« AnteriorContinuar »
FROM A GRADUATE'S WINDOW.
WHEN some brother alumnus not long ago suggested Possibly a Philistine. that more pains should be taken to keep fresh the historic memories of the College buildings and neighborhood, I rejoiced; as I did when I heard that the students had formed an association to carry out this suggestion. By all means, let us cherish all of the Past that can be made vital, reasonable, inspiring to any one in the Present. I am no promiscuous idol-breaker; but I hold that to cling to the old simply because it is old is as foolish as it would be to let the next limb of the Washington Elm that happens to be blown down lie in the street and slowly rot.
But, to come quickly to the point, how much longer shall we tolerate Latin on diplomas and Commencement programmes ? To what end does its retention now serve? Is it kept out of respect for an old custom ? Then all that accompanied it in olden times should be resuscitated. Latin was once the language of Christendom, in which not only the clergy but all scholars spoke and wrote; but it ceased to be this generations ago. In early days, Harvard students had to use Latin in all their exercises, but little by little this practice was given up. And now, even among Latin scholars themselves, the language is slighted. No book of general importance has been written in Latin by any American or European during this century; even text-books on classical subjects are now usually printed in the language of the country where they are read. Moreover, so far as I can learn, when the Pope Professor and the University Professor meet, they prefer— mirabile dictu ! — the vernacular of to-day to the dead and venerable tongue of the Flacci. So far as tradition is concerned, we may say, therefore, that the retention of Latin for Commencement purposes only serves to prove that the real tradition has been outgrown.
Perhaps you will pretend, however, that the use of a language which many in the audience scarcely understand enhances the dignity of the academic celebration. I reply that it is the occasion, and not any classic formula, which confers its own dignity. As if dignity were ever acquired by using stilts ! or as if the English language, so rich, so various, so elastic, so noble, were
deficient in dignity! What Roman of them all, though you pick him from Republican or from Imperial times, could have added one whit of dignity to Burke's speech at the Close of the Poll or to Lincoln's address at Gettysburg ? Burke needed no stilts ; Lincoln wore very low heels. On the score of dignity, too, the plea of the conservatives fails.
There is a kind of clinging to tradition for tradition's sake that recalls one of Bismarck's stories. When he was Ambassador at St. Petersburg, walking one day with the Czar in the Imperial Garden, he saw a sentry stationed on the lawn. He asked the Czar what the sentry was there for, but the Czar did not know; nor did an adjutant, whom the Czar questioned, nor did one official after another. Finally, the archives were ransacked, and it was found that Empress Catherine, more than a century before, had a rosebush on that spot, and that she gave orders to place a soldier there to prevent any one from picking the roses.
Does it not seem that the Latin tradition, which we guard so carefully, a little resembles Catherine's rosebush ?
The Commencement Programme itself, apart from its Latin, is a puzzle which I have never solved. Possibly, if I attended the exercises oftener, I might come to understand it. As it is, I am hopelessly confused when I try, for instance, to discover who are really the brilliant scholars of the year. Shall I look for them under the rubric, “ In singvlis avtem disciplinis adsecvti synt honores," or under “Orationes"? Sometimes the same name appears under both, sometimes under but one, but I seek in vain for a reason. One man who has 6 summos honores" has also an oration, another seems to have none : why? And when it comes to the list “ Philosophiae Doctores” there is further confusion, owing to an unnecessary misuse of type. On the first line the candidate's name is printed in small capitals, thus : « “ FRANCISCVS COLE BABBITT ;” and you naturally expect that the small capitals will be used throughout for candidates' names only. But your eye soon lights on these words, in a lower line: “ DISSERTATIO INSCRIBITVR. “ What a curious proper name,' you say to yourself; “must be some foreigner — another proof of Harvard's cosmopolitanism.” And just as you are about to whisper to your neighbor for information about the Inscribityr family, the truth flashes upon you, and you smile.
I can think of but one person who might suffer a momentary
pang were the Programme to be printed in English. Possibly some proud mother, whose boy left his native village as plain William Henry Jones and appears here as Gvlielmvs Henricvs Iones experiences delight at the transformation of her chrysalis into a real academic butterfly: but in the end, maternal affection would prevail, and she would discourse just as proudly, and more easily, of the achievements of her William Henry.
As I learned my Latin in the good old days before the wanyweedy-weeky pronunciation came into vogue, I am able to understand the President, but I am amused to see that the students do not. They always hesitate and fail to come forward at the sonorous "accedant,” - showing by their hesitation how well they have been drilled by the present teachers of Latin. But is it not odd that, although it is quite twenty-five years since Harvard adopted the elder Weller's predilection for a wee, she still chooses to confer her honors with a V? Is this reminiscent of the fact that she used to charge five dollars for a diploma ? or is it simply another instance of being true to tradition, even at the expense of uniformity in pronunciation ?
