COLUMBIA University where I enrolled as a graduate student in the autumn of 1905 was a vast, complex, and rather overwhelming machine, which turned out scholars as a factory turns out shoes, and just about as impersonally. Gone were the leisurely ways of Amherst, with the long "bull-sessions" around the wood fire and the carefree approach to life. Everybody at Columbia seemed to be in a feverish state, plugging for some examination or preparing a report and indifferent to "the sweet serenity of books." These fledgling scholars spent their days and most of their nights trying to eviscerate the volumes in the huge library. Every person had a professional objective, usually symbolized by the mystic letters M.A. or Ph.D. I caught the spirit of the place quickly and began to work as I had never worked before, methodically, persistently, and tirelessly. Perceiving that the competition in graduate school was keen and ruthless, I resolved not to be left behind in what was clearly the survival of the fittest. I was not yet twenty-one, and it seemed to me that life could never wear me out.
But it was not unmitigated labor! Having always been a country boy, I found my first taste of the allurements of the metropolis very exciting. The theater, the opera, and the art galleries were now within easy reach, and contributed new and very pleasant elements to my education. During that winter of 1905-1906 1 was a first-nighter at nearly every play presented in the city, including Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession (suppressed after its first performance on October 31) and Man and Superman (which aroused heated discussions on Morningside Heights), Forbes Robertson in Hamlet (what a voice he had!), Maude Adams in Peter Pan, Sarah Bernhardt in Camille, and David Warfield in that tear-jerking romance, The Music Master. Most of these shows I saw from the remote "peanut gallery," which was admirably adjusted in cost to my meager exchequer. I heard most of the great operas and studied the paintings in the Metropolitan with all the eagerness of an unsophisticated youth.
I cannot deny also that we had other more mundane diversions --- poker games which stretched from Saturday evening until Sunday noon and occasional expeditions to beer halls like Pabst Harlem and Little Hungary. But most of us were too serious to burn the candle overmuch at both ends. The plays and pictures contributed, we thought, to our aesthetic appreciation, and we could justify the time and the money we spent on them. The less refined forms of amusement freshened us up after a wearing week. At any rate, our routine, though exacting, was far from monotonous.
I had selected Columbia rather than Harvard under the advice of Professor Churchill, who felt that the Harvard Department of English was too much dominated by philologists. The faculty at Columbia, however, proved in many respects to be disappointing. The library was there, with its ample facilities, and there was guidance if one deliberately sought it. The instruction, unfortunately, was notably dull; and most of the professors seemed to feel that it was unnecessary to attempt to interest their students.
Among the exceptions was Brander Matthews, who lectured in an offhand manner about literature in general but occasionally broke away from his conventional theme and gossiped about the great and the near great among his acquaintances. A competent playwright and essayist, he never let us forget that he was a man of the world. Legends of his feud with Professor George E. Woodberry were still heard on the Columbia campus. Once Brander took me to the Players' Club to see and hear Mark Twain, to whom he always referred in his lectures as "my dear friend, the greatest living master of the English tongue." At the club Mr. Clemens wore his spectacular white suit, and I, after having shaken his hand, retreated to an obscure corner, befitting my years, and listened with my ears pinned back. The only remark that I remember is the humorist's statement that it was "damned hard being a funny man." It may have been hard for him, but I spent the evening laughing.
Some years later at Andover an argument developed at our table for bachelor teachers on some rare point of grammatical usage. I defended as well as I could the cause of freedom in procedure. The debate culminated in a wager, and it was suggested that I write to Professor Matthews, as an authority, and let him settle the issue. Never was an opponent delivered more completely into my hands, for Brander, after a comprehensively profane denunciation of grammarians as a class, ended by saying, "Tell the fellow to go to Hell ---he's a damned quibbling purist!"
I suppose that I was looking at Columbia for teachers like Churchill and Erskine, who regarded teaching as an art worth cultivating: but there were few of them, and when anybody did show any signs of enthusiasm, it was the fashion to disparage him as "superficial." Billy Phelps, my friend of a later period, would have had rough going at Columbia, as he did in his early years at Yale. It almost seemed to some of us as if a pose of indifference was a prerequisite for a junior hoping for promotion on the graduate faculty in English.
It is not irrelevant to suggest that many of these professors had a narrow conception of scholarship. During much of my mature career I have been associated with scholars, and I have myself made some minor contributions to what is vaguely called "learning." The ripe scholar like Professor John Livingston Lowes, who in his critical volume, The Road to Xanadu, offered a novel interpretation of a great poem, does something of real importance for culture. But the young scholars in universities who attempt to resurrect a poetaster better decently left buried and the philologists who devote years to a trifling point of grammar are adding little to our knowledge. Groups of such pedants on college faculties cheer one another on and subsist by the device of mutual backscratching. But enough has already been said by William James and others on the evils of doctoral dissertations, which corrupt by deluding the perpetrators into the illusion that they have accomplished something important.
To this indictment of the Columbia faculty I must make one distinguished exception. Professor William P. Trent, then only forty-four years old, was in his prime as scholar and teacher. He wore a beard, not straggly and moth-eaten in appearance, like Brander's, but long, brown, and glossy, like that of Charles I. His eyes had a genial expression, with humor lurking behind them, and he had a resonant and melodious voice with which he loved to read aloud his favorite poems. Trent was eclectic in his tastes, but he was at his best in a course in eighteenth-century literature, beginning with his favorite, Daniel Defoe. There was nothing blasé about Trent. When he recited passages from "Paradise Lost," his eyes glistened, and he rolled polysyllables on his tongue as if he were savoring every modulation. Soon I fell under his special guidance and became his ardent admirer. Later he was a supporter of Germany during the early stages of World War I and, as a consequence, lost many of his former friends. But he did not retire until 1929, and he lived to be seventy-seven. 1 made a pilgrimage to see him when he was an old man and found him physically shattered but still spicy and caustic.
Professor Trent recommended that I make satire my major field, and under his direction I read in the original Latin the complete works of Juvenal, Horace, and Persius --- one of the most difficult assignments I ever undertook. Following up this enterprise, I wrote my master's thesis on "The Satires of Andrew Marvell." It was my first attempt at a scholarly article of any length, and I endeavored to cover all the available source material. Although my thesis was no startling contribution to knowledge, Trent was pleased, and through his sponsorship I was awarded a University Fellowship of $750, which persuaded my father that I might some day be able to support myself by my own efforts.
In June, a friend of mine, Cuthbert Sweeney, who was studying at the Columbia Law School, induced me to join him on a trip to Europe. Not often have two young men had such an inexpensive literary adventure. We sailed on the Anchor Line steamship Caledonia, paying exactly $37.50 for the second-class passage of eleven days to Glasgow. In 1950, when my wife and I flew to London, it cost us approximately $300 apiece for the trip overnight from Logan Airport in Boston to Croydon Airport in London. The entire amount which I spent for a summer of travel in 1906 could not have exceeded $350. I suppose that the increase represents progress, but it is difficult to discover exactly how!
Sweeney and I landed at Glasgow in the morning, immediately purchased bicycles, and were off that afternoon for Ayr, thirty-seven miles to the south, to visit the birthplace of Robert Burns. Returning north by an inland route, we pedaled through the Scottish Lake Country to Stirling and Edinburgh, and then down the English east coast, studying every cathedral and ruined castle within our range. After spending ten crowded days in London, we started off for Cambridge and Oxford and the Cotswolds, stopping each night at little inns where we paid only five shillings for bed and breakfast. Selling our bicycles in London, we proceeded via Newhaven and Dieppe to Paris, where we lived in a huge bare room on the Rue de Bac and walked miles every day conscientiously visiting every museum and even the tombs in Père la Chaise. Not for us Foyot's or Maxim's or the other restaurants for millionaires! We ate along the boulevards, carefully conserving our funds.
After a week in Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and Antwerp, we went by rail to Strassburg and Heidelberg, and walked for three days through the Black Forest. To my delight I found my grandfather's initials chipped in the spire of the Strassburg Cathedral, where he had carved them almost sixty years before. Obeying my father's wishes, I got in touch with my relatives in Annweiler and stepped from the cars in the little Bavarian village to find myself encircled by aunts and uncles and cousins and even the Mayor, all eager to inspect the rich Amerikaner. Poor Sweeney and I, who had wondered how we could stretch our Express Checks to get us back to Glasgow, presented a brave outward bearing, although secretly only too conscious of our impecuniosity.
When I returned to my room in Livingston Hall at Columbia in the autumn, I could visualize Rydal Mount and Stoke Poges and King's College Chapel and Kenilworth Castle and countless other places associated with my reading. I have always regarded travel as an important element in education, even if it is only from Boston to Concord and Salem. Whenever I have been asked to give advice to prospective teachers of English literature, I have told them to get to England with all possible speed, even if they have to manicure cows on a cattle boat. Stratford-on-Avon, even when crowded with "trippers," can never seem commonplace to an imaginative mind. Twelfth Night is a more enjoyable play seen in the Shakespeare Memorial Theater on the banks of the river which the dramatist knew so well as a boy. Any instructor in English, in school or in college, is more interesting for having walked through the Dorsetshire of Thomas Hardy or eaten lunch at the Cheshire Cheese. Sophisticated tourists may laugh at teachers who wander through cathedrals, guidebook in hand, but there is nothing quite like the thrill which comes from studying for the first time all the architectural details of Westminster Abbey and reading the inscriptions on the tombs.
Filled with an ardor derived from fresh and stimulating experiences, I began my second year at graduate school. My lack of enthusiasm for some of my professors was counteracted by the excitement of reading Chaucer under William Allan Neilson. With his acquiline nose and grizzled Vandyke beard, he resembled a Renaissance courtier, and I liked to watch him as he listened to discussions with subdued and tolerant mirth in his restless, enigmatic eyes. It was said of him rightly that he "made the grim business of learning seem an appealing and blithe adventure." I had the opportunity of meeting him often outside the lecture room, and later I served with him on committees and formed a friendship which lasted until his death in 1946. Although he had a wealth of erudition, he carried it lightly like a flower, and contact with his well-stocked mind was an inspiration to a young man on the verge of disillusionment with some of his professors.
In those days Neilson did not like women in his courses, and deliberately tried to repel them by smoking in his office pipe after pipe of the strongest tobacco, so that he seemed to be haloed by a perpetual nicotinal cloud. Later, when he became president of Smith College, he found himself in a predominantly feminine world, and apparently enjoyed it. It was he who, having occasion to discuss the behavior of the Smith undergraduates, opened a chapel talk by saying, "Young ladies, smoking is a filthy, expensive, and reprehensible habit---to which I am inordinately addicted!" Neilson confirmed the impression left upon me by Churchill and Trent --- that a scholar need not necessarily be a dull fellow. Thus he came to my rescue, without realizing it, at a time when I was growing a little discouraged.
It turned out to be a year of intense and unremitting toil. In preparation for my oral examination for the doctorate I sat up night after night, memorized thousands of dates, and when I faced my inquisitors I was weary and burdened with much useless knowledge. The interrogation covered five hours, with specialists taking turns asking questions. Having been warned in advance that I would probably be quizzed on Thomas Love Peacock and Thomas Lovell Beddoes, I had their works almost by heart. At one point the kindly Professor Trent offered me a cigarette to relieve my tension, and I must add that the attitude of my examiners was uniformly gracious. I had thought that I had reason to be worried, for some candidates had recently been rejected. But when it was all over, I was informed that I had done well --- in fact, "Very Well" --and that my residence requirements had been satisfactorily completed.
