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familiarity with heaven." He knew well how to deal with
undergraduates. "Hearing that Porter's flip (which was ex-
emplary) had too great an attraction for the collegians, he
resolved to investigate the matter himself. Accordingly,
entering the old inn one day, he called for a mug of it, and
having drunk it, said, 'And so, Mr. Porter, the young gentle-
men come to drink your flip, do they?' 'Yes, sir, — some-
times.' 'Ah, well, I should think they would. Good day,
Mr. Porter,' and departed saying nothing more; for he always
wisely allowed for the existence of a certain amount of human
nature in ingenuous youth. At another time the ' Harvard
Washington [Corps] ' asked leave to go into Boston to a col-
lation which had been offered them. ' Certainly, young gen-
tlemen, ' said the President, ' but have you engaged any one
to bring home your muskets? ' — the College being responsi-
ble for these weapons, which belonged to the State."

Prescott, writing to his father about his matriculation ex-
amination, lets us see what a kindly man Kirkland was.

'^ Harvard Reminiscences, p. 71-

2 Literary Essays, by J. R. Lowell, 1890, I. Si^.


"When we were first ushered into the presence of the Presi-
dent and Professors, they looked like so many judges of the
Inquisition. We were ordered down into the parlour, almost
frightened out of our wits, to be examined by each separately;
but we soon found them quite a pleasant sort of chaps. The
President sent us down a good dish of pears, and treated us
very much like gentlemen. Professor Ware examined us in
Groiius de veritate. We found him very good-natured, for I
happened to ask him a question in theology, which made him
laugh so that he was obliged to cover his face with his hands." ^
The good dish of pears must have been a pleasant break to a
long day. Professor Peabody, who entered Harvard twelve
years later, says that the entrance examination "began at six
in the morning, and, with a half-hour's intermission for din-
ner, lasted till sunset. Each of thirteen College officers took
a section, and passed it over to the next, and so on, until it
had gone the entire round." ^

Kirkland's memory is preserved in Cambridge by one of
those changes which are always to be regretted. " I am come
to anchor in Professors' Row, "^ wrote Lowell. It is in vain
that the literary pilgrim looks for Professors' Row. This
pleasant road has long been known as Kirkland Street. It is
not a street according to our use of the word. In America,
country roads, though every house along them stands alone in
its own grounds, are known as streets. To call them roads,
as is now sometimes done, is looked upon as an affected
imitation of the English. If any change has to be made
avenue is the word. Even Longfellow wanted to give a new
name to the pleasant road in which he lived. In his Journal

1 Life of IV. H. Prescott, p. 13. ^ LLarvard Reminiscences^ p. 93.

^ Letters of y. R. Lowell, I. 300.


he records: "Wrote a petition to have the name of our street
changed from Brattle to Vassall,"^ The fine old mansion in
which the poet passed the greater part of his life had been
built by a stubborn Tory, Colonel John Vassall, who, when the
Revolution broke out, went to England, and erased from his
coat-of-arms the motto. Semper pro Republica scepe pro reger
Had the change been made more would have been lost than
gained, for the old name of the street awakens ancient memo-
ries. "All old Cambridge people," writes Dr. Holmes,
"know the Brattle House, with its gambrel roof, its tall trees,
its perennial spring, its legendary fame of good fare and hos-
pitable board in the days of the kindly old hon vivant, Major
Brattle. In this house. Motley lived during a part of his
College course." ^ Still more ancient memories hang round
the name. There was a Thomas Brattle who graduated at
Harvard in 1676, and by his will left "half a crown to every
student belonging to the College who should attend his
funeral." He did not share in the Puritans' hatred of instru-
mental music in churches; for he bequeathed his organ to the
church in Brattle Street, " if it should procure a sober person
that can play skilfully thereon with a loud noise." If the gift
on this condition were refused, then it was to go to the
Church of England in Boston, and if it were again refused,
it was to be offered to Harvard.^ "We change our names,"
wrote Lowell, "as readily as thieves, to the great detriment
of all historical association." ^

Of President Quincy, who laboured so hard to uphold the
discipline of the College, Professor Peabody writes: "He

1 Life ofH. W. Longfellozv, II. 94. "-Lb. I. 259.

8 y. L. Motley, by O. W. Holmes, p. 13. * Quincy's LLarvard, I, 41 1.
^Literary Essays, 1890, I. 54.


