No one will ever write a realistic story of life in a boys' boarding school; at least, one truly realistic would bore its readers beyond sufferance. The years go by, one very much like its predecessors and successors, resembling the serene surface of a large and placid lake, where millions of low ripples follow one another and, occasionally the calm waters are stirred by a sudden squall, which attains a wholly disproportionate importance because it is an exception to the general calm.
Up to now my account of my life has been strictly chronological. From now on I shall discard the Thucydidean method of narrative by summers and winters and take up different aspects of the years from 1934 until my retirement in 1971, with the large interruption of my service in the Air Force, 1942-1945.
Let us first consider the school to which I came. The long and prosperous reign of Alfred E. Stearns as Headmaster had ended with his resignation in 1933. The all-too-brief term of Charles Forbes, the benign Latinist, ended in his sudden death and was followed by the long Headmastership of Claude M. Fuess, who had already served Phillips Academy for many years as a brilliant teacher of English and who was a well-known biographer as well. It was a familiar Andover jest that Fuess, Roosevelt and Hitler all came to power in 1933. Cecil P. Bancroft and even more, his nephew, Alfred Stearns had, in their 60 years of power, made Andover one of the two or three greatest preparatory schools in the country. It, with its sister school, Phillips Exeter Academy, was a child of the old Puritan establishment, and Andover was strongly influenced for many years by its close neighbor the Theological Seminary. The latter was strongly orthodox and Trinitarian and abhorred the Unitarian influences at "Godless Harvard." Because of this enmity, Phillips Academy, to give it its proper name, had for many years close ties with the more orthodox Yale. Well into my years there, the conjunction Andover-Yale was as well established as that of Eton and King's. Stearns' particular gift was his capacity for moral leadership, which was aided by a commanding presence and one of the most beautiful speaking voices I have ever heard, deep and resonant as a perfectly tuned bell. He worked closely with the wise treasurer, James Sawyer, whose simplicity of manner charmed and disarmed even the most tight-fisted prospective donor. The two men found an "angel" in an alumnus, Thomas Cochran, who spent upon Andover, for which he had a deep sentimental attachment, the fortune which he had acquired as a Morgan partner.
Chapel, an office building, Commons, library, science building, a large classroom building and a large dormitory arose, and older buildings which had belonged to the Theological School were moved about in arbitrary fashion. (The Theological School had moved to Cambridge in 19--- and sold its property to the Academy. There was an ironic twist to this move, for after the school planned to combine with the Harvard Divinity School and even erected some buildings in Cambridge, lawyers discovered that the marriage was illegal, as the charter of the Andover Seminary made union with the Unitarian Harvard institution impossible, and so another move was forced.) The fruit of Cochran's munificence was one of the most beautiful campuses in America. Furthermore, he endowed a number of teaching foundations which were exceptionally generous for preparatory schools in those days.
As often happens in educational institutions there was an alteration of emphasis between that on men and that on buildings. Bancroft had hired some of the men who were Andover's strength when I went there --- Benner in Greek, Forbes in Latin, Freeman in history. Stearns had also hired a number of superb teachers --Blackmer, Barss, James, Basford, Darling and Maynard, but besides his moral leadership, his administration had been one of prolific building, thanks to Thomas Cochran. Fuess concentrated on enlarging and deepening the faculty, upon liberalizing the curriculum, upon elevating the intellectual standards of the School until they surpassed those of many small colleges. John Kemper, his successor, was a builder, who also did much to increase faculty salaries and perquisites.
The Fuess curriculum, like that of Lowell at Harvard, seems to me the best ever devised for its particular pedagogical level. He discarded the old classical and modern programs in favor of a single body of requirements, four years of English, three of mathematics, one major laboratory science, three years of one language and two of another, with free choice between ancient and modern languages. There were two innovative features of this curriculum, a four-year required history sequence and a series of required minor courses in the first three years. The history sequence was designed to show the gradual development of democratic institutions and the sources of our own. In the first year came Ancient History, then General European, then English, and finally, in the senior year, the superb, and dreaded, American History course. The last was the creation of Archibald Freeman and Arthur Darling. By those who met and conquered its terrors, it was spoken of with pride, if not affection, as they asserted that they had met no harder or more rewarding course in college or graduate school.
