The Striver

On his own at last, without serious adult supervision for the first time, the fourteen-year-old Harry set out to construct his mature self—to take the ordered, disciplined life that others had once imposed on him at home and at school and rebuild it as he began anew. He made a daily schedule: time for reading, time for writing letters, time for socializing with other Americans and Europeans, for meals, and for retiring. He chronicled his experiences in long and at times self-consciously literary letters to his family, searching for a writing style that would express his newfound maturity. Describing the ship’s approach to Hong Kong, he wrote, “On the left an island rose to greet perhaps us, perhaps the luring dawn, and then as if in parlous rivalry a promontory stretched itself as if perhaps to wreck, perhaps to land our ship.” After a stopover in Singapore, he described the beauty of “an essentially botanical city … while I see the beauty in Nature’s products still I will not rave over a city where Botany is apparently first & Humanity second.” In his account of a tour of Penang, he presented his emerging persona as an impassioned, intrepid sightseer. Having left a tour group from his ship, he wandered into a mosque without removing his shoes and “was almost slain (so I feared at the time) by the angry scowls and red fire glaring eyes of the Mosque Keepers…. I quite believed I was to be a martyr to the cause of sightseeing but somehow here I am!”1

There were spells of seasickness, homesickness, and sheer boredom: “It is too hot to play, let us read, & doze, read & doze, & doze & look or rather gaze into nothing, into everything—infinity of space,” he once wrote. Later he confessed to his parents: “I am excelling in the art of loafing.” But even at the end of the long, uncomfortable voyage, he continued to absorb new sights and new experiences with enthusiasm, if not always admiration. Port Said, Egypt, “was the rottenest port yet, and the vilest hole on earth … full of sin.” Naples and Genoa, the first European cities he had ever seen, were, by contrast, almost indescribable. A church in Naples was, he said, “by far the most wonderfully beautiful building that I have ever seen…. Italy, even the little that I have seen of it, beats everything yet except the States & Wei Hsien.”2

He arrived in England in mid-December. To his dismay (because it meant seeing nothing of London), the missionary family that had been looking out for him dispatched him immediately to the St. Albans School north of the city, to the tutor he hoped would cure him of his stammering—an affliction of which he later said that “nothing in the world could possibly be more painful.” The lessons, which began with great optimism (“Mr. Cummings doesn’t think I’ll need more than a month”), turned out to be of little use. Cummings told him his problem was “absolutely imaginary” and an “evil habit” that he could easily break; their sessions turned into long, pleasant, but essentially purposeless discussions of politics and literature. Harry’s father tried to encourage his son. Mr. Cummings “only seeks your good,” he said, evidently in response to his son’s disillusionment. But the real solution lay, he argued, in Harry’s own efforts. “The whole question, of course, is of your getting control of your speech again,” he wrote. Daily “practice in reading aloud and lip-movement … might facilitate your recovery.” Luce ignored Cummings’s advice but slowly improved his ability to control his stammer nevertheless.3

Not surprisingly Harry soon turned his attention to other things. Cummings offered him a place in his school, but Harry was uninterested in enrolling. Four years of English boarding school in China had undoubtedly been enough. He spent the time between lessons working on various self-improvement schemes. He experimented with a new handwriting (a “business hand,” he called it); he sent for a mail-order course from the Pelham School of the Mind, which suggested how “one can train oneself to … a high pitch of brain perfection” simply through “concentration” and “observation.” He studied Buddhism, read Caesar and Dickens, wrote poems, and “took German lessons twice a week … polishing up for Hotchkiss.” He played tennis and chess with the boys from the school. But most of all he traveled. He bought a bicycle, taught himself to ride it, and cycled through the countryside around St. Albans the way he had once ridden his donkey around Shantung, visiting villages and churches and farms. He took frequent trips into London by train, where he resumed his now-habitual sightseeing (Saint Paul’s, he said, was the “greatest Christian Temple I have ever seen”), observed a session of Parliament, and attended a Chefoo reunion.4

In January he learned that his mother, sisters, and brother would be relocating temporarily to Switzerland the following summer, where the girls would attend a French-speaking school. His father would be in England within a few weeks for a brief stopover en route from China to a fund-raising sojourn in America. “What news!” he wrote back excitedly, giving elaborate instructions on packing, tipping, and sightseeing, and outlining plans for showing his father the sights of England. When his father arrived in early February, Harry took him on tours of London, Oxford, and Stratford and on visits to several palaces and great country houses before seeing him off on a ship to New York. A few weeks later, after a last frantic round of sightseeing on his own in England, he left St. Albans and took the ferry to France alone.5

Harry’s letters from Europe, where he spent the next six weeks traveling, reveal a young man who was already accustomed to being on his own—and who compensated for his loneliness with relentless, methodical sightseeing and disciplined efforts at self-education. They also reveal an increasingly visible characteristic of his personality: a voracious appetite for knowledge and experience, a consuming curiosity, a determination, it sometimes seemed, to see and know everything. During his few days in Paris, he crisscrossed the city on foot visiting sight after sight—the Louvre, the relatively new Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Montmartre—before leaving for Lausanne, where his mother and siblings were to arrive a few weeks later. But the pleasant, quiet city quickly made him restless. “The days are at times long without a companion,” he wrote of his time in Switzerland. He adopted a regimen that he thought would help him deal with the tedium. “Now that my English lesson books have come the inter-eating hours will doubtless pass quickly enough,” he assured his father. But his time in Lausanne was brief, because he had already planned (with his father’s help) a monthlong trip through Italy, which he would take entirely on his own. “Guidebook in hand and camera on my little finger, I go out to make investigations,” he wrote from Rome, which he visited with the same frugal efficiency he had displayed in London and Paris. He stayed in a small, inexpensive hotel and spent several days trying to move into a smaller, even less expensive room—partly to preserve his very limited budget but also because his lodgings were of so little interest to him. He was utterly preoccupied with sightseeing. He moved methodically through the city, as if checking off the obligatory attractions. “In the seven days I have been here,” he boasted, “I have seen all the principle [sic] sites. The only things that are ever visited & that I will not have seen, are a few miscellaneous & uninteresting churches (comparatively) & a few galleries that are absolutely eclipsed by Florence’s exhibition—& to Florence I am bound!”6

