[lit-ideas] Re: _Philosophy 4_

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 24 Nov 2007 12:49:17 EST

I've been doing some more research on O. Wister ('author of "The  Virginian", 
&c" and his "Philosophy 4: A Story of Harvard University"   London: 
Macmillan, 1901. Little Novels by Favourite Authors Series, No. 1. 50c.  95p. 
The thing 
is online at various places, including  
(http://www.fullbooks.com/Philosophy-4-A-Story-of-Harvard-University.html) ,  
also _http://www.bookstexts.com/philosophy_4.html_ 
(http://www.bookstexts.com/philosophy_4.html) .  In one of those, we have the 
illustrations as well, which 
will be relevant for  my discussion of the thing. THE DRAMATIS PERSONAE being
    Bertie Rogers, Billy Schyler -- "gilded youth with  colonial names"
    Oscar Maironi, a second-generation Italian arrived with  the ships, very 
    Professor Woodfield, Professor of "Philosophy 4",  Emerson Hall, Harvard, 
1883 spring course. 
However, I have not be able to distinguish the racial characteristics from  
the rather dark engravings themselves. One illustration just shows the gilded  
youth alone, but there is one showing I believe the three and the Italian 
looks  pretty full of gravitas alla Cicero, rather than what I had imagined him 
     In the wiki article on Harvard, the tale is  explained as evidence of 
the racism of Harvard. It is obvious they claim that  Wister is defending the 
All-American genius over foreign mediocrity, and I may  agree.
         "Nevertheless,  Harvard became the bastion of a distinctly 
Protestant elite — 
         the so-called Boston  Brahmin class — and continued to be so well 
into the 
          20th century. The  social milieu of 1880s Harvard is depicted in 
          Owen Wister's  Philosophy 4, which contrasts the character and 
          of two  undergraduates who "had colonial names (Rogers, I think, 
and Schuyler)" 
          with that of their  tutor, one Oscar Maironi, whose "parents had 
come over in 
         the steerage." ("Bertie's  and Billy's parents owned town and 
country houses
          in New York. The  parents of Oscar had come over in the steerage. 
          Money filled the  pockets of Bertie and Billy; therefore were their 
         empty of money and full of  less cramping thoughts. Oscar had fallen 
         the reverse of this fate.  Calculation was his second nature." _'_ 
And at a later stage Maironi is depicted as a really horrible calculative  
creature. I am relieved, when I think that I studied philosophy and was born of 
an Italian womb by
        (i) the fact that Philosophy was  _never_ an Elective with me
           as it is with  these three stooges, and (ii) I never had to employ 
myself as a tutor for the  laughter of others!
Anyway, an online article on Harvard fiction expands:
           "Just after  the turn of the century, when American letters were 
still strongly influenced by  the Genteel outlook, Owen Wister of Virginian 
fame wrote a short novel  entitled Philosophy 4. In this work two fair-haired, 
hearty, fun-loving,  all-American boys, Bertie and Billy, are contrasted to 
their supercilious,  swarthy, second-generation-American tutor, Oscar Maironi. 
Bertie and Billy are  well-rounded, while Oscar is a grind. The story centers 
around preparation for a  final exam in Harvard's Philosophy 4. Bertie and 
pay Oscar to tutor them  in the course material, because with playing tennis, 
taking carriage rides, and  learning to be men, they have not found time to 
attend lectures or do the  reading. The day before the exam Bertie and Billy, 
tired of the city, go out to  the country and visit a tavern; Oscar stays in 
cheaply furnished room  to study. As might be expected, Bertie and Billy get 
higher marks in the exam  than Oscar, thus 
       proving that well-rounded young  American is by nature 
       more successful that a  narrow-minded foreigner. 
We are told that in later life Billy and Bertie are both important business  
executives, while Maironi publishes a book entitled The Minor Poets of 
Owen Wister was born in Philadelphia in 1860, the son of  physician Owen 
Jones ... In 1904 appeared PHILOSOPHY 4, a  story about college life at 
In the same  spirit, Owen Wister wrote Philosophy 4 (1901), ...  1880s 
featuring two fastidious young Harvard dandies named  Bertie and Billy whom 
dubs ...

