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CAMBRIDGE COMMENCEMENT. - Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 3 
Retrospect of Western Travel in Three Vols (London: Saunders and Otley, 1838). Vol. 3.
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“A good way to continue their memories, while, having the advantage of plural successions, they could not but act something remarkable in such variety of being, and, enjoying the fame of their passed selves, make accumulation of glory unto their last durations.”
Sir Thomas Browne.
The Pilgrim Fathers early testified to the value of education. “When New England was poor, and they were but few in number, there was a spirit to encourage learning.” One of their primary requisitions, first by custom and then by law, was, “That none of the brethren shall suffer so much barbarism in their families, as not to teach their children and apprentices; so much learning as may enable them perfectly to read the English tongue.” They next ordered—“To the end that learning may not be buried in the graves of our forefathers, every township, after the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty householders, shall appoint one to teach all children to write and read; and where any town shall increase to the number of one hundred families, they shall set up a grammar-school; the masters thereof being able to instruct youth so fur as they may be fitted for the University.”
This university was Harvard. In 1636, the General Court had voted a sum, equal to a year's rate of the whole colony, towards the erection of a college. Two years afterwards, John Harvard, who arrived at the settlements only to die, left to the infant institution one-half of his estate and all his library. The State set apart for the college the rent of a ferry. The wealthiest men of the community gave presents which were thought profuse at the time; and beside their names in the record stand entries of humbler gifts;—from each family in the colonies twelvepence, or a peck of corn, or an equivalent in wampum-peag: and from individuals the sums of five shillings, nine shillings, one pound, and two pounds. There were legacies also; from one colonist, a flock of sheep; from another, cotton-cloth worth nine shillings: from others, a pewter flagon worth ten shillings, a fruit-dish, a sugar-spoon, a silver-tipped jug, one great salt, one small trencher-salt. Afterwards, the celebrated Theophilus Gale bequeathed his library to the college; and in 1731. Bishop Berkeley, after visiting the institution, presented it with some of the Greek and Latin classics.
The year following John Harvard's bequest the Cambridge printing-press was set up: the only press in America north of Mexico. The General Court appointed licensers of this press, and did not scruple to interfere with the licensers themselves, when any suspicion of heresy occurred to torment the minds of the worthy fathers. Their supervision over other departments of management was equally strict. Mrs. Eaton, wife of the first president of the college was examined before the General Court, on a complaint of short or disagreeable commons, urged by the students. “The breakfast was two sizings of bread and a cue (or Q, quartus)of beer; and the evening commons were a pye.” What became of Mrs. Eaton, further than that the blame of the dissensions rested on her bad housewifery. I do not know.—Subsequently, a law was passed “for reforming the extravagancies of Commencements,” by which it was provided that “henceforth no preparation nor provision of either plumb cake, or roasted, boyled or baked meates or pyes of any kind shall be made by any Commencer:” no such was to have “any distilled lyquours in his chamber, or any composition therewith.” under penalty of a forfeiture of the good things, and a fine of twenty shillings. There was another act passed. “that if any, who now doe or hereafter shall stand for their degrees, presume to doe anything contrary to the said act, or goe about to evade it by plain cake, they shall forfeit the honours of the college.” Yet another law was passed to prohibit “the costly habits of many of the scholars, their wearing gold or silver lace or brocades, silk night-gowns, &c. as tending to discourage persons from giving their children a college education and as inconsistent with the gravity and decency proper to be observed in this society.”
For a hundred years after its establishment. Harvard college enforced the practice, in those days common in Europe of punishing refractory students by corporal infliction. In judge Sewell's manuscript diary the following entry is found, dated June 15th. 1674: “This was his sentence (Thos. Sargeant's):—
That being convicted of speaking blasphemous words concerning the H. G. he should be therefore publickly whipped before all the scholars.
“That he should be suspended as to taking his degree of bachelor. (This sentence read before him twice at the President's before the Committee, and in the Library, before execution.)
