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Former Harvard Students Had to be Versed in Ancient Tongues.


The requirements for admission to Harvard College and for degrees in the period before 1750 form one of the most interesting parts of the work of Albert Matthews '82 on the early student life of Harvard. Much of his material has been collected from records unknown to other historians.

For 1642 the requirement for admission was found: "When any Schollar is able to Read Tully or such like classical Latine Authour ex tempore, & make and speake true Latin in verse and prose suo (ut aiunt) Marte, and decline perfectly the paradigmes of Nounes and verbes in ye Greeke toungue then may hee bee admitted into ye Colledge, nor shall any claime admission before such qualifications." In 1734 one record shows in addition to the above, "Whoever shall be able to read, construe & parse ordinary Greek, as in the New Testament, Socrates or such like, and be skilled in making Latin verse and in the rules of Prosodia; Having withall good Testimony of his past blameless behaviour, shall be looked upon as qualified for Admission into Harvard College."

At this period the degrees were called "first" and "second" degrees, that is A.B. and A.M. In 1602 the requirement for first degree was: "Every Scholar that on proofe is found able to read ye originall of ye old & New testament into ye Latin tongue, and to Resolve them logically, withall beeing of honest life & conversation and at any publike act hath ye approbation of ye overseers, & Master of ye Colledge may bee invested with his first degree." Upon taking his first degree, a student was called, following the practice of the English universities, "Dominus" or "Sir," a title used at Harvard as late as 1790. Many students then became Resident Bachelors, studying for their second degree. A majority of these appear to have devoted themselves to the study of astronomy with particular zest, for out of 44 almanacs issued in Massachusetts before 1682, all but three were prepared by Harvard graduates. Later almanacs by Harvard men were issued in 1690, 1691, and 1694. From 1709 to 1716 Edward Holyoke, later president, prepared a noted series.

At the end of his third year as a Resident Bachelor, a student could return for his second degree, for which he must have these qualifications: "Every Scholar that giveth up in writing a Synopsis or summa of Logicke, Naturall & Morall Philosophy, Arithmeticke, Geometry; & Astronomy, & is ready to defend his these or positions, withall skilled in ye originals as aforesaid & still continues honest and studious, at any publike act after trial hee shall bee capable of ye 2'd. degree of Master of Arts." Moreover, he had to have receipts for all his College bills, and especially a "Certificate from the Steward"; nor could he hope for his degree without depositing in advance 20 shillings for the commencement dinner.

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