My College Days
IT seems queer, nowadays, to include chapters on college life in recollections of a New England boyhood. But in my life it happened, almost by accident, that I went to college while I was still a boy. My father’s fancy of starting me on Latin when I was quite young, already alluded to, had gained for me a year from the course of the Boston Latin School. So it came about that the year I was thirteen I had finished that course reasonably well. In truth, I think my father hardly knew what to do with me. I was growing so fast that for the last two summers of school life I did not go to school regularly. But I kept, in a fashion, even with the class, and I knew I could pass the college examinations. Fortunately for me, my brother Nathan, of whom I have spoken so often, had entered college the year before. We were very fond of each other, and I had missed him sadly. I had spent with him, in his room at college, almost every Wednesday afternoon of his freshman year. He was nearly four years older than I, affectionate, conscientious, sensible, bright, and well forward in his studies ; and it would have been hard to find a person more fit to take care of me. There was, as I said, nothing else to do with me, and so I was sent to Cambridge to room with him, in a wellfounded confidence that no great harm could come to me while I was under his eye. This means that I entered college quite too young to get all the good which college life might have given me ; but, on the other hand, I gained a great deal from his companionship, suggestion, and inspiration. And I gained the great advantage of having, after I left college, more than six years in which to knock about the world, before I was anchored down to the serious and methodical duties of a profession.
The examination was quite as severe as it is to-day, though there are one or two subjects now which it did not touch, such as French, German, and English literature. No “Latin School” boy had any more doubt then that he should pass than a boy from the same school has now. But then, as now, there were some questions as to “honors” and “conditions.” For me, I had never read the Greek Testament, which we were examined in ; but, like other well-bred boys of that time, I knew the four Gospels nearly by heart in English, and I neither expected nor had any difficulty there. By absence from school for the whole summer of 1834, I had missed reading the first six books of the Æneid. I had read the last six, with a good deal of care, under Mr. Dillaway. I remember that on a pleasant Sunday afternoon in September, the Sunday before we were to he examined, I went upstairs and sat on the ridgepole of the house, while I read those six books through in the Latin. I do not remember that I have read them all at any other time, from that day to this.
On the fatal morning, we were to report at University Hall, at Cambridge, at six o’clock. The examination lasted until seven that evening, and from six until two the next day. Such absurdity is now eclipsed, I believe, by three days’ examination. But I think the culprits are not now under fire all the time, as we were. Maternal foresight had provided for me, as Mrs. Gilpin provided for a more festive occasion. Dr. Hale, my uncle, had lent his horse and chaise for the solemnity, and my brother drove me out to Cambridge. My schoolmates had clubbed together with other hoys and engaged the omnibus to run at five o’clock. I should not mention this detail but in illustration of the simple customs of the time. For it was thus that it happened that I arrived among the very last of the candidates, and my name was on the list among a certain fag end of boys who had ridden considerable distances that, morning. Among these were Francis Brown Hayes and Samuel Longfellow, each of whom had come from Maine in a chaise driven by his father. I think Hayes had ridden nearly twenty miles before the examination began.
I afterwards knew as teachers most of the gentlemen who conducted that examination. But there was one of them, who assigned us our places, gave us all general directions, and in short looked after us through the two days in the kindest manner possible, whom I did not meet again for many years. I now think it was Theodore Parker, whom I did not know personally till long after this time. I have ever since liked to think of him as showing such friendly sympathy and untiring consideration for the needs of seventy or eighty dazed and bewildered boys.
The only question of that examination which I remember is this : “ Which is the more northerly, Amsterdam or London ? ” All the boys in two sections, which were examined in geography together, were wrong in their answers.
The examinations were all held in University Hall. As I said, they were over at two o’clock on the second day. We then loafed around the yard, waiting to be called, one by one, to learn our success. You went up to the “ corporation room,” in University Hall, and there were the president and the faculty sitting around a mahogany table. You bowed to the president, and he told you your fate. I was admitted without conditions, one of six boys who passed so satisfactorily out of more than seventy. I think that in this accident is the beginning of the scorn and contempt with which, since then, I have always regarded such examinations. Our five best scholars at the Latin School, whom we knew to be our best scholars, were all “ conditioned ; ” that is, they had to make up some studies afterwards. Perkins and I, who were sixth and seventh on the scale of the year’s performance, were the only two who received the highest honors in this tournament.
