Boston - Colleges Red And Common Green
( Originally Published 1916 )
To people in general, away from Boston, Harvard means Cambridge and Cambridge Harvard the names are used as if practically interchangeable; although, as a matter of fact, every one knows that there is at least something in Cambridge that is not included within the university—for is there not the home of Longfellow ! Another general idea is that Cambridge is part of Boston, whereas in reality Cambridge is a separate city, al-though it is just on the other side of the Charles and ought, for various reasons, to be included within Boston limits. To most intents and purposes it is really a part of Boston, and Bostonians so consider it.
There is really a great deal of Cambridge outside of Harvard. There is Radcliffe, that active and growing college for young women; and there is a thriving city besides, with numerous features of interest. It may be regretted that so much of the city is painted from the same pot of paint, a dingy drab, that has been used on the houses of most of Boston's suburbs, for dingy drab as a permeative color is not inspiring; but after all, that is a minor point.
Cambridge is a busy city, with its student life and its active Harvard and Radcliffe, but as I think of it there comes, for the moment, in place of the picture of its business and social and educational life, that of one of the most beautiful of cemeteries, in every respect restful, as a beautiful cemetery ought to be; that of Mount Auburn. For Mount Auburn represents so much of the best history of Boston, holds so much of the dust of Boston genius.
It occupies a great area of gently rolling land, on the farther edge of Cambridge; it is thickly dotted with trees, it is charming with birds and squirrels, there are fountains tossing their water high, and there are great beds of flowers; and it is astonishing what a number of famous New Englanders have found their resting-place here. Here lies James Russell Lowell, under a dark-colored stone, amid a group of other Lowells who are gathered about him, including several who died in the Civil War. Not far away is the little headstone which marks the grave of Motley. Near Motley is the dignified tomb of Longfellow, and close at hand are the graves of Parkman and Holmes.
It is amazing; for this notable group of men were practically neighbors and friends and contemporaries while living, and now they are neighbors in their final rest. So close-gathered are they within this great cemetery that they might almost be under one monument ! And, were it not for the Concord group, such a monument might almost stand to the memory of New England literature. Seldom, elsewhere, has there been such a close concentration of literary fame.
On the way back into Cambridge, Elmwood is passed, the home of Lowell, the house where he was born, and where he lived his life of honored achievement, and where he died; an attractive old Colonial house, with a fetching line, on either side of the door, of low box-bushes shaded by great elms which are fading away, like innumerable other beautiful elms here in Cambridge and elsewhere in New England, under the attacks of the destructive descendants of that imported moth that won dubious fame for the Harvard professor who carelessly allowed it to fly away after his experiments. Countless elms have already perished from the ravages of the gypsy moths, themselves of more than countless number; but at least every American member of that family of moths can unquestioningly, if there is any satisfaction in the fact, trace his descent from the moth who was bred at Harvard.
Lowell was not the first famous inhabitant of his beautiful house, for it has the distinction of having been the home of the very last of the royal governors of Massachusetts, and, also before it became the Lowell home, it was that of Elbridge Gerry, the politician whose ambition was to be known as a mighty statesman, and who really won high place, but who succeeded only in sending his name down to posterity linked with the notorious Gerrymander.
In Lowell's time it was deemed a mere nothing to walk from Cambridge into Boston and back; Lowell himself often did it; and even the ladies of Cambridge used frequently to walk into Boston to do their shop-ping and then would likewise return on foot. Some-how, the people of those days managed to accomplish a great deal without motor-cars or trolleys; in these degenerate times it is considered very tiring to most people to walk, not from Boston—that would be impossible!—but even the short distance from Cam-bridge Common to Lowell's house and back.
A little farther toward the center of Cambridge is the house that was long the home of Longfellow, a beautiful old Colonial building, dignified in its buff and white, with its plain pilasters, its dormered and balustraded roof, its fine chimneys, its generous lines, its terraced front. The terrace wall is thick-greened with ivy, great elms shade the house and grounds, and along the sidewalk line is a high hedge of lilacs. Lilac hedges, indeed, are a delightful characteristic of Cam-bridge, and one which I do not remember having noticed as a feature in any other town.
It has somewhat become the fashion among certain classes to deem Longfellow a poet of insignificance, which is as much of a mistake as to deem him among the very greatest. He put so much of beauty and sweetness and fine Americanism into his poetry as to deserve high place in the regard of the world and particularly in that of his own country. His excel-lent English is always so excellently simple that some think it is a sign of inferiority! But even Browning thought no less of him on that account, but loved both his poetry and himself, and walked the London streets with him in eager talk—the English poet literally arm in arm with the American!
Distinguished though any house would be by the long residence of Longfellow, this house of his has another and even greater fame; for it was the head-quarters of General Washington during most of the time that he was conducting his operations against Boston. The fine old house, loved and lived in by men of such diverse greatness, stands as if with a sort of sedate pride in such associations.
For some years between the time of its occupation by Washington and that by Longfellow it was the home of a certain cunning Andrew Craigie who, it is worth remembering, as a warning not to apply the word "patriot" to everybody connected with early times, was an apothecary-general in the hospital service in the Revolution and was believed to have made a fortune through using his special opportunities to buy medicines cheap and sell them to the army dear. "Graft," and unscrupulous holders of office, are evidently not products of modern days exclusively.
Next door to the stately Longfellow house is one that is even finer and more stately; indeed, the en-tire neighborhood hereabouts is full of charming homes, mostly Colonial, or admirable copies of the Colonial style. Cambridge displays a great area of beautiful living, with beautiful houses, sloping lawns, and green trees, and it is a pleasure to notice that these trees are largely horse-chestnuts, after knowing what ravages are taking place among the elms.
A few minutes' walk from the Longfellow house takes one to the site of one of the most thrilling events in the world, at least one of the most thrilling to any American, the spot on Cambridge Common where George Washington first took command of the American army. Here, soldiers and officers stood in array before him, as he sat upon his horse under an elm that even then was old, and in a few simple words declared that he 'assumed command. And that old elm is still standing ! It is only a wreck, now, this ancient tree, only a fragment, a remnant, and trolley wires crisscross it and trolleys rumble close beside, but it is still there, still alive, a monument to that event of significance. It stands in the center of a tiny bit of green, at a street intersection at the edge of the Common, and a tablet commemorates the event with a simple dignity which befits the event itself.
UNDER THIS TREE WASHINGTON FIRST TOOK COMMAND OF THE AMERICAN ARMY, JULY 3, 1775.
On the Common itself stand several cannon, big, black, heavy, long-barreled things; not only old can-non, but very distinguished old cannon, for at least two of them were among the very ones that General Knox brought down so marvelously from Ticonderoga when Washington needed them to use in his siege operations against Boston.
The ancient Washington elm, and these cannon, are among the things that ought to be seen by every American.
Off at the edge of the Common, close to where the Harvard buildings begin, is an open space where the American soldiers, some twelve hundred of them, lined up for their march to Bunker Hill, on the night before the battle; a brave and solemn thing to do, for all knew that they were not only about to risk death in battle, but that they were to take the even more serious risk of death as traitors should they fail. The President of Harvard stood on the steps of a gambrel-roofed, elm-shaded, altogether delightful old house, to pray for the soldiers as they stood solemnly before him. The fine old house has disappeared; within my own memory it has been torn down, apparently without reason, for no other house has taken its place; but although the beautiful old house has been demolished, and although that Harvard president be-came long since dust, the bravely impressive scene has not been forgotten—and ought never to be forgotten.
And it also need not be forgotten that this was the house in which, some quarter of a century after the Revolution, Oliver Wendell Holmes was born.
Another old house, now known as the Wadsworth house, was until recent years the home of the Harvard presidents, in honored sequence; in fact, it was built, in 1726, for the very purpose of being the home of the presidents.- Its back is toward the university grounds and buildings, but it faces out on busy Massachusetts Avenue, and its porticoed door is directly on the sidewalk. The narrow portico would just keep the rain off a president as he stood while putting the key in the lock. Two plain wooden columns support a pediment with severe triglyphs, and there are such plain, simple, good ornaments as to make it a delight among porticoed doorways. The door itself is eight-paneled, with a high-set knob and with four lights of glass above to light the entry. And it is the door through which Ralph Waldo Emerson used to pop in and out ! For he was "President's messenger" when working his way through Harvard.
Harvard University was founded almost three centuries ago; it was founded as far back as 1636! And what those early Americans determined upon was ex-pressed in words that are perpetuated in an inscription at the principal gateway to the Harvard grounds:
"After God had carried vs safe to New England, and wee had bvilded ovr hovses, provided necessaries for ovr livelihood, reared convenient places for Gods worship, and setled the civill government, one of the next things we longed for and looked after was to advance learning and perpetvate it to posterity."
It was in 1636 that the General Court of Massachusetts Bay agreed to give four hundred pounds towards a "schoale or colledge," half to be paid the next year and half when the building should be finished, and it was ordered that the school be established at Newetowne, and that Newetowne should thenceforth be called Cambridge, and later it was ordered that the college "shall bee called Harvard Colledge": which directions were duly followed.
