once more unto the breach, dear friends

by Charles Bowen
March 13, 1959, Scholastic #17

Scholastic (Mar. 13, 1959)

This, as I am sure you know, is not my usual week for appearing in this space. But, due to the absence from campus of that eminent Chaucerian who usually alternates appearances with me, I have been called on to fill in. (In case you're wondering, John has returned to Marshall, Mich., where the citizens have decided to salute his recent TV triumph by declaring a John Bellairs Day. There will be a parade by the police and fire departments, the Girl Scouts, and the VFW Ladies Auxiliary Drum & Bugle Corps, followed by a fireworks display and a ceremony in which the mayor will present him with a handsome 17-jewel self-winding Swiss convertible. Thus is folly rewarded, while true virtue, as ever, goes unappreciated. (All I get when I go home is "What's with this $22 for razor blades, hey?")

Naturally, I was unprepared for the considerable task of composing anything perceptive enough to tickle the discriminating palates of a Notre Dame audience, but in view of the extreme anxiety of the editors, one of whom spent several hours on his knees at the door to my room, I at last consented to look up one of my unpublished pieces and touch it up for the Scholastic. I hope my effort is appreciated, as in order to make it I had to forego my annual attendance at the Alabama club's yearly Yankee Shoot.

The following manuscript was composed a couple of years ago as my (unsolicited) contribution to a Life series on education. Perhaps it is just as well that its publication at that time had to be cancelled because of the outbreak of the Hungarian Revolution, for now you can see it for the first time:

AN INTIMATE PEEK AT HEPZIBAH FUDDLE UNIVERSITY

Recently I spent several days on the campus of this young, progressive University and, under the guidance of hand-some young Henry Hornrim, the student body president, I made a thorough tour and talked to all the members of this academic community, from the highest (Administration) to the lowest (students). I believe I succeeded in getting a pretty good grasp of the vital élan that makes Hepzibah Fuddle the talked-about place that it is. For your convenience I will first fill in a little of the background. HISTORY: The University is named after a pioneer who granted the land on which it is built, on the outskirts of Festering Elbow, Mont. Miss Fuddle crossed the prairie to Festering Elbow as a little girl of 19, in her daddy's Bentley. She expressed the desire that a university should be founded there in 1951, and presented the land, just before leaving for Monaco. GROWTH : Finding that Miss Fuddle had neglected to provide for payment of salaries to faculty members, the trustees had a difficult time at first in recruiting capable professors. Various devices were tried, and eventually they discovered that the greatest success was achieved by a very simple method, indeed, one of the oldest: the press gang. A competent goon squad was sent to various campuses around the country, and soon H.F.U. boasted a faculty of the most famous academic figures in the world. They are treated very humanely. DEVELOPMENT: Thanks largely to the devoted work of the University's president, J. P. (Big Daddy) Lish, H.F.U. has acquired a reputation for efficiency that has attracted brighter young students from all over the country, especially those who are interested in becoming executives. This tendency is shown by the size and quality of the H.F.U. student government, which is unique among American universities in that 76 per cent or more of the total student body hold some office. ("We keep thirty mimeographs busy all day long," Henry told me proudly.) There is no doubt of the quality of this training. Today not a single corporation of any size or importance is without at least one office in which the ashtrays, blotters, wastebaskets, decanters, etc., are emblazoned with the H.F.U. seal (a ranch wagon rampant on a field of gray dacron, and a Greek inscription which roughly translates: ("Creatively realize your life-potential.")

Other universities could learn a lot from the efficiency of Hepzibah Fuddle. For instance, students are not only assigned numbers which they keep for four years, but these are tattooed on their foreheads and they are addressed by number instead of name. Once a week the students assemble in Thrombosis Memorial Auditorium, where President Lish delivers a brief progress report and a list of the newest traditions is read. The students then file out, singing the H.F.U. song. It is written to the tune of "Humoresque" and I caught a couple of lines:

Throw away that can of beer
And practice how to look sincere,
Elections come in just a little while:
Though you may not be a reader,
You can be a student leader,
All you need's a pitchfork and a smile.

The University has devised a revolutionary plan for the distribution of scholarships. They are given to every third applicant, regardless of merit. The system is founded, as Henry advised me, on the theory that the student gets the scholarship not on his own merits, but on the accumulated merits stored up by the faculty.

Henry Hornrim, himself, is an interesting personality. He is blonde, 5'6", and comes from a little mining town in Connecticut. Henry majors in Leadership. "How did you get to be student body president?" I asked him.

