Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/134

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THE question of the just distribution of material wealth is one which to-day is engaging many minds, and which in some quarters is being discussed with no small amount of passion. We are not aware, however, that there is any theory now before the world in the light of which any material change could hopefully be made in the existing structure of society. The only theory or doctrine, so far as we can see, that is at all hopeful is that which proclaims that governments should not, by arbitrary interferences with the course of trade, do anything to promote inequalities of fortune. It seems to us possible, however, and not only possible but probable, that if we would concern ourselves more than we do with the question of a better distribution of culture or intellectual wealth, some of the difficulties that beset the other question might be sensibly diminished. If culture means anything, it means adequate knowledge and orderly thought, and it is difficult to see how, if there were a marked improvement in the general intellectual condition of a community—a raising of the level of its culture—there should not also be an improvement in its economic condition. An increase in culture of the right sort would mean an abatement of the feverish thirst for wealth which is a characteristic of our time, and a more or less general adoption of more rational modes of life. It would mean the development of a higher public opinion and the purification of political methods and principles. It would mean an elevation of social manners, and would call into existence a finer individual self-respect. It would make people intolerant of abuses that admitted of remedy and more sensitive to every form of social injustice. In a word, as the inner man was renewed from day to day, so he would renew his environment, justifying anew the words of the poet Spenser:

"For of the soul the body form doth take,
For soul is form and doth the body make."

What are the means of culture at our disposal at the present day? We have first of all the public schools. Of these as instruments of culture in any high sense it is impossible to speak enthusiastically. It is not because they deal only with the elements of knowledge, because much of true culture could be imparted in connection with "the three r's." It is simply because they are not to any wide extent dominated by the spirit of culture, but on the whole tend rather to antagonize culture by attaching vulgar ideas of mere personal gain to the acquisition of knowledge. In saying this we are fully prepared to make all needful exceptions. Here and there, no doubt, teachers are to be found who, with high aims, throw their whole soul into their work, and thus confer a benefit on the community which, in most cases, is far from being adequately recognized or compensated.

Then we have our high schools, colleges, and universities. Here, no doubt, much excellent work is done, along with much that is altogether inferior and inefficient. The result of the Boston Herald's prize essay competition of a couple of years ago is probably still in the recollection of some of our readers. Two hundred and twenty youths of both sexes taken from the graduating classes of New England grammar schools competed for two prizes, one of six hundred dollars and one of four hundred dollars, and with what result? Let the judges who examined and pronounced upon the compositions answer: