The Tocsin of Revolt and Other Essays

The Tocsin of Revolt and Other Essays

by Brander Matthews

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The Tocsin of Revolt and Other Essays by Brander Matthews

Although Professor Matthews is alarmed, he is not excited and his strongest opinions are expressed with good humor and urbanity. The title essay of his volume is the weightiest; it is indeed the only one that can conceivably be discussed It is not disagreeable to know that Professor Matthews would like to live in a house of genuinely American architecture and decorative character, that he thinks American literature a department of English literature, which is so obviously true in one sense and so profoundly debatable in another; one is also cheered in a mild way by his opinions on conversation and cookery and his conviction that great oaks from little acorns grow. We knew before, of course, that Professor Matthews liked Moliere, nibbled at Mark Twain, and swallowed Roosevelt whole. But all these matters offer no occasion for comment. Where there are no ideas there can be no discussion and the gentleness of polite chit-chat is not calculated to excite the mind.

I come, then, to the causes and character of Professor Matthews's alarm. He is alarmed because in this period the breach between youth and age seems to him dangerously wide and deep, because "the battle between the individual and society as a whole" seems to him to be fought too unscrupulously by youth, because "the tocsin of revolt resounds in ethics as wantonly as in aesthetics," and summons the younger generation to "an exaltation of the lawless and illegal, the illicit and the illegitimate."

It is possible that these fears are not without foundation; it is certain that Professor Matthews is in no position to tell whether they are or not for the simple reason that he has not permitted himself to reflect on the matter. In his entire discussion he takes it for granted that the forms of society, of conduct, and of art are pretty rigidly fixed and that a revolt against them which aims for more than an easement of the existing rules of the game is headed for chaos. He is entirely innocent of the notions either of change or of creative revolt. This is perfectly clear from that one outburst in which he groups together, in the ardor of his indignation, "the lawless and the illegal, the illicit and the illegitimate." It is not for nothing that he studied law in his youth. The illegal does really strike him as lawless and all that is unauthorized by law as forbidden in a deeper sense. It never occurs to him that the legal has a way, in all human history, of becoming violently lawless and that an age will come in which the notion of, let us say, laws of war, will become as empty of meaning as the notion of a law for the burning of heretics.

If youth today from any genuine inner conviction fights the legal and the legitimate in the state and in society, the lesson of history is pretty clear to the effect that the state and society are using their power to enforce lawlessness in the name of legality and legitimacy under the pretense that it is the good. The burden of proof, at all events, rests upon those instrumentalities that have power and use force. That, in the entire and endless process, which is the process of the world itself, there is rashness on the one hand as there is blind stubbornness on the other, no one will dispute. I am tempted, however, to dispute Professor Matthews's contention regarding the lack of reverence which youth today shows to age... Change is not chaos; the inner law of today will, alas, become legality and compulsion in its turn; new generations will sound the tocsin of revolt and other septuagenarians-as Professor Matthews is fond of calling himself--will protest. The cycle is endless. Professor Matthews may be of good cheer. There is no cause for alarm.

--The Nation, Volume 115

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781546912941
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 05/23/2017
Pages: 302
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.63(d)

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