Your annalist of 1874 is reported to have written that, 50 years prior thereto, "college life, like the old college bell, was somewhat monotonous and dull"; that he "was never so fortunate as to hear Dr. Davis (the then president of the College) deliver a formal discourse, and he never heard our class at recitation."
Your present annalist had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Davis deliver many formal and most interesting sermons, on a Sabbath day, in the old chapel of the College. Dr. Davis regularly heard my class at recitation, during its senior year. Being senior monitor, I kept close observation of the president. He was always on time; so that I am quite certain the Class of 1826 had the pleasure of his dignified presence and the benefit of his learning, however it may have been with the Class of 1824.
The annalist of 1874 was, and is, my friend; and I cherish for him great regard and a warm affection. I wish he were present to hear the reasons I am disposed to assign why he never heard President Davis deliver a formal discourse. Rumor had it, that in the latter part of his college life he found an attraction in the beautiful village of Clinton, and a subsequent happy event did not discredit the rumor. Being an exemplary young man, he was, doubtless, excused from attending religious exercises in the chapel on Sunday, and permitted to attend church in the village; and hence failed to hear a formal discourse from President Davis. I fancy that many a night he retired to rest at a late hour, and that the old college bell, on the following mornings, sent forth lugubrious sounds, and that College life was, to him, dull on the hill, though pleasant in the valley.
College life 50 years ago was not dull to your present annalist. Besides our learned and accomplished president, we had for our professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, a Christian gentleman and live professor, who, in a course of four years, would stow away in the head of any student of receptive and retentive capacity, sufficient of mathematics for a lifetime. Theodore Strong, for that was his name, had no superior at that time, and has had but few, if any, since then.
Professor John Montieth was a model of patience and a good scholar, and if those whom he instructed did not learn much, it was not his fault. But I think that all who tried learned much under his tuition.
Being modest, I do not claim to have acquired much knowledge of chemistry. I am not qualified to speak, as an expert, of Josiah Noyes, our professor in chemistry and mineralogy. But I have a vivid recollection of being filled with wonder and admiration at his experiments in the laboratory. And what is more cherished by me, he knew enough to enable me to pass a first-rate senior examination in chemistry and mineralogy. No man of ordinary capacity and attainments could have done that.
In that day we had tutors, and college life was so lively that near the close of 1823 (as I remember the dates) a swivel was brought from the village and exploded in the hall of the south building, near the room of one of the tutors, in a dark night. The times that followed close on this event were lively enough, but not pleasant for the students who remained to face the music, or for those who surprised their parents by an unexpected return to the family fireside.
I wish it distinctly understood that your present annalist had no lot or part in that enterprise, and he cannot, of his own knowledge, affirm that any of his classmates had. But it is due to the truth of history to state, that some of them were not seen on College Hill for a few subsequent days; and a few soon left for some college that, it was hoped, would not be disturbed by such harmless amusements. With such instructors as the class of 1826 had, it was natural to expect that they would become modest, practical men, useful in their sphere and vocation, and distinguished only within the limited circles in which they unostentatiously moved.
Your annalist of 1874 expressed the hope that not long thence, Professor North would be able to make this record concerning the Class of 1824: "They led the lives of honest, industrious citizens, and but two of them ever went to Congress." Your present annalist can, now, make this record of the Class of 1826: "They were, all of them, honest, industrious, and useful citizens, and if no more than two of them have been, or ever shall go to Congress, so much the more unfortunate for Congress."
On the whole, it was a good class; composed of model young men who loved their alma mater, respected her faculty, wished to learn, were studious, and spent but little. Most of them could not spend much, as they had, literally, nothing to spend. All of them belonged to that class of young men who did not expect to make intellectual attainments, by devoting themselves to the athletic sports, which now annually crown some college with muscular renown. Your present annalist protests against any inference being drawn from this remark, that he has any objection to Hamiltonians coming out ahead; even though they should enthusiastically throw down their books as they hear the first faint note of, "Row, brothers, row!"
He has only to add that his three years in Hamilton College embraced as pleasant a consecutive three years as any that he has lived. They were felt to be so as they were rapidly passing away; and the retrospect in the emotions it awakens reproduces the same feeling. He had no wish, as they were passing, that they should end. The only regret he has ever felt in relation to it is, that he was never able to manifest his gratitude and affection, in the way most acceptable to institutions of learning, as well as to men, as we have been approaching and have reached the great centennial year; in the ceremonials of which a representative Hamiltonian is the central figure. The privilege is denied to some of expressing their interest and regard in a medium, so that it can be computed and stated in an attractive sum, in coin or greenbacks. But the privilege is not denied to any one, of indulging in cherished memories and just conclusions of the advantages presented by Hamilton College, to all who wish to study and to learn; of the attractions of its scenery; the purity of the atmosphere which surrounds it, whether natural or moral; its learned and indefatigable professors; and its unusual facilities for discovering other planetary systems, for the study of those who wish to learn more of creation than can be acquired by studying this world, and the known stars and constellations which attend it.
We may indulge the hope that we may so do what we may be able to do, that each succeeding annalist, as he contrasts the condition of the college at the beginning and end of each consecutive 50 years, may find that it has increased in strength; in an appreciation by the public of its advantages in location; in the ever-present influences which mould character as it should be formed; in its advantages for intellectual culture, and in that lively interest in its well-being that makes college life pleasant, and the best and most healthy development of the future man.
"Being modest, I do not claim to have acquired much knowledge of chemistry. I am not qualified to speak, as an expert, of Josiah Noyes, our professor in chemistry and mineralogy. But I have a vivid recollection of being filled with wonder and admiration at his experiments in the laboratory. And what is more cherished by me, he knew enough to enable me to pass a first-rate senior examination in chemistry and mineralogy. No man of ordinary capacity and attainments could have done that."