Big Man

At eighteen years of age, dispatched from Hotchkiss and bound for Yale, Harry was at once remarkably mature and strikingly naive. He was more traveled and more knowledgeable of the world than almost any of his peers—a gifted student, an accomplished linguist, and at times an unusually sophisticated writer. Thousands of miles from his family, with no expectation of seeing any of them for months and sometimes years, he had learned to make his way alone in a country that not long ago had been almost entirely new to him; and he had learned to handle aspects of his own life—finances, travel plans, doctors, housing, vacations—that most adolescents of his background still left to their parents.

In other respects, however, Harry was still very much a boy. Even when dressed up in the formal suits that young prep-school men donned for portraits and formal occasions, his thatch of reddish brown hair always seemed slightly tousled, his clothes slightly wrinkled and ill fitting, his gaze somewhat too studied in its seriousness. Away from school he still sometimes wore the knickers he had grown up with in China. He was tall, nearing the six feet he would soon attain, but thin (usually just under 150 pounds) and slightly gawky. He had begun to smoke, but tentatively and self-consciously, insisting it was only to ease his discomfort in public and that it would never become a habit. (In fact it became a lifelong addiction that eventually helped to kill him.) And perhaps most painful to him of all, he was socially awkward and sexually inexperienced. His Hotchkiss classmates, in their senior poll, ranked him ninth in the class as “worst woman-hater.” One of his friends, writing to him of the attractions of summer in Nantucket, noted that “the dancing is fine (but that doesn’t interest you!), the girls—(but there again I forget who I’m writing to).” Both the maturity and the naiveté were visible in one of the most conspicuous aspects of Harry’s personality at this turning point in his young life: his intense ambition. He had been a diligent striver for years, working desperately to prove himself to his father, his teachers, and his classmates. But his ambition to succeed in school was only a prelude to his much greater ambition to lead an important life. As he looked forward to Yale, he was planning once again an assault on the honors and privileges available to him as a student; but he was also beginning to look beyond—to a larger world he hoped to find some way to shape.1

Harry was an avid, if only modestly talented, poet at Hotchkiss. Many of his poems for the Lit were purely descriptive—for example, his sentimental account of life in Shantung, a poem he liked so much he tried in vain to have it published in a national literary magazine. Other poems expressed his emerging view of his place in the world. In one of them, “Mankind,” he wrote of the tension between two human impulses: the “doubt and fear” that leads individuals into safe, small lives in “huddling valleys,” and the drive to ascend to something greater, to “the billowy wind-swept hills” from which one can see the world more broadly. He left no doubt that he had resolved that tension for himself: “Ah! Let me climb my little hill, / And make achievement own my will. / Let all the lowland mark me high, / And praise me once before I die.”2

Harry prefaced his poem with a quotation from “Henry W. Luce”: “Too often we fear the greater vision.” It was an appropriate inscription, because the shape of Harry’s aspirations owed much to those of his father—a similarly driven man who had committed himself to a kind of life that, in his own youth, had attracted many ambitious men hoping for greatness and glory. The elder Harry was deeply spiritual. But he also coveted the worldly rewards associated with his missionary calling and agonized over his frequently thwarted ambitions. He never achieved his dream of being elected to the presidency of Shantung Christian University. Once it moved to the new campus at Tsinan that his fund-raising had made possible, his hopes were thwarted by rivalries between the British and American missionaries and between Presbyterians and Baptists. But his hopes were also dashed by the very intensity of his own ambition and the abrupt, confrontational style he sometimes adopted when his own plans and visions faced opposition. He recognized this flaw in himself (“I have been hyper-critical and antagonistic where it was not vitally necessary…. I have possibly ‘felt’ too deeply often more than the occasion called for”). And he was perceptive enough to see in his son some of the same tendencies and to warn him against them. (“It is the kind and unselfish man who attracts…. People like to be agreed with.”) Rev. Luce’s own ambitions did not subside, however, and for the rest of his own active life he strove for advancement within his world and suffered from the animosities his aggressive personality sometimes aroused.3

Harry agonized over his father’s disappointments, but he gave no evidence of absorbing their cautionary lessons. The problems in Tsinan and Beijing, he always insisted, were a result of the pettiness and selfishness of others, not of any flaw in his father’s own behavior. (“I fear me there is trouble in the State of Denmark,” he wrote in response to his father’s penitent description of his own flaws. “Perhaps the cause of Christian missions has enlisted more rotten eggs than its heroes can make up for!”) For a time he at least claimed to want to follow the missionary path himself, perhaps to vindicate his father’s struggles through his own future triumphs. “I know that [the missionary life] is the most honourable calling in the world,” he wrote his father from Hotchkiss. And while he confessed to be pondering other paths for himself, he continued to insist that he was not “aiming at rather paltry ambition for the chances are 99 to 1 that I become a prof (!) in S.C.U. I have now no greater ambition than to be of use in the Foreign Field.”4

But despite his very real admiration for the career his father had chosen, Harry was already charting another course for himself, one no less ambitious and, in his view at least, no less likely to provide him with an opportunity to add value to the world. “I am just about coming to that stage,” he wrote shortly before leaving Hotchkiss, “when the world of fact and of ideas is intensely interesting. And I hope that I may attain one thing: ‘to wear life as a mantle.’ Until one can do that, I believe no man can really be said to live.” The best route to “the world of facts and ideas,” he was rapidly coming to believe, was journalism. He had already decided to enter the arduous competition for a place on the Yale Daily News. But even more significantly, he had arranged—entirely on his own—to spend the summer working for a small newspaper in central Massachusetts, the Springfield Republican, “perhaps the most famous paper in the country for its size.” It had an impressive history, edited in the nineteenth century by Samuel Bowles, a founder of the Republican Party, a strong antislavery advocate, and a leading liberal of his time. The twentieth-century Republican, small as it was, aspired to sustain its illustrious history. The paper had hired him to work in its business office, which would, he said, “offer limitless possibilities for experience, and that, as varied as possible, is what I’m after.” But he hoped over time “to creep into the reportorial department somehow.”5

The summer began poorly. Springfield was a place “where I really don’t know any one,” Harry lamented, and he was sometimes almost paralyzed by loneliness. He took a room in the YMCA and spent most evenings there by himself, reading, writing letters to his family, and fighting “severe attacks of the ‘blues.’” At the Republican he was assigned to the subscription desk alongside two other young men who, unlike him, depended on the jobs for their livings and feared he would take their places. The work was menial and repetitive (“a great deal of entering, checking, noting, billing, etc. etc.,—which makes it quite overpoweringly complicated for a beginner”), precisely the kind of work on which Harry had always had difficulty concentrating, as his run-ins with Buehler at Hotchkiss had demonstrated. Even so, he tried to make a virtue out of the experience. “Now red-tape is all right for men like Dickens to harangue against,” he wrote his parents, “but a certain amount of it is very necessary,—and woe betide the poor ass that so much as tangles the silken cord by one small strand.” As the days and weeks wore on, however, his lack of fitness for clerical work became ever clearer. “I don’t seem to be progressing at all well in my office work. I keep on making ‘error’ after ‘error,’” he noted after his first six weeks on the job. The work was a “grind,” he complained, “babyish” and “boring.” And the indulgence of his supervisors, who consistently took responsibility for his mistakes, only deepened his unhappiness.6

Eventually, however, Harry found himself drawn into the larger work of the newspaper, and his spirits rose accordingly. He did no actual reporting, but he began accompanying reporters as they worked on their stories, and was recruited at times to help rewrite copy. “I am learning lots of things, that one takes for granted that everybody knows, but which, I guess, very few do know,” he told his parents. “I never saw a cell before. I never spoke to a prisoner. I never saw a brave tear-stained mother come to bail out her son, held on sure charge of forgery. These things reveal the Christ who said, ‘I came not to the righteous.’” He was awestruck by the reporters who befriended him, envious of their free-and-easy way with strangers (a talent he himself would never master), and mesmerized by their self-serving descriptions of their profession. He was particularly impressed by one of the Republican’s “star reporters,” who had traveled with Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson and who, Harry recounted, “broke away from his taciturn self the other day, and said ‘Damn it all, anyway, even if I do say it, there’s not a game on the face of the earth that requires more manhood of every kind than the reporting game. There’s hardly a firm in this city, respectable or otherwise, that I don’t know a good deal about. And not one of them takes the physical, intellectual or nervous energy that a man simply must put into the reporting business, if he doesn’t want to quit at it.’” Once in a while Harry even managed to write small “notices” of his own and slip them by the city editor. He excitedly cut them out and sent them home to China.7

