and the f a9ades of houses, and goods in the windows, 
Vehicles, teams, the heavy-plank'd wharves, the huge crossing at the ferries, 
The village on the highland seen from afar at sunset, the river between, 
Shadows, aureola and mist, the light falling on roofs and gables of white or 

brown two miles off, 
The schooner near by sleepily dropping down the tide, the little boat slack- 

tow'd astern, 

The hurrying tumbling waves, quick-broken crests, slapping, 
The strata of color'd clouds, the long bar of maroon-tint away solitary by 

itself, the spread of purity it lies motionless in, 
The horizon's edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of salt marsh and 

shore mud, 
These became part of that child who then went forth every day, and who 

now goes, and will always go forth every day. 

In and Beyond the Family 241 

Here are four poems touching on various aspects of the young self 
and the wider, adult world beyond the home. From them you may 
perhaps discern that there are certain kinds of experiences, or feelings 
about experience, which may be better caught by poetry than by prose 

Peter at Fourteen 

Constance Carrier *POS- 

WHAT do you care for Caesar, who yourself 
are in three parts divided, and must find, 
past daydream and rebellion and bravado, 
the final shape and substance of your mind? 

What are the Belgae, the Helvetii 
to you? I doubt that you will read in them 
metaphor of your stand against dominion, 
or see as yours their desperate stratagem. 

They found their tribal rank, their feuds, their freedom, 

obliterated, lost beyond return. 

It took them years to see that law and order 

could teach them things that they might care to learn. 

As fiercely individual, as violent 
as they, you clutch your values and your views, 
fearful that self may not survive absorption. 
(Who said to learn at first is like to lose?) 

Not courage, no, but nature will betray you. 
You will stop fighting, finally, and your pride, 
that fed so long upon your independence, 
flourish on what convention can provide, 

till you may grow more Roman than the Romans, 
contemptuous of pagan broils and brawls, 
and even, mastering your mentors' knowledge, 
go on to build cathedrals, like the Gauls. 

Reprinted from New Poems by American Poets, edited by Rolfe Humphries. Copy- 
right, 1953, by Ballantine Books, Inc. 

The Secret Heart 

Robert P. Tristram Cojfin {892- 

ACROSS the years he could recall 
His father one way best of all. 

In the stillest hour of night 
The boy awakened to a light. 

Half in dreams he saw his sire 
With his great hands full of fire. 

The man had struck a match to see 
If his son slept peacefully. 

He held his palms each side the spark 
His love had kindled in the dark. 

His two hands were curved apart 
In the semblance of a heart. 

He wore, it seemed to his small son, 
A bare heart on his hidden one, 

A heart that gave out such a glow 
No son awake could bear to know. 

It showed a look upon a face 
Too tender for the day to trace. 

One instant, it lit all about, 
And then the secret heart went out. 

But it shone long enough for one 
To know that hands held up the sun. 

Reprinted from Robert P. Tristram Coffin, Collected Poems. Copyright, 1939, by The 
Macmillan Company, and used with the publisher's permission. 



Emily Dickinson f830-4886 

I YEAKS had been from home, 
And now, before the door, 
I dared not open, lest a face 
I never saw before 

Stare vacant into mine 
And ask my business there. 
My business, just a life I left, 
Was such still dwelling there? 

I fumbled at my nerve, 
I scanned the windows near; 
The silence like an ocean rolled, 
And broke against my ear. 

I laughed a wooden laugh 

That I could fear a door, 

Who danger and the dead had faced, 

But never quaked before. 

I fitted to the latch 

My hand, with trembling care, 

Lest back the awful door should spring, 

And leave me standing there. 

I moved my fingers off 

As cautiously as glass, 

And held my ears, and like a thief 

Fled gasping from the house. 


Spring and Fall 

Qerard JWanley Hopkins {8444889 

MARGARET, are you grieving 

Over Goldengrove unleaving? 

Leaves, like the things of man, you 

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you? 

Ah! as the heart grows older 

It will come to such sights colder 

By and by, nor spare a sigh 

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie; 

And yet you will weep and know why. 

Now no matter, child, the name: 

Sorrow's springs are the same. 

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed 

What heart heard of, ghost guessed: 

It is the blight man was born for, 

It is Margaret you mourn for. 


Self and Others 

"Fundamentally, we re all 
very much alike" 

On a Certain Blindness in 

Human Beings & "William James 1842-1910 

To understand other people we must have sympathy the ability 
to feel with them the ability to see them as they see themselves. If 
we cannot do this we suffer the "blindness" discussed by James in the 
essay from which these opening paragraphs are taken, and our in- 
terpretation of other people will be an egocentric one. 

OUR JUDGMENTS concerning the worth of things, big or little, depend on 
the feelings the things arouse in us. Where we judge a thing to be precious 
in consequence of the idea we frame of it, this is only because the idea is 
itself associated already with a feeling. If we were radically feelingless, 
and if ideas were the only things our mind could entertain, we should lose 
all our likes and dislikes at a stroke, and be unable to point to any one 
situation or experience in life more valuable or significant than any other. 
Now the blindness in human beings, of which this discourse will treat, is 
the blindness with which we all are afflicted in regard to the feelings of 
creatures and people different from ourselves. 

From Talks to Teachers by William James (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 
Inc., 1909), pp. 229-234. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, Inc. 


246 The Arch of Experience 

We are practical beings, each of us with limited functions and duties to 
perform. Each is bound to feel intensely the importance of his own duties 
and the significance of the situations that call these forth. But this feeling 
is in each of us a vital secret, for sympathy with which we vainly look to 
others. The others are too much absorbed in their own vital secrets to 
take an interest in ours. Hence the stupidity and injustice of our opinions, 
so far as they deal with the significance of alien lives. Hence the falsity of 
our judgments, so far as they presume to decide in an absolute way on the 
value of other persons' conditions or ideals. 

Take our dogs and ourselves, connected as we are by a tie more intimate 
than most ties in this world; and yet, outside of that tie of friendly fond- 
ness, how insensible, each of us, to all that makes life significant for the 
other! we to the rapture of bones under hedges, or smells of trees and 
lamp-posts, they to the delights of literature and art. As you sit reading 
the most moving romance you ever fell upon, what sort of a judge is your 
fox-terrier of your behavior? With all his good will toward you, the nature 
of your conduct is absolutely excluded from his comprehension. To sit 
there like a senseless statue, when you might be taking him to walk and 
throwing sticks for him to catch! What queer disease is this that comes 
over you every day, of holding things and staring at them like that for hours 
together, paralyzed of motion and vacant of all conscious life? The African 
savages came nearer the truth; but they, too, missed it, when they 
gathered wonderingly round one of our American travellers who, in the 
interior, had just come into possession of a stray copy of the New York 
Commercial Advertiser, and was devouring it column by column. When 
he got through, they offered him a high price for the mysterious object; 
and, being asked for what they wanted it, they said: "For an eye medicine," 
that being the only reason they could conceive of for the protracted 
bath which he had given his eyes upon its surface. 

The spectator's judgment is sure to miss the root of the matter, and to 
possess no truth. The subject judged knows a part of the world of reality 
which the judging spectator fails to see, knows more while the spectator 
knows less; and, wherever there is conflict of opinion and difference of 
vision, we are bound to believe that the truer side is the side that feels the 
more, and not the side that feels the less. 

Let me take a personal example of the kind that befalls each one of us 

Some years ago, while journeying in the mountains of North Carolina, I 
passed by a large number of "coves," as they call them there, or heads of 
small valleys between the hills, which had been newly cleared and planted. 
The impression on my mind was one of unmitigated squalor. The settler 
had in every case cut down the more manageable trees, and left their 
charred stumps standing. The larger trees he had girdled and killed, in 
order that their foliage should not cast a shade. He had then built a log 
cabin, plastering its chinks with clay, and had set up a tall zigzag rail 

Self and Others 247 

fence around the scene of his havoc, to keep the pigs and cattle out. 
Finally, he had irregularly planted the intervals between the stumps and 
trees with Indian corn, which grew among the chips; and there he dwelt 
with his wife and babes an axe, a gun, a few utensils, and some pigs and 
chickens feeding in the woods, being the sum total of his possessions. 

The forest had been destroyed; and what had "improved" it out of 
existence was hideous, a sort of ulcer, without a single element of artificial 
grace to make up for the loss of Nature's beauty. Ugly, indeed, seemed 
the life of the squatter, scudding, as the sailors say, under bare poles, be- 
ginning again away back where our first ancestors started, and by hardly a 
single item the better off for all the achievements of the intervening genera- 

Talk about going back to nature! I said to myself, oppressed by the 
dreariness, as I drove by. Talk of a country life for one's old age and for 
one's children! Never thus, with nothing but the bare ground and one's 
bare hands to fight the battle! Never, without the best spoils of culture 
woven in! The beauties and commodities gained by the centuries are 
sacred. They are our heritage and birthright. No modern person ought to 
be willing to live a day in such a state of rudimentariness and denudation. 

Then I said to the mountaineer who was driving me, "What sort of peo- 
ple are they who have to make these new clearings?" "All of us," he re- 
plied. "Why, we ain't happy here, unless we are getting one of these coves 
under cultivation." I instantly felt that I had been losing the whole inward 
significance of the situation. Because to me the clearings spoke of naught 
but denudation, I thought that to those whose sturdy arms and obedient 
axes had made them they could tell no other story. But, when they looked 
on the hideous stumps, what they thought of was personal victory. The 
chips, the girdled trees, and the vile split rails spoke of honest sweat, per- 
sistent toil, and final reward. The cabin was a warrant of safety for self and 
wife and babes. In short, the clearing, which to me was a mere ugly picture 
on the retina, was to them a symbol redolent with moral memories and sang 
a very paean of duty, struggle, and success. 

I had been as blind to the peculiar ideality of their conditions as they 
certainly would also have been to the ideality of mine, had they had a 
peep at my strange indoor academic ways of life at Cambridge. 

Wherever a process of life communicates an eagerness to him who lives 
it, there the life becomes genuinely significant. Sometimes the eagerness 
is more knit up with the motor activities, sometimes with the perceptions, 
sometimes with the imagination, sometimes with reflective thought. But, 
wherever it is found, there is the zest, the tingle, the excitement of reality; 
and there is "importance" in the only real and positive sense in which im- 
portance ever anywhere can be. ... 

John and Thomas 

Oliver Wendell IHolmes i809-i894 

How many separate sketches of yourself could you give, each as 
you are seen by a certain other person your mother, your father, your 
younger brother, or by yourself in different moods or situations? Which 
is the "real" you? William James discusses the question at length in a 
famous chapter of his classic Principles of Psychology. In a few words 
Oliver Wendell Holmes points out the complicated problem of Self 
and Others. 

WHEN John and Thomas . . . are talking together, it is natural enough that 
among the six there should be more or less confusion and misapprehen- 
sion. . . . 

I think, I said, I can make it plain to Benjamin Franklin here that there 
are at least six personalities distinctly to be recognized as taking part in 
that dialogue between John and Thomas. 

1. The real John; known only to his Maker. 

Three 2. John's ideal John; never the real one, and often very 

Johns unlike him. 

3. Thomas's ideal John; never the real John, nor John's 
John, but often very unlike either. 

Three 1. The real Thomas. 

Thomases 2. Thomas's ideal Thomas. 

3. John's ideal Thomas. 

Only one of the three Johns is taxed; only one can be weighed on a 
platform balance; but the other two are just as important in the con- 
versation. Let us suppose the real John to be old, dull, and ill-looking. 
But as the Higher Powers have not conferred on men the gift of seeing 
themselves in the true light, John very possibly conceives himself to be 
youthful, witty, and fascinating, and talks from the point of view of this 
ideal. Thomas, again, believes him to be an artful rogue, we will say; 
therefore he is, so far as Thomas's attitude in the conversation is concerned, 
an artful rogue, though really simple and stupid. The same conditions 
apply to the three Thomases. It follows, that until a man can be found 
who knows himself as others see him, there must be at least six persons 
engaged in every dialogue between two. Of these, the least important, 
philosophically speaking, is the one that we have called the real person. 
No wonder two disputants often get angry, when there are six of them 
talking and listening all at the same time. 


The Secret Evangel of 

OttO McFeely *F Lloyd Lewis i89i-4P49 

"People are more interesting than anybody," a student wrote. Any 
person is interesting if you understand him in the way James asks us to, 
with sympathy. A person need not be a "character" to be interesting; 
but then we all Icnow unusual persons "characters/' Lloyd Lewis 
presents such a man, one whose especially interesting trait was his in- 
terest in other people, and his dedicated mission of bringing excitement 
into humdrum lives. 

ALTHOUGH the village of Oak Park, Illinois, has never recognized the fact, 
and may not even now when confronted with the evidence, it contains 
a remarkable missionary one who has toiled without expectation of 
gain, here or hereafter a most unusual missionary sitting on the front 
porch at 200 Forest Avenue. 

He is Otto McFeely, who, having retired from the editorship of the local 
weekly, Oak Leaves, takes his slippered ease these days and thinks back 
on the time when he coursed midwestern roads, spreading his particular 

I stumbled upon his true mission one summer afternoon twenty years 
ago. Up to then I had shared the general belief that he was merely a busy 
editor who took motor drives for recreation. I knew, of course, that he 
had brought into being the Mosquito Abatement District, but there was 
self in that crusade, for he had been angered at the welts the insects had 
raised upon his infant daughter. And his success in fathering the Mothers' 
Pension Law had been prompted in part by his desire to promote some- 
thing impressive for his bosom friend, Judge Neal, to head up and orate 
about. What I didn't know about was McFeely's secret evangel. 

You would never suspect it to watch him in his office. There, all week, 
he was polite to the Puritans who brought him their wholesome items of 
news for publication, clergymen, deacons, presidents of ladies' clubs, 
Kiwanians, all bringing announcements and reports of their manifold chari- 
ties and public betterments. But of a Saturday or Sunday he'd go off in his 
Ford alone. Sometimes he'd take me along, and the first time he did I 
learned why he went. 

He stopped the car on this hot July Saturday, and stepping out, shouted 
loudly at a farmer plowing corn. The man stopped his team and turned 
his ear to listen. McFeely cleared his throat and, enunciating with care- 

From It Takes All Kinds, copyright, 1947, by Lloyd Lewis. Reprinted by permission 
of Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., pp. 31-34. 


250 The Arch of Experience 

ful clarity, informed the stranger that he was many kinds of a beast, fiend, 
robber, decadent, and that his ancestry was shameful and his future life 
one of eternal damnation. 

The farmer stepped off his plow, cupped a work-hardened hand behind 
a sunburnt ear and called, "What did you say?" 

Patiently McFeely went through it all again, adding some new and 
more loathsome epithets for good measure. 

Even at this distance I could see the farmer's face flush, as he stiffened, 
clenched his fists, and tried to form choking retorts. Before he could 
make any suitable rejoinder, however, his insulter had popped back into 
the Ford and was driving away. 

After a short silence, I asked McFeely, "Was that called for?" 

He sighed and wearily said, "You are too obtuse for me to fool with. 
However, 111 explain what I'd think anybody could see: 

"That man is vegetating, making those endless rounds of the monotonous 
corn rows, behind two horses day after day. Life is dull to him, and dull 
for his wife in that house over there because he has nothing to say when 
he comes in for dinner and supper. He's in a rut and so is she. But I can 
bring him, and her, temporary relief if not a cure. 

"At noon today he'll hurry in from the barn to tell her about the gross 
insult he received. She'll be mad, too. It does people's souls good to get 
mad. They'll stay mad for weeks, hashing over the cruelty done him, 
wondering who it could have been and if the scoundrel will be back. 
They'll be live, thinking, feeling persons for a time. Life will become vivid 
for them. 

"You see, this thing would be no good unless it were a purely gratuitous 
insult. It must be simon-pure outrage. Its merit lies in the completeness 
of its injustice." 

A handsome fellow with a Ronald Colman mustache and a dashing air, 
McFeely used, and probably still uses, his romantic aura to help him in 
his mission. For example, I have ridden slowly with him through sleepy 
Illinois towns on a Sunday afternoon and seen him suddenly tip his hat 
gallantly to a woman of fifty who sat on her front porch dully looking out 
at nothing. McFeely's dark eyes would gleam with grave tenderness upon 
her as we rolled past. 

Then, just before we went from view, he'd look back with restrained 
yearning as she, leaning forward on her frozen rocking chair, would be 
peering after him. 

Did he know her? Had he ever seen her before? Certainly not, and 
would, moreover, never come this way again, either. 

"But," said he, "she'll wonder for weeks who that was. Could it have 
been that visiting tenor after choir practice thirty years ago ? 

"She'll be tender to her husband for probably sixty days all on account 
of this, and full of tolerance for sinners whenever her shrewish neighbor 
women start gossiping." 

Self and Others 251 

Upon rare occasions McFeely has been able to cast the sweet cloak of 
his evangel over quarreling husbands and wives. 

"Driving along, I keep looking for them," he told me once, "Sunday 
drivers, dressed up and suddenly sore because he asked her if she had 
turned out the fire under the water heater before they left. What I do 
then is pull alongside, scrape fenders, holler for a halt, and then lean out 
and call, 'Turn around and go home. It's hell for you Sunday drivers on 
these arterial highways. You'll smash that beautiful car and/ here I look 
past him at his wife, 'you'll kill that lovely wife of yours/ 

"Then I step on the gas quick and get away, leaving them to forget 
their differences in the mingled emotions my solicitude and insolence have 
forced upon them." 

A Dill Pickle * 

'Katberim ^Mansfield i888-i923 

The emotional states, the feelings that lie behind our overt actions 
and our casual meetings, the impulses that never become actualities 
Katherine Mansfield better than any other short-story writer is able to 
catch these. Two people meet, former sweethearts, and some of the 
old feelings begin to revive; but the barrier that separated them before 
is still there; a disparity of feeling and personality remains. 

AND THEN, after six years, she saw him again. He was seated at one of 
those little bamboo tables decorated with a Japanese vase of paper daf- 
fodils. There was a tall plate of fruit in front of him, and very carefully, 
in a way she recognized immediately as his "special" way, he was peeling 
an orange. 

He must have felt that shock of recognition in her for he looked up and 
met her eyes. Incredible! He didn't know her! She smiled; he frowned. 
She came towards him. He closed his eyes an instant, but opening them 
his face lit up as though he had struck a match in a dark room. He laid 
down the orange and pushed back his chair, and she took her little warm 
hand out of her muff and gave it to him. 

"Vera!" he exclaimed. "How strange. Really, for a moment I didn't 
know you. Won't you sit down? You've had lunch? Won't you have some 

She hesitated, but of course she meant to. 

Reprinted from The Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield by permission of Alfred A. 
Knopf, Inc., and John Middleton Murry, Proprietor, Katherine Mansfield Estate. Copy- 
right, 1920, 1937, by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 

252 The Arch of Experience 

"Yes, I'd like some coffee." And she sat down opposite him. 

"You've changed. You've changed very much," he said, staring at her 
with that eager, lighted look. "You look so well. I've never seen you look 
so well before." 

"Really?" She raised her veil and unbuttoned her high fur collar. "I 
don't feel very well. I can't bear this weather, you know." 

"Ah, no. You hate the cold. ..." 

"Loathe it." She shuddered. "And the worst of it is that the older one 
grows ..." 

He interrupted her. "Excuse me," and tapped on the table for the wait- 
ress. "Please bring some coffee and cream." To her: "You are sure you 
won't eat anything? Some fruit, perhaps. The fruit here is very good." 

"No, thanks. Nothing." 

"Then that's settled." And smiling just a hint too broadly he took up the 
orange again. "You were saying the older one grows " 

"The colder," she laughed. But she was thinking how well she remem- 
bered that trick of his the trick of interrupting her and of how it 
used to exasperate her six years ago. She used to feel then as though he, 
quite suddenly, in the middle of what she was saying, put his hand over 
her lips, turned from her, attended to something different, and then took 
his hand away, and with just the same slightly too broad smile, gave her 
his attention again. . . . Now we are ready. That is settled. 

"The colder!" He echoed her words, laughing too. "Ah, ah. You still 
say the same things. And there is another thing about you that is not 
changed at all your beautiful voice your beautiful way of speaking." 
Now he was very grave; he leaned towards her, and she smelled the warm, 
stinging scent of the orange peel. "You have only to say one word and 
I would know your voice among all other voices. I don't know what it is 
I've often wondered that makes your voice such a haunting mem- 
ory. ... Do you remember that first afternoon we spent together at Kew 
Gardens? You were so surprised because I did not know the names of 
any flowers. I am still just as ignorant for all your telling me. But when- 
ever it is very fine and warm, and I see some bright colors it's awfully 
strange I hear your voice saying: 'Geranium, marigold and verbena.' 
And I feel those three words are all I recall of some forgotten, heavenly 
language. . . . You remember that afternoon?" 

"Oh, yes, very well." She drew a long, soft breath, as though the paper 
daffodils between them were almost too sweet to bear. Yet what had 
remained in her mind of that particular afternoon was an absurd scene 
over the tea table. A great many people taking tea in a Chinese pagoda, 
and he behaving like a maniac about the wasps waving them away, 
flapping at them with his straw hat, serious and infuriated out of all pro- 
portion to the occasion. How delighted the sniggering tea drinkers had 
been. And how she had suffered. 

But now, as he spoke, that memory faded. His was the truer. Yes, it 

Self and Others 253 

had been a wonderful afternoon, full of geranium and marigold and ver- 
bena, and warm sunshine. Her thoughts lingered over the last two words 
as though she sang them. 

In the warmth, as it were, another memory unfolded. She saw herself 
sitting on a lawn. He lay beside her, and suddenly, after a long silence, 
he rolled over and put his head in her lap. 

"I wish," he said, in a low, troubled voice, "I wish that I had taken 
poison and were about to die here now!" 

At that moment a little girl in a white dress, holding a long, dripping 
water lily, dodged from behind a bush, stared at them, and dodged back 
again. But he did not see. She leaned over him. 

"Ah, why do you say that? I could not say that." 

But he gave a kind of soft moan, and taking her hand he held it to his 

"Because I know I am going to love you too much far too much. And 
I shall suffer so terribly, Vera, because you never, never will love me." 

He was certainly far better looking now than he had been then. He 
had lost all that dreamy vagueness and indecision. Now he had the air 
of a man who has found his place in life, and fills it with a confidence and 
an assurance which was, to say the least, impressive. He must have made 
money, too. His clothes were admirable, and at that moment he pulled 
a Russian cigarette case out of his pocket. 

"Won't you smoke?" 

"Yes, I will." She hovered over them. "They look very good." 

"I think they are. I get them made for me by a little man in St. James's 
Street. I don't smoke very much. I'm not like you but when I do, they 
must be delicious, very fresh cigarettes. Smoking isn't a habit with me; 
it's a luxury like perfume. Are you still so fond of perfumes? Ah, when 
I was in Russia ..." 

She broke in: "You've really been to Russia?" 

"Oh, yes. I was there for over a year. Have you forgotten how we used 
to talk of going there?" 

"No, I've not forgotten." 

He gave a strange half laugh and leaned back in his chair. "Isn't it 
curious. I have really carried out all those journeys that we planned. 
Yes, I have been to all those places that we talked of, and stayed in them 
long enough to as you used to say, 'air oneself' in them. In fact, I have 
spent the last three years of my life traveling all the time. Spain, Corsica, 
Siberia, Russia, Egypt. The only country left is China, and I mean to go 
there, too, whexji the war is over." 

As he spoke, so lightly, tapping the end of his cigarette against the ash- 
tray, she fejt the strange beast that had slumbered so long within her 
bosom stir, stretch itself, yawn, prick up its ears, and suddenly bound to 
its feet, and fix its longing, hungry stare upon those far away places. But 
all she said was, smiling gently: "How I envy you." 

254 The Arch of Experience 

He accepted that. "It has been," he said, "very wonderful especially 
Russia. Russia was all that we had imagined, and far, far more. I even 
spent some days on a river boat on the Volga. Do you remember that 
boatman's song that you used to play?" 

"Yes." It began to play in her mind as she spoke. 

"Do you ever play it now?" 

"No, I've no piano." 

He was amazed at that. "But what has become of your beautiful piano?" 

She made a little grimace. "Sold. Ages ago." 

"But you were so fond of music," he wondered. 

"I've no time for it now," said she. 

He let it go at that. "That river life," he went on, "is something quite 
special. After a day or two you cannot realize that you have ever known 
another. And it is not necessary to know the language the life of the 
boat creates a bond between you and the people that's more than sufficient. 
You eat with them, pass the day with them, and in the evening there 
is that endless singing." 

She shivered, hearing the boatman's song break out again loud and 
tragic, and seeing the boat floating on the darkening river with melancholy 
trees on either side. . . . "Yes, I should like that," said she, stroking her 

"You'd like almost everything about Russian life," he said warmly. "It's 
so informal, so impulsive, so free without question. And then the peasants 
are so splendid. They are such human beings yes, that is it. Even the 
man who drives your carriage has has some real part in what is hap- 
pening. I remember the evening a party of us, two friends of mine and 
the wife of one of them, went for a picnic by the Black Sea. We took 
supper and champagne and ate and drank on the grass. And while we 
were eating the coachman came up. 'Have a dill pickle,' he said. He 
wanted to share with us. That seemed to me so right, so you know what 
I mean?" 

And she seemed at that moment to be sitting on the grass beside the 
mysteriously Black Sea, black as velvet, and rippling against the banks 
in silent, velvet waves. She saw the carriage drawn up to one side of 
the road, and the little group on the grass, their faces and hands white in 
the moonlight. She saw the pale dress of the woman outspread and her 
folded parasol, lying on the grass like a huge pearl crochet hook. Apart 
from them, with his supper in a cloth on his knees, sat the coachman. 
"Have a dill pickle," said he, and although she was not certain what a dill 
pickle was, she saw the greenish glass jar with a red chili like a parrot's 
beak glimmering through. She sucked in her cheeks; the dfll pickle was 
terribly sour. . . . 

"Yes, I know perfectly what you mean," she said. 

In the pause that followed they looked at each other. In the past when 
they had looked at each other like that they had felt such a boundless 

Self and Others 255 

understanding between them that their souls had, as it were, put their 
arms round each other and dropped into the same sea, content to be 
drowned, like mournful lovers. But now, the surprising thing was that it 
was he who held back. He who said: 

"What a marvelous listener you are. When you look at me with those 
wild eyes I feel that I could tell you things that I would never breathe 
to another human being." 

Was there just a hint of mockery in his voice or was it her fancy? She 
could not be sure. 

"Before I met you," he said, "I had never spoken of myself to anybody. 
How well I remember one night, the night that I brought you the little 
Christmas tree, telling you all about my childhood. And of how I was 
so miserable that I ran away and lived under a cart in our yard for two 
days without being discovered. And you listened, and your eyes shone, and 
I felt that you had even made the little Christmas tree listen too, as in a 
fairy story." 

But of that evening she had remembered a little pot of caviare. It had 
cost seven and sixpence. He could not get over it. Think of it a tiny 
jar like that costing seven and sixpence. While she ate it he watched her, 
delighted and shocked. 

"No, really, that is eating money. You could not get seven shillings 
into a little pot that size. Only think of the profit they must make. ..." 
And he had begun some immensely complicated calculations. . . . But 
now good-by to the caviare. The Christmas tree was on the table, and 
the little boy lay under the cart with his head pillowed on the yard dog. 

"The dog was called Bosun," she cried delightedly. 

But he did not follow. "Which dog? Had you a dog? I don't remember 
a dog at all." 

"No, no. I mean the yard dog when you were a little boy." He laughed 
and snapped the cigarette case to. 

"Was he? Do you know I had forgotten that. It seems such ages ago. 
I cannot believe that it is only six years. After I had recognized you 
today I had to take such a leap I had to take a leap over my whole 
life to get back to that time. I was such a kid then." He drummed on the 
table. "I've often thought how I must have bored you. And now I under- 
stand so perfectly why you wrote to me as you did although at the 
time that letter nearly finished my life. I found it again the other day, 
and I couldn't help laughing as I read it. It was so clever such a true 
picture of me." He glanced up. "You're not going?" 

She had buttoned her collar again and drawn down her veil. 

"Yes, I am afraid I must," she said, and managed a smile. Now she 
knew that he had been mocking. 

"Ah, no, please," he pleaded. "Don't go just for a moment," and he 
caught up one of her gloves from the table and clutched at it as if that 
would hold her. "I see so few people to talk to nowadays, that I have 

256 The Arch of Experience 

turned into a sort of barbarian/' he said. "Have I said something to hurt 

"Not a bit," she lied. But as she watched him draw her glove through 
his fingers, gently, gently, her anger really did die down, and besides, at 
the moment he looked more like himself of six years ago. . . . 

"What I really wanted then/' he said softly, "was to be a sort of carpet 
to make myself into a sort of carpet for you to walk on so that you need 
not be hurt by the sharp stones and the mud that you hated so. It was 
nothing more positive than that nothing more selfish. Only I did desire, 
eventually, to turn into a magic carpet and carry you away to all those 
lands you longed to see." 

As he spoke she lifted her head as though she drank something; the 
strange beast in her bosom began to purr. . . . 

"I felt that you were more lonely than anybody else in the world," he 
went on, "and yet, perhaps, that you were the only person in the world who 
was really, truly alive. Born out of your time," he murmured, stroking 
the glove, "fated." 

Ah, God! What had she done! How had she dared to throw away her 
happiness like this. This was the only man who had ever understood her. 
Was it too late? Could it be too late? She was that glove that he held 
in his fingers. . . . 

"And then the fact that you had no friends and never had made friends 
with people. How I understood that, for neither had I. Is it just the same 

"Yes," she breathed. "Just the same. I am as alone as ever." 

"So am I," he laughed gently, "just the same." 

Suddenly with a quick gesture he handed her back the glove and scraped 
his chair on the floor. "But what seemed to me so mysterious then is 
perfectly plain to me now. And to you, too, of course. ... It simply was 
that we were such egoists so self-engrossed, so wrapped up in ourselves 
that we hadn't a corner in our hearts for anybody else. Do you know," 
he cried, naive and hearty, and dreadfully like another side of that old 
self again, "I began studying a Mind System when I was in Russia, and I 
found that we were not peculiar at all. It's quite a well-known form of ..." 

She had gone. He sat there, thunder-struck, astounded beyond words. 
. . . And then he asked the waitress for his bill. 

"But the cream has not been touched," he said. "Please do not charge 
me for it." 

Self and Others 257 

The general theme of the prose selections in this section is car- 
ried out in the following poems: each involves "a certain blindness" of 
some human beings in their view of others. 

Richard Cory 

Edwin Arlington Robinson 

WHENEVER Richard Cory went down town, 
We people on the pavement looked at him: 

He was a gentleman from sole to crown, 
Clean favored, and imperially slim. 

And he was always quietly arrayed, 
And he was always human when he talked; 

But still he fluttered pulses when he said, 

"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked. 

And he was rich yes, richer than a king 
And admirably schooled in every grace: 

In fine, we thought that he was everything 
To make us wish that we were in his place. 

So on we worked, and waited for the light, 
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread; 

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night, 
Went home and put a bullet through his head. 

My Last Duchess 

Robert 'Browning 


THAT'S my last Duchess painted on the wall, 
Looking as if she were alive. I call 
That piece a wonder, now: Fr Pandolfs hands 
Worked busily a day, and there she stands. 
WilFt please you sit and look at her? I said 
"Fr& Pandolf ' by design, for never read 

Edwin Arlington Robinson, The Children of the Night (New York: Charles Scribner'i 
Sons, 1937). 

258 The Arch of Experience 

Strangers like you that pictured countenance, 

The depth and passion of its earnest glance, 

But to myself they turned (since none puts by 

The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) 

And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, 

How such a glance came there; so, not the first 

Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not 

Her husband's presence only, called that spot 

Of joy into the Duchess* cheek: perhaps 

Fr Pandolf chanced to say, "Her mantle laps 

Over my Lady's wrist too much,'' or "Paint 

Must never hope to reproduce the faint 

Half-flush that dies along her throat"; such stuff 

Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough 

For calling up that spot of joy. She had 

A heart how shall I say? too soon made glad, 

Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er 

She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. 

Sir, 'twas all onel My favor at her breast, 

The dropping of the daylight in the West, 

The bough of cherries some officious fool 

Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule 

She rode with round the terrace all and each 

Would draw from her alike the approving speech, 

Or blush, at least. She thanked men, good; but thanked 

Somehow I know not how as if she ranked 

My gift of a nine-hundred-years'-old name 

With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame 

This sort of trifling? Even had you skill 

In speech (which I have not) to make your will 

Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this 

Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, 

Or there exceed the mark" and if she let 

Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set 

Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse, 

E'en then would be some stooping, and I choose 

Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt, 

Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without 

Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; 

Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands 

As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet 

The company below, then. I repeat, 

The Count your master's known munificence 

Is ample warrant that no just pretence 

Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; 

Self and Others 259 

Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed 
At starting, is my object. Nay, well go 
Together down, sir! Notice Neptune, though, 
Taming & sea-horse, thought a rarity, 
Which Glaus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for mel 

For Anne Gregory 

William 'Butler yeats i865-iP3P 

"NEVER shall a young man, 
Thrown into despair 
By those great honey-colored 
Ramparts at your ear, 
Love you for yourself alone 
And not your yellow hair." 

"But I can get a hair-dye 
And set such colour there, 
Brown, or black, or carrot, 
That young men in despair 
May love me for myself alone 
And not my yellow hair." 

"I heard an old religious man 
But yesternight declare 
That he had found a text to prove 
That only God, my dear, 
Could love you for yourself alone 
And not your yellow hair." 

William Butler Yeats, Collected Poems (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1950). 
Copyright, 1940, by Bertha Georgie Yeats. Reprinted by permission of the publishers, 
of Mrs. William Butler Yeats, and of The Macmillan Company of Canada, Ltd. 

A ^Number 

"We must all try to get 

outside ourselves, Miss 


Midwestern Weather 

Qrabam Jiutton 4904 

When you can't think of anything else to talk about, there's al- 
ways the weather. "Everybody talks about it," said Mark Twain, "but 
nobody does anything about it." Here an Englishman who spent 
several years in Chicago, after living in various parts of the world, talks 
about midwestern weather and makes it interesting. 

FORCED BY A SAVAGE climate to manufacture his own defenses against it, 
and to surround himself with the greatest material aids and comforts yet 
devised by humanity, the midwesterner today scarcely gives a thought to 
the natural obstacles around him which had to be endured and overcome 
by the pioneers of his grandfather's day. Of these obstacles, none was 
worse than the climate and the weather of the region. It is no wonder 
that so many of the domestic mechanical contrivances and defenses against 
this climate were invented or manufactured in the Midwest. 

Of all the regions of the United States, the Midwest has what seems 
both to Americans and to other visitors the most unkind climate and the 

Graham Hutton, Midwest at Noon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946), 
pp. 7-14. 