from the Absolute Intelligence, the chief cravings of the reason, after unity  
and spirituality, receive due satisfaction.Something transcending the Objective 
 becomes possible. In the Cogito the relation of subject and object is 
implied as  the primary condition of all knowledge. Now, Plato  never--"
"Skip Plato," interrupted one of the boys.  "You gave us his points 
     "Yep," assented the other, rattling through the  back pages of his notes.

"Got Plato down cold somewhere,--oh, here.  He never caught on to the 
subjective, any more than the other Greek bucks. Go on  to the next
      "If you gentlemen have mastered the--the  Grreek bucks," observed the 
instructor, with sleek intonation,  "we--"
"Yep," said the second tennis boy, running a  rapid judicial eye over his 
back notes, "you've put us on to their curves  enough. Go on."
      "The self-knowledge of matter in  motion."
"Skip it," put in the first tennis  boy.
"We went to those lectures ourselves,"  explained the second, whirling 
through another dishevelled notebook. "Oh, yes.  Hobbes and his gang. There is 
one substance, matter, but it doesn't  strictly exist. Bodies exist. We've got 
Hobbes. Go on."
       "So he says color is all your eye, and  shape isn't? and substance 
"Do  you mean he claims," said the first boy, equally resentful, "that if we 
were all  extinguished the world would still be here, only there'd be
no difference  between blue and pink, for instance?"
        "It is human sight that  distinguishes between colors. If human sight 
be eliminated from the universe,  nothing remains to make the distinction, 
and consequently there will be none.  Thus also is it with sounds. If the 
universe contains no ear to hear the sound,  the sound has no existence."
"Why?" said both  the tennis boys at once.
The tutor  smiled. "Is it not clear," said he, "that there can be no sound if 
it is not  heard!"
"No," they both returned,  "not in the least clear."
"It's  clear enough what he's driving at of course, "pursued the first boy. 
"Until the  waves of sound or light or what not hit us through our senses, our 
brains don't  experience the sensations of sound or light or what not, and so, 
of course, we  can't know about them--not until they reach  us."
"Precisely," said the tutor.  He had a suave and slightly alien  accent.
"Well, just tell me how  that proves a thunder-storm in a desert island makes 
no  noise."
"If a thing is  inaudible--" began the  tutor,
"That's mere  juggling!" vociferated the boy," That's merely the same kind of 
toy-shop  brain-trick you gave us out of Greek philosophy
yesterday, They said there  was no such thing as motion because at every 
instant of time the moving body had  to be somewhere, so how could it get
anywhere else? Good Lord! I can make up  foolishness like that myself. For 
instance: A moving body can never stop. Why?  Why, because at every
instant of time it must be going at a certain rate, so  how can it ever get 
slower? Pooh!" He stopped. He had been gesticulating with  one
hand, which he now jammed wrathfully into his  pocket.
"I can find nothing  about a body's being unable to stop," said he, gently. 
"If logic makes no appeal  to you, gentlemen--"
"Oh,  bunch!" exclaimed the second tennis boy, in the slang of his period, 
which was  the early eighties. "Look here. Color has no existence outside of 
brain -  that's the idea?"  The tutor bowed. "And sound hasn't? and smell 
hasn't?  and taste hasn't?" The tutor had repeated his little bow after  each.
"And that's because they  depend on our senses? Very well. But he claims 
solidity and shape and distance  do exist independently of us. If we all died, 
they'd he here just the same,  though the others wouldn't. A flower would go on 
growing, but it would stop  smelling. Very well. Now you tell me how we 
ascertain solidity. By the touch,  don't we? Then, if there was nobody to touch 
object, what then? Seems to me  touch is just as much of a sense as your nose 
is." (He meant no personality, but  the first boy choked a giggle as the 
hotly followed up his thought.)"  Seems to me by his reasoning that in a 
desert island there'd be nothing it  all--smells or shapes--not even an island. 
Seems to me that's what you call  logic."
The tutor  directed his smile at the open window. "Berkeley--" said  he.