By the end of the summer he was filled with admiration for the people he had met at the Republican, and filled also with pride at his own performance there. “Have had fine experience,” he reported as he prepared to leave Springfield. “Feel like I could run a paper!!!” And he was more than ever attracted now to the world of journalism. “I believe that I can be of greatest service in journalistic work,” he wrote his parents late in August, “and can by that way come nearest to the heart of the world…. Having made this absolute statement at last—have I met with your approval?” By the time he received their guardedly positive response, he was a student at Yale.8

The Yale Harry encountered in the fall of 1916 was a very different place from the college his father had entered twenty-eight years earlier. For one thing it was more secular. The evangelical fervor that had inspired the Student Volunteer Movement and that had made conspicuous piety a common and respected characteristic of college life in the 1880s was now spent. Religion had become a routine but far from fervent part of student culture. Harry’s own faith was almost certainly stronger than that of most of his classmates, but he usually gave scant evidence of it. “All this publicity of Christianity, this carrying Christ around in public like a circus side-show, is highly repulsive to me,” he wrote after a first meeting at Dwight Hall, a campus religion center. “And young men that talk too much about the man Jesus—I wonder, do they know of what they talk, or are they only religiously drunk?” The “fervid Xianity [Christianity]” of the meeting, he added, “has completely alienated my friend Brit Hadden from its holy halls.”9

Yale was also a very different place academically from what it had been a generation before. Like colleges and universities across the nation, it had transformed itself in response to the burgeoning of new scholarly interests, which were, in turn, arising out of the rapid social and economic development of the United States. No longer were American colleges simply finishing schools for gentlemen, educating them in the classics, theology, and languages. They were becoming training grounds for the professions and the new economy. They were offering instruction in the social sciences and the natural sciences alongside the traditional disciplines. Faculties were organizing into “departments,” and many universities, Yale among them, were now offering graduate degrees. Although traditional requirements remained, there were now also many new choices open to undergraduates—including the choice of concentrating in an area of knowledge of particular interest or value to the individual student.

For all the changes, however, Yale remained a small and fairly provincial college, drawing students mainly from the social and economic elites of the Northeast and the industrial Midwest. And despite the modernity of much of its new curriculum, the character of student life was much as it had been in the 1880s. The great badges of achievement were not academic honors. As at Hotchkiss, success at Yale came from such things as playing varsity football, heeling the Daily News, winning election to the board of the literary magazine, and gaining admission to the prestigious clubs and senior societies that dominated the social life of the campus. Owen Johnson’s classic novel, Stover at Yale, published in 1912, provided a mostly accurate picture of life in New Haven in 1916. From the moment they arrived, ambitious students were encouraged to succeed by “working for Yale” and striving for the distinctions that campus activities offered. “You may think the world begins outside of college,” an upperclassman explained to Dink Stover his first night on campus. “It doesn’t; it begins right here,” in the struggle to get in with “the real crowd,” to become “one of the big men in the class.” “The immediate goal was to be regarded as a success by your friends … to be known as the big men,” recalled Henry Seidel Canby, who had graduated from Yale a few years before Harry arrived and later served briefly as an instructor in English there before becoming a distinguished magazine editor. These were things Harry already knew, having come from a school almost all of whose graduates went on to Yale. He also knew what Stover had to be taught: that the most important badge of success at Yale was election to one of the elite senior societies—and above all to the most prestigious of them, Skull and Bones.10

Harry wanted to combine serious academic work with the many nonacademic temptations of the university. And as at Hotchkiss, he was determined to excel at everything. But the balance of his interests had subtly changed. His first priority—which he had articulated many months earlier while still in Lakeville—was to heel the News and win election to its board. But because heeling the News was an exceptionally intense and time-consuming experience (the heelers “slept never more than four hours a night … and were rusticated or sent to the infirmary by the dozens,” Canby recalled), he worried about its possible impact on his academic work. “It certainly is very hard to decide just what one ought to do,” he wrote his parents months before his arrival in New Haven. “Theoretically, if it came down to an issue between Phi Beta Kappa and the News, I would take the former.” That was what he knew his parents wanted to hear. Even in writing them, however, he could not leave it at that. “But if, practically, a key and a News charm were laid before me now, I am afraid my hand would almost unconsciously grasp the latter.” The “best policy,” he decided, was to concentrate on the News in his freshman year, “then to go after Phi Beta K and the Lit Board in sophomore and junior years.” He had elaborate rationalizations for his choice: “Success will mean prestige and chance for influence,” he predicted, as well as money (since members of the News board shared in the paper’s modest profits). And since his goal was a life in journalism, “I do not see how it can help helping me.”11

By the time he got to New Haven the rationalizations and negotiations were behind him, and he was ready to jump into the fray. “Already the race is on,” he wrote after his first few days on campus, before classes or any other activities had begun. “The goals must soon, or never, be chosen, and the quest begun.” Almost single-mindedly he set out to conquer the News. Several of his friends from Hotchkiss were doing the same, but from the beginning he knew his greatest competition would come from Brit Hadden, both because of Hadden’s prodigious talent and because Brit was at least as determined as Harry was. News heelers earned points for writing stories, offering story ideas, selling advertising, and doing chores around the paper. Harry and Brit (both of whom had experienced a similar heeling process at Hotchkiss, modeled on Yale’s) spent almost every spare moment in the News building, as if fearful that any absence would give their competitors an edge. Brit often got out of bed in the middle of the night to put a reporting “scoop” in the News box, so that it would be the first thing the editors would find in the morning. Harry often stayed in the building until late at night helping with the writing and editing, even cleaning up.12

Harry was awed at times by the intensity of the News competition. He had entered it with extraordinary apprehension (“All I ask is strength and ability to stick out to the end!”), and he moved through it almost as if in a dream. His moods swung up and down with every minor achievement and every small setback. At one moment he despaired of making the paper at all, the next he predicted he would finish the competition in first place. In the fever of his ambition, he was already calculating not just what would happen in his freshman year but who would be elected chairman of the News almost three years later. Heeling, he said in a moment of optimism, “is a very holy and wonderful piece of complicated machinery,” which “serves very well.” In lower moments he complained that his competitors were taking unfair advantage of a fallible system. “This heeling business is awful,” he wrote at one point, “and you can’t imagine how depressing it is.” Most of all he obsessively calculated where he stood in the competition—now fourth, then second, later third, from time to time first—all these predictions based on nothing but his own uninformed and subjective judgments.13

Finally, in March, the great announcement came: Harry was one of four first-year students elected to the News. He had come in third, behind Brit and one other Hotchkiss classmate. But for the moment, at least, he seemed not to care about anything but his appointment. “Successful,” he wrote his parents in a one-word telegram to China, and they of course understood immediately what it meant. (“It is too splendid for words!” his mother wrote back.) For the next few weeks Harry basked in the glow of his triumph. “The bright sun and wind of a March afternoon sweep leisurely through my room,” he wrote a few days after the election. “No more, as on other Mondays, the blind mad rush of heeling, not again as in that last Monday, the intolerable suspense; but now assurance, quiet leisure, duty and pleasure.” He was, for once, almost smugly self-satisfied—the raging ambition that made him so chronically and methodically hyperactive through most of his life suddenly, if briefly, quelled: “My position in college, in so far as I can make it is made. I have come to Rome, and succeeded in the Roman circus. Now there is for me free rein to enjoy over three years of philosophy, history, and poetry. So I hope to be able to say at the end of this college course with Johnson: ‘The days of thought were the goodly days.’” 14