Harry traveled this way because he believed that systematic investigation was more likely to deepen his knowledge than casual or impulsive methods, and he apparently derived real satisfaction from his deliberate sightseeing style. “I believe that I have carried away with me some parts of Rome that can never be taken from me,” he wrote happily as he prepared to leave the city. “Whether I wish or no the remembrances and impressions of that great city will always hold their place in my memory & that tenaciously.” His father heartily approved. “Once one has arrived at a place,” he advised, “it is worth while seeing it well.” “Not many fathers,” he added, would have permitted a son to travel alone at this age, but Harry “had never failed me yet.”7

In Florence, Harry was befriended by a professor of German—“an exceedingly nice man”—from Wells College in Aurora, New York, whom he met while touring the Baptistery. “We have hit it off and have agreed to continue our wanderings as much in conjunction as possible. We leave for Venice Monday 6:20 a.m. & are deliciously indefinite how long we shall stay there,” he wrote, adding that “my newfound friend … insisted on presenting me with tickets [to a film].” For whatever reason, the relationship does not appear to have lasted very long. A few weeks later, after a whirlwind tour (again alone) of Bologna, Milan, Turin, and Genoa, he was back in Lausanne, reunited with his mother, Emmavail, Elisabeth, and Sheldon—and already thinking ahead to his journey to America.8

As if to confirm his passage to maturity, he bought his first adult clothes in Switzerland—long trousers, cuffs, and stiff shirts, the standard uniform for young middle-class men in America. He complained about the “daily torture,” but he wore the uncomfortable new outfit diligently until he got used to it. In the meantime he embarked on a new round of sightseeing in Switzerland and studied ferociously for the Hotchkiss admissions exams. In August, he joined Harold Burt, an English friend from Chefoo, for a two-week trip of “concentrated sightseeing” down the Rhine to Strasbourg and then to Brussels—before finally going to Hamburg to meet his father, who had returned to Europe a few weeks earlier. Several days later father and son boarded a ship for America.9

It must have been clear to his parents, and perhaps also to Harry himself, how profoundly their relationship to their son had already changed in the months since he had left China. Harry still loved his family and enjoyed his time with them; his relationships with his parents and siblings remained the most important in his life. With his father in particular he still had an unusually close and warm relationship. But his home—wherever it was—was clearly no longer with them. He was now a visitor in their lives, dropping in for a few days or weeks as they themselves moved restlessly around the world. Their time together was affectionate and intense. “You are 14, & I am 44,” the older Harry wrote his son after they spent a few days together in Europe that summer. “I don’t feel that difference, & I hope you don’t. This is because motive and outlook are similar, & the fact is a great joy to me.” But such times were almost always brief, with Harry or his parents leaving after a short while for other obligations or other adventures. During their months together in Europe, there had been few moments when the entire family was in one place. And there would be very few such moments at any subsequent point in Harry’s life. “Of course, I long for a house, where I could gather you all, especially at the dear Christmas time,” his mother wrote him from Germany, “but that seems to be withheld, and it is a hard thing for us all to bear.” Emmavail once complained, “We seem not to belong anywhere,” and her mother agreed that “it seems to be our fate to be in a continual state of uncertainty.”10

But such laments were rare from any member of the family, and rarest of all from Harry. This was the common lot of missionary families, and their members learned to accept it as a necessary price of their unusual and, they believed, privileged lives. “I know that God will take care of it all, and will give us our hearts’ desires in just so far as they are in harmony with His will for us,” Elisabeth wrote her son. “It is a strange life we are leading,” his father echoed, “but I do feel that God is leading us and blessing us.” Harry simply forged ahead, spending time with his family when he could, but focusing intently on what he liked to call the “task at hand” when he could not. He adjusted to his new independent life with little apparent difficulty and with no evidence of the loneliness and homesickness about which he had so often complained at Chefoo, even though he was now far more alone than he had been then. Instead he eagerly embraced the “great adventure” of pursuing experience and knowledge. It was a willed replacement—in many ways, it turned out, a permanent one—for the intimate personal attachments that had once anchored his life.11

Harry arrived in New York in mid-September 1913 and got his first glimpse of “the great city” that would be the center of so much of his life. He was soon alone again, for his father was called away on fundraising business shortly after their arrival. But Harry was undaunted. As he had done in Paris and Rome, he traveled from one end of Manhattan to another, trying to see as much as he could in the few days he had. On a bus trip up Fifth Avenue, he passed the city’s already famous skyscrapers as well as the “‘big bugs’ roosts”—the lavish hotels and mansions surrounding Central Park. A few days later he was in Lakeville, Connecticut, singing “My Country ’Tis of Thee” in front of a gymnasium filled with jeering boys who were initiating him into the life of the Hotchkiss School.12

Hotchkiss was founded in 1892 through the awkward intersection of two very different people. One was Timothy Dwight, the august president of Yale, who in the 1890s was busily trying to transform his institution—once a small, insular college—into an academically serious university. And like the presidents of other universities experiencing similar transformations, Dwight feared that the nation’s public schools were failing to produce students that met Yale’s newly heightened standards. As a result he had begun to consider founding a new private school that would prepare young men for Yale. As luck would have it, he discovered a wealthy and somewhat eccentric widow—Maria Hotchkiss—who was looking ineffectually for a way to memorialize her recently deceased husband (a successful industrialist and the inventor of the machine gun). Dwight persuaded her to finance the construction of a private high school for boys in her hometown, Lakeville, Connecticut. It became one of a wave of such institutions—known now as “preparatory” schools—that opened their doors around the same time and for the same purposes. Among them were Lawrenceville, Groton, Taft, Choate, Middlesex, Deerfield, and Kent, all created with the encouragement, and sometimes the active involvement, of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, and other elite universities. Older private schools, such as Exeter, Andover, and St. Paul’s, greatly expanded in these same years.

