George Birkbeck Norman Hill.

Harvard college, by an Oxonian; online

. (page 4 of 26)
Online LibraryGeorge Birkbeck Norman HillHarvard college, by an Oxonian; → online text (page 4 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

maintenance of Southern slavery, its maintenance by " the
grand old Bay State," had been drunk, these Harvard men
next drank to " civil and religious liberty here and every-
where." " How is it," old Samuel Johnson roughly asked,
" How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among
the drivers of negroes? " Even Lowell, even the author of the
Biglow Papers, had caught this strong, this rank contagion of
the gown. Two years after this celebration it fell to his lot to
write the poem for class day. " I made fun of the Abolition-
ists in my Class Poem," so he wrote nearly fifty years later.^
Nine months before this Harvard undergraduate, in the
presence of the President, the professors, the students and
their friends, made fun of these men, one of them, Elijah
Lovejoy, a minister of religion, had been murdered by a cruel
mob of citizens — all friends, no doubt, of civil and religious
liberty, there and everywhere — murdered because, in defiance
of mob-law, he advocated in a small newspaper the freedom of
the slave. Four months before this Harvard undergraduate
made fun of these men, a new Hall built by the AboUtionists
in the City of Brotherly Love, " dedicated to Free Discus-
sion, Virtue, Liberty, and Independence," had been burnt to
the ground by another mob. Three months before this Har-
vard undergraduate made fun of these men, in the city of
Boston hard by, another anti-slavery building would have been
wrecked by a third mob, had it not been for the Mayor, who
for once — a rare example in those bad days — was ready by

'^Letters of J. R. Lozuell, II. 338.


military force to protect peaceful citizens meeting in lawful
assembly.^ " They make a game of my calamities," some
deeply wronged Abolitionist might have exclaimed, had any
one of them been present on this Class Day. Lowell's noble
nature was soon to shake itself free from " Harvard indiffer-
ence." Before the year came to a close he wrote : " The
Abolitionists are the only ones with whom I sympathize of the
present extant parties." Eight years later he described these
same Abolitionists as " a body of heroic men and women,
whom not to love and admire would prove me unworthy of
either of those sentiments, and whose superiors in all that con-
stitutes true manhood and womanhood I believe never ex-

It was not in undergraduate days at Harvard that in Wendell
Phillips was first stirred that passionate eloquence which did
so much to rouse the land to a sense of its guilt. He had
passed through the College and the Law School, and was still
indifferent to the good cause.^ It was perhaps indignation at
what his Alma Mater had not done for him that moved him to
exclaim, after the long struggle which ended in Lincoln's first
election : " The agitation was a yeomanly service to liberty.
It educated the people. One such canvass makes amends for
the cowardice of our scholars, and consoles us under the inflic-
tion of Harvard College." * In 1848 Sumner was passing from
town to town in Massachusetts, speaking in favour of the Free-
Soil Party. Nowhere but in Cambridge was the meeting dis-
turbed. There the students " interrupted him with hisses and

"^Life of ]V. L. Garrison, II. 184, 213, 218.

"^ Letters of y. R. Lowell, I. 37, 123.

^ Life of Charles Sumner, III. 69.

* Wendell Phillips's Speeches, etc., ed. 1863, p. 306.


coarse exclamations. He singled out the leader of the distur-
bance and said, ' The young man who hisses will regret it ere
his hairs turn gray.' " Perhaps he recalled it with deep sorrow
on some lonely day's march with the Northern army, or in all
the misery of a Southern prison. Longfellow was one of the
audience. In his journal he recorded : ^ " Sumner spoke admi-
rably well. But the shouts and the hisses and the vulgar inter-
ruptions grated on my ears. I was glad to get away." ^ Fif-
teen months after Sumner was hissed in this New England
University another New Englander, Daniel Webster, made that
infamous speech of March 7, 1850, which forever covered with
shame the name of the greatest American orator. " He is,"
wrote Lowell, " the most meanly and foolishly treacherous man
I ever heard of." ^ In the idle hope of saving the Union and
making himself President, the old man was ready in almost
everything to yield to the Slave States. Slavery was to be
extended and its foundations were to be laid more firmly
than ever. The cowardice of scholars was once more seen.
He was supported by Ticknor, Everett, Sparks, Felton,
Motley, and Parkman. Even Dana, who at the risk of his
life defended a runaway slave in the Boston Law Courts, was
ready to grant the South a Fugitive Slave Law — "a bona
fide one, but one consistent with laws, decency, safety to the
free, and the self-respect of the North." ^ Among Harvard
men of letters Emerson, Sumner, and Lowell stood together,
and I fear alone, on the right side. The Professors in the Law
School read lectures in defence of the Fugitive Slave Law.