We were not yet “matriculated,” as the phrase then was. For there were still some queer traditions of English college life, for which there were no corresponding realities. This of “matriculation ” was one. At the end of our first term, we were all told that we were matriculated, and we all knew that we should be. Again, there was a “ regent’s freshman ” still, though there was no tradition of there ever having been a regent, and I think there never was. The chief duty of the regent’s freshman was to keep ns supplied with footballs; and for this we each paid a tribute of twenty-five cents on our first day. On the first or second night, we played football against the sophomores on the Delta, where Memorial Hall now stands. There were still pit-holes in the ground, where the old gymnastic apparatus had been, but the apparatus itself was destroyed. In Freeman Clarke’s Autobiography is some account of this gymnasium as it was ten years before. The seniors and juniors sat around on the fences and looked on. It will show what the game of that time was when I say we played three games after prayers, and were beaten in all. The juniors then joined us, the seniors joined the sophomores, and we beat them, — all this before dark, in September. The game had nothing of modern science. There was no captain, and no eleven. It was simply one turbulent crowd driving the ball through another turbulent crowd across a certain line.
The regent’s freshman had another duty. We were not obliged to attend prayers Saturday evening, if we entered our names at his office at eight o’clock or before. He was generally good-natured, and kept open until nine or ten o’clock to receive our names. We were, on the whole, conscientious fellows. But if, in the course of the day, you met a “ man ” in the street who asked you to enter his name for him, you always did so. I remember some fellows who were belated as they came out from Boston, and, falling in with a stray horse on one of the Port roads, they caught him and mounted one of their number, with a handkerchief for a bridle. He thus rode up to the regent’s freshman’s office, entered the names of the whole party, and let the horse go. I fancy there are few stray horses in the Cambridge streets now. But in those days the walk on the “ back road,” as we called it, was desolate indeed.
Another relic from an older system was the “ president’s freshman,” who lived under the president’s office, where the steward’s office is now, and carried the president’s messages to such students as he wanted to see for praise or for blame ; for blame, alas, most often. In the same fashion, each tutor in each entry had his freshman, who lived under him, and on whom, theoretically, he could call, to send him on an errand. All this amounted to very little in practice. So, in theory, each class had its own tutor, who was in some sort responsible for it. But in practice, if we wanted anything, whether an excuse or a permit, we went directly to President Quincy. There is a story, and a true story, that when Mr. Edward Everett succeeded him, afterwards, a lady went to tell the new president that her pew carpet in the chapel was not properly swept. The truth is, Mr. Quincy was a good executive officer, who liked work, and he gradually absorbed every detail in his own hands.
When we got to our work, we found, as many a freshman has found since, that we were too well fitted. Thus, we were put on the easy Latin and the easy Greek of Livy and Xenophon, authors whom we could read almost at sight, as soon as we got the hang of their style. It did not seem as if either of the tutors cared a straw for the lessons or for us. It was not called " fishing ” for a boy to seek the acquaintance of his teacher, and I felt quite sure that the teachers thought the lessons a bore, and certainly did not care for any acquaintance of ours. Five days in a week, you went in for an hour in the morning for each of these purely perfunctory recitations. I am naturally fond of language, and I was particularly interested in Greek. But all that the three years of college Latin and Greek did for me was to make me dislike both languages, and I was very glad when we dropped them at the end of the junior year. Afterwards I had to teach them, and the old fondness returned. I read both languages now, perhaps, more than I ever did.
