THE ORATION BY JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL, AND THE POEM BY OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, DELIVERED IN SANDERS THEATRE, CAMBRIDGE,NOVEMBER 8, 1886, ON THE TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDATION OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY.
IT seems an odd anomaly that, while respect for age and deference to its opinions have diminished and are still sensibly diminishing among us, the relish of antiquity should be more pungent and the value set upon things merely because they are old should be greater in America than anywhere else. It is merely a sentimental relish, for ours is a new country in more senses than one, and, like children when they are fancying themselves this or that, we have to play very hard in order to believe that we are old. But we like the game none the worse, and multiply our anniversaries with honest zeal, as if we increased our centuries by the number of events we could congratulate on having happened a hundred years ago. There is something of instinct in this, and it is a wholesome instinct if it serve to quicken our consciousness of the forces that are gathered by duration and continuity, if it teach us that, ride fast and far as we may, we carry the Past on our crupper, as immovably seated there as the black Care of the Roman poet. The generations of men are braided inextricably together, and the very trick of our gait may be countless generations older than we.
I have sometimes wondered whether, as the faith of men in a future existence grew less confident, they might not be seeking some equivalent in the feeling of a retrospective duration, if not their own, at least that of their race. Yet even this continuance is trifling and ephemeral. If the tablets unearthed and deciphered by Geology have forced us to push back incalculably the birthday of man, they have in like proportion impoverished his recorded annals, making even the Platonic year but as a single grain of the sand in Time’s hourglass, and the inscriptions of Egypt and Assyria modern as yesterday’s newspaper. Fancy flutters over these vague wastes like a butterfly blown out to sea, and finds no foothold. It is true that, if we may put as much faith in heredity as seems reasonable to many of us, we are all in some transcendental sense the coevals of primitive man, and Pythagoras may well have been present in Euphorbus at the siege of Troy. Had Shakespeare’s thought taken this turn when he said to Time,
To me are nothing novel, nothing strange ;
They are but dressings of a former sight ?
But this imputed and vicarious longevity, though it may be obscurely operative in our lives and fortunes, is no valid offset for the shortness of our days, nor widens by a hair’s breadth the horizon of our memories. Man and his monuments are of yesterday, and we, however we may play with our fancies, must content ourselves with being young. If youth be a defect, it is one that we outgrow only too soon.
Mr. Ruskin said the other day that he could not live in a country that had neither castles nor cathedrals, and doubtless men of imaginative temper find not only charm but inspiration in structures which Nature has adopted as her fosterchildren, and on which Time has laid his hand only in benediction. It is not their antiquity, but its association with man, that endows them with such sensitizing potency. Even the landscape sometimes bewitches us by this pathos of a human past, and the green pastures and golden slopes of England are sweeter both to the outward and to the inward eye that the hand of man has immemorially cared for and caressed them. The nightingale sings with more prevailing passion in Greece that we first heard her from the thickets of a Euripidean chorus. For myself, I never felt the working of this spell so acutely as in those gray seclusions of the college quadrangles and cloisters at Oxford and Cambridge, conscious with venerable associations, and whose very stones seemed happier for being there. The chapel pavement still whispered with the blessed feet of that long procession of saints and sages and scholars and poets, who are all gone into a world of light, but whose memories seem to consecrate the soul from all ignobler companionship.
Are we to suppose that these memories were less dear and gracious to the Puritan scholars, at whose instigation this college was founded, than to that other Puritan who sang the dim religious light, the long-drawn aisles and fretted vaults, which these memories recalled ? Doubtless all these things were present to their minds, but they were ready to forego them all for the sake of that truth whereof, as Milton says of himself, they were members incorporate. The pitiful contrast which they must have felt between the carven sanctuaries of learning they had left behind and the wattled fold they were rearing here on the edge of the wilderness is to me more than tenderly — it is almost sublimely — pathetic. When I think of their unpliable strength of purpose, their fidelity to their ideal, their faith in God and in themselves, I am inclined to say with Donne that
Our past is well-nigh desolate of æsthetic stimulus. We have none or next to none of these aids to the imagination, of these coigns of vantage for the tendrils of memory or affection. Not one of our older buildings is venerable, or will ever become so. Time refuses to console them. They all look as if they meant business, and nothing more. And it is precisely because this College meant business, business of the gravest import, and did that business as thoroughly as it might with no means that were not niggardly except an abundant purpose to do its best, — it is precisely for this that we have gathered here to day. We come back hither from the experiences of a richer life, as the son who has prospered returns to the household of his youth, to find in its very homeliness a pulse, if not of deeper, certainly of fonder, emotion than any splendor could stir. “ Dear old Mother, we say, " how charming you are in your plain cap and the drab silk that has been turned again since we saw you ! You were constantly forced to remind us that you could not afford to give us this and that which some other boys had, but your discipline and diet were wholesome, and you sent us forth into the world with the sound constitutions and healthy appetites that are bred of simple fare.”
It is good for us to commemorate this homespun past of ours ; good, in these days of a reckless and swaggering prosperity, to remind ourselves how poor our fathers were, and that we celebrate them because for themselves and their children they chose wisdom and understanding and the things that are of God rather than any other riches. This is our Founders’ Day, and we are come together to do honor to them all : first, to the Commonwealth which laid our corner-stone ; next, to the gentle and godly youth from whom we took our name, — himself scarce more than a name, — and with them to the countless throng of benefactors, rich and poor, who have built us up to what we are. We cannot do it better than in the familiar words: “ Let us now praise famous men and our fathers that begat us. The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning. Leaders of the people by their counsels, and, by their knowledge of learning, meet for the people ; wise and eloquent in their instructions. There be of them that have left a name behind them that their praises might be reported. And some there be which have no memorial, who are perished as though they had never been. But these were merciful men whose righteousness hath not been forgotten. With their seed shall continually remain a good inheritance. Their seed standeth fast, and their children for their sakes.”
This two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of our College is not remarkable as commemorating any memorable length of days. There is hardly a country in Europe but can show us universities that were older than ours now is when ours was but a grammar-school, with Eaton as master. Bologna, Paris, Oxford, were already famous schools when Dante visited them, as I love to think he did, six hundred years ago. We are ancient, it is true, on our own continent, ancient even as compared with several German universities more renowned than we. But it is not primarily the longevity of our Alma Mater upon which we are gathered here to congratulate her and each other. Kant says somewhere that, as the records of human transactions accumulate, the memory of man will have room only for those of supreme cosmopolitical importance. Can we claim for the birthday we are keeping a significance of so wide a bearing and so long a reach ? If we may not do that, we may at least affirm confidently that the event it records and emphasizes is second in real import to none that has happened in this western hemisphere. The material growth of the colonies would have brought about their political separation from the Mother Country in the fulness of time, without that stain of blood which unhappily keeps its own memory green so long. But the founding of the first English college here was what saved New England from becoming a mere geographical expression. It did more, for it insured, and I believe was meant to insure, our intellectual independence of the Old World. That independence has been long in coming, but it will come at last; and are not the names of the chiefest of those who have hastened its coming written on the roll of Harvard College?
I think this foundation of ours a quite unexampled thing. Surely never were the bases of such a structure as this has become, and was meant to be, laid by a community of men so poor, in circumstances so unprecedented, and under what seemed such sullen and averted stars. The colony, still insignificant, was in danger of an Indian war, was in the throes of that Antinomian controversy which threatened its very existence, yet the leaders of opinion on both sides were united in the resolve that sound learning and an educated clergy should never cease from among them or their descendants in the commonwealth they were building up. In the midst of such fears and such tumults, Harvard College was born, and not Marina herself had a more blusterous birth or a more chiding nativity. The prevision of those men must have been as clear as their faith was steadfast. Well they knew and had laid to heart the wise man’s precept,
“ Take fast hold of instruction ; let her not go; for she is thy life.”
There can be little question that the action of the General Court received its impulse and direction from the clergy, men of eminent qualities and of welldeserved authority. Among the Massachusetts Bay colonists the proportion of ministers, trained at Oxford and Cambridge, was surprisingly large, and, if we may trust the evidence of contemporary secular literature, such men as Higginson, Cotton, Wilson, Norton, Shephard, Bulkley, Davenport, to mention no more, were, in learning, intelligence, and general accomplishment, far above the average parson of the country and the church from which their consciences had driven them out. The presence and influence of such men were of inestimable consequence to the fortunes of the colony. If they were narrow, it was as the Sword of Righteousness is narrow. If they had but one idea, it was as the leader of a forlorn hope has but one, and can have no other, namely, to do the duty that is laid on him, and ask no questions. Our Puritan ancestors have been misrepresented and maligned by persons without imagination enough to make themselves contemporary with, and therefore able to understand, the men whose memories they strive to blacken. That happy breed of men who, both in church and state, led our first emigration were children of the most splendid intellectual epoch that England has ever known. They were the coevals of a generation which passed on in scarcely diminished radiance the torch of life kindled in great Eliza’s golden days. Out of the New Learning, the new ferment alike religious and national, and the New Discoveries with their suggestion of boundless possibility, the alembic of that age had distilled a potent elixir either inspiring or intoxicating, as the mind that imbibed it was strong or weak. Are we to suppose that the lips of the founders of New England alone were unwetted by a drop of that stimulating draught? — that Milton was the only Puritan that had read Shakespeare and Ben Jonson and Beaumont and Fletcher ? I do not believe it, whoever may. Communities as well as men have a right to be judged by their best. We are justified in taking the elder Winthrop as a type of the leading emigrants, and the more we know him, the more we learn to reverence his great qualities, whether of mind or character. The posterity of those earnest and single-minded men may have thrown the creed of their fathers into the waste-basket, but their fidelity to it and to the duties they believed it to involve is the most precious and potent drop in their transmitted blood. It is especially noteworthy that they did not make a strait-waistcoat of this creed for their new college. The more I meditate upon them, the more I am inclined to pardon the enthusiasm of our old historian when he said that God had sifted three kingdoms to plant New England.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony itself also was then and since without a parallel. It was established by a commercial company, whose members combined in themselves the two by no means incongruous elements of religious enthusiasm and business sagacity, the earthy ingredient, as in dynamite, holding in check its explosive partner, which yet could and did explode on sufficient concussion. They meant that their venture should be gainful, but at the same time believed that nothing could be long profitable for the body wherein the soul found not also her advantage. They feared God, and kept their powder dry because they feared Him and meant that others should. I think their most remarkable characteristic was their public spirit, and in nothing did they show both that and the wise forecast that gives it its best value more clearly than when they resolved to keep the higher education of youth in their own hands and under their own eye. This they provided for in the college. Eleven years later they established their system of public schools, where reading and writing should be taught. This they did partly, no doubt, to provide feeders for the more advanced schools, and so for the college, but even more, it may safely be inferred, because they had found that the polity to which their ends, rough-hew them as they might, must be shaped by the conditions under which they were forced to act, could be safe only in the hands of intelligent men, or, at worst, of men to whom they had given a chance to become such.
