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England as Phi Beta itself. On it the undergraduates, or
rather the Seniors, reign supreme. The Yard, the Theatre,
Memorial Hall, I might almost say the College itself, are all
under their rule. It is the first but the great day of the Feast,
" the greatest day," according to The Crimson, " in a Harvard
student's career." "The old-time glory of Commencement,"
we are told, " has departed." To a stranger, however, a good
deal of it seems left. Class Day, which gathers as great a
crowd of the young and happy as even Eights' Week or
Commemoration at Oxford, has taken more than two centuries
to attain its present importance. Almost from the first it was
the custom for the Seniors each year to choose one of their
number who, in the name of all, should take leave of the


College in a Valedictory Oration in the Latin language. Who
but the philosophic student would believe that out of this
humble beginning could have sprung all the gay costumes, the
feastings, the dancing, the music, the illuminations, and the
wildest of struggles? In somewhat early days the Valedictory
was accompanied by a large consumption of strong liquors.
In 1 760 each Senior brought his bottle of wine to the meeting.
Josiah Quincy, describing a dinner some seventy years ago,
says : " Caleb Cushing came in, and gave for a toast, ' The
bands of friendship, which always tighten when they are wet.'
When we had all drunk our skins full, we marched round to
all the Professors' houses, danced round the Rebellion and
Liberty Trees, and then returned to the Hall. A great many
of the Class were half-seas over." ^ In 1834 " iced punch was
brought in buckets.- Colonel T. W. Higginson of the Class of
1 84 1 " can remember when the Senior Class assembled annu-
ally round ' Liberty Tree ' on Class Day, and ladled out bowls
of punch for every passer-by ; — till every Cambridge boy saw
a dozen men in various stages of inebriation about the College
Yard."^ Perhaps the Colonel describes not the scenes of his
undergraduate days but of his boyhood, for it was in 1838, we
are told, that " President Quincy encouraged the conversion of
the Day into the respectable celebration which it has since
been." * To the class of 1838 " Lowell, and the sculptor Story,
and other congenial souls belonged." To them the main
credit of this conversion has been given.^ Lowell's influence,

1 Figures of the Past, p. 49.
"^ Historical Sketch, etc., by W. R. Thayer, p. 57.
3 Harvard's Better Self, by W. R. Bigelovv, p. 7.
* Historical Sketch, etc., p. 58.

^'&y Yi&niyV^d.te.^m Appletoii's Journal {or March, 1870; quoted in
History of Higher Education in Massachusetts, by G. G. Bush, p. 197.


whatever it was, must have been exerted from a distance, for
all the spring and summer he was in a state of " suspension "
some miles away. His neglect of his prescribed studies — a
neglect in which perhaps, like him who was bidden to " let
Euclid rest and Archimedes pause," he was " not unwise" —
had been visited by the Harvard form of rustication. " Suspen-
sion," as we read in the Catalogue, " is a separation from the
University for a fixed period of time. It may be accompanied
with a requirement of residence in a specified place, and of
the performance of specified tasks." Lowell had been sent
to the pleasant village of Concord " to carry on his studies
under the charge of the Minister." He was not as yet an
Emersonian, or he might have sought for consolation from the
Philosopher of Concord under the disappointment that came
upon him. Though he had been chosen Class Poet, he was
not allowed to be present to read his poem to his classmates.
" It was printed for their use, and the little pamphlet, his first
independently printed production, has become one of the
desiderata of bibliomaniacs." ^

As a necessary part of the modern refinements, by whomso-
ever they were introduced, the friends of the Seniors were
invited to the ceremony. Wine and punch soon fell into the
background as sisters and cousins came to the front. For the
ladies elegant collations — "Spreads," to use the Harvard
term — were provided by the wealthier members of the Class
or by a subscription. There was dancing in the open air in
the Yard and under cover in the Hall. In 1846 Longfellow
records in \(\'=, Journal : "July 16, Class Day. In the after-
noon a dance in Harvard Hall ; then the farewell shouts at the
doors of the several Colleges, and the wild ring around the old

'^Letters of J. R. Loivell, I. 27, 31.