In mathematics, however, with dear Benny Peirce, as we called him, things were different. His world-wide reputation was not yet made, but it was in the making. I have never seen his exact method anywhere else. We met him for geometry in a large unused dininghall, where the old dining - tables were still fixed. As you went in. you took a slip of paper with your own special problems on it, as he had assigned them for that day. You also took your own manuscript book, which you had left with the problem of the day before. When you opened this, if you found you had been wrong the day before, you were put back one lesson. Thus, before the winter was over, the seventy members of the class were in thirty or forty different places in the textbook. If you did not understand the thing, you went and sat down with him and talked it over. If you had done well, he praised you in brief terms, but satisfactory, because from him. I have never had any feathers in my cap of which I have been more proud than his pencil scrawl which said “ Excellent and original.”
So the freshman year dragged by ; dull enough so far as the college work went, and without enough of that to hurt anybody. At the outside, you could not give more than six hours to it in a day. I was really a country boy, who had been all his life imprisoned within the streets of a town. To me, therefore, the freedom of walking off into the country was the first and the greatest joy of Cambridge. I shall never forget the first April, and picking anemones on the road to East Cambridge, on ground now built over with houses. They were the first anemones which I had ever seen. But my first Cambridge flowers were less sentimental. The first week of the term, in September, I had ventured up towards Mount Auburn. I came back with a handful of flowers which I did not know. My brother hated to check my enthusiasm, but he had to tell the truth ; and so I learned from him that, they were “ bouncing Bets ” which had strayed from a garden. This will show what a cockney I was. As soon as I knew the other fellows in the class, I found that Watson and Longfellow shared my interest in flowers, and knew much more about them than I did. In summer, we swept the country for five miles around, and at that time the neighborhood of Boston was not cut up into house lots, as it is now. Loring and several others of the class were as much interested in insects. In a superficial way, we knew something of the mineralogy of the region, and, with Jackson and some of his classmates of the year before us, we formed a College Natural History Society, which still exists. I remember making alum from the clay of the bank of Charles River; but, with our apparatus, I could not, or did not, make aluminium, though I wanted to. Wöhler had separated the metal ten years before ; but it was seventeen years before Deville announced his successful manufacture of it.
As to the business for which we went to college, the first real epoch was the arrival of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He had been appointed head of the department of modern languages a year before, with the understanding that he was to spend a year in Europe before undertaking active duty. He was young, handsome, enthusiastic, and expected, with a young teacher’s confidence, to achieve a great deal. He therefore did. There was a little group of us, of whom his brother Sam was perhaps the centre, who had been reading French together at the end of the freshman year. We had done all the mathematics of the year, and had taken French while the others were filling up the rest of the mathematics, where, as I have explained, they had been set back day by day by Mr. Peirce’s care.
The college was beginning to feel that need of more lecture-rooms which has been a pressure upon treasurers from that day to this. Longfellow expressed a wish to teach some pupils personally, being convinced that language could he much better taught than in the oldfashioned way of learning the grammar, and working along with simple books of reading. He therefore said that he would take a section in German, for the purpose of illustrating his own method. We were free, having made our beginning in French, and a dozen of us snapped at the opportunity and made his first section. Among the others were his brother Samuel; Samuel Eliot, who had entered as a sophomore, easily chief of our class when we graduated ; his charming cousin, Guild, not now living; Morison, who died at the head of the Peabody Institute in Baltimore; and a lot of other fellows, who at that time found each other out, perhaps, as they had not done before.
Professor Longfellow had to find a room for us, and he persuaded the powers that were to give him what was called the “ corporation room.” It was the room in which the corporation of the college held their meetings when they met at Cambridge. This may be as good a place as any to say that, in the simple language of New England, up to a very recent time, the phrase “ the corporation ” meant the corporation of Harvard College. I am disposed to think that charters for corporations were very seldom granted before the beginning of this century, and that the corporation of Harvard College stood out, therefore, distinctively as holding a peculiar grant of corporate power, and that this phrase, ‘‘the corporation,” thus came into New England language. However it may happen, among old-fashioned people like myself, in Boston and its neighborhood, if you mean to speak of “the seven” who control Harvard University, you speak of “ the corporation.” This is a board of very great power. A person, who knew perfectly well, said to me once that if they chose to burn down all the buildings of Harvard College, and take the responsibility for it, nobody could call them to account to any purpose. There is a board of overseers, whose province it is to make as much fuss as it can, hut which has very limited powers.
