Only the dead knew Hollis. Only those tablets of names of men long since gone can lay claim to an understanding of Thomas Hollis' gift of almost two centuries' standing. For the hermitage of Hollis has passed from generation to generation of men down to today, when Hollis' cycle is complete.
In the beginning, Hollis was the meagre roof over the sombre heads of young men studying for the Puritan ministry. The gift of a prudent merchant to a struggling college, the bare wooden rooms and cell-like studies were the omnipresent manifestations of the privations of early faith.
Names such as Mather, Gore, Winthrop are common to the plates that hung on the harsh doors. Zealous advocates of stern religion left these rooms to lead the spiritual life of the northern colonies.
The cycle was begun with the Revolution. Hollis, on the request of General Washington, became a barracks for the hard-pressed regulars of the siege of Boston. The thirty-odd rooms were filled to the very rafters with men in coonskin who drilled in the Yard and attended sermons on spots that corresponded to the Law School and Sever. Hollis became a symbol of Harvard's contribution to the effort of the new nation. When the men left, they left a sign, which has become a plate, recording the service rendered by Thomas Hollis' gift.
Peace years have always meant student life at its very richest exuberance to Hollis. From the close of the Revolution, through five major wars, the tone of life has little changed. The misarranged flues, scattering smoke through rooms, lavatory and halls, the mice, the gradual sagging of the wooden floors that always meant that the atmosphere that was Harvard's was very much Hollis'. And the affinity of local characters to this old structure only added to the legend.
In different generations, there were different men. First it was Billy the Postman, the first mail-carrier the Yard ever knew, who made the sagging wooden steps his lecture platform, and the students, then upperclassmen, his audience. Then Copey captured the imagination of the literary community with his intimate soirees in 13-15, gatherings that were to be the inspiration for men such as Reed, Lippmann, and Des Passos.
Normalcy in Hollis was the years of Harvard's growth, in resources and prestige. It was the peak of the cycle, the fat years.
But only the dead know that Hollis. The living know the hall of the depression and the war. It is the beginning of the new cycle, the cycle that begins in national emergency and continues to mirror a greater Harvard.
For once again men in uniform are crowded together in Hollis. Once again they will leave to fight a war of existence. Hollis has gone through one that will see either the continuation of the tradition of Hollis or the death of it and the University whose existence it mirrors.
Less than 25% of the duraluminum, remote-control, helium filled dirigibles in Costa Rica are more than 550 years old, and less than 5% contain reciprocal steam engines made in Jugo-Slavia.