One other suggestion remains. Have you never felt as you read the names on the tablets in the vestibule of Memorial Hall, and then lifted your eyes to the Latin inscriptions on the walls above them, the strange impropriety of having those inscriptions in Latin? The whole building is a memorial to Harvard men who lived and thought and fought and died in English ; they were the brothers, the companions in arms and in peace, of many of us; they were men of a new race, who
their lives to preserve a country which should in nowise bow before
“The glory that was Greece,
And the grandeur that was Rome." And here, where we have raised a monument to express as best it may our gratitude, and to perpetuate their honor, we have painted mottoes above them in an alien tongue. What should we think of the Romans if, on the monuments sacred to their valiant dead, they had carved Greek epitaphs? Do we inscribe Latin on the tombstones of our dear ones in the graveyard? The mottoes in question are irreproachable, I am told, -I am too near-sighted to decipher them all, - some of them being taken from the Bible. But which of those patriots ever read his Bible in the Vulgate rather than the King James version? The precepts
were in English which they took up into their characters and converted into heroic deeds; and in English should they be commemorated. For who, after all, is benefited by this ancient pedantry? Are strangers, who speak only a foreign tongue, and may be presumed to know enough Latin to pick out the meaning of these inscriptions as they casually walk through? There pass not ten such visitors a year. Or are we, contemporaries and comrades, are we benefited by seeing Latin translations of thoughts appropriate to the devotion of our dead mates? Or are the present students, who throng the Hall thrice daily, quickened to a realization of the noble, living example of the Harvard men there remembered by a dead language? No: the least we can do to keep their memory bright before our youngers now, and the generations that shall come when we are gone, is to let our inscriptions speak English.
In other lands, men have come to feel the indignity of borrowing Latin for their national and most intimate memorials. The German inscribes in German the records of his recent triumphs; the Frenchman carves Gambetta's eloquent French on Gambetta's monument; in Santa Croce you shall read in Italian the epitaphs of Italy's later well-deserving sons. English was the mother-tongue of these our comrades, as it is ours, and it alone is appropriate to them. Let the language of their Bible, of Shakespeare and Milton, of Burke and Tennyson and Carlyle, of Hawthorne and Emerson, furnish whatever mottoes we place above their names.
Fortunately, the change can be easily made, for the present inscriptions are only painted; so that, when a new coat is needed,
- which I trust may be soon, — living English may, by a stroke of the brush, supersede dead Latin. And at the same time, a similar translation should be effected in Sanders Theatre. If ever the honored giver of that fine edifice comes in spirit to behold it, and deciphers that inscription written in characters unknown to his Latinity, may we not imagine him to turn somewhat sorrowfully away from that bald conclusion, SVA PEC: FEC.? True it is that the man who died yesterday is as dead as Julius Cæsar; but this does not imply that, if he was an American, the language of Julius Cæsar should be used for his epitaph.
FISHER AMEs's speech on the British Treaty has been regarded, from the day of its delivery even to our own, as one of the most brilliant and effective ever heard in Congress ; and now, on the high authority of Senator Hoar, may be classed with the halfdozen American orations which challenge comparison with the
very greatest achievements of the orators who have spoken the English tongue.”? It was indeed a most notable speech; but though found in all collections of American Orations, it is now probably little read, and even the subject of it rather indistinctly remembered. Without doubt this was Fisher Ames's greatest, but not his only speech. He, unlike “ single-speech Hamilton,” made many speeches, seven of which, with his eulogy on Washington, have been printed ; and in the variety of his gifts and acquirements as jurist, statesman, orator, essayist, letter-writer, and sayer of good things, was probably the most accomplished man of New England in his day. Nevertheless, he lives chiefly in traditions now growing dim, or in Dr. Kirkland's brilliant sketch of him.
There was no circumstance in the birth or early years of Fisher Ames likely to have been specially noted in the little town of Dedham, where he was born, April 9, 1758, and chiefly resided (though for some years resident in Boston) till his death, July 4, 1808. Youngest of four sons of Nathaniel Ames, physician, almanac-maker, and tavern-keeper, he was of respectable ancestry, as were most people in the rural communities of those days, though few, who were Episcopalians like himself, could trace, or perhaps would wish to trace, their lineage back to William Ames, the stout old Calvinist, who, fleeing from the English hierarchy, took refuge in Friesland, where he was professor in the University, and afterwards sent to the Synod of Dort.3
This article and portrait are the third in the series of Historical Portraits in the Harvard College Collection, which the Graduates' Magazine is publishing. The first, printed in March, was “ Thomas Hollis," the second, in June, Was “ Savage's Washington." - ED.
? The Forum, Jan., 1894. * This affiliation, though asserted by Dr. Kirkland, like that of the Ameri