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8 Life of Ticknor, I. 356.

* Higher Education, etc., p. 215.
6 Annual Reports, 1883-84, p. 16.



XII. HARVARD COLLEGE. 217

In July, 1823, nine men, of whom Judge Story was one,
met at Ticknor's house to consider what steps should be taken
to reform Harvard. The faults which he found with the sys-
tem he stated both in a paper which he laid before them, and
also in a pamphlet which he subsequently published. "All
our Colleges," he said, "have been long considered merely
places for obtaining a degree of Bachelor of Arts, to ser\-e as
a means and certificate whereon to build the future plans and
purposes of life." No change had been made in the old
system by which every student was taught by every tutor,
receiving exactly the same instruction, neither more nor less,
as the rest of his classmates. But at Harvard "there are
now," he continues, "twenty or more teachers and three
hundred students, and yet the division into Classes remains
exactly the same, and every student is obliged to pass through
the hands of nearly or quite every instructor. The recita-
tions [the lectures of an Oxford College] become mere enu-
merations. The most that an instructor now undertakes is to
ascertain, from day to day, whether the young men who are
assembled in his presence have probably studied the lesson pre-
scribed to them. . . . We are neither an University — which
we call ourselves — nor a respectable High School, which we
ought to be. . . . As many years are given to the great
work of education here as are given in Europe, and it costs
more money with us to be very imperfectly educated than it
does to enjoy the great advantages of some of the best univer-
sities on the Continent. And yet who in this country, by
means here offered him, has been enabled to make himself a
good Greek scholar? Who has been taught thoroughly to
read, write, and speak Latin? " ^ Nearly half a century later,

1 Life of G. Ticknor, I. 356-363.



218 HARVARD COLLEGE. CHAP.

as one of the Trustees of the Zoological Museum at Harvard,
Ticknor had to address a Committee of the Legislature of
Massachusetts. Speaking of the great work done by Professor
Agassiz in the University, he said that by making Natural
Science "move," he had made languages, history, and liter-
ature follow. "Natural Science has tended to open Harvard
College; to make it a free University, accessible to all,
whether they desire to receive instruction in one branch or
in many."^

The whole work of the College was not, however, confined
to "recitations" at the time when Ticknor was trying to
introduce his reforms. Professor Peabody writing of those
days says: "The recitations were mere hearings of lessons,
without comment or collateral illustrations. The leading
feature of the College was the rich provision made for
courses of lectures. It may be doubted whether so many
lecturers of an exceptionally high order have ever, at any one
time, been brought together in the service of an American
College. By far the largest part of our actual instruction was
that of the lecture-room, where it was our custom to take
copious notes, which were afterwards written out in full. The
amount of study and actual attainment was, I think, much
greater with the best scholars of each class, much less with
those of a lower grade than now. The really good scholar
gave himself wholly to his work. He had no distractions, no
outside society, no newspapers. Consequently there remained
for him nothing but hard study; and there were some in every
class whose hours of study were not less than sixty a week." ^
Ticknor, it must be remembered, wrote as a young man, with

1 Life of G. Ticknor, II. 423.

2 Reminiscences of Harvard College, p. 202.



XII. HARVARD COLLEGE. 219

his mind full of the evils which thwarted him at every step;
Professor Peabody as an aged man, complacently sur\'eying a
happy and a studious youth. What he tells us of the study of
German shows how limited was the range of knowledge in
New England. It was in the year 1825 that he joined the
first German class ever formed in Harvard. " We were looked
upon with very much the amazement with which a class in
some obscure tribal dialect of the remote Orient would be
now regarded. There were no German books in the book-
stores. A friend gave me a copy of Schiller's JVa/knstein,
which I read as soon as I was able to do so, and then passed
it from hand to hand among those who could obtain nothing
else to read." ^

In many respects a member of one of the smaller Oxford
Colleges forty years ago was quite as ill-provided with instruc-
tion as a Harvard undergraduate. In my own College, for
instance, during the greater part of my residence, there were
but three tutors, among whom were divided all the depart-
ments of learning that were taught. The Master, it is true,
every Sunday lectured on the Epistles of St. Paul. Of the
three, one taught mathematics, and mathematics alone. Happy
was the youth who had a taste for that science, as he met with
all the encouragement that can be given by a most able teacher.
The other two took between them the rest of the sciences that
were recognized in the College — Latin, Greek, metaphysics,
ethics, logic, ancient history, and divinity. One of them was
a sound, old-fashioned scholar, but a somewhat ponderous
teacher; the other was a man of amiable character, but of
very moderate attainments. In later years he one day mod-
estly owned to me that he had never cared for books. Eor-

