Adams Papers



Lines, upon the late proceedings of the College Government.

By a Student.1

The government of College met,

And Willard rul’d the stern debate.

The witty Jennison declared

That he had been completely scared.

“Last Night, (says he) when I came home,

I heard a noise in Prescott’s room:

I went and listen’d at the door,

As I have often done before;

I found the junior’s in a high rant.

They call’d the President a Tyrant.

They said as how, I was a fool,

A long ear’d ass, a sottish Mule,

Without the smallest grain of spunk;

So I concluded they were drunk.

From Xenophon, whole pages torn

As trophies, in their hats were worn

Thus all their learning, they had spread

Upon the outside of the head,

For I can swear without a sin,

There’s not a line of greek within.

At length I knock’d, and Prescott came;

I told him t’was a burning shame,

That he should give his Class mates wine,

And he should pay an heavy fine.

Meanwhile; the rest grew so outrageous,

That though I boast of being courageous,

I could not help being in a fright,

For one of them, put out the light.

And t’was as you may well suppose

So dark, I could not see my nose.

I thought it best to run away

And wait for vengeance till to day:

For he’s a fool at any rate,

Who’ll fight when he can rusticate.

When they found out, that I was gone

They ran through college, up and down,

And I could hear them very plain

Take the Lord’s holy name in vain!

To Wier’s chamber they repair’d

And there the wine they freely shared,

They drank and sung till they were tired,

And then they peacefully retired.”

When this Homeric speech was said,

With drawling tongue, and hanging head,

The learned Doctor, took his seat,

Thinking he’d done a noble feat.

Quoth Joe “the crime is great I own

Send for the junior’s one by one;

By this almighty wig I swear,

Which with such majesty I wear,

And in its orbit vast contains

My dignity, my power and brains,

That Wier and Prescott both shall see

That College boys must not be free.”

He spoke and gave the awful nod

Like Homer’s Dodonean god.

The College to it’s center shook,

And every pipe, and wine glass broke.

Williams, with countenance humane,

Which scarce from laughing could refrain

Thought that such youthful scenes of mirth

To punishments should not give birth.

Nor could he easily divine

What was the harm of drinking wine.

But Pearson with an awful frown

Full of his article and noun:

Spoke thus. “By all the parts of speech,

Which with such elegance I teach,

By all the blood which fills my veins,

By all the power of Handel’s strains

With mercy I will never stain

The character which I maintain:

Pray tell me why the laws were made

If they are not to be obey’d,

Besides, that Wier I can’t endure

He is a wicked rake I’m sure.

But whether I be right or not

I’ll not recede, a single jot.”

James saw twould be in vain t’oppose,

And therefore to be silent chose.

Read, with his two enormous eyes

Enlarg’d to thrice their common size,

And brow contracted, staring wild,

Said, government was much too mild.

“Were I, (said he) to have my will

I soon would teach them to be still:

Their wicked rioting to quell,

I’d rusticate, degrade, expel;

And rather than give up my plan,

I’d clear the college, to a man.”

Burr, who has little wit or pride,

Preferr’d to take the strongest side;

And Willard soon receiv’d commission

To give a public admonition.

With pedant strut, to prayers he came,

Call’d out the criminals by name:

Obedient to his dire command;

Before him Wier and Prescott stand.

“The rulers, merciful and kind,

With equal grief and wonder find

That you should laugh, and drink and sing,

And make with noise the college ring:

I therefore warn you to beware

Of drinking more than you can bear:

Wine, an incentive is to riot

Destructive of the public quiet:

Full well your Tutors know this Truth,

For sad experience taught their youth:

Take then this friendly exhortation,

The next offence is rustication.”

This afternoon Dr. Welch, and Deacon Smith came up from Boston, and were here about half an hour: This evening we danced for the last Time, at Lovell’s chamber. After which I was some time at Mead’s.

1Since its publication in Benjamin Homer Hall’s A Collection of College Words and Customs, Cambridge, 1856, the first known printed version, this poem has been attributed to JQA, partly because JQA’s Diary entry is still the only known contemporary MS version. Hall claimed that he published the poem “from a MS. in the author’s [JQA’s] handwriting, and in the possession of the editor of this work” (p. 233–235). Hall, Harvard 1851, a lawyer of Troy, N.Y., had no known contact with the Adams family, although he may have been acquainted with JQA2, who graduated in 1853. He provides no documentation for JQA’s authorship, and the MS he used has not been found. Many of the poem’s sentiments about college officials, tutors, and the incident itself mirror JQA’s own, but the severe judgments on Harvard officials and the benign condonation of the students’ behavior seem out of character. Moreover, the style of “The Late Proceedings” is untypical of JQA’s productions. Until new evidence is forthcoming, JQA’s authorship should be accepted with some reservation.

A partial answer for these doubts may come from another copy of the poem, transcribed in the late 19th century and among the Charles Grenfill Washburn papers at the American Antiquarian Society. (See also Harvard Graduates’ Magazine, 26:343–344 [Dec. 1917].) Unlike Hall’s version, which was a looser rendition containing freer punctuation and many small word changes, the Washburn copy is a truer, though far from an exact, reproduction of JQA’s, or JQA’s version as published in the late 19th century by HA (“Harvard College. 1786–1787,” in Historical Essays, N.Y., 1891, p. 118–121). In an endnote to the Washburn transcription the poem is assigned to “J. Q. Adams and J. M. Forbes, March 1787” Such a collaborative effort was not impossible. JQA described Forbes as having “an uncommon share of wit” and a classmate who “always found his fellow students ready to laugh at his satirical wit”; he had been a close friend since JQA entered college (entry for 28 March, below). Moreover, the two remained friends well past their college days, both studying law and practicing their profession in Boston, and eventually leaving their country for foreign service. So, while the Washburn copy sheds no new authoritative light on the authorship of “The Late Proceedings,” it provides a clue, albeit unsubstantiated, which may better explain JQA’s role in the poem’s development.

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