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The Short Story of Harry Peyton Steger: chapter 21
By Allen Rich, with excerpts from The Letters of Harry Peyton Steger, 1899-1912
May 1, 2018
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In the spring of 1907, a decade after delivering a speech on Character vs. Reputation to his 1897 Bonham High School graduating class, Harry Peyton Steger decided the time had come to depart the world of academia in search of his life's fortune in literature. 

For 10 years, Steger had steadily and dutifully progressed toward a career as a professor, either at some revered, ivy-covered institution of higher learning on the East Coast, or at his beloved University of Texas.

His heart had been set, but matters of the heart are hard to predict.

Something, perhaps something Harry didn't fully comprehend, changed before the fruit of his labor was ready for picking.

"I rotted before I ripened," Harry would admit with a shrugg.

Consider what all transpired in those 10 years.

He entered UT in 1897 ("donning long trousers especially for the event"), where Steger went on to be sophomore class president, editor-in-chief of The Cactus (UT annual), editor at the university newspaper, member Phi Betta Kappa; Phi Delta Theta Fraternity; Theta Nu Epsilon, Goo Roos (local, but interesting, he notes...who would have guessed otherwise!); fellow in Greek and Latin, took M.A. degree for metrical translation of Aristophanes' Greek comedy, The Wasp; went to Mineola where he was principal in addition to teaching Greek and Latin; taught Latin at BHS one year; thence studied Sanskrit at Johns Hopkins University where he was notified of his commission as a Rhodes Scholar (It seems Steger was the first UT grad to pass the standing Rhodes Scholarship test, although administrators passed over him initially because of what he alternatively referred to as the "naughty boy" incident or his "six thousand dollar joke."); spent the next summer immersed in the German culture while living with a family in Bonn; now fluent in German, Steger checked in to Baillol College, Oxford, where he became president of the largest debate club, the Arnold Literary Society; worked for a German newspaper in Cologne, Germany; was sent to cover an event in Monte Carlo by the London Daily Express; got arrested by the Italian army ("Most of it!") for building a wind-whistle on a rock in the Mediterranean; spent 16 days walking from Queensboro to London (penniless, living off hand-outs and sleeping in parks) in order to accurately document the travails of Englishmen in search of work during difficult times.

Now, after all that, consider that Harry was only 25.

Still, none of those events lessened the shock to the family back in Bonham when a letter came explaining Harry's decision to relinquish the Rhodes Scholarship, particularly after Steger had worked so diligently to secure the prestigious and coveted honor.

Esteemed local historian and distant Steger relative Tom Scott, who also happens to be a retired college professor, offers this explanation.

"There just has to be a jumping-off point," Mr. Scott said, reflecting on the educational process.

Correspondence between Harry and his mom hints to the fact she would have preferred her son to have picked a later time and place to jump. 

In typical country-boy fashion, Harry had a running joke with the family about how his intellectual running buddies referred to their family matriarchs--Harry had taken to calling his mom Mither.

Mrs. Steger knew something was amiss after reading about two new Rhodes Scholars selected from Texas and she asked Harry to fill in the blanks.

"What Mither read in the newspapers concerning the Rhodes Scholarships does not in any way affect my tenure," Harry wrote back.  "Under Rhodes' will, a vacancy remains vacant until the natural term expires. However, I have definitely decided to resign my scholarship; I have in fact done so; apart from my health, it is a waste of time."

What parent wouldn't cringe upon learning that one of their progeny has come to the conclusion their Rhodes Scholarship is a waste of time?

In the short story of Harry Peyton Steger, turns out he was right.

Previous Steger articles: