Page images

be welcomed by them all, for it would be rendered by an organization containing both the parent and the teacher, the two individuals who should be considered co-partners in the education of the child of the former. Representatives of the Conference for Education in Texas, armed with the results of exhaustive investigation, and pleading for policies upon which the more enlightened educational public sentiment shall have become united, would be received by the Legislature not as a lobby for special interests and could, therefore, speak with convincing power.

Its methods of work do not prevent the Conference from cooperating most cordially with all other educational agencies. It does not seek to supplant superintendents, local, county, or state. It does not desire to take the place of teachers' institutes or associations; but it is determined to carry on, in the exercise of its own proper functions, a State-wide campaign in behalf of educational progress.

To summarize: (1) Its name indicates the mission of The Conference for Education in Texas.

(2) In accomplishing this mission careful thought, much time, and some means must be devoted to the investigation of problems with respect to the finances of our schools, with respect to school organization and administration, and with respect to instruction.

(3) The method to be employed is the fundamental method of social progress, the method of the evolution of public sentiment through public enlightenment.

Such a mission, with such a method, should enlist the sympathy and the active support, financial and otherwise, of every citizen who has at heart the material and the spiritual welfare of the State of Texas.



Young ladies and young gentlemen-who constitute, I doubt not, what Dr. Battle calls a small modicum of the graduating class-I could make you this morning, if I felt free to be a plagiarist, the best commencement address you ever witnessed. I should swing my arms. I should star-ypoint ye heavenward. To excite your sympathies, I should press my hand, meaning to indicate my heart, somewhere on my left stomach. [This is what the orators do at political barbecues when they have to keep the ladies amused while their husbands are getting dinner.] I should rear my head backward and plunge it forward. [These sentiments are much more effective when delivered with long hair.] I should keep my mouth working actively, and now and then exhibit my tongue. This I should do for about three minutes, all in dumb show, without uttering a syllable. If you did not pronounce this the best of commencement addresses, why your tastes are widely different from mine. At any rate, the very best toast I ever saw delivered was what I have described to you. It brought down the table, so that men forgot to clink the ice in their lemonade glasses.

But I am sure you are panting here in the heat for some fresh stimulant to inflame your minds and fire your souls. Blessed time of youth, when nothing is too hot, when you would fain be dancing from sun-rise until noon-the Commencement German; and from midnight again until sun-rise-the Final Ball. Possess your souls. in patience: if not this year, you can do all that next, and having ceased to be graduates for a time, you will not have to listen to the graduating address. Meantime, the chance of getting on the beauty page in the Cactus. Equally high and keen, no doubt, is the ambition of the boys, to get on the second scrub team and, at the Thanksgiving game, to blow the parabolic megatherium in token of victory over the A. & M.; at Christmas, of course, you aim to get D's enough on your examinations to escape having the

*An address delivered at the Commencement of the Whitis Avenue School, Austin, on June 3, 1908.

Dean's first admonitory letter sent home, hinting that his ease is disturbed by your E's.

But I mean to forge in ahead of the Dean. Am I not here at the sacrifice of my ease to destroy yours? Yet am I sure that the secret hope of nearly every heart of you is soon to get on Easy Street, and here I come, a cold-blooded student, to tell you in passing that my conviction is unshaken that the best course in life. for every man takes him down Work Street, and involves his shunning the paths of ease; to tell you that true happiness lies in work. But I mean not to prose over this and try to utter fine words. Fine words I shall utter by and by, when I come to my quotations. And as I am a school-master, you must expect me to speak as a school-master; and I shall expect you, for a little while, to put away childish thoughts.

What I propose to do this morning is to read and interpret for you a poem that has brought me comfort, for it glorifies my calling. All of it you may not understand; and parts of it, I will confess, are difficult for me. Therefore, being a school-master, I shall make some explanations and give some definitions to put you in a position the better to understand the poem I shall read.

The time of the poem is the Renascence, which perhaps you have learned to know as the Renaissance. Those of you who have studied Latin will not need to be told that renascence means a new birth. But I wonder to how many of you it is clear what had, at that period, a new birth. Be not shocked, young ladies and gentlemen, when I remind you that the newborn thing was the study of language, and specifically, of Greek and Latin.