The minor courses were Elementary Science in the first year, Bible in the second, and a combined Introduction to Art and Music in the third. There were enough open slots to allow boys to follow bents toward either science or the humanities, particularly in the senior year, when, if other requirements had been met, the only prescribed courses were American History and English. With its emphasis upon basic disciplines and its required contacts with various areas in our cultural heritage, it marked a high point in American education, and ever since Kemper forced its emasculation, Andover's standards have, in my opinion, declined. Complaints from parents and alumni triggered the abandonment of the four-year history requirement; Kemper was hostile to the requirement of two languages; and the strange aberration of the 60's, which held boys of 13 to be sufficiently ripe in judgment to choose what they would study, has completed a sorry process.
The disciplinary system of Andover in those days was wittily and quite accurately described as "freedom tempered by expulsion." Boys were given what was, for boarding schools in that day, a quite extraordinary degree of freedom. Outside of morning and late afternoon classes and required athletics they were, from morning until 8 at night, free to move at will within very generous bounds, practically co-extensive with the Town of Andover. After 8 in the evening, they were supposed to be either in their dormitories or at the library, but excuses to other houses were quite easily obtained by boys in good academic standing. ("No Excuse" was a category of discipline.) Also, on Saturday nights they were allowed to go to the School motion pictures as well as to other School events, and the latter might also occur on other nights of the week. There were weekend excuses to the homes of their own parents or to those of other students and day excuses to Boston on Wednesdays and Saturdays (half-holidays), with return required by 8pm. Perhaps the most remarkable freedom of all was that all save freshmen could be left unsupervised in their houses in the evenings. This afforded a wholly pragmatic liberty for the housemaster. If his boys took advantage of his absence, they were punished and he was well-advised to stay at home for some time thereafter. There was a very definite set of rules with very clearly defined punishments. It is interesting that the most detested of the rules was a sort of omnibus clause, "Students are expected to conduct themselves like gentlemen at all times." Boys felt that it could be stretched to cover a multitude of sins and the punishment for its violation was unspecific.
Each housemaster was supposed to file a report every morning on the movements of any boy in his house who was absent between 8 and 10pm (eleven on Saturdays). Technically, boys were supposed to report in person to their housemaster upon their return from any absence in these hours, but in practice, sheets for signing out and in were usually posted on or near the Master's door. Written excuses were required for any destination other than the library or the Saturday night movies. Boys were generally trusted to sign themselves in or out of the library or any other place visited, but an elaborate check was kept upon them by that amazing woman, Miss Alice Whitney, the recorder, who is still alive and keen of mind in her hundred and first year today. Each morning she checked the whereabouts and movements of over 600 boys on the previous night. She knew precisely the length of time needed to go from one School building to another and pounce upon any discrepancy. The housemaster concerned would be summoned to her office and Miss Whitney would say, "Mr. X, Y signed out of the Library at 9:32 and signed in with you" (she never acknowledged the possibility of a Master's not taking sign-ins personally) "at 9:40. This is three minutes too long. Will you please check on this?" She trained young housemasters as strictly as she trained the boys and always with the utmost courtesy of manner. Boys were allowed to petition cuts which they believed erroneously given, and Miss Whitney was tireless in tracking down careless students who risked failing to meet the statutory deadline for filing such petitions.
It is plain that there was abundant opportunity for falsifying sign-ins, particularly when the Master was absent. But there were remarkably few instances of this deceit; most boys felt on their honor and were scrupulously accurate. Any who were detected giving false information were severely punished. Once again, it was freedom tempered by expulsion, or at least, probation.
In those days, a strict dress code was enforced. During recitation hours and in the Dining Hall, boys were required to wear coats and ties and at Sunday Chapel dark suits were required. Only on Saturday nights was informal dress permitted at supper and at the movies. Haircuts of conventional length were de rigueur. Years of experience with the greatly increased noise and tendency to disorder of Saturday nights firmly convinced me that there is a fundamental connection between dress and conduct, something our permissive educators and military leaders disregard at their, and our, peril.
In those days the boys took great pride in their appearance. Those who could afford it, and some who could not, spent lavishly on clothes and in the town. Academy boys were outstanding for neatness and even elegance of appearance. Relaxation of standards began under Mr. Kemper, and by the late 60's, the worst appearing boys on the streets of the town could usually be identified with the Academy.
