George Birkbeck Norman Hill.

Harvard college, by an Oxonian; online

. (page 19 of 26)
Online LibraryGeorge Birkbeck Norman HillHarvard college, by an Oxonian; → online text (page 19 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


XIII. HARVARD COLLEGE. 243

who has not some knowledge of Greek and Latin. At Oxford
he can bid farewell to the classics when he has passed his first
examination ; ^ but without some Greek and Latin, enough to
be a worry, but scarcely enough to be an advantage, the Uni-
versity is barred even to the most ardent learner. It is but a
short while since, at Cambridge, the attempt to make Greek an
optional study was defeated by an overwhelming majority. In
neither University does the widest knowledge in one depart-
ment make up for total ignorance in another. A student
might write as good Latin as Erasmus ever wrote, and might
in Mathematics give the promise of a second Newton, or in
Natural Science of a second Darwin, — unless he knows his
Greek irregular verbs, Oxford and Cambridge will have none of
him. Many years ago I had a pupil who was painfully carried
on in Latin to the edge of the subjunctive mood. Over it he
could never advance one step without coming to the ground.
To attempt to force him to learn Greek would have been an
act of wanton cruelty. At the end of one summer holidays
his mother wrote to tell me that she had met the Honourable

Mr. W , who was astonished at finding that her son did not

learn Greek. " Every English gentleman," he said, " learnt
Greek." She wished, therefore, that her son should at once
begin. Most unwillingly I set the poor dullard to work at the
grammar. When he had struggled on as far as the end of the
nouns, I told him that he need go no further ; for that now,
quite as much as a great many of these Enghsh gentlemen, he
could say that he had learnt Greek. His mother was, I
believe, satisfied. At all events, I heard no more of tlic

Honourable Mr. W . It is much to be wished that our

universities, if they cannot make up their minds to altogether

1 Responsions, once vulgarly known as the littk go, but now as smalls.



244 HARVARD COLLEGE. chap.

abandoning compulsory Greek, should get over the difficulty
by some ingenious fiction. They might, for instance, decree,
that in the case of a student who shows unusual proficiency in
any great branch of learning, it shall be taken for granted that
he does know Greek, and that the examiners shall no more pre-
sume to test his knowledge of that language than Don Quixote
presumed to test the strength of his patched-up helmet.

The advantage of this system of elective studies, not only in
other branches of learning, but even in Greek, is set forth
by a man whose name on such a point carries great weight on
both sides of the Atlantic. The Professor of Greek Literature
in Harvard University, Dr. Goodwin, the man who, of all
others, should have mourned over the change, is loud in its
praise. It was in 1856 that he began to teach at Harvard.
" In that year, when Greek and Latin were both required until
the end of the Junior [third] year, all the work in them was
done by five teachers. Now [in 189 1], when both are entirely
elective from the beginning, eleven or twelve teachers are
fully employed. It need hardly be said that the standard of
scholarship in every department was at once raised by this
reform. It sprang up of itself the moment the old pressure
was taken off. ... I cannot emphasize too strongly that the
chief merit of the present elective system is not that it lets
students study what they like and avoid what they dislike, but
that it opens to all a higher and wider range of study in every
field ; in short, it has made really high scholarship possible." ^
President EUot, speaking of the system generally, says that " it
gives every teacher the precious privilege of having no student
in his class who has not freely chosen to be there." ^ This

^ The Present and Future of Harvard College, p. 14.
2 Annual Reports, 1884-85, p. 46.



XIII. HARVARD COLLEGE. 245

privilege, as I have shown, is too often abused by the idlers
and the indolent, who at Harvard, just as it happens at Oxford,
as far as they can, follow those studies in which, with the least
trouble to themselves, they can take their degree. In Harvard
the degree is not won, as in the English Universities, by suc-
cess in three or four public examinations, conducted by Boards
of Examiners, but by the student satisfying his instructor in each
one of the eighteen courses through which he passes in his
four years. ^ The instructor, I was told, does not altogether go
by the answers in the examinations which he himself com-
monly holds, but he takes into consideration the difficulties
which may have arisen through such circumstances as illness or
the death of a near relative. He considers, moreover, a stu-
dent's habits — whether of idleness or industry. One of the
Professors whom I consulted thought the standard too low ;
another said that the system works well if each Professor
examines his own class. He alone, who had taught them, was
competent to test the student's knowledge of what they had
been taught. At the end of each course " the standing of each
student is expressed, according to his proficiency, by one of
five grades." He who, at the close of his career, is found to
have attained the highest grade in fifteen courses, takes his
degree suftima cum laude. The highest grade in nine courses,
or the highest or second in fifteen, confers a magna cum
laude; and the highest or second in nine courses confers a
cum laude. The summa cum laude, moreover, is conferred
on any one who, in a special examination, conducted by a com-
mittee of the Faculty, near the close of the Senior year, has
shown great proficiency in any department. -