This corporation room, to return to my own proper subject, was the only room in the college which looked like a parlor. It had a handsome carpet upon the floor, and on the walls were hung good prints, handsomely framed. There was an elegant mahogany table, the largest I had ever seen, which occupied the middle of the room, and handsome chairs were set around. All sorts of legends were told about the revelry of the corporation when they met there.
As in fact they met but once a year, there was little basis for these legends in probability, and there was no basis for them in fact. I have, however, in after years, dined in this room at state dinners which were given to examining committees. Such dinners, being served by the caterer for commons, had not the aspects of Delmonico’s or of Very’s.
It was a pretty type of what Longfellow was doing for the college that we should meet him in this nice parlor, as we should have met him in our fathers’ houses. For we met him as a friend, and not as a “ driver.” I will tell the “ driver ” story at some other time. He was there because we wanted to learn German, and because he wanted to teach us. He told us squarely that he was not going to make a textbook business of it, but hoped to interest us in the language, and thought he could teach us in the way we should learn it if we went to Europe. Accordingly, in the very first lesson we were told to commit to memory The Erl-King in German. So it is that most of us who are living can repeat some verses of it to this day. We committed to memory more or less ; we learned a verb here and a verb there in the grammar, as it was needed ; but he took the working-oar, as teacher. Most people who are called teachers hear you recite the lessons which you have learned somewhere else : but Longfellow meant to teach us, and for the three months in which we had the pleasure of meeting him in these exercises we certainly learned a great deal. After that, however, he was much too busy in the work of " head of department ” to give three hours a week to such merely elementary work, and we were consigned to the tender mercies of the regular German teacher, and the machine work of studying the grammar, and going in three times a week with so many pages prepared for translation.
Longfellow gave great animation to the whole business of modern languages.
To this hour, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday dawn upon me as pleasant days, simply because they were the “ modern language days ” of college. Over Tuesday and Thursday hangs a certain pall, because for four years Tuesday and Thursday were stupid days, lighted up with very little enthusiasm on the part of the people who, as I say, heard us recite the lessons which we had learned somewhere else. Lowell says, in his quarter-millennial discourse, “ Harvard has bred no educator, for we had to import Agassiz.” The remark, when I was in college, was painfully true, unless you mean to say that a man is his own best teacher ; we certainly were very little encouraged by the discouraged men with whom we had to do. For instance, I went to college passionately fond of language. I was encouraged in that fondness by what I learned in German with Longfellow, and in Italian with Bachi. I have spoken of Latin and Greek already.
But, our own language we were made to learn and to understand. At the beginning of the sophomore year we were put into Bishop Whately’s Rhetoric, a charming book. Any one of us who had any sense would have read it through in a couple of days. Instead of this, however, it was divided into ten-page “ takes,” and we recited these to Edward Tyrrell Channing. His name is less remembered now than that of his distinguished brother. William Ellery Channing, except by his pupils. His college pupils always speak of him with enthusiasm, love, and gratitude. I once heard it said, by a person competent to judge, that Harvard College had trained the only men in America who could write the English language, and that its ability to do this began with the year 1819, and ended with the year 1851. The same person added that whoever chose to look on the college catalogue would see that those were the years when Edward Tyrrell Channing began and ended his career as Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory. This was said thirty years ago.
We read Whately with him, but this meant that he carried on a running commentary on the text, and made it more interesting, even, than Whately made it. Whately, be it observed, had written the book as a contribution to the Encyclopædia Britannica, and it has a certain freshness and “ go " about it which it probably would not have had, had it been written for a textbook for learners.