Harry had good reason to be pleased with himself. Only a little more than one semester into his life at Yale, he had not only achieved one of the most coveted positions in the college—a place on the News—but had placed first in his class academically, had a poem accepted by the literary magazine, and been awarded the Chamberlain Prize for the best performance by any Yale student on the university’s comprehensive entrance examination in Greek, which he had coveted throughout his years at Hotchkiss. “This achievement will mean a holiday for the Hotchkiss school [a tradition when recent graduates achieved something notable], and a valuable reputation for myself,” he wrote. Harry also found himself socially popular, something he had never quite been in the much more class-conscious environment of Hotchkiss. “Am meeting more fellows all the time, and, to be brief, am enjoying college,” he boasted. He even joined a club for “foreign” students—which mostly consisted of young Americans, like Harry himself, who had lived abroad. One of its members was the future playwright Thornton Wilder, a missionary son from China who had spent a miserable year with Harry at Chefoo. Harry’s roommate—a result of pressure from his parents—was Horace Pitkin, Jr., the son of his father’s beloved, martyred college classmate. The younger Pitkin was a slightly troubled young man utterly without the restless ambition that drove Harry’s life and whom Harry gradually came to view with some condescension and even contempt. Harry’s relationship with Brit Hadden was close, friendly, and slightly tense, as it would always remain, reflecting their tacit acknowledgment of both powerful bonds and profound rivalry. His larger social circle—the young men with whom he had an easier intimacy—consisted, at least at first, almost entirely of other Hotchkiss graduates.15

At Yale, unlike at Hotchkiss, Harry was not a scholarship student. He paid his own way with his own earnings at college and in summers, with help from his parents, and with generous gifts from Nettie McCormick. That spared him the outward badges of inferiority he had experienced in prep school. There were no demeaning work assignments, no talk of “special responsibilities,” no banishment to remote accommodations. Even so Harry remained one of the least affluent members of his class, a problem he seldom revealed to others but one he agonized over privately. He struggled to keep within his tight budget even as he yearned to join the expensive activities of his friends. His residence hall, he conceded, “is not the most desirable dormitory socially.” He claimed not to mind, but he balked at eating in the college commons, at $5.00 to $6.00 a week the cheapest place on campus. Instead, Harry chose to join a dining club, which cost $7.50. He explained this “extravagance” to his parents by saying that “the food is excellent,” and “the fellows are the nicest in our class.” His father, always concerned about Harry’s social status and—intrepid fund-raiser that he was—acutely aware of the advantages of connections with the wealthy, supported the decision.16

Yale was, in fact, a turning point in Harry’s attitude toward wealth. An important part of the missionary ethos he had absorbed as a child was a kind of pride in having forsaken the material rewards of more lucrative professions, a belief that material self-denial was a sign of virtue and character. Although Harry had already decided not to become a missionary himself, he tried still to embrace the ethos and struggled (with scant success) to resist material temptations. Even years later, when he himself was enormously rich, he often seemed impatient with and even embarrassed by the opulence of his life and from time to time tried ineffectually to escape from it. But his experience at Yale also helped intensify his fascination with, and attraction to, wealth—an attraction that had begun in his first years in America during his frequent visits to Mrs. McCormick’s palatial home in Chicago. His thirst grew stronger as he became exposed to the way his more affluent classmates lived.

During Yale’s spring recess in 1917, in the aftermath of the exhausting competition for the News, Harry’s Yale and Hotchkiss classmate Alger Shelden invited the newly elected board members to spend a week at his home in Detroit. Harry claimed to enjoy the visit most because it gave him a chance to take walks through the “soggy wood and muddy field” surrounding the Shelden estate. “My heart beat high in praise of ‘the country again,—the country!’” he wrote at the time. But his accounts of the week in letters to his parents could not disguise his awe at the manner in which his friend’s family lived. Alger’s father, he wrote, was a high-ranking executive at the Ford Motor Company and “one of Detroit’s richest of the rich.” His home was “one of the largest and handsomest estates in Grosse Point.” The young men from Yale were entertained lavishly, with visits to the Hunt Club, the country club, and other institutions serving the city’s automobile aristocracy. They went riding and hunting on “splendid mounts.” They were served a “sumptuous supper” after going to the theater one night. On another day they were taken on a tour of the Ford factory—young princes in suits and ties quietly watching what Harry described, without comment, as the “thousands of workers whose job consists of ‘screwing one screw or hammering one nail, or turning one lever of a machine.’” The vacation, he wrote en route back to New Haven, “gave me about as much fun as I ever had in my life.” It was the last such vacation he was to have for several years.17

Three years earlier, at the beginning of his second year at Hotchkiss, Harry had returned from the summer to find a large map of Europe on one of the school bulletin boards, with dozens of blue and red pins stuck along a line running through Belgium and France: The First World War had begun. Every day the teachers would move the pins to mark the slow, inconclusive movement of troops back and forth across the swath of France in which the torturous, stalemated struggle was being fought. The war was naturally the subject of much conversation among Harry and his classmates, but until 1917 their interest was essentially academic. “I do not believe in the possibility of [America going to] war,” Harry wrote in March 1916, a few months before his Hotchkiss graduation. The “heroes of Verdun”—British, French, and German—would never “allow innocents like ourselves … [to] interfere much in the way they settle things.”18

But in April 1917, as he and his friends returned to Yale from their lavish week in Detroit, the war was no longer an academic question. The United States, after more than two years of hesitation, had finally entered the conflict, and Harry knew that, in one way or another, he would enter it too. Looking back a year or so later, as the war shuddered to a close with Harry never having left America, he claimed to wish he had chosen what his more adventurous classmates had done—left the college and enlisted right away. “Had I done that I would probably be in France now,” he said wistfully. But Harry was not one to defy the norms of his institutions, and so he did what the president of the university, Arthur Hadley, urged all Yale students to do: stay in school, stick together, join the Reserve Officers Training Corps Field Artillery Unit that the army had established on campus, and prepare for war as “Yale men.” There were plenty of available troops, Hadley said; what the nation needed was officers, and the university would provide them.19

As a result the next fourteen months produced relatively modest changes in Harry’s life and in the lives of most of his classmates. The routines of the college, the academic and social rituals, continued. The only major exception was a few hours a week when there was military training by officers of the special Yale unit—ranks of college boys doing calisthenics and marching up and down the New Haven Green dressed in pressed khakis and carrying rifles they almost never fired. About two-thirds of Yale’s students enrolled in the program, which took the place of one academic course. (The other third had already gone to war.) Harry still talked occasionally of leaving college to join the army, to work in military intelligence in Washington, or to do something else—anything else—that might put him in closer touch with the war, including a fanciful proposal that he go to China to help the United States recruit coolies to help in the war effort (a proposal the American consular service in Shanghai brusquely rejected). In the end, he convinced himself that his best option was to stay at Yale “unless something turns up in which I can serve with my brains as well as my heels and hence educate myself in the act of service.”20

Once he made his decision, duty and ambition seamlessly merged. With the News competition over, he wrote, “another form of strenuous life is forced upon me.” Harry would contribute to the war effort by writing exhortatory editorials for the News “pushing Yale to a more and more intensive war-training life.” While doing so he could advance his fortunes on the paper by filling in for the older editors who were being “called away” to the war. In early June he was elected to the “emergency council” the News had established to run the paper in the absence of some of the more senior board members, and he predicted that his election as chairman for 1920 would soon be “railroaded through.” The council would work to sell Liberty Bonds and “keep Yale together.” Harry explained, perhaps slightly defensively, that “I may be of some service to my country here.”21

So little did the war impinge on life at Yale that after a few weeks of ROTC camp in early June, the students scattered and began their normal summer vacations. Harry spent July and August working on the farm of family friends in western Pennsylvania, reading Homer, and making plans for “my conduct next year.” His priorities, he said in a letter to his parents a few weeks before returning to Yale, were to “give more attention to personal affairs, economy, clothes, correspondence, reading, etc., … to discharge thoroughly my college obligations,” and to tend to “the cultivation of ‘myself’ by all the cultural means that come in the course of the day’s work, from religion to friendly chatter.” He did not mention the war.22

By the time Harry returned to New Haven in September 1917, the war had become a somewhat more prominent part of life. “Here at college we are practically in government service. All members of the R.O.T.C…. are obliged to stay in uniform the entire time, except when they go out of town,” he wrote in October. Seeing an opportunity in the new military frenzy, Harry spent his first few days on campus serving as an agent for a local tailor who was providing uniforms for students. For days he could be seen running up and down the stairs of the freshman dormitories taking orders. His profits financed most of his sophomore year.