"By Jove!" said  the other boy, not heeding him, "and here's another point: 
if color is entirely  in my brain, why don't that ink-bottle and this shirt 
look alike to me? They  ought to. And why don't a Martini cocktail and a cup of 
coffee taste the same to  my tongue?" "Berkeley," attempted the tutor,  
"Do you  mean to say," the boy rushed on, "that there is no eternal quality 
in all these  things which when it meets my perceptions compels
me to see differences?".  The tutor surveyed his notes. "I can discover no 
such suggestions here as you  are pleased to make" said he. "But your orriginal 
researches," he continued most  obsequiously, "recall our next 
subject,--Berkeley and the Idealists." And he  smoothed out his notes.   
"Let's see," said the  second boy, pondering; "I went to two or three 
lectures about that time.  Berkeley--Berkeley. Didn't he--oh, yes! he did. He 
the whole hog. Nothing's  anywhere except in your ideas. You think the table's 
there, but it isn't. There  isn't any table."
The first  boy slapped his leg and lighted a cigarette. "I remember," said 
he. "Amounts to  this: If I were to stop thinking about you,  you'd
"Which  is balls," observed the second boy, judicially, again in the slang of 
his  period, "and can be proved so. For you're not always thinking about me, 
and I've  never evaporated once."
The  first boy, after a slight wink at the second, addressed the tutor. 
"Supposing  you were to happen to forget yourself," said he to that sleek
gentleman,  "would you evaporate?" The tutor turned his little eyes 
doubtfully upon the  tennis boys, but answered, reciting the language of his 
"The idealistic  theory does not apply to the thinking ego, but to the world of 
external  phenomena. The world exists in our conception of  it.
"Then," said the second  boy, "when a thing is  inconceivable?"
"It  has no existence," replied the tutor,  complacently.
"But a billion  dollars is inconceivable," retorted the boy. "No mind can 
take in a sum of that  size; but it exists."
"Put that down! put that down!" shrieked the other boy. "You've struck  
something. If we get Berkeley on the paper, I'll run that in." He wrote 
and then took a turn around the room, frowning as he walked. "The actuality of 
a  thing," said he, summing his clever thoughts up, "is not disproved by its 
being  inconceivable. Ideas alone depend upon thought for their existence. 
There!  Anybody can get off stuff like that by the yard." He picked up a cork 
a  foot-rule, tossed the cork, and sent it flying out of the window with the  
"Skip Berkeley,"  said the other boy.
"How  much more is there?"
"Necessary and accidental truths," answered the tutor, reading the subjects 
from  his notes. "Hume and the causal law. The duality, or multiplicity, of the 
"The hard-boiled  ego," commented the boy the ruler; and he batted a swooping 
June-bug into space.  "Sit down, idiot," said his sprightly mate." 
Conversation ceased. Instruction  went forward. Their pencils worked. The 
causal law, 
etc., went into their  condensed notes like Liebig's extract of beef, and drops 
of perspiration  continued to trickle from their matted hair. All three 
sophomores alike had  happened to choose Philosophy 4 as one of their elective 
courses His notes were  full: Three hundred pages about Zeno and Parmenides and 
rest, almost every  word as it had come from the professor's lips. And his 
memory was full, too,  flowing like a player's lines. With the right cue he 
could recite instantly: "An  important application of this principle, with
obvious reference to  Heracleitos, occurs in Aristotle, who says--" In them 
the mere word  Heracleitos had raised a chill no later than yesterday,--the 
chill of the  unknown. They had not attended the lectures on the "Greek bucks." 
Indeed,  profiting by their privilege of voluntary recitations, they had 
dropped in  but
seldom on Philosophy 4.  Their waked-up hearts had felt aghast at  the sudden 
vision of their ignorance. It was on a Monday noon that  this
feeling came fully upon them, as they read over the names of the  
philosophers. Thursday was the day of the examination. 
       "Who's Anaxagoras?" Billy had inquired  of Bertie. "I'll tell you," 
said Bertie, "if you'll tell me who Epicharmos of  Kos was." 
        Closeted with Oscar and his  notes, they had, as Bertie put it, 
salted down the early Greek bucks by seven on  Monday evening. By the same
midnight they had, as Billy expressed it, called  the turn on Plato. Tuesday 
was a second day of concentrated swallowing. Oscar  had taken
them through the thought of many centuries. 
