Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I don't know if our rites were any more silly than Heidelberg's

It was the Harris matter, of course - of which you couldn't have helped hearing - which brought the peculiar-ities of our eating club selections to a mild sort of head. There was nothing especially wrong with Harris - a little ostentatiously fair, some noted, and not above a somewhat obtrusive quality of fitness - but discernibly a fellow, for all that, when word had got out that he would decline to be scarred. Well, I think you can see to what little choice we were left. With all of clubdom looking on, which of us should be saddled with this possibly too visible mockery of our scrupulously discreet inheritance? Yet would it be right, to allow a minor club to pick him up?

It was at the university that the sons of the nobility of land and public service obtruded their social primacy.. Once at the university, students joined Landsmannschaften, or fraternities that sustained the quasi-feudal ethos.. The student duel.. was the most notorious of the ordeals used to determine the worthiness of fraternity postulants.. In actual fact, the eyes, the throat, the right arm, and the torso were so thoroughly shielded that what was billed as a risky combat was really a benign and ritualised facial operation .. [but] to join any fraternity, was to subscribe to the aristocratic preten-sions of the old regime.

The unblinkable problem with Harris, in short, is that he threatened these precious, or even darling pretensions while doing so terribly little else to separate himself from the regime, itself. Naturally, this only left all our legitimate novices in a state of queasiness over what they'd be join-ing. The whole thing could well have fallen apart, if Harris' father (a member of our Board) hadn't interceded with the donation of the deed to Utah, where some liked to go skiing, with Harris agreeing to wearing a baggy pullover on weekends. That you've heard of this at all, is because of demographic inconvenience. Who knew, Utah would be so touchy? 

Arno J. Mayer
Dayton-Stockton Professor, emeritus
The Persistence of the Old Regime
Random House
Pantheon Books, 1981©

John Bacon
Coronation of George V, 1911
Mountbatten-Windsor Collection

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