A Letter to the Rising Generation


A Letter to the Rising Generation was the lead essay in The Atlantic, February 1911 issue, lambasting young people's lack of abilities, and provoking much controversy in its wake. “What excuse have you, anyhow, for turning out flimsy, shallow, amusement-seeking creatures, when you think of the elements in your making?”

From the dawn of time, one generation has cried reproof and warning to the next, unheeded. ‘I wonder that you would still be talking. Nobody marks you,’ say the young. ‘Did you never hear of Cassandra?’ the middle-aged retort.

Many of you young people of to-day have not heard of Cassandra, for a little Latin is no longer considered essential to your education. This, assuredly, is not your fault. You are innocent victims of a good many haphazard educational experiments. New ideas in pedagogy have run amuck for the last twenty-five years. They were introduced with much flourish of drums; they looked well on paper; they were forthwith put into practice on the helpless young. It has taken nearly a generation to illustrate their results in flesh and blood. Have they justified themselves in you?

The rising generation cannot spell, because it learned to read by the word-method; it is hampered in the use of dictionaries because it never learned the alphabet; its English is slipshod and commonplace, because it does not know the sources and resources of its own language. Power over words cannot be had without some knowledge of the classics or much knowledge of the English Bible—but both are now quite out of fashion.

As an instance of the working-out of some of the newer educational methods, I recall serving upon a committee to award prizes for the best essays in a certain competition where the competitors were seniors in an accredited college. In despair at the material submitted, the committee was finally forced to select as ‘best’ the essay having the fewest grammatical errors and the smallest number of misspelled words. The one theme which showed traces of thought was positively illiterate in expression.

These deficiencies in you irritate your seniors, but the blame is theirs. Some day you will be upbraiding your instructors for withholding the simple essentials of education, and you will be training your own children differently. It is not by preference that your vocabulary lacks breadth and your speech distinction. In any case, these are minor indictments, and, when all is said, we older ones may well ask ourselves whether we find our minds such obedient, soft-footed servants of the will as to make it clear that the educational procedure of our own early days is to be indorsed without reserve.

Your seniors also find themselves irritated and depressed because modern girls are louder-voiced and more bouncing than their predecessors, and because their boy-associates are somewhat rougher and more familiar toward them than used to be thought well-bred. But even these things, distasteful as they are, should not be the ground of very bitter complaint. It requires more serious charges than these to impeach the capacity and intentions of those who are soon to be in full charge of this world. Every generation has—with one important abatement—the right to fashion its own code of manners.

The final right of each generation to its own code depends upon the inner significance of those manners. When they express such alterations in the fibre of the human creature as are detrimental to the welfare of the race, then, and perhaps then only, are our criticisms completely justified.

From the generation earlier than my own, still survive gentlewomen who are like old lace and opals, gentlemen all compounded of consideration and courtliness. Their graces are not due to their length of life, but to the lights by which they have lived. They are adorable. None of us born since the Civil War approach them in respect to some fine nameless quality that gives them charm and atmosphere. Yet, if we are not less stanch and unselfish than they, I take it we also have not failed in giving the world that nourished us its due.

Is the quality of the human product really falling off? That is the humiliating question you must ask yourselves. If the suspicion which runs about the world is true, then, youngsters, as you would elegantly phrase it, it is ‘up to you.’

One of the advantages of living long in the world is that one steadily acquires an increasingly interesting point of view. Even in the middle life one begins to see for one’s self the evolution of things. One gets a glimpse of the procession of events, the march of the generations. The longer an intelligent being lives, the more deeply experience convinces him that there is a pattern in the tapestry of our lives, individual as well as national and racial, at whose scope we can only guess.

Yet the things we actually see and can testify to are profoundly suggestive. I know of my own knowledge how greatly the face of life in this country has altered since my own childhood. It is neither so simple nor so fine a thing as then. And the type of men of whom every small community then had at least half a dozen, the big-brained, big-hearted, ‘old Roman’ men, whose integrity was as unquestioned as their ability, is almost extinct. Their places are cut up and filled by smaller, less able, often much less honest men. It is not that the big men have gone to the cities—for they are not there; it is not that they left no descendants—for in more cases than I care to count, the smallest, less able, less honest men are their own sons. These latter frequently make as much money in a year as their fathers did in ten, and show less character in a lifetime than their fathers did in a year.

