Anser Mater


EVEN before those oversexed persons, the Freudians, divested the dreaming of dreams of the last shred of good repute left to that frequent yet flagrant practice, it was the rule of many well-conducted breakfast-tables, our own included, to taboo the recital of visionary adventures, not as damning evidence of depravity, but as unutterably childish twaddle. Why, then, do I wrong my training by publicly reviving a certain slumberous experience of last June, save to show, with our old friend Cicero, that dreams are in general images of things that men in waking hours have known? Listen to the provocation — what the psychoanalytic fellows call the ‘stimuli’ — of one summer day, and then to the resulting ‘dream-stuff’ of the ensuing night.

Deeproot University—‘dear old Deeproot ‘ — is only a stone’s throw from my home. (I know that to be the exact distance, for I sometimes throw stones at its towers.) So on June the sixteenth last, in the stifling company of the many-headed monster, I stewed on the benches of its ancient auditorium, erected in Cleveland’s second consulship, and drowsed through the protracted fever of its fortieth Commencement. There is little doubt, however, that I was fully awake during the conferring of honorary degrees, for I remember marking with especial unction the pungent contrast between the ostensible virtues of the candidates, portrayed in pretty cameos, and the traits of the men as I knew them on the street. While they bent their fat forms under the heavy weight of hooded honors, I punctured each with a pointed epithet of my own: ‘Oleaginous’ Ole Petersen, and ‘festering’ Festus Skinner, and ‘Grab-all’ Grimball, all LL. D.’s; and ‘holy’ Willie Wilkins, D. D.

‘For heaven’s sake,’ asked the man in the next seat, ‘why are they giving Willie a degree?’

‘For heaven’s sake,’ I answered.

It is necessary for the understanding of the coming dream to add that, dazed by all this academic moonshine, I tottered home, and regained my wonted poise only after reading ‘Mother Goose’ aloud to my grandchildren.

Then came night, when ‘wicked dreams abuse the curtain’d sleep.’ Meseemed that, across vividly green spaces and through shrubbery fragrant with June, I with many others hurried to a hall of collegiate Gothic, in the lofty gable of which were deeply carved the legend ‘ Anser Mater ‘ and beneath it this couplet, so suggestive of academic relations and reflections: —

When the rain raineth, and the goose winketh,
Little wotteth the gosling what the goose thinketh.

Squeezing into the crowded auditorium, I crept into a corner where I could both see and hear. The strident syllables issuing from craning necks, and mingling with hoarse cackling and heavy rustling, proclaimed the full flood of the tide of this Anserine Commencement. On the stage suddenly appeared figures at once strange and familiar, creatures remote from my daily round of life, and yet the intimates of my childhood and, only a few hours since, the inmates of my thought. And I knew in a flash that the worthies of youth’s wonderworld were to be honored with the degrees for which they had waited too long.

Madam President, — herself the incarnation of Anser Mater, — whose features under the peaked cap bespoke a soaring mind at home in those cloudlands through which, in her bestknown portraits, she sails in supreme dominion, advanced to the front of the stage and faced with impressive dignity the candidates that her own muse had made famous. I had expected the dame to speak in wonted verse, but her eulogies were couched in a sonorous prose which possessed the double merit of according perfectly with the name and the character of the goose-goddess and of maintaining fully the traditions of such tributes. Her first compliments were paid to ‘the Three Wise Men of Gotham, who went to sea in a bowl’: ‘Scholarly citizens of no mean city, natives of the world, denizens of the universe, and sons of this University, intrepid adventurers in uncharted seas, following knowledge like a sinking star beyond the utmost bounds of human thought.’ For obvious reasons these degrees were conferred in absentia by the University, which was, it seems, the residuary legatee of the Gotham mariners. Deafening applause and shouts in passable imitation of the English accent: ‘Well bowled, sirs!’

Significantly enough, another good bowler, Old King Cole, was unanimously rejected by the Anserine trustees on account of notorious features of his home-life that had already been visited with the reprobation of the W. C. T. U. and the Anti-Nicotine Society. Anser Mater is nothing if not moral. Likewise ‘the man who had naught,’ and who escaped ‘the robbers that came to rob him by running fourteen miles in fifteen days ‘ was declared absolutely ineligible to a degree by the collectors of ‘the bigger, better Anserine’ fund who had ‘followed him up,’ though his sprinting-record won for him the sympathetic support of many athletic alumni, who had covered the same distance when paced by the same collectors. The full vote of the Corporation had been unhesitatingly given, however, to another track-hero, ‘the Crooked Man who went a crooked mile and found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile.’ He was glowingly praised not only for ‘going’ his famous mile under difficulties, but also for his acquisition along the way; and he moreover received due commendation for that curvature of body and of mind which had brought success to him and prestige to Anser Mater. As he arose to receive his honors he deliberately drew from his pocket a strangely shaped coin and placed it in the outstretched palm of the University treasurer.

The next notable was Thomas Piperson. ‘Schooled in adversity in his youth (when he was known as “Tom the Piper’s son”), indeed frustrated by violent enemies, who called him harsh names, in his early attempt to create a corner in the pork market, he was later eminently successful in leading both the human and porcine world of his day a merry dance and in making his hearers pay the piper.’ To this ‘joyous herald of jazz and beloved benefactor of the youth of every country’ was awarded the degree of Doctor of Music, honoris causa. It was whispered in the audience that the University had generously offered to assist Dr. Piperson in his praiseworthy design ‘to die poor.’

Anser Mater then demonstrated her interest in foreign talents, whether one or ten, by her hearty recognition of a Welsh gentleman named Taffy. It appeared from the soaring pæan upon his acquisitive powers that, with greater success than his friend Piperson, he had made one or two daring ventures in beef and bone. He, also, had suffered wrong, even personal injury, from others. His head was ‘bloody but unbowed,’ as, stiffly erect, he received the plaudits of the multitude. I was informed that the beef and all the marrow from the bone were in the University larder.

The double degree of B. A. (Ba-a, ba-a) was conferred on Black Sheep, who was hardly distinguishable among the candidates, with the tacit understanding that the ‘three bags of wool’ be diverted from their present possessors to academic purposes. The double degree of M.A. (Mama) was given to the ‘Old Woman who lived in a Shoe’ with aptly worded commendation of her ‘lifelong warfare against race suicide and noteworthy achievements as dietitian and disciplinarian.’ High praise was accorded her well-known treatise on ‘The Child at Close Range.’ Shoe Hall, her gift to Anserine, would soon be open to subfreshmen. Three gentlemen of the name of Jack were honored with degrees, and a few minutes later announcements were made of their benefactions: the House that Jack built (to be used as College Commons), the fat and the lean uneaten by Jack Sprat and his Wife (here the degree seems to have been obtained under false pretenses and promises), and the tarts erstwhile in the possession of the Knave (Jack) of Hearts. Delighted cackles of greedy anticipation from all the children of Anser Mater! And then the insubstantial pageant faded, leaving not a quack behind.