"^ Life of Charles Sumner, III. 173.

^ Life of H. W. Longfellow, II. 127.

8 Letters of J. R. Lowell, I. 208.

* Life of Charles Sumner, III. 205, 208, «. 4; Life of R. H. Dana, I. 126.


The students who heard them, untouched by the generous
feelings of youth, were no better than their teachers. More
than a hundred attended the classes. Of these only six were
on the side of freedom ; " the rest were nearly all bitter against
the Free-Soil Party." ^ On May 14, 185 1, Longfellow recorded
in \v\% Journal : " Went to hear Emerson on the Fugitive Slave
Law at the Cambridge City Hall. ... It is rather painful to
see Emerson in the arena of politics hissed and hooted at by
young law students."^ After the ruffian Brooks's cruel assault
on Sumner in the Senate, when all that was not base in America
was fired with indignation, it was Amherst College that at once
conferred an honorary degree on the much-suffering man. His
own Alma Mater let three years pass by before she honoured
him. No degree was ever conferred on William Lloyd Garri-
son either at Harvard or anywhere else.^ Universities, with
their strong spirit of conservatism, are always slow to honour
the men who raise the unwilling world to a higher level of
morality. If anything could wash away this stain from Harvard,
it was the blood of her sons so freely shed on many a battle-
field of the great war. But in spite of their generous devotion
the stain remains. In the long struggle for freedom it was not
till it entered upon its last and greatest act that the oldest and
the first of x\merican universities was found in the van.

1 Life of Charles Sumner, III. 207, 246, n. 2.
"^ Life of H. W. Longfellow, II. 194.

^ In 1865 he was made an honorary member of the Harvard Phi
Beta Kappa.


Religious Liberty. — The Divinity School. — The College Chapel. — The
Dudleian Lectures. — The English Liturgy.

IF, to civil liberty, Harvard at one time showed herself in-
different, in religious liberty she has taken the lead of all
the older universities of the English-speaking race. Happily,
even in her first charter, she was free from the predominance
of any single church. Had the College been founded in Rhode
Island, where Roger Williams and his followers gave the world
the first example of a government founded on the principles
of complete religious liberty, such freedom would not have
been astonishing. In Plymouth, from the Pilgrim Fathers,
the Separatists of England, the founders of the Independent
Churches, some measure of tolerance might have been looked
for. But in Boston, among the stern Puritans, where State
and Church were one, where none but members of the Church
were freemen of the State, who would not have expected to
find President, Fellows, and students all bound fast by a rigid
test? This freedom, it has been conjectured, was due
rather to a careless feeling of security than to intention.
The constitution of the Commonwealth itself might be trusted
"to bind their souls with secular chains." If such was the
security of the founders of Harvard College, they forgot that
the charter of a colony was liable to change. Theirs was
annulled by the tyranny of Charles II. in those evil days



towards the end of his reign, when Jeffreys, in his progress
through English towns, was " making all the charters, like the
walls of Jericho, fall down before him." In the new charter,
granted in 1692 by William and Mary, property, not church-
membership, was made the qualification for a vote.^ The
door, if not thrown open for the entrance of free thought, was,
at all events, unbarred. For many a long day there was to
be little of freedom as it was understood by Roger Williams
of the seventeenth century, and by us of the latter years of
the nineteenth. Nevertheless, so great was the alarm given
to the orthodox that Yale College was founded in the hope
that from it might flow a never-failing spring of untainted
Calvinism.^ From the ser\dtude that was then imposed, that
university has no more shaken herself wholly free than has
Oxford from the servitude of Anglicanism. Both have done
much, but both have still much to do. Even at the present
day. Harvard is regarded by Yale as the London University
used to be regarded by the orthodox of Oxford and Cam-
bridge. It is "the Godless university." Harvard retorts on
Yale that it is the home of superstition and Phariseeism. A
writer in the Harvard Crimson ^ says : " Yale friends naturally
accuse Harvard students of being irreligious; while Harvard
advocates call the Yale religious life hypocrisy."