Such a system of examinations as I have described does not

1 Catalogue, p. 209. 2 /^^ pp 210-215.



246 HARVARD COLLEGE. chap.

put the students through that severe course through which the
highest students of Oxford and Cambridge pass — a course
which, so long as it has not strained the mind or weakened the
body, admirably fits a man for the severest toil of professional
life. He who, with health unimpaired, is placed at Oxford in
the First Class in the School of Literse Humaniores, or at
Cambridge high among the Wranglers, is not very likely in
after life to be daunted or baffled by any kind of work, how-
ever hard or dry it may be. It does to perfection that which
it was meant to do. It fits men for the great world — for suc-
cess at the Bar and in public life. It turns out great lawyers
and great statesmen. It keeps up a constant supply of lead-
ing-article writers — men who can rapidly make themselves
masters of facts and as rapidly set them forth in a clear and
able form. It confers infinite dexterity and readiness. On
the other hand, it breaks down a certain number — perhaps
not many — by the excessive strain it puts upon them, and it
unfits still more for the scholar's life. It is for success, not
for knowledge, that the struggle has been, and it is success
and not knowledge that far too often is its great reward. " Do
not spoil your careers," the late Master of Balliol used to say
to his undergraduates. He was the last man to have agreed
with Mr. Lowell's notion of a University, that it is " a place
where nothing useful is taught." ^ I have heard of a humorous
saying of the Master's that " Diogenes Laertius was a learned
man in the worst sense of the word." There are learned men
even worse than Diogenes Laertius — men gifted with great
powers, who, having by their learning won a high reputation,
then turn traders, and instead of increasing knowledge, traffic
in it. The Oxford and Cambridge scholars are far less likely

^ Harvard College, 2joth Anniversary, p. 216.



XIII. HARVARD COLLEGE. 247

than the scholars of a German University to spoil their careers
by giving themselves up to the noble, but ill-requited life of a
man of learning. It is not in the Schools of either of our
great Universities that is awakened that ardent spirit of research,
that love of knowledge for its own sake, which is the glory of
Germany. Finis coronat opus. The First Class, or the
Wranglership, is achieved, and the goal is won. In a way as
strange as it is absurd, these high distinctions sometimes chill
aspirations. I have heard a great Greek scholar at Oxford
pleasantly describe how a First Class man often becomes afraid
of his own reputation — the reputation which he gained before
his moustache was fully grown. Throughout life he will not
give to the world any piece of learned work, lest it should not
be found up to the high-water mark of his two and twentieth
year. In Harvard there is none of this blaze of glory that
comes at the end of a strain prolonged through many years.
It is no training-place for mental athletes. But while some-
thing thereby is lost, much is gained. There are no false
suns to dazzle the scholar's eyes. It is not the goal of a
four years' course, with its shining pillars, that lies before
him, but the boundless horizon of the great ocean of truth
all undiscovered.

The Fellowships which the University offers to graduates are
not prizes for what they have already learnt, but means of sup-
port while they learn more. No young Bachelor of Arts is
splendidly rewarded for his success in examinations by an
annual allowance of two hundred pounds for the next seven
years. There is no Derby Scholarship that adds one hundred
and fifty-seven pounds to the youth who, in all probability,
has already won more money prizes than any man of his stand-
ing. There is no Tom Tiddler's ground where the " brilliant "



