" Lines upon the late proceedings of the College Government" collection, 1787-1917
" Lines upon the late proceedings of the College Government" collection, 1787-1917
This collection contains various manifestations of a humorous poem, most often called "Lines upon the late proceedings of the College Government," written by classmates John Quincy Adams and John Murray Forbes in 1787. Both Adams and Forbes were members of the class of 1787, and the poem recounts events surrounding the pranks and ensuing punishment of two members of the class behind them, Robert Wier and James Prescott. Wier and Prescott had been caught drinking wine and making "riotous noise," and they were publicly reprimanded by Harvard President Joseph Willard and several professors and tutors, including Eliphalet Pearson, Eleazar James, Jonathan Burr, Nathan Read, and Timothy Lindall Jennison. The poem mocks these authority figures, but it spares Samuel Williams, whom it suggests was the only professor to find their antics humorous.
Title supplied by cataloguer; titles of contents are transcribed from the documents themselves. Collection contain four manuscript copies and one printed copy, each with its own variations.
Some copies acquired by donation from Mrs. Albert L. Calder in June 1895 and from Charles K. Williams on September 15, 1911. One handwritten copy purchased with the Peabody Fund on June 27, 1938. Other copies of unknown provenance.
The copy donated by Charles K. Williams seems to be in the handwriting of his great grandfather, Harvard professor Samuel Williams, who is among those mentioned in the poem.
The copy donated by Mrs. Albert L. Calder was written by Charles Jackson (A.B. 1793) and sent to his brother James (A.B. 1796). He writes that it is a "juvenile production by John Q. Adams."
One copy is in John Quincy Adams' hand; this copy specifies that the poem was co-authored by John Forbes.
One copy, in an unknown hand, specifies that it was "written by John Q. Adams, son of the President, when an undergraduate."
The Harvard Faculty Minutes (UAIII 5.5) for March 16, 1787 record the professors' reactions to the "noise and tumult" caused by Wier and Prescott two days prior. While the minutes do not record the individual opinions of Willard, Jennison, James, Read, Burr, Pearson, or Williams, they do record the Faculty's decision to fine the offenders six shillings each and to publicly admonish them. These minutes also record the decision to privately admonish Prescott's chambermate Joseph Cabot, "for not exerting himself to prevent the disorder at his chamber."
Student unrest was apparently quite common during the Presidency of Joseph Willard, who was described by author Samuel Eliot Morison as "quasi-military" and "stiff and unbending" for the strict measures he took to maintain authority over the students. Willard instituted a strict dress code in 1786 and a law in 1791 that the three upper classes be publicly examined by a committee of the Governing boards. Many students perceived these measures as oppressive and even "unconstitutional," revealing prevalent sentiments of revolutionary fervor and social upheaval that reflected events outside of college life. Pranks and other rebellious behavior appear to increased notably while Willard was president.
John Quincy Adams, future President of the United States, earned his Harvard A.B. in 1787.
John Murray Forbes, who would become a lawyer and a diplomat, also earned his Harvard A.B. in 1787.
Adams, John Quincy , 1767-1848
Harvard University Archives
Forbes, John Murray , 1771-1831
.01 cubic feet (1 folder)
Harvard students' poems.
Adams, John Quincy , 1767-1848, “" Lines upon the late proceedings of the College Government" collection, 1787-1917,” Colonial North American Project at Harvard, accessed March 30, 2017, http://colonialnorthamerican.library.harvard.edu/items/show/12081.