A Number of Things 261 

most inclement weather. That probably explains one of the general prac- 
tices of the better-off, and one of the general aims of those hoping to get 
rich enough, which is to leave the Midwest at least twice every year on 
vacation. Many of them ultimately retire altogether from it. In every 
case the aspirants make for the sun in winter, for dryness at all times, and 
for a temperate zone in retirement. Lest I be thought grimly facetious, or 
just an Englishman preoccupied with that English weather which has 
been one of the stock American vaudeville jokes for three generations, let 
me develop this point. 

There are colder American regions in winter, and regions which are 
hotter in summer, than the Midwest; and the Midwest apologist, with the 
Americans' consuming passion only for the averages in statistics (and in 
almost everything else), points to the average or mean winter and summer 
temperatures in the Midwest. But, as usual, averages signify little. What 
is significant is the variation of extremes about an average; and, as I said 
earlier, the Midwest lies in the latitude and longitude of American extremes 
and within parallels of paradox. Nowhere else in America do you have 
to suffer during the year such wild combinations, rapid changes, and wide 
extremes of weather varying around climatic averages. Thus in the South, 
Southwest, Rockies, or Great Plains, one season will be either hotter or 
colder than it is anywhere else in America; but in those regions Nature's 
compensation is the long mildness of the other seasons. This is even true 
of Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire in the Northeast. But not so in 
the Midwest. There, and even in the most extreme portions of the region, 
the mercury in winter seldom falls below an average of 10 below zero, 
and in summer seldom rises above a mean of 90. That seems extreme 
enough to any European except perhaps someone from the heart of Russia; 
but it is as nothing compared to the extreme variations between these 
summer and winter averages. 

The Midwest is, of course, vast and is bound to show within its ambit 
great variations. On its confines in Missouri and in the south of Illinois, 
Indiana, and Ohio winter is always milder than at the core of the region. 
These were the territories settled by the first pioneers. The summer of 
these southern territories of the region is, however, correspondingly fiercer; 
temperatures often reach 105. Yet both their summers and their winters 
are relatively drier. There is not so much humidity. So in the north and 
extreme west of the region, in Minnesota, upper Wisconsin, and North 
Michigan, the summers are milder but the winters fiercer; the mercury often 
falls to 35 below zero. Yet both summers and winters are drier. Humidity 
is not such a nuisance. 

It is the core of the Midwest which has the worst weather: the area 
east of the Mississippi including the northern halves of Illinois, Indiana, 
and Ohio, the Michigan peninsula, and southern Wisconsin. This is the 
coastal area of the Great Lakes, which here exercise an attraction on the 
transcontinental lines of temperature and pressure and form a kind of 

262 The Arch of Experience 

water pocket around which the great winds sweep snow, rain, and cold 

Dwellers in the belt that runs from Milwaukee to Chicago, the big cities 
along the Indiana-Michigan coastal rim, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Erie, 
and Buffalo and a long way inland, during the ferocious winters are 
weighed down by a cold humidity and blasted by icy winds reaching gale 
dimensions. They are snowed-in frequently by blizzards that blacken 
noonday and paralyze all forms of traffic. They are exposed to the packing 
of snow into miniature but almost as deadly Himalayas of solid black ice 
on every path from the home driveway to the sidewalks of the metropolis. 
Blizzards snow-in the suburbanites to this day; and the normal snows are 
heavy enough to make shoveling and cleaning, overshoes and snow boots, 
an indispensable part of every midwesterner's winter. Rare, indeed, in 
any winter in this wide core of the Midwest is an ideal winter-sports day: 
clear, dry air, bright-blue skies, hard, strong sun, no wind, and zero or 
subzero temperature. When such a day dawns, everyone talks about it: 
commuters and housewives and storekeepers and school children. 

In defense against the bitter winds and cold the Midwest has developed 
artificial heating in its houses, offices, and vehicles to a point at which its 
people are alternately baked and frozen a dozen times a day. It is not 
fantastic to suppose that this contributes to that extraordinarily widespread 
Midwest affliction known as "sinus trouble," and it certainly contributes to 
the pallor of the people in winter, just as the equally savage summer sun, 
the wind, and the extreme variations of natural and artificial temperatures 
contribute to the more numerous lines and wrinkles of Midwest faces. 

In this core of the Midwest there is no spring a significant natural 
phenomenon which may account for at least one big gap in the romantic 
literature and poetry of the Midwest. Winter lasts, solid and remorseless, 
from Thanksgiving to March. Then it often begins to relent for a tempting 
few days which fool plants and people alike. Next, the fierce solidity of 
winter gives way to chill, howling winds, torrents of rain which seem as 
if they should be falling at another season in the tropics, a long period of 
ground frosts, and day temperatures in the forties and fifties. At this time 
the thaw and the rains swell the big Midwest rivers into floods which 
devastate the countryside far down the rivers and outside the region and 
drown or render homeless hundreds and sometimes thousands of people. 

This inclement spell generally lasts well into May or even the begin- 
ning of June making both the fierce and the milder portions of winter 
into one season of six or seven months' duration. Then, the trees and plants 
and birds and animals having crept gradually and imperceptibly into a 
chill, bedraggled version of spring, suddenly the gales abate overnight. 
Meanwhile the sun has long been fooling everyone by clambering stoically 
up to the summit of the heavens for almost half the year, but with benefit 
of light alone. Equally suddenly he now explodes in heat ranging between 
80 and 100. . . . Frosts in May, 100 in June, are more regular than 

A Number of Things 263 

irregular. Flowers, shrubs, birds, and mankind drink in the sun for an 
ecstatic week or two; the grass and the leaves are spring-green for only 
two or three weeks in the year; and then "summer has set in with its usual 

"Severity" is the word. When the summer heavens are not as brass, 
which they are for periods of a few days and often for weeks at a time, 
they pile up with majestic and terrifying cumulations of rain and thun- 
dercloud. The summer storms provide, with the star-spangled moonless 
nights of winter and fall, the most majestic display of the Midwest heavens 
in the entire year. Then the Midwest becomes tropical. Nowhere in the 
so-called temperate zone from which I think the Midwest should be 
forever excluded do you encounter such thunder and lightning, such 
torrential rains, such an opening of the fountains of the great deep. The 
temperature often does not fall. Instead a steamy, clammy heat pervades 
everything. The storms are over as quickly as they begin, but meanwhile 
much of the topsoil in garden and field alike has gone down to the rivers 
and oceans unless the owner has level land, or has drained, terraced, 
or plowed by contour, or repaired the gullies on his land. Out comes the 
sun again and with methodical cynicism proceeds to bake the remaining 
topsoil to terra cotta. This then cracks into new fissures, eagerly expecting 
the next waterspout to widen them. 

The dust, too, comes from the topsoil, whipped up in the remoter areas 
of the Midwest by the little embryonic "twisters" or whirlwinds which, 
drunkenly, waltz across the fields like pillars of cloud by day, or blown 
off by the sudden blasts which precede and follow the savage summer 

In the country the summer means dust: dust which permitted, and in 
many parts still permits, the poorer children to walk safely and comfortably 
barefoot into the pages of the Midwest's folklore, thus establishing an 
almost necessary qualification for the childhood of midwestern presidential 
candidates. The sidewalks of the towns in summer are as uncomfortable 
to rapidly tiring feet in all-too-light footgear as they are in winter to 
ankles, when the surface is knobbed and craggy with black ice. 

In high summer come the insects: flies, mosquitoes, winged bugs of 
every shape and color all of them "bigger and better" than in Europe 
which necessitate the ubiquitous wire-screen doors and windows. This 
also necessitates the semi-annual chore of paterfamilias, who has to put 
the screens up and take them down unless he is one of the five per cent 
who live in town apartments offering janitor service or are rich enough 
to employ gardeners or hired men. It is impossible to sit in a Midwest 
garden in summer because of the insects, except for two weeks in May or 

Summer, too, conditions the household appliances: iceboxes; that figure 
of smoking-room folklore, and favorite of all children, the iceman; auto- 
matic refrigerators, which betray their origin by still being called ice- 

264 The Arch of Experience 

boxes; and the new deep-freeze repository either at home or at a central 
store of private lockers. Suburban and country folk take to that most 
civilized institution of the Midwest summer, the sleeping porch, wire- 
screened on three sides. But even then the nights are treacherous for 
parent and child alike. Frequently the tropical storms break in the wee, 
sma' hours; the rain is blown in; the lightning and thunder wake the 
sleeper; and what begins as a welcome drop in temperature for man and 
beast quickly degenerates into a deathtrap by way of pleurisy or pneu- 
monia. The temperature first yields, then falls, then drops, then plummets 
downward. Again paterfamilias or materfamilias plods around, this time 
closing windows and covering the awakened children. In the morning, 
heavy-lidded and loath to part from sleep, they find the sun beating down 
with refreshed zeal upon a porch well on the way to becoming a Black 
Hole of Calcutta. 

When storms do not vary the monotony of heat and humidity, night 
succeeds night in a remorselessly growing tedium of rising temperature, 
and sleep comes ever more and more slowly to a humanity already ex- 
hausted, worn, and dehydrated by the rigors of successive brazen days. 
What winds or breezes then blow come from the Great Plains to the 
west, sweeping across half-parched prairies, more suggestive of a prairie 
fire than of the frolic wind that breathes the spring or summer's gentle 

Another trick of the Midwest summer and early fall is to bring out the 
grasses and weeds whose pollination causes thousands of sufferers from 
hay fever and other allergies to spend agonizing days and weeks. The 
newspapers print the day's pollen count on the front page sure sign of 
its general importance! The worst sufferers can be seen wearing a kind 
of gas mask that makes them look like Martians. Those prone to the 
ubiquitous sinus trouble are also among the sufferers. Thus is the prairie 
revenged on the children of its destroyers! 

Nor is there in the Midwest summer the purifying influence and refresh- 
ing ozone of the sea. No one born in England is more than sixty miles 
from sea water; so on this point I am, though trying not to be, a prejudiced 
witness. But the great and smaller lakes and rivers of the Midwest certainly 
do not perform what Keats called the "task of pure ablution" about their 
shores. Quite the contrary. The cities often empty their sewage, fully or 
not so fully treated, into these lakes and rivers, with results, down-current, 
that make the visitor wonder not so much at the widespread outbreaks 
of disease, which often become epidemics, as at the authorities' ability 
to keep them within any bounds at all. Nature is kind; the Midwest and 
its waterways are vast; man is puny; and all animals naturally become 
conditioned and self-inoculated in a given environment. Happily, the well- 
to-do all build swimming pools; there are innumerable clubs; and cities 
build and operate pools which only occasionally have to be closed because 
of one epidemic or another. 

As with the natural water, so with the air of the region: coming into 

A Number of Things 265 

the Midwest from the seaboard in summer, one has the impression that 
one is living under "that inverted bowl they call the sky" the air of which 
has all been breathed before. There is iodine and many another property 
in seaside air, and, at least if we are to go by the results of inquiries by 
European experts, the folk and their cities by the sea are on the whole 
healthier than those deep in continental interiors. 

Yet the Midwest has one season which, though only of two months' 
duration, goes some of the way to redress the overweighted balance of 
wicked winters and savage summers. It is the fall. From mid-September 
to mid-November, with short interruptions of chilly, rainy days, the Mid- 
west gets its only temperate period of the year. It is much finer, much 
more beautiful, than what is conventionally called "Indian summer." The 
days are warm and the nights cool, with occasional light frosts gradually 
becoming more intense. The foliage slowly takes on those remarkable 
shades and colors which make the fall in America and Canada unique in 
the whole world. "Great clouds along pacific skies" rarely explode into 
the wrathful and regular thunderstorms of summer. The last tiring insects 
become fewer and lazier. The skies become more brightly blue than at 
any other time of the year. 

Paterfamilias takes down his screens, puts up storm windows, and rakes 
leaves. The air is mildly imbued with the thin and acrid smell of wood 
smoke. The winds are tamed; the dust dies out of the atmosphere; and 
the only real breezes of the year gently rustle the long, crackling, dried-out 
leaves of corn on the stalks. Berries of all kinds and colors deck the 
hedges and shrubberies. The very heart of the cities becomes finally com- 
fortable. Over all, a different suffused light from the sloping sun strikes 
street and building, forest and field, in a strange way, throwing shadows 
into unexpected places and illuminating what for most of the year lay in 
shadow. The sunsets, always imposing in the Midwest, now reach their 
majestic climax. Homeward-bound commuters see the red sun making the 
west look like that "dark and bloody ground" whence the Midwest itself 
sprang. The fruit is picked, bottling goes on in kitchens or basements, 
and late root vegetables alone are left in the fields or gardens. And so 
imperceptibly, but with the logic of seasons and Nature and the pioneers' 
history, the Midwest draws toward that peculiarly American family festival 
of Thanksgiving, to the accompaniment of the first flurries of new 

Thus the Midwest ends its year mildly and with promise, as if Nature 
were relenting after so much savagery during the other ten months. Being 
a region of such violent natural extremes, it is small wonder that its people 
have come to reflect wide extremes in their individual and collective char- 
acteristics. They have had to adapt themselves to sudden and violent 
changes of weather. All they could do was to perfect mechanical defenses, 
to live as much indoors as possible during the most extreme three quarters 
of the year, and "worry through." There is a saying in Chicago: "If you 
don't like our weather, wait ten minutes; it'll change." 

Riveters & Editors of Fortune 

"Know-how" is something we all admire in a master workman, 
whatever his job may be. This explanation of the worJc of a riveting 
gang has been often reprinted, for it is one of the best available ac- 
counts of a skilled team on the job. Whether it be as simple an 
operation as polishing shoes or as complicated an art as fly-fishing, there 
is know-how involved in almost everything we do; and every one of us 
is an expert at some kind of performance: taking snapshots, building 
model railroads, quarterbacking a team, baking a souffl^, or yo-yo. Such 
knowledge is often the keystone of the arch of our experience. 

THE MOST CURIOUS fact about a riveter's skill is that he is not one man but 
four: "heater," "catcher," "bucker-up," and "gun-man." The gang is the 
unit. Riveters are hired and fired as gangs, work in gangs, and learn in 
gangs. If one member of a gang is absent on a given morning the entire 
gang is replaced. A gang may continue to exist after its original members 
have all succumbed to slippery girders or to the temptations of life on 
earth. And the skill of the gang will continue with it. Men overlap each 
other in service and teach each other what they know. The difference be- 
tween a gang which can drive 525 heavy rivets in a day and a gang which 
can drive 250 is a difference of coordination and smoothness. You learn 
how not to make mistakes and how not to waste time. 

The actual process of riveting is simple enough in description. Rivets 
are carried to the job by the rivet boy, a riveter's apprentice whose ambi- 
tion it is to replace one of the members of the gang. The rivets are dumped 
beside a small coke furnace, which stands on a platform of loose boards 
roped to the steel girders and is tended by the heater. He wears heavy 
clothes to protect him from the flying sparks, and he holds a pair of tongs 
about a foot and a half long in his right hand. His skill appears in his 
knowledge of the exact time necessary to heat the rivets. If he overheats 
the steel, it will flake, and the flakes will permit the rivet to turn in its 
hole. That rivet will be condemned. 

When the heater judges that his rivet is right, he turns to the catcher, 
who may be above or below him or 50 feet away on the same floor with 
the naked girders between. There is no means of handing the rivet over. 
It must be thrown. And it must be accurately thrown. The catcher is 
armed with a battered tin can with which to catch the red-hot steel. 

The catcher's position is not exactly one which a sportsman catching 
rivets for pleasure would choose. He stands upon a narrow platform of 
loose planks near the connection upon which the gang is at work. If he 
moves more than a step or two, or loses his balance, he is gone. And if he 

Reprinted from the October, 1930, issue of Fortune magazine by special permission 
of the editors. Copyright, 1930, Time Inc. 


A Number of Things 267 

lets the rivet pass, it is capable of drilling a man's skull 500 feet below as 
neatly as a shank of shrapnel. Why more rivets do not fall is the great 
mystery of skyscraper construction. The only reasonable explanation 
offered to date is the reply of an erector's foreman who was asked what 
would happen if a catcher let a rivet go by while the streets below were 
crowded. "Well," said the foreman, "he's not supposed to." 

There is practically no exchange of words among riveters. They seem 
averse to speech in any form. The catcher faces the heater. He holds his 
tin can up. The heater swings his tongs, releasing one handle. The red 
iron arcs through the air in one of those parabolas so much admired by the 
stenographers in the neighboring windows. And the tin can clanks. 

The catcher picks the rivet out of his can with a pair of tongs and rams 
it into the rivet hole. Then the bucker-up braces himself with his dolly 
bar, a short heavy bar of steel, against the capped end of the rivet. On 
outside wall work he is sometimes obliged to hold on by one elbow with 
his weight out over the street and the jar of the riveting shaking his 
precarious balance. And the gun-man lifts his pneumatic hammer to the 
rivet's other end. 

The gun-man's work is the hardest, physically. The hammers weigh 
about 35 pounds. They must be held against the rivet end with the gun- 
man's entire strength, for a period of 40 to 60 seconds. And the concussion 
to the ears and to the arms is very great. The whole platform shakes and 
the vibration can be felt down the column 30 stories below. 

Riveters work ordinarily eight hours a day at a wage of $15.40 a day. 
They are not employed in bad or slippery weather, and they are not usually 
on the regular pay roll of the erectors, but go from job to job following 
foremen whom they like. There is no great future for a riveter. 

The Feel * Paul Qallico 

Thirsty as you may be for experiences, you cannot taste all of them 
though you live a hundred years. On the other hand, you cannot prop- 
erly know any experience without yourself having participated actively 
in events. A certain amount of participation, a generous addition of 
imagination, and one can understand, or "feel/' experiences in fields in 
which one is a complete amateur. How this happens is Gallico's sub- 
ject. Of what experiences can you write thus, from the inside? 

A CHILD wandering through a department store with its mother, is ad- 
monished over and over again not to touch things. Mother is convinced 

Reprinted from Farewell to Sport by Paul Gallico, by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, 
Inc. Copyright, 1938, by Paul Gallico. Pp. 287-298. 

268 The Arch of Experience 

that the child only does it to annoy or because it is a child, and usually 
hasn't the vaguest inkling of the fact that Junior is "touching" because he 
is a little blotter soaking up information and knowledge, and "feel" is an 
important adjunct to seeing. Adults are exactly the same, in a measure, as 
you may ascertain when some new gadget or article is produced for inspec- 
tion. The average person says: "Here, let me see that," and holds out his 
hand. He doesn't mean "see," because he is already seeing it. What he 
means is that he wants to get it into his hands and feel it so as to become 
better acquainted. 

... I do not insist that a curiosity and capacity for feeling sports is neces- 
sary to be a successful writer, but it is fairly obvious that a man who has 
been tapped on the chin with five fingers wrapped up in a leather boxing 
glove and propelled by the arm of an expert knows more about. that particular 
sensation than one who has not, always provided he has the gift of ex- 
pressing himself. I once inquired of a heavyweight prizefighter by the 
name of King Levinsky, in a radio interview, what it felt like to be hit on 
the chin by Joe Louis, the King having just acquired that experience with 
rather disastrous results. Levinsky considered the matter for a moment and 
then reported: "It don't feel like nuttin'," but added that for a long while 
afterwards he felt as though he were "in a transom." 

I was always a child who touched things and I have always had a tre- 
mendous curiosity with regard to sensation. If I knew what playing a 
game felt like, particularly against or in the company of experts, I was 
better equipped to write about the playing of it and the problems of the 
men and women who took part in it. And so, at one time or another, I 
have tried them all, football, baseball, boxing, riding, shooting, swimming, 
squash, handball, fencing, driving, flying, both land and sea planes, rowing, 
canoeing, skiing, riding a bicycle, ice-skating, roller-skating, tennis, golf, 
archery, basketball, running, both the hundred-yard dash and the mile, the 
high jump and shot put, badminton, angling, deep-sea, stream-, and surf- 
casting, billiards and bowling, motorboating and wrestling, besides riding 
as a passenger with the fastest men on land and water and in the air, to see 
what it felt like. Most of them I dabbled in as a youngster going through 
school and college, and others, like piloting a plane, squash, fencing, and 
skiing, I took up after I was old enough to know better, purely to get the 
feeling of what they were like. 

None of these things can I do well, but I never cared about becoming an 
expert, and besides, there wasn't time. But there is only one way to find out 
accurately human sensations in a ship two or three thousand feet up when 
the motor quits, and that is actually to experience that gone feeling at the 
pit of the stomach and the sharp tingling of the skin from head to foot, 
followed by a sudden amazing sharpness of vision, clear-sightedness, and 
coolness that you never knew you possessed as you find the question of life 
or death completely in your own hands, It is not the "you" that you know, 
but somebody else, a stranger, who noses the ship down, circles, fastens 

A Number of Things 269 

upon the one best spot to sit down, pushes or pulls buttons to try to get 
her started again, and finally drops her in, safe and sound. And it is only 
by such experience that you learn likewise of the sudden weakness that hits 
you right at the back of the knees after you have climbed out and started 
to walk around her and that comes close to knocking you flat as for the 
first time since the engine quit its soothing drone you think of destruction 
and sudden death. 

Often my courage has failed me and I have funked completely, such as 
the time I went up to the top of the thirty-foot Olympic diving-tower at 
Jones Beach, Long Island, during the competitions, to see what it was like 
to dive from that height, and wound up crawling away from the edge on 
hands and knees, dizzy, scared, and a little sick, but with a wholesome 
respect for the boys and girls who hurled themselves through the air and 
down through the tough skin of the water from that awful height. At other 
times sheer ignorance of what I was getting into has led me into tight spots 
such as the time I came down the Olympic ski run from the top of the 
Kreuzeck, six thousand feet above Garmisch-Partenkirchen, after having 
been on skis but once before in snow and for the rest had no more than a 
dozen lessons on an indoor artificial slide in a New York department store. 
At one point my legs, untrained, got so tired that I couldn't stem (brake) 
any more, and I lost control and went full tilt and all out, down a three-foot 
twisting path cut out of the side of the mountain, with a two-thousand-foot 
abyss on the left and the mountain itself on the right. That was probably 
the most scared I have ever been, and I scare fast and often. I remember 
giving myself up for lost and wondering how long it would take them to 
retrieve my body and whether I should be still alive. In the meantime the 
speed of the descent was increasing. Somehow I was keeping my feet and 
negotiating turns, how I will never know, until suddenly the narrow patch 
opened out into a wide, steep stretch of slope with a rise at the other end, 
and that part of the journey was over. 

By some miracle I got to the bottom of the run uninjured, having made 
most of the trip down the icy, perpendicular slopes on the flat of my back. 
It was the thrill and scare of a lifetime, and to date no one has been able to 
persuade me to try a jump. I know when to stop. After all, I am entitled to 
rely upon my imagination for something. But when it was all over and I 
found myself still whole, it was also distinctly worth while to have learned 
what is required of a ski runner in the breakneck Ahfahrt or downhill race, 
or the difficult slalom. Five days later, when I climbed laboriously ( still on 
skis) halfway up that Alp and watched the Olympic downhill racers 
hurtling down the perilous, ice-covered, and nearly perpendicular Steil- 
hang, I knew that I was looking at a great group of athletes who, for one 
thing, did not know the meaning of the word "fear." The slope was studded 
with small pine trees and rocks, but half of the field gained precious sec- 
onds by hitting that slope all out, with complete contempt for disaster 
rushing up at them at a speed often better than sixty miles an hour. And 

270 The Arch of Experience 

when an unfortunate Czech skidded off the course at the bottom of the 
slope and into a pile of rope and got himself snarled up as helpless as a 
fly in a spider's web, it was a story that I could write from the heart. I 
had spent ten minutes getting myself untangled after a fall, without any 
rope to add to the difficulties. It seems that I couldn't find where my left 
leg ended and one more ski than I had originally donned seemed to be in- 
volved somehow. Only a person who has been on those fiendish runners 
knows the sensation. 

It all began back in 1922 when I was a cub sports-writer and consumed 
with more curiosity than was good for my health. I had seen my first 
professional prizefights and wondered at the curious behavior of men under 
the stress of blows, the sudden checking and the beginning of a little fall 
forward after a hard punch, the glazing of the eyes and the loss of loco- 
motor control, the strange actions of men on the canvas after a knockdown 
as they struggled to regain their senses and arise on legs that seemed to 
have turned into rubber. I had never been in any bad fist fights as a 
youngster, though I had taken a little physical punishment in football, but 
it was not enough to complete the picture. Could one think under those 

I had been assigned to my first training-camp coverage, Dempsey's at 
Saratoga Springs, where he was preparing for his famous fight with Luis 
Firpo. For days I watched him sag a spar boy with what seemed to be no 
more than a light cuff on the neck, or pat his face with what looked like 
no more than a caressing stroke of his arm, and the fellow would come all 
apart at the seams and collapse in a useless heap, grinning vacuously or 
twitching strangely. My burning curiosity got the better of prudence and 
a certain reluctance to expose myself to physical pain. I asked Dempsey 
to permit me to box a round with him. I had never boxed before, but I 
was in good physical shape, having just completed a four-year stretch as a 
galley slave in the Columbia eight-oared shell. 

When it was over and I escaped through the ropes, shaking, bleeding a 
little from the mouth, with rosin dust on my pants and a vicious throbbing 
in my head, I knew all that there was to know about being hit in the prize- 
ring. It seems that I had gone to an expert for tuition. I knew the sensa- 
tion of being stalked and pursued by a relentless, truculent professional 
destroyer whose trade and business it was to injure men. I saw the quick 
flash of the brown forearm that precedes the stunning shock as a bony, 
leather-bound fist lands on cheek or mouth. I learned more (partly from 
photographs of the lesson, viewed afterwards, one of which shows me 
ducked under a vicious left hook, an act of which I never had the slightest 
recollection) about instinctive ducking and blocking than I could have in 
ten years of looking at prizefights, and I learned, too, that as the soldier 
never hears the bullet that kills him, so does the fighter rarely, if ever, see 
the punch that tumbles blackness over him like a mantle, with a tearing rip 
as though the roof of his skull were exploding, and robs him of his senses. 

A Number of Things 111 

There was just that a ripping in my head and then sudden blackness, 
and the next thing I knew, I was sitting on the canvas covering of the ring 
floor with my legs collapsed under me, grinning idiotically. How often 
since have I seen that same silly, goofy look on the faces of dropped fighters 
and understood it. I held onto the floor with both hands, because the 
ring and the audience outside were making a complete clockwise revolu- 
tion, came to a stop, and then went back again counter-clockwise. When I 
struggled to my feet, Jack Kearns, Dempsey's manager, was counting over 
me, but I neither saw nor heard him and was only conscious that I was in 
a ridiculous position and that the thing to do was to get up and try to 
fight back. The floor swayed and rocked beneath me like a fishing dory in 
an off-shore swell, and it was a welcome respite when Dempsey rushed into 
a clinch, held me up, and whispered into my ear: "Wrestle around a bit, 
son, until your head clears." And then it was that I learned what those little 
love-taps to the back of the neck and the short digs to the ribs can mean 
to the groggy pugilist more than half knocked out. It is a murderous game, 
and the fighter who can escape after having been felled by a lethal blow 
has my admiration. And there, too, I learned that there can be no sweeter 
sound than the bell that calls a halt to hostilities. 

From that afternoon on, also, dated my antipathy for the spectator at 
prizefights who yells: "Come on, you bum, get up and fight! Oh, you big 
quitter! Yah yellow, yah yellow!" Yellow, eh? It is all a man can do to 
get up after being stunned by a blow, much less fight back. But they do it. 
And how a man is able to muster any further interest in a combat after 
being floored with a blow to the pit of the stomach will always remain to 
me a miracle of what the human animal is capable of under stress. 

Further experiments were less painful, but equally illuminating. A couple 
of sets of tennis with Vinnie Richards taught me more about what is re- 
quired of a top-flight tournament tennis-player than I could have got out 
of a dozen books or years of reporting tennis matches. It is one thing to 
sit in a press box and write caustically that Brown played uninspired tennis, 
or Black's court covering was faulty and that his frequent errors cost him 
the set. It is quite another to stand across the net at the back of a service 
court and try to get your racket on a service that is so fast that the ear can 
hardly detect the interval between the sound of the server's bat hitting the 
ball and the ball striking the court. Tournament tennis is a different game 
from week-end tennis. For one thing, in average tennis, after the first hard 
service has gone into the net or out, you breathe a sigh of relief, move up 
closer and wait for the cripple to come floating over. In big-time tennis 
second service is practically as hard as the first, with an additional twist 
on the ball. 

It is impossible to judge or know anything about the speed of a forehand 
drive hit by a champion until you have had one fired at you, or, rather, 
away from you, and you have made an attempt to return it. It is then that 
you first realize that tennis is played more with the head than with the 

272 The Arch of Experience 

arms and the legs. The fastest player in the world cannot get to a drive to 
return it if he hasn't thought correctly, guessed its direction, and antici- 
pated it by a fraction of a second. 

There was golf with Bob Jones and Gene Sarazen and Tommy Armour, 
little Cruickshank and Johnny Farrell, and Diegel and other professionals; 
and experiments at trying to keep up in the water with Johnny Weissmuller, 
Helene Madison, and Eleanor Holm, attempts to catch football passes 
thrown by Benny Friedman. Nobody actually plays golf until he has ac- 
quired the technical perfection to be able to hit the ball accurately, high, 
low, hooked or faded and placed. And nobody knows what real golf is 
like until he has played around with a professional and seen him play, not 
the ball, but the course, the roll of the land, the hazards, the wind, and 
the texture of the greens and the fairways. It looks like showmanship 
when a top-flight golfer plucks a handful of grass and lets it flutter in the 
air, or abandons his drive to march two hundred yards down to the green 
and look over the situation. It isn't. It's golf. The average player never 
knows or cares whether he is putting with or across the grain of a green. 
The professional always knows. The same average player standing on the 
tee is concentrated on getting the ball somewhere on the fairway, two 
hundred yards out. The professional when preparing to drive is actually 
to all intents and purposes playing his second shot. He means to place his 
drive so as to open up the green for his approach. But you don't find that 
out until you have played around with them when they are relaxed and 
not competing, and listen to them talk and plan attacks on holes. 

Major-league baseball is one of the most difficult and precise of all 
games, but you would never know it unless you went down on the field 
and got close to it and tried it yourself. For instance, the distance between 
pitcher and catcher is a matter of twenty paces, but it doesn't seem like 
enough when you don a catcher's mitt and try to hold a pitcher with the 
speed of Dizzy Dean or Dazzy Vance. Not even the sponge that catchers 
wear in the palm of the hand when working with fast-ball pitchers, and the 
bulky mitt are sufficient to rob the ball of shock and sting that lames your 
hand unless you know how to ride with the throw and kill some of its 
speed. The pitcher, standing on his little elevated mound, looms up 
enormously over you at that short distance, and when he ties himself into 
a coiled spring preparatory to letting fly, it requires all your self-control not 
to break and run for safety. And as for the things they can do with a base- 
ball, those major-league pitchers . . . ! One way of finding out is to wander 
down on the field an hour or so before game-time when there is no pressure 
on them, pull on the catcher's glove, and try to hold them. 

I still remember my complete surprise the first time I tried catching for 
a real curve-ball pitcher. He was a slim, spidery left-hander of the New 
York Yankees, many years ago, by the name of Herb Pennock. He called 
that he was going to throw a fast breaking curve and warned me to ex- 
pect the ball at least two feet outside the plate. Then he wound up and 

A Number of Things 273 

let it go, and that ball came whistling right down the groove for the center 
of the plate. A novice, I chose to believe what I saw and not what I 
heard, and prepared to catch it where it was headed for, a spot which of 
course it never reached, because just in front of the rubber, it swerved 
sharply to the right and passed nearly a yard from my glove. I never had 
a chance to catch it. That way, you learn about the mysterious drop, the 
ball that sails down the alley chest high but which you must be prepared to 
catch around your ankles because of the sudden dip it takes at the end of 
its passage as though someone were pulling it down with a string. Also you 
find out about the queer fade-away, the slow curve, the fast in- and out- 
shoots that seem to be timed almost as delicately as shrapnel, to burst, or 
rather break, just when they will do the most harm namely, at the mo- 
ment when the batter is swinging. 

Facing a big-league pitcher with a bat on your shoulder and trying to 
hit his delivery is another vital experience in gaining an understanding of 
the game about which you are trying to write vividly. It is one thing to sit 
in the stands and scream at a batsman: "Oh, you bum!" for striking out in 
a pinch, and another to stand twenty yards from that big pitcher and try 
to make up your mind in a hundredth of a second whether to hit at the 
offering or not, where to swing and when, not to mention worrying about 
protecting yourself from the consequences of being struck by the ball that 
seems to be heading straight for your skull at an appalling rate of speed. 
Because, if you are a big-league player, you cannot very well afford to be 
gun-shy and duck away in panic from a ball that swerves in the last mo- 
ment and breaks perfectly over the plate, while the umpire calls: "Strike!" 
and the fans jeer. Nor can you afford to take a crack on the temple from 
the ball. Men have died from that. It calls for undreamed-of niceties of 
nerve and judgment, but you don't find that out until you have stepped 
to the plate cold a few times during batting practice or in training quar- 
ters, with nothing at stake but the acquisition of experience, and see what 
a fine case of the jumping jitters you get. Later on, when you are writing 
your story, your imagination, backed by the experience, will be able to 
supply a picture of what the batter is going through as he stands at the 
plate in the closing innings of an important game, with two or three men 
on base, two out, and his team behind in the scoring, and fifty thousand 
people screaming at him. 

The catching and holding of a forward pass for a winning touchdown 
on a cold, wet day always make a good yarn, but you might get an even 
better one out of it if you happen to know from experience about the 
elusive qualities of a hard, soggy, mud-slimed football rifled through the 
air, as well as something about the exquisite timing, speed, and courage 
it takes to catch it on a dead run, with two or three 190-pound men reach- 
ing for it at the same time or waiting to crash you as soon as your fingers 
touch it. 

Any football coach during a light practice will let you go down the field 

274 The Arch of Experience 

and try to catch punts, the long, fifty-yard spirals and the tricky, tum- 
bling end-over-enders. Unless you have had some previous experience, 
you won't hang on to one out of ten, besides knocking your fingers out 
of joint. But if you have any imagination, thereafter you will know that 
it calls for more than negligible nerve to judge and hold that ball and 
even plan to run with it, when there are two husky ends bearing down 
at full speed, preparing for a head-on tackle. 

In 1932 I covered my first set of National Air Races, in Cleveland, and 
immediately decided that I had to learn how to fly to find out what that 
felt like. Riding as a passenger isn't flying. Being up there all alone at 
the controls of a ship is. And at the same time began a series of investiga- 
tions into the "feel" of the mechanized sports to see what they were all 
about and the qualities of mentality, nerve, and physique they called for 
from their participants. These included a ride with Gar Wood in his 
latest and fastest speedboat, Mm America X, in which for the first time 
he pulled the throttle wide open on the Detroit River straightaway; a trip 
with the Indianapolis Speedway driver Cliff Bergere, around the famous 
brick raceway; and a flip with Lieutenant Al Williams, one time U. S. 
Schneider Cup race pilot. 

