George Birkbeck Norman Hill.

Harvard college, by an Oxonian; online

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following record in my journal : "They are shorter and
slighter than our Oxford men, with much less colour; a year or
two older, I think, unless the hot climate makes them look
older. I do not see so many gross, stupid faces, but, on the
other hand, I have not as yet noticed any of those fresh-col-
oured, pleasant, innocent faces which are so attractive at Ox-
ford." On seeing more of the men, I came to doubt whether in
appearance they were older than our undergraduates. Near the
end of my residence in Cambridge, I thus sum up my obser-
vations: "How few are the signs here of university life com-
pared with those seen in Oxford ! In Oxford, a real town
though it is, and not a suburban village like Cambridge, the
presence of the students, nevertheless, is much more conspi-
cuous. No one can walk about its streets and roads without
noticing the large number of young men — often moving in a
long stream — young men, moreover, who, as their very ap-
pearance, their dress, their manner of walking, their features
show, are not in business. In the afternoon their suit of
flannel makes it clear that they are bent on pleasure, or, at
all events, on exercise; in the morning and evening the cap
and gown indicate the student. The style, the very make of



their clothes, are not those of the young business man. Their
easy, confident step distinguishes them from the ordinary youth
of a town. The separation of the Colleges distributes this life
over the city, so that undergraduates and graduates are con-
stantly passing along the streets from College to College, or
from College to the University buildings. The Parks, the
upper river, the lower river, and the Cherwell increase this
diffusion. It is increased, moreover, by the Englishman's
love of walking and riding."

In the American Cambridge there is very little of this open
and palpable university life. The College buildings, which
are numerous, are mostly in one enclosure, the Yard. Those
which are not there — the more modern additions — are sepa-
rated from them only by a road. The students, therefore, in
going to and from lectures, do not cross the town. Outside
the Yard I have never seen them moving in a stream, except
on the days of some great baseball or football match, and
then they have but a few yards to traverse. Beyond the im-
mediate surroundings of the College they are scarcely noticea-
ble. A stranger, whose walks did not lead him past the Yard,
might for some time live within a quarter of a mile of the
College, without discovering that he was in a University
town. Boston attracts the students in large numbers, and to
Boston they go, not on foot but on the tram-cars. In their
dress, their general appearance, their gait, I discover little
of the undergraduate. In England and Germany this clan
does not hide itself. An Oxford man lets the world know
that he is an Oxford man. His self-satisfaction gives an
assurance, sometimes even a kind of swagger, to his %vhole
behaviour. He walks along the High Street as if it belonged,
not to the Corporation, but to himself. His apparel too oft


proclaims the mati. There is nothing of this here. The
Harvard undergraduate talks of himself and his comrades as
boys. He has not learnt to swagger. Probably it takes many
years at a great English public school to acquire the true
manner. Like the art of beating the French at Waterloo, it
is best learnt on the Playing Fields of Eton. His dress, too,
is much less costly and showy; for the most part it is of a
dark cloth. I notice none of those waistcoats with which an
Oxford man dazzles the poorer scholars of his college and
startles his friends at home. The ordinary Harvard man
might have stepped out of a city office or a Normal School for
Teachers. He belongs to a poorer class. Clothing, more-
over, is so expensive that many have to be content with one
suit a year. An undergraduate who had visited Europe in the
previous Long Vacation, told me that the clothes he was wear-
ing, for which he had paid three pounds in England, in Cam-
bridge would have cost him six. Every afternoon there are
no doubt men to be seen in the dress of young athletes; but
though there is the greatest possible interest taken in the
yearly boat-race with Yale, and in the baseball and football
matches, nevertheless, those who share in these sports are
far fewer than we should find in an English university. It
is, I am sure, a picked few rather than the mass of men who
play. Nowhere is there such a sight as is to be seen any
afternoon at Oxford on the river and in the Parks on the days
when there is no great race or match. The build of the men
proves, moreover, that they have not gone through that long
course of rough games which has formed the active and
powerful frames of the young English undergraduates. I am
told, however, that during the winter half of the year, North
Avenue is a training-ground for runners, who in the afternoon


