1833 Class Annalist’s Letter
Thomas Williams Seward
Delivered: June 1883
The coming to College Hill of the freshmen of 1829 was, to President Davis, like the coming of Bluecher’s troops to Wellington at Waterloo. The field was won. The friends of the College had beaten the malcontents of every name and degree, including open and secret foes of the College and its government, advocates of new measures in religion, radical reformers of education, envious and slanderous ex-members of the College faculty and of the board of trustees, and all other personal enemies of the president.
During the collegiate year of 1828-29 there were only nine students, and they saved the College charter from forfeiture. President Davis and Tutor Maltbie composed the faculty. The Chapel was closed. Morning and evening prayers and Sunday services were held in a recitation room. Commencement day in 1829 was duly celebrated; but as there was no graduating class, the exercises were limited to the inaugural addresses of Professors-elect Lathrop and North, and the conferring of one honorary degree.
In two respects the members of the Class of 1833 were never freshmen. They occupied the sophomores’ seats in the Chapel by the same ordering that gave to the sophomores and juniors, respectively, the juniors’ and seniors’ seats. Moreover, the freshmen of 1829, being largely in the majority, were never hazed, nor in any way ignominiously treated by the two older classes. The juniors and sophomores tacitly recognized in the freshmen the visible sign “of such divinity as doth hedge a king,” and so ordered themselves lowly and reverently.
When the freshmen of the Class of 1829 came to College Hill, the sacrilegious work of destroying the Hamilton-Oneida Academy building was in full progress. Lowell somewhere says that he never saw a building old enough to be torn down; and we of today cannot but deplore the loss of an edifice available for many uses, and closely linked with memories of Kirkland, Hamilton, and Baron Steuben. The old academy should have been saved and cherished as a monument. The stone Chapel was finished in 1828. The walls of North College were raised and covered in before that time, though the interior was not completed until several years afterwards. The building was put up more than ten years before it was needed. In explanation of the folly of destroying one building and erecting another in the same decade, it used to be said that the controlling power in the board of trustees made haste to pile stone and mortar on the Hill, lest the College should get loose from its moorings, and either glide down to Utica, or float away to Canandaigua.
In the fall of 1829, the College buildings consisted of South, Middle, and North, and the Chapel. The dwelling-house part of the Commons building was rented, and the banqueting hall — as it was aforetime derisively called — stood empty and desolate. The president’s house— a comfortable, roomy, wooden building — stood in the midst of a pleasant shrubbery, in the angle formed by the junction of the College road with the stately poplar avenue that wearily climb the hill. The first view of the College grounds, when the hilltop was gained, was always a startling surprise. There stood the four College buildings, their cream-colored walls gleaming in the sunlight. The red walls of the Commons hall, flanked by long white colonnades, and exposed to view by the removal of the old academy, gave pleasing variety to the group. The ground — originally uneven — reaching from the College front to the College road, and from the president’s house to the present site of the observatory, had been brought to as complete a level as engineering skill and pick and shovel could make it. Along the whole front line ran a white wooden paling, mounted on a wall rising some three feet above the sidewalk it skirted. The long, level top of this paling was broken only in three places by short flights of steps leading up to recessed gates. With the single exception of a short line of poplars that sentineled the front of Commons, neither trees nor shrub grew in the whole enclosure. The line of poplars, which came up the Hill, turned the lower corner of the College road, and continued its march less than halfway across the eastern front. Formal, stiff, and utterly artificial as all this was — from the painted stone walls of the buildings to the rectangular graveled walks — it nevertheless commended itself by an undisputed elegance, and was, in its way, fully equal to the requirements of that period.
