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Writings

George Allan England: The Harvard Years

The Downfall of Reginald Pym.

by George Allan England

A map of Harvard University circa 1895
Harvard University
circa 1895
(clicking this will open the map in a new tab)

England’s second story for Harvard Illustrated was, like his first, written with the Harvard students of his day in mind. This story, however, is so “Harvard-centric” that we have included a highlighted map of Harvard as it existed in 1895 in order to help the reader follow the action as it unfolds.

Stoughton Hall circa 185
Stoughton Hall
circa 1895

At the time the story was written, Stoughton Hall was the freshman dormitory and today is still located on the northwest side of the Harvard Yard. Beck Hall, constructed in 1876, was located outside the Harvard Yard (see map) at the corner of Quincy Street and Massachusetts Avenue and was the first building of what came to be known as Harvard’s “Gold Coast’—private, off-campus dormitories that more resembled upscale hotels than college dorms. Beck, in particular, was known for its luxurious furnishings and housed some of the wealthiest of Harvard students, among them John Jacob Astor, J. P. Morgan and Theodore Roosevelt. Eventually falling out of the Beck family hands, Beck Hall went through a series of owners before it was finally demolished in the 1940s (an interesting article on Beck can be found at Warren House: Charles Beck.) Harvard’s “Gold Coast’ came to an end in 1988, when the University ruled that all undergraduates must live on campus.

Beck Hall circa 1895
Back Hall
circa 1895

While the background information in the preceding paragraph gives you some setting for the story, there are two loose ends that we find ourselves unable to explain. Research has been unable to determine the exact location of the Oak Grove mentioned in the story, although England’s use of it as a place name would mean it was very familiar to his fellow students. After looking at maps, measuring distances and following the narrative, it was probably at the corner of Massachusetts and Holyoke, but this is just a random guess. A similar condundrum is found in the term “mucker.” It has many definitions, the closest that can be put into the context of the story is either a slang term for friend or a rough or coarse person, but the second meaning is always meant in a friendly context. How England meant it is anyone’s guess.

We would be remiss if we did not mention that “Downfall” is the earliest example of Socialism in England’s writings. The character of Pym is given negative context early on in the story and this is tied, in an oblique fashion, to his wealth—Pym resides in Beck Hall and eats in a restaurant and, as England points out, rides a “wheel” (bicycle), while the common people walk. England would revisit Socialism many times in later years, even to the point of running for governor of Maine on the Socialist ticket, and it is interesting to speculate on whether his entrance into Harvard was the beginning of his interest in Socialist thought.

Lastly, although we can't prove it conclusively, it appears that England supplied the illustrations for the story, due to the “G.A.E.” signature that appears on them.

“The Downfall of Reginald Pym” originally appeared in the October, 1901 issue of The Harvard Illustrated Magazine.

Bob Gay
May, 2015
Introduction © 2015 by Bob Gay
Editor’s Note: We have reproduced the story just as it originally appeared, except for some slight corrections to the punctuation.

Title illustration for The Downfall of Reginald Pym D

O it? Of course we can do it! It’s a cinch!”

“Yes, but——”

“Oh, hang it. Morrison, don’t be such a squealer! Why, the infernal snob doesn't even deserve to he considered for a moment, and as for the scheme itself—”

“Oh it’s easy enough, of course, but then, Pym’s a soph, you know, and we—well, we’re only freshies, after all, even if we have been here nearly a month!”

“Break it off, break it off!” interrupted Carleton, the third member of the Triumvirate in secret session assembled. “Soph? Yes, but that doesn’t keep him from being the meanest cuss that ever insulted the world by living in it. What! Have you forgotten way back in Preparatory School what he did to little Tompkins, and the sneak-trick he put up on us? Brace up, brace up! Before I’d defend a man like Pym, I’d go hang myself with a shoestring!”

“Guess you’re right, Carleton. Blast the sucker, anyway! How’ll we fix it? You there, Edwards, see to the cop, and you, Carleton, pass the word around to every body: as for me, I’ll subsidize the muckers—Leahy and his gang, you know. Why, it’s a regular lead-pipe! One o’clock tomorrow will just about hit things right—Oak Grove, of course. Come ahead out now, and start the wheels of the gods a-grinding!”