and evening sweep along the "sidewalks," as if the smooth
pavement had been laid down for them, and not for quiet,
decent Christians. A noble gymnasium, moreover, has been
lately built, which is much frequented. "The fever of re-
nown," gained not by the brain, but by the body, is spreading
rapidly through the veins of young America. By its "strong
contagion " Harv^ard has been badly caught. One of my
friends, whose three sons have recently graduated, lamented
to me the excessive interest they all took in the contests of
athletes. How different it was when he was young! In those
happy days his brother, when home from College, used to talk
of books. His sons' talk was of running and jumping, of
rowing, baseball, and football. The change is great, indeed,
since the time when Dr. Wendell Holmes lamented the gen-
eral indifference of the youth of New England to bodily
exercise. In the seventh chapter of The Autocrat of the
Breakfast Table, he wrote in the year 1858: "I am satisfied
that such a set of black-coated, stiff-jointed, soft-muscled,
paste-complexioned youth as we can boast in our Atlantic
cities never before sprang from loins of Anglo-Saxon lineage.
. . . We have a few good boatmen, — no good horsemen that
I hear of, — I cannot speak for cricketing, — but as for any
great athletic feat performed by a gentleman in these lati-
tudes, society would drop a man who should run round the
Common in five minutes."

Emerson, nearly thirty years ago, speaking of Harvard,
"compared later times unfavourably with his own. 'The
Class,' he said, 'thought nothing of a man who did not have
an enthusiasm for something. ' " ^ There is enthusiasm enough

1 The Present and Future of Harvard College, by Professor W. W.
Goodwin, 1891, p. 11.


at the present day, but far too much of it is enthusiasm of a
baser sort. The hero of to-day is the captain of a "team."
If a man should now be dropped because he ran round the
Common in five minutes, he would be dropped because a
lighter-footed rival had run round it in four minutes, fifty-nine
seconds and four-fifths. On the last Saturday in June I wit-
nessed the fag-end of the baseball match between Harv^ard
and Yale. The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, kindliest and,
I trust, happiest of old men, in his long life has seen many
revolutions, political, social, literary, and scientific. Has he
ever sat upon the benches of the lofty stands on this great day
of the Harvard year? If he has, he would have had to own
that few revolutions had been more rapid, and none more
thorough, than that whose effects he was witnessing. Society
drop a man who should run round the Common in five min-
utes ! Why, here was society, unprotected by its parasols, for
three hours enduring the blaze of a New England midsummer
sun, now carried high upon the wave of triumph, now sunk
low down in the trough of despair, as victory or defeat alter-
nately hovered over the nine chosen heroes of Harvard. The
Autocrat has known and has outlived many famous men. He
himself was not the least of that group of men — that Satur-
day Club — which gave Boston a fresh renown. His friends
were Prescott, Emerson, Motley, Hawthorne, Agassiz, Dana,
Lowell. What triumph of the most triumphant of these men
could compare with that in which, on this June afternoon, in
the year of grace one thousand eight hundred and ninety-three,

the immortal Jack H was borne along and aloft by those

few, those happy few, who had got hold of one of his glorious
limbs, amid the shouts and the replication of the shouts of
surrounding thousands? It was indeed a great day. Yale


had been at last overcome — Yale, whose long line of victo-
ries, not only at baseball, but at football and on the river,
inflicts on Harvard its solitary shame. It had been overcome,
too, by the mighty strength and the "sage command" of the

glorious Jack H , of Jack H , who for many a day,

like Achilles, had not mingled in the fray. It was no fit of
the sulks which had restrained his ponderous arm and fettered,
as it were, his huge leg. It was to fate, not to caprice, that
he had yielded. For five long weeks he had been " on pro-
bation." A man gets "on probation " by his devotion to the
nobler side of university life, and by his spirited neglect of
his lectures and his lecturers. While he is on it, he is de-
barred from taking part in all matches with outsiders. A
blow, it was felt, was impending over the whole Common-
wealth of Massachusetts, with which the glory of Harvard is
inseparably bound up ; but the stern President did not yield
to the indignant outcry. There was to be no Rex Supra-
grammaticiis in the College, and the hero, if he had not to
swallow the leek, at all events had to swallow the needful
amount of knowledge. He did it, and he did it in time.
His brain, happily, was unaffected by the unwonted strain; all
that weight of learning he bore lightly as a flower, and his
unrivalled skill as a pitcher he displayed in its fullest extent.
The honour of Harvard, of Cambridge, of Boston, and of
Massachusetts was saved, and the pride of Yale, of New
Haven, and of Connecticut was laid low.

