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The College Ghost,
The Island of Paradise,
The Philosophy of Indolence,
The Twin Lakes,
The “ Yale Literary" Prize Composition,
Who is the Gentleman ?
To any one who considers the course of things in College, it will be evident that our Literary Societies no longer possess that influence over us which they deserve to exert; and which, until three or four years past, they have always exercised. By the majority of students they are neglected entirely; or at best receive only those spasmodic attentions which annual elections or the prize debates extort. And this state of things has continued so long, that we deem all obligations discharged when we have paid our taxes, and the benefits of the Societies exhausted when our names are printed in their respective Catalogues. Now we believe there are other obligations resting on us, and higher and more lasting benefits than these; and in accordance with this conviction, we bring the Literary Societies before the College mind, hoping, that among the stock of good resolutions which students are supposed to lay in at this season as regularly as they do the Treasurer's coal for the winter's comfort, there may be commenced a reform which shall arouse our sluggish souls and awaken the interest which so important a branch of education demands at our hands.
Of the general character of our Literary Societies we need say little
here. They are as famous as Yale College itself, are identified with its history, and contribute more than all else to give it the distinctive character it bears. The first organizations of their kind in this country, they have been regarded with peculiar veneration and have found imitators in every Institution of Learning in the land. And we venture to assert that they have done more towards making men than all the rest of College training put together. They were framed with the aim of giving a practical tone to the routine of abstract study, and to furnish a field for the exercise of those powers of mind which Greek, Latin, Mathematics and Metaphysics are supposed, by the superstitious, to awake. They bring the young man from the cloistered retirement of scholastic toil to that great world lying beyond College precincts of which we think so little now. They are the schools which train him best for the practicalities of that world; for they take him from the musty relics of past ages, and launch him into the active sympathies of life, into the contested questions of Literature and Politics that are agitating the race now,-sympathies and questions of which he would otherwise be igno. rant or regardless. The age is an active and moving one; it will not pause, and he who lags now will be left behind forever.
Each day brings with it its burden of necessary facts, and they must be garnered now and their lessons taught now or never. We would not be understood as throwing distrust upon the course of academical instruction or as advising its neglect; but simply as calling attention to the fact that there are other things than those it teaches, which should be comprehended in our educational processes ;-—that there are other powers than those which lexicons and black boards develop, and which can find no higher sphere of preparation than in these Literary Societies. The study of the volumes of Antiquity to which we are apprenticed for the major portion of our four years here, is like the antiquary's contemplation of those dingy, blurred, and rusted medals and coins which have withstood the wear and tear of Time--curious and interesting; while that of the experience of our own age in literature, arts and politics, is like the current coin of our own times, and has a practical use in life. The former we love to look at; we dream over them. By the latter we live.
Perhaps it seems that we are ascribing too much importance to these Societies, and claiming for them more than they deserve. It may be so. Yet we write, remembering the oft declared opinions of the many great men who have graduated from the Institution. Reapers from the fruitful fields of life, laden with the heavy sheaves of experience, they have scattered from their gathered glories many a truth for us who glean by
the wayside. And they have endeavored to impress on us the important uses of this portion of our College education. They have told us that to these Societies they are indebted for the training which made them successful men; that in them they learned to think for themselves and say what they thought; that in them they found immediate contact with other men, and received that more perfect polish which such attrition alone can give; that in them lies a plain practical usefulness not to be neglected and shunned, but cherished and sought after. "I may owe one half of my success to College studies," said William H. Seward, " but I know the rest is due to my Literary Society." He but expressed the feeling which pervades all graduates of Yale; and any one who has been present at a single Annual Meeting of either Society, can testify to its universality among them. Go to that beautiful structure, reared at so much expense, and with so much trouble, by the graduates of Yale College for these Societies which we so entirely neglect, and see in it if you can, anything but a thankful, willing tribute to associations which have done so much for them, and a desire to perpetuate for all time, those blessings for others. Why does the rigor of College discipline abate to give place for the exercises of our Societies? Because it is most desirable that they should be made the centres of College attraction—the grand mental gymnasia where the gifted may display his powers, where the weak and timid may strengthen their confidence, where all may grow together into the true manhood of symmetrical intellect.
All this has been done for us. Halls, libraries, and abundant time given for our use; and what use does College make of them, or any of them? There may be a few who do faithfully and profitably employ all their means of improvement; but by far the greater portion of Students never show themselves in the Society halls, never participate in the debates, never use the libraries for anything connected with a useful purpose; and, in short, act as if there existed no such institutions among
Of course there can be no intellectual benefit resulting from them, and the weekly meetings are such in more senses than one. a time when to be chosen as orator or poet was considered an honor ; was largely sought for, and the honor was carefully bestowed, as a testimonial to worth. In these days no one cares to accept such a dubious compliment, and hardly takes the trouble to decline it. And if undeclined, its fulfillment forms no part of the individual's plan, or be performs his task with about the same degree of care that he would employ in addressing a Hottentot Kraal, and his hearers, if there are any, treat him with a corresponding courtesy. All the zeal of the Societies is held in
abeyance for the periodic elections; all their intellectual resources reserved for the prodigious struggle of a prize debate : two ingredients in our social system, which, as long as they continue in their present spirit, will produce their legitimate effect--the lamentable condition of affairs which we now behold.
In our opinion, then, "College politics" and "prize debates” have caused all the difficulties of which we complain ;--and we specify them here, as the sources of the disease among us, with the intention of suggesting a means of cure at some future time. The term “college politics" is but another name for secret society influence ;-it is an underhanded wire-pulling system, which, grown alarmingly of late, has turned the literary societies into so many arenas for the display of cunning, and made elections valuable only as a means of obtaining a short lived partisan triumph. We might suppose that the good of the societies was in a measure consulted, and their offices bestowed not on a party but on men, --that offices are gained not by coalitions, taxpaying, and all the wiles of the world's low politician, but by steady and constant toil, by zeal and industry in their service. But " college politics” won't permit such a
Individuals are nominated by secret societies, electioneered for and carried into office on what are facetiously termed “society grounds,”
-while the interests of the literary societies are entirely overlooked. And finally, the successful and suffering competitor, after the struggle is over, and the smoke cleared away, finds himself
“Perked up in a glistering grief,
Wearing a golden sorrow!" For “college politics” follow him still ;--the defeated societies quit the halls headed by their general, and are never seen again till the next election gives a chance for retaliation; or they resort to the noble expedient of hampering the business, wearing the patience of the Officers; and, in short, render themselves exceedingly disagreeable to every one not engaged in like exalted pursuits. The result of it all is that the happy (?) office-holder is left as “ alone in his glory" as was that other hero, “ with his martial cloak around him.” Thus, in any event, the societies suffer. The victorious party is thankless, and the defeated party is malignant. There is but one way to remedy these evils—to elevate the characters of our Societies from the contempt and disuse into which they have so unwortbily fallen. Let secret societies—their gains, their triumphs, their squabbles, their enmities be kept outside of our larger associations. Let them serve, if they can, and as they were designed, to aid the cause of