The creation of these schools served not only the needs of the universities that promoted them but also the desires of the newly wealthy families of the industrial age. Prep schools were among a broad range of developments—including the growth of affluent suburbs, country clubs, summer resorts, lavish Protestant churches, and elite men’s clubs—that marked the emergence of a distinct, national upper class. Not all the boys at Hotchkiss, not even all the nonscholarship boys, came from the new aristocracy. But most were at least from prosperous, solidly middle-class backgrounds. The school represented, therefore, both the ideals and the social customs of the upper class and the aspirations of many middle-class families to rise in the world.13

That was one reason why relations between Mrs. Hotchkiss and the school that bore her family’s name were tense from beginning to end. She wanted an institution that would serve the needs of poor children from the community; Yale wanted one that would train the sons of wealthy families for the university. They reached an uneasy compromise by setting tuition at six hundred dollars a year for the vast majority of boys—a sum far beyond the reach of all but the relatively affluent—while establishing a handful of scholarships for less wealthy students from the area. But Maria Hotchkiss remained unreconciled, and her support of the school ended at its founding. It flourished without her, since it soon was able to rely on the many enormously wealthy families whose sons it educated.14

Hotchkiss was twenty years old when Harry (now 15) arrived, and the school had by then significantly reduced its always scant interest in recruiting poor boys from Lakeville. But it retained its scholarships and parceled at least some of them out to students whose backgrounds, if not their finances, seemed compatible with the character of its socially eminent student body. Harry—the son of a Yale-educated missionary and a graduate of a British boarding school—fit the profile well. Even so, the distinction between scholarship boys and everyone else was carefully and very publicly maintained. Harry’s early weeks at Hotchkiss became his first lessons in the American class system. He lived apart from the rest of the students, in a boardinghouse in the village, about a mile away from campus, where he shared a room with a nineteen-and-a-half-year-old farm boy from Kansas, who was also a scholarship student. The dormitories—complete with maid and laundry service—were reserved for the tuition-paying boys. He rose every morning at six and caught a ride on a delivery cart into campus, where he first cleaned and dusted the chapel before having to “scoot” into the dining hall for a rushed breakfast followed by waiting on the tables of the paying students.15

Even so, Harry had no doubt which side of the class divide he wished, and expected, to inhabit. He got along with the other scholarship boys, but he did not really identify with them. He was a far better student than most of them (and in fact spent considerable time tutoring his roommate and others). But he did not accept their sense of being outsiders. “I will like to get away from the round of serving on table and to eat once again, not as hog, but as human!” he wrote as his first Thanksgiving vacation approached. “These scholarship fellows here are all fundamentally fine, but they lack certain qualities—especially noticeable at table—that one misses!” The “greatest burden of the scholarship,” he noted on another occasion, “is the school fellows I have to associate with. Many of them are still boorish, showing the trade of the farm or perhaps Brooklyn!” (The school apparently agreed. One teacher told him that “the Faculty was very dissatisfied with the calibre of the new scholarship boys—‘Present company excepted,’ he remarked!—and that therefore they were going to make an endeavour to advertise [Hotchkiss scholarships] … among a better grade of boys.”) The other students, in contrast, were “are all fine, nice fellows,” and he yearned to be one of them. In one letter to his family, he pondered his chances of being chosen to serve refreshments at an upper-class dance—an honor reserved for the popular and socially eminent people Harry called “pets.” “I can only hope that they allow me in on that feed,” he wrote, with a tinge of self-pity, “tho I might not add any lustre to the social glimmer of the evening & early morning!”16

But it was not only his ambiguous position in the school’s rigid class structure that set him apart. It was also a certain social awkwardness, a product in part of his conspicuous foreignness. He dressed differently, wearing jackets and trousers made for him inexpensively in China and Europe that looked dated and slightly shabby compared with the elegant American wardrobes of some of his wealthy classmates. He spoke differently, not only because of his continuing (if somewhat improved) stammer, but also because of his unfamiliarity with American idiom. His speech sometimes seemed formal, even slightly stilted, not because he intended it to but because he had never learned the relaxed, slang-heavy diction of American adolescents. He had little knowledge of American popular culture; he did not understand his schoolmates’ jokes; and perhaps most damaging of all in a boys’ school, he knew little about American sports at an institution where (according to a Hotchkiss graduate writing to Harry) the “big men” were athletes, their “friendship coveted by anyone [they] care to associate with.” (“I did not know a single rule of football when I came here,” Harry wrote ruefully to his parents in October.) He went out briefly for the football team and later considered trying out for baseball, but he gave them both up quickly and chose instead to play tennis and to inform himself about the sports he did not know by covering games for the school newspaper. In addition to everything else he and his fellow students were obliged to learn, Harry had the task of learning how to be American.17

Despite all the ways in which Harry felt like an outsider at Hotchkiss, he loved the school from the beginning—loved it with an almost uncritical enthusiasm that was nearly as intense as his implacable bitterness toward Chefoo had been. “Hotchkiss is fine!” he wrote his sisters after his first days in Lakeville. “I have been forced to pinch myself several times to assure myself of normal senses.” For a time at least he forgave the school almost everything: the humiliating hazing of new boys by the seniors (“they gave us real solid advice & warm welcome,” he wrote, once the ritual was over); the harsh regimen of the scholarship students (they held a “high position” in the school, he insisted, because they had such important responsibilities); the demeaning rules for new students (although they could not speak to seniors, or even look at them, unless spoken to first, Harry simply anticipated the day when he would be the beneficiary rather than the victim of the customs). He even tolerated his hated nickname, “Chink,” attached to him in his first weeks at Hotchkiss when the older boys learned he had listed his hometown as Wei Hsien, China. (He “must have sneaked in thru Mexico or Canada,” the Hotchkiss Lit wrote in a humorous retrospective on the class of 1916.) He expressed admiration for the school’s stern and pompous headmaster, Huber Gray Buehler, whom he would later come to loathe. “Mr. Buehler is commonly called ‘the King’ & is a very fine man,” he wrote after their first meeting. “I met him first in the corridor, received according to his manner a very formal & dignified welcome.”18

What Harry lacked in social or athletic distinction, however, he made up for in academic and literary achievement. He emerged almost immediately as one of the most gifted students in the school—an especially impressive triumph since he had missed an entire year of formal education during his prolonged journey from China to America, while most of his classmates had spent a first year at Hotchkiss. But Chefoo had prepared him well, he grudgingly admitted. “I find that the easiest part of my life here will be my studies,” he wrote a few weeks into his first term, a view he never had occasion to change. He had no great difficulty excelling, and he ranked first in his class (“First Scholar”) in all but a few terms during his three years at the school. “I am awfully proud of the way you have faced your first term’s work in this land,” his father wrote on hearing news of his marks. “It is a great joy and comfort to me to know that I have a son who can be trusted absolutely to do the right thing just so far as he has light.” Such praise only increased Harry’s determination to achieve and succeed.19

