Rustication With a Minister for Months Was Punishment for Student Pranks in Early Victorian Era at Harvard
Students are no longer in danger of rustication, and few have even heard the word, but members of the faculty and alumni can name friends whom that strange punishment overtook. Mr. William Seymour in his recent speech before the Theatregoer's Club told of a play, "Rustication," written by C. T. Dazey '81, which dealt with that punishment.
Rustication originally meant complete suspension from the University for several years. But in the days of James Russell Lowell it implied only removal to the country where the undergraduate was given into the improving hands of a minister for a few months. Lowell himself, in 1838, was rusticated, though many of his biographers neglect to mention it. His stay in the country coincided with Class Day and he was forced to allow his class poem to be read by a friend.
There are no available records to account for the death of this punishment. Its life was closely shielded from the public gaze. From time to time it has been advertised, however, as in the play, "Rustication." Just why the faculty should have chosen what would seem to present-day undergraduates a light form of punishment cannot be discovered from the records.
In a novel, "Wensley," Edmund Quincy sets forth the trials of his rustication. The undergraduate was punished by being forced, by chance and not the faculty, in almost every instance to meet, and usually to marry some very attractive girl after he had established a fourth cousinship.
Members of the present University faculty declare that rustication was "what students got for not attending to their a-b-c's", but records show that the students were almost invariably so punished for "scientific-investigation."
This attention to science took the form of trying the effect of stone on glass or spiritous liquor and water on man. The scientists called themselves "supper philosophers" and as the story relates, it sometimes happened that they pursued their investigation a little too far, and that occasionally the supper was rather too much for the philosopher. With the passing of eating as a ritual and philosophy as an avocation rustication, too, has passed.