In this practical day it is hard to understand that, in the Fourteenth Century, the civilization which we enjoy to-day was born again by the discovery and interpretation of the long-lost Greek and Latin classics. Yet it is simple. Greek civilization was at its height in the Fifth and Fourth Centuries B. C., and the great English anthropologist, Francis Galton, has dared to say that the Greek mind of that day enjoyed endowments as superior to the English average of to-day as the English average is superior to the Hottentot's. Then the Greek mind produced imperishable masterpieces of art and literature. It was not till the Second and First Centuries B. C. that the Romans attained a comparable civ

ilization, and then only because they took the Greeks for their school-master. Roughly speaking, by the Fifth Century A. D., our savage Germanic ancestors, with untutored minds, had overrun the old peoples; but they did not then master the old civilization in its higher manifestations. Nor was it till the Fourteenth Century that the revival of learning, incident upon the recovery of the classical literatures, began, and in Italy, the home of one of the old peoples. Here, under the guidance of Petrarch and Boccaccio, the renascence gave rise to humanism, and this movement, "beginning with literature, soon extended to and transformed manners, philosophy, science, religion, politics and art." Behold the extent of the debt our world owes to the Revival of Learning. In that period, the scholar with his books was the discoverer, and opened the ways of progress.

You must indulge me if, jumping over the centuries, I say to you that, in my belief, humanism by which I mean the humanising of each individual of us-is still chiefly to be secured by the study of literature. And because I am a grammarian, you will suffer me to go on and say that the study of literature means, fundamentally, the study of words; that, beyond this, the staple of education is still the study of words. I do not ask you to accept this merely on my assertion, but I ask you to believe Socrates, whom the Greek oracle truly pronounced the wisest of mankind. Hear Epictetus (1:17:1): "And who is it, then, who has written that the beginning of a right education is the examination of words? Doth not Socrates say it, of whom Xenophon writes that he began by the examination of words, what each signified?"

Again, speaking of the discipline of the will, Epictetus says (2:14:3): "Whence, then, are we to begin? If you will give me leave, I will tell you. It is necessary in the first place that you should understand words." Here his pupil breaks in, as I suppose any one of you might like to do with me: "So, then, I do not understand them now? :: No, you do not :: How is it, then, that I use them? :: Just as the illiterate do written expressions For use is one thing and understanding another. But if you think you understand them, bring whatever word you please, and let us see whether we understand it or not." Epictetus was a fashion of a schoolmaster, a teacher of morals,




and he did not flatter his pupils. Standing here before you, young graduates, I shall dare, like him, to challenge your understanding of words. And the word is the most important thing in life; without it we should be what the animals are: no words, no understanding; without language, no mind. What the philosopher Descartes made the demonstration of the self is eternally true: cogito, ergo sum: "My thinking is the condition of my existence," and words are as indispensable as the medium of thought as light is for vision.

You will already be thinking this a long introduction, but I am not yet ready to read you the poem, only to tell you that its title is "A Grammarian's Funeral, Shortly After the Revival of Learning in Europe." But in the very title are words you do not understand. I have already explained the significance of the Revival of Learning, but you don't fully understand what a grammarian is. You don't know that he taught literature as well as words, nor even yet do you realize, I fear, that there is no study of literature without the study of words: no complete and vital comprehension, but always a diminished joy in the beauty of literature unless you understand the phrase and the word which are its elements.

Thus, in the very beginning of our poem, Browning uses the obsolete words crofts and thorpes, a croft being a small field, a thorpe a hamlet or small village. What is the poet's purpose in using these obsolete words-though the Scotch still call the small farmer a crofter? It is, by way of mental suggestion, to throw our thoughts back to a by-gone time, to evoke the image of the Middle Ages, the time when their darkness was beginning to catch the sun-rise from the Revival of Learning.

In the next line the poet uses the word tether in a rather forced sense, I think we must admit-but then he wants a rhyme for together. What does tether usually mean? The rope or chain with which an animal is staked out to graze. But Browning speaks of the farm-houses and villages as sleeping each "safe in its tether." The term is forced, but it pictures the security of the plain masses, fastened like cattle that cannot stray; and later on he half compares the crofter and hamlet folk to the cattle that

« PreviousContinue »