The causes of this are too complicated to go into here, but so far as you young people just coming on the stage are concerned, the result of this change of type in American life and American men is to make life a far harder problem. The world is itself smaller; it is harder for the individual to live by his own light. The members of the body politic are much more closely knit together in the mesh of common interest to-day than ever before. While political scandals, graft, and greed have always existed, there never has been a time when low standards in business and politics have so assailed the honor and integrity of the people as a whole, by tempting them, through fear of loss, to acquiesce in the dishonesty of others. If better standards are to prevail, it is you who must fight their final battles. Your wisdom, patience, and moral earnestness are going to be taxed to the breaking-point before those battles are won. Have you the muscle for that fight?

Evidence in regard to the falling-off in the human product is necessarily fragmentary and chaotic. Let us run over a few of the points your elders have observed and recorded against you.

Veteran teachers are saying that never in their experience were young people so thirstily avid of pleasure as now. ‘But,’ one urges, ‘it is the season when they should enjoy themselves. Young people always have—they always will.’ ‘Yes,’ they answer, ‘that is true, but this is different from anything we have ever seen in the young before. They are so keen about it—so selfish, and so hard!’

Of your chosen pleasures, some are obviously corroding to the taste; to be frank, they are vulgarizing. It is a matter of ordinary comment that the children of cultivated fathers and mothers do not, nowadays, grow up the equals of their parents in refinement and cultivation. There must, then, be strong vulgarizing elements outside the home, as well as some weakness within, so to counteract and make of little worth the gentler influences of their intimate life. How can anything avail to refine children whose taste in humor is formed by the colored supplements of the Sunday paper, as their taste in entertainment is shaped by continuous vaudeville and the moving-picture shows? These things are actually very large factors in children’s lives to-day. How should they fail of their due influence on plastic human material? Where the parents at the formative age saw occasional performances of Booth, Barrett, Modjeska, and ‘Rip Van Winkle,’ the children go to vaudeville, and go almost constantly. While most vaudeville performances have one or two numbers that justify the proprietors’ claim of harmless, wholesome amusement, the bulk of the programme is almost inevitably drivel, common, stupid, or inane. It may not be actually coarse, but inanity, stupidity, and commonness are even more potent as vulgarizing influences than actual coarseness. Coarseness might repel; inanity disintegrates.

‘I don’t approve,’ your fathers and mothers say anxiously, ‘but I hate to keep Tom and Mary at home when all the other children are allowed to go.’ These parents are conscientious and energetic in looking after Tom’s teeth and eyes, Mary’s hair, tonsils, and nasal passages, but seem utterly unconscious that mental rickets and curvature of the soul are far more deforming than crooked teeth and adenoids.

Our ancestors spoke frequently of fortitude. That virtue was very real and very admirable to them; we use the word too little; you, not at all. The saving grace of their everyday hardships has vanished. ‘Even in a palace, life may be well lived.’ One wonders how Marcus Aurelius would have judged the moral possibilities of flats or apartment hotels? When one gets light by pushing a button, heat by turning a screw, water by touching a faucet, and food by going down in an elevator, life is so detached from the healthy exercise and discipline which used to accompany the mere process of living, that one must scramble energetically to a higher plane or drop to a much lower one.

When the rising generation goes into the militia, it is, old officers tell us, ‘soft’ and incompetent, unpleasantly affected by ants and spiders, querulous as to tents and blankets, and generally as incapable of adapting itself to the details of military life as one would expect a flat-reared generation to be. The advocates of athletics and manual training in our schools and colleges are doing their utmost to counteract the tendency to make flabby, fastidious bodies which comes from too-comfortable living; but the task is huge.

Much more ado is made over this business of training the mind and body to-day than ever before. From the multiplied and improved machinery of education it would seem that we must be far in advance of our fathers. But where are the results in improved humanity? The plain truth seems to be that the utmost which can be done for the child to-day is not enough to counterbalance the rapidly-growing disadvantages of urban life and modern conditions. Vast increase in effort and in cost does not even enable the race to keep up with itself. Forging ahead at full speed, we are yet dropping woefully behind.

Training is not a matter of the mind and body only. More fundamental to personality than either is the education of the soul. In your up-bringing this has been profoundly neglected—and here is your cruelest loss. Of the generation of your fathers and mothers it may be generally affirmed that they received their early religious training under the old régime. Their characters were shaped by the faith of their fathers, and those characters usually remained firm and fixed, though their minds sometimes became the sport of opposing doctrines. They grew up in a world that was too hastily becoming agnostic as a result of the dazzling new discoveries of science. It was a shallow interpretation that claimed science and religion as enemies to the death. So much is clear now. But, shallow or not, such was the thought of the seventies. The rising generation of that day had to face it. A great many young people then became unwilling martyrs to what they believed the logic of the new knowledge. It was through inability to enlarge their ideas of Him, to meet the newly-disclosed facts about His universe, that they gave up their God. They lost their faith because imagination failed them.

The clamor and the shouting of that old war have already died away; the breach between science and religion is healed; the world shows more and more mysterious as our knowledge of it widens, and we acknowledge it to be more inexplicable without a Will behind its phenomena than with one. But that period of storm and stress had a practical result; it is incarnated in the rising generation.

In the wrack of beliefs, your parents managed to retain their ingrained principles of conduct. Not knowing what to teach you, they taught you nothing whole-heartedly. Thus you have the distinction of growing up with a spiritual training less in quantity and more diluted in quality than any ‘Christian’ generation for nineteen hundred years. If you are agnostic-and-water, if you find nothing in the universe more stable than your own wills—what wonder? Conceived in uncertainty, brought forth in misgiving—how can such a generation be nobly militant?

Before it occurred to me to analyze your deficiencies and your predicament thus, I used to look at a good many members of the rising generation and wonder helplessly what ailed them. They were amiable, attractive, lovable even, but singularly lacking in force, personality, and the power to endure. Conceptions of conduct that were the very foundations of existence to decent people even fifteen years their seniors were to them simply unintelligible. The word ‘unselfishness,’ for instance, had vanished from their vocabularies. Of altruism, they had heard. They thought it meant giving away money if you had plenty to spare. They approved of altruism, but ‘self-sacrifice’ was literally as Sanscrit to their ears. They demanded ease; they shirked responsibility. They did not seem able to respond to the notion of duty as human nature has always managed to respond to it before.

All this was not a matter of youth. One may be undeveloped and yet show the more clearly the stuff of which one is made. It was a matter of substance, of mass. You cannot carve a statue in the round from a thin marble slab; the useful two-by-four is valueless as framing-timber for ships; you cannot make folks out of light-weight human material.

When these young persons adopted a philosophy, it was naïve and inadequate. They talked of themselves as ‘socialists,’ but their ideas of socialism were vague. To them it was just an ‘ism’ that was going to put the world to rights without bothering them very much to help it along. They seemed to feel that salvation would come to them by reading Whitman and G.B.S., or even the mild and uncertain Mr. H. G. Wells, and that a vague, general good-will toward man was an ample substitute for active effort and self-sacrifice for individuals. Somebody, some day, was going to push a button, and presto! life would be soft and comfortable for everybody.

Of socialism in general I confess myself incompetent to speak. It may, or may not, be the solution of our acutely pressing social problems. But if men are too cheap, greedy, and sordid to carry on a republic honestly, preserving that equality of opportunity which this country was founded to secure, it must be men who need reforming. The more ideal the scheme of government, the less chance it has against the inherent crookedness of human nature. In the last analysis, we are not ruled by a ‘government,’ but by our own natures objectified, moulded into institutions. Rotten men make rotten government. If we are not improving the quality of the human product, our social system is bound to grow more cruel and unjust, whatever its name or form.

‘But of course you believe,’ said one pink-cheeked young socialist, expounding his doctrine, ‘that the world will be a great deal better when everybody has a porcelain bath-tub and goes through high school. Why—why, of course, you must believe that!’

Dear lad, I believe nothing of the kind! You yourself have had a porcelain bath-tub from your tenderest years. You also went through high school. Yet you are markedly inferior to your old grandfather in every way, — shallower, feebler, more flippant, less efficient physically and even mentally, though your work is with books, and his was with flocks and herds. Frankly, I find in you nothing essential to a man. God knows what life can make of such as you. I do not. Your brand of socialism is made up of a warm heart, a weak head, and an unwillingness to assume responsibility for yourself or anybody else—in short, a desire to shirk. These elements are unpleasantly common in young socialists of my acquaintance. I know, of course, that a very passion of pity, a Christlike tenderness, brings many to that fold, but there are more of another kind. It was one of the latter who was horrified by my suggestion that he might have to care for his parents in their old age. It would interfere too much, he said, with his conception of working out his own career!

What can one say to this? The words character and duty convey absolutely nothing to young people of this type. They have not even a fair working conception of what such words mean. Did I not dispute a whole afternoon with another young man about the necessity for character, only to learn at the end of it that he didn’t know what character was. He supposed it was ‘something narrow and priggish—like what deacons used to be’ And he, mind you, was in his twenties, and claimed, ore rotundo, to be a Whitmanite, a Shavian, and a socialist. Also, he was really intelligent about almost everything but life—which is the only thing it is at all needful to be intelligent about.

The culte du moi is one thing when it is representative, when one rhapsodizes one’s self haughtily as a unit of the democratic mass, as Whitman undoubtedly did; and quite another when it is narrowly personal, a kind of glorification of the petty, personal attributes of young John Smith, used by him to conceal from himself the desirability; but that is what young John Smith, who calls himself a Whitmanite, is making of it. I knew one of these young persons—I trust his attitude is exceptional—who refused special training for work he wanted to do on the ground that he was ‘repelling interference with his sacred individuality.’

Twenty years ago there were faint-hearted disciples of Whitman who took him as an antidote for congenital unassertiveness. His insistence on the value of personality supplied something needed in their make-up, and they found in wearing a flannel shirt and soft tie a kind of spiritual gymnastic that strengthened the flabby muscles of their Ego. The young Whitmanites of to-day have no flabby muscles in their Ego.

The same temperamental qualities operate when they name themselves Shavians. Their philosophy has been set forth lucidly in a recent Atlantic article.1 Its keynote is the liberation of the natural will, with the important modifications that the natural will must hold itself to an iron responsibility in its collisions with other wills, must not obstruct the general good of society or the evolution of the race. To the unphilosophic eye, these modifications look suspiciously like duties—the old, old duties to God and man. Why go around Robin Hood’s barn to arrive at the point where our ancestors set out? If the exercise were mentally strengthening, the detour might be justified, but the evidence of this is decidedly incomplete.

It may easily happen that the next twenty years will prove the most interesting in the history of civilization. Armageddon is always at hand in some fashion. Nice lads with the blood of the founders of our nation in your veins, pecking away at the current literature of socialism, taking out of it imperfectly understood apologies for your temperaments and calling it philosophy—where will you be if a Great Day should really dawn? What is there in your way of thought to help you play the man in any crisis? If the footmen have wearied you, how shall you run with the horsemen? In one way or another, every generation has to fight for its life. When your turn comes, you will be tossed on the scrap-heap, shoved aside by boys of a sterner fibre and a less easy life, boys who have read less and worked more, boys who have thought to some purpose and have been willing—as you are not—to be disciplined by life.

If you point out to one of these young Whitmanshaws the fact that the Ten Commandments are concrete suggestions for so conducting life that it will interfere as little as possible with ‘the general good of society and the evolution of the race,’ and that the Golden Rule is a general principle covering the same ground, he will tell you that the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule are bad because they are promulgated on Authority, and nobody must take things on Authority—for Mr. Shaw says so! One must find it all out for himself. If you suggest that it is possible to regard Authority as the data collected by those who have preceded him along the trail, telling him what they found out about the road, so as to save him from trouble and danger; if you maintain that it is as unscientific to reject previous discoveries in ethics as in engineering, he may be silenced, but he will not be convinced, for his revolt is not a matter of logic but of feeling. He wants to do as he pleases. He desires to be irresponsible, and he will adopt any philosophy which seems to him to hold out a justification of irresponsibility, as he will adopt any theory of social organization which promises to relieve him of a man’s work in the world. I am not exaggerating the shallowness of this attitude.

All educated young people are not ‘intellectuals.’ Most of them are perfectly contented without any articulate philosophy as an apology for their inclinations. There is also a considerable body of them who are already painfully commercialized even in their school-days. On the whole, the kind of young socialist who resents the idea of having to care for his parents in their helpless age in less of a menace to society as now constituted than the kind of young individualist who boasts how much money he acquired during his college course by making loans to his classmates upon the security of their evening-clothes and watches. The latter, hard as nails and predatory, has already moulded himself into a distinctly anti-social shape; the former is still amorphous, still groping. There is yet a chance that he may make a man.

I am not a philosopher. I know only so much as the man in the street may know, the rough-and-ready philosophy that is born in us all. Just so long as any system of education or any philosophy produces folks that are folks, wisdom is justified of her children. That system has earned the right to stand. This point is not debatable. Even the new prophets concede it. For the end of all education, the business of all living, is to make men and women. All else is vain toil. The old conditions produced them; the new do not.

Certain qualities go to the making of any human being whom other human beings esteem. Certain ingredients are as necessary to a man as flour and yeast to bread, or iron and carbon to steel. You cannot make them any other way. There is a combination of steadiness of purpose, breadth of mind, kindliness, wholesome common sense, justice, perhaps a flash of humor, certainly a capacity for the task in hand, that produces a worth-while person. The combination occurs in every rank in life. You find it as often in the kitchen as in the parlor; oftener, perhaps, in the field than in the office. The people who are so composed have spiritual length, breadth, thickness; they are people of three dimensions. Everybody feels alike about them, even you youngsters. For this saving grace I have noticed about you—you do, after all, know whom to like when types are put before you in the flesh. Never by any chance do you waste your real admiration on the one-dimension people who, like points, have ‘position but no magnitude,’ or on the two-dimension people who, like planes, ‘have length and breadth but no depth.’ You frankly don’t care much for the kind of creature your own ideas would shape. You want people to be stanch, patient, able, just as much as if you were not repudiating for yourselves the attitudes which produce these things.

Force, personality, the power to endure: these our fathers had; these you are losing. Yet life itself demands them as much as it ever did. For though we may be getting soft and losing our stamina (another word which, like fortitude, has gone out of fashion), the essential elements of life remain unchangeable. Life is not, and is not meant to be a cheap, easy matter, even for flat-dwellers. It is a grim, hard, desolate piece of work, shot through with all sorts of exquisite, wonderful, compensating experiences.

Consider the matter of your own existence and support that you accept with such nonchalant ease. Every child born into the world is paid for with literal blood, sweat, tears. That is the fixed price, and there are no bargain sales. Years of toil, months of care, hours of agony, go to your birth and rearing. What excuse have you, anyhow, for turning out flimsy, shallow, amusement-seeking creatures, when you think of the elements in your making? The price is paid gladly. That is your fathers’ and mothers’ part. Yours is, to be worth it. You have your own salvation to work out. It must be salvation, and it must be achieved by work. That is the law, and there is no other.

Our rushing, mechanical, agitated way of living tends to hide these root-facts from you. Years ago I asked a young girl, compelled for reasons of health to spend her winters away from her home, how she filled her days. ‘It takes a good deal of time to find out what I think about things,’ she answered, explaining thereby, in part, the depth in her own character as well as the shallowness in whole groups of others. In simpler days, when there was more work and less amusement, there was more time for thinking and thinking is creative of personality. Some of it must go to the making of any creature who counts at all, as must also some actual work. Also, and you ought to know this and to be able to rejoice in it, the other great creative elements in personality are responsibility and suffering. The unshapen lump of new human material that we are cannot take on lines of identity without the hammer, the chisel, the drill—that comparison must certainly be as old as the art of moralizing, but it has not lost its force.

Sometimes you prattle confidently of growth by ‘development,’ as though that were an affair of ease. It is only experience, the reaction of our activities on the self, which develops; and experience has immense possibilities of pain. Have you forgotten what you learned in your psychology concerning the very kernel of selfhood? ‘We measure ourselves by many standards. Our strength and our intelligence, our wealth and even our intelligence, our wealth and even our good luck, are things which warm our heart and make us feel ourselves a match for life. But deeper than all such things, and able to suffice unto itself without them, is the sense of the amount of effort we can put forth … as if it were the substantive thing which we are, and those were but the externals which we carry. … He who can make none is but a shadow; he who can make much is a hero.’

We are, obviously, here to be made into something by life. It seizes and shapes us. The process is sometimes very pleasant, sometimes very painful. So be it. It is all in the day’s work, and only the worthless will try to evade their proper share of either pain or pleasure. To seek more of the former would be bravado, as to accept less would be dishonor. The whole matter is of such a simplicity that only the suspicion of a concerted, though unconscious, attempt of an entire generation to get the pleasure without the due pain of living, would justify such a definite statement of it here.

The other day I beheld a woman whose husband earns something less than two hundred dollars a month, purchasing her season’s wardrobe. Into it went one hat at fifty dollars and another at thirty dollars. Her neighbors in the flat-building admired and envied. One of the bolder wondered. ‘Well, I can’t help it,’ said Mrs. Jones. ‘I just tell Mr. Jones life isn’t worth livin’ if I can’t have what I want.’ This, you see, was her way of ‘liberating the natural will.’

The truth is that life isn’t worth livin’ if you can have what you want—unless you happen to be the exceptional person who wants discipline, responsibility, effort, suffering.

