Gentlemen, this is your speech, just for you. It's very nice to see other people here, but I'm only talking to you.
I'd like to tell how I came here. This September, I was taking a class attendance, and I suddenly heard myself to my horror saying "50 years ago today I entered this college," and I suddenly realized that I'd begun to reckon by half centuries. And I tried to arrange a donkey chaise and an ebony stick this morning, but we couldn't find a donkey.
It was a very different place from what you know. As I look into the pale sunshine of those years, I wonder if you'd looked out those windows; ah, you couldn't see out of them in those days. They had the most dreadful stained glass windows all around here. I often wonder what happened to them, and you couldn't have seen much out of them. But this row was here, and over there that's new.
Carnegie opened my freshman year. There was an observatory in front of Sigma Phi, and Sigma Phi was not the building you see now, but a wonderful concoction of Dr. Stryker's evolved from a trip to Europe that he'd taken a little while before, but very handsome, and made of that beautiful stone which we'd begun to use on the campus. The Alpha Delta Phi Hall was a strange building that could only have been a college secret society. I can't describe it any other way. The stone was brought at great expense up the Hudson. You couldn't spit out of any of the windows if you'd wanted to -- I don't know why that was. For years and years we've never been able to do anything with the Alpha Delta Phi Hall, admirable society that it is. It was finally tom down, except for what is now called the ballroom or the living room, which is a comparatively new part of the building.
The infirmary was the library. We had no infirmary, gentlemen because we were never sick. You laugh, but it's true. I never knew anyone to be sick. I had black measles in Carnegie Easter vacation, junior year. But I think that was the only time any of that kind of disease was going about. The village doctor used to come in and open the door and say, "Hello, Rob, how do you feel?" and give me calomel, and that was about that. We heard of more sinister diseases about which we don't speak about anymore in polite society, and which you all know so much more about, but we took them in our stride, if that's the right word! We hadn't the faintest notion of what horrible things they were. But do not think that our education in health was neglected! There was a course in the second semester called "Hygiene." It consisted of two lectures by "Bugs" Morrill.
The first lecture was on what was called personal hygiene. That was very simple. What do you do if the air is close in the room? Open the window. If you have a bad chest cold, what do you do? Consult a doctor.
But now I can't lower my voice because the people couldn't hear me in the back of the room. The second lecture (are you listening?) was on sex. We didn't know that word. We had simpler words! I was taken violently sick to my stomach in the middle of it, so I never -- but everybody said it was terrific.
The College was as big as the freshman class when I entered. Just the same size. We was a very large class of 52 people, and it was entirely a fraternity college. And if I speak of nothing but fraternities, remember, I'm speaking about my own time. There wasn't anything else but fraternities when I came here. The fraternities ran the discipline of the College. Dr. Stryker said there was no need for discipline among gentlemen and turned his head aside. But we were entirely governed by our own upperclassmen. That may be something quite difficult for all of you to understand, but it was perfectly clear to us in those days that we did what the upperclassmen told us to do. Are you shocked when I tell you that we let them go indoors ahead of us, and if we came to a door at the same time, we stepped back and let them go first? Are you disturbed when I tell you we had to use a special cap as freshmen and a special cap as sophomores? It was a very strict supervision. We were an extremely conventional group of people, I now realize, and I've often wondered why it was. I think it was because we were more alike. We didn't have as much variety among us as you have. We came from very much the same kind of set-up and background, and we thought of things very much the same way.
There was always different in dress. That's one thing that you would have noticed. We came from small towns or big cities, and we wore the clothes of that district. They weren't quite the peasant costumes of the times, but they were what your locality wore, and there were some very interesting combinations of things when the freshman class assembled. We wore our hair long. The crew cut, that kind of thing, I don't know what we would have thought of it. We'd thought you'd had scarlet fever or something. We wore our hair long in what I believe are called "hyacinthian locks." The great costume was a pair of corduroy trousers -- not those nice things you buy at Chips or Web. They were bought in what would have been an Army and Navy store, but was not. They were very heavy course corduroy that stood along pretty well when you first bought them, and then finally walked around alone entirely without any help after a few months. A sweater called a turtleneck was de rigueur. It went way up to the chin, rather like a corset. A very comfortable costume indeed, but it was the thing and that's what we wore.
