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William Richards Castle William Roscoe Thayer.

The Harvard graduates' magazine online

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Whereof, by what may well seem a new paradox, we can now
begin, no longer dimly, to see that Thayer has been a beautiful
exponent. Nothing less than the fervent intensity of his individu-
ality would quite so fully have generalized the Harvard spirit of
trust in truth, in him incarnate.

Had he done nothing else meanwhile, his work would have been
memorable. Yet there is little need to remind ourselves that for
one human being who understands how much he has done for us,
hundreds of men, and perhaps thousands, recognize in him to-
day a worthy successor of those writers, at once historians and
men of letters, who made the nineteenth century in New England
memorable all over the English-speaking world. His " Life of
Cavour " has given him a secure place in the roll which begins
with the names of Prescott, of Motley, and of Parkman. Like
theirs his work is literature, and therefore completely sincere.
Like them, he is perhaps too ardent in his convictions to be truly,
as distinguished from intentionally, just to personages and to
movements which to him appear warring against the stars in their
courses ; even so, like them, he may be trusted to set down nothing
in malice, nor aught extenuate. Like them he is acknowledged,
and will surely remain, among the few worthies who give our
country right to claim its modest place in the history of literature
and the literature of history.

Throughout these three and twenty years, too, those who have
known him best have felt most reverently the gentle ripening of



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22 William Hoscoe Thayer. [September,

his character. It is not to all of us that the grace is given, as we
grow in age, to grow also in the grace of charity. That this, even
now, is the grace most deeply characteristic of Thayer, hardly his
nearest and dearest would pretend. That, beginning with no great
prospect thereof, he has come somewhere near its attainment even
those disposed to scrutinize him pitilessly can hardly deny. Should
they doubt, let them look again, and once again, at the pages of
the magazine for which throughout this period he has been respon-
sible. Year by year they will find less and less of the self-assertion
which at first they dreaded, more and more of the temper which
is not his alone but all Harvard's too — the spirit which believes
that if the truth be fearlessly spoken it may be trusted to prevail,
and that if we who strive to speak it err, none can be more con-
tent than ourselves to let honest error fade.

BarreU Wendell, 79.

William Roscoe Thateb's active connection with the Maga-
zine ended at last Commencement, completing twenty-three years
of conscientious and devoted service as its editor, and the officers
of the Association cannot let this first change in editorship pass
without some appreciation of Mr. Thayer's valued services, and
some expression of the loss they feel at parting company with
him, after all these years of pleasant and fruitful association.
When that little group of enthusiastic Harvard men in 1892 con-
ceived the idea of publishing a dignified quarterly that should
give to the graduates not only the current history of the Univer-
sity, but should be a Forum where the sons of Harvard could ex-
press their opinions upon the topics that were at the moment im-
portant in college afifairs, their first thought was to find an editor
whose scholarship, experience, and knowledge of the Cambridge
world would give the assurance of a cordial reception of the Mag-
azine, and with an instinct, the wisdom of which has been shown
during these many years, they turned to William R. Thayer.
Thayer had graduated from the College in 1881, served his ap-
prenticeship on the staff of two newspapers, had specialized in his-
tory and received the degree of A.M. ; had been for a period in-
structor in English at Harvard, and had taken up his residence
in Cambridge and begun to devote himself to his life-work of lit-
erature and historical writing. His extensive acquaintance with



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1916.] Hie Harvard College Library. 28

Harvard men and his ability to get articles from men of distinc-
tion was of much value to the Magazine in its early days before
it had won its deserved reputation, and as the Magazine began to
win recognition and fulfil the aim of its founders, it was a source
of keen satisfaction to the officials of the Association to feel that
much of its success was due to its editor. But during these years
his own success as a historical writer had been increasing, and his
masterly " Life and Times of Cavour " and other works upon
Italian history had appeared, and though they knew that his heart
was in his work for the Magazine^ they felt that much of the
routine labor must have been uninteresting, and have taken time
that he needed for his individual literary work. So they felt they
must accede to his wishes and accept his resignation, though they
did so with regret, but with a keen appreciation of all that the
Magazine owed to him.

And at the same time the Council of the Magazine wishes to
bespeak a cordial welcome to the new editor who comes to the
work, with ample experience and high qualifications which prom-
ise to continue unbroken the literary standards of the Magazine.

Henry W. Cunningham^ '82.



THE HARVARD COLLEGE LIBRARY.

