George Birkbeck Norman Hill.

Harvard college, by an Oxonian; online

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The Board of Overseers took alarm " at the abuses, excesses,
and accidents incident to athletic exercises. In 1886-87
there had been, on the average, more than one intercollegiate
contest each week of the College year." The elderly men
who sat on the Board looked back to those uncontentious
days, when the annual boat-race with Yale alone disturbed the
smooth current of university life. The race with Oxford,
which in the summer of 1869 lined the banks of the Thames
with a dense crowd, being rowed in the Long Vacation, was
not an exception. " I did not expect our crew to win," wrote
Lowell to the author of Tom Brozon, " though I hoped they
would. Especially I hoped it because I thought it would do
more towards bringing about a more friendly feeling between


the two countries than anything else. I am glad to think
that it has had that result as it is." ^ I watched the race from
a point about half-way along the course. The Harvard boat
was leading by nearly half a length. The result we did not
learn till the umpire's steamer came down the river with the
Oxford flag flying at the top. Some minutes before the news
of victory reached us the result was known in all the chief
cities of the United States.

The alarm of the Overseers in 1888 led to the appointment
of a newly modelled Committee. It consisted of three mem-
bers of the Faculty and three graduates of the College, ap-
pointed by the President and Fellows with the consent of the
Overseers, and of three undergraduates chosen by indirect
election. It is subject to the authority of the Faculty; but
during the last four years this authority has not once been
exercised. Saturday, as far as possible, has been made the
day for all kinds of contests. On no other day of the week
can any take place outside Cambridge, "unless permission is
first obtained from the Committee in writing." Articles of
agreement have been drawn up by it between Harvard and
Yale, by which a dishonest practice is stopped which had
crept into some of the contests. In the eagerness for victory,
"men who were not bo7ia fide students and who were not
amateurs" had been taken into the "teams." Harvard and
Yale agreed that henceforth no one should be allowed to play
who had ever engaged for money in any athletic competition.
By another rule, intercollegiate matches have almost wholly
been confined to New England. As Massachusetts, one only
of the six New England States, is one hundred and sixty
miles long and one hundred broad, the confinement does not

'^Letters of J. R. Lowell, ed. 1893, U- 46-


seem excessive. President Eliot, in liis Report to the Board
of Overseers for last year, points out the evils which arise
when the match takes place near one of the great towns.
"The public interest in baseball and football has made it easy
to collect large sums of gate-money, both on College grounds
and on public grounds convenient to New York and other
cities. The money thus easily got is often wastefully and
ineffectively spent. There is something exquisitely inappro-
priate in the extravagant expenditure on athletic sports at such
institutions as Harvard and Yale — institutions which have
been painfully built up by the self-denial, frugality, and pub-
lic spirit of generations that certainly did not lack physical
and moral courage, endurance, and toughness, yet always put
the things of the spirit above the things of sense. At these
Universities there must be constant economy and inadequacy
in expenditure for intellectual and spiritual objects; how re-
pulsive then must be foolish and pernicious expenditures on
sports." ^ This collection of gate-money on College grounds as
surely admits of an easy remedy as it needs one. The charge
of a dollar for a seat at the baseball match seems to me exces-
sive; but this was surpassed at the football match played last
year between Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania on
Thanksgiving Day, when the lowest price for a seat was a
dollar and a half (six shillings and two pence), while so much
as two dollars and even two dollars and a half was charged.
In Oxford almost all the matches, both of cricket and foot-
ball, are played in the University Parks, which are open to all,
gown and town alike. There, without any payment, I have
watched even the great Grace play — that summer hero, per-
haps the most famous man in England from May till August.

"^ Annual Reports, 1892-93, p. 14.


In the remaining eight months he and his fame hibernate.
New playing-fields are shortly to be opened at Harvard. They
should be kept pure from this contamination of gate-money.
"It is not," to quote the President's words, "an appropriate
function for a College or University to provide periodical
entertainments during term-time for multitudes of people
who are not students."^ These multitudes would not attend
if, as in the Parks at Oxford, the spectators had nothing but
standing-room provided, and that free of charge. It is the
high prices which make the spectacle fashionable.

