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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1835 Letter

Anson Stowe Miller

Delivered: June 1885

After the lapse of half a century from their graduation, the survivors of the Class of 1835 appear around their alma mater, and greet you. Half a century is a long space of time in the life of an individual, though relatively seeming shorter in the history of an institution, or a nation. Fifty years, however, from the student's graduation, is a period of life which few reach. Twenty years of active business-life, professional or otherwise, is longer than the average. In prospect, half a century seems indeed a long period. Probably few students, at the time of their graduation, ask themselves if they shall live to enjoy a reunion like this. And yet, retrospectively, the half-century which a few of us have reached seems to us as yesterday, when all the class were in active life, full of the vigor of youth and early manhood; and now a large majority of them are resting in their graves. Such is our earthly life!

The Class of 1835 was an early one after the revival of College affairs from difficulties through which the institution had been passing. The able professor of languages, Seth Norton, the principal of the Hamilton Oneida Academy, had died early in President Davis' administration — a very great loss. After the troubles in the institution the eminent professor of mathematics, Theodore Strong, had resigned, and accepted the same position in Rutgers College. Dr. Josiah Noyes, professor of chemistry, still continued a member of the faculty, though with few students to teach — nine only remaining — just enough to prevent forfeiture of the College charter. These remaining students were taught by President Davis and his able and faithful tutor, Rev. E. D. Maltbie, and were all of the two lower classes. This being the case, there could be no class graduated after the Class of 1828 until that of the Class of 1831.

Previous to the Commencement day of 1829, the contention that had raged between the president and opposing trustees, on the question of discipline, was ended by the resignation of a number of the trustees. President Davis refused to resign, and maintained his dignity. The places made vacant by the resigning trustees were filled by the president's supporters, and previous to the Commencement day of 1829, the trustees had chosen John H. Lathrop, professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, and Rev. Simeon North, professor of languages. The exercises of the Commencement day of that year consisted of the inaugural addresses of the professors-elect, and that of Tutor Maltbie, who seems to have been the man of all work, before the society of the alumni, with the two customary orations from candidates for the second degree.

Encouraging numbers of students entered the College halls, but there was no class to be graduated in 1830. The board of trustees, in order to arouse the public in the interest of the College, invited the Hon. Lewis Cass, governor of the territory of Michigan, to speak at Clinton, on Commencement day of 1830. The governor was greeted by a vast audience at the old white church, on Clinton green, now the park. The friends of the College, leading men of Oneida and adjoining counties, were present, with the Hon. Joseph Kirkland, of Utica, presiding. The address was very able and eloquent, and the enthusiasm exhibited at that Commencement gave assurance of success, and probably did as much for the college as if a large class had been then graduated.

This occasion was the first visit of your annalist to Hamilton College, although he had seen it at the distance of 20 miles, from the northern hills of his native town. He then admired, as he has ever since, the beautiful surroundings and magnificent scenery of College Hill; and as he looked on the charming village of Clinton, the garden of the valley of the Oriskany, and the towering steeples of the neighboring city of Utica on the Mohawk — in fine the hills and dales and flowing streams environed with the happy homes of industry and refinement, he was ready to exclaim, "Beautiful for situation, is Hamilton College!"

When our class entered Hamilton the faculty consisted of President Davis, Professors Lathrop, North, and Dr. James Hadley, with Tutors Catlin, in mathematics, and Whedon, in languages. President Davis graduated at Yale in 1796. Soon after graduating he was appointed tutor in Williams College, and afterward he became tutor in Yale, and was elected professor of divinity there. Dr. Davis stood very high as a preacher, and this probably led to his appointment to that conspicuous position. He however declined accepting it on account of his health. In 1806 he was elected professor of languages at Union College, and in 1809 to the presidency of Middlebury College, in which duties he was engaged, at the time of the death of President Backus of Hamilton, and President Dwight of Yale, who each passed away within a few weeks, one of the other. Dr. Backus died on the 28th day of December, 1816; and President Dwight, January 9th, 1817.

President Davis was offered the presidency of both Hamilton and Yale — a double honor rarely offered to anyone. At first he declined both, but subsequently accepted that of Hamilton, and entered upon his duties in the fall of 1817, as the successor of Dr. Backus. For the first few years Hamilton was prosperous, although President Davis' health was comparatively feeble.

In 1823 a trilling difficulty arose between some mischievous students and one of the tutors, resulting in the explosion of a cannon in the fourth story of Hamilton Hall — a great outrage on the part of the offending students. Questions of discipline came up between the faculty and some of the trustees; other matters became involved and the controversy was carried so high that the prosperity of the College was seriously affected by the diminution of students. A part of the trustees requested President Davis to resign; which he refused to do. There was at this time an agitation in society as to new measures and new modes in religious and educational matters. Some were opposed to the study of ancient languages in college, others were in favor of introducing manual labor in connection with the means and processes of education; and in the general ferment, new modes of exciting attention to religious concerns were propounded and discussed.

