Sumner: his Writings
Source: Editor's Introduction to War and Other Essays, ed. Albert Galloway Keller (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1919).
In 1872, when the author of the essays here assembled was elected professor of political and social science in Yale College, he was, to use his own words, “a young and untried man.” He was selected for his position, not as a specialist, but because he was what he was. Someone in those days must have been an excellent judge of men. “I have tried,” Sumner wrote, in 1881, “to justify their [the Corporation's] confidence. I threw myself into the work of my department and of the college with all my might. I had no other interest or ambition.” He could have repeated these words, with equal truth, at the end of his incumbency; for the prime interest in Sumner's professional career from his election to the day of his retirement, in June, 1909, was the scrupulously faithful discharge of his academic duties; and to this end he spent freely the powers of a sturdy frame and an eager mind. His teaching and the many administrative tasks that fell to him always occupied his attention to the subordination of what he might have preferred to do, or of what might have been to his personal interest to do. Of a consequence his writings and public utterances represented extra labor, out of hours. The only one of his books not written at the behest of a publisher, he once told me, was the Folkways. In addition to the engrossing activities which I have mentioned, there was yet another factor which held back systematic enterprises on the large scale; left to himself, Sumner's tendency was to wait on further acquisition and on organization of his knowledge rather than to hasten his output. This was particularly evident in respect to his purely sociological work. A dozen years ago a breezy young reporter is said to have asked him why he did not publish on sociology, and to have received the gruff rejoinder: “Because I would rather correct my own mistakes than have other people do it for me.”
In view of these circumstances it is natural that the shorter writings and lectures of Professor Sumner should have been more characteristic of him than are most of his books — however weighty the latter in their scholarship and however highly esteemed by his colleagues in the social sciences. The most characteristic of all his activities was his teaching, for this was his absorbing interest; but next to that, I think, come his occasional essays — with which I should class the two little volumes on Protectionism and What Social Classes Owe to Each Other. Sumner had time for essays where he was sure to be hurried on his books; his consecutive leisure came in small fragments. And he could improve such shorter periods with great success, for he was remarkably rapid in his composition; his ideas were in order from his much teaching, and he could go ahead, he once told me, as fast as he could drive the pen.
These are the main reasons why Sumner's essays form a more spontaneous, characteristic, and finished product than his longer writings; and so he has been known, if not to scholars, at any rate to the general public, better through them than through his books.
No one who has the interests of American education at heart can regret that Sumner's fidelity to duty prevented him from writing more — or even from completing what he had begun. His enduring output is the human document, the awakened minds of many young men, which is a product that can only roll up in significance as time passes, and is incapable of being antedated or superseded. It was the influence of a mind and character that could not harbor the small and mean which made Sumner such a power in his world. This was true throughout his career, and neither the force of his intellect nor that of his character ever deserted him, even in the shadow of the end. It is the Sumner of the later years whom the present writer knew; and I have been asked, as a close associate and co-worker, to afford his friends and admirers some idea of his activities, and of the man himself, particularly in this his latter phase.1 I am aware that, in these days, so soon after his death, anything that I may write of him is sure to betray a personal feeling for the man, one which grew ever stronger as I knew him better.
Of Sumner's labors one might say in general that they were as unremitting as strength would allow, whereas before his illness of the early nineties they had been virtually incessant. There seems to have been in this man. such intellectual eagerness, such a very mania for discovering the truth, coupled with so strong a power of will, that he wore out a robust physique untimely — for with his vigorous frame and sound constitution he might well have lived out the life of a Humboldt. As it was, Professor Sumner retained his large elective courses and ruled them with iron discipline, up to a few years before his retirement; and to the very end of his active service he remained an incomparable leader in the college faculty. We younger men are told that at a crisis the leadership has been wont to creep into his hand as by some inherent urge; he hit about him rather regardlessly in the preliminary skirmishes, but as others grew hot he grew cool and took command of the situation. One who seeks to account for what Yale College has become, and who realizes that such an institution is not built of bricks and stones, but of men, cannot leave out of reckoning the often determinative influence wielded for nearly forty years by Professor Sumner. He did not fumble about in the mazes of compromise, and he was unafraid. Even during the last years of his life he never lost his characteristic power of cutting straight to the core of an issue; nor, indeed, was he deprived, until the latest days, of his joy in battle. He remained, as he had been in his prime, the redoubtable debater, confronting opposition with a combination of manner, matter, and method with which few ever successfully coped. But the fight, though Homeric in its tactics, was always fair; Sumner took his wounds in front, and as one observer remarked, always shouted, “Look out! I'm coming for you!” before he charged. The greatest immediate loss involved in Professor Sumner's retirement and death, excluding the bereavement of those who loved him, is that sustained by the faculty of Yale College. It is no derogation to anybody to say that he was sui generis and can have no successor. What the larger Yale College thought of him was finely expressed in the demonstration of June, 1909, when Yale accorded him the doctorate of laws — when fathers and sons united in applauding the great teacher of two generations. This affected him, as he admitted, to tears; and during the succeeding summer he received many letters expressive of gratitude and affection, which made him feel, as he told me, that the world was using him well.
