(Host) Commentator Edith Hunter’s first reaction to a book she recently
read is that one should never put the word "Modern" in a title, since
today’s "modern" is tomorrow’s "historic".
(Hunter) Son William
keeps me supplied with reading materials – books he picks up at yard
sales, or at library sales after collections have been culled.
he brought me "A Modern Reader", published in 1936, edited by Walter
Lippmann and Allan Nevins. Historian Nevins was the father of
Weathersfielder Meredith Mayer, so Will thought I might be interested.
The book includes about 70 "Essays on present-day life and culture."
essay I would like to comment on is entitled "Five American
Contributions To Civilization," by Charles W. Eliot. Eliot was the
Harvard President who, between 1869 and 1909, revolutionized the
curriculum at Harvard – instead of an almost exclusive diet of Latin and
Greek, he introduced the idea of offering electives in a broad range of
In 1896 he outlined what he considered America’s five
"durable contributions" to civilization. They were: the abandonment of
war as a means of settling international disputes; the practice of
religious toleration; the enactment of universal "manhood suffrage"; a
welcoming attitude toward new-comers, and "the even diffusion of
I’m afraid that President Eliot would be disappointed at the "durability" of those five contributions.
To begin with there have been seven wars since he delivered those words 115 years ago.
for religious tolerance, our increasingly narrow Christian sectarianism
and our attitude toward Moslems does not bode well for this
On the subject of suffrage, President Eliot did
not mention the almost total disenfranchisement of African Americans in
1896, nor did he mention the absence of women’s suffrage.
As for "our welcoming attitude toward new-comers" it is certainly being put to the test these days.
he spoke of the "even diffusion of well-being", he said that he was
referring to the universal improvement in the standard of living. He
gave the credit for this to, "the telegraph and telephone, the sewing
machine, the cotton gin, the mower, the reaper, and threshing machine,
the dish-washing machine, the river steamboat, the sleeping car, the
boot and shoe machinery, and the watch machinery."
What an odd
list! How would he think that the automobile, radio, television, and
computers have affected our current standard of living? And what would
he think of today’s chasm between the haves and the have nots?