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by John F. Genung
to Sabrina, The Class Goddess of Amherst College by Max Shoop 1910

THE little book here offered to the reader opens a window into a phase of college life hitherto known only by floating rumors and detached bits of alumni reminiscence.  In one way it seems almost a pity to let the grey light of common day into what has had so authentic a touch of the mysterious and romantic.  In another way, however, so far from taking the glamour out of the Sabrina cult, it but drives the sentiment deeper into the imaginative college heart.  The facts are before us indeed, like a news item, in the prosaic realism of print.  But the facts are only the surface of the matter.  For to those who read them penetratively they turn out to be a chronicle not of irresponsible school-boy pranks, but of that pulsation of fancy and adventure which is sure to claim its rights in a vigorous and healthy youth.  Sabrina, for the college man, is not a mass of metal, stowed away in haymows and shipped from place to place to the profit of the express companies; not a mere occasion for audacious student larks.  She is a divinity, fair and gracious, a gentle protectress who herself deigns to be protected; her throne a rallying-point for class loyalty and fellowship and enthusiasm.  As such she holds a unique place in college and in the memory of her devotees.

Let us look a little through the window she opens and see what the view yields of the secret of Sabrina and of what she stands for in college life.

We will choose to look through the eyes of a man, a business man say, who is looking into college from the outside, and who himself has never been to college.  His sons are there, getting an experience which has been denied him.  From time to time come echoes of how they fare, such reports as reach him through the newspapers.  What are his hopeful wards doing all this time?  If his exacting business cares allow him an occasional thought of them, it surely must be not unlike the thought that came to Byron's gladiator, --- "There are his young barbarians all at play."  The newspapers do not report much more.  The scores of football and baseball and tennis and track fill the page and make exciting news; he sees his boys' pictures in padded clothes or in thin drawers clearly not meant for the costume of the class-room.  About the class-room itself, and the library, and the laboratory, he may search in vain for reports of achievement or progress; such things do not make sensational items for the crowd.  Even the sons themselves, home on their vacation, one suspects, are not eloquent about their college routine, or they pass it off with hints of the bluffs and tricks by which the routine is enlivened.  What are they doing to become scholars, or get ready for the coming toll and moll of business?  Clearly, if the outsider depends on the papers for his information, college is a holiday, a place for high jinks and play.

But the world sees only what it has eyes to see.  And so far as externalities go, the outside world is right.  College is a place for play.  That is in a sense its glory.  But it is not a place where they continue to be "his young barbarians all at play."  Somehow, they themselves scarcely know how, they are passing out of the barbarian stratum into something that makes the play a finer, more civilized thing.  For there is play and play.  There is play with the keen sense of honor and culture in it, with disdain of what belongs to the mucker and the cad.  There is such a thing as play in work, such ease and mastery of its processes as takes the moil and drudgery out of it; an ideal which the true scholar finds, but of which we do not here speak.  The fellows are learning even to make play of baseball, and thus interpose a make-weight against the inveterate American tendency to make it a hustling business and profession.  They are learning, in short, in the whole atmosphere of their work and their games, that the trail of the counting-room must not impose its hardening, searing impress on the real inwardness of life; their college fellowship furnishes a subtle refining element which releases them from its narrowness and tyranny.

Just here is where the outsider's realizing sense of the college spirit wholly fails.  He has not the combination to unlock its secret.  Kipling describes a multi-millionaire's feeling of this limitation in the character of Cheyne, in "Captains Courageous."  Cheyne has untold power to bend circumstances to his hard will and manipulate men; but he is urging his son to go to college because, as he says, "I can't compete with the man who has been taught!"  He feels himself a hopeless outsider  "Don't I know it?  Don't I know the look on men's faces when they think me a --- a 'mucker,' as they call it out here?  I can break them to little pieces --- yes --- but I can't get back at 'em to hurt 'em where they live.  I don't say they're 'way, 'way up, but I feel I'm 'way, 'way, 'way off, somehow."  He attributes his lack to what he calls "the plain, common, sit-down-with-your-chin-on-your-elbows book-learning."  Well, that helps, as every son of old Amherst knows.  But that, as Kipling would say, is another story.  There is a subtle element beyond learning, as one can realize by observing the limitations of the college "grind."

