Letter to the Editor: A Lament for Lord Jeff

It takes a sense of humor to reflect on the plight of poor Lord Jeff, especially for a member of the college’s older generation who nonetheless has concluded, sadly, that it is time for him to go. Even though as a child I stood on chairs to study maps of his campaigns which adorned the walls of the Inn named for him. But first, we need some perspective.

Lord Jeffery was a man of his time. So much of a hero was he that five towns in the United States were named in his honor. When the Revolutionary War broke out, he declined command of the British army, which was widely known and increased American regard for him. The year I matriculated, the college awarded an honorary degree to the last of his line, Jeffery John Archer Amherst, who was notably un-not warlike. Notwithstanding assertions that the college is named for the town, which is true, Lord Jeff became woven into the fabric of the place.

But Jeff was never really a mascot. Calling him one is a setup. Perceptions were too grand for that. He appeared on the college china. Silk ties were sold with woven images of him on horseback. Occasionally over the years a cheerleader would appear on the sidelines in a red coat, cocked hat and sword, but they were uninspiring and never lasted. There was a figure in a grotesque mask for a while, who was upstaged by a guy in a gorilla suit wearing a purple hoops jersey, the only really exciting mascot the college has ever seen. He got the crowd going in a way that a cheerleader with a silly sword never could.
Jeff may be, however, history’s first example of what is meant by today’s maxim, “be careful what you put in an email.” It is probable that had he not written his notorious letter, today’s controversy would not exist. But because of it, he is a divisive figure, and that is not healthy.

The college community’s sense of humor is tickled, or not, by the ascendancy of a moose who even got his picture in the Times. The moose has earned a place in the college’s recent history by drawing attention to the controversy, but his probable future is more likely that of an artifact than a mascot. Perhaps there is room in the library to put the moose suit on permanent display. Sabrina is said to have had recent support, and at one time the college’s teams were referred to by the press as the Sabrinas as often as the Jeffs. But as a mascot a statue of a nude woman would be almost as politically incorrect as poor old Jeff himself, letter and all.

It is time for the debate to find balance. Given history, Jeff, Sabrina, no mascot anyway, whatever, advocates and opponents of change who love the place but like or dislike Lord Jeff need to find common ground. The mind boggles at the thought of cheering on the Moose, the Wildcats, Leopards or whatever beast or tropical storm finds favor in student polls, cerebral trustee deliberations or the New York Times. (One wonders who got to them.) Stanford and Dartmouth did it right. They went with their color. Amherst could do worse. Come to think of it, a lot worse.