“Sit by himself in the Hall uncovered at meals, during the pleasure of the President and Fellows, and being in all things obedient, doing what exercise was appointed him by the President, or else be finally expelled the college.
The first was presently put in execution in the Library before the scholars. He kneeled down, and the instrument, Goodman Hely, attended the President's word as to the performance of his part in the work. Prayer was had before and alter by the President.”
In 1733, a tutor was prosecuted for inflicting this kind of punishment; yet, in the revised body of laws, made in the next year, we find the following: “Notwithstanding the preceding pecuniary, mulets, it shall be lawful for the President, Tutors, and Professors, to punish under-graduates by Boxing, when they shall judge the nature or circumstances of the offence call for it.”
The times are not a little changed. Of late years the students have more than once appeared to have almost come up to the point of boxing their tutors.
If Harvard is ever to recover her supremacy, to resume her station in usefulness and in the affections of the people, it must be by a renovation of her management, and a change in some of the principles recognised by her. Every one is eager to acknowledge her past services. All American citizens are proud of the array of great men whom she has sent forth to serve and grace the country; but, like some other universities, she is falling behind the age. Her glory is declining, even in its external manifestations; and it must decline as long as the choicest youth of the community are no longer sent to study within her walls.
The politics of the managers of Harvard University are opposed to those of the great body of the American people. She is the aristocratic college of the United States. Her pride of antiquity, her vanity of pre-eminence and wealth, are likely to prevent her renovating her principles and management, so as to suit the wants of the period: and she will probably receive a sufficient patronage from the aristocracy, for a considerable time to come, to encourage her in all her faults. She has a great name: and the education she affords is very expensive, in comparison with all other colleges. The sons of the wealthy will therefore flock to her. The attainments usually made within her walls are inferior to those achieved elsewhere: her professors. (poorly salaried, when the expenses of living are considered.) being accustomed to lecture and examine the students, and do nothing more. The indolent and the careless will therefore flock to her. But, meantime, more and more new colleges are rising up, and are filled as fast as they rise, whose principles and practices are better suited to the wants of the time. In them living is cheaper; and the professors are therefore richer with the same or smaller salaries: the sons of the yeomanry and mechanie classes resort to them: and, where it is the practice of the tutors to work with their pupils, as well as lecture to them, a proficiency is made which shames the attainments of the Harvard students. The middle and lower classes are usually neither Unitarian nor Episcopalian, but “orthodox.” as their distinctive term is: and these, the strength and hope of the nation, avoid Harvard, and fill to overflowing the oldest orthodox colleges; and when these will hold no more, establish new ones.
When I was at Boston, the state of the University was a subject, of great mourning amongst its-friends. Attempts had been made to obtain the services of three gentlemen of some eminence as professors; but in vain. The salaries offered were insufficient to maintain the families of these gentlemen in comfort, in such a place as Cambridge; though, at that very time, the managers of the affairs of the institution were purchasing lands in Maine. The Moral Philosophy chair had been vacant for eight years. Two of the professors were at the time laid by in tedious illnesses; a third was absent on a long journey; and the young men of the senior class were left almost unemployed. The unpopularity of the president among the young men was extreme; and the disfavour was not confined to them. The students had, at different times within a few years, risen against the authorities; and the last disturbances, in 1834, had been of a very serious character. Every one was questioning what was to be done next, and anticipating a further vacating of chairs which it, would be difficult to fill. I heard one merry lady advise that the professors should strike for higher wages, and thus force the council and supporters of the university into a thorough and serious consideration of its condition and prospects in relation to present and future times.
The salary of the president is above 2000 dollars. The salaries of the professors vary from 1500 dollars to 500; that is, from 375/. to 125/. Upon this sum they are expected to live like gentlemen, and to keep up the aristocratic character of the institution. I knew of one case where a jealousy was shown when a diligent professor, with a large family, made an attempt by a literary venture to increase his means. Yet Harvard college is in buildings, library, and apparatus, in its lands and money, richer than any other in the Union.
