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56 / mr. mabie tells what to read The country is full of people who are self-educated socially as well as intellectually, and who are a credit to American society and among its best products; but there are many who become rich without suspecting the relationship between wealth and education, and who furnish material for the comic journals and bring grief to their more intelligent countrymen. No disgrace attaches to ignorance if it is unavoidable, but to flaunt ignorance against a background of wealth is to invite and justify the severest criticism. (December 1904, 19) In this formulation, it is difficult to tell whether “education” is necessary for wealth or a by-product of it. Mabie wants to have it both ways here— presumably to sell reading both to the person who has already “made it” and wants to have a chance to be legitimate and to the person who wants to “make it” but does not have any options aside from reading. Both readers will ultimately do the right thing by reading books, as long as they do not think too much about whether Mabie’s logics are consistent or try to determine the connection between “education” and “intelligence .” It is very clear, regardless, that “ignorance” is to be avoided at all costs, and no reader of Mabie’s columns, having been shown the folly of a lack of education, can continue on this course, lest he or she becomes a “flaunter” of ignorance. Mabie turns directly from this parable and lesson to deal with some novels that address striving for success thematically , such as Robert Herrick’s The Common Lot, thereby reinforcing the interconnection of culture and wealth. In fact, Mabie might be, albeit perhaps somewhat unwittingly, one of the earlier adapters, if not the coiner, of the phrase “intellectual capital .” He first uses the phrase to describe the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson—“This generation does not remember much of what Emerson wrote, but Emerson’s thought has become part of the intellectual capital of the country” (September 1903, 15)—and he clearly enjoys the phrase, using it again on several occasions. He discusses the “unused educational capital in the possession of men and women of culture and some leisure,” which needs to be tapped by intrepid organizers of local reading clubs (September 1909, 28). These terms give his readers license to think of literature in economic terms, while simultaneously feeding off the fact that his readers are already thinking this way. Mabie is a books columnist who understands, and even embraces, this elision and who acknowledges that his column’s existence is predicated on an instrumental attitude towards reading and literature. Taste must work within the mr. mabie tells what to read / 57 economic systems that support it; Mabie cannot insist that his readers stop feeling sympathy for characters, any more than he can allow them to read only “classic” works of literary romanticism. Both approaches would be untenable, as Robert Bridges’s “Droch” columns prove. Mabie’s tacit agreement with the attitudes of his readers, both in validating their readerly desires and in pressing them to read the things they knew were “good for them,” is what made him such a successful contributor to the Journal where his predecessors failed. There is throughout the columns a sense that the Mabie reader is profoundly concerned with the connection between financial and social success and the acquisition of cultural capital. The opening of one of Mabie’s columns acknowledges the ongoing conundrum of the would-be reader who is also striving for financial wealth: “If making a living were the whole of life there would be good ground for the question which many people are asking: ‘Why should I spend my time reading books when there are so many real things I can do for myself and for others?’” (March 1909, 42). Coming as it does in the later part of Mabie’s tenure at the Journal, this apparently perennial question shows that the course he had sporadically pursued, that of emphasizing the inner rewards of a course of good reading, was not satisfying many of his readers. Mabie follows the above with the remark that “[f]ortunately those who are eager for books far outnumber those who are skeptical to their uses,” but when he attempts to circumvent the skeptics’ desires for material benefits from reading, he slips into the language of materialism: “[True readers] not only escape from themselves, but they also come into possession...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781439906699
Related ISBN
9781439906682
MARC Record
OCLC
794700744
Pages
256
Launched on MUSE
2012-02-08
Language
English
Open Access
No
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