THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA MAGAZINE.
ON THE ROTUNDA--A DISCURSIVE ESSAY.

TO THE casual visitor, there is one thing at the University of
Virginia above all others. There is one building above all other
buildings. There is one beauty, one strength, above all others.
Standing at the head of the Lawn in queenly majesty and beauty, the
crowning jewel of that glorious setting, is the Rotunda, the pride of
the University.

The old Rotunda stood there before it. Two years ago last No-
vember the old Rotunda was burned. As I think of it now, the
rushing stream of students pouring in and out of the doomed building,
the devotion of the women, the touching distress of the professors all
comes back to me, and I wonder that the destruction of a mere build-
ing could have caused such grief. I myself had been a the Univer-
sity but two months, yet I remember how my heart beat with a great
throb when I saw that the fate of the Rotunda was sealed. "Let
the Annex go!" was the cry, "We care not for it, but save the
Rotunda!' And when, after the fire, the students assembled in
mass-meeting, few present will ever forget the shout of enthusiastic,
heartfelt approval and delight which greeted the announcement that
the Rotunda was to be restored, in its original form.

To an outsider this love for a stone, a mere thing, can not but
appear strange. But to one who lived in the shadow of that old
Rotunda and felt its silent influence, that love seemed to come almost
as naturally, and imbed itself almost as firmly, as the love of relatives,
of friends, or of home. He greeted that old building with joy at the
beginning of the session; with eager delight he gazed and admired
until each stalwart rounded pillar, each curve and line had stamped
its image afresh in his mind. In the depth of winter, the old Rotun-
da glistened among the bare trees a glowing promise of the spring;
and in spring, set in nature’s leafy frame, she made a picture that
could not be forgotten. And yet what an inexhaustible variousness
there was within her! She touched a responsive chord in every
breast. Like nature herself she chimed softly in with any mood or
temperament. To one dispirited and tired, the soothing sight of her
came as a fraught of mellow wind; to one rejoicing in strength she
was as a companion. To the weak she held out assistance; in the
strong she inspired emulation. The athlete could admire the power
and grace of her massive strength; the artist and the aesthete de-
lighted in the beauty, the symmetry, the grandeur of her proportions,
and the student, as he lay down his book to gaze, seemed to see
dimly in her solid, polished structure, the shadowy ideal towards
which his efforts tended.

As is well known, the Rotunda was a copy of the Roman Pan-
theon, the temple to all the gods. To me this has always seemed of
the greatest significance. Unlike the Democrats of France, and too
many others of the same complexion, the Democrat Jefferson did not
load the past with ridicule and turn his back upon it in utter con-
tempt. He did not cry: "Whatever has been is evil; let us, there-
fore, ignore it and despise it. Let us inaugurate a new era, a new
catalogue of centuries, in which the light of those who were, shall
fade into darkness before the lustre of those who shall be." It was
no cant such as this that Jefferson and the founders of the University
stood for. No; but they looked down the glowing lists of the ages
and said: "We will take a heritage of these riches. We will
gather whatever is noblest from every nation, from every clime.
We will place before our youth the wisdom of all the gods. Let us,
then, transfer this old Roman Pantheon, cleansed of its abominations
to our virgin soil, where it shall stand a legacy of the past, a type of
liberality, of catholicity, of breadth." And from what country could
such an emblem be if not from Rome, the centre of all things? Not
from Hellas, intellectual but weak; not from among the barbarians
of the North of the sybarites of the East, but from Rome, the proud
mistress of the wide world.

Thus it was, perhaps, that Jefferson set up his shrine of learning
under that historic dome. From the first it was the center of college
interests. There students listened to lectures--there was the great
library. There were the offices of the chairman of the University.
Idlers lounged upon the broad steps and at the end of the session, the
final ball was there celebrated. Every phase of college life seemed
there to find an echo. It was the heart of the University.

