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Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
SOME four miles or so from Boston lies the university-town of New England the Cambridge of the New World. There are few places in the States of which I have carried away with me brighter memories. The kindness of new-made friends caused Cambridge to be a sort of home to me during my stay at Boston. But even without personal recollections, my impressions of the university town, and above all of its class-day, as the annual commemoration is called, would be very pleasant ones. Let me speak of it as I found it.
It is by the street-railroads that you go to Cambridge U. S. The idea may not be academical, but the reality is wonderfully pleasant. If I had no other reason for not liking George Francis Train, I should find cause enough for my dislike in the fact that he has discredited the street-railway system in England. I know, indeed, of no pleasanter mode of travelling for a short distance; and of all American street-railroads, the Cambridge ones
are the best. It is true that the cars are over-crowded at times. Nothing is perfect in this bad world of ours. It is true, too, that gentlemen are expected to leave their seats when ladies have no place to sit down in; but then so many of the Boston ladies are young and pretty, and always smile so pleasantly when you make room for them, that I wonder how Mr. Trollope found it in his heart to grumble at the custom. It is undeniable also, that if, as I trust my readers do, you drive your own mail-phaeton, you find the street-rails hinder the high-road from being as smooth as it would be otherwise. Still, even from the summit of a mail-phaeton you cannot help perceiving that the number of people who do not possess carriages of their own considerably exceeds the number of those who do; and, therefore, on the whole, street-railroads are a gain to the community at large. Putting aside these slight objections, your ride to Cambridge, especially on a summer evening, is all that you can desire. Your fare is only threepence: low as the fare is, a dirtily-dressed passenger is almost unknown; and even if you are sometimes crowded, it is pleasant to see coloured women and children sitting or standing among the other passengers on terms of perfect equality. You travel as smoothly as you would in the softest of spring carriages. You go as quick as you would in an Eastern-Counties express, and you pay as little as you would in a London omnibus.
The road itself is a very pretty one. Up and down the old-fashioned hilly streets of Boston, with their quaint red-brick houses, then over a long wide bridge across the Charles River, or rather, across the sea creek into which the Charles River runs a creek famed in the annals of Boston for the fact that the tea was thrown into its waters in the days of the Revolution; then through the long straggling suburb of Cambridge Port, then through rows after rows of wooden villas, standing each in its own gardens, and so on into the little quiet town of Cambridge. Of town or streets there is but little; what there is, is grouped round Harvard College. Three low blocks of building, built two hundred years ago, looking for all the world as though the Pilgrim Fathers had transported them ready made from Trinity Hall or Emmanuel College, and called Hollis, Stoughton, and Massachusetts, form two sides of a college quad. On the third stands the college library, a cross in architectural fashion between King's Chapel and the brick church in Barnwell, with the same dumpy pinnacles on the roof, like the legs of a dinner-table turned upside down. The square is completed by a block of lecture-rooms, of the plainest structure. Hard by the college, there are a row or two of shops, university book-stalls, groceries, and the like; and round about, in every direction, there are pleasant shady streets, lined with trees and quickset hedges and old-fashioned country houses. Indeed, the whole place had, to my
eyes, an academic air, for which I was not prepared. One of the professors told me, that after Arthur Clough had resided here a short time, he said that "he felt himself back in Oxford." Indeed, strolling through the grounds of that sleepy, quiet university, it seems hard to realize that you are in the country of New York and Chicago and the West.
The students are quieter, apparently, than our English ones; or, at any rate, you see less of them about the streets. Once or twice in the evenings I heard snatches of noisy songs, as I passed the college buildings, which, coupled with the jingling of glasses, called back recollections of college supper-parties. Otherwise I saw or heard but little of the students, and those, I did meet with, had none of that air of being the owners, possessors, and masters of the university precincts, so peculiar to the undergraduates of Oxford and Cambridge. The age of the students is about the same as in our own universities. Twenty-one is, as with us, the average age at which students take their degree, or rather, close their college course, for taking one's degree is, at Harvard College, by no means the usual termination of the university career. There is no particular reason why students should take a degree; and, as a rule, when they have studied as many years as their finances or their inclinations will allow them, they leave the university without undergoing the formality of graduating. The fact that there are no fellowships
to be obtained makes an academical degree of little comparative value. There is no distinctive dress worn now either by students or professors. The college discipline is very like our own, except that the students are treated more like men than schoolboys, and, I should gather, with success. The undergraduates may or may not live in the college rooms, according to their own choice. There are many more students than rooms; and, at the commencement of each year, the vacant rooms are distributed by lottery amongst the freshmen. If the lucky winners like to sell their privilege, they are at liberty to do so; and, practically, the poorer students generally make something by the sale of their right to rooms. Why men should wish to live in the smallest of old-fashioned college rooms instead of in comfortable lodgings in the town is a mystery that no man can comprehend after the age of one-and-twenty; but the wish prevails in Cambridge, U. S. as well as in Cambridge, England. Of late years, the system of "commons" has been given up, and the students take their meals in clubs, or at boarding-houses. The under-graduates are obliged to attend lectures and chapel in the morning. The prayers, which are very short, are worded so as to contain nothing offensive to the tenets of any Christian sect, and must, I fancy, in consequence be curious specimens of moral common-places. On Sundays, there is service held at college, according to the orthodox form, as the Calvinist faith is called in
New England, and students who do not go to church elsewhere are expected to attend it. Parents, however, may fix what form of worship their sons shall frequent: and the majority of the undergraduates who come from near Boston pass their Sundays at home. In glancing over a list of the students, I saw that they belonged to some dozen different religious denominations, and that some three per cent. of the whole number avowed no preference for any particular form of religion. Of those who belonged nominally to the several sects, about a fifth or sixth were Church members. The average expense of the university course varied, as I was told, from £150 to £250 per annum; but, in many instances, I suspect, this latter estimate must be much exceeded. At the class-day I was present at, four students kept open house for all their friends, and I was told they had ordered refreshments to be provided for a thousand persons. Considering the style of the entertainment, it must have cost a dollar a head, at the very least; and a thousand dollars (£200) is rather a large sum, even for our own university swells, to spend on an entertainment. Though the outlay was talked of by the professors as absurd, it did not seem to me to be regarded as anything very unusual.
But, at this rate, I shall never get to Cambridge class-day. It was a glorious hot summer day, hotter than we often have in England; and the chimes of Cambridge rang out merrily, and the little town was
full of ladies with the brightest of bonnets and the prettiest of faces. Class-day is the last day of the Academic course, at least for the fourth-year students, or senior sophomores, as I think they are called; and on this day these students give a sort of farewell festival to the rest of the college, and to their friends. By the kindness of one of my friends Professor Lowell I was invited to be present at the ceremony. Under a broiling sun, on the twentieth of June last, we strolled, in the forenoon, across the college grounds, past Washington's elm, to the house of the President, or rather the acting President for at that time the office was vacant, owing to the death of Professor Felton. Washington's elm, I should add, is so called, because the Father of his Country signed the Declaration of Independence beneath its branches. I am not sure, by the way, that I am not confusing Washington with the Barons and Magna Charta. However, I know that Washington did something or other remarkable beneath this elm, and Whitfield, so tradition goes, preached under it, when the university authorities of Harvard refused him permission to use the pulpit of the college chapel.
