Mr. Amory's little work contains some curious and not uninteresting details of local history, all the more welcome because it is not an easy matter for the historian to pursue small game of this kind through the forests of manuscript in which it is their custom to hide; and any one who will undertake the labor, or happens to know the secret places of forgotten and curious facts, has a right to claim the historian's gratitude, even though the actual result of the sport is not precisely rich. Cambridge to the world at large is a place of limited importance, no doubt, and even in the eyes of Boston, her neighbor, is only a considerable suburb, which contains an University; but the principle of solidarity in modern society extends even to suburbs, and Cambridge has some right to claim that neither Massachusetts nor America would have been the better for losing Cambridge from their roll of cities. Nature has not been prodigal to her; art has added but few attractions to the small number of those that nature conferred; but she is, nevertheless, one of the largest cities in the Commonwealth, and she contains its only considerable school of knowledge. Her history is therefore a fair subject for more than local interest.
Nevertheless, to the great mass of persons who know Cambridge only by name, it is the College and not the town which lends the subject such interest as it has. Indeed, under the most flattering light, the public or popular concern in the College itself, or in its sister at New Haven, is by no means deep, and the traveller who undertakes to cross the continent soon reaches the limits beyond which the two Universities, if mentioned at all, present only vague ideas to the listener. Yet such general interest as there is attaches itself to the University, and as the small circle of cultivated readers is reached, this interest becomes very decided, and extends to matters which are apparently trivial, and certainly have only a very slight historical or literary value. This feeling was curiously shown in the attention which Mr. Everett's reminiscences excited, as they were printed in the course of last year. Mr. Everett himself belonged to the present century. He took his degree in 1811, and there are graduates in plenty who could amplify his short sketch indefinitely. Yet the public seemed to feel a certain amount of active interest in the little account, extracts from which may without harm be quoted, of student life and manners in the first decade of the century:
I was thirteen years old in April, 1807, and entered as freshman the following August, being the youngest member of my class. I lived the first year with my classmate, Charles P. Curtis, in a wooden building standing at the corner of the Main and Church Street. It was officially known as the 'College House,' but known by the students as 'Wiswall's Den,' or more concisely, 'The Den,' whether from its comfortless character as a habitation, or from some worse cause, I do not know. There was a tradition that it had been the scene of a horrid domestic tragedy, and that it was haunted by the ghosts of the Wiswalls; but I cannot say that during the twelvemonth I lived in the Den this tale was confirmed by my own experience. We occupied the southwest corner chamber, up two flights of stairs,—a room about fourteen feet square, in which were contained two beds and the rest of our furniture, and our fuel, which was wood, and was kept under the beds. Two very small closets afforded a little additional space; but the accommodations certainly were far from brilliant.This is certainly entertaining, so far as it goes, but one cannot help wishing it went further. For the large and increasing class of instructors, or persons interested in the improvement of instruction in this country, there could be few more entertaining and suggestive books than a history of instruction at Harvard College; an account, not of the numbers of students, nor of the gifts of donors, but of the processes tried, the experiments that failed, the discipline enforced, the customs observed, and, above all, the steady improvement in scholarship, if any such can be shown to have existed. One wishes to know with what standard the College started, and to what extent this standard has been raised or lowered. In fixing once for all the facts of the case, whatever they may be, and in ascertaining precisely what direction the College has followed during its two centuries and a half of activity, some light might perhaps be thrown on the very disputed question of the future. Since its foundation the College has vastly altered its character, and there is every reason to suppose that it will continue to experiment with new methods and in new directions as rapidly as is safe. There is all the more reason for bearing in mind that its history is of no small importance as illustrating the growth of American society and as indicating its future progress. Both as a social and as an educational question, therefore, the matter is of considerable interest.
A good many young men who go to college are idlers, some worse than idlers. I suppose my class in this respect was like other classes; but there was a fair proportion of faithful, studious students, and of well-conducted young men. I was protected in part, perhaps, by my youth from the grosser temptations. I went through the prescribed studies of the year—which were principally a few books of Livy and Horace for the Latin, and Collectanea Græca Majora for the Greek—about as well as most of the class; but the manner in which the ancient languages were then studied was deplorably superficial. It was confined to the most cursory reading of the text. Besides the Latin and Greek languages, we had a weekly recitation in Lowth's English Grammar, and in the Hebrew grammar without points; also in arithmetic and history, the last from Millot's compend as a text-book. In all these branches there was an entire want of apparatus, and the standard compared with that which now exists was extremely low. And yet, in all respects, I imagine a great improvement had taken place in reference to college education over the state of things which existed in the previous generation. The intense political excitement of the Revolutionary period seems to have unsettled the minds of men from the quiet pursuits of life.
President Webber was at the head of the University when I entered it, having succeeded to President Willard, who died in 1804. . . .
President Webber was a man of great worth, but destitute of popular gifts. He was a person of tradition and routine, and never attempted to say a word to the students except from a manuscript prepared beforehand. He could not be said to be popular with the young men, but it was simply from the want of the art of kindly intercourse. I remember going to his office in my freshman year to ask leave of absence for one night, that I might be at home for some family gathering, as I did not like to have to return to Cambridge at a very late hour. I found the whole academic corps assembled in the President's office,—a circumstance which did not diminish my trepidation at being there for the first time. I modestly stated my request and the reason. I had never asked a favor nor incurred a penalty; and I had never passed an hour away from the college without permission. I received my answer, however, in the monosyllable "No," without the addition of a word to soften the flat refusal. Such was the tone of authority in those days.
The mode of life of students in Cambridge is greatly changed since my day. We then lived in commons; the five classes assembled daily for the three meals in the Commons Hall, where the tutors and other parietal officers occupied an upper table. Till the year 1806, the evening meal was not even served in the hall, but was received by the students at the kitchen window, and conveyed to their rooms. The disagreeable nature of this operation in bad weather in a New England winter may easily be conceived. This practice was done away with, and supper, like the two other meals, provided in the hall, the year before I entered college. The tables were served by beneficiary students, according to the custom formerly existing in the English colleges; and I believe it may with strict truth be added, that the said position of the "waiters," as they were called, was in no degree impaired by performing this office for their fellow-students. Although commons were attended with some inconveniences and evils, I have regretted that some other remedy could not have been found than entire discontinuance. The rooms were furnished in a very simple style. I do not recollect that there was a carpet, a window-curtain, a sofa, or an easy-chair in any student's room; and nearly all the young men brought their own water from the pumps, and trimmed their own lamps. A little luxury in this respect crept into the higher classes. One or two persons got their living about college as general boot-blacks. Charles Lennox, a respectable colored man, became in this way, I have heard, the richest man of his complexion in the State. He used to bring in his bill so much for brushing bootes.
The practice of fagging, borrowed from the English schools, or rather, perhaps, growing out of that amiable propensity in human nature which leads the strong to find pleasure in oppressing the weak, prevailed to some extent in the last century at Cambridge. A member of the freshman class was obliged to take off his hat in the presence of members of the higher classes, and to do their errands if required. As a check on the abuse of this latter obligation, each freshman placed himself under a member of the senior class, who was called his senior; and it was a lawful excuse for not obeying the orders of any other student, that you were doing an errand for your senior. These practices in my time were obsolete, though it was still not unusual for a freshman to have "his senior," usually some family friend, to whom he could go in case of need for a word of advice.
I was considered, I believe, as taking rank among the best scholars in the class; although there was no branch in which I was not equalled, and in several was excelled, by some one of my classmates, except, perhaps, metaphysics.