'Liberty Tree.' " ^ In 1850 the following account was writ-
ten : " Cotillons and the easier dances are performed in the
Yard, but the sport closes in the Hall with the Polka and other
fashionable steps. The Seniors again form, and make the
circuit of the buildings, great and small. They then assemble
under the Liberty Tree, around which, with hands joined, they
dance after singing the students' adopted song, Atild La?ig
Syne, At parting, each member takes a sprig or a flower from
the beautiful ' Wreath ' which surrounds the ' farewell tree,'
which is sacredly treasured as a last memento of College scenes
and enjoyments."^ Adopted, in this quotation, must be, I
think, a misprint for adapted, for Burns's song has been fitted
to Harvard after the following fashion : —

"Ye rooms, ye halls, ye rough old bricks,
Ye trees, ye walks of mine !
How are ye hallowed by the dreams
Of ' auld lang syne.' " ^

Every year the gathering grows larger and larger, and the
" Spreads " become more numerous and more elaborate. In
the Class Day Supplement to the Harvard Crimson, I found a
column headed : " A List of the men who will spread, with the
places where the Spreads will be given." There were eighty-
eight hosts in all, but as they had clubbed together in smaller
or larger groups, there were only fourteen places where their
hospitality was dispensed. At the end of the list were such
announcements as the following : " The Pi Eta Spread is in
the Hemenway Gymnasium on Friday in the middle of the
day." " The Spread in Lower Massachusetts is on Friday at 6.

^ Life of H. IV. Longfellow, II. 50.

'^ College Words and Cusiotus, quoted in An LLisiorical Sketch, etc., p. 58.

8 Quincy's Harvard, II. 672.


After the Spread the hosts will receive their friends in their
rooms." So extensive have become the preparations that " the
constant services of a hired manager are required." In the
early part of the century it was often on Commencement Day,
and not on Class Day, that the young Bachelor entertained his
friends. When Prescott took his degree, his father, proud of
his son's having a part assigned to him in the Exercises, gave
a sumptuous dinner to over five hundred guests in a great
marquee. The day ended with " dancing and frolicking on
the green." *

The simple ceremony of the " Valedictory " had expanded
on more sides than one. To the Orator a Poet, as has been
seen, had been added ; and later on an Odist, an Ivy Orator,
a Chorister, a Hymnist, and a Chaplain. The Chaplain, the
Hymnist, the Orator, and the Odist represented the sober side
of hfe ; the Poet and Ivy Orator its humorous. The Ivy Orator
took his name from the custom that once prevailed of each
Class planting an ivy-shoot on Class Day. At the place where
it was put into the ground, he delivered his oration ; but as
the plant never grew, no doubt because it could not stand the
summer heats, so the custom was abandoned. He answers to
the Terrce Films of the Oxford Commemoration in the old
days, but he never goes to the lengths on which that gross,
though licensed, buffoon used to venture. There are no scurri-
lous jests uttered by him against the President and the Pro-
fessors. About the beginning of the present century the
Orator ventured to give his Valedictory in English. This
innovation the Faculty resisted, as " it gives," to quote their
words, " more the appearance of a pubhc Exhibition designed
to display the talents of the Performers and entertain a mixed

1 Life of IV. H. Prescott, p. 25.


audience than of a merely valedictory address of the Class to
the Government, and taking leave of the Society and of one
another, in which Adieu Gentlemen and Ladies from abroad
are not particularly interested." ^ In the end the Faculty gave
in, as Faculties almost always do give in, and Latin disappeared
from Class Day. The Odist composes an ode to be sung to
the tune of Fair Harvard. The Chorister had to write the
music for the Class Song and conduct the singing at the Tree.
For the Song, by a vote of the Class of 1891, Fair Harvard was
substituted ; so that one-half of the Chorister's task has been
swept away. The Chaplain and Hymnist have disappeared.
The management of the day is under the control of a Secretary,
three Marshals, and three Committee-men. Every October,
soon after the beginning of the Academic Year, the Seniors
meet to elect their Orators, Poets, and the rest. Those only
have votes who are candidates for the Bachelor's degree at the
next Commencement. The voting is by secret ballot. In the
list of the Poets are found the names of Story the Jurist,
Palfrey and Bancroft the historians, Emerson, Holmes and
Lowell. It is more by chance than by the discernment of his
classmates that Emerson appears in this goodly company, for
he was not chosen till seven of his comrades had refused to be
inspired.- Among the Orators less distinguished names are
found. In 1846, however, Longfellow recorded in his Jour-
nal": "Class Day. The Oration by Child, extremely good;
one of the best — on the whole the best — I have heard on
such occasions." Child is Professor F. J. Child, the learned
editor of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. On the

^ An LListorical Sketch, etc., p. 57.