seldom remembered a face, and when a student — even one
sent for but a few minutes before — entered his study, he was
encountered by the question, 'What's your name? ' So much
was this his habit, that if it so happened in a rare instance
that he did recognize a countenance, he was more likely than
not to say, 'Well, Brown, what's your name?'"^ Early in
1 86 1, the old gentleman who, yielding to age, had resigned
his office sixteen years earlier, in defiance of the severity of
a New England spring, and of the eighty-nine winters which
he had borne, was a guest of the famous Saturday Club of
Boston — the Club of Emerson, Longfellow, Whittier, Agassiz,
Lowell, Motley, Sumner, Dana, and Holmes, the Club of
which Lowell wrote from London, at the very time that he
was the American Minister to England : " I have never seen
society, on the whole, so good as I used to meet at our Satur-
day Club."^ Of this dinner in iS6i Longfellow recorded in
\\\s Journal : "At the Club old President Quincy was our guest,
and was very pleasant and wise."^ He lived three years
longer. When he died Sumner, who in his undergraduate
days had been under him at Harvard, wrote of him : " Few
lives have been so completely filled and rounded as his, always
industrious, faithful, true, and noble." ^

That New England was settled by men trained in a univer-
sity, and not by a set of eager, pushing adventurers, is shown
both by the early foundation of Harvard College, and also by
the solemnity with which from the beginning Commencement
was kept. Only thirteen years after Boston was settled, and
twenty-two years after the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers at
Plymouth, the long series of these annual celebrations began

^ Harvard Reminiscences, p. 2,t,. ^ Letters of J. R. Lowell, II. 307.

* Life of H. W. Longfellow, II. 361. * Life of Charles Sumner, IV. 202.


in the American Cambridge, which, broken only by war and
pestilence, still runs on, and is likely to run on "till the
stock of the Puritans die."

Labitur et labetur in omne volubilis cevum.

Before the close of the seventeenth century the day was kept
in all the country round as the great holiday of the Puritan
Commonwealth. What was sourly refused to Christmas was
willingly granted to Commencement. Every one streamed
out of Boston across the Charles River or up it in boats. The
Governor, escorted by his body-guard, came in state. On
the Common in front of the College, a fair was held. The
festivities of the day before long turned to license. Feasts
were given by the graduating students in rooms, where "dis-
tilled lyquours " were drunk. The use of strong drink was
sometimes forbidden by the Governing Bodies, though for-
bidden in vain. Sometimes it was tolerated. One easy-
going Board, who, perhaps through the unwonted strength of
their heads, had made the great discovery "that punch, as it
is now usually made, is no intoxicating liquor," allowed the
students "to entertain one another and strangers with it, "pro-
vided it was done "in a sober manner." In the use of
"plumb-cake" the excesses were so great that so early as
1693 the Corporation passed a vote that, "having been in-
formed that the custom taken up in the College, not used in
any other universities, for the commencers [members of the
graduating class] to have plii??tb-cake, is dishonourable to the
College, not grateful to wise men, and chargeable to the pa-
rents of the commencers, [the Corporation] do therefore put
an end to that custom, and do hereby order that no com-
mencer, or other scholar, shall have any such cakes in their


studies or chambers; and that if any scholar shall offend
therein, the cakes shall be taken from him, and he shall more-
over pay to the College twenty shillings for each such

By 1722 a second ordinance was needed; for, so far from
" the plumb-cake " having been given up, to it had been
added "roasted, boyled, baked meats and pyes." Some art-
ful youths "went about to evade the Act by plain cake." A
third ordinance was passed five years later, which refused any
who should henceforth so transgress their degree.^

The disorders both inside and outside the College grew to
such a head, that an attempt was made to put a check on
them by keeping secret the day on which Commencement
should be held. The general outcry was, however, too strong
for the Corporation to resist, and the old arrangement was
soon resumed. Even the very pulpits must have sounded
against them, for, according to Lowell, "the one great holi-
day of the clergy of Massachusetts was Commencement, which
they punctually attended."'^ "In 1749 three gentlemen who
had sons about to be graduated, offered to give the College a
thousand pounds^ provided 'a trial was made of Commence-
ments this year in a more private manner.' " The Corpora-
tion, mindful of the lack of funds, were for acquiescing,
but the Overseers would consent to no breach in the old
custom. ■*

1 Quincy's Harvard, I. 386 ; II. 95 ; An Historical Sketch, p. 54.

2 Hai-vard University, 2joth Anniversary, 1887, p. 211.

^ "The currency of account in New England, subsequent to 1652, was
termed lawful money. It was one-quarter less in value than English cur-
rency of account." Quincy's Harvard, II. 231. One thousand pounds
was therefore equal to seven hundred and fifty pounds of English money.