In the last ten years the four great sports, baseball, boating,
football, and athletics, have grown so fast " that undergradu-
ates are now unable single-handed to manage them success-
fully." To "assume the office of intimate advisers to the
officers of each of the athletic organizations " was more than
the Committee chose to do. They proposed that a permanent
Graduate Advisory Committee should be appointed by each
association, composed of three graduates "who in their own
College days had been leaders in athletics." The plan was
approved of by the undergraduates, and the Committees have
been established.

The training of the athletes has not been neglected by the
President and the Fellows. So early as 1883 the Committee
on Athletics " recommended that there should be attached to
the staff of the Gymnasium a person of good education and
breeding, with the qualifications requisite to enable him to
advise students as to the best modes of training and practice
in Track Athletics and Field Sports."^ The following year

1 Annual Reports, 1892-93, p. 12.

2 The word Field Sports at Harvard does not mean " the diversions of the
field, as of fowling, hunting, fishing" (to use Johnson's definition). It
means, I think, such exercises as jumping, leaping, etc.



an Assistant in the Department of Physical Training was
accordingly appointed. " He is an officer of the College and
is paid from its funds. Under his skilful training Har\-ard
has had teams which have met with only two defeats in the
intercollegiate contests with Yale in Track Athletics and Field
Sports." Nothing better shows the strong hold that races
and matches have taken of Young America than an offer made
three years ago by some graduates of Har\'ard of "ten thou-
sand dollars to be paid to Mr. Bancroft, who was then engaged
in the practice of his profession in Boston, for three years'
service as coach simply of the University and Freshman crews."
The offer was declined by the officers of the Boat Club — why,
we are not told.^

t have often thought, in walking by the river at Oxford and
watching the training of the crews, that the labour they under-
went, the strictness of the discipline to which they were ex-
posed, and the abuse which they had to suffer in silence,
made the life of a boating-man harder than that of a young
soldier, and almost as hard as the criminal's on the treadmill.
But their lot is freedom itself when measured by the standard
of Harvard and Yale. They breathe, at all events, the air of
heaven, and are not made, during the winter months, to tug at
the labouring oar in a dismal vault. In the long frosts of
New England the rivers are frozen hard and boating becomes
impossible. At such times the crews are exercised in a great
tank, covered in and kept unfrozen by the heat of a furnace.
There, under the eye of their trainer, they pull their oars

^ These facts I have extracted from an article entitled The Committee on
Athletics, published in the Harvard Graduates^ Magazine for January, 1893.
In the number for March, 1894, it is stated thus: "Thousands of dollars
are now paid for the services and expenses of graduate 'coaches.' "


tlirough the water without moving the boat, for it is fastened
to the side. Had Dante seen them at work, he would have
added one more torment to his Hell.

President Eliot in his Report^ deals at some length with
the great and rapidly growing evil of this excessive devotion
to athletic sports. He is fully aware of the good that has
been done by the growth of manly exercises in American
Colleges. "There has been," he says, *'a decided improve-
ment in the average health and strength of Harvard students
during the last twenty-five years." "Athletic sports," he adds,
"have supplied a new and effective motive for resisting all
sins which weaken or corrupt the body; they have quickened
admiration for such manly qualities as courage, fortitude, and
presence of mind in emergencies and under difificulties; they
have cultivated in a few the habit of command, and in many
the habit of quick obedience and intelligent subordination;
and finally, they have set before young men prizes and dis-
tinctions which are uncontaminated by any commercial value,
and which no one can win who does not possess much pa-
tience, perseverance, and self-control, in addition to rare
bodily endowments." But, on the other hand, carried as they
so often are to excess, they do not " permit the main end of
College life — hard study. No student can keep up his
studies, and also play his full part in any one of these sports
as at present conducted. The faithful member of a crew or
team may, perhaps, manage to attend most of his lectures
or other College exercises; but he rarely has any mind to
give to his studies." As I read this passage I called to mind
how nearly forty years ago one of my tutors at Oxford pointed
out to me — not that any pointing out was needful — the

