F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Twenty-first Century
By Jackson R. Bryer, Ruth Prigozy, Milton R. Stern
The University of Alabama Press Copyright © 2003 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
"Blue as the Sky, Gentlemen"
Fitzgerald's Princeton through The Prince
Anne Margaret Daniel
F. Scott Fitzgerald attended Princeton University from the fall of 1913 until the fall of 1917. During these years, an academic setting preparing young men for lives as New York financiers, Philadelphia lawyers, and Washington politicians became a community mobilizing for military service. The concept of a world remade by war recurs in nearly all Fitzgerald's writings, and Princeton's own campus transition is clearly and thoroughly traced through the local coverage in the student newspaper, The Daily Princetonian.The Prince is an excellent, and arguably the only objectively accurate, contemporary record of Fitzgerald's time at Princeton, detailing the constant and changing interests on campus, what Fitzgerald and his peers found available at the university, and what Fitzgerald himself actually did while in residence there. In those issues of The Prince from Fitzgerald's freshman and sophomore years of 1913–15, the most important and impression-forming years for any undergraduate, there is the story of a boy's rise to prominence—literarily, dramatically, and socially—on an elite campus. But by 1916 and 1917 it is clear from The Prince that individual and local events were nothing next to the terrible crisis in Europe. Princeton's focus, and the direction in which its privileged students were bound, had changed utterly.
The central role of The Prince at Fitzgerald's fictitious Princeton is familiar from This Side of Paradise. Amory Blaine's poor academic performance, indicated by that sky-blue grade sheet from the registrar's office, costs him his chance to make the editorial board on The Prince. This causes the young egotist to reconsider his Princeton options and future; for after Amory's early disappointment at football, he realizes that "being on the board of the 'Daily Princetonian'" would get him "a good deal." Writing for the humor magazine, the Princeton Tiger (as Fitzgerald did), is not something Amory deems a worthy alternative, while "writing for the 'Nassau Literary Magazine'" (as Fitzgerald and his friends John Peale Bishop '17 and Edmund Wilson '16 did) "would get him nothing" (49).
When young Scott Fitzgerald arrived at Princeton in September 1913 to begin his freshman year, the major (though not only) campus publication was The Daily Princetonian. Since 1876 The Prince had covered international and national news as well as local matters, but its focus, as with most campus dailies, was on Princeton college events. Appropriately, The Prince's editor in chief, James Bruce '14, was selected to introduce all the non-academic and non-athletic organizations to Fitzgerald's class at the Freshman Reception, for The Prince would continue to inform students about most of their extracurricular possibilities at Princeton.
Those possibilities were all too plentiful, even for lowly freshmen. At the above-mentioned reception in 1913, "Princeton songs and cheers" were practiced between the speeches (9/27/13), as one could not be too ready for football season. The "Freshman's Bible" detailing undergraduate life was just that; it was the young men's immediate responsibility to learn about their new world and their place in it. Freshmen in 1913 were still subject to the quasi-official institution of "horsing," perhaps born of the colloquialism "horsing around" and best translated as a yearlong hazing by the sophomores—the formal freshman initiation into Princeton. There was much debate in The Prince that year about horsing; the Senior Council voted to abolish the "old custom" in the spring of 1914 (4/23/14). Some of the strict campus roles with origins in horsing (and all manner of unofficial hazing) nevertheless continued until after World War II (and, perhaps, up to today). In sartorial matters, freshmen had to wear a black skullcap, the "beanie," until late May (when straw hats were allowed); they could not wear their trousers rolled, "shirts with soft collars," "fancy vests," or the school colors. From 1748, blue, purple, and gold had been associated with Princeton; orange, with a slightly later addition of black, became the school color in the year of Fitzgerald's birth, 1896.
When it came to public behavior on campus, freshmen were subject to a host of prohibitions. They could not walk along Prospect Avenue ("the Street," site of the upperclass eating clubs), had a 9 P.M.curfew until Washington's Birthday, could not sit around the pelican sundial in McCosh courtyard, and could not smoke pipes or cigars outdoors (12/12/13). Amory Blaine breaks every one of these rules during the "Spires and Gargoyles" chapter of This Side of Paradise. Indoor smoking, though, was downright encouraged. Every week, there were several "smokers" (informal meetings) on varied topics noted in The Prince; cigarette and tobacco ads for Bull Durham, Velvet, and Fatimas fill the paper. In a letter to his daughter Scottie, written around 1939, Fitzgerald cautioned her not to start smoking: "I didn't begin to be a heavy smoker until I was a sophomore but it took just one year to send me into tuberculosis and cast a shadow that has been extremely long.... I don't want to bury you in your debut dress" (Letters 50).