In founding the College, they had three objects : first, the teaching of the Humanities and of Hebrew as the hieratic language ; second, the training of a learned as well as godly clergy ; and third, the education of the Indians, that they might serve as missionaries of a higher civilization and of a purer religion, as the necessary preliminary thereto. The third of these objects, after much effort and much tribulation, they were forced to abandon. John Winthrop, Jr., in a letter written to the Honorable Robert Boyle in 1663, gives us an interesting glimpse of a pair of these dusky catechumens. “ I make bold,” he says, “ to send heere inclosed a kind of rarity; ... It is two papers of Latin composed by two Indians now scollars in the Colledge in this country, and the writing is with their own hands. . . . Possibly as a novelty of that kind it may be acceptable, being a reall fruit of that hopefull worke yt is begū amongst them . . . testifying thus much that I received them of those Indians out of their own hands, and had ready answers frō them in Latin to many questions that I propounded to them in yt language, and heard them both express severall sentences in Greke also. I doubt not but those honorable fautores Scientiarum [the Royal Society] will gladly receive the intelligence of such Vestigia Doctrinœ in this wilderness amongst such a barbarous people. Alas, these Vestigia became only too soon retrorsum! The Indians showed a far greater natural predisposition for disfurnishing the outside of other people’s heads than for furnishing the insides of their own. Their own wild life must have been dear to them: the forest beckoned just outside the College door, and the first blue-bird of spring whistled them back to the woods. They would have said to the president, with the Gypsy steward in the old play when he heard the new-come nightingale, “ Oh, Sir, you hear, I am called.” At any rate, our College succeeded in keeping but one of these wild creatures long enough to make a graduate of him, and he thereupon vanishes into the merciful shadow of the past. His name — but, as there was only one Indian graduate, so there is only one living man who can pronounce his unconverted name, and I leave the task to Dr. Hammond Trumbull.
I shall not attempt, even in brief, a history of the College. It has already been excellently done. A compendium of it would be mainly a list of unfamiliar names, and Coleridge has said truly that such names “are non-conductors; they stop all interest.”
The fame and usefulness of all institutions of learning depend on the greatness of those who teach in them.
Et meliore luto finxit præcordia Titan,
and great teachers are almost rarer than great poets. We can lay claim to none such (I must not speak of the living), unless it be Agassiz, whom we adopted, but we have had many devoted and some eminent. It has not been their fault if they have not pushed farther forward the boundaries of knowledge. Our professors have been compelled by the necessities of the case (as we are apt to call things which we ought to reform, but do not) to do too much of work not properly theirs, and that of a kind so exacting as to consume the energy that might have been ample for higher service. They have been obliged TO double the parts of professor and tutor. During the seventeenth century we have reason to think that the college kept pretty well up to the standard of its contemporary colleges in England, so far as its poverty would allow. It seems to have enjoyed a certain fame abroad among men who sympathized with the theology it taught, for I possess a “ Hebrew Accidence,” dedicated some two hundred years ago to the “illustrious academy at Boston in New England,” by a Dutch scholar whom I cannot help thinking a very discerning person. That the students of that day had access to a fairly good library may be inferred from Cotton Mather’s “ Magnalia,” though he knew not how to make the best use of it, and is a very nightmare of pedantry. That the College had made New England a good market for books is proved by John Dunton’s journey hither in the interests of his trade. During the eighteenth and first quarter of the nineteenth centuries, I fancy the condition of things here to have been very much what it was in the smaller English colleges of the period, if we may trust the verses which Gray addressed to the goddess Ignorance. Young men who were willing mainly to teach themselves might get something to their advantage, while the rest were put here by their parents as into a comfortable quarantine, where they could wait till the gates of life were opened to them, safe from any contagion of learning, except such us might be developed from previous infection. I am speaking of a great while ago. Men are apt, I know, in after life, to lay the blame of their scholastic short-comings at the door of their teachers. They are often wrong in this, and I am quite aware that there are some pupils who are knowledge-proof; but I gather from tradition, which I believe to be trustworthy, that there have been periods in the history of the college when the students might have sung with Bishop Golias : —
Hi nos docent, et nox nocti
We have a means of testing the general culture given here towards the middle of the last century in the Gratulatio presented by Harvard College on the accession of George III. It is not duller than such things usually are on the other side of the water, and it shows a pretty knack at tagging verses. It is noteworthy that the Greek in it, if I remember rightly, is wholly or chiefly Governor Bernard’s. A few years earlier, some of the tracts in the Whitfield controversy prove that the writers had got here a thorough training in English, at least. They had certainly not read their Swift in vain.
But the chief service, as it was the chief office, of the college during all those years was to maintain and hand down the traditions of how excellent a thing Learning was, even if the teaching were not always adequate by way of illustration. And yet, so far as that teaching went, it was wise in this, that it gave its pupils some tincture of letters as distinguished from mere scholarship. It aimed to teach them the authors, that is, the few great ones,— the late Professor Popkin, whom the older of us remember, would have allowed that title only to the Greeks, — and to teach them in such a way as to enable the pupil to assimilate somewhat of their thought, sentiment, and style, rather than to master the minuter niceties of the language in which they wrote. It struck for their matter, as Montaigne advised, who would have men taught to love Virtue instead of learning to decline virtus. It set more store by the marrow than by the bone that encased it. It made language, as it should be, a ladder to literature, and not literature a ladder to language. How many a boy has hated, and rightly hated, Homer and Horace the pedagogues and grammarians, who would have loved Homer and Horace the poets, had he been allowed to make their acquaintance. The old method of instruction had the prime merit of enabling its pupils to conceive that there is neither ancient nor modern on the narrow shelves of what is truly literature. We owe a great debt to the Germans. No one is more indebted to them than I, but is there not danger of their misleading us in some directions into pedantry? In his preface to an Old French poem of the thirteenth century, lately published, the editor informs us sorrowfully that he had the advantage of listening only two years and a half to the lectures of Professor Gaston Paris, in which time he got no farther than through the first three vowels. At this rate, to master the whole alphabet, consonants and all, would be a task fitter for the centurial adolescence of Methuselah than for our less liberal ration of years. I was glad my editor had had this advantage, and I am quite willing that Old French should get the benefit of such scrupulosity, but I think I see a tendency to train young men in the languages as if they were all to be editors, and not lovers of polite literature. Education, we are often told, is a drawing out of the faculties. May they not be drawn out too thin ? I am not undervaluing philology or accuracy of scholarship. Both are excellent and admirable in their places. But philology is less beautiful to me than philosophy as Milton understood the word, and mere accuracy is to Truth as a plaster-cast to the marble statue; it gives the facts, but not their meaning. If I must choose, I had rather a young man should be intimate with the genius of the Greek dramatic poets than with the metres of their choruses, though I should be glad to have him on easy terms with both.
