Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/493

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
485
IS THIS A DEGENERATE AGE?.

favored classes of a century ago. The vastly increased number of students in our colleges and high schools is but the natural outcome of this intellectual growth.

Unfortunately, this condition gives room for apprehension; the increase in number of students is said to be so far out of proportion to the population that there is danger of over-education; the professions will be overcrowded with ill-paid workers, who might have gained a comfortable living in other callings. This foreboding is not new; it was old a century ago and was as true then as it is now. Many good men, mistaking their vocation, have gone into professions, though fitted by nature to be only hewers of wood and drawers of water, while others have wasted their lives in professional work, who would have been successful as merchants. There is no danger that the condition will be worse because of increased facility for acquiring an education.

If higher education were merely preparation for service in the so-called learned professions of law, medicine and theology, there might be room for anxiety. But higher education has no longer an aim so narrow as that—it is not to meet the needs of the few, it is to fit the many for life's work. Fifty years ago, college life certainly tended to unfit men for the sterner realities of life, for the whole course of training was as far removed as possible from relation to the ordinary conditions; but not so to-day. For the most part, college professors are no longer recluses; they are expected to take part in social movements; even in politics; many of them, especially of those on the scientific side, are interested in vast business enterprises, partly because they gain greater opportunity for investigation and partly because, as investigators, they need incomes greater than the meager salaries paid by colleges. Training by such men is very different from that by closet students.

All this is conceded, but only that one may make more strongly the assertion that everything looks to the practical, that real culture is neglected, that we are living on the literature of an earlier generation, for nothing new is produced. The difficulty lies in the vagueness of the terms 'culture' and 'literature.' The writer has made diligent search among college men for a clean-cut definition of 'culture.' The results are not wholly satisfactory. Among professors, there is a tendency to regard culture as that mental condition attained through close application to the studies embraced within the definer's department; some in professional life appear to think that it is a something acquired only by close application to such studies as have no practical application; they are inclined to deny the title of culture study to modern languages; had they lived a century and a half ago, doubtless they would have denied that title to the ancient languages, which at that time were studied solely with a view to use; a great majority of the older college graduates maintain that it is that peculiar mental