But whatever may be said of his intellectual qualities, yet the most attractive and the grandest aspect of Sumner's latter years was that, not of his mind, but of his character. He was a Roman soul among us; he lived before his students and colleagues as the embodiment of honesty and fear-lessness. Duty always preceded all else with him; the memory of his performance of what some would call hackwork, even when he was ill, would have been pathetic if it had not been done with such unconsciousness and simple dignity. Until the aid he would not ask for was almost forced upon him, he used to grade between three hundred and five hundred test papers every week. He was to the end the uncompromising foe of hypocrisy, sham, ostentation, and weak sentiment — which last he curtly denominated “gush.” Further, he was in character a humble man. He seemed at all times positive and even intellectually arrogant, but his personal opinion of his own services and work was entirely self-depreciatory. In personal relations he was unassuming, helpful, excessively grateful for small services rendered, but beset by the fear that he would cause anybody else some trouble. In many respects his character was strangely like that of Charles Darwin. He was ready at all times with kindly counsel and sympathy — and the counsel was that of deep wisdom and the sympathy that of a warm heart. I have somewhat enlarged upon this side of his nature, because in appearance and to slight acquaintance he was stern, often gruff, seemingly without human feelings. But this was all a matter of externals. He was a strong hater and a strong lover, as must happen where the essence of a man's character is strength.
It was in characteristic response to the call of duty that Professor Sumner's last efforts and energy were expended. He was scheduled for the presidential address1 of the American Sociological Society; and he dragged himself off to New York, ill and weak, but as determined as ever, in the snowstorm of Monday, December 27, 1909, with his manuscript carefully prepared, typewritten and corrected, in his valise. No remonstrances could have stopped him. He struggled up nearly to the battle-line, prepared to discharge his duty, as of old, but there was no strength remaining. “How characteristic of Sumner!” was the common remark at the tidings of his fall. One could scarcely wish for a more graphic summing-up of his character and career.
The essays which now lie before the reader suggest many a comment for which the necessary brevity of this introduction may not provide space. Within the last months I have heard and read a number of expressions whose general tenor was: If Sumner had only lived a little longer to receive something of the belated honor of the prophet amongst his own people! It would be interesting to select from the following essays and from Sumner's books passages of an almost prophetic nature; but the fact that they are such — and many are too profound in their insight to have yet attained recognition — is not at all a marvel of second-sight; it is only the inevitable emergence of the truth that makes them seem so. Wisdom has often ere this been sought out with intense labor and ardent mind, first to be dubbed “academic” by the ignorant, preoccupied, or prejudiced, and then to be wondered at and referred to as a sort of supernatural product. The historic ascription wrung from ignorance by knowledge has been that of wizardry.
But no one need commiserate Sumner because he did not receive full meed of deserved recognition while he lived. It is not that he was unappreciative of praise; he was deeply sensitive to it, contrary to the impression which not a few have derived. No man is all iron. But if one reads the Folkways with understanding he will see that its author was in possession of a point of view and of a philosophy of life which rendered him, though humanly appreciative of kindly expression, essentially independent of the commendation or blame accorded to him by his time. He used sometimes to refer in his quizzical way to some historical character (I think it was not Saint Paul) whose aim was to be “all things to all men,” in the sense of pleasing everybody; and he used to conclude, dryly, “It is not reported that he succeeded.”
