A GLIMPSE OF YALE
Ass’t Professor of Philosophy,
Harvard University (1892)
The ideas which have most influence over our feelings are sometimes the vaguest and the phrases most often on our lips have the least definable meaning. Such, for the Harvard man, is the idea conveyed by the short word YALE. We know what emotion belongs .to it, and if we were not afraid of wounding polite ears we might readily enough supply its appropriate eon text. If we attempted, however, to explain this irritation to a stranger, or to justify it to ourselves, we should soon be involved in difficulties. We feel that Yale is at once most similar and most opposite to Harvard, that she is not only a rival in those things, such athletics, which are common to both colleges, but at the same time an embodiment of what is most hostile to our spirit. Yet this feeling, even if It should prove justifiable, is not generally grounded on any actual knowledge. It is a vague intuition which experience has never tested. If we knew Yale better, should we not feel all our mistrust dissolve and our coldness thaw? Should we not feel the substantial identity of our aims and history? Should we not marvel that mere rivalry in sport, which ought to be above all things good-natured and friendly, should have pro- duced such an unnatural prejudice between two neighboring colleges.?
The desire to verify this suspicion:, as far as it could be verified in a two days’ visit, carried me not long ago to New Haven. I should not venture to speak at all after such brief observation, had I not learned a few facts unknown perhaps to many readers of the MONTHLY, as they were hitherto unknown to me, and had not my own first impression of Yale surprised me by its strength and agreeableness.
New Haven is a pleasant town of nearly a hundred thousand inhabitants well situated between the Sound and harbor on the one side, and a range of hills upon the other, which rise in places to a precipitous grandeur. The streets are arched over with elms, and the houses in the better parts stand each on its own plot of ground and have a pleasing and sometimes a stately air. You feel that the inmates must be worthy people, all the nicer for not having thriven inordinately and gone to live in New York. The lawns are lovely, the flower-beds well kept; an instinct tells you that there is good housewifery within, and that the mother of the family is a ‘gentle and delightful person. The college Campus is in the midst of the town, upon one side of the small common, or Green. It is much more closely built upon than our Yard. The st:ructures are of different styles and periods, much as our own, but the· incongruities are less glaring; the colors of the brick and stone melt into each other, and the packing of the buildings around small courts and spaces makes it impossible for any of them to stand out, like Matthews or Thayer in its hideous total ity. In spite of the nearness of the streets and the comparative absence of verdure, there is an effect of retirement. The walls encircle you on every side and overlap one another. The earth is well trodden under foot, and crossed by many stretches of pave ment; the due line of paths is not marked out, as with us, by six inches of newly laid grass and a stretched wire. The whole Campus has unmistakable suggestions of a true college quadrangle. The outlying buildings are less satisfactory. Osborne Hall distresses the eye with its confused pretentiousness, and the great new gymnasium, perhaps too intentionally grand, makes one ask whether an athlete or a monarch holds his court at the head of the marble stairs, and whether the porte cochere is meant to give passage to a chariot or to an ambulance.
The Yale Field, where the games are held and the running track is situated, lies a mile and a half away. To reach it you pass through a part of the town and through one of those outlying districts where empty lots gape on every side, new houses to let expose their blank walls, curbstones with an occasional lamp post emerge from the sands, and ragged children play with rubbish. But soon you cross a bridge and the scene becomes more rural, a turn brings you to a gate, you ascend a slope, and your trouble 1s repaid by a delightful prospect. You are upon a level top of a wide plateau: low hills appear in the distance beyond the sur rounding depressions. To the left is a comfortable little house , painted red, where the teams dress; beyond it a screen of beauti ful trees is outlined against the sky. To the right is the grand stand. For the baseball season seats are built on either side of this, the wide sweep of the outfield being left free for carnages; but at football games the grand stand is not used and the custom is to stand or walk about the ropes. The crowd follows the game from one side to the other with keen and intelligent interest, as if each man felt that he was a possible substitute. A. football game is always a fine spectacle, but here upon the broad backed earth, away from the town, nothing but sky and distant hills about you, where the wind always blows, the struggle has an added beauty. It borrows from the bleak and autumnal landscape something of a pathetic earnestness and natural horror. It seems to embody a primal instinct, to be a symbol of all the prehistoric struggles of our earth-born race. Here the heroic virtues shine in miniature and the simple glory of the savage world returns as in a dream. ‘The young men stand about, -absorbed and admiring , commenting like the crowd in Homer upon the prowess of their chiefs. It is an unforgettable sight: but soon the run is made or the goal kicked, and as you look about with relaxed attention,you notice perhaps some smart carr1age driving in with its bouguet of pretty faces peeping from their furs and VIolets, and this shrill note of fashion, with its possible overtones of love, relieves the rude intensity of the scene.