The curriculum at Hotchkiss was unusually narrow, even by the standards of its time. Harry took a scattering of courses in English, algebra, and Bible studies, but the vast majority of his academic work was in languages. Walter Buell, his father’s old teacher from Scranton—a formal, aloof man with whom Harry never became close—kept a close eye on the new boy and decided early that he had great potential. He persuaded Harry to begin studying ancient Greek—one of the more demanding language courses in the school. Harry was soon immersed in the strange, beautiful language, taking two Greek courses a term (along with Latin, French, and German), and, characteristically, already looking ahead to the public distinctions his newfound talents could bring him. Yale offered a prize to the entering student who could demonstrate the greatest proficiency in Greek, and Harry determined early that he would try to win it.20

In the meantime he had his eye on prizes more immediately at hand. In addition to striving perpetually, and usually successfully, to be “First Scholar,” he tried to excel in public speaking and debating—an unlikely ambition for a boy with a painful stammer, but one he embraced all the more intensely because of the obstacles he had to overcome. A few weeks after arriving at the school, he read a paper he had written—“Hannibal, a Leader of men”—before one of the Hotchkiss debating societies, as a kind of audition for membership. The next morning he wrote home excitedly: “I write principally this morning to tell you of the success of my essay. It was considered the best of the bunch—the first essay ever committed to memory in the Forum—And I am a member of that august society!”21

Since he could not become a “big man” at Hotchkiss as an athlete, Harry was determined to become an important literary figure on campus. In addition to debating, he began working for both the school newspaper (the Record) and the literary magazine (the Hotchkiss Literary Monthly, known to students as the Lit) in his first term. Both awarded places on the basis of strenuous and highly quantitative competition. Boys received points not just for the quality and quantity of their submissions but for selling ads and subscriptions, doing clerical chores, even cleaning up. Harry had great success in getting his stories and poems published, but he did not stop there. He took every opportunity he had to pile up points, so that by the end of the term he could boast that his contributions to the Lit “have evidently been well thought of as I lead the competition of the whole school.” He was elected to the Lit in his first year. The path to distinction at the Record was longer and more difficult and therefore, to Harry, more desirable. “You ask why I want to make both papers,” he wrote his father in April, after “heeling” (competing like a dog following its master) for the Record for months without securing a place. “Well, first & foremost, because it’s quite some honor and quite something which very few if any others in my class will do. Secondly because it’s up to me to make good in everything I can.” Not until the middle of his second year—during which he worked almost maniacally for the newspaper to the slight (and temporary) detriment of his grades—did he finally win election. “My work on the Record has had quite a wonderful—not to say phenomenal—success,” he reported. “2500 odd points in 2 weeks has not been won since I have been at Hotchkiss.”22

Even though he was one of the poorest boys in the school, Harry managed to stay on a fairly equal footing with his fellow students while he was at Hotchkiss. During most vacations, however, he was conspicuously different from all but a few of them. His parents were usually far away—in China, in Europe, or traveling, with no fixed address except when they were in Shantung. (“I do not know where I shall be” at Christmas, his father wrote from Pittsburgh in mid-December, outlining an exceptionally complicated travel schedule, “but since I ‘commit my way to the Lord’ constantly, He surely ‘directs my path.’ So all is well.”) There were no close relatives left in America from either side of the family, and no relatives at all with whom Harry had any more than a glancing acquaintance. So each holiday presented him with the challenge of finding, largely on his own, a place to go and something to do. It was, on the whole, a challenge he confronted eagerly, even joyously. He undoubtedly missed his family, but he faced a world of opportunities for experience and advancement.23

His first such opportunity came from the old friend and devoted patron of the Luce family, Nettie McCormick. Harry had not seen Mrs. McCormick since his childhood visit to Chicago in 1906. But the family had remained in close touch with her, and Harry’s father had been a frequent visitor to her home on fund-raising trips to Chicago. Young Harry, whom she had once offered to adopt, was the member of the family she remembered most warmly. She began writing to him even before he returned to the United States: “I am addressing the little boy I loved so well long ago!” she wrote in the spring of 1913, when Harry was in Europe. “It is only yesterday—as ages count—and as my memory counts it I would say it was last night sunsetting when I took your little hand.” She treasured the photographs of him that Harry’s mother occasionally sent. “I recognize ‘the boy of 1906’ in the picture more readily than you will recognize me when you next come to Chicago,” she observed. So perhaps it was not surprising that she invited Harry to spend his first Christmas vacation in the United States with her, an invitation Harry immediately and eagerly accepted, with his parents’ approval. “It will give you an opportunity to come to know some of the best people in the land,” his father wrote. His mother confided to her husband that she had decided to abandon a planned trip to New York and stay in Europe through Christmas so as not to interfere with Harry’s plans to visit Mrs. McCormick in Chicago. (He had shown no such eagerness, to his mother’s considerable chagrin, when relatives had invited him to spend Thanksgiving in Scranton a month earlier, and he had declined their invitation to stop in over Christmas as well. “Where do we come in?” his uncle wrote, only partly in jest, when hearing of Harry’s holiday plans.)24

Mrs. McCormick lived in a towering brownstone mansion on Rush Street in downtown Chicago (when she was not in her “country” home in the affluent suburb of Lake Forest). She was surrounded by servants but otherwise alone, visited occasionally by her wealthy but, to her, disappointing children. She welcomed the polite, intelligent, earnest young man from Hotchkiss with warmth, and she dazzled him with generosity. Suddenly Harry found himself in a social whirl unlike anything he had ever experienced. He was invited to dinners and dances and debutante balls at wealthy homes and country clubs. He went to the opera on Christmas Eve with the younger McCormicks and spent Christmas day on Rush Street, opening expensive gifts from the “great lady,” as the Luces always called her. (His modest gifts from his parents arrived at Hotchkiss by mail weeks later.) Mrs. McCormick’s generosity was not, however, restricted to Christmas. She “had four prs of fine silk socks laid out in front of my door one morning,” he wrote his mother. “Gave me $10 today for ‘incidental expenses’ and made me promise to take a taxi if ever caught in the rain—‘no matter what the cost,’ she said!”25

