By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
It is my privilege to have attended some of the great auctions of my lifetime, including those for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Jacqueline Onassis, the Grand Duke of Baden, and the Paul and Bunny Mellon sale... to name but a few. Each of these caused people worldwide to drop everything, and go through the catalogs with care and precision.
By reading these catalogs, one enters into the very most intimate life of the catalog subject. This is one of the few ways one has to actually learn how the other half lives. Let me be very clear with you: they don't just live, they flourish.
I first became aware of Robert de Balkany a couple of years ago, when the first of his magnificent collection hit the auction block for sales totaling 21.6 million dollars. Though I was present, and though I bid with more optimism than the situation warranted, I walked away with nothing. Nothing tangible, that is. For just to see the catalog and go through it lot by lot, is like a lesson in fine furniture, accouterments, candelabra, carpets, silver, dishes, decorative stones, extravagant china, goblets made for a king, and so much more.
When you are at the top of the tree, everything must be suitably matched. The more grand and glorious items you possess, the more you will search for more of these grand and glorious items, because anything else would look out of place. Thus just to open up the de Balkany sales catalogs is to gain an aperture to how one of the world's truly wealthy men, gifted with supreme good taste, actually lived.
Thus even if you buy nothing from this catalog and these sales, you have gained a leg up for the future because the more beauty and ostentation one sees and compares, the more comfortable one becomes in evaluating it, studying it, seeking it, and acquiring it. So I'm going to show it to you... my encounter with Robert de Balkany.
Robert de Balkany (1931-2015) grew up in the constantly changing world of the Balkan states. He was born in Hungary, a nation distinguished by boastful arrogance and constantly missed opportunities that resulted in the nation subjugated and in shambles. He resolved to leave such a place of uncertainty and chaos. He wanted to make money, and he knew that necessitated an environment of security and predictability.
He looked at all those assets, mind, body, and soul, and did what a man coming from nothing if he expects to conquer the market must do. First, he left Hungary, then under Soviet domination. He went to the United States to study architecture, and began his remarkable career of developing residential and commercial properties. He created them with astonishing speed. He chose as his focus the City of Light, Paris, and he became a citizen of France.
In those days, he added more and more projects to his burgeoning agenda. He believed in a thumb in every pie. As his real estate empire grew, he began to be concerned not just with what was outside the buildings, but what was inside. He was a fast study, aided by his two cultivated wives. First, the daughter of Ambassador Andre Francois-Poncet (divorced 1966), and secondly Marie-Gabrielle of Savoy (divorced 1990), daughter of the last King of Italy.
As a result of having the money and the desire for a perfect life, he began haunting the great auction houses of Europe and the United States. Like William Randolph Hearst, the famous American publisher, he bought wildly, extravagantly, teaching himself as he went. Here is where we learn a great deal about the man... how he thought and what he was trying to achieve.
He loved color... the richer and more opulent the better. He recognized, as so many still have not, that our ancient ancestors did not enjoy the blandness of white. They wanted exuberance, vitality, zest, and the elusive "Wow Factor". He was not interested in the sedate, the calm, nor the placid. Now he became a Hungarian all over again, determined to show the world what a Magyar of vision and bold audacity could do.
Here, however, he had a decision to make. He was impatient to complete his houses and his yacht. He did not want to wait another minute, and so he made a fateful decision to use decorators and decorator copies of many of his items to achieve his goal. He was rich... he didn't care if that richness was presented in copies; he simply wanted to show it off, and garner the unlimited compliments and envy of anyone privileged to see his expansive empire.
Thus, to go through the de Balkany catalog with a view towards purchase, one must be very careful to make sure the item you are interested in is not a copy, and moreover that all the parts are matched suitably. Again, de Balkany didn't care. And because the purchase of copies allowed him to acquire quickly and for lower cost, he leaned more and more in that direction to the horror of the purists, who told him how wonderful his interiors were, while inwardly scoffing at the nouveau riche.
In the event, a very sizable percentage of his collection was not composed of original pieces, but rather copies. Again, he didn't seem to care. After all, he had the effect that he wanted. And frankly, how many people can tell the difference between a First Empire chaise and its Third Empire copy?
The truth is, the hundreds and hundreds of people that attended the de Balkany auctions did not seem to care a wit about whether the piece was original or not, to the delight of his representatives at Christie's auction house in London. Virtually every item out of the over 700 items in these auctions sold, and sold not merely for the low estimate, but for prices dramatically ahead of Christie's suggested estimates. The total take for this second pair of auctions was 19.3 million dollars, for a combined total of over 40 million dollars... a record for sales of this kind.
One of my wise advisors years ago counseled me when participating in these celebrity auctions to grasp your hands and keep firm control of your bids. He would say, after a minor object was auctioned at lavish price, "Be happy you did not buy that, because if you had you'd never get your money out."
Thus the morning after the de Balkany auction, many otherwise intelligent people must have woken up saying "Oh my God I can't believe I paid that much!"
A Russian silver dressing mirror, St. Petersburg, 1876
Following my learned mentor's suggestions, I selected the number of items which I would buy only for the low estimate, not more. And so I stuck to my guns over both days of the auction watching people pay small fortunes for items which could be gained at a lesser rate from other auctions. Of course, I was disappointed... but realistic. After all, I still had my money.
At last, as one of the final lots in the second and final day of auctioning, I saw a stunning silver mirror made in 1876 in St. Petersburg. It was oval... the sides had twin beaded borders... surmounted by a double coat of arms... flanked by lions and surmounted by a royal coronet.
To my consternation, by this time in the auction, just minutes before its conclusion, I was chagrined and irked with myself for having wasted two days with zero results. Then the situation changed, as in auctions it so commonly does. In one minute everything was different. As a result, to my complete amazement, I acquired lot 690, this lovely silver mirror... and for below the low estimate. My mood changed instantly.
This proves again what cannot be stated too often. If you are patient and you are clear on what you will do with each lot you wish to acquire, you can acquire the most beautiful of objects, as I did in the Robert de Balkany sale, without breaking the bank or overriding my firm way of doing business, viz. about only bidding the low estimate. Now instead of regret because I acquired nothing, I shall purr with warm satisfaction every time I see this mirror surmounted by a royal crown.
Such an achievement demands champagne, and good cheer, don't you think?
N.B. I take this opportunity to thank Jill Waddel, head of the silver department for Christie's New York. She was my representative for two solid days when it looked like I was going to get nothing. Her voice was upbeat, her service concise and efficient, and her response to my purchase of lot 690 was almost as excited as mine was. Thank you.
To accompany this article, I have selected Cole Porter's immortal tune "I Love Paris" (1953). Robert de Balkany surely felt this way too.
"I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year..."
Click here to hear the song.
Update: "I warned you!" Dr. Lant's dire admonitions on the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate were right on the money.
About six years ago, at the time of the ground breaking, I wrote the article that follows. It presented a number of serious objections to what the trustees were doing to revive the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. It was a bad idea at a bad place and badly conceived, and should never have been started, much less advanced.
But because the late senator Edward Kennedy wanted this institute, the trustees went ahead. Now the chickens are surely coming home to roost.
A report on this matter has just been released by Michael Levenson of The Boston Globe. Its primary finding is that less than 50% of the visitors they expected, and whose revenues they counted on, have visited the institute.
62,000 came, 150,000 were planned on and expected. This is the basis for a mammoth white elephant and continuing shocks about a project which should never have been placed in Massachusetts at all, much less in the backwater of Dorchester, Massachusetts.
Reading Levenson's article gives one a slightly sick feeling. For example, Jean F. MacCormack, president of the institute, is quoted as saying they are pleased with the number of visitors. How could she possibly be "pleased" when only 50% of the expected visitors have come?
Fatuous sentiments like this dot the report. No one wants to say what they see... a catastrophic volume of visitors, an institution which should never have been contemplated, much less advanced, but for the huge federal donation of $38,000,000. And nothing but platitudes and deceit in its future.
This institute proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Kennedys have sufficient influence to push an institution that is wrong in every particular. They know that it was positioned in the wrong place. They know that it is off the beaten path of other Boston cultural institutions. They know that when the money is gone the federal government, particularly under the Trump administration, will not contribute another cent, and rightly so.
It seems to me that otherwise conscientious rational people dilute their common sense with the so called "magic of Camelot". But this magic, if it exists at all, will suffer a grave outcome if this project is not dealt with in a sensible way as quickly as possible. Let us extend to the trustees in the administration of the institute this suggestion. Take two years... take three... and do everything within your power to bring attendance to the 150,000 per year you originally projected. If the attendance drops below the current figure of 62,000, it should be construed as sufficient evidence for immediate closure. If however attendance increases in a reasonable and positive fashion, let us see that as an opportunity to grow further.
I do not, however, feel comfortable in the institute's ability to raise further funds, and a substantially increased number of visitors. And let me say this, and say it so that all may see its clarity: just because the name Kennedy is placed on an institution is no good reason in and of itself for foisting this white elephant or any other Kennedy pachyderms on the public. If we needed a museum at all about the government, it should have focused on the Congress of the United States, House and Senate, and in a way that these institutions were explained, and not simply glorified by the name Kennedy.
I shall follow this matter further, and I shall await constructive debate in the creation of an institution that benefits the nation and the people of the Great Republic.
Now read the article that follows. It is not just prescience, it is common sense. And let us begin to focus on an institution based in Washington D.C. that explains our government by the people, for the people, to the people. That institution is long overdue.
Wrong right from the start. Problems, muddle, confusion, embarrassment at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author's program note. You've got to wonder whether the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy and his second wife Victoria Reggie ever bothered to read the Constitution of these United States before advancing what the Senator saw as his 'legacy," the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.
Article 1 Section 1 of the most important and influential document of the Great Republic reads thus:
"All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives."
In crystal clear language, the Constitution lays out what legislative entities there will be, what powers they shall possess, how many representatives there will be in a state, who is eligible to serve, what officers there will be, how they are chosen, etc.
At no time does the Constitution state or imply that one branch shall be considered superior to the other. Instead, the Constitution lucidly makes the point that the two branches of Congress are equal.
This being the case, any discussion of the Congress, its history, and its place in the Great Republic must perforce focus not on one branch or the other but on the two co-equal branches and how they work together to advance the people's business, or not.
Why did Senator Kennedy decide to focus his institute on just one branch? First, because he served in the United States Senate for nearly fifty years and was widely regarded as one of its Grand Old Men. Second, because it was the sole branch of government in which all three famous brothers served, John, Robert, and Edward.
Once the decision was made that the Institute should focus solely on the United States Senate, a host of otherwise avoidable problems was planted and began to grow. These problems are now numerous and acute, threatening an already illogical organization that wiser heads than those in charge would have seen as a disaster waiting to happen, taking prompt remedial action accordingly, not least to save the face of this celebrated family.
The project is born (2003).
When you're a Kennedy of the Camelot Kennedys, it is expected, anticipated that you will have suitable monument, large, grandiose, something that adds to the family's renowned place in the history of the Great Republic. For after all, to be a Kennedy is to be an historic figure. No one knows this better than the Kennedy in question, the next to be immortalized. Discussions amongst the cognoscenti go something like this: "Should I run for offices for which I am entirely unqualified... or not?" "Should the names of my several spouses and friends with benefits be included in my monument... or not?" "Should this stirring quotation attributed to me but written by my ghost writer be chiselled in my eternal stone... or not?"