Presumably I was now equipped with sufficient information and nothing remained for me to do but write my dissertation. I was not attracted by the conventional type of subject, involving the elucidation of some philological puzzle or the revival of some obscure versifier. I recalled that Dr. Johnson, when asked which was the greater poet, Derrick or Smart, replied dogmatically, "Who am I that I should differentiate between a louse and a flea?" I wished to find a more rewarding theme, such as that selected by Ferris Greenslet, in his "Joseph Glanvil" (1900) and by John Erskine, in his "The Elizabethan Lyric" (1903) ---the only two earlier Columbia dissertations for which I had any real respect. In prowling about the dark and dusty corners of the university library, I had discovered by sheer luck a forgotten Italian poem called "Il Poema Tartaro," by one Giambattista Casti, and was immediately impressed by its similarity to Byron's "Don Juan," not only in stanzaic form but also in mood and style. In continuing my study of satire I had naturally reached Byron and had become interested in his sources; and when I had probed deeper into the question of material, I was astonished to find how little was known. At any rate I should be dealing with a major literary figure, not a third-rater, and this was a consideration.
It took some argument to convince Professor Trent that I was competent to treat a subject obviously more far-reaching than that of the orthodox dissertation. But when I showed him Casti's poem and pointed out some of the close resemblances between it and Byron's masterpiece, he withdrew his objections. "Fuess, you've got something here," he admitted, and the topic was at once marked down as my property. Unfortunately with my "orals" imminent, I had little time for thorough research, and it was obvious that I would need another full year for the writing of such a comprehensive dissertation.
I was then only in my twenty-third year and in spite of deliberate effort to appear dignified, I was far from sure of myself. As spring came on and I was beginning to look longingly across the Hudson River to the Palisades and the open country beyond, Trent summoned me to his office and said, "Fuess, you really aren't, chronologically speaking, much more than a child, and you haven't had any teaching experience at all. Why wouldn't it be a good idea for you to try yourself out for a year and see whether you can control a classroom? There's a good place open down in Pennsylvania, and I believe you would be wise to consider it. You can come back later and finish your dissertation."
The suggestion appealed to me for two reasons: first, because the burden upon my father had been heavy and I was anxious to become self-supporting; second, because I was skeptical about my possibilities as a teacher. The offer came from George School, a coeducational institution sponsored by the Hicksite, or more liberal branch of the Friends. The headmaster's son, George A. Walton, Jr., who taught English on the faculty, wished to spend a year in travel and study, and his father was eager to engage a substitute who under no circumstances would care to become permanent. I was just that man, for it was now possible for me to accept Professor Carpenter's invitation to return to Columbia in 1908 as an assistant in the Department of English.
And so, in the autumn of 1907, a new and very practical phase of my education started. I found myself, without having taught an hour in my life, the head of a department of three members, with a handsome salary of $1800, with room and board. My two colleagues were women in their forties, college graduates and fine teachers. That they tolerated me is a tribute to their essential kindness; but they did even more by tactfully telling me how to go about my new job. Knowing that it would be fatal to acquire a reputation for being "easy," I assigned to my first section of seniors fourteen English poems to be learned by heart in the first two weeks of the term. Among them were several sonnets, but included also were Gray's "Elegy" and Keat's "Grecian Urn." It never occurred to me until after the class had uttered audible groans and been dismissed that I was morally bound to know the poems myself if I were to retain their respect.
No teacher on the staff smoked, and anyhow I had been assigned a suite in the girls' dormitory and had to be on my best behavior. My only refuge was a beautiful oak grove on the banks of the Neshaminy River, where I soon learned to betake myself after dark and smoke my only pipe of the day. Now 1 found myself pacing restlessly among the ancient trees, reciting the famous lines. It was a taxing ordeal, but I survived, with the consequence, that even now on the slightest provocation I can start off:
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
Sometimes, as in this case, the discrepancy between my actual situation and the one described in the verses was comical, and any night prowler who heard me would have been frightened out of his wits. But so far as I know my secret has never been revealed until now; and when the pupils began to recite, "Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold," there was I, word and even letter perfect, to prompt the victim and impress him or her with my superior knowledge. The experiment horrified my two department associates, who explained timidly that I had committed one of the unpardonable sins. I have always felt, however, that the members of that class profited by my unintentional cruelty. Best of all my reputation from that moment as a "tough egg" was secure.
This and other less dramatic experiments contributed to my training, and I then and there made the momentous discovery, not yet forgotten, that the quickest way of mastering a subject is to teach it. The efforts which I made to inform myself so that I might keep at least a lap ahead of my pupils did me an immeasurable amount of good, and the process did not cease even when I had years of experience behind me. It may have been hard on the boys and girls, but I had to learn to teach by teaching. Old Dr. Walton was a benevolent and affable soul who was sure that I was doing well so long as I did not trouble him. Thus I was able, with the unconscious co-operation of my students, to work out my own salvation.
Of any science of pedagogy I was blandly ignorant. Never have I taken a course in a school of education, and I have met few first-rate teachers who have done so. Acquaintance with educational psychology may make competent schoolmasters, but cannot turn them into brilliant ones. I had, of course, been exposed to some able teaching in school and college, and in times of stress recalled some of the techniques. But teaching is an art, not a science; and every superior teacher, like every superior artist, though he may begin by imitation, eventually develops his own individual style. The best teaching is not mechanical but personal. Every teacher worth his salt masters the secrets of emphasis and repetition, knows how to introduce anecdotes and reminiscences, and can use humor and criticism at the right moment. He enters the classroom in a mood of alertness, like a man starting on a new adventure. As he proceeds he is quick to shift both tempo and manner if things are not going well. He is ready to galvanize the drowsy with a joke and to stir the indolent by Socratic interrogation. He makes explanations in language which can be understood, answering questions patiently when he believes them to be well meant. By some sixth sense he recognizes the query aimed solely at consuming time, and he eludes the trickery to which healthy American youth resort if they find that a master can be victimized. Like the actor, the teacher must, for an hour in the classroom, throw himself into his part---but he has to walk his stage alone! Rules and systems will avail him little. Only his personality can make him successful. All this I learned gradually, but I was still learning when I taught my last class.
At George School, though I often blundered and blushed at my errors, I decided that I really enjoyed teaching and wished to pursue it as a career. For the previous two years I had been mostly absorbing facts, pursuing a well-defined scholarly path, taking in and seldom giving out. Now I found that explaining a difficult passage to a group of miscellaneous boys and girls was a test of skill and that they were, like an audience, a challenge to the speaker. In my ignorance of procedures I experimented with various devices for holding their attention and even for keeping them awake. I tried subtly to recommend books which would entice them into reading and drive them to the school library. Quaker children are for the most part brought up in simple but cultured homes, indoctrinated early with high ideals of taste and conduct, and are fine material to work with. They know their Bible and are not bewildered when older persons talk to them about the parables and the Beatitudes. I doubt whether in all my career I ever met pupils more responsive than those girls and boys at George School.
I discovered early a fundamental difference in the attitude of the two sexes. Never having had a sister, I was brought up with a romantic conception of girls and even believed, until I saw the George School young ladies at their meals, that they lived on honeydew and probably drank the milk of paradise. When I gave out my first set of marks, I was greeted in my classroom the next morning by a charming girl, who immediately started to weep, eventually almost on my shoulder. "What's the matter with you, Ruth?" I asked, after the deluge of tears. "It's my mark!" she sobbed. I looked at my book and answered, "Why, I gave you a 93 ---the second highest grade in the class." "Yes, that's the trouble," was the lachrymose response, "I think I ought to have a 96." I was in a benevolent mood that morning and agreed that I would change the record. She departed very happy. But the good news spread and soon other girls came in, each with her own plausible story. By noon I had altered most of the marks in favor of the fair recipients. The boys, if only they had passed, seemed to feel grateful, and certainly were too proud to make a complaint.
By Thanksgiving I was understandably popular with the female contingent of the undergraduate body --- to the consternation of my lady colleagues, who declared that I was a gullible simpleton. They were familiar with the wiles of their own sex, and in their opinion I was destroying all their discipline. Furthermore there was a stampede on the part of the senior girls to be transferred to my divisions. At the opening of the winter term I made a little speech, announcing that the lush days were over and that from then on I should be obdurate, even when deluged with tears.
I learned much in other ways at George School. One member of the staff was a type which I had hitherto regarded as "sissy," for he regularly brought his knitting to faculty meetings and even sometimes darned his own socks. But he was a musical genius who played the piano three or four hours a day --- Bach and Chopin and Liszt. He taught me the intricate organization of the sonata and the fugue, and under his gentle tutelage I even ventured into easy compositions for four hands. Soon I was a regular subscriber to the concerts of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, which I understood better because of his professional explanations. For one whose early musical training had been confined largely to playing in the Amherst Mandolin Club and clanging the cymbals in the college band, this was a promotion to the inner circle. My friend brought into my life a new and absorbing interest, which has been both a satisfaction and a solace.
At certain seasons George School was a lovely spot. In the spring the migrating birds, especially the warblers, flew north up the Delaware Valley and I had fun identifying them with the aid of field glasses. In the winter I took long walks along the Neshaminy, through a delightful wooded countryside. One of the teachers, George W. Nutt, had a complete set of Thomas Hardy, and I read in January and February every bit of prose or poetry that he had ever written. To me in these later days he is still the most rewarding of English novelists, and I have nothing but contempt for his disparager, George Moore.
Pleasant though the life was at George School, it did lack excitement, and the discerning Dr. Walton, recognizing in me the symptoms of unrest, would say, "Young man, why don't you go off to the city on Friday night and spend the week end? It will keep you from growing stale." And so back I would go to the familiar Columbia dormitory among my scholarly friends, getting just the respite that I needed. I was the only non-Quaker in the school community, but I conformed to all the local customs; and often on Sunday I would walk to the meeting house at Newtown and marvel at the punctuality with which Dr. Walton, or his charming sister, Mrs. Deborah Stubbs, would rise to speak precisely at the hour of twelve, without any watch or clock in sight to remind them.
My brief sojourn at George School at least enabled me to argue with Perry Smith, Headmaster of the North Shore Country Day School in Chicago, and other defenders of coeducation. The boys whom I met later at Andover were free from the countless distractions which beset young men in institutions where the two sexes are being constantly thrown with one another. The Andover students had tea dances scattered through the term and were allowed to call on the young ladies at Abbot Academy once a week. During the intervals between these diversions they devoted themselves to their masculine pursuits, and I could never see that their attitude towards girls was anything but healthy. My observation leads me to believe that it is normal for boys to wish to have their rugged sports and pastimes by themselves and that it is desirable for them during their tumultuous adolescence to live in a society dominated by males. Never have I heard an Andover undergraduate argue in favor of coeducation; and I am sure that it encourages a preoccupation with sex rather than an indifference to it.
One could not help admiring the men and women of the Quaker faith. They lived, many of them, beyond the ordinary span of years, and I often met in the forest a sturdy octogenarian chopping down trees, like Adam in As You Like It, who was "as a lusty winter, frosty but kindly." They were so simple and sincere, so unostentatiously high-minded, that in their presence I often felt ashamed of my worldliness. They knew the value of leisure, the comfort which follows quiet meditation, the insignificance of material things. As people they had quality. In after years I came to admire Rufus Jones as a perfect representative of the Friends' philosophy and I know of no finer guide to happy living.