The number of undergraduates, in the year 1833–4, was two hundred and sixteen. They cannot live at Harvard for less than 200 dollars a-year, independently of personal expenses. Seventy-five dollars must be contributed by each to the current expenses; fuel is dear; fifteen dollars are charged for lodging within the college walls, and eighty are paid for board by those who use their option of living in the college commons. The fact is, I believe, generally acknowledged, that the comparative expensiveness of living is a cause of the depression of Harvard in comparison with its former standing among other colleges; but this leads to a supposition which does not to all appear a just one, that if the expenses of poor students could be defrayed by a public fund, to he raised for the purpose, the sons of the yeomanry would repair once more to Harvard. A friend of the institution writes, with regard to this plan,—
“It would probably have the immediate effect of bringing back that perhaps most desirable class of students, the sons of families in the middling ranks in respect of property, in town and country, who, we fear, were driven away in great numbers, by the change in the amount of tuition fees in or about 1807. They mean to pay to the full extent that others around them do for whatever they have. This is what they have been used to doing. It is their habit; perhaps it is their point of honour;—no matter which. But they are obliged strictly to consult economy. And the difference of an annual expense of twenty or thirty dollars, which their fathers will have to spare from the profits of a farm or a shop, and pinch themselves to furnish, is, and ought to be, with such, a very serious consideration. It is, in fact, a consideration, decisive, year by year, of the destination of numbers of youth, to whom the country owes, for its own sake, the best advantages of education it can afford;—of those who, in moral and intellectual structure, are the bone and sinew of the commonwealth, and on all accounts, personal and public, entitled to its best training.* ”
It may be doubted whether; if a gratis education to poor students were to be dispensed from Harvard to-morrow, it would rival in real respectability and proficiency the orthodox colleges which have already surpassed her. Her management and population are too aristocratic, her movement too indolent, to attract young men of that class; and young men of that class prefer paying for the benefits they receive; they prefer a good education, economically provided, so as to be within reach of their means, to an equally good education furnished to them at the cost of their pride of independence. The best friends of Harvard believe that it is not by additional contrivances that her prosperity can be restored; but by such a renovation of the whole scheme of her management as shall bring her once more into accordance with the wants of the majority, the spirit of the country and of the time.
The first Commencement was held in August, 1642, only twenty years after the landing of the pilgrims. Mr. Peirce, the historian of the University, writes: “Upon this novel and auspicious occasion, the venerable fathers of the land, the Governor, magistrates, and ministers from all parts, with others in great numbers, repaired to Cambridge, and attended with delight to refined displays of European learning, on a spot which but just before was the abode of savages. It was a day which on many accounts must have been singularly interesting.” In attending the Commencement of 1835. I felt that I was present at an antique ceremonial.
We had so arranged our movements as to arrive at Cambridge just in time for the celebration, which always takes place on the last Wednesday in August. We were the guests of the Natural Philosophy Professor and his lady; and we arrived at their house before noon on Monday the 24th. Next to the hearty greeting we—received, came the pleasure of taking possession of my apartment—it looked so full of luxury. Besides the comfort of complete furniture of the English kind, and a pretty view from the windows, there was a table covered with books and flowers, and on it a programme of the engagements of the week. On looking at the books, I found among them a History and some Reports of the University; so that it was my own fault if I plunged into the business of the week without knowing the whence and the wherefore of its observances.
The aspect of Cambridge is charming. The college buildings have no beauty to boast of, it is true; but the professors' houses, dropped around, each in its garden, give an aristocratic air to the place, which I saw in no other place of the size, and which has the grace of novelty. The green sward, the white palings, the gravel walks, are all well kept; and nowhere is the New England elm more flourishing. The noble old elm under which Washington first drew his sword, spreads a wide shade over the ground.
After refreshing ourselves with lemonade, we set out for the Botanic Garden, which is very prettily situated and well taken care of. Here I saw for the first time red water-lilies. None are so beautiful to my eyes as the white; but the red mix in well with these and the yellow in a large pond. There were some splendid South American plants; but the head gardener seemed more proud of his dahlias than of any other individual of his charge. From a small cottage on the terrace at the upper end of the garden, came forth Mr. Sparks, the editor of Washington's Correspondence. While engaged in his great work, he lives in this delightful spot. He took me into his study, and showed me his parchment-bound collection of Washington's papers, so fearful in amount that I almost wondered at the intrepidity of any editor who could undertake to go through them. When one looks at the shelf above shelf of thick folio volumes, it seems as if Washington could have done nothing but write, all his life. I believe Mr. Sparks has now finished his arduous task, and given to the world the last of his twelve ample volumes. It is interesting to know that he received orders for the book from the remotest corners of the Union. A friend writes to me, “Two hundred copies have recently gone to the Red River; and in Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama, the work is generously patronized. Can the dead letter of such a man's mind be scattered through the land without carrying with it something of his spirit?”
From the Botanic Garden we proceeded to the College, where we visited a student's room or two, the Museum, our host's lecture-room and apparatus, and the library.
The Harvard library was, in 1764, destroyed by fire (as everything in America seems to be, sooner or later). The immediate occasion of the disaster was the General Court having sat in the library, and (it being the month of January) had a large fire lighted there. One of the most munificent contributors to the lost library was the benevolent Thomas Hollis. He afterwards assisted to repair the loss, writing, “I am preparing, and going on with my mite to Harvard College, and lament the loss it has suffered exceedingly; but hope a public library will no more be turned into a council-room.” On this occasion there was a great mourning. The Governor sent a message of condolence to the Representatives; the newspapers bewailed it as a “ruinous loss;” and the mother-country and the colonies were stirred up to repair the mischief. Yet now, when the library consists of 40,000 volumes, some of them precious treasures, there seems as much carelessness as ever about fire. This is vehemently complained of on the spot, one honest reviewer declaring that he cannot sleep on windy nights for thinking of the risk arising from the library being within six feet of a building where thirty fires are burning, day and night, under the care of students only, who are required by their avocations to be absent three times a day. It is to to be wished that the Cambridge scholars would take warning by the fate of the statue of Washington, by Canova. This statue was the property of the State of North Carolina, and was deposited at Raleigh, the ornament and glory of that poor State. A citizen expressed his uneasiness at such a work of art being housed under a roof of wood, and urged that a stone chapel should be built for it. He was only laughed at. Not long after, the statue was utterly destroyed by fire, and there was a general repentance that the citizen's advice had not been attended to.
Thomas Hollis was the donor of a fine Polyglott Bible, which I saw in the library, inscribed with his hand, he describing himself a “citizen of the world.” With his contributions made before the fire he had taken great pains, lavishing his care, first on the selection of the books, which were of great value, and next on their bindings. He had emblematical devices cut, such as the Caduceus of Mercury, the Wand of Æsculapius, the Owl, the Cap of Liberty, &c.: and when a work was patriotic in its character, it had the cap of liberty on the back; when the book was of solid wisdom (I suppose on philosophy or morals), there was the owl; when on eloquence, the caduceus; when on medicine, the Æsculapian wand, and so forth. All this ingenuity is lost, except in tradition. Five and thirty years ago, Fisher Ames observed that Gibbon could not have written his history at Cambridge for want of works of reference. The library then consisted of less than 20,000 volumes. Seven years ago there was no copy of Kepler's Works in the library. Much has been done since that time. The most obvious deficiencies have been supplied, and the number of volumes has risen to upwards of 40,000. There is great zeal on the spot for a further enlargement of this treasure; and the prevailing opinion is, that whenever a proper building is erected, the munificence of individuals will leave nothing to be complained of, and little to be desired. The names of the donors of books are painted up in the alcoves of the library; but the books are now assorted by their subjects. There are portraits of some of the patrons of the institution; two of which, by Copley, are good.
