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Two years after the lectures at Cambridge came another foreign lectureship which proved the occasion of one of his most remarkable books. Some years before Mr. James Hazen Hyde had instituted at his own expense an annual short course of lectures at Harvard, given by a series of French men of letters, and it was proposed to reciprocate by sending a Harvard professor to lecture at the Sorbonne - a delightful custom that later ripened into an annual exchange of professors for a half year and has been maintained without a break to the present day. Barrett Wendell was selected as the first exchange professor, to lecture in 1904-05 on English and American literature and traditions. The experiment was venturesome, but he achieved a distinguished success. His lectures were open to the public, were largely attended, and attracted wide attention. He lectured not only in Paris, but also at a number of the provincial universities; and the houses of French people were opened to him and his wife with unusual hospitality. This enabled him to see the more intimate sides of French domestic life commonly unknown to foreigners. He turned his experience to good account, and after his return published in 1907 his France of Today, describing the real nature of life in that country. There is probably no people whose fiction gives a less true picture of their social life in its more serious and enduring aspects than the French. Their novels and plays have, therefore, given to foreigners a very false impression of that life and of the strength of family ties. They have obscured the solid virtues of the race, which the exclusiveness of the home has also tended to conceal. The French themselves have deemed Barrett Wendell's book the most accurate work on the subject, and hailed it as invaluable in portraying to other nations the true character of their people. Ambassador Jusserand later wrote of Wendell as the man who had foreseen the France of Verdun. The book was, indeed, a result of sympathetic insight, and the honorary degree conferred by the University of Strasbourg, when reopened as a French seat of learning, was a gratification as a testimony of his comprehension and love of France. The degree was conferred in the following terms:
Barrett WENDELL, professor honoraire à l'Université Harvard, écrivain, membre de l'Académie américaine des Arts et des Lettres. Le premier des conférenciers Hyde en France, en 1904-1905, il a su redécouvrir notre pays pour ses compatriotes, et dire à ceux-ci, dans un livre bien connu, ce qu'il fallait penser, en particulier, de la famille française et de notre "foyer," des Universités et du corps enseignant. Il a, dès la début d'une guerre qui n'etait encore qu'européenne, proclamé où allaient les sympathies d'une âme noble, attachée à ce qu'il y a de plus élevé dans les grandes traditions de l'humanisme occidental.
Coming, as it happened, on the eve of the Great War, the book has an especial significance, and will endure forever, the best description of the social condition of France at the outbreak of a momentous struggle in the history of European civilization.
During the next two years he published two more collections of essays; The Privileged Classes in 1908, and The Mystery of Education in 1909. In 1910-11 he went round the world, making an occasion for this by visiting a married daughter living in Shanghai. Passing rapidly through Europe he sailed to Ceylon and India, and his journal shows the keenness of his observation and his pleasure. In Ceylon he had letters to native philosophers whose explanations of their religious views enabled him to contrast the deeper traditions of European and oriental thought. He gained conceptions that illuminated all he saw of the people and of the monuments of former days. In China and Japan also, having letters to men of note, he saw much and enjoyed it all intensely. As usual, he kept a diary of his journey in the form of an almost daily letter, written in this case to his son William; and therein he records his impressions not only of the places and people that he visited, but also of the fellow travellers he chanced to meet, describing them with a vividness that showed his interest in people of all kinds. He made friends with them readily, and although quick in temper to resent rudeness, he notes the event in such a case with a sense of humor at the part he had played himself. In fact, with him affection was vastly more enduring than resentment.
This was destined to be his last uninterrupted travel beyond the sea. In 1914 he went to Europe for a couple of months,
but the journey was cut short by the outbreak of the war, and he returned. In 1916 he lectured in the West and in Texas; and in 1917 he resigned his professorship to devote himself to putting into permanent form the results of his lifelong study. His conception of the meaning of European literature as a whole had expanded with the years, and the progress of his thought is best set forth by the opening words of an address on the Ideals of Empire which he gave before the American Academy of Arts and Letters on April 18, 1917:
During the past ten years my chief concern has been with the teaching of literature at Harvard College. Beginning with details of literature in England and in America, my task has gradually extended itself. We live in confused times, of which the confusion is nowhere more evident than in education. Year after year I have come to feel more deeply that students are increasingly apt to think of everything as distinct from everything else, to approach each phase of their study as if it existed only by itself. Thus I have been led to believe that in the closing years of my academic career I could do them no better service than by attempting to show how at least things literary can hardly be understood until we try to think of them together. My subject has gradually extended to a discussion of what I may call the traditions of European literature traditions which include countless allusions to matters of what men have supposed to be history, to legend, to superstition, to religion, to the vastly various matters which compose the spiritual heritage of our European humanity.