For more than two hundred years, in its discipline and courses of study, the College followed mainly the lines traced by its founders. The influence of its first half century did more than any other, perhaps more than all others, to make New England what it is. During the one hundred and forty years preceding our War of Independence it had supplied the schools of the greater part of New England with teachers. What was even more important, it had sent to every parish in Massachusetts one man, the clergyman, with a certain amount of scholarship, a belief in culture, and generally pretty sure to bring with him or to gather a considerable collection of books, by no means wholly theological. Simple and godly men were they, the truest modern antitypes of Chaucer’s Good Parson, receiving much, sometimes all, of their scanty salary in kind, and eking it out by the drudgery of a cross-grained farm where the soil seems all backbone. If there was no regular practitioner, they practised without fee a grand motherly sort of medicine, probably not much more harmful (O, dura messorum ilia) than the heroic treatment of the day. They contrived to save enough to send their sons through college, to portion their daughters, decently trained in English literature of the more serious kind, and perfect in the duties of household and dairy, and to make modest provision for the widow, if they should leave one. With all this, they gave their two sermons every Sumday of the year, and of a measure that would seem ruinously liberal to these less stalwart days, when scarce ten parsons together could lift the stones of Diomed which they hurled at Satan with the easy precision of lifelong practice. And if they turned their barrel of discourses at the end of the Horatian ninth year, which of their parishioners was the wiser for it ? Their one great holiday was Commencement, which they punctually attended. They shared the many toils and the rare festivals, the joys and the sorrows, of their townsmen as bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh, for all were of one blood and of one faith. They dwelt on the same brotherly level with them as men, yet set apart from and above them by their sacred office. Preaching the most terrible of doctrines, as most of them did, they were humane and cheerful men, and when they came down from the pulpit seemed to have been merely twisting their “cast-iron logic” of despair, as Coleridge said of Donne, “into truelove-knots.” Men of authority, wise in council, independent, for their settlement was a life-tenure, they were living lessons of piety, industry, frugality, temperance, and, with the magistrates, were a recognized aristocracy. Surely never was an aristocracy so simple, so harmless, so exemplary, and so fit to rule. I remember a few lingering survivors of them in my early boyhood, relics of a serious but not sullen past, of a community for which in civic virtue, intelligence, and general efficacy I seek a parallel in vain : —
Proles . . . docta . . .
Versare glebas et severæ
Matris ad arbitrium recisos
I know too well the deductions to be made. It was a community without charm, or with a homely charm at best, and the life it led was visited by no muse even in dream. But it was the stuff out of which fortunate ancestors are made, and twenty-five years ago their sons showed in no diminished measure the qualities of the breed. In every household some brave boy was saying to his mother, as Iphigenia to hers, —
Nor were Harvard’s sons the last. This hall commemorates them, but their story is written in headstones all over the land they saved.
To the teaching and example of those reverend men whom Harvard bred and then planted in every hamlet as pioneers and outposts of her doctrine, Massachusetts owes the better part of her moral and intellectual inheritance. They, too, were the progenitors of a numerous and valid race. My friend Dr. Holmes was, I believe, the first to point out how large a proportion of our men of light and leading sprang from their loins. The illustrious Chief Magistrate of the Republic, who honors us with his presence here to-day, has ancestors italicized in our printed registers, and has shown himself worthy of his pedigree.
During the present century, I believe that Harvard received and welcomed the new learning from Germany at the hands of Everett, Bancroft, and Ticknor, before it had been accepted by the more conservative universities of the Old Home. Everett’s translation of Buttmann’s Greek Grammar was reprinted in England, with the “ Massachusetts ” omitted after “Cambridge,” at the end of the preface, to conceal its American origin. Emerson has told us how his intellectual life was quickened by the eloquent enthusiasm of Everett’s teaching. Mr. Bancroft made strenuous efforts to introduce a more wholesome discipline and maturer methods of study, with the result of a rebellion of the Freshman Class, who issued a manifesto of their wrongs, written by the late Robert Rantoul, which ended thus : “Shall FREEMEN bear this? FRESHMEN are freemen ! ” They, too, remembered Revolutionary sires. Mr. Bancroft’s translation of Heeren was the first of its kind, and it is worth mention that the earliest version from Henry Heine into English was made here, and by a graduate of Harvard. Ticknor also strove earnestly to enlarge the scope of the collegiate courses of study. The force of the new impulse did not last long, or produce, unless indirectly, lasting results. It was premature, the students were really school-boys, and the college was not yet capable of the larger university life. The conditions of American life, too, were such that young men looked upon scholarship neither as an end nor as a means, but simply as an accomplishment, like music or dancing, of which they were to acquire a little more or a little less, generally a little less, according to individual taste or circumstances. It has been mainly during the last twenty-five years that the College, having already the name, but by no means all the resources, of a university, has been trying to perform some, at least, of the functions which that title implies.
The tawny lion, pawing to get free. ”
Let us, then, no longer look backwards, but forwards, as our fathers did when they laid our humble foundations in the wilderness. The motto first proposed for the college arms was, as you know, Veritas, written across three open books. It was a noble one, and, if the full bearing of it was understood, as daring as it was noble. Perhaps it was discarded because an open book seemed hardly the fittest symbol for what is so hard to find, and, if ever we fancy we have found it, so hard to decipher and to translate into our own language and life. Pilate’s question still murmurs in the ear of every thoughtful, and Montaigne’s in that of every honest man. The motto finally substituted for that, Christo et Ecclesiœ, is, when rightly interpreted, substantially the same, for it means that we are to devote ourselves to the highest conception we have of Truth and to the preaching of it. Fortunately, the Sphinx proposes her conundrums to us one at a time and at intervals proportioned to our wits. Joseph de Maistre says that “ un homme d’esprit est tenu de savoir deux choses : 1°, ce qu’il est; 2°, où il est.” The questions for us are, In what sense are we become a university ? And then, if we become so, What and to what end should a university aim to teach now and here in this America of ours whose meaning no man can yet comprehend ? And, when we have settled what it is best to teach, comes the further question, How are we to teach it ? Whether with an eye to its effect on developing character or personal availability, that is to say, to its effect in the conduct of life, or on the chances of getting a livelihood ? Perhaps we shall find that we must have a care for both, and I cannot see why the two need be incompatible; but if they are, I should choose the former term of the alternative.