1 Reminiscences of Harvard College, p. 117.



220 HARVARD COLLEGE. chap.

tunately for us, we were able to obtain a certain amount of
instruction outside the College. The end was at length com-
ing to that long and shameful succession of University Pro-
fessors who, to quote Gibbon's words, "well remembered that
they had a salary to receive, and only forgot that they had a
duty to perform." Some still survived — one or two even
now are extant — men who, if they did anything, did noth-
ing more than year after year offer to read aloud the same
course of lectures. An ardent and ingenuous youth of my
time, or a little earlier, attended the first lecture of the yearly
course of the Camden Professor of Ancient History, and
formed the whole audience. The venerable Professor sat
silent in his chair for some ten minutes; then addressing him,
he said : " Sir, it seems that you alone wish to hear my lect-
ure. Perhaps it will do you quite as much good if you take
it to your rooms and read it there to yourself; but if you
desire it, I will, as I am bound by the statutes of the Univer-
sity, deliver it orally." The youth politely assented to his
suggestion. He read it, found it pleasingly written, returned
it, but did not venture to form the audience for the second
lecture. To some of the Chairs younger men had been ap-
pointed. Mansell was lecturing on Aristotle, Jowett on Plato,
and Conington on Latin composition. Their lectures were
open to the undergraduates of every college. So many men
attended Conington's lectures on Latin prose composition
that he ceased giving them. The College tutors, he said,
were throwing their work on him. It seems incredible that
less than forty years ago a course of public lectures in the
University of Oxford was brought to a close because it was so
largely attended. Conington, no doubt, was indignant at being
drawn away from his higher work as a scholar by the drudgery



HI. HARVARD COLLEGE. 221

of correcting twice a week some hundred exercises. That he
should be provided with an assistant professor did not seem
to have occurred to anybody's mind. Natural Science was at
this time just beginning to be recognized — crouching like a
second Cinderella among the scornful sister sciences. In my
first term I saw the foundation stone laid of the New Museum
by the Chancellor, the Earl of Derby. One of my college
friends was placed in the first class in the first examination
ever held in Natural Science. His high position had cost him
but a few months' study. I remember his telling us one even-
ing at dinner how that day in the Schools' he had gone up
to an examiner and pointed out an error in the paper of
questions. The poor man nervously maintained that he was
right, and offered to show his authority. He produced some
learned work ; but, as my friend convinced him, he had alto-
gether misread it. Oxford, in many of the great branches of
learning, and in some respects in all, was indeed far distant in
those days from that " real university " of which Ticknor had a
vision. There is still not a Uttle for her to do before it shall
be completely realized, but in the last forty years, much, very
much, has been done. How much, too, has been done in
Harvard !

It was in the spring of 182 1 that Ticknor, by an appeal to
the President, made his first attempt to transform the College.
By June, 1825, though he had failed to convince either him or a
large majority of the Professors, he had brought over the Cor-
poration and the Overseers to many of his views. They were
willing to do as much as perhaps it was wise to attempt. They
divided the College into departments, in which the under-
graduates were to be classified according to their proficiency ;
^The exanlination-rooms.



222 HARVARD COLLEGE. CHAi>.

they allowed a limited choice of studies, and they admitted to
special studies students who had no intention of taking a
degree. ^ The reform failed, as reforms almost always do fail
when they are under the management of those who do not
wish well to their success. There are few bodies of men who
cling more to old ways and old customs than teachers, unless
perchance it be their pupils. The undergraduates — at all
events the dull and indolent majority — raised the standard of
revolt. They, it seemed, liked the good old system by which
quick and slow, well-taught and ill-taught, jogged along at the
same even pace. Their acts of disorder were so frequent
that in less than two years the old system was resumed to
nearly its full extent, everywhere but in the Department of
Modern Languages. There Ticknor, working his own scheme,
met with great success. He describes how in January, 1826,
fifty-five Freshmen entered for French, of whom forty-eight
were wholly ignorant of the language. The seven who knew
something of it he put into an advanced class by themselves ;
the rest he broke up into five alphabetical divisions. In
March he rearranged them all according to their proficiency.
By the end of the year " there were more than five hundred
pages between the highest and the lowest divisions, besides a
great difference in grammatical progress." Of the seven who
had the lead on entering, not a single one kept it. The system
succeeded, he maintained, because " the law was administered
according to its spirit and intent, by officers who approved it,
and it was, from this administration of it, felt by the students to
be useful, just, and beneficial." ^ Perhaps, after all, the acts of
disorder in the other departments were due more to the preju-
dices of the Professors than to the obstinacy of the pupils.