As I read my diaries of those early years, I am struck by two things --- the gracious quality of the life and the vast amount of time I spent with the boys.
Most of the senior Masters and their wives had maids. Dinners were elaborate and formal and "dinner calls" were expected as matters of common courtesy. (For the benefit of a generation which may never have heard of such a custom these were brief calls (20 minutes was a statutory limit) paid on one's hosts within two weeks after the dinner at their home.) Evening dress was customary for the great events in the Assembly Hall, particularly the Stearns Lecture and the Sawyer Concert. (There was an amusing, but doubtless apocryphal, story that when Thomas Cochran endowed these two events, being aware that James Sawyer did not care for music and Dr. Stearns did not care for lectures, he named the endowments as I have indicated.) At these evening events boys were supposed to wear classroom attire.
I am a great believer in the value of occasional formal occasions for any close community. It was good for students and faculty alike to mingle under such circumstances and to see one another looking their very best. It was one of John Kemper's serious errors of judgment that he discontinued the custom of formal attire on such occasions, for it was a real blow to the School's morale. It is curious that the military who should, most of all people, be aware of the value of formal, neat and impressive costumes, seem to be turning against the usage. Now we have a President, an ex-naval officer who is obsessed by the same cult of informality. Perhaps these would-be levelers should recall Gilbert's profoundly truthful line, "When everybody's somebody, then no one's anybody." When a man cheapens himself, people are quick to take him at his own valuation.
I appear from my diaries to have spent what I should in later years have considered a disproportionate amount of time with the boys. Not only were they in my rooms a great deal outside of study hours, particularly on Saturday nights, but I drove them to beach or countryside and took them to dinner or the theater in Boston --- even boys not in my class or house, with whom I had a casual acquaintance at School. Actually, I did take boys from my classes in order to avoid any imputation of favoritism. Some boys I helped with their studies, among them Charles Crane of the Chicago plumbing family. He lived in the next cottage to me when I was in Pemberton my first year and we became very good friends. I tried my best to keep him in Andover, but his only interest was in fast cars, and it was while driving one these that he met his death later at Stanford. He was the first of many scions of great wealth whom I was to encounter and he showed me at once that for such boys achievement is much harder because their wealth deprives them of the priceless stimulus of the need to struggle for their livelihood. Could I choose for a boy between great wealth and poverty I should pick the latter always.
In the summer of 1936 I had Charles come to Berwick before School opened to study under my supervision for some examinations to make up for courses failed. I am sure that he had never lived so simply for in those days we had no modern improvements here at all. I cooked on a wood-burning range or an unreliable oil burner; for illumination there were kerosene lamps; natural needs had to be met in an old-fashioned backhouse. I had Charles make his own bed and help me with the dishes. One Sunday I drove him to visit his mother who was taking a treatment at Elizabeth Arden's beauty camp in a remote part of Maine. It was an amazing establishment, providing every luxury in the midst of the wilderness. My partner for the day proved to be Constance Talmadge, the movie actress, who looked remarkably unlike her image on the screen.
Alas, my efforts with Charlie proved wholly unsuccessful and I bade him a sad, and, as it proved final farewell as he departed Andover on a rainy September day.
I suppose that my preoccupation with the boys denoted a certain immaturity on my part. In any case, Mr. Benner, the deservedly famous and beloved teacher of Greek, unwittingly provided me with a salutary warning against devoting myself exclusively to them. He had given himself utterly to the boys for some 40 years, never marrying, and even having some of them to spend the summers with him on his Maine farm. He was enormously popular with them for many, many years, but by the time I knew him, when he was about 65, the age difference had become too great. He was so awesome a figure that the boys no longer felt at ease with him and were shy of long periods in his society. He had very few close faculty friends. I used to see him in front of the Commons after dinner on fine evenings asking boys to go walking or canoeing with him, only to receive a polite refusal and walk away, a sad and lonely man. So I learned that boys are with us briefly and then go forth to their own lives. Some cherish a nostalgic affection for old Masters and return from time to time to see them, but we must not count on such relationships to sustain us. So, I made sure that I made firm and lasting friendships among my own generation.
And so I come to mention two men whose names will recur frequently in these pages and whose friendships have delighted and supported me for a great part of my life.
