To anyone who has watched intercollegiate athletics among the past few years, it is evident that the defeats which Harvard has suffered at Yale's hands are not to be attributed to Harvard ill luck. There can no longer be any doubt of the fact that Yale is essentially a more athletic college than Harvard. The reason for this is patent. The social conditions at Yale attract athletes; the social conditions at Harvard repel them. Yale's very being is bound up in athletics. She sacrifices everything for athletic victory.
Now while this state of things is an advantage to Yale in aiding her to satisfy her ambition for conquest in the field, it is a great disadvantage to her in every other respect, for it lowers the general tone of the college and causes that marked contrast between the swaggering type which, in a way, represents Yale, and the more refined type which is conceded to Harvard. It creates a sentiment among her alumni which enables them to listen with proud and beaming countenances to a speech as rowdies in character as that celebrated speech of Peters of the Bones, wherein, in strangely mixed metaphor, he referred to the Harvard man as "a kid-gloved lamb." If, in order to beat Yale it will be necessary to adopt her general sentiments and her standards of conduct, we never want to win again. But is it not possible to raise our standard in athletics without lowering our social ideals, for we do not want to meddle with the social conditions here? It must be remembered that it was under these very conditions that the gentlemanly spirit of Harvard has been evolved; and surely a gentlemanly spirit cannot harm athletics.
But it seems that one feature of our college life should be broken up, if possible, and that is the snobbery which prevails in every class between the first term of the sophomore year and the junior year. It is apparent that snobbery almost entirely disappears among the seniors. A curious fact in the psychological history of every class is the way the strong class feeling which exists among the freshmen disappears for a time and reappears with redoubled strength in the senior year.
Let us see how this snobbery shows itself. Mr. X and Mr. Y, two freshmen, go to New Haven upon the occasion of a freshmen contest between Yale and Harvard. X is an athlete of whom his class is proud. Y is a butterfly. During the game, X distinguishes himself for fine playing. When the game is over, X and Y have a bottle of beer together and sleep all the way from New Haven to Boston with their arms about each other's neck! Very good.
The sophomore year arrives, and one eventful night Y, the butterfly, is informed that he has been advanced a grade in the social scale. He emerges from his room the next morning with a fine feeling of self-satisfaction tingling in his spinal marrow. He feels it necessary to show his importance to the world. On his way to breakfast he meets X, but instead of bowing he looks intently at a scrap of paper in the street, or tries to "read the answer in the stars," or something of that kind, for he is now of another world.
For poor X, this is only the beginning. As time goes on, many men whom he had formerly considered his friends slight him. He begins to feel a sense of lonesomeness.
Now, what is the effect of this upon X, and through him upon Harvard athletics? He says to himself, "Why should I do anything more for the college? Why should I try to advance the cause of athletics? I shall not be working for my friends, but only for my enemies." Thus he either drops out of athletics, or goes about his duty in a heartless way, which insures defeat.
How different it would all have been if Yand the rest had continued to be pleasant to X. Would it have lowered our social tone? No. Would it have increased the enthusiasm for athletics? Certainly.
I hope I have made my position clear. I do not condemn Harvard's social system. On the contrary I think it most excellent. But I do condemn that pernicious, though temporary, outgrowth of it-snobbery.
Now, as snobbery is entirely foreign to the tone of the Harvard spirit, it could easily be done away with without injuring that spirit. The only thing, however, that can accomplish the overthrow of snobbery is a reform in the general sentiment of the college, an awakening in the whole college of a sense of the common good. It seems that the tendency of the times is already in that direction. To that end we add our prayers.