Delivered: June 1893
The allotments of Providence in the associations of college life are to be recounted, studied and regarded. It does make a difference where and with whom one has lived, studied, and graduated. The fashioning influence of one’s classmates and college-mates while they dwell in study together is real, if not felt and measured every day during the four years. And after graduation the influence silently continues, though in many cases it assumes nearly or quite a posthumous character, for some die and others seldom never meet again in this word after parting at the Commencement stage.
One object of the annalist’s letter I suppose to be reproduce briefly in our minds in the state of college affairs and their surroundings as they were a half-century ago. I can hardly make it seem that it is 50 years since that time. I look and look to see if there is some mistake; if this is some other class’ year earlier than mine; but my class did graduate in 1843 and this is 1893. It would be respectful to commence with the faculty; but, alas! There is no one of that faculty here to whom we can pay our respects — everyone is gone. We must speak about what we remember of them, of what they were to us.
When I entered college in the early autumn of 1840, at the beginning of sophomore year, a glimmer of light streamed from even the retreating shadow of Professor Lathrop, who had just gone from his professorship here to be chancellor of the University of Missouri. I regretted that I had lost even the sight of such a superior man as I heard him to be. Soon after ascending College Hill someone eagerly pointed out to me Professor J. Finley Smith, whose praise was on all lips. A heavenly radiance lighted up his countenance, but his health soon began to fail, and ere long he was missed from college scenes. He had married Miss Adelaide Gridley, of the village, who was also in declining health. She died in 1842, and he, sorrowing over her loss, followed her the next year. Thus two esteemed professors of the college were removed within a short time. But a well-founded and useful institution can live and flourish though important men depart.
Simeon North was the straightest man, first physically, second morally, third presidentially, that I ever knew. When I entered college I heard two or three students say that the trustees, in President North, had spoiled a good professor to make a poor president. This was their theory, but facts would arise to support it, and facts to the contrary did arise. President North was a simple-hearted yet wise man. He always knew much more about the students and than their affairs than at first seemed to know. He had the faculty of reading character. He was one whom students disliked to displease, not because they feared, but because they loved him. These and other like traits well fitted President North for his high office. Both trustees and Divine Providence so seemed to understand it, for he was kept in the President’s chair thorough eighteen years, and the longest presidential term this college has ever witnessed. And Mrs. President North was a superb woman, well equal to filling the place of chief lady among the families of the college faculty. After age came on and their college life had closed, at their farm on the north slope of College Hill, they were the same courteous and pleasing pair that they had been at the college mansion. The death of their only child, a promising son of eight years, was a grievous affliction to them and a cause of grief to many others.
Prominent among our corps of instructors was Professor Charles Avery, who entered this College as a student of 1816, previous to the birth of most or all members of the Class of 1843. His chief branch in which he gave instruction, chemistry, was not in itself so popular among the students, for few of them expected to be experts in that science. But Professor Avery’s lecture-room was always a place of interest and pleasure through his genial wit and wisdom. He had a strong desire for the religious welfare of the college. Walking up College Hill with students, as he often did, he gladly seized any opportunity to give a religious turn to the conversation. Especially did he delight to speak of the great good that had resulted from the conversion of his classmate, Albert Barnes, during his last year of his college course. Professor Avery closed the ninth year of his college professorship when the Class of 1843 graduated, and yet he served 26 years more in that capacity.
Marcus Catlin was our chief professor in mathematics. He was almost peerless in his profession and his character. He could make darkness light in his figures and unwind the most tangled skein. He was sincere and kind, and without planning for it, he won the kind regard and admiration of the students. I do not think I ever heard a student speak unkindly or disrespectfully of him. He uttered, if one does not become a Christian previous to leaving college he seldom does afterwards.” Six years after our graduation he died at the early age of 44. Had he lived longer, seemingly he could have excelled himself, and yet 40 years more added to that life must have greatly increased his reputation abroad as a mathematician and enlarged his attractiveness as a man.
