My College Days
I HAVE intimated that the greater part of the instruction given in the four years when I was in Cambridge was by recitation. Each section was of about twenty persons, seldom more, and you had a regular lesson assigned, in which you were expected to recite, precisely as a boy is at school. According as the section was larger or smaller, the larger or smaller proportion of men present were called upon. I say “men present,” because we called ourselves “ men,” though in fact the greater part of us were boys.
If you had run for luck, and had not learned the lesson, you said, “ Not prepared.” You sat at recitation, which was a great surprise to us, who had always been expected to stand in the schoolroom. You were seldom called upon alphabetically ; generally the teacher took you by surprise, for fear you should have been reading up in advance the sentences which were to come to you. I should say that nine tenths of the time which we spent with the teachers was spent in this way ; as nearly profitless as any exercise can be, unless the teacher tries to give interest to it. It merely exposes a person who has learned the lesson to the annoyance of sitting, for an hour, to hear the blunders of others who have not. If you have not learned the lesson, it is true that it is a way of learning it; but it is a very poor way, and I should not suppose that people would make a system for the benefit of those who do not study.
Instruction by lectures was not unknown, and there were traditions of very remarkable courses of lectures in college. Of such lectures we did not have many, but we had some. I always remember with great pleasure Professor Lovering’s lectures in natural philosophy. They made good entirely the traditions of John Farrar’s, which were fresh in the Cambridge mind. For myself, I had heard John Farrar, who was an excellent lecturer, in the various lecture courses in Boston, such as have been alluded to.1 Professor Lovering had worked and studied under him, and was quite competent to fill his place. We went over a wide range in what was called natural philosophy in those days, so that every one of us, to this hour, who cares anything for such things, has a slight smattering of scientific information with regard to it. The apparatus of the college was not large, but what there was was well handled. In the same line, Daniel Treadwell, a very distinguished student of mechanics, and of the sciences connected with practical mechanics, gave admirable lectures. He was on the Rumford foundation. Count Rumford was a Massachusetts man, who unfortunately proved to be a Tory in the Revolution ; but, in the service of the elector, afterwards the king, of Bavaria, he achieved a good deal in the scientific way. When he died, he left to Harvard College a sum of money for instruction in the sciences which are of use to human life ; and this chair has been filled successively by Jacob Bigelow, by Daniel Treadwell, by Eben Norton Horsford, who has just now died, by Wolcott Gibbs, and is now held by Mr. Trowbridge. Treadwell had such interesting subjects as Railways to lecture on, in the very infancy of railroad business, and his lectures supplemented admirably the lectures which we had heard, and I may say had seen, from Mr. Lovering.
While I was in college, Mr. Sparks came as professor of history ; he was afterwards president. He was an old and very intimate friend of my father’s, and had been a great deal at our house, so that I do not remember when I did not know him. He was of a most lovely personal character, and in the early days of children’s life, sitting round the table in the parlor, we were always delighted if Mr. Sparks came in. It may readily be imagined that, busy as we were of evenings, we generally detested the presence of any visitor; the great exceptions were Mr. and Mrs. Palfrey, Dr. Jacob Bigelow and his charming wife, and Mr. Sparks. So, when Mr. Sparks came to lecture to us on the history of the American Revolution, I felt as if I were welcoming an old friend, and almost as if I ought to do the honors of the lecture-room to him. A good many of our fellows knew him, because he engaged those who wanted to earn money in copying the documents of which he had to use so large a number in his historical books. I owe to these lectures with him, and to my conversations with him afterwards, two or three of the personal anecdotes which keep me in touch with Revolutionary times. He had himself seen ever so many of the Revolutionary people, and had interviewed them to great purpose ; his recollections of Lafayette, for instance, were very interesting.
