This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Part LI
Every day on Daily Readers' Book Club we offer an article length section of a book until that book is done. We are currently reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise. This book will have 106 parts.
"How about great criminals?"
"They're usually insane. If not, they're weak. There is no such thing as a strong, sane criminal."
"Burne, I disagree with you altogether; how about the superman?"
"He's evil, I think, yet he's strong and sane."
"I've never met him. I'll bet, though, that he's stupid or insane."
"I've met him over and over and he's neither. That's why I think you're wrong."
"I'm sure I'm not--and so I don't believe in imprisonment except for the insane."
On this point Amory could not agree. It seemed to him that life and history were rife with the strong criminal, keen, but often self-deluding; in politics and business one found him and among the old statesmen and kings and generals; but Burne never agreed and their courses began to split on that point.
Burne was drawing farther and farther away from the world about him. He resigned the vice-presidency of the senior class and took to reading and walking as almost his only pursuits. He voluntarily attended graduate lectures in philosophy and biology, and sat in all of them with a rather pathetically intent look in his eyes, as if waiting for something the lecturer would never quite come to. Sometimes Amory would see him squirm in his seat; and his face would light up; he was on fire to debate a point.
He grew more abstracted on the street and was even accused of becoming a snob, but Amory knew it was nothing of the sort, and once when Burne passed him four feet off, absolutely unseeingly, his mind a thousand miles away, Amory almost choked with the romantic joy of watching him. Burne seemed to be climbing heights where others would be forever unable to get a foothold.
"I tell you," Amory declared to Tom, "he's the first contemporary I've ever met whom I'll admit is my superior in mental capacity."
"It's a bad time to admit it--people are beginning to think he's odd."
"He's way over their heads--you know you think so yourself when you talk to him--Good Lord, Tom, you used to stand out against 'people.' Success has completely conventionalized you."
Tom grew rather annoyed.
"What's he trying to do--be excessively holy?"
"No! not like anybody you've ever seen. Never enters the Philadelphian Society. He has no faith in that rot. He doesn't believe that public swimming-pools and a kind word in time will right the wrongs of the world; moreover, he takes a drink whenever he feels like it."
"He certainly is getting in wrong."
"Have you talked to him lately?"
"Then you haven't any conception of him."
The argument ended nowhere, but Amory noticed more than ever how the sentiment toward Burne had changed on the campus.
"It's odd," Amory said to Tom one night when they had grown more amicable on the subject, "that the people who violently disapprove of Burne's radicalism are distinctly the Pharisee class--I mean they're the best-educated men in college--the editors of the papers, like yourself and Ferrenby, the younger professors.... The illiterate athletes like Langueduc think he's getting eccentric, but they just say, 'Good old Burne has got some queer ideas in his head,' and pass on--the Pharisee class--Gee! they ridicule him unmercifully."
The next morning he met Burne hurrying along McCosh walk after a recitation.
"Whither bound, Tsar?"
"Over to the Prince office to see Ferrenby," he waved a copy of the morning's Princetonian at Amory. "He wrote this editorial."
"Going to flay him alive?"
"No--but he's got me all balled up. Either I've misjudged him or he's suddenly become the world's worst radical."
Burne hurried on, and it was several days before Amory heard an account of the ensuing conversation. Burne had come into the editor's sanctum displaying the paper cheerfully.
"Hello there, Savonarola."
"I just read your editorial."
"Good boy--didn't know you stooped that low."
"Jesse, you startled me."
"Aren't you afraid the faculty'll get after you if you pull this irreligious stuff?"
"Like this morning."
"What the devil--that editorial was on the coaching system."
"Yes, but that quotation--"
Image courtesy of Peter Alfred Hess.