Rules did not prevent the freshmen, even when confined to campus, from drinking, either. The bars of Princeton were legally closed to minors, and the eating clubs, as a matter of record, insisted that drink was not provided to underage members on the premises. Yet the great number of Prince editorials on "Bacchanalian revelry" (e.g., 10/31/13) and the ease of obtaining liquor on campus—one piece on this cites Edgar Allan Poe and Jack London as rather fatal alcohol authorities (12/15/13)—would lead one to believe that such "revelry" was not uncommon. Glenway Westcott would wonder bitterly, in 1941, whether upperclassmen at Princeton taught the young Fitzgerald "a manly technique of drinking" (Wilson, Crack-up 329)—the answer is yes. John Peale Bishop and Charles "Sap" Donahoe, another Princeton friend, both felt upon their first readings of This Side of Paradise that the most accurate portions of the book, including Dick Humbird's death, dealt with drinking (Bruccoli and Duggan 35, 49).
Organized on-campus activities included sports, the campus publications, various musical and dramatic organizations (including the mandolin and banjo clubs), and the eating clubs, for which sophomores were (and still are, in the case of the "selective" clubs) chosen during a stressful competition called March "bicker." Fitzgerald would be invited to join the University Cottage Club, or Cottage—as he described it, "where I eat, and where I loaf" (Bruccoli and Duggan 14)—in March 1916. Much public campus entertainment centered around the major sports events, the fall football games. The Harvard game weekend of 1913 featured a long program by the schools' combined musical groups and clubs (headlined in The Prince as a "Pretentious Program in Alexander Hall" and boasting popular songs with titles like "Little Sunflower Coon" and "Mr. 'Melican Man," which we would deem politically incorrect today). The annual Senior Dance was that weekend; open to all classes, it went from supper through a breakfast to be brought down by a New York caterer. Additional train service was provided to Princeton from New York (11/7/13; 11/8/13 [game extra]), and traffic was completely closed off on Nassau Street, still unpaved at the time—it was paved for $29,000 during the summer of 1914 (1/12/14; 9/24/15).
Apart from the football games, always the biggest sports events of the year, professional baseball was popular on campus. The World Series was well reported in The Prince, and advertisements featured the likes of Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb, generally peddling cigarettes. In the spring of 1915, a front-page Prince article reminded students to arrive early at the baseball field to see the Princeton varsity hosting the New York Yankees for an afternoon game (the Yankees crushed their hosts, 11–2; 4/12–13/15).
All this extracurricular work and entertainment could have disastrous effects on an undergraduate's academic performance. The number, though not the names, of young men dropped from the university for failing classes was published each semester in The Prince. These unfortunates could work off the failing "conditions" by taking certain exams in the near future and, by passing the exams, be returned to official enrollment. Eleven freshmen from Fitzgerald's class failed out of school after fall semester (3/13/14), and in September 1915 The Prince ran an advertisement that is quite poignant, if one has Fitzgerald in mind at all: "Special Notice to Students Who Fail / Motion Picture Studio Work opens an almost immediate field for substantial earnings to young men who possess some natural ability" (9/25/15). Though Fitzgerald's record at Princeton was, to put it mildly, far from stellar—his mediocre-to-poor transcript survives in the Fitzgerald Papers in Princeton's Firestone Library—he was not officially among those dropped from the college for academic reasons.
Special events of 1913 began with the opening of the Graduate College in October. From the beginning of the month until October 22, the date of the opening exercises, The Prince ran several columns about the academic and political personalities who would attend, chief among them former president William Howard Taft, then a Yale law professor. Woodrow Wilson '79 was unable to leave his official duties—being president, that is—and Teddy Roosevelt was in South America. The Philadelphia Orchestra, with "Leopold Stokewski [sic]" conducting, was brought up for the occasion, and many of the visiting academics that week at Princeton gave lectures on matters ranging from "The Present Position of Classical Studies in England" to "The Relation of Science and Culture" (10/21/13).
Science and culture were among the topics most lectured upon during Fitzgerald's first two years at Princeton. The freshman class of 1913 was the first to be subjected not only to a physical exam but also to something called "psychodetic" recording. While hooked up to the relevant "apparatus," which unhappily is not described in The Prince, a student was tested for "standards of speed and accuracy in certain practical things; such as responding to a given signal" (11/11/13). Mental health, along with physical coordination, was stressed as important by biology professor Stewart Paton '86, who warned undergraduates in 1914 of the "2,000,000 Maniacs" loose in the nation during the first of a sweepingly named series of lectures on "Human Activities in Relation to Social, Educational and Ethical Problems" (2/12/14).
