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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1851 Letter

Henry M. Knox

Delivered: June 12, 1901

Mr. President and Fellows of the Alumni:

I come by appointment to summon to your notice and review that little band mustered for the first time in chapel and recitation-room on that certain third Wednesday in September, A. D. 1817, and after four eventful years of varying fortunes ushered from the august rostrum of the Old Stone Church to try its fortune in the real arena of life.

The names of 34 freshmen were borne upon the College Catalogue in 1847. The College Catalogue for 1848-49 (sophomore year) records 17 additional names. Two more new names appear in the College Catalogue for junior year, and three additional names in that of senior year (1850-51); so that 56 men in all were at some time connected with the class. One died while in college and twelve others were transferred to other colleges (Clapp went to Union, Marsh to Amherst, Potter to Yale, and Whaley to Hobard. None of the others are known to have pursued further their college course) or to some more congenial pursuits, so that our graduates numbered 42 or 43, with Fiske, who "was grafted into the class by special decree of the trustees, and is enrolled among our regular graduates."

One unique feature of the class is that it maintains its regular reunions once in 46 years. Our first general meeting was held in 1897, just 46 years after graduation. Several years are discounted from the regular term that we may hold the second reunion at this time in order to greet the opening century. At the same generous rate of discount it will be possible to arrange for several other meetings during the period in which it will be convenient for most of us to attend.

At our great reunion of 1897 we were widely advertised as Charles Dudley Warner's class, and we accepted the designation with enthusiasm as one of the highest distinction. We are content to shine in the reflected light of one so noble, so lovable, so modest, and yet so great. We are reminded, now that he has vanished from our sight, of that abiding attribute of his character-his sincerity, honesty and bitter hatred of all meretricious performances. In his after dinner speech at our first reunion, deprecating the latter-day fondness of literary men for popular notice and for commercial advantage, he said in a hesitating way, as though weighing his words to utter the exact truth, "I am not conscious of seeking public applause now any more than when I was in college." That this is the exact truth. Let anyone search his works for word or phrase savoring of a bid for popular favor. He will search in vain. Even his collaboration with Mr. Clemens in "The Gilded Age" was more in the spirit of rollicking fun than with a view to the surprising commercial return that came of it.

In the work of collecting information in regard to the widely-scattered members of the class, I have had the hearty assistance of Professors North, Root and Dodge, to whom wholesale credit is here given, and also that of many others whose names are mentioned in the sketches I confidently refer all who are interested to the "Lives" as printed in connection with this paper as bringing out many facts and incidents of interest and value and much in the career of our classmates that has escaped our observation and knowledge.

It has occurred to me that, leaving the well ploughed over and harvested field of local history and reminiscence, it might be well for once to inquire, “What does the College graduate do? In what way does the discipline of his mental powers so much coveted, make itself felt upon the history and progress of the time of which he is a part? How does the average College class influence the world?”

I shall violate the traditions of the College, but I propose to answer and illustrate this query by means of the "lives" which the class, either personally or through friends, were kind enough to surrender at my demand, and which have been mercilessly edited for this purpose. It requires no assistance from the mathematical department of the College (although we have been so long from under its tutelage) to find out that had the 56 men connected with our class lived until the present time they would represent in the aggregate the sum of 2,800 years. But some have not lived out the allotted time. French died in our freshman year. Nash died in 1853, just as he had qualified for the legal profession. Dakin, Frank E., died in 1856, only five years after graduation, while Barnes, Dakin, Henry M., and Nichols met with violent deaths in the first or second decade thereafter. But for all but seven (this number since reduced to five) of the class, we may find in their life sketches herewith the exact term of their lives. That is, 49 of them lived in the aggregate the total of 1,933 years, and the average of these being taken for the remainder, shows the total number of years lived by the class to have been 2,210 years. These figures refer, of course, only to the active business or after-graduate life since 1851.

It is relevant now to inquire: What has the class been doing during all this vast 22 and 1/10th centuries of its existence? We have the answer partly unfolded again in the annals furnished by the sketches.

In the first place, we find that the following 25, or nearly half the entire membership of the class, were admitted, on due examination as to their qualification to the practice of the law: Bangs, Barnes, Barton, Bennett, Butler, Carskaddan, Catlin, Clary, Dakin, H. M., Doolittle, Ford, J.C. Hills, Hotchkiss, Kellogg, LaGrange, Lowe, Mumford, Nash, Nichols, Pope, Sherman, Warner, Waterman, Weaver and Whaley.

Nearly 500 years (to be exact 474 years and one or two unknown quantities) were so spent. Of this five centuries of legal practice, eight of the class gave all their mature lives as follows: Barton, 40 years; Carskaddan, 48 years; Clary, 49 years; Ford, J.C., 46 years; Kellogg, 47 years; Lowe, 34 years; Sherman, 46 years; Waterman, 37 years, or nearly three-and-a-half centuries, while Bangs, after teaching 25 years has been practicing law for 25 years, Catlin for 15 years and others for a less number of years or for a period unknown.

Our class gave to the world as far as known, seven men ordained to the work of the Gospel Ministry, viz: Cleveland for 35 years; Couch, 47 years; Davis, 40 years; Ford, F. F., 39 years; Hudson, 31 years; Jenkins, five years; Marsh, 46 years — a total number of 243 years. Of these seven preachers, Cleveland, Couch, Davis, Ford and Marsh seem to have given their life work to the ministry, except as interrupted by sickness. Jenkins was a professional teacher —Hudson was called to other important duties.

Next in order of the professions by the number of years devoted to the calling is that of teacher. Nineteen members of the class have given over 200 years to the honorable purposes of instruction, 62 years of which were devoted to the self-sacrificing work of teaching the Deaf and the Blind, thus rescuing many unfortunates from ignorance, idleness and misery. The names of the teachers (for longer or shorter time) are as follows: Bangs, Brockett, Catlin, Cleveland, Dakin, F. E., Evans, Fiske, Forcl, F. F., Ford, J. C., Hotchkiss, Hudson, Jenkins, Judson, Miller Nichols, Parmelee, Potter, Pratt and Ward.

Bangs gave 25 years to this high calling, 22 of which were employed in teaching deaf mutes. Brockett gave his lifetime of 28 years to teaching, nine of which were given to the same class of defectives. Fiske was a teacher for at least 16 years. Jenkins gave 25 years to instructing deaf mutes. Parmelee devoted his all too short life of 12 years to teaching, Potter gave his life-time of 24 years (except as he was in the army) to the profession, Pratt was a teacher for 14 years, Ward taught for 26 years, and the remaining 11 on the list helped to fill out the full measure of more than two centuries in this noble and influential calling.

Of physicians, Evans was a graduate of the Medical Department of the University of the City of New York, but seems to have practiced but a few years. He was a contributor to medical literature and was an assistant surgeon in the Union Army, 1861-1863. Miller practiced medicine 17 years. Kimball was the only one of the class who gave his whole after-graduate life of 45 years to the profession.

Coming to business life: 88 years have been given by members of the class to the active occupation of banking. Bennett gave 16 years to it. Mumford, 26. Knox seems to have been the hardest-hearted Shylock of them all, having wrung innocent blood money from the toiling masses for the space of 46 years. After this open confession the class will the better understand his later role of highwayman in demanding that they lay down their "lives" at his feet.  Butler commenced a general insurance business a few years after he qualified for the bar, and has practiced the two in happy combination during his whole business life of 47 years.

Hawley gave his career of 37 years to the lumber business, and I understand it was on a large scale, in Maryland. Clapp at some time in his career was engaged in the same business at Fernandina, Florida.

Doolittle held a position of trust and responsibility in the United States Treasury Department where his legal knowledge and good judgment had scope for the period of over 30 years.

Fiske — student, professor, Bibliophile, has made some notable collections of books, in several departments the rarest and most complete the world has seen. Among them can be mentioned only: The Dante collection of 7,000 or 8,000 volumes, the largest known, of which the printed catalogue (two volumes) has just been completed, a Petrarch collection of nearly 5,000 volumes, and a collection of 7,000 volumes on the island of Iceland and the old history and literature of Scandinavia, the latter two collections now in Florence.

