The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 18/Number 107/University Reform

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UNIVERSITY REFORM.

AN ADDRESS TO THE ALUMNI OF HARVARD, AT THEIR TRIENNIAL
FESTIVAL, JULY 19, 1866.

We meet to-day under auspices how different from those which attended our last triennial assembling! We were then in the midst of a civil war, without sight of the end, though not without hope of final success to the cause of national integrity. The three days' agony at Gettysburg had issued in the triumph of the loyal arms, repelling the threatened invasion of the North. The surrender of Vicksburg had just reopened the trade of the Mississippi. The capture of Port Hudson was yet fresh in our ears, when suddenly tidings of armed resistance to conscription in the city of New York gave ominous note of danger lurking at the very heart of the Union. In the shadow of that omen, we celebrated our academic festival of 1863.

The shadow passed. With varying fortunes, but unvarying purpose, the loyal States pursued the contest. And when, in the autumn of 1864, by a solemn act of self-interrogation, they had certified their will and their power to maintain that contest to the end of disunion, and when a popular election expressing that intent had overcome the land like a summer-cloud without a bolt in its bosom, the victory was sown with the ballot which Grant and Sherman reaped with the sword.

Secession collapsed. Its last and most illustrious victim, borne to his rest through territories draped in mourning, through sobbing commonwealths, through populations of uncovered heads, revealed to all time the spirit that was in it and the spirit that subdued it. And to-day, as we meet our Reverend Mother in this scene of old affections, the stupendous struggle has already receded into the shadow-land of History. The war is a thing of the past. If hatred still rankles, open hostilities have ceased. If rumblings of the recent tempest still mutter along the track of its former desolation, the storm is over. The conflict is ended. No more conscription of husbands, sons, and brothers for the weary work of destruction; no more the forced march by day, the bivouac at night, and to-morrow the delirium of carnage. No more anxious waiting in distant homes for tidings from the front, and breathless conning of the death-list to know if the loved ones are among the slain. No more the fresh grief-agony over the unreturning brave. All that is past,—

"For the terrible work is done,
And the good fight is won
For God and for Fatherland."

The sword has returned to its sheath. The symbol-flags that shed their starry pomp on the field of death hang idly drooping in the halls of state. And before new armies in hostile encounter on American soil shall unfurl new banners to the breeze, may every thread and thrum of their texture ravel and rot and resolve itself into dust!

Another and nearer interest distinguishes this occasion and suggests its appropriate theme,—our Alma Mater.

The General Court of Massachusetts, which has hitherto elected the Board of Overseers of Harvard College, after so many years of fitful and experimental legislation, has finally enacted, that "the places of the successive classes in the Board of Overseers of Harvard College, and the vacancies in such classes, shall hereafter be annually supplied by ballot of such persons as have received from the College a degree of Bachelor of Arts, or Master of Arts, or any honorary degree, voting on Commencement-day in the city of Cambridge; such election to be first held in the year 1866."

This act initiates a radical change in the organization of this University. It establishes for one of its legislative Houses a new electorate. The State hereby discharges itself of all active participation in the conduct of the College, and devolves on the body of the Alumni responsibilities assumed in former enactments extending through a period of more than two hundred years. The wisdom or justice of this measure I am not inclined to discuss. Certainly there is nothing in the history of past relations between the Commonwealth and the University that should make us regret the change. That history has not been one of mere benefactions on one side, and pure indebtedness on the other. Whatever the University may owe to the State, the balance of obligation falls heavily on the other side. In the days of Provincial rule the Colony of Massachusetts Bay appears to have exhausted its zeal for collegiate education in the much-lauded promissory act by which the General Court, in 1636, "agree to give four hundred pounds towards a school or college, whereof two hundred pounds shall be paid next year." The promise was not fulfilled, and the record of those years leaves it doubtful whether legislative action alone would during that or the next generation have accomplished the work, had not a graduate of Emanuel College in English Cambridge, who seems providentially enough to have dropped on these shores, where he lived but a year, for that express purpose, supplied the requisite funds.