To connect the secret with Sabrina would seem to men like Cheyne like evaporating all that is substantial in college to a fragrance.  Nor indeed would I make any extravagant claim for her.  All I would claim for this Sabrina custom is that here is revealed a subtle and elusive but very real element of college life, something beyond the inane prank and beyond the exactions of sport.  We get, in short, a glimpse into the college man's centre of active sentiment, where his youthful fancy, his play of imagination, his sense of loyalty and ideal, have spontaneous outlet.  It is like the soldier's loyalty for his flag.  The Sabrina man, with his privileged class, is in the conscious service of a protecting and propitious divinity.  He will do anything for her; he will not limit the good she stands for to him.  Here the Sabrina man will doubtless be the first to exclaim, as children say of their prodigious fairytales, "Oh, nonsense; it isn't so; we only just say so."  But to say so, and to act accordingly, is something.  It is evidence that in this crowded college world the vein of fancy, of poetry if you please, even though only wreaking itself on a confessed make-believe, is not extinct or running low.  Task-work in books and laboratory has not deadened it; dress suits have not conventionalized it; the rough activities of sport and athletics have not swamped it in barbarian play.  The freedom of audacious make-believe still asserts its rights.  Even when boys have become husky young men, old enough to shave, the grey realism of life has not completed its hard invasion, and by the grace of the college ideal it never will.

As long as this sentiment remains vital --- and this holds for alumni as for undergraduates --- the stolid world cannot really, as Cheyne puts it, "hurt 'em where they live."  The poetic vein is there, not exhausted by Sabrina, nor monopolized by the even-numbered classes.  Stevenson shall speak for it here.  He, as my readers are aware, has written a capital Sabrina paper, in his essay on "The Lantern Bearers."  Only his Sabrina was a carefully concealed bull's-eye lantern which on certain secret occasions the boys carried at their belt.  "The essence of the bliss was to walk by yourself in the black night; the slide shut, the top-coat buttoned; not a ray escaping, whether to conduct your footsteps or to make your glory public: a mere pillar of darkness in the dark; and all the while, deep down in the privacy of your fool's heart, to know you had a bull's-eye at your belt, and to exult and sing over the knowledge."  Just as "none could recognize a lantern-bearer, unless (like the pole-cat) by the smell," so perhaps no outsider can recognize the Sabrina man except by his class number.  But there he is, cherishing a sentiment which is its own justification, and which through all the coming years of alumni-hood, let us hope, will keep the glamour of college days alive.  "It is said that a poet has died young in the breast of the most stolid.  It may be contended rather that this (somewhat minor) bard in almost every case survives, and is the spice of life to his possessor.  Justice is not done to the versatility and the unplumbed childishness of man's imagination.  His life from without may seem but a rude mound of mud; there will be some golden chamber at the heart of it, in which he dwells delighted; and for as dark as his pathway seems to the observer, he will have some kind of a bull's-eye at his belt."

The little book before us lets in the light, not rudely nor unsympathetically, on our Amherst lantern-bearers.  Here we are made aware of what Duffey and Ingalls with their mystic Sabrina vision, (delicious thought!) and Ben Hyde and Charley Staples, with their banqueting and singing classmates, have had and still have buttoned up under their top-coats.  It is a delightful thing to discover.  The heart of the old professor who writes these words, who has lived through the whole Sabrina period, warms to the poet who has not died young within them.  The dig or the dawdler must be left to look out for himself; he has chosen his own inner resources; but since Sabrina has had these men in her keeping, and they her in theirs, they are live men; we need have no fear for them.  And as often as they live over again their Sabrina experience, and cherish its enriching effects, they will verify, in English if not in Latin, what they dimly felt at the time of it,


So we give the little book our hearty good-speed.



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