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A Tendency Of The Age
by [?]

This ingenious age, when studied, seems not less remarkable for its division of labor than for the disposition of people to shift labor on to others’ shoulders. Perhaps it is only another aspect of the spirit of altruism, a sort of backhanded vicariousness. In taking an inventory of tendencies, this demands some attention.

The notion appears to be spreading that there must be some way by which one can get a good intellectual outfit without much personal effort. There are many schemes of education which encourage this idea. If one could only hit upon the right “electives,” he could become a scholar with very little study, and without grappling with any of the real difficulties in the way of an education. It is no more a short-cut we desire, but a road of easy grades, with a locomotive that will pull our train along while we sit in a palace-car at ease. The discipline to be obtained by tackling an obstacle and overcoming it we think of small value. There must be some way of attaining the end of cultivation without much labor. We take readily to proprietary medicines. It is easier to dose with these than to exercise ordinary prudence about our health. And we readily believe the doctors of learning when they assure us that we can acquire a new language by the same method by which we can restore bodily vigor: take one small patent-right volume in six easy lessons, without even the necessity of “shaking,” and without a regular doctor, and we shall know the language. Some one else has done all the work for us, and we only need to absorb. It is pleasing to see how this theory is getting to be universally applied. All knowledge can be put into a kind of pemican, so that we can have it condensed. Everything must be chopped up, epitomized, put in short sentences, and italicized. And we have primers for science, for history, so that we can acquire all the information we need in this world in a few hasty bites. It is an admirable saving of time-saving of time being more important in this generation than the saving of ourselves.

And the age is so intellectually active, so eager to know! If we wish to know anything, instead of digging for it ourselves, it is much easier to flock all together to some lecturer who has put all the results into an hour, and perhaps can throw them all upon a screen, so that we can acquire all we want by merely using the eyes, and bothering ourselves little about what is said. Reading itself is almost too much of an effort. We hire people to read for us–to interpret, as we call it –Browning and Ibsen, even Wagner. Every one is familiar with the pleasure and profit of “recitations,” of “conversations” which are monologues. There is something fascinating in the scheme of getting others to do our intellectual labor for us, to attempt to fill up our minds as if they were jars. The need of the mind for nutriment is like the need of the body, but our theory is that it can be satisfied in a different way. There was an old belief that in order that we should enjoy food, and that it should perform its function of assimilation, we must work for it, and that the exertion needed to earn it brought the appetite that made it profitable to the system. We still have the idea that we must eat for ourselves, and that we cannot delegate this performance, as we do the filling of the mind, to some one else. We may have ceased to relish the act of eating, as we have ceased to relish the act of studying, but we cannot yet delegate it, even although our power of digesting food for the body has become almost as feeble as the power of acquiring and digesting food for the mind.