The last act in this "swelling pageant" I had, as I have
said, myself witnessed. "Fag-end," I called it; but when I
used that word, I but imperfectly recalled to my mind the
hero and the triumph. My journal has refreshed my memory.
The following is my record: "On the way to lunch with Pro-


fessor , as I passed the entrance to the baseball ground, I

saw a body of police, twenty-eight in number, marching in to
keep order. The American policemen are much less stolid-
looking than our men; they do not seem part of a machine.
They have been but little drilled. No mischievous under-
graduate, by thrusting his walking-stick between the feet of
the front man, could lay low a whole file of them, as a whole
file was once laid low in the High Street of Oxford. They
have not the air of men who are ever looking over somebody's
head. Their appearance is that of "good householders."
Falstaff would have pressed them without a moment's hesita-
tion. Bardolph would speedily have had "four Harry ten
shillings in French crowns " to set them free. Their work
must be light, to judge by a certain comfortable rotundity of
that part of the body which the English policeman confines
with a belt. Their tunic hangs loosely. "Unbuttoning thee
after supper " could never be uttered by way of reproach
against one of them. I had scarcely seen the last of these
easy-going constables, when there drove up in procession four
two-horse flies, containing the Yale team, and some of their
chief supporters. On this fine summer day they came in
closed carriages, as if they were too delicate to stand the air.
Such "drags" as I have seen in Oxford I never see here. I
was late in getting back to the ground, so hard had I found it
to tear myself away from the good talk of my friend, the most
cheery of learned Professors. A vast gathering had been fol-
lowing the changing fortunes of the game for full two hours.
Round half the field stands had been raised for the reserved
seats, sloping upwards to the height of nearly twenty feet.
They all seemed full. The very roofs of the neighbouring
buildings were crowded, while on the level ground, and up the


sloping bank at one end many thousands were massed to-
gether. A dollar (four shillings and a penny) was more than
I cared to pay for a seat; for half a dollar I got standing-
room. The people were orderly and good-humoured, though
very many, like myself, got but glimpses of the game over the
heads of those who stood in front. There were not a few
negroes in the crowd, who elbowed their way like the rest.
It was surprising to see how many of the working class could
afford so large a sum as half a dollar for admittance. A com-
mon labouring- man, however, could earn it by two and a half
hours' work.

The game, so far as I could see it, is but a poor one com-
pared with cricket. It is the old baseball of my boyhood
expanded and refined. It is almost as much below cricket
as skittles is below billiards. It is, however, far more easily
understood and followed by the ordinary spectator. Its alter-
nations of triumph are sudden. It is not an affair of days,
but of hours. A match can be played between lunch and
afternoon tea; but what do these benighted heathen cousins
of ours know of afternoon tea? As fortune began to incline
towards Harvard, the din of applause became oppressive.
The cheering — the "Harvard Yell," as it is called — being
mechanical, led by conductors, and kept up for many minutes
together, is tiresome. The undergraduates sat all together,
massed in rows, one above the other. At the foot of each
block of seats stood the leader of the cheering, facing the
spectators, and giving the time by waving both his hands, the
men responding, not only with their voices but with the move-
ment of the upper part of the body. The Harvard "yell"
I have already described. Vale responds with rah nine
times repeated, but without any pause at the third and sixth


