A Glimpse Back Into the Ages.


Harvard is surely the last place where one would expect to find a premium set on laziness and indolence. We all know how the very atmosphere of Cambridge seems to stir the soul and to urge the mind to work and learn. Yet, here in these self-same "classic shades" some ninety years ago, when the eighteenth century was striding on toward its close, there arose a systematic apotheosis of laziness. It was probably in 1796 that the idea of forming the Navy Club was conceived by some wag of the college. The principle of its existence was that it should be a brotherhood of all those who failed to attain distinction in their studies. It was a senior society, and only those members of the class were admitted to membership "who failed to receive parts at the senior exhibition." The election of the "Lord High Admiral" of the navy occurred before the announcement of the senior parts, and a sealed package was given him which contained the news of his election. This was not made known until the day after the recipients of the parts had been announced; then the seal was broken, the other officers of the club appointed, and the navy organized for its cruise. Originally the man who had received most reprimands and warnings from the faculty was made "Lord High," as they called the Lord High Admiral for short. In course of time, however, this important position fell to the jolliest man in the class. The poorest scholar, if indeed there were any choice of ignorance in such a club, was made "Vice-Admiral," the commission of "Rear-Admiral," was granted to the laziest man, and the hero of oaths and profanity was decked with the gown of "Chaplain." With such men to lead them one can form a conception of what a motley crew the members of the Navy Club must have been.

If a member of the navy was unfortunate enough to receive an exhibition part he was honor-bound to resign and make room for a luckier class-mate. "This resignation," says a chronicler of those days, "took place immediately after the parts were read to the class. The doorway of the middle entry of Holworthy was the place usually chosen for the affecting scene. The performance was carried on in the mock-oratorical style, a person concealed under a sheet being placed behind the speaker to make the gestures for him. The names of the members who, having received parts for commencement, have refused to resign their trusts in the Navy Club, are then read by the Lord High Admiral, and by his authority they are expelled from the society."

The society's organization was kept secret, but among the outward evidences of its existence that the "digs." nowadays termed "grinds," had, was a procession once every year. "This annual procession was an affair of great importance in the second term. After the procession the club would adjourn to Porter's Tavern, just beyond the Fitchburg railroad crossing at North Cambridge, and have a supper, commonly a very hilarious and noisy one."

Another great event "was the annual cruise of the navy on some vessel chartered for the occasion, and freighted well with 'creature comforts.' The navy would then sail out into Massachusetts Bay, and would usually have a grand chowder somewhere - generally on the shore of Cape Cod. This cruise lasted three days. On returning, they landed at one of the Boston wharves, and proceeded to Cambridge in wagons, usually in a very merry mood. The Admiral then selected his successor, and the navy disbanded for the year."

President Everett did not fancy the proceedings of this boisterous club of tars and in 1851 the last excursion was made in the bay. Following is the organization of the navy in the year before its dissolution: "At present the Navy Club is organized after the parts for the last senior exhibition have been assigned. It is composed of three classes of persons, namely, the true Navy, which consists of those who have never had parts; the Marines, those who have a major or second part in the senior year, but no minor or first part in the junior year; and the Horse-Marines, those who have had a minor or first part in the junior year, but have subsequently fallen off, so as not to get a major or second part in the Senior. Of the Navy officers, the Lord High Admiral is usually he who has been sent from college the greatest number of times; the Vice-Admiral is the poorest scholar in the class; the Rear-Admiral, the laziest fellow in the class; the Commodore; one addicted to boating; the Captain a jolly blade; the Lieutenant and Midshipman fellows of the same description; the Chaplain the most profane; the Surgeon a dabbler in surgery, or in medicine or anything else; the Ensign the tallest member of the class; the Boatswain one most inclined to obscenity; the Drum-Major the most aristocratic, and his assistants, fellows of the same character. Oh! laziness! fulsere quondam candiditibi soles!