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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Charles William Eliot (1834–1926)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Harry Morgan Ayres (1881–1948)
 
AT the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Harvard College, in 1886, the orator of the occasion, James Russell Lowell, prophesying, not without some personal misgivings, the Harvard University of the future, said:—
          “I shall be glad, as shall we all, when the young American need no longer go abroad for any part of his training…. I should be gladder if Harvard might be the place that offered the alternative. It seems more than ever probable that this will happen, and happen in our day. And whenever it does happen it will be due, more than to any and all others, to the able, energetic, single-minded, and yet fair-minded man who has presided over the college during the trying period of transition.”
This transition, as Lowell predicted, has in great measure been carried forward to accomplishment. Harvard is an adequate alternative, and by no means the only one, to study abroad. Wisely and powerfully to have directed this evolution during forty years confers distinction upon Eliot’s utterances in many different fields, which have caused him sometimes to be styled “America’s first private citizen,” and of itself forms a monument which will be held in venerating and affectionate memory “till the stock of the Puritan dies.”
  1
  Charles William Eliot was born in Boston, Massachusetts, March 20th, 1834. His life has been closely bound up with the College, of which his father, Samuel Atkins Eliot, was treasurer. There, after a preparatory course, he entered in 1849, graduating A.B. in 1853. For the next eleven years he remained at the College as Tutor and later Assistant Professor of Mathematics, carrying on at the same time the scientific studies which led him in 1861 to become Assistant Professor of Chemistry, a position which he held two years. After two years in Europe he returned with a greatly widened vision of educational problems, some of the fruits of his reflection appearing later in articles contributed to the Atlantic Monthly, and took up his duties as Professor of Analytical Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1869 he was chosen President of Harvard College. On becoming President Emeritus in 1909, he withdrew up the street to a house on Fresh Pond Drive, Cambridge, where he enjoys the solid satisfactions of life concerning which he has written so engagingly.  2
  During his years as a student and professor of chemistry Eliot published some technical papers and collaborated in the preparation of two textbooks. The Atlantic Monthly articles on the ‘New Education,’ in 1869, mark the beginning of his career as an educational and social philosopher. The gist of it all is contained in his Inaugural Address of that year, a summons to broader teaching and to more vigorous and intensive study. He found Harvard, in a phrase usually attributed to Lord Bryce, “no real university but only a struggling college with uncertain relations to learning and to research, loosely tied to a congeries of professional schools.” The relations of the college to learning and research were infinitely improved by the introduction of the elective system, from 1872 on, which lifted college instruction above the level of a mere routine conning of elementary textbooks and made possible the development of graduate instruction in the arts and sciences. The relation between the college and the professional schools—divinity, law, medicine, dentistry, agriculture, and business administration—he defined by placing the professional programs one by one on a graduate basis.  3
  If his “faith in a young man’s use of intellectual and spiritual freedom” led to an extension of the elective system which the present day is concerned to limit here and there in the interests of thoroughness, that might be regarded as a detail in the application of a system on the thorough trial of which, as he saw from the beginning, depended the hope of evolving a genuine American university. Along with these efforts he endeavored to define the relations of the college to the school, and to stop, where he could, the great waste of time in elementary education which retards the student from getting to his professional studies.  4
  A university, partly because of a false notion of the etymology of its very name, feels obliged to teach everything; and a university president quickly falls into the way of summarizing and interpreting a wide variety of interests. President Eliot has liberally construed this charter. A speaker of remarkable dignity and incisiveness, he has everywhere commanded attention, not merely when expounding the principles of university organization or addressing new students at the opening of the term or delivering the beautifully chiseled pronouncements which accompanied the bestowal of honorary degrees at its close; he has spoken with authority in the fields of municipal government, civil service reform, trade unionism, and religion. He does not hesitate to be a partisan, to attack as well as to defend. In matters like a great war or a presidential election, there is no doubt where he stands.  5
  As a philosopher Eliot has made it his business to point out the preciousness of common things, the enjoyment of food, of sound sleep, of the sense of smell, of hard work, of having grandchildren while one is still young enough to enjoy them. He sees in common men like John Gill those for whom God made and upholds the earth, though a respected family name is a thing for honest pride, too. He has striven to widen the concept of the cultivated man to include manual dexterity of various sorts. At seventy-four he pronounced in favor of total abstinence, with the possible exception of tea. A sound mind in a sound body is the burden of it all, splendidly realized in his own upright, athletic figure and his clear perception of the work that was in him to do. This work was not that of a seer or a poet—to him a feat of engineering skill exhibits more of constructive imagination than all Dante’s Inferno—but of a formulator and administrator of a singularly benign and effective sort, endowed with a clear-headed and homely philosophy which has carried him through to the achievement of labors in which no other man could have taken his place.  6
  President Eliot’s publications include ‘The Happy Life’ (1905), ‘The Durable Satisfactions of Life’ (1910), and ‘The Road Toward Peace’ (1915). In 1915 he was awarded the first gold medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in recognition of special distinction in literature.  7
 
 
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