I have mentioned metaphysics as a study in which I succeeded. I mean, of course, only that I prepared myself thoroughly in the textbooks. Watt's Logic was the first book studied in this branch; not a very inviting treatise compared with that of Archbishop Whately, but easily comprehended, and not repulsive. The account of the syllogistic method amused me; and the barbarous stanzas describing the various syllogistic modes and figures dwelt for a long time in my memory, and have not wholly faded away. Locke's "Essay on Human Understanding" came next. This was more difficult. We recited from it three times a day the four first days of the week; the recitation of Thursday afternoon being a review of the rest. We were expected to give the substance of the author's remarks, but were at liberty to condense them, and to use our own words.
At the close of the junior year I received the appointment of English orator at the public exhibition. This appointment, according to the usage then prevailing, implied that I was considered by the faculty one of the three first scholars in the class. I called my subject the "Prejudices of Criticism," a not very significant phrase, borrowed from the phraseology of that time prevalent at college.
I passed the winter vacation of this year at college, principally employed in miscellaneous reading. Among other standard works, I read Gibbon's "Decline and Fall" with considerable care, with a considerable portion of Burke. The gorgeous style of the latter, and the stately eloquence of Gibbon and Johnson, caught my youthful fancy, and pleased me more than the simple diction of Goldsmith and Addison. These last I had always read with pleasure; but I thought the three great masters I have just named were rather to be imitated as models of style; an error which it took me some years to discover and correct.
During my senior year I relaxed a little from my studious habits, though I did not fall into serious neglect of my college duties, still less into any vicious indulgence. But I had become weary of the restraints of college life, and the natural restlessness of the age I had reached (seventeen) rendered me impatient of academic confinement and routine. I was in some danger of going astray.
In August, 1811, I took my degree, and delivered the valedictory oration of the class on Commencement Day. I called my subject "Literary Evils," an unmeaning phrase, like that which I chose as the subject of my exhibition oration. It was, I suspect, an inferior performance. Not much can be effected, even by a mature mind, in a set discourse of only twelve minutes in length, of which some portion had to be given up by the valedictory orator to the enumeration of some of the chief benefactors of the College,—a practice borrowed from the "commemoration," of the English universities, and now discontinued at Harvard. Our class was the first to which these English orations had been assigned, and it was some years before the example was followed. An entire change in the arrangement of the literary exercises of Commencement Day has since taken place, and there is still room for great improvement. At present, they are greatly too numerous, and the time devoted to them necessarily too long. The average character of these juvenile efforts is now vastly beyond the standard in my time.
Such a story, however, to be well told, should come directly from first sources, and, with the exception of the College records, first sources are not easily reached. The College records, too, have the disadvantage that they tell a somewhat stiff and often ludicrously formal tale of boys' experiences and petty discipline, without in the least entering into boys' feeling. For after all it is primarily with students that education deals, and the opinion of students is therefore an essential part of all successful education. One wishes to know what the student, at any given time, thought of himself, of his studies and his instructors; what his studies and his habits were; how much he knew and how thoroughly; with what spirit he met his work, and with what amount of active aid and sympathy his instructors met him in dealing with his work or his amusements. The past brings down traditions of solid learning and careful training in the branches of study it assumed to deal with. One would like to know how such learning was gained, the methods and the instruments by which great results were reached. In short, one cannot but feel that one's self-esteem is a little at stake in the question whether the present generation, in making what it calls its progress, has sacrificed anything which was once useful to its predecessors, and this too, quite aside from the further question whether such a sacrifice, if ever made, was a matter of necessity or of mere recklessness.
If it were possible by some chance to disinter from the repositories of old manuscripts a series of students' diaries throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, from which, by any careful process of sifting out the chaff, a certain continuity of thought and experience could be discovered, the greatest difficulty would be overcome. Unfortunately, students' diaries are apt to be so feeble productions that the writers, if they ever think to read them in later years, commonly put them in the fire. Yet feeble as they are, they represent the most important part of any educational system, and their place can by no means be taken by mere reminiscences, no matter how entertaining or extensive the latter may be. A skilful instructor ought, perhaps, to derive as many ideas from the absurdities or extravagances of the scholars who are in his charge, as he does from their better qualities; and, above all, no instructor can well be allowed to forget the fact, which, nevertheless, is extremely apt to be forgotten in practice, that the teacher exists for the sake of the scholars, not the scholars for the sake of the teacher. No system of education can be very successful which does not make the scholar its chief object of interest; a principle which may sound like a truism, but which, in fact, will be found to have been rarely put in practice on any great scale, and which, in the daily work of education, is the most difficult of all principles to act upon. In the great majority of cases the teacher is, in his own eyes, the most important part of a school; the institution or school or system itself ranks next, and the scholar comes last of all. To reverse this order of things in an historical treatment of the subject may seem trivial enough to grown men who look upon a great and influential corporation like Harvard College in the same light as a railway or a banking corporation, with a history which is thoroughly economical, made up of charters, deeds, and statistics of passengers carried, discounts effected, boys educated, and stock watered; but it is, nevertheless, the true historical method, if there were but the means of carrying it out.
Unfortunately, as has been already said, the means are wanting. But it is not only the means which are wanting. The work itself could only be done to advantage by some one peculiarly constituted. Attempts without number have been made to use college life as a groundwork for fiction, and the result has almost if not quite invariably been failure, for the reason that the field of interest is too narrow, and that the attempt to enlarge it by introducing forced situations is more fatal to success than the narrowness of the field itself. The same difficulty would be found in a more practical treatment of the same subject. The details are numerous and fatiguing; the possible combinations few and simple; the treatment itself must make atonement for the want of incident, and such treatment could only come from a master critic who could employ his labor to more effect in matters of wider and deeper interest. The student must probably, therefore, remain content to have no history which shall deal with education from his stand-point.
Nevertheless, such material as exists, which can throw light on the movement of high education in America, ought not to be wasted. No doubt the family records of more than one household in New England contain papers that might be of service in following out this path of inquiry; but one such manuscript record at least lies before us, and offers a curious and extremely characteristic picture of the education which was given at Cambridge towards the close of the last century. The record in question is a student's diary for fifteen months in the years 1786-87; years, it will be remembered, of great depression in America, immediately following the peace with Great Britain, but preceding the establishment of a responsible national government. The winter was famous for the outbreak and forcible repression of Shays' rebellion, which was the principal subject of interest in Massachusetts, and threatened for a time to affect Cambridge itself. The student in question was a young man in his nineteenth year, who came late to the University, and joined the junior class on the 15th March, 1786. As will be seen, he had a fair share of youthful crudities, but he appears to have been as free from extreme prejudices as could reasonably be expected from a young man of his age, while his manner of looking at things occasionally indicates a mind which had come into closer contact with grown and educated men than with people of his own age. It is perhaps almost unduly mature.
