Remarks at the Banquet at Sherry's in Honor of Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, President of Columbia University in New York City
Mr. Chairman, and you, my hosts, and my fellow guests:
What I am going to say to-night will be based upon the altogether admirable address made this afternoon by my old and valued friend, the new President of your great university, in the course of which he spoke of what the university can contribute to the state as being scholar ship and service. There are only a limited number of men of any university who can add to what has been so well called by Professor Munsterberg "productive scholarship." Of course each university should bend its energies toward developing the few, men who are thus able to add to the sum of the nation's work in scholarly achievement.
To those men the all-important doctrine to preach is that one piece of first-rate work is worth a thousand pieces of second-rate work; and that after a generation has passed each university will be remembered by what its sons have produced, not in the line of a mass of pretty good work, but in the way of the few masterpieces. I do not intend, how ever, to dwell upon this side of the university's work, the work of scholarship, the work of the intellect trained to its highest point of productiveness. I want to speak of the other side, the side that produces service to the public, service to the nation. Not one in a hundred of us is fit to be in the highest sense a productive scholar, but all of us are entirely fit to do decent service if we care to take the pains. If we think we can render it without taking the pains, if we think we can render it by feeling how nice it would be to render it—why, the value of that service will be but little.
Fortunately today those who addressed you had a right to appeal not merely to what they had spoken, but to what they had done. When we are inclined to be pessimistic over affairs, and especially public affairs here in the United States, it is a pleasant thing to be able to look back to the last twenty years of the life of Columbia's late President, Mayor Low. And now, for a moment, look at things in their pure historic perspective. Think what it means in the way of an object lesson to have a man who, after serving two terms as Mayor of what is now one of the great boroughs of this great city, then became for twelve years the President of one of the foremost institutions of learning in the entire land, and then again became the chief officer of the city. That was not merely creditable to Mr. Low; it was creditable to us. It spoke well for the city. It is a big mark on the credit side. We have plenty of marks on the debit side; but we feel that this goes a long way toward making the balance even.
As for the Dean—why, I sat at the feet of that Gamaliel when I first went into politics. He and I took part in the affairs of the old Twenty-first Assembly District in the days when I was just out of college. My very first experiences in practical politics were gained in connection with the Dean. And, gentlemen, as I gradually passed out of the sphere of the Dean, I passed into the sphere of your present President, and he has been my close friend, my valued adviser, ever since.
When it comes to rendering service, that which counts chiefly with a college graduate, as with any other American citizen, is not intellect so much as what stands above mere power of body, or mere power of mind, but must in a sense include them, and that is character. It is a good thing to have a sound body, and a better thing to have a sound mind; and better still to have that aggregate of virile and decent qualities which we group together under the name of character. I said both decent and virile qualities—it is not enough to have one or the other alone. If a man is strong in mind and body and misuses his strength then he becomes simply a foe to the body politic, to be hunted down by all decent men; and if, on the other hand, he has thoroughly decent impulses but lacks strength he is a nice man, but does not count.
You can do but little with him.
In the unending strife for civic betterment, small is the use of these people who mean well, but who mean well feebly. The man who counts is the man who is decent and who makes himself felt as a force for decency, for cleanliness, for civic righteousness. He must have several qualities; first and foremost, of course, he must be honest, he must have the root of right thinking in him. That is not enough. In the next place he must have courage; the timid good man counts but little in the rough business of trying to do well the world's work. And finally, in addition to being honest and brave he must have common sense. If he does not have it, no matter what other qualities he may have, he will find himself at the mercy of those who, without possessing his desire to do right, know only too well how to make the wrong effective.
To you, the men of Columbia here, the men of this great city, and the men who, when they graduate, go to other parts of the country, we have the right to look in an especial degree for service to the public.
To you much has been given, and woe and shame to you if we cannot rightfully expect much from you in return.
We can pardon the man who has no chance in life if he does but little for the State, and we can count it greatly to his credit if he does much for the State. But upon you who have had so much rests a heavy burden to show that you are worthy of what you have received. A double responsibility is upon you to use aright, not merely the talents that have been given to you, but the chances you have to make much of these talents. We have a right to expect service to the State from you in many different lines: In the line of what, for lack of a better word, we will call philanthropy; in all lines of effort for public decency.
Remember always that the man who does a thing so that it is worth doing is always a man who does his work for the work' s sake. Some where in Ruskin there is a sentence to the effect that the man who does a piece of work for the fee, normally does it in a second-rate way, and that the only first-rate work is the work done by the man who does it for the sake of doing it well, who counts the deed itself as his reward. In no kind of work done for the public do you ever find the really best, except where you find the man who takes hold of it because he is irresistibly impelled to do it, because he wishes to do it for the sake of doing it well, not for the sake of any reward that comes after ward or in connection with it. Of course, gentlemen, that is true of almost every other walk of life, just exactly as true as it is in politics.
A clergyman is not worth his salt if he finds himself bound to be a clergyman for the material reward of that profession. Every doctor who has ever succeeded has been a man incapable of thinking of his fee when he did a noteworthy surgical operation. A scientific man, a writer, a historian, an artist, can only be a good man of science, a first-class artist, a first-class writer, if he does his work for the sake of doing it well; and this is exactly as true in political life, exactly as true in every form of social effort, in every kind of work done for the public at large. The man who does work worth doing is the man who does it because he cannot refrain from doing it; the man who feels it borne in on him to try that particular job and see if he cannot do it well. And so it is with a general in the field. The man in the Civil War who thought of any material reward for what he did was not among the men whose names you read now on the honor roll of American history.
So the work that our colleges can do is to fit their graduates to do service-to fit the bulk of them, the men who cannot go in for the highest type of scholarship, to do the ordinary citizen's service for the country; and they can fit them to do this service only by training them in character. To train them in character means to train them not only to possess, as they must possess, the softer and gentler virtues, but also the virile powers of a race of vigorous men, the virtues of courage, of honesty--not merely the honesty that refrains from doing wrong, but the honesty that wars aggressively for the right—the virtues of courage, honesty, and, finally, hard common-sense.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Banquet at Sherry's in Honor of Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, President of Columbia University in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343465