In a not remote past, society had still certain recognized, authoritative guides, and the college trained them as the fashion of the day required. But
That ancient Close Corporation of official guides has been compelled to surrender its charter. We are pestered with as many volunteers as at Niagara, and, as there, if we follow any of them, may count on paying for it pretty dearly. The office of the higher instruction, nevertheless, continues to be as it always was, the training of such guides ; only it must now try to fit them out with as much more personal accomplishment and authority as may compensate the loss of hierarchical prestige.
When President Walker, it must be now nearly thirty years ago, asked me in common with my colleagues what my notion of a university was, I answered. “A university is a place where nothing useful is taught; but a university is possible only where a man may get his livelihood by digging Sanscrit roots.” What I meant was that the highest office of the somewhat complex thing so named, was to distribute the true Bread of Life, the pane ‘degli angeli, as Dante called it, and to breed an appetite for it ; but that it should also have the means and appliances for teaching everything, as the mediæval universities aimed to do in their trivium and quadrivium. I had in mind the ideal and the practical sides of the institution, and was thinking also whether such an institution was practicable, and, if so, whether it was desirable, in a country like this. I think it eminently desirable, and, if it be, what should be its chief function ? I choose rather to hesitate my opinion than to assert it roundly. But some opinion I am bound to have, either my own or another man’s, if I would be in the fashion, though I may not be wholly satisfied with the one or the other. Opinions are “ as handy,” to borrow our Yankee proverb, “ as a pocket in a shirt,” and, I may add, as hard to come at. I hope, then, that the day will come when a competent professor may lecture here also for three years on the first three vowels of the Romance alphabet, and find fit audience, though few. I hope the day may never come when the weightier matters of a language, namely, such parts of its literature as have overcome death by reason of their wisdom and of the beauty in which it is incarnated, such parts as are universal by reason of their civilizing properties, their power to elevate and fortify the mind, — I hope the day may never come when these are not predominant in the teaching given here. Let the Humanities be maintained undiminished in their ancient right. Leave in their traditional pre-eminence those arts that were rightly called liberal; those studies that kindle the imagination, and through it irradiate the reason; those studies that manumitted the modern mind ; those in which the brains of finest temper have found alike their stimulus and their repose, taught by them that the power of intellect is heightened in proportion as it is made gracious by measure and symmetry. Give us science, too, but give first of all, and last of all, the science that ennobles life and makes it generous. I stand here as a man of letters, and as a man of letters I must speak. But I am speaking with no exclusive intention. No one believes more firmly than I in the usefulness. I might well say the necessity, of variety in study, and of opening the freest scope possible to the prevailing bent of every mind when that bent shows itself to be so predominating as to warrant it. Many-sidedness of culture makes our vision clearer and keener in particulars. For after all, the noblest definition of Science is that breadth and impartiality of view which liberates the mind from specialties, and enables it to organize whatever we learn, so that it become real Knowledge by being brought into true and helpful relation with the rest.
By far the most important change that has been introduced into the theory and practice of our teaching here by the new position in which we find ourselves has been that of the elective or volun tary system of studies. We have justified ourselves by the familiar proverb that one man may lead a horse to water, but ten can’t make him drink. Proverbs are excellent things, but we should not let even proverbs bully us. They are the wisdom of the understanding, not of the higher reason. There is another animal, which even Simonides could compliment only on the spindleside of his pedigree, and which ten men could not lead to water, much less make him drink when they got him thither. Are we not trying to force university forms into college methods too narrow for them ? There is some danger that the elective system may be pushed too far and too fast. There are not a few who think that it has gone too far already. And they think so because we are in process of transformation, still in the hobbledehoy period, not having ceased to be college, nor yet having reached the full manhood of a university, so that we speak with that ambiguous voice, half bass, half treble, or mixed of both, which is proper to a certain stage of adolescence. We are trying to do two things with one tool, anil that tool not specially adapted to either. Are our students old enough thoroughly to understand the import of the choice they are called on to make, and, if old enough, are they wise enough? Shall their parents make the choice for them? I am not sure that even parents are so wise as the unbroken experience and practice of mankind. We are comforted by being told that in this we are only complying with what is called the Spirit of the Age, which may be, after all, only a finer name for the mischievous goblin known to our forefathers as Puck. I have seen several Spirits of the Age in my time, of very different voices and summoning in very different directions, but unanimous in their propensity to land us in the mire at last. Would it not be safer to make sure first whether the Spirit of the Age, who would be a very insignificant fellow if we docked him of his capitals, be not a lying spirit, since such there are? It is at least curious that, while the more advanced teaching has a strong drift in the voluntary direction, the compulsory system, as respects primary studies, is gaining ground. Is it indeed so self-evident a proposition as it seems to many that “ You may ” is as wholesome a lesson for youth as " You must ” ? Is it so good a foreschooling for Life, which will be a teacher of quite other mood, making us learn, rod in hand, precisely those lessons we should not have chosen? I have, to be sure, heard the late President Quincy (clarum et venerabile nomen) say that if a young man came hither and did nothing more than rub his shoulders against the college buildings for four years, he would imbibe some tincture of sound learning by an involuntary process of absorption. The founders of the College also believed in some impulsions towards science communicated â tergo but of sharper virtue, and accordingly armed their president with that ductor dubitantium which was wielded to such good purpose by the Reverend James Bowyer at Christ’s Hospital in the days of Coleridge and Lamb. They believed with the old poet that whipping was “ a wild benefit of nature,” and, could they have read Wordsworth’s exquisite stanza, —
Can teach us more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can,
they would have struck out “vernal ” and inserted “ birchen ” on the margin.
