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22.The Colleges Of Unreason—Continued
Of genius they make no account, for they say that every one is a genius, more or less. No
one is so physically sound that no part of him will be even a little unsound, and no one is
so diseased but that some part of him will be healthy--so no man is so mentally and
morally sound, but that he will be in part both mad and wicked; and no man is so mad
and wicked but he will be sensible and honourable in part. In like manner there is no
genius who is not also a fool, and no fool who is not also a genius.
When I talked about originality and genius to some gentlemen whom I met at a supper
party given by Mr. Thims in my honour, and said that original thought ought to be
encouraged, I had to eat my words at once. Their view evidently was that genius was like
offences-- needs must that it come, but woe unto that man through whom it comes. A
man's business, they hold, is to think as his neighbours do, for Heaven help him if he
thinks good what they count bad. And really it is hard to see how the Erewhonian theory
differs from our own, for the word "idiot" only means a person who forms his opinions
for himself.
The venerable Professor of Worldly Wisdom, a man verging on eighty but still hale,
spoke to me very seriously on this subject in consequence of the few words that I had
imprudently let fall in defence of genius. He was one of those who carried most weight in
the university, and had the reputation of having done more perhaps than any other living
man to suppress any kind of originality.
"It is not our business," he said, "to help students to think for themselves. Surely this is
the very last thing which one who wishes them well should encourage them to do. Our
duty is to ensure that they shall think as we do, or at any rate, as we hold it expedient to
say we do." In some respects, however, he was thought to hold somewhat radical
opinions, for he was President of the Society for the Suppression of Useless Knowledge,
and for the Completer Obliteration of the Past.
As regards the tests that a youth must pass before he can get a degree, I found that they
have no class lists, and discourage anything like competition among the students; this,
indeed, they regard as self-seeking and unneighbourly. The examinations are conducted
by way of papers written by the candidate on set subjects, some of which are known to
him beforehand, while others are devised with a view of testing his general capacity and
savoir faire.
My friend the Professor of Worldly Wisdom was the terror of the greater number of
students; and, so far as I could judge, he very well might be, for he had taken his
Professorship more seriously than any of the other Professors had done. I heard of his
having plucked one poor fellow for want of sufficient vagueness in his saving clauses
paper. Another was sent down for having written an article on a scientific subject without
having made free enough use of the words "carefully," "patiently," and "earnestly." One
man was refused a degree for being too often and too seriously in the right, while a few