Such questions are unending, continual... and treated with the utmost seriousness by those expecting apotheosis, victims all to a collective edifice complex, the latest example being the Kennedy Senate Institute, a whopping 40,000 square feet of hubris. And what is to take place in all that space? Just about everything that has to do with the Senate, including its history, members, operating procedures, educational programs, issues, debates, filibusters, legislative training et al. Only senatorial amours and favorite salad dressings have been left out.
The problem is, the way this institute is organized is egregiously incorrect. Just as love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, so does the United States Senate go hand-in-hand with the United States House of Representatives. Whilst each has its unique aspects, neither makes complete sense (much less a productive legislative enterprise) without the other. They are two halves of the whole.
Imagine this scenario.
Ms. Martin's 5th graders are learning about how Congress works, how bills become laws... or not. Emmy Sue asks what happens when a bill passes the Senate. What then? And there's the rub... the Senate-only institute stops just when it needs to continue, so that people understand the complete Congress, the total legislative process, not merely its seigneurial "upper" branch. Even Emmy Sue, age 10, will know something's amiss when the guide says, "Er, the Senate bill goes to the House, but this institute only covers the Senate, so I cannot tell you more...." Even ten-year-olds would consider this weird, bogus, dumb. And they'd be right. That's why there must be a complete halt to the current farce... and a total rethinking of this embarrassing "institute" that has "Keystone cops" written all over it, before there are further cost over runs and another seventy million dollars, more or less, are wasted.
What must be done?
1) The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate as presently configured must be terminated. Its 40,000 square feet should be transferred to the JFK Presidential Library. Suitable spaces within the whole should be carved out for Robert Kennedy, Edward M. Kennedy, their wives and families, personal lives and professional achievements.
2) Focus should shift to a much needed Congress facility where everything about the Congress of the United States, past, present and future, can be showcased and presented to a nation which desperately needs a brilliant state-of-the-art interactive facility, the apogee of American technology, architecture, and historic preservation and presentation.
3) A suitable Washington, D.C. location should be scouted, considered, selected... no other location can or should be reviewed, much less Dorchester, Massachusetts, its current pied-a-terre.
4) ALL current administrators should be graciously, courteously shown the door forthwith.
5) The highest possible blue ribbon advisory board and trustees should be appointed with the sitting president a must as honorary chair. Mrs. Victoria Reggie Kennedy can have an honorable seat amongst them, but no more. An important institution requires important governors, and it is telling that the current institute has none.
6) A complete fund raising plan should be drafted with both private and public funds to be raised.
7) A knowledgeable, hands-on, organizational expert must be appointed, an individual of skills, deep pockets, and determination. My suggestion? Mitt Romney, if the presidency eludes him. After all Romney salvaged the 2002 Olympics. He is even an historic footnote in the story. He ran against Senator Kennedy in 1994, and lost. Mitt would do the project proud. His considerable pride alone would see to that.
Can such a radical shift take place? Of course. IF the principals now bobbling the matter are open to reason and a willingness to put the needs of the Great Republic above their own. Thus we need a "fixer" to arrange matters with grace, kindness, clarity, efficiency and such ruthless and surgical incision as may be called for.
In short, we need Joseph P. Kennedy, Patriarch. He would have seen the point, dragooned the personnel and raised the lavish funds required. Oh, where is Joe Kennedy now, and where shall we find his like -- and fast enough to avoid more muddle and abashment? For these, muddle and abashment, have set the two surviving children of Edward Kennedy against the woman he loved and revealed how toxic this situation already is and how much more poisonous it could get. For now, this is the sad legacy of Edward Moore Kennedy, and until it is firmly taken in hand, rethought and redirected it will fester and deteriorate into rancor, bitterness, and enmity.
As the music to accompany this article, I have selected "The Country's In The Very Best of Hands" (music by Gene De Paul; lyrics by Johnny Mercer) from the 1956 production of "Li'l Abner." Go now to hear this ironic gem... and let's hope it motivates the folks so over their heads and misguided at The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, so obviously not in the best of hands, or anywhere thing near.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author's program note. For months and months, I had been spending all my waking hours researching the housing market in Cambridge, Massachusetts and elsewhere. It was a long, frustrating, and expensive process involving as it did weekly flights to places I thought I might like to live, New York, Washington D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, and many more.
By the time I got to Follen Street, I was exhausted, irritated, and ready to pack it in for the day. But because I am a punctilious, precise kind of fellow, I insisted on seeing the last property on my list. It was on Follen Street.
A property in this building had just gone on the market, and this, given its proximity to Harvard Square, Harvard Yard, and the Cambridge Common, seized my immediate attention. In fact, it was love at first sight.
My first question was how did this brick building stay out of the hands of the Harvard real estate office. Someone had missed the boat for sure, for an apartment building this close to all things Harvard would have been ideally situated for a new administrative building, or faculty housing.
Instead, what I saw was a spacious unit on the top floor, excellent sun and light, and a size which caused an audible gasp. I didn't need any sales palaver from a realtor... what I wanted was a purchase document to sign... just like that.
The realtor, however, was slow and lethargic. It was late on Friday. He didn't want to get any papers out. He didn't want to do any of the necessary paperwork. He turned to me and said, in response to my brisk approach to the matter, "Come back Monday, and we'll settle the details."
As a result, I spent a very uncomfortable weekend afraid that someone else would snap up this property. I have never regretted my decision, and the fact that the value of my unit has gone up as many as 15 times what I paid for it is just so much gravy. My love affair with Follen Street had begun.
Over the course of the years, I have whenever possible gathered information for what became this article. The first item to be considered was how it came to be known as Follen Street, a name which most people render "Fallen", thinking that there might be a giant sink hole which caused this street to fall. In fact, the street is named after the Reverend Karl Theodor Christian Friedrich Follen.
His story is key in several areas, including the development of a liberal pastorate, such expertise in German and gymnastics that Harvard appointed him to several academic appointments, and most importantly, his controversial work with the Anti-Slavery Society and William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879).
German social activist
Follen is a representative of what every organization needs to take root, grow, and flourish. Follen was born in 1759 into the Grand Dukedom of Hesse-Darmstadt. It was a deceptive place, for it looked calm and conservative, but dark waters surged beneath the surface.
Karl's father, Christoph Follenius, was a counselor at law and judge in Giessen. The spirit of revolution was in the air, and no matter what your political or legal position, you had to have at least had a nodding familiarity with what was happening in all aspects of life, and how to protect your interests and even advance them.
Follen was a boy of energy, imagination, and vision. It is easy for such boys to find high minded colleagues, and to stay up late over a stein or two of beer solving the problems of the world. This was man's work, and no one much cared about your age.
This was, however, a time particularly in the German states of acute anxiety. The conservative powers, led by Austria and Prince Klemens von Metternich (1773-1859), Chancellor of the Austrian empire, and a man determined to destroy any liberal idea or notion. Metternich stood squarely on behalf of no change whatsoever. Any advanced political group was to be infiltrated and destroyed.
This was intolerable to Charles Follen. The more he understood about Prince Metternich and his machinations, the more he determined things must become better, and to this end, began connecting with advanced liberals around Europe. His ideas were expressed in political essays, poems, and patriotic songs. He commenced his romance with liberty.
Follen bit by bit came to the notice of the powers that be. Given the fact that he traveled widely and connected with revolutionaries, not just in Germany, but in France, Switzerland, and more. In so doing, he made the mistake so many social activists make... talking too loud, shouting his ideas at the top of his voice, publishing too honestly... a man who thought that the future was liberalism just waiting for him and his colleagues.
Of course, he was arrested, in 1824, as a revolutionary, and this only had the effect of making him more determined to advance the cause of Liberte, Egalite, and Fraternite. As part of his maturation, he came in touch with such prominent Americans as Peter Stephen Du Ponceau and George Ticknor, a Harvard professor. They assisted in getting him an unusual post: instructor in the German language. This was the first time the German language had been on Harvard's curriculum.
Harvard, under the leadership of John Thornton Kirkland, had an acute interest in German education, which was then thought of as being the most useful and advanced in the world. Using this position as an entry way for advancement, Follen in 1828 became an instructor of ethics and Ecclesiastical history at Harvard Divinity School. Simultaneously he was admitted as a candidate for the ministry. In 1830, he became professor of German literature at Harvard, and married Eliza Lee Cabot, the daughter of one of Boston's most famous families.
Now at this point, Follen already advantageously launched at Harvard, could easily have expanded his Cambridge empire. This would have been a high achievement, to be the advocate and leader of all aspects of the German curriculum at Harvard, already recognized as one of the great universities on Earth. But he wanted more... not just for himself, but for the entire Cambridge and Harvard communities.
This led him into making a review, not just making a list of the advantages of Harvard and Boston, but of what he came to see as their drawbacks and deficits. In short, he intended to use American freedom to advance his numerous causes of interest, particularly the anti-slavery movement.
Anyone who looks at the period from 1820 to 1860 cannot but be drawn into America's peculiar institution: slavery.
Many in the United States, both North and South, had made fortunes in the slave industry, either directly or indirectly. Many of these people either lived in the Northern United States, or had strong business and personal contacts there.
There was the sound of Yankee dollars being made, and world opinion largely blinked to avoid the moral implications of their dark world. In short, since slavery was legal, though not in several states, experienced businessmen and traders continued their work without moral distress. Charles Follen thought differently.
It is the moment he becomes aware of how deeply slavery was ingrained in a society that he becomes important. He picked up his tattered banner of Liberte, Egalite, and Franternite, determined to do something about it.
The time period is 1835
His lectures more and more found their focus in freeing the unhappy slaves of Africa. No man, it was clear, should ever own another man. He took these increasingly violent sentiments and began recruiting for his increasingly outspoken abolitionist beliefs. President Josiah Quincy of Harvard didn't like what he heard, and how often he heard it, for Harvard was based to a considerable extent on money from slavery, directly or indirectly.
In 1835, Harvard president Josiah Quincy decided that he had had enough, and that the indefatigable Follen would be removed from his many positions. Of course, Follen made a beeline to William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator (1831-1865). Garrison was like so many social reformers... he was belligerent, argumentative, and absolutely determined that his efforts would change society and free the slaves. Most of Harvard was appalled, and could hardly wait to trip up Garrison and ultimately Follen, and remove them from doing anything that would adversely impact the business of slavery.
The period between 1835 and 1860 was one where pro and anti-slavery forces were juggling for supremacy, and where the very idea of freeing the slaves had only just been advanced. But conservative Boston could only stand so much. For Bostonians, making money was far more important than freeing the slaves. The issue might need to come to an ultimate resolution, but businessmen in Boston were not willing to throw away a single penny merely because the black races of Africa were being crushed and dispossessed. That was not their problem.
Businessmen of course could see the handwriting on the wall; after all, the British empire, one of the largest customers for slave labor, had abolished slavery in 1833. But there was time left... yes, years of it. Properly handled, the slave traders and their necessary business associates could have 15, 20, maybe 25 good years left. Men like Garrison and Follen were dangerous... and the conservative forces wanted them removed, one way or another.
Such people worked hard to get Follen out of the Boston area. They were assailed on every front for their opinions, for these got in the way of Mammon. In 1838, they somehow managed to find a congregation in New York where Follen could voice his increasingly strident views on slavery.
As he was going to take up his parish, the steamer that was taking him to New York caught fire, and Reverend Karl Follen was burned alive, drowning in a storm in the Long Island Sound.
Tears were shed, though they were crocodile tears for certain, for in fact, Follen's untimely death lowered the temperature, giving people who had resolutely opposed him the possibility of appearing liberal themselves, when they were anything but.
Sadly, even Follen's name was toxic. His family and friends, and remember, he was connected to the Cabots who speak only to God, had to work hard to find a church which would hold a memorial service on his behalf. Yes, the good Christian people of Massachusetts chose to wash their hands of this menace, who had the acute misfortune to actually believe in incendiary Liberte, Egalite, and Fraternite.
Every monument they put up to honor Follen, and there were several, including the establishment of an octagon shaped church in Lexington, Massachusetts, and my very street in Cambridge, smacks of hypocrisy, for they were nearly all glad to see him go... his charred body bobbing in the choppy seas. The toasts they made to Follen throughout the city all were of the good riddance variety.
The things they are changing however, and if in 1840 Garrison and Follen were out there, they were not alone. Everyday that passed brought Abraham Lincoln and Emancipation to the top of the agenda, validating the reformers. It was slow, painful, aggravating, and often dirty and squalid... but this is how progress is made.
As all this was going on, Follen's house on Follen Street hummed with the sounds of a large growing family, where besides anti-slavery objectives, there must have been a goodly measure of the kinds of activities which distinguished family life in the 19th Century.
One of these was the Christmas tree. Follen is credited with introducing to New England the first Christmas trees with miniature ornaments on their fragrant branches. Many people of course are credited with the Christmas tree, including Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort, but Follen's claim seems secure.
Yes, Follen seems to have been the first to put little dolls, dried fruits, and seasonal ornaments on the green branches in Cambridge. This however almost did not happen, for as international traveler Harriet Martineau reported, who was then visiting in Cambridge as part of her celebrated American tour, real life candles were used on the branches, and one of these set the tree on fire, causing great anxiety at a lively German Christmas party in the drawing room.
It was however, despite this near catastrophe, a charming addition to the Christmas festivities which were in development against advanced Puritans who thought there should be no Christmas at all.
I often think of Reverend Follen. I am, after all, situated just above where his drawing room must have been. If not great, he at least made an impact on his new country, and on the town of Cambridge, which continues to welcome social revolutionaries from the entire Earth.
They are as persistent, demanding, and impossible as ever they have been, but you can rest assured of one thing. It is because of them, no matter how much we dislike them, that new ideas are advanced, vetted, analyzed, and improved or denied. After all, this is the function of a great University. Not orthodoxy, but constant investigation and research; the ability not to cling to outmoded ideas, but to freely acknowledge new ones, and disseminate them, not crush because they are not convenient or easy.
This was the credo of Reverend Charles Follen, and this must always be our credo as well... for the times, they are always a-changin', and like it or not, we must change with them. My home, suffused with the ghost of Charles Follen, makes it easier to do just that... for even in death, he influenced life, and no social reformer of any kind can ask for more.
I've selected for musical accompaniment to this chapter John Lennon's celebrated tune "Imagine" (1971). Lennon was a social revolutionary just like Charles Follen. He found the present and its uses hypocritical and affronting. As a result, he composed this song, "Imagine", which aggravated, infuriated, and irked people worldwide. Who did Lennon think he was?
We only came to know when a craven assassin pumped four bullets into his frail body, thus confirming his importance, particularly the songs at the end of his short life. Such people are often the target not just of harsh words and bitter accusations, but any number of means to curtail lives, offering much, demanding little, and with the possibility of changing everything.
"You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one"
Click here to listen to the song.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. Today is the first day of spring. I open the shutters, strictly closed against the dreary winter just passed. It is vibrant… it is radiant… it is the sun as we have not seen it for some months now.
Of course, being that we are in New England, we must take nothing for granted. The calendar says spring, but I reckon winter has at least one great blast left for us. Heavy wet snow in the morning, melted by afternoon.
Spring is to me a reminder, personally delivered, saying summer visitors are just around the corner. Prepare. If you’re not organized, they’ll come anyway, but you’ll be forced to tell each of them the facts that follow. This is time consuming, and results in visitors being given different “tours”… some long and leisurely, others rushed, because I have other things to do.
This year I intend to approach the matter differently. And so I am writing for you, dear traveler, the facts I feel that you must have and know about this place you are visiting. For this is no ordinary place, as you will soon see, and it would be most unfortunate if you came and went without knowing why it is so distinctive and significant.
How history should be told
I have been a writer on historical subjects for over 50 years. I am now clear on what it takes to write history that people will read and understand. For the goal of history is never to exult the writer, but to inform the reader.
The worst possible way of doing this is to rely on dates to carry the story. Pilgrims came here on such and such a date. Abraham Lincoln visited on such and such a date. George and Martha Washington were resident here from such and such a date to such and such a date.
This is not history; this is a historical obstacle course. It may work for crossword puzzles, but it does not do if you want to know and retain something of significance about this or any other place. Dates are significant only to provide clarity on just when certain things happened. But if you say nothing but dates, you must perforce bore your audience.
It is hardly any wonder why so many youngsters in our school systems rate history at the bottom of their favorite classes and groan about the dates they were forced to memorize.
But history is not a matter of dates alone, it is a matter of people… what they did, when they did it, how they did it, why they did it. And so history becomes the greatest subject of all, for it is about all of us, each in our turn, each in our way, each in our time.
So now I want you to join me on the north side of the Cambridge Common. It is where I have lived for the last 40 years or so. This does not necessarily mean that I know anything about the place, for the mere passing of time or close proximity does not confer insight or a credible understanding of what is all around me on any given day.
It is my intention that when you put down this article and come and visit, you will be prepared for the great stories that took place just steps away, and which shaped a nation and the lives of millions.
The Pilgrims landed in North America in 1620. Most were sick. All were debilitated. Many died. No one emerged unscathed. These people came through the terrible North Atlantic in pursuit of the God who governed and directed them.
They landed at Plymouth Rock, and were so bereft of provisions that when they found a few Indian graves near the beach, they ransacked these tombs for corn and other foodstuffs and devoured the contents. The colony hung by a thread through the long terrible winter of 1621. The spirit may have been willing, but the bodies, frail and pathetic, were weak.
It took them a full decade to arrive at what was then called Newtowne. Sir Richard Saltonstall, from a prominent English family, landed his party at a bend in the Charles River. And to show you how little time has elapsed from that event, I used to banter with Senator William Saltonstall, a direct descendant, in summers at Manchester-by-the-Sea. We must not, therefore, think of the Pilgrims as far distant, but as much closer to us than we usually allow.
The Pilgrims were motivated by two great objectives. One, and always prime, was their direct relationship with God. They also wanted to know what was “out there”. To understand these early days and what has come since, we must do the conjuring trick of erasing from our minds any idea, anything we consider modern, and put ourselves precisely in the shoes of the Pilgrims, whose survival on this continent was not guaranteed, and for whom longevity seemed an elusive possibility.
Nonetheless, they regularly sent out scouting parties to see what they could see of the natives, who they knew were there, and of the many things they knew nothing about at all. Thus what takes the modern traveler just about 53 minutes by car, from Plymouth to Cambridge, took ten years… with no path, no guide, not even wayward hearsay and gossip to enlighten them. We must never forget how far they went when going anywhere at all was a matter of faith and determination.
In due course, they arrived at Newtowne, a place of swamps and disease. Their needs were basic and immediate… which leads to the first macabre tale. On the south side of the Common, just up a bit from what much later became Harvard Square, you will find a cemetery… unkempt… a place for vagrants… an outdoor urinal. Thus showing there is no respect for the dead.
This, curiously enough, was a Puritan belief as well. The first cemetery that was placed on that sight offered no reverence for the dead. Pilgrims who died were thrown over the parapet to be eaten by beasts. There is no demarcation left of just where this way of burial was handled. The marks have been lost over time.
It often puzzled me why the bodies were treated with such scant respect… but then I began to think of all these Pilgrims had to do to keep body and soul together under the most unhappy circumstances. There was simply too much to do, and too few to do it to worry about whether the mourning niceties had been kept. Thus once the spirit left the body, the body was thrust away, a thing of no significance whatsoever, and treated accordingly.
Created in 1630
The Cambridge Common was created in 1630. It was a place for the members of the congregation to pasture their cows and other livestock. The enclosure movement, which rocked English society in the 18th Century, was not yet common in North America. The communal land that constitutes the Common was therefore at the heart of their way of living.
It was not that they necessarily liked each other, it was that they needed each other. And perhaps the worst thing that can happen to a people is they no longer need each other, and so become careless about their relations, thus leading to terrible social consequences.
On the Common, just 8.5 acres in size, more was going on than just tethering animals on common ground. When you stand in the middle of the Common as I have done so many times over 40 years, you must be aware of the great events that occurred all around you.
First, in the 17th Century, the sheer arrival of these people and their inspiring trek to religious freedom for all constituted an event of epic importance. This was the first place in the world where genuine freedom of belief came to exist. Of course, it didn’t happen without incident or tragedy. No great event involving religion has ever taken place without brutality and intolerance. It seems that every culture says, in its own way, “I love me, so I have no regard for thee.”
The true message of New England and of the Common is that here, people finally came to grips with the necessity for tolerance and diversity… which ultimately became the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Look around you now… if you are a believer, you are welcome here to believe. If you are a non believer, you are welcome here to believe nothing more than you care to. These are grand ideas, by no means inevitable.
Unfortunately, of course, not everyone agreed. And so, on the perimeter along what is now Massachusetts Avenue, there is a plaque, so often covered with weeds, commemorating the migration in 1636 of the Reverend Thomas Hooker from his intolerable situation.
It is worth noting that not only was religious diversity advanced here, but the rights of women too. Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643) was not only a significant theologian, but she was a woman doing the theological work of men, suffering accordingly. This is why, when you look upon the Common, you must see first intolerance, then slowly diversity. Cambridge showed the way and still does.
Education, the next great event.
The first thing the Puritans had to do was secure hearth and home. This took some time, but as soon as they had done so, they created an educational system not just for themselves, but for, in due course, the general public.
Here, the significant name to keep in mind is John Bridge (1578-1665), Puritan. John Bridge had a goal, and that goal was to see an educated people… people who could help themselves solve problems and run a democracy where each man had a vote… an idea which had lay dormant in ancient Greece for 2,000 years.
He believed that there could be no salvation without understanding, and there could be no understanding without education. Bridge was obviously a very talented, even charismatic leader, though little in fact is known about him. He arrived in Cambridge in 1632, where he became the supervisor of the first public school established in Cambridge (1635). He served as deacon of the church from 1636 to 1658, and represented the people in the Great and General Court from 1637 to 1641.
As a result of his leadership, Cambridge quickly became the most intelligent and well educated town in North America… a designation it has never lost in over 350 years.