When he returned to Hotchkiss, she paid for his train tickets, gave him pocket money for the trip, and sent him gifts of cash periodically during the rest of the year. Almost immediately, she began planning for his next visit. “The glow has fled that radiated through these humble halls, where at Christmas time young voices were heard—and light footsteps on the stair!” she lamented a few days after he left. In the meantime Harry sent her copies of his speeches in the debating society and his articles in the Lit, and wrote her—as he did to his parents—recounting the great events of his struggle to succeed. For the rest of her life, he remained her “dear boy,” the object of her continued attention, the recipient of her frequent largesse. Harry had no qualms about accepting her many gifts. Missionary families were accustomed to surviving through the generosity of others.26

The summer of 1914 was a rare opportunity for the Luce family to be together. Harry’s mother and siblings had come over from Europe—his mother in February, leaving the girls behind in their German school until they hurriedly escaped Germany in midsummer on the eve of World War I. His father was committed to another full year of fundraising in the United States. So the family rented a house in Hartford (despite young Harry’s preference for New York) and spent the summer months—as they had so often done at Iltus Huk—pursuing self-improving activities for themselves. Harry created a chart to encourage the family to take “healthy walks”—“Nothing less than a consecutive half mile may be counted,” he announced—and made sure that he finished first in what he, at least, automatically considered a competition. In August he logged thirty and a half miles, more than twice as many as anyone else.27

His parents remained in the United States long enough for him to spend at least part of both the 1914 Christmas holiday and the 1915 summer vacation with them. But he rarely stayed for long. The day after Christmas, despite earlier protestations that he hoped to spend the entire holiday with his family, he left for two weeks with Mrs. McCormick in Chicago. During the summer of 1915, he worked for a time on a farm in Massachusetts (a job he found through a friend at school), but he also visited family friends near Scranton, where he was “forthwith shouted into a whirl of golf and tennis.” Toward the end of the summer, he traveled west to San Francisco to see his family off as they finally returned to China—his sisters en route to Shanghai, where they would enroll in an American boarding school; his parents and Sheldon temporarily to Wei Hsien, pending the move of Shantung Christian University to a new campus in Tsinan, the provincial capital—built largely as a result of Rev. Luce’s prodigious feats of fund-raising in the United States. Characteristically, Harry combined his emotional farewell with a bout of strenuous sightseeing, into the Yosemite Valley and through the Muir Woods (“all fine exercise … [and] a good tanning process”), and later into San Francisco to get a look at the celebrated evangelist Billy Sunday, whom Harry dismissed as “that loud-mouthed fellow … [who] could jump pretty well, and knew how to box the ears of the wind.” He was much more impressed with a distinguished Presbyterian minister who was visiting a church for the New York City elite. He was “famous as Rockefeller’s pastor,” Harry noted, and spoke both more “intelligently” and more “beautifully” than Billy Sunday had. On his way back east he spent most of his time in the train’s observation car, even though he was traveling on a second-class ticket that did not entitle him to sit there. “I went on the plan ‘go, keep going till you’re stopped,’” he unapologetically explained.28

He spent the last several weeks of the summer in Chicago with the McCormicks, where he found himself drawn into conversations about the long unfolding of the Chinese Revolution. “Ideals are a nation’s greatest asset,” he wrote his father after a spirited conversation with some conservative members of the Chicago business elite, whose views he seemed to have adopted. “But the ideal of democracy is not and never has been, in my mind, either understood or embraced by China as a nation.” Perhaps, he said, the nation would be better off with “a monarchical form of government,” which might “let China find that law and order & courage which is the foundation of liberty,” outside the circle of America and Western Europe. Like his boyhood hero Theodore Roosevelt, he was coming to think of China as one of the “problem” nations for which the best course was “Order first, Liberty second.”29

Harry was a junior when he returned to Hotchkiss in the fall of 1914 and was living now, he excitedly reported, in one of the school buildings, no longer in a rooming house in the village. He was also beginning the year in which the school’s great prizes would be open to him: editorships, club presidencies, class offices, and the like, all of which were bestowed in the spring. Harry’s competitive impulses, which had shaped much of his first year at Hotchkiss, now grew in intensity, and he spent much of his time scrambling for advancement in one organization after another—and writing to his parents with elaborate accounts of his achievements, along with detailed and self-exculpatory explanations of his occasional failures. His father warned him about his “nervous disposition,” which he said ran in the family and which had, he claimed, physical as well as psychological risks. Harry should avoid his tendency to eat too quickly, which could cause stomach ailments and “distemper;” and he should also avoid rubbing his face nervously with his hands—which, his father insisted, contributed to Harry’s mild acne problems. “I note that the people of best breeding I know never touch their faces, noses, or ears.” But he did not discourage Harry from pursuing his ambitions. Perhaps he knew that such discouragement would be futile.30

Harry paid little attention to his father’s advice. He continued to strive for and almost always attained academic distinction (with courses again narrowly concentrated in Latin, German, Greek, French, English, and the Bible); he remained first in his class through almost all of his junior year and was the only junior to make the High Honor Roll. As a result, as he somewhat smugly put it, he became “the object of a little more respect than here to fore.” But his principal ambition was now not for grades but for office. To achieve a high position in the school, he explained to his occasionally skeptical parents (who urged him to give first priority to his academic work) would “mean that I have made good—slightly above the average—in at least one branch of school life.” He added (somewhat disingenuously for the top scholar in his class) that “this is what scholarship boys are supposed to do and if I want to have my scholarship renewed it behooves me to push things as best I can.”31

He continued to work hard at debating, hoping to become a major figure in the Debating Union, “one of the foremost school offices!” A highlight of the debating year was the contest between the school’s two debating societies: the Forum and the Agora, for which Harry prepared with some trepidation, since his opponent was a senior widely regarded as the school’s best debater. But he defeated the school star and won “the gold medal for myself” and critical points for the victorious team. “Thus another event in Life’s circle goes round,” he reported to his parents, “—‘something accomplished, something done!’” Toward the end of the year, when the Debating Union chose its officers, Luce was named president of the Agora.32