In the present days of ever-increasing severity in examinations for admission to college, it is interesting to inquire what the requisites were in the last century. The student here gives, it is true, no indication of what examination was required for entrance into either of the two lower classes. He applied for admission to the junior class, and not only that, but for admission in the third term of the junior year, when more than half of the year's work was done. His examination, therefore, indicates the minimum required by the College after about three years of college education. The examination itself appears to have been a very formal proceeding, and although the proportion of absolute rejections was smaller then than now, yet admission was far from a matter of course. In this particular instance the applicant appears to have had a special examination as he applied for admission at a time when no one else wished to enter. He tells his own story, as follows:
15 March, 1786. Between 9 and 10 in the morning I went to the President's, and was there admitted before the President, the four tutors, three professors, and Librarian. The first book was Horace, where Mr. J——, the Latin tutor, told me to turn to the Carmen sæculare, where I construed three stanzas and parsed the word sylvarum, but called potens a substantive. Mr. J——, the Greek tutor, then put me to the beginning of the fourth book of Homer. I construed—lines, but parsed wrongἀλλήλους. I had then παραβλήδην given me. I was then asked a few questions in Watts's Logic by Mr. H——, and a considerable number in Locke on the Understanding, very few of which I was able to answer. The next thing was geography, where Mr. R—— asked me what was the figure of the earth, and several other questions, some of which I answered, and others not. Mr. Williams asked me if I had studied Euclid and arithmetic, after which the President conducted me to another room and gave me the following piece of English to turn into Latin, from the World: "There cannot certainly be an higher ridicule than to give an air of importance to amusements, if they are in themselves contemptible and void of taste; but if they are the object and care of the judicious and polite and really deserve that distinction, the conduct of them is certainly of consequence." I made it thus: "Nihil profecto risu dignior quam magni æstimare delectamenta, si per se despicienda sunt atque sine sapore. At si res oblatæ atque cura sunt sagacibus et artibus excultis et revera hanc distinctionem merent, administratio eorum haud dubie utilitatis est." I take it from memory only, as no scholar is suffered to take a copy of the Latin he made at his examination. The President then took it, was gone about 1/4 of an hour, returned and said, "You are admitted"; and gave me a paper to carry to the steward.Certainly the examination was not a very difficult one, and the candidate, according to his own account, does not appear to have made a very brilliant figure at it. Setting aside Watts and Locke, which are no longer so important a part of the liberal education as they formerly were, one may perhaps say that the freshman of our day would think himself the happiest of beings if he could escape with no more severe an examination than this. But the most remarkable fact of all is, that this examination, so far as the classics are concerned, represents not the minimum but the maximum of requirements, not for the junior year, but for the entire college course. Homer, Horace, Terence, and Cæsar were all that the student attempted to study. With the junior year, instruction in the classics ended. As evidence of the condition of classical studies in the University at this time the following entry would seem to be very significant:
July 5, 1786. Mr. J—— gave us a piece of Latin to make; the first the class have had since I have been here. This is the last week that we attend the Latin tutor, and last week we closed with Mr. J—— (Greek). In the senior year there are no languages studied in college. It is very popular here to dislike the study of Greek and Latin.All that the student could do in college, at least in the direction of classical acquirements, was therefore limited within a very narrow margin, which is perfectly represented by the examination described above. Another extract will illustrate this fact:
May 10, 1786. We finished the Andria of Terence this morning. The class began it last February. I went through it at Haverhill in three evenings. However, it must be said that they study it only one week in four, and that week only four mornings, but even in that way it has taken thirteen lessons to go through this one play. We recite afternoons the Latin week in Cæsar, but I have had nothing to say this week. The class is so numerous that he (the tutor) cannot hear more than one half of them recite at once, and so he takes turns.It seems tolerably clear, therefore, that where students dropped the classics at Cambridge in the last century, there students begin the study in the present one. If this be the case, an interesting question rises as to how and where the last generation, or any preceding generation in America, got its classical knowledge, if it had any. Cambridge was its best school, and at Cambridge the classics were unpopular and neglected. Homer and Horace or Terence and a simple sentence in Latin composition represent all the classical knowledge that Harvard gave; and it is quite clear that beyond the simple construing of the text and the application of the elementary rules of grammar, nothing was even attempted.
In regard to mathematics, the same relative position seems to have been held. Euclid and arithmetic are no further advanced as mathematics than Homer and Horace as classics, if indeed they are so far. But mathematics were continued through the senior year, and apparently with comparative energy. Any other requirement, with the exception of logic and metaphysics, seems to have been unknown, unless geography were something more than the mere form which the single question repeated in the diary would imply.
So far, then, as the standard of knowledge was concerned, it was low enough; and to judge from the account of the student himself, his success in satisfying even this low standard was not so brilliant as it might have been. Yet the best acquirements of the highest scholars in his class appear to have been no greater. At all events there was no one of sufficient superiority, among the fifty graduates of his year, to prevent him from carrying away an English oration at his Commencement, a prize commonly given only to the best scholars.
The examination being over, the new student was fairly a member of the College. The first matter of interest is naturally his studies. One who is familiar with the elaborate system of instruction now in use, is curious to know the steps which have led up to it. And so far as the student himself is concerned, his information is reasonably exact. He did not appear at the college exercises until a week after his admission, when he went to the President.
March 22. Immediately after prayers I went to the President, who said, "You may live with Sir Ware, a Bachelor of Arts." I made a most respectful bow, and retired.To persons who have forgotten this use of the title Sir, another extract may be of interest:
July 19. Commencement Day. The new Sirs got quite high in the evening, at Derby's chamber, and made considerable of a noise.Recitations now began. For one week the class recited in Euclid. The following week it recited in Homer and the Greek Testament; the third week, in Locke; the fourth, in Terence and Cæsar. This was the round of studies, and when the four weeks were passed, the process was begun again. But the weeks were classed as mathematical, metaphysical, Greek, and Latin weeks, and no two of these subjects were ever recited at the same time.
There appear to have been six recitations in these branches every week. On Mondays and Wednesdays, both morning and afternoon; on Tuesdays and Thursdays, only in the morning. Friday was a leisure day for the whole College, so far as recitations were concerned. On Saturdays there was one early recitation in Doddridge's Divinity, a work which appears not to have been a favorite text-book. This seems to have been all the work of the College in respect to recitations. In addition to this, however, there were frequent lectures, both philosophical and doctrinal, which the students of all classes seem to have attended, and there were also literary exercises, as well as a regular exercise in declamation.
As the description of a single day, the following is sufficiently clear:
May 3, 1786. Wednesday and Monday are our two busiest days in the week. This morning (Wednesday) at 6 we went into prayers, after which we immediately recited (Homer). This took us till 7¼. At 7½ we breakfasted. At 10 we had a lecture on Divinity, from Mr. Wigglesworth. It was upon the wisdom of all God's actions, and justifying those parts of Scripture which some have reproached as contrary to justice. At 11 we had a philosophical lecture from Mr. Williams upon the mechanical powers, and particularly the lever and the pulley. At 12½, dinner. At 3, an astronomical public lecture upon the planet Mercury, a very circumstantial account of all its transits over the sun's disk. At 4 again we recited (Greek Testament), and at 5 attended prayers again, after which there are no more exercises for this day, but we are obliged in the evening to prepare our recitation for to-morrow morning. This I think is quite sufficient employment for one day, but the three last days in the week we have very little to do; Thursdays and Saturdays reciting only in the morning, and Fridays a philosophical lecture.A modern student would not think this work very severe, for except the two recitations there is nothing which requires preparation. Perhaps the most curious part of the old arrangement is the very subordinate place filled by recitations, and it is certainly interesting to hear a student in 1786, who has but seven recitations a week, finding fault with the system in language like this:
September 4, 1786. As we have no metaphysical tutor here at present, we supposed that for the ensuing fortnight we should have no reciting. But the government have determined that we shall continue to attend Mr. R——. This is not an agreeable circumstance. A person who does not belong to the University and hears only the word reciting, naturally concludes that the scholars are an idle set of fellows, because they are always averse to recitations. Now the fact is just the contrary. A person fond of study regards the time spent in reciting as absolutely lost. He has studied the book before he recites; and the tutors here are so averse to giving ideas different from those of the author whom they are supposed to explain, that they always speak in his own words and never pretend to add anything of their own. Reciting is indeed of some service to idle fellows, because it brings the matter immediately before them and obliges them at least for a short time to attend to something. But a hard student will always dislike it, because it takes time from him which he supposes might have been employed to greater advantage.A change in the recitations occurred in the senior year. Greek and Latin were entirely dropped, and during the whole first quarter the seniors recited in mathematics alone, because the tutor in metaphysics had resigned, and his place had not been filled. Only on the 3d October did the new tutor make his appearance and begin upon Burlamaqui's Natural Law, after which the two studies alternated during the rest of the year. The lectures were continued, and a new course, "very dry," was added, upon language. The principal professor would seem, however, to have not satisfied the more zealous students, if the following extract can be trusted:
April 5, 1787. At 11 this forenoon Mr. Williams gave us the second philosophical lecture. It was upon the incidental properties of matter, and, excepting very few deviations, was expressed in the same terms with that we had last year upon the same subject. Indeed, whether the professor's time is taken up by other studies, or whether he is too indolent to make any improvements in his lectures, it is said he gives every year the same course, without adding or erasing a line.The fourth year appears, therefore, to have been principally occupied by the study of mathematics. Indeed, except for reading Burlamaqui and writing a large number of literary disquisitions, of a somewhat stereotyped and academic class, for college societies and public occasions, it is difficult to see that even the best students had any other employment at all. After the winter vacation, that is, after the middle of February, afternoon recitations were dropped in the senior year, and the class had but five recitations a week for nine weeks, at the end of which recitations entirely ceased.