No one could say that Sumner himself strove to be all things to all men. He never hesitated to strike out against the tide, and he did not fear to be alone in so doing; nor, indeed, did it affect his composure and resolution if he made no headway, but was overborne by the current. This attracted to him, among the strong men of his time, many admirers, of whose sentiments he was probably uninformed; for instance, the late Mr. Hammond Lamont once wrote of him: “Professor Sumncr's valiant fight for free trade — almost single-handed it seemed at one time — has won him my especial respect.” He thought protectionism, currency-inflation, and imperialism wrong and hateful, and assailed them at sight, in all times and places, irrespective of the sentiment of the age. No man ever had a profounder faith in the possibility of attaining to truth by study and thought, and few have had such power — which goes with strength of conviction and unassuming courage — literally to infect others with the same belief. These were the chief of the factors that made him so compelling a teacher; one of the grandest traits of young men is their generous enthusiasm for intellectual honesty and ardor, and for uncal-culating fearlessness in following conviction, once attained, wherever it leads; and Sumner fairly radiated these qualifies. One may wish for him that he could have had the personal gratification of seeing his ideas, for which he had suffered unpopularity and abuse, recognized; but he had suf fered satisfaction of looking back upon a life of spotless honor, undeviating in its sincerity and intrepidly true to truth where truth seemed to be. That a wave of popular sentiment might roll up to exalt part of what he stood for, he well knew; but he was fortified to expect that, in the complex play of human interests, the “mores” would presently swing off toward some new form of the irrational, or even back to the old follies again.
It is plain, from the evidence of these essays, that Sumner was always a sociologist, that is, he always reached out spontaneously to an interpretation of societal phenomena broader than the purely economic or political one. The issues attacked in these essays arc approached with a breadth of vision which goes with a general science of society and not with any single one of its subdivisions. Nobody who has studied the science of society with Sumner ever has any doubts about there being such a science; what persuaded us that there was one, was the actual demonstration set before us in the classroom. There was something that appealed to us as superlatively vital and enthralling, but of which no antecedent discipline had given us more than an oblique glimpse. Until the memory of his breadth and inclnsiveness of vision as to human reaction and motive has faded quite away, it will be an arduous task to prove to one of Sumner's students that there is no general science of society. No amount of mere formal analysis and intellectual fence-building can stand against demonstration.
Sumner was a path-breaker by nature and circumstance; but he had his impulsion, as is the way of men, from the hand of another.1 To judge by his own comments, he derived from Herbert Spencer some such intellectual awakening as he later gave to many. But it is wrong and shallow to class Sumner as a thick-and-thin adherent of the Spencerian system; he was not adapted to discipleship. He accepted a number of Spencer's ideas — some of which were sure to appeal to him temperamentally — notably those leading to the laissez-faire attitude and to distrust of socialistic tendencies; but he parted company with Spencer in the latter author's most characteristic and fundamental point of view. Spencer was essentially a philosopher and not a scientist, seeking in his evolutionary studies, carried through the bulky volumes of the Synthetic Philosophy, for an inclusive formula. But this is not what science is looking for, and Sumner's sympathies and respect were all for science — in particular for natural science. He abhorred and eschewed the metaphysical and intuitional; he studied philosophy much as a young man, but as he once expressed it, he “had been engaged in heaving that whole cargo overboard ever since.” I have never heard in his conversation or seen in his writings anything to indicate that he accepted the essence of the Spencerian system; on the contrary, he never advised us to read the First Principles or other parts of the Synthetic Philosophy, except, perhaps, the Principles of Biology, and used often to say that the Principles of Sociology represented the only large part of Spencer's work destined to live, because here Spencer was forced to collect his data and so “get down to facts.” Among scientists Darwin was Sumner's hero, as he generally is to the real scientist; his honor of Darwin is indicated, for instance, by his often expressed perplexity as to how Darwin, otherwise well-nigh impeccable, could have made a bad slip in his description of Tierra del Fuego and its inhabitants.
I feel impelled to refer in this place to the belief of some of Sumner's admirers that he made a mistake when he retired from political economy and took up the more general science of society. As well say that there is an error in the development from the blade to the ear and the full corn in the ear. The obituary notices of a year ago recalled the Sumner of the seventies and eighties rather than the tranquil student of more recent years — Sumner the political economist rather than Sumner in his latest and ripest period. The popular tendency in thinking of him is to hark back to his vigor as the embattled champion of free trade and sound money, and if something is said of the latter part of his career, it is likely to have to do with his opposition to the imperialistic movement. Popular mention of the book destined to be his last, the Folkways, is generally perfunctory and vague. Such an attitude is natural enough, for Sumner's activities of thirty years ago were such as to leave a lasting impression upon his friends, and an even more persistent recollection, if that were possible, in the minds of those whom he assailed.1 Upon this period of tremendous vigor, in the classroom, in the faculty councils, in publication, and on the platform, there ensued, in the early nineties, a breakdown in health which coincided with Professor Sumner's withdrawal from the field of political economy, and which, in the eyes of the public, seemed to mark the end of his effective career. Many of us would be happy enough to conclude a career with the renown which Sumner enjoyed as a political economist, especially if we include several substantial volumes on economic subjects, published in the later nineties and taken by some to be signs of the closing up of a lifework. But to him the end of labors in this field merely marked the termination of one more phase of a full life. And the later and final mode was there already and had been from the beginning. I have said that Sumner was always a sociologist; this is reported to have been evident even in his clerical period, but more definitely it dates, as has been remarked, from bis acquaintance with Spencer. For he had read The Study of Sociology at the time of its publication in the early seventies, and used frequently to mention the sense of intellectual assent and emancipation which broke over him upon making acquaintance with this and the larger sociological works of Spencer. It was characteristic of Sumner that he must not only know the truth, but pass it on; and, after some conflict with the entrenched conservatism of the day, he finally set before Yale College men the first course in sociology ever presented in an American college curriculum.1 He was moving, as was his wont, steadily and safely from the special to the general. His interest in the general science steadily increased, his second inspiration dating from the reading, in the late eighties, of Juhus Lippert's Kulturgeschichte. His breakdown in health precipitated the change which had been preparing; and, upon his partial recovery, he ceased to teach political economy to undergraduates and developed his classic course in what the students came to call “Sumnerology.” In those days a Yale man was hardly supposed to have won a genuine B.A. if he had not had “Billy Sumner.” Within a few years the graduate courses also in political economy had been superseded by others in the science of society, and Professor Sumner had ceased altogether to teach the specialty of his young manhood. Many, I say, have regretted this change, but it was inevitable; the only legitimate regret is that he did not live to reap in full from the sowing of a lifetime — he himself wished that he had been able to surrender political economy sooner. For his interests had outgrown the sub-science and reached out toward the more comprehensive study of the life of society in all its phases. The idea that Sumner's career was over, when, in the early nineties, he retired from political economy, has always been a source of irritation to the men who worked with him in his latter years. As a matter of fact, some of us had been taken to his study and had viewed with amazement the serried rows of classified notes on anthropology and the science of society, and we knew what not many outsiders did, that the old-time industry and vigor had not lessened; we used to believe that if Spencer had had such a collection of materials, the Principles of Socioloey would have been far more strongly buttressed, and would more nearly have resembled the irresistible Oriein of Species. Equipped linguistically, as I shall later describe, for the collection of materials, he had plunged into the field marked off by Tylor, Lubbock, Spencer, and others, and had read an incredible number of books, journals, and other sources. The first public indication of this research, and of his long reflection upon its results, was the appearance, in 1907, of Folkwavs, a Study of the Socioloyical Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals. I cannot go into this publication except to say (as bearing upon what immediately precedes) that it has astonished scholars by the range of its survey over a field to which the author had been able to give exclusive attention for so comparatively short a time. The bibliography of this book covers fifteen closely printed pages, and yet includes scarcely any titles of systematic works, and practically no references to the author's extensive economic reading. To his fellow-scientists Folkways revealed the fact that Sumner's scholarly labors, under conditions of ill-health and of declining strength, had in later years even surpassed those of his prime. Further, and more important, it is thought by many that Folkways represents a fundamental step in the development of any sound science of society. Sumner used to say that he had found, in the conception of the mores, “either a gold-mine or a big hole in the ground,” and that it must be left to the future to determine which.