To commemorate his groundbreaking work, which became a pattern for the new nation, and for every other nation, a large and imposing monument was erected on the Cambridge Common on September 20, 1882. It was given by Samuel James Bridge, of the sixth generation from John Bridge. It stands there to this day… certain, arresting, confident. Here is a man who dared to dream the great dreams, and his great dream was to uplift the downtrodden, the needy, persecuted, and disdained. The public school you went to, wherever it was located, owes a debt to John Bridge and his work in Cambridge.
N.B. John Bridge’s descendants kept up their work in providing impacting and instructional monuments. Each was the embodiment of a great idea. Thus, when Harvard College decided in 1884 to depict its founder, John Harvard, there were no likenesses to be had, for there are no known pictures or other representations of the founder.
As a result, Sherman Hoar (1860-1898), a member of the class of 1882, was selected as the model for the seated figure known worldwide, a symbol of youth, determination, and idealism. The Bridge family financed this great work by Daniel Chester French (1850-1931), the famous sculptor who designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. Lines of people queue for the privilege of rubbing his boot for luck.
In 1775, Cambridge had a population of about 1,500. It was a town where education was valued and God was revered. It was also a town swept by the hot winds of freedom, liberty, justice, and equality… every one a key concept of the late 18th Century intelligentsia.
Later, the famous English poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) said of the French Revolution “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!” That sentiment, if not Wordsworth’s exact words, defined Cambridge in the years of Revolution. Revolutions, after all, are made by the youth who believe the resplendent sentiments which enthrall, captivate, and bewitch them, so motivated no discomfort matters.. nothing matters… but the great thoughts which are the very gospel to them, and which justify anything.
This was Cambridge, on the threshold of revolution. Look before you, and consider the situation as the participants must have done. This great idea came alive on the Common. On these grounds, now more accustomed to frisbees and soccer balls, General George Washington took plow boys and transformed them into soldiers, and ultimately these soldiers into victory.
Washington moved daily from his grand home on Brattle Street, confiscated from the town’s leading merchant Henry Vassal, who remained loyal to the Crown. Washington on a pleasant day like this would walk to his office in what is now Harvard Yard, just a few blocks away. He was a great man. He was a man who might have been king. Nonetheless he stopped along the way, to check on the well being of his troops. This is what good leaders do.
When you see the Common, you must imagine it as it was in its various stages. Troops during the Revolution slept under hastily erected tents, which might mean bringing the materials from home, since the commissary of the newly formed United States was meager, and there was no money for amenities. Men grew hardened under such circumstances or they died; there was no middle ground.
What you must consider when you look about the Common is how they lived their lives. Many of them died through disease. The biggest problem of course was what to do with all the human waste, and that of the horses. It was noisome… it was dangerous. And the camp on the Common teetered on the brink of demise from disease.
The great figures of the Revolution were not nearly as important just then as the people who discarded the waste and kept disease at bay. But the great figures came nonetheless. In due course they included the household names of the Revolution: the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), Washington’s pet, who returned to Cambridge as part of his great American tour of 1825… General Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746-1817), who came to America with liberty on his lips... and General Henry Knox (1750-1806), whose men brought more than 60 tons of cannons and other armaments from Ticonderoga to Cambridge, approximately 200 miles, step by aching step… an achievement of genius.
We should remember, too, Martha Washington. She was in 1775 age 44, a lady of great charm and resources, who brought jellies and other dainties from Mt. Vernon... her kit packed with smiles and cool hands.
I hope now through these brief words you understand why I regard these handful of acres as among the very most important and significant in our entire history. Personally, I feel blessed at the thought that I am able to advance and maintain the work necessary to keep the true meaning of this worthy place vibrant and alive, forever.
It is a thrill and it is necessary, for without people who remember history, there will be no history to remember.
I have selected to accompany this article the “Old 100th” hymn. Composed in 1551 by Loys Bourgeois, it is arguably the most well known hymn in the Christian repertoire. It is very probably the first hymn rendered by the Pilgrims upon their arrival, although because there are many versions of the lyrics, we cannot be sure which ones the Pilgrims used.
“All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Him serve with fear, His praise forth tell;
Come ye before Him and rejoice.”
And so, taking their strength from God’s mercy, they found the wherewithal to confront another day.
Click here to listen.
A special message from Dr. Jeffrey Lant to people who are collecting items of value...
When you collect an item of value, you have taken on a responsibility for as long as you possess it. It is not enough to collect an objet d' art... you must tend it. Here, in these photographs just taken, you see two of the many helpers, Fernando and Mitchell Mafra, who keep The Lant Collection humming along in perfect order.
One of the things that is certain to happen to you if you collect items with fabric... that is to say chairs, bedroom coverlets, and drapes, is that these items will attract dirt, dust, and grit. This means you must protect yourself against these certain destroyers, and the best way to handle this is to be aware of the people in your neighborhood who can chemically treat the fabric so that any damages to it, such as a spilled glass of red wine (the worst possible marauder), are minimized.
Personally, I use MWI Fiber-Shield, and have been doing so for over a decade. You simply explain to them what you want to do, from trying to erase a longstanding stain to treating the fabric so that any destructive elements are minimized... they are also willing to review your situation and make recommendations.
This time, they came to clean a Persian rug which receives much foot traffic, and treat several chairs from the late 18th and early 19th Centuries.
Their work is thorough with minimum chemical smell, which is easily dispersed by opening and keeping your windows open before and during the treatment. I take this opportunity to thank Fernando and Mitchell... I'm certain to see you again.
As for the rest of you, don't gamble with the integrity of your fabrics. The best fabrics in the world, which I use in my decoration, are very costly. Why risk their "health" when MWI Fiber-Shield is at hand, ready to save them all?
I have added "The Work Song" from the film "Cinderella" (1950). It was written and composed by Mack David, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston. It's lyrics should inspire you to take on the necessary assistance so you do not have to do it all by yourself.
All I hear is Cinderella, from the moment I get up
till shades of night are falling
There isn't any letup, I hear them calling, calling
Go up and do the attic and go down and do the cellar, you can do them
Don't let this happen to you!
Click here to listen to the song.
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. The first thing that irritated me about the Boston Globe’s obituary for the Reverend J. Donald Monan, S.J., was the lack of the title he arguably rated the most important in his life. That is to say, his membership in the Society of Jesus (founded in 1540). Every Jesuit is punctilious about this designation… never neglecting to include it as an essential part of his signature and life. It is a source of pride, and I might say, an aggressive outlook instilled by Saint Ignatius of Loyola into the hearts of every man who has become a member of the Society.
These men are the crème de la crème of advanced Roman Catholicism. They are bright, driven, even some might say obsessed with their mission of burning their high Roman Catholic ideals into the minds of young men particularly.
When I was at Harvard, though I am not a Roman Catholic, I was often invited to partake of their fellowship. Discussions were frank, exuberant, laced with wit and knowledge. It was a privilege to be in their midst. It was often suggested to me sotto voce that I consider their path to God. I was honored, but my way was not theirs.
Still, I am as exact about protocol as they are. Thus it appalled me to see right on the very front page on March 19th, 2017, the announcement of Father Monan S.J.’s demise. It went out without the publication of his full and proper name being given… The Reverend J. Donald Monan S.J. (1924-2017).
The author, Mark Feeny, should be ashamed of himself as the Boston Globe continues its long history of garbling the titles and styles of people who earn them, and did not deserve the Boston Globe’s casual, unenlightened, and lazy approach to this matter.
I became involved with Boston College in 1975. That year, as those who lived through it will recall, was a time of recession for America and its academic circles. Jobs were scarce, pay low, disappointment likely… and so my Ivy League colleagues and I lamented. We had worked so hard, and now our careers were stalled. No one felt this more strongly than I did. For if the glory of a Ph.D. is having it conferred by Harvard, it is the more painful when one cannot conjure that degree into the plum academic career one had envisioned for so long.
I spent my time that year writing and publishing furiously to augment my already substantial credentials, and began looking for jobs in college administration, where, because of my background at Harvard, I had a leg up in the job market.
One of the many jobs I applied for was an entry level administrative position at Boston College. This position was in the Evening College. I may have thought myself overqualified for this job, but with the job market in its dismal depths, I could not afford to be overly pernickety. Moreover, as it proved, I was offered a great benefit not given me by other institutions that I could work in the evening, thus opening my morning and early afternoon hours to the book I was writing based on my Harvard doctoral dissertation.
Thus, early each day I wrote the book that launched me academically, “Insubstantial Pageant: Ceremony and Confusion at Queen Victoria's Court” (published in 1977). Then I was transformed each afternoon into a high level gofer for the Reverend James A. Woods S.J., Dean of the Evening College. It was an unusual model, but it worked.
I meet Father Woods S.J.
Father Woods S.J. will go down in Boston College history as a disappointed man who did not get the academic advancement that he wanted, but who turned his disappointment into his renowned expertise in continuing education. He was a builder, he was indefatigable, and his instructions in continuing education improved the lives of thousands of adults who had full time careers but were not willing to stop their education because of it. Father Woods S.J. made sure they could continue with reasonable effort and at reasonable price.
To understand Father Woods S.J. and Father Monan S.J., it is necessary to take one look at both of them. Father Woods S.J. was obese… there is no other word to use. This weight problem undoubtedly contributed to the fact that he was not appointed President of Boston College upon the resignation of the Reverend W. Seavey Joyce S.J.
Woods had worked closely with Joyce for many years, and was reasonably confident of becoming his successor; at least he thought so. When Father Monan S.J. was appointed President of Boston College in 1972, Father Woods S.J. was deeply disappointed, to say no more. The spare, ghost-like Father Monan S.J. upended the handshaking, backpacking Father Woods S.J., whose favorite saying when anyone asked him how he was, was an ebullient “Couldn’t be better! Couldn’t be better!” That was his sentiment. Whether it was accurate or not didn’t matter; it was his signature phrase.
Woods S.J. of course probably disliked Monan S.J. on sight. Moreover, as they lived together in priestly habitation, Father Woods S.J. had the distinction of seeing his successful rival every single day as he left for his job as President of the College. It was, I do not have to imagine, no doubt galling in the extreme.
Father Monan S.J. needed money
Boston College, when Father Monan S.J. took over, was a mediocre place so lightly regarded that there was talk of the University of Massachusetts absorbing it. Father Monan S.J. needed a goal, and the kind of strength and determination that would make a total revision of Boston College and its status successful.
Father Woods S.J. had his role in Monan S.J.’s great plan in this way. He was pushed to the backwater of the Evening College. There his job was to provide essential resources for Monan S.J.’s larger picture… you see the Evening College was a cash cow. Every quarter, it turned in reliable resources in ever increasing amounts to the general coffers of Boston College. It is not too much to say that without this constant river of predictable cash coming in, Monan S.J.’s grander plan would have come a cropper. Every nickel was needed to build a great University, and Father Woods S.J. and his reliable revenues could never be overlooked and disregarded.
Of course, Woods S.J. was irritated by this equation. He works, and he was ever a hard worker, while Monan S.J.’s reputation grows and shines. Monan S.J. of course was in the catbird seat. What he said, he got, all supplied by the man who found it difficult to stay civil with Monan S.J., and sometimes was not.