April 7. Mr. Williams gave us this forenoon a lecture upon motion, the same which we heard a twelvemonth past upon that subject.
This analysis of the College studies leads naturally to the conclusion, which is enforced by every word of this diary, that, for the ordinary enjoyments of university life, the last century was the golden age of the College. It was hard, indeed, if the most modest capacity could not manage to maintain itself upon such a level. This seems to have been the impression which prevailed among the students themselves, for the writer of this diary, in speaking of a classmate who was in his twenty-fifth year, says:
He was, as he says himself, too old when he entered the University. From fourteen to eighteen I should suppose the best age for entering. The studies which are pursued here are just calculated for the tender minds of youth.In comparison with the present system, the simplicity of the older one seems marvellously attractive. One cannot detect a sign of unreasonable coercion on the part of the College government. An examination of any kind within the college career was still a thing unheard of among our happy ancestors. Rank was apparently unknown, except so far as it was vaguely intimated in the assignment of parts at exhibitions. These parts, if the President is to be believed, were the only incentive to study; at least such is the inference from the following curious entry:
April 11, 1787. I went down this morning to the President to know the determination of the corporation with respect to a private Commencement, and was told that the petition of the class was rejected, because they supposed that if public Commencements were lain aside, there would be no stimulus to study among the scholars, and they are afraid that by granting our petition they might establish a precedent which the following classes would take advantage of, and claim as a right what we only request as a favor. Another reason which Mr. Willard said had weight, although the gentlemen did not choose to avow it publicly, was the fear of offending the future Governor by depriving him of that opportunity to show himself in splendor and magnificence.Here is another extract, delightful in its patriarchal simplicity. It was the student's first day in college:
March 23, 1786. I did not hear the bell ring this morning, and was tardy at prayers. Every time a student is tardy at prayers he is punished a penny, and there is no eluding that law; so that a student must prefer not attending prayers at all to being half a minute too late.The instructors appear to have trusted only their general impressions in awarding distinctions. Misdemeanors, absences, and other shortcomings were punished by fines. As for the recitations themselves, here is a picture of them:
June 13, 1786. This reciting in Locke is the most ridiculous of all. When the tutor inquires what is contained in such a section, many of the scholars repeat the first two lines in it, which are very frequently nothing to the purpose, and leave the rest for the tutor to explain, which he commonly does by saying over again the words of the author.In regard to vacations and permissions of absence, there was no rigidity in the College law. In April the students had two weeks holiday by law, but in practice at least three. On the 13th July the summer vacation began, and closed by law on the 16th August, lasting five weeks, but recitations were only resumed on the 21st. There were two weeks more in October, with the same liberal margin. And in the middle of December, 1786, the supply of wood fell short, and as none could be obtained from the country, the students were sent home and enjoyed a vacation of eight weeks, till February 7th. Recitations began on the 12th. On the 23d "about half the class" had arrived. Thus in the course of the year the College had seventeen weeks of actual vacation, and twenty-one weeks of freedom from all required exercises. Add to this a very liberal interpretation of the rule of attendance, and an equally liberal practice in regard to leaves of absence, and it cannot be disputed that the actual working terms of the College were by no means unreasonably long or severe. In point of fact, when the exercises were most regular, there were many interruptions, and the amount of work accomplished would seem, from a modern point of view, to have been but small.
In proof of these statements, the following extracts will be sufficient:
April 26, 1786. Put my name in at the buttery. At the end of each vacation every scholar must go in person and give his name to the butler. Any scholar who stays away after the expiration of the vacancy, unless he gives good reasons for it, forfeits 1 s. 6 d. every night.But the spring vacation was not in the least shortened by the hint.
April 27. No reciting this day, nor indeed this week. The scholars that live near Cambridge commonly come and enter their names in the buttery, and then go home again and stay the remainder of the week.
April 28. About half the college are now here. The bill at prayers is not kept till the Friday after the vacation ends.
May 1. We recite this week, etc.
August 17. The scholars are coming in very fast.
August 19. Almost all the college have got here now, and the new monitors, who must always belong to the junior class, took their seats yesterday.
August 21. We recite this week, etc.
December 12. The government this morning determined that if more than half the students should be destitute of wood, the college should be dismissed. The President went to Boston to consult the corporation upon the subject, and he informed Little this evening that the students would be permitted to disperse to-morrow morning.
December 13. This morning, immediately after prayers, the President informed us that the vacation would begin at present, and be for eight weeks, and hinted that the spring vacation might on that account be omitted.
Perhaps it is no concern of the public to inquire how the student occupied these eight weeks. He had a right to do what he pleased with them. Nevertheless, since it is possible that the extreme exertions which were evidently not made in term-time may have fallen on the vacation, it is worth the while to ask how the most distinguished students of the oldest standing occupied their two months of winter vacation. The particular student now under consideration remained in college rooms to devote his time to his work, with less interruption than was otherwise possible.
As I thought I should be able to study much more conveniently here than anywhere else, I obtained leave to remain in town. Bridge proposes staying likewise, and we shall live together. Bridge engaged for us both to board at Professor Wigglesworth's.Other young men remained, no doubt for the same purpose, since their names occur afterwards on the list of parts at Commencement, attached to English orations and other unusual honors. Immediately afterwards, however, an entry occurs which is calculated to raise some interesting doubts in the reader's mind:
December 18, 1786. The young ladies at Mr. Wigglesworth's dined at Judge Dana's. I went down there with Bridge to tea, and passed the evening very sociably. The conversation turned upon divers topics, and among the rest upon love, which is almost always the case when there are ladies present.Nowhere in this diary is love mentioned as one of the College studies; but if it is always discussed when there are ladies present, these young gentlemen would seem during this vacation to have devoted far more attention to it than ever they had paid to Locke or Euclid. The next day, however, a slight improvement in tone is visible:
December 19. Several of the class still remain, and until they are gone it will be impossible for us to study much. As they expect to go every day, they are rather dissipated, and more or less make us so.After this spark of energy, however, comes a fearful relapse. Descriptions of young ladies recur with alarming frequency, while, except for a single reference to Montesquieu, there is by no means any indication of absorbing mental application.
December 20. I have been rather more attentive to-day, and have written considerably.
December 22. Miss —— is but eighteen, rather giddy and unexperienced. She has a very fair complexion and good eyes, of which she is sensible. Her face is rather capricious than beautiful, and some of her features are not handsome. Of this she is not so well apprised. Her shape is not inelegant, but her limbs are rather large. She is susceptible of the tender sentiments, but the passion rather than the lover is the object of her affection.Exemplary young man! And yet it would be instructive to learn what is the meaning of a succession of remarks like these:
December 26. Mason finally took his leave and left us to ourselves, so that we shall henceforth be able to study with much less interruption than we have hitherto done.
December 27. In the evening we went down with Mr. Ware and Freeman to Judge Dana's. We conversed, and played whist, and sung till 10 o'clock. The ladies seem to have settled that we are to be in love; but ideas of this kind are very common with the ladies, who think it impossible to live without love.
