Confused Romanticism
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Editor, the Weekly

I have just been reading the debate between Mr. Casement and Mr. Van Arkel in the Alumni Weekly. I am enlightened rather than astonished by Mr. Casement’s indifference to any conception of education more modern than the British public school spirit of the middle ‘nineties. The two men are talking across a chasm, as the resignation in both their rebuttals clearly shows. It has become a truism that the salient points of character are fixed before the age of twelve. At eighteen you can change a young man’s superficial habits, teach him the ethics of a profession, expose him to broadening or narrowing influences—but the deeper matters of whether he’s weak or strong, strict or easy with himself, brave or timid—these things are arranged in the home, almost in the nursery. It is preposterous to ask a university to take over such a task.

Is it required of Oxford, Cambridge, Gottingen, Heidelberg, Paris? The Honor System, to take an example, was and is successful as a contract (“You don’t watch us and we won’t cheat you”). When it was extended into a headmaster’s harangue (“Now, boys, you won’t copy your themes, will you—you give me your word of honor, don’t you, boys”), it showed signs of going to pieces. The Honor System is a fine thing precisely because it is not the sort of paternalism Mr. Casement seems to advocate. And I may add that the students lost their cars chiefly because the cars had become a nuisance to the university at large.

Mr. Casement’s attitude reminds me of that of the father who sends his timid son to a military school “to make a man out of him.” To a boy who grew up as I did—playing at football and baseball and going through the average rough and tumble—the rushes and their like were only a good roughhouse. To other boys they were a nuisance, and one would be blind not to admit after fifteen years that these boys included some of the best.

Modern Princeton cannot devote itself primarily to moulding the regimented Samurai that Mr. Casement admires, without sacrificing the intellectual freedom and choice which distinguishes a university from a prep school. It does not interfere with such men; but it merely insists that they shall be, intellectually, officers and not privates. It gives a special break to those who will presumably be scholars, scientists, and artists, and this Mr. Casement simply can’t understand. Nevertheless, his argument would not seem so intemperate if he would admit that there are many human instruments of good and his ideal is just possibly not the only one. Kingdoms have been built by consumptives and hunchbacks, and the “well rounded man” of the ‘nineties—the Roosevelt-Churchill-Soldier-of-Fortune type—takes on with time an increasing aspect of papier mache. It survives as an ideal for the eternally juvenile and the latest immigrants in such legends as “Knute Rockne, Builder of Men.” It is a type valuable in time of war, especially when stiffened with a rigorous technical training. That it should have the preempted place in a great university, dedicated to preserving “what the world will not willingly let die”—well, Mr. Casement believes that it should have such a place. To younger men he seems to be merely voicing the confused romanticism of that generation into which he was born.

F.Scott Fitzgerald’17

Published in Princeton Alumni Weekly magazine (XXXII, April 22, 1932, p. 647).

Not illustrated.