WHEN the Reading-Room was started, about two years ago, one of the many articles on the subject which appeared at that time said: "There are many suggestions that might be made relative to tickets of membership, smoking and card-playing in the room, and various other matters; but we can only hope to perfect our system gradually." The trouble which the managers have been in during the past year, with regard to the finances of the association, shows that the system has certainly not yet been "perfected." It is now proposed to take (in the fall) some of the "gradual" steps to perfection; and while they are being discussed, I should like to bring one or two facts to the notice of the managers. The pleasure of having a reading-room was so great that when it was first opened, the managers apparently forgot that this one was for a class of readers quite different from the usual frequenters of such places. There was a slight struggle when the rules by which the room was to be governed were made, but the conservatives won the day. Everything foreign to the traditional idea of a reading-room was opposed. It was decided that it should be used for nothing but reading, and that smoking in the room should be forbidden. What I wish to suggest is, that since this policy has now been fairly tried, and has not met with success, the other course should be adopted, on trial at least.
The number of those who are excluded from the privileges of the room by the regulation against smoking is much larger than is generally supposed. The hours of college-work are so arranged that the time which any one gets to devote to newspaper and magazine reading is only the "odd moments" which come directly after meals or early in the evening. At least nine out of every ten men in college smoke, and any one who smokes at all smokes just at the odd moments which he could most conveniently spend in the reading-room. The natural result is that a large number of men in college deprive the reading-room of their company, and, what is more important at present, of their two dollars.
On the other hand, it seems very difficult to assign any sufficient reason for prohibiting smoking in a room of this kind, as none of the arguments which usually hold against it apply in the present case. The old gentlemen and middle-aged females who object to tobacco on principle seldom find their way into Lower Massachusetts; and it is safe to say that not one in a hundred of those who do frequent the room really dislike to have tobacco smoke around them.
Distinctly literary ventures which depend entirely on the support of the undergraduates have not, as a rule, been successful here until they found other attractions to recommend them. The Harvard Magazine was very heavy and very literary. As the present papers took warning from it and avoided that extreme, the result has been that they have met with the most perfect success. If the reading-room would in the same way take warning from "history," there is no doubt that, in proportion as it afforded liberty and comfort to its frequenters, it would increase both their number and their interest.