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Writings

George Allan England: The Harvard Years

Reginald Pym’s Class Day.

By George Allan England.

Class Day at Harvard is a celebration of graduation that began in the late 1700s, when seniors took part in a small ceremony officiated by the President of the college on the last day of the term—the commencement exercises didn’t follow until some six weeks later—and over time, the ways in which graduates prepared for their upcoming graduation had expanded and changed. By the time England wrote about it in “Reginald Pym’s Class Day,” the tradition of Class Day had become a day-long series of ceremonies, activities and observances, which the graduates celebrated with family and friends.

This final prose piece published while England was a student at Harvard is a cut-down version of what, if historical accounts are correct, a student could experience on this special day. Since the story is a series of mis-adventures, it should come as no surprise the England uses his Reginald Pym character as the star of the piece, since Pym represented for England the antithesis of his Socialistic beliefs, at least as far as can be determined from this story and the previous Pym tale, The Downfall of Reginald Pym (whether there were other Pym stories that were never published is unknown). Pym ignores the celebratory nature of the day and, a true capitalist in the England mode, has no use for his family, except for their monetary participation in Class Day.

Since England was once again writing for his fellow students, and not the general public, we have added an Afterword following the story that explains some of the references used in the story, along with a campus map, so you don’t get lost along the way.

“Reginald Pym’s Class Day” first appeared in the June, 1903 issue of The Harvard Illustrated Magazine and this is its first reprinting since that time.

Bob Gay
December, 2015
Introduction © 2015 by Bob Gay

REGINALD PYM’S Class Day dawned auspiciously with a telegram from home:

CHICAGO, ILL., JUNE 18th.

“Dear Son: Mother and I missed express. Will arrive Class Day 3.30. Borrow if necessary. FATHER.”

Reginald groaned. He had been panting for his father’s arrival even as the lowly clam pants for high tide; and the clam, you know, has but two sensations, viz., high water, and the next high water. Well, Reginald was very high and dry on the financial beach and no wonder, with “about a million things to get,” as he had written home the week before. He had counted on the comfortable yellow pocket-book he knew and reverenced so well, that pocket-book which opened gracefully in his father’s obese hand and disclosed thick windrows of carefully folded fives and tens, with here and there the magic saffron gleam of a twenty peeping forth. But now the pocket-book was somewhere between Buffalo and Boston, and all the tens and twenties in the world are of no avail at long range. Which things having been well considered, Reginald groaned again and muttered benedictions.

He half forgot his annoyance, however, when he had sent a brief and forcible note to MacSqueezer and donned his gown. For some reason or other the tailor had neglected to send his best suit home, and there was nothing for it but to wear the tan plaid; it showed ridiculously, of course, under the gown, and he thought the trousers-legs stuck down an immense distance underneath the fluttering black skirt, but he solaced himself with Lincoln’s remark about legs in general and said he didn’t care. The morning procession was only a preliminary, anyhow. So, as the long line wound about the Yard dragging Pym somewhere near its tail, he quite forgot the mishap of the express and tried to keep step with the distant band. He knew someone would be waiting to see him, and sure enough, there she was, with Aunt Ellen, standing just between Stoughton and Hollis, all smiles and graciousness, with a bunch of roses “as big as all outdoors” Pym thought, and waving her hand at him. His head swam; the “Thud, thud!” of the loose old drum sounded in his ears like martial music and he stepped bravely on.

Bill Brice, in front of him, was as short in person as Pym was in pocket, wherefore Pym walked somewhat too strenuously on the black gown trailing in the dust ahead, and as a direct result of those smiles and that hand-wave, Brice lost somewhere between one and two feet of gown, beside the hook that fastened said gown to his collar. Billy said something very vigorous about the proposed Charles River improvements. Dorothy stopped waving her hand of a sudden, and Pym felt the capillaries dilating all over his face, much as Professor Teabody says will happen if you go against the advice of the Committee of Fifty and drink alcohol. A suppressed titter in the rear, as the procession dragged along, by no means convinced him of Dorothy’s sympathy, and the capillaries let out another reef.

