Gambar halaman

of a more objectionable kind, exist at every large College where there are no secret societies. Young blood must find occasional excitement either in competition or in dissipation. Given any body of five hundred or a thousand young men, living together, with leisure at their disposal, and there will be sure to be among them personal rivalries and jealousies, for leadership in the thousand and one organizations which spring up about a great University, whether societies are included among them or not. The wisest faculties have long since discovered that in most cases the students can govern themselves, socially, far better than any one else can govern them. American students are proverbially haters of shams ; shams will not long be tolerated among them with their consent. High sounding and hasty charges which sometimes are bandied about until they create a little tornado of excitement in a particular class, are usually soon settled in a manly class debate. Concerning the Senior Societies, the author of "Four Years at Yale," a non-Senior Society man, and not over partial to them, states in his book, “ The part played by them in politics is simply a negative one."

Still more specious is the charge that favoritism rules the elections, that relationships and personal friendships are acknowledged before merit. Year after year the nearest relatives, sons, brothers, nephews, the inost cordial friends and room-mates, are left out of both Senior Societies simply because they fall below the required standard for membership. Of course the societies are urged strongly to take them, and of course they wish to do so—but their reputation and prosperity are dependant upon their impartiality in bestowing their honors. If the Yale Senior Societies are remarkable in anything it is in this—that they have striven so rigidly and courageously to live up to their own ideas. It may be confidently asserted without fear of contradiction, by any one who will base his views on specific comparisons, that no other college societies, or clubs in this country, have been so uniformly consistent in this particular. This may be idealism, when birth, influence, money, are outranked by personal character and attainments ; but if so, it must be classed with the mistakes which make the world a more useful and kindly place of abode. More than their selectness, their age, their etiquette, or all of these combined, has the independence of the Senior Societies upheld their prestige. Should they lower their requirements but for a few years, they would be left, as Carlyle has pictured the unsuccessful editor, to die simply of neglect. The societies being administered by young men are liable to make mistakes in their estimates of men, which they probably regret more keenly than any one else as soon as they have been demonstrated. Upon this point the author of "Four Years at Yale” says: “ Every year almost there is a great show of indignation over the injustice in the Senior Society elections which bring several big men to grief, yet it rarely happens that the good policy of the society in leaving them out is not indicated within a twelve month."

We hasten on to the crowning arguments against the socie ties, viz: that men admit just before they join the societies they are bad for the College; that they tend to keep the nonsociety men from coming back to Commencements and other re-unions after graduation. The first pits the vague impressions of boys, who are quoted as saying they do not believe in the societies, but are most anxious to join them! against the avowed statements of mature men, many of them eminent men, including about half of the faculty and corporation, that the societies are properly conducted, useful and beneficial to the College. They give their presence and their influence and their money to upholding the societies. They are not the class of men likely to be untrue to their trusts as guardians of the College, to seek to perpetuate what was a selfish advantage for thirty men in one hundred and fifty or one hundred and seventy-five. Resignation from any society or club is an easy matter for any one who becomes dissatisfied with the principles or management of the organization with which he is connected. How many resignations have there been from the Yale Senior Societies, with their combined total of ninety-four years and membership of over fourteen hundred men ? Just one on public record, so far as we have been able to learn.

Upon the other point we have taken pains to collect some fresh evidence. The secretaries of three of the largest Eastern colleges, representing the widest extremes of society and non-society life, upon being appealed to for information as to the attendance on class re-unions, reply as follows, withont knowing the object of the interrogations. The Secretary of Yale College, under date of March 22d, 1884, says : “The Triennial meeting is the one of the most enthusiasm, and the numbers of recent years have I think been about seventy ; at the decennial of course there are fewer and so on to the semicentennials.” The Secretary of Harvard College, under date of March 22d, 1884, writes, “ Every Commencement day is a sort of re-union for all classes here, and each one secures some particular room or rooms in the College dormitories for the purpose. Probably not a fifth, on the average of classes graduated within ten years are got together and of older classes still less. Each class I believe, also-certainly most of them, have a dinner every three years about Commencement time. These occasions are of course rather better attended.” The Secretary of the College of New Jersey, writing on March 24th, 1884, replies to our letter, “ Class re-unions take place every three years (men coming up for A. M.); then, soinetimes, on the fifth anniversary; after that every ten years; but there is no uniformity of practice and we have never kept any record of attendance."