In this condition of things it is easy to understand that the eastern view from the grounds and from the College front windows was everywhere unobstructed. For the same view now, you have to go below the campus plantation; and when there, do not get all that was offered 50 years ago. More than 10 miles away, the houses at the top of Genesee Street, and the great white steeple of the old First Presbyterian Church were always in view. And for the same reason, the College was visible from many points on the up-lying portions of the city of Utica. Over on Seneca Turnpike, the westward-bound traveler by stagecoach, when he got the first glimpse of the College buildings as he crossed the divide between the Sauquoit and the Oriskany, would exclaim, “There is Hamilton College.” The pleasure-tourist, on his way to Trenton Falls, as his panting carriage horses drew breath at the top of the steep hill, six miles out from the Mohawk, would naturally turn to look back at the surpassingly beautiful scene to the right and the left and the front. Sooner, perhaps, than at the fair city lying at his feet, would he gaze at the four bright objects which hemmed the long, high-reaching emerald and blue hills to the south of him. “What is that?” “That is Hamilton College.” Twenty-five airline miles away, a party of enthusiastic view hunters, on the top of Starr’s Hill, as they sweep the landscape with spy glasses, detect the ever-obtrusive self-asserting College group. With mighty shouts they recognize and salute their alma mater. Perhaps the curators of the College grounds are unconscious of the fact that they have “planted out” the College.
The Class of 1833, during its four years’ college life, had 41 names on its roll. In point of numbers, its sophomore year was the most prosperous. There was some falling off at the end of that year; but it suffered the largest depletion at the end of the junior year, when many of its numbers went to Union, attracted, as were many students of northeastern colleges, by the fame of President Nott’s lectures to the senior class.
The college tutors from 1829 to 1833 were E. D. Maltbie, succeeded by Marcus Catlin; Francis Randall, succeeded by D.D. Whedon; and James H. Eells. James Hadley was professor of chemistry, John H. Lathrop of mathematics, Simeon North of languages, and John Wayland of rhetoric. Mr. Maltbie served as tutor five years. He was a faithful instructor, and because he was discreet and in full sympathy with college life, never had trouble with his classes. His Greek examinations were said to have been the most brilliant of the examination series. He often preached in the Chapel, and always acceptably. Tutor Randall stayed only one year. He was very young for the place — only 20-years-old, I believe — and while he was a most conscientious and painstaking teacher, was not altogether fortunate as a college officer. A large share of his misfortune in this regard he magnanimously charged to his own account, whereas the whole of it should have been charged to mischief and malevolence.
Marcus Catlin was appointed senior tutor in 1831, upon the resignation of Tutor Maltbie. The recitations of the Class of 1833 in Cambridge mathematics fell to him in its junior year, and were held, of course, in the junior recitation room. The area of that room was somewhat limited, and whenever Tutor Catlin’s recitations were going on, seemed to be rather dimly lighted. Perhaps the two blackboards cast a baleful shadow at such times. Resemblance between the place and the Bridge of Sighs was thought by most to be a far-fetched conceit. By no license of the imagination could two blackboards be made to stand for a palace and a prison. But the author of the conceit justified it, and maintained that there could have been no stronger contrast between the objects viewed by Childe Harold than between his own unequal performances in chalk, as viewed on each hand from the tutor’s chair. With Tutors Whedon and Eells the Class of 1833 had no class relations. Tutor Whedon staid two years. Tutor Eells staid nearly one year, and often preached. His sermons gave proof of his title to the highest belles-lettres place in the Class of 1827.
John Wayland, a brother of the distinguished president of Brown University, relinquished a tutorship in that institution, to take the professorship of rhetoric at Hamilton, in 1831. Up to that time there had been no separate department of rhetoric. Professor Wayland at once began the work of organization, and soon made its efficiency apparent. He was thoroughly qualified for one task that then lay nearest at hand, which he performed with conscientious and relentless zeal, to wit, the curbing of young rhetorical ambition. He commended to his pupils the severest forms of English the language is capable of — while practicing the same himself — would accept no other than concise clearness of statement, and held in general contempt the flowers of rhetoric, so called. The splendid diction of Samuel Eells, of 1832, seemed to annoy him; and although it was absolutely faultless, he sometimes carne very near calling it bombast. He could not appreciate humor, neither had he much regard for poetry simply as an art; but he had the finest conception of all such English prose as had been stamped with the best approval. On his suggestion and under his supervision, the publication of The Talisman — one of the earliest college periodicals—was begun by the Class of 1833, and continued until his departure from the College.