* R. W. Emerson^ by O. W. Holmes, p. 45.

« Life oflL W. Longfellow, Vol. II. p. 50.


publication of the first part Lowell wrote to him : " You
have really built an imperishable monument, and I rejoice as
heartily as the love I bear you gives me the right in having
lived to see its completion." ' A few years ago the choice of
the class for Orator fell on a negro, in whom there was not a
drop of white blood. That a negro can be a fine speaker had
been shown long before by Frederick Douglass. Whether this
young man was chosen solely for his merits or as a noble
expression of sympathy for a despised race, I do not know.
Perhaps in the choice there was a touch of kindly humour.

The Orators and Poets of 1893 all distinguished themselves
in the examinations. To two of them parts were assigned in
the exercises at Commencement. In the Class Day election the
balance, it seems, is held true between mind and body ; the
four who had been selected for their gifts of oratory and poetry
were balanced by four who were selected for their services in
athletics. The Marshals were the Captains of the Baseball and
Football Teams and of the Boat ; the Secretary was the Man-
ager of the Football Eleven.^ The three Committee-men
were, no doubt, if not Orators, Poets, or Athletes, at least
good fellows.

The greatest day in a Harvard student's career is surely also
the longest day. On rising, he puts on evening dress, and he
does not take it off till midnight, and often till long after.
There is, however, for a brief interval an easier costume worn
by those who take part in the exercises at the Tree. According
to the old custom, to the evening dress a tall silk hat was added,
but by the recent vote by which cap and gown have been made
part of the costume of the day, the hat is no longer needed.

1 Letters of J. R. Lowell, II. 304.

^Harvard Graduates^ Magazine, January, 1893, p. 306.



How much is done in the course of this midsummer's day is
shown by the following official Programme : —

" 9 A.M. The Senior Class will assemble in front of Holworthy and
march to Appleton Chapel, where prayer will be offered by Rev. William
Lawrence, S.T.D.^

" 10.45. '^^^ Senior Class will assemble in front of Holworthy and march
to Sanders Theatre.

" 2 to 5 P.M. Music in the Yard.

"3 to 5. Dancing in Memorial Hall.

" 5. The Senior Class will assemble in front of Holworthy, cheer the
College buildings and march to the Tree.

" 8 to II. Dancing in the Gymnasium and Memorial Hall. Music and
Illumination in the College Yard.

" 8.0. The Glee Club will sing in front of Holworthy.

" 9.0. The Banjo Club and the Mandolin and Guitar Club will play on
the Law School steps."

Even when the last dance has come to an end and the last
guest has left, sleep, I am told, does not fall upon the College.
The Seniors spend the few hours of night in talking over the
stirring doings of the great day and in fond memories of their
student hfe now so rapidly drawing to its close.

" Et jam nox humida cselo
Praecipitat, suadentque cadentia sidera somnos,"

" Nature's soft nurse " bids, but bids in vain.

The weather, which I am told almost always favours Class
Day, this year showed it no indulgence. I have heard Ameri-
cans on our side of the Atlantic complain of the changeable-
ness of the climate, not only of England, but of Europe. It
was a disappointment to me to find how uncertain a New Eng-
land June can be. There was a variety in it that was worthy

1 Dr. Lawrence last year succeeded Phillips Brooks as Bishop of


of Cumberland or Devonshire. On the afternoon of the seventh
of the month the thermometer in my room in Cambridge
stood at 91, though the Venetian shutters had been kept closed.
On the thirteenth, at a little village on the sea-coast we were all
sitting round a blazing log fire. On the seventeenth fires were
kept burning all day. On the twenty-fourth, calling at two houses
in Cambridge, in both I found my friends sitting round the fire.
In the southern parts of England I had never seen a fire so late
in the summer, and yet Boston is in the same latitude as Rome.
If the summer is late in coming and is uncertain even when it
has come, in the clearness of the air and the blueness of the
sea, on fine days, it displays the charms of the Mediterranean
shore. Hawthorne was disappointed by the Italian skies. They
were, he said, what he had been used to all his life in New
England. In the exaggerated expectations which he had formed
of them, he had been misled by the English poets, who had
judged them by the quiet colours of cloudy England. It was
with no Italian sky, but with cold and heavy rain that Class Day
set in. The break in the weather that we anxiously looked for
never came, and I was kept a prisoner to the house the whole
day. The following description of all that went on I quote
from a letter written by my wife : —