January 17, 1787. After tea we went down to Mr. Dana's. Miss E—— was there, and Miss J—— with her. Bridge accompanied this lady home, and after they were gone I had a deal of chat with Miss E——, who has a larger share of sense than commonly falls to an individual of her sex. We conversed upon divers subjects, but I can never give anything but general accounts of conversations, for I cannot always keep this book under lock and key, and some people have a vast deal of curiosity.Perhaps it is best to quit this subject here, since the vacation has already expired, and the student has returned to the labors of five recitations a week. Besides the Spirit of Laws, he had read, so far as can be gathered from his diary, Watson's Chemical Essays, Sheridan's Lectures on Elocution, a volume of the Idler, and some algebra, in two months. He had also developed an uncommonly strong fancy for the study of female character,—a study not embraced in the College curriculum, either then or afterwards.
January 22. Almy [the young gentleman no doubt meant to write Miss Almy E——] has a larger share of sense than commonly falls to the lot of her sex, and that sense is cultivated and improved, a circumstance still more uncommon.
March 2. I went to take tea at Mr. Pearson's. I got seated between Miss E—— and Miss H——, but could not enjoy the pleasures of conversation, because the music was introduced. Music is a great enemy to sociability, and however agreeable it may be sometimes, there are occasions when I should wish it might be dispensed with.
The 7th of February began the new term. On the 12th recitations began, one every day, except Friday. On the 15th there was a ball, at which it need hardly be said that Miss E—— heads the list of ladies. The young gentlemen, among whom were most of the first scholars, retired to bed "at about 4 o'clock," and "rose just before the common bell rang for dinner, quite refreshed, and not more fatigued than I commonly am." In fact, the dances have now become nearly as frequent as the recitations. On the 23rd, "about one half the class are here." On the 27th, "almost all our class have arrived." Among other lectures, on March 5th, "Professor P—— gave a lecture with which he concluded his observations upon the article. I did not hear many of them"; but the same evening there was a meeting of the ΦΒΚ at Cranch's chamber, at which a dissertation was read, of which the text is here preserved, on the extremely erudite question, "Whether love or fortune ought to be the chief inducement to marriage." This essay is done with much calm reflection and elaborate knowledge of the human heart, but is not precisely a college exercise. On the 7th March he went to Haverhill, probably to obtain relief from the severe pressure of recitations, and returned on the 10th. On the 12th the parts were distributed for the next exhibition, and he received an English "Conference," with Freeman and Little, upon the Comparative Utility of Law, Physic, and Divinity.
March 14, 1787. Was employed almost all day in thinking upon the subject of my Conference. Wrote a few lines with much difficulty. Did not like the subject. Wished the Conference to the Devil.Little and Freeman, it seems, were of the same mind. After a week's labor, however, the Conference was written, and the next week was devoted to the voluntary work of calculating the elements for a solar eclipse for May 15, 1836. This was also for an exhibition.
March 30.I have been somewhat idle for several days, and expect to continue so till the exhibition is over, for so long as that is before me I can pay very little attention to anything else. I found this to be the case last fall, and do now still more so, but thank fortune I have only one more trial, at the worst, of this kind to go through, which will be at Commencement, unless we should obtain a private one. Distinctions of this kind are not, I think, very desirable; for besides the trouble and anxiety which they unavoidably create, they seldom fail of raising the envy of other students. I have oftentimes witnessed this with respect to others, and I am much deceived if I have not lately perceived it with respect to myself.If such were the laborious duties of the most distinguished scholars, one would like to know what was done by those students who were not remarkable for scholarship; but on this point no certain information is given, beyond allusions to gunning, fishing, and an occasional "high-go."
April 9. This is the last week on which our class attend recitations.
Meanwhile a difficulty had occurred:
August 26, 1786. Immediately after prayers we had a class meeting for the purpose of choosing a Valedictory Orator, and Collectors of Theses. When the votes were collected it was found that there was no choice. A second attempt was made, equally fruitless. It was then resolved that the choice of an Orator should be deferred, and that the class should proceed to that of the choice of Collectors. The one for Technology, Grammar, and Rhetoric was first balloted. Abbot 2d was chosen. The second Collector, for Logic, Metaphysics, Ethics, Theology, and Politics, was then chosen. Fiske was the person. The Mathematical part fell to Adams, and the Physical to Johnstone. The meeting at about 7 o'clock was adjourned till Monday evening, when we shall proceed to the choice of an Orator.The result was that the President carried his point in so far that there was no Class Day. In consequence of this, the members of the class began to leave Cambridge long before the 21st of June, the usual day for separation. The parts for Commencement were distributed on the 17th May:
August 28. After prayers the class met by adjournment. The second ballot was between Freeman, Little, and Waldo. The third was between Freeman and Little, who finally carried it by a considerable majority. The class then all went to his chamber, but did not stay there more than an hour.
August 31. We had a class meeting immediately after prayers. The committee of the class that was appointed to inform the President of the choice for an Orator, etc., reported that the President had not given his consent to have the Oration in English, because he thought it would show a neglect of classical learning. I motioned that the vote for having it in English should be reconsidered, but there was a considerable majority against it. It was then voted that the President should be informed that the class had determined to have an English Oration or none at all. The former committee all declined going again. Johnstone, Fiske, and Welch were chosen, but declined. It was much like Æsop's fable of the mice, who determined to have a bell tied round the cat's neck; they were all desirous that it should be done, but no one was willing to undertake the performance of it. The meeting was finally adjourned till Monday next.
September 12. We had a class meeting after prayers for determining the matter concerning a Valedictory Oration. By dint of obstinate impudence, vociferation, and noise, the minority so wearied out those on the other side that several of them went out, after which a vote was passed ratifying the proceedings of the last meeting. Johnson, Sever, and Chandler 3d were then chosen as a committee to inform the President of the proceedings in the class.
September 18. We had a class meeting after breakfast. The committee that was sent to inform the President of the proceedings of the class, informed that he had said he feared he should be obliged to direct the class to have the Oration in Latin. Notwithstanding this, it was voted by a majority of two that the class should still persist.
May 24, 1787. Our class having no College exercises to attend to, and many of them having now finished their parts for Commencement, are generally very indolent. Riding and playing and eating and drinking employ the chief part of their time.Long before Class Day the graduating students were scattered in every direction, only to return on the 18th July to Commencement. Thus, to sum up the result of the half-year since the 13th December, the students who were now to take their degrees had attended recitations at the rate of five per week, for nine weeks, and had further prepared exercises for one exhibition and Commencement. They had listened to one course of lectures, which they had for the most part already heard, and another on "the parts of speech," which the best of them thought a mere waste of time. And they dispersed in May, without the faintest conception that there could be such a thing in the student world as an examination for degrees.
One or two more extracts, to illustrate the stringency of rules during term-time, must be admitted:
May 4, 1786. No reciting this morning, on account of last night's class meeting. This is a privilege that all the classes enjoy, and I am told there have been in our class fellows so lazy and so foolish as to call a class meeting merely for that purpose.Naturally, class meetings were very frequent.
April 10, 1786. No reciting this day, because the government met to examine the reasons of those scholars that are absent, or have been within the last two quarters.These extracts need not be multiplied. The rules were not more rigidly applied in regard to required exercises than they were in other respects, and neither instructors nor students considered themselves to be under any very inflexible law.
September 22. Mr. R—— sent for me this morning, informed me that the exhibition was to come on next Thursday, and offered to excuse me from recitations till then, in case I was not prepared, as the time that had been given for getting ready was so short. But, as it happened, I was not in need of more time.
October 9. No reciting. Mr. B—— is engaged to preach several Sundays at Hingham, and does not return early enough for the next morning recitation.