Monan S.J. of course did not help himself, maintaining the frostiest relations with Woods S.J. Every once in a while, but only occasionally, Monan S.J. would make the short walk to our office in the Evening College to host a short meeting on the topics of the day. His shortcomings as a leader were easily seen by the way he ignored our office staff, never saying a kind word to anyone, such pleasantries apparently beneath him.
He did the same with Father Woods S.J. There was no glad handing, no backslapping, no “Did you hear the one about…?” It was the acknowledged leader keeping his underling in place, while taking all the treasure of the land for his own projects and the advancement of his ideas. You can see why Father Woods S.J. was always irritable when Father Monan S.J. was about. The man was a living embodiment of what Woods S.J. had lost. It was his grand objective in life, and he did not get it.
I enter the scene
Right from the get go, I came to learn why Father Woods S.J. hired me. First, I had a Harvard Ph.D. and he had no higher degree of any kind. Second, I had experience at Harvard in creating what amounted to extra curricular special programs with high level guests.
Technically, I was there to create new courses for the curriculum, and I used my position at Boston College to meet many of Boston’s great figures at the time. I would go visit them, suggest a kind of course they might teach, and handle the necessary details. In short order, my desk at Boston College looked like an uncontrollable explosion in a data factory. There were papers, synopses, notes, and ideas everywhere, burying my desk.
My heart wasn’t in this job of course, but I was grateful to have it at a difficult time, although my salary was a joke; just $12,000 a year, a pittance even in 1975.
Because Father Woods S.J. was anxious to burnish the credentials of his minimal staff, he gave permission for me to go to England and finish my work with Hamish Hamilton in London. It was one of the great gifts of my life, and launched a literary career that has now spanned 62 volumes.
To protect my job, I one day had an insight so clever it tickles me to this day. I discovered that the New England seat on the National Advisory Council on Adult Education was open. Without telling Father Woods S.J. I approached every member of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, both Senators and Representatives, and asked them to endorse Father Woods S.J. for the seat.
Given the help of then Representative and now Senator Edward Markey, graduate of Boston College, the matter was easily accomplished. Only Representative Gerry Studds (D-Mass) opposed, saying he did not know Father Woods S.J. and could not endorse. He should have followed our path, as he was later admonished in the well of the House of Representatives for molesting page boys.
One day Father Woods S.J. came to me in a pother saying “What have you been doing?” The tone was not friendly. “I’ve just had a call from the F.B.I.” They were of course doing their usual background check… nothing strange here, except that Woods S.J. had never had one before. And of course I had not bothered to enlighten him about what I was doing. I told him it was a pleasant surprise and that he should be patient, one of the attributes in minimal supply in his repertoire.
Of course his attitude changed dramatically when he was appointed by President Carter as a member of the Council, filling the available New England seat. I was present when the document arrived from the White House. It was his commission, and it was enormous; it catered to the substantial egos of such people as Father Woods S.J. It was the first thing you saw when you entered his office. There it seemed to say “I have checked you Father Monan S.J., make what you will of this distinguished honor.” As such, it placed him on the national stage in a field of importance, adult continuing education.
This was but one of several notable things I helped Father Woods S.J. accomplish, as he searched for an appropriate Jesuit College for his much desired presidency. As such, I helped him write his dissertation for his Ed.D. degree, and anything else that needed my Harvard trained touch.
Woods S.J., however, never did get his Jesuit presidency or any other. Instead he performed his unique role as milch cow, turning over predictable revenues that enabled Father Monan S.J. to do his job at Boston College, by burnishing his own reputation, turning a mediocre educational institution into something better.
Even so, Boston College has not achieved the academic goals which are required of a great University. The library about which they are so proud has very few resources of any significance whatsoever. Then again books are not at the heart of Roman Catholic education; dogma is.
I had occasion to see this firsthand in the development of the Evening College curriculum, which had to be Roman Catholic first, and true second. This is not the formula for greatness, for a great University must harbor and assist in the development of equally great ideas… and this was never the case at Boston College, and is not the case now.
Thus, Father Monan S.J.’s biography is scattered not with the names of prominent scholars, or even of significant Catholic thinkers, but with Doug Flutie, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1984, arguably the highest achievement of Father Monan S.J.’s entire regime, football not scholarship.
Thus we leave the story very much in medias res. Father Woods S.J. achieved in due course a watered down version of his original goal, the force behind his James A. Woods, S.J., College of Advancing Studies, the Evening College of old.
When it was launched in 2002, I received a note of invitation to attend the inauguration. Since I was arguably the worst employee he ever hired, the man who upon resignation was asked by Father Woods S.J. “Do you still work here?”, insulting but honest, I was not a little surprised.
Still when I arrived at the grand garden party attended by hundreds, Father Woods S.J. took me by the hand and escorted me to the opening of his magnum opus, where in great majesty hung his citation from President Jimmy Carter, “Greetings from the President...” It was quite possibly the highest honor of his entire life, a gift from the President... and from me.
I have selected as accompaniment for this article the Boston College Fight Song and Alma Mater Lyrics “For Boston”. It was written and composed by T.J. Hurley, a member of the Boston College Class of 1885. It is peppy and upbeat, just the way a great fight song should be.
“For Boston, for Boston,
Thy glory is our own!
For Boston, for Boston,
'Tis here that Truth is known.
And thy work is crown'd.
For Boston, for Boston.”
Father Monan S.J. would have agreed.
Ave atque vale!
Click here to listen to the song.
"Brideshead Revisited"... revisited. Some thoughts on this old bag of tricks the English love to venerate.
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
I very well remember the first day I became aware of "Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder". I can even, without too much difficulty, tell you where I was that momentous day in 1970. I was in Oxford, where I planned to spend as many festive weeks as I could squeeze out of my Harvard fellowship and live the life of an English lord. I took the train from Victoria Station, London, and was replete with every degree of enthusiasm and excitement for my unusual situation.
You see, I was working on my doctoral dissertation at Harvard at the time, and rationalized to myself that spending so much time in Oxford would enable me to do the necessary research which could only be done in a fine library, such as the one Oxford has possessed for centuries.
To do this research required a dinner jacket, black shoes (not so very scuffed), and nodding acquaintance with all the fine wines of France, and a strong head for advancement into further research into every single one of them. As it turns out, it also required a copy of "Brideshead Revisited". This novel, published in 1945, shows an idealized vision of everything author Evelyn Waugh's wand touched.
It was a magic I believed in, as did all my Oxen friends, bright, witty, clever... who made themselves past masters. We all understood "Brideshead Revisited" because we were all determined to live it... each and every page of it, until the action in the book shifted to Brideshead itself, later in the book and not nearly as interesting as I would find it years later.
This book and everything Waugh said had no more fervent supporters than we Americans, who used to gather everyday at a particular coffee shop in the middle of Oxford and posture, preen, and one up each other with devastating effect.
To meet these stringent requirements, we collectively determined that only Americans from the elite schools should be admitted to our fellowship. That included every Ivy League college of course (though Dartmouth and Brown were iffy), headed by Harvard, and occasionally someone from the Harvard of the West, Stanford... but usually we were too busy maneuvering our own social position to help a poor Western student or anyone else who wanted to join our merry, stringent company.
Of course, as a PhD candidate at Harvard, my own stellar credentials topped the list. And from the very first minute I was in Oxford, I was in just the right set at just the right time. I never missed a morning coffee (though I detest coffee and never drink it), for fear of what would be said about me if I weren't there to protect myself. This was no place for weenies, as my own brother Kevin quickly discovered when he came to visit me.
He was bicycling around Europe, preparing to take up his fellowship at Ohio State University, and only my recommendation allowed him to come into our circle. He was furious to be reliant on me. I said that if he would remove his distracting beard, it would give him a pass for a day or two. His response, characteristically truculent, was "Jesus himself wore a beard! If it was good enough for Jesus, its going to be good enough for you!"
It wasn't... and so he peddled on, to some obscure place where he could observe his rocks and mountainous formations without the presence of a censorious older brother, always correct on any subject, and his punctilious friends.
When the train pulled in to Oxford, I had a premonition that my life was about to change dramatically... that I had reached the Emerald City... and while I was ecstatic to be at Harvard as a student, I was happier to be in Oxford as a man, learning how to be a gentleman of means on a pittance. Harvard gave me money, but Harvard was not the place for an aspiring lord like myself. For that, it had to be Oxford.
William Powers Ingoldsby, always this man's best friend, was on time as always when the train rolled in. He gave me a quick once over, and started barking orders. I was to get my haircut at once. I was to dispose, in a way no one could find them, of my true American clothes. I must submit to being taken to his tailor immediately, a place where he was so well known that when he put in this order and asked for rushed service, he got it. These garments I was absolutely innocent of, for I had never worn what Americans wrongly call a tuxedo.
I was putty in the hands of Ingoldsby, who had come a term before I got there, with his house and servant, and unending parties, which made us and all the rest of our cadre very happy indeed. His further instructions urged me to ready myself for my first entree into English Society. Princess Imeretinsky, who was born English, was having a soiree at her gracious home in Cheltenham. It was of course black tie, all decorations to be worn. Sadly, I had none and felt naked.
As we walked up the drive to her home, Ingoldsby gave me my final instructions... all preceded by "Don't". I shall abandon this tedious list, and focus on his last instruction... "Don't break anything!" Twenty minutes later, I was assisting the hostess pick up the shards of an imperial Russian goblet, smashed by Ingoldsby to my unutterable joy and happiness.
I managed to insinuate to the hostess, who I treated with the most exaggerated politeness, for I had never met a Princess before, Russian or otherwise, I managed to insinuate the fact that my poor friend Ingoldsby was known to be rather clumsy, which was not the truth. But again, we were always on guard for moves of studied one-upsmanship.
But I digress...
The last thing my dear friend Ingoldsby gave me was his well thumbed copy of "Brideshead Revisited." His need for a pupil was satisfied by standing over me that entire afternoon and urging me to "Get on with the book! Vite! Vite!" I needed no encouragement. From the very first page, I succumbed to the heady magic of Brideshead, for I was too young and inexperienced to know that Brideshead is a fantasy, without a word of truth or historic fact.
Years later, when I discovered author Waugh had completed the book in just six months, I said to myself, "He could only have raced along at that speed if he was making up all the things along the way." And so he was.
When you tell an English friend, for you I'm sure know only the best of people, he'll want you to believe in the veracity of Waugh's vision. It opens with Lord Sebastian Flyte, during his first year up at Oxford. Lord Sebastian was well known to everyone at the "Varsity", for his chauffeur drove a car of exaggerated luxury... one of those darlings with odd names and a look which made you madly jealous with envy, while at the same time hoping he waved to you as he was driven slowly through the narrow streets, greeting his particular friends, ignoring the rest, including to your chagrin, you yourself.
Lord Sebastian, in the entire volume, never cracks a book of learning. I cannot recall a single instance where he actually learns anything... no doubt one of my knowledgeable readers will send me an irate letter, punishing me for forgetting that on page 364, Lord Sebastian read a paragraph in some book or other. Don't bother to look it up; that "fact" is just a lie.
Lord Sebastian's importance is that he is beautiful, the most astonishing undergraduate of his time at Oxford. There are people who would say this paragon of gorgeous visage had a perfect smile, clothes made by the best tailors on Savile Row... a knowledge of the wines and liqueurs unsurpassed by any 18 year old in history... rooms in the very best part of College... and of course, Aloysius... his teddy bear and alter ego, to whom he submitted himself when he needed guidance or advice, which was frequently.