In other words, at Yale, where class-feeling and its natural resultant, the societies, have fullest sway, class re-unions after graduation are by far the most frequent and largely attended. At Harvard where class feeling is not strong and societies are less potent the reunions are not so large ; at Princeton where there are no secret societies the attendance on class gatherings is apparently smaller still and less regular. The logic of this is plain. By reason of their class intimacies, which the society system does more than any other one thing to encourage, the Yale non-society men come back to New Haven more regularly and in larger numbers than the alumni of non-society colleges. The Senior Society men as a rule come back oftener still. Even if their so doing kept away an equal number of chagrined neutrals-an inconceivable exaggeration—the attendance on the Yale reunions would still be far above the Harvard level--the real difference being, as we have shown, between about one half and one fifth ; but the number of disappointed men for Senior Societies never reaches thirty, rarely indeed exceeds twenty, at inost; so that the proposition that Senior Society influence destroys class reunions is a reductio ad ab surdum.

In short, this bill of particulars against the societies is far more remarkable for what it omits than what it contains, no charges being made against the general morality, scholarship, and good behavior of members of either society for any one year or any series of years. Never have these reform movements at Yale been headed by men who were not candidates for the societies up to the very hour of election! At every other college where secret societies exist quite a fair average of the most desirable men in every class prefer not to join any society though urged to do so. At Yale, public sentiment is overwhelmingly in favor of the societies—almost never does a man refuse the elections of both Senior societies. A reform movement called into being by personal chagrin and jealousy may deceive outsiders; but is not calculated to receive, and does not deserve, the respect of the students themselves invited to join the societies, who are the only parties really able to mar their prosperity or change their management.

* They that are in will grin!
They that are out will pout!”

is too obviously the gist, in a nut-shell, of this whole loudsounding controversy.

For it must not be imagined from the prominence given some of the charges, for their more perfect refutation, that the burden of proof for their continued existence rests with the societies. The facts in the case necessitate the reverse opinion.

Both Senior societies are chartered institutions, with expensive buildings, costing, approximately, fifty thousand dollars each, paying taxes, and entitled to the protection of the municipal and State authorities. It is doubtful if the faculty and corpo ration themselves could abolish them without legal proof that they had abused the privileges which had been guaranteed to them. Should such a trial occur doubtless many of the most distinguished members of the University who for years had been consistent society members would use their utmost endeavors to defend the societies. At present, therefore, this whole question of “abolishing” the societies is rather more of an ethical than of a practical character.

The advantages of the societies could not probably be fully appreciated by any except their members. Nevertheless certain of their apparent ends are very obvious and praiseworthy. They gather together representative men of every class and imbue them with a strong affection and respect for one another and the college. They set a goal of ambition for right living, and fine character and solid attainments before every young man entering the institution. They are extremely useful as introducers of men of congenial tastes in college and afterwards. They promote hospitality to Yale men traveling in all parts of the country. They serve the college in a way which nothing else could serve it, by handing down its traditions by word of mouth and by sacredly preserving many of its relics, which, trifles in themselves, though rich in historical significance, would otherwise be consigned to dishonored dust and decay. In proportion to its size the society element has probably contributed more than any other to the financial prosperity of the college. The largest literary prize in the University has been established and sustained by one of the Senior societies, thus proving a 'desire to do unselfishly all in its power to increase the prosperity of the college. Some rich non-society men have said they might give more to Yale if there were no societies. They might and they might not, if these conditions were altered. Yale College without societies would not be Yale College as they had known it. It might be better or it might be worse—there may be doubt which, but certainly it would not be the same college.

That the societies unless held to strict account by public opinion are tempted occasionally to abuse their privileges is true enough. Their “etiquette,” for instance, which prevents them from discussing society matters with outsiders, thus being directly opposed to wire-pulling, is a commendable thing itself. When it is perverted into rudeness to strangers, or swaggering with under-classmen it is puerile and snobbish. As Chesterfield has said, with his usual acuteness, "A proper secrecy is the only mystery of able men ; mystery is the only secrecy of weak and cunning ones."

Measuring one college generation with another it is evident

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »