Under the Ivy
by Gregg Lange '70
March 7, 2007:
every heart and every voice
Glimpses of Princeton’s
history through its nearly forgotten songbook
By Gregg Lange ’70
When I looked on Amazon.com the other day (hey, Jeff,
how’s it goin’, ol’ bud?), there was a single
used copy of Carmina Princetonia available for sale. On
eBay, nada (Meg, say it ain’t so!). None at the U-Store, either
– a big surprise. We are clearly not in the age of the college
songbook, and it’s a lot of work if you want to scare one
up for you and one for your Glee Club daughter ’08.
Now admittedly, the most recent “Centennial
Edition” published in 1968 has some anachronistic elements
– don’t we all? Reflecting the transitional times (this
was the year of the King assassination), it includes both Stephen
Foster’s “Old Folks at Home” (“Way Down
Upon the Swanee River”) and Pete Seeger’s arrangement
of “We Shall Overcome.” Go figure. It even contains
a modern English verse to the traditional Latin Integer Vitae,
foreshadowing the admission of undergraduate women the next year:
Enter curvaceous women through our Ivy?
We who are purified, lustless, sterile scholars
Need not the pleasures nor the sin induced by
Edward L. Parmentier ’69
Ah, that plucky Woodstock generation! Anyway, the
noble band of Princetonians up to and including the revered Freddie
Fox ’39 who put the book together were making up for a long
drought themselves; the prior revision predated World War II, and
the one before that predated World War I.
I’m betting that you’ve never seen a
copy of any Carmina Princetonia; if not, that’s a
shame. Its origins are those of the rah-rah era of President James
McCosh that gave birth to intercollegiate football, orange and black
paraphernalia of all stripes, and the locomotive. (To be fair, student
drinking came earlier.)
Published initially in 1869 by undergraduates A.
Bailey Kelly 1870, John C. Pennington 1871, and George K. Ward 1869
and named after the semi-licentious Carmina Burana, it
was a substantial bit of work, comprising 77 songs with custom arrangements,
more than a few Princeton-specific. Led off by the great “Old
Nassau” – written 10 years earlier by freshman Harlan
P. Peck 1862 for a Nassau Lit contest, with subsequent
music by German professor Karl Langlotz – it includes such
novelties as “The Cannon Song,” but not the one you
know. This version is also by Peck; sung to “Auld Lang Syne,”
it goes: “Come seniors, come and fill your pipes, your richest
incense raise” in reference to Class Day.
Predating the wristwatch, the first Carmina
edition also is heavy on songs about the Nassau Hall bell, including
one written completely in Greek. One of those comprehensible to
a non-Classics major seems heavily indebted to Edgar Allan Poe;
in “College Bell” the phrases “Ding dong, ding
dong bell, ding dong, ding dong, ding dong bell” are repeated
three times in each verse. Fox was kind enough to exclude that one
from the 1968 edition, God bless him.
But my favorite in the original Carmina
is a song written by J. Alfred Pierce Jr. 1860 to Langlotz’s
tune for “Old Nassau.” It dwells on Princeton’s
history and harkens back to “The Log College,” which
had many coincidental elements with the beginnings of the College
of New Jersey in the prior century. But with the Civil War and 70
dead alumni fresh in memory, it closes this way:
Though now long years have wearied on,
Those early rough log walls
Have stood, and hardened into stone
Like rock that never falls.
Throughout the land her proud sons roam,
Her glory and her pride.
Though North, though South may be their home
Here stand they side by side.
The overt Princeton historical elements are also
the strength of the last – oops, most recent – Carmina
of 1968, with one especially striking highlight: It includes 66
verses of “The Faculty Song.” A tradition that bubbled
up during the senior step-sings of the late 19th century, the ditty
captures in melodic doggerel the foibles and triumphs of the most
esteemed members of the teaching corps. Some of the verses endured
for years as faculty members matured and retired; others were updated
in recognition of current events. To wit, literally:
The bright boys here all study Math
And Albie Einstein points the path.
Although he seldom takes the air
We wish to God he’d cut his hair.
Robertson doth pointe the waye
To what olde Chaucer hadde to saye.
When he reades from Chaucer’s pages
You’d sweare he’s frome the Middle Ages.
Here’s to Woodrow King Divine,
He rules this place along with Fine.
We fear that soon he’ll leave the town
To try for Teddy Roosevelt’s crown.
Greene, the Engineering Dean
Is full of superheated steam.
And in the matter of our cuts
He’s surely got us by the nose.
Lange '70 is a member of the Princetoniana Committee and the Alumni
Council Committee on Reunions, an Alumni Schools Committee volunteer,
and a trustee of WPRB radio.