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The following article was written by Peter Hume, a student at Cambridge University and editor of the "Varsity Weekly", who visited the Tercentenary celebration to represent the English University paper.
Although I arrived at Harvard multas par gentes et multa par acquora rectus, and although I shall have much to say in these articles about things with chronological claims to priority, Harvard was the focal point of my wanderings, the other end of the straight line from Cambridge from which my other excursions were divergences. Let us then start at Harvard.
At eight o'clock on the morning of Monday, September 14th, I debouched on Harvard Square from the Boston-Cambridge subway. I was led along by the Harvardian who had escorted me from New York. Soon I could catch glimpses of a park full of buildings. The square and the other side of the street along which I was walking were more decently and consistently planned than the average American small town, where frame shacks and ferro-concrete skyscrapers jostle each other. In Cambridge (you must get used to the fact that there is a Cambridge other than that which exists for your convenience) there is neither skyscraper nor shack, but a lot of demure, Puritan red-brick, keeping its undistinguished self to itself.
Cambridge itself holds a notable collection of things worth seeing. The most attractive building is the Massachusetts Hall, built in 1720. Various alterations and improvements and the destruction of the roof by fire in 1924, have done much to take away the original charm of a building in a modified Jacobean style (something like a simplified version of St. Catharine's), but something is left worth looking at. Otherwise the Harvard buildings are almost uniformly inconspicuous and undistinguished, with a few lapses into pomposity, mostly neo-neo-classic, and one real screamer which at first escapes my attention and which we may therefore leave till later.
It is inside the buildings that the "interesting" things are. The Fogg Art Museum is filled with paintings, sculptures and objects d'art brought from Europe by the tireless searchings and bottomless pockets of benefactors of Harvard. Occasionally one feels a school is less well presented by a bad painting by one of its masters than it would be by the best work of a pupil, but this collection is undoubtedly among the finest of many fine ones in the United States. Then there is the Germanic museum, with its magnificent reproduction of the Golden Gate of Freiburg Cathedral, its Cranach's and Holbeins, the Peabody museum of American archaeology and ethnology containing fine work of the early American civilizations and many other specialized museums and exhibitions.
My headquarters during the week were in the "Harvard Crimson" building. The "Harvard Crimson" is the official daily newspaper of the University and provides one of the most amusing contrasts to Cambridge I met with. To start with, the idea of a daily newspaper run (and bought) by undergraduates is a stretch of imagination for anyone with any knowledge of the way Cambridge papers work. Then in place of the single room, littered table and crate of beer from which the soul of Cambridge flows to an avaricious printer, there is a complete building with its own press, private rooms for about fifteen different sorts of editor, dozens of telephones and typewriters. a dark room where photographs can be transformed into blocks at lightning speed, an editorial room where all those not important enough for rooms of their own hammer hard-boiled news paragraphs on to typewriters with the efficiency of trained secretaries, real paid secretaries too, for the big-wigs, a club room for the staff complete with library, piano and radio and a general air of do-it-now efficiency startling to one brought up in the old world tradition.
Showers and Telephones
By mid-day I was installed in a vacant set of undergraduate rooms in one of the seven houses which very roughly correspond to Cambridge colleges. I had a bed-room, sitting room and bathroom. The sitting room had central-heating and a telephone. There was no nonsense about the telephone either. An undergraduate could call his "St. Louis woman" or anyone he liked at any hour of the day or night without any more bother than from his own home. Every set of rooms in the houses had a dial telephone connected directly with the town exchange. The bathroom had every modern convenience except a bath, which is regarded by Harvard men as an out-of-date contraption. America has decided that showers are less enervating and quicker. This I think was my first experience of the desire to say: "Well, I may be old fashioned, but . . . ."
My door had a Yale lock and letters went into a row of little boxes at the bottom of each staircase each with its own combination lock. My combination I never knew, which didn't matter as I had no letters; but I had great fun "listening for the tumblers" as in the detective stories, though without success. Maybe the whole thing is provided as an intellectual exercise for the undergraduates who have to discover the combination before they can get their letters. Anyway it must be much more fun for all than mere letter boxes, though not noticeably more efficient.
"Hall" in Harvard
For luncheon my official host took me to the house dining room. There were small tables and waitresses and not very good food. The houses all had the same menus on the same days and any member of a house could eat in any other house on signing an "interhouse" chit. In fact the whole system resembled an amalgamation of clubs rather than the strictly individualistic Cambridge colleges, which it might superficially seem to imitate. Indeed it was several times emphasized by Harvard dons in speeches during the celebrations that adaptation to modern ideas rather than imitation of the mediaevalism of Oxford and Cambridge had been the ideal in the creation of the Harvard house system only five years ago. Some of the houses it is true have weekly formal dinners with Master and Fellows at the high table, reminiscent of Cambridge Hall, but on other occasions undergraduates are allowed to entertain women guests to meals in the dining rooms. The King of Navarre's academe does not survive the Atlantic crossing.
Other distinctive features of the Harvard house system and undergraduate life there in general are the complete freedom to come and go as you please, the system of entry into the houses, the student employment board which finds jobs for those working their way through college (a much smaller number at Harvard than at State Universities), and compulsory physical training for freshmen, a curiously school-like feature in this very adult society. There is no locking of house gates in Harvard, and undergraduates are at liberty to come in or go out at any time of night. They may go away for week-ends or longer periods, the only check on their absence being the attendance lists at lectures. There are no rules about keeping nights; as long as one attends a reasonable number of lectures one is tree for the rest of the time. Nor are there rules about the possession of cars; so that there is no limit to the range of excursions
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