“A Glimpse of Yale”


George Santayana,
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.














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