From the time when the new charter was granted to the
Colony, Harvard, in matters of theology, has kept pace with
the people, its thoughts widening as their thoughts widened.
The President and Fellows would often, indeed, have moved
faster, but they were restrained by the Board of Overseers,

^ Quincy's //arvard, 1. ^^i The Beginning 0/ iVe'u England, hy ]ohxi
Fiske, 1893, pp. 264, 275.

2 Quincy's Harvard, I. 197. ^ June 23, 1893.


on which the Congregational ministers of Cambridge and the
five nearest towns sat by right. In 1820, when the constitu-
tion of Massachusetts was revised, even the overseers were
ahead of the people in liberal thought. They proposed to
admit ministers of all denominations of Christians to these
clerical seats, but in a popular vote this proposition was re-
jected.^ Fourteen years later, in 1834, an act was passed by
the Legislature of Massachusetts, which enabled the two gov-
erning bodies of the University to effect this reform. One or
other of these bodies was nov/ behind the people, perhaps
both; for it was not till 1843 that they availed themselves of
their powers.^ By the Act of 185 1, all clerical restrictions
were removed, not a single seat on the Board being any longer
confined to the ministry.^

As in Massachusetts, Calvinism had gradually softened into
Unitarianism, so Harvard had gradually become, if not a
Unitarian College, a College of Unitarians. Judge Story's
father, who was born in 1 743, was not sent to Harvard, writes
his son, "lest he should there imbibe those heretical tenets,
which, in the form of Arminianism, were then supposed to
haunt those venerable shades." The judge, who went to the
College, shook himself free from his Calvinism, and was sev-
eral times President of the American Unitarian Association.*
It was by Unitarians that the Divinity School was founded
in 1816. In its constitution, "the following article was a
fundamental one : ' It being understood that every encourage-
ment be given to the serious, impartial, and unbiassed inves-
tigation of Christian truth, and that no assent to the peculiari-
ties of any denomination of Christians be required either of

1 Quincy's Harvard, II. 332. 2 Harvard Catalogue, p. 24.

8 lb. * Life of Joseph Story, I. 2, 57.


the students, or professors, or instructors.' " ^ The School was,
however, "regarded as distinctively Unitarian, and so caused
uneasiness to the government of the University on account of
its denominational position. As the College began to take
its position as an unsectarian institution, it seemed a hin-
drance in its course that a Unitarian Divinity School should
be attached to it. It was felt that, in the public estimate,
the School would give a denominational aspect to the whole
University."- An attempt was accordingly made to separate
it from the College. "An enabling act was passed by the
Legislature in 1858, but the project of separation was never
carried further. It was conceded that it would be false to all
our traditions, if, in a College named for^ a Puritan minister,
fostered by a Puritan clergy, and bearing on its corporate seal
the motto Christo et EccksicB, religion should be the only
subject deliberately excluded.'"* In 1878 the movement set
the other way, and a large sum of money was raised for the
further endowment of the School. "The Harvard Divinity
School," said Professor Eliot on this occasion, "is not dis-
tinctively Unitarian either by its constitution or by the inten-
tion of its founders. The government of the University can-
not undertake to appoint none but Unitarian teachers, or to
grant any peculiar favours to Unitarian students." So far
was it from doing so, that in 1887, of the six professors in
the theological Faculty, two were Baptists and one an Ortho-
dox Congregationalist, while of the eleven members compos-
ing the visiting committee, not half were Unitarians.^ Never-

^ Quincy's Harvard, II. 546.

^ Professor C. C. Everett quoted in Higher Education in Massachusetts,
by G. G. Bush, p. 144.

' An American says " named for " where we say " named after"
^Higher Educatio}t,eic., p. 141. ^ lb. p. I44.


theless, in spite of this mixture of creeds, in spite of the fact
that three of the professors orthodoxly, if not practically,
believed that the other three were doomed to " the everlasting
bonfire," the President could say in his Annual Report : " There
is no more harmonious Faculty in the University, and none
more completely devoted to the unbiassed search for truth." ^
Verily, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the days seem already
to have come when " the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and
the leopard shall lie down with the kid."