Eight at least of the class have devoted more or less time to the occupation of farming. Bangs became in later life a sort of bucolic poet. Catlin lived on a farm for 15 years. Hills devoted his career to raising fruit in connection with his work as civil engineer. Hotchkiss exploited a cotton plantation until the army worm insisted upon ginning his crop.

Judson cultivated a vineyard. Warner, with rare profit to the world, spent at least one “Summer in a Garden.” Weaver has been, he says, an "incidental" farmer for a full 50 years and adds, "you may call me a farmer or lawyer or both, though I think there is more meat in the law than in farming."

Of editors, Carskaddan, Fiske, Nichols and Ward tried a hand at some period in their lives. Judson was happily and successfully so occupied for 15 years. Warner, after turning for health to engineering, and after dallying for four years with the law, found again his congenial occupation in the highest type of journalism.

Warner was also our only author. Fiske's life has been largely devoted to literary pursuits. He has been a contributor to several of our best home and foreign journals and has been honored with membership in several literary societies of national repute. Others have been reporters and compilers of annals, Pratt industriously and valuably so. Warner, beside his valuable contributions to magazines, beginning in College, edited that monumental work, The Library of the World's Best Literature in 30 volumes, and left some 30 other volumes in enrichment of the kind of literature gathered in his library, viz: The World's Best.

Of engineers we find Cooper in the State Engineer's Office in Albany. Hills is mentioned as combining engineering and fanning for 40 years. Lansing practiced civil engineering in South America. Pope laid a solid foundation for eminence by exhaustive study and rose rapidly to the very top of his profession. I have the opinion of one, himself an eminent engineer, that "he stood at the very head of the profession, and was one of two or three of the most distinguished expert engineers in the country, whose opinion was also sought to settle disputed questions on both sides of the Atlantic. " The company with which he was connected for nearly 30 years, and of which for 26 years he was president, built during that period three of the great bridges across the Mississippi and one across the Missouri, which have safely during all this time carried the enormous tides of transcontinental travel. One of the company's playthings was the Ferris Wheel, and it also built the steel gates for the new lock on the St. Mary's Falls canal which connects the navigation of Lakes Superior and Huron and passes by far the greatest tonnage of any ship canal in the world.

In this rapid survey and division of the lives of the class to discover the source of its influence and the way in which it was put forth, it is evident that the whole number of years is not fully accounted for, as the lives were not prepared with a view to any such treatment. It is evident, moreover, that had such been the case, the full measure of the influence of the class upon the civilization and progress of the world would not have been expressed. In some of those fields which we have accustomed ourselves to believe were only side issues of our lives, we have exerted an influence over men far beyond those which were the main object of our pursuit. Hotchkiss has written up for us five of his lives in place of the one called for, and even then has unwittingly left several unsung. Had he sung them all, others may have equaled or even exceeded him in the multiplication of pursuits. Some even seem by the record to have managed as many lives as those of the traditional cat, and with equal facility.

Let us look at some of these side issues in connection with the larger and more influential spheres which have grown out of our chosen life pursuits. Outside of the routine of our 25 lawyers, for instance, has grown up large clusters of wider influences upon mankind. The most rapid glance reveals the fact that Barton and Carskaddan became judges upon the bench; Butler, Carskaddan, Clary, Ford (J.C.) and Kellogg became city, state and district attorneys; Catlin a patent examiner and attorney; Lowe a city and county clerk. Kellogg was also appointed by Chief Justice Chase a register in bankruptcy. Sherman is a master in Chancery.

Some are members of the bar of the United States Supreme Court and local attorneys for great transcontinental lines of railway. In this connection I may mention that Couch reminds us that Barton was a witness in the famous trial of the assassin Guiteau, and in answer to the question of counsel, "Do you think Guiteau was deranged?" "No," was his reply, "I shouldn't like to say that he was deranged, but I think he was very badly arranged." Couch also adds: "I remember that Barton and Old Sherm' had a large share of the good sense of the class and kept us — or at least some of us — out of an occasional bad scrape or the consequences thereof."

And herein lies the supreme difference between the educated and distinguished lawyer (such as those of the Class of 1851) and the untrained pettifogger, viz — that the first keeps his clients out of scrapes rather than gets them into scrapes, always allays rather than foments discord, and finds it more important to prevent litigation than to make a fee by encouraging it.

The two centuries of preaching by no means expresses all that has been accomplished on religious lines by members of the class. Entirely aside from the duties of the gospel ministry through the proclamations of the pulpit, Couch served for 18 years as district secretary of the American Tract Society; Davis for 20 years as a missionary of the Presbytery of Chicago, and Hudson as chaplain of a New York Regiment in the Civil War. As layman Catlin also served as chaplain and as delegate of the Christian Commission, as did also Pratt in the Army of the Potomac. Hawley was one of the founders of the Congregational Church in Baltimore. Bangs is a deacon of the same denomination. Warner was a member of the Asylum Hill Congregational Church, Hartford. Mumford was an officer of the Church Home in the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York. Carskaddan has been a vestryman of the same church for over 30 years, of which also Clapp and Clary are mentioned as prominent members. Waterman has served as trustee and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church for 40 years, Knox as ruling elder for as long a time, of which church Kimball also was a most useful member. Butler was trustee of the Reformed Church, and Weaver a member and elder of same. Parmelee and Doolittle are known to have been active in ways not alluded to, and others served as officers and members of the Y. M. C. A. and on hospital and advisory boards with high moral and spiritual purpose.

From the ranks of teachers has sprung up a number who have acted in more conspicuous positions. Bangs and Jenkins became superintendents of State Institutions for the Education of the Deaf. Brockett was professor of German in what is now the Syracuse University. Cleveland was for a time principal of the Educational Department of the New York State Institution for the Blind. Dakin, F. E., had in his short life risen to be professor of chemistry and natural philosophy at the State Normal School, Albany. Fiske was professor of the Germanic, and Scandinavian languages and literature at Cornell University. He also taught the English language while a student at Upsala University and is credited by our Triennial Catalogue with having received the honorary degree of Ph.D. from this, the oldest University of Sweden, founded in 1477. He also received the same degree from Cornell. Hotchkiss was a founder of and professor in Milwaukee University while it existed. Hudson and Catlin were tutors in their Alma Mater. Hudson also became trustee and treasurer of the College. Nichols was president of Gonzales College, Texas. Potter was professor in Knox College, Illinois. Pratt received the honorary degree of Ph.D. from the New York Board of Regents, as expressed by the Board, "In consideration of services in the cause of Education and Eminent Scholarship." To Warner came unsought and richly-deserved honors from Dartmouth and Yale and Princeton and the University of the South, and last mentioned but not less highly prized by him, from his own Alma Mater.

Several of our businessmen had many side issues of great usefulness. Bennett was deputy United States Marshal in Missouri. Butler was active in art, educational and historical lines, and for long reaches of years a director and officer of banks, Trust Company and Water Works of his city of Utica.

Ford, J. C., outside of legal practice found time to devote to the Board of Education as a member and to the City Library Association as its president. Mumford was active in half a dozen different business enterprises of his city of Rochester.

Honors for scholarship seem to have been held as easy by the boys of 50 years ago. Only two or three have thought to mention the fact of their election to the Phi Beta Kappa Society. From its handbook I have added to these and find that eight from our class were so honored, viz: Brockett, Hudson, Judson, Pratt, Ward, Warner, Waterman and Weaver. Doubtless to the list might have been added the name of Catlin had he cared to turn his hand over and write a letter of acceptance of his nomination. In college scholarship, Catlin and Pratt, standing within a point or two of each other, were rated together as leading the class.

Our boys seem to have been indifferent also to the honors of civil, military and political life, or to the mere accumulation of wealth as a pursuit. Knox and Weaver only were honored with commissions from the states in which they lived-the former as Public Examiner and Superintendent of Banks by the State of Minnesota, and the latter as Superintendent of Public Instruction by the great State of New York.

In military life Butler was commissioned as lieutenant-colonel in the New York State militia by Governor Washington Hunt. Evans was an assistant surgeon in the Union Army. Lowe received a commission as captain and assistant quartermaster from President Lincoln. Potter was promoted from captain to major and to lieutenant-colonel in the Illinois Infantry during the Civil War.

In political life Hotchkiss narrates a heroic and thrilling episode in the times of "bleeding Kansas." He was also commissioned under President Lincoln a special agent of the Treasury Department in charge of captured and abandoned property at the seat of war. Kellogg suffered both in body and estate for his loyalty to the Union. Pease was a member of both branches of the New Hampshire Legislature. Weaver was a member of the New York State Assembly in 1803-05, and candidate for Speaker of that body in the latter year. In the attainment of high honors for the college the classes of 1861 and 1864 seem to have presumptuously vaulted over us and all the other classes, and for the first time to have landed Hamilton graduates in the President's cabinet. The Presidency itself, however, remains as a tempting prize for our classes to aspire to. With all due consideration for other classes which may have an eye upon the man, I beg to submit that the position is already pre-empted for a member of the Class of 1851.

At our grand reunion banquet, before rising to sum up the oratory of the occasion, our presiding officer — the lamented Warner — remarked to those who sat next him that the speech that preceded his own was one of the best speeches for such an occasion that he had ever heard. Upon rising he said, "The man who could make that speech ought to be President of the United States!" Now who shall gainsay Warner's ought to be, or stand in the way of its fulfillment? Of course our Old Abe will have leave to revise his politics if need be to fit the coming event.

We find no indication of the pursuit of wealth on the part of any member of the class. The sordid dross seems to have had no charms for us. We will therefore be quite free from the clamors of professional beggars or the accusations of meanness of motive often raised against those who give out either soup tickets or libraries with a liberal hand. Perhaps this contentment with an ordinary competence will explain why the class has not given more freely to the College. I find that Frank Dakin bequeathed his valuable library and chemical apparatus to the College, and that Hawley founded in 1865 a fund for scholarship medals. Let me remind survivors of the class however that it is not yet too late. Let your wills be drawn from the safety vaults and a note be made of it. But it is not money alone that benefits a College or that is most prized. The treasurer of Hamilton himself (while struggling to keep the balance on the right side) seems to admit this while acclaimingly noting the fact that, "Parmelee at one time sent five or seven boys from his school in Watertown to Hamilton College." An abiding affection for the old Mother of us all will prompt her sons to seek the occasion, and to speak the word, and to do the deed that shall extend her influence as much as gold itself, for

There's a money o’ the soul, my boy, ye'll find in after years,
Its pennies are the sweat-drops, an' its dollars are the tears;
An' love is the redeemin' gold that measures what they're worth,
An' ye'll get as much in Heaven as ye've given out on earth.

Even now it is not possible to say that we have more than hinted at the various sources of influence in an average college class. Unlike steam power or that of the dynamo, manpower cannot be tabulated. We may signify its sources, but we cannot express it in terms. Did influence not perpetuate itself and were there not others to come after and push it forward in ever widening currents, we might flatter ourselves that the greater part had been said. As you shall at your leisure go over the lives published herewith, you will discover in them many windows revealing the brightness, the love, the sweetness and the refinement of pure and happy homes. Here you will find sources of power to be conjured with far beyond, perhaps, all that has gone before. Who shall attempt to express the power of home and of the good citizenship that comes of it?

In all this perpetuation of power by home-building father Clary seems to have taken a swinging lead of all the class. He reports a family of 10 children, eight of whom are living. He has also at present living 12 grandchildren, whom it takes three of the Empire States of the West to hold.