There were certain conventions of language that may surprise you. For instance, we called ourselves a college. Does that surprise you? We were not a "school" and certainly not an "institution." An institution was a place that sometimes "Bugs" Morrill took the biology class to see, and it was a most unpleasant experience. That has all changed. Dr. Ferry introduced the word "institution" to the campus, and now we are an institution!
Another word we abominated was the word "frat." The worst thing you could say about a fraternity you didn't like was that it was a "frat." The Alpha Delts and the Sigs were societies, and were very particular about being called societies. There was the Emerson Literary Society. The rest were fraternities and felt "oh well," it was too bad but they could'nt change their name. Now there's a story I want to tell you about the insult of that word. Aleck Woollcott arrived back from spring vacation freshman year wearing a fez. We never quite knew where he got it, but he looked simply awful! He wore a pair of very dirty white flannel trousers and bedroom slippers! Well, on Interscholastic Day (the time when the sub-freshmen come and are charmed with the place) all the fraternities were supposed to be looking their best. Aleck sat on the steps of the Alpha Delta Phi Society (he was a Theta Delt) smoking a most disreputable pipe, and when the sub-freshman passed he said, "Hey! Don't you want to join our frat?" This delighted everybody except our upperclassmen, and he was finally driven away to the other side of the campus.
We were very conventional about the word "frat." We spoke of a fraternity as a crowd. A high mark was a "blood." "What did you get in chemistry?" "Oh I bled him! Bled him white! He gave me a blood." I don't hear that anymore. Our entrance requirements were formidable. The only respectable degree was a B.A., of course. And then there were a lot of poor riff-raff who took B.S. degrees. The entrance requirements were headed by a cryptic phrase nobody could ever understand. Dr. Stryker wrote our catalogue, "tutti fatto di mano" -- is that right? All by hand, I'm trying to say. It was quite a document on beautiful linen paper. On the top, under Entrance Requirements, it said, "Equivalencies in kind only and conditions in full of all deficiencies." Shall I repeat that?
What were our expenses? Now this will make you angry. None of us had very much money. There were a few, two or three, very rich boys in college, but no one could ever pin it on them. You could rent half a room for a term (that's a third of a year) for either six dollars or 30 dollars. That's fair enough, isn't it? Dr. Stryker had a list of expenses (these are his own words): By rigid economy you could go through college on $350 a year. By strict care, $400. Comfortable was $450. Liberal was $500, and any sum over $600 was profuse!
Our classes were small. We had 18 people on the faculty to teach 180 men. I think the languages (we had Greek and Latin) and the modem languages were finally taught, and mathematics. We got plenty of individual attention. I say that because we had an elective system here. After freshman year you could take pretty much anything you wanted. I arranged my schedule neatly so I took nothing but languages except for one revolting course in economics, which I flunked because of the favoritism and injustice of the professor!
Mathematics was taught at the blackboard and probably still is now, with the professor walking around in back of you and noticing what you did. "Square" Root was very deaf. I had him for trigonometry, and he would see me wavering, and he used to stop and say in his high voice (how I loved that voice on those occasions), "Robert, I think I'd leave that alone." So I got my honors in mathematics. I then elected an obscene subject called analytical geometry. I have never known what that was about! I've always thought that sometime or other I would find out when I had plenty of time. It was taught so badly by a substitute professor (Professor Root retired my sophomore year) who was not here very long, but I think he must have passed us all. I can't imagine any other way any of us would have got through.
I think you might be interested in our amusements. Shall we begin with Utica? I want to preface all my remarks with: Remember, gentlemen, we walked every single step we went, except on the few occasions about which I'll tell you later. We walked to the village. We thought nothing of walking up and down the Hill three or four times a day. There was no such thing as "thumbing." Of course, there were no cars. So, the first step to getting to Utica was to walk to down the Hill to the trolley. We had the trolley, God bless it! The fare had changed only nine times in 50 years, but you could get in very easily that way! Now there were two places that we frequented in Utica that you would know nothing about at all. One of them was a real German beer place (bier stube or whatever you call it). It was called Gammel's, and it was a big, bare, ugly room with imported German beer. You could get Hofbrau Pilsner for 15 cents (it was raised to 20 cents in the year I remember) a bottle. Two members of the faculty, Professor Shepard and Professor Brandt, went there occasionally to play cards. But we were such conventional people that if we started to go into the bier stube and they were there, we stepped back. If they started to come in and we were there, they stepped back. We tried not to interfere with one another in any way.
