Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
On Monday morning Samuel found that Professor Stewart had returned, and he sat in the great man's study and waited until he had finished his breakfast.
It was a big room, completely walled with crowded bookshelves; in the center was a big work-table covered with books and papers. Samuel had never dreamed that there were so many books in the world, and he gazed about him with awe, feeling that he had come to the sources of knowledge.
That was Samuel's way. Both by nature and training, he had a profound respect for all authority. He believed in the majesty of the law--that was why it had shocked him so to be arrested. He thought of the church as a divine institution, whose ministers were appointed as shepherds of the people. And up here on the heights was this great College, a temple of learning; and this professor was one who had been selected by those in the seats of authority, and set apart as one of its priests. So Samuel was profoundly grateful for the attention which was given to him, and was prepared to pick up whatever crumbs of counsel might be dropped.
"Ah, yes," the professor said, wiping his glasses with a silk handkerchief. "Samuel--let me see--Samuel--"
"Yes--Samuel Prescott. And how have you been?"
"I've been very well, sir."
"I meant to leave a message for you, but I overlooked it. I had so many things to attend to in the rush of departure. I--er--I hope you didn't wait for me."
"I had nothing else to do, sir," said Samuel.
"The truth is," continued the other, "I'm afraid I shan't be able to do for you what I thought I could."
Samuel's heart went down into his boots.
"You see," said the professor a trifle embarrassed, "my sister wanted a man to look after her place, but I found she had already engaged some one."
There was a pause. Samuel simply stared.
"Of course, as the man is giving satisfaction--you see--it wouldn't do for her to send him away."
And Samuel continued to stare, dumb with terror and dismay.
"I'm very sorry," said the other--"no need to tell you that. But I don't know of any other place."
"But what am I to do?" burst out Samuel.
"It's really too bad," remarked the other.
And again there was a silence.
"Professor Stewart," said Samuel in a low voice, "what is a man to do who is out of work and starving?"
"God knows," said the professor.
And yet again there was silence. Samuel could have said that himself-- he had the utmost faith in God.
And after a while the professor himself seemed to realize that the reply was inadequate. "You see," he went on, "there is a peculiar condition here in Lockmanville. There was an attempt to corner the glass industry, and that caused the building of too many factories, and so there is overproduction. And then, besides that, they've just invented a machine that blows as many bottles as a dozen men."
"But then what are the men to do?" asked Samuel.
"The condition readjusts itself," said the other. "The men have to go into some other trade."
"But then--the cotton mills are on half time, too!"
"Yes, there are too many cotton mills."
"But then--in the end there will be too many everything."
"That is the tendency," said the professor.
"There are foreign markets, of course. But the difficulty really goes deeper than that."
Professor Stewart paused and looked at Samuel wondering, perhaps, if he were not throwing away his instruction. But the boy looked very much interested, even excited.
"Most of our economists are disposed to blink the truth," said he. "But the fact is, there are too many men."
Samuel started. It was precisely that terrible suspicion which had been shaping itself in his own mind.
"There is a law," went on the other, "which was clearly set forth by Malthus, that population tends continually to outrun the food supply. And then the surplus people have to be removed."
"I see," said Samuel, awestricken. "But isn't it rather hard?"
"It seems so--to the individual. To the race it is really of the very greatest benefit. It is the process of life."
"Please tell me," Samuel's look seemed to say.
"If you will consider Nature," Professor Stewart continued, "you will observe that she always produces many times more individuals than can possibly reach maturity. The salmon lays millions of eggs, and thousands of young trees spring up in every thicket. And these individuals struggle for a chance to live, and those survive which are strongest and best fitted to meet the conditions. And precisely the same thing is true among men--there is no other way by which the race could be improved, or even kept at its present standard. Those who perish are sacrificed for the benefit of the race."
Now, strange as it may seem, Samuel had never before heard the phrase, "the survival of the fittest." And so now he was living over the experience of the thinking world of fifty or sixty years ago. What a marvelous generalization it was! What a range of life it covered! And how obvious it seemed--one could think of a hundred things, perfectly well known, which fitted into it. And yet he had never thought of it himself! The struggle for existence! The survival of the fittest!
A few days ago Samuel had discovered music. And now he was discovering science. What an extraordinary thing was the intellect of man, which could take all the infinitely varied facts of life and interpret them in the terms of one vast law.
Samuel was all aglow with excitement at the revelation. "I see," he said, again and again--"I see!"
"It is the law of life," said the professor. "No one can escape from it."
"And then," said Samuel, "when we try to change things--when we give out charity, for instance--we are working against Nature, and we really make things worse."
"That is it," replied the other.
And Samuel gave a great sigh. How very simple was the problem, when one had seen it in the light of science. Here he had been worrying and tormenting his brain about the matter; and all the time he was in the hands of Nature--and all he had to do was to lie back and let Nature solve it. "Nature never makes mistakes," said Professor Stewart.
Of course, in this new light Samuel's own case became plain. "Those who are out of work are those who have failed in the struggle," he said.
