Philosophy 4 by Owen Wister

Part II

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p23dropb.jpgertie and Billy were sophomores. They had been alive for twenty years, and were young. Their tutor was also a sophomore. He too had been alive for twenty years, but never yet had become young. Bertie and Billy had colonial names (Rogers, I think, and Schuyler), but the tutor's name was Oscar Maironi, and he was charging his pupils five dollars an hour each for his instruction. Do not think this excessive. Oscar could have tutored a whole class of irresponsibles, and by that arrangement have earned probably more; but Bertie and Billy had preempted him on account of his fame or high standing and accuracy, and they could well afford it. All three sophomores alike had happened to choose Philosophy 4 as one of their elective courses, and all alike were now face to face with the Day of Judgment. The final examinations had begun. Oscar could lay his hand upon his studious heart and await the Day of Judgment like--I had nearly said a Christian! His notes were full: Three hundred pages about Zeno and Parmenides and the 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--" He could do this with the notes anywhere. I am sure you appreciate Oscar and his great power of acquiring facts. So he was ready, like the wise virgins of parable. Bertie and Billy did not put one in mind of virgins: although they had burned considerable midnight oil, it had not been to throw light upon Philosophy 4. 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. These blithe grasshoppers had danced and sung away the precious storing season, and now that the bleak hour of examinations was upon them, 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." And upon this they embraced with helpless laughter. Then they reckoned up the hours left for them to learn Epicharmos of Kos in,--between Monday noon and Thursday morning at nine,--and their quailing chill increased. A tutor must be called in at once. So the grasshoppers, having money, sought out and quickly purchased the ant.

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. There had been intermissions for lunch and dinner only; and the weather was exceedingly hot. The pale-skinned Oscar stood this strain better than the unaccustomed Bertie and Billy. Their jovial eyes had grown hollow to-night, although their minds were going gallantly, as you have probably noticed. Their criticisms, slangy and abrupt, struck the scholastic Oscar as flippancies which he must indulge, since the pay was handsome. That these idlers should jump in with doubts and questions not contained in his sacred notes raised in him feelings betrayed just once in that remark about "orriginal rresearch."

"Nine--ten--eleven--twelve," went the little timepiece; and Oscar rose.

"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.

"Hm!" 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 nature - "

"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 others."

"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.

"Gentlemen," said Oscar, who had been listening to them with patient, Oriental diversion, "I--"

"Oh," said Bertie, remembering him. "Look here. We mustn't keep you up. We're awfully obliged for the way you are putting us on to this. You're saving our lives. Ten to-morrow for a grand review of the whole course."

"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."

Oscar's hand almost moved to cover and hold his precious property, for this instinct was the deepest in him. But it did not so move, because his intelligence controlled his instinct nearly, though not quite, always. His shiny little eyes, however, became furtive and antagonistic--something the boys did not at first make out.

Oscar gave himself a moment of silence. "I could not brreak my rule," said he then. "I do not ever leave my notes with anybody. Mr. Woodridge asked for my History 3 notes, and Mr. Bailey wanted my notes for Fine Arts 1, and I could not let them have them. If Mr. Woodridge was to hear--"

"But what in the dickens are you afraid of?"

"Well, gentlemen, I would rather not. You would take good care, I know, but there are sometimes things which happen that we cannot help. One time a fire--"

At this racial suggestion both boys made the room joyous with mirth. Oscar stood uneasily contemplating them. He would never be able to understand them, not as long as he lived, nor they him. When their mirth Was over he did somewhat better, but it was tardy. You see, he was not a specimen of the first rank, or he would have said at once what he said now: "I wish to study my notes a little myself, gentlemen."

"Go along, Oscar, with your inflammable notes, go along!" said Bertie, in supreme good-humor. "And we'll meet to-morrow at ten--if there hasn't been a fire--Better keep your notes in the bath, Oscar."

In as much haste as could be made with a good appearance, Oscar buckled his volume in its leather cover, gathered his hat and pencil, and, bidding his pupils a very good night, sped smoothly out of the room.


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Date created: 3/6/97
Last modified: 3/7/97
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