At the close of the school year I departed, feeling that I had been sojourning among the saints. Dr. Walton thanked me cordially for having kept the seat warm for his son, who resumed his position on the faculty and later was elected headmaster in his father's place. From time to time I returned for a day or two to renew my friendships, but one by one the teachers whom I had known disappeared. In the course of time "Young George" himself became "Old George" and finally, after a distinguished career as headmaster, retired. Then I realized that I was no longer in the first flush of youth.
I went to New York to make arrangements for my return to Columbia in the following autumn, and then stopped at Waterville to get ready for a canoe trip which Warner Taylor and I were to take into the Canadian wilderness. We outfitted with Michie & Company in Toronto, had a canoe shipped with us to Temagami Station, and then paddled down the northeast arm of that star-shaped lake to Bear Island, where the famous Dan O'Connor was then the factor. All that summer we paddled and fished, living in the open without guides and sometimes far from any white settlement. I count this, too, as a phase of my educatiqn, for although I had been often in the woods as a boy, I have never been quite so far from civilization. The sing of the reel had always sent a tingle up and down my spine, and at Temagami the line was constantly whirling out. We caught mostly small-mouthed black bass --one of the gamiest of fish, especially when you strike a four-pounder on a three-ounce rod.
I came back in early September with a glorious Vandyke beard --- which my mother forced me at once to shave off and reported by telegram to Professor Carpenter. My highest ambition then was, I suppose, to finish my dissertation, get my Ph.D., join the Columbia faculty, and some day take the place of Professor Trent. I little realized how mistaken I was about my future!
LIKE many people who come from the fresh, uncontaminated ozone of the deep woods into germ-laden civilization, I contracted after my Canadian trip a mean case of tonsillitis, and was lying in bed at Waterville, partly convalescent, but still very weak, when a small boy one morning rode up on his bicycle bringing a telegram addressed to me. In those days telegrams were rare in the Fuess family, and my mother waited expectantly while I read it. It was plain and direct:
CAN YOU COME TO BOSTON TO MEET ME REGARDING POSITION AS INSTRUCTOR IN ENGLISH AT ANDOVER?
ALFRED E. STEARNS
I did at least know where Andover was. As I reread the telegram, I was reminded that Al Stearns, the great Amherst baseball star of the 1890's, was head of an institution called Phillips Academy. But that had no influence on me. I was to be a scholar, and a "prep" school did not stir my interest. The George School interlude had been long enough.
My mind made itself up so automatically that I did not even consult my parents. Hastily scribbling off a brief reply, "Sorry, but not interested," I returned to The Count of Monte Cristo. Late in the afternoon the same boy rode up with another yellow envelope. This time the message read: "Can you come as far as Springfield to meet me. Would appreciate it greatly." My father was now home, and I told him briefly what was going on. He felt, like me, that it would be a mistake to consider a secondary school when Columbia, with all its wonderful opportunities, lay before me. I again declined, as politely as possible, and went to sleep without even a thought of the crisis which was happening in my life. The next morning bright and early in came the same boy, with an expression on his face indicating that he was getting a trifle bored. This third message read: "Will you not at least meet me in Albany, at the Ten Eyck Hotel. Will pay all expenses." My father, when he studied this telegram, said, "Claude, this fellow seems to be in earnest. Don't you feel well enough to get up and take the trip to Albany?" I myself was growing a little curious as to what "this man Stearns" had on his mind. Accordingly I sent off a wire agreeing to meet him in Albany and, debilitated though I was, I kept the appointment.
I hasten to interpolate that Al Stearns's desire to talk to me was not due to any resemblance which he had detected between me and Horace Mann or John Dewey. He was up against it! The fall term had hardly begun before one of his best English instructors had resigned in a huff because he had been passed over for the headship of his department. By that date all the private schools had opened, and every available teacher had been engaged. I was probably the only possible candidate in the Eastern area, and Stearns would have offered me the job if I had been even less experienced than I was. All he wanted was somebody with a college degree and not too unprepossessing. Hence his pursuit of his fellow Amherst alumnus.
Al Stearns turned out to be a very persuasive salesman. He frankly admitted his predicament and promptly offered me a salary of $1200, with living quarters and board---very good pay at Andover for a teacher with only one year'sexperience. I replied unconcernedly that I was already committed to Columbia, and then Al produced his trump card. Professor Carpenter was an Andover graduate, and Stearns had already talked with him on the telephone and convinced him that I would be better off at Phillips Academy for the next year. Therefore, when I explained my situation, Al drew out a telegram from Carpenter advising me to accept the Andover position. Clearly I had to reach a decision in a hurry, and, almost stunned, I agreed to come to Andover on the following day. Before thirty-six hours had passed I was located in Draper Cottage, one of the smaller dormitories, and in the midst of an environment about which I was pitifully ignorant.
Some years later I learned quite by accident that on that same morning Miss Elizabeth Cushing Goodhue, of Andover, who was later to become my wife, was in the Ten Eyck Hotel with her mother, on their way back from a trip to Montreal. When she met Al Stearns in the lobby, she asked, "What in the world are you doing out here just at the time school is opening?" "Oh, I had to come on to see a teacher about a job." "Well," replied Miss Goodhue, "he must have plenty of nerve to make you take such a long trip just to see him." She little knew that she was making her first comment on her prospective husband!
Draper Cottage was populated by ten so-called Commons boys, who were working their way through school and were much more mature than the average undergraduate. Indeed at least two of them were older than I was, and they were full-grown, independent, and unaccustomed to taking orders. They were, however, most courteous and proceeded to enlighten me on various matters of rules and privileges with which I was unfamiliar. It was plain that in their opinion I was not merely an equal but possibly a subordinate --- a necessary evil whom they were ready to tolerate so long as I behaved myself and did not interfere with them. My welcome was disconcerting, after my despotic role in George School; and when at luncheon I met some of my new faculty colleagues, including "Colonel" Horace M. Poynter, they made it clear that my assignment was, for a "greenhorn," a very tough one.
Through that day I followed the wise practice of saying little and listening much. But when I returned to Draper in the evening, not quite sure what course of action to adopt, I was greeted by one of the occupants --- the star second baseman on the baseball nine ---who was apparently in a state of garrulous intoxication. He reeled up to me and said in a silly mumble, "I want a thousand excuses to go to Lawrence --- I jess gotta have 'em!" Shocked, I collected my wits and said as sternly as I could, "Bennett, you go to your room immediately, and I shall report you at once to the principal." With a shamefaced expression he slunk off; and one of the oldest boys in the house---Jim Reilly---who later became a close friend of mine, rushed up and said, "I wouldn't tell the principal about this if I were you. It'll get poor Bennett in a lot of trouble." "I don't care," I cried angrily, and dashed off up the street to inform Al what had happened. He listened patiently, only commenting, "Bennett? That doesn't make sense to me." He did, however, walk back with me to Draper, where a small crowd had gathered, in the midst of which was Georgie Hinman, Instructor in Latin, who was excitedly haranguing the group, to their intense delight. The minute Hinman saw Stearns he burst out in relief, "Mr. Stearns, it's nothing but a society initiation --- Fuess didn't understand." I am sure, as I look back, that the incident was my initiation as well as Bennett's.
I was not unfamiliar with fraternities at Amherst, but it never occurred to me that a preparatory school would have such organizations. Poor Bennett, who had been pledged to what was known as P.B.X., now appeared, unquestionably sober and full of apprehension. The Reilly Brothers and the Burdett Brothers---all outstanding athletes and residents of Draper Cottage --- had ordered him to put the exhibition on for my benefit, thinking, of course, that I would sense the situation. A full explanation was made. Al laughingly warned the boys not to carry the matter too far, especially with an "outlander" like me, and everything ended amicably.
In case any possible reader of this book may be as uninformed on the subject as I was in 1908, I will say that the two Phillips Academies --- one at Andover and the other at Exeter, in New Hampshire --- founded in the Revolutionary period by members of the same family, are the oldest and the most completely indigenous of the great American independent schools. Andover, opened in 1778 in the calamitous winter of Valley Forge, is the older of the two, but they have gone along for nearly a century and three quarters of friendly rivalry. They have remained approximately the same in size, objectives, and endowment, and when at certain periods one has forged slightly ahead of the other, new leaders and benefactors have appeared to rectify the discrepancy.
Both started under the sponsorship of Harvard men, but when Harvard in the early nineteenth century turned towards Unitarianism, Phillips Academy --- the official and legal name of the Andover school -was tied up with Andover Theological Seminary and, remaining true to its original Calvinistic Congregationalism, began to send more and more boys to conservative Yale. Unlike Winchester, Eton, and Harrow, Andover and Exeter have always aimed to send all their students to college; and in 1908 an overwhelming majority of the students were intending to go on to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Williams, Amherst, and the better known eastern higher institutions. It would be fair to say, however, that at the period when I arrived the predominant influence at Andover was from New Haven. Indeed then, and for many years afterwards, one tenth of the Yale undergraduate body had prepared at Andover, and many of the great Yale athletes, like the Blisses, Hinkey, Bloomer, Kilpatrick, Morse, Murphy, and Daly, were Andover men.
Phillips Academy opened in 1908 with an enrollment of 490 students and a faculty of 30 members. It was beginning to move into a new era under the energizing leadership of Alfred E. Stearns, who had been elected principal in 1903, at the age of thirty-two. During the months following the death of Principal Cecil F. P. Bancroft, on October 4, 1901, the school passed through an interregnum, when no one was sure just what would happen and the discipline was much relaxed. Stearns, after graduating from Phillips Academy and Amherst and teaching for a short time at the Hill School, had returned to Andover, partly to study in the Theological Seminary but also to work under his uncle, Dr. Bancroft. He shortly became baseball coach, registrar, teacher, and eventually personal secretary to the enfeebled principal, and was regarded, in spite of his youth, as the logical heir-apparent. He stepped into a position of authority gradually after Bancroft's death, serving as vice-principal before his election as principal. He was vigorous, courageous, imaginative, and very popular, especially among the students, who admired his athletic ability, and he had a very well-developed sense of humor.
In 1908, although he had been in office only five years, Stearns had already accomplished what seemed like miracles. For a century Phillips Academy and Andover Theological Seminary had existed within a stone's throw of one another under the same Board of Trustees, who spent most of their deliberations on the higher institution. The Seminary, conservative in its policies even when it was founded, had begun to lose ground in the 1880's, when a notorious heresy trial revealed its position as a citadel of obsolete theological orthodoxy. By the close of the century the number on its faculty was almost as large as the student body, and its beautiful buildings were almost deserted. Meanwhile the Academy had grown in enrollment and prestige, and was looking in an acquisitive mood at the plant across the street which was not being put to productive use.
One of Stearns's first jobs had been to create a separate Board of Trustees for Phillips Academy, and then to arrange, after some difficult negotiations, for the transfer of the Seminary property, including two large dormitories, a lecture building, a library, a chapel, and several very beautiful residential houses, to the Academy, together with about two hundred acres of land on Andover Hill. All this required purchase money, and Stearns, with his former roommate and friend, James C. Sawyer, who was treasurer of the school, undertook to raise the funds. Often the two cooled their heels in the outer offices of millionaires, and occasionally they were ejected without a hearing. The two made a wonderful team --- Sawyer with his charm and tact and wide acquaintance and Stearns with his moral earnestness. It was a partnership of the Cavalier and the Puritan. "We were both beggars," Al used to say, "and sometimes we pleaded with all our souls and came out with a hundred dollars!"
