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To the Editor of the CRIMSON:
It is obvious that your editor has mis-judged the "somewhat decadent field of composition" at Harvard. As one who has run the gamut of three of these courses I should like to state that I have nothing but admiration for them. Even English A-1 was made for me an excellent course by a competent man. The same high quality is the standard in the higher courses, at least in English 22 and English 5, the courses I have had.
For the benefit of the editor who stated the almost insurmountable difficulties of getting into A-2, 22, and 12, I should like to reply that I have never known any student, who wrote tolerably well, to be excluded from one of these courses. Nor is an "A" or a "B" in English A-1 a necessary prerequisite for admission, though, of course, it helps. If the man applying for admission can show the instructor that he is competent, he will be admitted.
Prospective play-writers should not be frightened away by the charge that there is no opportunity for this branch of composition at Harvard. I need only refer them to English 22, for one, in which Professor Hersey not only encourages the writing of plays, but gives several lectures on the subject. During my stay in that course he devoted at least six lectures to a study of the play "Sadie Thompson," both on the legitimate stage and in the cinema, and by reading the Somerset Maugham story, showed how the dramatist had adapted his material. He also made a careful study of "Hindle Wakes."
A gradation of courses was suggested as a cure for the alleged ills of this branch of the English department. The editor seems to forget a few points. 1. In gaining admission to English 22 and English A-2 (which courses would probably be called the "first" step) the selection would still rest with the instructor; obviously only a part of those applying would have been measured by the English A-1 yardstick. (2) In the three "higher" courses, 12, 31, and 5, the applicant is likely to find a gradation rule a boomerang. As it is now, the instructors in these courses do not necessarily require a year in A-2 or 22. If they feel that a man is ready for a higher course, he is admitted. The flexibility of the present system is one of its virtues. On the other hand, some men could go through five "lower" courses and still not be ready for a more advanced one. In the final analysis, it is a man's ability that will get him ahead in composition courses.
Furthermore, it is a mistake to call English 5 simply "an advanced composition course." To participate in its activities one must be not only able to write moderately well, but one must also be a philosopher, an historian, a critic, poet, sociologist, and politician, all in one English 5 transcends any limits that the word "composition" may try to put on it, and furnishes real food for thought, which, when digested, frequently re-appears on paper.
And so, in selecting students for English 5, instructor wants more than a person who merely writes well. That qualification is understood. The applicant must be mentally mature enough to stand the pace, which, I must admit, often taxes the powers of this inadequate undergraduate brain. Richard C. Boys '35,
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