Racial issues were also discussed at Princeton during these times, often under the aegis of science, and in a decidedly opinionated manner. When the sociologist E. A. Ross spoke on "The Comparative Value of Races" in early 1914, he insisted that prejudice "with respect to the backward races"—that is, all non-Caucasian ones—was wrong, but that it would still make ultimate sense for American policies to promote the annexing of lands inhabited by such races. In Ross's words, "the Monroe Doctrine enables [a] million and a third persons mostly of Indian blood to possess Ecuador, which could easily sustain fifty millions of people. In the hands of England or Germany Ecuador would provide room for the expansion of the white race" (3/23/14). University professor Conklin, speaking on "Heredity and Eugenics" in early 1914, complained that "all the attention ... that has been fixed on education and environment" should rightly "be given to improvements of heredity and Eugenics," since the latter were far more important in human determination and development than the former (2/26/14). In a later lecture on "The Phenomena of Heredity," Conklin concluded that "the growing conflict between racial obligations and the desire for individual freedom is a serious menace to mankind," a question not just of "genetics but also one of ethics" (4/15/14).
Fitzgerald evidently attended, or took note of, these lectures. The ideas they engendered interested him, and they reappear in the debate Burne and Amory have in This Side of Paradise over the superior characteristics of blond men (140–41) and in Fitzgerald's own Triangle song, written the next fall for Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi! and entitled "Love or Eugenics." In 1921, Fitzgerald sent Zelda's father, Judge Sayre, an inscribed copy of the staggeringly entitled The Trend of the Race: A Study of Present Tendencies in the Biological Development of Mankind, by Samuel J. Holmes. Fitzgerald's inscription read, in part, "This is too long a mouthful but it's most interesting to me."
Religion, like race and ethics, was also a "science" at this old Presbyterian school in Fitzgerald's day. Dr. J. M. T. Finney '84 lectured Fitzgerald's freshman class in 1913 on "personal hygiene," or what might once have been called "clean living." Finney's manifesto was that it "is the duty of every man not only to himself but to his God, to civilization, to his children and to the woman that he hopes to marry someday that he should live a clean life" (10/6/13). Students were required to keep and turn in "hygiene notebooks" with their final spring examinations, and could claim them, or permit them to be destroyed, the following fall (10/28/13). Fitzgerald's does not appear to have survived. President John Grier Hibben, at the 1913 opening of the religious Philadelphian Society—whose teachings Amory Blaine terms succinctly "rot"—dipped into science to make an evolutionary argument for man as "the last link in a long chain of development" (10/1/13). Hibben insisted that Princeton boys, as God's emissaries on earth, should learn and teach "the methods of attaining freedom from the lower impulses which permeate men's lives" (10/3/13). Harry Emerson Fosdick, the popular Montclair minister and writer, was welcomed at Princeton in 1913, although, two years later, the hard-hitting evangelical preacher Billy Sunday was not. The Princeton faculty and President Hibben objected to Sunday's "methods" and asked that he not be allowed to appear on campus (2/26/15). Sunday spoke, under the auspices of the Theological Seminary, at First Presbyterian Church on Nassau Street instead (3/8/15).
However, one Clifford G. Roe, attorney and secretary of the National Vigilance Association, spoke in October 1913 "to an audience that packed Alexander Hall to its limit" on "the cause and effect of white slavery." The issue of gender would not become a burning one on campus for decades—though there were several debates and Prince editorials during Fitzgerald's time coming out in favor of women's suffrage (2/3/14; 10/15/15)—but this particular lecture of Roe's on "fallen women" certainly got the young men's attention. Roe's "stirring address" on prostitution called upon the young men of Princeton to see that debauching an "unfortunate girl who fell because of temptation or circumstances" was that worst of all things, "absolutely unsportsmanlike" (10/24/13). Also oversubscribed was a lecture given the following year by an unfortunately named Dr. Ill on "The Sexual Life of Woman in the History of Our Race" (5/14/14). No wonder the Mann Act made its way so prominently into This Side of Paradise; no wonder something like Galahad could emerge from the young Edmund Wilson's brain. (Continues...)
Excerpted from F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Twenty-first Century by Jackson R. Bryer, Ruth Prigozy, Milton R. Stern. Copyright © 2003 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.