By Charles W. Eliot

THE DURABLE SATISFACTIONS OF LIFE, from The Durable Satisfactions of Life, by Charles William Eliot, 1910.

Charles William Eliot (1834-1926), American educationalist; teacher of mathematics and chemistry at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1853-1896;president of Harvard University, 1869-1909; the man who introduced the elective system of studies into American colleges.The Durable Satisfactions of Life was the last book published by President Eliot.

For educated men what are the sources of the solid and durable satisfactions of life? I hope you are all aiming at the solid, durable satisfactions of life, not primarily the gratifications of this moment or of to-morrow, but the satisfactions that are going to last and grow. So far as I have seen, there is one indispensable foundation for the satisfactions of life—health. A young man ought to be a clean, wholesome, vigorous animal. That is the foundation for everything else, and I hope you will all be that, if you are nothing more. We have to build everything in this world of domestic joy and professional success, everything of a useful, honorable career, on bodily wholesomeness and vitality. This being a clean, wholesome, vigorous animal involves a good deal. It involves not condescending to the ordinary barbaric vices. One must avoid drunkenness, gluttony, licentiousness, and getting into dirt of any kind, in order to be a clean, wholesome, vigorous animal. Still, none of you would be content with this achievement as the total outcome of your lives. It is a happy thing to have in youth what are called animal spirits—a very descriptive phrase; but animal spirits do not last even in animals; they belong to the kitten or puppy stages. It is a wholesome thing to enjoy for a time, or for a time each day all through life, sports and active bodily exercise. These are legitimate enjoyments, but, if made the main object of life, they tire. They cease to be a source of durable satisfaction. Play must be incidental in a satisfactory life.

What is the next thing, then, that we want in order to make sure of durable satisfactions in life? We need a strong mental grip, a wholesome capacity for hard work. It is intellectual power and aims that we need. In all the professions—learned, scientific, or industrial—large mental enjoyments should come to educated men. The great distinction between the privileged class to which you belong, the class that has opportunity for prolonged education, and the much larger class that has not that opportunity is that the educated class lives mainly by the exercise of intellectual powers and gets therefore much greater enjoyment out of life than the much larger class that earns a livelihood chiefly by the exercise of bodily powers. You ought to obtain here, therefore, the trained capacity for mental labor, rapid, intense, and sustained. That is the great thing to get in college, long before the professional school is entered. Get it now. Get it in the years of college life. It is the main achievement of college life to win this mental force, this capacity for keen observation, just inference, and sustained thought, for everything that we mean by the reasoning power of man. That capacity will be the main source of intellectual joys and of happiness and content throughout a long and busy life.

But there is something more, something beyond this acquired power of intellectual labor. As Shakespeare puts it, “the purest treasure mortal times afford is spotless reputation.” How is that treasure won? It comes by living with honor, on honor. Most of you have begun already to live honorably and honored, for the life of honor begins early. Some things the honorable man cannot do, never does. He never wrongs or degrades a woman. He never oppresses or cheats a person weaker or poorer than himself. He is honest, sincere, candid, and generous. It is not enough to be honest. An honorable man must be generous and I do not mean generous with money only. I mean generous in his judgments of men and women, and of the nature and prospects of mankind. Such generosity is a beautiful attribute of the man of honor.

How does honor come to a man? What is the evidence of the honorable life? What is the tribunal which declares at last,“This was an honorable man”? You look now for the favorable judgment of your elders, —of parents and teachers and older students; but these elders will not be your final judges, and you had better get ready now in college to appear before the ultimate tribunal, the tribunal of your contemporaries and the younger generations. It is the judgment of your contemporaries that is most important to you; and you will find that the judgment of your contemporaries is made up alarmingly early, —it may be made up this year in a way that sometimes lasts for life and beyond. It is made up in part by persons to whom you have never spoken, by persons who in your view do not know you, and who get only a general impression of you; but always it is your contemporaries whose judgment is formidable and unavoidable. Live now in the fear of that tribunal, —not an abject fear, because independence is an indispensable quality in the honorable man. There is an admirable phrase in the Declaration of Independence, a document which it was the good fashion of my time for boys to commit to memory. I doubt if that fashion still obtains. Some of our public action looks as if it did not. “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” That phrase—“a decent respect”—is a very happy one. Cherish “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind,” but never let that interfere with your personal declaration of independence. Begin now to prepare for the judgment of the ultimate tribunal.

Look forward to the important crises of your life. They are nearer than you are apt to imagine. It is a very safe protective rule to live to-day as if you are going to marry a pure woman within a month. That rule you will find a safeguard for worthy living. It is a good rule to endeavor hour by hour and week after week to learn to work hard. It is not well to take four minutes to do what you can accomplish in three. It is not well to take four years to do what you can perfectly accomplish in three. It is well to work intensely. You will hear a good deal of advice about letting your soul grow and breathing in without effort the atmosphere of a learned society or place of learning. Well, you cannot help breathing and you cannot help growing; these processes will take care of themselves. The question for you from day to day is how to learn to work to advantage, and college is the place and now is the time to win mental power. And, lastly, live to-day and every day like a man of honor.

(余苏凌 译)