I am not, of course, arguing in favor of a return to those vapulatory methods, but the birch, like many other things that have passed out of the region of the practical, may have another term of usefulness as a symbol after it has ceased to be a reality.
One is sometimes tempted to think that all learning is as repulsive to ingenuous youth as the multiplication table to Scott’s little friend Marjorie Fleming, though this is due in great part to mechanical methods of teaching. “ I am now going to tell you,” she writes, “ the horrible and wretched plaege that my multiplication table gives me ; you can’t conceive it; the most Devilish thing is 8 times 8 and 7 times 7 ; it is what nature itself can’t endure.” I know that I am approaching treacherous ashes which cover burning coals, but I must on. Is not Greek, nay, even Latin, yet more unendurable than poor Marjorie’s task? How many boys have not sympathized with Heine in hating the Romans because they invented Latin Grammar? And they were quite right, for we begin the study of languages at the wrong end, at the end which nature does not offer us, and are thoroughly tired of them before we arrive at them, if you will pardon the bull. But is that any reason for not studying them in the right way ? I am familiar with the arguments for making the study of Greek especially a matter of choice or chance. I admit their plausibility and the honesty of those who urge them. I should be willing also to admit that the study of the ancient languages without the hope or the prospect of going on to what they contain would be useful only as a form of intellectual gymnastics. Even so they would be as serviceable as the higher mathematics to most of us. But I think that a wise teacher should adapt his tasks to the highest, and not the lowest, capacities of the taught. For those lower also they would not be wholly without profit. When there is a tedious sermon, says George Herbert,
not the least pregnant of lessons. One of the arguments against the compulsory study of Greek, namely, that it is wiser to give our time to modern languages and modern history than to dead languages and ancient history, involves, I think, a verbal fallacy. Only those languages can properly be called dead in which nothing living has been written. If the classic languages are dead, they yet speak to us, and with a clearer voice then that of any living tongue.
Musa loqui, præter laudem nullius avaris.
If their language is dead, yet the literature it enshrines is rammed with life as perhaps no other writing, except Shakespeare’s, ever was or will be. It is as contemporary with to-day as with the ears it first enraptured, for it appeals not to the man of then or now, but to the entire round of human nature itself. Men are ephemeral or evanescent, but whatever page the authentic soul of man has touched with her immortalizing finger, no matter how long ago, is still young and fair as it was to the world’s gray fathers. Oblivion looks in the face of the Grecian Muse only to forget her errand. Even for the mastering of our own tongue, there is no expedient so fruitful as translation out of another ; how much more when that other is a language at once so precise and so flexible as the Greek ? Greek literature is also the most fruitful comment on our own. Coleridge has told us with what profit he was made to study Shakespeare and Milton in conjunction with the Greek dramatists. It is no sentimental argument for this study that the most justly balanced, the most serene, and the most fecundating minds since the revival of learning have been steeped in and saturated with Greek literature. We know not whither other studies will lead us, especially if dissociated from this; we do know to what summits, far above our lower region of turmoil, this has led, and what the many-sided outlook thence. Will such studies make anachronisms of us, unfit us for the duties and the business of to-day ? I can recall no writer more truly modern than Montaigne, who was almost more at home in Athens and Rome than in Paris. Yet he was a thrifty manager of his estate and a most competent mayor of Bordeaux. I remember passing once in London where demolition for a new thoroughfare was going on. Many houses left standing in the rear of those cleared away bore signs with the inscription “Ancient Lights.” This was the protest of their owners against being built out by the new improvements from such glimpse of heaven as their fathers had, without adequateequivalent. I had the moral to heart.
I am speaking of the College as it has always existed and still exists. In so far as it may be driven to put on the forms of the university, — I do not mean the four Faculties merely, but in the modern sense, — we shall naturally find ourselves compelled to assume the method with the function. Some day we shall offer here a chance, at least, to acquire the omne scibile. I shall be glad, as shall we all, when the young Amer ican need no longer go abroad for any part of his training, though that may not be always a disadvantage, if Shakespeare was right in thinking that
I should be still gladder if Harvard should be the place that offered the alternative. It seems more than ever probable that this will happen, and happen in our day. And whenever it does happen, it will be due, more than to any and all others, to the able, energetic, single-minded, and yet fair-minded man who has presided over the College during the trying period of transition, and who will by a rare combination of eminent qualities carry that transition forward to its accomplishment without haste and without jar, — ohne Hast, ohne Rast. He more than any of his distinguished predecessors has brought the university into closer and more telling relations with the national life in whatever that life has which is most distinctive and most hopeful.
But we still mainly occupy the position of a German Gymnasium. Under existing circumstances, therefore, and with the methods of teaching they enforce, I think that special and advanced courses should be pushed on, so far as possible, as the other professional courses are, into the post-graduate period. The opportunity would be greater because the number would be less, and the teaching not only more thorough, but more vivifying through the more intimate relation of teacher and pupil. Under those conditions the voluntary system will not only be possible, but will come of itself, for every student will know what he wants and where he may get it, and learning will be loved, as it should be, for its own sake as well as for what it gives. The friends of university training can do nothing that would forward it more than the founding of post-graduate fellowships and the building and endowing of a hall where the holders of them might be commensals, remembering that when Cardinal Wolsey built Christ Church at Oxford his first care was the kitchen. Nothing is so great a quickener of the faculties or so likely to prevent their being narrowed to a single groove as the frequent social commingling of men who are aiming at one goal by different paths. If you would have really great scholars, and our life offers no prizes for such, it would be well if the university could offer them. I have often been struck with the manysided versatility of the Fellows of English colleges who have kept their wits in training by continual fence one with another.