Our dear Channing had some lectures which he had to deliver, as Boylston Professor, on subjects immediately connected with rhetoric and oratory. That chair had originally been filled by John Quincy Adams. His lectures when he was in that chair are in print, and I observe in his grandson’s history that, when Jefferson or any of that crew wanted to speak contemptuously of John Quincy Adams, they called him “ Professor Adams,” as if a professor in college of course knew nothing of statecraft. But either we were too young, or Channing’s lectures were too recondite ; we got no good out of them.
A line of instruction more amusing, to say the least, was the instruction in music. The exercises in chapel on Sunday required, according to the old Puritan traditions, three hymns. Two hymns before the sermon and one after are a regular part of the Congregational ritual. In the gallery, reserved for the choir, was a wheezy little organ, which had formerly belonged to Mrs. Craigie. Somebody was appointed to play the organ, and he was considered responsible for getting enough men who could sing into the choir to sing the hymns. But on one fatal Sunday, I think in the year 1837, the singing broke down. Mr. Quincy was as used to doing things by word of command as Napoleon was, and the next morning he sent round for the organist, and asked him what the matter was. The organist replied that nobody in college knew how to sing, and this was the reason that there was no singing. So the president went to the corporation, and got leave to engage a teacher who should teach the boys how to sing, and he supposed that all would be well. This was just the time when, under the guidance of Mr. Samuel Atkins Eliot, father of the present president, and other gentlemen of his public spirit, music in Boston began to receive some consideration. The great teachers of vocal music for the public at large were Lowell Mason and George J. Webb, names not known to this generation excepting as they still linger in connection with certain hymn tunes.
Accordingly Mr. Webb was engaged, and we were told that everybody might learn to sing. It was to be a volunteer exercise, and to be attended from twelve o’clock to one, an hour which was free, because, under the old traditions to which I have alluded, it was not in what were called “study hours.” When the day came, half college proceeded to the dining-room assigned to Mr. Webb, and, with a blackboard, he told us the difference between do and re and mi and fa, and how a quaver differed from a semiquaver. He gave some additional elementary instruction, with which we were more or less familiar, and then he started us all on singing by ear together. I remember we sang, “ O County Guy, the hour is nigh.” All this answered very well for two or three days. After a few such exercises, however, he said it was desirable to separate the voices, and that he would like to have gentlemen come down to him and try their voices one by one, so that he might separate his basses from his tenors, and get somebody to sing the alto. I imagine he did not dare to say that some of us could still sing soprano, or treble, as he would have called it. He spoke in a sort of “meaehing” way, as if he were rather apologetic, — in just the way which does not impress youngsters at all, soliciting us instead of ordering us. And he said he hoped some gentleman would be first.
Now, it was a characteristic of mine, is now, perhaps, if I can get out of a room without incivility, to get out of it. Consequently I rose first, and, to the admiration of a hundred and fifty other undergraduates, sang up the scale and back, with tolerable success. Then Webb smiled with a wise grin upon me, thanked me for being the first, when it was so disagreeable to be first, and said, “ Your voice is what is called a baritone voice: you will sing with the bass.”
I bowed, and retired to my room. Soon the other fellows of my set joined me, to tell where they had been assigned, and to ask what had come to me. I said that mine was a baritone voice, and I was to sing with the bass. But so utterly ignorant were even intelligent people then of the most familiar terms in music that there was not one of us who had ever heard the word “baritone ” applied to any subject but the accentuation of a Greek word of three syllables. So we looked out “baritone” in Walker’s Johnson’s dictionary, and found the definition, “ A voice ranging higher than the bass, and lower than the tenor.” We all agreed that this was Webb’s civil method of telling me that I could not sing bass, and that I could not sing tenor; and I never darkened his doors again. If I had only known what brilliant positions in the world the great baritone singers have gained, if I had even so much as heard the title which belongs to them, there is no saying but at this moment I might be in some dingy theatre rehearsing for my part in Meyerbeer’s Prophet.
