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New at IWP Books: John Jay Chapman, 1924, Letters and Religion. From the Book:

On Horace

It is easier to imagine a substitute for telegraphy than a substitute for Horace’s Odes; for the contrivances that harness electrical power change rapidly — a new one replaces an old. But the vehicles which carry spiritual power around the world are so subtle and complex, so much a part of the human mind’s own history, that they speak to every generation in its home tongue, and live down a hundred theories of scientific truth and ten thousand contrivances of material convenience.

I cite Horace as a symbol, and because he represents, not religion, nor the higher kinds of poetry, nor anything which appeals to a special passion in the reader, but because he is in himself a microcosm of social wisdom more universal than anything which philosophy, poetry, or religion has let loose on mankind. He has a noble and religious attitude toward life, but expresses it not in abstractions, nor in those intense forms of feeling which appeal to highly emotional people, but in glints and glimmers which ordinary, worldly, benevolent citizens understand very well; and whatever else the future world may hold, it is certain to be full of ordinary, worldly, benevolent people. Such among them as have good wits are sure to read Horace.

Horace seems to represent an eternal type of gentleman who reappears periodically, whether under tyrannies, democracies, or socialisms; whether in slavery or at liberty; whether in Australia or South America. Such men will always crop up wherever anything arises that can be called a civilization. One reason for their resurgence is that human civilization is a continuous stream and passes on with the race. The seeds of letters are handed on like the seeds of domestic vegetables. Men will sooner find a substitute for potatoes than for Horace’s Odes.

Perhaps if any one of us had discovered this little flower garden, — or call it a mine of precious stones, — the Odes of Horace, he might have prized them, yet not realized their rarity. He might have said, “How excellent they are! And no doubt there will be more of such things anon. I think I will cut and polish a few like them myself: they are agreeable.” The most brilliant minds of the modern world have attempted as much during the last four hundred years, yet no one has ever been able to rival the Roman. We have thus found out that Horace is an exceedingly rare man. He is unique.

The power to enjoy life is at the bottom of Horace’s popularity. It was a renewed power to enjoy life that revealed the Greek and Roman classics to the enthusiasts of the Renaissance. They rediscovered the classics because they themselves were filled with curiosity and excitement. I am aware that the question is generally stated in the other way, and that the classics are supposed to have awakened the scholars. But this would be contrary to nature. The text inspires not the eye, but the eye, the text. Upon this pin — that of successive reawakenings — hangs the continuity of human thought.

On Personality and Institutions

We see institutions as if they were dispensaries giving out something; whereas their chief use is to be centres of absorption. The mere function of drawing together the talented youth of a country is the main point of a university. The boys make it what it is, and will make it what it shall become. During the last fifty years American boys have looked on college as mothers are apt to look on the infant dancing-class — as a step up in society. Our colleges perform a wonderful social service: they are boys’ clubs and men’s clubs. Educationally they are nearly extinct so far as the old humanities go. They have been put to the service of certain crude new humanities; but when the famine for the old ones arises in the community it will show again in the college. The most valuable stimulus which boys get, they get from one another. The college provides grouping-points; and out of a group springs cultivation.

It is therefore misplaced effort to go battering at our university magnates to try to get them to retain the classics. To them it seems as if you were asking them to do homage to false gods. If you are a scholar, pursue your own tastes, and let their influence leak into the learned world; for, after all, a university is but a cistern into which private tastes have oozed. Those who pursue their own loved studies quietly rule the tastes of the next generation. One man collects old Chinese bronzes; another studies the coloration of animals, or the heritable variations of plants; another, Persian vases; and their tastes turn insensibly into departments in colleges and new wings to museums. The direction of the world’s education depends on the hobbies of amateurs. In the case of poets and thinkers this law has always been recognized; for the poets, the most helpless and whimsical of all men, have led the van of intellect, and — most strange of all — they have the name and fame of leading it.

On Propaganda

All propaganda are seen to generate counter-irritants of their own. We observed this process with regard to the German propaganda in America in the years 1914–15. The more the Germans explained their cause, the more horrified we grew. It did not occur to us that we were herein getting sight of an unsuspected natural law, which may be expressed thus: Any statement that exactly suits the view of some organization is never quite true. The better the fit, the more obvious to the rest of the world is the untruth. People argue instinctively that a certain view must be false, because it suits the British, or the French, or the Jews, or the Jesuits, or the Socialists, too snugly. Propaganda defeats itself; and to this natural law we owe the preservation of society. Otherwise, the world would become all one thing. For instance: The Masons are historically hostile to the Roman Church. The Masonic order is, therefore, singled out by the Catholics for special reprobation, and vice versa. Each party thus points out a camp on a hill to which its enemies may resort, and thus consolidates the numbers of its foes.