The College once started and got under way, the fathers of the Province assumed a vigilant oversight of its orthodoxy, but discharged with a lax and grudging service the responsibility of its maintenance. They ejected the first President, the protomartyr of American learning, the man who sacrificed more to the College than any one individual in the whole course of its history, on account of certain scruples about infant baptism, of which, in the language of the time, "it was not hard to discover that they came from the Evil One," and for which poor Dunster was indicted by the grand-jury, sentenced to a public admonition, and laid under bonds for good behavior.

They starved the second President for eighteen years on a salary payable in Indian corn; and in answer to his earnest prayer for relief, alleging instant necessity, the sacrifice of personal property, and the custom of English universities, a committee of the General Court reported that "they conceive the country to have done honorably toward the petitioner, and that his parity with English colleges is not pertinent."

The third President, by their connivance and co-operation, was sacrificed to the machinations of the students, egged on, it is thought, by members of the Corporation, and died, "as was said, with a broken heart."

Meanwhile, through neglect of the Province to provide for its support, the material fortunes of the College, in the course of thirty years, had fallen into such decay that extinction was inevitable, had not the people of another Colony come to the rescue. The town of Portsmouth, in New Hampshire, hearing, says their address, "the loud groans of the sinking College, . . . . and hoping that their example might provoke . . . . the General Court vigorously to act for the diverting of the omen of calamity which its destruction would be to New England," pledged themselves to an annual contribution of sixty pounds for seven years. This act of chivalrous generosity fairly shamed our lagging Commonwealth into measures for the resuscitation of an institution especially committed to its care.

The most remarkable feature of this business is that the Province all this while was drawing, not only moral support, but pecuniary aid, from the College. "It is manifest," says Quincy,[1] "that the treasury of the Colony, having been the recipient of many of the early donations to the College, was not a little aided by the convenience which these available funds afforded to its pecuniary necessities. Some of these funds, although received in 1647, were not paid over to the treasury of the College until 1713; then, indeed, the College received an allowance of simple interest for the delay. With regard, therefore, to the annual allowance of £100, whereby," during the first seventy years, "they enabled the President of the College simply to exist, it is proper to observe, that there was not probably one year in the whole seventy in which, by moneys collected from friends of the institution in foreign countries, by donations of its friends in this country, by moneys brought by students from other Colonies, and above all by furnishing the means of education at home, and thus preventing the outgoing of domestic wealth for education abroad, the College did not remunerate the Colony for that poor annual stipend five hundred fold."

The patronage extended to the College after the Revolution was not more cordial and not more adequate than the meagre succors of Colonial legislation. The first Governor of independent Massachusetts, from the height of his impregnable popularity, for more than twelve years defied the repeated attempts of the Corporation, backed by the Overseers, to obtain the balance of his account as former Treasurer of the College, and died its debtor in a sum exceeding a thousand pounds. The debt was finally paid by his heirs, but not without a loss of some hundreds of dollars to the College.

At the commencement of hostilities between the Colonies and the mother country, the Revolutionary authorities had taken possession of these grounds. Reversing the old order, "Cedant arma togæ," they drove out the togæ and brought in the arms. The books went one way, the boys another,—the books to Andover, the boys to Concord. The dawn of American liberty was not an "Aurora musis amica." The Muse of History alone remained with Brigadier Putnam and General Ward. The College was turned into a camp,—a measure abundantly justified by public necessity, but causing much damage to the buildings occupied as barracks by the Continentals. This damage was nominally allowed by the General Court, but was reckoned in the currency of that day, whereby the College received but a quarter of the cost.

In 1786, the State saw fit to discontinue the small pittance which till then had been annually granted toward the support of the President; and from that time to this, with the exception of the proceeds of a bank-tax, granted for ten years in 1814, and the recent large appropriation from the School Fund for the use of the Museum of Natural History, the College has received no substantial aid from the State. The State has, during the last ten years, expended two millions of dollars in a vain attempt to bore a hole through one of her hills: in the whole two hundred and thirty years of our academic history she has not expended a quarter of that sum in filling up this hole in her educational system.

