Page 4


research center to be the Bibliotheque Nationale of the only state that started out as an independent nation.” Since 1982, four volumes of Harry Ransom’s writings have been edited by his wife, Hazel H. Ransom. Through these published works it is now possible to understand and appreciate Harry Ransom’s reasons for convincing the University’s Regents, individual donors, and owners of collections to participate in his dream for “a center of cultural compass” in Texas. THE FIRST OF these four volumes, The Conscience of the University Ransom’s essays that originally appeared in issues of the Texas Quarterly, beginning in 1958 with “The Collection of Knowledge of Texas,” which contains his plans \(cited Also in this volume, from a 1958 issue of TQ, is Ransom’s essay entitled “Teaching and Research,” in which he surveys various types of professors and their attitudes toward what Ransom describes in “The Rediscovery of Teaching” as a necessary combination: “great research is an important kind of great teaching. Published research is naked exposure of one or more minds to other minds. In education no process is more candid, none more rigorous in communicating knowledge.” Throughout his remarks on education, which include his views on “students in the singular,” Ransom advocates the necessity of research and emphasizes that learning is an ongoing process not necessarily related to grades or to time spent in a classroom. As he comments in “The Rediscovery of grade, later significance of what [a student] did get [from a course] may shrink to zero or expand to vast proportions. Some knowledge takes months or years in fusing. . . . A recent survey asked one thousand alumni graduated in the thirties to evaluate classroom experience. The replies showed clearly that estimates of the high-value marks were given courses in which the alumnus had made ‘C’ or less.” In “The Steel Glass of Education,” Ransom employs an image taken from “a much underrated writer named Gascoigne” to develop the thought that the rewards of education involve more than starting salaries, they offer “the occasional sense of winning in one’s private game against ignorance.” On the other hand, in “Varieties of Ignorance” Ransom suggests that “universities have paid too little attention to not-knowing,” by which in part he means to say that acknowledgment of ignorance is essential to learning and that it is crucial in defining “ignorance before the fact and confess[ing] error after the fact.” Another essay in this volume discusses “The Arts of Uncertainty:” “Manifestly we [in the humanities] sometimes work with the values of useless knowledge and we should cease our apologies for this fact. Experience that is useless in economic competition is often most rewarding in individual development. We must confront frankly the importance of inner education.” In “News and Truth” Ransom writes: “The tyranny of words is quite as dangerous as the tyranny of man. Perversion of ways of talking common sense and spreading current news will just as surely undermine a nation’s ability to sort out beliefs and purposes as armed rebellion or violent dictatorships.” And in “Educational Resources in Texas,” a repeated theme in Ransom’s writings, is a precise statement of the economic benefits of the kind of research and teaching that this childless father envisioned for his native sons and daughters: Where were the resolution, sensitive statepride, knowledgeable sense of value, willingness to take a risk, determination to capitalize on the American future in recent decades of compromising on educational minimums, concession to difficulty and deficit? For more than half a century Texas education has needed the same resourcefulness as Texas projects for drilling holes for oil and water, shoving ship channels, plowing the earth, and planing the air. The irony is doubled now that knowledge has become quickly convertible into cold cash. In modern industry, with growing research budgets, charges for intellection are rapidly overtaking charges for management. Whoever said “A penny for your thoughts” wasn’t talking business with an engineer, physicist, or chemist at current rates for scientific consultation in Texas. Whether Ransom is discussing copyright law, journalism \(a field of interest dating back at least to 1925 when he covered the education, or uncertainty, his ability to synthesize and to bring in pertinent examples or to draw relevant analogies is owing largely to his wide-ranging interests, including Texas history. While he rarely gives details in his writing, preferring to generalize, Ransom can be master of the appropriate and timely instance that confirms specifically his broader outlines and his comprehensive overviews. In “Educational Resources in Texas” he concludes one paragraph with a case in point for his argument that economic considerations are more and more becoming interrelated with social resources: “Time was when raw sources determined the location of an industrial plant. . . . Not long ago a distinguished physicist refused to join a company not because he disliked the salary scale, promotion rate, fringe benefits, and retirement plan but because there was no symphony orchestra within easy driving distance of the plant.” Another instance of Ransom’s apt use of examples in this case drawn characteristically from various ages and from a variety of incidents is found in paragraphs of “News and Truth” Since the establishment of the newsbook in the seventeenth century, technology has cut the time of transmission of words and pictures from months to seconds. Hence the inevitable emphasis in our time upon the “news beat,” the “scoop,” the “exclusive.” Hence the tremendous impact of bulletins, true or false, about national and international events: the ending of World War I \(announced before it possibility of mistaking fiction for fact, as in the case of Orson Welles’s personal invasion of the United States from Mars. Hence the more recent concern about “managed” news. . . . In its limited and momentary sense, news as information can be false and in the baldest sense it can be “managed.” But truth cannot. THOUGH RANSOM WORKED with Dobie and Boatright on folklore publications, he never considered himself a folklorist. Yet, his abiding interest in Texas history did lead him to write biographical sketches of a number of subjects who contributed not to what can be learned from mythical or folk elements based on heroic or practical actions but to an intellectual lore concerned with education and culture as such. The second Ransom volume issued by his wife is The Other Texas Frontier \(UT PresS, gifted men from 19th-century Texas \(Ashbel Smith, Sherman Goodwin, and Swante of Texas,” “The Counterfrontier in Texas,” and “The Roots of Early Texas Biography.” As a physician to the Republic of Texas and later as the president of the University of Texas Board of Regents, Ashbel Smith would naturally have attracted Ransom’s attention, for as noted earlier, Ransom grew up in a hospital. Ransom’s essay on Sherman Goodwin explains further the author’s interest in the medical profession: Goodwin, a physician in Victoria, was Ransom’s grandfather. Smith and Goodwin impressed Ransom with their zeal for education and research. Ashbel Smith, considered the “father” of the University of Texas, “was active in detailed planning for the common schools and the Texas Medical College and Hospital \(the basis for the University of Texas as a man who combined “European diplomatic service [he was charge d’affaires to England and France from 1842 to 1844] with serious study [his treatise on yellow fever in Galveston in 1839 is still a recognized work].” Among Smith’s notable qualities were his “conviction that only by original contributions to knowledge could the state advance,” his awareness of the swift advancement of the black students in Texas high schools, and his insistence “on the equal education of women.” Smith, like Ransom, also had “voluminous dealing at long distance for the purchase of books.” THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19