To understand the bearing of this book on the treatise covering the science of society (of which, in the preface to the Folkways, Professor Sumner speaks as his next task), one must realize that the idea of the “folkways” or “mores” was one which he came to regard as entirely fundamental to any scientific system of sociology. He had written for five years, more or less, on his projected general treatise on the Science of Society before he came to what he called the “section on the mores”; and this section it was which developed, under the title Folkways, into a separate volume to precede the major treatise. It is entirely regrettable that the latter could not have been completed, but if a choice could have been made, it would have been better that Folkways should receive the preference. Since its publication the scientific recognition accorded to it has been steadily increasing. What place it will finally make for itself cannot yet be said; but no other of Professor Sumner's books has approached it in profundity and in lasting importance.
Like Darwin, Sumner was an indefatigable collector of facts. His industry was truly discouraging to those about him. Steadily, relentlessly, day by day, year in and year out, he explored his literature until the sum of his readings was almost incredible; a friend, he told me, asked him how he had ever found time to read the multitude of books and articles referred to in Folkways, and he had answered that he did not himself know. And his bibliographies were never padded by the inclusion of matter which he had only scanned; nor were the references to publications in the more remote foreign languages second-hand or gotten by way of a translator and then listed as from personal reading. As bearing on the industry and the insatiable scientific curiosity of the man, his attainment of control over languages is extraordinary evidence. The late Prof. Edward Bourne used to tell how, in the middle eighties, Sumner was apparently unfamiliar with other modern foreign languages than French and German; for upon a certain occasion he had said doubtfully of the word “naranja” that he supposed that it was Spanish for “orange.” But shortly thereafter he apparently felt that he must extend his range, for certain of his dictionaries, Dutch, Danish, Portuguese, and others, bear acquisition dates of the late eighties. Within a few years he had acquired the two Scandinavian tongues, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, and Polish. None of these, apparently, was begun before the age of forty-five; and it was perfectly characteristic of Sumner that he “ground the paradigms,” as he said, in all cases, and even went to the extent of translating all the exercises in his grammars; not only, for example, the Swedlsh-lnto-English exercises, but those from English into Swedish. The excellent Balbus may have begun Greek at seventy, but among moderns such a display of energy and industry at middle age is sufficiently remarkable. It should not be forgotten that Sumner, as his maiden publication witnesses, was a good Hebrew scholar, and that he knew Greek and Latin well. So that his control of languages, though he used to say that he was not quick at learning them, extended to some thirteen or fourteen; and of these he had an exact and precise grammatical control. It may be added that at about the same time he was acquiring a knowledge of calculus in order to see for himself what there was in mathematical economics. And all this while writing, lecturing, teaching a heavy schedule, and taking a leading part in faculty labors.
One of the characteristics of Sumner's mode comes out quite unmistakably in his essays; and that is his simplicity and clearness. He struck straight at the heart of a matter. He used to say that there were three questions to be asked about any production: What is it? How do you know it? What of it? Upon the last inquiry he laid particular emphasis; but, granted that there was any use in doing a piece of work, he was keen about his other two criteria: that it should be set forth so it could be understood, — that one should tell, with brevity and clearness, what it was that he had found, — and that he should give good and sufficient reason for his opinions. Ie used to prune the theses written under him of verbiage and slash out inexact expressions, usually making careful emendations, until the pages were scarcely recognizable. For himself, he abjured latinity and chose the tersest and most rugged of Anglo-Saxon terms, using, for an extreme example, a word like leech-craft in place of a more indirect and ponderous term. He hated long and involved sentences, and urged us all to be sure to translate German passages that looked as if they were significant, to see if they really were; for, as he said, “the German language and style lend themselves easily to bathos.” He believed that if the thought were clear the expression would be, and where the latter was rambling and disordered he looked for turgidity of thought. His own clarity and epigrammatic expression were probably a reflection of his own nature, for he spoke simply and vigorously, using homely phrases that stuck in the mind — he certainly got so that he thought in a way corresponding to this graphical, forceful phraseology. But as qualities of style he also recognized and cultivated brevity and curt precision; in his collections are several envelopes filled with slips of paper, such as he used to carry about in his pocket for jotting, covered with tersely expressed thought on a variety of topics. His original sketch of an essay or part of a book, at least in his latter years, was likely to contain strings of short sentences, which he then pieced together to some extent in his many re-writings. The volleys of short sentences in some of his writings — especially those originally in lecture-form — are unquestionably a literary defect, however much the avoidance of involution may conduce to clearness. He grew ever more impatient of verbosity in writing and of vagueness in thought.