This conception of the growth of European literary form and thought he had for some time been expounding in a general course on the subject at Harvard, and he planned to publish it in permanent form after his retirement from teaching. Unfortunately his frail health soon began to give way in a malady that proved to be pernicious anaemia. In spite of increasing weakness he struggled on, and the first volume of his Traditions of European Literature appeared when he was almost on his death bed. It covers the literature of Greece and Rome, with that of the Middle Ages through Dante, and it is the masterly work of a scholar wide in his knowledge, his insight and his sympathy. The world has lost much by the cutting short of his life before he reached the modern period to which he had devoted even more attention.
He died on the eighth of February, 1921, in his house, 358 Marlborough Street, which had been his winter home ever since he set up housekeeping on his marriage. When the news reached Paris a lecture room in the Sorbonne was named for him, a recognition never before, I believe, accorded to a foreigner.
As a man he had no quality more marked than his intense loyalty to his friends, and to the traditions of old New England. He made friends easily, kept up with them, and for those very near to him, and they were many, he had a singularly deep affection. That he should have combined an ardent attachment for New England with a strong cosmopolitan interest is noteworthy, for it illustrates two sides of his nature. He was of broader mould than everyone suspected. James Russell Lowell said of Wordsworth that he was two men, and that is, perhaps, peculiarly the case with men of letters. It was true of Barrett Wendell. There was the real man, and what he thought himself to be; and the former was the larger of the two. In his later years he thought of himself and was regarded by others as a somewhat narrow conservative. But the real man spoke in the more profound of his writings, especially in The France of Today and The Traditions of European Literature. His philosophy of life may be expressed in the words he wrote in his diary after hearing Parsival at Bayreuth in 1888. "The great truths of life are so great that most people forget they are more than commonplace. . . . Sometimes the evil seems bound to overcome all else; but the men we call the greatest speak forth a belief, all the more striking because, like all beliefs it cannot prove itself and demands a loyal sympathy, that what will prevail is the good." Later he says, "Somehow, no one has ever told us why, the good is best and always must be."
JANUARY MEETING, 1922.
HE stated meeting was held on Thursday, the 12th instant, at three o'clock, P.M., Mr. RHODES in the chair. The record of the last meeting was read and approved. The Librarian reported the following accessions:
From Charles Edward Banks, of Chicago, twenty-three volumes of manuscript material relating to Martha's Vineyard, consisting of his copies and abstracts of original papers, and his manuscript notes, in continuation of his History of the island in two volumes, published in Boston in 1911; also the "Returns containing the Number of Inhabitants in the Counties of Dukes County and Nantucket, 1790," by Joseph Thomas, Assistant Marshal, for the United States Census of that year.
From the estate of Miss Lillian Freeman Clarke, the invoice and sales book of Constant Freeman, captain of the Ship Juno, the Sloop Dove, and of the Brigantine Betsey, 1768-1774; also, a series of the Massachusetts Register from 1801-1834, with manuscript memoranda of Nathaniel and of Rev. James Freeman.
From the Institute of Jamaica, through Frank Cundall, the Council Minutes of Jamaica, December 4, 1689, on Captain Laurance Graff and other pirates.
From Charles E. Goodspeed, a letter written by George S. Hillard on July 23, 1829, on the Round Hill School, Northampton. From John W. Farlow, a record of tolls received by Nathaniel Knight, at Gate No. 1, Salem Turnpike, on November 23, 1803. From Thomas J. Holmes, of Cleveland, Ohio, a check list of works of the Mathers.
From Charles F. Jenkins, of Philadelphia, three manuscripts. From William B. H. Dowse, a copy of the fourteenth edition of The American Spelling Book, by Noah Webster, New York, 1792, containing an engraving of Washington, pasted on the inside of the front cover as first bound, the rare impression from a "cut on Type-Metal by Alexander Anderson at seventeen years of age, when a student of medicine."
By purchase, three volumes of records kept at the Port of Portland: the returns of Nicolas Blasdell, gauger, 1804-1807; foreign clearances and exports, 1827-1829; and a list of vessels arrived at the port, 1827-1830.