The other place was much more interesting. It was on the site of the Hotel Hamilton and was known as the Hotel Martin. You entered into a bar room, not the kind of bar room you know, neon lights and that sort of thing. If you wanted to see what it looked like, you could have 10 years ago down in Oriskany Falls. They transported an old 1890s bar room intact down there from the Lafayette Hotel in Utica. Over the bar there was a picture (I asked Mr. Park about this yesterday) -- I started to say like the Velasquez Venus; you know, the one with the mirror. Well, this picture was not like that at all really. It was a Valasquez Venus-type picture! It was a picture of a reclining lady (we hope) with what I would describe as simple charms. You took a quick look at it, remember it was "high art" (remember that always), and passed through into the dining room.
The dining room was the gloomiest room you ever saw in your life. It had no curtains. There was a little bit of paint about and red-checkered table cloths. The waiters were in full evening dress, tails, etc. And I remember they always served the soup with their thumb way down in it. There was a long bill of fare. I don't mean bathroom paper exactly, hand-toweling paper, and it had one-two-three. Number one was 25 cents; the second was 35 cents; the third was 50 cents. Now for instance, if you took the (lady?) Sigs out to dinner, you'd have to buy the 50 cent dinner. But most of us, of course, were very happy with the 35 cent meal. My wife asked me the other day what did we get to eat. I can't remember anything except the soup with the waiter's thumb in it.
All right, dinner was over. Oh, by the way, we had the theater. We had one of the best theater circuits in the country! All the Empire plays, all the Balasco things, all the best musicals and comedies came to Utica. Sometimes there were as many as two, and they interfered a little bit with one's work. We had that, of course. But then came the time to go home. We had to get that 12:30 trolley or we'd have to sit in the Utica station all night. We got the trolley and the first thing everyone did was to rush to where the barbershop is now next to the electric store. This was Mrs. Robinson's livery stable. You woke the hostler up who slept in an inner room, and he got up and harnessed the team of horses to a great big hack. And we all got in that hack and rode majestically up the Hill, stopping, of course, every once in a while for "this and that," (particularly for "that"). At the foot of the Hill we stopped if it was winter because the sleds had to be collected. The youngest men (lowerclass men) attached the sleds to the back of the hack, 10 or 12 sleds, those beautiful handmade sleds about 1 1/2 feet high with steel runners that we used to get down to the village. You could sometimes coast as far as the creek going very fast always on the sidewalk. Coasting on the road was forbidden; it was too dangerous. One of my Alpha Delt members told Wally Johnson and me the other day that his crowd of over 60 people had 33 cars at one time. Well, I thought that over quite a while. You see, two to a car -- three needed two cars. The whole fraternity could get off the Hill like that not only to get to Syracuse, but to Rochester and back in time for classes at 8:30 a.m. Well, that's a different story. The three hours of the Utica trip was something to reckon with.
Now our dances! You'll know it's 50 years when I start telling you about our dances because they were so formal. We had four. There was Freshman Frolic in early June, Sophomore Hop in the fall, Junior Prom in winter and Senior Ball in late June. They were given in the old gymnasium. At the head of the room were Mrs. Stryker, Mrs. Brandt, Mrs. Squires, Mrs. Shepard (I hope I'm not leaving anyone out). Each gentleman had to escort his lady over to this row of chaperones and introduce her to each one. It was quite an ordeal -- being mocked by your friends as you teetered across the floor in your unaccustomed dress. The dance began at 9:30 and was over at about 4:30 a.m. You must remember we danced; everyone danced. If you'd like to see what a dance was, there's a book up in the Browsing Room called Women Are Here to Stay. It has a picture of my dance card junior year. And you will see that all the girls are called "Miss" and all the men are called "Mister." When you knew who was coming, you got a dance card and you filled it out. A girl knew when she came to a Hamilton dance exactly with whom she was going to dance and which dance and when. There was no sitting out, or wall flowers. If you were a very heavy suitor, you got as many dances as you could. Otherwise, they were all carefully divided. You didn't get bored with her; you know that can happen.
