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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1862 Letter

Charles W. Cole

Delivered: Centennial Commencement, 1912 

That was a wonderful week in July 1862, when the sons of Hamilton gathered at the home of their alma mater to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her birth. Distinguished graduates took an active part in the literary exercises; the faculty and the trustees were everywhere “on hospitable thoughts intent;” groups of lovely women gave color and distinction to the animated scene; martial music added its lively movements to the more serious numbers of the elaborate program; while hearty congratulations were exchanged on the results of past activities and the bright promise of the next half-century. The members of the graduating class looked upon Commencement day with mingled emotions. The presence of fathers, mothers and sisters, and perhaps some nearer and dearer, under the great canvas created an atmosphere of sympathy and appreciation that was stimulating and enjoyable. On the other hand, the thought that we had, after years of close companionship, at last come to the parting of the ways, cast a shadow over the closing day of our college life. Our country had been for more than a year engaged in a civil war on whose issue depended our national existence. Several ardent classmates were already in the field; others had announced their intention to join them, and it was with many misgivings we sang at our last class gathering.

God bless our ’62,
And when our course is through,
Grant victory!
And when in after life
We wage a sterner strife,
Give to each man a wife
And progeny.

When the remnant of our class came here today to celebrate its 50th anniversary and the 100th of our beloved college, it found that the misgivings that o’ershadowed our first parting with clasped hands and assurances of fidelity, friendship and loyalty will have been sadly fulfilling.

Patriotism pervaded the whole college during the Civil War, many students offered their lives to their country and served with honor and distinction; too many never returned from the fields of battle. Twelve members of our class entered the army. Four gave their lives to preserve the Union. Let us inscribe their names first on the roll of honor.

Bradbury, the brilliant scholar, the man of action and achievement; Buckingham, the myriad minded, the splendid orator, a leader of men; Cady, the modest man, the beloved friend, without reproach; Curran, the cultured gentleman, admired and esteemed by all.

A memorable event of our scholastic career occurred when, during the early days of the Civil War, the whole college assembled in front of the Chapel for the purpose of raising aloft the flag of our country in token of our fealty to her righteous cause. There were no partisan distinctions in those days. All were for the Union and the flag. And when the fiery eloquence of Buckingham had stirred our inmost souls, how the crowd burst into cheer after cheer as Old Glory floated to the summer breeze.

The roll bears also the name of Fay, Hart, J.Q. Hollister, B.F. Miller, Moore, Thayer, H. Ward, Jr., and Wicks. These survivors of the Civil War have since all passed away. The careers of all the other stelligerents have been worthy of the College. Two, at least, achieved distinction; Judge Thayer of the Appellate Court of the United States was regarded as one of the most distinguished and able members of the national judiciary. The memory of his sturdy and sincere qualities, which were developing into strong character while in college, is cherished by his classmates. Judge Warren Higley, who was widely known as one of the organizers and several years president of the American Forestry Association, was able, since his labors were not restrained by economic pressure, to devote many years to the cause of conservation, now reorganized as of vital importance to the future of our country. Your annalist was intimate with him during the past 25 years. He was always present at our class reunions, intensely loyal to the College, a delightful companion, a broadminded genial man.

Although the limitation of time will not permit me to speak of all the rest, I must refer to the well-beloved Wallie Root, “whose high erected thoughts” were “seated in the heart of courtesy;” to those two fine examples of young manhood, Ed. and Fred. Moss, “Arcades ambo,” whose careers were so untimely cut off; to B.F. and L.D. Miller, the extreme of modesty and self confidence; to John McLean, sturdy in mind and character; J.Q. Hollister, always reliable and worthy; Wicks, facile of pen; and of good old Watkins, addicted to dressing gowns.

The total number belonging to the class was 45. Of these 31 received the degree of A.B.

There are 10 survivors. I shall spare their blushes, except to mention that one, who has received many degrees from prominent colleges and universities in recognition of his services to the science of archaeology, was accustomed to relieve the ennui of student life by puncturing the windows of a hall of Old South College by shots from a revolver; that another, who has since held civil offices with credit, was said to have aided in ornamenting the Chapel with the sign-board of the village inn; and that a third, now an honored doctor of laws and a distinguished citizen of his place of residence, was a constant promoter of and an active participant in all student pranks and rows. How the faculty loved him.

Our Salutatorian, Sawyer, sends from his bed of illness a loving message to his classmates and his alma mater.

The finest thing done by the Class of 1862 was accomplished by its unanimous determination to put an end to the barbarous practice of “smoking out” a freshman.