However much the College was once given over to Unitari-
anism, the President and Fellows fifty-six years ago showed
that they entertained something of a superstitious feeling in
the use of their Chapel. Longfellow, one of the most reli-
gious of men, writing to his father about his work at Harvard
as a professor, said : " I am now upon Dante — unwritten lec-
tures; but I have petitioned the Corporation for the use of
the Chapel next summer for a course of written ///^^//V lectures.
By public, I mean free to any and every one who chooses to
attend, whether in college or out of college." He no doubt
asked for the Chapel as the only available place. Six weeks
later he recorded in his Journal : "The President told me that
the Corporation would not allow me the use of the Chapel for
public lectures in the summer. They do not approve my
plan. So it ends." "

Professor Goodwin, looking forward to the position that
Harvard is likely to hold before many years have gone by,
says : " She will be fully equipped for the best work in every de-
partment, in Theology, in Law, in Medicine, and in the Arts
and Sciences. I think we may be sure that she will always

^ Higher Education, etc., p. 145.

^Life ofH. W. Longfello7v, 1886, I. 275, 282.


represent the foremost progress of science, and will always
welcome the boldest speculation on every subject. No party
nor sect will control her teaching, to cause either the pro-
mulgation of unscientific dogmas or the suppression of scien-
tific truth. I need hardly say that no exception will be made
in this respect for philosophy, political science, or even theol-
ogy. Public opinion is fast settling this matter beyond the
reach of controversy. Parties and sects will, of course, preach
their own doctrines and creeds then in their own schools, as
they do now; but the true university can recognize only the
free and unbiassed search for truth for the truth's sake. Hap-
pily we have no antiquated statutes or traditions to sweep
away to prepare us for the coming age. Our ancient motto
Veritas stands always over our own gates, and we interpret it
by the principle of freedom. 'Prove all things; hold fast to
that which is good.' " -^ The Professor seems somewhat con-
veniently to forget the other ancient motto, Chrisio et Ecclesice.
In the Sunday and week-day services of the College Chapel
the same impartiality is shown as in the Divinity School. Five
preachers of eminence, from among the ministers of all de-
nominations, are chosen every year " to arrange and conduct
the religious services of the University. Each conducts daily
morning prayers for about three weeks in the first half-year
and about three weeks in the second half-year, and each
preaches on four Sunday evenings." - Dr. Herford, an Eng-
lish Unitarian divine, was for some years one of the five.
The preachers for the present year are a bishop of the Metho-
dist Episcopal Church, a Congregationalist, t\vo Episcopa-
lians, and a Unitarian.

^ The Present and Future of Harvard College, p. 40.
2 Catalogue, p. 478.


Among those of past years was Bishop Phillips Brooks,
whose early death I found everywhere mourned in Massachu-
setts, and in whose memory a meeting was last year held in
the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey. On the Sunday
evenings when none of the five officiates, the pulpit is filled
by a Select Preacher, to use the Oxford designation. Among
these, in 1892, were Bishop Vincent, the Right Rev. H. C.
Potter, and Professor Drummond of Glasgow. In the spring
of the present year, a Roman Catholic priest — a former stu-
dent of Harv^ard — officiated for the first time. The prayers
which he recited were collects translated from the Latin, and
the lesson which he read was, as he remarked, from the mass
for the day. His sermon was a philosophical argument for
faith in the Supernatural. Of the Supernatural he gave no
definition. A fortnight later, the pulpit was filled by Pro-
fessor Felix Adler, the founder of the Ethical Societies — a
teacher who would hardly call himself a theist. For those
students who care to attend the services of the sects to which
they belong, seats are provided in the Cambridge churches,
at the expense of the College.

Of the great liberality of the University in religious matters
the following curious instance was given me. A son of Joseph
Dudley, who was Governor of the Colony in the first years of
the eighteenth century, founded a lectureship in divinity.
Four lectures were to be delivered every year on certain sub-
jects strictly laid down in the trust-deed, one being, "the
idolatry, errors, and superstitions of the Romish Church."
As the value of money fell, the lecturer's payment became so
small that for many years the course was discontinued while
the fund accumulated. The College at one time thought of
getting an act passed by which it should be applied to some


other purpose. They were deterred by the reflection that
such a measure might be a check to endowments and bequests
in a country where the general sentiment as to the sanctity of
the wishes of founders and testators is usually strong. The
trustees, it was found, were willing to interpret the provisions
of the trust somewhat laxly. By spreading the course of four
lectures over as many years, they were able to offer an annual
payment sufficient to secure on each occasion a preacher who
would not disgrace the University. Their first appointment
was the Professor of Ecclesiastical History, who, to comply
with the testator's direction, took for his subject the errors of
Romanism, treating them historically. The third lecture,
also in compliance with the terms of the foundation, was "for
the confirmation, illustration, and improvement of the great
articles of the Christian religion, properly so called." It
was delivered by the Right Rev. Bishop John J. Keane, rector
of the Roman Catholic University of America.-'