Some have said that Sumner's clarity was due to the fact that he never saw but one side to a question, and therefore was not bothered by the need of hedging and shading. It certainly conduces to clarity to see an issue in that way; but it would not be fair to one who has stood to so many as a champion and exponent of fairness to let this offhand version go unchallenged. The Commencement orator of 1909, when Sumner received the Yale doctorate of laws, said: “Like all great teachers and real leaders of men, he is intensely dogmatic; but his dogmas are not the result of narrowness or prejudice; they come from prolonged study and profound thought.” This sentence contains, implicitly at least, the rationale of Sumner's dogmatism. He was always teaching the elements of social science to beginners, whether they sat in his classes or not; and in the teaching of the elements dogmatism is necessary. Any teacher who knows his business is aware that some well-defined standpoint must be gained before the balancing of theories can be profitably begun. Hence Sumner was, in his teaching and essays, very positive; and the worth of this pedagogical device is vouched for by many in even by those who now dispute the positions upheld by Sumner. I do not mean to say that Sumner did not thoroughly believe in what he said; he was intellectually honest to the extent of refusing to support in debate the easier, more plausible, but to him wrong side of a question. His flatly stated opinions were the result of long study; what he presented was, as it were, the building without the scaffolding. This could readily be seen by his more advanced students, for in his graduate classes he opened up to us his doubts and perplexities in the frankest manner; and no one could talk with him as man to man without becoming aware that he held all his scientific opinions open to revision. His mind was essentially hospitable to new truth; but pending its emergence he clung with great loyalty to what he regarded as already demonstrated. Above all, he clave to “common sense,” and used often to urge us to hold in abeyance any theory which seemed to conflict with it; for correspondence with common sense was, to him, an ultimate test.
Sumner's attitude toward his profession was marked by a certain austerity. He would sometimes regret that he had not gone into law, but was never apologetic as respects his profession, though he used in private to joke about it in a grim sort of way. This quality of austerity was especially happy in a man who stood for sociology; for if any modern science needs the austere exponent, it is precisely that one. “The field of sociology,” Sumner once said to me, “is so raw that any crank can fasten on it from any angle.” Here was an apt arena for a man whose grand message to his students was, as one of them crystallized it: Don't be a damn fool! He had no use for the sensationalist or the man with the programme, and it was partly for this reason that he paid so little attention to “practical sociology” and reiterated in his lectures and in the announcements of his courses that the science of society as he taught it was based upon the facts of ethnography and history. He had comparatively little faith in systematic works on sociology and paid but slight attention to them; if I take his attitude rightly, it was not that of “intellectual arrogance,” as some have asserted, but resulted from the belief that extended theorizing and ambitious attempts at systematization are not suited to the early phases of a new science. There is too much else to do.
This whole attitude of austerity bespoke the high esteem in which he held the subject of the science of society; he regarded it as of an importance so great as not to admit of any treatment save the most careful and conscientious. The result was that his utterances in the classroom were marked by a seriousness, almost a severity, which was relieved only by the recurrent play of a grim humor and a picturesque and stinging satire. He brought to these lectures, as I have said above, a manner, matter, and method to which we had never been introduced. The manner was authoritative and compelling, and was never tainted by the slightest sensationalism, whatever distortions of his sayings may have reached the press; and it was marked by a most delicate propriety of expression, for this powerful man had, as respects sensitiveness and purity, the mind of a woman. The matter was rich and thought-enkindling. The method was direct and unadorned, the embodiment of the conviction that truth plainly set forth would come to its own. There was no placation of the hearer, no device to hold attention, no oratory. — nothing but the man and the word. And these seemed to be one; before those who knew Sumner and who later read his writing there arises the reminiscence of a broad-shouldered, powerful frame, leaning forward a little from the lecture chair; a head whose baldness and close-clipped fringe of hair seemed, in what they revealed, appropriate; a stern, lined face; a level eye, deep-pouched and redoubtable to meet; a long, bony, upraised forefinger; a “voice of iron,” an enunciation deep, almost harsh in its ruggedness, and with impressive pauses. To this figure of the man the words he spoke seemed entirely congruous; and as one who sat under Sumner reads the essays which follow he cannot dispel, if he would, the memory of a commanding personality.
