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Legend Hides True "Kitty"

By H. E. Rollins

For more than 50 years Professor Kittredge was a big part--to many people the biggest part--of Harvard. His inimitable classroom or actor's manner, which differed entirely from that of his private life, will long be perpetuated in the innumerable anecdotes, some true, many apocryphal, that have, cycle-wise been attracted to his name. A great teacher who was a brilliant actor, he became to undergraduates and to the fourth estate a legendary figure an unfalling source of entertaining "copy". But too much has been said and printed about his delibarately assumed if effective, mannerisms. Graduate students and colleagues, though of course impressed and diverted by them, will remember him a positiori argument. If the most valiant smoker could deny himself, the rest of us had no case in present.

In his large undergraduate classes, as I have said, Mr. Kittredge found it hard not in treat the students as boys, But those, who passed on to his smaller gradusie courses found in him the most informal and accessible of teachers.

Generations of Harvard scholars now look back to his seminars on the Ballads and the Remances, where they met in his library, engaged for long evenings in the freest discussion, and smoked his good cigars (there were cigarettes on the table, he sometimes explained, "for the feeble-minded"), as the most interesting and stimulating experiences of their academic life.

And Mr. Kittredge's kindness did not stop with the hospitable conduct of such gatherings. He spent unlimited hours directing research and helping young scholars to get their books and papers into print, placing his own stores of learning generously at their disposal. Many a man will testify that Mr. Kittredge's minute criticism of his manuscript consitutes the best composition course he ever took.

Mr. Kittredge was a lively debater in Faculty meetings, especially in his earlier years of service under President Eliot, and I often wish I had kept a record of some of the incidents in which he played a part. The Faculty was then a smaller and less formal body than now, and discussions often became personal. One dean, I remember, after a heated exchange with another, notified him that thereafter his address would be No--, University Hall, "for business communications only."

Mr. Kittredge was a leader of a younger group who believed strongly in classical training and the traditional liberal education, and of whom President Eliot once said that the chief obstacle to progress in the University was "the ignorant conservatism of the younger members of the Faculty."

There were long debates about Greek, and later about the three-year course for the A.B., and in opposing the policies of the administration Mr. Kittredge was vivacious to say the least.

But Mr. Eliot's serenity was seldom disturbed, and the two men really had for each other the highest respect. After one meeting, I was told, in which the young conservative had been particularly insubordinate, he received the next morning a letter from the President appointing him to a fellowship then awarded from time to time, as an extra decoration, to one of the most eminent scholars in the Faculty. The last thing that Mr. Eliot desired in his professors was a habit of subordination.

These casual reminiscences illustrate only a few of Mr. Kittredge's characteristic traits. I have given no account of his life in his family circle, in which he took the greatest delight, especially at Barnstable on the Cape, where his children and grandchildren all lived close at hand. I have also omitted all discussions of the qualities of his scholarship. But what I have said may make him better understood by those who know him only at a distance.

These who came closer to him will think first, I am sure, of his unmeasured kindness. And the men who knew him best, like those who gathered with him in intimate clubs down through the years, will remember him as one of the liveliest and friendliest companions that ever sat at table.

A distinguished scholar, after dining with him at Oxford a few years ago, happily described this aspect of his character when he called him "a connoisseur of books and of life."The Harvard Lampoon--Oct. 26, 1935"Last one out is a brazen-faced varlet!"

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