By 1908, Andover Hill belonged to and was Phillips Academy. The Seminary, all except the library, had been moved to Cambridge, and what had started a century before as a protest against Harvard and its Unitarianism was now located in the camp of the enemy. Stearns tore down or moved the two rows of ugly wooden dormitories called the Latin and English Commons, and the ground where they had stood was graded and sodded. The transformation was complete,
Phillips Academy had flourished for years with inadequate equipment, and some of its dormitories were better suited to a slum district than a school. James G. Blaine, when he was in the cabinet, came to Andover with his sons to look over the institution. Principal Bancroft escorted him about the grounds, and when the tour was over the statesman said, "Well, Doctor, I've made up my mind to enroll my boys here --- if you will permit me." "Good," responded Bancroft. "And now would you object to telling me how you happened to make your decision?" "Certainly not," answered Blame. "Any school which can build up such a fine reputation in spite of such wretched buildings and equipment must have something and I want my family to find out what it is.
Now, by a lucky turn of fate, Phillips Academy had secured most of what it needed. It took some time to effect the transition. The removal of the dust-covered Seminary books from Brechin Hall was slow, but the school by 1910 had its own librarian, and the ground floor of the building provided much-needed office space for the school administrators. At last the boys could all be housed in dormitories controlled by the trustees, and the landlady system, with all its disadvantages, could be eliminated. The policy of housing all the students under direct faculty supervision was of incalculable service in eliminating disciplinary problems and bringing about order on the campus.
Again and again I have heard Al Stearns tell, with grim humor, of the situation which he had to face during his first five years. The undergraduates were on the average much older than they are today, more independent, and very jealous of what they regarded as their prerogatives. They played in sports against Yale and Princeton and Amherst---often defeating them, especially in baseball---and consequently felt that they were entitled to the freedom and privileges of college men. The boys who were working their way through school had plenty of independence. Often they were good athletes, and they certainly monopolized the school offices. I have never seen in operation a democracy more complete than that which had been built up at Andover. If there was any aristocracy, it was not the result of wealth or social position, but was created by the so-called Commons boys, living in Brick House, Clement House, and Draper Cottage.
With characteristic wisdom Mr. Stearns soon abolished the separate Commons houses and assigned the scholarship students to various dormitories scattered over the Hill. After that, rich and poor boys were located on the same corridor and mingled with one another as they had never done under the earlier policy of segregation.
Al had undergone two or three rather ghastly experiences shortly after becoming principal. An unfortunate case of mass cribbing on the entrance examinations for Princeton had brought the school some undesirable publicity. In 1905 a large group of undergraduates, incensed at the manager of the Phillips Inn because it was reported that he had divulged the name of an undergraduate "wolf" who had kissed a waitress, formed a parade one warm spring evening, marched to the Inn, seized the manager, and ducked him in the nearby shallow Rabbit Pond. Stearns, who was in Pittsburgh at the time, was recalled by telegram and came back to find a faculty investigation under way and the student body sullen and uncommunicative. Finally the decision was reached to expel some thirty boys whose complicity could be proved --- many of them prominent in campus affairs. The news leaked out, and the next morning before chapel service, which was held in those days at 7:45, nearly the entire school assembled across the street, where they were harangued by their leaders and urged to remain away in protest.
Al often told me how he walked over to the Main Building where chapel was held, found it deserted by students, and waited with some of the faculty, wondering what he would do if a strike actually occurred. The bell began to toll, and still no move was made from the throng. But when only a minute was left, a break came in the ranks. A few boys started off, clearly terrified of consequences. Soon the whole crowd was in movement, and when the bell had ceased ringing, every boy was in his seat. "That," said Stearns, "was the decisive point in my career as principal. If I had lost that battle, I should have had to resign." He had some fear that the "ducking episode" ---as it has always been called ---might have a detrimental effect on the next year's registration, but as so often happens, doubtful fathers and mothers concluded that a school must be all right which could take such prompt and drastic action to meet an emergency. After that incident, the undergraduates decided that the principal was a strong man, and behaved accordingly.
The principal was indeed a strong man. It took plenty of courage for a young man still under forty to face 450 rather irresponsible undergraduates, some of them as old as the average college sophomore, and win their confidence even when he had to inflict punishment. For some time he felt as if he were sitting on a slumbering but still active volcano. When I first knew him, he walked around the grounds each night to make sure that all the boys were in their rooms and not out on a rampage. Shortly after I arrived, I was taken by a faculty colleague to a rather famous night club called Ferncroft, on the North Shore. As I was casually glancing over the register, I noticed to my astonishment the names of eminent professors in the Theological Seminary and of an elderly and very pious gentleman on the Academy faculty, with opprobrious nicknames attached --- all signed, as I quickly discovered, by wandering Andover students. Much of this deviltry was eliminated after I came to the school, by the very simple process of direct faculty supervision.
In some of my first classes were pupils who were older than I was, and I was afraid that I might not be able to get them under control. I remember vividly one magnificent athlete, well over six feet tall with arms stretching down almost to his knees, and hands like hams. He played tackle on the football eleven, and he could have plucked me easily by main strength from my place behind the desk. But he was always docile, except on the football gridiron, and struggled painfully with his books. Finally, after spending two years vainly trying to pass the work of the lowest class, he was asked by the principal, in the words of the euphemism so familiar to all Andover men, to "sever his connection with the Academy." What amounted then to a "double standard" for athletes disappeared early in Stearn's administration.
My admiration and affection for Al Stearns make it difficult for me to characterize him objectively. What he was will appear more and more as this narrative proceeds, for he was literally my "guide, counselor, and friend," and I viewed him only a little this side of idolatry. He was definitely a man's man, apparently rather embarrassed with women and never quite at home at formal social functions. He was tall and angular, with a shock of reddish hair which gradually during his administration turned to a glorious pure white, a long nose (or "beak," as he called it), and a resolute jaw. In spite of accidents which prevented him from playing much football at Amherst, he was one of the great athletes of his generation, and had many offers to play professional baseball with the major leagues. Until middle life, he invariably pitched for the alumni against the school nine at commencement and was tremendously applauded when he struck out one of his students, as he did quite frequently. On his fiftieth birthday, June 6, 1921, he pitched six innings against the school team and won for the alumni.
As time went on, I came to know Al better and better, for we had many tastes in common. I went often to his camp on Second Connecticut Lake in northern New Hampshire. On my first visit, evidently to try me out, he and Larry Shields, after talking at supper about the ferocity of the local wildcats, called me at dusk to the window and pointed out one of the savage creatures --- a stuffed animal which they had prepared to frighten greenhorns. When I rushed for a rifle to slay the beast, his delight was unbounded. I recall his amusement when I once, while fishing, missed my footing and went bobbing and floating like a cork down Perry Stream. He was a fine sportsman, never complaining about poor weather or bad luck and always doing more than his share of the chores. Nor was he a prig or an ascetic in his personal habits but very human and ready to join in the fun.
After I became alumni secretary, we went on speaking trips together, twice across the continent, and he was a perfect traveling companion, always trying to preempt the upper berth and leaving the more comfortable lower one to me. It was difficult to get ahead of him in courtesy or sacrifice, and he was constantly on the watch for the pleasure of those around him.
One outstanding trait was his moral fervor. His prayers in morning chapel, always extemporaneous, were very moving, and I can still remember his fervent and frequent exhortation, "Keep us, O Lord, from those things which are base and sordid and mean and vile." He was in some respects an evangelist and spoke like a modern Savonarola, denouncing the sins of our society. Caring more for the spiritual than the intellectual aspects of education, he was frankly not much interested in psychological theories or experimental changes. In the Headmasters Association, as we shall see, he was a stalwart member of the Old Guard, along with Endicott Peabody and Horace Taft, and had a good deal of fun at the expense of what he called the "Teachers' College Crowd."
Al was clearly governed more by his emotions than by his reason. He was impulsive and quick-tempered, apt to make snap judgments which he later regretted. He seemed to me very much like Andrew Jackson, sympathetic with the underdog, loyal to his friends, even when they betrayed his trust, and more strongly affected by personalities than by ideas. Like Jackson also he was at heart a simple person, disliking pomp and circumstance and allowing himself to be publicized only with the utmost reluctance. His was the power which comes from strong character and right instincts, backed by a consistent and uncompromising Christian faith.
The quality of the man is illustrated by the long list of his friends from many walks of life, including bishops, bankers, college presidents, industrialists, guides, and janitors. The austerity which he showed in the pulpit was no index of his appealing humanity. Those early years at Andover were hard ones, but he won the victory. By 1908 the boys knew that he was the master, and the faculty and alumni were sure that the school was in the right hands.
ALTHOUGH I had no realization of it in 1908, I was to remain at Phillips Academy for forty years --- twenty-five as instructor in English, with many subsidiary jobs, and fifteen as headmaster. I soon came to love both the school and the town, their traditions and their people, and I rejoiced in the surrounding countryside. The opportunities offered by the school were so great that, in spite of invitations to join college faculties, and calls to headmasterships, I decided that I would be happier where I was. Andover became my geographical and spiritual home. I enjoyed the friendships which I made and the continuing education which they brought; and I have never for one moment regretted the stroke of chance which placed me in that pleasant and stimulating environment.
Perhaps my impressions of the Academy during my early years there may throw some light on American secondary education in the twentieth century. No one could doubt that the teaching staff was exceptionally strong. They kept the standards high. Incompetence was simply not tolerated. Yet the members differed markedly in training, character, and attitude. Among the many older instructors of outstanding ability with whom I became intimate I would name three ---Charles H. Forbes, Allan R. Benner, and Archibald Freeman --- who had come to Phillips Academy in the early nineties, fresh from college, and remained there for the rest of their professional careers. They were, of course, somewhat senior to Stearns and treated him, when he came back to the Hill in 1897, like a younger brother. His promotion to the principalship naturally altered their relations for his new position required some official deference; but I think that he never quite got over looking up to them as superior to him in practical knowledge. I soon noticed that he often yielded to them on matters of curricular policy.
Charlie Forbes in Latin and "Zeus" Benner in Greek, continued ably the classical tradition which had made Andover famous. Whenever Stearns showed any signs of capitulating to insistent "modernism" they kept him orthodox. Forbes was a ruddy-faced, thick-set man, of highly social propensities, whose home was an entertainment center for his countless friends. As a host in his own drawing room he was affable and generous, and his frequent parties were distinguished by a lavishness which I had seldom seen. In his thinking he was broad rather than deep, clever rather than profound, but he possessed a wide culture outside of his own special field, and he was a brisk and convincing talker whose philosophy of life was clear and well-ordered. He had traveled and read with discrimination, and was a most diverting raconteur. After his death I tried to express my affection for him and his gracious wife, Nellie, in an article entitled "Going Out to the Forbeses." Charlie made the Aeneid an instrument for a liberal education on many topics, and like every first-rate teacher, he taught more than his subject. In those days when recitation sections were large, he met nearly every member of the senior class, and the influence of his urbane and civilized mind was felt over the campus. It meant everything to me to be brought into contact with the Forbeses, who had so much to give and were apparently not bored by a junior who admired them unstintedly and openly.