Here, at the Field, one comes upon the most crying,expression of that Yale Spirit of which we hear so much: “hustle -a conta gion-of energy. and “get there”-a reckless love of success.. those popular philosophers who have a fondness for. find1.ng spirits in things should not fail to visit Yale, for there their native talent for spirit-seeing would be exercised on the most favorable object. No contemplation of nature, no reading of history, could suggest more powerfully to their minds the presence of a pervasive metaphysical power, some disembodied energy brooding over the incidents of life and controlling them. If we. were not born
Too late for antique vows, Too, too late for the fond believing. lyre,
we might yet build an altar to the Yale Spirit upon Jarvis Field, as the Israelites did to Baal upon Mount Zion, and beseech that terrible divinity with many hymns to take us also under its protection. But since we are grown too unimaginative for such genial superstitions, we must be satisfied with studying the body of this Spirit, and with trying to discover the mechanism by which it moves its arms and legs in such startling and miraculous concert.
The first ingredient of the Yale Spirit is of course the raw
material of the students. They come, as is well known, from many parts of the country, and this diversity of origin and associations would seem at first sight to be an obstacle to unity. But it is not. Each boy in his distant high school or academy has been looking forward to the day when he should find himself in the great college; this has been the dream of his boyhood. When he arrives he comes upon entirely strange scenes, where he is dependent for all his pleasures and successes on his ability to make new friends and to play an indispensable part in the undergraduate world. The traditions of the place become sacred to him and he vies with his fellow students in proving that he understands them. His family and early friends are far away. The new influences soon control him entirely and imprint upon his mind and manner the unmistakable mark of his college. College ideals are for the time being his only ideals, college successes the only successes. The Yale man is not often such by halves or incidentally; he does not so often as the Harvard man retain an underlying allegiance to the social and intellectual standards of his family, by virtue of which he allows himself to criticize and perhaps to despise the college hero. Divisions of wealth and breeding are not made conspicuous at Yale as at Harvard by the neighborhood of a city with well-marked social sets, the most fashionable of which sends all its boys to the college. These boys-so much does extreme youth prevail among us-form the most conspicuous masculine contingent of Boston society, and the necessity falls upon them of determining which of their college friends are socially presenta ble. This circumstance brings out at Harvard an element of snobbery which at Yale is in abeyance. The college hero is there most unreservedly admired, and although it is not true that the most coveted societies are open to everyone who gains distinction in scholarship or athletics, other considerations have relativelymuch less weight than among us. The relations of one Yale student to another are comparatively simple and direct. They are like passengers in a ship or fellow countrymen abroad; their sense of common interests and common emotions overwhelms all latent antipathies. They live in a sort of primitive brotherhood, · with a ready enthusiasm for every good or bad project, and a contagious good-humor.
