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That, perhaps, I have now pointed out with sufficient explicitness. I have shown the incompatibility of the present social organization of our colleges with the realization of that purpose only to add emphasis to the statement of what that purpose is. Once get that clearly established in the mind of the country, and the means of realizing it will readily and quickly enough be found. The object of the college is intellectual discipline and moral
enlightenment, and it is the immediate task of those who administer the colleges of the country to find the means and the organization by which that object can be attained. Education is a process and, like all other processes, has its proper means and machinery. It does not consist in courses of study. It consists of the vital assimilation of knowledge; and the mode of life, for the college as for the individual, is nine parts of the digestion.
THE BOOKCASE AT HOME 1
WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS
From the year 1872, when his first novel, Their Wedding Journey, was published, until his death in 1920, William Dean Howells was the most distinguished of American novelists. He was born in 1837, the year of Emerson's Phi Beta Kappa address on The American Scholar, which Oliver Wendell Holmes called our declaration of intellectual independence. Howells's literary life, with the exception of his verse- e-writing days, which were imitative, was one unbroken protest against following the wellworn path of the European artist in fiction, particularly in romantic fiction. His contribution to critical theory was the elaboration of the idea that the function of the novelist is to represent artistically the life of the commonplace, average man.
Howells was a child of his time, and concerned himself, as the politician does, with men of his time as they were, not as they might have been. He was a wise man, but he was also what the wise seldom are, clever. And yet the spirit of the ages descended upon him; he was possessed of the real miracle in human life, a great soul.
Howells was for a time in the consular service of the United States, though chiefly because it afforded him opportunity to observe life and travel abroad. He performed valuable public service as editor of Harper's Magazine, which was one of the four leading magazines in the world of that day. He wrote essays, verse, comedies and farces, editorial criticism, but above all, novels of realism and character analysis. The Rise of Silas Lapham is still the great novel of the life of the distinctively American business man. Others of his important novels, besides those already mentioned, are A Chance Acquaintance, A Foregone Conclusion, A Modern Instance, The Lady of the Aroostook, and The World of Chance. His knowledge, his interpretation of life, his method, and his language make his work of permanent literary and social value.
To give an account of one's reading is in some sort to give an account of one's life; and I hope that I shall not offend those who follow me in these papers, if I cannot help speaking of myself in speaking of the authors I
1 Reprinted, by permission of Miss Mildred Howells, from My Literary Passions, published by Harper & Brothers
must call my masters: my masters not because they taught me this or that directly, but because I had such delight in them that I could not fail to teach myself from them whatever I was capable of learning. I do not know whether I have have been what people call a great reader; I cannot claim even to have been a very wise reader; but I have always been conscious of a high purpose to read much more, and more discreetly, than I have ever really done, and probably it is from the vantage-ground of this good intention that I shall sometimes be found writing here rather than from the facts of the case.
But I am pretty sure that I began right, and that if I had always kept the lofty level which I struck at the outset I should have the right to use authority in these reminiscences without a bad conscience. I shall try not to use authority, however, and I do not expect to speak here of all my reading, whether it has been much or little, but only of those books, or of those authors that I have felt a genuine passion for. I have known such passions at every period of my life, but it is mainly of the loves of my youth that I shall write, and I shall write all the more frankly because my own youth now seems to me rather more alien than that of any other person.
I think that I came of a reading race, which has always loved literature in a way, and in spite of varying fortunes and many changes. From a letter of my great-grandmother's written to a stubborn daughter upon some unfilial behavior, like running away to be married, I suspect that she was fond of the high-colored fiction of her day, for she tells the wilful child that she has "planted a dagger in her mother's heart," and I should not be surprised if it were from this fine-languaged lady that my grandfather derived his taste for poetry, rather than from his father, who was of a worldly-wiser mind. To be sure he became a Friend by Convincement, as the Quakers say, and so I cannot imagine that he was altogether worldly; but he had an eye to the main chance: he founded the industry of making flannels in the little Welsh town where he lived, and he seems to have grown richer, for his day and place, than any of us have since grown for ours. My grandfather, indeed, was concerned chiefly in getting away from the world and its wickedness. He came to this country early in the century and settled his family in a log-cabin in the Ohio woods, that they might be safe from the sinister influences of the village where he was managing some woolen mills. But he kept his affection for certain poets of the graver, not to say gloomier, sort, and he must have suffered his children to read them, pending that great question of their souls' salvation which was a lifelong trouble to him.
My father, at any rate, had such a decided bent in the direction of literature that he was not content in any of his several economical experiments till he became the editor of a newspaper, which was then the sole means of satisfying a literary passion. His paper, at the date when I began to know him, was a living, comfortable and decent, but without the least promise of wealth in it, or the hope even of a much better condition. I think now that he was wise not to care for the advancement which most of us have our hearts set upon, and that it was one of his finest qualities that he was content with a lot in life where he was not exempt from work with his hands, and yet where he was not so pressed by need but he could give himself at will not only to the things of the spirit, but the things of the mind too. After a season of skepticism he had become a religious man, like the rest of his race, but in his own fashion, which was not at all the fashion of my grandfather, a Friend who had married out of Meeting, and had ended a perfervid Methodist. My father, who could never get himself converted at any of the camp-meetings where my grandfather often led the forces of prayer to his support, and had at last to be given up in despair, fell in with the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, and embraced the doctrine of that philosopher with a content that has lasted him all the days of his many years. Ever since I can remember, the works of Swedenborg formed a large part of his library; he read them much himself, and much to my mother, and occasionally a “Memorable Relation" from them to us children. But he did not force them upon our notice, nor urge us to read them, and I think this was very well. I suppose his conscience and his reason kept him from doing so. But in regard to other books, his fondness was too much for him, and when I began to show a liking for literature he was eager to guide my choice.
His own choice was for poetry, and the most of our library which was not given to theology was given to poetry. I call it the library now, but then we called it the bookcase, and that was what literally it was, though I believe that whatever we had called our modest collection of books, it was a larger private collection than any other in the town where we lived. Still it was all held, and shut with glass doors, in a case of very few shelves. It was not considerably enlarged during my childhood, for few books came to my father as editor, and he indulged himself in buying them even more rarely. My grandfather's bookstore (it was also the village drug-store) had then the only stock of literature