Final Exam Panic

“Bertie and Billy were sophomores. They had been alive for twenty years, and were young. Their tutor was also a sophomore. He too had been alive for twenty years, but never yet had become young. …the tutor’s name was Oscar Maironi, and he was charging his pupils five dollars an hour each for his instruction. Do not think this excessive. Oscar could have tutored a whole class of irresponsibles, and by that arrangement have earned probably more; but Bertie and Billy had preempted him on account of his fame or high standing and accuracy, and they could well afford it. All three sophomores alike had happened to choose Philosophy 4 as one of their elective courses, and all alike were now face to face with the Day of Judgment. The final examinations had begun. Oscar could lay his hand upon his studious heart and await the Day of Judgment like …a Christian! His notes were full: Three hundred pages about Zeno and Parmenides and the rest, almost every word as it had come from the professor’s lips. And his memory was full, too, flowing like a player’s lines. With the right cue he could recite instantly: “An important application of this principle, with obvious reference to Heracleitos, occurs in Aristotle, who says—” He could do this with the notes anywhere. I am sure you appreciate Oscar and his great power of acquiring facts. So he was ready, like the wise virgins of parable. Bertie and Billy did not put one in mind of virgins: although they had burned considerable midnight oil, it had not been to throw light upon Philosophy 4. In them the mere word Heracleitos had raised a chill no later than yesterday,—the chill of the unknown. They had not attended the lectures on the “Greek bucks.” Indeed, profiting by their privilege of voluntary recitations, they had dropped in but seldom on Philosophy 4. These blithe grasshoppers had danced and sung away the precious storing season, and now that the bleak hour of examinations was upon them, their waked-up hearts had felt aghast at the sudden vision of their ignorance. It was on a Monday noon that this feeling came fully upon them, as they read over the names of the philosophers. Thursday was the day of the examination.”

From Philosophy 4 (free for Kindle). It’s an amusing story, something between a short story and a novelette, by Owen Wister, more famous as the American author of the cowboy story The Virginian, a Horseman of the Plains.

Be advised Philosophy4 has a couple of taken for granted cultural bigotries- I edited two out of the above passage. Wister is awfully hard on the poor tutor. But it is amusing.

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