IN Scribner's for March there appeared a severe criticism on Mr. Lowell's "Among My Books," in which the writer, referring to Professor Masson, says: "He has also done a noble work in his Professorship at Edinburgh, where he has accomplished what the united Faculty of Harvard College have thus far failed in doing, for he has created among his own students an ardent love for the study of Belles-Lettres." Has our Faculty failed in awakening an interest in literature in this College? Is it a fact that the cultivation of a good style and of taste in letters is not now and never was an aim of Harvard men? I think that on reflection we shall find the statement in Scribner's not only incorrect but without foundation.
If we can ascertain the bent of undergraduates from the electives they choose, we can settle this point by consulting the Catalogue for '75 - '76. There we find about thirty optional courses which can properly be called literary. Comparing the number of men who have taken these electives with the number who have elected Mathematics, Philosophy, History, Physics, Chemistry, Natural History, and Music, we find an excess of ten per cent in favor of purely literary studies.
I need hardly refer to a recent article in the Advocate which laments the falling off of mathematical men and the growing popularity of the classics to corroborate this statement, but I would remark that the study of mathematics offers little to those who are not particularly qualified for it (except a discipline of the mind, which the analysis of the Latin Subjunctive supplies), while the study of Belles-Lettres gives a man that culture and intellectual scope which this age demands, even if it does not make him a poet or historian.
But there is another proof that interest in letters exists here, and that it is not confined to the recitation-room, in the fact that two papers, published fortnightly, are supplied by undergraduates with well-written articles, and poems which "would do credit to older hands"; while the popularity of the Fine-Art courses is an evidence of a growing desire for culture.
If we estimate the love of literary studies there is here by the number of graduates who devote themselves to a literary life, we may reach the same conclusion as the critic; but this is hardly a fair test, since in the world at large the number of educated men engaged in purely intellectual labor is comparatively small, ardent as their love may be for Belles-Lettres.
I do not wish to dispute with the reviewer on Mr. Lowell's "absolute right to deal with Professor Masson as the Nation might deal with a Sophomore," but if he could see the well-attended readings at Harvard Hall he would find another evidence of the weakness of his assertion, and that we owe our love of literature not a little to Mr. James Russell Lowell.
G. H. D.