So for year after year this quiet life went peacefully on. Many
a set of students and degree men had passed out of the portals of the
Rotunda never to return. A generation of professors had grown
old beneath the wall, yet she stood young and strong and beautiful
as ever. Then at last came the war--the war of secession. With it
came the proudest event of the old Rotunda’s history, for it was she
who floated above her head the first Confederate flag upraised in the
state of Virginia. There could have been no beginning more auspi-
cious for the cause which that flag represented. There was no
building from whose summit that flag could have floated more nobly.
If the glory of the cause added lustre to the fame of those who upheld
it, still the University of Virginia gave to it as well as took from it.
Causes there have been born and developed in a moment of frenzy,
and consecrated with a shriek of savage anger; others there have
been planned in the deep silence of hate and dedicated with an oath of
fierce resolve. Such are not consecrations, they are desecrations;
but that flag-raising on the lawn unanimously applauded by the free
heart of youth and the wisdom of years; spontaneously cheered by
impetuous valor and calm discretion, was a consecration and a conse-
cration doubly sacred in the eyes of Liberty. The shout that arose
as the flag floated up had in it a wonderful harmony. It was the first
Confederate battle-cry, the first rebel-yell, soon to sound on so many
terrible fields, through air thick with dust and murky smoke. The
echo of that first yell, pregnant with the forecast of the great struggle
that followed has not ceased yet. It may not come to us in sound,
yet we meet everywhere, often on the printed page in words of
piercing eloquence, some times in some message from a foreign
land. It has linked and interlinked itself about our dearest, highest
ideals. Sometimes when we think what life and men were then,
when honor, purity and manliness went hand in hand, we hear that
wild, fierce cry transformed into a burst of sweet, soft music; some-
times, when we think of that which might have been, we hear it
breaking down into a passionate sob. Let us not forget--it was the
old Rotunda which first threw back in echo the discordant harmony
of that yell. It is a thought which teems with symbolic purport.
The University, just as she had led her state in the field of educa-
tion, was not to lead up the field of war. She had preached for
Truth in the Abstract, now she was to fight for it in the Concrete. It
was she who had cried out for liberty, now it was she who struck the
first blow for liberty. The sage was to prove a warrior;--like Pal-
las Athene she stood, armed and ready; and it was her two-edged
sword of intellect and valor, which was first to throw back, in a
gleam of light, the flash of the hostile cannon. Not only must it have
been a thrilling sight--the sight of the first Virginia flag of the Con-
federacy floating from the old Rotunda’s summit--but to those who
saw, it must have augured well for the institution which could boast
of such a spectacle. It showed that action--strong, vigorous action,
had not been stifled by more special bookish pursuits. It showed by
the moistened eyelid and the swelling heart that the emotions had
not been overruled by the brain.

Perhaps we are prone to estimate too highly intellect and the
productions of intellect. Especially this is true at the centre of intel-
lectual development. It is common cant to speak of the battles that
are fought at the desk and the victories that are won at the study
table. Men of small learning and narrow range particularly are
accustomed to prate of supreme intellect as the greatest thing in the
world--the ideal of mankind. In the close office lives that we are
coming more and more to lead, this tendency is growing and strength-
ening. The University of Virginia at least need never fear such an
outcome. If the time should ever come when her students be in
danger of declining into a narrow, arrogant intellectuality; if it should
ever come to pass that University manhood be on the point of giving
way before a hot-house brain-development, the guardians of the
University have only to point her youth to that flag floating freely
from the top of the Rotunda. United to that dome by long associa-
tion it floats, fluttering a continuous eloquence, steadfastly waving a
continual warning. A happier union never was; a surer safeguard
could not be.

What, it might be asked, is the secret of the old Rotunda?
Where is her power? It is this--she is the archetype of the Univer-
sity. The beauty that stands there in polished splendor with swell-
ing dome and lordly pillar is not dumb. Its grace, its power, are
not for us mere shadowy abstractions. The Rotunda is not a mere
concrete expression of the beautiful. No--this cold aesthetics gives
way to a warm humanity; we loved the old Rotunda for what it
stood for more than for what it was. The massive, broad and solid
structure, the unadorned but glorious beauty, were symbolic.
Darkly glowing with the red badge of courage, white with the purity
of a spotless honor, the old Rotunda stood for the University and
flaunted the University standard of honest scholarship and honest
manhood.

And the history of the old Rotunda--it is the history of the
University. As she embraced within her ample walls so much of
college existence, so she embraced the whole history, lived the whole
life, of the University. She hurled back despoilers of University
possessions from her front. She flaunted at her summit the standard
for which the University fought. It was her form that sunk deepest
in the minds of the students. It was her image that lingered freshest
in them memories of her alumni. As the Parthenon was the quintes-
sence of Hellenism, so the old Rotunda was the epitome of the Uni-
versity of Virginia, as the body is oftentimes the mirror of the soul,
so she reflected the spirit that dwelt within her walls.

That old Rotunda is gone. Two years ago she perished in
smoke and flame. Her passing away symbolized a change that had
come over the University. The old Rotunda’s mission was ended;
her life of necessity must close. Strange methods were creeping in;
strange ideas were springing up, whether for good or for evil, one
could hardly say. But in departing, she bequeathed as a rich legacy
her walls, her foundations. It is a thought full of meaning. The
solid, substantial ground work was to be incorporated in successor.
Today that successor rises before us. Strong with the bone and
sinew of the old Rotunda and even more beautiful than she, the new
Rotunda proudly uplifts her lovely columns where the old once
stood. We can wish her no greater success than this,--May her
history be as glorious as that of the old Rotunda.

J.W.R.