Another cause combines with isolation from the outer world and internal homogeneity to give vigor to the Yale Spirit. It is college discipline. Every morning you must be at chapel at ten minutes past eight; at half-past eight everybody has a recitation. All the work of the Freshman and Sophomore years is prescribed; you sit with the same men and all your class has the same tasks and the same teachers. There is a regular tariff of black marks for offences of negligence, so many for tardiness at chapel, so· many for absence, so many if you cut more than six lectures in a course, so many if you cut successive lectures, and most of all-eight marks-if you are absent from church on Sunday. When twenty marks are received a letter is written to your father; forty-eight marks in one term involve suspension, unless the ruling powers can be mollified, as they perhaps might be by a good athletic record.0 The habit of doing things together is thus formed at Yale, and concerted action of all kinds is easy there. There is more noise and bustle in the Campus than in our Yard. If a fire alarm sounds, every student flings open his window, pops his head out, and yells, “Fire” for all he is worth. The unpopular proctor’s windows are not safe from stones, nor even his door
• A Yale professor once told me that, although the faculty as a body was not particularly lenient to athletics, it was well understood that the various instructors were so in their individual capacity. [Santayana’s note.]
from a battering ram. Unhappy the lecturer who in any singularity of voice or manner exposes to the ridicule of his class! nor will a dull speaker retain his pupils if they find a door, a window, or a fire-escape at hand. These are school-boy tricks that go with compulsory lessons, but they lend a certain quaint humor to college life and are delightful to remember. They have also a social function. Common grievances are a greater bond than common privileges, and the chapel bell, the system of marks, the prescribed mathematics, and the unpopular instructor are so many forces that make for union in the undergraduate world.
In fact, Yale is in many respects what Harvard used to be. It has maintained the traditions of a New England college .more faithfully. Anyone visiting the two colleges would think Yale by far the older institution. The past of America makes itself felt there in many subtle ways: there is a kind of colonial self reliance, and simplicity of aim, a touch of non-conformist separa tion from the great ideas and movements of the world. One is reminded, as one no longer is at Harvard, of Burke’s phrase about the dissidence of dissent and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion. Nor is it only the past of America that is enshrined at Yale; the present is vividly portrayed there also. Nothing could be more American-not to say Amurrcan-than Yale College. The place is sacred to the national ideal. Here is sound, healthy principle, but no over scrupulousness, love of life,trust in success, .a ready jocoseness, a democratic amiability, and a radiant conviction that there is nothing better than one’s self. It is a boyish type of character, earnest and quick in things practical, hasty and frivolous in things intellectual. But the boyish ideal is a healthy one, and in a young man, as in a young nation, it is perfection to have only the faults of youth. There is sometimes a beautiful simplicity and completeness in the type which this ideal produces.
One of the most impressive things I saw at Yale was the room officially occupied by the secretary of the Young Men’s Christian Association. It was a pretty room, the windows high in the wall, as a student’s windows should be. There were books and teacups and a pot of white chrysanthemums in bloom. The stove alone might have disfigured the place, but it was covered by a heap of foot-balls, battered and dirty, each with the word Harvard or Princeton painted upon it. They were trophies
which a former secretary of the association and captain of the foot-ball team had brought to this sanctum from the field. It is delightful to see this full-hearted wholeness, this apparently perfect adjustment between man and his environment, this buoyant faith in one’s divine mission to be rich and happy. No wonder that all America .loves Yale, where American traditions are vigorous, American instincts are unchecked, and young men are trained and made eager for the keen struggles of American life.