Till recent years the attendance at the College Chapel was
compulsory. Under this system, there was even greater irre-
verence than was to be seen in an Oxford Chapel in the days
when we had to "keep" so many chapels a week, and when
"chapelling" was used as a form of punishment. In my
College, and I believe in most others, an undergraduate was
expected to attend chapel eight times a week — " to keep
eight chapels," as we called it. If in his Freshman's year he
was regular, he might in his later terms become laxer in his
attendance, especially if his general conduct was good. The
penalty for too great laxness was "chapelling." He who
was "chapelled" had to attend morning and evening service
during a period fixed by the Dean. These services were the

^ Quincy's Harvard, II. 139; Catalogue, 1891-92, p. no.


full services of the Church; prayers for the Queen, Royal
Family, and High Court of Parliament included. At Harvard
last century, attendance and good behaviour were enforced by
the following fines : —

Absence from prayers two pence

Tardiness at prayers one penny

Absence from public worship nine pence

Tardiness at public worship three pence

Ill-behaviour at public worship not exceeding nine pence

Neglect to repeat the sermon nine pence ^

In my time, at Oriel College, then under the rule of that
model of formality and preciseness. Provost Hawkins, the
undergraduates, as I was informed by one of the scholars,
were each required to "repeat" the University sermon, or at
all events to send in to their tutor a report of it. Many of
them used to meet after dinner on the Sunday evening, and
there, over their cigars and whisky and water, write out the
sermon by the aid of one or two who had been present at
St. Mary's. Perhaps some of the "repeating" at Harvard
was done on the same system.

Stories are told of the pranks played of old by the students.
Sometimes in the candles which lighted the pulpit, holes were
bored and gunpowder was inserted so as to cause an explosion
during the sermon. One day a cracker was fastened to the
Bible. The Bible itself was thrice stolen. Once it was
sent, stripped of its binding, to the librarian of Yale College,
with a dog- Latin inscription on the fly-leaf, in which it was
stated: "Coveres servamus in usum chessboardi pro Helter
Skelter Club." The tongue of the Chapel bell was removed;
"the seats allotted to the Freshmen were painted green;

1 Quincy's Harvard, II. 499.


stripes like those on a barber's pole were painted on the
porch of the Chapel." In fact, the Harvard days behaved
just as ill as Christ Church 7ne?i. The irreverence was no
doubt mainly due to the length and frequency of the services.
As if they were not trying enough in themselves, theological
dissertations by divinity students were frequently read aloud
after evening prayers. In a single year the undergraduates
suffered under thirty-two such inflictions.^ It sometimes
happened that the minister who conducted the service by his
eccentricity provoked mirth. I was told of one old President
who, when his mind was failing, one morning astonished the
congregation by praying that "their intemperance might be
turned into temperance, and their industry into dustry."
In Yale far greater decorum seems to have been maintained.
Professor Thacher, in his Life of Benjamin Sil/iinan, writing
of the years 1831 to 1835, tells how "the students, at the close
of the services in the Chapel, always waited respectfully for
the Professors to pass between their ranks and leave the house
first. Professor Silliman took the lead, receiving the bows
of the Seniors and Freshmen successively with all the stateli-
ness and easy grace of a man born to head a procession." ^

A happy chance, wisely turned to account, gave the first
blow in Harvard to compulsory attendance at religious ser-
vices. In 1872-73, the Chapel was closed for alterations,
and morning prayer was discontinued for some months.
President Eliot in his report for that year said: —

"The Faculty thus tried, quite involuntarily, an interesting experiment
in College discipline. It has been a common opinion that morning prayers

Online LibraryGeorge Birkbeck Norman HillHarvard college, by an Oxonian; → online text (page 4 of 26)