Your annalist has been frequently asked what a college course does for a boy. My answer has been, “A college course makes a boy a man, if there is anything to build upon.” When asked “How?” I have said, “By the leading of the faculty, by rubbing shoulders with the student body, and by his unconscious influence of environment.” Every boy who enters college brings with him, whether he knows it or not, some form of aspiration. It may be vague and indefinite, it may be full-fledged and convincing. A wise faculty will endeavor to discover its bent, and if his aspiration is worthy, to lead and strengthen the motive; if unworthy, to turn its flow into better and safer channels. The faculty will insist on good work; on the concentration that forms the ability to judge the right from the wrong in all the concerns of life. That this was done for us by our teachers with greater or less effect, in accordance with our deserts, I am sure we shall all agree. Who can estimate the value of the psychology of President Fisher, the discussion of ethics by Professor Curtis, and the powerful sermonizing of both? How firmly, yet gently, were we made to hew to the line by Professor Root; a walk with whom through his unique and interesting garden made one forget all the trials and tribulations of calculus: In what a delightful and inspiring manner Professor North led us to an abiding appreciation of the highest forms of literature, both ancient and modern, no matter were the former Sophocles or Theocritus, or the latter Shakespeare or Tennyson or Poe. We just loved Old Greek. We couldn’t help it. Dr. Upson was in close relation to all from start to finish. His classroom work in rhetoric and logic was fine; but it was in personal contact he touched us to finer issues so effectively. His kindly humor took away the sting of adverse criticism, which was always helpful, never disheartening. What stores of historical deductions and economic theories we garnered from that genial gentleman and fascinating conversationalist Professor Evans! How the kindly humor and ready wit of that most companionable of men, Dr. Avery brightened the monotony of the long days of labor! Nor can we forget the helpful tutoring of the scholarly Knox and the brilliant Oren Root, Jr., both afterward distinguished college professors.

In looking over the careers of these men, I feel that the supreme lesson they taught was; that of all the satisfactions of life, there is none that can compare with the free and otherwise unrequited giving of service to all who may come within the range of one’s opportunity. This great and abiding lesson was not inculcated by precept. It was simply exemplified by their daily lives.

What the contact of the boy with the student body, the attrition of close companionship, does for him needs no description or analysis. It transforms the crudeness of the youth into genuine manliness, it broadens his sympathy with, as well as his knowledge of, men, and creates that sincere courtesy that springs from kindliness and the desire to serve.

The influences of environment are too numerous and varied to be named. Let me, however, speak more fully of one. You will pardon the personal nature of the illustration. I was born and bred in a closely built city. My outdoor environment was made up of brick and mortar and stone. My knowledge of the woods was confined to wild fruits and hickory nuts, my acquaintance with brooks was limited to swimming holes, while our noble Hudson was merely a capital place for boating. When I entered college, I was almost blind to the beauty and glory of nature. Her obvious manifestations, as when the ice-coated limbs and branches and twigs of every tree “reflect the rays of the setting sun with emulating splendor,” I could readily admire; but her subtler forms met no response until, after months of indifference, my eyes were opened to the indelible charms of the valley of the Oriskany with its woods and fields and distant hills. Whenever I have re-visited College Hill, I have sought a certain coign of vantage and gazed upon that familiar, but always newly beautiful scene, and have renewed my thankfulness for its leading to one of the greatest joys in life, the appreciation of nature’s grandeur and loveliness.

We lived the simple life in our College days. Far be it from me to decry the transformations of the campus with its many fine buildings and its provisions for comfort and convenience. Every alumnus rejoices in the change. Nevertheless, we look back with affection to the severe but dignified architecture of the old structures, accepted as a matter of course. We lived the simple life. We all remember with an involuntary shiver turning out of bed at five in the morning when the mercury stood degrees below zero in our rooms, scraping together the few live embers that had been carefully covered with ashes the night before, piling into the big square stove all the wood it would hold, then rushing back to cover until the mercury condescended to peer above the zero mark. Then came the hurried dressing, the plowing through drifts of snow, or, if fortune favored, the speeding down the hills on sleds, and then running often a mile or more to breakfast with hearty appetites at the village boarding house. Then came the packing of lunch baskets and the trudge up the Hill in time to be in Chapel by 8:30. We had no organized athletic sports, but we had exercise aplenty.

We had no valets. Many of us darned our socks, sewed on our buttons, swept and garnished our rooms. The only ministrations we received were the bringing of water and removal of waste by that marvel of sardonic humor and caustic wit, Peter Blake, of pleasant memory.

Thus several influences of the faculty, the student body and the environment play their part in showing how the college makes the boy a man.

Classmates, our fifth decennial for gathering is rapidly passing away and soon will be among the things that have been. Let us carry away a fuller measure of gratitude to the old College for what loving wishes and hopes that her second hundred years may be still more largely filled with prosperity paralleled only by constantly increasing usefulness.