Friday, November 30, 2007

Ardent spirits

Currently reading: Professing Literature by Gerald Graff, which traces the formation of English as an academic discipline in America from 1828 til 1965, with particular attention to the way it absorbed the contradictory approaches of German philology and Arnoldian humanism. I'm reading it for general historical background for the poet-critics project, but it's surprisingly entertaining in places. To wit:

Students took revenge on [the] oppressive system through practical jokes and, occasionally, more serious forms of violence. Ernest Earnest states that "the history of every college before the Civil War is filled with accounts of riot, violence and disorder" … The faculty minutes at North Carolina during the years before 1868 recorded "disciplinary action taken in cases of misconduct, intoxication from drinking 'ardent spirits,' fights, raising hell in the buildings, shooting off fire arms, riding horses around the grounds in the middle of the night, and so on. There are a few widely scattered cases arising from rows in bawdy houses outside the village, where apparently also, spirits could be drunk." Lyman Bagg of Yale '69, in one of the most revealing (and entertaining) memoirs of college life in the nineteenth century, described standard tricks that "prevail at other colleges," such as "locking an instructor in his recitation room or dormitory, throwing water upon him, stealing his clothes or other property, upsetting his chair in recitation or tripping him up outside, writing or printing derisive or scurrilous remarks in regard to him, and so on." (25)

I think we can trust the word of Ernest Earnest. Don't know about that Lyman Bagg, though.