repetitions, followed by Yak, also drawn out and in an as-
cending scale. Even Wellesley, the Ladies' College, has
its gentle "yell" — W-e-1; 1-e-s; 1-e-y; Wellesley. This
cheering, it seemed to me, went on all the time some great
player was in, or else when the fortune was so evenly balanced
that friends needed encouragement and foes depression.
It was just as if at a cricket-match the clapping was kept
up through many "overs" together. Being so mechanical,
it had none of that exhilarating effect of the loud but brief
applause at one of our matches after a great hit, which at
once subsides into a dead silence as the bowler takes the ball
and prepares to deliver it. It must surely mar the pleasure
of the lookers-on, and, moreover, unfairly depress the oppo-
sing nine, who have to play in the continuous din that is raised
against them. In the slang of the field this is known as " rat-
tling the team." It is foes, not friends, who are rattled. In
this match it was, I am told, carried to a height never before
known, to the great indignation of many of the older men.
Earlier in the season the Crimson had mourned over the decay
of "the old Harvard spirit," due, they maintained, to the
rapid increase in the number of undergraduates. This spirit
was one of "gentlemanliness." A Harvard man, it used to be
said, could never understand "the Yale fondness for pure
noise." Their understandings must have been a good deal
enlightened by this match, though perhaps it might be ob-
jected that the noise was anything but pure, having in view
victory through intimidation.

At the end of the game, when Harvard was victorious, the
crowd rushed to the goal. It was a strange sight this throng,
till this glorious moment so closely packed, so easily kept in
by the barrier of a single cord, on a sudden streaming in


dense masses towards one point. The victors were hoisted
on men's shoulders and carried round the field at a running
pace. The hero of the day, borne before all the rest, was

Jack H , a huge mass of bone, flesh, and muscle, unwieldy

but immortal. When at length he and his eight great breth-
ren reached the Pavilion, they went up to the balcony and dis-
played themselves to the admiring and shouting host below.
Whether in England, in the yearly matches at cricket and
football between Oxford and Cambridge, such wild scenes of
triumph are now to be witnessed I do not know. It is many
a year since I was a spectator; in the days when Plancus was
consul there was sobriety at all events in our games. If in
the idolatry of bodily strength and bodily skill our American
cousins are carrying craziness beyond even the point to which
we have advanced it, they are but bettering our instructions.
Let them remain where they are; in a year or tvvo we shall
catch them up in the mad race.

I could wish that at Harvard they had been content to fol-
low us in our athletic frenzy, and had stopped short of our
slang. Even the humblest of "the ten leading Universities"
of some Western State ought to feel degraded should it be
spoken of and written of as the 'Varsity. Thirty-five years
ago in Oxford this vile pronunciation was confined to the
men who hung about the cricket-grounds and the College
barges, ready to pick up a chance sixpence by rendering
some trifling service, or to drink a gentleman's health without
rendering any service at all. Even a junior scout would have
disdained to use it. From these idlers it passed to the
cricketers and boating-men, and so gradually onwards to the
whole body of undergraduates. Now it is familiar as a house-
hold word in the mouths of Fellows of Colleges and Tutors.


Grave Proctors have not been kept by the velvet sleeves of their
gowns and their dignity from employing it, and from the
lips of Professors in their lighter moods it occasionally drops
when they wish to show that they are not unacquainted with
the modes of the modern world. Major Pendennis caught
from the young men the fashion of speaking of his card as
his "pasteboard." Degradation has not as yet spread so far
as this at Harvard. No Professor, no Assistant Professor, I
verily believe, has as yet lost so much of "the old Harvard
spirit" as to call his beloved Alma Mater the 'Varsity.

Matches are regulated by the governing bodies in Harvard
in a way which is altogether unknown in Oxford. There the
control, such as it is, is exercised by each College. The
University, beyond giving over part of the Parks to the cricket
and football clubs, knows nothing of games. At Harvard, up
to the year 1882, there had been but one restriction imposed
on the athletes. No match or race could take place till after
the last recitation^ hour on Saturday (one o'clock), or after
four o'clock on other days. This rule shows how great is the
difference in the daily life of the two Universities. At Oxford
the common hours for exercise are between half-past one and
half-past four. In the winter half of the year, by four o'clock
or a little later all the games at football are over, and men
stream homewards from the Parks, in all the glory of mud
and sweat, not yielding the path to any. About the same
time the boating-men are flocking in from the river. In
summer, when there is no match, the cricketers return by half-
past four. They all come back in time to change their

