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The Perplexities of a Professor
"And yet I suppose there will always be professors."
HE writer is, then, a professor: primum confietur. He is a humble member of that cloistered tribe of absent-minded and imprac
tical bigots who strut their miserable hour apart from the haunts of life and men, fretting out lonely, sequestered existences amid the dank walls of the university or the stuffy atmosphere of the laboratory. The professor's associations make him a pessimist, his science makes him a pedant, his much thinking makes him a mental paralytic, according to the inexorable law of cause and effect, each of which characteristics becomes him but ill when he forsakes his lecture-hall or his laboratory at even and mingles upon the streets of men. A kindly nature, however, dulls his ears so that he hears not, blinds him, so that he sees not, and withal instigates such a metamorphosis of all his human instincts and impulsions that he feels and understands not. The passing show of life, as he stumbles senselessly by it, fails to stimulate his torpid brain-cells into responsive impression or expression, and he continues on his simple way, uninfluenced and undisturbed.
Occasionally, it is true, a hybrid of the professorial species so far strays from the traditional professorial pathway as to give credence to the flatterings of some one outside the academic genus and ventures into the political arena. And then, presto! the erstwhile tolerating indifference of his fellows of other geni blazes up positively into malediction, and his frail body becomes the objective of universal and perennial tilting, increasing in volume according as he may chance to make good. Or, anon, the academic devotee may aspire to something loftier than the low-hanging political plums. His temerity may lead him to climb higher and assay to stretch
out trembling fingers for finer prizes in the top of the tree. It matters not. Save for the hand-clapping and mild plaudits of some professorial on-lookers, actuated by an appreciative consciousness of kind, there is but anathema for him. He might electrify society with his undertakings; he might see further, plan more wisely, act more discreetly, than any other: it matters not. He is a professor!
"Why," exclaims my good friend B -, "whoever heard of a professor being anything but a professor? Look at the President, now!”
Still, only a few of the professorial tribe ever aspire to political preferment. They make, as a rule,.good churchmen, acceptable neighbors, tolerable citizens. They adorn modestly the council halls of local philanthropic organizations, add some weight to the deliberations of public education associations, burst fleetingly into the lime-light through the courtesy or the maliciousness of a reporter. On rare occasions they are to be seen escorting their ladies to "Lear" or "Othello" or perhaps "Rigoletto." At somewhat prolonged intervals, too, they may indulge themselves in an afternoon at the moving-picture show, rounding out their day of dissipation with dinner at the sign of the chop-suey wizard. They make desirable Sunday-school superintendents, and are delightfully successful as orators of the day at ladies' social teas. For the rest, your professor is known little and seen less, being content to plod the even tenor of his way quite serenely and quite unperturbed.
Again my versatile friend B― interposes an opinion.
"Why, man," he snorts, "it's no wonder professors are mossbacks. You never see them knocking elbows with other folks; never find them at the theater or the club; never meet them at the lodge;
never run into them anywhere except semi-occasionally on the promenade or the hedged-in tennis-court or on the roads leading countryward. Too selfcentered, too exclusive, these professor folks. Why don't they agree with the rest of us that living is living, instead of trying for all the world to make life as uninteresting as possible for themselves, as if it were an insipid novel or a pointless adventure? Ugh! These professors! These professors!"
's remarks notwithstanding, the professor is, after all, human like his fellows. It may be, as he says, that the professor is too exclusive, that he mingles too little with his neighbors, that he is wearing himself slowly out. Still, methinks, his humanness is not to be called in question. Perhaps it is because he is so fundamentally human that he is content to deny himself many of the social pleasures in order to delve more deeply into the mysteries and the problems and the aspirations of human kind. It may be that under his forbidding exterior and his impassive countenance there beats a heart as warm as the warmest, and dwells a spirit as young as the youngest. I say, it may be so. True, the professor may not be a patron of first performances or a connoisseur of art or yet a familiar figure on 'change. He may not even be a devotee of whist and dancing or an indefatigable base-ball fan or a sportingpage enthusiast. Yet he mows his lawn, paints his house, and casts his vote with equal conviction. He is intermittently to be found at the bargain-counter, at least in the person of his wife; he is almost certain to grumble mildly at the premature appearance of shoddiness in his best suit, and may even return it with much dignity to the outfitter. and demand satisfactory adjustment; he is more than likely to be the first member of his family to discover that his son and heir is much in need of new shoes; he is sure to think deeply and discourse more or less mildly on the ever-increasing high cost of living. All of which possibilities and certainties lend emphasis to my topic-sentence: the professor is, after all, human like his fellow.
