As readers of this page may know, the originator of the “College Pump” was the late David T. W. McCord ’21, whose death at the age of 99 is noted in the Alumni and the Obituarieswithin this issue. In 1940 McCord stepped in as acting editor of the Harvard Alumni Bulletin, this magazine’s forerunner. One of his first acts was to install “a new and somewhat spasmodic department.” The Pump was to be “a corner reserved for random comment, for the stray line of Harvard verse, the pleasant non-sequitur [McCord’s italics] of academic observation, the simple fragment or phrase…a niche for the plain story unadorned, for epigram, for the biographical paragraph, for lines from the leaves of some forgotten notebook, for antiquarian illumination, for brief quotations, for the literary clipping.”
The first column ran in the Bulletin of March 8, 1940. It was signed “Primus.” Since then the Pump has spouted legible liquid approximately 650 times. Four Primuses (Primi?) have worked the handle.
A decade ago McCord revealed that as early as 1925, when he was associate editor of the Bulletin, he had worked up a sample column, had it set in type at his own expense, and submitted it to editor John D. Merrill, class of 1889. Merrill “saw nothing in it,” McCord recalled, and the idea “momentarily died a peaceful death.” McCord soon left the Bulletin to raise funds for Harvard College, but when Merrill died in 1940 he was “impounded for action as the only available individual who knew how to put a Bulletin issue together….So it was that in the first issue under my editorship, appeared the College Pump, precisely in the form in which I had conceived it in 1925.”
In bygone days of metal type, the Bulletin’s editor would stand by while the printer locked up pages. Often pages had to be justified by adding or cutting lines. If the Pump ran short, McCord might make it fit by inserting a snippet of verse. Thus began an irregular series known as “A Charles Garden of Verses,” initiated with this quatrain in the Bulletin of March 15, 1940:
In Boston when it snows at night
They clean it up by candle-light;
In Cambridge, quite the other way,
It snows and there they leave it lay.
Fall athletic activity prompted this pair of quatrains in October 1940:
Shadows are long on Soldiers Field
Where some of us sit half congealed.
Nature, it seems, the Greatest Healer,
Is even greater as Congealer.
The loveliest of autumn sports
Is running miles in simple shorts;
The coaches never take a chance
On anyone who runs in pants.
The Pump’s earliest readers were treated to some exquisite nature writing—brief reminders, in essay form, of the often unnoticed existence of fauna, flora, and weather in an urban university environment. Wildlife seen from McCord’s office window became his subjects: “The little band of English sparrows that behaved to us so pleasantly all winter, reporting daily to the unofficial feeding station under a secluded Wadsworth House window, have taken themselves off in search of new eaves and cornices. Their manner as yet is noisy but not arrogant. Squirrels have an uncombed, late-rising, but independent look. Only the pigeons still ask openly for bread.”
Perhaps because he had lived as a boy in Oregon woodlands, McCord had a special fondness for the Yard’s oaks, elms, beeches, maples, and walnut trees. An essay titled “Winter Rain” ended, “He has taken away an imperfect impression of Harvard who has not seen the glory of her enchanting forest.”
“Cambridge Spring” began, “As quick as you can say ‘Littauer Center’ the buds on local bushes in the Yard uncurled last week, and a man with a spading-fork got himself into difficult areas behind the shrubbery and set to work on the good earth. Cambridge spring is a fleeting and only half-expected miracle. A day of comforting warmth, a touch of the south wind, and there it is, whether we deserve it or not.”
Mccord believed in institutional change, but the timeless aspects of a College reunion were his inspiration for “They Come Back.” It ran in the Pump a week before the Commencement of 1940:
The young hail the young,
And men old, the old;
Youth’s hand is wrung,
And no tongue will hold.
Up flights of stairs,
Down—out through the Yard,
Friendship still wears
So may it be
Talk under a tree,
And peace for a day.
Peace to you, David. A McCordless world will take some getting used to.