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Provenance Lost

Timelines: Georgetown Magazine
by Jon K. Reynolds

The University Archives includes a few documents that are unsigned, untitled, and that over time have lost all indication of where and why they were created. Archivists call this a loss of provenance. One such stray is a remarkable document beginning: "The Revolution which has lately taken place in this Institution must have been attended with very unpleasant consequences." From the context, we believe it is the President's address to the students upon the resumption of studies after a student uprising. It provides an amusing glimpse of the oratorical style of the day, and a rare look at what our predecessors considered important:

The writer asks: Behold me then, in a double point of view, as a teacher and an adopted Father. The Principal duties of a Parent are that his Children be maintained and educated. As to maintenance, I am justified in saying that as far as I have seen, and heard from others, undoubtedly such of you, Gentlemen, as have been here in a former session must agree with me, that there are very few if even one boarding house in this section of the country equal to ours. Every step that quick sighted prudence could take in securing you a reasonable variety of salutary provisions, well aired rooms, in fact every thing conducive to health and comfort has been attended to. I freely promise you that a continuation of such comforts will be strongly and satisfactorily evidenced in the praiseworthy exertions of Mr. Turner, even by a kind anticipation of your reasonable wants. As to education. It may generally be defined as every preparation made in youth for the direction and regulation of future conduct. Man, poor weak man, if left dependent on himself would exhibit in his life a tissue of extravagant inconsistency; limited by the narrow circle of his senses, the powers of his mind lulled by the poisonous opiate of inaction, dragging on a beast like existence. It is education alone that brings him out of this state of sensual slavery, that chases away the clouds and darkness that rest on the horizon of his mind, that gives him elasticity, vigor and tone, that invests him with the power of Association serving as a vinculum to unite and nearly identify him with the men of past ages, that elevates him into dignity and by a regenerative process lends him the wings of Science that waft him into the region of Astronomy and introduce him to Nature's works and Nature's God. Young gentlemen, your Parents and Guardians truly sensible of the important advantages that flow from a liberal education have thought proper to send you here. It will be my incessant care, with the blessing of God to attend to your interests, to your progress literary and moral, in fact to every thing which will prepare you for worthy and useful members of Society. I am to expect that you never will lose sight of the sacred character of Gentlemen. When the bell summons you to table, be orderly in your conduct, wait for the arrival and precedence of your teacher. When you enter the Hall or refectory, sit down at the same time making as little noise as possible on the occasion and during the repast do not rise from the table until your fellow students have done. I beg leave to observe that nothing incapacitates a student so much for study as eating too heartily. Overloading the stomach besides its bestiality can never be a salutary practice. It brings on drowsiness, indigestion, and a concomitant train of unpleasant symptoms that vitiate the functions of that important organ, inducing if not premature death, at least the feelings of precocious old age. Sating too freely of butter or any such oleaginous substance is injurious to that organ, in as much as in many constitutions it greatly promotes the secretion of bile, affects the stomach and spreads its noxious effects to the teeth. Decayed teeth like a decayed body may be inherited yet it frequently happens that both are the effect of neglect and imprudence. You should pay particular attention to the former for independent of their contaminating the breath and rendering it offensive to those who are within its reach, they must be removed; their absence particularly of the front ones must render your pronunciation inarticulate. Such a defect would be a serious calamity to such of you young Gentlemen as Providence may mark out for public speakers. I would certainly caution you against the liberal use of animal food at supper. This repast, some of the Faculty will tell you, if freely indulged in cannot be salutary. I can speak from my knowledge of some very respectable French Families that supper is not considered a regular meal. When I say regular, I mean that you do not see the same number of dishes in point of quantity or quality that you do served up at breakfast or dinner. It chiefly consists of well dressed salad, some stewed fruit, apples, pears or grapes with light bread and wine or coffee. The repast is light indeed. The consequence is from their Philosophical temperance the French live to a fine old age. One of the Gentlemen Trustees will I am sure declare that he has seen in the public walks and Churches more instances of longevity one month in Paris, than he has probably for nearly his whole life in this land of Freedom.

This story was intended to be simply an amusing look at our past; unfortunately, the evidence has a nasty way of intruding on the wishes of historians, journalists, archivists, and even, I'm told, politicians. Just before press time, we discovered near the end of our document, (it was well after the funny bits) the writer begins to refer to "You young Virginians." Why would a Georgetown President address our students thus? We then begin to try to locate a record of the Mr. Turner mentioned, who was apparently in charge of room and board. No Turner has been found. Did we somehow come into a document originating at the University of Virginia? The writer seems to be speaking at a time when all save one American President had been born in Virginia, i.e. prior to the election of John Quincy Adams, but this would place the document prior to the arrival of students at Mr. Jefferson's academical village. Had the writer simply forgotten about the second Adams? or is it  from William and Mary? Colleagues at both institutions are hot on the trail. Stay tuned...

University Archivist Jon Reynolds hasn't read Milton since he was a Sophomore at Georgetown.