One day early in my second year at Andover, when I had just moved from Pemberton Cottage to Bishop Hall, my old student Paul MacKendrick and I went for a last check of my Pemberton, rooms. There we found the effects of the next occupant, just deposited. Among them was a small wooden box of chessmen neatly labeled James H Grew. So I first met with the name of the man who was to become a close friend and a brilliant colleague, whose career was to run closely parallel with mine, as he became Chairman of the French Department and then of all Modern Languages, whereas I was first Chairman of Greek and then of Latin as well.
To me the similarities and contrasts of our backgrounds and philosophies of life have always been fascinating. He was born of a wealthy Brahmin family, raised on Marlborough Street in Boston, educated entirely in private schools, then at Harvard and the Sorbonne. He had taught at Middlesex before coming to Andover. My own eminently middle-class background has already been abundantly described. Indeed, the paths of our lives did not begin to converge until our common attendance at Harvard, where, of course, we never met. And yet the basic unity of the New England tradition revealed itself again and again, from the trivial custom of baked beans on Saturday night or Sunday morning to the principles of plain speaking, carefulness with money and the sanctity of labor as opposed to the sinfulness of idleness. My family saw to it that I had summer jobs from the time that I was 15. After Jim had graduated from Harvard and had a Sorbonne doctorate, he was invited to visit his uncle, Joseph Grew, then Ambassador to Japan, but his father opposed the visit, saying that it was time for him to begin earning his living! And both of us had had our ears early attuned to the voice of duty, "stern daughter of the voice of God," and paramount among the deities of the New England Olympus.
Another parallel between us was that each initiated fundamental changes in the teaching methods in our departments. Jim introduced the oral-aural method of teaching French, under which nothing but French was spoken in the classroom from the very first day. This rendered obsolete all the dreary old jokes about the American with four years of classroom French who could not order a meal or understand a cab driver in Paris. I increased the content of the first year Latin course to cover all the basic grammar. It had been watered down until the students had lost all sense of challenge and consequently all interest and initiative. Interestingly enough, our percentage of failures went down, rather than up, as prophesied, with the stricter requirements. I also greatly expanded the reading in Latin II and III so that students might not be bored to death by a solid year of Caesar's arid military prose and another of Cicero's inflated rhetoric. After I had vainly tried to persuade the gifted elementary teacher, Jack Colby, to write a new beginner's book, I did so myself, producing a book which gave a stiff, sound course in the basics, with no sweetening in the form of pretty pictures, plans for Roman banquets and other fashionable impedimenta. Bill Buehner and Allan Gillingham followed with texts for the second and third years, which contained a wide selection of Latin authors from Caesar down into Medieval Latin.
My second close friend and comrade over many, many years and on several journeys was Chester Cochran, who came to Andover in 1936. As a young man he was strikingly handsome, with thick, dark hair and brown eyes. He had great social charm, particularly for women, who were often to lament his perpetual celibacy. I have always thought that his failure to marry was a sad mistake, given his great love for, and understanding of children. His family, from upper New York State, had once been very well to do, but had lost much of their money. Having known wealth Chet had all the expensive tastes which go with it, and I have felt that his unwillingness to sacrifice his pleasant bachelor life, with its vacations in New York City and its trips to Europe in the summer, with theaters and dinners in the best restaurants, had much to do with his failure to assume the financial burdens of a family. In addition he suffered from a curious combination of indolence and reluctance to make crucial decisions, plus a profound modesty, which kept him from realizing what most of his friends believed to be a potential for much larger achievements. With him, as for most of us, character was indeed fate.
He was a fine classroom teacher of French, particularly patient with slow students, and he was also a most gifted housemaster, devoting himself to the boys and refusing to give up his house, even when offered relief in his later years, until illness at last forced him to do so in 1969. His deep knowledge of the theater made him an excellent coach of School dramatics for many years.
We became good friends almost at once and were in almost daily contact in Term time during his years at Andover. Once we traveled together to Florida and twice in Europe; he was the best travelling companion I have ever had because he followed a strictly laissez-faire policy and was not offended if a companion wished to do something separately.