During the first two centuries of her existence, it may be affirmed that Harvard did sufficiently well the only work she was called on to do, perhaps the only work it was possible for her to do. She gave to Boston her scholarly impress, to the Commonwealth her scholastic impulse. To the clergy of her training was mainly intrusted the oversight of the public schools; these were, as I have said, though indirectly, feeders of the college, for their teaching was of the plainest. But if a boy in any country village showed uncommon parts, the clergyman was sure to hear of it. He and the Squire and the Doctor, if there was one, talked it over, and that boy was sure to be helped onward to college; for next to the live points of Calvinism our ancestors believed in a college education, that is, in the best education that was to be had. The system, if system it should he called, was a good one, a practical application of the doctrine of Natural Selection. Ah! how the parents — nay, the whole family — moiled and pinched that their boy might have the chance denied to them! Mr. Matthew Arnold has told us that in contemporary France, which seems doomed to try every theory of enlightenment by which the fingers may be burned or the house set on fire, the children of the public schools are taught in answer to the question, “ Who gives you all these fine things ?” to say, “ The State.” Ill fares the State in which the parental image is replaced by an abstraction. The answer of the boy of whom I have been speaking would have been in a spirit better for the State and for the hope of his own future life : “ I owe them, under God, to my own industry, to the sacrifices of my father and mother, and to the sympathy of good men.” Nor was the boy’s selfrespect lessened, for the aid was given by loans, to be repaid when possible. The times have changed, and it is no longer the ambition of a promising boy to go to college. They are taught to think that a common-school education is good enough for all practical purposes. And so perhaps it is, but not for all ideal purposes. Our public schools teach too little or too much : too little if education is to go no further, too many things if what is taught is to be taught thoroughly ; and the more they seem to teach, the less likely is education to go further, for it is one of the prime weaknesses of a democracy to be satisfied with the second-best if it appear to answer the purpose tolerably well, and to be cheaper — as it never is in the long run.
Harvard has done much by raising its standard to force upwards that also of the preparatory schools. The leaven thus infused will, let us hope, filter gradually downwards till it raise a ferment in the lower grades as well. What we need more than anything else is to increase the number of our highly cultivated men and thoroughly trained minds ; for these, wherever they go, are sure to carry with them, consciously or not, the seeds of sounder thinking and of higher ideals. The only way in which our civilization can be maintained even at the level it has reached, the only way in which that level can be made more general and be raised higher, is by bringing the influence of the more cultivated to bear with more energy and directness on the less cultivated, and by opening more inlets to those indirect influences which make for refinement of mind and body. Democracy must show its capacity for producing not a higher average man, but the highest possible types of manhood in all its manifold varieties, or it is a failure. No matter what it does for the body, if it do not in some sort satisfy that inextinguishable passion of the soul for something that lifts life away from prose, from the common and the vulgar, it is a failure. Unless it know how to make itself gracious and winning, it is a failure. Has it done this? Is it doing this? Or trying to do it ? Not yet, I think, if one may judge by that commonplace of our newspapers that an American who stays long enough in Europe is sure to find his own country unendurable when he comes back. This is not true, if I may judge from some little experience, but it is interesting as implying a certain consciousness, which is of the most hopeful augury. But we must not be impatient; it is a far cry from the dwellers in caves to even such civilization as we have achieved. I am conscious that life has been trying to civilize me for now nearly seventy years with what seem to me very inadequate results. We cannot afford to wait, but the Race can. And when I speak of civilization I mean those things that tend to develop the moral forces of Man, and not merely to quicken his æsthetic sensibility, though there is often a nearer relation between the two than is popularly believed.
The tendency of a prosperous Democracy— and hitherto we have had little to do but prosper—is towards an overweening confidence in itself and its home-made methods, an overestimate of material success, and a corresponding indifference to the things of the mind. The popular ideal of success seems to be more than ever before the accumulation of riches. I say “ seems,” for it may be only because the opportunities are greater. I am not ignorant that wealth is the great fertilizer of civilization, and of the arts that beautify it. The very names of civilization and politeness show that the refinement of manners which made the arts possible is the birth of cities where wealth earliest accumulated because it found itself secure. Wealth may be an excellent thing, for it means power, it means leisure, it means liberty.
But these, divorced from culture, that is, from intelligent purpose, become the very mockery of their own essence, not goods, but evils fatal to their possessor, and bring with them, like the Niblung hoard, a doom instead of a blessing. A man rich only for himself has a life as barren and cheerless as the serpent set to guard a buried treasure. I am saddened when I see our success as a nation measured by the number of acres under tillage or of bushels of wheat exported ; for the real value of a country must be weighed in scales more delicate than the Balance of Trade. The garners of Sicily are empty now, but the bees from all climes still fetch honey from the tiny garden-plot of Theocritus. On a map of the world you may cover Judea with your thumb, Athens with a finger-tip, and neither of them figures in the Prices Current; but they still lord it in the thought and action of every civilized man. Did not Dante cover with his hood all that was Italy six hundred years ago? And, if we go back a century, where was Germany outside of Weimar ? Material success is good, but only as the necessary preliminary of better things. The measure of a nation’s true success is the amount it has contributed to the thought, the moral energy, the intellectual happiness, the spiritual hope and consolation, of mankind. There is no other, let our candidates flatter us as they may. We still make a confusion between huge and great. I know that I am repeating truisms, but they are truisms that need to be repeated in season and out of season.