1 Annual Reports, 1892-93, pp. 12-22.


drowsy state in which a great oarsman — the chief glory of
our College — always came to lectures. Over his Greek and
Latin he rested from the real labours of the day. He was as
sleepy over his book as he was wakeful over his oar. His
vast muscles seemed to have invaded his brain. "Wantonly
exaggerated athletic sports," continues the President, "con-
vert the student into a powerful animal, and dull for the time
his intellectual parts; they present the Colleges to the public,
educated and uneducated, as places of mere physical sport,
and not of intellectual training; they make familiar to the
student a coarse publicity which destroys his rightful privacy
while in training for intellectual service, and subjects him to
insolent and vulgar comments on his personal qualities; they
induce in masses of spectators at interesting games an hysteri-
cal excitement which too many Americans enjoy, but which
is evidence, not of physical strength and depth of passion,
but of feebleness and shallowness; and they tend to dwarf
mental and moral pre-eminence by unduly magnifying physi-
cal prowess,"

In Harvard Stories there is set before us this scene of
"hysterical excitement." The football match with Yale is
described, where the friends and supporters of each Univer-
sity muster nearly ten thousand strong, among them "Gov-
ernors, Congressmen, Judges, Architects, and Clergymen."
After a long struggle, the ball is at length carried over the
Yale line. "Then did all the Harvard hosts shout with a
mighty shout that made the air tremble. For five minutes
dignified men, old and young, cheered and hugged each other,
and acted as they never do on any other occasion, except,
perhaps, a College boat-race."^

^ LLarvard Stories, by W. K. Post, 1 893, p. 23.


Caps and Gowns. — Harvard College and University. — The Dormitories.
— Room Rents. — Students' Life Seventy Years Ago. — Memorial Hall.

THE Harvard men in their imitation of the EngUsh uni-
versities are doing better in their attempt to introduce
the cap and gown. In America, repubUcan simpUcity has
gone too far in aboHshing state and in discarding robes.
Nowhere but in the Supreme Court at Washington is so much
even as a gown worn by the Judges. Barristers everywhere are
robeless and wigless. Yet, if " robes and furred gowns hide
all," in the courts of more than one City and perhaps of more
than one State the temptation to wear them must surely some-
times be very strong. In New York, in no remote antiquity,
there have been Judges known who, it might have been ex-
pected, would have kept them on term time and vacation, day
and night. Among all the Bishops of the Episcopal Church,
I am told, there is but one apron and but one pair of gaiters
to be seen. What are they among sixty millions of people ?
In Appleton Chapel at Harvard, where every Sunday evening
the university sermon is preached, no seats are set apart for the
Professors. The President even elbows in his way with the
rest, and takes a place wherever he may find one unoccupied.

He and the immortal Jack H , if that hero ever brings

down his mighty soul to the low level of a sermon, might sit
shoulder to shoulder. On the evening when I attended the



service, I chanced to sit just behind a dignitary of the Univer-
sity. When, on standing up for the opening hymn, I discovered
that he was wearing a dark grey coat and a pair of brown shoes,
and when I thought of our Vice Chancellor in the red and
black gown of a Doctor of Divinity, or in the crimson gown of
a Doctor of Civil Law, marshalled to his chair of state by the
Bedells with their silver maces, and supported by the long line
of Doctors, Proctors, and Heads of Houses in their gowns
and hoods, the organ pealing forth, and the whole congregation
— Masters, Bachelors, and undergraduates — rising to do them
honour, my mind was greatly troubled. Lost in thought, it was
some time before I could give my attention to the preacher.