I intend no disrespect to the noble Commonwealth of which no native can be insensible to the glory of his birthright. No State has done more for popular education than the State of Massachusetts. But for reasons satisfactory, no doubt, to themselves, her successive legislators have not seen fit to extend to her colleges the fostering care bestowed on her schools. And certainly, if one or the other must be neglected, we shall all agree in saying, Let the schools be cherished, and let the colleges take care of themselves. Let due provision be made for popular instruction in the rudiments of knowledge, which are also rudiments of good citizenship; let every citizen be taxed for that prime exigency, and let literature and science find patrons where they can. Literature and science will find patrons, and here in Massachusetts have always found them. If the legislators of the State have been sparing of their benefactions, the wealthy sons of the State have been prodigal of theirs. In no country has the private patronage of science been more liberal and prompt than in Massachusetts. Seldom, in the history of science, has there been a nobler instance of that patronage than this University is now experiencing, in the mission of one of her professors on an enterprise of scientific exploration, started and maintained by a private citizen of Boston. When our Agassiz shall return to us reinforced with the lore of the Andes, and replenished with the spoils of the Amazon,—tot millia squamigeræ gentis,—the discoveries he shall add to science, and the treasures he shall add to his Museum, whilst they splendidly illustrate his own qualifications for such a mission, will forever attest the liberality of a son of Massachusetts.

The rich men of the State have not been wanting to literature and science. They have not been wanting to this University. Let their names be held in everlasting remembrance. When the Memorial Hall, which your committee have in charge, shall stand complete, let its mural records present, together with the names of those who have deserved well of the country by their patriotism, the names of those who have deserved well of the College by their benefactions. Let these fautors of science, the heroes of peace, have their place side by side with the heroes of war.

Individuals have done their part, but slow is the growth of institutions which depend on individual charity for their support. As an illustration of what may be done by public patronage, when States are in earnest with their universities, and as strangely contrasting the sluggish fortunes of our own Alma, look at the State University of Michigan. Here is an institution but twenty-five years old, already numbering thirty-two professors and over twelve hundred students, having public buildings equal in extent to those which two centuries have given to Cambridge, and all the apparatus of a well-constituted, thoroughly furnished university. All this within twenty-five years! The State itself which has generated this wonderful growth had no place in the Union until after Harvard had celebrated her two hundredth birthday. In twenty-five years, in a country five hundred miles from the seaboard,—a country which fifty years ago was known only to the fur trade,—a University has sprung up, to which students flock from all parts of the land, and which offers to thousands, free of expense, the best education this continent affords. Such is the difference between public and private patronage, between individual effort and the action of a State.

A proof of the broad intent and œcumenical consciousness of this infant College appears in the fact that its Medical Department, which alone numbers ten professors and five hundred students, allows the option of one of four languages in the thesis required for the medical degree. It is the only seminary in the country whose liberal scope and cosmopolitan outlook satisfy the idea of a great university. Compared with this, our other colleges are all provincial; and unless the State of Massachusetts shall see fit to adopt us, and to foster our interest with something of the zeal and liberality which the State of Michigan bestows on her academic masterpiece, Harvard cannot hope to compete with this precocious child of the West.

Meanwhile, Alumni, the State has devolved upon us, as electors of the Board of Overseers, an important trust. This trust conveys no right of immediate jurisdiction, but it may become the channel of an influence which shall make itself felt in the conduct of this University. It invites us to take counsel concerning her wants and her weal. I therefore pursue the theme which this crisis in our history suggests.

Of existing universities the greater part are the product of an age whose intellectual fashion differed as widely from the present as it did from that of Greek and Roman antiquity. Our own must be reckoned with that majority, dating, as it does, from a period antecedent, not only to all other American colleges, but to some of the most eminent of other lands. Half of the better known and most influential of German universities are of later origin than ours. The University of Göttingen, once the most flourishing in Germany, is younger than Harvard by a hundred years. Halle is younger, and Erlangen, and Munich with its vast library, and Bonn, and Berlin, by nearly two hundred years.

When this College was founded, two of the main forces of the intellectual world of our time had scarcely come into play,—modern literature and modern science. Science knew nothing as yet of chemistry, nothing of electricity, of geology, scarce anything of botany. In astronomy, the Copernican system was just struggling into notice, and far from being universally received. Lord Bacon, I think, was the latest author of note in the library bequeathed by John Harvard; and Lord Bacon rejected the Copernican system. English literature had had its great Elizabethan age; but little of the genius of that literature had penetrated the Puritan mind. It is doubtful if a copy of Shakespeare had found its way to these shores in 1636. Milton's star was just climbing its native horizon, invisible as yet to the Western world.

