National Geographic : 1946 Apr
A Texan Teaches at Cambridge British undergraduates will learn all they can about America for reasons of enlightened self-interest if for no other. They don't want to hear what someone thinks will please them; they want to face actualities. American soldiers visiting me, often univer sity men themselves, would glance at some undergraduates walking by and remark, "I suppose they are snobs," or "They're some lords' sons, I guess." As a matter of fact, I met-to recognize-only one snob in Cam bridge. He was very young and was in process of having his ears knocked down every day. The scions of nobility are swallowed up in the democratic mass. The sons of many very poor parents are in the colleges. They are enabled to attend through the large number of scholarships, "exhibitions," grants of one kind and another provided by endowments. Cambridge students asked me repeatedly how young men and young women in America work their way through college. This is a way barred to the British student. In normal times the cost of a university educa tion in England is about the cost in America, but the price of labor is much lower. Working one's way through college would be difficult business. A reform Education Bill passed by Parliament in 1944 will add more Government subsidies to enable more capable youths without means to go to college. The college system in the old English uni versities makes a point of having "the young gentlemen" live like gentlemen among gentle men. Theoretically, their time belongs to the processes of education, not to maintaining ex istence. The poorest scholar is assigned to a set of rooms. In addition to his bedroom, he has a study or sitting room in which to work, have tea, be sociable. Often two bedrooms, each occupied by a single man, open into a common study. Bed makers, or "bedders," mature women, care for the rooms. These women take a great interest in their charges, and the charges are generally very fond of them (page 415). College Newspapers Unknown So far as I know, there is not a college newspaper in the British Isles. At Cambridge one learns of what is going on through bill board notices, the grapevine telegraph, the Cambridge Daily News, and the weekly Cambridge Review. Politics over campus organizations, popu larity contests, annuals stuffed with pictures, and other "activities" as American collegians know them hardly exist. Many a holder of public office is so occu pied with the processes of politics that he never honestly regards policies. Many an educator is so concerned with the business of education that he has little time for learning. Many an American collegian is so active in "student affairs" that he has little time for study and contemplation. What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare? No time to stand beneath the boughs And stare as long as sheep and cows? Since my own freshman year, William Wordsworth has been my favorite poet. In Cambridge gardens, along deeply shadowed cloisters, out under the soaring and ever-sing ing skylarks over Grantchester meadows just up the Cam from ancient Cambridge town, I have many times remembered Words worth's idea of sitting quietly and letting "authentic tidings of invisible things" seep into him. "The thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." "Long, Long Thoughts" Surely there can be few places where they are longer than at Cambridge. It seemed to me that the young men there learn to converse with themselves, to develop inner resources. Yet it would be a mistake to regard Cam bridge as provincial, insular, cloistered apart from the tides of life. It and Oxford are English, also British, to the backbone. Yet they are extraordinarily cosmopolitan. Even in wartime, I met students from Mex ico, the South American republics, Greece, Egypt, India, Portugal, Spain, and other foreign lands. At a luncheon given by the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge for the Portuguese Ambassador to Great Britain, this big, dark, muscular man of fifty or so replied to a toast in these words: "As an undergraduate at Cambridge, I re ceived two things that have strongly influ enced my life. I learned to respect every man's opinion. I am a devout Catholic, and I learned to respect every man's religion." We all felt that the Ambassador was sincere. I have not had space to tell of the kind nesses and courtesies that I was constantly experiencing from Cambridge people. It would be difficult for me to analyze the feel ings of spiritual and intellectual freedom that I felt there. I came to appreciate deeply the atmosphere of tolerance and of regard for the simple human decencies as well as for civili zation. Cambridge will continue to mean to me kind hearts, free minds, a place where human lives are made richer.