" Class Day this year broke wet and stormy, much to our
disappointment. Great trouble had been taken to secure for
us tickets for everything worth seeing. Without these tickets
no one can gain admission. The Graduating Students are the
hosts, and issue them to all as their guests. At ten we had
to be in our places in Sanders Theatre. The whole place
looked very much like the Sheldonian at Commemoration,
crowded with mothers and sisters and cousins in gay sum-
mer dresses, a good many of the Professors and a fair


sprinkling of young men. We missed, however, the gowns,
Professors looking only like ordinary mortals ; and there was
no Undergraduates' Gallery and no noise such as we are used
to at home. Imagine, if you can, a Commemoration at which
all was done ' decently and in order,' no uproar, no foolish
jokes ; but that is a flight beyond the imagination of any one
who has seen and heard Oxford men on such an occasion.

" The body of the Hall was reserved for those students who
were to receive their degree, and at eleven they marched in,
two and two, in cap and gown. The Bishop- elect followed
with the students who are the ofifice-bearers of the year ; they
took their seats on the duis on chairs placed in front of palms
and flowering shrubs, with a gigantic '93 in flowers fastened
to the gallery over their heads. In this gallery was an excel-
lent string band which played between the various exercises.
The meeting began with prayer, the Bishop praying in the
name of the Class of 1893; and then the Senior Marshal
called upon the Orator to begin his Oration. The Orator,
who was a member of the graduating Class chosen for the
office by his classmates, stepped to the front of the dais and
began. He had learned his oration carefully by heart, and
had been trained in the method of delivery; he spoke it
well ; matter and style were good, but they lacked fire and
spontaneity. He was followed in turn by the Poet, the Ivy
Orator (whose business it is to make a comic speech full of
allusions to what has lately been happening in the University),
and the Odist, who repeated a short ode of his own composi-
tion. It was then sung by every one to the tune of Fair Har-
vard, i.e. * My lodging is on the cold ground,' which may be
called the national air of Harvard. After this we were dis-
missed by the Bishop- elect with his blessing.


"The one distinguishing feature of the gathering was its
completely democratic nature. The President of the Uni-
versity sat there with his wife in the central seat of the Audi-
torium ; but he was nothing more than one of the many
spectators. The Dons, as Dons, were non-existent. The
men of '93 were everything. They had chosen the spokes-
men of the day ; orations, poem, and ode were all addressed
to them ; every arrangement had been made by them, and
was carried out by them as supreme. Even in what was said
and sung there was not the slightest reference to any other
authority. Harvard took form in one's mind as a large
democracy, the students governing themselves in all things.

" Our next duty was to attend one of the ' Spreads.' Spread
is the name given to a meal provided by the students, and
means lunch or supper, or still more often one that goes on
a great part of the day. It is of the nature of a ball supper \
salads, sandwiches, and ice-creams, with many varieties of
cake, being what is usually provided. Strawberries and cream
are usually added during the summer. One of the largest and
gayest of the Spreads on Friday was held in the great Gym-
nasium. Here the large hall had been adorned with a pro-
fusion of flowers and evergreens, and with garlands hung from
side to side of the high roof. Again a great '93 in flowers
was conspicuous in front of the gallery. When we arrived
there about half-past three o'clock, dancing was going on
vigorously. The Class of '93 looked very droll dancing in
cap and gown. Many of the girls had pretty dresses and
pretty faces, too, the exercise giving them just that touch of
colour which American girls so often lack. The chaperones
sat round the room, and the long refreshment-table was down
one side ; the band in the gallery above. The expense of the


whole was borne by a small party of young men of the Gradu-
ating Class.