I was scared with Wood, who drove me at 127 miles an hour, jounced, 
shaken, vibrated, choked with fumes from the exhausts, behind which I sat 
hanging on desperately to the throttle bar, which after a while got too hot 
to hold. I was on a plank between Wood and his mechanic, Johnson, and 
thought that my last moment had come. I was still more scared when Cliff 
Bergere hit 126 on the Indianapolis straightaways in the tiny racing car 
in which I was hopelessly wedged, and after the first couple of rounds 
quite resigned to die and convinced that I should. But I think the most 
scared I have ever been while moving fast was during a ride I took in 
the cab of a locomotive on the straight, level stretch between Fort Wayne, 
Indiana, and Chicago, where for a time we hit 90 miles per hour, which of 
course is no speed at all. But nobody who rides in the comfortable Pull- 
man coaches has any idea of the didoes cut up by a locomotive in a hurry, 
or the thrill of pelting through a small town, all out and wide open, includ- 
ing the crossing of some thirty or forty frogs and switches, all of which 
must be set right. But that wasn't sport. That was just plain excitement. 

I have never regretted these researches. Now that they are over, there 
isn't enough money to make me do them again. But they paid me divi- 
dends, I figured. During the great Thompson Speed Trophy race for land 
planes at Cleveland in 1935, Captain Roscoe Turner was some eight or 
nine miles in the lead in his big golden, low-wing, speed monoplane. 
Suddenly, coming into the straightaway in front of the grandstands, buzz- 
ing along at 280 miles an hour like an angry hornet, a streamer of thick, 
black smoke burst from the engine cowling and trailed back behind the 
ship. Turner pulled up immediately, using his forward speed to gain all 
the altitude possible, turned and got back to the edge of the field, still 

A Number of Things 275 

pouring out that evil black smoke. Then he cut his switch, dipped her 
nose down, landed with a bounce and a bump, and rolled up to the line 
in a perfect stop. The crowd gave him a great cheer as he climbed out 
of the oil-spattered machine, but it was a cheer of sympathy because 
he had lost the race after having been so far in the lead that had he con- 
tinued he could not possibly have been overtaken. 

There was that story, but there was a better one too. Only the pilots 
on the field, all of them white around the lips and wiping from their 
faces a sweat not due to the oppressive summer heat, knew that they 
were looking at a man who from that time on, to use their own expression, 
was living on borrowed time. It isn't often when a Thompson Trophy 
racer with a landing speed of around eighty to ninety miles an hour goes 
haywire in the air, that the pilot is able to climb out of the cockpit and 
walk away from his machine. From the time of that first burst of smoke 
until the wheels touched the ground and stayed there, he was a hundred- 
to-one shot to live. To the initiated, those dreadful moments were laden 
with suspense and horror. Inside that contraption was a human being 
who any moment might be burned to a horrible, twisted cinder, or smashed 
into the ground beyond all recognition, a human being who was cool, 
gallant, and fighting desperately. Every man and woman on the field 
who had ever been in trouble in the air was living those awful seconds 
with him in terror and suspense. I, too, was able to experience it. That is 
what makes getting the "feel" of things distinctly worth while. 

Shooting an Elephant *> 

Qeorge Orwell iP03-iP50 

No, shooting an elephant is not an experience you would normally 
have, but that is not the point of our including this selection. There 
are experiences which implicate within themselves an entire way of 
life, a class point of view, where one's individual will and desire must 
yield to the larger social pressure. "Shooting an Elephant" does not say 
so it is not an essay but it condemns an imperialistic policy just 
as surely as Jonathan Swift's ironic essay, "A Modest Proposal," con- 
demned the brutality and injustice of the English crown. 

IN MOULMEIN, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people 
the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to 

From Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays by George Orwell, copyright, 1950, by 
Sonia Brownell Orwell. Reprinted by permission of Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., 
and of Martin Seeker & Warburg, Ltd 

276 The Arch of Experience 

happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an 
aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter. No 
one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through 
the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress. 
As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it 
seemed safe to do so. When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the foot- 
ball field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the 
crowd yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In 
the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, 
the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on 
my nerves. The young Buddhist priests were the worst of all. There were 
several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have 
anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans. 

All this was perplexing and upsetting. For at that time I had already 
made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I 
chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically and 
secretly, of course I was all for the Burmese and all against their op- 
pressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly 
than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that you see the dirty work 
of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the 
stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term 
convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been flogged with 
bamboos all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt. But 
I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated and 
I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed 
on every Englishman in the East. I did not even know that the British 
Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than 
the younger empires that are going to supplant it. All I knew was that 
I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against 
the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With 
one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tryanny, 
as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of 
prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the 
world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts. Feelings 
like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian 
official, if you can catch him off duty. 

One day something happened which in a roundabout way was enlighten- 
ing. It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than 
I had had before of the real nature of imperialism the real motives for 
which despotic governments act. Early one morning the sub-inspector 
at a police station the other end of the town rang me up on the 'phone and 
said that an elephant was ravaging the bazaar. Would I please come and 
do something about it? I did not know what I could do, but I wanted 
to see what was happening and I got on to a pony and started out. I took 
my rifle, an old .44 Winchester an<J much too small to kill an elephant, 

A Number of Things 277 

but I thought the noise might be useful in terrorem. Various Burmans 
stopped me on the way and told me about the elephant's doings. It was 
not, of course, a wild elephant, but a tame one which had gone "must." 
It had been chained up, as tame elephants always are when their attack of 
"must" is due, but on the previous night it had broken its chain and 
escaped. Its mahout, the only person who could manage it when it was in 
that state, had set out in pursuit, but had taken the wrong direction and 
was now twelve hours' journey away, and in the morning the elephant had 
suddenly reappeared in the town. The Burmese population had no 
weapons and were quite helpless against it. It had already destroyed some- 
body's bamboo hut, killed a cow and raided some fruit-stalls and devoured 
the stock; also it had met the municipal rubbish van and, when the driver 
jumped out and took to his heels, had turned the van over and inflicted 
violences upon it. 

The Burmese sub-inspector and some Indian constables were waiting 
for me in the quarter where the elephant had been seen. It was a very 
poor quarter, a labyrinth of squalid bamboo huts, thatched with palm- 
leaf, winding all over a steep hillside. I remember that it was a cloudy, 
stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains. We began questioning the 
people as to where the elephant had gone and, as usual, failed to get any 
definite information. That is invariably the case in the East; a story always 
sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of 
events the vaguer it becomes. Some of the people said that the elephant 
had gone in one direction, some said that he had gone in another, some 
professed not even to have heard of any elephant. I had almost made up 
my mind that the whole story was a pack of lies, when we heard yells a 
little distance away. There was a loud, scandalized cry of "Go away, 
childl Go away this instant!" and an old woman with a switch in her hand 
came round the corner of a hut, violently shooing away a crowd of naked 
children. Some more women followed, clicking their tongues and exclaim- 
ing; evidently there was something that the children ought not to have seen. 
I rounded the hut and saw a man's dead body sprawling in the mud. 
He was an Indian, a black Dravidian coolie, almost naked, and he could 
not have been dead many minutes. The people said that the elephant 
had come suddenly upon him round the corner of the hut, caught him 
with its trunk, put its foot on his back and ground him into the earth. 
This was the rainy season and the ground was soft, and his face had scored 
a trench a foot deep and a couple of yards long. He was lying on his 
belly with arms crucified and head sharply twisted to one side. His face 
was coated with mud, the eyes wide open, the teeth bared and grinning 
with an expression of unendurable agony. (Never tell me, by the way, 
that the dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen looked 
devilish.) The friction of the great beast's foot had stripped the skin from 
his back as neatly as one skins a rabbit. As soon as I saw the dead man 
I sent an orderly to a friend's house nearby to borrow an elephant rifle. 

278 The Arch of Experience 

I had already sent back the pony, not wanting it to go mad with fright 
and throw me if it smelt the elephant. 

The orderly came back in a few minutes with a rifle and five cartridges, 
and meanwhile some Burmans had arrived and told us that the elephant 
was in the paddy fields below, only a few hundred yards away. As I 
started forward practically the whole population of the quarter flocked 
out of the houses and followed me. They had seen the rifle and were all 
shouting excitedly that I was going to shoot the elephant. They had not 
shown much interest in the elephant when he was merely ravaging their 
homes, but it was different now that he was going to be shot. It was a 
bit of fun to them, as it would be to an English crowd; besides they 
wanted the meat. It made me vaguely uneasy. I had no intention of 
shooting the elephant I had merely sent for the rifle to defend myself 
if necessary and it is always unnerving to have a crowd following you. 
I marched down the hill, looking and feeling a fool, with the rifle over 
my shoulder and an ever-growing army of people jostling at my heels. 
At the bottom, when you got away from the huts, there was a metalled 
road and beyond that a miry waste of paddy fields a thousand yards across, 
not yet ploughed but soggy from the first rains and dotted with coarse 
grass. The elephant was standing eight yards from the road, his left side 
towards us. He took not the slightest notice of the crowd's approach. 
He was tearing up bunches of grass, beating them against his knees to 
clean them and stuffing them into his mouth. 

I had halted on the road. As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with 
perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to 
shoot a working elephant it is comparable to destroying a huge and 
costly piece of machinery and obviously one ought not to do it if it 
can possibly be avoided. And at that distance, peacefully eating, the 
elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I 
think now that his attack of "must" was already passing off; in which 
case he would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came 
back and caught him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot 
him. I decided that I would watch him for a little while to make sure 
that he did not turn savage again, and then go home. 

But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. 
It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every 
minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked 
at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes faces all happy and 
excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be 
shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to 
perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my 
hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that 
I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of 
me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing 
me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with 

A Number of Things 279 

the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of 
the white man's dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with 
his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd seemingly the 
leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet 
pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in 
this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom 
that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the con- 
ventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he 
shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis 
he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, 
and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had com- 
mitted myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act 
like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and 
do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand 
people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done 
nothing no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And 
my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle 
not to be laughed at. 

But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his 
bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly 
air that elephants have. It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot 
him. At that age I was not squeamish about killing animals, but I had 
never shot an elephant and never wanted to. (Somehow it always seems 
worse to kill a large animal.) Besides, there was the beast's owner to be 
considered. Alive, the elephant was worth at least a hundred pounds; 
dead, he would only be worth the value of his tusks, five pounds, possibly. 
But I had got to act quickly. I turned to some experienced-looking Bur- 
mans who had been there when we arrived, and asked them how the 
elephant had been behaving. They all said the same thing: he took no 
notice of you if you left him alone, but he might charge if you went too 
close to him. 

It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to 
within, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If 
he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe 
to leave him until the mahout came back. But also I knew that I was 
going to do no such thing. I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground 
was soft mud into which one would sink at every step. If the elephant 
charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad 
under a steam-roller. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my 
own skin, only of the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, 
with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I 
would have been if I had been alone. A white man mustn't be frightened 
in front of "natives"; and so, in general, he isn't frightened. The sole 
thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand 
Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a 

280 The Arch of Experience 

grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was 
quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do. 
There was only one alternative. I shoved the cartridges into the magazine 
and lay down on the road to get a better aim. 

The crowd grew very still, and a deep, low, happy sigh, as of people 
who see the theatre curtain go up at last, breathed from innumerable 
throats. They were going to have their bit of fun after all. The rifle was 
a beautiful German thing with cross-hair sights. I did not then know that 
in shooting an elephant one would shoot to cut an imaginary bar running 
from ear-hole to ear-hole. I ought, therefore, as the elephant was side- 
ways on, to have aimed straight at his ear-hole; actually I aimed several 
inches in front of this, thinking the brain would be further forward. 

When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick 
one never does when a shot goes home but I heard the devilish roar 
of glee that went up from the crowd. In that instant, in too short a time, 
one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, 
terrible change had come over the elephant. He neither stirred nor fell, 
but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, 
shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet 
had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed 
a long time it might have been five seconds, I dare say he sagged 
flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed 
to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of 
years old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not 
collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly 
upright, with legs sagging and head drooping. I fired a third time. That 
was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his whole 
body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling 
he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath 
him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his trunk 
reaching skyward like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only time. 
And then down he came, his belly towards me, with a crash that seemed 
to shake the ground even where I lay. 

I got up. The Burmans were already racing past me across the mud. 
It was obvious that the elephant would never rise again, but he was not 
dead. He was breathing very rhythmically with long rattling gasps, his 
great mound of a side painfully rising and falling. His mouth was wide 
open I could see far down into caverns of pale pink throat. I waited 
a long time for him to die, but his breathing did not weaken. Finally I 
fired my two remaining shots into the spot where I thought his heart must 
be. The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did 
not die. His body did not even jerk when the shots hit him, the tortured 
breathing continued without a pause. He was dying, very slowly and in 
great agony, but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet 
could damage him further. I felt that I had got to put an end to that 

A Number of Things 281 

dreadful noise. It seemed dreadful to see the great beast lying there, 
powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to 
finish him. I sent back for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into 
his heart and down his throat. They seemed to make no impression. The 
tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock. 

In the end I could not stand it any longer and went away. I heard 
later that it took him half an hour to die. Burmans were bringing dahs and 
baskets even before I left, and I was told they had stripped his body 
almost to the bones by the afternoon. 

Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting 
of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and 
could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad 
elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. 
Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was 
right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant 
for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn 
Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been 
killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for 
shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped 
that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool. 

Rick Discovers Jazz *> 

Dorothy TZaker *P07- 

This is a selection from the first chapter of Young Man With a 
Horn, a novel inspired, the author says, "by the music, but not the 
life of a great musician, Leon (Bix) Beiderbecke, who died in the year 
1931." "It is the story of a number of things of the gap between 
the man's musical ability and his ability to fit it to his own life; of the 
difference between the demands of expression and the demands of life 
here below; and finally of the difference between good and bad in a 
native American art form jazz music. Because there's good in this 
music and there's bad. There is music that is turned out sweet in hotel 
ballrooms and there is music that comes right out of the genuine urge 
and doesn't come for money/' In this selection Rick Martin and his 
colored friend Smoke Jordan listen to the music of Jeff Williams and 
his Four Mutts at the Cotton Club; and Rick, who has an inborn feeling 
for music but no training beyond his own experiments with a Mission 
piano, gets a start on his career in jazz by meeting Jeff. 

Dorothy Baker, Young Man with a Horn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1938), 
pp. 38-68. Copyright, 1938, by Dorothy Baker. 

282 The Arch of Experience 

ONE THING tends to lead to another, and this case is no exception. Within 
a month after the night when Rick Martin and Smoke Jordan had clasped 
hands in friendship over the shared, but not identical, experience of a first 
cigar, Rick became an habitue of the Cotton Club, a back-window cus- 
tomer, but none the less a customer. Once they got started he and Smoke 
went three or four nights a week to stand or sit under the back window 
of the Cotton Club and listen to the music of Jeff Williams and his Four 
Mutts. These five, none of them much older than twenty, were so many 
gold mines as far as the pure vein of natural music is concerned. They 
came equipped with their racial heritage despite the fact that they had 
been put down in Los Angeles, of all places, and not, as Nature must have 
intended, in New Orleans or Memphis. 

Smoke and Rick stayed outside and let the music come to them, and 
they didn't strain their ears, either; anybody could have understood that 
band three blocks away. It wasn't that they were loud; it was that they 
were so firm about the way they played, no halfway measures, nothing 
fuzzy. They knew what they were getting at, singly and as a group. 

It didn't take Rick long to know what they were getting at, right along 
with them. He had, himself come equipped with the same equipment as 
Jeff and his Mutts the same basic need to make music, the same sharp 
ear to discover it. And he discovered a great deal, there under the window 
listening to the band first time he'd ever really heard a band except for 
military ones in occasional parades; opportunities to hear music weren't 
presenting themselves on every hand in those days as they are now; those 
were the days of crystal sets for the few. If Rick had grown up in the 
present scene he'd probably have had his head perpetually inside a walnut 
radio cabinet listening to this one or that one playing a tea dance. But as 
it was he had no chance to be led astray; all he ever heard was the pure 
thing put out fresh by the Cotton Club ensemble. 

He went through the stages; first he heard the tunes and they were 
the whole thing. Those he knew already he recognized with intense pleas- 
ure. "Beale Street Mamma," he'd say to Smoke at the end of the second 
bar, and Smoke would say sure enough, as if he'd just had something 
pointed out to him. He'd never have been caught dead saying how'd you 
guess or any of the bright things a white connoisseur might have said to 
a novice. 

It took Rick only the minimum time to get out of this sort of thing, 
to take the tune for granted and forget it in favor of what was being done 
for it. They always did plenty for it at the Cotton Club. The variations 
were the real matter, not the theme. What happened was that Rick, the 
amateur's apprentice, sat beside the amateur himself and developed his 
ear to ten times normal capacity by the simple process of listening with 
it. They sat on a couple of upturned boxes, leaned their backs against 
the very Cotton Club, and listened. Smoke sometimes beat very softly 
with the flat of his hand against a garbage-can lid that had got out of place 

A Number of Things 283 

somehow; he just held the thing on his lap and let his hands fall against 
it, and got, as he invariably did whenever he let his hands or feet fall 
against anything, some very effective effects. He didn't intrude his drum- 
ming. He just kept the lid on his lap, so that if he had to do something 
about it he could. No more than that; you couldn't expect less from so 
serious a drummer. 

Los Angeles weather is all right. Autumn nights stay relatively on the 
balmy side, and it was no great test of physical courage for Messrs. 
Jordan and Martin to sit night after night behind the Cotton Club exposed 
to the Los Angeles elements. It was, as a matter of fact, really very pleas- 
ant out there. A beam of light slanted out of the window above them 
and made a sort of lean-to for them to sit behind. There they could see 
each other perfectly and smoke cigarettes, not cigars, without having the 
not-quite-convinced feeling you get from smoking in complete darkness. 
And yet everything was nicely toned down. For their purpose they were 
much better off outside than they would have been inside. Inside, the air 
was enough to befuddle you, and the dancing the clientele being mostly 
Negro with a light mixture of Mexicans and Filipinos was distracting, 
a whole show in itself. Inseparable as music and dancing fundamentally 
must be, it is only the layman who prefers to dance to, rather than listen 
to, really good jazz. Good jazz has so much going on inside it that dancing 
to it, for anybody who likes the music, is a kind of dissipation. Bach's 
"Brandenburgs" would make good dance music, but nobody dances to 
them; they make too-good dance music. The improvisations of Jeff Wil- 
liams and his band weren't anybody's Brandenburgs, but they had some- 
thing in common with them, a kind of hard, finished brilliance. . . . 

This playing style is worth some going into. Jeff's band didn't play 
from music, though they could all read music. They had two styles of 
playing, known to the present trade as Memphis style and New Orleans 
style. The difference between the two is something like the difference be- 
tween the two styles of chow mein: in one you get the noodles and the 
sauce served separately, and in the other sauce and noodles are mixed 
before they are served. Likewise, Memphis style is sometimes called "take 
your turn," and New Orleans has everybody in at the same time. In 
Memphis the theme is established in the first chorus, and then each man 
takes a separate crack at a variation on it. This system has the advantage 
of encouraging competition in virtuosity. It was a point of honor in Jeff's 
band for each man to get more into his chorus than his predecessor had in 
his. It made for a terrific heightening of interest on the part of the players 
themselves, and it left Smoke and Rick, the impartial unseen judges, 
choking with the excitement of the chase. 

But the way they did Memphis was just child's play compared to the 
way they did New Orleans. Here they were all in on it from start to 
finish. Each man went his separate and uncharted way, and first thing you 
know you had two and two equaling at least five. They achieved, you 

284 The Arch of Experience 

never could say how, a highly involved counterpoint. No accidents, 
either, because they did it on tune after tune, and never the same way 
twice. Seek out the separate voices and you'd find each one doing nicely, 
thanks, and then let your ear out to take in the whole, and there it was. 
It sounds like black magic, three horns and a piano ad-libbing a fugue, 
and not only that but fugue after fugue, night after night, except Sunday. 

The explanation is not simple; it's as hard as a nice explanation of what 
a "sixth sense" is. The only thing you could say is that in this case it was 
a matter of esprit de corps. Jeff and his band had played together so 
much and so long that they had developed psychic respones to each other. 
They were a team using signals that they followed perfectly without even 
knowing that they had any signals. They knew how things stood from 
moment to moment in the same way that a pianist's right hand knows 
what the left's doing. Proper co-ordination established, the thing just 
goes along. 

Rick thought of himself as a pianist, though he hadn't seen a piano close 
up for three months; and three months before "Adeste Fideles," played 
adagio, had been the piece de resistance of his entire repertory. When 
he sat outside with Smoke behind the beam of light, it scarcely ever oc- 
curred to him that he couldn't, if opportunity should stick out its forelock 
at him, go right in there and sit down at the piano and play exactly the 
way Jeff Williams played. Come to think about ft, I believe Rick sort of 
thought he was Jeff Williams. . . . 

. . . They went in. It was a big place with about forty tables and a fair- 
sized floor in the middle. The chairs were on top of the tables now, the 
way they always put chairs on tables, one right-side up supporting an- 
other upside down; and there was heavy dust in the air. The walls were 
befouled from top to bottom with murals that showed signs of having 
been picked up after somebody's local Beaux Arts Ball. It was hard to 
take them in at a glance, but you were left with the general impression 
that they had something to do with Hell. Devils, or cuckolds, with tridents 
figured prominently in Underworld scenes, classic upper-case Underworld, 
not the thing the newspapers talk about. At the rear of the room was 
the orchestra shell, very shell-like, fluted along the upper edge, and in it 
sat four Negro boys, one of whom yelled, "It's about time," when he saw 
Rick and Smoke and Davis come in. The three of them walked up together, 
and Davis unbuttoned his coat, drew forth from the inside of his belt the 
fifth, so-called, of gin, and set it at the feet of a fellow holding a horn. 

The four in the shell were glad to see Smoke and made a lot of it. They 
accused him of this, that, and even of the other, trying to find out why he 
never came around any more; and Smoke put them off by a system of 
grinning at the right time. And all the time Rick stood there trying to 
look unobtrusive, but standing out, just by the force of his contrasting 
color, like a lighthouse. 

There was need of more presentation, and this time Davis did it, very 

A Number of Things 285 

pleasantly and easily: "Mr. Martin, I'd like you to meet Mr. Hazard . 
Mr. Snowden . . . Mr. Ward . . . and Mr. Williams/' Rick smiled at them 
self-consciously and made his mouth go, but not fast enough to say "Frn 
glad to meet you" four separate times. He made an impression on them, 
though; you could see that. I suppose part of it was that he always looked 
somehow like a rich kid, very clean and with expensive pants on. He was 
good-looking, too, on his own hook. He had blond, slightly curly hair 
and sharp brownish eyes. Brownish, not brown. In terms of color, Rick's 
eyes were scarcely describable; they had brightness and sharpness more 
than they had color. They burned like the eyes of the fevered or the 
fanatical, with a deep, purposeful smoldering that will get out of hand if 
you don't check it in time. 

Rick looked at them one by one, but he let his glance slide right across 
Jeff Williams. There he was, and he marked him for later inspection. 
No need to stare at him like a housewife at a movie actor; not right now 
at least, full-face and in the presence of all. Lots of time. 

Hazard, the trumpet player, picked up the bottle and said what are we 
waiting for, and handed it to Rick, who said I just had one, and handed it 
on to Ward, who stood on the other side of him. Nobody, out of deference, 
I suppose, to Rick, said anything about the three drinks being gone out 
of the bottle. They handed it around from one to another and each man 
drank a big one right out of the bottle straight, and then made his remark, 
usually an expression of mixed pleasure and pain: "God, that's lousy stuff; 
I wisht I had a barrel." When it had gone around except for Smoke and 
Davis and Rick, the bottle was better than half done and the talk was 
less constrained. The one that was Jeff Williams jumped down off the plat- 
form and stood in front of Smoke and Rick, and said to Smoke, "You might 
as well live someplace else, Dan, all I see of you any more." 

"Yeah, I know it," said Smoke, whose right name appeared to be Dan. 
"I been down to Gaudy's nights, mostly, and I don't like to take a chance 
on waking you up coining in in the daytime. A guy works as hard as you 
needs a little sleep." 

"Forget it," Jeff said, and looked around uncertainly. He was, as Smoke 
had started to say on another occasion, a handsome fellow. He hadn't said 
the rest of it, either, that Jeff Williams was a rare type, an aquiline- 
featured negro. Three shades lighter, he could have passed for a Castilian 
almost anywhere. 

He looked now at his men and said, "Let's be getting at it." Then he 
turned to Rick and said, "Where'd you like to sit?" and Smoke answered 
for him, "Put him up by you; he's a pianist." 

Jeff jumped back up on the platform, shoved the piano bench down 
to the left, and motioned to Rick to sit at the end of it, down by the 
low notes. Rick jumped up after him, very lightly and with a certain 
show of athleticism, walked around the bench, and sat down. Jeff turned 
to him and said, "I'd just about as soon you weren't a piano player. The 

286 The Arch of Experience 

way that slug of gin hit me I couldn't say right off which is middle C." 

"Neither could I," Rick said, "and I'm not a piano player anyhow; Jordan 
just said that." Faced with an actual piano, all Rick's illusions, so carefully 
nurtured by constant wish-thinking, left him flat. 

Jeff looked at him hard, as if to find out for himself whether Rick was 
or was not a pianist, and then he said to him, "What shall we play?" 
And without a second's thought Rick said, "Play 'Tin Roof Blues' the way 
you do it, you know, when you take the second chorus." 

"It's good, all right," Jeff said. "Not everybody likes it, though." He 
clenched his fists tight a couple or three times before he touched the keys. 
Then he said "Tin Roof" and banged his heel twice on the floor: one, two, 
and they were off. 

So they played "Tin Roof Blues," and there's no way of telling how 
they played it. You can't say these things; the way to know what hap- 
pens in music is to hear it, to hear it from the inside out the way Rick 
heard it that night on the bench beside Jeff Williams. 

When it was over, Jeff, still striking chords, said: "How'd you know 
how we do that? How'd you know I take the second chorus? I've never 
seen you in here, that I remember of." 

And Rick said he'd never been inside before, but he always happened 
to be passing by and he'd got so he knew how they did things. 

"You must remember pretty good to know who comes where. I don't 
hardly know myself." 

"Oh, I don't remember exactly," Rick answered with that dead ring of 
sincerity. "I just get so I can sort of feel when it's coming; I get a feeling 
that there's going to be a place that needs some piano playing in it; I don't 

He broke it off there and gave up trying to say how it was. Jeff turned 
from the waist and took another look at him. "You sure you don't play 
piano?" he said. "Something about the way you talk sounds like you do." 
He said it not suspiciously, but deferentially, as if he felt some kind of 
force in this mild, white kid, something to be taken seriously. 

The bottle was going around again. Ward, the drummer, thrust it at 
Jeff, and Jeff said "Go ahead," and gave it to Rick. And Rick, who was 
as intuitive as a woman and spontaneously tactful as few women are, took 
the bottle and tilted it up briefly in sign that he was drinking with them. 

Thanks," he said to Jeff, and repeated that he really didn't play the 
piano, that he'd started to try to teach himself and that he was doing all 
right, but that he didn't have a piano any more. Dead stop, no way to go 

"Tough," said Jeff. "Maybe we could fix you up somehow." 

"Oh, I don't know much about it," Rick said again. "I only got started. 
I wasn't playing jazz, anyhow. It was some other kind of pieces." 

"Classical?" said Jeff. "I can't see classical for dust. I hear them playing 
it every once in a while, but I don't know, I just can't see it. *Wrassle 
of Spring.' 'Perfect Day.' No damn good. The trouble with classical, 

A Number of Things 287 

nobody plays it can keep time. I tried to teach one of those classical fellows 
how to play jazz once, and I'm telling you he like to drove me crazy. 
No matter how much I'd tell him he couldn't hold a note and fill it in. No 
classical players can do it. You might as well not tell them. Hold it one 
beat, hold it four, they don't give a damn if they hold it at all." 

He meant it. He sat there with the bottle in his hand, talking so seriously 
that he forgot to drink until Hazard, up front, noticed that the bottle was 
not progressing evenly and he said, "Hey, Jeff! What you got in your 
hand?" And then Jeff jerked up his head and the bottle, drank quickly, 
and shoved the bottle away from him for anybody to take. Then he re- 
membered himself and turned back to Rick to say: 

"Don't get the idea I'm saying you're like that. I didn't mean it that 
way; I just got to thinking." 

"I wasn't playing classical," Rick said. "I was only playing around try- 
ing to learn the notes; just practicing by myself. Hell, I wouldn't play 
classical; I'd play jazz." 

Somebody said, "Well, are we going to play?" and again Jeff turned to 
Rick and said "What'll it be?" and Rick pulled out his second choice: 
"Would you wanta play 'Dead Man Blues' all together the way you were 
doing it Saturday night?" 

"Dead Man," said Jeff, and banged his heel down twice, one, two, 
action suited to word. 

Jeff led them to it with four bars in the key, and then the three horns 
came in together, held lightly to a slim melody by three separate leashes. 
Then Jeff left the rhythm to the drums, and the piano became the fourth 
voice, and from then on harmony prevailed in strange coherence, each 
man improvising wildly on his own and the four of them managing to fit 
it together and tightly. Feeling ran high, and happy inspiration followed 
happy inspiration to produce counterpoint that you'd swear somebody had 
sat down and worked out note by note on nice clean manuscript paper. 
But nobody had; it came into the heads of four men and out again by 
way of three horns and one piano. 

Rick, at the bass end of the piano, caught the eye of Smoke Jordan, who 
was squatting on his heels just barely out of the way of George Ward 
the drummer. Smoke nodded, a happy nod of confirmation, as one would 
say, yes, they're good all right; they always were. But Rick only shook his 
head slowly from side to side in a gesture of abject wonderment which 
meant to say, how can anybody be so good? What makes it? Then Smoke's 
face was lost to him, cut off by the cymbal that Ward had just knocked 
swinging, and he turned his eyes back to Jeff's hands on the black and 
white keyboard. He played with his wrists high and his fingers curved 
halfway around, and he pecked at those keys like a chicken going for corn. 
He flicked each note out clear and fast, and he couldn't have fallen into 
an empty cadenza if he'd tried. His hands were built to pick, not to ripple, 
and they inevitably shaped out a style that was torrid, not florid. 

Rick watched the hands the way a kitten watches a jumpy reflection on 

288 The Arch of Experience 

a carpet. And when "Dead Man" was played out, he pushed his hand 
across his forehead and said whew, or one of those happy, exhausted 
sounds. The three instrumentalists up front turned around for approbation 
from Rick, and got it, not from anything he said, but just from the look 
on his face. Smoke got up off his heels and then went down again without 
saying anything. Ward looked at him and said, "You want to take the 
drums awhile, Dan?" 

Smoke got up fast and said: "Sure, I don't care. If you want me to, 
I'd just as soon take them for a while." And when Ward got up, Smoke was 
in his chair like a flash and had his foot on the pedal, and began tapping 
the snare lightly with his forefinger. He looked into the basket of sticks 
that hung beside Ward's chair, picked a couple, and measured them up 
automatically. Then he looked with raised eyebrows at Jeff and Jeff said, 
"I suppose you want it slow?" "Well," Smoke said, "If it's gonna be good, 
it must be slow." And Jeff answered back: "You hear some of them say it 
the other way: If it's gonna be good, it must be fast.' Why you like it slow 
is so you can go into double time any time you feel like it. That's not 
slow, that's fast." He turned to Rick and grinned and said: "That's a fact. 
He wants everybody else to play slow, so he can play fast. Crazy son of a 
gun, the only thing in this world he wants to do is tear into double time 
on a slow piece." He thought it over and said, "He holds it slow good 
too." Then he turned away from Rick and said to Smoke, "All right, you 
stamp it off, yourself, and well play 'Ida,' huh?" And Smoky very willingly 
beat it out, one, two, with the foot pedal; really slow: one . . . two . . . 

The rest of them knew whose turn it was, and they settled down to a 
low, smooth tune and put their minds to breaking up chords in peculiar, 
unorthodox harmonies. At every whole note they broke off sharp and let 
Smoke have it to fill in any way he wanted it, the way vaudeville bands 
used to play it for tap dancers. 

Smoke had the thing under control all the way through. He didn't 
pay much attention to the snare he could play a snare any time he 
wanted to. He played the bass direct with padded sticks and kept it 
quiet but very clear, a deep washboard rhythm with constantly shifting 
emphasis. And to vary it further he played the basic beat with the pedal 
and went into double time on the cymbal, playing one-handed and holding 
the edge of the cymbal with the other hand to steady it and mute the 
tone. He was tearing it up so well and everybody knew it that the 
band simply quit for sixteen bars and let him work; and he stayed right 
there double-timing one-handed on the cymbal and never repeating him- 
self, keeping it sharp and precise and making it break just right for him. 
He played a drum the way Bill Robinson dances, never at a loss for a new 
pattern, but always holding it down and keeping it clean. 

When it was over, Jeff said, "Anyhow you didn't go soft while youVe 
been away." Smoke didn't hear him; he was talking to George Ward, and 
so Jeff said to Rick, "If that horse would get off the dime and get him a 
decent set of traps there wouldn't be a better man in the business." 

A Number of Things 289 

"I know," said Rick. 

"But he can't ever seem to get organized," Jeff went on. "He's all the 
time sticking around home playing ball with the kids on the street, or else 
just hanging around home talking to his folks, or else just hanging around 
town. He never stays on a job more than a week/' 

He sat there hitting chords and scowling at the keyboard while he talked. 
"I sure do wish something would get him jarred loose. Every time I hear 
him play it gets me sort of sore he won't do anything about it. Seems like 
he won't grow up and get onto himself." 

This was the first time it had ever been given to Rick to know the 
pleasure of confidential talk, and it had him glowing. He looked at Jeff 
and made answer; Smoke, he said, at least had music on his mind all 
the time; he knew that from working with him. 

'Then he's working," Jeff said. "I didn't know that." 

"Well, not exactly a regular job," Rick said. "He helps out at Candy's 
where I work. The pool hall." 

Jeff looked at him again and said: "That must be where I've seen you, 
I guess. All night I been trying to think where." 

"It's not such a very good job," Rick said, "but Tin trying to make enough 
money to get a trumpet, now I haven't got a piano any more." 

"I don't see why you couldn't use this piano, if you want to," Jeff said. 
"I've got a key to the hall and there's never anybody here in the day. I 
bet nobody's ever here before five." 

