courageously emulated, but never could be equalled or approached. Our emulation would want the color of the line which at Oxford comes out of the past in the bravery of the scarlets and crimsons and violets and purples which men used to wear, and before which the iridescent fashions of the feminine spectators paled their ineffectual hues. Again, the characteristic surrender of personality contributed to the effect. In that procession whatever were the individual advantages or disadvantages of looks or statures, all were clothed on with the glory of the ancient university which honored them; it was the university which passively or actively was embodied in them; and their very distinction would in a little while be merged in her secular splendor.

[ocr errors]


Of course we have only to live on a few centuries more and our universities can eclipse this splendor, though we shall still have the English start of a thousand years to overcome in this as in some other things. We cannot doubt of the result, but in the mean time we must recognize the actual fact, and I will own that I do not see how we could ever offer a coup d'œil which should surpass that of the supreme moments in the Sheldonian Theatre when the Chancellor stood up in his high place, in his deeply gold-embroidered gown of black, and accepted each of the candidates for the university's degrees, and then, after a welcoming clasp of the hand, waved him to the benches which mystically represented her hospitality. The circle of the interior lent itself with unimagined effect to the spectacle, and swam with faces, with figures innumerable, representing a world of birth, of wealth, of deed, populous beyond reckoning from our simple republican experience. The thronged interior stirred like some vast organism with


the rustle of stuffs, the agitation of fans, the invisible movement of feet; but the master-note of it was the young life which is always the breath of the university. How much or little the undergraduates were there it would not do for a chance alien spectator to say. That they were there to do what they would with the occasion in the tradition of an irresponsible license might be affirmed, but it must be equally owned that they generously forebore to abuse their privilege. They cheered the Candidates, some more, some less, but there was, to my knowledge, none of the guying of which one hears much, beyond a lonely pun upon a name that offered itself with irresistible temptation. The pun itself burst like an involuntary sigh from the heart of youth, and the laugh that followed it was of like quality with it.

Then, the degrees being conferred, each with distinctive praise and formal acceptance in a latinity untouched by modern conjecture of Roman speech, there ensued a Latin oration, and then English essays and speeches from the graduates-thriftily represented, that the time should not be wasted, by extracts-and then a prize poem which did not perhaps distinguish itself so much in generals as in particulars from other prize poems of the past. If it had been as wholly as it was partially good-and there were passages that caught and kept the notice-it would have been a breach of custom out of tune and temper, as much as if the occasional latinity had been of the new Roman accent instead of that old English enunciation as it was of right, there where Latin had never quite ceased to be a spoken language. All was of usage: the actors and the spectators of the scene were bearing the parts which like actors and like spectators had ancestrally borne so often

that they might have seemed to themselves the same from the first century, the first generation, without sense of actuality. This sense might imaginably have been left, in any sort of poignancy, to the accidental alien, who in proportion as he was penetrated with it would feel it a contravention of the spirit, the taste, of the event.

I try for something that is not easily said, and being said at all, seems over-said; and I shrink from the weightest impression of Oxford which one could receive, and recall those light touches of her magic, which as I feel them again make me almost wish that there had been no Eights, no Commemoration Day in my experience. Of course I shall fail to make the reader sensible of the preciousness of a walk from the Char through a sort of market flower-garden, where when I asked my way to a friend's house a kindly consensus of gardeners helped me miss the short cut; but I hope he will not be quite without the pleasure I knew in another row on that stream. Remembering my prime joys in its navigation, I gratefully accepted an invitation to a second voyage which was delayed till we could be sure it was not going to rain. Then we started for the boat where it lay not far off under a clump of trees, and where we were delayed in their seasonable shelter by a thunder-gust; but the clouds broke away and the sun shone, so that when our boat was bailed dry, we could embark in a light shower, and keep on our way unmolested by the fine drizzle that was really representing fine weather. If I had been native to the impulsive climate I should not have noticed these swift vicissitudes, and as it was I noticed them only to enjoy them on the still, bank-full water, where I floated with a delight not really qualified by the question whether

the pond-lilies which padded it in places were of the fragrant family of our own pond-lilies. I was pursued by a kindred curiosity in regard to many other leaves and blossoms till one Sunday morning, when, as I found myself interrogating a shrub by the sunny walk of a college garden, it came to me that my curiosity was out of taste. The bush was not there specifically, but as an herbaceous expression of the University, and I had no more right to pass certain bounds with it in my curiosity than I would have had to push any scholar of the place to an assertion of personality where he would have preferred to remain collective.

What riches of personality lay behind the collectivity I ought not, if I knew, to say. Again I take refuge, from the reader's quest, which I cannot help feeling in the indefinite attempt to suggest it, by saying that the collective tone is that of Old Cambridge, or more strictly, of Harvard. I remember that once a friend, coming in high June straight to Old Cambridge after a brief ocean interval from Oxford, noted the resemblance. As we walked under a Gothic archway of our elms, past the door-yards full of syringas and azaleas, with

"Old Harvard's scholar-factories red,"

showing on the other hand in the college enclosures, he said it was all very like Oxford. He must have felt the moral likeness, the spiritual likeness, as I did in Oxford, for physical or meteorological likeness there is none absolutely. It is something in the ambient ether, in the temperament, in the unity of high interests, in the mystical effluence from minds moving with a certain dirigibility in the upper regions, but controlled by invisible ties, in each case, to a common centre. It is the

prevalence of scholarship, which characterizes the respective municipalities and which holds the civic bodies in a not ungraceful, not ungrateful subordination.

Something of the hereditary grudge between town and gown descended to Harvard from the English centres of learning; but the prompt assertion of town government as the sole police force forbade with us the question of jurisdictions which it is said still confuses the parties with a feeling of enmity at Oxford. The war of fists following the war of swords and daggers, which in the earliest times left the dead of both sides in the streets after some mortal clash, and kept each college a stronghold, even after that war had no longer a stated or formal expression, is forever past, but still the town and the gown in their mutual dependence hold themselves aloof in mutual antipathy. So I was told, but probably on both sides the heritage of dislike resides only in the youthfuler breasts, and is of the quality of those ideals which perpetuate hazing in our colleges, or which among boys pass forms of mischief and phases of superstition along on a certain level of age. All customs and usages are presently uninteresting, as one observes them from the outside, and can be precious on the inside only as they are endeared by association. What is truly charming is some expression of the characteristic spirit such as in Oxford forbids one of the colleges to part in fee with a piece of ground on which a certain coveted tree stands, but which allows it to lease that beautiful feature of the landscape to a neighboring college. A thing like that is really charming, and has forever the freshness of a whimsical impulse, where whimsical impulses of many sorts must have abounded without making any such memorable sign.

In the reticence of the place all sorts of silent char

« VorigeDoorgaan »