" By half-past four the ball was over, the Gymnasium deserted,
and we were once more plodding through the rain and mire, in
goloshes and waterproofs, to the quadrangle in which were to
take place the Tree Exercises, the thing I was especially anxious
to see. This part of Harvard Class Day is always considered
the most important, as well as the prettiest sight for visitors to
see. The tree, a tall and stately American elm, stands in the
centre of a wide lawn with College buildings on three sides.
For Class Day the lawn is enclosed by tiers of wooden raised
seats, and the tree is garlanded by a long wreath of flowers
wound many times closely round the trunk about ten or twelve
feet above the ground ; while the date of the year in crimson
and white flowers is placed some eight feet higher still. Above
this again the branches spring, the bark below being quite un-
broken and offering a difficult task enough to climbers. The
rain continued as pitilessly as ever. The seats had been
covered with awnings, but not to much effect. When we
arrived they were all shining with water, and every here and
there a small stream descended from some hole, or drop by
drop fell upon some devoted bonnet from a thinner spot in the
canvas. At five o'clock the Class of '94 marched in under
umbrellas ; followed by those of '95 and '96 ; then all in turn
seated themselves on carpets which had been hurriedly spread
upon the grass. A large group of Graduates took up their
position near them ; when all were settled, to the sound of a
band in marched the men of '93. First came the three marshals,
then the band, and then some seventy or eighty young fellows
in football dress, stout jerseys, buff knickerbockers, long stock-
ings and buff shoes, and all bareheaded. They came in two by


two ; the men behind with their hands on the shoulders of those
in front, making a long, continuous winding chain, which wound
round and round the tree, and finally formed a compact mass
encircling it and the Senior Marshal, who stood at its foot in
cap and gown. Those of the Class who were not to take part
in the struggle, also in cap and gown, took up their position

" And now began the cheering. Led by the Marshal they gave
the Harvard yell — Rah-rah-rah ; Rah-rah-rah ; Rah-rah-rah ;
Har — vard ! rising in a sort of yell and repeated over and over
again in perfect time. It was begun first by '93, and then taken
up by '94, '95, '96, and the Graduates in regular succession. They
cheered the Classes; they cheered the Halls; they cheered the
President and a few favourite Professors, and then they cheered
the Ladies ; each body cheering alone and in regular order.
Finally all joined in cheering Harvard, and then the whole mass
standing, visitors and students together, sang Fair Harvard.
As we came to the last line of the song the first marshal gave a
signal to the athletes, and at once a tussling began ; each one
of them trying to get at the trunk of the tree and to mount
high enough on the shoulders of the man in front to be within
reach of the garland. The struggle was tremendous, like a
gigantic scrimmage at football ; the mass seemed at one time
all legs and arms, at another a furious combat in which some
one must lose life or limb. First one and then another rose
high on the backs or shoulders of those below, only to fall back
and be lost in the crowd. The spectators cheered and shouted
and screamed with laughter. When at last the first bunch of
flowers was successfully torn away, we all cheered as if some
great and glorious victory had been gained. It took about ten
minutes to gain possession of the long wreath ; bit by bit it was


clutched away, and flung among the men below. But there
still remained the crimson '93 high above, and I dare say
another ten minutes were spent before the frantic efforts to
reach it were crowned with success. Only two or three men were
brave enough to attempt the feat ; the famous gymnast of the
year was the one finally to achieve it. Again and again he was
dragged down ; again and again we saw him engaged in a free
fight with obstinate opponents from the vantage ground of the
shoulders of his supporters ; his jersey was torn, his body must
have been covered with bruises and his nails all in pieces ; but
in the end the rosy '93 fell amid the shouts of everybody, and
the fun was over.

" But only for a time. The crowd dispersed to rest and eat,
and dress for the various balls and receptions which closed this
busy day. Those students who were lucky enough to have
rooms looking on the College Yard had them thronged with
guests by eight in the evening. From wide-open windows every
one was looking down on the coloured lamps hung from the
fine trees and listening to the Harvard Glee Club, who, in spite
of the heavy rain, sang manfully under their umbrellas the songs
that have been sung for so many years. But we were too wet
and too tired to go out again, and we feel that we shall have to
come back some day to Cambridge to see Class Day under a
blue sky and learn what it really is."


The Undergraduates. — Harvardians and Oxonians contrasted. — The Ath-
letic Craze. — A Baseball Match. — Games regulated by the Governing
Body of the University. — President Eliot's Report.

OF my first impressions of the undergraduates, I made the

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Online LibraryGeorge Birkbeck Norman HillHarvard college, by an Oxonian; → online text (page 10 of 26)