Zeus Benner was a shy and sensitive scholar who, to use his own phrase, had never been trapped into matrimony. Once when he was a guest at a hospitable home in the village, his hostess requested him to escort an attractive young teacher at Abbot Academy back to her apartment. He flushed, and blowing out his cheeks like Dr. Johnson, replied, "Yes, I am willing to do so --- if you will tell her that I mean nothing by it!" Benner was a Harvard graduate, and one of the finest gentlemen I have ever known. He was co-operative in his political views, belonging to the right wing of the Republican party. During the New Deal period, when he was particularly unhappy, he went down, as he always did, to get his mail at the local post office. It was closed for Washington's Birthday, and Benner was locked out. As he came down the steps, some one heard him mumbling, "Damn this Roosevelt administration!"
By 1908, Greek was no longer a required subject in the Andover curriculum, and Zeus frequently told me that he regarded this as the beginning of the downfall of American education. Nevertheless he continued to have pupils and to exert a salutary influence on the boys who elected his courses. He made many of them happy by taking them on canoe trips up the Shawsheen River and inviting them to dinner and the theater in Boston. In his later years he led, I think, a rather lonely life, for he had grown too old for easy companionship with youth, and he felt that the world had passed him by. But to the end he had a nobility of mind and presence which were most impressive.
Archie Freeman, Head of the Department of History, was, like Forbes, a Brown graduate, but the two men had little else in common except that they were both superb teachers. Forbes was rotund, tolerant, and conservative; Freeman was thin, highly specialized in his interests, and liberal in his philosophy. Freeman was a "strict constructionist," who believed in enforcing all school regulations to the letter, but he also had a rare sense of humor and a lambent wit which enlivened many a faculty meeting, and his conversation was delightful. Before I arrived a disagreement had arisen between Forbes and Freeman which defied all the efforts of their friends to bring them together. Tactful hostesses saw to it that they were never invited together to the same dinner party. Forbes would, I am sure, have been willing to see the breach healed, but Freeman was implacable. Freeman it was who encouraged my ventures into political biography, and I owe him a very great debt.
Freeman and his closest friend, James G. Graham (Jimmy), who taught chemistry were both bachelors and lived on opposite sides of the same dormitory. They were inveterate practical jokers, and nobody knew who would be the next victim. Once while their fellow teacher, George W. Benedict, afterwards a professor at Brown, went out for a few hours, the two men entered his study, removed the large coal stove which heated it, and substituted a very small stove, which they carefully attached to the stovepipe. Benedict's astonishment when he beheld the transformation was described as having been both fluent and fiery. If the undergraduates at Andover had only known of the antics of their dignified instructors, they would have perceived that teachers, even when outwardly formidable, are but children of a larger growth. When one of the students asked Freeman why there was a spring on the entrance door to the dormitory, that instructor replied that it was an instrument which registered whenever a boy left the building after eight o'clock. Years later, when the youth returned as a prosperous alumnus, he told Freeman, "You know, I actually believed what you said about that door spring, and whenever I went out after hours I always opened a window and crawled out rather than use the door!"
Forbes, Benner, and Freeman were not only first-rate teachers but also scholars, great readers of books and ponderers on events, the most stimulating company possible for a novice ambitious to succeed. I cannot exaggerate the influence which they had on my susceptible mind. With them I must mention two others whose friendship was both a spur and a solace. Markham W. Stackpole had come to Phillips Academy, at Stearns's urgent invitation, in 1907, to accept the position of school minister and help to build up the religious life of the undergraduates. He and his wife, Agnes, rented what was then the Phelps House, the beautiful Bulfinch residence directly across from the main campus. I have never met a nobler character than Mark Stackpole. He never indulged in malicious gossip or had a mean or vulgar thought. To some he seemed austere and reserved, especially in his later life, but his heart was warm and his spirit full of animation. Within a few months he had, through his own contagious enthusiasm, aroused my interest in the as yet unwritten history of Phillips Academy; and it was at his instigation that I prepared and published in 1917 my book, An Old New England School.
Mark was versatile and very much alive. He and his family enjoyed informal charades, and at Thanksgiving the whole house was given over to the guests, who were free to roam everywhere in quest of stage properties --- fur coats, silk hats, sheets, and even potted plants. Before the evening was over the Phelps House was a shambles, but even the long-suffering inmates had had a happy evening. Mark liked to walk, and often we would start out cross country, without deviation for swamps or streams, for some designated point, such as Prospect Hill or Rattlesnake Hill. With him I covered every path or wood road in the countryside, finding such out-of-theway spots as the soapstone quarry, the black tarn, and the sandy dunes known mysteriously as the Land of Nod. As we strode along, we would recite passages from famous orations which we had memorized at school: Wendell Phillips on "Daniel O'Connell," Henry W. Grady on "The New South," and Robert G. Ingersoll on "James A. Garfield"; and once, as I burst forth in a magnificent paragraph ending: "Never till Duty, Stern Daughter of the Voice of God, shall cease to speak can the work of the Ironsides be ended!" a farm laborer rose up from behind a stone wall, shouted, "Good God Almighty!" and ran as briskly as he could across the meadow. Later Mark, although forty-six and beyond the age limit for service, secured in 1917 a special dispensation and enlisted as Chaplain of the 102nd Field Artillery of the Yankee Division and was overseas for twenty-six months. He was in most of the major American engagements, served gallantly under fire, and returned with shattered nerves from which he never fully recovered. For me Mark Stackpole was the embodiment of conscience, and I would have trusted his judgment on any moral issue.
At my first meal in the dining hall after my arrival, the man sitting at the head of the table reserved for bachelor members of the faculty was Horace Martin Poynter, already known as Colonel because of his Kentucky origin. Six years older than I, he had been an instructor in Latin at the Academy since 1902, and in that brief period had built up a reputation for severity in the classroom which had made the undergraduate loafers regard him as a holy terror. His insistence on accuracy and thoroughness and his impatience with mediocrity had created a tradition. But his adherence to exacting standards won him the admiration of the younger group of teachers who sat together in the dining hall. We liked him all the better because he would not compromise or conciliate, but stood by his pedagogical guns. As a matter of fact, he was by nature a very kindly, indeed a rather sentimental type of man, and, like Dr. Johnson, had nothing of the bear about him but the skin. I have known him to spend precious hours outside of the classroom with a slow, faithful boy, refusing to accept any compensation.
Even in those far-off days the Colonel was an unabashed pessimist, with the conviction, expressed in picturesque language, that the school and the world, including himself, were on their way to hell. Once when we were watching a steam shovel at its deadly work in excavating for a new building, he remarked, "Well, Jack, it won't be long before they'll be shoveling the dirt in on you and me!" To observations of this nature, as he and I grew older and older, I made reply in the words of the poet:
The good die young,
And they whose hearts are dry as summer dust
Burn to the socket.
But Poynter's melancholy was only superficial: although be was tristis in modo, he was laetus in re. He had an amazing fund of anecdotes, a new one for each occasion, and he was the most delightful company even when he growled de profundis. He loved games, especially bridge and billiards and golf, invariably announcing before each contest that he was certain to lose. It was he who, during a golf match at the Abenaqui Club, at Rye Beach, New Hampshire, when his caddy stepped in front of him as he was about to drive, shouted, "Get out of my way, son. I don't mind killing you, but I don't want to get my ball covered with blood."
The faculty atmosphere was one of frank cordiality. Having come direct from George School, where smoking was not permitted on the campus, I moved warily at first, not knowing what to expect. But at my first meeting with Archie Freeman, he drew out a cigar and handed it to me. "Is it all right for me to smoke this?" I asked, still a little uncertain. "That's what it's for," he answered, and I was put at ease immediately. There was no hypocrisy among the faculty members.
They behaved like normal members of society, not like beings set apart. It was a community, furthermore, where one quickly acquired the "first name" habit --- except towards the elder statesmen, Graves, McCurdy, and Eaton, who seemed too remote for me to give them anything but their proper titles. So far as I could see, everybody wanted to help me. It was easily discernible that I was inexperienced and naïve, but nobody seemed to mind. Nobody offered me any direct advice as to how to teach, but I kept my eyes and ears open and tried to keep from making too many blunders.
I observed within a week that the standards of teaching, the classroom morale, were very high. Misbehavior was not tolerated, and "freshness" was punished with incredible rapidity. The inexcusable sin, from the viewpoint of both boys and faculty, was for an instructor to be an "easy mark." I was astonished at my first faculty meeting to find how ruthless the teachers were. We sat, perhaps thirty of us, in none too comfortable chairs around the four walls of the principal's office in Brechin Hall, while name after name was brought up for discussion. Such comments as "lazy loafer," "not college material," "never should have been admitted," were tossed about easily and without any animosity. The feeling was general that any boy who couldn't or wouldn't make the grade should be asked to withdraw, and very little attempt was made in those days to ascertain why he was failing. The mere fact that he was flunking was sufficient.
Now and then Mr. Stearns would twist in his chair as some particularly scathing indictment was made by a caustic master. Later I was to discover, sitting myself behind the headmaster's desk, how often well-intentioned teachers could condemn a boy without realization of the various factors which affect an adolescent's moods and progress. The "sink or swim" idea was, however, in those days regarded as Andover's proud possession, and I can remember myself boasting that our faculty made no allowances, not even for the son of the president of the Board of Trustees. I recall that at the end of a rather brief post-Christmas faculty meeting one of the older members remarked casually, "This is an unusual meeting---we haven't fired anybody!" Whereupon Jimmy Graham looked up and said, "I've got a candidate. I move that Randolph be fired. He hasn't done a stitch of work since vacation." Believe it or not, after some perfunctory discussion the boy was dropped, and nobody seemed to be particularly disturbed. As it turned out, the young man doubtless deserved his fate, but the manner of his expulsion rankled in my heart for many years.
As I learned later, it is very easy for a teacher, momentarily exasperated, to wish to get rid of an unpromising or mischievous pupil. He forgets, however, that the burden of carrying out the sentence rests not on him but on the headmaster, who probably knows more than anybody else about the factors involved and who is aware of the army of sisters and cousins and aunts who will be affected. As headmaster I often, after asking a father to withdraw his son, could not sleep that night, so conscious was I of the fallibility of human judgments.
Fortunately the system at Andover has since become far more intelligent. Boys are now studied carefully from every angle, psychological and physiological, and there are no offhand dismissals. Cases do exist, of course, where the offense is so flagrant that it cannot be disregarded. But the wise teacher learns to make allowances for the idiosyncrasies of adolescence and understands that development in boys moves in phases. An indiscretion is not a sin. A master in a school must acquire patience, remembering that plenty of annoying boys have turned into most respectable adults. This basic fact was not emphasized when I first attended Andover faculty meetings.
Teachers, like other men, may be divided into two different groups. One is made up of "strict constructionists," who trust in clearly expressed rules, firmly enforced, without any allowance for circumstances. Regarding these, Albert Einstein has said, "To me the worst thing seems to be for a school principally to work with methods of fear, force, and artificial authority." The other group believes in a certain degree of flexibility, based on a careful consideration of motives and conditions. The famous Exeter dictum, "This school has no rules until they are broken," has much to recommend it. In my early days at Andover, "bounds" were very carefully marked on a map which was distributed to the students, and "out of bounds without permission" was regarded as a very serious infraction of the regulations. Two teachers taking a walk observed an undergraduate crossing a bridge into forbidden territory and reported him to the office. When he was interviewed by the principal, the lad explained that his hat had blown across the little stream and that he had chased it "out of bounds." This excuse was sustained by the two classmates who were with him, but when the case was brought before the full faculty, a majority voted for his expulsion. In this instance the principal for some reason confided to me his doubts of the wisdom or justice of our action; but he added that the two teachers who reported the offense were of such strong influence with their colleagues that he felt it to be injudicious to overrule the decision. I must add that such drastic action would not be taken today.