Harvard dislikes outside criticism, but enjoys humorous flings if it flings the humor itself; as when Harvard men some years ago flung paint humorously upon John Harvard's statue—only to find, in that case, that it did not seem so very humorous after all l And as to that statue, with its inscription, "John Harvard, Founder, 1638," even dignitaries of the university are prone to refer to it as the "statue of the three lies"; for John Harvard was not the founder; and it was not even in the year of the founding, but two years afterwards, that he made the bequest, of all his library, some three hundred books, and half of his fortune of some fifteen hundred pounds, which actually acted as the needed impulse to carry out the initial inspiration; and, finally, the figure does not really represent John Harvard, for it is made from the sculptor's imagination of what he ought to look like ! And it does not, it may be added, give precisely the impression of what John Harvard really was—a cultured, earnest minister, of only thirty-one years of age. And few men dying at thirty-one have been able to link their names with a movement or institution so famous.
Another of the flings from within Harvard came from the beloved Lampoon, which, referring to a not so-very-long-ago president, noticeably cold in general mien, suggested that a monument be raised to him on a certain spot, with an inscription declaring that there he actually spoke to a freshman.
The fine gateways to the Harvard grounds, all of them memorials or gifts, add materially, in connection with the wall which surrounds a great part of the grounds, in giving an effect of harmonizing and binding together college buildings which are really a conglomeration of architecture; wall and gateways almost give character and distinction to the entire group of buildings; although some of the buildings, considered individually, cannot be deemed either distinguished or attractive.
It is pleasant to note that, although many a modern college or university is not content without the ambitious name of "campus," old Harvard is quite satisfied in honoring its great, reposeful, tree-shaded, grassy rectangle, surrounded as it is by college buildings, with the name of "yard."
The most interesting and at the same time the oldest of all the Harvard buildings is Massachusetts Hall, an attractive old structure of time-dulled brick, standing just inside the main entrance. It was built two centuries ago and is an admirable example of its fine period, with twin-chimneyed gable at either end, with shingled gambrel-roof, with its long row of dormers, its long wooden balustrade, its small-paned windows, and the lines of slightly projecting brick which mark the floor-lines and give special distinctiveness.
The finest of all the buildings is the great modern structure, built in memory of one of those drowned on the Titanic, known as the Widener Memorial Library, a magnificent structure that represents lavishness of wealth and a deep sense of classical beauty. The splendid front looks out on charming greenery, on grass and elms, with here and there a maple or pine or chestnut. The entrance door is approached by a broad Plight of granite steps, and at the top of the steps is a long colonnade of mighty pillars of stone, fronting the facade in splendid dignity. The interior of the building is temple-like in beauty, in its soft glory of smooth but unpolished stone. There is a curious and impressive vista when one enters; for ahead, at a sort of vanishing point of sight, through and beyond the superb hall, is the effectively placed portrait of Widener himself, as if looking pleasantly at each man who enters.
The other day I saw a full-page description of this building in one of the Boston dailies, and quite a part of the reading matter—twenty-four lines of it and a subhead, to be precise—was devoted to what was termed the "most curious book" in the library that the great building holds. "It is curious, not because the book is rare or splendid or has the most remarkable associations or represents the highest flights of an immortal author." You see, it is not notable for any of the reasons which would arrest attention in Chicago or San Francisco or New York or Paris or London. But the newspaper, after tantalizingly going on about non-existent reasons, at length works up to the climax, the real cause of the book's being singled out for distinction. It seems that it is a presentation copy, with a personal inscription to the man whose name gives name to the library, and that the inscription spells the word "guild" without the "u" !—just "gild"' That is absolutely all. A great Boston newspaper accepts the contribution of some one of its staff who is so little conversant with English as not to know that the word in question may properly and with authority be spelled "gild"; no editor, no copyreader, checks it or looks it up; and the splendid library and the remarkably beautiful building are held up to Boston scorn because of the newspaper's own deficiency in orthographic knowledge; and, according to the newspaper, as the supposed error is noted, "your face wears a smile of amused wonder." I tell of this, be-cause it is so typical of Boston's absolute certainty that nothing can be right which is not done precisely as a Boston man would do it.