* lb. 1. 396 ; II. 92.


During the War of the Revolution, Commencement was not
kept; but when the celebrations were resumed they became
more popular than ever. In Boston even the Custom House
and the banks were closed on the great day. Professor Pea-
body, describing the College as it was when he entered it
seventy years ago, says: "The entire Common, then an unen-
closed dust-plain, was completely covered on Commencement
Day, and the night preceding and following it, with drinking-
stands, dancing-booths, mountebank shows, and gambling-
tables ; and I have never heard such a horrid din, tumult, and
jargon of oath, shout, scream, fiddle, quarrelling, and drunk-
enness as on those two nights. By such summary methods as
but few other men could have employed, Mr. Quincy, at the
outset of his presidency [1829], swept the Common clear;
and during his entire administration the public days of the
College were kept free from rowdyism."^ That Harvard "in
its birth and purpose was a religious institution," strangely
enough added to the disorder. "Pious citizens of Boston
used to send their slaves to Commencement for their religious
instruction and edification. But the negroes soon found that
they could spend their holidays more to their satisfaction, if
not more to the good of their souls, on the outside than in
the interior of the meeting-house. At length Commencement
came to be the great gala-day of the year for the coloured
people in and about Boston, who were, by no means, such
quiet and orderly citizens as their representatives now are,
while their comparative number was much greater." ^ It was
as if in Oxford, Commemoration and St. Giles Fair — one of
the last left us of the great English fairs — were held on the
same day.

1 Harvard Reminiscences^ p. 59. ^ lb. p. 26.


Close to the Common where this scene of riot was going
on, and facing the College gates, stands the First Parish
Church, parted by its graveyard alone from the Episcopa-
lian Church where Washington had his pew.

" Like sentinel and nun they keep
Their vigil on the green :
One seems to guard and one to weep
The dead that lie between."

In this old church, for a century and a half, the Commence-
ment exercises were held and the degrees were conferred.
From the College a procession was formed, which is thus de-
scribed as it was seen in 1725: "The Bachelors of Arts
walked first, two in a rank, and then the Masters, all bare-
headed; then followed Mr. Wadsworth alone as President;
next the Corporation and Tutors, two in a rank; then the
Honourable Lieutenant-Governor and Council, and next to
them the rest of the gentlemen."^ The President sat in the
old chair sung of by the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table : —

" One of the oddest of human things,
Turned all over with knobs and rings,
But heavy, and wide, and deep, and grand,
Fit for the worthies of the land."

The exercises were all in Latin. According to the ancient
fashion of universities, there was a "syllogistic disquisition.
When the disputations were going on the President had often
occasion to interpose and set the disputants right. This was
always done in Latin." ^ It was not till after the middle of
the eighteenth century that "the walls" of the church "were
disgraced " by being made to echo English.^

1 Quincy's Harvard, I. 377. ^ Higher Education, etc., p. 36.

^ " Dr. Johnson said that he would never consent to disgrace the walls
of Westminster Abbey with an English inscription." Bosvvell's Life of
Johnson, III. 85.


In the year 1824 Harvard, in common with the rest of the
country, went wild with excitement over General Lafayette,
who had crossed the sea as "the Guest of the Nation." The
triumphant progress of "Grandison-Cromwell," the most
conspicuous and the most fatal failure of the French Revolu-
tion, astonishes an Englishman who knows nothing of the
services rendered nearly fifty years earlier by the gallant
young Frenchman to the struggling Colonies. When Edward
Everett, in his oration at the Phi Beta Kappa dinner at Har-
vard, writes one who was present, spoke of " the noble con-
duct of our guest in procuring a ship for his own transporta-
tion, at a time when all America was too poor to offer him a
passage to her shores, the scene was overpowering; every one
was in tears. "^ At every town, at every crossway, crowds
had been waiting to welcome Lafayette as he passed onwards
from New York to Boston. Men pressed forward to shake his
hand, and babies were held up for him to kiss, so that if they
lived to be old men and women, they might boast that this
demigod had touched them with his lips. " If Lafayette had
kissed me," said an enthusiastic lady, "depend upon it, I
would never have washed my face again as long as I lived ! " ^
Webster, addressing him on Bunker Hill, exclaimed: "For-
tunate, fortunate man! With what measure of devotion will
you not thank God for the circumstances of your extraordinary
life! You are connected with both hemispheres, and with
two generations. Heaven saw fit to ordain that the electric
spark of liberty should be conducted through you from the
New World to the Old."^ It was perhaps the throng of
worshippers, the hand-shakings, and the baby-kissings, that

