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Jean Paul Marat
by [?]

A copy of the diploma issued to Doctor Jean Paul Marat is before me, wherein, in most flattering phrase, is set forth the attainments of the holder, in the science of medicine. And even before the ink was dry upon that diploma, the “science” of which it boasted had been discarded as inept and puerile, and a new one inaugurated. And in our day, within the last twenty-five years, the entire science of healing has shifted ground and the materia medica of the “Centennial” is now considered obsolete.

In view of these things, how vain is a college degree that certifies, as the diplomas of Saint Andrews still certify, that the holder is not one of the “ignorant-vulgar”! Isn’t a man who prides himself on not belonging to the “ignorant-vulgar” apt to be atrociously ignorant and outrageously vulgar?

Wisdom is a point of view, and knowledge, for the most part, is a shifting product depending upon environment, atmosphere and condition. The eternal verities are plain and simple, known to babes and sucklings, but often unseen by men of learning, who focus on the difficult, soar high and dive deep, but seldom pay cash. In the sky of truth the fixed stars are few, and the shepherds who tend their flocks by night are quite as apt to know them as are the professed and professional Wise Men of the East–and Edinburgh.

But never mind our little digression–the value of study lies in study. The reward of thinking is the ability to think–whether one comes to right conclusions or wrong matters little, says John Stuart Mill in his essay, “On Liberty.”

Thinking is a form of exercise, and growth comes only through exercise–that is to say, expression.

We learn things only to throw them away: no man ever wrote well until he had forgotten every rule of rhetoric, and no orator ever spake straight to the hearts of men until he had tumbled his elocution into the Irish Sea.

To hold on to things is to lose them. To clutch is to act the part of the late Mullah Bah, the Turkish wrestler, who came to America and secured through his prowess a pot of gold. Going back to his native country, the steamer upon which he had taken passage collided in mid-ocean with a sunken derelict. Mullah Bah, hearing the alarm, jumped from his berth and strapped to his person a belt containing five thousand dollars in gold. He rushed to the side of the sinking ship, leaped over the rail, and went to Davy Jones’ Locker like a plummet, while all about frail women and weak men in life-preservers bobbed on the surface and were soon picked up by the boats. The fate of Mullah Bah is only another proof that athletes die young, and that it is harder to withstand prosperity than its opposite.

But knowledge did not turn the head of Marat. His restless spirit was reaching out for expression, and we find him drifting to London for a wider field.

England was then, as now, the refuge of the exile. There is today just as much liberty, and a little more free speech, in England than in America. We have hanged witches and burned men at the stake since England has, and she emancipated her slaves long before we did ours. Over against the home-thrust that respectable women drink at public bars from John O’Groat’s to Land’s End, can be placed the damning count that in the United States more men are lynched every year than Great Britain legally executes in double the time.

A too-ready expression of the Rousseau philosophy had made things a bit unpleasant for Marat in Edinburgh, but in London he found ready listeners, and the coffeehouses echoed back his radical sentiments.

These underground debating-clubs of London started more than one man off on the oratorical transverse. Swift, Johnson, Reynolds, Goldsmith, Garrick, Burke–all sharpened their wits at the coffeehouses. I see the same idea is now being revived in New York and Chicago: little clubs of a dozen or so will rent a room in some restaurant, and fitting it up for themselves, will dine daily and discuss great themes, or small, according to the mental caliber of the members.