On l’a souvent remarqué, c’est la sélection scolaire et non l’origine sociale qui chez nous recrute cette classe des «intellectuels». La chose est singulière si on y réfléchit, surtout pour qui, comme moi, est d’origine populaire. Un jour j’ai quitté l’école primaire; mes parents m’ont amené au lycée et m’ont dit: «il faudra que tu travailles bien.» Et voilà, c’était fait; je ne serais jamais un typographe ou un maréchal-ferrand, comme mon père ou mon grand-père; je ne pourrais jamais m’enorgueillir du travail de mes mains; je ne pourrais plus trouver une raison de vivre que dans le travail de l’esprit.
Henri-Irénée Marrou (comme Henri Davenson), Fondements d’une cuture chrétienne
It is necessary first to analyze the givens of the problem. We call it among ourselves the problem of Culture, but the name matters little. I bring you here the result of an experience; I have no need to speak in a dogmatic tone; I’ll say things as they have been presented to us.
Our experience has a general value; the problem that we have met and tried to solve is not ours alone. It is that which the present time poses to all young intellectuals. I emply the word in its broader sense: I mean by it all intellectual workers [travailleurs intellectuels], all those who have been schoolboys first, then students, and whose character of life is founded on an activity of the mind [une activité de l’esprit].
It has often been noticed, it is scholarly selection and not social origin that among us recruits this class of “intellectuals”. The thing is strange, if one reflects, especially for those who, as I, are of plebeian background. One day I left primary school; my parents brought me to high school [lycée] and said to me: “You must work hard.” And behold, it was done; I would never be a press-man or a farrier, as my father or my grandfather; I would never be able to take pride in the work of my hands; I would no longer be able to find a reason to live but in the work of the mind [de l’esprit].
Henri-Irénée Marrou (writing as Henri Davenson), Foundations of a Christian Culture
Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.