HALF-WAY down the interior of one of our old brick halls stands a dingy wooden table with numerous square-cornered cells bearing various sorts of journals and a dilapidated heap of Punch in the midst. The Hall is Massachusetts; the interior is the reading-room; and a virgin octavo, lying on the table, is familiar to but few undergraduates, under the title of the New-Englander. On my occasional visits to the hall aforesaid, I seldom fail to turn down the leaves of the New-Englander, for the sake of passing through the sleepy obscurity which marks the pages and the thought of the retired periodical.
On the title-page it claims to be nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri, which is quite superfluous, as no one would ever accuse it of such an improper thing; and in the April number is an article by Rev. Benjamin W. Dwight on "Intercollegiate Regattas, Hurdle-Races, and Prize Contests," to which I wish to call the unregenerate reader's attention. Knowing that it is too much to expect the above desperate character to read anything so respectable as the original, I venture to give a few selected bits, very much as the members of the B. L. B. U. E. T. A. used to print the decalogue in gaudy colors on pocket-handkerchiefs and express them to the South Sea Islanders, utterly oblivious to the fact that the islanders aforesaid were unprovided with spring suits, and, consequently, with upper left outside breast-pockets. It is not in cruelty, not in wrath, that I cull from Mr. Dwight's cerebral convolutions a few of the flowerets that grow between; they shall be transplanted to bloom in a superior flower-pot above, - it is needless to say that I refer to the Crimson.
Mr. Dwight begins by remarking upon the American love for novelty; draws a striking and original comparison between ourselves and the ancient Athenians; touches slightly but exhaustively on the development of Christian civilization, and then in a light and easy transition passes to intercollegiate regattas and Saratoga. We deeply regret it, but Mr. Dwight's graphic description of the race leads us to the reluctant conclusion that he had been there himself. He then gives a truthful description of the homeward progress of the victorious crew, referring but slightly to the esoteric or Yalensian interpretation of the Cornell slogan. After a sad account of various athletic achievements, he turns at once to the horrors of intercollegiate contests; and begins by stating - rather mildly and briefly - the arguments in their favor:-
"I. They procure to their devotees real and permanent bodily strength. College students are killing themselves, they tell us, by severe overwork - !* Pray, when and where is there any such sacrifice of youthful health to the genius of intellectual industry? . . . . Why does not some one talk complainingly and clamorously of college students, about their irregular hours of eating and sleeping, their continual closeting of themselves in ill-ventilated rooms, their almost universal use of narcotics, their frequent want of any inspiring aim, and their abounding mental slothfulness?"
We then have the next argument, that the necessary training promotes bodily self-control and a spirit of obedience; which our author answers with a similar conundrum:-
"And how greatly many rising tendencies to convivial pleasures, betting and gambling, may at any time be aggravated into special activity and force by the representatives of the sporting class, that often hover sympathetically around them. What Christian father, solicitous for the highest future of his son, would not shrink with instinctive earnestness from exposing him in the dawn of his opening manhood to such untoward moral liabilities?"
But it is in the "awful example" that our author most excels, e. g.:-
"The successful contestant in a one-mile walk there - Green of Harvard - is thus described, in the moment of his hard-earned victory (N. Y. Times, July 16): 'He hurried down the lane to the string, which he reached, pale and exhausted, unable to stand still, and finally staggered into friendly arms outstretched to receive him.' Pitiful! very pitiful! Could any surer mode be invented of making a youth inevitably second-rate in mental, not to say moral, force, all the rest of his life? . . . . The new exercises for undergraduates serve to increase their natural centrifugal tendency to fly away from college authority, and also to barbarize their tastes and habits. College-rows, and hazing experiences, and ribald and even obscene pasquinades and burlesques and personalities, in prose and verse' continually defile the pure waters of what should be the sweetest time in the earthly experience of the young aspirant for professional life."
Enough has now been quoted to show the reader the general drift of the article. The writer goes on to give heart-rending accounts of the experiences of Messrs. Taylor of Harvard, Driscoll of Williams, Francis of Columbia, and several other unfortunates. He concludes with a peroration replete with high moral sentiments, and attaches to the argument a kind of "preventer backstay" in the following quotation from Scripture: "The Lord delighteth not in the strength of the horse, and taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man." As an equally apposite argument, though not of so high authority, I would suggest that haste makes waste; there are those that go out for wool and come home shorn; the pitcher that goes too often to the home base has his nose broken at last; every tub should stand upon its own bottom, - all of which are exceedingly good a priori arguments and bear directly on the point.
It was "not my purpose to criticise, but to expound"; yet I cannot help stating the following positions, in which, I think, students themselves will agree:-
I. The amount of study done by a man is not altered by his devoting himself partly to athletics.
II. The evil effects, if any, are not visible in the men who actually row, run, or walk.
III. Fifty men injure themselves from want of exercise and regularity, where ten do from hard study and where one does from over-exercise.
IV. The chief fault of the college student is laziness, not immorality.
Any means by which resolute endeavor, firmness, restraint of habits, honorable emulation, and pluck are inculcated should be gladly welcomed; and we should not condemn them on account of minor accompanying imperfections. We need strength of character, strength of body, strength of intellect; the first is favored by the very means which are now adopted for attaining the second.
We stand in no need at the present time of more monks, more dilettanti, more impotent theorists; the genius of the nineteenth century is not alone the contemplative, but the active life. In Mr. Dwight's article we find a theory of education of which the culminating triumph would be a character like Spinoza, The present interest in athletics may be pushed to an extreme; if so, it is but a healthy reaction and will soon right itself. We must try to check the evil without resigning the good; for, at all events, the "muscular Christian" is preferable to the languid swell. The present state of things - in Harvard, at least - comes entirely from the general indifference of society to success in study. Until it is more of a disgrace to be dropped than it is honor to be on a crew, we must expect to see a good thing carried to excess; but the reform must come, not from the college government, but from that public which is, so to speak, the patron of the college.
C. P. N.