1 Life of G. Ticknor, I. 362. 2 73. j. 367,



xn. HARVARD COLLEGE. 223

Ticknor's biographer tells us that " he often dwelt with satis-
faction on the fact that, in the fifteen years during which he
was Professor, he was never obliged to apply to the College
Faculty on account of any misdemeanour in the recitation-
rooms under his charge, or in his lecture-room ; nor did he
ever send up the name of any young man for reproof." The
constant opposition which he encountered, whenever he tried
to realize his vision of a great university, at last wore out his
patience. " As long as I hoped to advance these changes,"
he wrote, " I continued attached to the College ; when I gave
up all hope I determined to resign." ^

Harvard was impeded in its progress, not only by that
inherited narrowness which is common to so many universities,
but also by an excessive provincialism unknown in England
and Germany. Between Oxford and Glasgow a close connec-
tion has existed for nearly two centuries. Adam Smith spent
six or seven years of his youth at Balliol College. When
Motley followed his countrymen to Gottingen, the Hanoverian
University, he had for his fellow-student that Prussian of Prus-
sians, Bismarck. But Harvard, so far from being the University
of the United States, was not even the University of New Eng-
land, and scarcely of Massachusetts. In 1831, B. R. Curtis,
writing to Ticknor from Northfield, in the northwest of that
State, about the causes of dissatisfaction with Har\'ard in that
part of the country, mentions as " the last, but far from least
cause, that it is the College of Boston and Salem, and not of
the Commonwealth."^ Thirteen years later, in 1844, Mr. D.
A. White, in an address to the Alumni, maintained that " Har-
vard is fast becoming simply a High School for a portion of

1 Life of G. Ticknor, I. 368, 4CX).
» Life of B. R. Curlis, I. 50.



224 HARVARD COLLEGE. chap.

our youth of Boston and its vicinity." ^ Even at the present
time, with all the width of its studies and the liberality of its
government, it has scarcely succeeded in becoming the great
National University. A writer in the Harvard Graduates^
Magazine for January, 1893,- says : "The frequent remark is
true, that Harvard is a Massachusetts and New England Col-
lege. Although the whole number of Harvard men [he is
speaking of graduates] is greater by 800 than the whole num-
ber of Yale men, yet in the Middle States Harvard has only
1303 and Yale 1986. In the State of New York Harvard has
976 graduates and Yale 141 7. In sixteen Western States
Harvard has 669 graduates and Yale 915." It was mainly
Harvard's Unitarianism which made the outlying States
unfriendly towards her. " The West is Orthodox. The States
of the West are filled with Congregational, Presbyterian, Bap-
tist, Methodist, and Episcopal Churches. To certain Western
men the word Unitarian means something almost as harrow-
ing as the word I?idian meant to their children of forty years
ago. Harvard is no longer a Unitarian College, but the repu-
tation of Harvard as a Unitarian College still lingers."^ Even
the attempt to free it from religious domination of any kind
gave a shock. In 1846, B. R. Curtis, who had been a Judge
in the Supreme Court of the United States, and who was a
member of the Corporation, wrote : " I am pained to learn,
even imperfectly as yet, how lax Mr. Quincy's administration
has been of late years, and how lazy many of the Faculty have
become. What do you think of a New England College where
most of the teachers do not go to church at all, and next to
none go in the afternoon ? " * This laziness was not due to Presi-

^ History of Higher Education in Massachusetts, p. 82.