Rick said he couldn't do that and put everybody to such a lot of trouble 
and everything. But after that he said a thing that he had no intention of 
saying. He said, "You don't ever give piano lessons, do you, like a piano 

The four in front were playing alone, trying things out, and letting 
Jeff and Rick talk. Ward stood over his drums, watching Smoke play them. 

"No," Jeff said. "I couldn't teach piano. I taught my brother a thing or 
two, but he'd have learned it anyhow." 

He stopped a minute, thinking about it and then he said, "But I guess I 
could show you some things about it, if you'd like me to." 

"I'd pay whatever you charge," Rick said in the big way he had. 

"I wouldn't want to do that," Jeff said. "I couldn't teach you anything, 
just show you how it goes, if you'd like me to." 

"Well, I'd sure appreciate it," Rick said. It sounded pretty lame; all the 
social courtesy had got away from him. 

Somebody looked around and Jeff said, "Play that thing you were just 
playing again; sounded good." And Smoke said a thing that was hard to 
say; he said, "Take your drums," and got up from Ward's chair. "Don't 
you want to play them any more?" Ward said, but he said it in a way that 
cut off all possibility of an affirmative reply. Then Jeff gave them the beat 
and they played again, and then again and again. Rick stayed right there 
on the piano bench beside Jeff, but he didn't limit his ears to Jeff's piano; 
he concentrated more and more on the way Hazard was doing the trumpet 

290 The Arch of Experience 

work. It may have been the gin; something had him fixed up so that he 
was playing constantly right up to the place where genius and madness 
grapple before going their separate ways. It was Hazard's night. Even 
ten years later, when he knew what he was talking about, Rick said that 
he'd never afterward heard Hazard himself or anybody else play a horn the 
way Hazard played that night. 

There wasn't much more talk. They played one tune after another. As 
soon as they'd pull one through to the end, somebody would call out an- 
other and they'd be off again. The bottle went around only once more, a 
very short one for everybody, and Rick only going through the motions. 
The gin didn't really affect them much; they were young and so healthy 
that no toxin could bite into them. But it gave them the feeling that they 
could push out farther than usual, and so they did. 

They began to weaken a little when the hall started to turn gray with 
morning light. When Hazard saw it he said "My God," shook his trumpet, 
and put it in the case. The rest of them got up, one after another, stiff- 
legged and bewildered. Jeff, folding down the keyboard cover, said, 
"Looks like it sort of got late on us." Rick looked at him and said, "It's 
been," but he didn't say what it had been. He very evidently needed a 
word that he didn't have with him, and so he only shook his head in that 
wondering way he had, and it turned out to mean the thing he wanted to 

Hazard and Davis gave the bunch a general good night and left to- 
gether, the first out. Then Ward and Snowden came up to Rick and said 
good night, and not only that but come around again some time. 

And then there were only the three of them, Smoke, Jeff, and Rick. They 
walked out together and stood by the back door while Jeff locked up. 
Rick, who was picking up a feeling for night life faster than you'd think, 
said: "Let's go someplace and have some breakfast before we go home. I 
don't have to go to work until one." 

"Can't do it," Jeff said; "I got to get me some sleep." 

"How about you?*' Rick said to Smoke. And Smoke tightened his belt 
with a large, carefree gesture and said, "Don't care if I do." 

So they parted company with Jeff Williams, but not before he and Rick 
had arranged to meet at the Cotton Club the next Sunday to talk over 
problems connected with playing the piano. 

from Song of Myself 

Walt Whitman I8i9~i892 

The "Self is not some mysterious entity which arrives in the 
world with you as does your nose or your right thumb. It is something 
which is made out of the welter of your experiences. Even a catalogue 
of happy moments, sad moments, embarrassing moments, thrilling mo- 
ments is useful to us in ordering our lives. Similarly useful is a journal 
or a diary. Here Walt Whitman has listed a large number of American 
experiences which struck his imagination. Any one of these could be 
the subject of a theme, a short story, a novel. Surely you can construct 
a similar catalogue, which might serve as a source book for themes 
during the year. 


THE LITTLE ONE sleeps in its cradle, 

I lift the gauze and look a long time, and silently brush away flies with my 

The youngster and the red-faced girl turn aside up the bushy hill, 
I peeringly view them from the top. 

The suicide sprawls on the bloody floor of the bedroom, 

I witness the corpse with its dabbled hair, I note where the pistol has fallen. 

The blab of the pave, tires of carts, sluff of boot-soles, talk of the prome- 

The heavy omnibus, the driver with his interrogating thumb, the clank of 

the shod horses on the granite floor, 

The snow-sleighs, clinking, shouted jokes, pelts of snow-balls, 
The hurrahs for popular favorites, the fury of rous'd mobs, 
The flap of the curtain'd litter, a sick man inside borne to the hospital, 
The meeting of enemies, the sudden oath, the blows and fall, 
The excited crowd, the policeman with his star quickly working his pas- 
sage to the centre of the crowd, 

The impassive stones that receive and return so many echoes, 
What groans of over-fed or half-starv'd who fall sunstruck or in fits, 
What exclamations of women taken suddenly who hurry home and give 

birth to babes, 
What living and buried speech is always vibrating here, what howls re- 

strain'd by decorum, 
Arrests of criminals, slights, adulterous offers made, acceptances, rejections 

with convex lips, 

I mind them or the show or resonance of them I come and I depart. 


292 The Arch of Experience 


The doors of the country barn stand open and ready, 
The dried grass of the harvest-time loads the slow-drawn wagon, 
The clear light plays on the brown gray and green intertinged, 
The armfuls are pack'd to the sagging mow. 

I am there, I help, I came stretch'd atop of the load, 

I felt its soft jolts, one leg reclined on the other, 

I jump from the cross-beams and seize the clover and timothy, 

And roll head over heels and tangle my hair full of wisps. 


Alone far in the wilds and mountains I hunt, 
Wandering amazed at my own lightness and glee, 
In the late afternoon choosing a safe spot to pass the night, 
Kindling a fire and broiling the fresh-kill'd game, 
Falling asleep on the gather'd leaves with my dog and gun by my side. 

The Yankee clipper is under her sky-sails, she cuts the sparkle and scud, 
My eyes settle the land, I bend at her prow or shout joyously from the 

The boatmen and clam-diggers arose early and stopt for me, 

I tuck'd my trowser-ends in my boots and went and had a good time; 

You should have been with us that day round the chowder-kettle. 

I saw the marriage of the trapper in the open air in the far west, the bride 
was a red girl, 

Her father and his friends sat near cross-legged and dumbly smoking, they 
had moccasins to their feet and large thick blankets hanging from 
their shoulders, 

On a bank lounged the trapper, he was drest mostly in skins, his luxuriant 
beard and curls protected his neck, he held his bride by the hand, 

She had long eyelashes, her head was bare, her coarse straight locks de- 
scended upon her voluptuous limbs and reach'd to her feet. 

The runaway slave came to my house and stopt outside, 

I heard his motions crackling the twigs of the woodpile, 

Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him limpsy and weak, 

And went where he sat on a log and led him in and assured him, 

And brought water and fill'd a tub for his sweated body and bruis'd feet, 

And gave him a room that enter'd from my own, and gave him some coarse 

clean clothes, 

And remember perfectly well his revolving eyes and his awkwardness, 
And remember putting plasters on the galls of his neck and ankles; 

A Number of Things 293 

He staid with me a week before he was recuperated and pass'd north, 
I had him sit next me at table, my fire-lock lean'd in the corner. 


The pure contralto sings in the organ loft, 
The carpenter dresses his plank, the tongue of his foreplane whistles its 

wild ascending lisp, 
The married and unmarried children ride home to their Thanksgiving 


The pilot seizes the king-pin, he heaves down with a strong arm, 
The mate stands braced in the whale-boat, lance and harpoon are ready, 
The duck-shooter walks by silent and cautious stretches, 
The deacons are ordain'd with cross'd hands at the altar, 
The spinning-girl retreats and advances to the hum of the big wheel, 
The farmer stops by the bars as he walks on a First-day loaf and looks at 

the oats and rye, 

The lunatic is carried at last to the asylum a confirm'd case, 
(He will never sleep any more as he did in the cot in his mother's bed- 
room; ) 

The jour printer with gray head and gaunt jaws works at his case, 
He turns his quid of tobacco while his eyes blur with the manuscript; 
The malform'd limbs are tied to the surgeon's table, 
What is removed drops horribly in a pail; 
The quadroon girl is sold at the auction-stand, the drunkard nods by the 

bar-room stove, 

The machinist rolls up his sleeves, the policeman travels his beat, the gate- 
keeper marks who pass, 
The young fellow drives the express-wagon, (I love him, though I do not 

know him;) 

The half-breed straps on his light boots to compete in the race, 
The western turkey-shooting draws old and young, some lean on their 

rifles, some sit on logs, 

Out from the crowd steps the marksman, takes his position, levels his piece; 
The groups of newly-come immigrants cover the wharf or levee, 
As the woolly-pates hoe in the sugar-field, the overseer views them from 

his saddle, 
The bugle calls in the ball-room, the gentlemen run for their partners, the 

dancers bow to each other, 
The youth lies awake in the cedar-roof'd garret and harks to the musical 


The Wolverine sets traps on the creek that helps fill the Huron, 
The squaw wrapt in her yellow-hemm'd cloth is offering moccasins and 

bead-bags for sale, 
The connoisseur peers along the exhibition-gallery with half -shut eyes bent 


294 The Arch of Experience 

As the deck-hands make fast the steamboat the plank is thrown for the 

shore-going passengers, 
The young sister holds out the skein while the elder sister winds it off in 

a ball, and stops now and then for the knots, 
The one-year wife is recovering and happy having a week ago borne her 

first child, 
The clean-hair 'd Yankee girl works with her sewing machine or in the 

factory or mill, 
The paving-man leans on his two-handed rammer, the reporter's lead flies 

swiftly over the note-book, the sign-painter is lettering with blue 

and gold, 
The canal boy trots on the tow-path, the book-keeper counts at his desk, 

the shoe-maker waxes his thread, 

The conductor beats time for the band and all the performers follow him, 
The child is baptized, the convert is making his first profession, 
The regatta is spread on the bay, the race is begun, (how the white sails 


The drover watching his drove sings out to them that would stray, 
The peddler sweats with his pack on his back, (the purchaser higgling 

about the odd cent;) 
The bride unrumples her white dress, the minute-hand of the clock moves 


The opium-eater reclines with rigid head and just-open'd lips, 
The prostitute draggles her shawl, her bonnet bobs on her tipsy and 

pimpled neck, 
The crowd laugh at her blackguard oaths, the men jeer and wink to each 


(Miserable! I do not laugh at your oaths nor jeer you;) 
The President holding a cabinet council is surrounded by the great Sec- 

On the piazza walk three matrons stately and friendly with twined arms, 
The crew of the fish-smack pack repeated layers of halibut in the hold, 
Coon-seekers go through the regions of the Red river or through those 

drain'd by the Tennessee, or through those of the Arkansas, 
Torches shine in the dark that hangs on the Chattahooche or Altamahaw, 
Patriarchs sit at supper with sons and grandsons and great grandsons 

around them, 
In walls of adobie, in canvas tents, rest hunters and trappers after their 

day's sport, 

The city sleeps and the country sleeps, 

The living sleep for their time, the dead sleep for their time, 
The old husband sleeps by his wife and the young husband sleeps by his 


And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them, 
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am, 
And of these one and all I weave the song of myself. 


"What makes us different 

from the other creatures, 

Mr. Pottleby?" 


You SAW through "The Arch of Experience" that any memory or event, any 
person or contact, any thought or feeling is a worthy subject for writing if 
it is filtered through a thoughtful and perceptive mind. At the beginning 
of Part Three, you will remember, we said that the important question is 
not so much what you write about, but what you say about your subject. 
You have now seen that it is possible to write interestingly and well about 
such things as a first date, the family bills, even the weather; and from 
such relatively unimportant matters as these up to such universal experi- 
ences as friendship, love, and death. 

Why were these essays, stories, and poems interesting or moving in their 
various ways? Superficially, of course, because they were written by trained 
and practiced writers. More truly, because they were written by men and 
women who saw the significance in things and gave them meaning: because 
they thought. For thought is the basis of all writing and all reading, and 
the quality of both has a direct relationship to the thinking that goes into 

296 The Ways of Thought 

Thinking is a process exceedingly difficult to define, partly because it 
is subjective (as if a camera were to define photography), partly because 
it is intangible, and partly because it is not one activity but many and 
occurs in a variety of media, from words, mathematical symbols, and 
images, to flashes of intuition and "inner certitude/' the steps of which are 
impossible to trace. But even if thought cannot be very closely defined, it 
can be examined, described, and illustrated. And since thinking of one 
sort or another underlies not only all writing and all reading, but all of 
your life's activities, there is much to be learned from the selections in the 
following pages. The person who learns to recognize when he is ration- 
alizing, when he is indulging in fantasy, when he is generalizing without 
sufficient evidence, or reasoning falsely from a preconception, is well on 
the way to greater mastery and control of himself and his world. He is also 
on the way to more effective and rewarding reading and writing. Likewise 
the person who is sensitive to the emotional implications of an experience, 
who can share another's feelings and express his own, has more to give as 
he writes, and receives more through his reading. D. H. Lawrence, the 
English novelist, wrote of "Man in his wholeness, wholly attending." Man 
in his wholeness learns all he can of his own inner workings. 

The Mind's 'Ways 

"Just think, think, thinkr 

Language and the Training of 

Thought & John Dewey 185P-1952 

The most influential educator of the twentieth century, John 
Dewey was also one of its leading philosophers. The essay printed here 
is difficult, but granted the subject, how could it be much easier? And 
certainly the subject is central to the entire Freshman English course. 
Further, the subject is basic to intelligent living. Give this essay the 
closest study, sentence by sentence, section by section; master it, and 
the rest of the book, the rest of your courses, will be much more com- 


LANGUAGE has such a peculiarly intimate connection with thought as to 
require special discussion. The very word logic, coming from logos (XoryosX 
means indifferently both word or speech and thought or reason. Yet "words, 
words, words'" denote intellectual barrenness, a sham of thought. Schooling 
has language as its chief instrument (and often as its chief subject matter) 

John Dewey, How We Think (Boston: D. C. Heath and Company, 1933), pp. 230- 
246. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of John Dewey.. 


298 The Ways of Thought 

of study. Yet educational reformers have for centuries brought their se- 
verest indictments against the current use of language in the schools. The 
conviction that language is necessary to thinking (is even identical with it) 
is met by the contention that language perverts and conceals thought. 
There is a genuine problem here. 

Three typical views have been maintained regarding the relation of 
thought and language: first, that they are identical; second, that words 
are the garb, or clothing, of thought, necessary not for thought but only 
for conveying it; and third (the view we shall here maintain), that, while 
language is not thought, it is necessary for thinking as well as for com- 
munication. When it is said, however, that thinking is impossible without 
language, we must recall that language includes much more than oral and 
written speech. Gestures, pictures, monuments, visual images, finger move- 
ments anything deliberately and artificially employed as a sign is, logi- 
cally, language. To say that language is necessary for thinking is to say 
that signs are necessary. Thought deals not with bare things, but with 
their meanings, their suggestions; and meanings, in order to be appre- 
hended, must be embodied in sensible and particular existences. Without 
meaning, things are nothing but blind stimuli, brute things, or chance 
sources of pleasure and pain; and since meanings are not themselves tangi- 
ble things, they must be anchored by attachment to some physical existence. 
Existences that are especially set aside to fixate and convey meanings are 
symbols. If a man moves toward another to throw him out of the room, 
his movement is not a sign. If, however, the man points to the door with 
his hands, or utters the sound go, his act becomes a vehicle of meaning: 
it is a sign, not a complete thing in itself. In the case of signs we care 
nothing for what they are in themselves, but everything for what they 
signify and represent. Canis, Hund, chien, dog it makes no difference 
what the outward thing is, so long as the meaning is presented. 

Natural objects are signs of other things and events. Clouds stand for 
rain; a footprint represents game or an enemy; a projecting rock serves to 
indicate minerals below the surface. The limitations of natural signs are, 
however, great. First, physical or direct sense excitation tends to distract 
attention from what is meant or indicated. Almost every one will recall 
pointing out to a kitten or puppy an object of food, only to have the animal 
devote himself to the hand pointing, not to the thing pointed at. Second, 
where natural signs alone exist, we are mainly at the mercy of external 
happenings; we have to wait until the natural event presents itself in order 
to be warned or advised of the possibility of some other event. Third, 
natural signs, not being originally intended to be signs, are cumbrous, 
bulky, inconvenient, unmanageable. A symbol, on the contrary, is intended 
and invented, like any artificial tool and utensil, for the purpose of con- 
veying meaning. 

The Minds Ways 299 



It is therefore indispensable for any high development of thought that 
there exist intentional signs. Language supplies the requirement. Gestures, 
sounds, written or printed forms, are strictly physical existences, but their 
native value is intentionally subordinated to the value they acquire as 
representative of meanings. There are three aspects of artificial signs that 
favor their use as representatives of meanings: 

First, the direct and sensible value of faint sounds and minute written 
or printed marks is very slight. Accordingly, attention is not distracted 
from their representative function. 

Second, their production is under our direct control, so that they may 
be produced when needed. When we can make the word rain, we do not 
have to wait for some physical forerunner of rain to call our thoughts in 
that direction. We cannot make the cloud; we can make the sound, and 
as a token of meaning the sound serves the purpose as well as the cloud. 

Third, arbitrary linguistic signs are convenient and easy to manage. They 
are compact, portable, and delicate. As long as we live we breathe, and 
modifications by the muscles of throat and mouth of the volume and quality 
of the air are simple, easy, and indefinitely controllable. Bodily postures 
and gestures of the hand and arm are also employed as signs, but they are 
coarse and unmanageable compared with modifications of breath to pro- 
duce sounds. No wonder that oral speech has been selected as the main 
stuff of intentional intellectual signs. Sounds, while subtle, refined, and 
easily modifiable, are transitory. This defect is met by the system of writ- 
ten and printed words, appealing to the eye. Litera scrlpta manet. 

Bearing in mind the intimate connection of meanings and signs (or lan- 
guage), we may note in more detail what language does (1) for specific 
meanings, and (2) for the organization of meanings. 

In the case of specific meanings a verbal sign (a) selects, detaches, a 
meaning from what is otherwise a vague flux and blur . . . ; (b) retains, 
registers, stores that meaning; and (c) applies it, when needed, to the 
comprehension of other things. Combining these various functions in a 
mixture of metaphors, we may say that a linguistic sign is a fence, a label, 
and a vehicle all in one. 

a. The Word as a Fence. Every one has experienced how learning an 
appropriate name for what was dim and vague cleared up and crystallized 
the whole matter. Some meaning seems almost within reach, but is elusive; 
it refuses to condense into definite form; the attaching of a word somehow 
(just how, it is almost impossible to say) puts limits around the meaning, 
draws it out from the void, makes it stand out as an entity on its own 
account. When Emerson said that he would almost rather know the true 

300 The Ways of Thought 

name, the poet's name, for a thing, than to know the thing itself, he presum- 
ably had this irradiating and illuminating function of language in mind. 
The delight that children take in demanding and learning the names of 
everything about them indicates that meanings are becoming concrete 
individuals to them, so that their commerce with things is passing from 
the physical to the intellectual plane. It is hardly surprising that savages 
attach a magical efficacy to words. To name anything is to give it a title, 
to dignify and honor it by raising it from a mere physical occurrence to a 
meaning that is distinct and permanent. To know the names of people 
and things and to be able to manipulate these names is, in savage lore, 
to be in possession of their dignity and worth, to master them. 

b. The Word as a Label Things come and go, or we come and go, and 
either way things escape our notice. Our direct sensible relation to things 
is very limited. The suggestion of meanings by natural signs is limited 
to occasions of direct contact or vision. But a meaning fixed by a linguistic 
sign is conserved for future use. Even if the thing is not there to represent 
the meaning, the word may be produced so as to evoke the meaning. Since 
intellectual life depends on possession of a store of meanings, the impor- 
tance of language as a tool of preserving meanings cannot be overstated. 
To be sure, the method of storage is not wholly aseptic; words often corrupt 
and modify the meanings they are supposed to keep intact, but liability to 
infection is a price paid by every living thing for the privilege of living. 

c. The Word as a Vehicle. When a meaning is detached and fixed by a 
sign, it is possible to use that meaning in a new context and situation. 
This transfer and reapplication is the key to all judgment and inference. 
It would little profit a man to recognize that a given particular cloud 
was the premonitor of a given particular rainstorm if his recognition ended 
there, for he would then have to learn over and over again, since the 
next cloud and the next rain are different events. No cumulative growth 
of intelligence would occur. Experience might form habits of physical 
adaptation but it would not teach anything, for we should not be able to 
use an old experience consciously to anticipate and regulate a new ex- 
perience. To be able to use the past to judge and infer the new and un- 
known implies that, although the past thing has gone, its meaning abides 
in such a way as to be applicable in determining the character of the 
new. Speech forms are our great carriers, the easy-running vehicles by 
which meanings are transported from experiences that no longer concern 
us to those that are as yet dark and dubious. 

In emphasizing the importance of signs in relation to specific meanings, 
we have overlooked another aspect, equally valuable. Signs not only mark 
off specific or individual meanings, but they are also instruments of group- 
ing meanings in relation to one another. Words are not only names or titles 
of single meanings; they also form sentences in which meanings are or- 

The Mind's Ways 301 

ganized in relation to one another. When we say "That book is a diction- 
ary," or "That blur of light in the heavens is Halley's comet," we express 
a logical connection an act of classifying and defining that goes beyond 
the physical thing into the logical region of genera and species, things 
and attributes. Propositions, sentences, bear the same relation to judg- 
ments that distinct words, built up mainly by analyzing propositions in 
their various types, bear to meanings or conceptions; and just as words 
imply a sentence, so a sentence implies a larger whole of consecutive 
discourse into which it fits. As is often said, grammar expresses the uncon- 
scious logic of the popular mind. The chief intellectual classifications that 
constitute the working capital of thought have been built up for us by our 
mother tongue. Our very lack of explicit consciousness, when using lan- 
guage, that we are then employing the intellectual systematizations of the 
race shows how thoroughly accustomed we have become to its logical dis- 
tinctions and groupings. 


Taken literally, the maxim, "Teach things, not words," or "Teach things 
before words," would be the negation of education; it would reduce mental 
life to mere physical and sensible adjustments. Learning, in the proper 
sense, is not learning things, but the meanings of things, and this process 
involves the use of signs, or language in its generic sense. In like fashion, 
the warfare of some educational reformers against symbols, if pushed to 
extremes, involves the destruction of intellectual life, since this lives, moves, 
and has its being in those processes of definition, abstraction, generaliza- 
tion, and classification that are made possible by symbols alone. Never- 
theless, these contentions of educational reformers have been needed. 
The liability of a thing to abuse is in proportion to the value of its right 

Symbols themselves, as already pointed out, are particular, physical, sen- 
sible existences, like any other things. They are symbols only by virtue of 
what they suggest and represent; i.e., meanings. 

In the first place, they stand for these meanings to any individual only 
when he has had experience of some situation to which these meanings 
are actually relevant. Words can detach and preserve a meaning only when 
the meaning has been first involved in our own direct intercourse with 
things. To attempt to give a meaning through a word alone without any 
dealings with a thing is to deprive the word of intelligible signification; 
against this attempt, a tendency only too prevalent in education, reformers 
have protested. Moreover, there is a tendency to assume that, whenever 
there is a definite word or form of speech, there is also a definite idea; 
while, as a matter of fact, adults and children alike are capable of using 

302 The Ways of Thought 

even formulae that are verbally precise with only the vaguest and most 
confused sense of what they mean. Genuine ignorance is more profitable 
because it is likely to be accompanied by humility, curiosity, and open- 
mindedness; whereas ability to repeat catch-phrases, cant terms, familiar 
propositions, gives the conceit of learning and coats the mind with a varnish 
waterproof to new ideas. 

In the second place, although new combinations of words without the 
intervention of physical things may supply new ideas, there are limits to 
this possibility. Lazy inertness causes individuals to accept ideas that 
have currency about them without personal inquiry and testing. A man 
uses thought, perhaps, to find out what others believe, and then stops. 
The ideas of others as embodied in language become substitutes for one's 
own ideas. The use of linguistic studies and methods to halt the human 
mind on the level of the attainments of the past, to prevent new inquiry 
and discovery, to put the authority of tradition in place of the authority 
of natural facts and laws, to reduce the individual to a parasite living on 
the secondhand experience of others these things have been the source 
of the reformers' protest against the preeminence assigned to language 
in schools. 

In the third place, words that originally stood for ideas come, with 
repeated use, to be mere counters; they become physical things to be 
manipulated according to certain rules or reacted to by certain operations 
without consciousness of their meaning. Mr. Stout (who has called such 
terms "substitute signs") remarks that "algebraical and arithmetical signs 
are to a great extent used as mere substitute signs. ... It is possible to use 
signs of this kind whenever fixed and definite rules of operation can be 
derived from the nature of the things symbolized, so as to be applied in 
manipulating the signs, without further reference to their signification. A 
word is an instrument for thinking about the meaning which it expresses; 
a substitute sign is a means of not thinking about the meaning which it 
symbolizes/' The principle applies, however, to ordinary words, as well 
as to algebraic signs; they also enable us to use meanings so as to get results 
without thinking. In many respects, signs that are means of not thinking 
are of great advantage; standing for the familiar, they release attention 
for meanings that, being novel, require conscious interpretation. Neverthe- 
less, the premium put in the schoolroom upon attainment of technical 
facility, upon skill in producing external results, often changes this ad- 
vantage into a positive detriment. In manipulating symbols so as to re- 
cite well, to get and give correct answers, to follow prescribed formulae 
of analysis, the pupil's attitude becomes mechanical, rather than thought- 
ful; verbal memorizing is substituted for inquiry into the meaning of things. 
This danger is perhaps the one uppermost in mind when verbal methods 
of education are attacked. 

The Mind's Ways 503 


Language stands in a twofold relation to the work of education. On the 
one hand, it is continually used in all studies as well as in all the social 
discipline of the school; on the other, it is a distinct object of study. We 
shall consider only the ordinary use of language, since its effects upon 
habits of thought are much deeper than those of conscious linguistic study, 
for the latter only makes explicit what speech already contains. 

The common statement that "language is the expression of thought" 
conveys only a half-truth, and a half-truth that is likely to result in positive 
error. Language does express thought, but not primarily, nor, at first, 
even consciously. The primary motive for language is to influence (through 
the expression of desire, emotion, and thought) the activity of others; its 
secondary use is to enter into more intimate social relations with them; 
its employment as a conscious vehicle of thought and knowledge is a ter- 
tiary, and relatively late, formation. The contrast is well brought out by 
the statement of John Locke that words have a double use, "civil" and 
"philosophical." "By their civil use, I mean such a communication of 
thoughts and ideas by words as may serve for the upholding of common 
conversation and commerce about the ordinary affairs and conveniences 
of civil life. ... By the philosophical use of words, I mean such a use of 
them as may serve to convey the precise notions of things and to express 
in general propositions certain and undoubted truths." 

This distinction of the practical and social from the intellectual use of 
language throws much light on the problem of the school in respect to 
speech. That problem is to direct pupils' oral and written speech, used 
primarily for practical and social ends, so that gradually it shall become 
a conscious tool of conveying knowledge and assisting thought. How 
without checking the spontaneous, natural motives motives to which 
language owes its vitality, force, vividness, and variety are we to modify 
speech habits so as to render them accurate and flexible intellectual in- 
struments? It is comparatively easy to encourage the original spontaneous 
flow and not make language over into a servant of reflective thought; it is 
comparatively easy to check and almost destroy (so far as the schoolroom 
is concerned) native aim and interest and to set up artificial and formal 
modes of expression in some isolated and technical matters. The difficulty 
lies in making over habits that have to do with "ordinary affairs and con- 
veniences" into habits concerned with "precise notions." The successful 
accomplishing of the transformation requires (a) enlarging the pupil's vo- 
cabulary, (b) rendering its terms more precise and accurate, and ( c) form- 
ing habits of consecutive discourse. 

a. Enlarging the Vocabulary. This takes place, of course, by wider in- 
telligent contact with things and persons, and also vicariously, by gathering 

304 The Ways of Thought 

the meanings of words from the context in which they are heard or read. 
To grasp by either method a word in its meaning is to exercise intelligence, 
to perform an act of intelligent selection or analysis, and it is also to widen 
the fund of meanings or concepts readily available in further intellectual 
enterprises. It is usual to distinguish between one's active and one's passive 
vocabulary, the latter being composed of the words that are understood 
when they are heard or seen, the former of words that are used intelligently. 
The fact that the passive is very much larger than the active vocabulary 
indicates power not controlled or utilized by the individual. Failure to use 
meanings that are understood may reveal dependence upon external stim- 
ulus and lack of intellectual initiative. This condition is to some extent an 
artificial product of education. Small children usually attempt to put to 
use every new word they get hold of, but when they learn to read they 
are introduced to a large variety of terms that they have no opportunity to 
use. The result is a kind of mental suppression, if not smothering. More- 
over, the meaning of words not actively used in building up and convey- 
ing ideas is never quite clear-cut or complete. Action is required to make 
them definite. 

While a limited vocabulary may be due to a limited range of experience, 
to a sphere of contact with persons and things so narrow as not to suggest 
or require a full store of words, it is also due to carelessness and vagueness. 
A happy-go-lucky frame of mind makes the individual averse to clear dis- 
criminations, either in perception or in his own speech. Words are used 
loosely in an indeterminate kind of reference to things, and speech ap- 
proaches a condition where practically everything is just a "thing-um-bob" 
or a "what-do-you-call-it," a condition that reacts to make thought hope- 
lessly loose and vague. Paucity of vocabulary on the part of those with 
whom the child associates, triviality and meagerness in the child's reading 
matter (as frequently even in his school readers and textbooks), tend to 
shut down the area of mental vision. Even technical terms become clear 
when they are used to make either an idea or an object clearer in meaning. 
Every self-respecting mechanic will call the parts of an automobile by 
their right names because that is the way to distinguish them. Simplicity 
should mean intelligibility, but not an approach to baby-talk. 

We must note also the great difference between flow of words and com- 
mand of language. Volubility is not necessarily a sign of a large vocabulary; 
much talking or even ready speech is quite compatible with moving round 
and round in a circle of moderate radius. Most schoolrooms suffer from a 
lack of materials and appliances save perhaps books and even these are 
"written down" to the supposed capacity, or incapacity, of children. Oc- 
casion and demand for an enriched vocabulary are accordingly restricted. 
The vocabulary of things studied in the schoolroom is very largely isolated; 
it does not link itself organically to the range of the ideas and words that 
are in vogue outside the school. Hence the enlargement that takes place 
is often nominal, adding to the inert, rather than to the active, fund of 
meanings and terms. 

The Mind's Ways 305 

&. Rendering the Vocabulary More Precise. One way in which the fund 
of words and concepts is increased is by discovering and naming shades 
of meaning that is to say, by making the vocabulary more precise. In- 
crease in definiteness is as important relatively as is the enlargement of 
the capital stock absolutely. 

The first meanings of terms, since they are due to superficial acquaintance 
with things, are "general" in the sense of being vague. The little child 
calls all men "papa"; acquainted with a dog, he may call the first horse he 
sees "big dog." Differences of quantity and intensity are noted, but the 
fundamental meaning is so vague that it covers things that are far apart. 
To many persons trees are just trees, being discriminated only into decidu- 
ous trees and evergreens, with perhaps recognition of one or two kinds of 
each. Such vagueness tends to persist and to become a barrier to the ad- 
vance of thinking. Terms that are miscellaneous in scope are clumsy tools 
at best; in addition they are frequently treacherous, for their ambiguous 
reference causes us to confuse things that should be distinguished. 

The growth of precise terms out of original vagueness takes place nor- 
mally in two directions: first, toward words that stand for relationships, 
and second, toward words that stand for highly individualized traits; the 
first is associated with abstract, the second with concrete, thinking. Some 
Australian tribes are said to have no words for animal or for plant, while 
they have specific names for every variety of plant and animal in their 
neighborhoods. This minuteness of vocabulary represents progress toward 
definiteness, but in a one-sided way. 1 On the other hand, students of 
philosophy and of the general aspects of natural and social science are apt 
to acquire a store of terms that signify relations, without balancing them 
up with terms that designate specific individuals and traits. The ordinary 
use of such terms as causation, law, society, individual, capital, illustrates 
this tendency. 

In the history of language we find both aspects of the growth of vocab- 
ulary illustrated by changes in the sense of words: some words originally 
wide in their application are narrowed to denote shades of meaning; 
others originally specific are widened to express relationships. The term 
vernacular, now meaning mother speech, has been generalized from the 
word verna, meaning a slave born in the master's household. Publication 
has evolved its meaning of communication by means of print through re- 
stricting an earlier meaning of any kind of communication although the 
wider meaning is retained in legal procedure, as publishing a libel. The 
sense of the word average has been generalized from a use connected with 
dividing loss by shipwreck proportionately among various sharers in an 
These historical changes assist the educator to appreciate the changes 

1 The term general is itself an ambiguous term, meaning ( in its best logical sense ) the 
related and also (in its natural usage) the indefinite, the vague. General, in the first 
sense, denotes the discrimination of a principle or generic relation; in the second sense, 
it denotes the absence of discrimination of specific or individual properties. [Author.] 

306 The Ways of Thought 

that occur in individuals with advance in intellectual resources. In study- 
ing geometry, a pupil must learn both to narrow and to extend the mean- 
ings of such familiar words as line, surface, angle, square, circle to nar- 
row them to the precise meanings involved in demonstrations, to extend 
them to cover generic relations not expressed in ordinary usage. Qualities 
of color and size must be excluded; relations of direction, of variation in 
direction, of limit, must be definitely seized. Thus in generalized geometry 
the idea of line does not carry any connotation of length. To it, what is 
ordinarily called a line is only a section of a line. A like transformation 
occurs in every subject of study. Just at this point lies the danger, alluded 
to above, of simply overlaying common meanings with new and isolated 
meanings instead of effecting a genuine working-over of popular and 
practical meanings into logical concepts. 

