The Case of The Cigar And The Swelling Arm
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."
As to the drinking bit, the President observed that there wasn't as much drinking in college as out, and that the average college man did not consume so much as his average father.
Eliot's endeavors to make Harvard less a monastery and more a university found little sympathy in the press.
The Boston Herald gave word that it had information about Harvard which, if printed, would leave no Harvard parent "whose blood would no boil and who would not stamp his feet with indignation."
On listening to the Herald's opinion, Eliot told reporters that "this editorial is beneath notice and I shall certainly pay no more attention to it."
But others, including various Overseers and faculty members, were paying attention. The Transcript spoke for many when it commented that "President Eliot has made this policy his hobby to such a preposterous extent that he is today very popular with the fast set which runs the Dickey."
Evidently the fast set controlled some portion of the press, however, for Eliot found defense, some thoughtful and some puerile.
The Illustrated American advised "the youth who cannot undergo the amusing ordeal with equanimity" to remain at home "in bib and trucker, and confine his worldly career to the mastery of the abacus and the building of mud pies."
Eliot's position was far, however, from the-Dickey-boys-will-be-amusing-won't-they, approach. In theory he wanted exactly what Garrison advised when he poetically entreated the President to "Ring in nobler modes of life with sweeter manners, nobler laws."
Except that Eliot appreciated the difficulty of ringing changes in. Instead of edicts, he used the same ap-