Everyone who saw this quintessence of English nobility succumbed to his charm... not merely considerable, but lethal when he bothered used it. And of course he did. You may rest assured that an Englishman dislikes you if you find yourself the focus of his charm... the greatest weapon in the entire history of the Empire.
The story begins with Lord Sebastian, tight again, a state of affairs the young English aristocracy knew so well. Unfortunately this particular evening, Sebastian had imbibed too much, which concerned absolutely no one; after all haven't you heard the expression "drunk as a lord?" That was Sebastian's standard condition. Unfortunately, this particular evening, he had drunk too much.
One of the windows on the ground floor was open, and in a moment his rancid vomit filled the bedroom of Mr. Charles Ryder, 18, unhappily middle class, equally horrified by Sebastian's conduct and envious about how one could regurgitate with such grace and savoir faire.
Sebastian cast Charles Ryder a winsome smile, which said "I am so charming and beautiful, you won't mind will you?" Charles's friends minded, but Charles, casting his eye in the direction of another better place, accepted his role as explainer of Sebastian's conduct, and friend, which entailed being a consummate babysitter for Lord Sebastian. Men of course, are so far superior to women in that capacity.
Here the game gets both more interesting and more complicated. Sebastian knew, or at least he seemed to know, that his behavior of random vomiting into a fellow undergraduate's room may have gone just a bit beyond the limit. He therefore calls into service every florist within the greater Oxford area. They were needed to deliver their best, most prepossessing, and most fragrant blooms to Mr. Ryder's rooms, to the consternation of his scout. He would have been irritated, but for the fact, yes, you knew it, his lordship was beautiful.
Now begins the great flaw of this book. Charles Ryder hungered for love and affection, and Sebastian did too. And so we are led to believe these two young men, captivated with each other, stayed for months at a time at Brideshead, the great country house of Sebastian's family. It was a city unto itself on a hill overlooking the green, green grass of Wiltshire; packed with treasures of generations of aristocratic brigands who always knew the best things to take (think Elgin Marbles), and did so with breathtaking assiduity.
Then on to Venice to stay with Sebastian's father, the Lord Marchmain, who years before had abandoned his wife and all of his children because of his wife's adamant, inconvenient, and unbending Roman Catholicism. His life in Venice plunged Lord Marchmain into debt, but no one pressed him, for after all, he was an English aristocrat with a lovely palace at his disposal.
Now picture if you will two young men of normal concupiscence, together day and night, surrounded by beauteous objects, and a staff always at their disposal. The English critics, so literate, so clever, so blind or so conspiring, say that the relationship between these boys was not vicious (code word for homosexual). That suggests they never touched or hugged, or cuddled in a way that they could deny everything in the morning... in short, that they were "good boys", and Charles a true friend, eschewing the delights of love for the solidity of friendship.
And I say to these critics, and I say it with zeal, "You are wrong, you are wrong, you are wrong!" The English as a people have had a very hard time speaking frankly about male relations. They passed the most repressive legislation against gay men, and threw thousands of them into disgrace and often imprisonment. And so Waugh has his characters remain inches apart, but unable to reach out and touch each other. In short, coitus interruptus, indeed.
It is no doubt my revolutionary American outlook on things British that causes me to be so enraged against the British tendency to avoid calling a spade a spade. Rather I am of the "If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck" school of thought.
Sebastian's mother, Lady Marchmain, understood I think the precipice that Sebastian was walking. And I do believe she preferred him drunk to the thought of disgusting embraces with his only friend Charles Ryder. This conclusion is more sensible than the one that the author tries to impose on us, that there was nothing but innocence and no jolly rogering... secret or otherwise.
His increasingly self-destructive alcoholism enabled Lady Marchmain, a staunch Roman Catholic of the Pius XII variety, to intervene at frequent intervals... the better to control his increasingly out of control life. But where was Charles Ryder in all of this, the supposed best friend, the sensible one? He himself was so lonely and friendless that he would have accepted most anything from Sebastian, so that he might continue to stay with him in Brideshead and in Venice.
But of course, the real sin was that they loved each other... not wisely, but too well. And whether they fornicated or not (and of course I think they did), their relationship was doomed, for the English have always valued hypocrisy more than truth, which can so often be indiscreet.
Waugh's book is always most believable when the situations he describes crush individuality, and sacrifice it for one of the most obnoxious words ever invented... gentleman. Charles Ryder and Lord Sebastian Flyte never had a chance. This is what makes the book so wistful, so yearning, so unsatisfactory... for this is a book about how the English, aristocratic or not, work to impose rigid rules and regulations, especially on people who might well flout the system and enjoy themselves.
Thus I came away from "Brideshead Revisited" enraged... and this rage sent me back to my own golden days at Oxford, when I believed the great myth and strove mightily to live it... and succeeded, too, to a great extent. I wonder whether those days when I was young and sought love were in any way real, substantive... whether the magic had power in reality, or whether this was all designed to deceive. I do not know the answer, even now, 50 years later and counting.
I still cannot quite believe that this place dedicated to youth, beauty, truth, and knowledge was a sham... this stage for a play where nothing is as it seems to be.
A few years ago, I returned to Oxford, anxious to see the sights of my youth, and how many of them remain, or had been washed away by relentless time. I came away unsettled, even depressed. The magic was gone. The magic, which may never have been there in the first place, was certainly gone now for me. I can only hope that somewhere among these students I did not see and did not know, there was a teddy bear named Aloysius... and the chance of love.
I've selected as the musical accompaniment to this article the theme song for Granada Television's magnificent 1981 miniseries "Brideshead Revisited" by Geoffrey Burgon (1941-2010). It is perhaps the best series ever, meticulously crafted, accurate to a fault. If there are faults, they emanate from Waugh and his knowingly dishonest vision, not the producers. They are innocent and free from responsibility.
Click here for the song.
'Oh, Danny Boy, oh Danny boy I love you so', but not in Southie and NOT in the St. Patrick's Day parade.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author's program note. Have you ever been to South Boston's St. Patrick's Day parade? It is at the best of times a pitiable thing, ramshackle, disorganized, still smelling of the mother load that Billy O'Sullivan barfed on Monseigneur Murray last year as he bent down to bless the laddie, age 38 and unemployed.
No one was particularly surprised, including the Monseigneur who always knew the O'Sullivans were a bad lot... but they are County Clare Irish, their father a reliable campaign worker (his record five votes in a single day), and (it's important to inform you) didn't tell the world what happened when the twins were apple-cheeked altar boys at St. Matt's...
That's a comfort to his eminence, although his lawyers told him to pony up $60,000 for each of them because he loved them not wisely but too well. Hallelujah. And, yes, they'll be marching in the parade, wearing their new store-bought duds. They even chipped in for something for Billy since the ones he wore last year are encrusted with dull green puke and stink to high Heaven.
Ordinarily no one would mention it but, as I said, they're from the County Clare O'Sullivans who have standards to maintain. They'll be a gay sight to see, and their poor mother (who's still paying for the bail money) will be so proud to hear them break into uneven song just for her...
She hopes it won't be "I'll take you home again, Kathleen/ Across the ocean wild and wide... The roses all have left your cheek/ I've watched them fade away and die". (Thank God, she's just got time for a concealing facial. Trixie is such a treasure. She's always so good at removing the dead skin cells... at least most of them. Such a pity she's cross-eyed and misses a patch or two. Still what a bargain at just $25... though she says her price will double if she ever gets her license. No fear of that. She's 70 now if she's a day.)
Such a serenade it will be. It's sad most of the boys singing are missing their front teeth, a combination of hockey pucks gone astray and punches from the O'Malley's. In truth they shouldn't have called their cousin Fiona a whore, though if the truth be told... Still, the Christian way is to say nothing and hope that Father Pat can give her some good solid advice before this baby ends up in the Home for Little Wanderers like her last one. Who finally admitted paternity in that case anyway?
Oh, yes, now I remember. That would be Jimmy Hennessey, who set the record for most AWOL days in the USMC. It was said, but never proved, that he had girls in every port. He told me right on this very porch he always kept the lights out when he had visitors of the female persuasion so they couldn't see all his tattoos and figure out where they stood in the pecking order.
The first one saying "Rosita" was the biggest and as he added the girlies he cut the size. I shouldn't tell you where the most recent was engraved... he said he could only fess up if he had another brew or two... I gave him the bottles of course, not to see mind, but only out of courtesy. I looked... then I had to look away. It was D-I-S-G-U-S-T-I-N-G .He told me he'd be marching in the parade... then laughed and showed me his tattered underwear. "I'm charging 50 cents per view." He would. (OMG how I love my neighborhood and all the good people within it... they make our parade the best ever and everywhere).
Old French Proverb, hence unknown in the Emerald Isle. The old guard obstructs, blocks, embarrasses, dies. But it never thinks and never surrenders. Their's is the most foolish consistency of the littlest minds.
For over 20 years now the people of Southie have done everything they could to keep the wrong sort of people as far away from them and their civic endeavors as possible. They wanted a parade that showcased their adamant (Roman Catholic) family values, their local and vocal celebration and veneration of St. Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland, and the evacuation of the British fleet and army from Boston in 1776.
These disparate factors come together once every year to create a humdinger of an event... bigger and better every single year. And still pure as the driven snow. No preverts, if you catch my meaning. Of course my little signs have helped a lot, "No preverts need apply!" I've dished out at least 100 but only to my lace-curtained friends and neighbors. They cost good money after all.
Brother Thomas Dalton's true colors.
This year the forces of Sodom and Gomorrah made a concerted attack on the parade. Since last year at this time they had gained a very significant supporter in his newly elected honor Mayor Martin Walsh. Walsh is as Irish as they get but he knows that preverts walk nowadays in every city's parade but two, and he wants New York to be the last one standing, habited in shame and prejudice. Thus, he made a major effort to get them a place and bury the problem.
For an instant, but only for an instant, his round-the-clock endeavors paid off. The parade organizers at The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, with their personal pitbull John J. "Wacko" Hurley in the vanguard, agreed to let gays and lesbians march, so long as they wore no identification, no badges, no tell-tale insignia. It was insulting, of course, discriminatory, and demeaning. Nobody liked this compromise which may have been the surest indicator that it was the best that could be achieved just now.
Unfortunately the bigot brigade, which never slept during these tumultuous negotiations, immediately sent in one of their dimmest bulbs, Bro'. Thomas Dalton, Principal of the Immaculate Heart of Mary school in Harvard, Massachusetts. He pulled the school's marching band out of the parade saying he couldn't allow his petted darlings within a country mile of anyone "condoning the homosexual lifestyle." Thus, with a whiff of the Inquisition this uneducated educator made his unenlightened opinion known... and the agreement fell apart, disgust and finger-pointing from every side.
Was that completely unacceptable outcome absolutely necessary? Certainly not! As an internationally known management consultant, I offer a better way, a thinking-outside-the-box way, a way that will solve this pesky problem... with the extra advantage that it leaves Manhattan and its biased practices in the trash. Delicious.
Dr. Lant's idea for solving this problem now.
We have all wasted enough ink on this situation. Let's solve it now, people.
"Wacko" Hurley and company would prefer no homosexuals walking the parade route. But given enough mayoral arm twisting, they would probably re-accept the deal they originally offered and then withdrew.
Gay rights organizations understandably want total equality, absolutely no hint of condescension and moral disapproval. Political realities being what they are, they'll have to hold their noses and take the original offer with as much grace as possible... always remembering that this grand presentation I'm here recommending ensures maximum worldwide publicity and an eye-opening response from the recalcitrant and mulish organizers.
Hurley says no badges or insignias or political statements of any kind. No problem. Thus, position a bevy of frilly drag queens at the front, two holding a big sign saying "Oh, Danny boy."
Six examples of pulchritudinous beefcake should follow, dressed in green jock straps, broad green ribbons, and leprechaun hats with pointed ears. Nothing else except for "Erin Go Bragh" artfully engraved in bright green on the right buttock. These boys, tap dancing, will from time to time open like shamrocks at sunrise... only to reveal this scenario.
Billy O'Sullivan naked as the day he was born kneeling before a picture of Brad Pitt singing the ultimate Irish lyric...
"And I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow"/Oh, Danny boy... I love you so!" Given what Billy's packin', it's easy to see why... and there won't be a dry eye in the house, which is just as it should be.
"Danny Boy" is one of the most famous and affecting songs in the world. It is a ballad written by English songwriter Frederic Weatherly (1913). It is usually set to the Irish tune of the "Londonderry Air." It was recorded in 1915 by the celebrated vocalist Ernestine Schumann-Heink who gave its simple words their soaring majesty. Go now to any search engine and find the version you prefer from so many notable alternatives.
Since its release people have argued about its meaning. Is it a parent singing for a child off to the Great War with its sickening casualty lists? Or is it about another leaving the profound beauty of Ireland, so easy to admire and break your heart? What matter? It is a song of love, however given, wherever needed. As such one man should indeed sing it to another whenever his love is ardent and true, whether he be straight, gay, or anything else.
10,000 (Wo)men of Harvard. Oprah Winfrey at Commencement, May 30, 2013 and I am proud to be there for "bye and bye" has come at last.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.
Author's program note. I knew I would go to Harvard Commencement this year after I read a disconcerting article in The Boston Globe some months ago. It cited the opposition of certain alumni to having Miss Oprah Winfrey as this year's principal speaker and honorary degree recipient, Harvard's chief honor. Their argument went something like this, some of it overt, some (the ugliest)
She wasn't up to Harvard standards, she was not a woman of education, not a woman of merit, and most important, NOKD, "Not our kind, dear." As these words, written and implied, rolled out, I knew in my bones that come hell or high water, I would be present, in full regalia, to honor the lady and what I knew would be her message of hope, inspiration and empowerment.
And so yesterday, on the unexpectedly hottest day of the year, I went back to Harvard, on the day of my own 43rd graduation anniversary... to show solidarity, support, good manners and discerning judgement. And no one cheered her more loudly and with greater sincerity than I did... for I recognized that this was not merely an event to honor a single woman, no matter how deserving of such honor. But far more important to honor the sisterhood and their gentle revolution, an epochal event that changed the world and liberated not just women but men, too, for the liberation of women has certainly meant the liberation of men, though not all such have recognized this yet.
Before I go on I want to take this opportunity to introduce you to the principal players in yesterday's production. First, there is Mr. Aime' and Mrs. Mercedes Joseph, born in Haiti, two of the principal reasons why my life works so well and smoothly. I took them to Commencement to thank them, to show them an aspect of Americana they would not otherwise see, and, frankly, because it is easy to trip and fall amidst the undulations of such a huge crowd... and their support was very useful indeed.
Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University, Lincoln Professor of History.
Sandra Demson, '58, distinguished attorney in Canada, veteran of the revolution.
Diane Neal Emmons, Ed.M., an old friend rediscovered, another soldier for the cause, her weapons of choice her wit, ebullience, and an optimism that will not waver, despite the provocations life throws at each of us, delighting to see what we will make of them.
As a social scientist, student of the material world in all its manifestations, I should not believe in such matters as destiny, providence, or kismet. Should not. But when a day arranges itself as felicitously as yesterday's did, the right things happening in just the right order, one is forced to consider the inconvenient notion that something other than random chance is present, "inconvenient" because unpredictable, though that doesn't necessarily mean bad. Yesterday's serendipities were anything but...
Since I arrived at Harvard in the fall of 1969, I have passed through the great Class of 1877 Gate thousands of times. But when I passed through it yesterday I was patted down by a female security officer. It is a sign of our times, a blip that tells us the world has changed, and not for the better. Once inside a recollection from "Gone With The Wind" came to mind. It was at the beginning of the film, where the newly engaged couple, Ashley and Melanie, stand on the balcony of Twelve Oaks and look out at their world of grace, luxury and privilege, a world they love, threatened with destruction whether the South wins or not.
I stood for a moment, just next to the president's office in Massachusetts Hall and looked at the vibrant scene before me. It, too, is challenged, roiled by even positive change... I was determined to see, determined to remember what I saw this day and what was part of me: class marshals in top hat and cut-away; their female counterparts wearing bright red rosettes with bright smiles to match; academic gowns from every renowned and prestigious university on Earth; new graduates wearing the most desirable costume of all, their unflinching youth. They would shortly sing "Gaudeamus igitur, Juvenes dum sumus" (Let us rejoice while we are young.) They would not understand... but the alumni before them would... for the words, once just lyrics of a well-known song, gather their profound meaning with every passing year in an exercise we call wisdom and which we cannot approach unmoved.
Rubbing for luck.
Every alumnus becomes perforce a guide when escorting guests to Commencement, and so, hobbling, I lead the Josephs to the statue of John Harvard, the Founder. Only it isn't. There are no extant images of the man whose gift of books, lavish as all gifts to Harvard should be, launched the greatest educational establishment on Earth (1636).
What to do? Improvise! And thus a suitably attractive young man of noble countenance from the class of 1884 was invited to pose for the famous statue by Daniel Chester French. It stands in the center of the Yard, the faceless Founder facing eternity in the body of flawless youth. Both have thereby been immortalized, and this is perhaps why one is advised to rub the shoe for luck... for seizing eternity is certainly worth the doing. This is something every Harvard student knows.
When you talk of The President in Cambridge, you mean the President of Harvard. It was my privilege to share a few minutes conversation with the current occupant yesterday, Drew Gilpin Faust, president since 2007. An historian herself, she is a person of history; the first woman to lead Harvard. Let me tell you this: she is well and truly on her way to becoming one of the most respected and beloved leaders of this historic institution and thus one of the great benefactors of the Great Republic and the wider world beyond, for Harvard is universal now and forever more.
When you think of President Faust think of what has happened to and in the world since her historic appointment. You will then understand she has presided over six turbulent years, years when even Fortress Harvard knew anxiety. If she never did another thing, she would find an honorable place in Harvard's story. But at just 65, she is in her prime... ready to do battle for the light. What will she do? Here's a clue to one of her projects...
In her remarks yesterday she drove home one essential point; that the impending massive cuts in federal research funding are short sighted, self destructive, ill advised in every way. Research is what gives us the improvements we desire; slicing any part of it gives us less. Does this make sense?
President Faust will ensure Harvard's clout is used to avoid this folly. And she has my support in doing so. Just as she will always have my support in any and all endeavors to strengthen the liberal arts and humanities, always the great beating heart of Harvard.
"Is this seat taken?"
There were just three seats left in about the fourth row, and I knew we should grab them. But first I needed a positive response to the question asked through the ages: Is this seat taken? And so I came to meet a new friend, Sandra Demson, Class of '58. She had come to participate in the 55th Reunion of the Harvard and Radcliffe Classes of 1958. I introduced myself and in just a minute or two we were chatting like a house afire, discovering one person after another we knew and had in common. Harvard meetings are like that.
However, the most important aspect of our conversation concerned my questions to Sandra about the differences she discerned in the situation of Radcliffe students in 1958 and the position of women undergraduates today. And here a pleasant afternoon's smooth conversation became more than chat, an insight into history, something she wanted to tell... and I very much wanted to hear.
You see, Sandra Demson, smart, attractive, charming, was part of the generation which placed every aspect and feature at the foot of Man... and lived to regret it, like so many other women who not only discovered father didn't know best; they discovered that father knew hardly anything at all... and this made for many problems, ructions, and difficulties, especially when Man continued to insist upon a superiority he clearly did not possess.
And so Sandra, like every "good woman" of her age and outlook learned to carry on, bite her tongue, and somehow keep the faith alive, that better days, and lasting love, too, would come to her. And, in due course, "this too shall pass" passed... And God granted her marital love, peace, and the easy, "woman of the world" manners which we have all erred in not insisting our young successors should have and which she graciously shared with me on this sweltering day.
It was Sandra Demson who looked at Oprah and said, "She's nervous. She's trembling"... No wonder. A poor black girl from the Deep South,had by dint of unceasing work, determination and an attitude of "must" not just "can" do had scaled the heights into the very citadel of American prestige. There she was, physically smaller than her outsized television presence, quivering just a bit but the crowed roared for her... and so the lady of embracements, hugs and love, was soon awash in the huzzas which must have been heard blocks away. In a very real sense, Oprah Winfrey had come home, and she was greeted accordingly.
When the tumult ebbed a bit, Oprah began. Soon, just in passing, she mentioned a tune she loved. I looked it up when I got home and immediately understood her better as well as why she'd referenced it, holding it close, a security blanket. It is "We'll understand it better bye and bye". Written by Charles Albert Tindley (1851-1933), an ex-slave and "the Father of Gospel Music", it is a rousing, barn stormer of a song, the lyrical equivalent of Oprah herself. Go now to any search engine and listen carefully..."We are tossed and driven/ on the restless sea of time... We will understand it better bye and bye." I prefer the inimitable version by Mahalia Jackson. Listening to this mistress of godly soul, you can believe, deep in your heart, that better times will come as they came to Oprah Winfrey.
Then Oprah told us how they came to her, what she learned, what she had to do... and what she had to share with others. She spoke, like a female Polonius, of being true to thyself, of living your own life, not the life assigned to you or allowed by others. She spoke of the commitment one must make, the unceasing focus one must maintain. And she spoke of what must be done in the inevitable days when troubles come and one faces the reality of dread and defeat. This was not mere eloquence, though the lady excels at eloquence. It was not mere rhetoric, though the lady's rhetoric is notable... no, indeed. Instead she was speaking from what the world knows as her great heart... so motivational, so inspirational, so uplifting that along with her massive crowd of the eminent, learned and well connected, I was on my feet, not just cheering, but shouting approbation and encouragement... yes, Oprah had come home.... and for the lady who loves there was ample love
My day was, I thought, over and completely successful. Aime' and Mercedes Joseph had given support. President Faust impressed and reassured. Sandra Demson gave charm and friendship. Oprah gave the formula not merely for success, but how to conquer failure. It was enough, more than enough, but there was more....
