It was a hot late August day on one of those Southern New England trains which are in the habit of slowly running from Boston to Woods Hole. The train being in mid-journey and no immediate prospect of things quickly becoming either better or worse, the Vagabond was perhaps justified in assuming his habitual vacant air, which is to say neither better nor worse, glad nor sad.
Somewhere south of Brockton, however, he suddenly began to feel communicative. Turning slightly from the window, he bespoke the elderly portly man beside him.
"I see by the Crimson that they've got another crop of Freshmen coming up to Harvard."
This the portly man took in, slowly opening wide his big brown eyes. "Harvard?" he said, at length, "What's Harvard?"
"W-W-What? What's Harvard! You mean to say you don't know about Harvard? You've never read any of Samuel Eliot Morison's books? Why, everybody knows about Harvard. Even the professors at the Law School have heard." The Vagabond had been thrown for a terrible loss. He was apparently all for continuing in much the same exhorting strain, but the man with the big brown eyes broke in, quietly, sibilently.
"I hadn't heard. Suppose you tell me!"
"Certainly," and the Vagabond cleared his throat. "Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in this country. It was founded in 1636 for the training of clergymen. It is now--"
"Almost perfect mechanically. How stupid of me to forget. Now it all comes back. Harvard, of course. I used to teach there. Well, what's the Crimson?"
Now the Vagabond was afraid he had met with a most extraordinary person. If this fellow had really taught at Harvard, he must know about the Crimson. The Confidential Guide would have called the Crimson to his attention, or he would have called the Confidential guide to the Crimson's attention. The Vagabond would be wary.
"The Crimson, sir, is the student newspaper of Harvard, run entirely by undergraduates in the College and entirely uncensored by the University."
"What silly students! Don't they know there's never any news worth printing? Why do they have a newspaper?"
"All large colleges have newspapers. Particularly in a large college, it forms the only daily reminder to a student, it is the only visible evidence, of a bond to make of so many scattered personalities one integrated whole."
"Oh, yes. And now, what are Freshmen?"
Pulling his leg again? Well, the Vagabond would fix that. He would himself talk in riddles. So, "Freshmen," he replied, "are future alumni. They are students in their first year, who are called Freshmen to distinguish them from the other future alumni, the students who have already attended college for a year or more."
"Why can't they all be called Freshmen?"
"Well, one reason, though it's not the real one, and I think the real one ought to be perfectly obvious, is that at Harvard there has to be a distinction made between the men who do live in the Yard and those who don't. Why the future alumni known as upperclassmen are divided into three groups is something I don't know. That's clear, isn't it?" The Vagabond smiled at his neighbor.
"Oh, yes, that's perfectly clear. Now tell me, please, what the Freshmen are like." And the man with the big brown eyes smiled back. Now they understood each other.
"Most of them," replied the Vagabond in all seriousness, "possess to a striking degree the virtue of sincerity. They have come to Harvard to get as much out of it as they can. Soon they discover that the way to gain the best from Harvard is to give of their best to Harvard. Sticking closely to their work, these become the academic, athletic, and extra-curricular leaders of their Class. Others there be who aren't concerned much with giving. They don't gain much. Naturally, they make little impression on Harvard, and nobody at Harvard really cares much about them."
The Vagabond's neighbor thought this over, and apparently holding it to bear weight, started to ask another question.
"How can you--"
"Tell a Freshman at a glance?" this time the Vagabond broke in. "This seems to be a game of questions and answers, and a one-sided game indeed. You answer that question."
"Right," said the portly man. "You can tell a Freshman at a glance by the inexperienced manner in which he smokes his pipe, by the fifty per cent way he turns up his coat collar, and by the noise he makes with his friends in public. Right? I used to be a Freshman myself. But let me ask you another question, and that, I promise, is all. What do others at Harvard think of the Freshmen?"
"Generally," replied the Vagabond, "and I think this holds true to a surprisingly large extent, others are fond of the Freshmen and anxious for them to do well. The upperclassmen, particularly the Seniors, see in the Freshmen, themselves living over again the first year at Harvard, one of the happiest of their lives. Officers of the University, some of the Faculty, and others, not undergraduates, who love Harvard are likewise anxious for the Freshman to do well. For they know that the entering Class is the most important part of Harvard, that without which this Harvard that they love could not go on. The incoming Freshmen each year renew Harvard's lease on reality. Those who know Harvard know this. Those who know and love Harvard are fond of the Freshmen and particularly solicitous for them to do well, because deep down in their hearts they are gripped by a terrible fear, fear that some day, in some way a Freshman Class may, proving itself unworthy, fail Harvard, and then Harvard must fail."