We anticipated that exercise with Channing as we should have done an agreeable hour’s conversation with any person whom we knew to be our superior. Beside this, we had to write a theme for his examination once a fortnight. His method here was different from what I have seen anywhere else, unless one of his own pupils conducted the exercise. He gave out a subject. It was one which supposed some knowledge on our part of matters of literature or of life which very frequently we did not have ; but the subject was given in time for us to get a superficial acquaintance with it. For instance, our first theme was The Descriptions of Winter as given by the Poets or Others. I remember perfectly well that I went into the college library, pulled down three or four books of poems at which I had never looked before, and turned up such descriptions of winter as I could find. I had never read Cowper’s Winter Walk before. As Mr. Adams, in his amusing report, has lately shown, the average college boy is, at his entrance, absolutely powerless in writing English. The stuff which most of us wrote in those first themes was enough to make even optimistic angels weep. At least I am sure it was so with mine. But, such as it was, we carried it in at three o’clock on alternate Friday afternoons. Poor Channing kept the themes a fortnight, and at the end of that fortnight we carried in the next theme. Observe, we had had the subject for a full fortnight before we had to carry the theme in. You sat down in the recitation-room, and were called man by man, or boy by boy, in the order in which you came into the room; you therefore heard his criticism on each of your predecessors.
“ Why do you write with blue ink on blue paper? When I was young, we wrote with black ink on white paper; now you write with blue ink on blue paper.”
“ Hale, you do not mean to say that you think a Grub Street hack is the superior of John Milton ? ”
Everything was said with perfect kindness, though generally with some sharp epigram which called everybody’s attention and made everybody remember. And if you bad said a decent thing, or thought any thought that was in the least above the mud, he was so sympathetic. Poor dear man ! to read these acres of trash must have been dispiriting. Half a century afterwards, when I was an overseer, the president of the time said to me, “ You cannot get people to read themes for many years together.” I said, “ I thank God every day of my life that Ned Channing was willing to read themes for thirty-two years.” The upshot of it was that we came out with at least some mechanical knowledge of the mechanical method of handling the English language. And one is glad to say that Channing had pupils who were not foemen, but friends. Dear Sam Longfellow, who has just now died, always had the highest mark, or came within one of the highest mark. He seemed born to think well, and to feel purely, and to write English. What a joy it must have been to Ned Channing to come out upon one of his themes ! Did he leave it for the last in the parcel, or did he pick it out to be read first of all ?
I have spoken of Bachi, the teacher of Italian, a gentleman who died without leaving any literary work to be preserved on catalogues, and who will not, therefore, get into any history of the men of letters of his time. There was said to be some mystery attending him, or we boys thought so; very likely there was really none. But what we knew was that here was a charming, welleducated gentleman, who was willing to be our friend, and who made us at ease and at home in the resources of Italian literature. The recitation-room, barrack though it was in all external fixtures, as at that time every recitation-room in Cambridge was, excepting the one which I have described, was, like that, a place of meeting of intelligent young men, who had one leader whose subject was given him for an hour. That subject was the Italian language and Italian literature. Before the college course was over, Longfellow read, nominally as lectures, the whole of Dante with us, and we were well prepared for this by what we had read with Bachi. So that Bachi is another of the names which I hold in respect and honor since college days.
Our intimacy with the president, Josiah Quincy, as I look back upon it, seems to me to have been very curious. Here he was, one of the fine old fighters of twenty years before. There were vague rumors from our fathers of his tilts with John Randolph, of his defiances of Jefferson, and the rest, which made us boys understand how important a person he had been in the political history of the world. But he was at this time more than sixty years old, for he was born in 1772. One of the toasts at a Phi Beta dinner was, “ Harvard College a fortunate legatee: in the loss of ten thousand dollars she gained a president.” This meant that when Josiah Quincy, Jr., so called, then the orator of the opening Revolution, died, he left ten thousand dollars to the college if his son died in infancy. The son did not die in infancy ; he lived to harass Jefferson and the South, and bring to the civil war, which was impending even in 1807, his memories of congressional conflict. It had been thought that Dr. Kirkland, the last president, was lacking in what is called executive ability. Josiah Quincy was the first layman, I think, who was ever chosen president of Harvard College, and he brought to the college the same vigor of administration by which he had given dignity to the mayor’s chair of the city of Boston.
