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Will Wimbles
by [?]

Mr. Hughes’s idea has been that, though he dislikes trade, and is a little too nice for it as now carried on, at least on the retail side, he has an innate liking and readiness for agriculture, and that, if enabled to till the soil under pleasant, or at least not too novel, social conditions, he would do it successfully. Out of this the Rugby, Tenn., experiment has grown, and if it has not actually failed, as some say, it is certainly too early to pronounce it a success. At all events, the signs that it is going to fail are numerous. Among them is the deep disappointment of the settlers, few of whom probably realized not only the monotony and drudgery of labor in the fields–these things can be borne by men with stout hearts and strong arms–but its effect in unfitting a man for any kind of amusement. There has been much delusion on this subject in this country, where far more is known by the reading class about all kinds of manual labor than is known in England. The possibility of working hard in the fields and keeping up at the same time some process of intellectual culture, has been much preached among us both by educational projectors and social reformers, though nearly every man who listens to them here knows the effect of physical toil in the open air in producing sleepiness and mental inertness. It is not surprising, therefore, that it should find ready acceptance in England among people who think ability to bear a hard day on the moors after grouse, or a long run in the saddle after the hounds, argues capacity to hoe potatoes or corn for twelve hours, and settle down in the evening, after a bath and a good dinner, to Dante, or Wallace, or Huxley.

Will Wimbles are much less common among us than in England. We fortunately have not a dozen great endowments used in turning them out, or a large and rich society occupied in spreading the gentlemanly view of life. But they, nevertheless, are more numerous than is altogether pleasant. The difficulty which our college graduate experiences in getting room for what the newspapers call his “bark” on the stream of life, is one of the standing jokes of our light literature. We have no schools which take the place of the English public schools in our scheme of education. But the view of life which prevails in the English public schools and turns out the Will Wimbles, is more or less prevalent in our colleges, and tends to spread as the wealth of the class which sends its boys to college increases. In other words, colleges are to a much greater extent than they used to be places in which social relations are found, rather than places of preparation for the active work of life. This last character, indeed, they almost wholly lost when they ceased to have the training of ministers as their main function. Scarcely any man who can afford it now likes to refuse his son a college education if the boy wants it; but probably not one boy in one thousand can say, five years after graduating, that he has been helped by his college education in making his start in life. It may have been never so useful to him as a means of moral and intellectual culture, but it has not helped to adapt him to the environment in which he has to live and work; or, in other words, to a world in which not one man in a thousand has either the manners or cultivation of a gentleman, or changes his shirt more than once a week, or eats with a fork.

College education is prevented from suffering as much from this source in popular estimation in England as it does here, by the fact that, owing to the peculiar political traditions of the country, college-bred men begin life in a large number of cases in possession of great advantages of other kinds, such as hereditary wealth. Here they have almost all to face the world on their own merits, and in so far as they face it feebly or unskilfully their defects are set down in the popular mind to the fact that they went to college. If the discredit ended here, it would perhaps be of small consequence. But it may be safely said that the college graduate is never seen groping about in a helpless and timid way for “a position,” and shrinking from the turmoil and dirt of some walks of life, without spreading among the uncultivated a contempt for culture and increasing their confidence in the rule of thumb. The mere “going to college” is recognized as a sign of pecuniary ease, and of a desire for social advancement, but not as preparation for the kind of work which the bulk of the community is doing, and thus makes mental culture seem less desirable, and cultivated men less potent, especially in politics.

The question is a serious one for all colleges, and it is not here only, but in England and France, that it is undergoing grave consideration. In Germany society may be said to have been organized as an appendage to the universities, but here the universities are simply appendages to society, which is continually doubting whether their existence can be justified.