Professor Wayland often preached in the Chapel; and, as was to be expected, his classes listened critically to what their instructor had to show as specimens of his own work. His sermons were freighted with thought, and any one of them, under the gold beating process, would have equipped some preachers with material for no small number of discourses. In style they were almost painfully devoid of ornament, and were delivered without emotion; but with sincerity and emphasis befitting both occasion and subject. Not many years after resigning the chair of rhetoric, Professor Wayland withdrew from the Baptist, and entered the ministry of the Episcopal Church, whose liturgical worship naturally suited a clergyman of his temperament and training.
Of Simeon North, professor of languages, I may say with perfect sincerity and perfect propriety, and without one shade of invidiousness, that of all the members of the faculty, he was the one beloved. More than this of encomium it might be thought indelicate to utter now, and it may be that more than this would only offend the subject of it. He surely will accept this tribute from one to whom he did not hesitate to give praise, on the few occasions when it was deserved. Raised to the presidency of the College in 1839, Dr. North enjoyed a peaceful and prosperous reign of 18 years. In his secluded, green retreat, where he calmly awaits the setting of life’s sun, there can be to him no higher compensation than to recount the many names of those who took their diplomas from his hand, and afterwards walked conspicuous in the world’s light.
John Hiram Lathrop gave up the headship of an academy in Maine to become, in 1829, professor of mathematics. He had received the first part of his college education at Hamilton, but was a graduate of Yale. Dr. Noyes, professor of chemistry — having virtually resigned his place, Professor Lathrop became senior professor; and the most of the first year’s reorganization was his work, and to much of the College discipline he imparted his own characteristics. Some of his disciplinary methods were peculiar, and it is doubtful whether, in any other hands than his own, they would have been successful. His vigilance was incessant, yet not over-obtrusive. His presence, whether visible or invisible, seemed to pervade the place. Night mischief invariably took to its heels whenever a certain luminous white hat — worn only in such exigencies — was seen advancing through the gloom. Between himself and the student the professor established a wide borderland, and as he was certain never to trespass upon it himself, neither would he permit trespass from the other side, for any cause or for any pretext of a cause. He was feared, respected, and obeyed. Did a rebellious head dare to lift itself in his presence, one glance of those contemptuous eyes would cause that head to duck; or were words found to be necessary, less than a dozen, barbed with sarcasm, would do the business. Besides recitations in mathematics, Professor Lathrop heard the seniors in political economy. The textbook was Say; and of course we all became free traders. The professor was the last man in the world to boast of his triumphs; but he could never resist the impulse to recount, with quiet glee, the number of free traders that he annually sent out into the world. Afterwards, many of the pupils, in dealing with the requirements of practical statesmanship, had to unlearn the precepts of Say, and do reluctant dishonor to the teachings of an honored instructor.
In 1840, Professor Lathrop was called from Hamilton to the chancellorship of the new University of Missouri; subsequently to the University of Wisconsin; and, later on, to that of Indiana. The rebellion found him returned to Missouri, where, owing to the state of the country, he and his family endured much hardship. The work of organization seems all along to have been his destiny; and his life of many vicissitudes was chiefly spent in sowing, that others might reap. For more than 50 years, in many alumni meetings, in many class reunions, in many chance encounters of the sons of Hamilton, whenever and wherever the story of college life is once more told, the name of “Black Prince” rekindles enthusiasm.
Professor James Hadley, successor of Josiah Noyes in the chair of chemistry, divided his time between Hamilton and the Medical College at Fairfield. Except in the laboratory and at evening prayers, he was rarely seen by the students. His study in South college was never entered by a student for other purpose than to get leave of absence, when application to any member of the faculty known to be fully informed in current affairs was felt to be of doubtful issue. His recitations were, of course, always held in the half-subterranean laboratory in the west end of the chapel building. He began his course of instruction about the beginning of the second, and closed it some time during the third term. I do not remember that the Class of 1833, as a whole, took any extraordinary interest in the sciences he expounded. They all liked the professor, who was one of the kindest and most amiable of men, very learned in his specialty, very polite and very taciturn. Every failure in recitation he seemed to take deeply to heart, which was more than the delinquent ever did. To the most preposterous statement that the benches could furnish, he would, in kindness of heart, yield a whispered, sad assent; and then, recovering himself, quickly put in a hot negative. The first act seemed to be a decorous recognition of the laws of politeness; the second act a vigorous assertion of the truth of science. For the purpose of showing relative proportions and quantities in the combinations of the chemistry, the professor used colored blocks — a most ingenious contrivance of his own — which I am surprised to learn, never came into general use. These, at times, he would, keep busily moving on the table at which he stood. They of the class who were in earnest watched the shifting processes to edification; while they who were not particularly in earnest seemed to regard the performance as being little else than a game of solitaire.