One other unique distinction of the Class of 1851 — a distinction that is indisputable and will remain so for the next 100 years — is that it is the first class in the history of the College to celebrate its 50th anniversary in a new century. It may be claimed, at least so far as Hamilton College is concerned, that the 20th century is not really and officially open for business until on the present occasion the President shall in behalf of the Class of 1851 press the button and give its dynamic energies full play.

What shall this new era bring forth? Shall the enormous production of wealth go on? Shall the 20th century equal or excel the 19th century in the splendor of its inventions? We have had discourses and articles and books innumerable in answer to these and kindred questions.

There seems in the very air to be a looking forward to triumphs of another sort entirely that shall gather up and guide the magnificent fruits of invention and of wealth accumulation into higher channels. Let me cite two or three of these prophecies from widely varied sources.

Dr. Edward Everett Hale in his last Thanksgiving discourse declared and enforced with abundant argument the declaration that, "the victories of the 20th century will be the victories of moral forces."

Dr. Le Grand Powers, one of the chief statisticians of the 12th census, in a recent statement of "The Social Problem," says that all the problems that have gone before — the protection of the race from savages, from climatic extremes, from disease and crime — the building up in civilization, and the production of wealth, were all largely physical or intellectual problems, and are well on their way to solution, and that we are confronted now with the problem of the distribution of the enormous wealth which we have saved from our earnings, and that this problem is largely one of morals.

A leading expert in charity work says, "The century will be one of conflict with the evils of society."  Mark Twain, a keen observer, though his larger reputation will rest upon his humorous writings, said: "The signs of the times show plainly enough what is going to happen. All the savage lands in the world are going to be brought under subjection to the Christian governments of Europe, and the sooner the seizure is consummated the better for the savage." A distinguished son of Hamilton, (Dr. David R. Breed, of Pittsburg) quoting the above, says, "Had he written a little later he would have omitted the words 'of Europe,' " and adds, "But the truth was far better declared long ago by inspired prophecy. The Kingdom and the dominion, and the greatness of the Kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High."

One of the most penetrating minds of our time (that of the late Senator Cushman K. Davis, of Minnesota) who died just as the 19th century was slipping into history, made this remarkable declaration, standing, as it perhaps does, as the only record he has left of the faith that was in him. In his recent Senate Eulogies it was quoted by two of his fellow senators, and so given wide circulation: "I know human history, and I know that in the first century something happened that destroyed the old world and gave birth to the new. The resurrection of Jesus would account for that change, and I do not know of any other adequate solution that has ever been proposed."

I have made these quotations, and press, pulpit and forum teem with them, to show that there is a general expectation of a great moral uplift during the century upon which we have now entered, and also to illustrate the fact that many of our educated men have been very chary of lifting up their voices or exerting their influence distinctively upon high moral and religious subjects. They die and pass away and it is then found that the very subject upon which they have never borne testimony is the one upon which they have most meditated, and upon which they have the deepest convictions.

Whatever multiform answers may be given to the problem of the direction which the prodigious forces of the 20th century shall take, this will undoubtedly be found true. The century will be what we shall make it. I am convinced that educated men can use this terrestrial ball as a plaything. They can by mere neglect allow it to wallow in the mire, the football of men of base and selfish passions, or they can by their systematic and well-directed efforts lift it to its proper place among the pure and shining stars.

What then shall we do with this new century? In its relation to the main object of our inquiry — the influence of a College class upon the world, and also to the vantage ground we hold at its very opening — the question is naturally forced upon us. Of course it cannot be answered here. But shall we not do our best to answer it further on, and in accordance with the prevalent hope and prophecy?

Shall not our younger graduates, especially who have their lives still before them, wheel united into line and take up the idea of moral advancement with enthusiasm and conquering power?

And as to ourselves, men of 1851, remnant though we be, who shall say that our personal influence has culminated? Rather is it not now culminating, gaining with age ripeness and concentration and power to prevail? By the memory of our comrades, so many of whom have gone on before and whose dimly-remembered faces look down upon us "as stars in the daytime," let it not be said that we have shirked any duty, or have sat down in inglorious ease or sluggish indifference to the possibilities so gloriously opening before us.