The College was founded for the special and avowed purpose of training young men for the service of the Church. All its studies were arranged with reference to that object: endless expositions of Scripture, catechetical divinity, "commonplacing" of sermons,—already, one fancies, sufficiently commonplace,—Chaldee, Syriac, Hebrew without points, and other Semitic exasperations. Latin, as the language of theology, was indispensable, and within certain limits was practically better understood, perhaps, in Cambridge of the seventeenth century, than in Cambridge of the nineteenth. It was the language of official intercourse. Indeed, the use of the English was forbidden to the students within the College walls. Scholares vernacula lingua intra Collegii limites nullo prætextu utuntor, was the law,—a law which Cotton Mather complains was so neglected in his day "as to render our scholars very unfit for a conversation with strangers." But the purpose for which chiefly the study of Latin is now pursued—acquaintance with the Roman classics—was no recognized object of Puritan learning. Cicero appears to have been for a long time the only classic of whom the students were supposed to have any knowledge. The reading of Virgil was a daring innovation of the eighteenth century. The only Greek required was that of the New Testament and the Greek Catechism. The whole rich domain of ancient Greek literature, from Homer to Theokritos, was as much an unexplored territory as the Baghavad-Gita or the Mababharata. Logic and metaphysic and scholastic disputations occupied a prominent place. As late as 1726, the books most conspicuous in Tutor Flynt's official report of the College exercises, next to Cicero and Virgil, are such as convey to the modern scholar no idea but that of intense obsoleteness,—Ramus's Definitions, Burgersdicius's Logic, Heereboord's Meletemata; and for Seniors, on Saturday, Ames's Medulla. This is such a curriculum as Mephistopheles, in his character of Magister, might have recommended in irony to the student who sought his counsel.

With the multiplication of religious sects, with the progress of secular culture, with the mental emancipation which followed the great convulsions of the eighteenth century, the maintenance of the ecclesiastical type originally impressed on the College ceased to be practicable,—ceased to be desirable. The preparation of young men for the service of the Church is still a recognized part of the general scheme of University education, but is only one in the multiplicity of objects which that scheme embraces, and can never again have the prominence once assigned to it. This secularization, however it might seem to compromise the design of the founders of the College, was inevitable,—a wise and needful concession to the exigencies of the altered time. Nor is there, in a larger view, any real contravention here of the purpose of the founders. The secularization of the College is no violation of its motto, "Christo et Ecclesiæ." For, as I interpret those sacred ideas, the cause of Christ and the Church is advanced by whatever liberalizes and enriches and enlarges the mind. All study, scientifically pursued, is at bottom a study of theology; for all scientific study is the study of Law; and "of Law nothing less can be acknowledged than that her seat is in the bosom of God."

But something more than secularization of the course of study is required to satisfy the idea of a university. What is a university? Dr. Newman answers this question with the ancient designation of a Studium Generale,—a school of universal learning. "Such a university," he says, "is in its essence a place for the communication and circulation of thought by means of personal intercourse over a wide tract of country."[2] Accepting this definition, can we say that Harvard College, as at present constituted, is a University? Must we not rather describe it as a place where boys are made to recite lessons from text-books, and to write compulsory exercises, and are marked according to their proficiency and fidelity in these performances, with a view to a somewhat protracted exhibition of themselves at the close of their college course, which, according to a pleasant academic fiction, is termed their "Commencement"? This description applies only, it is true, to what is called the Undergraduate Department. But that department stands for the College, constitutes the College, in the public estimation. The professional schools which have gathered about it are scarcely regarded as a part of the College. They are incidental appendages, of which, indeed, one has its seat in another city. The College proper is simply a more advanced school for boys, not differing essentially in principle and theory from the public schools in all our towns. In this, as in those, the principle is coercion. Hold your subject fast with one hand, and pour knowledge into him with the other. The professors are task-masters and police-officers, the President the chief of the College police.