2 Lb. p. 194. 8 Lb. p. 200. * Life of B. R. Curtis, I, no.



XII. HARVARD COLLEGE. 225

dent Quincy's example, for " during the sixteen years of his
administration he was absent from prayers twice only, and then
he was detained in Court as a witness." ' It was, as I have
shown, in the hope of overcoming all prejudices connected
with religion, that nearly forty years ago the attempt was made
to lop off the Divinity School from the University. It is, no
doubt, the same hope that so liberally opens the College
Chapel and the Lecture Room to divines of every denomina-
tion, and that last Commencement conferred the honorary
degree of Doctor of Divinity on the Bishop-elect of Massa-
chusetts and of Doctor of Laws on a Bishop of the Roman
Catholic Church. The prejudice happily seems to be weak-
ening. In 1 886 only sixteen in every hundred students came
from the West and South; by 1892 the proportion of sixteen
had risen to over nineteen. Nevertheless, " Massachusetts
alone furnishes considerably more than half the total num-
ber." ^

By the foundation of the School of Medicine in 1783, of
the School of Law in 181 7, and of the School of Theology in
1 8 19, much had been done towards preparing the way for a
real University. " In the establishment of our Schools of The-
ology, Law, and Medicine," writes Professor Goodwin,' " which
largely follow German precedents, we made the greatest depart-
ure from our English antecedents." It was not so much in
their first establishment as in their later modifications that
"these three professional Schools have," to use his words,
"fairly represented three of the Faculties of the German

1 An Historical Sketch, etc., p. 45.

2 Harvard Graduates' Magazine, January, 1893, P- 248. There are
more than three hundred Catholic students in the University. Jb. June,
1894, p. 531.

8 The Present and Future of Harvard College, p. 22.
Q



226 HARVARD COLLEGE. chap. xil.

University." The Faculty of Arts and Sciences had, moreover,
been greatly widened and strengthened. In the first fifty years
of the present century more than twenty professorships in
the different schools were established. The work generally
demanded of the Professors, new and old alike, was excessive
in amount and far too mechanical in quality. They sat behind
a schoolmaster's desk many more hours every week than they
filled a Professor's chair. While in term time their whole
strength was used up, not so much in lecturing as in hearing
lessons, their vacations were not long enough to allow of much
scholarly work. Longfellow, soon after his appointment, began
to complain bitterly of his position, as the following entries in
his Journal show: "March 6, 1839. I am weary and sick
to-night. College duties called me from my bed before day-
light. I hate such over-early rising. The apparition of a tall
negro with a lanthorn in my bedroom at such a holy hour dis-
turbs the morning vision. Breakfast at six is intolerable."
"March 18, 1839. I have three lectures a week and recita-
tions without number. Three days in the week I go into my
class-room between seven and eight, and come out between
three and four — with one hour's intermission." "September
21, 1839. My work here grows quite intolerable, and unless
they make some change I will leave them — with or without
anything to do. I will not consent to have my life crushed out
of me so."^ He asked for an assistant in the French courses.
The Corporation in reply voted : " The Smith Professor ought
to continue to give all instruction required in the French
language." He refused to submit, and in the end was allowed
" a French instructor." ^

1 Life of H. W. Longfellow, I. 315, 316, 332.

2 lb. pp. 330, 336.



CHAPTER XIII.

The Elective System. — American Schools. — The Study of Greek at Oxford
and Cambridge. — Examinations and Prizes. — The Graduate School.

THOUGH Ticknor's great scheme of reformation failed
for the time, yet the seeds were sown. Retrograde Presi-
dents might be appointed such as Jared Sparks, of whom Long-
fellow recorded in his Journal : "June 20, 1849. Mr. Sparks's
inauguration. His Address very substantial, but retrograde.
He spoke of the College only, and not of the University." '
Nevertheless, as time went on, and the men who had been bred
under the old system dropped off one by one, their successors,
many of whom had studied in Germany, revived the scheme
and slowly but steadily carried it forward into every depart-
ment. Harvard grew more and more unlike its mother Uni-
versity, showing, to use Professor Goodwin's words, that its
"chief reforms in teaching and in organization have been in-
spired from Gottingen and Berlin rather than from Cambridge
and Oxford."^ It was at something more than the perfection
of Harvard as a place of instruction and education that the
young reformers aimed. They were bent on making it a great
seat of learning, where not only men shoukl be taught all that
is already known, but where teachers and students should join
in advancing the boundaries of knowledge.

It was not till the year 1867 that the first great step was taken

1 Life of If. W. Lo»sfell


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Online LibraryGeorge Birkbeck Norman HillHarvard college, by an Oxonian; → online text (page 17 of 26)