The younger men on the faculty were naturally too timid to say very much in the presence of their elders. Furthermore, to tell the truth, we were ourselves rather proud of being connected with a school which would tolerate no monkey business. And it is true that the system, although it would now be regarded as barbaric, did produce a group of very independent, very mature, graduates. It was survival not necessarily of the "fittest" but certainly of the "best-adjusted," and we had no reason to be ashamed of the results. Many men for whom I have the highest respect look back nostalgically on their Andover experience with the feeling, "Well, some injustice may have been done, but it was good for most of us." On the other hand, some of the victims were permanently embittered. It was easy to believe that being "fired" saved many a boy who through punishment was awakened to a sense of the meaning of life. But I am sure that very few teachers would wish to return to a system which brought unhappiness to so many.
A very large proportion of the curriculum was devoted to the study of language, especially Latin, and even in the modern languages the emphasis was on visual, not auditory, instruction. As 1 have previously stated, Andover had a strong classical tradition; and Latin, from Caesar through Cicero to Virgil, was not only a basic but a compulsory subject. When President Eliot, Abram Flexner, and other educational iconoclasts expressed doubt as to the value of Latin for everybody, Forbes led the other members of the Latin Department in defense of their cause. They could not well stress their most effective argument --- that the best teaching in those days was being done in the classics. Rather they maintained that Latin, and to some extent Greek, were indispensable adjuncts of the highest culture. Professor Forbes, who ranged in his senior classroom over all history and philosophy, did not realize that Latin as taught in the first year was often no more valuable than the repetition of numbers and addresses in the telephone book. Many a small boy with a naturally inquisitive mind, when subjected to incessant drill in conjugations and declensions, was driven to hate foreign languages. I personally knew dozens of boys who suffered --- and rebelled. But the doctrine that it was good for a boy to study subjects which he didn't like ---that it brought iron into his soul---was still prevalent. The hour came when more and more voices were raised against drillmaster methods and when doubt was expressed whether the recitation of case endings and of prepositions taking the dative really improved the mind. Albert Einstein, whom I have quoted before, once wrote, "The most important motive for work in the school and in life is the pleasure in work, pleasure in its results and the knowledge of the value of the result to the community." Although I lacked the self-assurance to come out publicly in favor of interest as an incentive, I had many an argument with my friends, the supporters of the established order; and I had a secret feeling, even in the 1920's, that both Benner and Forbes knew only too well that they were fighting for a cause which was already lost.
I should be guilty of concealment if I did not present this phase of my reactions. I must now add that what I admired most about my colleagues as I came to know them was the way in which they used their subjects as a key to life. The teacher of algebra covered much more than his limited mathematical field, by relating figures and formulas to the world around him and what was happening in it. The teacher of French did far more than have his pupils memorize the irregular verbs. He tried to show them something of France and of the French mind in operation. The faculty may have been, as some of them suggested, too highly departmentalized, but this was only on paper in the catalogue. Most of them ranged far and wide in their digressions. Poynter would apply a passage in Caesar to a situation in the war with Germany. Forbes often took his Aeneid as a text for something resembling a sermon. Yet his pupils passed their College Board examinations without sitting up all night with wet towels around their foreheads. They had developed a general ability for independent thinking which was far more important than the acquisition of special knowledge.
As my year at Andover drew to a close, I was again forced to make a decision, for I was once more invited by Professor Carpenter to take a position at Columbia and President Harris asked me to return to Amherst as an instructor. By this time, however, I had discovered how fortunate I was to have landed at Phillips Academy. With my fellow English teacher, Henry N. Sanborn, I was editing my first book, English Narrative Poems, which had been accepted by the Macmillan Company and was to appear that autumn as one of the Pocket American and English Classics. Furthermore my salary had been increased, and Mr. Stearns had let me know that I was not doing badly. Consequently I declined the offers from Columbia and Amherst, and set off in late June on the steamship Berlin for Naples, with three friends of my New York days --- Bill Otis, Al Stout, and Art Bauer. We spent the summer traveling inexpensively through Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France, Holland, and England, being joined along the route by my close friend, Warner Taylor. In the fall I found that my quarters in Draper Cottage had been improved by the addition of a modern bathroom, so that I no longer had to resort to the huge tin tub in the basement when I wished to get clean. Soon English Narrative Poems came out, and I was the proudest budding author in the United States. My share of the so-called honorarium was only $100, but the important matter was that for the first time my name appeared on the title page of a book.
In my second year at Andover I became engaged to Miss Goodhue, who lived in the town, but we agreed that we would not marry until I had completed my dissertation and received my doctorate. Accordingly in the summer of 1910 I accepted a very lucrative offer to go to Europe as a tutor for John Harbison McLennan, of Louisville, one of my Andover students who needed some help with Virgil before he could make Yale. With Mrs. McLennan, her two small daughters, and John, I sailed on the Berengaria, in such luxury as I had never before enjoyed, and eventually settled down with my pupil at the Hotel Randolph, in Oxford. It was a delightful summer, for we did not study more than three hours in the morning and spent the remainder of the day punting on the Isis, swimming, and bicycling over the Oxfordshire countryside, sometimes far into the Cotswolds.
Wishing to carry on some research in the Bodleian Library, I presented myself one morning to Dr. Nicholson, the librarian, with my credentials. I told him I was investigating English satire and had my degree of A.M. from Columbia. "You mean your M.A.," he snorted. "No," I replied, "that isn't what they call it in America!" "Well," he growled, "if you are such a fool as not to know that your degree is an M.A., you don't deserve the privileges of this library." Back I went to the Randolph Hotel ---a saddened and discouraged young scholar.
The next afternoon I went with Mrs. McLennan to call on Sir William Osler, then Regius Professor at Oxford, at his residence at 13 Norham Gardens. I was only twenty-four years old, shy by nature and certainly very much flustered at the prospect of meeting the great man. He was then sixty, at the height of his international reputation --- an erect figure, with most impressive drooping mustachios, a stiff wing collar, a receding forehead, and very brilliant dark eyes. He received Mrs. McLennan cordially as an old friend, and soon I was listening spellbound as he displayed his wonderful collection of Whitmania, smoothing the volumes affectionately as he told me how he attended Whitman in 1886. He asked me why I was in Oxford, and I found myself plaintively describing my grim encounter with the guardian of the Bodleian Library. "Why," he burst out indignantly, "I'm one of Nicholson's bosses. He ought not to have treated you like that." I learned then that Osler was not only ex officio a curator of the library, but also a member of the standing committee, which met there every Friday afternoon. "You come with me tomorrow morning," he said, "and we'll fix that old fossil!"
The next morning promptly at ten I called again at the Osler home, and he walked with me to the library. Striding straight into the lair of the library watchdog, he said, "Dr. Nicholson, I want to introduce a young American friend of mine who wishes to study here." The inhospitable crab of the day before smiled blandly, shook my hand as if I were President of the Royal Society, and responded, "Certainly, Sir William, we'll do everything in our power to facilitate the gentleman's researches." From that moment, whenever I crossed the sacred threshold, the librarian literally dogged my steps ---whether I was A.M. or M.A.--- asking anxiously whether I was getting the service I required. Never did contempt change more quickly to obsequiousness, and all through the kindly intervention of a man whom I then barely knew.
When we returned in September, John, to my delight, passed his entrance examination in Latin; and after a brief visit to Andover, I returned to the familiar atmosphere of Livingston Hall to finish my dissertation. I had saved some money, which I supplemented by tutoring and by teaching German for a few weeks in the Collegiate School. But my time was spent mostly on my dissertation, and I allowed nothing to interfere with that important project. Fortunately my topic--- "Lord Byron as a Satirist in Verse" ---was an interesting one, offering plenty of material, and I felt that in a slight way I was making a contribution to knowledge and not merely marking time. In June the dissertation was approved and sent to the publisher, and I was finally awarded my degree of Doctor of Philosophy in June 1912. In those days the doctoral dissertations in English had to be published at the expense of the candidate, and when I had paid the printer's bill I had hardly a dollar in the bank.
In June, 1911, Miss Goodhue and I were married at Andover and spent our honeymoon at the Birches, a hotel colony on an island in Lake Mooselookmeguntic in Maine. On the day after our arrival we were canoeing, and my bride, to keep herself occupied, dropped overboard a line with a plebeian worm-baited hook, hoping to attract a stray perch. Suddenly a terrific tug nearly drew her overboard, and she hastily handed the tackle to me. We had no landing net or gaff, and finally I asked her to paddle slowly along the shore until we had exhausted or drowned our catch. After what must have been over half an hour, we approached the dock and I slowly drew in a weary salmon which weighed on authentic scales almost eight pounds --- the largest caught that season in those waters. The huge fish was planked that evening for our dinner, and Mrs. Fuess, who so far as I know had never before held a line or rod in her hand, was the heroine of the summer!
When we returned in September, we settled down in a house of our own just off the campus, and I resumed the work as a teacher which I was to carry on, with some intermissions, until 1933. On April 13, 1912, the night when the Titanic struck an iceberg and went down with the loss of hundreds of lives, my son and only child, John Gushing Fuess, was born. He was later educated at Andover and Harvard, spent two years teaching at the Brooks School, and then entered the foreign service. He has since held posts in Mexico City, Belfast, Auckland, Cape Town, Milan, and Washington, having traveled more extensively than any other member of the family.
I was now twenty-seven, with a doctorate and a family and a job which demanded all my attention and satisfied all my needs. In 1913, we moved to a new school dormitory, John Phelps Taylor Hall; and in 1915 we were transferred to Tucker House, a huge ugly Victorian residence, where, with six or seven undergraduates annually under my charge, we remained for seventeen years.
I was to see very little of Columbia again until, in 1934, the university awarded me the honorary degree of Doctor of Literature. I had been asked also to deliver the Phi Beta Kappa oration, in the course of which I had occasion to mention Carl Schurz, whose biography I had just completed. In one passage in particular I referred to Schurz's statue on Morningside Heights, picturing him rather dramatically as gazing out over the metropolis which had been the scene of so many of his activities. By great good luck I walked over in the morning before the hour of my address in order to have one last look at the statue, and discovered --- what I had completely forgotten --- that the great reformer had his back turned on the city and was gazing toward the university. I hastily altered the paragraph to fit the actual situation and thus avoided an egregious and inexcusable blunder.
I remember the conferring of degrees as an impressive ceremony held outdoors in the open space in front of the old library before thousands of spectators. I felt proud indeed to be thus again associated with the great university where I had spent plenty of toiling hours and midnight electricity in earning my Doctorate of Philosophy. It was much easier to become a Doctor of Literature.
ALTHOUGH it now seems incredible, the Phillips Academy catalogue for 1908-1909 proves beyond a doubt that only four English instructors were provided for 489 undergraduates. The classes were, of course, very large --- indeed I remember having one section of fifty-three, a number which in these days would be regarded as impossible for one teacher to handle. Frankly I found it rather stimulating to have an audience tucked away on window ledges, and I felt like an actor facing a packed house. It was only when the themes piled up that I wished for fewer pupils.
