NOT so very long ago, a Professor remarked to some friends of mine that the morals of the students were improving. As regards this, men in college would differ; the set a man is in, or the entry in which he happens to have his room, would in a large measure determine his opinion.
So, too, on another question, the state of feeling in the College concerning study, to the full as important as the matter of morals, it may be doubted whether the judgment of any one man ought to be trusted. But if the attention is turned to the classes year by year, as they change their character with their names, it is manifest that in every class, since the Freshman year, the number of real students has been steadily increasing. Until lately, indeed, the improvement in the tone of the classes was far more than would have been suspected from the columns of the College paper, but within a year the articles that have been published would please the most solitary enthusiast for study. Few of these articles, however, are written by Seniors and Juniors; by far the larger part by the Sophomores. This shows what quite a large number of writers hold as their own opinion, and it shows more than this; for not only the authors in writing thought of what would best harmonize with the ideas of their class, but also the editors in publishing decided that college opinion would not be harsh in criticising such ideas. And when so many as are the editors and writers agree in the policy of praising study, it is not too much to say that a more studious feeling is beginning to prevail at Harvard than has for many years back existed.
Once the close student, "the dig," - the past numbers of the Advocate are my criterion, - was the butt for all the wits; the College ideal was the man of elegant leisure, - his sole duties to smoke his well-colored meerschaum, to write an article for the Advocate, to dress for an evening engagement. All of these things he used to tell us in his Advocate articles were done by him; in fact, were the highest aims of a Cambridge life. Such a hero as he seemed to all sub-Freshman subscribers!
This set of men has by no means passed out of college; but they are facile men, and feign the sentiment they cannot feel, if but the majority consider it the proper thing. As a set they have lost the position they once held. Then they were in their glory, when demerit marks took away all hope of ranking well from all but the most punctilious; when all studies were required studies, - under the old regime, in short, when nobody was ever mad enough even to dream of voluntary recitations. The position they once had, and the influence they appeared to exert, now belong to the men who are doing real work.
The leaders in study have, if I mistake not, often failed to exert a just influence over college opinion. Doubtless, personally they met with no sneers, but it was against their class that all the raillery of the others was directed. In particular cases "digs" are disliked, because they are socially disagreeable; in the greater number, however, it is because they are unknown that they are sneered at, because they isolate themselves from their fellow-students, and take no part save sometimes that of an envious spectator in the little affairs of college life. It was a construction their conduct warranted, that in their ambition to rank well they were willing to sacrifice everything else.
Such a set of men as the old "digs" used to be is rapidly growing smaller. The best students are now getting to be as active in the common affairs of the college as the idlest of the idlers. The men who at entrance inclined to be listless, are, under the new system of electives and honors, becoming eager in study; on the other hand, the men to whom the habit had made "digging" a second nature are unbending socially. Either class in this way is exercising a wholesome influence over the other.
Of course it would be absurd to say that there are none now in Harvard to sneer at close students, and no close students whose ways deserve to be rebuked. But an acquaintance of some extent among the different classes now in college, and a knowledge of what the prominent men are doing to get and retain the esteem of their classmates, give reason to assert that the number of both these sets is becoming smaller, or, if preferred, the two sets are discovering each other's worth and adopting each other's virtues. Nowhere is this change more clearly indicated than in Harvard's papers. Compare this year's numbers with those of any preceding year, and the result cannot be otherwise than favorable to the present.
That the feeling now prevailing in regard to study is a desirable one, no one can deny. That such a feeling would prevail was used to support the adoption of the elective system; that such a feeling does prevail, so soon after its introduction, is weighty testimony in its favor.