248 HARVARD COLLEGE. chap.

men ' pick up gold and silver. All the money that is given, is
given not to reward students, but to support them in further
studies. They either go to work in some foreign university, or
far more commonly, they stay on to work in the Graduate School
— that School in which Ticknor's vision of the real university
is fast taking a substantial and a noble form. It was founded
in 1872; but ''for many years its development was retarded
by illiberal and artificial rules of admission. ... In the
meanwhile other universities, unhampered by inconvenient tra-
ditions, working on freer lines, and amply provided with fel-
lowships of considerable value, with free tuition added, in
many cases, to their stipend, outstripped us in the path we were
entering."^ "The enthusiasm," writes Professor Goodwin,
" with which our best Universities are now organizing studies
for Bachelors of Arts, and the increasing resort of graduates to
these centres of learning, show the power of this movement
towards true university education, a power which is just begin-
ning to be felt. We owe special gratitude to the Johns Hop-
kins University at Baltimore, which called public attention to
the importance of this movement by its bold experiment of
establishing its Graduate School before any other department
was organized, and by devoting its chief energies to this from
the beginning. In these new Graduate Schools we see the
brightest hope for the future American University." ^

It is in this school that the best of the students not only

^ At Oxford, and perhaps also at Cambridge, a " brilliant " man is an
undergraduate who does " brilliant " work and writes " brilliant " essays.
It not unfrequently seems that brilliant must have much the same deriva-
tion as lucus — a non lucendo.

2 From a Circular of Ten of the Members of the Administrative Board
of the Graduate School, dated November 20, 1893.

8 77/1? Present and Future of Harvard College, p. 16.



XIII. HARVARD COLLEGE. 249

gather knowledge but help to increase it. Here it is that is
done " that work which is the highest duty of every university,
without which no institution has ever been called a university by
men who weigh their words with full intelligence, — the work of
advancing the boundaries of knowledge by the original researches
and the joint labours of its professors and its students." i
Graduates of other Universities are flocking to it from all sides ;
nay, even Professors, who, having obtained a year's leave of
absence, descend from their chairs to take their seats once more
on the scholars' bench. Among these ardent students I had the
pleasure of meeting the President of one of the smaller Western
Universities. Such a body of men as this gives a higher tone
and a more vigorous life to the whole University. It inspirits
the work of the Professors, who no longer have to travel year
after year the same round. It sets a higher standard before
the undergraduates, who have in their midst " men full of the
spirit of independent work, and of a sense of the value and
meaning of learning." It opens up to them other and nobler
fields of fame than the baseball and football grounds, and a
greatness immeasurably above the greatness of the mightiest
of athletes. The rapid growth of this school shows how much
it was needed and how excellent are its methods. In i8S6 it
numbered but sixty-four resident students, and in 1S89 ninety-
six. It can now boast of two hundred and forty-five. Besides
these it has eleven non-resident Fellows, of whom eight are
studying in Germany and two in France. " It is already larger
than Harvard College was fifty years ago." - One thing is want-
ing. It has none of that social life which not only throws a
charm over the years spent in a great University, but wliich

^ A Circular, etc.

2 Annual Reports, 1892-93, pp. 28, 1 10 ; Catalogue, p. 287.



250 HARVARD COLLEGE. chap.

teaches a lesson which cannot be got out of books. "The
majority of the students in the Graduate School," writes an
Instructor in Philosophy, " are forlorn atoms, and their con-
course is too fortuitous ever to make a world. A man who has
been only at the Graduate School is not a Harvard man." ^
This statement, I am told, is somewhat overdrawn. Groups
are formed of the men of each district of the country. The
Californians, for instance, would hang together, and so would
the students from the maritime provinces. The day, it is to be
hoped, will come before long when, in some noble building,
they will all share in a common life.

It was not till 1886 that admission to the school was put on a
sound footing. It was in that year that the governing bodies
at last shook themselves free from the conviction that none must
come to study at a University but those who are candidates for
a degree — a conviction which still constrains Oxford. They
rose to the thought that at a University it is knowledge which
should be sold and not distinctions, and that for all who thirst
for it the gates of the fountains of learning should be opened
wide. Every one is freely admitted who can show that he has
already learnt enough to be able to follow the higher studies.
In this school he finds " perfect freedom both in teaching and
in learning. It has no degree in course for which all students
are candidates, and consequently no paternal supervision of each
student's daily work." ^ Many indeed aim at the higher degrees
of Master of Arts or of Doctor of Philosophy or Science, for no
longer are the higher degrees conferred without examination.
Up to 1872, as is still the case in Oxford and Cambridge, the
Master's degree had been given after a certain lapse of time

