In his latest book, "The Shape of Things to Come," Mr. H. G. Wells attempts to look into the future. The following passage, taken from the chapter entitled "America in Liquidation," describes the visit of an Englishman to Harvard in the year 1958 and what he found here.
Harvard reminded him of what he had read of the ancient lamaseries of Tibet. There was practically no paper to be got for note-taking or exercises, and the teaching was entirely oral and the learning done by heart. The libraries were closely guarded against depredations, and the more important books were only to be inspected in locked glass cases. A page was turned daily. The teachers varied in prestige with the number of their following. They either sat in classrooms and under trees and lectured, or they went for long walks discoursing as they went to a rabble of disciples. They varied not only in prestige but physical well-being, because it was the role of these students to cultivate food for their masters and themselves in the college grounds and produce woven clothing and sandals in the Technical and Art Buildings. Some literary production was going on. The more gifted students wrote verses on slates and these, if they were sufficiently esteemed by the teaching staff, were written up on the walls or ceilings of the building. The atmosphere was one of archaic simplicity and studied leisure. The visitor was entertained by President Eliot,* a tall, distinguished-looking elderly man in a toga, who had inherited his position from his grandfather. There was a large open fire in the room, which was lit by tallow candles which two undergraduates continually snuffed.
The impression of Nicholson, the visitor, was one of an elegant impracticability. The simple graciousness of the life he could not deny, but it seemed to him also profoundly futile. He seems, however, to have concealed this opinion from the President and allowed him to talk unchallenged of how Harvard had achieved the ultimate purification and refinement of the Anglican culture, that blend of classicism and refined Christianity, with a graceful monarchist devotion.
"There is a King here?" asked the visitor.
"Not actually a King," said the President, regretfully. "We have decided that the Declaration of Independence is inoperative, but we have been unable to locate the legitimate King of England, and so there has been no personal confirmation of our attitude. But we have an attitude of loyalty. We cherish that."
The chief subjects of study seem to have been the Ptolemaic cosmogony, the Homeric poems, the authentic plays of Shakespeare and theology. The scanty leisure of the students did not admit of a very high standard of gymnastics, and they seem to have abandoned those typical American college sports of baseball and football altogether. The President spoke of these games as "late innovations." One chief out-of-door employment seems to have been wood-cutting and felling.
*Said newsmagazine Time, reviewing "The Shape of Things to Come"; "Harvard University, with T. S. Eliot as president, will be an old-world backwater, out-Oxfording Oxford." Mr. T. S. Eliot is not a grandson of President Charles William Eliot, but a member of another branch of the family.--Ed.