A Canadian at Harvard

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Drawings A Canadian at Harvard
written by Harald Smith Patton
Literary Competitions
From The Canadian Forum, December 1920, p. 75

Almost the first headline that caught my eye as I opened up a newspaper on landing in Boston on the opening day of term bore these words, in the generous blackface in which the American press delights to express itself:


"This sounds reassuring," I murmured to myself as I proceeded to read the vivid report of a Friends of Irish Freedom Sunday meeting in Faneuil Hall, Boston's historic market and "Cradle of Liberty", — where an Irish priest, fresh from an English jail, had with wild and turgid invective denounced Harvard University as "stinking rotten with British propaganda," an institution "bought with British gold", its professors "hirelings of Lloyd George and his Tories".

When I had become sufficiently orientated at Cambridge to read the Crimson — the Harvard daily — I at once encountered fresh pro-British charges. A women(sic!) graduate of a neighboring college, provoked by the Crimson editor's indignant reply to the Faneuil Hall ebullition, had written in the "Communications Column": "The cause of Ireland is almost exactly parallel to that of the American colonies, and it is hardly possible to talk against the one without being disloyal to the other. You, Mr. Editor, prove by your very attitude the truth of the charge that Harvard is indeed a hotbed of despicable British propaganda."

Whereupon an undergraduate, of Revolutionary descent, who had served "over there", made rejoinder the following day in these words: "I know that every day Americans return from England feeling that the English are the best friends that we have in the world.....I hope that unhyphenated Americans will not stand silently by and allow the Irish radicals to break this bond between Britain and America, that of language, traditions, and ideals".

This expression is fairly representative of the sentiment of the average Harvard man. Such is his attitude today in the most Irish city in the world, and in the self same university which British Tories had once called "a hotbed of sedition", and whose president had offered prayer for the revolutionary troops halted at its gates on their way to Bunker Hill. If Harvard is pro-British today it is not because it is un-American but because it is unprovincial. It is the pro-Britishism of understanding, not of partisanship. Being neither a state nor a denominational institution. Harvard draws not only its student body, but its faculty as well, from wide-ranging constituencies and classes. In the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences alone over 150 universities and colleges, including some twenty-five foreign institutions, are represented, while the members of its Faculty proper include graduates of fully half a hundred universities. This does not mean that Harvard is merely miscellaneous, as is the case, for instance, with Columbia, which simply collects under one name, but not in one spirit, vast and varied quotas of academic raw material. Harvard is not so much cosmopolitan as eclectic. Aiming less at bulk than at quality of fibre, it insists upon the bachelor's degree as a sine qua non of admission to all its professional schools — Medicine, Engineering, and Business Administration, as well as Arts, Law, and Divinity. Applications for admission are submitted to almost as searching individual consideration as recommendations for the higher degrees. This system, or rather this method, — for system is not a cherished term at Harvard — has resulted in bringing together not only a representative but a somewhat mature body of students, who are disposed to merge localisms and even nationalisms in the larger understanding.

In this sort of atmosphere prejudice is liable to wilt. And so, while Harvard neither forgets nor deprecates the part she played in 1775, the anti-British sentiment of those days has been profoundly modified by the historical perspective of a century and a half and by the logic of intellectual honesty. The transition is all the more significant because of the very fervent partisanship of Harvard in the Revolutionary struggle. Lying on the road from Boston to Bunker Hill, Lexington, and Concord, Cambridge was in the very centre of conflict. It was under the great elm that still stands outside the Harvard gates that Washington first took command of the Continental Army, and it was in the college building that his men were quartered. Harvard, indeed, occupied the place, on the revolutionary side, in the War of Independence, that Oxford filled, on the Royalist side, in the English Civil War, Puritanism finding its championship in the one, its defiance in the other. And yet Harvard and Oxford could agree very well today. For after all it was not the British but the German idea that the English colonists in America contested. Burke and Chatham and the more vulgar Wilkes were fighting at home the same thing against which Washington and Adams took up arms on this side of the Atlantic. It has taken a century and a half and a world war to make the people of the United States properly realize that. Harvard men perceived it earlier.