At the house of the acting President, the professors and the students were collected. It so happened that on that morning the news had reached America of the death of Mr. Clough; and it was pleasant to me, it would have been to any Englishman, who appreciated
the high talents of that scholar-poet, to see how kindly and how highly his memory was cherished by his brother professors who had known and loved him. The fourth-year sophomores, who were the heroes of the day, were all assembled, arrayed in the glossiest of new black dress clothes and with the whitest of kid gloves. Evening dress somehow takes more kindly to American youths than to our own, and the students seemed to me a set of as good-looking gentlemanlike young men as it has been often my fortune to see. We formed a line, and marched two-and-two together through the grounds, with a band of music leading the way, and a sympathetic crowd of bystanders gazing at us, and following in our wake. I am afraid, as I think of it, that my friend and I must have rather marred the appearance of the procession, by being in coloured clothes. However, black is not a cool colour to wear in the dog-days, and so I hope we were pardoned. Our walk ended in the Unitarian church of Cambridge, which the University has a right to use for public ceremonies. Thanks to my being with the dons' party, I got a seat upon the raised platform at the end of the chapel, and sat there in glory and comparative coolness. The moment we were seated there was a rush of students through the doors, and a perfectly unnecessary fight was got up with the constables who guarded the entrance, which reminded me of wrestlings I had witnessed upon the staircase of the theatre at the Oxford
Commemorations. In fact, the whole scene had an Oxford air about it. There were the ladies with bonnets of every colour, blue, white, and pink, fanning themselves in the crowded seats. There was a host of bright young faces, and the orations were strings of appropriate platitudes and decorous facetia of the mildest character, such as most of us have heard often times in college halls, and under no other circumstances. Of the speakers, I would only say, that they were two young men of six feet high and upwards one the stroke of the Harvard boat and as fine specimens of manhood as you would desire to see. We had a band, which played the overture to Martha, and other operatic music, with remarkable precision; a prayer full of the most apposite commonplaces; and an ode of a patriotic character. There were allusions to the war in plenty throughout the proceedings, but everything was too decorous for the exhibition of any ardent patriotism. Amongst the crowd, however, there was one poor lad, pale, worn, and limping upon crutches, who had lost his leg in the battle of Balls Bluff, and who had come to witness the gala day of the class which he had left to join the war. He was the hero of the day, and at every patriotic sentiment all eyes were turned towards him, as though he were the living embodiment of the country's struggle and defeats and victories. I have no doubt, according to the Yankee phrase, he had "a good time of it" that class-day at
Cambridge, amongst his old friends and fellow-students; but I could not help feeling that there was a long hereafter before him, when the war is over, and the excitement has passed away; and when I, for my part, would sooner have both legs than have been a hero and be a cripple.
Then, when the orations were over, we strolled through the old college rooms, where the students had prepared luncheons for their friends, and where every stranger, who came, was welcomed with that frank cordiality which seems to me so universal a characteristic of American hospitality. Then, having eaten as much ice-cream and raised pies and lobster salads as our digestions would permit of, we wandered off through the pleasant college grounds; and, in defiance of academical decorum, in full view of the public road, smoked cigars upon the lawn of a college Professor, who invited us to the act by his own example. Let me say, that of all academical dignitaries whom I have known and I have known a good number I should say that the Professors of Harvard College were, as a body, the pleasantest. They are all men of scholarly education, some of them of European repute, and yet, in one sense, they are also men of the world. There is nothing amongst them of that pedantry and that exaggerated notion of their own importance which is almost an invariable characteristic of our own University dons. Living near a great city, almost
all of them married men, with moderate incomes, they form a sort of family of scholars, such as I never met elsewhere.
Later in the afternoon there was dancing for the students and their friends in the College Hall, on whose walls there hung quaint pictures of old-fashioned Puritan benefactors, and in whose midst was suspended the famous six-oar outrigger boat of Harvard College, which beat the Hale boat a year ago, doing the distance in the shortest time ever known across the Atlantic. At any rate I was told so, and believe it accordingly. The dancing seemed to me very good, but the hall was overpoweringly hot, and for my part I preferred the open green, where there was music also, and where all the world was allowed to dance. The scene was in itself a curious instance of American freedom, and also of American good behaviour. The green is open to the high-road, and the whole of the Cambridge world, or of the Boston world for that matter, might have come and danced there. Probably everybody who cared to dance did come, but the dancers were as well-behaved, as quiet, and as orderly as they would have been in a London ball-room. I could not help asking myself, without a satisfactory reply, whether such a scene would be possible at the backs of the Cambridge Colleges, or in the Christchurch meadows; and whether, if it were possible, our young university students would dance as freely in the midst
of any of the Oxford or Cambridge townspeople, who chose to come there accompanied by their sweethearts and sisters. The dancing was followed by a sort of farewell romp of the departing students round an old oak-tree, wherein the chief amusement seemed to consist in the destruction of each others' hats. Then in the evening there was a reception of the students and their friends at the President's house, and an exhibition of Chinese lanterns and rockets on the college green; where, judging from the look of the groups I met strolling about in the dim evening light, I should say that many flirtations of the day must have been ratified by declarations and vows of eternal fidelity. Chi lo sa? And after the guests, and relations, and ladies had gone home, I rather suspect the students made a might of it, over the débris of the cold collations. This, however, is mere suspicion. They may have gone to bed when I did, or have quenched their thirst with the lemonade they provided for the ladies, but I own I doubt it.
Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
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