Now, considering the great advance of our higher town schools, which carry their pupils as far as the College carried them fifty years ago, and which might, if necessary, have classes still more advanced of such as are destined for the university, I venture to suggest that the time has come when this whole system of coercion might, with safety and profit, be done away. Abolish, I would say, your whole system of marks, and college rank, and compulsory tasks. I anticipate an objection drawn from the real or supposed danger of abandoning to their own devices and optional employment boys of the average age of college students. In answer, I say, advance that average by fixing a limit of admissible age. Advance the qualifications for admission; make them equal to the studies of the Freshman year, and reduce the college career from four years to three; or else make the Freshman year a year of probation, and its closing examination the condition of full matriculation. Only give the young men, when once a sufficient foundation has been laid, and the rudiments acquired, the freedom of a true University,—freedom to select their own studies and their own teachers from such material, and such personnel, as the place supplies. It is to be expected that a portion will abuse this liberty, and waste their years. They do it at their peril. At the peril, among other disadvantages, of losing their degree, which should be conditioned on satisfactory proof that the student has not wholly misspent his time.

An indispensable condition of intellectual growth is liberty. That liberty the present system denies. More and more it is straitened by imposed tasks. And this I conceive to be the reason why, with increased requirements, the College turns out a decreasing proportion of first-class men. If the theory of college rank were correct, the highest marks should indicate the men who are to be hereafter most conspicuous, and leaders in the various walks of life. This is not the case,—not so much so now as in former years. Of the present chief lights of American literature and science, how many, if graduates of Harvard, took the first honors of the University here? Or, to put the question in another form, Of those who took the first honors at Harvard, within the last thirty years, how many are now conspicuous among the great lights of American literature and science?

Carlyle, in his recent talk to the students at Edinburgh, remarks that, "since the time of Bentley, you cannot name anybody that has gained a great name for scholarship among the English, or constituted a point of revolution in the pursuits of men, in that way." The reason perhaps is, that the system of the English universities, though allowing greater liberty than ours, is still a struggle for college honors, in which renown, not learning for the sake of learning, is the aim. The seeming proficiency achieved through the influence of such motives—knowledge acquired for the nonce, not assimilated—is often delusive, and is apt to vanish when the stimulus is withdrawn. The students themselves have recorded their judgment of the value of this sort of learning in the word "cramming," a phrase which originated in one of the English universities.

The rudiments of knowledge may be instilled by compulsory tasks; but to form the scholar, to really educate the man, there should intervene between the years of compulsory study and the active duties of life a season of comparative leisure. By leisure I mean, not cessation of activity, but self-determined activity,—command of one's time for voluntary study.

There are two things which unless a university can give, it fails of its legitimate end. One is opportunity, the other inspiration. But opportunity is marred, not made, and inspiration quenched, not kindled, by coercion. Few, I suspect, in recent years, have had the love of knowledge awakened by their college life at Harvard,—more often quenched by the rivalries and penalties with which learning here is associated. Give the student, first of all, opportunity; place before him the best apparatus of instruction; tempt him with the best of teachers and books; lead him to the fountains of intellectual life. His use of those fountains must depend on himself. There is a homely proverb touching the impossibility of compelling a horse to drink, which applies to human animals and intellectual draughts as well. The student has been defined by a German pedagogue as an animal that cannot be forced, but must be persuaded. If, beside opportunity, the college can furnish also the inspiration which shall make opportunity precious and fruitful, its work is accomplished. The college that fulfils these two conditions—opportunity and inspiration—will be a success, will draw to itself the frequency of youth, the patronage of wealth, the consensus of all the good. Such a university, and no other, will be a power in the land.

Nothing so fatal to inspiration as excessive legislation. It creates two parties, the governors and the governed, with efforts and interests mutually opposed; the governors seeking to establish an artificial order, the governed bent on maintaining their natural liberty. I need not ask you, Alumni, if these two parties exist at Cambridge. They have always existed within the memory of "the oldest graduate."