In spite of the events of 1775 Harvard has always had a more or less sentimental connection with England. For over half a century the only college [76] in the New World, it had its roots as well as its name in the Old Land. As the town in which it was founded was named in affectionate memory of the old university city in the Fen country from which New Boston's earliest colonists came, so Harvard itself preserves the name of the Cambridge clergyman who bequeathed his library and half his property to this first college on American soil. A university, so rooted, which has produced men of such broad sympathies as Longfellow, Holmes, Lowell, and Phillips Brooks; historians like Prescott, Parkman, and Motley; statesmen like Roosevelt and Choate; and lived under presidents like Eliot and Lowell, could not fail to appreciate all that is best in British institutions, and all the best that is common to Britons and Americans. President Lowell, as General Fayolle observed in his notable address at the Harvard Union recently, was one of the first of Americans to realize and to declare that the United States must align herself with England and France in Democracy's War.

Of all Britishers, however, a Canadian feels most at home at Harvard. For it has a Canadian tradition of its own. Until recent years no American university attracted so many Canadian students as the one where Parkman did so much to give Canada a historical consciousness. The connection between Harvard and the colleges of the Maritime Provinces has been both intimate and long-standing, but of recent years the other provinces have been increasingly represented, as testified by the rolls of the Canadian Club of Harvard. For there is a very conscious Canadian Club at the University, with an organic existence of three decades. For a time it also had a visible existence in a commodious clubhouse, but the dispersal of practically all its members with the call of the war-trumpet, made it necessary to surrender the building in 1915. The Club welcomes to its membership, not only Canadian-born students, but also those who are natives or former residents of other parts of the Empire. Its gatherings are of a social rather than of a formal discussional nature, except when it is addressed by distinguished British or Canadian speakers, or when it is invited to meet with the Canadian Club of Boston. Canadian members of the Faculty with their wives entertain the Club at their homes from time to time. Canadian students at Harvard have won considerably more than their proportionate quota of academic honours, and with the inclusion of such names as Sir Frederick Borden, Sir Charles Tupper, Sir George Perley, and W. L. Mackenzie King a veritable Cabinet tradition has been established among Canadian Harvard alumni.

It has long been the custom for Classes at their twenty-fifth Reunion to make an endowment to the University. In recent years these annual class donations have rarely amounted to less than $100,000. At the present time a vigorous effort is being made to complete an Endowment Fund of $15,250,000. At the opening of the present term nearly $12,500,000 had been underwritten, with sixty per cent of Harvard graduates on the subscription list. On the eve of the Harvard-Princeton football game twenty-nine classes, from '87 to '20, held simultaneous dinners at various Boston hotels and clubs, and planned at these reunions to realize the remainder of the Endowment Fund. One class reported that 239 out of 240 members resident in Massachusetts had subscribed, while the Class of '20 reported a clean 100 per cent.

In Canada the majority of our universities are, of course, provincial institutions. Even with those which were founded independently the tendency has been to supplement their revenues with state grants. In a new country in which, almost from the outset, education has been assumed as an affair of public rather than private responsibility, it is probable that the state university will prevail as the type of our institutions of higher learning. The Ryerson system has to all appearances prevailed over the Strachan idea.

While our provincial governments may be depended upon to maintain their respective universities it is almost inevitable that they should challenge and seek to discount every demand from university governors for new capital equipment and expanding functions. The politician is disposed to regard the university as of direct benefit to a very limited number of the electorate, and to estimate its claims proportionately. On the other hand there is arising in Canada an increasing number of men of endowment potentialities who are able to appreciate the ecomonic as well as the moral and social value of these great commonwealth universities. Along with these there is a still more rapidly increasing number of alumni who owe incomes as well as positions of influence to their publicly provided training in college professional schools. From these men, in whom lie the means, the understanding, and the obligation, the combined motives of public spirit, investment, and sentiment should call forth discriminating gifts and endowments to aid these barely supported universities of our young country. Canadian colleges are entitled to more Strathconas, Macdonalds, and Masseys. They are entitled, too, to a more loyal and united generosity from their sons and daughters than was evidenced at large, for instance, in the University of Toronto War Memorial Campaign. In these days why should not practical generosity and grateful loyalty combine in bestowing upon our great national institutions of culture and efficiency something of that spirit of devotion that enriched the classical temple and glorified the mediaeval cathedral?

H. S. Patten(sic!).

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