On the whole, however, Yale’s leisurely, gentlemanly approach to the conflict continued for a while longer. Students spent a few more hours in military training than they had the previous spring, but their principal concerns remained largely unchanged. For Harry that meant excelling in his language, literature, and history courses; continuing to advance at the News and in the many other activities to which he found himself drawn; and consolidating his social life. He ran for a position on the student council, survived the primaries to become a finalist, but came in fourth in a race in which only three men were chosen (Hadden finished first). “I am just as glad that I didn’t get the election,” he wrote in a characteristic effort to rationalize his disappointments, “because it would have meant that in spite of my determination to have a ‘literatus’ year, I would once more be deeply plunged by another route into the trifling turmoil of collegiateness.” He won election to the Elizabethan Club, a literary organization for faculty and students that he called “a joy and delight.” He had another poem accepted by the Lit, which almost assured him election to the board. He and Brit Hadden recruited a table for one of the Yale dining societies, attracting “a nucleus of the best men in the class, … the most desireable [sic] ‘crowd’ socially.” In return, they received their own meals free “without scarcely turning my hand.”23

Most of all, however, he was preoccupied with the impending selection of new members to the Yale fraternities. And as always he wrestled with himself over what to do. Psi U “is the socially best, so, of course, I should prefer to get in that,” he said at the beginning of the process. But he was soon “soundly disappointed” to discover that there was no likelihood of his receiving an invitation there. The “social types,” with whom he still had awkward relations, had “blackballed me,” he explained, not just at Psi U, but at his second choice, DKE. That suddenly threw Luce’s view of the whole process into a different light: “The Junior fraternities at Yale do not seem to mean much,” he now wrote, and he had little “respect and regard” for them. Psi U, he decided, was no longer “the big fraternity,” for “this year there was a general stampede from it, because it catered strongly to purely social elements.” He finally joined Alpha Delta, which he now insisted had many of the “best men” in the class—among them, a year later, a recruit of whom Harry was particularly proud, “Frank Gould, who will be the richest of the third generation of Goulds.” Adding to his poorly disguised disappointment was his usual guilt about devoting so much time to what he feared his father would consider trivial things. “The social side of life—which I suppose is a necessary evil—throws one so completely off one’s trolley,” he wrote shamefacedly to his parents. “My room is in a terrible state, as are also my finances and studies. In fact the first half of the first term ends to-day, and I shall have a ridiculously low average, and the only comfort I’ll get will be that it is probably higher than any other fraternity man’s.” Even so his grades remained within Phi Beta Kappa range, and he consoled himself for his social disappointments by insisting that he was certain to achieve “the three things I wanted most to: News, Lit, & P.B.K.”24

By the beginning of the spring term, military training had expanded to fill almost half the college curriculum, and there was talk of turning the campus over altogether to the military, of establishing a “West Point at Yale.” More and more students were leaving the university to join the military, and Harry continued to consider doing the same. Although he was only in the middle of his second year, he took to referring wistfully to “my last year under the academic aegis,” and to imagining himself a commissioned officer leading troops in France. “Well, so this college world gets along,” he mused in March 1918. “And a very happy and pleasant place it is. How soon shall it be but a memory.”25

One of the reasons Harry may have been looking beyond Yale so soon was a crushing disappointment he had suffered in January 1918. Because so many upperclassmen were away in the military, the News felt obliged to elect its 1920 board a year earlier than usual. Harry and Brit were clearly the two leading contenders for chairman. But by a single vote Hadden won. Publicly Harry dealt with the defeat calmly and graciously. He deflected a suggestion that the News create a special, unprecedented position for him—vice chairman—and agreed instead to serve as managing editor. He told everyone that Brit was an excellent and talented choice, which at one level he truly believed. But beneath his stoic surface was a profound sense of failure. “My fondest college ambition is unachieved,” he wrote his parents in a letter suffused with disappointment. “It’s been a hard pill to swallow. You can say such things are petty etc. etc., but just the same a man’s heart’s desire is his heart’s desire whether it be President of the U.S. or Chairman of the News. Not a soul, I think, has seen what this all means to me.”26

A few days later he began trying to convince himself that the decision might still be reversible. Hadden’s election, so far ahead of schedule, had been a result of wartime disruptions. Luce briefly clung to the possibility that there might be a second vote at the normal time, which he might win. Harry wrote his parents that the “final vote” had not yet been taken, and one of Hadden’s supporters told Harry that he was willing to switch and vote for him. But when the time came there was no reconsideration of the earlier vote, and Hadden’s election was confirmed. Once again Harry was plunged into despair. “I could have been chairman of the News,” he insisted, had he pressed his supporters to reconsider the vote. But “in the greatest sacrifice of my life I signed away the possibility.” The whole story was too painful to recount, even to his parents, with whom he usually shared almost everything. “When a man fails, the less he had better talk of it,” he wrote dejectedly (and again with more than a trace of self-pity). “However, I hope you won’t think too harshly of me, nor believe that I have been irretrievably unworthy of you…. When I lie down tonight I shall be supremely glad that there are some that love me forever.” His parents did not underestimate the severity of the blow to Harry’s passionate ambition. From his mother he received an anguished letter of sympathy, praising him for his “great renunciation.” From his father came a letter comparing his son’s disappointment over the News election to his own disappointment in failing to gain the presidency of his college. “Usually the door opens to wider and richer experiences than if we had attained the idol of our hearts’ desires; and wonderful is the way the heart forgets the past and presses on.”27

More disappointment eventually followed. Harry was elected to the board of the Lit, on the basis of his fifth publication in the magazine, early in 1918. Several weeks later the Lit board met to choose its new leaders. At one point, according to Harry’s own accounts, the other members of the board voted to choose him as chairman, despite what he claimed was his own stated reluctance to serve. But “then the row started.” Several members of the board were enraged that someone who had never heeled the Lit and had played no previous role in its editorial processes should be chosen. In fact, during the entire previous year, Harry had done little more than submit an occasional piece to the magazine. “I decided that the Lit didn’t mean enough to me to go through with a public scandal,—which was impending. I therefore resigned from the Board. Finally I was persuaded to return to the Board, and the Board against its will, but because I said so, elected Andrews,” a more conventional choice—“typically ‘literary’ &—well, just a bit effeminate,” as Harry described him.28

The story as Harry told it is revealing whether or not it is wholly accurate. It seems clear, first, that having lost the News competition, he had at least flirted with the compensatory idea of taking over another, if slightly less prestigious, campus publication—just as he had edited the Lit at Hotchkiss while Hadden edited the newspaper. It is also clear that, as with the News, it was important to him to be able to claim that he had in fact prevailed but had declined the position out of some combination of principle and self-interest. Most of all, however, the story demonstrates Harry’s desire to portray himself as a person of stature and authority, admired by his peers if at times resented by them for his talents, able quietly to curb their own excesses and steer them in the right direction. He had quelled a rebellion against Hadden at the News, he claimed, to ensure a smooth transition. He had turned down the chairmanship at the Lit to avoid a damaging controversy, and had dictated the choice of a responsible alternative. In this way he turned his liabilities into strengths, his failures into triumphs.

In spite of the elements of self-deception that lurk in these descriptions, Harry was in many ways unsparing in his assessment of himself. He knew that despite his prodigious intellectual talents, despite his formidable abilities as a writer and editor, he was somehow lacking in social skills—able to attract the respect but not usually the genuine affection of those around him. It was a failing that was particularly visible to him because it stood in such contrast to the great strength of his friend and rival. Hadden was a much less gifted scholar than Harry and perhaps no more talented as a journalist, but he used his charismatic affability to win genuinely loyal friends and admirers. Harry was often intimidating in his unrelenting gravity. Brit, by contrast, was relaxed, even somewhat flippant, gently derisive of those who seemed to him too serious. “Watch out, Harry, or you’ll drop the college,” Hadden once shouted mockingly at Luce, who was walking with grim purpose across a Yale quad. Harry was aware of this difference and at times was almost morbid in his descriptions of his tangled relations with his peers. In the anguished aftermath of the Newselection, for example, he described his relationships with Hadden in painfully cautious language: “I have the greatest admiration and affection for Brit, which in some measure at least, is reciprocated.”29

That these two close friends and colleagues were also very different from one another was not lost on their friends and classmates. They were almost constantly together, and they were also often at odds. “You never knew whether they were ready to fight or agree,” one of their classmates later recalled. Dwight Macdonald, who observed Hadden and Luce as a young Time Inc. writer in the late 1920s, described in retrospect the contrasts in their great friendship and rivalry:

Luce/Hadden: moral/amoral, pious/worldly, respectable/raffish, bourgeois/bohemian, introvert/extrovert, somber/convivial, reliable/unpredictable, slow/quick, dog/cat, tame/wild, efficient/ brilliant, decent/charming, Puritanical/hedonistic, naive/cynical, Victorian/ 18th Century.