My room was a huge affair, remodeled from the former chapel of Andover Theological Seminary, with ceilings eighteen feet high, embrasures for the windows, and wooden desks, each seating two, of an ancient variety. On the tops were carved the words of generations of Andover students ----some of them minatory, like the constantly recurring "To Hell with Exeter!" others of an amatory nature, like "Pete Loves Ruth," together with a heart pierced by an arrow or a crude attempt to reproduce a female profile. The white painted walls had in the beginning no decorations whatever, but I managed before long to cover them in part with maps and pictures. Behind my desk --- which stood on a slightly elevated platform --- was a window niche in which some earlier occupant had placed a bearded plaster bust, presumably of Plato. This I was able to use as a symbolic portraiture of whatever author we were studying; it served at various periods for Shakespeare, for Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and even for Robert Frost. All that was required was a little imagination on the part of my listeners. One of them, with an irony which must have been more than unconscious, perpetrated a couplet which I have not forgotten:
I see the bust of Plato on the shelf ----
Methinks that Claudie should be there himself.
I derived much from observing my elders and superiors, as a tyro profits by watching master craftsmen. My immediate chief, Arthur Willis Leonard, was one of the finest gentlemen I ever knew. He was a quiet, unassuming Princeton graduate, neat in his dress and in his mental habits, a scholar by temperament and an artist in his profession. He could read beautifully, and I often paused outside his recitation room to hear his melodious voice declaiming the soliloquies of Hamlet. He and I worked side by side for many years, during which my respect for him constantly increased.
I learned much also pragmatically, through a process of trial and error, and endeavored to profit by my mistakes. I discovered early that the secret of all good teaching is the revival of motivation. The good teacher makes his pupils wish to learn. We should aim to preserve that instinctive curiosity which impels the child of seven or eight to keep asking "What?" or "Why?" or "How?" Instead we have allowed him to feel that the acquisition of knowledge---at least in school ---is distasteful and unimportant. It is the teacher's business to uncover a buried natural trait. In our civilization the normal youth of sixteen has been hardened to resist instruction and submits to it unwillingly. That this is so may be due to wrong methods or to wrong material ----or both.
I often tried to seduce into reading a boy who had come to believe that it was an unmanly occupation. He would shy off like a colt when approached directly; but if I could only get him to listen to a paragraph from Virginibus Pueris que or even John McNab and stir him a little, I might find later that he had taken the volume out of the library and enjoyed it. It is my experience that any healthy lad will work his head off on a job which attracts him. The problem for the teacher, then, would seem to be simple. Find some ingenious device for arousing the pupil's interest and making him realize that books can be as fascinating as their modern competitors, the radio, television, and the movies. The kindling can be done only if the teacher is himself aflame. With an elusive student I have often felt like a fisherman on Squam Lake, experimenting with different kinds of bait. The hellgrammite fails, and also the crawfish --- but put a frog on the hook and "Zip!" the bass is yours!
I labored for weeks with one of the toughest pupils I ever confronted --- a giant tackle on the eleven and a complete extrovert in his mentality. He was by turns scornful, obstinate, and resigned, until one afternoon by chance I recited to the class Joyce Kilmer's "Trees." I heard him several days later discussing with two of the undergraduate "grinds" the line, "Who intimately live with rain" ---which he said was a perfect description of what had happened to him on a camping trip the summer before. At last I had him, and a few doses of Kipling and later of Robert Frost almost converted him into a rather shamefaced reader of poetry.
Andover students wished to be treated with respect. There is a story, probably apocryphal, of the lad on a train who when asked, "Are you a Groton boy?" replied, "No, I'm an Andover man!" My students wanted me to understand that they had put away childish things. Once I learned a lesson which kept me from superciliousness. I had spent several minutes explaining to a boy the stanzaic construction of Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind," and when he failed to apprehend my remarks, I spoke to him too caustically about his deficiencies. He looked a trifle disconcerted, but made no reply. A few days later, I was attempting desperately on a very cold morning to start my Dodge when the same lad, passing the garage door and observing my futile maneuvers, came in and asked, "Can I help you, sir?" Embarrassed at being caught thus helpless, I grunted a noncommittal response; whereupon he lifted the radiator hood, peered into the bowels of the engine, took from his pocket a tiny screw driver, made one or two turns, and said, "I think it'll start now, sir." Sure enough, it did! Then he expounded to me some mystery of the carburetor which I could not comprehend. Observing my perplexity, he directed my attention to the mechanism itself, and, without the slightest trace of annoyance, showed me what had been wrong. He was a better teacher than I had been. After that, when a boy wrinkled his forehead over the difference between a metaphor and a synecdoche, I remembered the carburetor, moderated my wrath, and started again.
It is very important for the teacher to put himself in the place of his pupils and imagine how they feel. The boy is a sentient human being, sensitive and emotional and with a keen sense of justice. The teacher, bulwarked by his position behind the desk and by all the power of entrenched tradition, has a marked advantage over his pupils. This he should not abuse. Sneers and sarcasm have no place in the enlightened classroom, and only engender resentment. The teacher who brings a laugh at the expense of one of his pupils has probably lost him forever. And why not? How would the instructor feel if he were the victim?
By an inexplicable paradox, casual and trivial remarks are often remembered when important points, reiterated and emphasized, are forgotten. On a train going to New York I was greeted by one of my former students who, after some preliminary conversation, said, "Mr. Fuess, you were the finest teacher I ever had, and you made a lasting impression on me." Naturally my chest swelled with pride, and I asked, "What are some of the things that you recall best?" "Well," he answered, "I have never forgotten that Keats was born in a livery stable." Nothing about the "Grecian Urn" or "A thing of beauty is a joy forever!" I refrained from inquiring how frequently that startling bit of information had helped him in his career as a manufacturer of clothespins.
When I began teaching at Phillips Academy, certain books were still "required reading" for admission to college --among them Macbeth, Milton's "Minor Poems," Macaulay's "Essay on Johnson," and Burke's speech "On Conciliation with the Colonies." I regret to confess that for some years I became little better than the drillmaster whom I have so vigorously condemned. Every boy in my classes had to make a careful outline of Burke's famous speech, paragraph by paragraph, until he virtually knew it by heart. It took me some time to realize that however significant it may be as an historical and oratorical masterpiece, this oration is not the proper diet for adolescent minds. Milton's "Lycidas" is a noble elegy, but not the best approach to English poetry for those who are only recently literate. The hour arrived when I longed to break loose as a teacher and introduce my boys to more lively literature, even if it were only Huckleberry Finn, but it just couldn't be done under the existing system. When the College Entrance Examination Board altered the requirements, the situation changed very much for the better.
I had been brought up, furthermore, under an unnutritious diet of formal grammar, including the diagramming of sentences on the blackboard; and I still carried with me, rather against my better judgment, a conviction that it was necessary for a complete education. I did, however, have my saner moments, especially when one of my colleagues voiced some obiter dictum on the obnoxious sentence, "I knew it to be he." Wendell Willkie lost the vote of many an English teacher when, in his acceptance speech, he was heard over the radio to say, "This reception has meant much to Mrs. Willkie and I." But my confidence in formal grammar as a means of making boys or men speak correctly has diminished with the years. For this heresy I make no apologies.
By the time I had been in Andover five years a liberalizing movement had been started, chiefly through the agency of the College Entrance Examination Board, whose tests had by 1915 replaced almost entirely the separate college entrance examinations which prevailed in the first decade of the century. Leonard and I had before this tried the experiment of giving the seniors a textbook in the history of English literature, using an excellent volume by Moody and Lovett. We stressed particularly the personal traits of the authors and attempted to make a broad survey of English writers, from Chaucer down to Kipling, with readings from typical works. This method was criticized by some of the faculty because it anticipated courses which were to be later taken in college, but I am certain that our students went to Harvard and Yale exceptionally well prepared in that field. With my increasing interest in biography --- which was soon to become an absorbing passion --- I was delighted that we were sending out graduates with a sense of the personalities in English literature as well as a knowledge of its continuity.
Part of our job was to get our boys to write. One very young teacher, who did not linger very long with us, remarked to me as we were walking back from dinner, "It's hard teaching these roughnecks style!" Leonard and I made little effort to turn out Walter Paters or Robert Louis Stevensons. Any boy who is destined to write needs only a few suggestions and an occasional warning. He will find himself somehow, like an apprentice artist, in God's good time! But we did believe that we could help the average school citizen to express his ideas simply and clearly. Mere drill on grammar never made a writer. A student may understand all about gerunds and indirect objects without being able to produce a respectable sentence. Gradually we dared to neglect the traditional categories of Unity, Coherence, and Emphasis, and fell back on simpler concepts, such as Clearness, Variety, and Force.
When I became more ambitious, I ventured to ask them to compose in verse, occasionally with fascinating results; and I have in my files a collection of several more than creditable sonnets and quatrains. It was one of my boys who rejoiced my heart by producing this authentic heroic couplet:
Her eyes are jade, her neck is like the swan --
And that's the neck I do my necking on.
Another matter which interested us greatly was that of oral English. My experience at George School had convinced me that mere pleasure in sound was a first step towards the appreciation of poetry. Accordingly we asked each boy to memorize and recite before the class a passage from some great writer ---very often a sonnet by Wordsworth or Keats or a short poem like "She Was a Phantom of Delight." It consumed precious minutes in the recitation hour, but I am certain that it was worth while. My students told me that these selections came in very conveniently on the College Board Examinations, for their quotations seemed to indicate a profound and extensive knowledge of the anthologies. But this was purely incidental. I know that the lines linger still with many of my old boys who have little time nowadays for anything but business.
I met one of them two or three years ago while walking across Boston Common. Since I had last seen him his waistline had obviously grown larger, and he was visibly puffing as he stopped to shake my hand. Then he smiled and began to recite:
O! that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew. .
The quotation carried me back twenty years, to a time when he as a slender youth had risen to recite Hamlet's famous soliloquy, and I said to him, "Well, Bill, it was worth while learning it, wasn't it?"
It is a pity in my opinion that more time is not spent in school on public speaking and the proper management of the voice. On the walls of the lecture room at Amherst where I sat under Professor Genung, author of the famous "Rhetoric," were Latin words which may be freely translated, "He who knows but cannot express what he knows is as if he knew nothing." These might well be inscribed in letters of gold in every English classroom. We teachers should do all in our power to make our students articulate, able not only to prepare committee reports but also to stand on their feet and convince an audience. Silence may be golden, but strong silent men are easily misinterpreted.
How much actual writing should a student be asked to do? The daily theme as usually administered soon becomes a bore and ceases to have any value. I quickly discovered also that work prepared outside the classroom, often done with the aid of the dormitory Bright Boy, sheds little light on a student's ability. Two or three paragraphs written by a pupil completely "on his own," even though classroom time is utilized for the project, will tell a teacher more about his student's stylistic weaknesses than a whole folio of "formal themes." Some simple hints about the use of dependent clauses and participial phrases, in small doses and on the spot, are better than huge smears of red or blue pencil. The object should be to make the student write less --- and better!
The time arrived about 1920, when alert teachers began talking about Précis Writing --- which was merely a new term for an old method. As a means of jarring students into thought, it had, and has, an important place in an English teacher's program. It compels them to weigh the value of different words and phrases, and thus really to exercise their own judgment. The fact that the College Entrance Examination Board began experimenting with questions of the précis type inevitably gave the technique prestige, and soon it was being tested all over the country, but especially in the private schools. Many conventional teachers didn't like the précis, largely because questions of this type were unpredictable and left the examinee dependent on his own individual ability. "Cramming" for précis questions was almost impossible, except for instructors with the gift of second sight.
