In 1883 Richard Salter Storrs delivered the commencement address at Union College, entitled “Manliness in the Scholar“. Various contributors at TCI have written about gender and about scholarship, but not, to my knowledge, on the combination of the two. Towards the end of filling that gap, I offer here a few quotations and reflections on Storrs’ lecture. He opens with an observation from the great German, Goethe:
ECKERMANN tells us, in his interesting report of talks with Goethe, that once, when looking with him at some engravings, the poet said: “These are really good things. You have before you the work of men of very fair talents, who have learned something, and have acquired no little taste and art. Still, something is wanting in all these pictures–the Manly. Take note of this word, and underscore it. The pictures lack a certain urgent power, which in former ages was generally expressed, but in which the present age is deficient; and that with respect not only to painting, but to all the other arts.”
In the present ideological context, it may be difficult for people to imagine what manliness might even be. Thankfully, Storrs elaborates that this quality is a combination of courage and a certain kind of energy:
It is that which… the Greeks denoted, in part at least, by that great word which is one of our inheritances from them: the effective, almost creative force, which sets things in movement, which seizes great ends, invents new methods, masters and applies all sorts of instruments, and which works with unfailing and impelling enthusiasm, kindling and quickening as well as controlling whatsoever it touches.
Courage, without this, is apt to be sluggish and unimpressive, like the Black Knight in “Ivanhoe” till his spirit has been aroused. But with this it becomes an electrifying power, which stirs individuals, invigorates communities ; which multiplies weight by swiftness of purpose into mighty momentum, and which sets not unfrequently a great mark upon history. This, too, is cognate to a governing element in our national character, and ought to be developed in largest measure in those who would reach and move and lead the public mind.
This general trait expresses itself in the scholar in a particular way. Both in:
strength of heart; strength to endure as well as attack, to pursue and achieve as well as to attempt, to sacrifice self altogether, if need be, on behalf of any controlling conviction. A thorough consent of judgment, conscience, imagination, affection, all vitalized and active, with a certain invincible firmness of will, as the effect of such a consent this is implied in a really abounding and masterful courage.
the whole personal life of the soul finds exhilarating liberty and unfailing motive and… is pushed to the utmost exertion of every power to make what to it is regal in thought, supreme and shining to other minds. Thus, only, one achieves a clear independence of the shifting opinions which play back and forth in the air of society, as clouds across the summer day, with an equal independence of malign opposition, or of vicissitudes of fortune. He has secure freedom, and vital inspiration, within himself.
From whence does this energy of the soul derive? Storrs does not leave us in the dark. Writing of the agnosticism and anti-supernaturalism prevalent in his day, he contends:
But it seems as plain as are the stars on an unclouded night that either or both of them–and they are essentially intimately connected–will dry the sources, and stay the strength, of that masterful freedom and moral energy which the scholars of our time eminently need. Certainly, if history has any lesson pertinent to the subject, it indicates this. The faith which faced the dungeon and flame, and the Libyan panther, without flinching or fear, had no agnostic element in it. The heroic endeavor, and more heroic endurance, which conquered the Roman empire to the cross, which afterward curbed, and finally converted to rich enthusiasms, the awful frenzy of the ages that followed; which, by missionary sacrifice never equalled in the world, enlightened, tamed, and transformed barbarians, making Christian peoples out of the vagrant, painted savages, your ancestors and mine; which built cathedrals, universities, hospitals, and gave to Europe its character and its culture these were not founded upon doubts about God, or on mean and ignoble conceptions of Man. Their inspiration was in the perennial and paramount truths of both the Testaments. Men like us in nature, and often not surpassing our endowment of power, accomplished these stupendous achievements, because liberated in will from all fear of the world, and energized in spirit, as by a celestial influx of force, through their lofty conception of that which was above them, of that which was before them. Their relationship to the recognized Government of the Universe set them free from subjection to earthly restrictions. Their impression of the dignity of that nature in man which had been created by the Infinite Majesty to share the divine immortality, and for which the Son of God had appeared, inspired endeavors on behalf of that nature by which ages became illustrious, of the fruit of which we hourly partake.
What then, is the secret of manly scholarship? The mystery of the ages, the Gospel, including the promise of justification by faith alone. In knowing they are free from divine condemnation, and beyond the power of any human judge to harm, men in the vocation of scholarship are set free from all fear and anxiety about failures and criticisms. They are liberated to search for the truth and to proclaim it regardless of the personal cost. And as truth will always have its opponents, it still today needs its allies. Here is Storrs advice for how we might create more of them.
The Calvinist International is a forum for research, resourcement, and renewal of Christian wisdom.