Almost all of these comparisons, in Macdonald’s view at least, favored Hadden. Having been on the losing end of most of their competitions, and knowing how much more successful Brit was in making friends and securing allies, Harry almost surely sensed, but never admitted, that he was to some extent the junior partner of their collaborations. But no one could doubt the bond between them, a closeness greater than either man ever experienced with anyone else outside his own family.30

Harry sometimes gave himself less credit than he deserved in his own comparisons between himself and Hadden (and many of his other friends). He was especially different from them in his rejection of the cynicism and detachment that would become hallmarks of his generation’s intellectual elite, which were already visible in the culture of the Yale of his time. Harry was unapologetically a man of conviction, principle, and faith; and while he understood the social cost of his seriousness and tried at times to mute it, he was far too preoccupied with the moral basis of his actions to disguise his real self for very long. Running through his own commentary on his triumphs and setbacks, his elation and his disappointments, is a consistent return to the question he had learned from his father always to ask himself: What “higher purpose” was he serving?

In the early months of 1918 that was a relatively easy question to answer—supporting and promoting the war. For by then, with the United States fully engaged in combat, it was no longer possible for Yale—or virtually any other institution in America—to sustain its casual, genteel approach to preparing for combat. War fervor was reaching a high pitch throughout the United States, driven in part by energetic government propaganda and in part by spontaneous popular commitment to the conflict. That many Americans—socialists, pacifists, members of various ethnic groups, and others—continued to oppose the nation’s intervention in the war only drove supporters to greater levels of fervor. Seldom in American history had patriotism been so deliberately and effectively inflamed—and Harry, who had always been inclined to support the idea of an American mission in the world, eagerly embraced the passions of war.

A few months earlier he and Brit had been obscure sophomores, slogging away on the lower ranks of the News staff. Now, suddenly, they were in charge of the newspaper. And despite whatever tensions survived from their bruising battle for the chairmanship, they worked well together and turned the News into a powerful voice for intensifying the university’s—and, they hoped, the nation’s—engagement with the war. Among their innovations was a new section of the paper devoted to national and international news, which Hadden and Luce hoped would remind their readers of the great events of which they were a small part. But most of their stories and editorials were aimed at Yale matters. Harry, for example, exhorted Yale students to buy war bonds, not just as a way to contribute to the government’s coffers but “as a vigorous test of a man’s idealism.” He challenged the campus to turn a “search-light” on all its activities “and confess just what of its parts is justified as ‘war industry’ and just which of its parts are not so justified.” “We in college are attempting to our utmost capacity in our own lives,” he wrote, “to put the military first.” Yale, he insisted, was “at last ready to go to any extreme, ready to make any efficacious sacrifice in pursuit of our object.” It was rebuilding itself “on the only foundation upon which we many now worthily build … intelligent and consecrated and intensive patriotism.”31

Most of all he and Hadden defended and promoted the Yale officer-training units of which they and most of their classmates were a part. Outsiders might consider the all-Yale military unit—still training dutifully between classes in New Haven while so many others were already enlisted and in combat—a “pampered” or “effete” corps smacking of the “redolent plutocrat,” Harry wrote defensively; but it was nothing of the sort. “We have committed ourselves to a definite course of action. We have set our faces in the light. We have undertaken the quest.” When the navy offered some of the Yale trainees an opportunity to join a battleship cruise during Easter vacation, Harry cited it as “only one more illustration of the remarkable esteem in which the Yale Unit is held by the Navy Department.”32

Despite the increased intensity of military training on campus, the academic calendar continued to govern. The Yale ROTC unit closed down for a month in June 1918, and its members, Harry among them, dispersed for vacation. Harry joined his family—temporarily back from China—in New Jersey. It was an anxious few weeks, because his sister Elisabeth—and eventually his mother and his other siblings—were stricken by the deadly influenza epidemic of 1918–19 that, before it was done, killed more Americans than died in World War I (and more American soldiers than died in combat). The Luce family was fortunate. Everyone recovered, and Harry avoided the disease altogether. In mid-July he was back at Yale for more training. And a few weeks later he and seven other members of his ROTC troop (including Hadden) were shipped off to Camp Jackson, South Carolina—a mammoth army training base with a capacity for one hundred thousand men. The Yale trainees were now themselves assigned to train new recruits as artillerymen.33

As “student officers” charged with preparing fresh recruits for battle, Harry and Brit came into prolonged contact for the first time with Americans from outside their own relatively insular social world—young men with limited education from the rural backwaters of the South, many of them away from their home counties for the first time in their lives. These “hillbillies,” as the Yale men called them, often knew nothing about the war. “All they knew,” Harry recalled years later, “was that Uncle Sam had somehow been insulted.” And so the officers, who were no older than their troops, not only had to train their men to operate artillery but also to give them lectures several times a week explaining the reasons for the war. “They were on the edge of their chairs,” Harry liked to remember, and they displayed an impressive “eagerness to do the right thing.” They did not even bridle when Harry explained to them the uses of a toothbrush, something many of them had never seen before.

The few months Harry and Brit spent at Camp Jackson occupy an important place in the considerable corporate mythology of Time Inc. Various official and quasi-official histories of the company claim that Luce and Hadden, struck by the eagerness of provincial people for knowledge of the world, decided at Camp Jackson to start a magazine or newspaper that would help educate the uninformed. They allegedly took long walks together during idle hours and began to imagine the new kind of journalism that would eventually transform the soldiers’ lives. That Luce and Hadden talked about a magazine at Camp Jackson is almost certainly true, but nothing in Harry’s writings at the time, or in his subsequent reminiscences, supports the claim that the people under their command had any impact on the way they thought about the venture. Nor did the subsequent history of his magazines, none of which targeted the kind of people he had encountered at Camp Jackson. Luce’s own accounts at the time say nothing about the magazine but describe how he plunged wholeheartedly into the world of the army—viewing it as he had viewed school and college, as an opportunity for achievement and distinction.34

Harry reported to his parents on his performance on military tests—math, geometry, languages—as if he were describing a semester at Hotchkiss. He searched eagerly for signs that the Yale unit was excelling. “The seven Yale men assigned here, even if I do say it, do pretty well on their job,” he wrote after his first weeks in camp. “Consequently we have little difficulty in making the best showing of any of the twelve batteries…. Several high officers have said that the progress made by this organization in the first twelve day period bests any they have seen. Consequently we are all very much elated.” The great dream of all the Yale men was to receive formal commissions, a dream thwarted at first by the requirement that all officers had to be at least twenty-one; none of Harry’s group was older than twenty. But a few weeks after their arrival in South Carolina the army lowered the age limit, and the Yale contingent was marched en masse (along with a great many other student officers) to a swearing-in ceremony. “You can scarcely [imagine what this] means to me and all the others,” he told his parents shortly before the event. “It will be the consummation of a great deal of hitherto unrecognized work. We have been college boys training! People that didn’t know probably laughed at our safe and sound uniforms. But, boy—if this goes through, and a third of the Yale R.O.T.C. is commissioned, it will make ’em sit up and take notice.” Harry and his friends immediately went into town and ordered custom-made officers’ uniforms from a local tailor.35