Summer brought with it the study of botany; when flowers were plentifully introduced, and tossed up to the expectant crowd which clung to the precipitous laboratory seats. Some of those who caught the flowers gazed fondly at their loveliness, and gratefully inhaled their fragrance; while others fell to tearing them to pieces, to see how they were put together. On the last recitation day of the second term there was always a demonstration of what chemistry could do when asked to make a noise. Deafening explosions drew from the notes of admiration and approval, and faintly suppressed screams from a bevy of girls belonging to the grammar school, or to Miss Royce’s seminary, or to both.
From the time when these half-century annalist’s letters began to be written until now, but very few of them have not in larger or smaller measure, commemorated President Henry Davis. Dr. Davis took the presidency of the College in 1817, and relinquished it in 1833. So far then, as any account of him derived from personal college intercourse is concerned, he will, today, vanish from the scene, and appear no more in alumni annals. To the many faithful portraits of him, drawn by my predecessors, I cannot add one line. Possibly I may be able to deepen one or two that have been already drawn. Allusion has, more than once, been truthfully made by my fellow annalists to Dr. Davis’ melancholy temperament, as shown in his secluded habits, his sobriety of deportment, his pensive air, and especially in the confirmed sadness of his face. Much of all this may, without doubt, be attributed to years of infirm health. But Dr. Davis was not gloomy. At his own fireside and in such society as he adorned with his presence, he was cheerful and self-contained. His ever-present conviction of the profound solemnity of human life, and of human responsibility and destiny, was manifest always in his conversation, in public prayer, in exhortation, and in his tender counsel and remonstrance with the wayward.
In college discipline, Dr. Davis was rigidly exact. Nothing was left at loose ends, and nothing was to be taken for granted except law. Inasmuch as the whole of his professional life had been employed in education, he was perfectly at home in College administration; and he knew students a great deal better than they knew themselves. By virtue of such knowledge he was able to explore, with unerring certainty, all the tortuous paths of youthful ingenuity on mischief bent. Offenders were always pursued, and always captured, and always punished. Notwithstanding his life of comparative seclusion, he was familiar with affairs, and was an excellent judge of men, and of the best means of influencing them. During his whole college experience — with the single exception of the troubles attending the cannon explosion in 1823 — he was always master of the situation; whether it was contending with a powerful faction in the board of trustees, quelling a riot, or imperturbably reading the entire first chapter of St. John’s gospel from a volume of the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, which, on a certain first day of April, was found to have usurped a place on the cushion of the Chapel pulpit.
President Davis seldom preached. Because of this he was found fault with by some who were always criticizing him. But it seems that he preached oftener here than ever before in the same number of years. On one summer Sunday morning, instead of going to his place at the head of the faculty, he ascended the pulpit stairs. He had never gone up those stairs before with like intent. The last time that he had preached was six years before, in the chapel of the academy building. Of the subject matter of his sermon on that Sunday much has slipped from my memory. But I remember — as all who heard it must have remembered — its extraordinary fervor and solemnity. They who listened could never forget either the tragic tones of the preacher as he described the terrible processes through which men come into a state of reprobation, or the perceptible shudder that ran through the assembly as he closed with the patriarch’s deprecation, “O my soul, come not thou into their secret.”