The most precious property of Culture and of a college as its trustee is to maintain higher ideals of life and its purpose, to keep trimmed and burning the lamps of that pharos, built by wiser than we, which warns from the reefs and shallows of popular doctrine. In proportion as there are more thoroughly cultivated persons in a community will the finer uses of prosperity be taught and the vulgar uses of it become disreputable. And it is such persons that we are commissioned to send out with such consciousness of their fortunate vocation and such devotion to it as we may. We are confronted with unexampled problems. First of all is democracy, and that under conditions in great part novel, with its hitherto imperfectly tabulated results, whether we consider its effect upon national character, on popular thought, or on the functions of law and government; we have to deal with a time when the belief seems to be spreading that truth not only can but should be settled by a show of hands rather than by a count of heads, and that one man is as good as another for all purposes. —as, indeed, he is till a real man is needed; with a time when the press is more potent for good or for evil than ever any human agency was before, and yet is controlled more than ever before by its interests as a business rather than by its sense of duty as a teacher, and must purvey news instead of intelligence; with a time when divers and strange doctrines touching the greatest human interests are allowed to run about unmuzzled in greater number and variety than ever before since the Reformation passed into its stage of putrefactive fermentation ; with a time when the idols of the market-place are more devoutly worshipped than ever Diana of the Ephesians was ; when the guilds of the Middle Ages are revived among us with the avowed purpose of renewing by the misuse of universal suffrage the class legislation to escape which we left the Old World ; when the electric telegraph, by making public opinion simultaneous, is also making it liable to those delusions, panics, and gregarious impulses which transform otherwise reasonable men into a mob ; and when, above all, the better mind of the country is said to be growing more and more alienated from the highest of all sciences and services, the government of it. I have drawn up a dreary catalogue, and the moral it points is this: That the College, in so far as it continues to be still a college, as in great part it does and must, is and should be limited by certain preexisting conditions, and must consider first what the more general objects of education are without neglecting special aptitudes more than cannot be helped. That more general purpose is, I take it, to set free, to supple, and to train the faculties in such wise as shall make them most effective for whatever task life may afterwards set them, for the duties of life rather than for its business, and to open windows on every side of the mind where thickness of wall does not prevent it.
Let our aim be as hitherto to give a good all-round education fitted to cope with as many exigencies of the day as possible. I had rather the college should turn, out one of Aristotle’s foursquare men capable of holding his own in whatever field he may be cast, than a score of lopsided ones developed abnormally in one direction. Our scheme should be adapted to the wants of the majority of under-graduates, to the objects that drew them hither, and to such training as will make the most of them after they come. Special aptitudes are sure to take care of themselves, but the latent possibilities of the average mind can only be discovered by experiment in many directions. When I speak of the average mind, I do not mean that the courses of study should be adapted to the average level of intelligence, but to the highest, for in these matters it is wiser to grade upwards than down wards, since the best is the only thing that is good enough. To keep the wing-footed down to the pace of the leaden-soled disheartens the one without in the least encouraging the other. “ Brains,” says Machiavelli, are of three generations. “ those that understand of themselves, those that understand when another shows them, and those that understand neither of themselves nor by the showing of others.” It is the first class that should set the stint; the second will get on better than if they had set it themselves ; and the third will at least have the pleasure of watching the others show their paces.
In the College proper, I repeat, for it is the birthday of the College that we are celebrating, it is the College that we love and of which we are proud, let it continue to give such a training as will fit the rich to be trusted with riches, and the poor to withstand the temptations of poverty. Give to History, give to Political Economy, that ample verge the times demand, but with no detriment to those liberal Arts which have formed open-minded men and good citizens in the past, nor have lost the skill to form them Let it be our hope to make a gentleman of every youth who is put under our charge; not a conventional gentleman, but a man of culture, a man of intellectual resource, a man of public spirit, a man of refinement, with that good taste which is the conscience of the mind, and that conscience which is the good taste of the soul. This we have tried to do in the past, this let us try to do in the future. We cannot do this for all, at best,— perhaps only for the few; but the influence for good of a highly trained intelligence and a harmoniously developed character is incalculable; for though it be subtle and gradual in its operation, it is as pervasive us it is subtle. There may be few of these, there must be few, but
Doth ever live and move and work and stirre.
They who, on a tiny clearing pared from the edge of the woods, built here, most probably with the timber hewed from the trees they felled, our earliest hall, with the solitude of ocean behind them, the mystery of forest before them, and all about them a desolation, must surely (si quis animis celestibis locus) share our gladness and our gratitude at the splendid fulfilment of their vision. If we could but have preserved the humble roof which housed so great a future, Mr. Ruskin himself would almost have admitted that no castle or cathedral was ever richer in sacred associations, in pathos of the past, and in moral significance. They who reared it had the sublime prescience of that courage which fears only God, and could say confidently in the face of all discouragement and doubt, " He hath led me forth into a large place; because he delighted in me He hath delivered me.” We cannot honor them too much ; we can repay them only by showing, as occasions rise, that we do not undervalue the worth of their example.
Brethren of the Alumni, it now becomes my duty to welcome in your name the guests who have come, some of them so far, to share our congratulations and hopes to-day. I cannot name them all and give to each his fitting praise. Thrice welcome to them all, and, as is fitting, first to those from abroad, representatives of illustrious seats of learning that were old in usefulness and fame when ours was in its cradle ; and next to those of our own land, from colleges and universities which, if not daughters of Harvard, are young enough to be so, and are one with her in heart and hope. I said that I should single out none by name, but I should not represent you fitly if I gave no special greeting to the gentleman who brings the message of John Harvard’s College, Emmanuel. The welcome we give him could not be warmer than that which we offer to his colleagues, but we cannot help feeling that in pressing his hand our own instinctively closes a little more tightly, as with a sense of nearer kindred. There is also one other name of which it would be indecorous not to make an exception. You all know that I can mean only the President of our Republic. His presence is a signal honor to us all, and to us all I may say a personal gratification. We have no politics here, but the sons of Harvard all belong to the party which admires courage, strength of purpose, and fidelity to duty, and which respects, wherever he may be found, the
who knows how to withstand the
He has left the helm of state to be with us here, and so long as it is intrusted to his hands we are sure that, should the storm come, he will say with Seneca’s Pilot, “ O Neptune, you may save me if you will; you may sink me if you will; but whatever happen, I shall keep my rudder true.”