- Historic Sites
An Unofficial Tour Of Yale
A guide who has been taking it all in for sixty years leads us on a lively, intimate, and idiosyncratic ramble through quiet yards where students once argued about separating from the Crown and to hidden carvings high on the Gothic towers that show scholars sleeping through class and getting drunk on beer
April 1991 | Volume 42, Issue 2
Take a long look at the Sterling’s handsome nave, now overflowing with the card catalogs for 4.5 million books.
A closing word about those phantom voices I hear coming from those phantom faculty meetings. An editoral in The New York Times tipped me off when I first got here in the fall of 1929. Come to New Haven, it said, and take in those three virtuosi of the Yale English Department: William Lyon Phelps, Chauncey Brewster Tinker, John Milton Berdan. Worth an early morning’s ride on the day coach. Since then there have been others (and still are) I’d go even farther for.
What do I think after sixty years of it? I’ve witnessed many millions of dollars’ worth of building, none of it wasted; some important social changes—the college plan and, since 1969, coeducation, equally enriching; curricular innovations that meant progress—directed studies, area studies; increased participation of students in the decision-making process; a wider and deeper concern for ethnic and minority problems. It seems to me Yale has grown in every way. I have worries, of course. I lament the passing of the Yale Review and such programs as the Scholars of the House, a super honors program that gave a dozen or so seniors complete freedom for a major project. (Do I detect a failure of nerve here?) I see a tendency toward theorizing, analysis, and special pleading invading the humanities. What I knew once as literary criticism (now, all too often, “hermeneutics”) has been fragmented into many “isms”: structuralism, deconstructionism, Freudianism, Marxism, historicism, et cetera— each, to an unreconstructed humanist like me, with its own pair of blinders. Among students, I sense a more insistent careerism; in the faculty, professionalism. Sometimes I wonder where the love has gone, the joy. But I do not despair. I’m told there is plenty left.
Shortly after he retired, Professor Tinker gave a lecture on William Blake to a full house, as always, and (as always) it was more of a reading than a lecture. With the forces of the New Criticism raging around him, he came to one of Blake’s loveliest poems, “The Little Black Boy.” Very familiar but, as he read it, all new. Clearly, in the process, he got caught up in it. When he stopped, there was pin-drop silence. All he said was, “That’s a good poem.” It was enough.
My advice is to catch a day coach, come see what you can see, and hear what you can hear.