Terms used with intentional exactness so as to express a meaning, the 
whole meaning, and only the meaning, are called technical. For educa- 
tional purposes, a technical term indicates something relative, not absolute; 
for a term is technical, not because of its verbal form or its unusualness, 
but because it is employed to fix a meaning precisely. Ordinary words get 
a technical quality when used intentionally for this end. Whenever thought 
becomes more accurate, a (relatively) technical vocabulary grows up. 
Teachers are apt to oscillate between extremes in regard to technical terms. 
On the one hand, these are multiplied in every direction, seemingly on the 
assumption that learning a new piece of terminology, accompanied by 
verbal description or definition, is equivalent to grasping a new idea. On 
the other hand, when it is seen how largely the net outcome is the ac- 
cumulation of an isolated set of words, a jargon or scholastic cant, and to 
what extent the natural power of judgment is clogged by this accumulation, 
there is a reaction to the opposite extreme. Technical terms are banished; 
"name words'* exist, but not nouns; "action words," but not verbs; pupils 
may "take away/' but not subtract; they may tell what four fives are, but 
not what four times five are, and so on. A sound instinct underlies this 
reaction aversion to words that give the pretense, but not the reality, of 
meaning. Yet the fundamental difficulty is not with the word, but with 
the idea. If the idea is not grasped, nothing is gained by using a more 
familiar word; if the idea is grasped, the use of the term that exactly 
names it may assist in fixing the idea. Terms denoting highly exact mean- 
ings should be introduced only sparingly; they should be led up to grad- 
ually, and great pains should be taken to secure the circumstances that 
render precision of meaning significant. 

c. Forming Habits of Consecutive Discourse. As we saw, language con- 
nects and organizes meanings as well as selects and fixes them. As every 
meaning is set in the context of some situation, so every word in concrete 
use belongs to some sentence (it may itself represent a condensed sentence); 
and the sentence, in turn, belongs to some larger story, description, or 
reasoning process. It is unnecessary to repeat what has been said about 

The Minds Ways 307 

the importance of continuity and ordering of meanings. We may, however, 
note some ways in which school practices tend to interrupt consecutiveness 
of language and thereby interfere harmfully with systematic reflection. 

First, teachers have a habit of monopolizing continued discourse. Many, 
if not most, instructors would be surprised if informed at the end of the 
day of the amount of time they have talked as compared with any pupil. 
Children's conversation is often confined to answering questions in brief 
phrases or in single disconnected sentences. Expatiation and explanation 
are reserved for the teacher, who often admits any hint at an answer on 
the part of the pupil, and then amplifies what he supposes the child must 
have meant. The habits of sporadic and fragmentary discourse thus pro- 
moted have inevitably a disintegrating intellectual influence. 

Second, assignment of too short lessons, when accompanied (as it usually 
is in order to pass the time of the recitation period) by minute "analytic" 
questioning, has the same effect. This evil is usually at its height in such 
subjects as history and literature, where not infrequently the material is so 
minutely subdivided as to break up the unity of meaning belonging to a 
given portion of the matter, to destroy perspective, and in effect to reduce 
the whole topic to an accumulation of disconnected details all upon the 
same level. More often than the teacher is aware, his mind carries and 
supplies the background of unity of meaning against which pupils project 
isolated scraps. 

Third, insistence upon avoiding error instead of attaining power tends 
also to interruption of continuous discourse and thought. Children who 
begin with something to say and with intellectual eagerness to say it are 
sometimes made so conscious of minor errors in substance and form that 
the energy that should go into constructive thinking is diverted into anxiety 
not to make mistakes, and even, in extreme cases, into passive quiescence 
as the best method of minimizing error. This tendency is especially marked 
in connection with the writing of compositions, essays, and themes. It has 
even been gravely recommended that little children should always write 
on trivial subjects and in short sentences because in that way they are less 
likely to make mistakes. The teaching of high-school and college students 
occasionally reduces itself to a technique for detecting and designating mis- 
takes. Self-consciousness and constraint follow. Students lose zest for 
writing. Instead of being interested in what they have to say and in how it 
is said as a means of adequate formulation and expression of their own 
thought, interest is drained off. Having to say something is a very different 
matter from having something to say. 

Four Kinds of Thinking *> 

James J-larvey Robinson 18631936 

We constantly remind ourselves that it is reason whicli chiefly 
distinguishes us from the other animals, but once having made this 
smug statement we may fail to pursue the study of intelligence itself. 
There are more than four kinds of thinking, as James Harvey Robinson 
well knew, but he has conveniently grouped four of the main modes of 
thought, reminding us all "that we know shockingly little about these 
matters." We might begin now to think about thinking. 

WE DO not think enough about thinking, and much of our confusion is the 
result of current illusions in regard to it. Let us forget for the moment any 
impressions we may have derived from the philosophers, and see what 
seems to happen in ourselves. The first thing that we notice is that our 
thought moves with such incredible rapidity that it is almost impossible 
to arrest any specimen of it long enough to have a look at it. When we 
are offered a penny for our thoughts we always find that we have recently 
had so many things in mind that we can easily make a selection which will 
not compromise us too nakedly. On inspection we shall find that even 
if we are not downright ashamed of a great part of our spontaneous think- 
ing it is far too intimate, personal, ignoble or trivial to permit us to reveal 
more than a small part of it. I believe this must be true of everyone. We 
do not, of course, know what goes on in other people's heads. They tell 
us very little and we tell them very little. The spigot of speech, rarely 
fully opened, could never emit more than driblets of the ever renewed 
hogshead of thought noch grosser wies Heidelberger Pass. We find it 
hard to believe that other people's thoughts are as silly as our own, but 
they probably are. 

We all appear to ourselves to be thinking all the time during our waking 
hours, and most of us are aware that we go on thinking while we are asleep, 
even more foolishly than when awake. When uninterrupted by some 
practical issue we are engaged in what is now known as a reverie. This 
is our spontaneous and favorite kind of thinking. We allow our ideas to 
take their own course and this course is determined by our hopes and 
fears, our spontaneous desires, their fulfillment or frustration; by our likes 
and dislikes, our loves and hates and resentments. There is nothing else 
anything like so interesting to ourselves as ourselves. All thought that is not 

From The Mind in the Making by James Harvey Robinson, pp. 37^57. Copyright, 
1921, by Harper & Brothers. Copyright, 1949, by Bankers Trust Company. 


The Mind's Ways 309 

more or less laboriously controlled and directed will inevitably circle about 
the beloved Ego. It is amusing and pathetic to observe this tendency in our- 
selves and in others. We learn politely and generously to overlook this 
truth, but if we dare to think of it, it blazes forth like the noontide sun. 

The reverie or "free association of ideas" has of late become the subject 
of scientific research. While investigators are not yet agreed on the results, 
or at least on the proper interpretation to be given to them, there. can be 
no doubt that our reveries form the chief index to our fundamental charac- 
ter. They are a reflection of our nature as modified by often hidden and 
forgotten experiences. We need not go into the matter further here, for it 
is only necessary to observe that the reverie is at all times a potent and 
in many cases an omnipotent rival to every other kind of thinking. It doubt- 
less influences all our speculations in its persistent tendency to self -magnifi- 
cation and self-justification, which are its chief preoccupations, but it is 
the last thing to make directly or indirectly for honest increase of knowledge. 
Philosophers usually talk as if such thinking did not exist or were in some 
way negligible. This is what makes their speculations so unreal and often 

The reverie, as any of us can see for himself, is frequently broken and 
interrupted by the necessity of a second kind of thinking. We have to 
make practical decisions. Shall we write a letter or no? Shall we take the 
subway or a bus? Shall we have dinner at seven or half past? Shall we 
buy U. S. Rubber or a Liberty Bond? Decisions are easily distinguishable 
from the free flow of the reverie. Sometimes they demand a good deal of 
careful pondering and the recollection of pertinent facts; often, however, 
they are made impulsively. They are a more difficult and laborious thing 
than the reverie, and we resent having to "make up our mind" when we 
are tired, or absorbed in a congenial reverie. Weighing a decision, it 
should be noted, does not necessarily add anything to our knowledge, 
although we may, of course, seek further information before making it. 

A third kind of thinking is stimulated when anyone questions our beliefs 
and opinions. We sometimes find ourselves changing our minds without 
any resistance or heavy emotion, but if we are told that we are wrong 
we resent the imputation and harden our hearts. We are incredibly heed- 
less in the formation of our beliefs, but find ourselves filled with an illicit 
passion for them when anyone proposes to rob us of their companionship. 
It is obviously not the ideas themselves that are dear to us, but our self- 
esteem, which is threatened. We are by nature stubbornly pledged to de- 
fend our own from attack, whether it be our person, our family, our 
property, or our opinion. A United States Senator once remarked to a 
friend of mine that God Almighty could not make him change his mind 
on our Latin-American Policy. We may surrender, but rarely confess our- 
selves vanquished. In the intellectual world at least peace is without vic- 

310 The Ways of Thought 

Few of us take the pains to study the origin of our cherished convictions; 
indeed, we have a natural repugnance to so doing. We like to continue to 
believe what we have been accustomed to accept as true, and the resent- 
ment aroused when doubt is cast upon any of our assumptions leads us 
to seek every manner of excuse for clinging to them. The result is that 
most of our so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on 
believing as we already do. 

I remember years ago attending a public dinner to which the Governor 
of the state was bidden. The chairman explained that His Excellency 
could not be present for certain "good" reasons; what the "real" reasons 
were the presiding officer said he would leave us to conjecture. This dis- 
tinction between "good" and "real" reasons is one of the most clarifying and 
essential in the whole realm of thought. We can readily give what seem 
to us "good" reasons for being a Catholic or a Mason, a Republican or a 
Democrat, an adherent or opponent of the League of Nations. But the 
"real" reasons are usually on quite a different plane. Of course the impor- 
tance of this distinction is popularly, if somewhat obscurely, recognized. 
The Baptist missionary is ready enough to see that the Buddhist is not 
such because his doctrines would bear careful inspection, but because he 
happened to be born in a Buddhist family in Tokio. But it would be treason 
to his faith to acknowledge that his own partiality for certain doctrines is 
due to the fact that his mother was a member of the First Baptist church 
of Oak Ridge. A savage can give all sorts of reasons for his belief that it 
is dangerous to step on a man's shadow, and a newspaper editor can ad- 
vance plenty of arguments against the Bolsheviki. But neither of them 
may realize why he happens to be defending his particular opinion. 

The "real" reasons for our beliefs are concealed from ourselves as well 
as from others. As we grow up we simply adopt the ideas presented to us 
in regard to such matters as religion, family relations, property, business, 
our country, and the state. We unconsciously absorb them from our en- 
vironment. They are persistently whispered in our ear by the group in 
which we happen to live. Moreover, as Mr. Trotter has pointed out, these 
judgments, being the product of suggestion and not of reasoning, have 
the quality of perfect obviousness, so that to question them 

... is to the believer to carry skepticism to an insane degree, and will be met 
by contempt, disapproval, or condemnation, according to the nature of the 
belief in question. When, therefore, we find ourselves entertaining an opinion 
about the basis of which there is a quality of feeling which tells us that to in- 
quire into it would be absurd, obviously unnecessary, unprofitable, unde- 
sirable, bad form, or wicked, we may know that that opinion is a nonrational 
one, and probably, therefore, founded upon inadequate evidence. 

Opinions, on the other hand, which are the result of experience or of 
honest reasoning do not have this quality of "primary certitude." I re- 
member when as a youth I heard a group of business men discussing the 

The Minds Ways 311 

question of the immortality of the soul, I was outraged by the sentiment 
of doubt expressed by one of the party. As I look back now I see that I 
had at the time no interest in the matter, and certainly no least argument 
to urge in favor of the belief in which I had been reared. But neither 
my personal indifference to the issue, nor the fact that I had previously 
given it no attention, served to prevent an angry resentment when I heard 
my ideas questioned. 

This spontaneous and loyal support of our preconceptions this process 
of finding "good" reasons to justify our routine beliefs is known to 
modern psychologists as "rationalizing" clearly only a new name for a 
very ancient thing. Our "good" reasons ordinarily have no value in pro- 
moting honest enlightenment, because, no matter how solemnly they may 
be marshaled, they are at bottom the result of personal preference or 
prejudice, and not of an honest desire to seek or accept new knowledge. 

In our reveries we are frequently engaged in self -justification, for we can- 
not bear to think ourselves wrong, and yet have constant illustrations of our 
weaknesses and mistakes. So we spend much time finding fault with cir- 
cumstances and the conduct of others, and shifting on to them with great 
ingenuity the onus of our own failures and disappointments. Rationalizing 
is the self-exculpation which occurs when we feel ourselves, or our group, 
accused of misapprehension or error. 

The little word my is the most important one in all human affairs, and 
properly to reckon with it is the beginning of wisdom. It has the same force 
whether it is my dinner, my dog, and my house, or my faith, my country, 
and my God. We not only resent the imputation that our watch is wrong, 
or our car shabby, but that our conception of the canals of Mars, of the 
pronunciation of "Epictetus," of the medicinal value of salicine, or the date 
of Sargon I, are subject to revision. 

Philosophers, scholars, and men of science exhibit a common sensitive- 
ness in all decisions in which their amour propre is involved. Thousands of 
argumentative works have been written to vent a grudge. However stately 
their reasoning, it may be nothing but rationalizing, stimulated by the most 
commonplace of all motives. A history of philosophy and theology could be 
written in terms of grouches, wounded pride, and aversions, and it would 
be far more instructive than the usual treatments of these themes. Some- 
times, under Providence, the lowly impulse of resentment leads to great 
achievements. Milton wrote his treatise on divorce as a result of his trou- 
bles with his seventeen-year-old wife, and when he was accused of being 
the leading spirit in a new sect, the Divorcers, he wrote his noble Areopagi- 
tica to prove his right to say what he thought fit, and incidentally to es- 
tablish the advantage of a free press in the promotion of Truth. 

All mankind, high and low, thinks in all the ways which have been 
described. The reverie goes on all the time not only in the mind of the mill 
hand and the Broadway flapper, but equally in weighty judges and godly 

312 The Ways of Thought 

bishops. It has gone on in all the philosophers, scientists, poets, and theo- 
logians that have ever lived. Aristotle's most abstruse speculations were 
doubtless tempered by highly irrelevant reflections. He is reported to have 
had very thin legs and small eyes, for which he doubtless had to find 
excuses, and he was wont to indulge in very conspicuous dress and rings 
and was accustomed to arrange his hair carefully. Diogenes the Cynic ex- 
hibited the impudence of a touchy soul. His tub was his distinction. 
Tennyson in beginning his Maud could not forget his chagrin over losing 
his patrimony years before as the result of an unhappy investment in the 
Patent Decorative Carving Company. These facts are not recalled here as 
a gratuitous disparagement of the truly great, but to insure a full realization 
of the tremendous competition which all really exacting thought has to 
face, even in the minds of the most highly endowed mortals. 

And now the astonishing and perturbing suspicion emerges that perhaps 
almost all that has passed for social science, political economy, politics, and 
ethics in the past may be brushed aside by future generations as mainly 
rationalizing. John Dewey has already reached this conclusion in regard 
to philosophy. Veblen and other writers have revealed the various un- 
perceived presuppositions of the traditional political economy, and now 
comes an Italian sociologist, Vilfredo Pareto, who, in his huge treatise on 
general sociology, devotes hundreds of pages to substantiating a similar 
thesis affecting all the social sciences. This conclusion may be ranked by 
students of a hundred years hence as one of the several great discoveries of 
our age. It is by no means fully worked out, and it is so opposed to nature 
that it will be very slowly accepted by the great mass of those who consider 
themselves thoughtful. As a historical student I am personally fully recon- 
ciled to this newer view. Indeed, it seems to me inevitable that just as the 
various sciences of nature were, before the opening of the seventeenth cen- 
tury, largely masses of rationalizations to suit the religious sentiments of 
the period, so the social sciences have continued even to our own day to be 
rationalizations of uncritically accepted beliefs and customs. 

It will become apparent as we proceed that the fact that an idea is an- 
cient and that it has been widely received is no argument in its favor, but 
should immediately suggest the necessity of carefully testing it as a prob- 
able instance of rationalization. 

This brings us to another kind of thought which can fairly easily be dis- 
tinguished from the three kinds described above. It has not the usual 
qualities of the reverie, for it does not hover about our personal com- 
placencies and humiliations. It is not made up of the homely decisions 
forced upon us by everyday needs, when we review our little stock of exist- 
ing information, consult our conventional preferences and obligations, and 
make a choice of action. It is not tlje defense of our own cherished beliefs 
and prejudices iust because they are our own mere plausible excuses 

The Mind's Ways 313 

for remaining of the same mind. On the contrary, it is that peculiar species 
of thought which leads us to change our mind. 

It is this kind of thought that has raised man from his pristine, sub- 
savage ignorance and squalor to the degree of knowledge and comfort 
which he now possesses. On his capacity to continue and greatly extend 
this kind of thinking depends his chance of groping his way out of the 
plight in which the most highly civilized peoples of the world now find 
themselves. In the past this type of thinking has been called Reason. But 
so many misapprehensions have grown up around the word that some of 
us have become very suspicious of it. I suggest, therefore, that we sub- 
stitute a recent name and speak of "creative thought" rather than of Rea- 
son. For this kind of meditation begets knowledge, and knowledge is really 
creative inasmuch as it makes things look different from what they seemed 
before and may indeed work for their reconstruction. 

In certain moods some of us realize that we are observing things or mak- 
ing reflections with a seeming disregard of our personal preoccupations. 
We are not preening or defending ourselves; we are not faced by the 
necessity of any practical decision, nor are we apologizing for believing 
this or that. We are just wondering and looking and mayhap seeing what 
we never perceived before. 

Curiosity is as clear and definite as any of our urges. We wonder what is 
in a sealed telegram or in a letter in which some one else is absorbed, or 
what is being said in the telephone booth or in low conversation. This 
inquisitiveness is vastly stimulated by jealousy, suspicion, or any hint that 
we ourselves are directly or indirectly involved. But there appears to be a 
fair amount of personal interest in other people's affairs even when they 
do not concern us except as a mystery to be unraveled or a tale to be told. 
The reports of a divorce suit will have "news value" for many weeks. They 
constitute a story, like a novel or play or moving picture. This is not an 
example of pure curiosity, however, since we readily identify ourselves with 
others, and their joys and despairs then become our own. 

We also take note of, or "observe," as Sherlock Holmes says, things which 
have nothing to do with our personal interests and make no personal ap- 
peal either direct or by way of sympathy. This is what Veblen so well calls 
"idle curiosity." And it is usually idle enough. Some of us when we face the 
line of people opposite us in a subway train impulsively consider them in 
detail and engage in rapid inferences and form theories in regard to them. 
On entering a room there are those who will perceive at a glance the 
degree of preciousness of the rugs, the character of the pictures, and the 
personality revealed by the books. But there are many, it would seem, who 
are so absorbed in their personal reverie or in some definite purpose that 
they have no bright-eyed energy for idle curiosity. The tendency to 
miscellaneous observation we come by honestly enough, for we note it in 
many of our animal relatives. 

Veblen, however, uses the term "idle curiosity" somewhat ironically, as 

314 The Ways of Thought 

is his wont. It is idle only to those who fail to realize that it may be a very 
rare and indispensable thing from which almost all distinguished human 
achievement proceeds, since it may lead to systematic examination and 
seeking for things hitherto undiscovered. For research is but diligent 
search which enjoys the high flavor of primitive hunting. Occasionally and 
fitfully idle curiosity thus leads to creative thought, which alters and 
broadens our own views and aspirations and may in turn, under highly 
favorable circumstances, affect the views and lives of others, even for 
generations to follow. An example or two will make this unique human 
process clear. 

Galileo was a thoughtful youth and doubtless carried on a rich and 
varied reverie. He had artistic ability and might have turned out to be a 
musician or painter. When he had dwelt among the monks at Vallombrosa 
he had been tempted to lead the life of a religious. As a boy he busied 
himself with toy machines and he inherited a fondness for mathematics. 
All these facts are of record. We may safely assume also that, along with 
many other subjects of contemplation, the Pisan maidens found a vivid 
place in his thoughts. 

One day when seventeen years old he wandered into the cathedral of 
his native town. In the midst of his reverie he looked up at the lamps 
hanging by long chains from the high ceiling of the church. Then some- 
thing very difficult to explain occurred. He found himself no longer think- 
ing of the building, worshipers, or the services; of his artistic or religious 
interests; of his reluctance to become a physician as his father wished. He 
forgot the question of a career and even the graziosissime donne. As he 
watched the swinging lamps he was suddenly wondering if mayhap their 
oscillations, whether long or short, did not occupy the same time. Then 
he tested this hypothesis by counting his pulse, for that was the only time- 
piece he had with him. 

This observation, however remarkable in itself, was not enough to 
produce a really creative thought. Others may have noticed the same 
thing and yet nothing came of it. Most of our observations have no as- 
signable results. Galileo may have seen that the warts on a peasant's face 
formed a perfect isosceles triangle, or he may have noticed with boyish 
glee that just as the officiating priest was uttering the solemn words, ecce 
agnus Dei, a fly lit on the end of his nose. To be really creative, ideas have 
to be worked up and then "put over," so that they become a part of man's 
social heritage. The highly accurate pendulum clock was one of the later 
results of Galileo's discovery. He himself was led to reconsider and suc- 
cessfully to refute the old notions of falling bodies. It remained for Newton 
to prove that the moon was falling, and presumably all the heavenly bodies. 
This quite upset all the consecrated views of the heavens as managed by 
angelic engineers. The universality of the laws of gravitation stimulated 
the attempt to seek other and equally important natural laws and cast grave 
doubts on the miracles in which mankind had hitherto believed. In short. 

The Minds Ways 315 

those who dared to include in their thoughts the discoveries of Galileo and 
his successors found themselves in a new earth surrounded by new heavens. 

On the 28th of October, 1831, three hundred and fifty years after Galileo 
had noticed the isochronous vibrations of the lamps, creative thought and 
its currency had so far increased that Faraday was wondering what would 
happen if he mounted a disk of copper between the poles of a horseshoe 
magnet. As the disk revolved an electric current was produced. This would 
doubtless have seemed the idlest kind of an experiment to the stanch 
business men of the time, who, it happened, were just then denouncing the 
child-labor bills in their anxiety to avail themselves to the full of the results 
of earlier idle curiosity. But should the dynamos and motors which have 
come into being as the outcome of Faraday's experiment be stopped this 
evening, the business man of to-day, agitated over labor troubles, might, as 
he trudged home past lines of "dead" cars, through dark streets to an un- 
lighted house, engage in a little creative thought of his own and perceive 
that he and his laborers would have no modern factories and mines to 
quarrel about had it not been for the strange practical effects of the idle 
curiosity of scientists, inventors, and engineers. 

The examples of creative intelligence given above belong to the realm 
of modern scientific achievement, which furnishes the most striking in- 
stances of the effects of scrupulous, objective thinking. But there are, of 
course, other great realms in which the recording and embodiment of acute 
observation and insight have wrought themselves into the higher life of 
man. The great poets and dramatists and our modern story-tellers have 
found themselves engaged in productive reveries, noting and artistically 
presenting their discoveries for the delight and instruction of those who 
have the ability to appreciate them. 

The process by which a fresh and original poem or drama comes into 
being is doubtless analogous to that which originates and elaborates so- 
called scientific discoveries; but there is clearly a temperamental difference. 
The genesis and advance of painting, sculpture, and music offer still other 
problems. We really as yet know shockingly little about these matters, and 
indeed very few people have the least curiosity about them. Nevertheless, 
creative intelligence in its various forms and activities is what makes man. 
Were it not for its slow, painful, and constantly discouraged operations 
through the ages man would be no more than a species of primate living on 
seeds, fruit, roots, and uncooked flesh, and wandering naked through the 
woods and over the plains like a chimpanzee. 

The origin and progress and future promotion of civilization are ill 
understood and misconceived. These should be made the chief theme of 
education, but much hard work is necessary before we can reconstruct our 
ideas of man and his capacities and free ourselves from innumerable 
persistent misapprehensions. There have been obstructionists in all times, 
not merely the lethargic masses, but the moralists, the rationalizing theo- 
logians, and most of the philosophers, all busily if unconsciously engaged 

316 The Ways of Thought 

in ratifying existing ignorance and mistakes and discouraging creative 
thought. Naturally, those who reassure us seem worthy of honor and re- 
spect. Equally naturally those who puzzle us with disturbing criticisms and 
invite us to change our ways are objects of suspicion and readily dis- 
credited. Our personal discontent does not ordinarily extend to any critical 
questioning of the general situation in which we find ourselves. In every 
age the prevailing conditions of civilization have appeared quite natural 
and inevitable to those who grew up in them. The cow asks no questions 
as to how it happens to have a dry stall and a supply of hay. The kitten 
laps its warm milk from a china saucer, without knowing anything about 
porcelain; the dog nestles in the corner of a divan with no sense of obliga- 
tion to the inventors of upholstery and the manufacturers of down pillows. 
So we humans accept our breakfasts, our trains and telephones and 
orchestras and movies, our national Constitution, our moral code and 
standards of manners, with the simplicity and innocence of a pet rabbit. 
We have absolutely inexhaustible capacities for appropriating what others 
do for us with no thought of a "thank you/' We do not feel called upon to 
make any least contribution to the merry game ourselves. Indeed, we are 
usually quite unaware that a game is being played at all. 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty 

Barnes Jburber 1894- 

James Harvey Robinson classified rcvery as an important mode of 
thought. Its therapeutic function in allowing one to escape from in- 
tolerable reality into the satisfactions of fantasy is most comically em- 
bodied in Walter Mitty, Thurber's little man you and me who 
finds in revery the same repairs to his ego that children find in the 
Lone Ranger and adolescents of all ages in Grade B Hollywood movies. 

"WE'RE going through!" The Commander's voice was like thin ice breaking. 
He wore his full-dress uniform, with the heavily braided white cap pulled 
down rakishly over one cold gray eye. "We can't make it, sir. It's spoiling 
for a hurricane, if you ask me." "I'm not asking you, Lieutenant Berg," said 
the Commander. "Throw on the power lights! Rev her up to 8,500! We're 
going through!" The pounding of the cylinders increased; ta-pocketa- 
pocketa-pocketa-pocfceta-pocfceto, The Commander stared at the ice form- 
Reprinted by permission of the author. Copyright, 1939, The New Yorker Magazine, 

The Mind's Ways 317 

ing on the pilot window. He walked over and twisted a row of complicated 
dials. "Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!" he shouted. "Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!" 
repeated Lieutenant Berg. "Full strength in No. 3 turret!" shouted the 
Commander. "Full strength in No. 3 turret!" The crew, bending to their 
various tasks in the huge, hurtling eight-engined Navy hydroplane, looked 
at each other and grinned. "The Old Man'll get us through," they said to 
one another. "The Old Man ain't afraid of Hell!" . . . 

"Not so fast! You're driving too fast!" said Mrs. Mitty. "What are you 
driving so fast for?" 

"Hmm?" said Walter Mitty. He looked at his wife, in the seat beside 
him, with shocked astonishment. She seemed grossly unfamiliar, like a 
strange woman who had yelled at him in a crowd. "You were up to fifty- 
five," she said. "You know I don't like to go more than forty. You were up 
to fifty-five." Walter Mitty drove on toward Waterbury in silence, the 
roaring of the SN202 through the worst storm in twenty years of Navy 
flying fading in the remote, intimate airways of his mind. "You're tensed 
up again," said Mrs. Mitty. "It's one of your days. I wish you'd let Dr. 
Renshaw look you over." 

Walter Mitty stopped the car in front of the building where his wife 
went to have her hair done. "Remember to get those overshoes while I'm 
having my hair done," she said. "I don't need overshoes," said Mitty. She 
put her mirror back into her bag. "We've been all through that," she said, 
getting out of the car. "You're not a young man any longer." He raced the 
engine a little. "Why don't you wear your gloves? Have you lost your 
gloves?" Walter Mitty reached in a pocket and brought out the gloves. He 
put them on, but after she had turned and gone into the building and he 
had driven on to a red light, he took them off again. "Pick it up, brother!" 
snapped a cop as the light changed, and Mitty hastily pulled on his gloves 
and lurched ahead. He drove around the streets aimlessly for a time, and 
then he drove past the hospital on his way to the parking lot. 

. . . "It's the millionaire banker, Wellington McMillan," said the pretty 
nurse. "Yes?" said Walter Mitty, removing his gloves slowly. "Who has 
the case?" "Dr. Renshaw and Dr. Benbow, but there are two specialists 
here, Dr. Remington from New York and Dr. Pritchard-Mitford from Lon- 
don. He flew over." A door opened down a long, cool corridor and Dr. 
Renshaw came out. He looked distraught and haggard. "Hello, Mitty," he 
said. "We're having the devil's own time with McMillan, the millionaire 
banker and close personal friend of Roosevelt. Obstreosis of the ductal 
tract. Tertiary. Wish you'd take a look at him." "Glad to," said Mitty. 

In the operating room there were whispered introductions: "Dr. Reming- 
ton, Dr. Mitty. Dr. Pritchard-Mitford, Dr. Mitty." "I've read your book on 
streptothricosis," said Pritchard-Mitford, shaking hands. "A brilliant per- 
formance, sir." "Thank you," said Walter Mitty. "Didn't know you were 
in the States, Mitty," grumbled Remington. "Coals to Newcastle, bringing 
Mitford and me up here for a tertiary." "You are very kind," said Mitty. A 

318 The Ways of Thought 

huge, complicated machine, connected to the operating table, with many 
tubes and wires, began at this moment to go pocketa-pocketa-pockcta. "The 
new anaesthetizer is giving away!" shouted an interne. "There is no one in 
the East who knows how to fix it!" "Quiet, man!" said Mitty, in a low, cool 
voice. He sprang to the machine, which was now going pocketa-pocketa- 
queep-pocketa-queep. He began fingering delicately a row of glistening 
dials. "Give me a fountain pen!" he snapped. Someone handed him a 
fountain pen. He pulled a faulty piston out of the machine and inserted the 
pen in its place. "That will hold for ten minutes," he said. "Get on with the 
operation." A nurse hurried over and whispered to Renshaw, and Mitty 
saw the man turn pale. "Coreopsis has set in," said Renshaw nervously. 
"If you would take over, Mitty?" Mitty looked at him and at the craven 
figure of Benbow, who drank, and at the grave, uncertain faces of the two 
great specialists. "If you wish," he said. They slipped a white gown on 
him; he adjusted a mask and drew on thin gloves; nurses handed him 
shining . . . 

"Back it up, Macl Look out for that Buick!" Walter Mitty jammed on 
the brakes. "Wrong lane, Mac," said the parking-lot attendant, looking at 
Mitty closely. "Gee. Yeh," muttered Mitty. He began cautiously to back 
out of the lane marked "Exit Only." "Leave her sit there," said the at- 
tendant. 'Til put her away." Mitty got out of the car. "Hey, better leave 
the key." "Oh," said Mitty, handing the man the ignition key. The at- 
tendant vaulted into the car, backed it up with insolent skill, and put it 
where it belonged. 

They're so damn cocky, thought Walter Mitty, walking along Main 
Street; they think they know everything. Once he had tried to take his 
chains off, outside New Milford, and he had got them wound around the 
axles. A man had had to come out in a wrecking car and unwind them, a 
young, grinning garageman. Since then Mrs. Mitty always made him drive 
to a garage to have the chains taken off. The next time, he thought, Til 
wear my right arm in a sling; they won't grin at me then. Ill have my 
right arm in a sling and they'll see I couldn't possibly take the chains off 
myself. He kicked at the slush on the sidewalk. "Overshoes," he said to 
himself, and he began looking for a shoe store. 

When he came out into the street again, with the overshoes in a box 
under his arm, Walter Mitty began to wonder what the other tiling was his 
wife had told him to get. She had told him twice before they set out from 
their house for Waterbury. In a way he hated these weekly trips to town 
he was always getting something wrong. Kleenex, he thought, Squibb's, 
razor blades? No. Toothpaste, toothbrush, bicarbonate, carborundum, in- 
itiative and referendum? He gave it up. But she would remember it. 
"Where's that what's-its-name?" she would ask. "Don't tell me you forgot 
the what's-its-name." A newsboy went by shouting something about the 
Waterbury trial. 

. . . "Perhaps this will refresh your memory." The District Attorney sud- 

The Mind's Ways 319 

denly thrust a heavy automatic at the quiet figure on the witness stand. 
"Have you ever seen this before?" Walter Mitty took the gun and examined 
it expertly. 'This is my Webley-Vickers 50.80," he said calmly. An excited 
buzz ran around the courtroom. The Judge rapped for order. "You are a 
crack shot with any sort of firearms, I believe?" said the District Attorney, 
insinuatingly. "Objection!" shouted Mitty's attorney. "We have shown 
that the defendant could not have fired the shot. We have shown that he 
wore his right arm in a sling on the night of the fourteenth of July," Walter 
Mitty raised his hand briefly and the bickering attorneys were stilled. 
"With any known make of gun," he said evenly, "I could have killed 
Gregory Fitzhurst at three hundred feet with my left hand" Pandemonium 
broke loose in the courtroom. A woman's scream rose above the bedlam 
and suddenly a lovely, dark-haired girl was in Walter Mitty's arms. The 
District Attorney struck at her savagely. Without rising from his chair, 
Mitty let the man have it on the point of the chin. "You miserable cur!" . . . 

"Puppy biscuit," said Walter Mitty. He stopped walking and the build- 
ings of Waterbury rose up out of the misty courtroom and surrounded him 
again. A woman who was passing laughed. "He said 'Puppy biscuit/ " she 
said to her companion. "That man said 'Puppy biscuit' to himself." Walter 
Mitty hurried on. He went into an A. & P., not the first one he came to but 
a smaller one farther up the street. "I want some biscuit for small, young 
dogs," he said to the clerk. "Any special brand, sir?" The greatest pistol 
shot in the world thought a moment. "It says 'Puppies Bark for It' on the 
box," said Walter Mitty. 

His wife would be through at the hairdresser's in fifteen minutes, Mitty 
saw in looking at his watch, unless they had trouble drying it; sometimes 
they had trouble drying it. She didn't like to get to the hotel first; she 
would want him to be there waiting for her as usual. He found a big leather 
chair in the lobby, facing a window, and he put the overshoes and the 
puppy biscuit on the floor beside it. He picked up an old copy of Liberty 
and sank down into the chair. "Can Germany Conquer the World Through 
the Air?" Walter Mitty looked at the pictures of bombing planes and of 
ruined streets. 

. . . "The cannonading has got the wind up in young Raleigh, sir," said 
the sergeant. Captain Mitty looked up at him through tousled hair. "Get 
him to bed," he said wearily, "with the others. I'll fly alone." "But you 
can't, sir," said the sergeant anxiously. "It takes two men to handle that 
bomber and the Archies are pounding hell out of the air. Von Richtman's 
circus is between here and Saulier." "Somebody's got to get the ammuni- 
tion dump," said Mitty. "I'm going over. Spot of brandy?" He poured a 
drink for the sergeant and one for himself. War thundered and whined 
around the dugout and battered at the door. There was a rending of wood, 
and splinters flew through the room. "A bit of a near thing," said Captain 
Mitty carelessly. "The box barrage is closing in," said the sergeant. "We 
only live once, Sergeant," said Mitty, with his faint, fleeting smile. "Or do 

320 The Ways of Thought 

we?" He poured another brandy and tossed it off. '1 never see a man 
could hold his brandy like you, sir," said the sergeant. "Begging your 
pardon, sir." Captain Mitty stood up and strapped on his huge Webley- 
Vickers automatic. "It's forty kilometers through hell, sir," said the sergeant. 
Mitty finished one last brandy. "After all," he said softly, "what isn't?" 
The pounding of the cannon increased; there was the rat-tat-tatting of ma- 
chine guns, and from somewhere came the menacing pocketa-pocketa- 
pocketa of the new flame-throwers. Walter Mitty walked to the door of 
the dugout humming "Aupres de Ma Blonde." He turned and waved to 
the sergeant. "Cheerio!" he said. . . . 