1 Educational Review, April, 1894, p. 320.

2 The Present and Future of Harvard College, p. 23.



XIII. HARVARD COLLEGE. 251

as a matter of course. Now it is only awarded after a further
study of one year at the College — a study which may be con-
fined to a single department.* The Doctor's degree is given
"on the ground of long study and high attainment in a special
branch of learning, manifested not only by examinations, but by
a thesis, which must be presented and accepted before the can-
didate is admitted to examination, and must show an original
treatment of a fitting subject, or give evidence of independent
research." ^

In America it has hitherto been more difficult even than in
England to give men the love of the scholar's life — the life of
" plain Hving and high thinking." On that vast continent the
great and rapid conquests of man over wild nature, with the
splendid rewards that followed in their train, tempt almost all
the ablest men away from the world of thought to the world of
action. Even some of the lately-founded universities seem
not unlikely, by the aid of their noble endowments, to bear
their part in corrupting pure learning. In their eagerness to
secure, perhaps not so much the ablest Professors as the fame
of having them, they offer needlessly high salaries. During
the academical year 1891-92, "seven universities and colleges
made ineffectual efforts to draw teachers of Harvard into their
service. Four Professors, four Assistant-Professors and six
Instructors declined offers of higher pay and higher titles at
other institutions." Among the causes "which bind its teach-
ers to the University," President Eliot reckons " the dignity
and stability of the institution ; the perfect liberty of opinion ;
the freedom in teaching — every teacher teaching as he thinks
best, except as the more experienced teachers may persuade
and inform the less experienced ; the great resources of the

1 Higher Education, etc., p. 160; Catalogue, p. 297. - //'. y. 299.



252 HARVARD COLLEGE. chap. xiii.

University in books and collections, and the fact that any
teacher can at any time cause books desirable in his depart-
ment to be bought by the Library ; the separation of Cam-
bridge from the luxurious society of great cities, etc., . . .
and lastly, the consideration which learning and high character
traditionally enjoy in Eastern Massachusetts, independent of
pecuniary condition." ^

i Annual Reports, 1891-92, p. 8.



CHAPTER XIV.

The Law School. — Nathan Dane. — Joseph Story. — Professor Langdell.
— The Law Library. — The Law Review.

OF her Law School Harvard can be prouder even than of
her Graduate School ; for, great as are the hopes given
by one, scarcely less great are the performances of the other.
In it is done that which in some happier day in our own coun-
try will be done, not in the Solicitor's office and in the Barris-
ter's chambers, but in Oxford and Cambridge. It is here that
the young American receives his legal training. No lawyer of
any standing, I was told, would admit into his office a pupil
who had not been through the regular course of a University
Law School. My legal friends were astonished when I spoke
of the fee of three hundred guineas paid in England to a
solicitor by his articled clerk, and of one hundred guineas paid
to a barrister by his pupil for leave to work in his chambers
for a year. In America, so far from there being a fee paid,
there is often from the first a salary given, however small. The
Harvard Law School, so President Eliot reported eight years
ago, " for several summers past has been unable to fill all the
places in lawyers' offices which have been offered it for its
third-year students just graduating. There have been more
places offered, with salaries sufficient to live on, than there
were graduates to take them."^ In these offices there is, of
course, none of that license allowed which is the ruin of so

1 Quoted in The Green Bag {ox January, 1889, p. 22.
253



254 HARVARD COLLEGE. chap.

many of our students of law at home. The same punctuality
and industry are required of the young lawyer as of the com-
mon clerks. Not a few graduates in law, on taking their
degree, at once begin to practise on their own account.
Those, however, who are going to settle outside New England
and New York, would have first to master the practice and
statute law of the State in which they intend to establish them-
selves. " Honour graduates are certain to receive invitations
to enter leading law offices in various parts of the country."^
"The citizens of the United States," writes Professor Dicey,
" are certainly neither pedants, nor, in general, theorists ; but
at the present moment English law is taught, and admirably
taught, in the colleges of America. . . . The practising counsel
of Massachusetts would undoubtedly tell you that the best
preparation for practice in court is study in the lecture-rooms
of Professor Langdell and his colleagues of Harvard Uni-
versity." ^