His last years were cruelly unhappy, for his natural indolence, combined with heavy smoking and a devotion to the pleasures of the table, produced severe hypertension, which led to his rejection for armed service during the War and finally to a series of strokes, beginning in 1969, which brought death early in 1974. He had so looked forward to his retirement, with summers in Europe and winters in New York City and Florida. Instead, he lived a semi-invalid existence in an apartment in the rather dreary town of Newburgh. Even today, three years after he found release, I still have promptings to write or telephone him with some delicious bit of news which only he could share with real appreciation.
The principal issue which agitated the School in the years just before the War was the problem of the fraternities. Of the history of those institutions, whose existence was rare among secondary schools and whose power at Andover was unique, I must say a few words. They came into being at the turn of the century at a time when the School did almost nothing to provide occupation for the students in their leisure hours. There was no "athletics for all" policy; Saturday night movies were not even dreamed of; and the Devil was at his usual work of finding occupation for idle hands. Accordingly, the School gave a benign approval to the formation of seven secret societies which offered a place where boys might spend their leisure time under certain restrictions. Membership was limited to upper classmen, and no boy under scholastic or behavioral discipline might be initiated. Each "house" had a faculty adviser from among the senior Masters, as well as several honorary faculty members, but it was entirely managed and cared for by student officers, while an alumni committee of former members exercised financial oversight, holding legal title to the property. Election to membership was by the student members and was strictly limited in numbers, so that a comparatively small portion of the student body became members. Like their college counterparts, the Societies were heavily weighted with star athletes, student politicos, boys of wealth, and above all, "legacies," sons, brothers and nephews of earlier members. Since certain privileges were granted to those "houses" which maintained a superior scholastic average, boys of high intellectual ability were often chosen to raise the average. When the legacies happened to be unattractive or undistinguished, some lively confrontations took place between alumni and students over their election. As time went on, some Societies accumulated considerable wealth in the shape of alumni endowments and all save one built quite imposing and luxurious houses for themselves.
The agitation against fraternities arose, predictably, among the liberals of the faculty, who busied themselves with expressions of sympathetic indignation for the students who had not been elected. Some of those not chosen were quite indifferent, but there was always the discontented quota of odd-balls, malcontents, and agitators who were easily inspired to protest, as was a similar group among the alumni.
This was one early manifestation of that egalitarian frenzy which has swept America ever since Roosevelt preached the doctrine that everyone was entitled to everything and which in some of its aspects is seriously endangering the survival of this nation. Even without encouragement envy is notoriously a disease endemic in democracies. There is a streak in human nature which cannot bear to be excluded from or denied what it sees others enjoy. Yet, in normal times, most people are sufficiently busy and happy with their own concerns not to allow this trait to get out of hand or demand much of their attention. For instance, there were in my day at Harvard, and still are, the famous Final Clubs, which were the domains of the wealthy, the scions of prominent families, graduates of exclusive private schools like St. Paul's and Groton, successful athletes and big men on campus. I knew that I could never dream of being elected to one, but instead of eating my heart out over my exclusion, as my liberal colleagues at Andover would have expected, I never gave the matter a second thought. Certainly I should have been revolted at the idea of forcing my way into a group which did not want me. It should be a portion of our personal freedom that we may associate with those whom we like and who like us, and such associations, so long as they receive no support or privilege from the local, state, or federal governments, should be allowed to elect or exclude whom they will. The same applies to men's bars and dining rooms. It is interesting that I never heard of a man demanding admission to some place reserved for women. The fact is, and it is one apparently never realized by the protestors, that it is an admission of inferiority on their part to assume that the reason of their exclusion is some innate inferiority in them, just as it is an admission of inferior ability on the part of blacks to demand special grading standards in educational institutions.
As I grew up in the 20's, I had not the slightest envy of the rich or of those who considered themselves in a higher social caste. I did not resent the fact that I could not afford a raccoon coat or a Stutz Bearcat. Had anyone told me that I ought to be envious or resentful over such matters, I should have laughed at him. I was very happy in my quiet, studious round, with occasional visits to 50¢ seats in the second balcony of the theater or 25¢ seats at the Keith Bijou, a modest second-run movie house in Boston which had a fascinating cascade of water running down under its glass staircase. My only resentment was reserved for the snobbish characters who asked to see my notes at lectures and then cut me dead on the street the same day. But I correctly blamed them as individuals and not the economic or political system.