"Well, actually, I didn't deserve it any more than any of the rest of the guys. I let them know that, too. I went around to their rooms - I try to see all the guys in their rooms at least once a week- and told them that I wasn't any smarter than they were, but that I'd do my best and be really humble and sincere. I guess they went for it." He smiled shyly, an event so dazzling that for several minutes I could not see. "You know," he went on, "sometimes it gripes me the way fellows complain about the uselessness of this student government. They forget the real positive results we achieve. Like the disciplinary thing."

"Huh?" I asked.

"Well, we made a formal complaint about the University's shutting off the oxygen in the corridors after ten. In less than two years they gave in. Of course," he added, "that was right after one of the housemothers got the bends. But without a responsible student government they never would have listened."

"What else have you done?"

Lots of things. We have a constitution, for example, that runs over twelve pages. Not to mention our own student courts, judges, juries, lawyers, detectives, police, and jails. You couldn't have done that kind of thing without some people who were interested in organization."

I had to agree.


Commentary

The column is mostly a satire on Organization Men (Whyte's book was big that year) and student politicians -- neither an especially original subject. I did feel that those who ran for office on the Notre Dame campus tended to go out of their way to demonstrate both humility and sincerity. Probably they had to; it seems to have been what the electorate demanded. And of course a person who harbors the ambition to be Student Body President isn't really likely to be extremely humble; if he was, he wouldn't consider himself fit for such a high office. And if he conceals his high opinion of himself, as he must in order to be elected, there goes sincerity as well. Hypocrisy becomes a requirement for office. In retrospect, I shouldn't have laid all the blame on the shoulders of the student politicos. They played the hand they were dealt.

Let's see. My description of John's imaginary triumph in Marshall needs no explanation, I trust.

The reference to the Alabama Club's Yankee Shoot was no doubt an attempt to get a rise out of my close friend and classmate, Wray Eckl, who came from Florence, AL (and now practices law in Atlanta).

The H.F.U. seal (a ranch wagon rampant on a field of gray dacron) employs some of the standard icons of fifties conformity, which intellectual college students like us all despised, in lockstep. "Creatively realize your life-potential" I think I found in some source where it was not intended to be funny.

In case the "Humoresque" tune is not familiar, you may have heard the version that begins "Passengers will please refrain/ From using toilets while the train/ Is standing in the station; I love you ..."

The plan for awarding scholarships is based on a Catholic concept known as the Treasury of Grace. It was invoked to explain how the church could attach indulgences to various practices.

In our time, indulgences have not been handed out for cash; but it is perfectly true that that was being done in Martin Luther's Germany. However, Catholics were used to seeing, in a prayer book for example, a note after a prayer saying something like "Indulgence 300 days" -- meaning that you got an indulgence of that quantity every time you said the prayer. Because everyone knew that an indulgence was some kind of mitigation of the time you had to spend in Purgatory doing penance for the sins you had committed while alive, many people (including quite a few Catholics) interpreted this to mean that 300 days' indulgence meant that you had that many days knocked off your sentence. This was not the meaning, however: it meant that your time in Purgatory was lessened by the amount it would be lessened if you had, for example, spent 300 days going on a pilgrimage, in between all those sins. Your "sentence" was determined by the balance of good and bad deeds in your life, and this was an artificial way of adding to your balance of good deeds without actually doing them.

Now, since the Catholic Church taught that your fate in the afterlife was, as a matter of Divine Justice, based on what you had earned for yourself by the way you had lived, how could they give away these free passes? I mean, it's nice to say prayers, but it's hardly the same as spending the better part of a year riding a donkey through the Pyrenees to visit St. James of Compostela. The Church even claims the right to attach "plenary indulgences" to some actions, meaning that the quantity of good deeds posted to the recipient's account is sufficient to remit the entirety of that person's debt of suffering. (Luther's followers satirized the sale of indulgences with a little rhyme that translates "As the money in the cashbox rings, the soul from Purgatory springs!")

The explanation given was that there existed a "treasury of grace" consisting of the extra merit accumulated by the saints, many of whom had led lives of sufficient holiness and self-denial to earn heaven several times over. Rather than let all that goodness be as it were wasted, the Church claimed the right to dispense it to those of us who fall short of sainthood, in exchange for various pious acts such as saying certain prayers, or visiting churches at certain times, or (round about 1500) helping to pay for the construction of St. Peter's Basilica.

Though I was indeed a Catholic at the time, I had considerable doubts about this doctrine; hence the spoof.

The only other thing worth annotating is the reference to Notre Dame's policy of turning off the lights in the corridors at night. The student government types were working earnestly at getting the administration to change its mind about this paternalism, but at the time without success. (When my younger brother went to Notre Dame in 1962, things had changed, but I never saw it.)

Judging by the conclusion, I must have felt that the efforts of the student politicians had as much chance of making things worse as of making them better.