Dr. Davis resigned the presidency at Commencement season, 1832, his resignation to take effect upon the accession of his successor. The Rev. Ichabod S. Spencer, of Brooklyn, was immediately chosen as that successor. The choice gave universal satisfaction, and at the first intimation of a doubt as to his taking the place, Mr. Spencer’s acceptance was pressed on all sides by the friends of the College, and by the Presbyterian Church in the state of New York. He was slow in making up his mind, justly regarding the question as one of the greatest importance to his church in Brooklyn, and his own relations to religious pastoral life. At the beginning of fall term he came to College Hill, where he stayed several days as the guest of Dr. Davis, and most favorably impressed all who met him by his sincerity of manner and the cordial bonhomie. One day Dr. Davis took the president-elect through the College buildings. It so happened that my own was the first, if not the only dormitory the party visited — Dr. Davis being pleased to remark, as he ushered in his guest, that it was as good a specimen as he had to show. In looking about, Dr. Spencer chanced to espy a violoncello standing, with solemn visage, in a corner of the apartment; whereupon he was moved to tell a story in which there figured a bass viol, a Scotch precentor and a Scotch parson. Although the story was capitally told, Dr. Davis did not seem to take it kindly. As for myself, I made up my mind that the new president would do.
To the great disappointment of the friends of the College, Mr. Spencer declined the election. Dr. Davis continued at the head of the institution, and, in the spring of 1833, the trustees elected as his successor the Rev. Sereno E. Dwight, fifth son of the illustrious president of Yale. On junior exhibition day, in the College Chapel, and on the only occasion when junior exhibition was ever held in that place, the retiring president delivered his farewell address. Every eye noticed and every heart confessed to the infinite dignity, tenderness and grace with which the farewell word was spoken.
The opening of summer term saw President Dwight already on the ground, and housed in the presidential mansion. He began his new work with heartiness, and no small enthusiasm. It being the last term of the year, he heard only the seniors’ recitation in intellectual philosophy — Locke being the textbook. Much of his life had already been spent in teaching, so that he was no stranger to the duties of the classroom. His learning was comprehensive and exact, and was supplemented by vast stores of information always at ready command in the classroom, the public forum, and in society, where, as a conversationalist, he had no superior. Locke’s Metaphysics may not readily seem to be fruitful of themes for familiar classroom talk, anecdote, or glowing illustration; and yet it cannot be said that, in the recitation room, the president was ever irrelevant or out of keeping. During that summer he preached in the Chapel almost every Sunday. His fame as a preacher, acquired mostly in the pulpit of Park street church, Boston, had preceded his coming to Clinton. If much had been anticipated of him as a preacher, much more was realized in the robust sermons that fell from his lips. Dr. Dwight held the presidency only two years. For 30 years he suffered acutely from an exasperating disease which robbed him of life’s enjoyment, and shut him off from sustained employment in any of the high spheres of usefulness for which nature and education had both preeminently qualified him.
During the period of the Class of 1829-1833, the students boarded, on the Hill, with William Aldrich, Deacon Isaac Williams, Asa Marvin, Col. William Johnson, Dr. Noyes; and under the hill, with Mrs. Lucas and Dr. Sewall Hopkins. To all of the aforesaid names I ought, perhaps, to have prefixed the title Mistress. In the village, a few boarded with Mrs. Hickox, hard by the post-office — which her husband administered — and a few at the tavern of Moses Foot. The price uniformly paid was $1.25 per week, except at Foot’s, where $1.50 always insured two courses and a dessert, to say nothing of the genial and edifying companionship of the young doctor. Intercourse with the world outside of Clinton was mainly had by a semi-weekly post-coach run to Utica and back, on Tuesday and Friday, by Lewis Pond. A line of daily stages plying between Utica and Ithaca passed through the village at hours too early and too late to make it available. Lewis Pond kept the only livery stable, and, though small, it was large enough for more than College requisitions.
Journeys to and from Utica were often made on foot, there being compensation for weariness in the reflection that something had been saved. The habits of student life, where there was a tendency to bad habits, were on the whole, not as good, I think, as they are now. There was some convivial drinking, though I knew of no case in which habits of intemperance were here formed. Teetotalism had not been invented. There was a temperance society in College, after the pattern of the time, and everybody belonged to it. Its pledge was a sort of “halfway covenant” — a compromise between drunkenness and sobriety. Like many other compromises, this one was more than a failure, for it only put dishonest wine into the place of honest whisky. There is no necessary or implied connection — that I know of — between the foregoing, and the statement that 50 years ago, and less, there existed, in college, “twin relics of barbarism,” in the shape of customs pertaining to morning prayers and morning recitations. At half past-four o’clock in summer, and an hour later in winter, peaceful dreams were broken by the untimely and impertinent suggestions of the chapel bell that it was time to get up and prepare for matins. To the best of my recollection, two hours elapsed between the student’s uprising — refreshed by sleep, but hungry — and his downsitting in front of his most benevolent friend, the breakfast plate. They do differently now. My regret is that they did not learn to do differently in time to raise the standing in scholarship of certain that might be named.