Three freshmen filed out of 33 Stoughton, and, banging the door to, clumped gladly down the dusty stairs.

Reginald Pym, besides being a “slob” and a prig, was lazy. Hence he always went everywhere on his wheel, instead of walking honestly on the two bandy legs that Nature had grudgingly supplied him. Being rich, moreover, he ate at Oak Grove. All these facts the Triumvirate was aware of; between forty and fifty other young and joyous persons, including the famous Dan Leahy and his Band of Heroes, also became acquainted with these facts and a few more, before the fateful hour of one o’clock. The Square, though quiet, was loaded.

At twenty-four minutes to one, Reginald Pym, faultlessly dressed in Norfolk jacket and flannel trousers, pedalled up to the Oak Grove, laid his wheel tenderly against the building, and entered the place of doom. A few ragged boys came lounging about, a knot of students collected on the corner of Holyoke Street, and history began to gird itself for the inevitable. At eleven minutes to one a freshman named Edwards, accompanied by an unknown person, came trundling a bicycle up the sidewalk to the cafe. At the door he leaned his wheel against that of Pym, then stood discussing History I. notes with his companion. Soon the companion went away; Edwards drew a bicycle-lock from his pocket, stooped over, locked Pym’s wheel, and disappeared through the open door. More muckers had collected, and there were now two groups of students in sight.

Six minutes later, the immortal Pym came sauntering placidly forth, well-dressed, well-fed, objectionable. He stood a moment to enjoy the looks of evident admiration from the unusually numerous Freshmen lounging about, had the pleasure of cutting direct a couple of them named Morrison and Carleton, who happened along; and then, grasping his labor-saving wheel, started to roll it away. A Cambridge policeman loomed up at the corner of Linden Street, in earnest conversation with one Edwards, 1905. Upwards of forty students seemed to be interested in the Oak Grove, and others might be seen hurrying across the Yard.

When Pym got his bicycle as far as the edge of the sidewalk, a strange thing happened; the hind wheel refused to turn around. Pym was surprised, swore a long oath and perceived, to his vast astonishment, that a brass lock was holding the chain. As the Cambridge “cop” came drifting largely down the wind, Pym stood undecided; then, strong in the sense of ownership, lifted the machine and started off toward Beck therewith. He went only nine feet, however, for the hand of the law seized mightily upon his Norfolk, and the voice of authority spake, almost without accent, these portentous words:

"Not this time, young feller! You’re the man I’ve been wanting these three weeks past: come along, come along! Now, none o’ that! You want this stick over your precious nut? Come along. I say!"

“WHAT! Why, this is my wheel! My name’s Reginald Pym: I live right there in Beck Hall; it’s my wheel, I tell you! I’m a gentleman! How dare you arrest me! My wheel, I say, my——!”

“Come, come, cut it out. will you! You’d better save all that for the captain—it won’t go with me! Come along!”

Then there was a procession in the Square. The Cambridge cop, Pym and the wheel headed it, then came forty or fifty glad freshmen, then the public. The whole was bordered by a fog of muckers, generalled bv the indomitable Dan, whilst every shop and store added its share of spectators and followers. The cop and Pym communed with each other; the crowd hooted, discussed, scuffled, circulated and applauded with vigor and effect.

“Yes, I always suspected there was something wrong with——”

“A man like that is a public danger and ought to be——”

“Shameless, too! Why, he picked it right up in front of the cop. and——”

“He’s a bad one. very bad. Looks it, doesn’t he? Guess he’ll get——”

“About five years, and serve him right. too!”

AT the waiting-station, chaos returned to earth. Brattle Street seethed with upward of three hundred strenuous students, citizens and nondescripts. A second cop appeared to bear the wheel, and the blocked electrics formed an impressive line. The way of joy lasted till the Police Station was reached; as the wheel was borne in a vast cheer went up from the populace; then amid gigantic groans the fateful doors closed behind the annihilated Pym.

That night in Beck Hall an agonized soph. was weeping copiously in shame and rage. Contemporaneously, three glad freshmen laughed with huge contentment in Stoughton 33.

George Allan England

Illustration showing Reginald Pym being taken to jail.
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