1 That which we call a college lecture, that is to say, a class taken by a
college tutor, as distinguished from a public lecture delivered by a uni-
versity professor, is at Harvard known as a recitation.


clothes and take a cup of tea before the reading-men get to
work with their tutors. This kind of work goes on till nearly
seven — the general hour for dinner — and is often resumed
after a two hours' interval. In my time at Oxford, "the
rather luxurious practice," with which President Eliot charges
the Law School, "of using for lectures chiefly the hours from
nine to one,"^ was, I believe, very general. With the stroke
of one we had done with lecturing and the tutors had done
with us — the rest of the day was ours, to dispose of as we
pleased. I remember the kind of shock it gave me when, on
a visit to Oxford, two or three years after I had taken my
degree, calling in the evening on a young and zealous tutor I
found him engaged with a small class of reading-men. There
used to be, and no doubt there still is, a great difference, not
only among different Colleges, but among the tutors of the
same College, in the strictness with which attendance at lect-
ures is enforced. One of my tutors, who was described in
the Cricketers^ Guide as "the remains of a fine player," was
full of indulgence when a match was coming off. As Master
of the College, he still kept up his interest in games. The
last time I saw him was one day in the late autumn when he
was drawn in his Bath Chair to the Football Field. A great
match was to be played, and though he had nearly reached
the limit of fourscore years, he would not miss it. A pleasant
story is told of the kind old man which shows the tact with
which he governed the undergraduates. The College boat was
one year at the head of the river. The eight, in their pride
at seeing one of the smallest of the Colleges in this great posi-
tion, invited the University crew to dine with them in Hall.

^ Annual Reports of the President and Treasurer of Harvard College,
1891-92, p. 25.


There is a limit in the cost of the dinner beyond which no
one is allowed to go. This they would have exceeded by the
haunch of venison which they ordered. The manciple, not
caring to face the wrath of headstrong youth, instead of refu-
sing to provide it, consulted the Master. He sent for the Cap-
tain of the Eight, and told him that by a regulation of the
College which was not to be set aside, the venison could not
be had. As the young man, full of vexation, was leaving the
room, the old man called him back. "You are going," he
said, "to entertain the University crew. It is a great day for
you and the College, and I am sorry that any of our regula-
tions, excellent though they may be in themselves, should
stand in your way. I think I see a way out of the difficulty.
There is no rule of the College which forbids the Master to
ask you to accept a haunch of venison, and I shall have great
pleasure in sending one for you and your friends."

In Harvard, in the spring of 1882, one of the Professors,
who had none of the tastes of my old Master, drew the atten-
tion of the Faculty to the list of matches of the Baseball Club
for the coming season. Out of twenty-eight, nineteen were to
be played away from Cambridge. "Could the members of
the teams," he indignantly asked, "be said to be fulfilling
the purpose for which they came to College?" A Standing
Committee on the Regulation of Athletic Sports was ap-
pointed. It was composed of three members, all of the Fa-
culty. They had the good sense to begin their work by taking
the leading athletes into their counsels. "The attitude of the
young men was one of friendly tolerance. They evidently
feared that in the main the Members of the Committee
were practically too inexpert to be safely intrusted with legis-
lation on such important matters. . . . The Faculty received


from them a remonstrance, in which it was skilfully but
clearly intimated that they should hesitate to pass laws in
regard to a game which they did not understand. This gave
rise to the celebrated mot of one of the older members, a man
of gentle spirit but then thoroughly roused, who said that he
and his colleagues, it was true, might not know when the
ball was kicked properly, but they certainly did know when a
man was kicked improperly. The game was at this time
notoriously rough. During this discussion a new definition
of the Rugby game was given by a Cambridge wit. ' The
games,' she said, *in which they carry the ball and kick one
another.' "

After the first Committee had sat for three years, its place
was taken by a second composed of five members, two of
whom were undergraduates. All five were selected by the
President of the University. Like its predecessor, " it regu-
lated athletic contests as friends and not as enemies. Mean-
while trouble was brewing in a new and unexpected quarter."

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Online LibraryGeorge Birkbeck Norman HillHarvard college, by an Oxonian; → online text (page 11 of 26)