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The following article was written for the Crimson by Hendrik Willom Van Loon.
We are celebrating the Harvard tercentenary. That means that Harvard was founded three hundred years ago. But as most of us have but very hazy notions about the state of affairs in our own part of the world in the year of Grace 1636, was ask each other, "Are you going to the Harvard tercentenary?" and then we forget about it. Harvard is there. It always has been there. It probably will last for a good many years to come. So let us go to the movies and if the news-reel, in anticipation of this glorious event, shows us a picture of the Yard as it was twenty years ago, we shall say. "Those were the days, my lads!" and that is that.
Now not so long ago in the land of my nativity I happened to pick up a translation of the Psalms. The Psalms done from the original Hebrew in a quite pleasing Latin version. The translation was the work of a completely unknown Dutch dominie, the usual Calvinistic medicine-men of the sixteen hundred and seventies. There really was no excuse for my getting the little book except that I like to read well-flowing Latin poetry. I could of course understand only half of everything I read. But I am after the metre.
Arises the question how do you acquire an even flow of language? Well I have discovered a very convenient pons assinorum. My little "donkey-bridge" is provided by Messrs. Corneille, Racine Petrarch or any of the minor Latin poets. Read them with all their umtadee-umtadee-um for about five minutes before you go on the air and you will be astonished at the results.
I therefore bought my Latin Psalms for the sake of N. B. C. and then one evening while listening to the usual rodomontado of my excellent Alois Havrilla (who still loves me though he had been obliged to repeat the same nonsense about my superior qualifications for years and years and years) I idly looked at the back page of my Psalms--which was of course the front page as this was supposed to be a book of Hebrew--and I was so surprised that the production man had to wave wildly from the control room to make me realize that I was supposed to open my mouth and speak my piece and not sit there and grin in surprise.
For this is what I had discovered. My Psalm translation of the year 1670 had been dedicated to no one less than the Rev. Dr. Increase Mather, Harvard 1656, and of all things, it was dedicated to him in his capacity as "convertor to the Indians" and gave quite a list of names of those poor savages, "Who formerly heathen, now become useful preachers of the Gospel."
Suddenly I had come face to face with an entirely new Harvard. Better than all contemporary accounts, better than the few remaining contemporary pictures, I had seen this small group of buildings, clinging to the slender fringe of civilization along the shores of the Atlantic and being, of all things! a missionary station erected for the benefit of the Indians.
This was a new version. I remembered that John Eliot had translated the Bible and the catechism into the native vernacular for the convenience of his copper-skinned neighbors, but for the rest, I was only aware of the Rev. John Harvard's desire to build himself an "Institute for the Advancement of Learning" for fear that otherwise the true doctrines might disappear from the American soil when he and hiis fellow-ministers should lie in the dust.
I also had vague recollections of a socalled Indian college where the painted savages had been allowed to come and partake of the blessings of the White Man's civilization. But here I got concrete evidence and from a wholly unexpected side, that to the Europeans of the seventeenth century that humble little school in the unclaimed wilderness of Nova Anglia meant something. That they had heard about it. That they were greatly interested in what was being done there. That they knew about the men who were the leaders of that small forepost of enlightenment. And that to many of them, the name Harvard was the only word that had any meaning in connection with the new world.
The Present Age
We live in a strange age. Every age has been a strange age but ours is stranger than most.
Whenever a particular class of rulers or a particular from of government has outlived its own usefulness, it is succeeded by another class of rulers or another form of government which at that moment happens to be better fitted for the task.
It is always very difficult to know what is happening right under your own nose. Those who have over participated in battle will know what I mean. You hear a lot of noise and see a lot of people do this and that and t'other things, but you have to wait for the newspapers from home to find out what really took place. There is therefore no use my trying to play the prophet, but I am under the impression that we are living in an age when Niotzsche's far-famed "revaluation of all values" is rapidly becoming a concrete fact.
The Long View
New when such an "incident" occurs (for to the historically minded among us all revolutions and social and economic upheavals are mere "incidents") a great deal depends upon the number of people who have been trained to keep their mental powder dry, oven when all around them it rains oratorical cats and dogs. For when the clouds of debate and strife shall have been dispersed by the inevitable flow of fresh commonsense, it is these boys of the Great Aloofness who will have to pick up the pieces and start the work of reconstruction. I don't want to get too involved in my flowery tirade, but those who have ears to hear will undoubtedly know what I mean.
We often hear it said that our universities ought not merely to train for success in life but that it is their bounden duty to train for leadership. This, I fear me, cannot be done. You no more turn out political and social leaders than you turn out Kreislers and Paderewakis or Rembrandts and Michelangeies. Such personages are "acts of God," like volcanic eruptions or earthquakes. They don't get made. They make themselves. But there is something we can do and which we ought to do if we have any regard for the interests of those generations as yet unborn. We can and ought to provide the background against which these men of exceptional ability can develop their gifts to the utmost possibilities of their native talents, and without interference on the part of others.
This cannot be done by prescribed courses like "Leadership A (will be given in alternate years. Omitted this year)" or "Mastery of Men 47-B. Bring your Marx." It can only be done by creating an atmosphere in which everything that man has ever thought upon any given subject, is shown in its growth and evolution and is discussed without prejudice or emotion as the mathematician will discuss his formulas or the chemist will explain his mysterious concoctions.
Beset on all sides by the Muckers of the Mind, who whenever circumstances like the present arise, will do their best to destroy that which they recognize as their most dangerous enemy, a gift for clear and concise thinking, most of our universities will have a difficult time. But there Harvard enjoys a privilege that makes it unique among our so-called seats of learning.
Advantages of Age
Harvard has time on its side and time is the father of prestige. Harvard can afford to listen patiently to all the prevailing pro's and con's. It can reject them because it tried them out two centuries or three centuries ago and found them wanting. It can become their champion because it discovered that they were reasonable and that they worked while Cromwell was still wrangling with the Crown for the sovereignty of England.
Harvard has been at this sort of business for so long that it can bide its time Harvard, almost alone among our universities, need not hurry. For it knows that if it never did anything else from now until doomsday, it has already vastly surpassed the fondest anticipations of its founders in contributing to the "advance of learning and to the perpetuation thereof to posterity.". . .
The New Wilderness
I began by telling you how a dedication in an inconsequential Dutch book had suddenly given me a vision of a small building near the sluggish Charles River where a few men, far removed from civilization, had banded together to keep the torch of learning burning brightly in their distant wilderness. That wilderness with which the founders had to contend has now been tamed. But we are threatened by another wilderness. We are threatened by a mental confusion such as the world has not seen since the last of the Roman legionaries were recalled from the borders of the Rhine. And Harvard, for all we know, may once again become a sort of intellectual stockade in the heart of a jungle of partisanship and greed.
May the Consuls beware that when that moment comes the walls are in such condition and the garrison is so well armed that it can withstand a long and desperate siege.
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