Something came to pass, however, from Mr. Webb’s teaching, and the singing recovered itself after a fashion. The choir in the college chapel is now, in my judgment, the best choir for a religious service with which I have ever had the satisfaction of joining. For the men’s parts, you have the pick of a couple of thousand students ; and for the boys’, the pick of the Cambridge public schools, who send sixteen nice little fellows to sing the soprano and alto parts of the music. For many years of my later life I was in very pleasant relations with these boys, some of whom were as old as I was when I was a freshman.
The general atmosphere of undergraduate life was literary, — very much more so than it is now. It is rather difficult to say what is now the drift or fashion at Cambridge, but of this I am sure, that athletics is more talked of among the young fellows than any other one subject which occupies their lives. Social science is quite a fashion at Cambridge, and all lectures bearing upon that are well attended. Of course, with this belongs politics, and to a certain extent history. These occupied us very little as students, though we read Jean Baptiste Say’s Political Economy with Mr. Bowen ; and Paley’s Moral Philosophy dabbles a little in the science of government. After these, I think I should say now that physical science, including chemistry, botany, many other studies of natural history, makes perhaps a good third, in comparison with the first and second subjects which I have noted.
But in my day literature and matters connected with belles-lettres were decidedly ahead of all other things that engaged us. In lectures, in societies, or in discussions, literary subjects took a very large place. We were, as perhaps I have said, enthusiasts about Byron ; Moore’s Life of Byron was a familiar book to everybody. The poems of Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats had just been republished here in one great volume, and we were quite familiar with them. While we were in college, Mr. Emerson returned from Europe with the first volume of Tennyson. We recognized the king at once. We passed that volume, which Lowell had borrowed from him, from hand to hand ; and, because we could not have the book, we copied it, and had the verses in manuscript. It was a very fine instance, it seems to me, of the prompt prescience of young people in knowing where the light was to break forth. By the same token, I always like to say that we knew just as well that James Lowell was to be one of the living poets of his time as we know now that he has been one.
Out of such an enthusiasm for literature Harvardiana grew, and the last three years of Harvardiana cover exactly the first three years of my college life. With the second volume men were at work on the editorial staff whom we knew ; and when we were sophomores we knew a good many of the seniors. Charles Hayward was the brother of our George Hayward. Hildreth, the poet, who died too young for the rest of us, — younger brother of the historian Hildreth, and uncle of the distinguished teacher of to-day, — Hildreth was always kind to us younger fellows. So we began then to watch Harvardiana with especial interest.
It is a good enough illustration of the life of the time that, when we were freshmen, Baker, who was afterwards governor of New Hampshire, had the courage to write to John Quincy Adams to ask him for his autograph. I think it was the first letter I ever heard of in which one person asked another for his autograph. It was by no means so commonplace an affair as it is now. To the delight of the rest of us, but to the terror of Baker, Mr. Adams sent the autograph in the shape of a translation of the first half of the thirteenth ode of the first book of Horace, and told Baker he should be glad to have him send back to him the translation of the other half. Granted that Baker could translate the ode decently, this was certain, that he had never, to anybody’s knowledge, attempted poetry ; and horror ran along the lines to think of the disgrace which the class would sustain if Mr. Adams should learn that we could not comply with his request. But Baker was quite equal to the emergency: he went round to Hildreth’s room, showed him the letter, and Hildreth kindly translated the verses. I thought then, and I think I thought rightly, that his verses were much better than Mr. Adams’s were. Well, Hildreth was one of the editors of the second year of Harvardiana.
In the fourth year, Harvardiana fell into the hands of five men with whom I happened to be entirely familiar, because my brother was one of them. Lowell was another, and some of his verses in Harvardiana have recently been reprinted, as all of us were going back to the earlier omens of his fame. The other three editors were Rufus King, afterwards distinguished as a judge in Ohio, Charles Scates, and Francis Lippitt, who was so long in the diplomatic service of the United States in Vienna. Of all this I speak more at length, because it was really in the council chambers of Harvardiana that the Cambridge branch of Alpha Delta Phi was formed.