Coincident with the coming of President Dwight, was the arrival — in company with two or three collegians from a western village — of a young portrait painter, 20-years-old, perhaps, and as handsome, doubtless, as young manhood is ever seen to be. He set up his easel in one of the rooms of Col. Johnson’s tavern and boardinghouse and modestly displayed two or three of his own compositions, from scenes in the Vicar of Wakefield. It seems the young man knew where to go for inspiration. He stayed on College Hill nearly, if not quite a year, painting no end of students’ likenesses, in cabinet size, together with some larger portraits of the college faculty and others. All these pictures were remarkable for their fidelity to nature, and very fairly met the requirements of art technicalities. During his leisure hours — which were sometimes many — he assimilated perfectly to college life, and, by congenial spirits, was fairly idolized. He stayed far beyond the time demanded by professional engagements; made sundry arrangements at sundry times to go away, “and often took leave, yet seemed loth to depart.” Fortunately, his departure was not made before he had recognized, in one of the congenial spirits, an infant brother in art, whose steps he first guided in the path since trodden with so great renown. This brief sketch need go no further. Many of you are already reminded of Charles Loring Elliott and Daniel Huntington.
It used to be the custom to announce commencement honors early in the summer. In 1833 that duty was assigned to Professor Wayland, and he displaced the usual ante breakfast recitation to make room for the discharge of so pleasant a duty. The honors of 1833 were marked by some distinctive features unrecognized before that, and, presumably, since. There were twenty-one persons in the class, and of these not more than two-thirds were given anything to do on the commencement platform. So many grades of scholarship were represented by this two-thirds, that it became necessary to construct, nine different honors. Moreover, some legerdemain was practiced with the four highest honors, so that I am not sure that, as a badge of merit and scholarship, the valedictory was the valedictory that year; or that either one of the other three high honors conformed, as standards, to immemorial and universal college custom. Having announced the commencement honors, Professor Wayland might have passed over, in merciful or scornful silence, the names of those who got nothing, had he been so disposed. But the opportunity for caustic pointing of a moral was too good to be lost. He told delinquents that any arithmetical estimate of their value would be a weariness to figures; and that the only adequate measure of their scholarship was zero divided by one.
That same morning, after breakfast, the delinquents aforesaid met, by sorrowful appointment, over in Harvey Hines’ orchard, where, “under the shade of melancholy boughs,” they lighted their pipes, and organized an indignation meeting. If Dr. Upson supposes that any of his fifteen failures were in this company, he is simply mistaken. Indignation, however, proved not to be their strong point. It went up with the tobacco smoke and vanished. There was some talk about a demonstration, of an ironical character, which, it was thought, the faculty would be sure to feel uncomfortably. By the time this talk was ended, the tobacco was smoked out, and the proposed demonstration was dropped, along with the ashes knocked out of the pipes. It was then suggested, for the purpose of saving something as a memorial out of what seemed to be a general wreck of scholarship, and of hopes and futures, that the positive value should be ascertained of what the college government had that morning so unreservedly bestowed. The combined mathematical resources of the company were not equal to the solution of the problem, until one of the number— in temperament somewhat fanciful, and wholly irreverent, and who thus far had taken no part in the conversation— gave voice to his conviction that zero divided by one was plainly the equivalent of, “Deeper than plummet ever sounded,” and expressed his surprise that the professor of rhetoric had chosen the mathematical, instead of the poetical form of statement. Amidst profound and meditative silence, he moved an adjournment, after they had joined in reciting De profundis.
