The Harvard Book
Harvard University Press, 369 pp. $5.00
Since Harvard is the oldest, richest and in most ways best on American universities, inevitably it has the biggest literature. Perhaps too big, for the average Harvard man is not the type to go rummaging through several hundred volumes is search of material about his alma mater. Some of the best tidbits have been buried in otherwise dull reports or hidden as episodes in novels, waiting for someone to disinter them and compile an anthology.
That is what William Bentinck-Smith '37 has done in the Harvard Book. The first book of its type, it is a skillful job of selection from the treasury of Harvard ore. Bentinck-Smith's official University title is Honorary Curator of Type Specimens and Letter design in the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts in the Harvard College Library, but this is just a cover for the fact that he is editor of the Alumni Bulletin and unusually interested in both Harvard and literature.
Hopping deftly through three centuries, Bentick-Smith has arranged his materials so that the life and traditions of the University stand out clearly through all the varieties of style, custom, and point of view.
Of course, Bentinck-Smith had some good men working for him: Oliver Wendell Holmes, George Santayan, Charles Dickens, J. P. Marquand, and Cleveland Amory, to name just a few of the eighty odd. The editor's brief introductory notes place each contribution in its proper historical setting.
Through the pages march dilettante students, crusty old tutors, Boston Brahmans, and grand old men like "Kitty," "Copey," and Dean LeBaron Russell Briggs, of wrinkled but beloved visage. The succession of university Presidents appear too, with Jared Sparks in 1849 politely refusing a female applicant ("the time may come when female claims will be more justly valued"), or Thomas Hill, in 1862 warning Abraham Lincoln about the behavior of his son, or Eliot, Lowell and Conant striving eloquently to define the meaning of Harvard.
Nor was Bentinck-Smith hesitant to include minority reports on Harvard life, like the reflections of John Reed '10, or the sensitive personal account of historical isolation of one of the first Negroes at Harvard, W. E. B. Du Bois '90. There does seem, however, to be need of an article indicating the scope and position of Harvard today. David McCord's masterful report of Prime Minister Churchill's visit comes the closest, but much has happened even in the twelve years since then.
Omission is, however, no sin in a book which encompasses so much so well. The Harvard Prize Book Committee should consider the Harvard Book for this year's award, for reading it will surely self the University to prospective applicants. And to those whose interest in the University has already been whetted, The Harvard Book will be a prized possession.