But, as I have intimated, he had that passion for attending to details which is the bane of great executive officers, particularly when they have unpractical people around them. And with all this theory of a regent, a tutor for each class, a proctor for each entry, and so on, and so on, — a condition inherited from the past, — Mr. Quincy, in practice, attended to almost the whole discipline of the college affairs. We were “ entitled ” to two Sundays at home in every term. I, who hated the whole machinery of Cambridge, inevitably applied for my first Sunday on the fourth Sunday of the term. It was not thought decent to apply earlier. I applied for my second on the eighth or ninth, and this used up all I could have for thirteen weeks. This meant that I actually went round on Saturday morning to his study and had a personal conversation with him. Sometimes he called me “ Everett,” and sometimes “ Hale.” He never knew who I was until I had told him my name. Frequently he told the same story he had told me before, but the conversation was always amicable. He gave me a permit in writing, which then I carried and dropped into somebody’s box, I think.
His wife was then living, and his daughters, to whom the world has since been indebted for many literary memoranda. They were all most courteous in their hospitalities, and always begged us to call; but, for reasons best known to us (I cannot now conceive what they were), we hardly ever did. I remember, in a Sunday evening call there, once, Mr. Quincy said that, in his childhood, white bread was known in his mother’s family only as a luxury, somewhat as plum cake might be regarded by a boy to-day ; and that the regular food of the family was always the brown bread of New England, “ rye and Indian.” This remark seems to me now of interest, because the Quincys were a family as well to do as any in eastern Massachusetts.
The president was always at chapel, morning and evening, sitting in his own pew. But, as he was a layman, it was not thought proper that he should lead in the religious service. This was conducted by two of the gentlemen of the theological school in turn, Dr. Henry Ware and Dr. Henry Ware, Jr. The Sunday services were entrusted to these two gentlemen and Dr. Palfrey, whom we were very fond of, and were always glad to hear. Chapel was at six o’clock in the morning till winter came, and then, indeed, as early as it could be without lighting the candles. Till the very year when I entered college, the chapel was sometimes lighted by candles in the evening. But on one particular occasion the tops of the candles had been cut off by some adventurous undergraduate, and a slip of incombustible matter put in beneath, before the top was restored; so that when the service began each candle in turn went out, — with one exception, where the cut had been made a little too low. Twenty hats were thrown at it, but none of them hit; and from that one light the janitor walked round and relighted the other candles, and the service proceeded. This adventure was not favorable to devotion, and the hint given was taken. After that, prayers were by daylight, so that in the middle of winter we would not go to chapel in the morning till half past seven, and in the afternoon went as early as twenty minutes past four. As supper followed hard on evening chapel, the result was, that from our repast of bread and butter, eaten before five, we waited till twenty minutes of eight in the morning before we had any more food, unless we provided ourselves from our own stores.
There was a course of lectures given by an accomplished Boston physician, Dr. John Ware, on the means of preserving health. We seniors were ordered to attend it, and did attend it. I remember some cynic said it was after our constitutions had been broken down, and that we ought to have heard it when we were freshmen. But in those days there was curiously little knowledge of the absolute connection between body and mind, and utter indifference to it. My excellent friend Dr. Muzzey, who was ten years before me in college, told me that he had never heard that physical exercise was necessary for the human constitution when he entered there. He said that, in consequence, he hardly ever left the college yard, being eagerly devoted to his studies ; and that in his senior year he broke down with dyspepsia, from which he had suffered till old age, because nobody had ever told him, while there was yet any good in telling, that a man who engaged in literary study needed daily physical exercise. We knew enough to be aware that we must take a constitutional walk every day. The term “ constitutional ” was in a manner synonymous with a walk to Mount Auburn gate and back again. But, generally speaking, the constitutional gave way to either skating, or playing cricket, baseball, or football. These games were played with no reference to the modern elaborateness of system. Boats were prohibited absolutely, under the general rule, as the boys said, that no one might “ keep a horse, dog, or other animal.” The river was tempting, of course, but nobody was permitted to row upon it. We could swim, however; and the Cambridge of to-day would be shocked if it knew how often men undressed in their rooms, and walked down to the river with no other costume than a greatcoat and a pair of boots.
Edward E. Hale.