Dr. Davis was a man of confirmed and positive views, and had very little sympathy with the new measures under general agitation. He was very conservative in his opinions and positions, and was wholly opposed to excluding the classics from the usual college course. He was a man of strong will, and unyielding, though not unreasonable, in his discipline. After years of crimination and recrimination the opposing trustees resigned, and the election of Professors Lathrop and North to their respective professorships was like the light of the morning after a stormy night.

Dr. Davis had great skill and ability in governing young men in college, and was popular with those under him, as he was always kind and courteous to them. After the prosperity of the College was reestablished, and the time arrived at which he had anticipated retiring from the cares of his responsible position, he tendered his resignation on Commencement day, 1833, to take effect from the fact and date of the election of his successor. Dr. Davis was a natural disciplinarian. Mischievous students seldom, if ever, got ahead of him in their movements. He had a mild way of dealing with them, without giving any lasting offense. He would listen quietly and solemnly to their pretenses, and excuses, and then reply, "Young gentlemen, you must remember that I have grown gray within these College walls, and can not be easily deceived." He was uniformly master of the situation.

On the first day of April, 1832, I think, some jocose student thought to fool some of the faculty who should offer evening prayers in the chapel. The Bible was removed from the pulpit and a large Edinburgh Encyclopaedia left in its place. This was doubtless intended for one of the professors and not for the venerable president, who had been unwell a number of days. He however came in unexpectedly, and, showing no surprise, opened the book, and read the first chapter of St. John, fluently and without hesitation.

When the Class of 1835 entered Hamilton there were two literary societies —one called the Phi Gamma Alpha, the other the Phoenix. Each had a fine hall, well furnished, a library of literature, science, history and interesting works in every department; also fine collections of the autographs of eminent men, chiefly the honorary members of said societies. These societies met every week for debate and other exercises. Upon the arrival of new students, members of these societies commenced electioneering for new members. The Irving Society was formed from the two aforesaid, I think sometime in 1833, and the Union, from the Phi Gamma Alpha and the Irving, about 1834. There was also a secret society, the Sigma Phi, I think the first established in college. Another, the Alpha Delta Phi, was established in 1832, and subsequently others.

Previous to the year, 1829, the board of trustees undertook to build more College buildings. They completed the present elegant Chapel and Kirkland Hall, and then erected and roofed in the walls of North, and boarded the windows, having found that the expense of building had greatly exceeded the estimates — a result not uncommon in such matters. They had expended a large amount from the salary fund that should not have been used for building purposes, causing a derangement in the accounts of the college and great embarrassment among members of the faculty, who were in absolute need of the misappropriated funds. North remained unfinished and unused until 1842, when President North raised funds for its completion. But worse than this misappropriation of funds, for a building not needed for years, was the wanton destruction of the noble old Hamilton-Oneida Academy, a commodious three-story wooden building standing in a line directly south of the Chapel, which, with inexpensive repairs, would have afforded the necessary conveniences for many years; and, independent of this consideration, it should have been preserved for its sacred memories. Surely it would not have made the College grounds less attractive, but to the majority far more so. It had been chartered in 1793, and reared in 1794 by Samuel Kirkland and other pioneers of this region, aided by the illustrious Baron Steuben, who laid its cornerstone, and by Alexander Hamilton, one of the state regents, Gen. Stephen Van Rensselaer, who contributed $1,000, and Governor George Clinton, who approved the charter as chancellor of the regents, and favored by George Washington, then President of the United States. The Academy deserved to stand as an enduring memorial of education in central New York, formerly the territory of the powerful Iroquois Confederacy.

Professor Lathrop, as senior professor, took the main charge of College discipline. He was very vigilant, and, while very courteous in the way of business, was stately and distant in his official intercourse. He was principal of an academy in Maine before becoming professor here. He was superior in every department of literature and science. His early training was here under President Backus. He graduated at Yale and took the second honor. In 1840 Professor Lathrop was called to the chancellorship of the University of Missouri — subsequently to the universities of Wisconsin and Indiana and afterward was recalled to that of Missouri, where he closed his useful life.

Professor Simeon North was a man meant to be loved. He, too, was a graduate of Yale, where he took the first honors and subsequently taught — a man of talent and firmness of principle, a strong writer, an eloquent speaker, and a born teacher. The department of languages was his specialty. Professor Catlin, who entered as senior tutor, soon succeeded to the professorship of mathematics and astronomy. He was a man of great ability in his department — a favorite student of Professor Strong. Like Professor North, he was greatly loved by the students. Tutor Whedon was a man of talent, a skilful and acceptable teacher of the languages, as was also Tutor Eells.

Professor Hadley, the successor of Dr. Noyes in chemistry, spent a part of his time at Hamilton and part of his time in the Medical College at Fairfield. He was an ingenious and learned man in his department. His laboratory was in the basement of the Chapel building, where his interesting lectures were delivered.

The Rev. John Wayland, professor of rhetoric, was a younger brother of Francis Wayland, President of Brown University. He was very severe in criticizing students' compositions, and sometimes to their great annoyance. But he was a good teacher of pure English prose, free from all extrinsic ornament. He was not favorable to poetical figures. His criticisms were doubtless useful and, as he often preached in the Chapel, the students gave him their particular attention and criticism.

Professor Charles Avery, long engaged in college services, succeeded Professor Hadley in the chair of chemistry. He was one of the most efficient instructors in the whole circle of the sciences studied in the college, and as an earnest business man in supporting the college in what ways he could best employ his energies, he was really the foremost.

On the resignation of President Davis, in 1832, the board of trustees chose the Rev. Ichabod Spencer, of Brooklyn, as his successor. Dr. Spencer was long in making up his mind whether or not to accept the call tendered to him, on account of the desire of his congregation to retain his services; and at length, in 1833, he yielded to their wishes and declined the presidency. The board then elected to the office the Rev. Dr. Dwight, son of the eminent president of Yale.

President Davis delivered his farewell address on junior exhibition day of 1833, at the College Chapel. The address was very impressive and eloquent, and fully sustained the fame of the orator as a powerful speaker. He remained a trustee of the College, and did everything that he could for its support. Having fitted up a commodious home for himself and family north of the College grounds, he removed from the presidential mansion and occupied his new home till the close of his long life at the age of 82.

President Dwight had been graduated at Yale College, and subsequently made a teacher in that institution. His superior natural abilities had been highly cultivated, he had traveled extensively in Europe and mingled in the best society in the different countries, and was well posted in matters of law, science, art, and education. He was above the ordinary size, of majestic bearing and commanding presence, and a splendid orator.

On the opening of the summer term in 1833, President Dwight and family occupied the presidential mansion. He heard the seniors in intellectual philosophy and showed himself amply qualified to illustrate Locke and other class-books. He was always ready, as an offhand debater, to treat every subject with appropriate grace and force. He was full of information and knowledge on all topics, and his readiness of speech was wonderful. His written sermons were of the highest style of pulpit eloquence.

Early in Dr. Dwight's presidency vigorous efforts were made by him and others to raise funds for the permanent endowment of professorships. Wealthy citizens of Utica were anxious for the removal of the College to that city, and made liberal subscriptions on condition of such removal. Meetings were held at Utica in favor of the removal, and at Clinton protesting against it. At length there was a special meeting of the board of trustees at Clinton to decide the matter, when the majority of the trustees believed that as the charter was given to the College in connection with its present location, and as the endowments had been given and accepted while it occupied that location, justice and the law of the land forbade a removal. This decision affected the conditional subscriptions made in Utica, and possibly caused in part the resignation of Dr. Dwight.

Previous to this, however, President Dwight, the Hon. Joshua A. Spencer and others, without considering the question of removal as such, did great good in presenting the claims of Hamilton College to the public. Dr. Benjamin Woolsey Dwight, the treasurer, and Professor Charles Avery succeeded that year in raising about $50,000. The collection and investment of this sum was so successfully made by them that they are entitled to the lasting gratitude of the friends of the College.

After the resignation of President Dwight, the Rev. Joseph Penney was elected to the presidency, and entered upon his office. Dr. Penney was a man of fine talents, an interesting preacher, and a thoroughly trained and active scholar. He was beloved as a pastor, but he found that boys in college require much patience and skill in their management. The financial embarrassments of his time were trying to him and he resigned in 1838, contrary to the wishes of many of the trustees. Professor Simeon North succeeded him.

The election of Dr. North to the presidency inspired general confidence in the future prosperity of the College. He had been for 10 years professor of the ancient languages, and had under great embarrassments and difficulties shown himself equal to all emergencies. Among the first events of his administration was the election of Rev. Dr. Henry Mandeville to the chair of moral philosophy and rhetoric. Dr. Mandeville was a man of rare genius and enthusiastic in his department. His course of usefulness in life was lamentably cut short by his early death.

