In 1882 a young fellow from Maine graduated with honors from Harvard College. The next year he tried Law School but research through musty legal tomes held little attraction for a lover of good company, good conversation, good wine. So Charles Townsend Copeland turned to journalism and worked on most of the Boston papers of his day. Finally, ten years after his graduation, Harvard called him back to become an instructor in English literature and composition.
Unlike the rest of the Faculty whose haughty dignity frosted anyone without at least a full beard and a full professorship, Copey, as he was soon known, became friendly with undergraduates of all sorts. His "open house on Wednesday evening after ten" became the forum of the College where Chaucer might rub elbows with Yale's star half in the discussion. And always, after a little urging, the golden-voiced tutor would read his favorite passages from the Bible, from Kipling, from the classics. The "Copeland Reader," an anthology of these favorites, is the most typical of Copey's books; for he never intended to be a profound scholar, a footnote machine. Copey only wanted to become a good teacher. He became a great one. But Harvard, measuring achievement by output of fine type rather than output of the fine men, waited three decades before awarding to its best-loved figure a full professorship.
Today a poet has replaced Copey as Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, and the famous bath sponge no more hangs out to dry from the third floor of Hollis every Saturday night. Copey has ripened into a living legend which will remain a part of the college as long as tradition exists. Harvard will not forget the sympathetic mentor who first rubbed out the Harvard indifference between Faculty and students; the instructor of whom John Reed could say "He stimulated generations of men to find color and strength and beauty in books and in the world, and to express it again"; the very human bit of Harvard's past who, belonging to the favored few that mellow but never age, at 81 still fascinates student audiences.
Tonight at 7:30 Copey gives his annual reading in the Upper Common Room of the Union.