The need of ceremony is gradually becoming felt. On Com-
mencement Day, when all the degrees of the year are given, the
gown has for some while been commonly worn by " the Graduat-
ing Class." On this great day, and on this alone, the President
and the Professors wear their gowns. The bright adornment
of the hood was for the most part wanting. Nevertheless, on
the shoulders of a great classical scholar, over his Harvard
gown, I saw the blue hood of a Doctor of Laws of Edinburgh ;
and on the shoulders of one of the youngest of the Professors,
the red and black hood of a IVLaster of Arts of Oxford. Some
fifty or sixty years ago. Professor Ticknor — so the story runs —
brought back from Oxford, where he had received an honorary
degree, a gown which was, he said, that of a Doctor of Civil
Law. This he wore at Harvard on solemn occasions. On re-
signing his professorship, he bequeathed it to Longfellow, who
succeeded him in his chair, who in his turn wore it, and in his
turn, on his resignation, bequeathed it to his successor Lowell.
In its faded glories the author of the Biglow Papers delivered
his opening address, troubled though he was by a doubt that it


was not really the gown of a Doctor of Oxford, In the year
1873, when Oxford conferred on him an honorary degree,
he looked round the Sheldonian Theatre for a robe of the
same kind as his venerable relique. After a long search he
discovered a single specimen. It was, he was told, the gown
of an Archdeacon !

Prescott, if in his later years he was ever present on Com-
mencement Day, must, I should think, have worn the Doctfjr's
gown which was conferred on him at Oxford. " He had," says
his biographer, " already received more than one honorary
degree at home ; but, with his accustomed ingenuousness and
simplicity, remembering how lavishly and carelessly such dis-
tinctions are conferred by most of our American Colleges, he
could not repress his satisfaction that he was " now a real
Doctor." ^

The square cap has been but lately introduced — not, I
believe, before the summer of 1892. Till then the tall silk hat
had been always worn with the gown. Nowhere is this hat
much seen in New England. In the streets of Boston I doubt
whether it is worn by one man in a hundred. It is not there,
as it is in the city of London and in the Temple and Lincoln's
Inn, the very badge of commercial and professional respecta-
bility. Neither is it seen on the broad Avenues to the west of
Boston, where are the houses of the fashionable world. On
Sunday, however, I am told, before and after church it is com-
monly worn by highly respectable people. For Commence-
ment the graduating Bachelor bought one for the first and last
time. A young man of a frugal mind was content with hiring
one for the day. At Oxford the gown of the honorary Doctor
is, in like manner, commonly hired, and perhaps sometimes

1 Life of IV. H. Prescott, by George Ticknor, p. 293.


the cap. In the Crimson, a little while before the great day of
last year, " a Member of the Graduating Class who loves con-
gniities " complained of " the incongruity of the action when the
Seniors removed their caps in entering the auditorium of
Sanders Theatre. It jarred a little upon one's sense of fitness.
The cap, indeed, is not a hat to be removed during exercises,
but on the contrary to be worn. In Cambridge and Oxford
its place is thus understood. The unique effect of both is quite
lost when one is taken away ; especially when the cap is of the
peculiar form." The unique effect of a large body of under-
graduates wearing their caps on Degree Day in the presence of
the President — the Vice-Chancellor, that is to say, and more
than the Vice-Chancellor — of this American University, was
prevented by a letter from a better informed correspondent.

Americans, like all other foreigners, do not easily understand
the mixed government of Oxford and Cambridge, each with its
numerous Colleges, self-governing and independent corpora-
tions, and its one University. In the Crimson, in an article
lieaded The Oxford Student, I find it stated that "no Oxford
student is allowed to enter or leave the University after nine
o'clock. The gates are shut at that time." An Oxford man, of
course, enters the University on the day he matriculates, and
leaves it when he goes out of residence. Many never leave
it till they leave hfe. It is no more capable of having gates
tlian a Federal Government, or any other metaphysical body.
In the New England Cambridge, College and University seemed
to me interchangeable terms. For instance, in Professor Good-
win's /*/w^;;/'a//rt'7^f////;r^^cafrz'^;7/C

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Online LibraryGeorge Birkbeck Norman HillHarvard college, by an Oxonian; → online text (page 12 of 26)