Leaving the Tercentenary Theatre, Oprah whisked away by the omnipresent security, I saw a face I knew so well... and it was Diane (always pronounced Dee-On), Diane Neal Emmons. And so serendipity continued, unpredictability its metier, for here was a long-lost friend, benefactor when I was a penurious graduate student, forty years ago, success in the future, but when? Diane and her legendary hospitality helped make waiting bearable. This time she invited me to her home for the 4th of July celebrations when the known world gathers in her front yard to extol the Great Republic. I may even go... for there is a story there... and I want to be the one who tells it, for only thus will we "understand it better bye and bye..."
Oprah Winfrey turned me on to "Understand It Better Bye and Bye." It is easy to see why she liked it. It is upbeat, toe-tapping, praise God music, written by the Rev. Dr. Charles Albert Tindley (1851-1933). You'll enjoy it. Play it whenever the world and you are at odds.
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
When you look at pictures of Middlebury College in Vermont (founded in 1800), you look at a perfect campus, the kind that makes you wistful with the hope that you could go back in time, sit under a tree with brilliant fall foliage, your best pal and best gal next to you. The Green Mountains are glorious... so glorious that every time you look outside your dormitory window, you cannot believe just how privileged you are. This is what we see, this is what we want to see.
And then, there is the incident of Thursday, March 2nd, 2017, where that picture perfect postcard became a playing field of violence, hatred, vulgarity, disgrace, and yes, dishonor, turning a great institution into a place of ignominy.
The facts go like this. A campus organization did what they have always done throughout history; they selected a speaker to enliven one of their meetings. You can see them at their work, saying "He'd never come," "My father knows him," and "Let's give it a try and see whether he comes." Bringing special guests to campus is, you see, a long hallowed tradition.
Since there is usually no money in the treasury, the game goes like this. Meet your guest... provide plane tickets, if possible, or even send one of the members to pick up the guest, the benefit being that extra time with a person of consequence. A dinner was customarily arranged at a fine local restaurant... the President, the officers of the club making sure they got to have dinner with the guest.
Then the President of the club would escort his guest to the campus auditorium, where the number of seats filled was a direct indication of how popular, even how controversial the guest speaker was. The talk, of course, would be erudite, clever, humorous... a breath of real life. The speech was followed by a reception, ordinarily attended by the President of the institution, his wife, and any other guests he may have happened to have staying with him just then.
The sherry, of course, was always mediocre (why did it have to always be that inferior brand?). But you were drunk more on the atmosphere than the vintage. It was a wonderful thing, that a person whose name you saw in the newspapers or even the movies could come sit next to you. You wanted the guest to autograph the program, but you were afraid your friends would see, and it would establish you as a weenie. Still, somehow, you got the autograph in the end. You still have it.
Before you went to bed, you called your parents or wrote them a brief letter. After all they were footing a sizable portion of the bill (which in 2016 was just a shade under $50,000 a year). Still, it was a good thing to show your parents that there was value for money, your father particularly would be relieved.
This is the way it was supposed to be. This is the way it had been so often before. Now, this longstanding tradition had been besmirched by people who manifestly failed to understand what a liberal arts college exists to do, and why the behavior of some caused consternation to the many.
Enter M. de Voltaire (1694-1778)
One of the most well known quotations on Earth is Voltaire's ringing declaration "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Men and women have gone to war to defend this sacred oath. They died to preserve it. They gave up the ghost to defend for the rest of us a sacred trust that allowed us to say what we had to say without any fear of obstruction, retribution, or impediment of any kind. Generations came and went with near unanimous agreement. Defense of the indefensible constituted one of the great virtues of our Republic.
We might abhor the thought, be disgusted by the thought, find the thought painful, revolting, even pernicious, but we also knew, and this is the point, our Great Republic had grown and flourished in part because we allowed those who thought differently than we did to have their unacceptable say without rancor or hostility, without physical abuse or frightening tactics.
This freedom, found so infrequently around the globe, was one of the indelible glories of our Constitution, of our entire way of life, and we were right to exalt what was this treasure we had helped create and make more splendid yet.
This is what had made the day in pristine Vermont so troubling to so many. Take a look at the facts. Charles Murray is a well known gadfly and columnist, whose particular bee in his bonnet is his firm belief that some are gifted with superior intelligence, and some have hardly any intelligence at all.
He has gone about the country stirring up hatred and division. No reputable authority has stepped forward to say "We have Charles Murray, and he will show us the way." But this is not how it is when Charles Murray comes to college campuses. He looks out upon a sea of faces of every race and color and says some of these are at the bottom of the heap because of DNA, whilst others are at the top.
Who is responsible for this state of affairs? Why, your DNA molecules, of course. Mr. Murray says his piece, the audience rolls its eyes on schedule, sniggers and disputes him. He picks up a nice check, gets his story in the New York Times, whilst the trustees of the institution congratulate themselves, having pulled off a quiet coup, no blood spilled, the institution's reputation for truth, justice, and the American way is sustained.
The people in the audience look at each other and say smugly "That wasn't so bad. I even found things to agree with him about." And everyone is happy... except the self-proclaimed "revolutionaries" who have only pure thoughts and pure intentions, and a pocketful of shibboleths and "knowledge" which doesn't even rise to the status of cliche.
They hear about the Murray visit and they determine upon a course of action that will sustain their purity, and turn them into heroes for each other. They plot their course... first, they make sure they look terrific, for after all they will be on the 11 o'clock news. Their clothes must be black, the de rigueur revolutionary color. No exceptions, except for the occasional red Che Guevara t-shirt, a hero they have adopted though they know nothing about him.
Hair must be cropped irregularly. The whiff of many unwashed days must follow them like a rancid dog. And of course, they must wear masks, for while they're willing to go to any extent on behalf of what they believe, they want no one to know that they believe it.
Oh yes, one last fashion touch. Since they will, as part of the choreography, turn their backs shunning the people they mean to overawe, what they write on their jackets must be short, sweet, and if at all possible misspelled. For their leader has said "What is misspelling compared to gross injustice? We stand for the right way, grammar be damned."
These "revolutionaries" are expert now in these special touches. They make a positive religion out of it, and they approach battle as if they were the saints marching in. For after all, the saints may only march with the "revolutionaries", never with the people they are attacking.
In Middlebury, Vermont, things followed the usual sneering course. The guest, Mr. Charles Murray was invited, and right at this moment when leadership was necessary, the College chose to stand on its tradition of civility and good fellowship. Though, bit by bit leaders of the institution began to understand that there could well be a ruckus.
They believed that their strict admissions policies (only 16% of applicants are admitted) and their long years of enlightened behavior would protect them from any kafuffle. In short, just like M. de Launay, the governor of the Bastille in 1789, merely issuing an order should suffice to get the desired response. But as the grisly sight of M. de Launay's head riding on a pike proved, one could order, but one could never be sure of what would happen then. That is what a revolution means.
And so, a group of up to 30 students and townies in short order destroyed the veneer of peace and security for one of America's great educational institutions... called a "mini Ivy" because as the students there will tell you, "We are just as intelligent, if not moreso, as our colleagues who went to Harvard or Yale." It is not true of course, but they would like to think so. And after all, it is a harmless enough delusion.
This incident did not take place over merely one day. Professors met with their students, and students met with each other to prepare themselves for the event. It is doubtful whether even one of those students approached the entire business in an honest and non-judgmental way. As is the metier with today's students, who needs the truth when the object is publicity and mayhem.
In my day, by comparison, you went to these meetings where the goal was learning at least a little something, rather than assuming that you already knew it. Today's students are a byword for laziness and nonchalance. Why should they be bothered to learn anything, when they already know everything?
In this case, the first thing the "revolutionaries" did was make sure that Murray was not allowed to speak. Yes, one could almost hear the high principles of the institution being crushed by the elite of the nation.
The program then moved to a new location where the guest was to be interviewed by Professor Allison Stanger and other college officials. Here, they had no more luck than before. The second attempt at ensuring the program took place was in an instant deranged by students pulling fire alarms... their shrill sound made anything else impossible.
And so, Murray and the college officials left, and the attack began. A street sign with a heavy concrete base was thrown in front of the car Murray was in. At the same time, the other insurgents pounded and pumped on the car. Then, in the most serious event, someone had the audacity to pull Professor Stanger's hair, and injured her neck. She was immediately taken to the hospital.
I ask you to consider for a moment the significance of what happened. An approved university guest was pushed off the stage, and given no chance whatsoever to do what he came to do. Here, 200 years and more after Voltaire said it, his great declaration is more relevant than ever. The guests thrust Murray off the stage, and at this moment Voltaire's great proclamation became more relevant than ever.
We live in a nation where the virtues of the 1st Amendment are everyday made manifest, except at Middlebury College, nestled in the Green Mountains... a place not now just of beauty, but of embarrassment and chagrin.
Today's students, for whatever reason, have no desire to learn any point of view but their own. Too many believe that everything said to them by any teacher or other authority figure is, by definition, useless baggage of no value whatsoever. To them, they can text; why do they need to study? Why do they need to consider anyone's point of view but their own?
And so the nation, not just Middlebury College, is diminished daily by people who do not know, will not learn, will not think, but have power and money and the certainty that what they do is always the correct thing, no matter what that thing is... including relations with professors, College officials and yes, even parents.
Sadly, the response of Middlebury officials, including the President of the College Laurie Patton, was inadequate. As of this date, the College has not yet made any announcement to those who are students and those who participated in the mob from the city and area. Remember, "Justice delayed is justice denied."
So mild and futile has the College response been, that similar "revolutionaries" across the nation will say "The game is worth the candle," and carry forth with their heinous plans and ideas. The College instead should have had the trespassers arrested, and the students expelled. If you do not treat this crime as significant, then you are encouraging its growth. And that is why across the nation, the pride of America's educational establishments is rising up, oblivious, without having to worry about recriminations, or indeed, any punishment whatsoever.
Moreover the sad thing is, with institutions fighting for the creme de la creme of the students, it may be the economics of this situation are determining what will be done. Administrators do not wish to take appropriate action, because if they do, they send a message to the other students who can afford to go elsewhere, and the institution cannot afford to squander even a single penny.
And so these disgusting hijinx, so wicked cool, will continue. College presidents paid in the high hundreds of thousands of dollars will hesitate to use their authority, for if they do they might be forced to resign from the most lucrative job of their lives... the job where all they have to do is say the right thing, and never do it.
For the music to accompany this article, I have selected "Ca ira" (1790). The "Ca ira" was the most revolutionary of songs. Its lyrics proclaimed the death of anyone who disagreed with the revolutionaries of 1789. The lyric was sharp; the tune catchy. Ca ira means "it'll be fine". A new world growing from the cascade of blood when the guillotine strikes. It will be good; it will be fine... they sang. It'll be fine. But will it?
"Ah! It'll be fine, it'll be fine, it'll be fine
aristocrats to the lamp post
Ah! It'll be fine, it'll be fine, it'll be fine
the aristocrats, we'll hang them!"
"Ah! ca ira, ca ira, ca ira
les aristocrates a la lanterne!
Ah! ca ira, ca ira, ca ira
les aristocrates on les pendra!"
About the author
Harvard educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant has written over 1,000 articles on a wide variety of subjects and 61 books. Find his complete corpus at www.drjeffreylant.com.
Dr. Jeffrey Lant, Harvard educated, started writing for publication at age 5. Since then, he has published over 1,000 articles and 63 books, and counting.