The rest of our first day at Cambridge was spent in society. This was the first time of my meeting Professor Norton, who, of all the theologians of America, impressed me, as I believe he has impressed the Unitarians of England generally, and certain other theologians, with the most respect. In reach of mind, in reasoning power, in deep devotional feeling, and, according to the universal testimony of better judges than myself, in biblical learning, he has no superior among the American divines; and in some of these respects no peer. He is regarded with grateful veneration by the worthiest of his pupils, for the invaluable guidance he afforded them, while professor, in their biblical studies; though they cannot but grieve that his philosophical prejudices, and his extreme dread and dislike of opposition to his own opinions, should betray him into a tone of arrogance, and excite in him a spirit of persecution, which, but for ages of proof to the contrary, would seem to be incompatible with so large a knowledge, and so humble and genuine a faith as his. His being duly reverenced is the reason of his having been hitherto unduly feared. His services to theological science and to religion are gratefully appreciated; and, naturally, more weight has, at least till lately, been allowed to his opinions of persons and affairs, than should ever be accorded to those of a man among men. But this is a temporary disadvantage. When the friends of free inquiry, and the champions of equal intellectual rights, have gone on a little longer in the assertion of their liberty, Professor Norton's peculiarities will have lost their power to injure, and his great qualities, accomplishments, and services will receive a more ready and unmixed homage than ever.
On the Tuesday, several friends arrived to breakfast; and we filled up the morning with visiting the admirably-conducted Lunatic Asylum at Charlestown, and with a drive to Fresh Pond, one of the pretty meres which abound in Massachusetts. We dined at the house of another professor, close at hand. The house was full in every corner with family connexions, arrived for Commencement. I remember there were eleven children in the house. We were a cheerful party at the long dinner-table; and a host of guests filled the rooms in the evening. The ladies sat out on the piazza in the afternoon, and saw the smoke of a fire far off. Presently the fire-bells rang, and the smoke and glow increased; and by dark it was a tremendous sight. It was the great Charlestown fire, which burned sixty houses. Some of us mounted to the garrets, whence we could sec a whole street burning on both sides—stack after stack of chimneys falling into the flames. It is thought that the frequency of fires in America is owing partly to the practice of carrying wood-ashes from room to room; perhaps from general carelessness about wood-ashes; and partly to the houses being too hastily built, so that cracks ensue, sometimes in the chimneys, and beams are exposed.
The important morning rose dark and dull, and soon deepened into rain. It was rather vexatious that in a region where, at this tune of year, one may, except in the valleys, put by one's umbrella for three or four months, this particular morning should be a rainy one. Friend after friend drove up to the house, popped in, shook hands, and popped out again, till an hour after breakfast, when it was time to be setting out for the church. I was fortunate enough to be placed in a projecting seat at a corner of the gallery, over a flank of the platform, where I saw everything, and heard most of the exercises. The church is large, and was completely filled. The galleries and half the area were crowded with ladies, all gaily dressed; some without either cap or bonnet, which had a singular effect. We were sufficiently amused with observing the varieties of countenance and costume which are congregated on such occasions, and in recognising old acquaintances from distant places, till ten o'clock, when music was heard, the bar was taken down from the centre door of the church, and students and strangers poured in at the side-entrances, immediately filling all the unoccupied pews. A student from Marylands was Marshal, and he ushered in the President, and attended him up the middle aisle and the steps of the platform. The Governor of the State and his aides, the Corporation and officers of the College, and several distinguished visitors, took their seats on either hand of the President. The venerable head of Dr. Bowditch was seen on the one side, and Judge Story's animated countenance on the other. The most eminent of the Unitarian clergy of Massachusetts were there, and some of its leading politicians. Mr. Webster stole in from behind, when the proceedings were half over, and retired before they were finished. A great variety of exercises were gone through by the young men—orations were delivered, and poems, and dialogues, and addresses. Some of these appeared to me to have a good deal of merit; two or three were delivered by students who relied on their reputation at College, with a manner mixed up of pomposity and effrontery, which contrasted amusingly with the modesty of some of their companions, who did things much more worthy of honour. I discovered that many, if not most of the compositions, contained allusions to mob-law—of course reprobating it. This was very satisfactory; particularly if the reprobation was accompanied with a knowledge of the causes, and a recognition of the real perpetrators of the recent illegal violences;—a knowledge that they have invariably sprung out of a conflict of selfish interests with eternal principles; and a recognition that their perpetrators have universally been, at first or second hand, aristocratic members of American society.