Something struck his shoulder. "I've been looking all over this hotel for 
you," said Mrs. Mitty. "Why do you have to hide in this old chair? How 
did you expect me to find you?" "Things close in," said Walter Mitty 
vaguely. "What?" Mrs. Mitty said. "Did you get the what's-its-name? The 
puppy biscuit? What's in that box?" "Overshoes," said Mitty. "Couldn't 
you have put them on in the store?" "I was thinking," said Walter Mitty. 
"Does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking?" She looked at 
him. "I'm going to take your temperature when I get you home," she said. 

They went out through the revolving doors that made a faintly derisive 
whistling sound when you pushed them. It was two blocks to the parking 
lot. At the drugstore on the corner she said, "Wait here for me. I forgot 
something. I won't be a minute." She was more than a minute. Walter 
Mitty lighted a cigarette. It began to rain, rain with sleet in it. He stood 
up against the wall of the drugstore, smoking. . . . He put his shoulders back 
and his heels together. "To hell with the handkerchief," said Walter Mitty 
scornfully. He took one last drag on his cigarette and snapped it away. 
Then, with that faint, fleeting smile playing about his lips, he faced the 
firing squad; erect and motionless, proud and disdainful. Walter Mitty the 
Undefeated, inscrutable to the last. 

Experimental Neuroses ** 

jHL jWasserman *904- 

Here a scientist describes his experiments in teaching cats complex 
patterns of behavior, subjecting them to contradictory influences, and 
relieving their resulting neuroses by psychotherapy. 

With permission from Scientific American, March 1950, volume 182, Number 3. 

The Minds Ways 321 

As AUGUSTE COMTE pointed out a century ago, a science generally develops 
through three phases of evolution: mystic, taxonomic and dynamic. Psy- 
chiatry, the branch of medicine devoted to the study and treatment of dis- 
orders of behavior, admirably illustrates Comte's generalization. Its first 
phase the mystic, ritualistic approach lasted well beyond the Middle 
Ages: as late as 1783 an insane woman in Switzerland was judged to be an 
emissary of the devil and burned as a witch. About two centuries ago 
psychiatry entered the second phase: that of recording and classifying be- 
havior. Man's first observations of the complexities of his own conduct 
were understandably biased and inaccurate, and his classifications arbitrary 
and dogmatic; indeed, we are even yet prone to appraise one another with 
clinical stares and smug appraisals, such as "compared to me, you are an 
introvert," a "schizoid," a "cyclothyme" or some other deviate with a 
resoundingly meaningless appellation. 

It would be tempting to assert that in modern times psychiatry has at last 
left such gaucheries behind and is now a truly scientific discipline devoted 
to a dynamic understanding of man's behavior and the application of ra- 
tional methods for readjusting unhappy deviations from the golden norm. 
Most psychiatrists wish this were completely true, yet we must admit that 
there are residues of mysticism and irrational dogmatisms in our field. 
Without adequate diagnosis or justification, patients are still being partially 
burned or suffocated to cure their evilness although the auto-da-f6 is 
now confined to the brain under the guise of "shock therapy," and the suffo- 
cation is euphemistically termed "carbon dioxide inhalation treatment." 
Even in relatively enlightened spheres of psychiatry there are relics of 
animistic thinking: vide the substitution of the Freudian terms of "Id," 
"Ego" and "Super-ego" for the gods that in ancient times were thought to 
be in control of man's passions and intellect; or the attempts by some 
psychoanalytic mythologists to use the Narcissus and Oedipus legends, not 
as poetic allegories but as proofs of the supposed nature of man's un- 
conscious conflicts! 

Is psychiatry, then, really the most backward of our medical specialties? 
Perhaps so, but in all fairness we must note that in psychosomatics it has 
recently achieved a reunion with clinical medicine, that modern psycho- 
analysis is steadily becoming more scientific and less doctrinaire, and that 
social psychiatry is establishing productive relationships with anthropology, 
sociology and other humanistic disciplines. Moreover, psychiatry has begun 
to re-explore its data, hypotheses and methods by experimental research. 

The laboratory and clinical studies of Ivan Pavlov, Horsley Gantt, H. A. 
Liddell, J. Hunt, David Levy, O. H. Mowrer, Curt Richter and many 
others have indicated that certain basic tenets on which much of modern 
dynamic psychiatry implicitly rests are demonstrable in nearly all be- 
havior animal as well as human, "normal" as well as "abnormal." This 
article will describe how these tenets, incorporated into a more compre- 
hensive system of biodynamics, have been developed and elaborated in 

322 The Ways of Thought 

various experiments conducted during the last 15 years in the Division of 
Psychiatry of the University of Chicago and, more recently, in the Depart* 
ment of Nervous and Mental Diseases of Northwestern University. 

The principles of biodynamics may be condensed into four relatively 
simple statements: 

1. All behavior is actuated by the current physical needs of the organism 
in the processes of survival, growth and procreation. Thus a simple want 
for calcium or for warmth or even for relief from bladder tension, if 
sufficiently urgent, will take precedence over more complex physiological 
"instincts" which are considered basic in some systems of psychology. 

2. Behavior is adaptive to the "external" environment not in any objec- 
tive sense, but according to the organisms special interpretation of its 
milieu, which depends upon its own capacities ("intelligence") and its 
unique association of experiences. Thus two crossed pieces of burning 
wood may signify only a marshmallow-toast to one human being, self- 
congratulatory "white supremacy" to another, and abject terror of death to 
a third. 

3. When accustomed methods of achieving a goal are frustrated, be- 
havior turns to substitute techniques or becomes oriented toward alternate 
goals. Thus if a man's methods of wooing a girl meet with rebuff, he tries 
(a) other methods, (b) another girl or (c) another goal, such as success 
as a religious prophet, as a jazz drummer or perhaps as a psychologist. 

4. When two or more accustomed modes of response become mutually 
incompatible, physiologic tension, or "psychosomatic anxiety" becomes 
manifest and behavior becomes vacillating, inefficient and unadaptive 
("neurotic') or excessively substitutive, erratic and regressive ("psychotic"). 

To study these general principles of biodynamics experimentally, one 
might utilize any animal with sufficiently high capacities for perception, 
integration and reaction the rat, the dog, the cat or the monkey. In most 
of the experiments to be described we employed the cat, because it has 
fairly simple motivations and relatively high intelligence. To actuate the 
animal's behavior we might have chosen any one of several stimuli 
thirst, cold, pressure or pain, erotic excitement or the like. We found that 
hunger for food, though a relatively complex need, is the most convenient: 
it is easily renewable, is satiable in easy stages, arid is neither as climactic 
nor potentially as traumatic as are sexuality, cold, pain or other physiologic 

In a typical experiment a cat was deprived of food for a day, then placed 
in a glass-enclosed experimental cage at one end of which was a food-box 
with a partly open hinged lid. The animal readily learned to obtain pellets 
of food from this box by prying the lid farther open so it could reach them. 
The animal was then taught ( a ) to wait for various combinations of sound 
and light signals before attempting to feed, (b) to manipulate various 
electrical switches so as to set off these signals for itself, and (c) to close 
two or more switches a given number of times in definite sequence or in 

The Mind's Ways 323 

response to cues. If the training of the animal was too rapid for its age and 
capacities and cats seemed to vary in intelligence as much as human 
beings do the animal sometimes became recalcitrant, inept and resistive. 
If, however, the training process was adjusted to the individual cat, its be- 
havior was efficient, well integrated and successful; indeed, pussy presented 
the appearance of a "happy" animal, as indicated by her eagerness to enter 
the laboratory, her avidity for the experimenter and the food-switch, and 
her legato sostenuto purring while she worked for her reward. 

The animals were then subjected to various frustrations. For example, 
after a cat had been trained to depress a disc-switch to obtain food, the 
switch was so rearranged that its manipulation produced little or no re- 
ward. The animal would then develop a marked tendency to push down 
upon other objects in its environment, such as saucers, loops, boxes or 
other cats. This obsessive manipulative activity took many forms: sitting 
on the switch or on similar small platforms rather than in more comfortable 
places, prying into the experimenter's clothes instead of into the food-box, 
and so on. 

Under other provocations the animals even exhibited conduct patterns 
which, when seen in human beings, have been called, misleadingly, 
"masochistic." Thus a cat was trained to accept a mild electric shock as a 
signal for feeding, and then taught to press a switch and administer the 
shock to itself in order to obtain the food. The intensity of the shock was 
then gradually increased to as much as 5,000 volts of a pulsating 15- 
milliampere condenser discharge; yet the animal continued to work the 
switch avidly for the food. Even when the reward was discontinued for 
long periods, the animal persisted in its accustomed pattern of depressing 
the switch, apparently solely for the substitutive experience of a "painful" 
electric shock. The observations suggest, however, that, contrary to Freud's 
paradoxical postulate of a death instinct, "masochistic" behavior is not 
basically "self-punitive" but rather a seeking for survival by patterns of 
response that seem awry only to an observer unacquainted with the unique 
experiences of the organism. In the light of the reactions revealed by these 
experiments, and by clinical investigations, we can understand why a 
woman may enjoy only certain "painful" forms of sexual intercourse when 
we learn that she reached her first orgasm while being beaten or raped; she 
may thereafter value all aspects of this erotic experience, including those 
considered by others as "painful." Similarly, we can cease to wonder why 
a man marries a succession of shrewish wives if we determine under deeper 
analysis that what appears to others to be nagging and persecution simply 
represents to him the security he had once experienced with his over- 
attentive but devoted mother. 

More complex frustrations, arising from social interactions, can also be 
demonstrated in animal groups with revealing clarity. In one type of ex- 
periment two trained cats, after a given feeding signal, are faced with a 
single food reward. At first they may skirmish a bit at the food-box. Soon, 

324 The Ways of Thought 

however, all external evidences of competition abate and only one of the 
animals usually the more alert and intelligent responds to the signal 
while its partner, though hungry, waits patiently until the "dominant" ani- 
mal is either satiated or removed from the cage. Stable hierarchies of 
"privilege" can be produced in groups of four or more animals. The same 
animals may however, range themselves in different orders of hierarchy 
for different activities. In short, there evolves a stratified "society" with 
fixed rankings in various activities. 

One particularly enlightening variant of these experiments seemed to 
reproduce in cats "worker-parasite relationships" that are usually seen only 
in more elaborate forms of social organization. Two cats, each of which 
had been trained to manipulate a switch to obtain food, were placed in a 
single cage. The cage was equipped with a barrier between the switch and 
the food-box, so that the animal which essayed to work the switch could not 
reach the food-box until after its less enterprising partner had eaten the 
pellet. Under these circumstances some pairs of cats evolved a form of 
cooperative effort; they alternately worked the switch to feed each other. 
This cooperation, however, lasted no longer among cats than it does among 
men. One animal sooner or later showed tendencies toward "parasitism"; 
it ate the pellets produced by its partner's efforts but refused to leave the 
food to manipulate the switch. The worker animal, finding its own "co- 
operative" behavior completely unrewarding, in turn ceased to produce 
food. Both animals, the parasite usually near the food-box and the worker 
near the switch, lolled about the cage for hours in a travesty of a sit-down 
strike. But as hunger increased, the relatively undernourished cat that had 
worked the switch usually would discover that if the switch were depressed 
six or eight times in rapid succession to release as many food pellets, he 
could scramble back to the box in time to get the last pellet or two before 
the parasitic partner gulped them all. In these experiments the end result 
was that the "worker" animal labored hard for a meager living while sup- 
porting its parasitic partner in leisure a form of relationship apparently 
accepted by both animals. In two cases out of some 14 studied, however, 
the workers solved the situation with a flash of technological genius not 
anticipated by the experimenter: they learned to wedge the switch into a 
recess in the cage, so that, with the electrical circuit closed and the me- 
chanical feeder operating continuously, both animals could feed without 
further effort by either. 

Now it is a noteworthy fact that even in circumstances of direct rivalry 
these animals seldom became hostile or combative toward one another. 
Indeed, overtly aggressive behavior occurred so infrequently that special 
experiments had to be devised to determine the specific circumstances 
under which such behavior could be elicited. These studies demonstrated 
that animals are likely to become overtly belligerent only under two sets of 
conditions: (1) when they are displaced from a position of social domi- 
nance to which they have become, thoroughly accustomed, or (2) when 
their goal-seeking activities are internally inhibited by neurotic conflicts. 

The Mind's Ways 325 

The first situation is illustrated by this series of experiments: Let four 
cats, designated as Group A, compete for food under controlled conditions 
until Cat Al emerges dominant, with A2, A3 and A4 in order below him. 
Let another group, B, range themselves correspondingly as Bl, B2, B3 and 
B4. If Al is now paired with B4, the latter, accustomed to permit all other 
animals to feed before it, will offer no competition. But if Al and Bl are 
paired after each has been accustomed for weeks or months to dominance 
in its respective group, a new contest of speed and skill occurs. As before, 
each animal at first strives for the food directly and diverts none of its 
energies into physical attacks on the other. Once again, of course, one ani- 
mal emerges dominant say Bl. Al now gives up its efforts to obtain the 
food reward as long as Bl is in the cage. But between signals Al may sit 
on the food-box menacing Bl with tooth and claw, or it may even attack 
Bl viciously, although it makes no effort to follow up such attacks with 
sallies at the food. Other pairings ( A2-B3, B2-A3, etc. ) evoke less definitive 
reactions ranging between the above-described extremes of peace and 

The second type of situation that leads to aggression the production of 
a neurotic conflict in an animal can also be demonstrated experimentally. 
If, for example, the dominant animal in a group is made fearful of feeding 
on signal he will abandon this learned response and permit a subdominant 
animal to feed instead yet attack the latter between feedings. 

We shall consider briefly how these experimental neuroses are produced 
in animals and the methods by which the behavior of such animals may be 
restored to "normal." This portion of our work is perhaps the most rele- 
vant to clinical psychiatry, in its older, limited sense as the study of the 
"abnormalities" of behavior. 

The concept of "conflict" has been central to many theories about the 
causes of neurotic aberrations. In biodynamics this concept is somewhat 
clarified by postulating that patterns of behavior come into conflict either 
because they arise from incompatible needs, or because they cannot co- 
exist in space and time. This general statement can be exemplified by a 
relatively simple method of producing an experimental neurosis in animals: 

A cat was trained to manipulate an electric device which first flashed a 
light, then rang a bell and finally deposited a pellet of breaded salmon in a 
food-box. The animal was permitted over a period of months to become 
thoroughly accustomed to this routine of working for the food. One day, 
however, just as the animal was about to consume its reward for honest 
labor it was subjected to a physically harmless but "psychically traumatic" 
stimulus, e.g., a mild air-blast across its snout or a pulsating condenser shock 
through its paws. The animal dropped the food, beat a startled retreat from 
the food-box and began to show hesitation and indecision about again 
manipulating the switch or approaching the food-box. When it did try 
again, it was permitted to feed several times but then subjected once more 
to the disruptive blast or shock. After from two to seven repetitions in as 
many days of such conflict-inducing experiences, the animal began to de- 

326 The Ways of Thought 

velop aberrant patterns of conduct so markedly like those in human 
neuroses that the two may be described in the same terms. 

Neurotic animals exhibited a rapid heart, full pulse, catchy breathing, 
raised blood pressure, sweating, trembling, erection of hair and other evi- 
dences of pervasive physiologic tension. They showed extreme startle re- 
actions to minor stimuli and became "irrationally" fearful not only of 
physically harmless light or sounds but also of closed spaces, air currents, 
vibrations, caged mice and food itself. The animals developed gastro- 
intestinal disorders, recurrent asthma, persistent salivation or diuresis, 
sexual impotence, epileptiform seizures or muscular rigidities resembling 
those in human hysteria or catatonia. Peculiar "compulsions" emerged, 
such as restless, elliptical pacing or repetitive gestures and mannerisms. 
One neurotic dog could never approach his food until he had circled it 
three times to the left and bowed his head before it. Neurotic animals lost 
their group dominance and became reactively aggressive under frustration. 
In other relationships they regressed to excessive dependence or various 
forms of kittenish helplessness. In short, the animals displayed the same 
stereotypes of anxiety, phobias, hypersensitivity, regression and psychoso- 
matic dysfunctions observed in human patients. 

In nearly every case these neurotic patterns rapidly permeated the en- 
tire life of the animals and persisted indefinitely unless "treated" by special 
procedures. By experiments too numerous and varied to be recounted here 
in detail, a number of such therapeutic techniques were worked out. Some 
of them are strikingly similar to those used in the treatment of human 

A neurotic animal given a prolonged rest of three to twelve months in a 
favorable home environment nearly always showed a diminution in anxiety, 
tension, and in phobic-compulsive and regressive behavior. The neurotic 
patterns were prone to reappear, however, when the animal was returned 
to the laboratory, even though it was not subjected to a direct repetition of 
the conflictual experiences. To draw a human analogy, a soldier with 
severe "combat fatigue" may appear recovered after a rest in a base 
hospital, but unless his unconscious attitudes are altered his reactions to 
latent anxiety recur cumulatively when he is returned to the locale of his 

If a neurotically self-starved animal which had refused food for two days 
was forcibly tube-fed, the mitigation of its hunger reduced its neurotic 
manifestations. . . . 

In another experiment a hungry neurotic cat was prevented from es- 
caping from the apparatus and was pushed mechanically closer and closer 
to the feeder until its head was almost in contact with a profusion of delect- 
able pellets. Under such circumstances some animals, despite their fears, 
suddenly lunged for the food; thereafter they needed less mechanical "per- 
suasion," and finally their feeding-inhibition disappeared altogether, carry- 
ing other neurotic symptoms with it. ... In some ways the "therapy" is 

The Mind's Ways 327 

akin to pushing a boy afraid of water into a shallow pool. Depending on 
what his capacities are for reintegrating his experiences, he may either 
find that there was no reason for fear or go into a state of diffuse panic. Be- 
cause of the latter possibility, ruthless force is generally considered a 
dangerous method in dealing with neurotic anxieties. 

The example of normal behavior sometimes has favorable results. An 
inhibited, phobic animal, after being paired for several weeks with one 
that responds normally in the experimental situation, will show some 
diminution in its neurotic patterns, although never complete recovery. It is 
well known, of course, that problem children improve in behavior when 
they have an opportunity to live with and emulate the more successful be- 
havior of normal youngsters although more specific individual therapy 
is nearly always necessary to complete the "cure." 

A neurotic animal becomes exceedingly dependent upon the experi- 
menter for protection and care. If this trust is not violated, the latter may 
retrain the animal by gentle steps: first, to take food from his hand, next 
to accept food in the apparatus, then to open the box while the experi- 
menter merely hovers protectively, and finally to work the switch and feed 
without special encouragement from the "therapist." During its rehabilita- 
tion the animal masters not only its immediate conflicts but also its general- 
ized inhibitions, phobias, compulsions and other neurotic reactions. This 
process may be likened to the familiar phenomenon of "transference" in 
clinical psychotherapy. The neurotic patient transfers his dependent re- 
lationship to the therapist, who then utilizes this dependence to guide and 
support the patient as the latter re-examines his conflictful desires and 
fears, recognizes his previous misinterpretations of reality and essays new 
ways of living until he is sufficiently successful and confident to proceed on 
his own. 

We have also tested on these animals the effects of drugs, electroshock 
and other physical methods used in the treatment of behavior disorders. 
Sedative and narcotic drugs were first tried on normal animals. In one 
series of experiments an animal was taught (1) to open a food-box, (2) to 
respond to food-signals, (3) to operate the signal-switch, (4) to work two 
switches in a given order, and finally (5) to traverse a difficult maze to 
reach one of the switches. If the animal was then drugged with a small 
dose of barbital, morphine or alcohol, it became incapable of solving the 
maze but could still work the food-switches properly. With larger doses, it 
could "remember" how to work only one switch; with still larger doses, 
earlier stages of learning also were disintegrated, until finally the animal 
lost even the simple skill required to open the food-box. In other words, in 
moderate doses a drug disorganizes complex behavior patterns first while 
leaving the relatively simple ones intact. 

Now if an animal is made neurotic and then is given barbital or mor- 
phine, its anxiety reactions and inhibitions are significantly relieved. In- 
stead of crouching tense and immobile in a far corner or showing fear of 

328 The Ways of Thought 

the feeding signals, it opens the food-box and feeds (albeit in a somewhat 
groggy manner), as though for the time being its doubts and conflicts are 
forgotten. Obviously the recently formed, intricate neurotic reactions are 
relatively more vulnerable to disintegration by the sedative drugs than the 
animal's preneurotic patterns. 

In one variant of these studies, animals which were drugged with alcohol 
and experienced relief from neurotic tensions while partly intoxicated were 
later given an opportunity to choose between alcoholic and nonalcoholic 
drinks. Significantly, about half the neurotic animals in these experiments 
began to develop a quite unfeline preference for alcohol; moreover in most 
cases the preference was sufficiently insistent and prolonged to warrant the 
term "addiction." This induced dipsomania generally lasted until the ani- 
mal's underlying neurosis was relieved by nonalcoholic methods of therapy. 
In still another series of experiments we observed that the administration 
of hypnotic drugs, including alcohol, so dulled the perceptive and memory 
capacities of animals that while thus inebriated they were relatively im- 
mune to emotionally traumatic experiences. It hardly needs pointing out, 
in this connection, that many a human being has been known to take a 
"bracer" before bearding the boss, flying a combat mission or getting mar- 
ried, and that temporary escapes of this nature from persistent anxieties 
often lead to chronic alcoholism. 

We also investigated the effects of cerebral electroshock on neurotic ani- 
mals. The shock produced by the 60-cycle current usually employed in 
this treatment acted upon animals like an intoxicant drug, disintegrating 
complex and recently acquired patterns of behavior in both "normal" and 
"neurotic" animals. Unlike most drugs, however, electroshock produced 
permanent impairment of behavioral efficiency and learning capacity. 
Weaker or modified currents such as are now being tested clinically (i.e., 
the direct square-wave Leduc type) produced lesser degrees of deteriora- 
tion in our animals, but also had less effect on their neurotic behavior. All 
in all, these experiments supported the growing conviction among psychia- 
trists that electroshock and other drastic procedures, though possibly use- 
ful in certain relatively recent and acute psychoses, produce cerebral 
damage which charges the indiscriminate use of such "therapies" with 
potential tragedy. 

All this is only a condensed summary of a long series of experiments de- 
signed to analyze the biodynamics of behavior and to discern principles 
that may apply to human behavior and to psychotherapy. To be sure, the 
gap between the responses of cats, dogs or monkeys in cages and the con- 
duct of man in society is undeniably wide; certainly man, of all creatures, 
has developed the most elaborate repertoire of "normal," "neurotic" and 
"psychotic" behavior patterns. Yet, as elsewhere in medicine, the best way 
to unravel an especially complex problem is to take it into the laboratory 
as well as the clinic, to investigate it by specially designed experiments, to 
check the results with a rigid self-discipline that eliminates subtle errors 

The Mind's Ways 329 

and cherished preconceptions, and so to advance bit by bit toward clearer 
formulations of general principles and more pertinent applications of them. 
Such experimental and operational approaches, when correlated with clini- 
cal practice, may dissolve the verbal barriers among the various schools o 
medical psychology and foster a needed rapprochement between psychiatry 
on the one hand and scientific medicine and the humanities on the other. 

Beyond this, the work in biodynamics presents some fundamental social 
implications. Our observations of the causes of aggressive behavior among 
animals support the clinical and sociological conclusions of Karen Horney, 
John Bollard and others (including the author) that hostilities among 
human beings also spring from the frustrations and the anxiety-ridden in- 
hibitions of their persistently barbaric culture not, as Sigmund Freud be- 
lieved, from an inborn, suicidal "death instinct." If aggression is truly in- 
nate, we should perhaps join Freud and some of his disciples in resigning 
ourselves, with apocalyptic erudition, to our inevitable self-destruction. But 
if aggression is simply a blindly destructive reaction to misconceived 
threats, then it could be dissipated by the abolition of the tragic wants and 
anxieties that underlie the individual and mass neuroses and psychoses of 

The Door & . B. TVbite 

This story is the perfect companion piece for Dr. Massermans 
essay on cats. Instead of studying the cat, however, E. B. White shows 
our neighbor, or maybe our neighbor's neighbor, trapped in the be- 
wildering world where wool suits are orlon, glass doors are invisible, 
and where, to paraphrase W. S. Gilbert, "Things aren't always what 
they seem/' 

EVERYTHING (he kept saying) is something it isn't. And everybody is al- 
ways somewhere else. Maybe it was the city, being in the city, that made 
him feel how queer everything was and that it was something else. Maybe 
(he kept thinking) it was the names of the things. The names were tex and 
frequently koid. Or they were flex and oid or they were duroid (sani) or 
flexsan (duro), but everything was glass (but not quite glass) and the 
thing that you touched (the surface, washable, crease-resistant) was rub- 
ber, only it wasn't quite rubber and you didn't quite touch it but almost. 

Copyright, 1939, by E. B. White. Originally published in The New Yorker. 

330 The Ways of Thought 

The wall, which was glass but thrutex, turned out on being approached 
not to be a wall, it was something else, it was an opening or doorway 
and the doorway (through which he saw himself approaching) turned out 
to be something else, it was a wall. And what he had eaten not having 
agreed with him. 

He was in a washable house, but he wasn't sure. Now about those rats, 
he kept saying to himself. He meant the rats that the Professor had driven 
crazy by forcing them to deal with problems which were beyond the scope 
of rats, the insoluble problems. He meant the rats that had been trained to 
jump at the square card with the circle in the middle, and the card (be- 
cause it was something it wasn't) would give way and let the rat into a 
place where the food was, but then one day it would be a trick played on 
the rat, and the card would be changed, and the rat would jump but the 
card wouldn't give way, and it was an impossible situation (for a rat) and 
the rat would go insane and into its eyes would come the unspeakably 
bright imploring look of the frustrated, and after the convulsions were over 
and the frantic racing around, then the passive stage would set in and the 
willingness to let anything be done to it, even if it was something else. 

He didn't know which door (or wall) or opening in the house to jump 
at, to get through, because one was an opening that wasn't a door (it was 
a void, or koid) and the other was a wall that wasn't an opening, it was a 
sanitary cupboard of the same color. He caught a glimpse of his eyes star- 
ing into his eyes, in the thrutex, and in them was the expression he had 
seen in the picture of the rats weary after convulsions and the frantic 
racing around, when they were willing and did not mind having anything 
done to them. More and more (he kept saying) I am confronted by a 
problem which is incapable of solution (for this time even if he chose the 
right door, there would be no food behind it) and that is what madness is, 
and things seeming different from what they are. He heard, in the house 
where he was, in the city to which he had gone ( as toward a door which 
might, or might not, give way), a noise not a loud noise but more of a 
low prefabricated humming. It came from a place in the base of the wall 
(or stat) where the flue carrying the filterable air was, and not far from the 
Minipiano, which was made of the same material nailbrushes are made of, 
and which was under the stairs. "This, too, has been tested," she said, 
pointing, but not at it, "and found viable." It wasn't a loud noise, he kept 
thinking, sorry that he had seen his eyes, even though it was through his 
own eyes that he had seen them. 

First will come the convulsions (he said), then the exhaustion, then the 
willingness to let anything be done. "And you better believe it will be." 

All his life he had been confronted by situations which were incapable of 
being solved, and there was a deliberateness behind all this, behind this 
changing of the card (or door), because they would always wait till you 
had learned to jump at the certain card (or door) the one with the circle 
and then they would change it on you. There have been so many doors 

The Mind's Ways 331 

changed on me, he said, in the last twenty years, but it is now becoming 
clear that it is an impossible situation, and the question is whether to jump 
again, even though they ruffle you in the rump with a blast of air to make 
you jump. He wished he wasn't standing by the Minipiano. First they 
would teach you the prayers and the Psalms, and that would be the right 
door (the one with the circle), and the long sweet words with the holy 
sound, and that would be the one to jump at to get where the food was. 
Then one day you jumped and it didn't give way, so that all you got was 
the bump on the nose, and the first bewilderment, the first young bewilder- 

I don't knew whether to tell her about the door they substituted or not, 
he said, the one with the equation on it and the picture of the amoeba 
reproducing itself by division. Or the one with the photostatic copy of the 
check for thirty-two dollars and fifty cents. But the jumping was so long 
ago, although the bump is ... how those old wounds hurtl Being crazy 
this way wouldn't be so bad if only, if only. If only when you put your foot 
forward to take a step, the ground wouldn't come up to meet your foot the 
way it does. And the same way in the street (only I may never get back to 
the street unless I jump at the right door), the curb coming up to meet your 
foot, anticipating ever so delicately the weight of the body, which is some- 
where else. "We could take your name," she said, "and send it to you." 
And it wouldn't be so bad if only you could read a sentence all the way 
through without jumping (your eye) to something else on the same page; 
and then (he kept thinking) there was that man out in Jersey, the one who 
started to chop his trees down, one by one, the man who began talking 
about how he would take his house to pieces, brick by brick, because he 
faced a problem incapable of solution, probably, so he began to hack at 
the trees in the yard, began to pluck with trembling fingers at the bricks in 
the house. Even if a house is not washable, it is worth taking down. It is 
not till later that the exhaustion sets in. 

But it is inevitable that they will keep changing the doors on you, he said, 
because that is what they are for; and the thing is to get used to it and not 
let it unsettle the mind. But that would mean not jumping, and you can't 
Nobody cannot jump. There will be no not-jumping. Among rats, perhaps, 
but among people never. Everybody has to keep jumping at a door (the 
one with the circle on it) because that is the way everybody is, specially 
some people. You wouldn't want me, standing here, to tell you, would you, 
about my friend the poet (deceased) who said, "My heart has followed all 
my days something I cannot name"? (It had the circle on it.) And like 
many poets, although few so beloved, he is gone. It killed him, the jump- 
ing. First, of course, there were the preliminary bouts, the convulsions, and 
the calm and the willingness. 

I remember the door with the picture of the girl on it (only it was spring), 
her arms outstretched in loveliness, her dress (it was the one with the circle 
on it) uncaught, beginning the slow, clear, blinding cascade and I guess 

332 The Ways of Thought 

we would all like to try that door again, for it seemed like the way and for 
a while it was the way, the door would open and you would go through 
winged and exalted (like any rat) and the food would be there, the way the 
Professor had it arranged, everything O.K., and you had chosen the rght 
door for the world was young. The time they changed that door on me, my 
nose bled for a hundred hours how do you like that, Madam? Or would 
you prefer to show me further through this so strange house, or you could 
take my name and send it to me, for although my heart has followed all my 
days something I cannot name, I am tired of the jumping and I do not know 
which way to go, Madam, and I am not even sure that I am not tried beyond 
the endurance of man (rat, if you will) and have taken leave of sanity. What 
are you following these days, old friend, after your recovery from the last 
bump? What is the name, or is it something you cannot name? The rats 
have a name for it by this time, perhaps, but I don't know what they call it. 
I call it plexikoid and it comes in sheets, something like insulating board, 
unattainable and ugli-proof . 

And there was the man out in Jersey, because I keep thinking about his 
terrible necessity and the passion and trouble he had gone to all those years 
in the indescribable abundance of a householder's detail, building the estate 
and the planting of the trees and in spring the lawn-dressing and in fall the 
bulbs for the spring burgeoning, and the watering of the grass on the long 
light evenings in summer and the gravel for the driveway (all had to be 
thought out, planned) and the decorative borders, probably, the perennials 
and the bug spray, and the building of the house from plans of the archi- 
tect, first the sills, then the studs, then the full corn in the ear, the floors 
laid on the floor timbers, smoothed, and then the carpets upon the smooth 
floors and the curtains and the rods therefor. And then, almost without 
warning, he would be jumping at the same old door and it wouldn't give: 
they had changed it on him, making life no longer supportable under the 
elms in the elm shade, under the maples in the maple shade. 
"Here you have the maximum of openness in a small room." 
It was impossible to say (maybe it was the city) what made him feel the 
way he did, and I am not the only one either, he kept thinking ask any 
doctor if I am. The doctors, they know how many there are, they even know 
where the trouble is only they don't like to tell you about the prefrontal 
lobe because that means making a hole in your skull and removing the work 
of centuries. It took so long coming, this lobe, so many, many years. ( Is it 
something you read in the paper, perhaps?) And now, the strain being so 
great, the door having been changed by the Professor once too often . . . but 
it only means a whiff of ether, a few deft strokes, and the higher animal 
becomes a little easier in his mind and more like the lower one. From now 
on, you see, that's the way it will be, the ones with the small prefrontal 
lobes will win because the other ones are hurt too much by this incessant 
bumping. They can stand just so much, eh, Doctor? (And what is that, 
pray, that you have in your hand?) Still, you never can tell, eh, Madam? 

The Mind's Ways 333 

He crossed (carefully) the room, the thick carpet under him softly, and 
went toward the door carefully, which was glass and he could see himself 
in it, and which, at his approach, opened to allow him to pass through; and 
beyond he half expected to find one of the old doors that he had known, 
perhaps the one with the circle, the one with the girl her arms outstretched 
in loveliness and beauty before him. But he saw instead a moving stairway, 
and descended in light (he kept thinking) to the street below and to the 
other people. As he stepped off, the ground came up slightly, to meet his 

Emily Dickinsons neighbors declared she was "eccentric," but 
whether this was an important part of her genius is a debatable matter. 
What is not debatable is her understanding not merely of her Amherst 
garden but of the human heart and mind. 

Much Madness Is Divinest Sense 

Emily "Dickinson is 30-4886 

Much madness is divinest sense 

To a discerning eye; 

Much sense the starkest madness. 

'Tis the majority 

In this, as all, prevails. 

Assent, and you are sane; 

Demur, you're straightway dangerous, 

And handled with a chain. 

The Brain Within Its Groove 

Emily Dickinson 

The brain within its groove 

Runs evenly and true; 

But let a splinter swerve, 

Twere easier for you 

To put the water back 

When floods have slit the hills, 

And scooped a turnpike for themselves, 

And blotted out the millsl 

Some Logicians 
at "Work 

"Now /tow 'would Aristotle 
have done it?" 