        "Gentlemen," he said, closing  the sacred notes, "we have finished 
the causal law." "That's the whole business  except the ego racket, isn't it?" 
said Billy. "The duality, or multiplicity of  the ego remains," Oscar replied. 
"Oh, I know its name. It ought to be a soft  snap after what we've had."
"Unless it's full of dates and names you've got to know," said  Bertie.
"Don't believe it  is," Billy answered. "I heard him at it once." (This meant 
that Billy had gone  to a lecture lately.) "It's all about Who am
I? and How do I do it?" Billy  added. "Hmm!" said Bertie. "Hm! Subjective and 
objective again, I suppose, only  applied to oneself. You see, that table is 
objective. I can stand off and judge  it. It's outside of me; has nothing to 
do with me. That's easy. But my opinion  of--well, my--well, anything in my  
"Anger when it's time to  get up," suggested Billy.
"An  excellent illustration," said Bertie. "That is subjective in me. Similar 
to your  dislike of water as a beverage. That is subjective in you. But here 
comes the  twist. I can think of my own anger and judge it, just as if it were 
an outside  thing, like a table. I can compare it with itself on different 
mornings or with  other people's anger. And I trust that you can do the same 
with your  thirst."
"Yes," said  Billy; "I recognize that it is greater at times and less at  
"Very well,  There you are. Duality of the ego." "Subject and object," said 
Billy. "Perfectly  true, and very queer when you try to think of it. Wonder how 
far it goes? Of  course, one can explain the body's being an object to the 
brain inside it.  That's mind and matter over again. But when my own mind and 
thought, can become  objects to themselves--I wonder how far that does go?" he 
broke off musingly.  "What useless stuff!" he  ended.
"And the  multiplicity of the ego?" inquired Oscar. "Oh, I forgot. Well, it's 
too late  tonight. Is it much? Are there many dates and names and  things?"
"It is more of a general inquiry and analysis," replied Oscar. "But it is 
forty  pages of my notes." And he  smiled.
"Well, look here. It would be nice to have to-morrow clear for review. We're 
not  tired. You leave us your notes and go to  bed."
Bertie's and  Billy's parents owned town and country houses in New York. The 
parents of Oscar  had come over in the steerage. Money filled the
pockets of Bertie and Billy;  therefore were their heads empty of money and 
full of less cramping thoughts.  But I was once inclined to applaud his 
struggle for
knowledge, until I  studied him close and perceived that his love was not for 
the education he was  getting. Bertie and Billy loved play for play's own 
sake, and in play forgot  themselves, like the wholesome young creatures that 
they were. Oscar had one  love only: through all his days whatever he might 
forget, he would remember  himself; through all his days he would make 
show that self off. Thank  heaven, all the poor students in Harvard College 
not Oscars! I loved some  of them as much as I loved Bertie and Billy. So 
there is no black eye about it.  Pity Oscar, if you like; but don't be so mushy 
as to admire him as he stepped  along in the night, holding his notes, full of 
his knowledge, thinking of Bertie  and Billy, conscious of virtue, and smiling 
smile. They were not  conscious of any virtue, were Bertie and Billy, nor 
were they smiling. They were  solemnly eating up together a box of handsome 
strawberries and sucking the juice  from their reddened thumbs.
"Rather mean not to make him wait and have some of these after his hard work 
on  us," said Bertie. "I'd forgotten about  them--"
"He ran out before  you could remember, anyway," said  Billy.
"Wasn't he absurd  about his old notes? "Bertie went on, a new strawberry in 
his mouth. "We don't  need them, though. With to-morrow
we'll get this course down  cold."
"Yes, to-morrow,"  sighed Billy. "It's awful to think of another day of this  
"Horrible," assented  Bertie.
"He knows a lot.  He's extraordinary," said Billy. "Yes, he is. He can talk 
the actual words of  the notes. Probably he could teach the course himself. I 
don't suppose he buys  any strawberries, even when they get ripe and cheap 
here. What's the matter with  you?"
Billy had broken suddenly  into merriment. "I don't believe Oscar owns a 
bath," he  explained.
"By Jove! so his  notes will burn in spite of everything!" And both of the 
tennis boys shrieked  foolishly.

**************************************Check out AOL's list of 2007's hottest 

Other related posts: