Late in the fall of 1891 the Dickeys held their initiation. (Santayana refers to the Dickeys in his novel when he mentions the "secret society to which everybody of consequence be longed.")
The Dickey initiation, however, involved everybody of consequence harrassing everybody else of consequence, sometimes with unfortunate consequences.
Because of Mr. William Lloyd Garrison, inheritor of his father's incendiary nature, the Dickey initiation of 1891 was extremely unfortunate. (Firey radicals make such poor clubbies.)
A part, only a small part, of the Dickeys' elaborate ritual required that each neophyte be branded on the arm with a lighted cigar. Mr. William Lloyd Garrison's son was duly branded.
In ordinary cases the young steer apparently rolled up his sleeve, winced, got up, and ran away. Frank Wright Garrison's '94 reaction was more extreme.
Perhaps the Dickey's used a bigger cigar, but the Boston Evening Transcript indignantly reported that the boy's arm "swelled to about three times the usual size and was something he could not have concealed if he had wished to keep the matter quiet, which no doubt he did."
His father, however, had few doubts. In family tradition, he unsheathed his pen and wrote President Eliot a letter described as taking "that distinguished official roundly to task for his failure to stop the barbaric practices prevailing in certain initiations of the character mentioned."
(Actually the letter came to President Eliot via the Boston press, which handled the matter with its traditional delicacy.)
'Deep and Savage Scars'
In rhetorical splendor Garrison demanded that the President act on the "six deep and savage scars," responsible for both spiritual and physical demoralization.
Moreover, Garrison charged the Dickeys with unlicenced indulgence in liquors, and the unlicenced possession of a bar. Immediate action was a Garrison necessity.
To the surprise of most everyone except those of consequence, Eliot firmly announced that he would do nothing.
First of all, he pointed out that the Dickeys had gleefully left their mark for twenty years, and that even the president of Harvard could not alter the cake of custom.
"We cannot prevent it," Eliot said. "It is entirely voluntary. It is an affair between man and man."