A LIBRARY alone does not make a university but a great uni-
versity today can hardly exist without a good library either of its
own or within easy reach. Its collection of books may be the
strongest or the weakest among the assets of any given institu-
tion of learning ; nevertheless, we can say pretty safely as a gen-
eral maxim, the better the library the better the university.
Harvard has been fortunate in this respect. Its library is old as
American things go, a no small advantage, for, though many of
the works that formed the mental food, if not the delight of our
fathers, do not make wide appeal at the present day, they have
kept part of their value and they have made an excellent founda-
tion on which to build up later collections. Some of them, too,
regarded as of slight importance and acquired for a song, now
command fancy prices when they put in their rare appearance in
the book markets. For instance, in 1835 the Library bought a



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24 The Harvard College Library. [September,

▼olume containing some sixty contemporary pamphlets dealing
with the Popish Plot. The price paid was just about the current
rate for one of them if purchased today. To be sure, the library
at Harvard is not really as old as several others in America, for
in 1764 the existing collection was consumed by a fire. The num-
ber of volumes saved on that occasion was smaller than the
original bequest by John Harvard in 1638. But, thanks to the
sympathy which the fire excited, a sympathy expressed in concrete
form by liberal gifts both in England and America, a new library
sprang rapidly into existence and has grown steadily ever since.

At the present time the Harvard University Library, that is
*'all the collections of books in the possession of the University"
consists of about 1,140,000 volumes and some 700,000 pamphlets.
It is no longer the largest library in the United States, as it once
was, or even the second, a position it held for many years ; and
it will inevitably be surpassed sooner or later by an increasing
number of public libraries with their much more plentiful funds.
On the other hand, it is still probably the finest collection of
books in America and the best one for scholars, the New York
Public Library and the Library of Congress being its nearest
rivals. It also has the advantage of the neighborhood and aid of
the Boston Public Library, and the Athenaeum, and of such
special collections as those of the Medical Library, of the Massa-
chusetts Historical Society, of the Genealogical Society, and of
many others in or not far from Boston. Boston is indeed one^ of
the four great library centres in the United States, perhaps still
the greatest of them. The other three are New York, Washing-
ton, and Chicago.

The library system at Harvard, like many other things there,
is the result of a rather haphazard growth. The central collection
known as the Harvard College Library is housed, save for some
of its offshoots, in the new Widener Building. There are also
eleven independent or so-called departmental libraries varying in
size and importance. This lack of centralization has disadvan*
tages from an administrative point of view, and it leads to too
much duplication in purchases, but it means that the separate
organizations get closer attention, more loving care and greater
means for their development from the schools or museums to
which they belong than if they were merely parts of a larger



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1915.] TU Harvard College Library. 25

unit. For instance, the library of the Law School, though until
recently somewhat provincial in scope, has, for years, been justly
famous for its superb collection, one that would hardly have been
built up as it has been, if it had not been regarded by the Law
School as the apple of its own particular eye.

The College Library is thus relieved from having to take care
of the literature on certain subjects which are looked after in
other parts of the University and can devote its attention to its
own tasks, which are numerous enough. It should be noted that,
at least in America, the larger libraries are tending to divide more
and more distinctly into two separate classes, the public ones, and
the university, college and other endowed semi-private ones. The
business of the public libraries today is primarily to serve the
general public as widely and as efficiently as possible, their chief
interest is in such matters as the growth of their circulation, the
foundation of branch libraries, children's departments, coopera-
tion with the schools, popular lectures and the like. They strive
also to give aid to scholars and to promote the advancement of
learning, but this can be only of secondary importance to them.
As their funds are limited while the demands upon them are un-
limited, they have to devote most of their resources to the satis-
faction of the needs of their larger public. It is doubtful whether
any library in the United States can in the long run meet ade-
quately the two sets of demands upon it except perhaps the New
York Public one, which not only has a huge income, but also must,
by the terms of the Lennox foundation, devote an important part
of it to books which cannot be taken from the building and are
therefore less likely to be of a popular nature. In Chicago there
are four great libraries, that of the city, that of the University and
two richly endowed ones, the John Crerar and the Newberry,
which have wisely divided the field between them, the one devot-
ing itself to the sciences, the other to history, languages, litera-
ture, etc. As a consequence the future of Chicago as a library
centre seems assured. The Boston Public Library, whose splendid
collection was built up by several generations of scholarly trustees,
has of late years inevitably had to apply its attention and its
funds to an increasing extent for the benefit of the modem wider
public. This makes it the more incumbent on Harvard to look
after its restricted one.



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26 17^ Harvard College lAhrary. [September,

A library like that of Harrard College has two plain tasks. It
has to supply the wants of the students as liberally as may be,
and it has to amass vast treasures of learning to be at the
serrioe not only of scholars today, but of those of the indefinite
future. Even the taking care of the first wants of the under-
graduate demands a greater number of books than people some-
times realize. The time is past when work in college consisted of
preparing lessons for recitations from a few textbooks. The labo-
ratory method has come in, perhaps to almost too great an extent,
in such subjects as history and literature as well as in scientific
ones. A sophomore attempting to write a thesis on a common-
place topic may need to get at a twenty-year-old number of a
little-known Swiss review, or a volume printed in Hong Kong, or
some figures that have appeared in a statistical publication at
Buenos Ayres. These sources of information may have been in-
dicated to him by some bibliography as the best on his subject.
If he is a student at Harvard he feels surprised and aggrieved
when he does not find them in the Library. And it is the object
of the Library that as far as possible he shall find them.