Students who lived under so mild and beneficent a government as this should have had no just cause of complaint, unless it were that the means of the College did not reach far enough to satisfy all the requirements of a liberal education. They might, indeed, urge that Euclid and Burlamaqui were only dry nutriment to satisfy the hunger of a whole year, but they could scarcely maintain that it was a stepmother's hand which, when they cried for bread, threw them these husks. This leads naturally to the further subject of the relations between the teachers and the taught. There seems to have been no obvious reason why, under a system so nearly voluntary, a thorough accord should not exist between the instructors and their best scholars. And if such a harmony was wanting, it may be of some practical value to inquire what the causes were which stood in its way, and whether the fault, if there was a fault, lay with the older or the younger men.
The President, Mr. Joseph Willard, was a graduate of the year 1765, and therefore still a comparatively young man. Many instructive hints as to his character are scattered through this diary, as for example the following:
It is against the laws of the College to call any undergraduate by any but his Sir name, and I am told the President, who is remarkably strict on all those matters, reproved a gentleman at his table for calling a student Mr. while he was present.Again:
March 24, 1786. After prayers I declaimed, as it is termed; two students every evening speak from memory any piece they choose, if it be approved by the President. It was this evening my turn, and I spoke from "As You Like It": "All the world's a stage," etc. When I came to the description of the Justice, in fair, round belly with good capon lined, tutors and scholars all laughed, as I myself truly represented the character. But the President did not move a feature of his face. And indeed I believe it is no small matter that shall extort a smile from him when he is before the College.A little portrait of the President in the pulpit:
September 10, 1786. Cranch and myself dined at the President's. He is stiff and formal, attached to every custom and trifling form, as much as to what is of consequence. However, he was quite sociable; much more so, indeed, than I should have expected.
February 18, 1787. The President preached in the afternoon, when we were improved by a very laborious encomium upon Moses. Whatever the President's literary talents may be, he is certainly not an elegant composuist nor a graceful orator.The description is evidently true to the life, and certainly indicates no ill-feeling towards the President. There is no indication throughout this diary that the President was disliked by the students, or that he failed in any way to maintain the dignity of his position. But it is clear that a man cast in such a mould was not likely to throw much life or much novelty into the system over which he presided. He was one of those men already mentioned, in whose eyes it was not the students whose interests stood first; nor, to do him justice, was it merely his own importance which filled his thoughts; it was the institution, the University, as one of the most important corporations in the Commonwealth, on which his thoughts were bent, and the students, who are quick to feel such distinctions, responded with respect and indifference. He was, after all, an excellent representative of the old New England school, which lost its hold, as a clerical body, on American education, before it had time to give an American Arnold to Harvard College.
June 21, 1786. Class Day. This day the seniors leave college. There is no recitation in the morning, and prayers are deferred till 10 o'clock. The class then went down in procession two by two with the Poet at their head, and escorted the President to the chapel. The President made a very long prayer, in which, in addition to what he commonly says, he prayed a great deal for the seniors; but I think he ought to get his occasional prayers by heart before he delivers them. He bungled always when he endeavored to go out of the beaten track, and he has no talent at extempore composition.
April 6, 1786. Fast Day. The President preached two sermons; that in the afternoon especially I thought excellent. No flowers of rhetoric, no eloquence, but plain common sense, and upon a liberal plan. But the President has by no means a pleasing delivery. He appears to labor and struggle very much, and sometimes strains very hard; and making faces, which do not render his harsh countenance more agreeable.
But the President seems to have had little immediate connection with the undergraduates. The burden of labor fell almost entirely on the four tutors, and yet it may be doubted whether even the tutors were obliged to perform so much work as would seem very alarming to the most lightly burdened tutor of the present day. Six or seven hours a week in the recitation-room, and the simplest instruction on the letter of the text-book, appear to represent the full extent of their duties, over and above the charge of the College discipline. Under these circumstances it might be supposed that a considerable opportunity for usefulness was open to the four tutors, and that at least one or two of them might have impressed the students with some appreciable degree of sympathetic activity. One may therefore feel some interest to know what the relations were between the students and their tutors; and on this point there is a great quantity of information:
May 1, 1786. The Greek tutor is a young man; indeed much too young (A.B. of 1782), as are all the tutors, for the place he occupies. Before he took his second degree, which was last Commencement, he was chosen a tutor of mathematics, in which he betrayed his ignorance often. Last fall he changed departments, and took up the Greek. His own class, the freshmen, were the first that laughed at him in that. He has improved since that, but still makes frequent mistakes. It is certainly wrong that the tutors should so often be changed, and be so young as they are. It would be better to choose a person immediately after he has taken his degree, than as they do; because when a youth leaves college he is obliged to turn his attention to other studies, and forgets a great deal of what he studied at college, whereas when he has lately graduated he has all fresh in his mind. The Doctor affects a great deal of popularity in his class, and with the help of the late disagreement between the classes, he has pretty well succeeded, but he does not seem to care what the other classes think of him.An account of the metaphysical tutor is still less flattering:
May 2. Our tutor gave us this morning a most extraordinary construction of a passage in Homer. Abbot 1st was beginning to construe the 181st line of the 6th Book,
Πρόσθε λέων, ὄπιθεν δὲ δράϰων, μέσση δὲ χίμαιρα,
he said: a lion before; but the Doctor corrected him by saying it meant superior to a lion. Abbot immediately took the hint and made it: superior to a lion, inferior to a dragon, and equal to a wild boar.
15 May, 1786. We recite this week to Mr. ?—— in Locke. This is, upon the whole, the most unpopular tutor in College. He is hated even by his own class. He is reputed to be very ill-natured and severe in his punishments. He proposes leaving College at Commencement, and I believe there is not an individual among the students who is not very well pleased with it. One of my classmates said the other day, "I do not believe it yet; it is too good news to be true." Such are the sentiments of all the students with respect to him.The writer passes on to the mathematical tutor:
May 22, 1786. We recite this week to our own tutor, in Gravesande's Experimental Philosophy. This gentleman is not much more popular than the rest of the tutors. He is said to be very prejudiced and very vindictive. He is liked in general by the class, however, and this may be a reason why I have not heard as much said against him as against the others.He closes the list with a blast of indignation:
May 8. We recite this week in Terence and Caesar to Mr. J——. This is the tutor of the oldest standing in the College; he is very well acquainted with the branch he has undertaken, and persons that are not students say that he is much of a gentleman. But it seems almost to be a maxim among the governors of the College to treat the students pretty much like brute beasts. There is an important air and a haughty look that every person belonging to the government (Mr. [Professor] Williams excepted) assumes, which indeed it is hard for me to submit to. But it may be of use to me, as it mortifies my vanity, and if anything in the world can teach me humility, it will be to see myself subjected to the commands of a person that I must despise. Mr. J—— is also accused of having many partialities and carrying them to very great length, and moreover that those partialities do not arise from any superior talents or virtues in the students, but from closer and more interested motives. There are some in our class with whom he has been particularly severe, and some he has shown more favor than any tutor ought to show to a student. I wish not his favor, as he may prize it too high; and I fear not his severity, which he can never display if I do my duty.Some light is thrown on the "interested motives" by the following:
May 3, 1786. We had after prayers a class meeting about making a present to our tutor. It is customary at the end of the freshman year to make a present to the tutor of the class, but it has been delayed by ours to the present time, and many would still delay it and lay it wholly aside. The custom, I think, is a bad one, because it creates partialities in a tutor, because it increases the distinction between the wealthy and the poor scholars, because it makes the tutor in some measure dependent upon his class, and because to many that subscribe it is a considerable expense; but the salaries of the tutors being so low, and it having been for many years an universal custom, I am sorry to see our class so behindhand, and several who could well afford it and have really subscribed meanly endeavoring to put off the matter from quarter to quarter till they leave College.A year later the writer has become aware that there is another side to the question. Speaking of one of his classmates, he says:
His spirit he discovers by relating how many times he has insulted the President and the tutors, particularly Mr. R—— (the class tutor). He damns Mr. R—— for being partial towards those who have always treated him with respect, and against those who have always made it a practice to insult him.In short, it is quite evident that the relations between instructors and scholars were far from satisfactory. Thoroughly cordial these relations never could be and never can become so long as any means of coercion or any connection with college discipline remain in the hands of the instructors. To be "subjected to the commands of a person," rarely teaches humility and almost inevitably breeds ill-feeling. The duty of giving instruction, and the duty of judging offences and inflicting punishment, are in their nature discordant, and can never be intrusted to the same hands, without the most serious injury to the usefulness of the instructor. This evil was conspicuous at the time now under attention. Gentle as the rein was, and mild as were the punishments, an invincible hostility between students and instructors was one of the traditional customs of the College, and the one which created most annoyance to both divisions of the University, the teachers as well as the taught.