He cast an occasional, hopeful eye at student government but did not pursue it, aware that social standing, not ability, played the principal role in the selection. He tried out for the drama society and secured a minor part (as “a new young missionary just going out to his field”) in one of its productions. He became involved with the campus Christian organization, the Saint Luke’s Society—although he did not see it as one of his principal commitments. His greatest hope, however, was to be president of the Lit, a goal he had set for himself during his first year and that he now single-mindedly pursued. He flooded the editors with poems, essays, and stories and kept meticulous notes on what was accepted (mostly poems, some essays, few stories). He assisted in the design of the magazine, helped with the sale of advertisements, and even came to the rescue of the business manager, who fell ill before a school play and asked Harry to accompany his date in his stead. His election as editor in chief in the early spring was anticlimactic: He had no serious rivals. Almost immediately he began looking ahead to his own time at the helm, determined to make a mark for himself in his new position. He organized a banquet for the outgoing board, “establishing a new precedent here at Hotchkiss … [and] putting the Lit on a distinctly respected and dignified basis.” In the meantime he was laying plans “for the wonderful Lit that we hope to make next year. If our dreams come anywhere near true, we shall give those interested in School Publications an eye opener!”33

Harry’s high ambitions for the Lit were at least in part a result of his realization that he would not be a major figure on the more prestigious campus publication, the Record. Even though he heeled successfully for the newspaper in the winter of his second year, and even though he worked hard and published many stories in the paper, he was never in contention for the editorship. That was, he explained to his mother, because another of his classmates already had the office virtually locked up—“a boy, Hadden, who is already on the Board.” He did not know it at the time, but the “boy, Hadden,” was to become—with the exception of his parents—the most important figure in Harry’s young life.34

Briton Hadden was born in February 1898 into a prosperous Brooklyn Heights family. His maternal grandfather was a successful silk importer. His father’s father was president of a Brooklyn savings bank. Brit’s childhood was in most respects as conventionally American and middle class as Harry’s was unusual. His father died when he was seven, but a close extended family and a doting mother softened the trauma of the loss. His mother eventually remarried, and Brit’s new stepfather—a physician—became a devoted and affectionate parent.

As a child in Brooklyn, Brit was an exuberant, highly social boy, the leader of a circle of neighborhood friends, and—his mother later claimed—someone with strong opinions about everything. He had two passions: writing and baseball. He wrote poems, stories, and reports of the neighborhood, beginning even before he entered school—including a series of mostly violent tales about battles among rabbits, cats, and other usually more innocent creatures. As a student at Brooklyn Polytechnic Preparatory School, which he entered at the age of ten, he created an unofficial, handwritten newspaper, illustrated with his own cartoons. He called it the Daily Glonk, after a word used in the popular comic strip Krazy Kat to describe the noise made when someone hit Krazy on the head with a brickbat. The paper was lively and irreverent. “The ‘Daily Glonk’ wishes to apologize to its many subscribers for its tardyness,” Brit wrote in one issue. “This was unavoidable, however, as the paper was twice destroyed by a rough politician who did not like to see his name in print.” It was also at times both cruel and openly bigoted. Of a Jewish classmate with a lisp, the Glonk wrote that “Theo. Oswald Clarke thallied forth to thcool arrayed in a thplendid new thuit. Unhappily for Theo., however, he forgot to remove a Moe Levy price mark…. Take it off Theo. We know you.” In a May 1913 issue he wrote of the “great success” of the “grand Yiddisher ball,” at which the “Jew Theo. Clarke performed wonderfully as leader of the grand march.” Under a crudely racist drawing of a local African American, the paper went on to note that “the niggers are jealous,” and that in response the “champion Nigger Spitter of America … is promoting the ‘Coon’s Cake Walk.’” In the insular, white, Protestant middle-class world of the Hadden family, such sentiments offended almost no one.35

However much Brit liked writing and editing, he liked baseball more. Like many Brooklynites, he was a passionate Dodger fan, but his love for the game was actually almost indiscriminate. “I go and see either Brooklyn or the Giants play every day,” he wrote a cousin in 1914, “and that’s my idea of a good time.” When he was unable to go to the stadium, he often stood outside the Brooklyn Eagle offices waiting for scores. In the summers he organized fiercely competitive baseball games almost every day near the family’s summer home in Quogue. He dreamed of being a major-league player himself and spoke with contempt of friends and relatives who liked more sedentary or genteel sports like golf and tennis. When he entered Hotchkiss in the fall of 1913 (at the same time that Harry arrived), his principal ambition was to become a member of the school’s baseball team, as his brother had been before him. But he had little talent for baseball or, for that matter, any other sport. “I’m still on the class squad but I might as well be a dummy for all the baseball I’m getting,” he wrote his mother in despair. “Gee, my chances for making the big team before I get out of here are about as big as the Brooklyns’ of winning the pennant.” Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Brit soon turned his ambitions to student journalism instead, where he found himself before long in an unstated rivalry with another refugee from Hotchkiss team sports: Harry.36

In many ways it would be hard to imagine two boys more different from each other than Harry and Brit. Brit was gregarious, witty, and charismatic (his classmates named him “Mouth Hadden” in a graduation spoof), enormously popular with his classmates and a “great pet” (as Harry observed) of the faculty. He was a creature of American popular culture—attuned to its slang, its jokes, its entertainments, and its sports. He liked to affect the loping, swaggering walk of professional baseball players, to speak at times in an exaggerated Brooklyn accent, and to express emphatic opinions about almost everything. He was also a mediocre student, despite his considerable intelligence, and had trouble concentrating on subjects that did not interest him—which, in the very narrow Hotchkiss curriculum, was most subjects. Harry, of course, shared none of those characteristics.37

