ARTHUR C. TRAIN DISCUSSES "HARVARD INDIFFERENCE"
Says University Is a New England College, Which, While It Draws Students From All Over World, Is Still Dominated By New England Influence
Mr. Train is a well-known author and lawyer of New York City. Among his works are "The Prisoner at the Bar" and "True Stories of Crime". In an episode of his popular "Tutt and Mr. Tutt" stories in the Saturday Evening Post, Mr. Train has dealt with the affairs of a young Harvard "prig"; and in reply to an inquiry as to why the terms "Harvard", "snobbishness", and "indifference" are, to many, synonymous, he sent the following article.
I beg to acknowledge your courteous letter in which you ask me to express an opinion as the causes of what you evidently think is a rather general belief that a Harvard education tends to make a man a snob. The quickest and best way to answer your question is to say simply that I neither think it does nor do I think that there is any such general belief. I know nothing of the alleged "hostility" to Harvard either in the west or elsewhere to which the editorial from the CRIMSON, which you so kindly enclose, refers, and I am disinclined to concede that it exists.
That Harvard offers to the student less opportunity for what is commonly called "social life" in a narrow sense is obviously true. The hilarious mutual congratulation growing out of the coincidence that youths, seeking a classic education, buy soda water at the same drug store, and listen to the same lectures on architecture or biology, is less obstreperous than elsewhere. So far as I am aware, there is little, if any, of the kind of college life typified by the guitar with the blue ribbon and the felt flag bearing the name of Alma Mater in large white letters. Neither is there any such at Oxford, Cambridge or the Sorbonne.
Students in preparatory schools who are looking forward to four careless years of rollicking good fellowship based on the fact that they are approximately of the same age and let loose upon the town for the first time should seek a college where the majority of undergraduates are sufficiently immature to want it.
Great Educational Opportunity
There is no college where the unknown boy from the smaller town, who has no conspicuous or particularly attractive qualities of mind or body, can get more education in its best sense and less recognition of the kind called "social" than at Harvard. If he has quality, every door is open to him there and elsewhere. After all, the mere accident of living in Cambridge and being eighteen years old is small reason for a fictitious enthusiasm over one's personality on the part of one's classmates.
There are, I do not doubt, colleges where the fact that two undergraduates have names beginning with the same letter is regarded as enough upon which to found a beautiful friendship, but there is no bunk about this sort of thing at Harvard. The chances are against, rather than in favor of, the outsider getting inside,--as they are everywhere else. But that in itself may be a valuable factor in the undergraduate's development. The "Smart Aleck" may well be disappointed at the impression he creates or the enthusiasm he arouses, yet he may learn in consequence to behave more like a gentleman. Such persons may be prejudiced against Harvard bfore they come as well as afterwards, but it is an excellent reason for their going there.
I feel justified in assuming that what you refer to in your letter as "snobbishness" and what I call in may story "priggishness" is nothing but what form time immemorial has been known as "Harvard indifference". Can anybody seriously question that there must be something peculiar to Harvard which arouses all this vehemence? Of course there must be. It is that quality of mind which in its best is Harvard's most precious jewel and which at its worst is her least attractive characteristic. "Harvard Indifference" was a bone of contention before the Civil War', in the days when Theodore Roosevelt drove a dog cart around the Yard, and in my own time, twenty-five years ago. As to challenging its existence--one might as well attempt to deny successfully that there was any difference between the general atmosphere surrounding the Archbishop of Canterbury and a Methodist Revivalist.
A New England College
Harvard is a New England college, which, while it draws its students form all over the world and has Wall Street bankers among its overseers, is still essentially dominated by New England influence. The jokes about the Adamses, the Lowells and the Cabots, the cod fishball and the bean are not for nothing. A Boston man is, or anyhow always used to be, different form a Kentuckian. One star differs from another in glory: Balfour and Lloyd George, Charles Elliott Norton from Mark Twain.
"Harvard indifference" is the offspring of Puritanism and intellectual detachment. It is socially impeccable but not ingratisting. The New Englander is by nature more reserved and less responsive than the hybrid children of warmer parts of our country. Austerity--not "lure"--is the chief characteristic of the "stern daughter of the Voice of God". And there is, too, a certain shyness and self consciousness about New Englanders that, taken with the conviction latent in their bones that gaiety and sin are somehow related, makes them advance slowly in friendship and embarrassed about their emotions even when these are entirely respectable.
Now this reluctance to give one's heart away (or, I perhaps should say, to let anybody know you have one) has its intellectual concomitant in a reserve of judgment and a detached impartiality that savours of coldness. But it is neither snobbishness nor priggishness, although it may easily become either or both, in which event, it certainly is not endearing. Therefore, it seems to me, that the Boston man who (like myself) gradated form Harvard can afford to laugh good-naturedly at the allegation that he is "like an egg which has been laid twice--each time successfully", and acknowledge the corn. And most of us old grads are fatuous enough to believe that the University can afford to invite honest criticism and profit by it. Certainly, she is too great to fear the venom of the disgruntled or the hostility of the unworthy.
There are snobs at Harvard and snobs at Yale, Oberlin and Lealand Stanford. There are prigs everywhere. The young gentleman in my story--"That sort of Woman"--which you have apparently done me the compliment to read--"Payson Clifford, Jr."--was a Harvard prig, but in the end, all his underlying good qualities, you will have observed, came to the top and he proved to be a regular fellow after all. He is not generic but he is--isn't he?--not exactly uncommon. Let us be honest. "Harvard Indifference" is at once the virtue upon which we pride ourselves and the vice, the stigma of which the ignorant seek to smear across our scutcheon. But the world knows what is written beneath in letters of gold. We cannot add a cubit to our moral stature by yearning to be like those joyful sons of other institutions of learning who herald their democracy and mutual esteem by holing like wolves. Let us be content that the shades of the Puritan will always flit silently among us to dampen slightly our fervency and moderate our joy of living. Those sober men of the old time were not devoid of passion and numbered among them many of the "good and the great", of whom we are still able--on occasion--lustily to sing. But with all our pride of tradition, we might still attempt to cultivate a slightly more conciliatory manner, to simulate a greater geniality, to handle ourselves in such a way that when some barbarian calls one of us a snob, he can look him in the eye and say: "When you call me that, smile!