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Town and Gown.

Edmund A. Whitman.
Readers of “Tom Brown at Oxford” or of “Verdant green” will find this title a familiar one. To them it will recall encounters between students and townsmen ending, not infrequently, with broken heads. A party of students, after some merrymaking perhaps, commits an unprovoked assault on some passing townsman; he at once raises a cry of “Town! Town!” and a rescuing party joins in the fray only to meet a larger body of students summoned by the cry of “Gown!” The fight grows hotter until the approach of the town watch or of college proctors causes the contending parties to slip away, to continue battle on some more favorable occasion. These contests probably owed their origin to the attempts, in earlier times, of the college authorities to extend a civil control over the towns-people of Oxford and to impose taxes upon them.

In our own Cambridge, however, the college has always been deferential to the town authorities. As early as 1659 the corporation of Harvard College authorized the town watch to exercise their powers in the college yard, “any law, usage, or custom to the contrary notwithstanding.” Throughout the history of the college, there seems to have been a cordial understanding between the authorities of the college and of the town. The students, too, have preserved friendly relations with the townspeople, except possibly in some momentary annoyance of a worthy citizen on finding his front [222] gate in the next yard, or his neighbor's wash carefully hung upon his clothes-line. The term “Town and Gown” brings to mind here none of the animated scenes of the streets of Oxford.

Yet although Paige's History of Cambridge and Quincy's History of the college contain no accounts of students with broken heads in personal encounter with townspeople with battered faces, there are evidences therein of more peaceful encounters. Young men of many generations have treasured warm recollections of the graceful hospitality of Cambridge hosts. The young student may be at the time a little critical. John Quincy Adams writes in his diary while a student,--“I went to take tea at Mr. Pearson's. I got seated between Miss E. and Miss H. but could not enjoy the pleasures of conversation because the music was introduced. Music is a great enemy to sociability and however agreeable it may be, sometimes there are occasions when I should wish it might be dispensed with.” Doubtless, the Cambridge girl of to-day will recognize the conceit of the student of the present time in another passage from the same diary: “The young ladies at Mr. Wigglesworth's dined at Judge Dana's. I went down there with Bridge to tea, and passed the time very sociably. The conversation turned upon divers topics, and among the rest upon love, which is almost always the case when there are ladies present.”

This was in 1786, but earlier the overseers of the college had recognized the hospitality of the townspeople by forbidding the students in 1760, “from dining or supping in any house in town, except on an invitation to dine or sup gratis.” It may be that Cambridge tables were too sumptuously provided, for three years before this the overseers had [223] voted “that it would very much contribute to the health (of students), facilitate their studies and prevent extravagance if the scholars were restrained from dieting in private families” ; and to compensate them for this deprivation, they also voted that “there should be pudding three times a week” at the college commons.

On the other hand, however, the College officially recognized a return of courtesies by the students, as in 1759 the overseers declared that “it shall be no offence if any scholar at commencement make, and entertain guests at his chamber with punch,” although it may be doubted if “the young ladies at Mr. Wigglesworth's” accepted such an invitation. The overseers evidently did not look upon punch with such disfavor as their successors in the present board, as two years later, they again voted that “it should be no offence if the scholars in a sober manner entertain one another and strangers with punch, which as it is now usually made is no intoxicating liquor.”

Commencement day in the olden time was an occasion which Town and Gown celebrated together. The day was a holiday throughout the province when the shops of Boston were generally closed and their proprietors repaired to the Cambridge common which was completely taken possession of by drinking stands, dancing booths, mountebank shows and gambling tables.

The religious interests of Town and Gown were intimately associated in the last century. The college paid a portion of the cost of the erection of the new meeting house of the First Parish in 1756, and in return was given the use of the front gallery for the students. They were regarded as part of the congregation and were expected to contribute to [224] the support of the clergyman. This expectation was not, however, realized and tile corporation finally voted “that the box should not be offered on the Lord's day to the scholar's gallery” but that instead the students should be taxed “in each of their quarterly bills, ninepence lawful money.” Cambridge ministers no longer reckon on these “ninepences” for their support, although they find many attentive listeners among the students, and the work of the Prospect Union and of the Social Union shows the interest of the students in the moral and educational welfare of the “Town.”

The relations of “Gown” to “Town” have not been confined to the students. The professors have been citizens of Cambridge as well as professors in the college and many of them have taken leading parts in civic affairs. The second mayor of the city was Sidney Willard, professor of “Hebrew and other Oriental Languages” in the Divinity School, and the author of a Hebrew grammar. His studious habits secured him the nickname among his students of Val from a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Yet this quiet scholar was three times mayor of Cambridge, for two years a member of the Governor's council, and represented his city in the two branches of the legislature for seven years.

Another professor of Hebrew, John G. Palfrey, was elected a member of Congress and was postmaster of the city of Boston for six years.

Other professors who have not served the city in an official capacity have been warmly interested in the affairs of the community. It was mainly due to Professor Story that Cambridge secured the right to enclose the common, in spite of the strenuous opposition of neighboring towns claiming a prescriptive right to drive across it herds of cattle [225] destined for Brighton. Judge Story was a model citizen of Cambridge and took an active part in all important municipal affairs. Says Dr. Peabody of him, “There was no public meeting for a needed charity or educational interest, in behalf of art or letters, or for the advancement of a conservatively liberal theology in which his advocacy was not an essential part of the programme.”

The poor of Cambridge remember Samuel Sanders who removed from Salem to Cambridge to become the steward of the college and on his death left a large part of his property to Cambridge charities.

Professor Charles Beck enlisted in the civil war but was at once discharged by the medical officers as unfit for service on account of his age, but Cambridge still honors his zeal and contributions in behalf of the wounded in the hospitals.

These few instances must suffice, but anyone acquainted with the civic history of Cambridge will recall many cases of the helpfulness of “Gown” and “Town.”

The confining character of academic duties, and a community of tastes and interests, has tended to make the professors a society unto themselves, but the formation of the Colonial Club has done much to restore the ancient social relations of Town and Gown, and a winter's evening finds professor and townsman in the bowling alley together on the easy social footing given by shirt sleeves and sport. It is to be hoped that in spite of the fact that the college has become a university and the town has grown into a city, the early simple relations of mutual helpfulness will be carefully maintained by both sides; and that the relations of Town and Gown may form a new chapter in the history of “the Cambridge idea.”

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