Lonely Americans

Lonely Americans

Lonely Americans

Lonely Americans

Excerpt

It is difficult to think of Charles William Eliot as a human being. He was some sort of remote superman, was he not, who lived and acted quite beyond the scale of ordinary mortals? His years stretched well through three-quarters of the nineteenth century and quite through the first quarter of the twentieth. Only six of the twenty-nine Presidents of the United States had completed their terms of office before his birth; he had lived three years before Victoria became Queen of England; and he was almost ready to enter college when gold was discovered in Californiay.

He lived when there were no railroads to speak of, no telegraph, no practical use for electricity, no scientific laboratories in the colleges, no surgery worthy the great name; and when a confessed belief in man's ultimate ability to talk over a wire or to fly in the air was often enough sneered at as proof of insanity. But he lived also when aircraft were circling the North Pole; when men were talking not merely over a wire but through the ether; when surgeons were performing the most delicate operations on limbs and brain; and when scientists were looking through solid substances with a new light in a way that in his early life would have been regarded as a defiance of the Creator. To the young who look upon the Victorian Era as just within the horizon of history, and who cannot remember the sky when there were no airplanes in it, the mere span of his life seems little short of eternity.

In like manner there is a seeming limitlessness to what he accomplished. He helped to develop the entire current system of elementary and higher education in America; he was prominent in establishing the beginnings of what to-day is regarded as modern medicine and modern science; he was the chief instrument in changing his own institution from a provincial college to one of the important universities of the world; he participated in every struggle in behalf of greater respect for human beings from the days of negro slavery to the fight for a World Court in 1925. Between eighty and ninety, when most men are in their graves and forgotten, he was in the thick of the struggle for all sorts of great causes in American life. In that last decade alone he published one hundred and ninety-two articles on important questions -- and writing for the press was only one of his many means of making himself felt!

Little wonder that this record should amaze his contemporaries and disciples! But is there not something interesting in the human being from whom so much has emanated? Just what manner of man was it who experienced so much and contributed so much? If the record itself is astounding, might there not be something deserving of brief consideration in the personal method and the personal life of the man by whom the record was made?

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