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A book like this has been long overdue. Needless to say, it is timely, for the Latin School celebrated its tercentenary last April, and a school which has 'the distinction and fame of being the oldest "free", public, non-endowed, non-sectarian secondary school with continuous existence in the United States is certainly worthy of attention as the ancestor in some degree of relationship of Groton as well as of the High School at Sauk Center, Minnesota. The qualifications which Miss Holmes makes are necessary because there are several claimants for the honor of being our oldest secondary school. She disposes of the claims of the Collegiate School of New York City easily enough--in a footnote on her second page--and some Harvard readers will remember her correspondence with Mr. McAdie in the "Harvard Alumni Bulletin", in which she showed conclusively that Mr. McAdie's candidate, a school in Virginia, could only come off second best.
Profusely illustrated, packed with notes and appendices, this volume is a tribute to the industry and devotion of its author. It is not, however, to be read by the running reader, even if he is a Harvard man interested, a little more than mildly but not intensely, in the history of a school which annually contributes about one-tenth of the Freshmen Class. Even the Latin School graduate, to whom much that is here will be familiar, will hardly summon up a remembrance of things past from his school-days, which now glow with all the romance natural to retrospection, for the book is learned and scholarly, as indeed it should be to justify its membership as Volume 25 in the Harvard Studies in Education. Yet all readers will find sufficient, if they persist, to hold their eye to the page, even if the history of the school is in the last analysis, somewhat monotonous because, in the words of Mr. George Santayane, it has been constant, through those three hundred years, to one purpose and function. Still the moral to be drawn from this 'fidelity to tradition' is exciting and is apt to bestir one to the task not only of perpetuating but also of propagating the ideals for which the Latin School stands.
Nobody has ever stated these ideals better than Santayane, and Miss Holmes does well to use his tercentenary message for the epigraph of her first chapter. Indeed, Santayane's words give the essence of the Latin School spirit: 'In spite of all revolutions and all the pressure of business and all the powerful influences inclining America to live in contemptuous ignorance of the rest of the world, and especially of the past, the Latin School, supported by the people of Boston, has kept the embers of traditional learning alive, at which the humblest rush-light might be lighted; has kept the highway clear for every boy to the professions of theology, law, medicine, and teaching, and a window open to the mind from these times to other times and from this place to other places.' That the service of the Latin School has been invaluable is obvious from the fact that 'the merely modern man never knows what he is about,' and 'a Latin education, far from alienating us from our own world teaches us to discern the amiable traits in it, and the genuine achievements; helping us, amid so many distracting problems, to preserve a certain balance and dignity of mind, together with a sane confidence in the future.' Insofar as American education strives towards those ideals, the role of the Latin School becomes important in the cultural history of the nation, and the importance of that role has never been greater than at present, even though all the great names in the school's history.
Franklin, Emerson, Sumner, Eliot--seem to belong to the distant past. The continued prosperity of the school "in saccula sacculorium" is devoutly to be wished.
Miss Holmes has done commendable work as the tercentenary historian of the school which dandled Harvard College on its knee. There are some omissions, however, which call for notice here. One fails to see any mention of Sir Thomas Downing, for whom Downing-street is named; tradition, at any rate, has always associated his name with the Latin School. It is a curious fact, which one may offer for what it is worth, that although the Latin School has graduated many men more distinguished than most presidents, it has never produced a President of the United States.
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