Turning once more to Andover, I feel that the fraternities performed certain useful functions and that, in this respect, the School has never quite replaced them. They provided a safe and comfortable refuge for the student's leisure time; they provided admirable training in social poise and good manners through the faculty teas and the carefully chaperoned dances which they held from time to time; and, finally, they provided practical experience in the maintenance of property and the management of finances which was entrusted to the students under the watchful eye of the alumni members. I know of one case in which a boy's whole life was changed by his becoming treasurer of his house and thereby discovering a financial talent which was to make him an outstanding business consultant in New York. He had had two older brothers at Andover, each of whom had distinguished himself. Since John had neither the athletic prowess of the one nor the scholastic ability of the other he had felt himself a failure, and like many others in his predicament, had vied for attention by various minor misdemeanors. He had been the bane of my existence in the house for the first few months, when suddenly he was given the post of treasurer of his fraternity, which had been in bad shape financially. In no time he had restored its fiscal soundness and his behavior improved beyond belief. At Yale, he had been business manager of the "Yale News" and had gone into the service, where he became a finance officer and then went on to financial success in New York.
Most of the faults of the fraternities were plain to see. There was some physical brutality at the initiations despite all faculty vigilance. I have never been too much disturbed by the "hurt" done those who were not elected; sooner or later they had to learn that life is neither uniformly just nor generous. I have always believed that a certain number of minor hurts in school are the best way to harden boys for the enormous wounds which life can deal. (I am, of course, aware that to the young, minor hurts may seem very grievous indeed.) My chief objection to the fraternities was the way in which they distorted student values by grossly exaggerating their own importance. I felt that more harm was done those who "made" them than to those who did not, because the former felt that they had reached the highest possible accomplishment. This was particularly true of some of the "legacies," who had done absolutely nothing to deserve membership save, like the nobleman in A Tale of Two Cities, taking the trouble to be born.
The contention over the fraternities raged for years. While I was overseas during World War II, Doctor Fuess wrote me that that battle received far more attention on the campus than the great conflicts in Europe and the Far East. Palliative measures like forcing the houses to enlarge their membership could not placate their devoted enemies. If the latter had only been willing to wait a little, the question would have resolved itself, for the houses were meeting heavy weather financially and one or two had already gone under. But the liberals, impatient as ever, forced a showdown and shortly before the time when Mr. Kemper came in, the fraternities were abolished. The School took over the properties, paying the alumni in a curious way by putting the money into a scholarship fund. The whole thing was done with very little sensitivity to the deep sentimental attachment of the old members to the Societies, and the School lost, at least for a time, the support of certain "old boys" who had been among her most generous benefactors. Finally, let me say, that I do not believe that the fraternities should have survived in modern Andover, but I objected strongly to the fanaticism involved in their demise. I was one of two who voted against their suppression, because of the manner of it.
During my last 12 years at the Academy, I resided in a beautiful apartment which had been constructed on the second floor of the old KOA house, of which I had been a faculty member. Occasionally, old brothers would come by to see the house. The sacred Meeting Room, site of all solemn rites, had been made into my bedroom. Once, after I had shown two Old Boys around the apartment, I heard one say, as they were leaving, "They've made a bedroom of the Meeting Room." "Well," said his friend, "at least, it's a member who's sleeping there."
The old memorabilia and pictures of all the houses were dumped unceremoniously into a sort of lumber room on the top floor of mine. I used to look sadly at the old formal pictures with their solemn faces, handsome and unlined, as dust gathered upon them year by year. One picture I rescued, that of Zeus Benner, which had hung in the fraternity of which he was the much-loved adviser. I cleaned it off and hung it reverently in his old classroom, which was then mine. He and I taught Greek at Andover for a total of 79 years between us.
The final desecration occurred after I had lived in the house for several years. The Meeting Room had been handsomely panelled in Hawaiian mahogany, or koa wood, gift of some alumnus with a sense of the appropriate. When the room was dismantled, the understanding was that the koa wood should be saved and used later to panel the common room of one of the new dormitories. It lay unused for several years; then, one afternoon, I heard a sound of crashing and rending. I rushed to my window to see the beautiful panels being hurled from third floor windows to the ground far below, where most of them broke into useless fragments. The new Andover was displaying its piety toward the old. [...]