Professors should not be responsible for the manners of students, beyond the legitimate operation of their personal influence. Academic jurisdiction should have no criminal code, should inflict no penalty but that of expulsion, and that only in the way of self-defence against positively noxious and dangerous members. Let the civil law take care of civil offences. The American citizen should early learn to govern himself, and to re-enact the civil law by free consent. Let easy and familiar relations be established between teachers and taught, and personal influence will do more for the maintenance of order than the most elaborate code. Experience has shown that great reliance may be placed on the sense of honor in young men, when properly appealed to and fairly brought into play. Raumer, in his "History of German Universities," testifies that the Burschenschaften abolished there the last vestige of that system of hazing practised on new-comers, which seems to be an indigenous weed of the college soil. It infested the ancient universities of Athens, Berytus, Carthage,[3] as well as the mediæval and the modern. Our ancestors provided a natural outlet for it when they ordained that the Freshmen should be subject to the Seniors, should take off their hats in their presence, and run of their errands. This system, under the name of "Pennalism," had developed, in the German universities, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a degree of oppression and tyrannous abuse of the new-comer unknown to American colleges, and altogether incredible were it not sufficiently vouched by contemporary writers, and by the acts of the various governments which labored to suppress it. A certain German worthy writes to his son, who is about to enter the university: "You think, perhaps, that in the universities they sup pure wisdom by spoonfuls, . . . . but when you are arrived there, you will find that you must be made a fool of for the first year. . . . . Consent to be a fool for this one year; let yourself be plagued and abused; and when an old veteran steps up to you and tweaks your nose, let it not appear singular; endure it, harden yourself to it. Olim meminisse juvabit."[4] The universities legislated against this barbarism; all the governments of Germany conspired to crush it; but in spite of all their efforts, which were only partially successful, traces of it still lingered in the early years of this century. It was not completely abolished until, in 1818, there was formed at Jena by delegates from fourteen universities a voluntary association of students on a moral basis, known as "The General German Burschenschaft," the first principle in whose constitution was, "Unity, freedom, and equality of all students among themselves,—equality of all rights and duties,"—and whose second principle was "Christian German education of every mental and bodily faculty for the service of the Fatherland." This, according to Raumer, was the end of Pennalism in Germany. What the governments, with their stringent enactments and formidable penalties, failed to accomplish, was accomplished at last by a voluntary association of students, organizing that sense of honor which, in youth and societies of youth, if rightly touched, is never appealed to in vain.

 

The question has been newly agitated in these days, whether knowledge of Greek and Latin is a necessary part of polite education, and whether it should constitute one of the requirements of the academic course. It has seemed to me that those who take the affirmative in this discussion give undue weight to the literary argument, and not enough to the glossological. The literary argument fails to establish the supreme importance of a knowledge of these languages as a part of polite education. The place which the Greek and Latin authors have come to occupy in the estimation of European scholars is due, not entirely to their intrinsic merits, great as those merits unquestionably are, but in part to traditional prepossessions. When after a millennial occultation the classics, and especially, with the fall of the Palæologi, the Greek classics burst upon Western Europe, there was no literature with which to compare them. The Jewish Scriptures were not regarded as literature by readers of the Vulgate. Dante, it is true, had given to the world his immortal vision, and Boccaccio, its first expounder, had shown the capabilities of Italian prose. But the light of Florentine culture was even for Italy a partial illumination. On the whole, we may say that modern literature did not exist, and the Oriental had not yet come to light. What wonder that the classics were received with boundless enthusiasm! It was through the influence of that enthusiasm that the study of Greek was introduced into schools and universities with the close of the fifteenth century. It was through that influence that Latin, still a living language in the clerical world, was perpetuated, instead of becoming an obsolete ecclesiasticism. The language of Livy and Ovid derived fresh impulse from the reappearing stars of secular Rome.

It is in vain to deny that those literatures have lost something of the relative value they once possessed, and which made it a literary necessity to study Greek and Latin for their sakes. The literary necessity is in a measure superseded by translations, which, though they may fail to communicate the aroma and the verbal felicities of the original, reproduce its form and substance. It is furthermore superseded by the rise of new literatures, and by introduction to those of other and elder lands. The Greeks were masters of literary form, but other nations have surpassed them in some particulars. There is but one Iliad, and but one Odyssee; but also there is but one Job, but one Sakoontalà, but one Hafiz-Nameh, but one Gulistan, but one Divina Commedia, but one Don Quixote, but one Faust. If the argument for the study of Greek and Latin is grounded on the value of the literary treasures contained in those tongues, the same argument applies to the Hebrew, to the Sanscrit, to the Persian, to say nothing of the modern languages, to which the College assigns a subordinate place.

But, above all, the literary importance of Greek and Latin for the British and American scholar is greatly qualified by the richness and superiority of the English literature which has come into being since the Græcomania of the time of the Tudors, when court ladies of a morning, by way of amusement, read Plato's Dialogues in the original. If literary edification is the object intended in the study of those languages, that end is more easily and more effectually accomplished by a thorough acquaintance with English literature, than by the very imperfect knowledge which college exercises give of the classics. Tugging at the Chained Prometheus, with the aid of grammar and lexicon, may be good intellectual discipline, but how many of the subjects of that discipline ever divine the secret of Æschylus's wonderful creation, or receive any other impression from it than the feeling perhaps that the worthy Titan's sense of constraint could hardly have been more galling than their own.

Give them Shakespeare's Tempest to read, and with no other pony than their own good will, though they may not penetrate the deeper meaning of that composition, they will gain more ideas, more nourishment from it, than they will from compulsory study of the whole trio of Greek tragedians. And if this be their first introduction to the great magician, they will say, with Miranda,

"O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . O brave new world,
That has such people in it!"

The literary argument for enforced study of Greek and Latin in our day has not much weight. What I call the glossological argument has more. Every well-educated person should have a thorough understanding of his own language, and no one can thoroughly understand the English without some knowledge of languages which touch it so nearly as the Latin and the Greek. Some knowledge of those languages should constitute, I think, a condition of matriculation. But the further prosecution of them should not be obligatory on the student once matriculated, though every encouragement be given and every facility afforded to those whose genius leans in that direction. The College should make ample provision for the study of ancient languages, and also for the study of the mathematics, but should not enforce those studies on minds that have no vocation for such pursuits. There is now and then a born philologer, one who studies language for its own sake,—studies it perhaps in the spirit of "the scholar who regretted that he had not concentrated his life on the dative case." There are also exceptional natures that delight in mathematics, minds whose young affections run to angles and logarithms, and with whom the computation of values is itself the chief value in life. The College should accommodate either bias, to the top of its bent, but should not enforce either with compulsory twist. It should not insist on making every alumnus a linguist or a mathematician. If mastery of dead languages is not an indispensable part of polite education, mathematical learning is still less so. Excessive requirements in that department have not even the excuse of intellectual discipline. More important than mathematics to the general scholar is the knowledge of history, in which American scholars are so commonly deficient. More important is the knowledge of modern languages and of English literature. More important the knowledge of Nature and Art. May the science of sciences never want representatives as able as the learned gentlemen who now preside over that department in the mathematical and presidential chairs. Happy will it be for the University if they can inspire a love for the science in the pupils committed to their charge. But where inspiration fails, coercion can never supply its place. If the mathematics shall continue to reign at Harvard, may their empire become a law of liberty.

I have ventured, fellow-graduates, to throw out these hints of University Reform, well aware of the opposition such views must encounter in deep-rooted prejudice and fixed routine; aware also of the rashness of attempting, within the limits of such an occasion, to grapple with such a theme; but strong in my conviction of the pressing need of a more emancipated scheme of instruction and discipline, based on the facts of the present and the real wants of American life. It is time that the oldest college in the land should lay off the prætexta of its long minority, and take its place among the universities, properly so called, of modern time.

 

One thing more I have to say while standing in this presence. The College has a duty beyond its literary and scientific functions,—a duty to the nation,—a patriotic, I do not scruple to say a political duty.

Time was when universities were joint estates of the realms they enlightened. The University of Paris was, in its best days, an association possessing authority second only to that of the Church. The faithful ally of the sovereigns of France against the ambition of the nobles and against the usurpations of Papal Rome, she bore the proud title of "The eldest Daughter of the King,"—La Fille aînée du Roi. She upheld the Oriflamme against the feudal gonfalons, and was largely instrumental in establishing the central power of the crown.[5] In the terrible struggle of Philip the Fair with Boniface VIII., she furnished the legal weapons of the contest. She furnished, in her Chancellor Gerson, the leading spirit of the Council of Constance. In the Council of Bâle she obtained for France the "Pragmatic Sanction." Her voice was consulted on the question of the Salic Law; unhappily, also in the trial of Jeanne d'Arc; and when Louis XI. concluded a treaty of peace with Maximilian of Austria, the University of Paris was the guaranty on the part of France.

Universities are no longer political bodies, but they may be still political powers,—centres and sources of political influence. Our own College in the time of the Revolution was a manifest power on the side of liberty, the political as well as academic mother of Otis and the Adamses. In 1768, "when the patronage of American manufactures was the test of patriotism," the Senior Class voted unanimously to take their degrees apparelled in the coarse cloths of American manufacture. In 1776, the Overseers required of the professors a satisfactory account of their political faith. So much was then thought of the influence on young minds of the right or wrong views of political questions entertained by their instructors. The fathers were right. When the life of the nation is concerned,—in the struggle with foreign or domestic foes,—there is a right and a wrong in politics which casuistry may seek to confuse, but which sound moral sentiment cannot mistake, and which those who have schools of learning in charge should be held to respect. Better the College should be disbanded than be a nursery of treason. Better these halls even now should be levelled with the ground, than that any influence should prevail in them unfriendly to American nationality. No amount of intellectual acquirements can atone for defective patriotism. Intellectual supremacy alone will not avert the downfall of states. The subtlest intellect of Greece, the sage who could plan an ideal republic of austere virtue and perfect proportions, could not preserve his own; but the love of country inspired by Lycurgus kept the descendants of the Dorians free two thousand years after the disgrace of Chæronea had sealed the fate of the rest of Greece.

In my college days it was the fashion with some to think lightly of our American birthright, to talk disparagingly of republics, and to sigh for the dispositions and pomps of royalty.

"Sad fancies did we then affect
In luxury of disrespect
To our own prodigal excess
Of too familiar happiness."

All such nonsense, if it had not already yielded to riper reason, would ere this have been washed out of us by the blood of a hundred thousand martyrs. The events of recent years have enkindled, let us hope, quite other sentiments in the youth of this generation. May those sentiments find ample nutriment within these precincts evermore.

Soon after the conquest of American independence, Governor Hancock, in his speech at the inauguration of President Willard, eulogized the College as having "been in some sense the parent and nurse of the late happy Revolution in this Commonwealth." Parent and nurse of American nationality,—such was the praise accorded to Harvard by one of the foremost patriots of the Revolution! Never may she cease to deserve that praise! Never may the Mother refuse to acknowledge the seed herself has propagated! Never may her seed be repelled by the Mother's altered mind!

"Mutatam ignorent subito ne semina matrem."

When Protagoras came to Athens to teach in the university as self-appointed professor, or sophist, according to the fashion of that time, it was not to instruct Athenian youth in music or geometry or astronomy, but to teach them the art of being good citizens,—Την πολιταϛ τεχνην, και ποιειν ανδραϛ αγαθουϛ πολιταϛ. That was his profession. With which, as we read, Hippocrates was so well pleased, that he called up Socrates in the middle of the night to inform him of the happy arrival. We have no professorship at Cambridge founded for the express purpose of making good citizens. In the absence of such, may all the professorships work together for that end. The youth intrusted to their tutelage are soon to take part, if not as legislators, at least as freemen, in the government of our common land. May the dignity and duty and exceeding privilege of an American citizen be impressed upon their minds by all the influences that rule this place! Trust me, Alumni, the country will thank the University more for the loyalty her influences shall foster, than for all the knowledge her schools may impart. Learning is the costly ornament of states, but patriotism is the life of a nation.


  1. The History of Harvard University, by Josiah Quincy, LL. D., Vol. I, pp. 42, 43. All the facts relating to the history of the College are taken from this work.
  2. The Office and Work of Universities, by John Henry Newman.
  3. St. Augustine records his connection, when a student at Carthage, with the "Eversores" (Destructives), an association which flourished at that university.
  4. Raumer's "History of German Universities." Translated by Frederic B. Perkins.
  5. "C'est ainsi que peu à peu ils [that is, "les lettres"] parvinrent à sapper les fondements du pouvoir féodal et à élever l'étendard royal là où flottait la bannière du baron."—Histoire de l'Université, par M. Eugene Dubarle, Vol. I. p. 135.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.