1 J. Quincy's Figures of the Past, p. 107.
2 lb. p. 153. ^ Webster's Works, I. 70.


on Commencement Day made the great man and his escort
reach the College nearly two hours behind time. At the en-
trance, as an eye-witness records,^ "he was welcomed by
President Kirkland in a neat and peculiarly appropriate ad-
dress." A neat address to welcome the hero of two worlds!
Nothing but a neat address! Perhaps, however, to be merely
neat was the best thing "a jolly little man" could do who
knew that there was an Edward Everett with his never-
failing eaglet to follow. Josiah Quincy, to whom had been
assigned the honour of the Latin "Valedictory," — the speech
in which the newly-made Bachelor in the name of his com-
rades bids Alma Mater farewell, — has left an account of the
day. "The first part of my performance," he writes, "con-
sisted of mere phrases of rhetorical compliment, thrown out
at creation in general. But the inevitable allusion came at
last. I had drifted among the heroes of the Revolution, and
suddenly turned to the General with my In te qtioque, Lafay-
ette — and then what an uproar drowned the rest of the sen-
tence 1 The entire audience upon the floor had sprung to
their feet, the ladies in the gallery were standing also, and
were waving their handkerchiefs with impassioned ardour.
It was the last opportunity which the day was to offer to pay
homage to the guest of America, and, as if by one consent,
it was improved to the utmost." ^

Such scenes of triumph Lafayette had not witnessed since
that memorable Festival of the Federation on the Champ de
Mars, when, mounted on his white charger, " il semblait com-
mander a la France entiere." A wit, pointing him out to a

1 The Rev. John Pierce, quoted in W. R. Thayer's Historical Sketch of
Harvard University, p. 55.

2 J. Quincy's Figures of the Fast, pp. 55-57.


young man who was standing near him, exclaimed: "Voyez-
vous M. de La Fayette qui galope dans les siecles a venir ! " ^
Through America in the nineteenth century he was having the
first of these gallops.

The excesses from the too free use of wine and punch at
the Commencement dinners began more than fifty years
ago to move the friends of temperance. The Rev. John
Pierce, one of those useful divines who keep a minute
diary, recorded in 1836: "Be it noted that this is the first
Commencement I ever attended in Cambridge in which I saw
not a single person drunk in the Hall or out of it." Perhaps
this most irregular regularity of conduct may be accounted for
by the next line in the Diary : "There were the fewest pres-
ent I ever remember." Two years later he makes the follow-
ing entry: "Notwithstanding the efforts of the friends of
temperance, wine was furnished at dinner."^ But a more
sober day was dawning. In 1846 Professor Silliman of Yale,
who was one of the guests, recorded : " There was no wine —
only lemonade; the very first instance of the kind that has
occurred here."^

What a change had come over the University since those
early days when two undergraduates paid part of their term's
charges with a rundlet of sack, and a Bachelor of Arts was
"credited with £^\ 8j-. od. for 'sack that he brought into Col-
lege at Commencement, and was charged upon the rest of
the Commencement according to their proportion.' " * What
sound morality the old Puritans could draw even out of strong

^ Memoires du General Baron Thiebatdt, p. 261.

2 Quoted in W. R. Thayer's Historical Sketch, etc., p. 56.

^ Life of Benjamin Silliman, II. 32.

* The Early College Buildings at Cambridge, by A. M. Davis, 1 890, p. 12.


waters, is shown by the following passage in the Diary of
Samuel Sewall, who was Chief Justice of the Commonwealth
and an Overseer of Harvard College. "Sixth-day. Oct. i,
1697. Had first Butter, Honey, Curds and Cream. For
Diner, very good Rost Lamb, Turkey, Fowls, Aplepy.
After Diner sung the 121 Psalm. Note. A glass of spirits
my wife sent stood upon a Joint-Stool which Simon W. jog-
ging, it fell down and broke all to shivers. I said 'twas a
lively emblem of our Fragility and Mortality." ^ It Avas not,
we may feel sure, the first glass that had been brought in that
day. More than one must have gone to the making of so
pious a reflection.