What happened at Sanders he little knew. His head was full of Dorothies, roses, smiles and titters, and he was miserable until he found himself back in his room again, gownless and coatless, “fixing up” for the afternoon spread. He would go to meet his parents, he calculated, at about three o’clock, with plenty of time to get them out to Cambridge for the Statue: he would let them “run things” and would devote himself to Dorothy all the evening. The rose-dream took a tangible form, all the titters in the world were forgotten, as well as capillaries, Teabodies and long-range pocketbooks. Thus did the Geneii rise from the bottles that he carefully stowed beneath the couch, even as Geneii do in all good Arabian Nights, thus did all the bound volumes of that delightful but unpresentable publication “Le Rire” laugh back to him as he tucked them into the bottom drawer, and thus were all things sunshine and joy again, at high noon on Reginald Pym’s Class Day.

BUT AT half-past three a very nervous and agitated Senior stood on the Huntington avenue platform and watched track three for the first plumy jet of smoke from the Chicago express under the distant bridge. He thought a fly or something must have crawled into the works of his watch, and opened the case to eject the interloper; then, of a sudden, it was half-past three, and the hands began to jump around the dial at an astonishing pace, so that it was quarter to four ere the express really did come lumbering down the line and stand stalled three hundred yards from the station, waiting for the semaphore to tip it an encouraging wink and beckon it along. The train finally consented to pull in, after six or eight eternities: the fat pocket-book descended, incidentally accompanied by two parents, and after greetings and other interminable delays, Pym, the pocket-book and the parents were all on an electric, speeding for Cambridge at four miles an hour.

“My son, and how have you arranged for your Class Day expenses? I suppose there are incidentals connected with this great occasion? You have, I trust, some kind friends from whom you can borrow whatever has been necessary for the time being.”

“Well, father, I have been pretty short today—something is always coming up you know: but I sent for the po—I mean, I sent a note to a very intimate friend of mine this morning, and I expected to hear from him before coming to meet you—but you’re here now. anyway, so what’s the difference? By the way. could you let me have about——? or even——? O well, that’ll do, I suppose, but you know, a fellow needs a little something to graduate on? O thanks, father!” The sun was shining again, and Class Day seemed, after all, a bed of thornless roses.

THERE MUST have been one thorn at least left in the bed, for Reggy felt something sting him when he reached the Yard just in time to hear the cheering around the Statue and to realize that he must “front” in alone, if he wanted to join his class. Aunts and uncles were sitting up there somewhere, he knew, and so was Dorothy, so he held up his chin and made a quick entry. Oblivion in the middle of that black-robed throng restored him to comfort again: there was more cheering and much pleasing folly, and then the class started out. Sure enough, Dorothy was in the fifth row back, Section “E.” and as he passed she vollied him with confetti, candies and paper ribbons. He exhausted his flowers in a moment on her, then grabbed for candies, papers, anything to return the assault. Ah, a full unbroken bag of confetti! Dorothy saw purple and crimson constellations chasing each other in a fiery rain when the bag hit her in the right eye; then both eyes began to weep involuntary tears to extinguish the fireworks and a beautiful purple tinge began to overspread the damaged territory. Blue and purple never did become her, she knew, hence the much laving and doctoring that the eye received as soon as she and Aunt Ellen could get back to their room. But oh, alas, too late! And alas for the pristine glory of that right eye! Like the night of the Assyrian army when the zymotic plague smote it in answer to the Hebrews’ prayer, its light was dimmed and troubled. Dorothy did, it is true, come to the spread, but her eyes didn’t match at all well, and all the fellows who had heard about her as “a corker and a oiseau” wondered how the deuce Pym could have such deuced peculiar tastes, you know.

“Why, she actually had a black eye!”

“Looked pretty bad, didn’t it? Scrapping, do you think?”

“Lord knows, Jack. Pym says he hit her in the eye with a——”

“Oh yes, I know that kind—but he ought to know better than——”

“To bring her to his spread! The idea!”

“Sh-h-h! Not so loud! She’ll hear.”

“Disgraceful!”

“Fierce!”

But the crowd at 50 Hollis was dense, and Dorothy stood it well. Reginald had his hands full, full of other people’s hands and of affairs as well; but the mother and father and Aunt Ellen and the “coon” waiter hired on the spur of the moment, all helped keep things circulating and gradually the crowd began to go. Pym blessed his stars that the end was beginning to come in sight. He blessed too soon.

Such a studious boy!” he heard his mother exclaiming to Mrs. Worthington Stearns of Brookline, while Edith Stearns sat listening interestedly. “Most boys of his age are given to doubtful amusements and literature, I fear, but here on Reginald’s table, see Baxter’s ‘Saints’ Rest’ that I gave him when he left home, and his Greek Testament, and even the ‘Heart Throbs of Authors’ I sent him last Christmas. Oh I do assure you, it’s such a comfort to know that. . .”

