The passing of Memorial Hall, or rather of the Harvard commons so long dispensed in it, is no mere local event. It may well be pondered by institutions of liberal education throughout the land. If criticism could have killed it, Memorial Hall would have perished long ago. Sometimes it has been derided for the scantiness of the fare, as when the Lampoon wrote years ago:
Am I thin? Quite correct you conjecture.
Memorial Hall is the place
We breakfast on architecture;
For luncheon we simply say grace.
Oftener it has been scorned for its superabundance of food tastelessly cooked, hastily and sloppily served. Guests were taken to the gallery "to see the animals feed," or perhaps were introduced with a line of James Russell Lowell's to view:
A distant, as Gray would say, prospect of eating.
But for decades Memorial was thronged. The more fortunate organized themselves in "club tables," where each had his own sea. Others perforce ate at "hotel tables," where the appetite of newcomers--two or three relays of them--was tempered by seeing remains of a predecessor's voracity. That was before the war. Latterly, we are told, the diners have dwindled from well above a thousand to three hundred. It takes five hundred to pay expenses. The loss last year was some $25,000.
President Lowell, who expresses deep regret at the passing of Memorial, attributes it to an increasing habit of "eating about" at quick-lunch counters, cafeterias and the like. This is one of those explanations that need explaining. If it is true that civilized man cannot live without dining, it is doubly true that the hours of prandial relaxation have a peculiar value in undergraduate life. Dr. Lowell speaks of Memorial as a place where "men could meet together constantly, have club tables and get the advantage that comes in college life from association with a group of comrades around a common table." But if it had really afforded those advantages, would it have dwindled and passed? Undergraduates may be deaf to the call of the Muses, but they have a thirst unquenchable for college life and comradeship. Nowhere in America do the commons perform the function of "Hall" in an English college. The real fault with our system is that the commmons are not truly commons. Those who, in local opinion, constitute the socially elect dine in club or fraternity houses. At Harvard they number about one-third of each class, and the proportion is said to be increasing. What should be a common meeting ground of all elements in college is a mere round-up of waifs and strays.
For upward of a quarter of a century educators have realized that college life can be effectively organized and college traditions adequately inculcated only when the student body is split up into subordinate units. That was the basic idea of the "Quads" which Woodrow Wilson planned for Princeton. President Lowell was himself once a convert to some such idea. But throughout the land educators have continued to lavish money upon laboratory training and research, upon technical and business schools and to shed copiously sentimental tears over each new evidence of the decline in the true spirit of college life. New York Times.