In 1842, the president raised funds for the completion of North college, after it had stood unoccupied for many years in an unfinished condition. It was afterward called Dexter Hall, in honor of the Hon. S. Newton Dexter, one of the strongest friends of the College, who furnished the first available funds for the endowment of the professorship of languages. The generous Maynard bequest had not yet been paid into the treasury of the College.

President North's successor in the chair of ancient languages was Rev. John Finley Smith, who died in 1843, and Professor Edward North was elected his successor. In 1846, the Maynard Law School was organized and Theodore W. Dwight elected to the professorship of law therein. Dr. Oren Root in 1849 was elected successor of Professor Catlin, deceased, in the chair of mathematics and astronomy; and the cabinet of natural history, in what is now known as Knox Hall, was established. In 1850, the Hon. O.S. Williams was elected treasurer, as successor of Dr. Dwight, deceased. In 1852, preparations were made for improving the cCollege, campus and the cemetery, and three curators were chosen to superintend the work—John C. Hastings, Esq., Professor Oren Root, and the Rev. Dr. A. D. Gridley.

The Rev. Dr. William S. Curtis was elected to the chair of moral philosophy in 1854, and the College church was reestablished. About this time prize competitions in oratory, chemistry, and classical scholarship, and in writing on various themes for English essays, were founded — a most beneficial plan for stimulating students to vigorous, careful, and successful mental effort.
In 1856, the laborious and untiring Professor Avery commenced collecting funds for his chemical laboratory, and also for an astronomical observatory, since endowed by the Hon. E.C. Litchfield, as the Litchfield Observatory. The observatory will stand as a monument to the public spirit of Mr. Litchfield, and to the energy and wisdom of Professor Avery, and to the recorded discoveries of heavenly bodies by the learned and diligent professor of astronomy, Dr. Peters. These events and others in the course of the 18 years of President North's administration have greatly changed our college affairs and affected most prosperously the fame of our alma mater. The completion of North college, the teaching eminently successful in the several departments of undergraduate study, the improvement of the college campus by three curators of superior taste and worth, were great attractions to young men who wished to complete their collegiate studies in a place of health and beauty, under professors unsurpassed as teachers in their several departments of study.

We may well congratulate ourselves, therefore, in the progress and prospects of our alma mater. Her rise from an academy, reared upon an Indian frontier, almost a missionary enterprise, has been worthy of the efforts of its pious founders. It has surmounted formidable obstacles, and under the great law of compensation has grown stronger by her struggles. Let it be remembered that colleges, like trees, grow, and require time for growth. Happily a grateful public and her affectionate and generous sons have succeeded in relieving her from embarrassment, and we may well say that she has not been excelled in teaching by any educational institution in the state.

My dear classmates, in conclusion, you will permit me to express the gratification, which I have felt in this reunion. It has not, however, been an unmixed joy. All of our revered instructors and a large majority of our class have passed beyond the bounds of earthly greeting. They are absent but not forgotten. We can imagine only the existence of the unreplying dead, but not the actual or possible modes or forms of its manifestation. In our thoughts of the loved and the lost we are forcibly reminded of the plaintive pathos and melody described in Ossian, "The music of Caryl was like the memory of joys that are past, pleasant though mournful, to the soul." Our survivors of the class have greeted each other with the feeling of those who met and longed to join right hands at the palace of the hospitable queen of Carthage. Avidi conjungere dextras ardebant. Of the whole class, two only who attended the first recitation survive. B.W. Dwight, my gifted and worthy chum, and your annalist. Some of the class died early in the educational course. Others graduated elsewhere. All have honored this College, as far as I am informed. I congratulate you upon the merciful extension of life and health to this half-century reunion. Fortunate, fortunate indeed are we, through many vicissitudes of life, indifferent regions and under various fortunes, who are permitted thus to reunite around our alma mater.

Our business life has been at a most interesting period in the world's history. Could we have made our own selection of the period of our earthly life, we doubtless would have taken the nineteenth century, in this our native land. During the last half-century there has been more progress, more improvements for the social, moral, and intellectual advancement of mankind than in many previous centuries united. Fifty years ago we could not have anticipated the great inventions, discoveries, and improvements for the increase and spread of knowledge, and for the general elevation of mankind, which we have witnessed. Under the inspiration of free thought, many of the errors of the past are being exploded. Under the continual inspiration of practical Christianity, rational science is enlightening mankind and raising them to the adoption of broader and nobler views of life and human destiny. We rejoice that our own country has done her full share in this great progress.

Grateful to a benign Providence for the blessings of our past lives, and serenely hopeful for the future of our being, we calmly await our higher graduation, ending into a grander and more perfect reunion with our revered instructors and beloved classmates who have gone before.