“Why Reggy! such a funny magazine in your desk! I think it’s just too cute! And in French too! How very clever you must be!” The younger Miss Stearns, not quite eleven years old, with more zeal than discretion, and shielded by the press of guests, had been exploiting the lower drawer of Reggy’s desk, and now, with a fat volume of “Rires” was lying curled up in the window-seat.

“Oh Reggy! Won’t you please let me cut this lady out? I do so want a paper dolly that I can dress, and this lady here needs dressing so badly! And such a beautiful lady! . . .”

Pym, sweating at every pore, seized the unhappy volume and slammed it back in the drawer. A dense silence had settled over the room.

“Really, we must be going” said Mrs. Stearns. “Come Edith and Lucy! I had no idea it was so late! Good-bye, Mrs. Pym, Mr. Pym.” Reginald remained in the corner by the desk. The Stearns family did not say good bye to him. He felt that he was oozing blood. A mist swam before his eyes.

Then there came a fateful rap at the door. Pym’s father opened. “Oh, see here, Reginald, my son. Here is the man who came while you were out, a little while ago—said he was a particular friend of yours, but wouldn’t leave any name.”

Reginald saw through the haze the familiar features of MacSqueezer.

“Sorry, Mr. Pym. but I couldn’t git around before, but if you’ve got them trousers ready, why I’ll——”

“Oh no, no!” groaned Reginald. “Go away, go away, I mean, come around later, tomorrow, any time, only I’m busy now—please call again!”

“But you said——”

“Say, see here, can’t you——”

Pym and MacSqueezer stood outside in the entry and argued. Then the voices died away and silence reigned. Pym returned to the now depleted room. His lip was trembling with rage and mortification.

“Reginald, I think we must say good bye too,” said Dorothy with emphasis. “Come, Aunt Ellen! We shall start for home tomorrow morning. Thank you so much. I’ve had such a delightful time I assure you! Good-bye!”

The door closed after her. The Pym family remained alone.

“Why, where’s the waiter?” exclaimed Father Pym.

The waiter had, in fact, disapppeared. So had the yellow leather pocket-book. No, it was not under the table nor behind the bookcase. “Only a matter of six hundred dollars.” said Pym Senior when he had calmed himself a little. “Reginald will graduate only once, you know, my dear, and we should not begrudge him even this loss, to give him such a happy time. I hope, my son, that you have enjoyed your Class Day to the full?”

BUT PYM Jr. answered no word to his indulgent father.


Afterword
A map of Harvard University circa 1895
Harvard University
circa 1895
(clicking this will open the map in a new tab)
  • The map at right has the locations that appear in the story highlighted. Note that Pym’s rooms and his “spread” are in Hollis, which was a standard dormitory and he, apparently, no longer resides in the lush oppulence of Beck Hall, as he did in The Downfall of Reginald Pym.
  • Le Rire - Le Rire was a French magazine of humor and satire that was published from 1894 to some point in the 1950s. Although not terribly salacious, Le Rire was not above showing drawings of nude, or semi-nude, women in article illustrations or single cartoons. Today, we would find Le Rire tame, but in the early 1900s, it would have been considered quite risque.
  • The reference to "Sanders" refers to Sanders Theater, which is part of the Memorial Hall complex and boasts a 1,000 seat concert hall. A portion of the commencement exercises took place in Sanders from 1876 until 1922.
  • Spread - The spread is a sort of reception with refreshments and is held all over the campus with some being for everyone and others private affairs for specific groups. Appears to be a Harvard tradition.
  • Professor Teabody and the Committee of 50 - The Committee of Fifty was formed in 1893 to study the use, and abuse, of alcohol on society, without treading into the often hysterical territory of the temperance movement. The "Professor Teabody" mentioned in the story was most likely a pun on England's part and refers to the Rev. Professor Francis A. Peabody, a Unitarian minister and Professor of Ethics at Harvard, as well as Dean of the Divinity School from 1901 to 1905. Peabody was a part of the Committee of Fifty and would have been in a position to discuss the morals of drinking with the student body.
  • “hear the cheering around the Statue” - The Class Day procession of the seniors began at the statue of John Harvard, where there were various speeches and activities before the actual procession. According to records of the time, the procession then marched around the Harvard Yard and the seniors saluted all of the buildings they passed.
  • “Only a matter of six hundred dollars.” - The $600.00 lost would be the equivalent of roughly $18,678.37 in USD at the time of this writing.

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