It is a natural transition from the most beautiful of the buildings of Harvard to that which is furthest from beauty—the great Memorial Hall, which was put up some half a century ago as if to be a notable example of that bad period when scarcely anything of beauty was built. But although this building itself is unbeautiful, the idea that caused it to be built was nobly beautiful; for it was erected as a memorial to the men of Harvard who gave their lives for their country in the Civil War. And much of the interior is of striking effect. Down the lofty and impressive main corridor there are tablets to one after another of the many who thus died—a thrilling list. One sees such old New England names as Peabody, Wadsworth, and Bowditch; one sees the name of Fletcher Webster; one sees that an Edward Revere died at Antietam and a Paul Revere at Gettysburg.
One end of the building is given over to a great college dining-hall, imposing and lofty-roofed, and so remindful of the dining-hall of Christ Church at Ox-ford as clearly to show that it must have been inspired by that noble hall, although it is without the wealth of finished beauty that the Oxford hall presents. Still, this Harvard hall is very impressive; in spite of the mistake of ill-placed rows of hat-racks, and in spite of the heaviness of the crockery on the long rows of long tables, and in spite of an Ethiopian and his water-pitcher at the end of each row.
But what is most notable here are the portraits, which extend around the great hall in lines of grave dignity; most of the paintings are by the best of the early American artists, and are priceless in that they bring down to posterity the appearance of the great men of the past, while at the same time the greater number are notable achievements of art as well.
Here is Thomas Hancock, worthy uncle of the patriotic and famous John; a painting by Copley, made in 1766. Hancock is standing on a floor of tessellated marble, and is gorgeous in showy clothing, and coat of bottle-green velvet, with ruffles at his wrists and ornate buckles on his shoes. And here is a fine Washington, by Trumbull, a portrait given to Harvard, while Washington was still alive, by that Craigie whom we have seen making money out of army medicines. And here is a John Adams by Copley; an Adams quite unknown to Boston—for he is represented in full court dress; a costume that in the early anti-English days he would scarcely have dared to wear. And here, too, is a painting understood to be a Benjamin Franklin, sent from England by Franklin himself as a gift for his brother; but it does not at all meet the usual ideas of Franklin's appearance, as it shows him quite a youngish man with curly hair and bishop-like sleeves; it is with some difficulty that one realizes that Franklin was ever a youngish man, there being but two general impressions of him, one as a boy with a bun and the other as an aged Paytone+One. Here, too, is an excellent portrait by Chester Harding of that many-titled man, the Earl of Aberdeen, Viscount Gordon, Ambassador to Vienna, Prime Minister, and so on; one of the many notable paintings that this American artist from the backwoods made in England.
That the hall is rather dark adds materially to the general impressiveness, but does not make it a better medium for the display of old-time paintings; and be-sides, most of these paintings are skied on the lofty wall.
The social life of the university, at least from the standpoint of some of the newer members of the faculty, possesses a certain frigidness not incompatible with Boston and Cambridge social life in general. "The winter climate of Boston is distinctly arctic, and society life, from sympathy, perhaps, seems to pass through a long period of cold storage"; thus, toward the close of his long life, wrote the late Charles Francis Adams, who knew all that was to be known of the best of Boston and Cambridge society,; and I thought of this when I was told, recently, of a call made upon the wife of a new professor by the wife of a professor of long standing. She found the younger woman in tears. "Oh, I am so glad you came!" she sobbed. "Now—now—somebody knows me! I've been so lonely and I've been crying, for I thought that nobody knew me and—if I should die there'd be nobody in Cambridge to come to my funeral!"
A happier story of social life was related to me, of an absent-minded professor who, at a dinner, was offered an ice served on a doily of exquisite workmanship, and taking it, but continuing his conversation, he absent-mindedly twisted the doily with his fork, round and round in the ice—and then swallowed it; to the amazed distress of his hostess!
Even from early days Cambridge has always seemed a part of Boston, and it is now, by means of rapid subway trains, really only a few minutes from Boston Common, and therefore seems more than ever a part of the big city. But the Cambridge people like to remain under a government of their own; only, it may not be amiss to suggest, altogether charming though that part of Cambridge is where stand the homes of Longfellow and Lowell, there is, in the center of the town and in its approaches from Boston, a little too much of shabbiness, a shabby and drab aspect associated with the old reputation of Cambridge for dust.
And yet, there is so much of charm about the place, there is so much of thrilling interest about it, in addition to its collegiate associations, that one wishes only to think of that summary of the place made long ago by one of the most distinguished of Americans.:
"Nicest place that ever was seen, Colleges red and Common green, Sidewalks brownish with trees between."
And the university itself remains a pleasant memory, with its throngs of Harvard men in the making; of whom I think it was a Bostonian who said, that you can always tell a Harvard man—but you can't tell him much!