"My idea of these annual races is that they are rowed for fun."
All through the recent controversy with Yale, Harvard has insisted on such conditions only as are as fair for Yale as for herself. Both clubs should be willing to conduct their races on that principle. If either, or both, are unwilling to do so, then the races had better be given up.
Last year Harvard was at a decided disadvantage in being compelled to occupy the quarters that she did. Yale had quarters commodious and convenient, luxurious, indeed, as compared with Harvard's.
While Yale had her quarters within a step from her boat-house, our Crew were obliged to walk a considerable distance, on a dusty road, and in the sun. This was very objectionable on a hot day, especially before, and after, a hard row on time. This, however, was slight as compared with other inconveniences that the men were obliged to undergo.
Leaving their comfortable rooms at Cambridge, six men had to sleep in two rooms of low ceiling, barely 14 feet square. Three men occupied two smaller rooms; and two men, who rowed on the Crew proper, each occupied garret-rooms, or rather closets, with scarcely space to move round. Added to all this, the mattresses furnished were worn-out truck taken from an old steamboat. There was no shade around the place, and the house becoming very warm during the day, it was midnight before it became sufficiently cool to allow one to get to sleep. It is safe to say that no man got a good night's rest while at the quarters. The cramped dining-room immediately adjoining the kitchen was so hot that the men usually removed their coats before sitting down to a meal.
There was defective drainage about the place, which was very objectionable when the wind blew in the wrong direction. Another nuisance was having the family who owned the house quartered in the cellar.
These inconveniences and discomforts contributed in a great measure towards making most of the Crew haggard and worn by the time the day for the race came. The present captain of the Crew was unwilling to ask his men to undergo a year of hard and careful training, and then to go to New London in a physically fine condition, and impair their chances by quartering them in a house such as Harvard occupied in 1880. An earnest effort was made to get suitable quarters already built. This having failed, the matter was laid before the New London local committee in the following way: Harvard is well pleased with the course at New London, and she desires to keep the race there. But she is very much dissatisfied with her present quarters. Sooner or later this question must come up. Is the New London management sufficiently interested in the race to provide suitable quarters for Harvard? If it is, all well and good, but if Harvard cannot get good quarters she is unwilling to go to New London. The effort to get quarters in this way failed, and the next step taken was to advise with the men who had in previous years collected money from the graduates, and see if the money could not in some way be raised this year for new quarters. The graduates consulted deemed it inexpedient to try to raise the money this year. Then Harvard requested Yale to stand out with her, and to compel the local committee to furnish quarters for Harvard. This was done because the New Londoners believed that Yale had the right to name the place for the race this year, and that she would name New London, and that then Harvard would be compelled to go to New London quarters, or no quarters. If Yale has been willing to do this, there is little doubt but that quarters would have been forthcoming, and all trouble would have been avoided.
At this point it was seen that there would be trouble ahead, and a number of old Harvard oarsmen were consulted as to whether it was best to go on in the steps already taken. Their advice was, "Stick to it, you are in the right, and you must remember that you are fighting not for this year only, but also for the future interests of Harvard."
Much stress has been laid on the fact that Yale, being the challenged party, has the exclusive right to name the place for the race. The most that can be said in support of this claim is that it is a courtesy that has been extended to the challenged party. If this is an exclusive right of the challenged party, literally interpreted, Yale might compel Harvard to row in New Haven harbor this year. Harvard would be no less handicapped in rowing in New Haven harbor with good quarters than in rowing at New London with her old quarters.
Heretofore, the challenging party has never raised any valid objection to the course named by the party challenged. This year Harvard had solid grounds for refusing to row at New London, and having put herself on record by making the same objections when she was victorious, she considered that she had the right to decline to go to New London.
Mention has been made of the fact that at Springfield in '77 Harvard endured much worse quarters than those occupied last year at New London, and yet no complaint was made. There was much dissatisfaction with the quarters at Springfield, and had Harvard gone there another year she would undoubtedly have demanded better quarters.
But in '78 the race was taken to New London against the will of Yale, and, naturally, Harvard made the most of things, endeavoring to convince Yale that New London was the place for the annual race. In '79 Harvard felt that she was at a disadvantage in that she had quarters decidedly inferior to Yale's. While any such disadvantage could not affect the race of that year, it might seriously impair Harvard's chances in a year that the crews would be more evenly matched.
Immediately after the race in '79, Harvard felt that she must have better quarters another year.
In the fall of that year Captain Trimble and Mr. Watson met representatives of the New London management in Boston, laid the whole matter before them, and said that Harvard must have better quarters if she were to continue to go to New London.
The committee said that we were perfectly right in not being willing to occupy our old quarters again, and promised to consider the plans and specifications then laid before them. There the whole matter rested. Repeated efforts were made to induce the committee to take initiatory steps in the matter, but nothing was done, notwithstanding that the committee retained possession of the plans till they were called for after the race of 1880.
As the time for the race came near, and when it became too late to construct new quarters, Captain Trimble requested the local committee to enlarge the old quarters. Nothing whatever was done in the matter, and in 1880 Harvard was again compelled to occupy her old quarters.
The challenge was not sent at the usual time this year for the reason that Harvard was unwilling to challenge Yale to row at New London, unless proper quarters could be had. When the challenge was sent it was accompanied by a note calling attention to the fact that Harvard had not named New London as the place for the race, and stating that Harvard would not go to New London, unless she could get suitable quarters in time for this year's Crew. Yale accepted the challenge, fully aware that it was but conditional. If she could not accept it, conditional as it was, the proper thing was to tell Harvard so, and then Harvard would have had the choice of sending a challenge unincumbered by conditions, or none at all.
That Harvard was justified in the position that she took is admitted by Professor Wheeler, of Yale, the umpire of last year's race. "It would be improper," said he, "for either college to insist upon the other going to any place where good quarters could not be obtained, and if the Harvard quarters are such as represented, New London is out of the question."
Both Captain Collins and Mr. Bigelow agreed that the quarters occupied by Harvard last year were such as they would be unwilling to use themselves. They were also willing to admit that there was nothing unfair in the position taken by Harvard, in being unwilling to go to New London unless good quarters could be obtained.
Few men, besides those who have rowed a college race, can appreciate how depressing are the discomforts of poor quarters to a training man. The Crew were perfectly right in being unwilling, after making the great sacrifices that they do, to risk the chances of winning their races, by going into bad quarters. The Executive Committee and the Crew fully appreciate the generous steps taken by the College towards solving the whole problem so satisfactorily.
It is to be regretted that Yale, after agreeing with Harvard through her representatives that the whole affair ought to be kept out of the news-papers, allowed her letter to Harvard to be published, and that, too, before it was received by Harvard. Extracts from correspondence that was supposed to be private were published without the consent of the writer.
Probably this whole excitement will result beneficially both to the Crew and to the College. The Crew are likely to get their quarters, which they would not have got for several years if they had quietly consented to take their old quarters.
The College will in the future realize the fact that it is their duty to be more alive to rowing matters. Heretofore, every thing has been left for the Executive Committee to do. If any thing of particular importance came up before that committee, it used to be referred to the Boat Club, until these meetings came to be so poorly attended that the holding of a meeting was a mere farce. Harvard indifference, so called, is a dangerous trait in the Harvard student, and the sooner he appreciates this the better for his college. What a marked contrast was the attendance of the meeting of Tuesday evening with that called for such an important matter as the consideration of a challenge to Columbia! At the last-named meeting, there were barely a dozen men present besides the Crew.