"Precisely," said the professor.
"And that is because they are unfit."
"Precisely," said the professor again. "As Herbert Spencer has phrased it, 'Inability to catch prey must be regarded as a falling short of conduct from its ideal.' And, of course, in an industrial community, the 'prey' is a job."
"Who is Herbert Spencer?" asked Samuel.
"He is recognized as the authority in such matters," said the other.
"And then," pondered Samuel, "those who have jobs must be the fit. And the very rich people--the ones who make the millions and millions-- they are the fittest of all."
"Er--yes," said the professor.
"And, of course, that makes my problem clear--I'm out of a job, and so I must die."
The professor gazed at Samuel sharply. But it was impossible to mistake the boy's open-eyed sincerity. He had no thought about himself--he was discovering the laws of life.
"I'm so glad you explained it to me," he went on. "But all these thousands of men who are starving to death--they ought to be told it, too."
"What good would it do?" asked the other.
"Why, they ought to understand. They suffer, and it seems to them purposeless and stupid. But if you were to explain to them that they are being sacrificed for the benefit of the race--don't you see what a difference it would make?"
"I don't believe they would take the suggestion kindly," said the professor with a faint attempt to smile.
"But why not?" asked Samuel.
"Wouldn't it sound rather hypocritical, so to speak--coming from a man who had succeeded?"
"Not at all! You have a right to your success, haven't you?"
"I hope so."
"You have a job"--began Samuel and then hesitated. "I don't know how a professor comes to get his job," he said. "But I suppose that the men who make the great fortunes--the ones who are wisest and best of all-- they give the money for the colleges, don't they?"
"Yes," said Professor Stewart.
"And then," said Samuel, "I suppose it is they who have chosen you?"
Again the professor darted a suspicious glance at his questioner. "Er- -one might put it that way," he said.
"Well, then, that is your right to teach; and you could explain it. Then you could say to these men: 'There are too many of you; you aren't needed; and you must be removed.'"
But the professor only shook his head. "It wouldn't do," he said. And Samuel, pondering and seeking as ever, came to a sudden comprehension.
"I see," he exclaimed. "What is needed is action!"
"Yes--it's for us who are beaten to teach it; and to teach it in our lives. It's a sort of revival that is needed, you see."
"But I don't see the need," laughed the other, interested in spite of himself.
"That's because you aren't one of us!" cried Samuel vehemently. "Nobody else can understand--nobody! It's easy to be one of the successes of life. You have a comfortable home and plenty to eat and all. But when you've failed--when you're down and out--then you have to bear hunger and cold and sickness. And there is grief and fear and despair--you can have no idea of it! Why, I've met a little girl in this town. She works in the cotton mill, and it's just killed her by inches, body and soul. And even so, she can only get half a day's work; and the mother is trying to support the little children by sewing--and they're all just dying of slow starvation. This very morning they asked me to stay to breakfast, and I refused, because I knew they had only some bread and a few potatoes, and it wasn't enough for one person. You see, it's so slow--it's such a terribly long process--this starving people off by inches. And keeping them always tormented by hope. Don't you see, Professor Stewart? And just because you don't come out honestly and teach them the truth. Because you won't say to them: 'The world is too full; and you've got to get out of the way, so as to give us a chance.' Why, look, sir--you defeat your own purposes! These people stay, and they keep on having more children, and everything gets worse instead of better; and they have diseases and vices--they ruin the whole world. What's the use of having a world if it's got to be like this town--crowded with hovels full of dirty people, and sick people, and starving and miserable people? I can't see how you who live up here on the heights can enjoy yourselves while such things continue."
"Um--no," said Professor Stewart; and he gazed at Samuel with knitted brows--unable, for the life of him, to feel certain whether he ought to feel amused, or to feel touched, or to feel outraged.
As for Samuel, he realized that he was through with the professor. The professor had taught him all that he had to teach. He did not really understand this matter at all--that was because he belonged to the other world, the world of successful and fit people. They had their own problems to solve, no doubt!
This non-comprehension was made quite clear by the professor's next remark. "I'm sorry to have disappointed you," he said. "If a little money will help you--"
"No," said the other quickly. "You mustn't offer me money. How can that be right? That would be charity."
"Ahem!" said the professor. "Yes. But then--you mentioned that you hadn't had any breakfast. Hadn't you better go into the kitchen. and let them give you something?"
"But what is the use of putting things off?" cried Samuel wildly. "If I'm going to preach this new idea, I've got to begin."
"But you can't preach very long on an empty stomach," objected the other.
To which Samuel answered, "The preaching has to be by deeds."
And so he took his departure; and Professor Stewart turned back to his work-table, upon which lay the bulky manuscript of his monumental work, which was entitled: "Methods of Relief; A Theory and a Programme." Some pages lay before him; the top one was headed: "Chapter LXIII--Unemployment and Social Responsibility." And Professor Stewart sat before this title, and stared, and stared.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.