Alpha Delta Phi is one of the best known of the college affiliated literary societies. There are one or two rather queer things about its history which I have speculated a good deal about, and some questions which I have asked which nobody has ever answered. The first of such societies, made up of “ scions ” affiliated with each other, and in theory springing from a common stock, is that of Phi Beta Kappa. It was founded in William and Mary College in 1776, before the formation of any union among the colonies. So soon as Elisha Parmelec, a young man who had studied both at Harvard and Yale, appeared at William and Mary, the Virginia Phi Beta made him its representative, probably at his own request, to introduce Phi Beta Kappa in both of those colleges. Parmelee was a young fellow with weak lungs, who had gone South for a winter. Phi Beta Kappa, as it happened, was in the habit of giving charters to branches outside itself in the State of Virginia ; apparently, when its members graduated, giving them the authority to make branches on their own responsibility. The union of William and Mary, Harvard, and Yale in these three chapters precedes the actual “ confederacy ” of the United States. As it happened, however, the Virginia society died in 1781. William and Mary College was then broken up by tiie advance of Cornwallis upon Virginia; and it is traditional that when the secretary of the society charged with his troop of cavalry, at Guilford, against Tarleton’s men, the seal of Phi Beta Kappa was in his pocket. The branches of Harvard and Yale, however, still lived ; they established a branch at Dartmouth, and from this beginning several branches were chartered in different parts of the country. These subsisted as the representation of the best scholarship in each college, and they exist to this time.
But in the year 1831, when the excitement with regard to Masonry broke out, it swept so far as into these literary circles. John Quincy Adams was a great anti-Mason, and he was at the same time very closely connected with the administration of Phi Beta Kappa. The Cambridge chapter was, by this time, the oldest chapter, and under his lead many meetings were called, to determine whether the secrets of Phi Beta Kappa should or should not be revealed. I have somewhere a long account of these discussions, which were just before my day. They ended in a vote, very closely contested, which threw open the secrets of the society to the world ; and the world has them now, if it wants them.
Now, the queer thing is that, at the very time when Phi Beta Kappa thus abandoned its affectation of secrecy, there were founded, both in the State of New York, I think, the society of Alpha Delta Phi and the society of Psi Upsilon, proposing to affiliate the different colleges in precisely the same way, for purpose of literature and good-fellowship ; and these two establishments have had great success, and have suggested the foundation of countless other Greek-letter societies, in the same spirit and for the same purpose.
What I do not know, and what nobody has ever been able to tell me, is, whether the abandonment of the secrecy of Phi Beta Kappa gave the signal for the establishment of two other secret societies ; or whether those societies were established by undergraduate enthusiasm, without any reference to the fact that Phi Beta Kappa existed or did not exist in the world.
Another curious thing is this : that at the moment when Alpha Delta Phi was established, by a young man named Eells, in Hamilton College, the plan which it proposed for coöperative life and work among sister societies was as absolutely impossible as a similar society would be now to unite us to the moon and the planet Venus. But Eells laid his foundations in faith, and within ten years the different parts of the country were so linked together by railways that his plan could be carried out. With every year since this union has grown more and more perfect, and at this moment I could travel from Boston to the Mississippi, and back by another route, and, if I chose, I could sleep every night in some chapter-house of Alpha Delta Phi, welcomed with really brotherly hospitality. When the annual convention of Alpha Delta Phi takes place, you may always meet at it men who have traveled several hundred miles, perhaps more than a thousand miles, to be present as delegates, without any material interruption of their work in their respective colleges. What Mr. Quincy or Dr. Kirkland would have said if they had been told that four or five of their best scholars expected to leave Cambridge and attend a convention of a college society in the heart of Michigan, to be absent there for three days, and to return to Cambridge without having been missed by any of their professors, I am sure I do not know. Mr. Eells is thus one of the extraordinary instances of a man who built a great deal better than he knew.
