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Very little has been left us concerning John Harvard's life in this country, still less is known of it in the mother-land, and we are driven to the scanty records of what he did that we may glean a few points, at least, in regard to his character. The only facts known about him are that he was a member of Emmanuel College, Cambridge; that in 1635 he received his degree; that afterwards, in 1637, he obtained the higher one of A. M. In the latter part of this year he set sail for this country and became a freeman of the Puritan settlement. In 1638 he died.
These form what we actually know of his life. Where he was born and in what condition of life he was reared, we do not know and we can only conjecture. But, though he was but a year in America, we find that he received the epithets of "godly gentleman" and "lover of learning," and he seems indeed to have deserved them. His estate shows that he had a competency in England, his library that he was a scholar and a man of some culture; yet for either moral or religious principles, he left everything that could have been dear to him to plunge into a comparative wilderness.
While he lived here he had charge of the church at Charlestown, but, of his success as a minister, nothing is said. He could not have been a great preacher; we judge that he was only a man with an earnest purpose and fair ability. That he was generous is obvious, for when, after a year, he died, he left directions in his will that half of his estate, about Pound 800, and all his library should be devoted to the founding of a "schoale or colledge," to rear up both white and Indian boys, "in knowledge ande godlynes" This was more than generosity, in the state of affairs at that time - it was the greatest liberality. In 1637, the year previous, the court had appointed twelve men "to take order for a colledge at Newetowne," but the poverty and unsettled condition of the times were such, that it would have been impossible for those appointed to have succeeded in their design had not this humble stranger, out of his scanty resources, given twice the grant made by the government to his "schoale;" and so it is to him that we owe the present university.
There is a strange bit of pathos in the thought of this self-exiled wanderer giving half of all he had that the youth of a strange land might be taught. He was the first in this country who gave liberally to further general education, an act the importance of which is now inestimable.
Such are the scanty facts known of a man in whom we must all feel some interest. We only regret that more cannot be found, for, from his nature, his liberality and his "godlynes." they could but give added lustre to the institution that bears his name. D.
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