It is not easy to conceive the still deeper shade of melan-
choly which stole over the great Webster's naturally sad face
— for he also was a guest at the Commencement dinner re-
corded by Professor Silliman — as he contemplated the lem-
onade bottle, and thought of the old Madeira in the cellar of
his pleasant home at Marshfield. "Dost thou think because
thou art virtuous," he might have cried out to the Rev. John
Pierce, "there shall be no more cakes and ale?" He was
no Dr. Johnson whose face about five o'clock one morning,
towards the end of a supper-party, "shone with meridian
splendour, though his drink had been only lemonade." A
lady at whose house I stayed told me that her father had been
a great admirer of Webster. One day he rode fifty miles to
hear him speak, but to his grief found that his hero was too
far gone in drink to be able to utter a word.

Since 1846 no liquor stronger than coffee has been provided.
The thousand graduates, who every year at this great gathering
dine together in Memorial Hall, must pledge one another in

1 Diary of Samuel Seioall, I. 460.


lemonade, iced water, or coffee. At the dinner last summer
I sat opposite a foreign professor on whom an honorary de-
gree had been conferred. I was struck by "the dejected
'haviour of his visage." It might have been due to the
speeches, but I would fain hope that it was only caused by
enforced temperance. I called to mind how, a year or two
earlier, a French Academician, on a visit to Oxford, had burst
into the house of one of my friends, and in a parched voice
had begged for a glass of wine. Some was given him. As
soon as he was sufficiently recovered to speak, he explained
that he had been dining with a great scholar but a rigid teeto-
taler. It was, he said, the first time within his memory that
he had taken his dinner without wine or beer, and he felt
well-nigh suffocated. At the Harvard Commencement, the
victory of the friends of temperance is not even yet complete.
As night draws on there are still occasionally some remnants
of drunkenness to be seen. To each class — to the graduates,
that is to say, of each year — a room is assigned in the Col-
lege buildings, where old friends can meet. It sometimes
happens that a wealthy toper, in defiance of the wishes and
even of the votes of the abstainers who often form a majority,
insists on providing a mighty bowl of punch. I was surprised
to learn that no greatly aggrieved teetotaler had ever been
known, in his righteous indignation, to throw into the mixture
a handful of salt. The Americans, however, are a patient
people. Harvard punch-bowls, nevertheless, have had their
day, and may now be stowed away in the Archaeological
Museum. The President and Fellows have this year voted,
that "hereafter no punches nor distilled liquors shall be
allowed in any College room on Class Day or Commencement


When I considered the academic temperance of the place,
the impossibility of getting wine or beer in the great Hall
of the University, I was astonished at the daring imagination
of the Professor of Latin, who, when a great German scholar
was celebrating last year the fiftieth anniversary of his doc-
torate, assured him in a telegram : —

" Harvardiani festo gratantes die
Salutem plenis tibi propinant poculis."

What do the Harvardiani know of full cups — the learned
Harvardiani I mean, not the dull topers who each Commence-
ment flock in from the country? But the Professor has the
poet's mind: —

" And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shape, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name."

For the great ceremony of Commencement, we assembled
in Massachusetts Hall, the oldest building in Harvard. I
was first taken by a friend to the gateway to watch the arrival
of His Excellency the Governor of the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts. Alone among the Governors of the forty-tAvo
States does he bear this title of Excellency. He drove up
in an open carriage drawn by four horses, himself in plain
clothes, but accompanied by a Staff, in their scarlet uniforms
more splendid even than the Deputy-Lieutenants of the city
of London. A troop of Lancers — citizens playing at sol-
diers — escorted him. His train was swelled by the chief
officers of two Russian men-of-war. It so happened that on
a point overlooking Boston Harbour the statue of Admiral
Farragut, the naval hero of the war between the North and
South, was next day to be unveiled. The Czar, once more


eager to exhibit his Platonic love of republics and liberty, had
sent his ships to add to the display. The Lancers halted

Online LibraryGeorge Birkbeck Norman HillHarvard college, by an Oxonian; → online text (page 7 of 26)