I had just concluded a lecture in Grand Junction, Colo., over a year
ago, when a burly railroad man stepped forward and introduced himself. I
forget his name, but remember well what he said. Here it is, about word
"I was an engineer years ago, as I am today, but in those days Debs was
my fireman. Having a little better job than he, I naturally thought I
was the smarter man. We used to sleep in the same room. We would both
turn in all tired from a long trip and I would be asleep before you
could count ten. After I had slept three or four hours I would wake up
about two in the morning and there would be Debs with a candle, shaded
so as not to disturb me, reading away at a book as if everything
depended on his understanding all there was in it. Many a time he only
got one or two hours' rest before going to work again.
"I told him he was a d--d fool, and I thought he was. I still believe
there was a d--d fool in that room, but I know now that it wasn't Debs."
Every man who ever did anything really worth while on the lecture
platform has something like that in his life story, and it is usually
connected with his earlier years.
The biography of every great speaker or writer has usually this passage
or one equal to it in the early pages: "He was an omnivorous reader."
Professor Huxley in his brief, but charming autobiography in the first
essay of the first volume of his "collected essays," speaking of his
early youth, says, "I read everything I could lay my hands upon."
The speaker who has learned to sneer at "book learning" is foredoomed to
failure and will spare himself many humiliations by retiring at once.
A conversation between four or five men came to my notice in which the
subject was the translation into English of the second volume of Marx's
"Capital." One man said: "I don't care if it is never translated." Then
a Socialist speaker, who was present, stepped forward and said: "Shake
hands on that." This same speaker was at that time engaged for nearly a
year's work. The trip proved a failure and he went back into the shops
and probably blamed everything and everybody except the real cause--his
own attitude on the question of knowledge.
Neglecting to read, in a lecturer, is something more than a mistake--it
is a vice. Its real name is laziness. As well expect good bricklaying
from a man too lazy to lift a brick.
The idea of a man teaching something he himself does not know is
grotesque, and yet, I have known at least three-score who felt divinely
appointed to perform that very task.
These remarks have no application in the case of those who, wishing to
become lecturers, are determined to do everything in their power to
acquire the proper qualifications, but only to those who think that
because they have once persuaded an audience to listen to them, they now
know everything necessary to be known.
A self-satisfied, ignorant man on a lecture platform is an anomaly that,
fortunately, is never long continued, for the process of "natural
selection" weeds him out.
I met a boy of eighteen the other day with a thumb-worn copy of
Dietzgen's "Positive Outcome of Philosophy" under his arm. This is the
material from which lecturers are made.
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