The editors of Harvardiana, by a little enlargement of their number, created the Cambridge branch of Alpha Delta Phi. They did not ask for any permission from the college government, for they knew perfectly well that it would not he granted. It was absolutely in the face of all college authority that they formed the society. This required a pretty severe assessment, because it was necessary that they should hire rooms outside the college. They did hire such rooms, and they were very near, if not on the spot, where the pretty Alpha Delta Phi club-house now stands. It was an honor of the first grade to be chosen to join these men, and the work which was done in those early days in Alpha Delta Phi was work of the first value to all of us. We were expected to read carefully in the classics or in modern writers, and to give the best results of our reading in what we wrote for the society. Lowell’s first work on the old English dramatists was done in Alpha Delta Phi. I rather think most of the members of our time would be able to tell some similar stories about their own literary experience. In all this, we were unconsciously led by the subjects which had been given to us in our themes, and occasionally, indeed, in the discussions which were called “ forensics.”
As to the general drift of all this literary enthusiasm, it was in one direction. Dr. Bellows, who graduated three years before I entered college, used to say that Wordsworth made all the better men of his time. Wordsworth was a revelation to them, when they were in college. In our time Carlyle wrought similar work, and it goes without saying that all the men of the last generation who have used the English language, who have been good for much, have been very largely under the influence of Carlyle. Mr. Emerson was just coming forward as a rising star. It seems absurd now to say that the old-fashioned people always said he was crazy. The year I was admitted into Phi Beta Kappa, — that is, in 1837, — he delivered his first Phi Beta Kappa oration. A few years ago, I was three quarters of the way up the Rocky Mountains, and in one of the most elegant houses in the World I fell in with a new edition of this address, celebrated even when it was delivered. I had not read it since the year it was written, and I read it again with great curiosity. It seems impossible now that statements as simple, even as commonplace, one might say, as are the statements of this address should have seemed to anybody then to be in the least out of the common. But while everybody listened with curiosity, many listened with scorn. At the dinner party of Phi Beta, afterwards, Mr. Everett, who was then the governor, and was one of the guests, alluded to the “ new philosophy,” as he called it, in Emerson’s presence, by comparing it with the thunderbolts which Vulcan forged for Jupiter : —
were wasting wave,
But, three were thirsty cloud, and three were
The sublime scorn with which he said “ three were empty wind ” seemed to us sophomores perfectly magnificent. The toast was itself very happy, and I have had the pleasure of using it myself on full twenty occasions since. It adapts itself very easily to any subject of immediate discussion. The same address of Mr. Everett contained a most charming reference to Charles Emerson, the brother of Waldo Emerson, who died so young. And I may say, in passing, that Waldo Emerson never lost the regard, I might say the enthusiasm, with which he spoke of Edward Everett, whom he had known as professor of Greek literature at Cambridge, when really he revived the enthusiasm of the college for classical literature. To the good-natured criticism in the quotation from Virgil, Emerson made no reply. It is clear enough that if he had needed a reply he could have said that, whatever the bolts were made of, the result was lightning.
One of the breaks in college life, in those days, came with the exhibitions. In later days they have been abandoned, dying out in the face of the pressure of modern life, I think from the difficulty that it proved impossible to secure an audience. Probably the great festivity of Class Day takes the place of all such minor entertainments. But in these prehistoric times of which I write the minor festivities held their own, and at, the three exhibitions and at Commencement there were large parties of ladies and gentlemen who visited the college, and who were entertained with more or less success.
Exhibitions were known as “junior exhibitions ” or “ senior exhibitions.” This meant that the highest part in the junior exhibition was taken by the highest junior ; while in the senior exhibition the highest parts were taken by the second and third seniors. You knew who was the first scholar in the junior class when the junior exhibition parts were given out; at the same time, you knew who were the first eight sophomores, for they had minor parts in the same exhibition. The October exhibition gave the second senior his part, the first having had his as a junior ; and the April exhibition gave the third senior his part. At the October exhibition you knew who were the second eight in the junior class, and at the April exhibition who were the third eight. The theory was that twenty-four pupils had such honors before Commencement ; at Commencement one or two more were added to the list.