We invented the Honor System at Hamilton College. The cheating here was terrific, and it shocked my class in 1909 very much. I don't know just who that was. We used to sit in No.1 Carnegie watching sophomores make "crib" sheets out of toilet paper. Little rolls of toilet paper on which they put down all the things they were trying to remember. And the great question was the technique. Should you keep the roll up the sleeve and pull down or put it up here and unroll it down here. Well, we listened to this for quite a while and I will say this -- nobody thought it was a good thing to do. And then we finally started the Honor System my senior year. The underclassmen would not adopt it. They misunderstood it. The juniors and seniors took it up, and I think it worked out pretty well. I'm very proud of that. I think it's better than not, I'll put it that way.
Gentlemen, what makes the college? Well, there are three things that make this place, I think. One of them is prayer. Good, red-hot, Presbyterian prayer! I imagine that Princeton man, Samuel Kirkland, riding along some dirty little bridle path along the Mohawk River with a friendly Indian guiding and stinking before him. And I'm sure in his saddlebags, in one at least, there was a Bible and in the other a hunk of bacon, some bread and I hope a bottle of rum to keep out the cold and the fear of the bloody Mohawk. And that vision of his is this place. Then the next are the teachers and the trustees who went out and grabbed for the money and got started.
Then last, and I sometimes think it is the most important of all that keeps a place like Hamilton going, is sentiment. Sentiment is nursed and nourished by one's memories. Memories! What? The ivy blazing away on the building in the autumn? The sound of the Chapel bell so dreadful during those four years and so nostalgically beautiful later? Perhaps. But there are other things so unimportant, so trivial that will build up your time at Hamilton, that you'd hardly believe it. When you see people come back -- the oldsters walking about the campus by the fountain, by the front quad under the elms, in the gymnasium quad under the oaks: they're trying to find their memories. "Hop in among the grass to find the golden dice with which we used to play." They are hunting for those golden dice.
Now I'm going to tell you three of my memories, and you'll admit they are very trivial, but their power is out of all proportion to their triviality. Yours are the same.
The first is song! There was a very cheap song in my time on the back of all sheet music. You must remember, we had no records or anything like that at the time. Everyone banged the piano a little bit. This song was called, Love Me and the World is Mine, a very poor little song, really. But it had a wonderful chorus with a fine whisky tenor in it, and some of us (I remember who they were, most of them) -- L.E. Leavenworth, Hawley Truax, who couldn't sing, Aleck Osborn, who could, me, who pretended I could, and Hastings Smyth, who led the Glee Club -- would start from Carnegie singing this song, and when we came to, "love me and the world is mine," the important line, everyone fought for the tenor (by this time we'd reached what is now the Administration Building). And you know sometimes I walk there by those ragged poplars and think I can still hear Aleck's high, shrill, whisky note. That's one of my memories.
Another one is an Anglo-Saxon class that none of us studied for. And we got frightened. However, everyone had done a little of the translation. So, we all met in the graveyard and read the parts of the translation we all knew. Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Reader, a most unromantic book. We read it for three hours, cursing and yelling at one another! Sometimes on other occasions I think of that.
And the last -- a girl and a man waltzing at Senior Ball. They played a Strauss waltz. Girls wore long trains then, you know, and had to hold them up when they danced. But these two were so skillful. She let her train make swirls and arabesques on the polished floor. They weren't clutching one another. He guided her so expertly, so perfectly, that we drew back for about three minutes and watched them. It stood for us, I mean for our time, our era (you would have your own substitutes). It stood for youth, perfection, charm and beauty -- the things that our world cared for. That's one of the memories. It's things like that, terribly unimportant. And they are the golden dice that you hunt for.
So when you come back in the year 2006, 2006! Some of you will be mere children of 72 "hoping among the grass to find the golden dice with which we used to play." You must remember the important word in those lines. The important word is "we." It is you, it is I, it is we!