But, as if this array of truths and neartruths were not of sufficient weight to prove the point, there are fortunately
other facts and probabilities which may be cast in the balance. Allow me to enumerate a few. In the first place, your professor, behind his calm, equable exterior, looks not without certain wellpronounced invidious twinges upon those of his compeers who are more liberally blest with this world's goods than is he. Now, there is B's automobile, for example. Oh, yes, B is generous
with it; almost too much so sometimes, I fear. Many a refreshing ride along quiet roads and amid cool evening damps shall be set down to B's credit. And how often it happens, too, quite accidentally, that when the first chug-chugging of B's car in the morning announces a speedy departure, does your professor appear at his door, brief-case and bag in hand, not at all averse to saving his eight-cent fare! You see, B- is an accountant at Smith's and earns as much in a day as his neighbor, the professor, does in three. Earns? Well, gets, anyway. It matters little. Merely a question of niceness of terminology.
Once, it is true, the professor owned a car. It was shortly after Bpurchased his new two-thousand-dollar sedan that the professor caught the fever. One evening of unblest memory he got down his bank-book and began to calculate debits and credits. Very good; here was a tidy little sum of two hundred dollars that could be spared. How much would a car cost? Of course it need not be elaborate; so long as it was comfortable and not too conspicuous it would do very nicely. For days the frock-coated professor haunted the second-hand places, at once an unaccustomed and befuddled apparition in the courts of second-hand pleasure. He peered into the invisible depths of greasy machinery until his eyes were blinded and his head more befuddled than before. He rode beside a demonstrator in relics of the past and had-beens of the present through the quiet streets of the suburbs until the demonstrator grew tired of demonstrating and he of being demonstrated to the staring eyes of a world which was suddenly beginning to take a deep and mirthful interest in him. He listened to the technicalities of crankshafts and differentials and gear-cases
and magnetos until for the life of him he could not have told whether he was still a professor, or whether the dusty and greasy demonstrator was some professor of the inferno and he himself a dazed pupil being inducted laboriously into the mysteries of the under-world. But at last it all came to an end, and one day your professor emerged from the secondhand realms of Pluto, perched jauntily upon the seat of a car that went.
But the car that went never went very far, and in desperation, sometime later, the professor drove it back to the underworld and began a long travail of requesting, commanding, and finally of bribing other representatives of Pluto to take the thing off his hands. When the travail ended and the summer ended, the professor took down his bank-book again and derived what satisfaction he could from reflecting that at least his life had been spared.
And then in the evening Bover to hear all about the sequel. "Pooh!" he ejaculated, "imagine a professor knowing how to do anything except how to profess! Ride this evening?"
Of course the professor went and enjoyed his ride for the first time in weeks.
Then, too, the professor rebels silently, but none the less bitterly, against the elaborate dresses which Jones's wife wears, and Smith's wife, and Brown's wife; in fact, everybody's wife. In his sensitive eye the modest apparel of his own poor wife compares all unfavorably with that worn by her neighbors. Of course his wife always looks neat and wholesome in her last-year's-made-overs and in her bargain-counters, but that fact fails to extract the bitterness from the professor's musings. It is not that he, poor man, sets much store by style; it is only that his instincts to array his lady in finery are every whit as strong as are those of Smith or Jones or Brown, which again demonstrates the professor's humanness.
And, speaking of clothes, look at the professor's wardrobe: one suit that he wears every day to the university, with a black for church and a carefully hungaway dress-up for formalities. The first cost $19.98 before the war, and has cost his wife many weary hours and neartears ever since; the second is a shiny,
faded affair fast falling into oblivion after years of patient service; and the third, a product of a shopman upon whose sign reads, "Students' misfit and slightly worn clothing." Very likely a discarded dress-suit of one of the professor's own students. Needless to add, perhaps, the pungent odor of moth-balls comes insistently and lingeringly to the professor's nostrils on those rare occasions when he dons the last-named suit, another silent, but olfactory, tribute to the indispensableness of a good helpmate in the great adventure of life and the economy of living.
Not many days since it chanced that some half-score or more threads in the professor's trousers, a-wearied of life and its labors, let loose their grip and settled back into gaping relaxation. The professor inclined his head, and viewed the rent with consternation. There ensued an unhappy scene when his helpmate, tearfully set about gathering up the raveled threads of life. With the aid of strong, though slightly off-shade, splints, however, the good woman succeeded in reviving the garment so well that the grateful professor forthwith betook himself to a near-by department-store and bought her a new shirt-waist for a thankoffering. His trousers bid fair to continue to serve him well for an indefinite period of time.
Then, too, there is the matter of shelter, an item no less important than clothing. clothing. It need hardly be stated that the professor has quite as much need of a roof wherewith to cover his head and shelter his family as any one else. True, he does not require a mansion, or yet an apartment on Fifth Avenue, or even a whole house to himself in the suburbs. He can live respectably, and his children can grow up tolerably, in a flat on some modest, quiet street; but roof of some sort he doth require.
Now, B, of course, owns his own house, and a handsome one it is, too.
"Why pay rent, man?" he demands savagely of the professor after Iddelstein has made his first-day-of-the-month round. "Here I have a house all to myself, and it does n't cost me a cent more, I'll wager, than you have to pay old Iddelstein."
Right again, B, as usual. Still,
the initial payment of a thousand down would be about as impossible for the professor as for his tired wife to spend the summer at the shore or in the mountains. Nevertheless, came a day a few months since when your professor was seized with consternation. Old Iddelstein gave
notice of a raise in the rent. It had been twenty-five dollars a month for years; but henceforth the landlord would require thirty dollars! Zounds! And another bond issue about to be floated by the Government! How could he possibly afford it? Even B- failed to understand the situation.
"You are getting it cheap enough at that," he growled. "Buy a home, and then you can snap your fingers at old Iddelstein."
Still-well, professors' wives have ways of saving that the world knoweth little of. When rent-day ticked round again, old Iddelstein got his thirty dollars, and another bond was purchased into the bargain.
But it was only the beginning of evil days for the poor professor. Within six weeks the rent was raised again, and within six more weeks it was raised yet again. And then, to cap it all, word came that old Iddelstein had sold the house to a larger investor, and that tenants must vacate within thirty days!
The heavens had never drooped any lower than on that eventful day. The professor hurried across the way to inform B- while his wife laid her head upon the table and cried softly.
B, as usual, was as good as gold. "Jump in, and we 'll go house-hunting," he cried cheerfully. "Plenty of good rents to be had, of course."
company charged five dollars for transferring the instrument, or the gas company five dollars for resetting the meter, or the electric company an equal amount for the same service? All such little expenses were incidental and were unavoidable. Why bother about them? It was pleasant to be at home, pleasant to have the moving all over with; pleasant to contemplate long years of peaceful residence in the new home.
Say, rather, short weeks. Again the heavens drooped low; for a second time the house was sold over the poor professor's head, for a second time the game of blindman's-buff had to be played, for a second time the drag-net of the telephone and the gas and the electric company operated athwart the professor's thin pocket-book, for a second time worry and unrest and upsetment.
Then the clouds drew back and revealed their silver lining in the form of a letter from the trustees. The professor read it, then re-read it; then in a delicious daze he passed it over to his wife.