From the thought of Mrs. Jones and her hats, I like to turn to a certain volume of memoirs, giving a picture of New England life in the first half of the nineteenth century. It is an incomparable textbook on the art of getting the most out of living. It sets forth in such concrete, vivid fashion as to kindle the most reluctant imagination, the habits and virtues of a plain-living, high-thinking, purposeful day. The delightful lady who is the subject of it found three dresses at a time an ample outfit, and six days’ sewing a year sufficed for her wardrobe; but she had ‘a noble presence and what would have been called stately manners had they not been so gracious.’ Before the age of twenty she had read ‘all the authors on metaphysics and ethics that were then best known,’ and throughout life she kept eagerly in touch with the thought of the day. This did not interfere with her domestic concerns, as they did not narrow her life. If she arose at four A.M. to sweep the parlors, calling the domestics and the family at six, it was that she might find time for reading during the morning, and for entertaining her friends in the evening, as she habitually did some three times a week. She managed a large house and a large family, and her wit, cultivation, and energy enriched life for everybody who knew her. She had ‘no higher aim than to light and warm the neighborhood where God had placed her.’ She and her sisters ‘had never dreamed of a life of ease, or of freedom from care, as anything to be desired. On the contrary, they gloried in responsibility … with all the intensity of simple and healthy natures.’

That day is gone, not to return, but its informing spirit can be recaptured and applied to other conditions as a solvent. If that were done, I think the Golden Age might come again, even here and now.

No generalizations apply to all of a class. Numerically, of course, many of the rising generation are find and competent young people, stanch, generous, right-minded, seeking to give and to get the best in life and to leave the world better than they found it. I take it, any young person who reads the Atlantic will have chosen this better part—but, suppose you hadn’t! Suppose you discovered yourself to be one of those unfortunates herein described? Deprived of the disciplinary alphabet, multiplication-table, Latin grammar; dispossessed of the English Bible, most stimulating of literary as well as of ethical inheritances; despoiled of your birthright in the religion that made your ancestors; destitute of incentives to hardihood and physical exertion; solicited to indolence by cheap amusements, to self-conceit by cheap philosophies, to greed by cheap wealth—what, then, is left for you?

Even if your predicament were, without relief, dire as this, you would at least have the chance to put up a wonderful fight. It would be so good a thing to win against those odds that one’s blood tingles at the thought. But there are several elements which alter the position. For one, the lack of a definite religious training is not irreparable.

This is not a sermon, and it is for others to tell those how to find God who have not yet attained unto Him, but it is certain that the mature world around you with which you are just coming into definite relation is morally very much alive just now. That its moral awakening is not exactly on the lines of previous ones, does not make it less authentic or contagious. Unless you are prematurely case-hardened, it is bound to affect you.

Then—you are young. It is quite within your power to surprise yourselves and discomfit the middle-aged prophets of evil who write you pages of warnings. The chance of youth is always the very greatest chance in the world, the chance of the uncharted sea, of the undiscovered land.

The idealism of the young and their plasticity in the hands of their ideals have carried this old world through evil days before now. It has always been held true that so long as you are under twenty-five, you are not irrevocably committed to your own deficiencies. I wonder if you realize that for you, first among the sons of men, that period of grace has been indefinitely extended?

The brain-specialists and the psychologists between them have given in the last ten years what seems conclusive proof of the servitude of the body to the Self; they have shown how, by use of the appropriate mechanism in our make-up, we can control to a degree even the automatisms of our bodies; they have demonstrated the absolute mastery of will over conduct. Those ancient foes, Heredity and Habit, can do very little against you, today, that you are not in a position to overcome. Since the world began, no human creatures have had the scientific assertion of this that you possess. Many wise and many righteous have longed to be assured of these matters, and have agonized through life without that certainty. Saints and sages have achieved by long prayer and fasting the graces that you, apparently, may attain by the easy process of a self-suggestion.

Coming as this psychological discovery does, in the middle of an age of unparalleled mechanical invention and discovery, it is almost—is it not?—as if the Creator of men had said, ‘It is time that these children of mine came to maturity. I will give them at last their full mastery over the earth and over the air and over the spirits of themselves. Let us see how they bear themselves under these gifts.’

Thus, your responsibility for yourselves is such an utter responsibility as the race has never known. It is the ultimate challenge to human worth and human power. You dare not fail under it. I think the long generations of your fathers hold their breath to see if you do less with certainty than they have done with faith.


facebook share button twitter share button google plus share button tumblr share button reddit share button email share button share on pinterest pinterest

Create a library and add your favorite stories. Get started by clicking the "Add" button.
Add A Letter to the Rising Generation to your own personal library.

Return to the Cornelia A. P. Comer Home Page

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson