THERE of the successful competitors for Bowdoin prizes have read their dissertations in public, to audiences which were large for Harvard College. Mr. W. A. Smith's essay on "The Essential Distinction between Human Reason and the Instinct of Brutes" was more interesting than would be expected from the nature of the subject; yet those very qualities which made it interesting detracted from its merit as an essay; it contained too many illustrations and anecdotes. On the other hand, its form was too scientific for the general reader, and its theory was too palpably modelled after that of Mr. Herbert Spencer to leave it one spark of originality. Yet the essay showed a wide knowledge of the subject, was well arranged and written, and as a whole made a good impression.
Mr. F. B. Patten's essay on "The Character of Cicero, as presented by Middleton, Mommsen, Abcken, Bruckner, and Forsyth" showed careful study. The subject involved a large amount of reading, and this reading Mr. Patten had done faithfully. The essay was not strikingly original or interesting, but it was clear and substantial. It made no attempt at elaboration, and its style was excellent.
Mr. Arthur Hale's essay on "Sir Philip Sidney as a Writer" was both interesting and original. It kept the audience in continual wonder as to what would come next. The impression which this fresh essay would make upon an examiner after he had waded through a dozen dull ones, may be easily imagined. With the exception of a certain mannerism, the style was simple and good; yet it may be seriously doubted whether such a dialogue as that in which the essay was written is well adapted to the treatment of such a subject. The "side-scenes" were irrelevant, to say the least, and the whole treatment was somewhat superficial; the subject was not exhausted.
Of the three essays, Mr. Patten's was by far the most satisfactory and best worth its reward.
The experiment of having the dissertations read in public was a successful one. The audience was largely composed of disappointed candidates for prizes, and students who hope to try another year. To all such students this opportunity of hearing the successful dissertations was invaluable.