But perhaps the biggest difference between them, visible even in adolescence, was in their views of the world. Brit had what was in many ways an intensely parochial outlook, bounded by the limited experiences and inward-looking assumptions of his family, community, and class. The childish racism and anti-Semitism he displayed in the Daily Glonk was one example of this insularity. So was his breezy dismissal of people and ideas that departed from those he had absorbed in Brooklyn Heights and at Hotchkiss. And yet Brit was also an iconoclast—sassy, cynical, unimpressed with established authority and existing institutions, already showing signs of what would become the trademark social disenchantment of his generation of writers, artists, and intellectuals. One of his heroes and models as he grew older was H. L. Mencken, and one of his favorite magazines was the one on which Mencken got his start and that helped give voice to his time, the Smart Set. Like many of his contemporaries, Brit was in one sense a true snob, contemptuous of dull, ordinary people and of those he considered his social or intellectual inferiors. But he was also a rebel, always ready to ridicule the pretensions and affectations of his peers, always eager to defy authority (within reasonably safe bounds), never comfortable fitting into a conventional mold.38

Harry, by contrast, had a much more serious and in many ways more cosmopolitan approach to the world. He lacked Brit’s natural ease with American popular culture, had difficulty forming casual relationships with his peers, and was in general less socially successful. But he had a much more comfortable relationship with the larger world, of which he had seen a great deal more than Brit (or almost any other of his classmates) ever would. Harry had absorbed the values of his father’s sense of Christian mission—unshakable faith in the superiority of American and Western culture, to be sure, but also a tolerance of, and intense curiosity about, other cultures, other ideas, other peoples. He may not have been offended by displays of racism or anti-Semitism among his peers, but he rarely expressed such sentiments himself. Even as an adolescent Harry could be arrogant and aloof, but he was rarely—then or at any time in his life—cynical or conventionally snobbish. And because he did not take his American-ness for granted, because his view of his country had been shaped by his early separation from it and his eager idealization of it, he was much less inclined than was Brit to criticize or ridicule its mores.

And yet for all their differences, Harry and Brit did have some important things in common. They were both precociously intelligent, both drawn to literature, ideas, and writing, both attracted to journalism, and, perhaps most of all, both exceptionally ambitious and competitive. At Hotchkiss, at least, Harry was a slightly awkward outsider trying to fit in; and Brit was a consummate, supremely popular insider trying in some unfocused way to break out. Somehow, in their common efforts to transcend their designated roles, they met on common ground. But not right away.

Harry was not the only one determined to make his publication an “eye opener.” Brit, too, set out to make the Record he edited into a campus sensation. The result was an intense but mostly friendly competition that both cemented their friendship and established a long-term rivalry. Each was eager to best the other, but both were committed to winning for their shared literary efforts the same respect and acclaim that the school had traditionally given to sports.

Harry spent several days toward the end of the summer visiting potential printers for the magazine in an effort to reduce costs. He also met with established journalists and editors (among them the editors of Outlook and Scribner’s) to request advice and, it was surely not lost on him, to make connections. He watched the “October Scribner being run off the gigantic machine—but not one page of it could I carry to the outside world as a proof that I had seen it! I saw where the many beautiful color plates are made, and the foreman gave me a score or two of the beautiful pictures that had adorned Scribner’s in the past. In short, I learned a good deal of the mechanical part of publishing, and had a most interesting afternoon.”39

Back at Hotchkiss for his long-awaited senior year, he claimed not to “feel that elation or exultation which had been promised me.” But he leaped nevertheless into his usual frantic schedule. “The pleasant days of summer have given way to the days of work,” he wrote. “Which are more blessed, even to the schoolboy, I cannot say.” Most of all he leaped into his new role as editor of the Lit. Recalling his memorable day watching Scribner’s Magazine roll off the presses, he launched the magazine with an issue containing a special picture supplement (“First in the Prep School World,” he boasted on the cover). The pictures were relatively simple black-and-white drawings and photographs, not the “beautiful color plates” he had admired in New York. Even so, they were an expensive innovation for a school publication, and they were made possible in part by his success in attracting an unusual amount of advertising through the parents of wealthy classmates and friends of the McCormicks. Harry managed as well to increase the number of pages in the Lit, expand the number of articles (including many of his own), and add more essays dealing with contemporary issues and events. Under his direction the Lit became not just a monthly literary magazine, but a journal of reportage and opinion. The response, he wrote his mother, was gratifying. “Such a stir over a mere magazine I never had in my life expected to see,” he wrote after the first issue appeared. “I would, unnoticed, walk in a room, the Senior Room perhaps, and the comments I overheard positively prevented my keeping a straight face. In short, the school appears to approve of our new Lit, with all its obvious faults and shortcomings…. [W]e intend to proceed on the ever forward movement for a ‘better’ magazine.” “The Better Magazine” became, in fact, the Lit’s masthead slogan.40

The implicit challenge from the Lit did not escape Brit, and he took a gentle swipe at Harry’s pretensions with a review in the Record of the rival publication. “We are well aware that ‘The Better Magazine’ means a magazine which aims to be ‘better’ than itself in each successive issue. At the same time, however, we still fear that the slogan might readily be misinterpreted by an outsider as meaning better than any other magazine.” Brit was making his own mark on the Record (with Harry’s occasional help as an assistant managing editor). He transformed it from a weekly to a semiweekly, added coverage of national and international news, and received much the same enthusiastic reception from faculty and students that Harry was getting for the Lit. Over time their good-natured rivalry evolved into something like a mutual admiration society. “Luce’s poem, entitled ‘Stanzas,’ is by far the best that has appeared in the Lit this year,” Brit wrote in the Record. “‘Mediocrity in Scholarship’ by the same author is an article which should receive the thoughtful and sincere attention of every fellow in the school. More articles by this writer would be desirable.” Harry responded late in the year with an editorial, “The Literary Game,” arguing that writers deserved as much respect as athletes, and paying a particular tribute to Brit: “To run a semi-weekly, six-page newspaper—outside of study hours—and to have not more than one typographical error a fortnight, and to have a keen, clear, pointed editorial to each issue … we say that there is no harder job in the entire Hotchkiss School—no football game that ever will demand more ‘guts’ than this.” Naturally he did not exempt himself from such praise: “Casting the convention of modesty to the dust, we say that to publish a monthly magazine with 300 pages … and to pay for nearly 200 electrotypes … is no tea-parlor, silk-sock, poetically temperamental game.”41

