Tuesday, June 28, 2011

John Jay Chapman

 A dozen years ago the University of Illinois Press published a selection of his writings, Unbought Spirit, which is remarkably hard to find, the Gutenberg Project makes his Emerson and Other Essays available for free download, and The Strand in New York usually seems to have a couple of copies of a selection from the 1960s. Chapman is worth the trouble of looking up, and I wish that Illinois had not put the book out of print. He is best on New England, education, literature, and politics, the topics of course tending to overlap.

In his essay on Julia Ward Howe he speaks of Boston clannishness at greater length than I will quote here, save, near the end
If you know the town well, you will find persons there who are not of the caste. Their countenances do not fall at the mention of Moses and Aaron, and they wear no phylacteries. You will generally find that such people are mere sojourners in Boston; their fathers and grandfathers came from elsewhere.
Unbought Spirit collects four essays on education, all worth reading: "Learning", "The Function of the University", "Professorial Ethics", and "The Pleasures of Greek".All could be quoted at length, but here is the end of  paragraph, no more striking than several others, from "Learning" (1910):
It has thus come about in America that our universities are beginning to be run as business colleges. They advertise, they compete with each other, the pretend to give good value to their customers. They desire to increase their trade, they offer social advantages and business openings to their patrons. In some cases they boldly conduct intelligence offices, and guarantee that no hard work done by the student shall be done in vain: a record of work is kept during the student's college life and the college undertakes to furnish him at any time thereafter with references and a character which shall help him in the struggle for life.
Chapman shows to advantage as a critic in his essay on Robert Louis Stevenson, collected in Emerson and Other Essays. Ford Maddox Ford and others complained about Stevenson's style, but I never quite got their point.Chapman make his very clear:
To a boy, the great artists of the world are a lot of necromancers, whose enchantments can perhaps be stolen and used again. To a man, they are a lot of human beings, and their works are parts of them. Their works are their hands and their feet, their organs, dimensions, senses,
affections, passions. To a man, it is as absurd to imitate the manner of Dean Swift in writing as it would be to imitate the manner of Dr. Johnson in eating. But Stevenson was not a man, he was a boy; or, to speak more accurately, the attitude of his mind towards his work remained unaltered from boyhood till death, though his practice and experiment gave him, as he grew older, a greater mastery over his materials. It is in this attitude of Stevenson's mind toward his own
work that we must search for the heart of his mystery.
Chapman was born to politics in a sense; his grandmother was an assistant of William Lloyd Garrison's. He was a reformer in a day when the breed was not much respected by either party. Any of the essays "Between Elections", "The Unity of Human Nature", "The Doctrine of Nonresistance", or for that matter long stretches of his essay on Emerson make good introductions.I'll end with a quotation from essay called "Politics" (1898):
The situation as it existed was made to the hand of trade. Political power had by the war been condensed and packed for delivery; and in the natural course of things the political trademarks began to find their way into the coffers of the capitalist The change of motive power behind the party organizations--from principles, to money--was silently effected during the thirty years which followed the war. Like all organic changes, it was unconscious. It was understood by no one.

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