I have mentioned the word religion. It is there we touch he vital and fundamental point. Yale has a religion. The solution of the greatest problems is not sought, it is regarded as already discovered. The work of education is to instil these revealed principles and to form habits congruous with them. Everything is arranged to produce a certain type of man. The scope of study, it is true, is becoming very wide, and a glance at the programme of courses would not suggest much more bias in the instruction than there is at Harvard or at a German university. But in reality these miscellaneous studies are at Yale merely incidental;· they are “frills,” concessions to the foreign idea, to the new desire of being a university and of leaving nothing out. The essential object of the institution is still to educate rather than to instruct, to be a mother of men rather than a school of doctors. In this Yale has been true to the English tradition, and is, in fact, to America what Oxford and Cambridge are to England, a place where the tradition of national character is maintained, together with a traditional learning. If there is a difference, as of course there is, between the Yale undertone of crudity and toughness and the sweet mellowness of studious and athletic life in England, that is not the fault of Yale, but is due to the fact that English and American society are at different intellectual stages. The Yale principle is the English principle, and the only right one. As American society approaches maturity, and all human interests gain representation in it, a college like Yale will gradually ripen too. Its curriculum will be extended, its outlook will be widened, and its barbarism will disappear; but the initial intention and function will remain. The continuity with the past will not be broken, and the sympathy with the national life will never be lost. Whatever investigations the professors may incidentally carry on, their chief business will be to be the masters of their
Quasi cursores vitai lampada tradunt.1If Harvard, in seeking after new gods, should forget this traditional and primary duty, she would surrender the moral leader ship of the country which in the past, when she was a college like Yale, she undoubtedly had. There is, indeed, a very different ideal of a university. Our function might be to be a collection of museums, laboratories, and special libraries, to which everybody, when his professional work required it, might go for information. We might be used as people use the British Museum. And we might even add to this utility that which the German universities have. At the head of these laboratories, museums, and libraries there might be distinguished specialists, and students in their various branches might repair to them, attracted by their reputa tion or fascinated by their doctrine. This was the nature of mediaeval universities, and in Germany this type has never been superseded. The professor is there the power, not the institution, and the student wanders from place to place to hear all the famous teachers of the day. He is all the more willing to do so if he can leave his creditors behind him, and if he finds the beer as good and the girls as facile in one town as in another. To return to this type would be a retrogression, nor do I think that the Anglo-Saxon ideal of education, in which the aim is the formation of character and of taste, will be abandoned in this country. Harvard herself has no intention of abandoning it. If some people, eager to enlarge the scope of the university, have lost sight of it for the moment, they will soon be reminded of it by the demands of the public and by their own sense of the relative values of things. If Harvard errs, it is not in principle but in judgment. She may have too great a confidence in the public, too high an idea of what the times will bear. She thinks she may trust the earlier training and the social ties of her students to give a right direction to their lives and to inspire them with a conscious ness of the true object of education. She therefore leaves it to them to choose their studies and to form their interests. Her ideal aim is to offer every opportunity that any nature can require for its perfect cultivation. She therefore has no protective tariff on ideas; she believes that an impartial and scholarly survey of all the riches of nature and of history must make for good, morally as well as intellectually. This is her trust in truth, her motto Veritas.
Truth is also the motto of Yale, but with light preceding, Lux et veritas, as if at Yale they loved the truth because they believed they saw it clearly, while we love it even if it be wrapped in darkness. For Harvard also has a religion, although it is less obvious and articulate than that of Yale. I do not mean merely. that we have here our Young Men’s Christian Association, our chapel, our charities, our Divinity School, and our Christian philosophers. We have all these things, as with our generous conception of a university it is. right and natural that we should have them. No one, however earnest in his faith, need be afraid of isolation among us. But beneath these specifically religious forces and permeating the whole community there is, I think, a vaguer but deeper religion-the faith in enlightenment, the aspi ration to be just, the sympathy with the multiform thoughts and labors of humanity. ‘Ihis is surely the noblest inspiration, and one
which unites us to all ages and places in which men have cultivated reason. No one, I am sure, who has felt this high passion and freely fostered it in these halls, will put any place above Harvard in his affection. Some universities have greater beauty and a richer past, some have maturer scholars and more famous teachers. Yale herself has more unity, more energy, and greater fitness to our present conditions. Harvard, instead of all these advantages, has freedom, both from external trammels and from the pleasant torpor of too fixed a tradition. She has freedom and a single eye for the truth, and these are enough to secure for her, if the world goes well, an incomparable future.
d grad .