The exercises were relieved by music four times during the morning; and then everybody talked, and many changed places, and the intervals were made as refreshing as possible. Yet the routine must be wearisome to persons who are compelled to attend it every year. From my high seat I looked down upon the top of a friend's head,—one of the reverend professors,—and was amused by watching the progress of his ennui. It would not do for a professor to look wearied or careless; so my friend had recourse to an occupation which gave him a sufficiently sage air, while furnishing him with entertainment. He covered his copy of the programme with an infinite number of drawings. I saw stars, laurel-sprigs, and a variety of other pretty devices, gradually spreading over the paper as the hours rolled on. I tried afterwards to persuade him to give me his handiwork, as a memorial of Commencement; but he would not. At length, a clever valedictory address, in Latin, drolly delivered by a departing student, caused the large church to re-echo with laughter and applause.
The president then got into the antique chair from which the honours of the University are dispensed, and delivered their diplomas to the students. During this process we departed, at half-past four o'clock, the business being concluded, except the final blessing, given by the oldest clerical professor.
At home we assembled, a party of ladies, without any gentlemen. The gentlemen were all to dine in the College Hall. Our hostess had happened to collect round her table a company of ladies more or less distinguished in literature, and all, on the present occasion at least, as merry as children; or, which is saying as much, as merry as Americans usually are. We had, therefore, a pleasant dining enough, during which one of these clever ladies agreed to go with us to the White Mountains, on our return from Dr. Channing's, in Rhode Island. It was just the kind of day for planning enterprises.
After dinner several of the gentlemen came in to tell us what had been done and said at the Hall. Their departure was a signal that it was time to be dressing for the president's levee. It was the most tremendous squeeze I encountered in America, for it is an indispensable civility to the President and the University to be seen at the levee. The band which had refreshed us in the morning was playing in the hall; and in the drawing-rooms there was a splendid choice of good company. I believe almost every eminent person in the State, for official rank, or scientific and literary accomplishment, was there. I was presented with flowers as usual; and was favoured with some delightful introductions; so that I much enjoyed the brief hour of our stay. We were home by eight, o'clock, and felt ourselves quite at rest again in our hostess's cool drawing-room, where the family party sat refreshing themselves with champagne and conversation till the fatigues of Commencement were forgotten. My curiosity had been so roused by the spectacles of this showy day, that I could not go to rest till I had run over the history of the University, which lay on my table. On such occasions I found it best to defer till the early morning the making notes of what I had seen. Many things which appear confused when looked at so near, are, like the objects of the external world, bright and distinct at sunrise; but then the journal should be written before the events of a new day begin.
Mr. Sparks breakfasted with us on the morning of the 27th. He brought with him the pass given by Arnold to André, and the papers found in André's boots. He possesses also the Reports of the West Point fortifications in Arnold's undisguised handwriting. The effect is singular of going from Andrés's monument in Westminster Abbey to the shores of the Hudson, where the treachery was transacted, and to Mr. Sparks's study, where the evidence lies clear and complete.