Tutor T.T. Bradford was a diligent and accurate scholar, an enterprising and enthusiastic instructor and a warm-hearted and faithful friend. He was one of the men who can retain the attachment of friends after the cessation of personal intimacy. But he closed his labors as college instructor in 1846, three years after our graduation, and entered upon the work of the gospel ministry in the Presbyterian Church.
Tutor B.W. Dwight served the college three years as an instructor and was one of the most enthusiastic, thorough and successful teachers. He was more ambitious for the progress of his students than many of them were for their own progress. But he desired to engage in the active labors of the ministry, and in that service founded the First Congregational church in Joliet, Ill., now the Central Presbyterian. But finding that he gravitated towards educational work he established a school having a hundred young men, in Brooklyn, which was afterwards removed to Clinton, and he subsequently had a prosperous education institution in New York City. Thus spending in his second stage of teaching nearly a quarter of a century, he thirsted for some literary work, and he therefore prepared and published half-dozen volumes that cost him much labor. Then came his long last sickness and death.
Professor Henry Mandeville came later in the college pastorate in Utica, where he was a preacher of note and ability. He was a great accession to the corps of instructors. He instituted a system of elocution that brought credit of a high character to himself, and now brings usefulness and honor to the college.
The faculty as a whole were evangelically religious men. They did their part to make and keep the College Christian. They believed in the conversion of the heart to God, and did not sum it all up in good breeding and culture. They believed in revivals in religion and desired to have them in the College. In some professedly evangelical universities in these days there are instructors who more or less compromise the truth. They let stand error stand beside the truth unchallenged. They say to their pupils, “Here is one way and there is another; both cannot be true: take your choice,” giving no preference themselves to either. But the instructors in this College 50 years ago had a choice of their own on all of these questions, and could scarcely refrain from inviting and even exhorting their students to walk in the right way.
The Class of 1843 numbered in all 34, 20 of whom graduated. Of the 14 who did not graduate with the class, two graduated the following year, and one with the Class of 1843 in Union College.
We came to a college, not a so-called university. We could not select our studies to suit our fancies or our plans. We found our studies selected for us by a previous plan made by others for a certain depth and breadth of culture. We could not be sophomores, juniors, seniors or graduates without going through a prescribed course deemed necessary as the basis of a good education. There were post-graduate studies, but they were not in the college curriculum. A modern American university is a place where one, if so disposed, can get a little education with a great deal of name. This was not Hamilton College offered 50 years ago. Attendance upon recitations was as important as paying bills, and not to be shirked for a trifle. Daily assembling together for worship was not optional and no one thought of making it optional. Still the faculty and the trustees were not so wedded to the past as to be beyond progress and improvement. Just before we graduated the question was agitated whether to change the time for morning prayers and the first recitation of the day from before daylight to eight o’clock in the morning. That reform was according to nature.
Another question raised was whether College honors given by the faculty on the basis of standing in scholarship was so faulty as to deserve to be abolished. It was claimed that the preparation for college was so different with different individuals; the advantages of some were so superior to those of others, as to make it unfair to base college distinctions, even in part, on the effects of those differences. So a change was commenced with the class following ours, the class themselves giving out the honors as they would. But that reform proved to be somewhat against nature and after some years it was dropped. In all this the faculty were not headstrong and unreasonable. They wisely allowed some experiments and demonstrations.
College expenses, a half-century ago, were quite different from what they are now, in both going into the city, and “sundries,” and the bills now are not only more numerous, but longer. Economy was much more an absolute necessity then than now, and economy then was profitable in many ways. Now it costs many students from $1,000 to $5,000 a year during the college course. Prices then were low. Whether the tariff was for revenue or for protection, or for both, prices were low both as to provisions and wages.
In our old college days board in a club at Mrs. Cadwell’s across the road eastward from North college, could be had nine York shillings a week. If we made it $1 a week that was not living quite well enough; if $1.25, that was living a little better than we could afford. Or after another was elected steward and had his board for his services. Good family board was only $2.50 or $3 a week. And after graduation one getting an offer of $450 a year as principal of a public school was thought to be doing very well. To get such cash employment was a boon.
Our college amusements were in general playing football or baseball, pitching quoits, sawing and splitting wood, swinging Indian clubs, swinging a little scythe a little in a hay field if we had the chance, hoeing in a garden, sauntering in the woods on a Saturday afternoon in summer, skating and sliding down hill in winter, and walking to the village at all seasons of the year. Walking back up hill was never considered an amusement. A few students had some kinds of games sitting in their rooms which were generally a waste of time and otherwise harmful, especially as compared with exercises in the open air. We should no more have thought of going down to Union College to play ball or row skiffs in a contest than we should have thought of taking an aerial voyage to the moon. Whether rightly or not, it would have seemed childish to us. And certainly we never should have thought of the Union College boys coming up here to beat us in anything. If we had asked to leave to be absent from college two or three days and go a hundred miles to witness a boat race or a ball game, we should have been considered out of our heads. Then if we had added betting on the results of the game, or on horse races, or patronizing pool rooms, and we should have been regarded as sinners against God and criminals in the sight of men, deserving to be arrested.
I question whether immortality did not seem worse to students in colleges 50 years ago than it seems now. There was then more self-denial, less self-indulgence, less means for vicious self-gratification. To be intemperate then was more of a terror than now. Going to college is now more frequent from among the wealthy and fashionable classes, and from there oftener than from among the laboring and frugal intemperate come. The latter class in former days furnished the greater number of college students. I think the Sabbath was formerly more sacredly kept by college students in this country. Profanity may have been more common than now. Gambling in some forms is worse now than then. But doubtless at all times the quiet, peaceful country, with due watchfulness and discipline is more productive of good morals than the noisy, bustling city. The country has some decided advantages for a college.
Two or three years after graduating I spent a Sabbath on College Hill. Professor Mandeville, hearing of my plan, came for me Saturday afternoon to preach the next day in the Chapel. I excused myself. I had no sermon. Had only written some on the subject of a sermon, not knowing how much I should keep and how much throw away. The professor pleaded as though he dreaded sitting up till midnight to finish his own sermon. I must preach. When the time for the sermon came I preached and preached. It was longer than I had thought. I had not learned how much manuscript it took for a sermon, nor how to skip to the conclusion. Though Professor Catlin was kind enough to say to someone that he could have listened an hour longer, the plan of the sermon had a kind of mathematical grip to it which he liked; after 50 years I am glad to explain to my few remaining friends that knew about it, how it was that I came to preach that long sermon.
The investigation of theological subjects did not act unfavorably in college upon practical religion. It favored it. We had not the benefits or the name of the Christian Endeavor Society, or Young Men’s Christian Association; but we had young people’s prayer meetings and Sabbath school. The College furnished Sunday-school teachers, prayer-meeting leaders, and temperance speakers for the Clinton village churches and Vernon, Lairdsville, the Mills district, and the schoolhouse at the foot of the hill.
The two college societies of 50 years ago, the Union and the Phoenix, divided with students about equally between them. They were highly literary in character, but they were very useful also in developing the social nature of the students, and promoting their acquaintance and fellowship. For that reason, as well as others, those societies never ought to have been abandoned. They will be remembered with gratitude by many of the Class of 1843, by those even who were foremost in advancing the interests of the secret societies to which they belonged, for the good that was there done for them and the fellowships there formed.
"The two college societies of 50 years ago, the Union and the Phoenix, divided with students about equally between them. They were highly literary in character, but they were very useful also in developing the social nature of the students, and promoting their acquaintance and fellowship. For that reason, as well as others, those societies never ought to have been abandoned. They will be remembered with gratitude by many of the Class of 1843, by those even who were foremost in advancing the interests of the secret societies to which they belonged, for the good that was there done for them and the fellowships there formed."