Logic and Logical Fallacies * 

Robert Qorham Davis 19Q8 

No mode of thought lends itself to precise structures so well as the 
rational, or, as it is often called, the logical. But like all laws, the laws 
of rational thought are constantly violated, and there are no police- 
men to clap a senator in /ail for committing a crime in logic, any more 
than there is an effective way of giving a logic-violation ticket to a 
columnist or to your neighbor in a political argument. The accom- 
panying essay categorizes the chief laws of logic, giving sufficient ma- 
terial to enable you to go into your dormitory, your newspapers, your 
classrooms, and your own discourse, to detect and expose the false and 
invalid argument. 

EXPRESSION does not exist apart from thought, and cannot be analyzed or 
profitably discussed apart from thought. Just as clear and effective organi- 
zation is essential to good writing, so consistent thinking and coherence of 
mind underlie consistent writing and coherence of style. The faults and 
errors which we have discussed under the headings of style and structure 

Reprinted from Handbook of English A (Cambridge: Harvard University Printing 
Office) by permission of the author and of the Society and Fellows of Harvard Uni- 


Some Logicians at Work 335 

are closely bound up with orderly thought, as the student can hardly fail 
to notice. But some direct suggestions on the modes of consistent thinking 
and of analyzing and criticizing arguments and assertions ought also to 
prove useful. The following pages accordingly present some notes on 
logic and common logical fallacies. 


The first requirement for logical discourse is knowing what the words 
you use actually mean. Words are not like paper money or counters in a 
game. Except for technical terms in some of the sciences, they do not have 
a fixed face value. Their meanings are fluid and changing, influenced by 
many considerations of context and reference, circumstance and association. 
This is just as true of common words such as fast as it is of literary terms 
such as romantic. Moreover, if there is to be communication, words must 
have approximately the same meaning for the reader that they have for 
the writer. A speech in an unknown language means nothing to the hearer. 
When an adult speaks to a small child or an expert to a layman, communi- 
cation may be seriously limited by lack of a mature vocabulary or ignorance 
of technical terms. Many arguments are meaningless because the speakers 
are using important words in quite different senses. 

Because we learn most words or guess at them from the contexts in 
which we first encounter them, our sense of them is often incomplete or 
wrong. Readers sometimes visualize the Assyrian who comes down like 
the wolf on the fold as an enormous man dressed in cohorts ( some kind of 
fancy armor, possibly) gleaming in purple and gold. "A rift in the lute" 
suggests vaguely a cracked mandolin. Failure to ascertain the literal mean- 
ing of figurative language is a frequent reason for mixed metaphors. We 
are surprised to find that the "devil" in "the devil to pay" and "the devil and 
the deep blue sea" is not Old Nick, but part of a ship. Unless terms mean 
the same thing to both writer and reader, proper understanding is im- 


The most serious logical difficulties occur with abstract terms. An ab- 
straction is a word which stands for a quality found in a number of dif- 
ferent objects or events from which it has been "abstracted" or taken away. 
We may, for instance, talk of the "whiteness" of paper or cotton or snow 
without considering qualities of cold or inflammability or usefulness which 
these materials happen also to possess. Usually, however, our minds carry 
over other qualities by association. See, for instance, the chapter called 
"The Whiteness of the Whale" in Moby-Dick. 

In much theoretic discussion the process of abstraction is carried so far 
that although vague associations and connotations persist, the original ob- 
jects or events from which the qualities have been abstracted are lost sight 
of completely. Instead of thinking of words like sincerity and Americanism 

336 The Ways of Thought 

as symbols standing for qualities that have to be abstracted with great care 
from examples and test cases, we come to think of them as real things in 
themselves. We assume that Americanism is Americanism just as a bicycle 
is a bicycle, and that everyone knows what it means. We forget that before 
the question, "Is Arthur Godfrey sincere?" can mean anything, we have to 
agree on the criteria of sincerity. 

When we try to define such words and find examples, we discover that 
almost no one agrees on their meaning. The word church may refer to any- 
thing from a building on the corner of Spring Street to the whole tradition 
of institutionalized Christianity. Germany may mean a geographical sec- 
tion of Europe, a people, a governing group, a cultural tradition, or a 
military power. Abstractions such as freedom, courage, race, beauty, truth, 
justice, nature, honor, humanism, democracy, should never be used in a 
theme unless their meaning is defined or indicated clearly by the context. 
Freedom for whom? To do what? Under what circumstances? Abstract 
terms have merely emotional value unless they are strictly defined by ask- 
ing questions of this kind. The study of a word such as nature in a good 
unabridged dictionary will show that even the dictionary, indispensable 
though it is, cannot determine for us the sense in which a word is being 
used in any given instance. Once the student understands the importance 
of definition, he will no longer be betrayed into fruitless arguments over 
such questions as whether free verse is "poetry" or whether you can change 
"human nature." 


It is a common unfairness in controversy to place what the writer dislikes 
or opposes in a generally odious category. The humanist dismisses what 
he dislikes by calling it romantic; the liberal, by calling it fascist; the con- 
servative, by calling it communistic. These terms tell the reader nothing. 
What is piety to some will be bigotry to others. Non-Catholics would rather 
be called Protestants than heretics. What is right-thinking except a designa- 
tion for those who agree with the writer? Social security measures become 
creeping socialism; industrial organizations, forces of reaction; investigation 
into communism, witch hunts; prison reform, coddling; progressive edu- 
cation, fads and frills. Such terms are intended to block thought by an 
appeal to prejudice and associative habits. Three steps are necessary be- 
fore such epithets have real meaning. First, they must be defined; second, 
it must be shown that the object to which they are applied actually pos- 
sesses these qualities; third, it must be shown that the possession of such 
qualities in this particular situation is necessarily undesirable. Unless a 
person is alert and critical both in choosing and in interpreting words, he 
may be alienated from ideas with which he would be in sympathy if he 
had not been frightened by a mere name. 


Similar to the abuse of abstract terms and epithets is the habit of pre- 
senting personal opinions in the guise of universal laws. The student often 

Some Logicians at Work 337 

seems to feel that the broader the terms in which he states an opinion, the 
more effective he will be. Ordinarily the reverse is true. An enthusiasm 
for Thomas Wolfe should lead to a specific critical analysis of Wolfe's 
novels that will enable the writer to explain his enthusiasm to others; it 
should not be turned into the argument that Wolfe is "the greatest Ameri- 
can novelist," particularly if the writer's knowledge of American novelists 
is somewhat limited. The same questions of who and when and why and 
under what circumstances which are used to check abstract terms should 
be applied to generalizations. Consider how contradictory proverbial wis- 
dom is when detached from particular circumstances. "Look before you 
leap," but 'Tie who hesitates is lost." 

Superlatives and the words right and wrong, true and untrue, never and 
always must be used with caution in matters of opinion. When a student 
says flatly that X is true, he often is really saying that he or his family or 
the author of a book he has just been reading, persons of certain tastes and 
background and experience, think that X is true. If his statement is based 
not on logic and examination of evidence, but merely reproduces other 
people's opinions, it can have little value or relevance unless these people 
are identified and their reasons for thinking so explained. Because many 
freshmen are taking survey courses in which they read a single work by an 
author or see an historical event through the eyes of a single historian 
whose bias they may not be able to measure, they must guard against this 


Assertions of a general nature are frequently open to question because 
they are based on insufficient evidence. Some persons are quite ready, 
after meeting one Armenian or reading one medieval romance, to general- 
ize about Armenians and medieval romances. One ought, of course, to 
examine objectively as many examples as possible before making a general- 
ization, but the number is less important than the representativeness of 
the examples chosen. The Literary Digest Presidential Poll, sent to hun- 
dreds of thousands of people selected from telephone directories, was far 
less accurate than the Gallup Poll which questioned far fewer voters, but 
selected them carefully and proportionately from all different social groups. 
The "typical" college student, as portrayed by moving pictures and car- 
toons, is very different from the "average" college student as determined 
statistically. We cannot let uncontrolled experience do our sampling for 
us; instances and examples which impress themselves upon our minds do 
so usually because they are exceptional. In propaganda and arguments 
extreme cases are customarily treated as if they were characteristic. 

If one is permitted arbitrarily to select some examples and ignore others, 
it is possible to find convincing evidence for almost any theory, no matter 
how fantastic. The fact that the mind tends naturally to remember those 
instances which confirm its opinions imposes a duty upon the writer, un- 
less he wishes to encourage prejudice and superstition, to look carefully 

338 The Ways of Thought 

for exceptions to all generalizations which he is tempted to make. We 
forget the premonitions which are not followed by disaster and the times 
when our hunches failed to select the winner in a race. Patent medicine 
advertisements print the letters of those who survived their cure, and not 
of those who died during it. All Americans did not gamble on the stock 
exchange in the twenties, or become Marxists in the thirties, and all 
Vermonters are not thin-lipped and shrewd. Of course the search for 
negative examples can be carried too far. Outside of mathematics or the 
laboratory, few generalizations can be made airtight, and most are not 
intended to be. But quibbling is so easy that resort to it is very common, 
and the knowledge that people can and will quibble over generalizations 
is another reason for making assertions as limited and explicitly conditional 
as possible. 


Illustration, comparison, analogy are most valuable in making an essay 
clear and interesting. It must not be supposed, however, that they prove 
anything or have much argumentative weight. The rule that what is true 
of one thing in one set of circumstances is not necessarily true of another 
thing in another set of circumstances seems almost too obvious to need 
stating. Yet constantly nations and businesses are discussed as if they were 
human beings with human habits and feelings; human bodies are discussed 
as if they were machines; the universe, as if it were a clock. It is assumed 
that what held true for seventeenth century New England or the thirteen 
Atlantic colonies also holds true for an industrial nation of 150,000,000 peo- 
ple. Carlyle dismissed the arguments for representative democracy by say- 
ing that if a captain had to take a vote among his crew every time he 
wanted to do something, he would never get around Cape Horn. This 
analogy calmly ignores the distinction between the lawmaking and the 
executive branches of constitutional democracies. Moreover, voters may be 
considered much more like the stockholders of a merchant line than its 
hired sailors. Such arguments introduce assumptions in a metaphorical 
guise in which they are not readily detected or easily criticized. In place 
of analysis they attempt to identify their position with some familiar symbol 
which will evoke a predictable, emotional response in the reader. The re- 
vival during the 1932 presidential campaign of Lincoln's remark, "Don't 
swap horses in the middle of the stream," was not merely a picturesque 
way of saying keep Hoover in the White House. It made a number of as- 
sumptions about the nature of depressions and the function of government. 
This propagandist technique can be seen most clearly in political cartoons. 


Often differences in degree are more important than differences in kind. 
By legal and social standards there is more difference between an habitual 
drunkard and a man who drinks temperately, than between a temperate 

Some Logicians at Work 339 

drinker and a total abstainer. In fact differences of degree produce what 
are regarded as differences of kind. At known temperatures ice turns to 
water and water boils. At an indeterminate point affection becomes love 
and a man who needs a shave becomes a man with a beard. The fact that 
no men or systems are perfect makes rejoinders and counter-accusations 
very easy if differences in degree are ignored. Newspapers in totalitarian 
states, answering American accusations of brutality and suppression, refer 
to lynchings and gangsterism here. Before a disinterested judge could 
evaluate these mutual accusations, he would have to settle the question of 
the degree to which violent suppression and lynching are respectively 
prevalent in the countries under consideration. On the other hand, dif- 
ferences in degree may be merely apparent. Lincoln Steffens pointed out 
that newspapers can create a "crime wave" any time they wish, simply by 
emphasizing all the minor assaults and thefts commonly ignored or given 
an inch or two on a back page. The great reported increases in insanity 
may be due to the fact that in a more urban and institutionalized society 
cases of insanity more frequently come to the attention of authorities and 
hence are recorded in statistics. 


The most common way of deciding that one tiling causes another thing 
is the simple principle: post hoc, ergo propter hoc, "After this, therefore 
because of this." Rome fell after the introduction of Christianity; therefore 
Christianity was responsible for the fall of Rome. Such reasoning illustrates 
another kind of faulty generalization. But even if one could find ten cases 
in which a nation "fell" after the introduction of Christianity, it still would 
not be at all certain that Christianity caused the fall. Day, it has fre- 
quently been pointed out, follows night in every observable instance, and 
yet night cannot be called the cause of day. Usually a combination of 
causes produces a result. Sitting in a draught may cause a cold, but only 
given a certain physical condition in the person sitting there. In such in* 
stances one may distinguish between necessary and sufficient conditions. 
Air is a necessary condition for the maintenance of plant life, but air alone 
is not sufficient to produce plant life. And often different causes at dif- 
ferent times may produce the same result. This relation is known as 
plurality of causes. If, after sitting in a stuffy theatre on Monday, and then 
again after eating in a stuffy restaurant on Thursday, a man suffered from 
headaches, he might say, generalizing, that bad air gave him headaches. 
But actually the headache on Monday may have been caused by eye- 
strain and on Thursday by indigestion. To isolate the causative factor it is 
necessary that all other conditions be precisely the same. Such isolation is 
possible, except in very simple instances, only in the laboratory or with 
scientific methods. If a picture falls from the wall every time a truck 
passes, we can quite certainly say that the truck's passing is the proximate 
or immediate cause. But with anything as complex and conditional as a 

340 The Ways of Thought 

nation's economy or human character, the determination of cause is not 
easy or certain. A psychiatrist often sees a patient for an hour daily for a 
year or more before he feels that he understands his neurosis. 

Ordinarily when we speak of cause we mean the proximate or immediate 
cause. The plants were killed by frost; we had indigestion from eating 
lobster salad. But any single cause is one in an unbroken series. When a 
man is murdered, is his death caused by the loss of blood from the wound, 
or by the firing of the pistol, or by the malice aforethought of the mur- 
derer? Was the World War "caused" by the assassination at Sarajevo? 
Were the Navigation Acts or the ideas of John Locke more important in 
"causing" the American Revolution? A complete statement of cause would 
comprise the sum total of the conditions which preceded an event, con- 
ditions stretching back indefinitely into the past. Historical events are so 
interrelated that the isolation of a causative sequence is dependent chiefly 
on the particular preoccupations of the historian. An economic determinist 
can "explain" history entirely in terms of economic developments; an ide- 
alist, entirely in terms of the development of ideas. 

The formal syllogism of the type, 

All men are mortal 

John is a man 

Therefore John is mortal, 

is not so highly regarded today as in some earlier periods. It merely fixes 
an individual as a member of a class, and then assumes that the individual 
has the given characteristics of the class. Once we have decided who John 
is, and what "man" and "mortal" mean, and have canvassed all men, in- 
cluding John, to make sure that they are mortal, the conclusion naturally 
follows. It can be seen that the chief difficulties arise in trying to establish 
acceptable premises. Faults in the premises are known as "material" falla- 
cies, and are usually more serious than the "formal" fallacies, which are 
logical defects in drawing a conclusion from the premises. But although 
directly syllogistic reasoning is not much practiced, buried syllogism can 
be found in all argument, and it is often a useful clarification to outline 
your own or another writer's essay in syllogistic form. The two most fre- 
quent defects in the syllogism itself are the undistributed and the am- 
biguous middle. The middle term is the one that appears in each of the 
premises and not in the conclusion. In the syllogism, 

All good citizens vote 

John votes 

Therefore John is a good citizen, 

the middle term is not "good citizens," but "votes." Even though it were 
true that all good citizens vote, nothing prevents bad citizens from voting 

Some Logicians at Work 341 

ilso, and John may be one of the bad citizens. To distribute the middle 
erm "votes" one might say (but only if that is what one meant), 

All voters are good citizens 

John is a voter 

Therefore John is a good citizen. 

The ambiguous middle term is even more common. It represents a prob- 
em in definition, while the undistributed middle is a problem in generali- 
:ation. All acts which benefit others are virtuous, losing money at poker 
>enefits others, therefore losing at poker is a virtuous act. Here the middle 
erm "act which benefits others" is obviously used very loosely and am- 


This phrase, meaning "it does not follow," is used to characterize the 
nnd of humor found in pictures in which the Marx Brothers perform. It is 
in amusing illogicality because it usually expresses, beneath its apparent 
ncongruity, an imaginative, associative, or personal truth. "My ancestors 
:ame over on the Mayflower; therefore I am naturally opposed to labor 
mions." It is riot logically necessary that those whose ancestors came over 
m the Mayflower should be opposed to unions; but it may happen to be 
rue as a personal fact in a given case. It is usually a strong personal con- 
dction which keeps people from realizing that their arguments are non- 
icqiuturs, that they do not follow the given premises with logical necessity. 
Contemporary psychologists have effectively shown us that there is often 
;uch a wide difference between the true and the purported reasons for an 
ittitude that, in rationalizing our behavior, we are often quite unconscious 
)f the motives that actually influence us. A fanatical antivivisectionist, for 
nstance, may have temperamental impulses toward cruelty which he is 
;uppressing and compensating for by a reasoned opposition to any kind of 
permitted suffering. We may expect, then, to come upon many conclusions 
vhich are psychologically interesting in themselves, but have nothing to 
lo with the given premises. 


This means, in idiomatic English, "arguing off the point," or ignoring 
he question at issue. A man trying to show that monarchy is the best form 
)f government for the British Empire may devote most of his attention to 
he charm of Elizabeth II and the affection her people feel for her. In 
ordinary conversational argument it is almost impossible for disputants to 
ceep to the point. Constantly turning up are tempting side-issues through 
vhich one can discomfit an opponent or force him to irrelevant admissions 
iiat seem to weaken his case. 

342 The Ways of Thought 


The first of these terms means to assume in the premises what you are 
pretending to prove in the course of your argument. The function of logic 
is to demonstrate that because one thing or group of things is true, another 
must be true as a consequence. But in begging the question you simply 
say in varying language that what is assumed to be true is assumed to be 
true. An argument which asserts that we shall enjoy immortality because 
we have souls which are immaterial and indestructible establishes nothing, 
because the idea of immortality is already contained in the assumption 
about the soul. It is the premise which needs to be demonstrated, not the 
conclusion. Arguing in a circle is another form of this fallacy. It proves 
the premise by the conclusion and the conclusion by the premise. The 
conscience forbids an act because it is wrong; the act is wrong because the 
conscience forbids it. 


It is very difficult for men to be persuaded by reason when their interest 
or prestige is at stake. If one wishes to preach the significance of physiog- 
nomy, it is well to choose a hearer with a high forehead and a determined 
jaw. The arguments in favor of repealing the protective tariff on corn or 
wheat in England were more readily entertained by manufacturers than by 
landowners. The cotton manufacturers in New England who were doing a 
profitable trade with the South were the last to be moved by descriptions 
of the evils of slavery. Because interest and desire are so deeply seated in 
human nature, arguments are frequently mingled with attempts to appeal 
to emotion, arouse fear, play upon pride, attack the characters of pro- 
ponents of an opposite view, show that their practice is inconsistent with 
their principles; all matters which have, strictly speaking, nothing to do 
with the truth or falsity, the general desirability or undesirability, of some 
particular measure. If men are desperate enough they will listen to argu- 
ments proper only to an insane asylum but which seem to promise them 

After reading these suggestions, which are largely negative, the student 
may feel that any original assertion he can make will probably contain one 
or several logical faults. This assumption is not true. Even if it were, we 
know from reading newspapers and magazines that worldly fame is not 
dimmed by the constant and, one suspects, conscious practice of illogicality. 
But generalizations are not made only by charlatans and sophists. Intelli- 
gent and scrupulous writers also have a great many fresh and provocative 
observations and conclusions to express and are expressing them influen- 
tially. What is intelligence but the ability to see the connection between 
things, to discern causes, to relate the particular to the general, to define 
and discriminate and compare? Any man who thinks and feels and ol> 

Some Logicians at Work 343 

And in his expression a proponent will find that a due regard for logic 
does not limit but rather increases the force of his argument. When state- 
ments are not trite, they are usually controversial. Men arrive at truth 
dialectically; error is weeded out in the course of discussion, argument, 
attack, and counterattack. Not only can a writer who understands logic 
show the weaknesses of arguments he disagrees with, but also, by antici- 
pating the kind of attack likely to be made on his own ideas, he can so 
arrange them, properly modified with qualifications and exceptions, that 
the anticipated attack is made much less effective. Thus, fortunately, we 
do not have to depend on the spirit of fairness and love of truth to lead 
men to logic; it has the strong support of argumentative necessity and of 
the universal desire to make ideas prevail. 

We Are All Scientists 


One of the most successful popularizers of science and its methods 
in the nineteenth century was Thomas Henry Huxley. This essay is 
his classic exposition of inductive and deductive logic. (It should be 
pointed out, of course, that his equation of these basic ways of sys- 
tematic thought with "scientific investigation" gives an over-simplified 
picture of a scientist's actual procedures.) 

SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION is not, as many people seem to suppose, some kind 
of modern black art. You might easily gather this impression from the man- 
ner in which many persons speak of scientific inquiry, or talk about induc- 
tive and deductive philosophy, or the principles of the "Baconian phi- 
losophy." I do protest that, of the vast number of cants in this world, 
there are none, to my mind, so contemptible as the pseudo-scientific cant 
which is talked about the "Baconian philosophy." 

To hear people talk about the great Chancellor and a very great man 
he certainly was, you would think that it was he who had invented 
science, and that there was no such thing as sound reasoning before the 
time of Queen Elizabeth! Of course you say, that cannot possibly be true; 
you perceive, on a moment's reflection, that such an idea is absurdly 
wrong. . . . 

The method of scientific investigation is nothing but the expression of the 
necessary mode of working of the human mind. It is simply the mode at 
which all phenomena are reasoned about, rendered precise and exact. There 
is no more difference, but there is just the same kind of difference, between 

344 The Ways of Thought 

the mental operations of a man of science and those of an ordinary person, 
as there is between the operations and methods of a baker or of a butcher 
weighing out his goods in common scales, and the operations of a chemist 
in performing a difficult and complex analysis by means of his balance and 
finely-graduated weights. It is not that the action of the scales in the one 
case, and the balance in the other, differ in the principles of their construc- 
tion or manner of working; but the beam of one is set on an infinitely finer 
axis than the other, and of course turns by the addition of a much smaller 

You will understand this better, perhaps, if I give you some familiar 
example. You have all heard it repeated, I dare say, that men of science 
work by means of induction and deduction, and that by the help of these 
operations, they, in a sort of sense, wring from Nature certain other things, 
which are called natural laws, and causes, and that out of these, by some 
cunning skill of their own, they build up hypotheses and theories. And it 
is imagined by many, that the operations of the common mind can be by 
no means compared with these processes, and that they have to be acquired 
by a sort of special apprenticeship to the craft. To hear all these large 
words, you would think that the mind of a man of science must be consti- 
tuted differently from that of his fellow men; but if you will not be fright- 
ened by terms, you will discover that you are quite wrong, and that all these 
terrible apparatus are being used by yourselves every day and every hour 
of your lives. 

There is a well-known incident in one of Moliere's plays, where the author 
makes the hero express unbounded delight on being told that he had been 
talking prose during the whole of his life. In the same way, I trust, that 
you will take comfort, and be delighted with yourselves, on the discovery 
that you have been acting on the principles of inductive and deductive 
philosophy during the same period. Probably there is not one who has not 
in the course of the day had occasion to set in motion a complex train of 
reasoning, of the very same kind, though differing of course in degree, as 
that which a scientific man goes through in tracing the causes of natural 

A very trivial circumstance will serve to exemplify this. Suppose you go 
into a fruiterer's shop, wanting an apple, you take up one, and, on biting 
it, you find it is sour; you look at it, and see that it is hard and green. You 
take up another one, and that too is hard, green, and sour. The shopman 
offers you a third; but, before biting it, you examine it, and find that it is 
hard and green, and you immediately say that you will not have it, as it 
must be sour, like those that you have already tried. 

Nothing can be more simple than that, you think; but if you will take the 
trouble to analyse and trace out into its logical elements what has been 
done by the mind, you will be greatly surprised. In the first place, you have 
performed the operation of induction. You found that, in two experiences, 
hardness and greenness in apples went together with sourness. It was so in 

Some Logicians at Work 345 

the first case, and it was confirmed by the second. True, it is a very small 
basis, but still it is enough to make an induction from; you generalize the 
facts, and you expect to find sourness in apples where you get hardness and 
greenness. You found upon that a general law, that all hard and green 
apples are sour; and that, so far as it goes, is a perfect induction. Well, 
having got your natural law in this way, when you are offered another apple 
which you find is hard and green, you say, "All hard and green apples are 
sour; this apple is hard and green, therefore this apple is sour." That train 
of reasoning is what logicians call a syllogism, and has all its various parts 
and terms its major premiss, its minor premiss, and its conclusion. And, 
by the help of further reasoning, which, if drawn out, would have to be 
exhibited in two or three other syllogisms, you arrive at your final deter- 
mination, "I will not have that apple." So that, you see, you have, in the 
first place, established a law by induction, and upon that you have founded 
a deduction, and reasoned out the special conclusion of the particular case. 
Well now, suppose, having got your law, that at some time afterwards, you 
are discussing the qualities of apples with a friend: you will say to him, 
"It is a very curious thing, but I find that all hard and green apples are 
sour!" Your friend says to you, "But how do you know that?" You at once 
reply, "Oh, because I have tried them over and over again, and have always 
found them to be so." Well, if we were talking science instead of common 
sense, we should call that an experimental verification. And, if still opposed, 
you go further, and say, "I have heard from the people in Somersetshire and 
Devonshire, where a large number of apples are grown, that they have ob- 
served the same thing. It is also found to be the case in Normandy, and in 
North America. In short, I find it to be the universal experience of mankind 
wherever attention has been directed to the subject." Whereupon, your 
friend, unless he is a very unreasonable man, agrees with you, and is con- 
vinced that you are quite right in the conclusion you have drawn. He 
believes, although perhaps he does not know he believes it, that the more 
extensive verifications are, that the more frequently experiments have 
been made, and results of the same kind arrived at, that the more varied 
the conditions under which the same results are attained, the more certain 
is the ultimate conclusion, and he disputes the question no further. He sees 
that the experiment has been hied under all sorts of conditions, as to time, 
place, and people, with the same result; and he says with you, therefore, 
that the law you have laid down must be a good one, and he must believe 

In science we do the same tiling; the philosopher exercises precisely 
the same faculties, though in a much more delicate manner. In scientific 
inquiry it becomes a matter of duty to expose a supposed law to every 
possible kind of verification, and to take care, moreover, that this is done 
intentionally, and not left to a mere accident, as in the case of the apples. 
And in science, as in common life, our confidence in a law is in exact pro- 
portion to the absence of variation in the result of our experimental verifi- 

346 The Ways of Thought 

cations. For instance, if you let go your grasp of an article you may have in 
your hand, it will immediately fall to the ground. That is a very common 
verification of one of the best established laws of nature that of gravita- 
tion. The method by which men of science establish the existence of that 
law is exactly the same as that by which we have established the trivial 
proposition about the sourness of hard and green apples. But we believe 
it in such an extensive, thorough, and unhesitating manner because the 
universal experience of mankind verifies it, and we can verify it ourselves 
at any time; and that is the strongest possible foundation on which any 
natural law can rest. 

So much, then, by way of proof that the method of establishing laws in 
science is exactly the same as that pursued in common life. Let us now turn 
to another matter (though really it is but another phase of the same ques- 
tion), and that is, the method by which, from the relations of certain 
phenomena, we prove that some stand in the position of causes towards 
the others. 

I want to put the case clearly before you, and I will therefore show you 
what I mean by another familiar example. I will suppose that one of you, 
on coming down in the morning to the parlour of your house, finds that a 
tea-pot and some spoons which had been left in the room on the previous 
evening are gone, the window is open, and you observe the mark of a 
dirty hand on the window-frame, and perhaps, in addition to that, you 
notice the impress of a hob-nailed shoe on the gravel outside. All these 
phenomena have struck your attention instantly, and before two seconds 
have passed you say, "Oh, somebody has broken open the window, entered 
the room, and run off with the spoons and the tea-pot!" That speech is out 
of your mouth in a moment. And you will probably add, "I know there 
has; I am quite sure of it!" You mean to say exactly what you know; but 
in reality you are giving expression to what is, in all essential particulars, an 
hypothesis. You do not know it at all; it is nothing but an hypothesis rapidly 
framed in your own mind. And it is an hypothesis founded on a long train 
of inductions and deductions. 

What are those inductions and deductions, and how have you got at this 
hypothesis? You have observed, in the first place, that the window is open; 
but by a train of reasoning involving many inductions and deductions, you 
have probably arrived long before at the general law and a very good one 
it is that windows do not open of themselves; and you therefore conclude 
that something has opened the window. A second general law that you 
have arrived at in the same way is, that tea-pots and spoons do not go out of 
a window spontaneously, and you are satisfied that, as they are not now 
where you left them, they have been removed. In the third place, you look 
at the marks on the window-sill, and the shoe-marks outside, and you say 
that in all previous experience the former kind of mark has never been pro- 
duced by anything else but the hand of a human being; and the same expe- 
rience shows that no other animal but man at present wears shoes with 

Some Logicians at Work 347 

hob-nails in them such as would produce the marks in the gravel. I do not 
know, even if we could discover any of those "missing links" that are 
talked about, that they would help us to any other conclusion! At any rate 
the law which states our present experience is strong enough for my present 
purpose. You next reach the conclusion, that as these kinds of marks have 
not been left by any other animals than men, or are liable to be formed in 
any other way than by a man's hand and shoe, the marks in question have 
been formed by a man in that way. You have, further, a general law, 
founded on observation and experience, and that, too, is, I am sorry to say, 
a very universal and unimpeachable one, that some men are thieves; and 
you assume at once from all these premisses and that is what constitutes 
your hypothesis that the man who made the marks outside and on the 
window-sill, opened the window, got into the room, and stole your tea-pot 
and spoons. You have now arrived at a vera causa; you have assumed a 
cause which, it is plain, is competent to produce all the phenomena you 
have observed. You can explain all these phenomena only by the hypothe- 
sis of a thief. But that is a hypothetical conclusion, of the justice of which 
you have no absolute proof at all; it is only rendered highly probable by a 
series of inductive and deductive reasonings. 

I suppose your first action, assuming that you are a man of ordinary 
common sense, and that you have established this hypothesis to your own 
satisfaction, will very likely be to go for the police, and set them on the track 
of the burglar, with the view to the recovery of your property. But just as 
you are starting with this object, some person comes in, and on learning 
what you are about, says, "My good friend, you are going on a great deal 
too fast. How do you know that the man who really made the marks took 
the spoons? It might have been a monkey that took them, and the man may 
have merely looked in afterwards." You would probably reply, "Well, that 
is all very well, but you see it is contrary to all experience of the way tea- 
pots and spoons are abstracted; so that, at any rate, your hypothesis is less 
probable than mine." While you are talking the thing over in this way, 
another friend arrives. And he might say, "Oh, my dear sir, you are certainly 
going on a great deal too fast. You are most presumptuous. You admit that 
all these occurrences took place when you were fast asleep, at a time when 
you could not possibly have known anything about what was taking place. 
How do you know that the laws of Nature are not suspended during the 
night? It may be that there has been some kind of supernatural interference 
in this case." In point of fact, he declares that your hypothesis is one of 
which you cannot at all demonstrate the truth and that you are by no means 
sure that the laws of Nature are the same when you are asleep as when you 
are awake. 

Well, now, you cannot at the moment answer that kind of reasoning. 
You feel that your worthy friend has you somewhat at a disadvantage. You 
will feel perfectly convinced in your own mind, however, that you are quite 
right, and you say to him, "My good friend, I can only be guided by the 

348 The Ways of Thought 

natural probabilities of the case, and if you will be kind enough to stand 
aside and permit me to pass, I will go and fetch the police." Well, we will 
suppose that your journey is successful, and that by good luck you meet 
with a policeman; that eventually the burglar is found with your property on 
his person, and the marks correspond to his hand and to his boots. Prob- 
ably any jury would consider those facts a very good experimental verifica- 
tion of your hypothesis, touching the cause of the abnormal phenomena 
observed in your parlour, and would act accordingly. 

Now, in this suppositious case, I have taken phenomena of a very common 
kind, in order that you might see what are the different steps in an ordinary 
process of reasoning, if you will only take the trouble to analyze it carefully. 
All the operations I have described, you will see, are involved in the mind 
of any man of sense in leading him to a conclusion as to the course he 
should take in order to make good a robbery and punish the offender. I 
say that you are led, in that case, to your conclusion by exactly the same 
train of reasoning as that which a man of science pursues when he is en- 
deavouring to discover the origin and laws of the most occult phenomena. 
The process is, and always must be, the same; and precisely the same mode 
of reasoning was employed by Newton and Laplace in their endeavours to 
discover and define the causes of the movements of the heavenly bodies, as 
you, with your own common sense, would employ to detect a burglar. The 
only difference is, that the nature of the inquiry being more abstruse, every 
step has to be most carefully watched, so that there may not be a single 
crack or flaw in your hypothesis. A flaw or crack in many of the hypotheses 
of daily life may be of little or no moment as affecting the general correct- 
ness of the conclusions at which we may arrive; but, in a scientific inquiry, 
a fallacy, great or small, is always of importance, and is sure to be in the 
long run constantly productive of mischievous, if not fatal results. 

Do not allow yourselves to be misled by the common notion that an 
hypothesis is untrustworthy simply because it is an hypothesis. It is often 
urged, in respect to some scientific conclusion, that, after all, it is only an 
hypothesis. But what more have we to guide us in nine-tenths of the most 
important affairs of daily life than hypotheses, and often very ill-based 
ones? So that in science, where the evidence of an hypothesis is subjected 
to the most rigid examination, we may rightly pursue the same course. You 
may have hypotheses and hypotheses. A man may say, if he likes, that the 
moon is made of green cheese: that is an hypothesis. But another man, who 
has devoted a great deal of time and attention to the subject, and availed 
himself of the most powerful telescopes and the results of the observations 
of others, declares that in his opinion it is probably composed of materials 
very similar to those of which our own earth is made up: and that is also 
only an hypothesis. But I need not tell you that there is an enormous differ- 
ence in the value of the two hypotheses. That one which is based on sound 
scientific knowledge is sure to have a corresponding value; and that which 
is a mere hasty random guess is likely to have but little value. Every great 

Some Logicians at Work 349 

step in our progress in discovering causes has been made in exactly the same 
way as that which I have detailed to you. A person observing the occur- 
rence of certain facts and phenomena asks, naturally enough, what process, 
what kind of operation known to occur in Nature applied to the particular 
case, will unravel and explain the mystery? Hence you have the scientific 
hypothesis; and its value will be proportionate to the care and complete- 
ness with which its basis has been tested and verified. It is in these matters 
as in the commonest affairs of practical life: the guess of the fool will be 
folly, while the guess of the wise man will contain wisdom. In all cases, you 
see that the value of the result depends on the patience and faithfulness 
with which the investigator applies to his hypothesis every possible kind of 
verification. . . . 

A Modest Proposal *p 

Jonathan Swift 4667-4745 

Sweet are the uses of argument, especially in the cause of evil. 
None knew this better than Jonathan Swift, with his piercing intelli- 
gence, his respect for intellectual order and clarity; and none was more 
skillful than he in defending reason by placing unreason in a logical 
pattern. "A Modest Proposal" is at once a parody of the economic 
tracts of eighteenth-century England and a parody of argument itself. 
That it is also the most powerful single piece of ironic writing in 
English, and that it is a passionate plea for human justice, are extra 
values beyond the immediate reasons for its inclusion here. 

IT is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or 
travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors 
crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six 
children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an alms. These 
mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced 
to employ all their time in strolling to beg sustenance for their helpless 
infants, who as they grow up either turn thieves for want of work, or leave 
their dear native country to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell them- 
selves to the Barbadoes. 

I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of children 
in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently 
of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom a very 
great additional grievance; and, therefore, whoever could find out a fair, 
cheap, and easy method of making these children sound, useful members of 

350 The Ways of Thought 

the commonwealth would deserve so well of the public as to have his statue 
set up for a preserver of the nation. 

But my intention is very far from being confined to provide only for the 
children of professed beggars; it is of a much greater extent, and shall take 
in the whole number of infants at a certain age who are born of parents in 
effect as little able to support them as those who demand our charity in 
the streets. 

As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years upon this 
important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other pro- 
jectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in the computation. It 
is true, a child just dropped from its dam may be supported by her milk for 
a solar year, with little other nourishment; at most not above the value of 
2s., which the mother may certainly get, or the value in scraps, by her lawful 
occupation of begging; and it is exactly at one year old that I propose to 
provide for them in such a manner as instead of being a charge upon their 
parents or the parish, or wanting food and raiment for the rest of their lives, 
they shall on the contrary contribute to the feeding, and partly to the cloth- 
ing, of many thousands. 

There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will pre- 
vent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murder- 
ing their bastard children, alasl too frequent among us! sacrificing the poor 
innocent babes I doubt more to avoid the expense than the shame, which 
would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast. 

The number of souls in this kingdom being usually reckoned one million 
and a half, of these I calculate there may be about two hundred thousand 
couples whose wives are breeders; from which number I subtract thirty thou- 
sand couples who are able to maintain their own children, although I appre- 
hend there cannot be so many, under the present distresses of the kingdom; 
but this being granted, there will remain an hundred and seventy thousand 
breeders. I again subtract fifty thousand for those women who miscarry, or 
whose children die by accident or disease within the year. There only 
remain one hundred and twenty thousand children of poor parents annually 
born. The question therefore is, how this number shall be reared and pro- 
vided for, which, as I have already said, under the present situation of 
affairs, is utterly impossible by all the methods hitherto proposed. For we 
can neither employ them in handicraft or agriculture; we neither build 
houses (I mean in the country) nor cultivate land; they can very seldom 
pick up a livelihood by stealing till they arrive at six years old, except where 
they are of towardly parts, although I confess they learn the rudiments much 
earlier, during which time they can, however, be properly looked upon only 
as probationers, as I have been informed by a principal gentleman in the 
county of Cavan, who protested to me that he never knew above one or 
two instances under the age of six, even in a part of the kingdom so re- 
nowned for the quickest proficiency in that art. 

I am assured by our merchants that a boy or a girl before twelve years 

Some Logicians at Work 351 

old is no salable commodity; and even when they come to this age they will 
not yield above three pounds, or three pounds and a half-a-crown at most 
on the exchange; which cannot turn to account either to the parents or king- 
dom, the charge of nutriment and rags having been at least four times that 

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope 
will not be liable to the least objection. 

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in 
London that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most 
delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, 
or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or 
a ragout. 

I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the hundred 
and twenty thousand children already computed, twenty thousand may be 
reserved for breed, whereof only one-fourth part to be males; which is more 
than we allow to sheep, black cattle, or swine; and my reason is that these 
children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much re- 
garded by our savages; therefore one male will be sufficient to serve four 
females. That the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be 
offered in the sale to the persons of quality and fortune through the king- 
dom; always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last 
month, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table. A child will 
make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines 
alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned 
with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, 
especially in winter. 

I have reckoned upon a medium that a child just born will weigh 12 
pounds, and in a solar year, if tolerably nursed, increaseth to 28 pounds. 

I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for 
landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to 
have the best title to the children. 

Infants' flesh will be in season throughout the year, but more plentiful in 
March, and a little before and after; for we are told by a grave author, an 
eminent French physician, that fish being a prolific diet, there are more 
children born in Roman Catholic countries about nine months after Lent 
than at any other season; therefore, reckoning a year after Lent, the markets 
will be more glutted than usual, because the number of popish infants is at 
least three to one in this kingdom: and therefore it will have one other 
collateral advantage, by lessening the number of papists among us. 

I have already computed the charge of nursing a beggar's child (in which 
list I reckon all cottagers, laborers, and four-fifths of the farmers) to be 
about two shillings per annum, rags included; and I believe no gentleman 
would repine to give ten shillings for the carcass of a good fat child, which, 
as I have said, will make four dishes of excellent nutritive meat, when he 
hath only some particular friend or his own family to dine with him. Thus 

352 The Ways of Thought 

the squire will learn to be a good landlord, and grow popular among his 
tenants; the mother will have eight shillings net profit, and be fit for work 
till she produces another child. 

Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the times require) may 
flay the carcass, the skin of which artificially dressed will make admirable 
gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen. 

As to our city of Dublin, shambles may be appointed for this purpose in 
the most convenient parts of it, and butchers we may be assured will not be 
wanting; although I rather recommend buying the children alive than 
dressing them hot from the knife as we do roasting pigs. 

A very worthy person, a true lover of his country, and whose virtues I 
highly esteem, was lately pleased in discoursing on this matter to offer a 
refinement upon my scheme. He said that many gentlemen of this kingdom, 
having of late destroyed their deer, he conceived that the want of venison 
might be well supplied by the bodies of young lads and maidens, not exceed- 
ing fourteen years of age nor under twelve; so great a number of both 
sexes in every country being now ready to starve for want of work and 
service; and these be disposed of by their parents, if alive, or otherwise by 
their nearest relations. But with due deference to so excellent a friend and 
so deserving a patriot, I cannot be altogether in his sentiments; for as to the 
males, my American acquaintance assured me, from frequent experience, 
that their flesh was generally tough and lean, like that of our schoolboys by 
continual exercise, and their taste disagreeable; and to fatten them would 
not answer the charge. Then as to the females, it would, I think, with hum- 
ble submission be a loss to the public, because they soon would become 
breeders themselves; and besides, it is not improbable that some scrupulous 
people might be apt to censure such a practice (although indeed very 
unjustly), as a little bordering upon cruelty; which I confess, hath always 
been with me the strongest objection against any project, however so well 

But in order to justify my friend, he confessed that this expedient was 
put in his head by the famous Psalmanazar, a native of the island of For- 
mosa, who came from thence to London above twenty years ago, and in 
conversation told my friend that in his country, when any young person 
happened to be put to death, the executioner sold the carcass to persons of 
quality as a prime dainty; and that in his time the body of a plump girl of 
fifteen, who was crucified for an attempt to poison the emperor, was sold to 
his imperial majesty's prime minister of state, and other great mandarins of 
the court, in joints from the gibbet, at four hundred crowns. Neither indeed 
can I deny that if the same use were made of several plump young girls in 
this town, who without one single groat to their fortunes cannot stir abroad 
without a chair, and appear at playhouse and assemblies in foreign fineries 
which they never will pay for, the kingdom would not be the worse. 

Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about that vast 
number of poor people who are aged, diseased, or maimed, and I have been 

Some Logicians at Work 353 

desired to employ my thoughts what course may be taken to ease the nation 
of so grievous an encumbrance. But I am not in the least pain upon that 
matter, because it is very well known that they are every day dying and 
rotting by cold and famine, and filth and vermin, as fast as can be reason- 
ably expected. And as to the young laborers, they are now in as hopeful a 
condition; they cannot get work, and consequently pine away for want of 
nourishment, to a degree that if at any time they are accidentally hired to 
common labor, they have not strength to perform it, and thus the country 
and themselves are happily delivered from the evils to come. 

I have too long disgressed, and therefore shall return to my subject. I 
think the advantages of the proposal which I have made are obvious and 
many, as well as of the highest importance. 

For first, as I have already observed, it would greatly lessen the number 
of Papists, with whom we are yearly overrun, being the principal breeders 
of the nation as well as our most dangerous enemies; and who stay at 
home on purpose with a design to deliver the kingdom to the Pretender, 
hoping to take their advantage, by the absence of so many good Protestants, 
who have chosen rather to leave their country than stay at home and pay 
tithes against their conscience to an episcopal curate. 

Second, the poorer tenants will have something valuable of their own, 
which by law may be made liable to distress and help to pay their land- 
lord's rent, their corn and cattle being already seized, and money a thing 

Thirdly, whereas the maintenance of an hundred thousand children, 
from two years old and upward, cannot be computed at less than ten 
shillings apiece per annum, the nation's stock will be thereby increased 
fifty thousand pounds per annum, beside the profit of a new dish intro- 
duced to the tables of all gentlemen of fortune in the kingdom who have 
any refinement in taste. And the money will circulate among ourselves, the 
goods being entirely of our own growth and manufacture. 

Fourthly, the constant breeders, beside the gain of eight shillings sterling 
per annum by the sale of their children, will be rid of the charge of main- 
taining them after the first year. 

Fifthly, this food would likewise bring great customs to taverns, where 
the vintners will certainly be so prudent as to procure the best receipts for 
dressing it to perfection, and consequently have their houses frequented by 
all the fine gentlemen who justly value themselves upon their knowledge in 
good eating; and a skillful cook, who understands how to oblige his guests, 
will contrive to make it as expensive as they please. 

Sixthly, this would be a great inducement to marriage, which all wise 
nations have either encouraged by rewards or enforced by laws and penal- 
ties. It would increase the care and the tenderness of mothers toward their 
children, when they were sure of a settlement for life to the poor babes, 
provided in some sort by the public, to their annual profit instead of ex- 
pense. We should see an honest emulation among the married women, 

354 The Ways of Thought 

which of them could bring the fattest child to the market. Men would be- 
come as fond of their wives during the time of their pregnancy as they 
are now of their mares in foal, their cows in calf, their sows when they are 
ready to farrow; nor offer to beat or kick them ( as is too frequent a prac- 
tice) for fear of a miscarriage. 

Many other advantages might be enumerated. For instance, the addition 
of some thousand carcasses in our exportation of barreled beef, the propa- 
gation of swine's flesh, and improvement in the art of making good bacon, 
so much wanted among us by the great destruction of pigs, too frequent at 
our tables; which are no way comparable in taste or magnificence to a 
well-grown, fat, yearling child, which roasted whole will make a consider- 
able figure at a lord mayor's feast or any other public entertainment. But 
this and many others I omit, being studious of brevity. 

Supposing that one thousand families in this city would be constant 
customers for infants' flesh, beside others who might have it at merry- 
meetings, particularly weddings and christenings, I compute that Dublin 
would take off annually about twenty thousand carcasses; and the rest of 
the kingdom (where probably they will be sold somewhat cheaper) the 
remaining eighty thousand. 

I can think of no one objection that will possibly be raised against this 
proposal, unless it should be urged that the number of people will be 
thereby much lessened in the kingdom. This I freely own, and was indeed 
one principal design in offering it to the world. I desire the reader will 
observe that I calculate my remedy for this one individual kingdom of 
Ireland and for no other that ever was, is, or I think ever can be upon 
earth. Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: of taxing our 
absentees at five shillings a pound; of using neither clothes nor household 
furniture except what is of our own growth and manufacture; of utterly 
rejecting the materials and instruments that promote foreign luxury; of 
curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in our 
women; of introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence, and temperance; of 
learning to love our country, wherein we differ even from Laplanders and 
the inhabitants of Topinamboo; of quitting our animosities and factions, 
nor act any longer like the Jews, who were murdering one another at the 
very moment their city was taken; of being a little cautious not to sell our 
country and conscience for nothing; of teaching landlords to have at least 
one degree of mercy toward their tenants; lastly, of putting a spirit of 
honesty, industry, and skill into our shopkeepers; who, if a resolution could 
now be taken to buy only our native goods, would immediately unite to 
cheat and exact upon the price, the measure, and the goodness, nor could 
ever yet be brought to make one fair proposal of just dealing, though often 
and earnestly invited to it. 

Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, 
till he hath at least some glimpse of hope that there will be ever some 
hearty and sincere attempt to put them in practice. 

Some Logicians at Work 355 

But as to myself, having been wearied out for many years with offering 
vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length utterly despairing of success, 
I fortunately fell upon this proposal; which, as it is wholly new, so it hath 
something solid and real, of no expense and little trouble, full in our own 
power, and whereby we can incur no danger in disobliging England. For 
this kind of commodity will not bear exportation, the flesh being of too 
tender a consistency to admit a long continuance in salt, although perhaps 
I could name a country which would be glad to eat up our whole nation 
without it. 

After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion as to reject 
any offer proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, 
cheap, easy, and effectual. But before something of that kind shall be ad- 
vanced in contradiction to my scheme, and offering a better, I desire the 
author or authors will be pleased maturely to consider two points. First, 
as things now stand, how they will be able to find food and raiment for an 
hundred thousand useless mouths and backs. And secondly, there being a 
round million of creatures in human figure throughout this kingdom, whose 
whole subsistence put into a common stock would leave them in debt two 
millions of pounds sterling, adding those who are beggars by profession to 
the bulk of farmers, cottagers, and laborers, with their wives and children, 
who are beggars in effect: I desire those politicians who dislike my over- 
ture, and may perhaps be so bold as to attempt an answer, that they will 
first ask the parents of these mortals, whether they would not at this day 
think it a great happiness to have been sold for food at a year old in the 
manner I prescribe, and thereby have avoided such a perpetual scene of 
misfortunes as they have since gone through by the oppression of landlords, 
the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade, the want of com- 
mon sustenance with neither house nor clothes to cover them from the in- 
clemencies of the weather, and the most inevitable prospect of entailing the 
like or greater miseries upon their breed for ever. 

I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal 
interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other 
motive than the public good of my country, by advancing our trade, pro- 
viding for infants, relieving the poor, and giving some pleasure to the rich. 
I have no children by which I can propose to get a single penny; the 
youngest being nine years old, and my wife past child-bearing. 

Inflexible Logic *F 

Russell JWalomy mo-i948 

The distinction between logical and experimental proof is often 
a sad one. Here a famous logical proposition is submitted to the test of 
experiment and the result is at once hilarious and sad. 

WHEN the six chimpanzees came into his life, Mr. Bainbridge was thirty- 
eight years old. He was a bachelor and lived comfortably in a remote part 
of Connecticut, in a large old house with a carriage drive, a conservatory, 
a tennis court, and a well-selected library. His income was derived from 
impeccably situated real estate in New York City, and he spent it soberly, 
in a manner which could give offence to nobody. Once a year, late in 
April, his tennis court was resurfaced, and after that anybody in the 
neighborhood was welcome to use it; his monthly statement from Bren- 
tano's seldom ran below seventy-five dollars; every third year, in Novem- 
ber, he turned in his old Cadillac coupe for a new one; he ordered his 
cigars, which were mild and rather moderately priced, in shipments of one 
thousand, from a tobacconist in Havana; because of the international situa- 
tion he had cancelled arrangements to travel abroad, and after due thought 
had decided to spend his travelling allowance on wines, which seemed 
likely to get scarcer and more expensive if the war lasted. On the whole, 
Mr. Bainbridge's life was deliberately, and not too unsuccessfully, modelled 
after that of an English country gentleman of the late eighteenth century, a 
gentleman interested in the arts and in the expansion of science, and so 
sure of himself that he didn't care if some people thought him eccentric. 

Mr. Bainbridge had many friends in New York, and he spent several days 
of the month in the city, staying at his club and looking around. Some- 
times he called up a girl and took her out to a theatre and a night club. 
Sometimes he and a couple of classmates got a little tight and went to a 
prizefight. Mr. Bainbridge also looked in now and then at some of the 
conservative art galleries, and liked occasionally to go to a concert. And he 
liked cocktail parties, too, because of the fine footling conversation and the 
extraordinary number of pretty girls who had nothing else to do with the 
rest of their evening. It was at a New York cocktail party, however, that 
Mr. Bainbridge kept his preliminary appointment with doom. At one of 
the parties given by Hobie Packard, the stockbroker, he learned about the 
theory of the six chimpanzees. 

Copyright, 1940, The New Yorker Magazine, Inc. 


Some Logicians at Work 357 

It was almost six-forty. The people who had intended to have one drink 
and go had already gone, and the people who intended to stay were forti- 
fying themselves with slightly dried canapes and talking animatedly. A 
group of stage and radio people had coagulated in one corner, near Pack- 
ard's Capehart, and were wrangling about various methods of cheating the 
Collector of Internal Revenue. In another corner was a group of stock- 
brokers, talking about the greatest stockbroker of them all, Gauguin. Little 
Marcia Lupton was sitting with a young man, saying earnestly, "Do you 
really want to know what my greatest ambition is? I want to be myself," 
and Mr. Bainbridge smiled gently, thinking of the time Marcia had said 
that to him. Then he heard the voice of Bernard Weiss, the critic, saying, 
"Of course he wrote one good novel. It's not surprising. After all, we 
know that if six chimpanzees were set to work pounding six typewriters at 
random, they would, in a million years, write all the books in the British 

Mr. Bainbridge drifted over to Weiss and was introduced to Weiss's 
companion, a Mr. Noble. "What's this about a million chimpanzees, Weiss?" 
he asked. 

"Six chimpanzees," Mr. Weiss said. "It's an old cliche of the mathe- 
maticians. I thought everybody was told about it in school. Law of 
averages, you know, or maybe it's permutation and combination. The six 
chimps, just pounding away at the typewriter keys, would be bound to 
copy out all the books ever written by man. There are only so many pos- 
sible combinations of letters and numerals, and they'd produce all of them 
see? Of course they'd also turn out a mountain of gibberish, but they'd 
work the books in, too. All the books in the British Museum." 

Mr. Bainbridge was delighted; this was the sort of talk he liked to hear 
when he came to New York. "Well, but look here," he said, just to keep 
up his part in the foolish conversation, "what if one of the chimpanzees 
finally did duplicate a book, right down to the last period, but left that off? 
Would that count?" 

"I suppose not. Probably the chimpanzee would get around to doing the 
book again, and put the period in." 

"What nonsense!" Mr. Noble cried. 

"It may be nonsense, but Sir James Jeans believes it," Mr. Weiss said, 
huffily. "Jeans or Lancelot Hogben. I know I ran across it quite recently." 

Mr. Bainbridge was impressed. He read quite a bit of popular science, 
and both Jeans and Hogben were in his library. "Is that so?" he murmured, 
no longer feeling frivolous. "Wonder if it has ever actually been tried? I 
mean, has anybody ever put six chimpanzees in a room with six typewriters 
and a lot of paper?" 

Mr. Weiss glanced at Mr. Bainbridge's empty cocktail glass and said 
drily, "Probably not." 

Nine weeks later, on a winter evening, Mr. Bainbridge was sitting in his 

358 The Ways of Thought 

study with his friend James Mallard, an assistant professor of mathematics 
at New Haven. He was plainly nervous as he poured himself a drink and 
said, "Mallard, I've asked you to come here Brandy? Cigar? for a 
particular reason. You remember that I wrote you some time ago, asking 
your opinion of ... of a certain mathematical hypothesis or supposition." 

Tes," Professor Mallard said, briskly. "I remember perfectly. About the 
six chimpanzees and the British Museum. And I told you it was a perfectly 
sound popularization of a principle known to every schoolboy who had 
studied the science of probabilities." 

"Precisely," Mr. Bainbridge said. "Well, Mallard, I made up my mind . . . 
It was not difficult for me, because I have, in spite of that fellow in the 
White House, been able to give something every year to the Museum of 
Natural History, and they were naturally glad to oblige me. . . . And after 
all, the only contribution a layman can make to the progress of science is to 
assist with the drudgery of experiment. ... In short, I " 

"I suppose you're trying to tell me that you have procured six chim- 
panzees and set them to work at typewriters in order to see whether they 
will eventually write all the books in the British Museum. Is that it?" 

"Yes, that's it," Mr. Bainbridge said. "What a mind you have, Mallard. 
Six fine young males, in perfect condition. I had a I suppose you'd call 
it a dormitory built out in back of the stable. The typewriters are in the 
conservatory. It's light and airy in there, and I moved most of the plants 
out. Mr. North, the man who owns the circus, very obligingly let me en- 
gage one of his best animal men. Really, it was no trouble at all." 

Professor Mallard smiled indulgently. "After all, such a thing is not un- 
heard of," he said. "I seem to remember that a man at some university put 
his graduate students to work flipping coins, to see if heads and tails came 
up an equal number of times. Of course they did." 

Mr. Bainbridge looked at his friend very queerly. "Then you believe that 
any such principle of the science of probabilities will stand up under an 
actual test?" 


"You had better see for yourself." Mr. Bainbridge led Professor Mallard 
downstairs, along a corridor, through a disused music room, and into a 
large conservatory. The middle of the floor had been cleared of plants and 
was occupied by a row of six typewriter tables, each one supporting a 
hooded machine. At the left of each typewriter was a neat stack of yellow 
copy paper. Empty wastebaskets were under each table. The chairs were 
the unpadded, spring-backed kind favored by experienced stenographers. 
A large bunch of ripe bananas was hanging in one corner, and in another 
stood a Great Bear water-cooler and a rack of Lily cups. Six piles of type- 
script, each about a foot high, were ranged along the wall on an improvised 
shelf. Mr. Bainbridge picked up one of the piles, which he could just 
conveniently lift, and set it on a table before Professor Mallard. "The out- 
put to date of Chimpanzee A, known as Bill," he said simply. 

Some Logicians at Work 359 

" ' "Oliver Twist," by Charles Dickens/ " Professor MaUard read out. He 
read the first and second pages of the manuscript, then feverishly leafed 
through to the end. "You mean to tell me," he said, "that this chimpanzee 
has written " 

"Word for word and comma for comma," said Mr. Bainbridge. "Young, 
my butler, and I took turns comparing it with the edition I own. Having 
finished 'Oliver Twist/ Bill is, as you see, starting the sociological works of 
Vilfredo Pareto, in Italian. At the rate he has been going, it should keep 
him busy for the rest of the month/' 

"And all the chimpanzees" Professor Mallard was pale, and enunciated 
with difficulty "they aren't all " 

"Oh, yes, all writing books which I have every reason to believe are in 
the British Museum. The prose of John Donne, some Anatole France, 
Conan Doyle, Galen, the collected plays of Somerset Maugham, Marcel 
Proust, the memoirs of the late Marie of Rumania, and a monograph by a 
Dr. Wiley on the marsh grasses of Maine and Massachusetts. I can sum it 
up for you, Mallard, by telling you that since I started this experiment, four 
weeks and some days ago, none of the chimpanzees has spoiled a single 
sheet of paper." 

Professor Mallard straightened up, passed his handkerchief across his 
brow, and took a deep breath. "I apologize for my weakness," he said. "It 
was simply the sudden shock. No, looking at the thing scientifically and 
I hope I am at least as capable of that as the next man there is nothing 
marvellous about the situation. These chimpanzees, or a succession of 
similar teams of chimpanzees, would in a million years write all the books 
in the British Museum. I told you some time ago that I believed that state- 
ment. Why should my belief be altered by the fact that they produced 
some of the books at the very outset? After all, I should not be very much 
surprised if I tossed a coin a hundred times and it came up heads every 
time. I know that if I kept at it long enough, the ratio would reduce itself 
to an exact fifty per cent. Rest assured, these chimpanzees will begin to 
compose gibberish quite soon. It is bound to happen. Science tells us so. 
Meanwhile, I advise you to keep this experiment secret. Uninformed peo- 
ple might create a sensation if they knew." 

"I will, indeed," Mr. Bainbridge said. "And I'm very grateful for your 
rational analysis. It reassures me. And now, before you go, you must 
hear the new Schnabel records that arrived today." 

During the succeeding three months, Professor Mallard got into the 
habit of telephoning Mr. Bainbridge every Friday afternoon at five-thirty, 
immediately after leaving his seminar room. The Professor would say, 
"Well?," and Mr. Bainbridge would reply, "They're still at it, Mallard. 
Haven't spoiled a sheet of paper yet." If Mr. Bainbridge had to go out on 
Friday afternoon, he would leave a written message with his butler, who 
would read it to Professor Mallard: "Mr. Bainbridge says we now have 

360 The Ways of Thought 

Trevelyan's *Life of Macaulay/ the Confessions of St. Augustine, ^Vanity 
Fair/ part of living's 'Life of George Washington/ the Book of the Dead, 
and some speeches delivered in Parliament in opposition to the Corn Laws, 
sir." Professor Mallard would reply, with a hint of a snarl in his voice, 
"Tell him to remember what I predicted/' and hang up with a clash. 

The eleventh Friday that Professor Mallard telephoned, Mr. Bainbridge 
said, "No change. I have had to store the bulk of the manuscript in the 
cellar. I would have burned it, except that it probably has some scientific 

"How dare you talk of scientific value?" The voice from New Haven 
roared faintly in the receiver. "Scientific value! You you chimpanzee!" 
There were further inarticulate sputterings, and Mr. Bainbridge hung up 
with a disturbed expression. "I am afraid Mallard is overtaxing himself," 
he murmured. 

Next day, however, he was pleasantly surprised. He was leafing through 
a manuscript that had been completed the previous day by Chimpanzee D, 
Corky. It was the complete diary of Samuel Pepys, and Mr. Bainbridge 
was chuckling over the naughty passages, which were omitted in his own 
edition, when Professor Mallard was shown into the room. "I have come to 
apologize for my outrageous conduct on the telephone yesterday," the 
Professor said. 

"Please don't think if it any more. I know you have many things on your 
mind," Mr. Bainbridge said. "Would you like a drink?" 

"A large whiskey, straight, please," Professor Mallard said. "I got rather 
cold driving down. No change, I presume?" 

"No, none. Chimpanzee F, Dinty, is just finishing John Florio's transla- 
tion of Montaigne's essays, but there is no other news of interest." 

Professor Mallard squared his shoulders and tossed off his drink in one 
astonishing gulp. "I should like to see them at work," he said. "Would I 
disturb them, do you think?" 

"Not at all. As a matter of fact, I usually look in on them around this 
time of day. Dinty may have finished his Montaigne by now, and it is al- 
ways interesting to see them start a new work. I would have thought that 
they would continue on the same sheet of paper, but they don't, you know. 
Always a fresh sheet, and the title in capitals." 

Professor Mallard, without apology, poured another drink and slugged 
it down. "Lead on," he said. 

It was dusk in the conservatory, and the chimpanzees were typing by the 
light of student lamps clamped to their desks. The keeper lounged in a 
corner, eating a banana and reading Billboard. "You might as well take an 
hour or so off/' Mr. Bainbridge said. The man left. 

Professor Mallard, who had not taken off his overcoat, stood with his 
hands in his pockets, looking at the busy chimpanzees. "I wonder if you 
know, Bainbridge, that the science of probabilities takes everything into ac- 

Some Logicians at Work 361 

count/' he said, in a queer, tight voice. "It is certainly almost beyond the 
bounds of credibility that these chimpanzees should write books without a 
single error, but that abnormality may be corrected by these!" He took 
his hands from his pockets, and each one held a .38 revolver. "Stand back 
out of harm's way!" he shouted. 

"Mallard! Stop it!" The revolvers barked, first the right hand, then the 
left, then the right. Two chimpanzees fell, and a third reeled into a corner. 
Mr. Bainbridge seized his friend's arm and wrested one of the weapons 
from him. 

"Now I am armed, too, Mallard, and I advise you to stopl" he cried. 
Professor Mallard's answer was to draw a bead on Chimpanzee E and 
shoot him dead. Mr. Bainbridge made a rush, and Professor Mallard fired 
at him. Mr. Bainbridge, in his quick death agony, tightened his finger on 
the trigger of his revolver. It went off, and Professor Mallard went down. 
On his hands and knees he fired at the two chimpanzees which were still 
unhurt, and then collapsed. 

There was nobody to hear his last words. "The human equation ... al- 
ways the enemy of science . . ." he panted. "This time . . . vice versa ... I, 
a mere mortal . . . savior of science . . . deserve a Nobel . . ." 

When the old butler came running into the conservatory to investigate 
the noises, his eyes were met by a truly appalling sight. The student lamps 
were shattered, but a newly risen moon shone in through the conservatory 
windows on the corpses of the two gentlemen, each clutching a smoking 
revolver. Five of the chimpanzees were dead. The sixth was Chimpanzee 
F. His right arm disabled, obviously bleeding to death, he was slumped 
before his typewriter. Painfully, with his left hand, he took from the ma- 
chine the completed last page of Florio's Montaigne. Groping for a fresh 
sheet, he inserted it, and typed with one finger, "UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, by 
Harriet Beecher Stowe. Chapte . . ." Then he, too, was dead. 

To His Coy Mistress 

Andrew JWarvell i62i-i678 

Even a poem may have its logical as well as its psychological struc- 
ture. One needs but little ingenuity to put Marvell's argument into a 
syllogism satisfactory to the severest logician. At the same time, the 
lines echo the voices of urgent lovers of all countries and of all times. 
Its being an argument plus poem raises questions concerning the 
strategies and intentions of poetry. If "All men are mortal; Socrates is 
a man; Therefore, Socrates is mortal" is an argument, what keeps it 
from being a poem? And in reverse, what keeps Marvell's lines from 
being mere syllogism? Maybe how something is said is as much a part 
of the meaning as what is said. Or better, maybe meaning is triadic in 
structure, consisting of what, how, and the subtle relation of what and 
how. "How," said Yeats, "can we know the dancer from the dance?" 

HAD WE but world enough, and time, 
This coyness, Lady, were no crime. 
We would sit down and think which way 
To walk and pass our long love's day. 
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side 
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide 
Of Humber would complain. I would 
Love you ten years before the Flood, 
And you should, if you please, refuse 
Till the conversion of the Jews. 
My vegetable love should grow 
Vaster than empires, and more slow; 
An hundred years should go to praise 
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze; 
Two hundred to adore each breast, 
But thirty thousand to the rest; 
An age at least to every part, 
And the last age should show your heart. 
For, Lady, you deserve this state, 
Nor would I love at lower rate. 
But at my back I always hear 
Time's winged chariot hurrying near; 
And yonder all before us lie 
Deserts of vast eternity. 
Thy beauty shall no more be found, 
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound 
My echoing song; then worms shall try 
That long preserved virginity, 

Some Logicians at Work 363 

And your quaint honor turn to dust, 
And into ashes all my lust: 
The grave's a fine and private place, 
But none, I think, do there embrace. 

Now therefore, while the youthful hue 
Sits on thy skin like morning dew, 
And while thy willing soul transpires 
At every pore with instant fires, 
Now let us sport us while we may, 
And now, like amorous birds of prey, 
Rather at once our time devour 
Than languish in his slow-chapped power. 
Let us roll all our strength and all 
Our sweetness up into one ball, 
And tear our pleasures with rough strife 
Thorough the iron gates of life: 
Thus, though we cannot make our sun 
Stand still, yet we will make him run. 

fteyond Logic 

"Can't you feel the deeper 

The Role of Hunches 

Walter B. Cannon i87i-i945 

From such discussions as T. H. Huxley's, we are likely to have the 
idea that scientific discoveries are always the result of an orderly and 
rigorously logical process of thought. Such "unscientific" ways of dis- 
covery as "woman's intuition/' "/ust having a feeling/' or the sudden 
illumination that is represented in comic strips by a radiant light-bulb 
over the discoverer's head, are given serious consideration as valid 
avenues of problem-solving by many scientists. Cannon, himself a dis- 
tinguished physiologist, discusses the phenomenon in this essay. 

How DO INVESTIGATORS OBTAIN insight into ways of possible progress toward 
acquiring new knowledge? Do they sit down and think intensively about 
the existing status and what the next move shall be or do they count upon 
revelation for hints and clairvoyance? Evidence indicates that reliance has 
been placed on both methods. 

From the years of my youth the unearned assistance of sudden and un- 
predicted insight has been common. While a student in high school I 

Reprinted from The Way of an Investigator by Walter B. Cannon. By permission of 
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York. Copyright, 1945, by W. W. Norton & Com- 
pany, Inc. 


Beyond Logic 365 

was occasionally puzzled by "originals" in algebra, the solution of which 
was not at all clear when I went to sleep at night. As I awoke in the morn- 
ing the proper procedures were immediately evident and the answers were 
quickly obtained. On an occasion I was handed a complicated toy which 
was out of order and would not operate. I examined the mechanism care- 
fully but did not see how the defect might be corrected. I resorted to sleep 
for a solution of the problem. At daybreak, the corrective manipulation 
appeared thoroughly understandable, and I promptly set the contraption 

As a matter of routine I have long trusted unconscious processes to serve 
me for example, when I have had to prepare a public address. I would 
gather points for the address and write them down in a rough outline. 
Within the next few nights I would have sudden spells of awakening, with 
an onrush of illustrative instances, pertinent phrases, and fresh ideas related 
to those already listed. Paper and pencil at hand permitted the capture of 
these fleeting thoughts before they faded into oblivion. The process has 
been so common and so reliable for me that I have supposed that it was at 
the service of everyone. But evidence indicates that it is not. 

An illuminating inquiry into the nature of the flash of ideas and the extent 
of its occurrence among scientific men was reported by Platt and Baker 1 in 
1931. They called the phenomenon a "hunch," a word meaning originally a 
push or sudden thrust. In ordinary experience it means the quick gleam of 
a suggestion that flares unexpectedly as the answer to a difficult question or 
as the explanation of a puzzle. They defined the scientific hunch as "a uni- 
fying or clarifying idea which springs into consciousness as a solution to a 
problem in which we are intensely interested." 

In their inquiry into the appearance of hunches among chemists they 
received answers from 232 correspondents. Assistance from a scientific 
revelation or a hunch in the solution of an important problem was reported 
by 33 per cent; 50 per cent reported that they had such assistance occasion- 
ally; and only 17 per cent never. Professor W. D. Bancroft, the Cornell 
University chemist, tells of talking to four fellow chemists regarding aid 
from hunches and finding that to three of them the experience was common- 
place. The fourth did not understand what was meant by the reference 
and testified that he had never had the feeling of an inspiration, had never 
had an idea come to him unexpectedly from some strange "outside" realm. 
He had worked consciously for all his results and what was described by 
the others meant nothing to him. 

In typical cases a hunch appears after long study and springs into con- 
sciousness at a time when the investigator is not working on his problem. 
It arises from a wide knowledge of facts, but it is essentially a leap of the 
imagination, for it reaches forth into the range of possibilities. It results 
from a spontaneous process of creative thought. Noteworthy in the statis- 

i W. Platt and R. A. Baker, "The Relation of the Scientific 'Hunch' to