"Read some good news, Alice!" Here is the good news which the letter contained:
My dear Professor A―:
I have the good fortune to inform you, on behalf of the trustees, that at a formal meeting held this morning it was unanimously voted to raise your salary from its present figure, $1800, to $1900. The Board was led to this action, my dear sir, quite as much in recognition of your faithful and efficient service as in consequence of the rather considerable increase in the cost of living within the past two or three years. Believe me, my dear sir,
Your humble servant, X
"Famous!" exclaimed the professor's wife when she had likewise read and reread the momentous instrument. "Only think of it-that extra hundred will pay all the expenses of our moving both times!"
That same evening two light-hearted, middle-aged people sat side by side and hand in hand on the front piazza.
"Alice, suppose we celebrate our raise," suggested the professor. "Which shall it be, my dear, vanilla or chocolate?"
No, gracious reader, do not misjudge the poor professor folk. They are willing workers and are hard workers. There is no Bolshevism among them. They are not even strikers. Perhaps they have n't the nerve to strike. Perhaps they deem such forceful demonstration unprofessional. It may be that some day there will be a professors' union, as there is also a carmen's union and a barbers' union and a buttonmakers' union. Indeed, such movements are already well on foot. Still, though the idea is repugnant to most teachers, I am sure that, in order to be able to live comfortably, they must resort to the strikers' methods.
You see, then, what I have been driving at all through this communication has been money, and more money. When you get a chance, just sit down with pencil and paper and figure out the professor's problem for yourself.
Here it is:
Professor A- has taught for 10 years at an average salary of $1800 a year. In order properly to equip himself for his profession, he spent 4 years in high school, 4 years in college, and 3 years in a university. During those 11 years he earned $2000 at summer work, tutoring, etc. His expenses for those years total $8000. Was his education a paying investment for the professor? How many years will he have to teach before he is as well off financially as he was 21 years ago, when he was graduated from the eighth grade? What annual returns would a practical business man expect from such an investment? How does the investment of a hod-carrier compare?
The problem, if you figure it out fairly, will stagger you as it has often staggered the professor and the professor's wife.
"Why don't you give it up, then?" asks B in amazement.
Well, perhaps the truth is that away down deep in the heart, your professor knows well that once a real teacher has felt the true charm of his work, he can never find complete happiness elsewhere. It is perhaps something akin to the emotions of the sailor away from his beloved, rolling ocean. The call of the deep is the call of life; so for the professor the call of the lecture-hall and the labora
tory is the call of happiness. Then why think of turning a deaf ear to them? Who would advise another to give up important work in which he is interested and happy? Our work is our passion.
The life of the professor, then, is not without its attenuating circumstances. B likes to point to the long summer vacation and to reiterate ad lib. that the professor's life is, what he pleases to term it, a "cinch." I have not yet quite succeeded in making him appreciate the fact that a teacher is paid for the time that he devotes to teaching, and for nothing more. Of course, if boards of trustees see fit to divide eighteen hundred dollars into twelve equal parts and portion it out each month, it makes the gross income no greater than it would be were it divided into ten equal parts and portioned out during the ten months in which the institution is in operation. But it is quite beyond B's comprehension. The result is that, if the professor desires to increase his yearly stipend, he must get out and find a job at a summer school during the two months of enforced idleness.
Still, there are attenuating circumstances that are valid in the professorial profession. The remuneration is sure, however small it may be; there is an undeniable dignity attached to the work; one moves in a good social group; hardand-fast friendships are fostered; students are not infrequently grateful for life to a beloved professor; there is opportunity to read and study in one's chosen field; and last, but perhaps not least, there is always the possibility of rising higher in the profession by dint of thoughtful, painstaking work.
There are moments of financial discouragement and embarrassment, however, which keep the life of a professor from passing in serenity and peace. Often, too, the knowledge comes painfully over him when riding in a trolley that the motorman and conductor are better recompensed in dollars and cents than is he, or while observing a mason lay his bricks or a carpenter drive a nail or a glazier set a pane or a cobbler heel a shoe, that the same thing is true.
And yet I suppose there will always be professors.