Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 53.djvu/289

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

and that, instead of attempting to equalize things, we should rather strive in an opposite direction—is a thoroughly rational one; but the many facts derivable from psychology, from history, and kindred sciences, and the application of these to a system of society and education, the two sciences on which this question of equality chiefly bears, have been but indifferently handled by Mr. Harris. In fact, to be just, the author announces in his preface that the volume is not intended as a philosophical or scientific exposition, but is rather "a series of observations and reflections which from various points of view exhibit the variety and the unity of men." Notwithstanding these faults there is much good thought in the volume and many well-taken points. The question is one of great importance, bearing as it does directly on the socialistic theories of society, and, as Mr. Harris says, that charmed word "equality" seems to have blinded our people to the absurdity of the doctrine of which it is the watchword. The first few chapters of the volume are devoted to showing the essential inequality of the natural arrangement of things and the impotency of human efforts to bring about an artificial equality. For instance, equality of opportunity in education is shown to be a chimera, not only because of the great variation in individual ability, so that with equal opportunities any two students will graduate with widely differing content of knowledge, but also because what is the most stimulating and appropriate education for one student may have an entirely opposite effect on the next. Inequality or, as the author prefers, variety is next shown to be an essential to progress, and, in fact, one of the results of the latter, and successful social life to depend on the rule of the superior portion of the community, which is again inequality. The chapters ramble on under such titles as Two Kinds of Discontent, Admiration and Inspiration, The Progression of Ideals, until the volume is finally closed by one on Christianity and Inequality. The great importance of a clear understanding of this question, especially in the United States, where we seem to be tending steadily toward socialism, and the slight attention which the inequality side has received during recent years, give Dr. Harris's book a value which perhaps its intrinsic merits do not justify. The reader will gather some new thoughts from its perusal, and may be stimulated to a further study of the question.

Mr. Edmund Gosse's principal aim in composing his Short History of Modern English Literature[1] was to show the movement of the subject. He desired above all else to give the reader, whether familiar with the books mentioned or not, "a feeling of the evolution of English literature in the primary sense of the term, the disentanglement of the skein, the slow and regular unwinding, down succeeding generations, of the threads of literary expression." Considering the nature of the subject and the multitude of temptations to stop on the way to expatiate and moralize, his success in giving the idea of a sense of flow is remarkable. A feeling of movement is what the reader experiences in reading the rapid sketches. There are periods, indeed—the Age of Chaucer, the Close of the Middle Ages, the Age of Elizabeth, the Decline, and so on, down to the Age of Tennyson—just as there are stations on the railroad journey, but between the stops the train goes on with power and unslacking speed. Beginning with the Romances of Chivalry, authors and books are called up in succession, with hardly more than a page to each, delineated or characterized in only a few lines or in an epigram, as it were, yet with such vigor and skill as to leave upon the mind the impression of a picture from life. The leaders of scientific thought of the present age, as of past ages, are included in the sketches: Mill, "skeptical and dry, precise and plain" whose works "inspire respect but do not attract new generations of readers,"; Darwin, "one of the great artificers of human thought," destined to perform one of the most stirring and inspiring acts ever carried out by a single intelligence"; Spencer, in whose Principles of Psychology, as his friends point out, "the theory of Darwin was foreseen" who has made a deeper impression on foreign thought and is more widely known throughout Europe than any other Englishman of the present age, and whose themes "have exercised a stimu-

  1. A Short History of Modern English Literature. By Edmund Gosse. New York: D. Appleton and Company. Pp. 416. Price, $1.50.