The same general comment could be made upon the "comprehensive" or "new plan" type of examination, which brought dismay to teachers whose reputations had been built up by their careful preparation of candidates for the "restricted" tests. It was a joy at last to be able to read Othello and Romeo and Juliet, and even Antony and Cleopatra and The Tempest, knowing that pupils who had comprehended these plays were equipped to face questions on the drama. The comprehensive examination, which included the précis, was actually a symbol of a shift in educational thought from rigidity to flexibility, from narrowness to breadth, from emphasis on content to emphasis on choice, and was therefore welcome to those of us who desired greater freedom. Under the new system as it eventually developed, most intelligent teachers felt a sense of liberation, as if a new and marvelous vista were being opened up. Unfortunately a combination of inertia and ignorance prevented the widespread adoption of the comprehensive examination. The English departments some New England colleges still preferred an examination on specified books, and they were aided and abetted by secondary school teachers who had thrived under the old system. Thus the movement never moved beyond allowing schools and candidates to choose between the comprehensive and restricted plans.
Just as some of us were beginning to see light ahead, along came a deep fog, in the shape of objective tests. These aptitude and achievement tests have, I must admit, been very useful, especially to college admission officers, who now have a measuring rod of relatively high predictive accuracy. But the advocates of objective tests did a great disservice to English teachers by minimizing the importance of the familiar essay type of question. Having concluded that this had no significance for admission officers, they proceeded to declare that it had no value for teachers. What they really said amounted to the assumption that nobody can be taught to write --- or rather can learn to write. Much more proof must be presented before I can be persuaded that assigned themes in the classroom, accompanied or followed by constructive comments, will not enable boys and girls to express themselves more clearly on paper.
When in the 1920's Edward S. Harkness provided the funds for smaller classrooms and a larger number of instructors at Exeter, he started a trend which had a powerful impact on English teaching throughout American secondary education. In 1932, at Andover, I tried the experiment of offering a small seminar for able seniors. The table was not oblong or oval, but in the shape of a small cross, around which sat a select group of fourteen boys. The atmosphere was completely informal, and we tried to make the room in Samuel Phillips Hall cheerful by flowers and pictures contributed by the members. For half a year we read one novel every two weeks, with an opportunity for full discussion; and we covered in all, ten books, including Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, Galsworthy's The Man of Property, and Walpole's The Wooden Horse. It was the general feeling among the members that in content it was the best course they had ever taken, and I still hear from Andover graduates who recollect it with satisfaction.
Largely because of the success of this experiment, we were able to secure, through the generosity of Mr. Harkness, a separate building devoted to English, with eighteen small class-rooms, numerous conference rooms, and a larger debating hall seating about one hundred and fifty. Classroom sections are seldom more than fifteen, and in many cases the pupils sit around a table like the directors of a bank. There are several obvious advantages. Disciplinary problems---which had never been troublesome in Andover classrooms---were reduced to nil in a group where the teacher was on the same level with his students. The free interchange of ideas was fostered, and each member received much more personal attention from the master. Under this system, so to speak, each participant gets more for his money.
The devil's advocate, however, may argue that a first-rate teacher has an opportunity of meeting only about fifty boys and therefore loses some of the influence which he exerted when he taught an entire senior class. It was unfortunate, for example, that Leonard's inspiring teaching could not be diffused over a larger group. Furthermore the plan is so expensive that only the wealthiest schools can install it, and it cannot, unless taxes are greatly increased, be established in the public schools.
I had a share also in the movement for dividing pupils, on the basis of their aptitude and demonstrated accomplishment, into "Fast," "Medium," and "Slow" divisions. Before long I had convinced myself that the plan of segregating students who were both exceptionally able and willing was for them very profitable. It is important, of course, that nobody should be forced into such a division against his desires and that the grading should not reduce the chances of a boy's receiving honor marks. But with these minor reservations, I am in favor of allowing students to proceed as rapidly as they can and wish to go. This is Nature's way, and it should be adopted by the schools.
The so-called "Slow Divisions" have never been popular with brilliant teachers. Moreover some conscientious pupils always resent being assigned to them and complain to their parents of unfair treatment. On the other hand, many boys who are not rapid readers and find it difficult to complete normal lessons manage to get along creditably when strenuous competition is removed. If the element of ignominy can be eliminated, the plan is basically sound.
The whole problem of the so-called "slow boy" has been simplified considerably by the studies of wise physicians and psychiatrists. The high standards of admission to Phillips Academy almost automatically kept dunces out. But there were always boys who were labeled by the faculty as "stupid" or "lazy," and the question was what to do with them.
In the 1930's some of the teachers supported me in adopting a new attitude towards these delinquents. Before asking them to withdraw and thus transferring the responsibility to other more tolerant schools, we deliberately tried to find out the reason for the low marks. Emotional disturbances, lack of motivation, poor health, family dissension---all these, we discovered, often kept a boy from doing good work. But we also noticed, after doing some testing, that we had in the student body certain boys who just didn't know how to read. The American Optical Company generously equipped our infirmary with a metronoscope and an opthalmograph, and we undertook through Dr. Gallagher, our school physician, some pioneer research into the cause of slow reading. The next step was to organize remedial classes for those who were in difficulties. We were not always successful, of course, but the improvement more than justified the experiment.
The chief and lasting consequence, in my judgment, was to start the faculty speculating on the reasons for failure. It was no longer enough to blame low grades on just plain cussedness or human depravity, or to vote disciplinary measures. We tried to get at the root of things, and thereby sometimes achieved an almost miraculous reform. It was one of the great moments in educational evolution when teachers commenced to ask, "What is the real reason why Ned's marks are so low?"
Before I left Phillips Academy in 1948, we had reached the point where we had one English teacher to every forty boys, and the four of us who were in the department in 1908 had grown to sixteen. But the same old discussions as to aims and methods were being carried on, and the same wide variations in energy, in techniques, and in fundamental philosophy still existed. The former domination of the curriculum by English had been succeeded in the 1920's by an increasing emphasis on the social sciences, particularly history. That was followed at the outbreak of the Second World War by a very practical stressing of mathematics and science. Meanwhile, although English is hardly relegated to the second rank, there is a feeling that perhaps the large proportion of time spent on it does not bring commensurate results. To some extent I share this feeling, for too much of the present compulsory English course of four years is spent on needless repetition. A better spirit of co-operation between English teachers and instructors in other fields could save a considerable amount of time for the student preparing for college.
It was impossible for me as I began to feel more at home to keep from producing textbooks; and by so doing I learned what was popular and what was not in my professional field. Leonard and I began with A High School Spelling Book (1913), in which we undertook to air some of our theories on that very delicate and much overrated subject. Good Writing (1922) was our attempt to tell the world about some of the methods which we had developed at Phillips Academy. Finally Practical Précis Writing (1926), also published by Harcourt, Brace & Company, was very up-to-date in its approach and to some degree popularized a new technique in the field of English. Leonard and I did plenty of talking about methods and materials, and were always ready to experiment with novel ideas.
The editing of various texts brought me in a little much needed money and added to my store of knowledge. I find that I "did" in 1914 a volume of Selected Letters for Houghton Muffin Company and a collection of Selected Short Stories for the Charles E. Merrill Company, as well as Selections for Oral Reading for the Macmillan Pocket Classics. When the College Entrance Examination Board included among its options "a collection of essays," I was Johnny-on-the-spot with Selected Essays, another item in the Riverside Literature Series, commonly known as the R.L.S. In 1922, Harold Crawford Stearns, my younger associate in the English department and a poet of some distinction, collaborated with me in editing The Little Book of Society Verse, published by Houghton Mifflin Company, in which, without thinking of classroom use, we included the finest specimens of a genre which we both liked. This later appeared in a de luxe edition and had a considerable sale. Stearns and I a year later were responsible for still another anthology, Selections from the Victorian Poets, he covering Browning and Swinburne while I took Tennyson and Arnold. In this case we tried out each poem in our classes and were able to predict the impression which it would make on pupils of seventeen or eighteen. In 1926, at the insistence of Professor Thorndike, I edited Dana's Two Years Before the Mast, for the Macmillan Company, acquiring thereby an enormous amount of miscellaneous and useless information regarding sailing vessels. Finally, in 1932, with still another colleague, Alan R. Blackmer, I tried my luck with Hamlet, for Houghton Muffin Company. I am inclined to believe that Blackmer and I added little to the significant literature on the subject, but we did to our own satisfaction indicate how the tragedy should be interpreted to schoolboys.
As I gaze at the row of thin textbooks in which I have had a share, they seem to represent an immense amount of hard labor, especially when it is remembered that I produced during that period several good-sized biographies. My primary interest was always teaching, and day in and day out I had to be in Pearson A, preparing Andover seniors for college. But I had some capacity for toiling long hours at high speed, and usually I would be up at five o'clock in the morning, thus getting two hours or more of work on my typewriter before setting out for my classroom. I also had my summers free and tried to utilize every moment of that valuable time.
I am sure that teachers themselves and the quality of their work have greatly improved since I faced my first class at Phillips Academy. The instructors whom I meet at professional gatherings are more rugged, less pedantic, and worthier of the respect of their pupils. Teaching today is attracting some of the ablest graduates from our colleges and universities. Teaching methods, thanks to some of the revelations of modern psychology, are less crude than they were in 1908. I was once guilty of stating publicly that anybody could learn to spell if he wished to do so badly enough --and this with the examples of Macaulay and Stevenson before me! Now I realize that this was a dogmatic statement based on complete ignorance, of which I should have been ashamed. If I have learned nothing else from my experience it is that in education there are vast areas which we have not yet even penetrated. The teacher who thinks he knows it all is only on the outer border of the holy shrine.
My classroom teaching necessarily ceased abruptly in March 1933, when I became headmaster, and has never been resumed. The demands of the administrative post made it impossible for me to meet classes regularly, and the best I could do was to deliver an occasional informal lecture. Yet in many respects I was happier as a teacher than I have been since. I took a passionate delight in finding ways to stimulate boys to think and write clearly and to appreciate the best in literature. I enjoyed the personal contacts with my pupils. A headmaster, however benevolent, is always regarded as a possible instrument of discipline, and boys except as a last resort do not confide in him. With a teacher it is different. True, he also is in a position of power, but the undergraduates see him at close quarters every day and soon lose their sense of fear. While I was teaching at Andover my house would be filled with boys every evening. When I became headmaster, they would accept invitations and apparently enjoy themselves; but they seldom came of their own accord, they were obviously on guard, and they were visibly cautious about responding to my honest gestures of friendship.
My experience, possibly my prejudice, makes me regard teaching as one of the noblest of professions. Several great teachers have influenced me, and always for the better; and I know of many other cases where a timely word of warning or encouragement has altered the course of a young man's career. It is indeed a strange anomaly that parents will pay out large sums to physicians who heal their children's bodies and yet begrudge adequate salaries to the men and women who have control over their minds and spirits. In these days when antagonistic ideologies are struggling for domination, it is of tremendous importance to the coming generation that it should be brought up under the guidance of men whose thinking is on a high plane and whose words and conduct set an example for those who sit under them. Such an environment I can testify was to be found at Phillips Academy.