If you had had one of these subordinate parts, as belonging to the first twenty-four, and did not lose ground, you had, at your second exhibition, an original part, a disquisition or dissertation or an oration. What I have called the subordinate parts were translations. So, if you were in the upper twentyfour of your class, you spoke at two exhibitions before Commencement. At Commencement you had another part, an oration, a dissertation, a disquisition, or a Latin or Greek part, according to your rank. So much was matter of college regulations, but the custom was that men who spoke invited their friends out to hear them ; and as there were sixteen speakers at each exhibition, this generally made a company of two or three hundred ladies and gentlemen, who came out to “ see the colleges ” on those particular days.
On those days there were no other college exercises ; generally the Pierians were in attendance, and thus they made pretty fêtes for us on a small scale, as Class Day makes one of the most charming fêtes of the year now. If you had a part, you of course rehearsed for it with the teacher of elocution. What was quite as important, you went down to see Ma’am Hyde, who had a little shop on Dunster Street, and you hired your silk gown. You paid her fifty cents for a day’s use of it. She had enough of these gowns to answer for the whole class ; and unless a boy was the son of a clergyman, or otherwise connected with a good silk gown, he hired one for use. They were very sleazy silk, and certainly would not stand alone, but they answered their purpose.
The exhibition itself began with a Latin salutatory, in which you said civil things about the pretty girls, and thanked the professors and president for their kindness to you. Then went on discussions of the character of Napoleon or Alexander the Great, or speculations why there were or were not literary men in America, with a Latin or Greek dialogue, translated backward from some modern poet; and after every four or five numbers “ music by the Pierian Sodality.” While the music went on, you walked round and talked with your pretty friends, or your uncles or your aunts, and invited them to the spread at your own room, — but the word “ spread ” was not then invented. So the sixteen numbers pulled through, every speaker bowing to the president and then to the audience, making his speech, bowing again, and retiring.
There were certain “ silent parts,” as they were called, because the mathematical and chemical departments wanted to show who were their best men, irrespective of general college rank. These were assigned to three or four men, who wrote them out, and tied them up in rolls with highly colored ribbon. When their time came, they marched across the stage, made their bows to the presiding officer of the overseers, gave the roll to him, made another bow to the president, and retired.
This will be as good a place as any to tell the varying fortunes of Class Day itself, of which I happen to remember one of the most important crises. Class Day seems to have originated as early as the beginning of the century. The class itself chose a favorite speaker as orator, and some one who could write a poem, and thus had its own exercises of farewell. There grew up, side by side with these farewell exercises, a custom by which the class “treated ” all the rest of the college, and eventually “treated” every loafer in Cambridge. As I remember the first Class Days which I ever saw, they were the occasions of the worst drunkenness which I ever saw. On the night before Class Day, some of the seniors, I do not know but what all, went out to the lower part of the college grounds, where there was still a grove of trees, and “ consecrated the grove,” as the phrase was, — which meant, drank all the brandy, whiskey, rum, and other spirits that they liked. Then, on the afternoon of Class Day. the class met at the same tree which is now the centre of dancing. There were pails of punch there, and every loafer In Cambridge and the neighborhood drank what he pleased. It really was a very bad debauch, not so much for the students as for the hangers-on.
