Boston, Sept. 30, 1765
Since my last I have receiv’d your favour by Capt Hulme who is arriv’d here with the most disagreeable Commodity (say Stamps) that were imported into this Country & what if carry’d into Execution will entirely Stagnate Trade here, for it is universally determined here never to Submitt to it and the principal merchts here will by no means carry on Business under a Stamp, we are in the utmost Confusion here and shall be more so after the first of November & nothing but the repeal of the act will righten, the Consequence of its taking place here will be bad, & attended with many troubles, & I believe may say more fatal to you than us. I dread the Event.
—Extract From Hancock’s Letter-Book
Long years ago when society was young, learning was centered in one man in each community, and that man was the priest. It was the priest who was sent for in every emergency of life. He taught the young, prescribed for the sick, advised those who were in trouble, and when human help was vain and man had done his all, this priest knelt at the bedside of the dying and invoked a Power with whom it was believed he had influence.
The so-called learned professions are only another example of the Division of Labor. We usually say there are three learned professions: Theology, Medicine and Law. As to which is the greatest is a much-mooted question and has caused too many family feuds for me to attempt to decide it. And so I evade the issue and say there is a fourth profession, that is only allowed to be called so by grace, but which in my mind is greater than them all–the profession of Teacher. I can conceive of a condition of society so high and excellent that it has no use for either doctor, lawyer or preacher, but the teacher would still be needed. Ignorance and sin supply the three “learned professions” their excuse for being, but the teacher’s work is to develop the germ of wisdom that is in every soul.
And now each of these professions has divided up, like monads, into many heads. In medicine, we have as many specialists as there are organs of the body. The lawyer who advises you in a copyright or patent cause knows nothing about admiralty; and as they tell us a man who pleads his own case has a fool for a client, so does the insurance lawyer who is retained to foreclose a mortgage. In all prosperous city churches, the preacher who attracts the crowd in the morning allows a ‘prentice to preach to the young folks in the evening; he does not make pastoral calls; and the curate who reads the service at funerals is never called upon to perform a marriage ceremony except in a case of charity. Likewise the teacher’s profession has its specialists: the man who teaches Greek well can not write good English; the man who teaches composition is baffled and perplexed by long division; and the teacher who delights in trigonometry pooh-poohs a kindergartner.
Just where this evolutionary dividing and subdividing of social cells will land the race no man can say; but that a specialist is a dangerous man, is sure. He is a buzz-saw with which wise men never monkey. A surgeon who has operated for appendicitis five times successfully is above all to be avoided. I once knew a man with lung trouble who inadvertently strayed into an oculist’s and was looked over and sent away with an order on an optician. And should you through error stray into the office of a nose and throat specialist, and ask him to treat you for varicose veins, he would probably do so by nasal douche.
Even now a specialist in theology will lead us, if he can, a merry “ignis-fatuus” chase and land us in a morass. The only thing that saved the priest in days agone was the fact that he had so many duties to perform that he exercised all his mental muscles, and thus attained a degree of all-roundness which is not possible to the specialist. Even then there were not lacking men who found time to devote to specialties: Bishop Georgius Ambrosius, for instance, who in the Fifteenth Century produced a learned work proving that women have no souls. And a like book was written at Nashville, Tennessee, in Eighteen Hundred Fifty-nine, by the Reverend Hubert Parsons of the Methodist Episcopal Church (South), showing that negroes were in a like predicament. But a more notable instance of the danger of a specialty is the Reverend Cotton Mather, who investigated the subject of witchcraft and issued a modest brochure incorporating his views on the subject. He succeeded in convincing at least one man of its verity, and that man was himself, and thus immortality was given to the town of Salem, which, otherwise, would have no claim on us for remembrance, save that Hawthorne was once a clerk in its custom-house.