From the Shelf

Edmund Wilson has written of the magazine Life that he cannot recognize his country in it, and that is exactly what I feel about the Yearbook. Their Harvard, thank God, is not mine. But perhaps in the next two weeks it will come to be everybody's, for the principle of yearbooks is that at the end a maudlin glue shuts everybody's eyes to memory; we may even be ready to adopt third-hand, third-rate interpretations of our experience.

Slightly more than half the Yearbook's prose is the work of CRIMSON editors, and startling though the statistic is, I can't see that their contribution has helped much. Russell Roberts writes a flaccid chronicle of Harvard, which piles up innovation and anecdotes under each President's name in a singularly bloodless manner; our history, one would gather, is wholly lacking in continuities. Another introductory piece on Harvard's finances, this one boldly reprinted from the CRIMSON, likewise flows aimlessly along to nowhere.

"The Academic Year," on the other hand, is a fairly competent and intelligent account of interesting moments, precisely because it dares to be selective in an album committed to blurry tries at comprehensive summary. Still, selectivity can be carried too far: just look at the Faculty sketches. Even granting that the Yearbook may ape the obsession of the course catalogue with the immediate past, I'm struck with the fact that nobody (save Herschel Baker) interested in anything before 1789 is included. Nor do I see, in this ostensible collection of souvenirs, any man from (to note the most conspicuous gaps) the Departments of Classics, Philosophy, Social Relations, Romance or Germanic Languages or Comparative Literature. Of the short biographies, few are done with any imagination, and many glisten with inaccuracies. Why, with a year to work on them, should it be difficult to lend them some of the charm of Faye Levine's "Radcliffe at Harvard?" What, I ask with many others, are those Yearbook guys up to from September to June?

The rest of the writing--activities, Houses, sports--savors of doting reminiscence that does not always fall short of preposterousness. If a theme connects them all, it is that soothing time, mingled freely with girls and beer, has left us satiated after many trials. If plays had weaknesses, the weaknesses were trivial, and nicely balanced by (in 327's favorite phrase) a "general excellence." If reading periods annoyed us, we cancelled them afterwards by sitting on the river bank. The Master was decent, the tutors friendly, and the Senior Tutor, to cap the year's outbreaks of Schwaermerei, showed himself a character in his usual performance as the lewd old man in the Christmas Play. The Harvard-Radcliffe Young Mugwumps reposed contentedly after a seasonful of treats provided by distinguished speakers. The freshmen, once confused, have settled into routine.

The key of the text, in sum, is unremittingly C major. Not so with all the photographs. Half of them faithfully adhere to the stories; the other half hint at romance, at tension, at dirty snow and slums. They are more honest than the writing anyway, if a little too hesitantly arty; I like especially the shots of registration and of the river. And much as one winces at the appearance of Troilus and Cressida (Fall, 1960) and the 1958 Glee Club, and wishes that the Senate campaign were less advertised, the pictures are interesting. I hope they will help to calm the nerves of those who are jabbing themselves for buying this enormously expensive volume of carelessly compiled fatuities.