With such memories of Class Day, President Quincy, in 1838, sent for my brother and one or two others of the class of that year, in whom he had confidence, to ask what could he done to break up such orgies. He knew he could rely on the class for an improvement in the customs. They told him that if he would give them for the day the use of the Brigade Band, which was then the best band we had in Boston, and which they had engaged for the morning, they felt sure that they could improve the fête. The conditions, observe, were a lovely June day, the presence in the morning at the chapel, to hear the addresses, of the nicest and prettiest girls of Boston and neighborhood, with their mammas, and the chances of keeping them there through the afternoon. Mr. Quincy gladly promised the band. And when the day came, it became the birthday of our Class Day. Word was given to the girls that they must come to spend the day. In the chapel, Coolidge delivered a farewell oration. Lowell, alas, was at Concord, not permitted to come to Cambridge to recite his poem ; it had to be printed instead. When the ode had been sung, the assembly moved up to that shaded corner between Stoughton and Holworthy, the band people stationed themselves in the entry of Stoughton between 21 and 24, with the windows open, and the “dancing on the green,” of which there still linger traditions, began. The wind-instrument men said afterwards that they had never played for dancing before, and that their throats were worn dry; and I suppose there was no girl there who had ever before danced to the music of a trombone. When our class came along, in 1839, we had the honor of introducing fiddles. I shall send this paper to the charming lady, the belle of her time, with whom I danced in the silk gown in which I had been clad in delivering the Class Poem of my year. For we marched from the chapel to the dance. Does she remember it as well as I do?
Commencement was a function far more important than the exhibitions or than Class Day, which, to speak profanely, were side shows. No audience can now be persuaded to sit six hours, or more, to hear perhaps thirty addresses. So now, while a certain theory is maintained that certain of the best scholars in the large graduating classes prepare addresses, by far the larger number of them are excused, and only four or five speakers, representing four or five branches of the university, actually address the audience. No one has to be in the Theatre more than two hours.
But in the first half of the century the function consumed the day. People had more time, and, with a certain ebb and flow of the assembly of auditors, the First Church was kept full. Originally there was a recess in the middle of the day, for dinner, I think ; but of this I am not sure. In our day, about twenty-five of the graduating class spoke, and there were one or two addresses by speakers who represented the “ masters; ” that is, those who took their second degree three years after they graduated. A “ master ” might have fifteen minutes for his address, I believe. The three seniors who had “orations” — that is, the highest scholars in the graduating class — had ten minutes. In order of rank, there followed dissertations, disquisitions, and, if anybody could write verse, a poem. A dissertation was eight minutes long, and a disquisition four. Of all this you were notified when you were appointed. Now, if the reader will imagine that, after every group of five parts, there was an interlude of music, and people got up and walked about, and those of us who could not stand it any longer went off, so that seats were changed, he will see that a good deal of time ebbed away before the different addresses and all the music were finished. Then came the distribution of degrees, very much according to the forms which are still in use. The whole function lasted six or seven hours even then.
All this was hard enough on the audience ; but if a person spoke at Commencement, he was pretty sure to have some members of his family, and perhaps a large group of friends, to hear him ; so that you were more sure of the numbers of your audience than you are now. The galleries, in particular, were always crowded with ladies, — mothers, sisters, and sweethearts of the combatants. There was a Latin salutatory; but very little Latin or Greek was left in the performances in my time. There were traditions of Hebrew addresses, but I never heard Hebrew spoken from the college stage.
The president and his guests went to dine at Harvard Hall after the Commencement ; but it was not until later years, under the auspices of the Alumni Association, that the Commencement dinner was made an occasion for good speaking, and became a festivity which any one cared to attend. All the same, a regular charge was made in the last term bill for “ the expenses of the Commencement dinner,” up to the year 1833. This involved a contract that the graduate should receive his Commencement dinner free as long as he lived. That contract is still faithfully kept up, and at every Commencement dinner at Harvard you see a body of gentlemen, now becoming smaller and smaller, appear, who paid for their tickets sixty or more years ago.
And thus we launch the schoolboy upon life. Commencement meant commencement ; it was the beginning of responsibility. He had to make his own chance now. If the bell rang, he obeyed or not, as he pleased. All this means that his boyhood was over.
Edward E. Hale.
- A New England Boyhood, in The Atlantic for November, 1892.↩