There is perhaps a certain amount of practical interest in this matter still. The question as to the allotment of responsibility for such a state of things as these extracts describe, is one worth considering in connection with all systems of education, since it leads directly to the problem, so difficult to solve, how the necessary friction between young and old, students and instructors, can be reduced to the lowest possible point. That young men of twenty or thereabouts are not always distinguished for courtesy and good-breeding, is a fact that no one will question; but that the habit of instruction and the incessant consciousness of authority tends to develop extremely disagreeable traits in human character, especially wherever character naturally inclines towards selfishness, is another fact which is better known to young men than to old. Between these two influences it is natural that incessant annoyance should be generated, and it is equally natural that each party should invariably throw the blame on the other.
Nevertheless, after setting aside exceptional cases of individual character, which make themselves disagreeably prominent both in old and young, and which can be controlled by no law, something is always due to the assistance or discouragement which the system itself offers to the development of discordant influences. And in the last century the system was radically a wrong one. It was a system which, while perhaps more liberal in its forms than anything which has succeeded it, rested on an assumption of social superiority such as invariably galls to the quick every one who is subjected to it. This assumption was due in part perhaps to the fact that the instructors had commonly belonged to that clerical body which in the early history of New England formed what one may almost call a caste, and which stood towards the public in something like the same insulated and dominating attitude which it assumed towards the young; but it was also in part due to the fact that in regard to the student there existed, not only the consciousness of social superiority, but the consciousness of power to enforce obedience. The jealousy of this assumption, backed as it was by force, naturally created a spirit of opposition in the students' minds, and the records of the College show how persistent the attempt was, on the part of the students, to break down the social barrier. Generation after generation followed the same course. Rebellion after rebellion broke out among the undergraduates. And it was only in proportion as the College government began to concede and act upon the principle that the student was in all respects the social equal of the instructor, entitled to every courtesy due to equals, that these disorders began gradually to subside. Even then, however, the question of discipline remained a source of incessant uneasiness, and the instructor who was known as a strict disciplinarian, who in other words attempted to combine his duty of acting as police-officer, judge, jury, and executioner, with his duties of instruction, necessarily sacrificed no inconsiderable share of his usefulness as instructor, in consequence of the same jealousy in the students' minds.
That the spirit of insubordination so persistently exhibited was not due to any mere distinctions of age, or to any peculiar hostility to the instructing body as such, is proved by the fact that it was by no means shown in conflicts with the instructors alone. Another series of extracts will illustrate this point:
August 21, 1786. This afternoon, after prayers, the customs were read to the freshmen in the chapel. They are read three Mondays running in the beginning of every year, by the three first in the sophimore class, who are ordered to see them put in execution.The freshmen ultimately carried their point and established their right to complete social equality; but they were obliged to struggle violently both against the College system and against their immediate masters. These disorders committed by them were but a repetition, as against a different authority, of still greater disorders on the part of older classes, in their attempt to establish their own social rights as regarded the College government.
March 27, 1786. After prayers the senior class had a class meeting, in order to check the freshmen, who, they suppose, have taken of late too great liberties. By the laws of the College all freshmen are obliged to walk in the yard with their heads uncovered, unless in stormy weather, and to go on any errand that any other scholar choses to send them, at a mile distance. But the present freshmen have been indulged very much with respect to those laws, and it is said they have presumed further than they ought to have done.
March 28, 1786. After prayers, Bancroft, one of the sophimore class, read the customs to the freshmen, one of whom (McNeal) stood with his hat on all the time. He, with three others, were immediately hoisted (as the term is) before a tutor, and punished. There was immediately after a class meeting of the freshmen, who, it is said, determined they would hoist any scholar of the other classes who should be seen with his hat on in the yard, when any of the government are there.
June 14, 1786. The freshmen, by their high spirit of liberty, have again involved themselves in difficulties. The sophimores consider themselves as insulted by them, and in a class meeting, last evening, determined to oblige all the freshmen to take off their hats in the yard, and to send them. There has been a great deal of business between them to-day. Mr. H—— has had several of them before him.
June 15, 1786. The struggle between the freshmen and sophimores still continues. They have been mutually hoisting one another all day.
July 12, 1786. The freshmen carry their enmity against the sophimores a great deal too far. They injure themselves both in the eyes of the other class and in those of the government. This afternoon, while Cabot was declaiming, they kept up a continual groaning and shuffling and hissing, as almost prevented him from going through.
It is true that the manners of the time were far from polished. A glimpse of students' amusements is furnished by the following:
March 22, 1786. As we passed by Milton Hall, we saw the ruins of the windows. On the 21st of March the junior sophister class cease reciting at 11 in the forenoon. They generally, in the evening, have a frolic. Yesterday they had it at Milton Hall, and as they are not by any means at such times remarkable for their discretion, we saw many fractures in the windows of the hall they were in.The manners indicated by these extracts were certainly rude enough. But it does not appear that such offences were looked upon as extremely heinous by the College government or by public opinion. And it is plain from other facts that the severity of discipline in the College was by no means such as to explain the ill-will between the students and the government. Although the students undoubtedly considered this discipline as very annoying at the time, they learned afterwards to accept, without a murmur, punishments which, in the last century, would have been thought monstrous; and this submission was due principally to the fact that the old antipathy to the government was beginning to subside. Had they supposed that they were still treated as a body with the old haughtiness, the modern discipline, made necessary by an extreme compactness of organization such as no European University knows, would not have been accepted at all. The old punishments, so far from being severe, were remarkably light, notwithstanding the loud complaints against them. A number of amusing passages will show this to have been the case. As mentioned above, certain members of the College had, on the night of March 15, 1786, indulged themselves in a very drunken disturbance in the College grounds:
March 15, 1786. The sophimore class had what is called in College an high-go. They assembled all together in the chamber of one of the class, where some of them got drunk, then sallied out and broke a number of windows for three of the tutors, and after this sublime manoeuvre staggered to their chambers. Such are the great achievements of many of the sons of Harvard! Such the delights of many of the students here!