After breakfast we proceeded once more to the church, in which were to be performed the rites of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. This society consists of the élite of the scholars who owe their education to Harvard, and of distinguished professional men. Its general object is to keep alive the spirit, and perpetuate the history of scholarship. Every member is understood to owe his election to some evidence of distinction in letters, though the number of members is so great as to prove that no such supposition has become a rule. The society holds an annual celebration in Cambridge the day after Commencement; when public exercises take place in the church, and the members dine together in the College Hall.
We saw the society march in to music, and take possession of the platform, as on the preceding day. They were, on the whole, a fine-looking set of men, and interesting to a stranger, as being the élite of the lettered society of the republic. A traveller could not be expected to understand why they were so numerous, nor what were the claims of the greater number.
Prayers were said by the chaplain of the society; and then a member delivered an address. This address was, and is, to me a matter of great surprise. I do not know what was thought of it by the members generally; but if its doctrine and sentiments are at all sanctioned by them, I must regard this as another evidence, in addition to many, that the minority in America are, with regard to social principles, eminently in the wrong. The traveller is met everywhere among the aristocracy of the country with what seems to him the error of concluding that letters are wisdom, and that scholarship is education. Among a people whose profession is social equality, and whose rule of association is universal self-government, he is surprised to witness the assumptions of a class, and the contempt which the few express for the many, with as much assurance as if they lived in Russia or England. Much of this is doubtless owing to the minds of the lettered class having been nourished upon the literature of the old world, so that their ideas have grown into a conformity with those of the subjects of feudal institutions, and the least strong-minded and original indiscriminately adopt, not merely the language, but the hopes and apprehensions, the notions of good and evil which have been generated amidst the antiquated arrangements of European society: but, making allowance for this, as quite to be expected of all but very strong and original minds, it is still surprising that within the bounds of the republic, the insolence should be so very complacent, the contempt of the majority so ludicrously decisive as it is. Self-satisfied, oracular ignorance and error are always as absurd as they are mournful; but when they are seen in full display among a body whose very ground of association is superiority of knowledge and of the love of it, the inconsistency affords a most striking lesson to the observer. Of course, I am not passing a general censure on the Association now under notice; for I Know no more of it than what I could learn from the public exercises of this day, and a few printed addresses and poems. I am speaking of the tone and doctrine of the orator of the day, who might be no faithful organ of the society, but whose ways of thinking and expressing himself were but too like those of many literary and professional men whom I met in New England society.
The subject of the address was the “Duties of Educated men in a Republic;” a noble subject, of which the orator seemed to be aware at the beginning of his exercise. He well explained that whereas, in all the nominal republics of the old world, men had still been under subjection to arbitrary human will, the new republic was established on the principle that men might live in allegiance to Truth under the form of Law. He told that the primary social duty of educated men was to enlighten public sentiment as to what truth is, and what law ought, therefore, to be. But here he diverged into a set of monstrous suppositions, expressed or assumed:—that men of letters are the educated men of society in regard not only to literature and speculative truth, but to morals, politics, and the conduct of all social affairs:—that power and property were made to go eternally together:—that the “masses” are ignorant:—that the ignorant masses naturally form a party against the enlightened few:—that the masses desire to wrest power from the wealthy few:—that, therefore, the masses wage war against property:—that industry is to be the possession of the many, and property of the few:—that the masses naturally desire to make the right instead of to find it:—that they are, consequently, opposed to law:—and that a struggle was impending in which the whole power of mind must be arrayed against brute force.—This extraordinary collection of fallacies was not given in the form of an array of propositions; but they were all taken for granted when not announced. The orator made large reference to recent outrages in the country: but, happily for the truth, and for the reputation of “the masses,” the facts of the year supplied as complete a contradiction as could be desired to the orator of the hour. The violences were not perpetrated by industry against property, but by property against principle. The violators of law were, almost without an exception, members of the wealthy and “educated” class, while the victorious upholders of the law were the “industrious” masses. The rapid series of victories since gained by principle over the opposition of property, and without injury to property,—holy and harmless victories,—the failure of the law-breakers in all their objects, and their virtual surrender to the sense and principle of the majority, are sufficient, one would hope, to enlighten the “enlightened;” to indicate to the lettered class of American society, that while it is truly their duty to extend all the benefits of education which it is in their power to dispense to “the masses,” it is highly necessary that the benefit should be reciprocated, and that the few should be also receiving an education from the many. There are a thousand mechanics shops, a thousand loghouses where certain members of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the orator of the day for one, might learn new and useful lessons on morals and politics,—on the first principles of human relations.