Harry complained occasionally about the rigors of camp life. When the officer trainees who had not received commissions were sent home, he described them as “lucky dogs.” On the whole, though, he embraced the military ethic with uncritical enthusiasm and strove to adapt himself to its demands. “In the army,” wrote the person who had spent a year and a half of the war living comfortably on the Yale campus when he was not away on vacation, “we thoroughly despise any young man who is able bodied, and who by his own choice gets into any kind of uniform but the line uniform. Even men who are doing the sine qua non jobs of the quartermaster department etc. etc. get a slant-eyed look. And as for any young man in a YMCA uniform,—well, of course, we are gentlemen enough not to smile.” Nothing now was more important than the war, which Harry—like many others—considered a battle for the survival of civilization and the defeat of German barbarism. Colleges “no longer exist,” he said, and “the one greatest thing to do now is to fight, with all the life one has, that the continuity of history toward the truth and the right of things shall be maintained. Everything else is subservient, or, if it does not serve this purpose, is simply to be annulled for the time being.” His ambition now was “to have my next birthday in France, wearing silver (1st Lieutenant!).”36

But Harry and the other Yale men did not go to France. For the next month or so they were shuttled back and forth from one camp to another, undergoing additional training themselves or helping to train others. “Words cannot begin to picture my disgust with the idea,” Luce complained. “Here’s a case where one has to ‘grin and bear it’ without there being anything to bear it for,—no principles at stake, no glory to achieve!” His frustration was all the greater because it was becoming clear that “peace is unquestionably at hand.” There was, he said, “not one of us that isn’t sorry he hasn’t seen France, not a one that wouldn’t almost sell his soul to go there tomorrow.” By late October, with the prospects of making it to the front becoming dimmer by the day, almost everyone in the Yale officer corps was becoming restless and bored, suddenly seeing the “infinitesimal details” of the artilleryman’s life not as a prelude to glory but as the tedious, mechanical process it actually was.37

The armistice found Harry, Brit, and the others in Louisville, en route to another training assignment. They spent three days staying in a downtown hotel, eating in restaurants, smoking cigars, reading, idling, and thinking about the future. Harry found it difficult to disengage all at once from the new military ambitions the war had inspired in him. He thought about entering an officers’ training program and winning a promotion before being discharged, and he even toyed briefly with becoming an officer in the regular army after the war. But in the end he left the military almost as quickly as he could (“I have absolutely lost all military ambitions,” he wrote at the time), less than a month after the armistice.38

He went immediately to New York, where he spent much of the Christmas holidays planning feverishly for his return to Yale. The competition for most of the positions in campus organizations was now over, but Harry had other unfulfilled ambitions: to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa and, most of all, to be tapped for the most prestigious of the Yale senior societies, Skull and Bones. He set out to accomplish them both in the remaining semester of his junior year.39

The Yale to which he returned in January 1919 was, he once lamented, “a very poor place in which to get educated.” That was in part because the university had not recovered from its wartime disruptions. Many faculty members had yet to return from military service; the campus was crowded with returning veterans, some of whom had been away for two, even three years, and others—like Harry—for only a few months. But Harry was also commenting on what he considered, despite Yale’s many efforts at modernization, a narrow and inadequate curriculum. Henry Seidel Canby later described it as “the college of the catalogue…. One of the most irrational and confusing educational institutions the world has ever seen … [whose] handicap was the lack of a real education.” “I suppose it is natural,” Harry once commented, “that by junior year one begins to realize that the importance of American college life lies in its possibilities for friendship.” He expressed high regard for the celebrated honors course he took with the historian Max Farrand. On the whole, however, he did his academic work dutifully, without great excitement, complaining occasionally about the “monotony” but determined to excel nevertheless. Late in the semester he was rewarded with election to Phi Beta Kappa.40

Nothing, however, was remotely as important to him by now as “going Bones,” the one mark of success that almost everyone at Yale recognized—the one sure sign of having, in Owen Johnson’s words, “won out at the end.” The chairmanship of the News might have meant more to him a year before, but once he had failed to win that prize the possibility of Skull and Bones came to seem all the more important—and thus, as with all his other goals, a subject of almost obsessive contemplation and calculation. Everything he did, he assumed, would be watched by those who would judge his worthiness. When he flirted with taking the chairmanship of the literary magazine, he conferred with a member of the faculty about the possible implications of such a move on his prospects for Skull and Bones. His enthusiasm for the contest diminished considerably when the professor warned him that the Lit chairmanship would likely disqualify him from consideration, that the post was considered too remote from the “grand old Yale” of the senior societies to impress the Bones men.

At the Yale prom in February 1919, the great social event of the year, Harry—still without any significant experience with women—was accompanied by his sister Emmavail and preoccupied about the impression he would make. “The Prom affair, you know, is where social aristocracy does its best to rule,” he wrote his mother, “and it’s all an outsider can do to maintain his status quo.” But even maintaining his status quo as a respected but not socially eminent member of his class required great vigilance. As a result he carefully scrutinized the invitations he received and the names on his dance card, trying to judge what they said about his standing and what they would convey about his taste. He was incensed when one of the campus fraternities failed to invite him to its preprom tea (even though all seven of the others did); and for the prom itself, he took care to see that he would be seen dancing only with prestigious guests. “My Prom dance card is absolutely ‘O.K.,’” he tried to assure himself. “There are about three undesirables on the program, but I have secured the services of stags to ‘cut in’ before the undesirables get very far.” His preoccupation with Skull and Bones seemed to have blinded him to his own unkindness.41

In the weeks leading up to Tap Day—the great spring event when the senior societies chose their new members—Harry alternated between hope and despair. At one point he concluded that “I shall not make ‘Bones.’ … I have felt all along that somehow I was not typical enough of Yale to ‘come through’ at that point.” It surely did not help his spirits that Brit Hadden took him out for a walk one day—“Brit, my rival since early Hotchkiss days”—and proposed getting “ten of the sure Bones men together to make it known that none of them would go Bones without me.” Harry was either deaf to or chose to ignore the condescension implicit in this implausible plan. It was, he said, “one of the greatest compliments I have ever received.” He declined Brit’s offer, however, arguing that “Bones meant everything for Yale, and that bucking it did no good for the college which means so much to us.” As with the News and the Lit, he again chose to see himself as one who looked “beyond the interests of the individual” to protect a larger good. When the New York Times—which regularly devoted substantial space to the social world of the Ivy League—published a story speculating about those likely to be chosen for Bones, Harry suffered over being mentioned as a “possibility” who would likely fail. (“I’m sorry I didn’t or rather won’t, make the grade,” he wrote miserably to his father. “With all the advantages I have had, it does not speak well for me not to come out on top.”) But he also happily reported campus gossip that both he and Brit were certain of selection. And he comforted himself that “what I shall never have to admit,—in fact, what it would not be true to say is this:—that in my own class I was not counted on as a ‘Bones’ man!”42

Tap Day, May 15, was carefully orchestrated to create excitement and drama. Late in the afternoon much of the student body gathered on the lawn in front of the imposing, windowless buildings of the senior societies to watch the nervous juniors, who waited along a fence nearby. The windows of surrounding buildings were crowded with observers from the faculty and the town. At the tolling of the chapel bells at 5:00 p.m., the doors of the three societies flew open; and the senior members threaded through the crowd, pounding the chosen juniors on their backs and telling them to return to their rooms to be informed of their induction. Harry’s apprehension grew as the Bones seniors plucked one after another of his classmates (Hadden among them) while passing him by. But at last, at 5:20, as he wrote the next day to his parents, “your elder son received a terrific smack across the shoulders, delivered him by Winter Mead, 1919, Captain of the Crew and President of Phi Beta Kappa, and a member of the so-called society of Skull and Bones. And you can easily imagine that said son upon being told to go to his room did so go, and did moreover vouch for his being Henry Robinson Luce, and did accept an election to the so-called society! … I am sure you understand what perfect satisfaction is mine.” (One of his first tasks as a member was to choose a secret “club name.” Luce chose “Baal,” an ancient Hebrew name for “Lord” or “Master.” Hadden chose “Caliban,” the feral, half-human servant in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. No one ever used Luce’s somewhat pretentious club name outside of Skull and Bones, but “Caliban” seemed so appropriate for Hadden that it stuck—until it was gradually replaced by the nickname “Bratch.”)43