Many of us have enjoyed in times past the occasional essay of Professor Snmner, and have wished that we could have it convenlently at hand, either for our own re-reading or that we might the more readily introduce a friend to a sturdy and dauntless personality in the world of thought. It is in response mainly to desires of this order that the present collection has been assembled. I am aware that an occasional favorite will not be found here; some will seek in vain for the haunting phrase or pungent, half-remembered epigram that he would gladly con again. A great deal of Sumner's writing was in the form of short articles, hot from the forge, in newspapers and magazines; but all of these could not be collected and included in the present volume. His famous retort to the youthful socialist — to which no reply was forthcoming — was hard to leave out; so was the laconic Foreword to Professor Curler's Lynch Law, where Sumner says of lynching, in his characteristic way: “It would be a disgrace to us if amongst us men should burn a rattlesnake or a mad dog. The badness of the victim is not an element in the case at all. Torture and burning are forbidden, not because the victim is not bad enough, but because we are too good.” But these shorter treasures could not well go in, and the selection was finally limited to the longer essays. One is the more reconciled to the omissions in the hope that a Life and Letters may at some time see the light, where the many isolated “Sumnerisms” may find appropriate place.
As arranged, the following seventeen essays fall under three main heads, both topicwiseand, to a large degree, chronologically as well. Of the first seven all but one are products of the last years of Professor Sumner's life, and all but two were published in 1909 and 1910; the next group (five) run between 1887 and 1894 and have to do chiefly with the practical applications of sociological principles to problems of the time; the following four come between 1896 and 1900, all bearing upon the “pre-dominant issue” of that period, imperialism. To these groups is added a single essay on American colleges, dating from 1884 and constituting in the main an attack on the then preferred position of the classical studies, but including much that is of a more than local or temporary value. The better to preserve their character, certain of these essays have been left in their original lecture-form. The date given at the head of each essay will indicate its setting and thus clear up local references that occur.
All of Sumner's sociological writings exhibit the strong, sane mind which many have followed admiringly in the economic and political field, traversing the broadest and most comprehensive phases of social life. But the dominating idea in the thought of his latter years was that of the “folkways” or “mores,” and the rest of his later writings should all be read in the light of his last book. The Status of Women and Wilclwraft are really abbreviated chapters, originally intended for Folkways, as the preface to that volume indicates. The whole of the unfinished magnum opus, on the Science of Society, was to be re-written upon the basic idea of the mores; for Sumner regarded these as the germ and matrix of all societal institutions. Anyone who knew Sumner personally, or through his writings, will realize that his fundamentals of societal life would be simple and profound, non-metaphysical, and based upon the quintessence of common sense. The Folkways is a repository of shrewd observation and epigrammatic statement, based upon broad scholarship, clear vision, and ripe wisdom. It can be read by the scholar with the scholar's profit; by the layman with the result of enrichment of thought and life; and by any former student of Sumner, whoever he may be, with all that others may get, and, in addition, with the impressions which attend the raising of a host of memories — such memories as throng to the mind when it recalls the quickening influence of the loved and honored.
Albert Galloway Keller.
New Haven, June 27, 1911.
A considerable portion of what immediately follows is quoted or adapted from a letter of mine in the New York Nation for April 21, 1910.
“Religion and the Mores,” pp. 129–146 of this volume.
There is, in the Popular Science Monthly for June, 1889 (pp. 261–268). a Sketch of William Graham Sumner, which is largely autobiographical and which deserves re-publication. It touches upon several of the points noticed in this Introduction.
Says “the distinguished American economist,” quoted in the Skdeh previously referred to: “... the results of his experience in the discussion of the relative merits and advantages of the systems of free trade and protection have been such that probably no defender of the latter would now be willing to meet him in a public discussion of these topics.”
“I formed a class,” he says, “to read Spencer's book in the parts as they came out, and believe that I began to interest men in this important department of study, and to prepare them to follow its development, years before any such attempt was made at any other university in the world,” Skadt, p. 266.