It may be well here to touch, in a few words, upon three sides
of the activity of the College Library — a few owing to lack of
space, not because there is not much that might be said. There is
first the work of the ordering and accessions department which
has to look after the acquisition of the books both by purchase and
by gift. The growth of the Library has been gratifyingly rapid in
recent years, though we wish it were still more so. To keep abreast
of the important publications, even in the chief Western languages
only, is a work of ever growing magnitude, and the meagre twenty-
five thousand dollars of income which the Library draws from its
book funds is little enough to meet pressing everyday needs. The
distribution of this sum devolves upon the Library Council, a com-
mittee of seven with the director as chairman. A fair apportion-
ment among the claimants is not easy. Certain topics, it is true,
may be in good part neglected. It is not the policy of the College
Library to purchase more than a few current works of fiction,
though as usual it welcomes gifts. Some matters are left to the
other libraries of the University and some few to libraries in Bos-
ton or in the vicinity. But there are plenty of eager mouths to
be filled, and there is not enough to go comfortably round. In the



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1915.] Tht Harvard College Library. 27

first place many of the funds, by the terms of their bequest, can be
used only for particular subjects, which means that some subjects
will be much better provided for than jothers, perhaps of greater
importance. We wish, for instance, that we could take care of the
history of all countries as well as we can that of Siam, but in no
other case are our resources so ample in comparison with the draft
upon them. But the restricted funds at least save the Council
trouble and responsibility. In dealing with the unrestricted ones
it has to weigh the claims of the various departments, each of
which is prompt to think that it is not receiving the amount which
its necessities require and to which it is justly entitled. And who
is to tell what is or is not of value in a great library ? To the
bibliophile, the largest possible number of fifteenth-century im-
prints may be a source of deep joy. To the professor of pedagogy
a school arithmetic thrown away by one's great-grandfather may
be priceless as a document in the history of American education.
The countless sermons to which our ancestors listened contain in
their dusty pages much indirect information on the life and civili-
zation of the time at which they were composed and furnish a
source of information, possibly austere, but whose importance
historical scholars are beginning to realize. Ancient railway path-
finders contain facts not otherwise accessible to the student of the
development of American transportation, old directories have their
uses, and circulars and advertisements will be of value to the future
investigator into the economic conditions of the present day.

In face of all these demands the Council has to distribute the
resources available from its unrestricted book funds as fairly as
may be. ^ These resources are sufficient to meet, though somewhat
inadequately, the demand for current, standard books in the chief
Western languages. For rarities or other high-priced works, or to
build up fine special collections, the Library has to trust to the
generosity of benefactors either alive or dead. So far it has been
wonderfully fortunate in this respect, but it is seldom sure of the
morrow and of being able to keep on with what it has begun. For
instance it has felt the influence of hard times and of the present
war. It happens to have received several large gifts or bequests of
books in the last eighteen months, so it has no cause of complaint,
but there is ground for anxiety in the fact that for the year
1918-14, it received gifts of money for the purchase of books to



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28 The Harvard College Library. [September,

the extent of $16,596 and for 1914-15 of only 95615, or scarcely
a third as much.

A second side to library administration is the work of classifying
and cataloguing the books. This b a somewhat mysterious and
highly controversial topic Many people declare it outrageous that
the cost of cataloguing a book should occasionally be greater than
that of its purchase and far in excess of its real value to any one.
The catalogue department of a library is accused of being the
home of pedantry and red tape, of useless detail and scandalous
waste of money. Librarians reply that such charges only show the
ignorance of the accusers, and that it is the constant effort of all
concerned to keep down expenses to the lowest point compatible
with efficiency. ^' What is the good of having a book if you can-
not find it?" is the argument triumphantly advanced. Without
venturing into the intricacies which make this subject a perfect laby-
rinth, we may note certain permanent disadvantages uuder which
cataloguers labor. To beg^n with, the cost of their operation has, as
a rule, nothing whatever to do with the value of the book. To cata-
logue a trashy, unbound pamphlet, especially in a foreign language,
may be a more time-consuming and therefore more expensive un-
dertaking than the same task for a masterpiece of literature in a
superb setting, or even than for a monument of learning in twenty
volumes. What makes matters worse is that the bigger the library
the more it costs to handle properly the accessions to it. There is
no saving by working on a large scale ; on the contrary, it is harder
to put each unit in its right place, and minute differences have to be
more carefully noted in a collection of a million volumes than in one
of ten thousand. If you have one ordinary edition of Isaac Walton's
" Compleat Angler," you can find its proper corner without fuss,
and the bibliographical work concerning it will probably be done
for you by a Library of Congress card. If, on the other hand, like
Harvard, you happen to possess close to one hundred and sixty copies
of the work, no two alike, and some of them worth large sums of
money, you cannot treat them by any offhand process.