Perhaps to compensate for the semester he had missed while in the army, Harry remained in New Haven during the summer after his junior year, enduring what he described as the “monotony” of courses at the law school. When the college reconvened in September, he stepped easily into his new role as one of the “big men” among the seniors. He continued to work hard at the News, both as an editor and editorial writer and as a supervisor of the newspaper’s business affairs. He joined the debating team. He took more challenging and interesting courses than he had in the past. He was particularly drawn to the English political theorist Harold Laski, who was teaching for the moment at Yale, and he wrote a senior thesis under Laski’s supervision titled “The Influence Exerted on the American People by Theodore Roosevelt During the Last Ten Years of his Life: A Study in Public Opinion.” In the spring, when the national convention of collegiate Republicans met in New Haven, Harry served as the meeting’s chairman—“the highest public honor of my college days,” he wrote exuberantly at the time.44

But Harry was not through pursuing honors yet. In the spring he won the college’s most distinguished public-speaking prize, the DeForest oratorical contest—an especially rewarding feat for a young man who had worked for years to conquer his childhood stammer. He did so with a Wilsonian speech calling for America “to do her share in the solution of every international difficulty, that she will be the great friend of the lame, the halt and the blind among nations, the comrade of all nations that struggle to rise to higher planes of social and political organization, and withal the implacable foe of whatever nation shall offer to disturb the peace of the world.” A few weeks later he was voted a degree of “honors of the first rank,” the equivalent of summa cum laude—although in a collegiate world that had relatively little respect for academic honors, he would probably have preferred the distinctions that Brit, a mediocre student, received. Hadden was voted by his class “most likely to succeed” and perhaps most important of all by Harry’s standards, the person who had “done most for Yale.” Harry took consolation when he was quietly chosen as the Skull and Bones member of a defunct sophomore society, Eta Phi, to which two seniors were appointed each year “so that the things would be handed down in perpetuity in case they should ever be revived.” It was, he conceded, “in the eyes of the world a very insignificant matter—a pleasant bauble.” But to Harry, still yearning for signs of social acceptance, it was “an honor which I treasure as only one other.” (The other, it went without saying, was election to Skull and Bones, which he once described as a “religion.”) He had assumed he “had taken in all I could of collegiate honors,” he wrote, but now he was a member “of the most exclusive society in the world.”45

If Harry had graduated from Hotchkiss still very much a boy, he graduated from Yale self-consciously an adult. He now looked and dressed like an older man than he was—his tall frame no longer gawky and adolescent; his hair oiled and parted in the middle; his clothes well tailored and conservative; his gaze studied and serious. Having succeeded so brilliantly at Yale—academically, organizationally, socially—he considered himself a man of substance and importance, someone to whom greatness was due. Unlike many of his classmates, he had little money of his own. But he managed nevertheless, even if precariously, to maintain a lifestyle compatible with his Yale contemporaries through his own modest earnings and the gifts he continued to receive from Nettie McCormick. He was still sexually inexperienced, but he interpreted even that as a sign of maturity. To friends in the throes of romance and contemplating marriage, Harry cited “Hannibal, Napoleon, Disraeli, & Company, dealers in careers, and discounters of domesticity!”46

His newfound manhood also altered his relationship with his family. The Luces remained a close and loving family, even though separated by vast distances. But their letters to one another—letters that for many years constituted virtually the entirety of their relationship—were changing. Harry no longer implored his parents to approve his activities, no longer apologized for doing things he feared might disappoint them. When they chided him, as they occasionally did, about being careless with money, he replied so sharply that his mother wrote an anguished letter back saying that “the only reasons I even wish for money is that I might pour it out to you.” When his father—whose influence over him had always been profound—wrote him with some gentle advice about tempering the language in his News editorials, Harry patiently but unapologetically explained that Yale had changed since the senior Luce’s time there. His father also advised him to prepare himself for a “trade” (journalism, the senior Luce warned, was a “dog’s life”), even to see a “vocational specialist.” Harry ignored that advice too. The entire Luce family with the exception of Harry senior returned from China in the spring of 1918 so that the girls could enter Abbot, a girls’ secondary school associated with Andover. Harry—partly because of his military obligations but also because of his preferences for his own social life—visited them infrequently, despite his mother’s frequent pleas to “come to us” and his father’s request that he spend time with Sheldon, who “needs a ‘big brother.’” He was drifting away from them, in the way adults almost always do.47

And yet for all his confidence in his own adulthood and for all his seeming certainty about his future, Harry was not quite ready to venture out into what college students would later call the “real world.” Completing college in the early twentieth century, Henry Seidel Canby recalled, was “more painful than triumphant” as the graduate “stepped out into the world trailing clouds of memory behind him.” Harry sought to postpone that painful day by spending a year at a university even more storied than the one he was leaving: Oxford. Although he had visited Oxford during his first trip to England in 1913, there is no evidence that he had ever thought about attending the university until his senior year, when Harold Laski began to encourage him and others to consider studying there and offered to help him gain admission to the most famous of the Oxford colleges, Christchurch. Harry applied for a Rhodes Scholarship—not surprisingly, given his propensity for pursuing badges of achievement—but did not seem perturbed when he did not receive one, even though his friend and classmate Bill Whitney did. (“We are all proud and delighted,” he wrote, adding that his own failure to be chosen was a result of his “half-way method.” If he had tried harder, he implied, he too might have been selected.) But the experience only increased his eagerness to attend Oxford, and he now went about arranging a year there with typical single-mindedness. He wrote to Nettie McCormick asking if she might provide him with the thousand dollars that he calculated the year would cost him, and she quickly agreed. Another fifteen hundred dollars he received as his share of the profits of the Daily News ensured that he would be financially comfortable for many months. He explained earnestly to his parents how a year at Oxford would prepare him for the “public life” he expected to live as an adult. But it seems likely that the idea of going to Oxford was most appealing because it would postpone the difficult decision of how to begin his professional life—and perhaps also because it would help confirm his acceptance into the upper levels of the Anglophilic American aristocracy.48

The social attractions of his new undertaking seemed foremost in his mind from the day he sailed for England in July, a few weeks after attending the Republican National Convention in Chicago, where he developed no enthusiasm for the party’s nominee, Warren G. Harding. On board the SS Olympia, he found himself once again in the same second-class accommodations he had become accustomed to in his travels in 1912–13. But this time he was acutely conscious of his inferior surroundings. The bunks, he complained, were “precariously narrow,” the food barely edible, and his companions “good natured boors.” And so he and several other Yale friends similarly consigned to second class began a furtive shipboard life—sleeping in their modest staterooms, enduring tasteless meals, but spending virtually all the rest of their time in first class. “We tremble … lest the hand of the law be upon us,” he conceded. “But so far all is fine; and … first class travel aboard this vessel is quite agreeable,” particularly since it gave him a chance to socialize with people more to his liking, several of whom extended invitations for him to visit when he arrived in England.49

His first days in London were an uncharacteristic whirl of social activity, during which—for the first time—he wrote of his relationships with women. Perhaps now that he felt liberated from the closely scrutinized, all-male social world of Yale, he felt free to behave less cautiously. “Friday night I took Katherine Bissell out for a party,” he wrote happily, “dinner, theatre, cabaret, usual stuff. She and I have (apparently!) hit it off very well.” That was particularly fortunate, he added, because her sister was married to a wealthy Englishman, and Harry was invited to visit their country house in Worcestershire “for as long as I want to stay.” After a week in London he and some Yale friends took a sightseeing trip through Devon, the Lake District, and Scotland—“a glorious trip, and we all enjoyed each other’s company in every kind of weather.” Back in London he resumed his glittering social life, dining with Goulds and Auchinclosses and Whitneys, meeting more young American women and escorting them about town. “London, you know, is rippingly cheap for bachelor bums,” he reported, “but once you go swanking round with a lady on your arm it’s quite as bad as New York!” Somewhat to his surprise, he found himself a sought-after guest—both for evenings in London and for weekends in the country, where his strong tennis game “managed to earn some kudos.” “I suspect you’re very provocative to women,” his friend Thornton Wilder wrote him a few months later. “Your interestedness makes ’em sit up.”50

