QOTD (2010-09-01)

In honor of the advent of September and the encroaching end of summer, here is an opinion column by “Mc.” in The Princetonian (then biweekly, not daily), June 21, 1877, entitled “Summer Vacation”:

The realization of freedom from all College discipline, from recitations and lectures, is indeed pleasant. But how can we spend our vacation, while refraining from any severe course of study, yet not absolutely wasting our time? The question comes home to each one of us. We err just as much in pursuing a laborious course of study as in passing the Summer in idleness, else vacation would not be vacation. Hence we see that a medium is desirable. Perhaps we can attain that medium no better than in a study of Nature. If we are in the mountains or at the sea shore, the great beauties of Nature, in animal or vegetable life, are exposed to our gaze and invite our closer attention. If we have been studying Botany, in rather a theoretical manner here, supplement it in a practical way there. The satisfaction will be great, and what has seemed nothing but dry nomenclature, will there become a living science.
Most of us content ourselves with admiring a beautiful sunset, or a pleasing landscape, while a deeper scrutiny of Nature would bring to light objects less grand, it may be, but more beautiful in their minuteness and perfection of arangement.
As we choose food that is palatable, so let us take exercise that is pleasant and at the same time instructive.
Again, all expect to do some reading, but care should be taken in our selections. It is doubtful if a Summer given up to a perusal, or rather study, of History, is beneficial. The hot days are not conducive to the proper reading of such heavy matter, and careless reading insures no long remembrance of what is read. Of course, some Histories are exceptions, as those of Macaulay or Motley, for in these the events are not mere facts of the past, but living actualities. We think, however, that we could profitably devote our Summer to the lighter literature and our best fiction. A method is necessary, and if we read Geo. Eliot or Thackeray, we must do it intelligently and comparatively. A good test of our reading is our ability to express our opinion on the success or failure of the author’s character-drawing; and to this end, it is well, after having read a series or volume of an author, to write out our opinion of the work. This aids our faculties of reasoning, of perception and of memory. A Summer well spent will repay us, and we will return with a consciousness of not having wasted three months.

In my defense, I would like to note that it’s been rather cool in the place where I’ve spent the bulk of the summer, thus rendering the point about reading history moot. But “a consciousness of not having wasted three months”? Definitely still looking for that.

The Prince have recently digitized their archives, which hare a total joy to pore over—the rest of the June 21, 1877 issue is filled with questions about how much Princeton should aim to imitate Oxford and Cambridge, and about whether the university culture is sufficiently religious and whether having a religious culture is a good thing. The prose seems more similar to the work of Oxford undergrads from the same period which I’ve been reading than it does to the modern Princeton literary/journalistic scene. (This is probably not all that surprising, but I sometimes forget how strikingly Anglo 19th-century American university culture was.) Definitely worth a look if you have a few minutes—or hours.

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