The Law School was founded in 1817, but down to 1829 it
was little more than a shadow. In that year Nathan Dane
endowed a new professorship from the money which he had
made by his " once famous Abridgment of American Law."
Forty-two years earlier he had drafted that beneficent Ordi-
nance by which the whole of the great Northwest was kept
free from the taint of slavery. In his old age he not only
founded the professorship, but he founded it on the condition
that Judge Story first filled the chair. Even he, full of hope
though he was, could hardly have foreseen the full measure of
the benefit of this foundation and this condition, which were

1 Harvard University, by F. BoUes, p. 68.

2 Can English Law be Taught at the Universities ? by A. V. Dicey,
Vinerian Professor of English Law in the University of Oxford, 1883, p. 28.



XIV. HARVARD COLLEGE. 255

to turn an eminent judge into a great jurist. If Story had
never filled a Professor's chair, in all likelihood we should never
have had his Coitflict of Laivs, his Equity Jurisprudence, and
his Linv of Agency, — that " series of works which are the best
of their kind in the English language." ^ During the whole of
the year before his appointment " there had not been," I quote
Story himself, " a single student. There was no Law Library ;
but a few and imperfect books being there." One long vaca-
tion he wrote to the most brilliant of his pupils, Charles
Sumner : — ,

" I have given nearly the whole of last term, when not on
judicial duty, two lectures every day, and even broke in upon
the sanctity of the dies 7ion furidicus, Saturday." Of this
daring innovation we have an account from the author of Tico
Years before the Mast. The judge used to make his " boys "
— "'my boys' he always called his pupils" — argue cases
before him. "To compel a recitation on Saturday afternoon,"
writes Dana, " would have caused a rebellion. If a Moot-court
had been forced upon the Law School, no one would have
attended. At the close of a term there was one more case than
there was an afternoon to hear it in, unless we took Saturday.
Judge Story said : " * Gentlemen, the only time we can hear this
case is Saturday afternoon. This is dies nan, and no one is
obliged or expected to attend. I am to hold Court in Boston
until two o'clock. I will ride directly out, take a hasty dinner,
and be here by half-past three o'clock, and hear the case, if you
are willing.' He looked round the school for a reply. We felt
ashamed, in our own business, where we were alone interested,
to be outdone in zeal and labour by this aged and distinguished

1 Can English La7u be Taught at the Universities P by A. V. Dicey
Vinerian Professor of English Law in the University of Oxford, 1883, p. 29.



256 HARVARD COLLEGE. chai-.

man, to whom the case was but child's play, a tale twice told,
and who was himself pressed down by almost incredible labours.
The proposal was unanimously accepted. The judge was on
the spot at the hour, the school was never more full, and he sat
until late in the evening, hardly a man leaving the room." '

Among the pupils in 1838 was Lowell. " I am reading Black-
stone," he wrote, "with as good a grace and as few wry faces as I
may." Eight months later he could write more cheerfully. " I
begin to like the law. And therefore it is quite interesting. I am
determined that I ivill like it, and therefore I ^f ." ^ On Story's
death, in 1845, the school numbered one hundred and sixty-
five students, who had flocked to his teaching not only from
New England, but from almost every State in the Union.
During the sixteen years in which he filled the chair he gave
to the world all his treatises on the law, filling no less than
thirteen volumes. He had hoped that his v-acant chair would
be filled by Charles Sumner ; but that young orator had shown
far too radical a spirit to be acceptable to Harvard as it was in
those days.^ Story's colleagues and successors were many of
them men of great eminence. Among them were Simon Green-
leaf, Joel Parker, Benjamin R. Curtis, Theophilus Parsons, and
Emory Washburn. Nevertheless, in 1869, twenty- four years
after Story's death, the number of students had fallen to one
hundred and fifteen. In January, 1870, a man was appointed
to the chair which Story had first filled, who has made as deep a
mark as the great jurist himself, not only on the Harvard Law
School, but on the theory and practice of legal education


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19 21 22 23 24 25 26

Online LibraryGeorge Birkbeck Norman HillHarvard college, by an Oxonian; → online text (page 19 of 26)