I have had the pleasure of seeing the address delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at its last celebration,—an address differing most honourably from the one I was present at. The address of last August was by Mr. R. Waldo Emerson a name which is a sufficient warrant on the spot for the absence from his production of all aristocratic insolence, all contempt of man or men, in any form and under any combination. His address breathes a truly philosophical reverence for Humanity, and exhibits an elevated conception of what are the right aims and the reasonable discipline of the mind of a scholar and thinker. Whatever the reader may conclude as to the philosophical doctrine of the address, and the mode in which it is conveyed,—whether he accuse it of mysticism or hail it as insight,—he cannot but be touched by the spirit of devotedness, and roused by the tone of moral independence which breathe through the whole. The society may be considered as having amply atoned, by this last address, for the insult rendered by its organ (however uconsciously), to republican morals by that of 1835).
The address was followed by the reading of the poem, whose delivery by its author I have before mentioned as being prevented by his sudden and alarming illness. The, whole assembly were deeply moved; and this was the most interesting part of the transactions of the day.
The society marched out of the church to music, and, preceded by the band, to the college, and up the steps of the hall to dinner, in the order of seniority as members.
We hastened home to dress for dinner at the president's, where we met the Corporation of the University. My seat was between Dr. Bowditch and one of the professors; and the entertainment, to us strangers, was so great and so novel, that we were sorry to return home, though it was to meet an evening party no less agreeable.
The ceremonial of Commencement-week was now over; but not the bustle and gaiety. The remaining two days were spent in drives to Boston and to Bunker Hill, and in dinner and evening visits to Judge Story's, to some of the professors, and to Mr. Everett's, since governor of the State.
The view from Bunker Hill is fine, including the city and harbour of Boston, the long bridges and the Neck, which connect the city with the mainland, the village of Medford, where the first American ship was built, and the rising grounds which advantageously limit the prospect. The British could scarcely have had much leisure to admire the view while they were in possession of the hill, for the colonists kept them constantly busy. I saw the remains of the work which was the only foothold they really possessed. They roamed the hills, and marched through the villages, but had no opportunity of settling themselves anywhere else. Their defeat of the enemy was more fatal to themselves than to the vanquished, as they lost more officers than the Americans had men engaged.
A monument is in course of erection: but it proceeds very slowly for want of funds. It is characteristic of the people that funds should fall short for this object, while they abound on all occasions when they are required for charitable, religious, or literary uses. The glory of the Bunker Hill struggle is immortal in the hearts of the nation, and the granite obelisk is not felt to be wanted as an expression. When it will be finished no one knows, and few seem to care, while the interest in the achievement remains as enthusiastic as ever.
While we were surveying the ground, a very old man joined us with his plan of the field. It was well worn, almost tattered: but he spread it out once more for us on a block of the monumental granite, and related once again, for our benefit, the thousand times told tale. He was in the battle with his musket, being then fifteen years old. Many were the boys who struck some of the first blows in that war; and of those boys one here and there still lives, and may be known by the air of serene triumph with which he paces the field of his enterprise, once soaked with blood, but now the centre of regions where peace and progress have followed upon the achievement of freedom.
[*]Christian Examiner, for September, 1834.