Figure 1. Hartline monument. Rosemont Cemetery, Bloomsburg, PA. Photo: author.

The Hartline monument in Rosemont Cemetery in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, is peak olde schoole. Holding down one side of what amounts to a teachers’ corner of the cemetery, the Hartline monument adapts a line of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales which describes the clerk: “gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.”

The adaptation of ‘he’ to ‘they’ shows that more than one Hartline is commemorated, and they did not wish to be referred to severally with the generic ‘he’. This adaptation is inoffensive, but it does remind one of the clumsy adaptation of the motto of Illinois State University, formerly a normal (teachers’) school.

The university motto, taken directly from Chaucer, naturally featured the pronoun ‘he’, which, along with other masculine singulars, has pretty much lost its old ability to connote the generic ‘human’. Second and third wave feminism taught us to identify and eliminate fossilized traces of unhappily gendered expressions, and rightly so; the University’s change of ‘he’ to ‘we’ offends no more than the Hartlines’ adaptation.

But the ill-annoyin’ adaptation goes further, and I scent the efforts of “consultants” or “marketers.” For the motto has evolved from the classy

Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche (c. 1900)

to the insecure (we can spell!)

Gladly would he learn and gladly teach (1957)

to the childish

Gladly we learn and teach (1992).

There’s a collapse of meaning here corresponding, one fears, to an analogous collapse in standards at the former normal school.

‘To will’ is a regular verb, as in the translation of Deus vult, ‘God wills it’.

Derived from this we have the auxiliaries ‘shall’ and ‘will’.

I, We shall = ‘I am going to’
You, He, She, It, Youse, They will = ‘you [etc.] are going to’

I, We will = ‘I [etc.] want to’
You, He, She, It, Youse, They shall = ‘you [etc.] must’

See, for example, Sting in Dune prancing about crying “I will kill him,” (following an “I wish it”) which I think is the last example of this intentionality use I know of in popular culture. He’s not expressing what he thinks to be a certain future but rather his desire. But even the untutored know that the commandment is “Thou shalt not kill” (or, “you shall not kill,” if you prefer that sort of thing) and not “you will not kill.”

‘Wolde’ (or ‘would’) is a ‘future in the past’ form, expressing something that was yet to happen, or one desired to happen in a past time. The title of the film The Man Who Would Be King expresses this desire (of Sean Connery in the movie). This form lives today mostly (as I see it) in the cliché “would-be,” as in, “President Trump was/is a would-be tyrant.”

One variant of this is to express the situation where the desired has become habitual. A good example is the famous speech of Dr. Evil in therapy in the original Austin Powers film:

My father would womanize, he would drink, he would make outrageous claims like he invented the question mark. Some times he would accuse chestnuts of being lazy, the sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament.”

The Chaucer ‘gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche’ bears the sense of desire (from ‘to will’) well on the way to the habitual use by Dr. Evil.

So the 1992 evolution of the Illinois State University motto loses meaning by losing the ‘would’; but it careens off the rails with its simple presents ‘we learn’ and ‘we teach’. The motto has more or less transparently been shortened by the marketing folks to create a brandable image of an etiolated 5-word motto clumsily superimposed over a stylized open book. Because skool, right? Paul Fussell wrote once about the collapse of English instruction in the U.S. by noting how “Whither thou goest, I go” had in more recent Bibles become the clunky “Where you go, I go.”

The current motto states that ‘we gladly learn’ (in the voice of the students), and ‘we gladly teach’ (in the voice of the faculty). It’s what’s happenin’ now on campus. Insert soothing words about “community.” The present tenses require us to imagine two different subjects simultaneously carrying out these two mutually exclusive acts: the professor teaching the conjugation of amo or how to prove the Pythagorean theorem is not learning this material at the same time. I realize that sometimes teachers speak of learning from their students, but that’s hardly the import of this simple motto.

But the older form of the motto harks back to the mission of the university as a teachers’ school. ‘Gladly wolde he lerne’ speaks for the students: ‘we want to learn’. ‘And gladly teche’ again speaks for the students who, at a normal school, wanted to teach and were in fact (ahem) ‘would-be’ teachers. If the allusion to the old identity as a normal school was offensive, the administration might have simply invented a new motto, even saving space: “You teach; I learn,” for example. It is fair to tax ISU for this, whereas I would not fault a private citizen for doing something analogous: we private citizens do not monetize a claim to be a place of higher learning.

But back to the Hartlines. The raw boulder atop the base of the monument, rather than being an outsized example of leaving a pebble on a grave, seems to me to allude to building, as in placing one thing atop another, a fitting metaphor for what a teacher does.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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