In his senior year Harry was well established as both an impressive scholar and an important campus leader, and he was well satisfied with his success. “I think, if I were to boast of my career here,” he wrote, “it is that while I am not popular in the crowd, I have not an enemy in the class. And this is in spite of some harsh things I have said and some mistakes I have made.” He still carried the stigma of a scholarship student, with his daily chores (now working in the library and serving as an usher in chapel) and his inferior accommodations (a garreted room in the attic of a teacher’s home, which he shared with another scholarship student, “joined to Bissel Hall, wherein will live our classmates of better means”). But he seemed less conscious of this difference in status than he had once been—confident now that he had proven himself the equal of even the wealthiest and most socially prominent students. It was, perhaps, that eager confidence that made him react so bitterly to a falling-out with the school’s imperious headmaster.42

Until his last term at Hotchkiss, Harry had what he considered a good relationship with “the King.” “I flatter myself that I am decidedly in the good graces of Dr. Buehler,” he wrote in his junior year. “Whereas most fellows go from one term’s beginning to its end without conversing with him, he has already spoken to me half a dozen times—and not by way of reprimand.” But something went badly wrong as he neared graduation. Buehler began to chastise him for neglecting his duties as a scholarship student, for neglecting his library work, for being careless in his chores. To Buehler the problem was that Harry now believed he had so risen in the world that scholarship work was beneath him. (He once referred in a school sermon to “the supercilious boy, the fellow who thinks he knows too much” as someone in “great danger.”) Harry blamed the problem on Buehler’s own determination to keep a poor boy in his place. Both of them were probably at least partly right. Whatever the reasons, Buehler appeared determined to slap Harry down—and he did so by humiliating him in the way he knew would hurt him the most, by doing so in the eyes of his father. In a letter to Shantung in March 1916, he wrote, “You should know that for sometime we have not been satisfied with Harry’s attention to detail in connection with some of his duties.” He was doing well academically and in his activities, Buehler conceded, but “he has seemed careless or indifferent in regard to things which he should consider equally important.” His complaint seemed to rest on reports of Harry’s entering the library too noisily and leaving his drawer of books “carelessly open.” This fault, he insisted, “is more serious in its relations and bearing on his future than he seems to realize,” particularly since he was “a scholarship boy and … expected to set the right example.” As apparent punishment, Harry was reassigned from the library to the more menial task of taking care of the “Bissel Hall lights.”43

Harry’s furious and almost desperate reaction to Buehler’s reprimand—a wounding but ultimately petty slight—suggests how fragile his new self-image as a mature, self-reliant young adult still was, and how painful it was to be reminded so bluntly of his social standing, which he thought he had transcended. To his father he wrote imploringly that he hoped “it will not shake what trust you have had in me, because that’s a thing a fellow hates to lose most of all.” But he could not help adding swipes at Buehler for his pettiness in reporting “highly magnified nothings.” Rev. Luce urged him to be conciliatory and to accept the criticism “gracefully, without resentment,” but Harry was in no mood to compromise. He would talk to “the King” about the problem, he assured his father, but he would not go “crawling” to him. Privately he was much angrier than he let his parents know. At the bottom of Buehler’s letter reassigning him to Bissel Hall, Harry wrote a draft of a reply, which he clearly never sent: “Sir, My opinion of you is that you are a damned fool, and someday I’ll prove it to you.”44

Harry’s conflict with Buehler even caused him momentarily to question his otherwise seldom-questioned ambition. In the light of this “aspersion on my general character,” he said, he had begun to contemplate “the call of the road, outcast from convention and the etiquette of morality and manners.” It would be wonderful, he mused, “to live near the heart of the highways and byways of life, to buy bread by any occasional pence I could get, to smile at men and the world, to help lame dogs over any sty’s [sic] I can…. [T]he life of a fool is greater than the temporal power of some demagogue (Dr. Buehler or Napoleon).” But he knew, of course, that he would “never follow” such a path; and although he did not forgive Buehler and, indeed, spoke bitterly about him even forty years later, he neared the end of his years at the school still loyal to Hotchkiss and proud of his record there. “I have made a success,” he said, “as few will ever appreciate or understand.” His class, he claimed, “has done some big things at a critical time in the history of the school” in fighting the “dry-rot of self complacency” that had been “at the core of the place.”

But it was time to look ahead. “I dread leaving my moorings and jumping into the race again,” he wrote a few months before his graduation. “But unless we race we rot.” As he looked ahead to the next chapter in his life—Yale, which, along with fifty-two out of his sixty-nine classmates, he would be entering in the fall—he saw only new challenges, new opportunities for achievement. “They say—and they are saying it pretty loudly—that Hotchkiss is not holding its own at Yale.” It was up to his class to change that impression. Always calculating, always striving, Harry was leaving little room for spontaneity, even as he prepared to enter an institution he barely knew. “For one thing we must show that we have a man with enough ability and ‘guts’ to make the [Yale Daily] News,” he wrote, clearly referring to himself. The News was “‘Yale’s choicest prize’” and “a man who makes the news has a 99% chance of success everywhere in life.” He would “hit the News hard in freshman year—then … go after Phi Beta K and the Lit Board in sophomore and junior years.”45

Hotchkiss graduation was a difficult moment for Harry. Most of his classmates were surrounded by proud parents and siblings. He spent the day in the company of a distant cousin he barely knew. He had been named class poet and read a short ode at the Class Day ceremony, but the position of class orator, which he had particularly coveted, went to Brit instead. He finished his senior year not first in his class, as he had almost always been, but second, “beaten by a terrible greasy grind! I wish somebody had had the time or opportunity to beat him out.” In a class poll he received no votes at all for “most likely to succeed;” he ranked high not only as “brightest” and “most energetic,” but also in such categories as “most absent-minded” and “most eccentric.” In the class yearbook, he was mildly ridiculed for having used “stolen” yearbook photographs in the Lit. He was, in short, confronted by his own hidden self-image and how he appeared to others. When it was over he expressed relief but little exaltation. “It is done,” he wrote flatly in his first letter home after commencement. “For the last forty-eight hours I have been capable of no other thought than ‘It is done.’ My school boy life with all its many failures and few half-successes is over.” He left Hotchkiss looking unsentimentally ahead, as always, to the next step, to a new life once again, “without illusions, romance, high flown talk or sentimental teas.”46

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