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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
The sevench annual convention of the Modern Language Association of America was held at Harvard during the recess, and was attended by delegates from all parts of the United States. The first session on Thursday, December 26, was opened by the president, James Russell Lowell, who introduced the first speaker of the evening, President Eliot. Mr. Eliot, after welcoming the members of the association to Harvard, went on to compare the instruction given in modern languages in college now and in former times. He said that the Smith professorship, founded in 1816, was the first professorship of modern languages in the country. It has been held by George Ticknor, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and James Russell Lowell. Since its foundation this branch of study has been on an equality with mathematics and the classics. The staff of instructors has constantly been growing, and Harvard has even numbered a president of the United States among her professors-John Quincy Adams at one time Boylston professor of oratory. The staff in English is now as large as a whole college faculty of twenty-five years ago, and the other modern languages are proportionately well represented. In the requirements for admission to college also. French and German have been placed on an equality with Greek and Latin, and Mathematics, and are being taken by a larger number of candidates each year.
James Russell Lowell then delivered an address, saying that Harvard was founded to perpetuate sound learning, chiefly through the three languages, Hebrew, Greek and Latin. This tradition long held so strong a sway that the language was considered to vouch for good literature, and men forgot that it is the thought, not the language that makes a writer immortal. Now men have come to realize the value of knowing other languages, not only on account of its use in teaching us the true meaning of our own words, but the training in style we gain from reading more writers. The day will come when it will be understood that the masterpieces of all languages are not classed by an arbitrary standard, but stand on the same level by virtue of being masterpieces. We should not, however, look on ancient and modern literature as antagonistic, but see that the study of philology is good, and of literature better. Students should be encouraged to take the course in modern languages as being quite as good in point of discipline as any other, if pursued with the same thoroughness and to the same end; and that end should be literature. There, and there only, can we learn what man is and what man may be, for it is nothing else than the autobiography of man kind.
In the second day's session, Professor Kuno Francke read a paper on "A Forerunner of Bunyan in the Twelfth Century." He described the didactic poetry of the Middle Ages, with special reference to the tendency toward the Reformation and Humanism. He read specimens from a French monk Jean d' Auville, whose "Architrenius" somewhat resembles the "Pilgrim's Progress." The session was continued through the whole day, with other papers and discu-sions on each.
On December 28, Mr. C. H. Grand gent, formerly of Harvard, read a paper on 'Vowel Measurements." After many other papers the election of officers look place. James Russell Lowell was unanimously re-elected president. Harvard was represented on the executive council by Professor G. A. Bartlett. Considerable discussion was raised over a proposed scheme of uniform elementary and advanced requirements in German and French for admission to college. A list of books was submitted by the committee on this subject, but was not accepted by the convention, which adjourned without reaching any decisive action.
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