The tablet to be dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt records that here "Harvard's greatest alumnus" spent "four formative and fruitful years," a verdict in which all but a few will concur. But the voice of the cynic and the iconoclast will make itself heard, inquiring whether after all Roosevelt's connection with the University, or ours for that matter, has really been formative.
Such a critic will be tempted to suggest that Roosevelt--this great American, this historian and man of letters who took no course in either history or composition, was molded most during his College years away from College in the Maine woods. Certainly, to take another example, the biographer of Ralph Waldo Emerson admitted that the Concord sage underwent "no single definitive and manifest change" as an undergraduate. Charles Francis Adams once declared that for him "the college course, instead of being a time of preparation for the hard work of life, was a pleasant sort of vacation" and Henry Adams in his autobiography asserts that at Harvard he received little from his mates and less from his masters.
To the undergraduate, himself in process, who has watched men being molded, these charges, if charges they be counted, against Harvard may sound like sacrilege. But really they are not so much condemnation as criticism. They, and many others that might be read, come from men who were led into college along the well-paved road trod by their ancestors and who, during their undergraduate days, did not stray from the beaten path. Henry Adams is an excellent example. He moved to Cambridge, but could not get away from Boston.
But it is he, too, who refutes these charges, and answers our question, "Harvard College", he writes, "was a negative force of greatest value. Slowly it weakened the violent political bias of childhood. Slowly he was slipping away from fixed principles; from Mount Vernon Street; from Quincy". He was drawn from the century and surroundings in which he was born, to a life free from mental bias and hereditary prejudice.
And so, after all, the College years were "formative and fruitful" even for one of the critics. Pedantic learning was neglected or forgotten and lives underwent "no single definitive and manifest change." But in the end there was perhaps an intangible but real gain "a sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused."
Liberalism has been defined as a state of mind. Perhaps the value gained from College years in the present, as in the past, may be defined in the same way.