March 23, 1786. After prayers the President read a paper to this effect: That on the evening of the 15th it appeared the sophimores had assembled at the chambers of one in the class, and had behaved in a tumultuous, noisy manner; that at length they sallied out and were very riotous, to the disturbance and dishonor of the University. But as their conduct till then had been such as deserved approbation, and was submissive, and as they early shew a proper repentance for their fault, having presented an humble petition to be forgiven; therefore it had been voted that no further notice should be taken of it, but it was hoped the students would not abuse the lenity of the government, but rather show that they were deserving of it. The freshmen, who are always as a class at variance with the sophimores, thought the government had been partial; and the consequence was that Mr. ——, the tutor of the sophimore class, and who was supposed to have favored them, and to have been the means of saving them from severe punishment, had four squares of glass broken in his windows. Such was the effect of the lenity which was to induce the students to do their duty.A more curious case, which showed a considerable sense of humor on the part of our ancestors, was the following:
May 23, 1786. This morning a number of the seniors were sent for by the President to go to his house at 8 o'clock. They went, and the parts were distributed thus: Thompson, English Oration, A. M. Champlin, Latin Oration, A. M. Fowle and Gardner, 2d, each a Poem. Blake, English, and Andrews 1st, Latin Orations, P. M. Harris, Dwight, Hubbard, and Parker, a Conference. Bigelow and Crosby, Lowell and Taylor, Loring and Sullivan, Forensics. Lincoln and Warland, a Greek Dialogue. Bradford, Norton, Simpkins, and Wyeth, respondents in Syllogistics, and all the rest opponents to the same. These Syllogistics are very much despised by the scholars, and no attention seems to be paid to them by the company at Commencement. The scholars in general think that the government, in giving them those parts, write on their foreheads DUNCE in capital letters. Notwithstanding this, some of the most learned men in the country had Syllogistics when they graduated here. The good parts, as they are called, are more numerous this year than they have ever been. Before this there has been only one English and one Latin Oration, and no Poems. It is a doubt whether they intend to establish this as a precedent or whether it is only a distinguished favor to the present class, who pretend to be the best class for learning and genius that ever graduated here. It is said that the parts have been exceedingly well distributed, and all the College are pleased. However that may be, the syllogists all got together this evening and drank till not one of them could stand straight, or was sensible of what he did. A little after 9 they sallied out, and for a quarter of an hour made such a noise as might be heard at a mile distant. The tutors went out and after a short time persuaded them to disperse. Mr. —— had two squares of his windows broke.Six weeks afterwards Borland was restored to his regular place in class.
May 24. It is feared that some bad consequences will ensue from the high-go of the syllogists last evening. Borland, it seems, was the most active of them all; he collared Mr. —— and threw an handful of gravel in his face, and was rather disrespectful to Mr. ——. He went this morning to the former to make an apology for his conduct, but was told it could not be received, as the matter was already laid before the government. Thus those fellows play the tyrants here; they have no regard, no allowances for youth and circumstances. They go out when they are almost certain of being insulted, and then bring the scholar for a crime of which he knew nothing under public censure. They cannot with any face say that a scholar ought to be so severely punished for depriving himself of his senses. For there are here in College persons who have seen —— as much intoxicated as Borland was yesterday and behaving quite as ill. But compassion is too great a virtue ever to be admitted into the breast of a tutor here. It is supposed, however, that Borland's punishment will not be very severe, because it requires an unanimous vote among the governors of the College to punish a student, and they are said to be at such variance one with the other that they can very seldom all agree.
May 25. Government met and were assembled almost all this day to determine what punishment to inflict upon Borland. He was informed of it in the evening, and the class petitioned that it might be mitigated, but probably without much success.
May 26. This morning after prayers Borland was called out to read an humble confession, signifying his repentance of his conduct, etc. The President read the votes of the government; the affair was stated, and it was said that Borland had insulted, in a flagrant manner, two of the governors of the University: whereupon it was voted, that he read a confession; and secondly, that he be degraded to the bottom of his class, and that he take his place there accordingly. The other scholars were warned by this example not to run into such excesses, and to behave respectfully. I wanted, I think, neither of these warnings, but the event has warned me to alter my opinion concerning ——. I thought him the best of the tutors, but now I do not think he is a jot better than the rest.
This is certainly a proof that the spirit of liberty in the Americans of the last century has not been underrated. No student of a later day would have dreamed of calling such a penalty severe. Any undergraduate of the nineteenth century who indulged in the agreeable but dangerous amusement of collaring an unpopular tutor and rubbing gravel in his face, would have accepted the extremest penalty of the law without a murmur, recognizing the fundamental principle of society, that no man can violate the law and enjoy it at the same time, can eat his cake and have it too. And further the notion that drunkenness is anything but an aggravation of the offence hardly commends itself to modern New England.
Such difficulties were by no means uncommon under this régime. But it is fair to say that they appear occasionally to have been due in no small part to the instructors themselves. The following seems to have been such a case:
May 31, 1786. Election Day. There is a custom among the scholars here which some of the classes follow and others do not. It is choosing a Governor and Lieutenant-Governor for the class. They commonly take some rich fellow who can treat the class now and then. The seniors this morning chose Champlin Governor, and Lowell Lieutenant-Governor. The Lieutenant-Governor treated immediately, and they chose their other officers. At commons they all went into the hall in procession. Thomas, who was appointed Sheriff, marched at their head, with a paper cockade in his hat, and brandishing a cane in his hand instead of a sword. He conducted the Governor and Lieutenant-Governor to their seats, made his bow, and retired to the other table, for which Jackey H—— punished him four shillings. However, he performed his part so well that the spectators were much pleased and clapped their hands. H—— happened to see Baron, the junior, clapping, and sent orders for him to go to him after commons. Baron, not happening to go before 2 o'clock, was punished five shillings for impudence, and four for disobedience. That is the way these modest tutors tyrannize over us. As there was a little noise in the hall, H—— struck the handle of his knife three times on the table to still it, but instead of that almost every knife in the hall was struck on the table three times. At last the tutors rose, and as they were going out about half a dozen fellows hissed them. They were enraged, turned round and looked as if they would devour us, but they did not discover one person, which made them look silly enough. When they turned their backs again, there was nothing but hissing and groaning and clapping hands and stamping heard in the hall, till they got into the yard, where a few potatoes were sent out to meet them.A difficulty of such a kind would, probably, in later times, have been avoided by a little good-nature and forbearance on the part of the tutor. But it made little difference to the student whether he was in the right or the wrong. The true grievance lay in the assumption of social superiority; in the fact that the College government set itself in a position of semi-hostility to the students, and refused to acknowledge them as entitled to active assistance and sympathy. The manner, not the act, of discipline, was the cause of the evil. Hence the mildest punishments were made a cause of as much complaint as the most arbitrary vexations.
March 14, 1787. The junior class being displeased with the distribution of parts for exhibition, so far as respected their class, assembled this evening at Prescott's chamber and made a great deal of noise.At the risk of serious injury to the dignity of history, already gravely compromised by this sketch, the fact of the extreme leniency of the government in the punishment inflicted in this case must be shown by a final extract from the diary so often quoted. Some verses, which are not absolutely contemptible, represent all the facts, and the general impression made by the different members of the government on the students, more exactly than anything which the regular entries of a prosaic diary can be expected to supply. The verses in question are entitled
March 17. The government met this forenoon to make inquiries concerning the noise at Prescott's and at Wier's chamber.
March 19. This morning, the juniors Prescott and Wier were publicly admonished for having had riotous noises at their chambers last week. The sentence is considered all over College as uncommonly severe, and by many as wholly unmerited, at least on the part of Prescott.
March 22. In consequence of the late severity of the College governors there has been, yesterday and this day, a subscription paper handed about among all the classes, to promote a meeting of the whole College to-morrow evening in the chapel, every person having a pipe, a glass, and a bottle of wine, and there to convince the government that the students are possessed of 'a noble spirit, a spirit which shall nip the bud of tyrannical oppression.' They will get as drunk as beasts, and probably break every tutor's windows in College. This absurd and ridiculous plan has found so many votaries, that a large majority of every class, except ours, have already subscribed; but I am happy that in our class there are but few who have joined the association, and, as it is to take place only upon condition that there be a majority of every class, the plan will most probably fail.
LINES UPON THE LATE PROCEEDINGS OF
The government of College met,
APPENDIX: More excerpts from the college diary of John Quincy Adams