The Oxford term did not begin until October, so late in August, Harry traveled to Paris, hoping to spend some time with Brit Hadden, who was expected in early September. Once again he found himself in demand, chaperoning the daughter of a Yale alumnus “for three entire days—which by the way is some job…. On Friday we tore all over town, seeing as much as we could, and went to the opera, Faust. Saturday the same, driving through the Bois in the evening…. Altogether we, or at least I, had a ripping time.” A few days later, before Brit arrived, Harry left unexpectedly on a trip to Istanbul, which he, like many Anglo-Americans (and virtually all Greeks), still called Constantinople. His wealthy Yale friend Hugh Auchincloss had arranged the trip months before, only to find that his original traveling companion could not join him. He invited Harry to come along and offered to pay his expenses “over a certain amount,” since he himself planned to travel in style. They rode first class on the Orient Express, in berths reserved for them by the American ambassador in Paris, an Auchincloss family friend; and they found themselves lavishly attended by embassy officials in almost all the cities they visited.51

Even so, Harry was appalled by eastern Europe—“another world, a world poorer, more animalistic, uncontrolled, dishonest, a people of geniuses and crooks, whose geniuses unfortunately are dead.” Istanbul itself was a “dirty, filthy place,” made tolerable to the young travelers through their “pull with the embassy,” which gained them access to lavish dinners and even the chance for a monthlong trip around the Black Sea aboard an American destroyer—an invitation they had to decline. Next was a hurried trip back through Romania, whose capital, Bucharest, was a “beautiful city—the Paris of the Balkans,” but whose people were “a lot of dirty crooks! That goes without saying.” Returning finally to Paris, he felt as though he were “coming home.”52

By the beginning of October he was ensconced at Oxford, living in modest “digs” near Christchurch with a Yale classmate and bemoaning the “Britannic shell” that made it difficult to make friends with English students. He arranged to read English history, beginning with the Tudor period. He joined the Oxford Union (although he had little hope of actually speaking before it). He played a great deal of bridge and tennis. And he energetically socialized with other Americans at Oxford, and with their families and friends in London. There was none of the methodical striving and frantic competitiveness that had characterized his time at Hotchkiss and Yale. The year at Oxford, he explained to his skeptical parents, was “a holiday I feel justified in taking. I think it will bring me back stronger and fresher and broader-gauged.” To their suggestions that he was being frivolous and extravagant, he replied defensively: “I don’t think I can be accused of having sought out rich friends. I have never tried to be ostentatious in the slightest. I have tried to get to know all the best men I could. Some of them are very rich, with an occasional exception they are all much wealthier than I. That comes of going to Yale.” In any case, he argued slightly defiantly, it was too late to back out now, and “precious little opportunity for economizing.” Still, after receiving their gentle reprimands, he was careful in future letters to write more often about his intellectual than about his social life.53

In reality, although Harry drew some excitement from his reading of British history and enjoyed his frequent encounters with Harold Laski (now back in England) and his “bolshevik crowd,” he was not very interested in the intellectual life of Oxford. Instead he spent as much time as he could traveling and engaging with the upper ranks of expatriate society. Over Christmas he visited Geneva and used his Yale contacts to arrange a privileged visit to the inner workings of the League of Nations. He then spent time in Rome, guided by help from the American Embassy and his former Chefoo and Yale schoolmate Thornton Wilder, who was ensconced at the American Academy writing plays. “Next week,” he wrote from Rome on Christmas Eve, “I attend a dance or two—a side of Rome I didn’t see last time!” At one of those dances he met an attractive young American woman, Lila Hotz, to whom he was apparently immediately and powerfully drawn. (“For twenty-three years,” he wrote her later, “I never considered marriage except with supercilious scorn…. Then one night in Rome, theories, attitudes, pronouncements were demolished by—well, by a mere fact.”)54

Lila was from a wealthy, socially prominent Chicago family. She had attended the Spence School, in New York City, one of America’s most prominent and most academically serious schools for young upper-class women. She was now spending a year in Europe, in the manner of many young women of her class, studying art and leading an active social life. She had rich, curly dark hair, pale skin, and large, dark, haunting eyes. Although she was not nearly as serious or intellectually curious as Harry, she was well read, well educated, and sophisticated enough to find him intriguing and to intrigue him in turn.

They soon began an extended if at first somewhat guarded correspondence, to which Harry was by far the more frequent contributor. Unaccustomed to the rituals of courtship, Harry apparently made various social blunders, for which he periodically wrote long, erudite apologies. He was frequently on the defensive against what he called Lila’s “powers of psycho-analysis” and her complaints that he was not sufficiently open about his “inner feelings.” He once sent her a cartoon from Punch, which he evidently considered appropriate to their relationship; titled “Psycho-Analysis, or The New Game of Laying Bare One’s Inmost Soul,” it portrayed a young couple in evening clothes sitting on a sofa—the woman looking searchingly at her partner waiting for some emotional revelation, the young man sitting rigid, his hands on his knees, his eyes wide with terror. At one point, in Paris, Harry left flowers for Lila at her hotel, with a penitent note: “In the hope that violets are sufficiently impersonal.” But the petulance and the apologies were themselves something of a teasing ritual between two young people deeply attracted to each other without knowing each other very well. In the spring Lila—with her mother along as chaperone—came to Oxford as his guest for polo matches and a dance at Magdalen College. (“The shock of coming down to earth has been too exhausting,” he wrote her in London a day or two after she left Oxford.) He made no mention of her in his letters home.55

Harry’s year at Oxford—and more significantly the extensive European traveling he did during the course of it—made a very different impression on him than had his earlier European journey in 1913. Then, as a young boy traveling alone and living penuriously, he had marveled at the artistic splendor and rich history of the first Western countries he had seen since his childhood trip to America. Now, as a young man—traveling on the Continent as often as he could during the long vacations between the Oxford terms, moving portentously through embassies and aristocratic homes in the company of wealthy friends—he judged everything in comparison with the United States, and (except for England itself, for which he had developed a typical upper-class American admiration) found almost every place wanting in contrast. Rome, he noted, was still striking for its storied magnificence, but it was also notable for the squalor of its politics—wholly “bourgeois,” having “nothing whatever to do with society, which consists of decayed nobility.” Rome’s splendor was in the past, he concluded, and “one realizes that magnificence is now of America. May it prove to be a moral and spiritual magnificence.” For the rest of his life Harry was an avid overseas traveler, and his year abroad after Yale remained, in a way, a prototype for the kind of journeys he would later routinely make—in the careful planning for maximum comfort; in the expectation of lavish attention from diplomats and local elites; and in the energetic pursuit of new sights and experiences. He also displayed a newly dismissive contempt for the “filthy,” “crooked,” and “backward” cultures he encountered, which he judged by rigid Western standards as objects for improvement and elevation.56

Through it all he was pondering his future, in ways that revealed a wavering from his earlier firm resolve to enter journalism. He was, he insisted, still committed to entering “public life,” perhaps as a journalist but also perhaps as a writer or a politician. (He was even then beginning to write essays designed for publication in such American magazines as Harper’s and the Atlantic and was sending them timidly across the Atlantic under a pseudonym, so that rejections—which he consistently received—would not damage his reputation.) But having spent so much time with much more affluent friends and their families, he was naturally becoming more aware of the significance of wealth. To his parents he was apologetic about his growing interest in what he called, only half jokingly, “dirty sordid money,” but he did not back away from his determination to make some. He would, he said, consider spending the next ten years working in business (most likely manufacturing) “until I can get to the point where money will mean nothing to me.” And he was already in correspondence with Mrs. McCormick—old, ailing, but still very fond of Harry—about the possibility of a job in the family firm, International Harvester, when he returned from Europe—a possibility, given its source, that he came to consider a virtual certainty.57

His last weeks at Oxford—weeks when degree candidates were absorbed with exams but during which the departing Harry had no responsibilities—were a time of idyllic leisure, interspersed with attendance at crew races, polo matches, and other Oxonian social events. “Everything goes along monotonously happy. I am playing tennis every afternoon…. Doing practically no serious work but read as the spirit moves me.” He might, he said, begin work at Harvester on August 1 or—if his social life in America replicated the life he had built in England—“loaf all of August” and begin in September. Brit Hadden, he reported as he prepared to sail, might move to Chicago as well, “which will be mighty lucky for me. We would share digs, etc. That lad is really quite tremendous.”58

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