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Gentlemen Of The Harvard Chapter Of The Phi Beta Kappa Society,
Nearly fifty years ago, when a distinguished scholar of my own city* was honored with an invitation to address your Society, he suggested, with a grace peculiarly his own, that you had gone beyond your own ranks, every man in which was, he said, more worthy of the office, and commanded that service from a stranger, of a distant city, nurtured at the bosom of another Alma Mater, who, without a drop of New England blood in his veins, had little knowledge of your sectional topics, sympathies and predilections.
These last words could scarcely now be truly said. For since then, the ties which bind us together have been more closely drawn, nearer intercourse has brought with it increased breadth of thought, much which may then have been sectional has now become national, and the catholic sympathy of scholarship is absolutely independent of all boundary lines.
The object of those who, more than a century ago, founded this Society was "The Promotion of Literature and Friendly Intercourse among Scholars," and to this end the addresses which have hitherto been delivered before you have been marked with a certain conser
* The Rev. George W. Bethune, D.D.
vative, academic repose. But, two years ago, this blissful existence was somewhat abruptly shocked by your being told that even as
"The Heathen in his blindness
so you and the college which reared you had been and were worshippers of a Fetich, and that a student's present brains were wasted and his future prospects blighted by the enforcement of classical study, notably that of the Greek language.* The extent to which this startling arraignment was carried, and the forcible presentment of its varied illustrations almost raised the doctrine to the dignity of heresy, and its propounder must have blessed the changed times and customs when he remembered that four hundred years ago, disapprobation of "false doctrine, heresy and schism" was expressed by subjecting the offender to varied forms of torture, and, of these, preferably, to burning at the stake. The contrast between such punishment for heterodoxy and the course which you thought proper to pursue is the triumph of modern civilization, and the dignified retort of your Society has not its equal in history. No unseemly ripple of disapproval showed itself, but the next year you sent your invitation across the Atlantic to a distinguished professor of the Greek language, crowned with Academic degrees by foreign universities,-)- and after his
* A College Fetich. An address delivered before the Harvard Chapter of the Fraternity of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, June 28th, 1883, by Charles Francis Adams, Jr.
f Richard Claverhouse Jebb, M.A., LL.D.
first few sentences gracefully referring to the Press as "the modern organ of public opinion," he rolled back the clouds of centuries long past, and no associations or memories later than two thousand years old were allowed to disturb your scholarly enjoyment of what he told you of "the ancient organs of public opinion," and the large influence thereon of Greek drama and poetry.
The position of one coming after such distinguished doctors who disagree so widely is sufficiently embarrassing. He cannot ignore some part of the subject which is pressing to the front, and fall back upon such gentle topics as enlivened the household of the Vicar of Wakefield. An angel has come down into the pool and troubled the waters, and we may no longer behold our academic beauty in its mirrored stillness. Into the question of what is the best system of collegiate education, one who is not a College President or Professor, nor even a sub-editor of a College Magazine, may hardly dare to enter. Indeed, when one who has graduated more than forty years ago, and has since been continuously engaged in the daily work of a laborious profession, comes to deal with a subject which has called into the lists the most perfectly equipped men of the time, he finds that much of what he was once taught, much of what he now remembers, much of what made up his early life has given place to that which is new and strange. As an unfit survivor of a system now happily extinct, I may be permitted to recall the memories of my own
youth, when both mind and body were curiously dealt with, when to handle a foil, an oar or a cricket bat met with grave head-shakes, while love of field sports, or still worse, a taste for music, marked its possessor as a brand fit for the burning.
Forty years ago, and for sixty years before that— going back to the date of your Society's birth,—college education scarcely changed from generation to generation, and in direction scarcely differed on either side of the Atlantic. Political and social life were much the same in the new and in the old country; there was little reason why the education of a country gentleman or of a professional man should differ in either, and the number of those who then sought education in the mother country, whether in the Universities or the Inns of Court was, in proportion to the population, vastly greater than at this day. There, it was almost of course that those not born to an inheritance should adopt the army or navy, or one of the learned professions. The eldest son expected to fill his father's place in Parliament or as a county magistrate, and his brothers, for the most part, severally dropped into the same callings which the preceding generation had chosen. The study of the classics was as much a matter of course as belief in the Thirtynine Articles. As lately as Sir Robert Peel's time, more grace, if not more force, was thought to be given to a speech in Parliament if it contained a happily turned classical quotation, and even now such a practice is gently tolerated. And to this day, those who are confessedly among the busiest men in the world divert their thoughts and forget their cares by reproducing in modern tongues the beauty and force of classic poetry, history or philosophy.
It cannot be said that such has been largely the case here. The choice in professional life has ever been more limited, for as to the army and navy there was none, practically, and as to the Church, while in England, then, as now, some of the greatest worldly prizes were within its gift, it has been to the immortal honor of those who in this country have selected the ministry as their calling, that no prospect of earthly gain could possibly have influenced their choice. During the earlier half of the century, there was indeed a class of men which nearly resembled the corresponding class in England—proud of their large holdings of inherited land, of their classical education and of their almost inherited succession to prominence in political life. But this class existed only in a certain part of our country, and is now practically extinct. As time passed on, the growth of the country largely showed itself in the advance of the learned professions, and if there was some little ebb and flow, it was but that of the rising tide. Meanwhile our colleges kept on their placid course. A newer treatise would sometimes take the place of an old one, but still it may be broadly said that for a great part of the century, the graduate of an American college left it with much the same education, in substance and in method, which his father and grandfather had received before him. Whether