We should also take into account that a scholar's library espe-
cially contains great numbers of works that cannot be catalogued,
that is to say, made easily accessible by any short and simple
method. They are printed in many different languages, living or
dead, and they deal with the widest range of subjects, including the



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1916.] The Harvard College Library. 29

most abstmse. Except in such libraries as the Boyal one in Berlin,
whose staff swarms with ill-paid Ph.D.'s, you cannot expect to have
at the command of the cataloguing department, the amount of
varied and exact knowledge necessary to deal in a prompt, expert
manner with all the books that come in. The mere translation of
a title may mean painful effort with grammar and dictionary.
Scholarly productions of all sorts, bibliographical rarities and
works in little-known languages, indeed just the sort of books in
which Harvard is so rich, must cost more to handle than the com-
mon run of the accessions of a public library. A public library
need classify most of its books only in the simplest fashion,
only sufficiently for an attendant to find any g^ven volume as
easily as possible. In a scholar's library, where there is access to
the shelves, it is of prime importance that each topic should be
arranged in such a way that the seeker for knowledge shall have
under his hand not any one volume but the best available liter-
ature on his subject. A subject catalogue seldom helps the spe-
cialist, but a good grouping of the books on the shelves may
be a godsend to him, and, as no two branches of knowledge or
masses of literature are just alike, each classification in a library
for scholars should be carefully studied by itself and not stretched
on the Procrustes bed of the Dewey or any other system.

A third side of library activity is that of the circulation depart-
ment, that of getting the books to the public or the public to the
books as the case may be. Here again there is a marked difference
between the task of a public library, with its vastly larger circula-
tion, and a university one with its special public. At Harvard, owing
in part to insufficient quarters, the average undergraduate has been
none too well treated by the Library in the past, or at least not
so well as we hope to treat him in future. In Gore Hall, he found
a hot, uncomfortable reading-room ; he lost himself in the mazes of
the subject catalogue, and if he had a thesis to write and wished
to gather a number of books before him on a table, he could do
this in the Boston Public Library better than he could in Cam-
bridge. He was also never favored by any considerable display of
new books or of standard old ones, which might serve to arouse and
guide his literary appetite in the way the excellent Linonian and
Brothers Library does at Yale. But the future promises well. In
the Widener Building the student will have the advantage of a



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80 I%e Harvard CoUege Library. [September,

splendid reading-room and will be able to take out books for use
on the spot more oonveniently than before: there is also to be, on
the ground floor, a standard library room with new works and
standard older ones which will readily meet the eye and, we trust,
may awaken the interest of the casual undergraduate. The subject
catalogue is to be transformed and merged with the author one
into what is known as a dictionary catalogue, the form now gen-
erally accepted, and there will be an official especially charged
with the duty of aiding the inquirer.

For the scholar and the investigator, which terms include the
professor, the advanced student, the learned visitor, and even the
unlearned one pursuing research work, the Widener Library offers
unequaled opportunities. The sixty or so professors' studies and
the three hundred stalls (when we can find tables and chairs for
them) situated in the stack itself should enable those who have
access to the shelves to take the best advantage of collections
which, in almost all cases are good, and in many truly remarkable.
The administration of these privileges, the making of rules which
shall provide that the benefit of one shall not be at the cost of
others, the keeping track of the books taken so freely from their
places will doubtless present unpleasant problems, but the result,
if we can reach it, is well worth the price. We aim to make the
Library the glory of Harvard, to have it add to the fame and the
influence of the University, and to constitute one of the chief at-
tractions to all connected with the institution, whether as teachers
or as students, and we also hope that the ever increasing value of
its collections and the opportunities for the use of them will draw
scholars from near and far and send them back enthusiastic over
what they have found and grateful to the name of Harvard.

The dark side to the picture is the staggering cost of running,
and running efficiently, as well as in a liberal manner, such a
Library as Harvard now possesses. You can live as simply in a
palace as in a cottage, but you cannot keep it lighted and cleaned
at the same price. Treasures of learning, like other treasures, are
expensive things to take proper care of and to make useful to the
community. But we need not enter now into the question of ways
and means. In its Library, as elsewhere, Harvard has to accept
the burden of greatness. It has one of the finest things of its kind
in the whole world and one that can and should be of untold value



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1915.] I%6 Meaning of a Great Library. 81

to the University. Whatever difficulties such a possession brings
with it, they must and will be overcome. At the present moment



Online LibraryWilliam Richards Castle William Roscoe ThayerThe Harvard graduates' magazine → online text (page 4 of 103)