The first eight weeks of the seniors’ summer term was haunted by a spectre of the future, rather than of the past; namely, the three days’ examination for the Bachelor’s degree, covering the four years of the college course. The fact that I am here today, is proof that we all squeezed through somehow; and somehow it was that some of the best of the class got as tightly squeezed as some of the poorest. The examination on the second day was graced by the attendance of President Day, of Yale, who preached also on the Sunday next following. Examination safely passed, senior vacation of four weeks then ensued, that charming hiatus, in which one is neither in college nor out of it; but seems to slumber through a brief transition from preparatory to active life. The preparations for Commencement were all duly made. Orations were conned and rehearsed in each others’ presence, and in the presence of Prof. Wayland. The Commencement platform was duly laid across the tops of the pews nearest the pulpit, and carpeted. The green baize curtain was stretched across the back of it, and in front of the high pulpit. The preparations last named were made by Sam Foot, church sexton, bell ringer, village factotum, and master of deportment. The last preparatory exercise was on the afternoon before Commencement when, by his own appointment, Sam met tomorrow’s speakers in the church, and subjected them to a rigorous drill in stage proprieties. Most fortunate was that speaker who could ascend and tread the platform, and retire from it, with the ease and self-possession of his instructor.
On Commencement morning there was a brief private rehearsal in parts to be enacted by the president and the class during the ceremony of conferring the Bachelor’s degree. A small military band from Cooperstown then escorted the procession from Foot’s Tavern around the village green to the church door. From time immemorial, no other than sacred music had been permitted inside the church on Commencement day. Every petition for either military or orchestral music was steadily denied, on the ground that neither of them befitted the dignity and solemnity of an occasion partaking so much of a religious character. For several years the charge of music had been delegated to Mr. Rollo, of Homer, a teacher of singing well known at that time in this section of the state. In the earlier years of his Commencement engagements, he would be accompanied by his daughter, Philomela, who afterwards shone in New York musical circles as Mrs. Benson. Having lost Philomela from his family, Mr. Rollo, in 1833, brought with him his younger daughter, Fanny. Taking the large choir of the church — already trained to high proficiency by George Bristol, without the pernicious help of a church organ —Mr. Rollo re-enforced it with the best voices from other choirs, and supplemented it with an orchestra of violins and violoncellos from the neighboring city, and the matchless flute of Albert Gridley, seconded by another. All these combined to hurl the massive choruses from end to end of the building, and across it from side to side. Perhaps the highest enthusiasm of the hour was reached when the rapturous voice of Fanny Rollo went soaring through the semiquavers of Let the bright Seraphim.
At 1 p.m. the last speaker of the day appeared on the stage; and, after delivering his oration on Professional Education, he pronounced the valedictory. He was 18 years of age; was the youngest of his class by two years, and was certainly 10 years younger than the oldest. His name was Oliver Andrew Morse. I have elsewhere designated him as the reticent and resolute.
President Dwight descended from the pulpit to the stage, came to a large chair standing on a dais in front of and beneath the pulpit, and began the Pro auctoritate. The president’s Latin was very fine; his presence imperial. He was the handsomest man in America. The private rehearsal of the morning was intended to meet a new feature in the ceremony, borrowed from the English universities. At the president’s left hand stood Samuel Hubbard, marshal of the day, transformed for the nonce, into an academic sergeant, having in his hands a book and a roll of parchment.
Not long afterwards I happened upon a quaintly illustrated volume titled Death’s Doings; in which the King of Terrors, having deposed in turn the occupants of every station in life, reigned successively in their stead. In one place he appeared as the dispenser of college honors. The skeleton form was draped in the academic gown, and the Oxford cap crowned the fleshless skull. I find an apology for this digression only in the wonderful likeness borne by Sergeant Hubbard to the sergeant of the picture. The book and the parchment were used in the ceremony purely as symbols. The president took them in turn from the sergeant, at the words hunc librum and banc membranam scriptam, and displayed them to the companies of four as they successively stood in his presence, and then returned the symbols to the sergeant’s hands.
Commencement ceremonies were closed with prayer, the congregation reverently standing. The president commended the class to God’s protection, and besought for every member of it a final place at His right hand. The scene was both solemn and inspiring. As at all commencements the church was filled from floor to ceiling; and, as to all commencements of that period, the county had sent its representative worth, intelligence, culture, fashion, and beauty. The venerable church edifice — quaint in all the quaintness of its absurd architecture — was to behold such scenes no more. Already the stone walls that were to supersede it were slowly rising on the other side of the way. The spot was hallowed by its identification with the heroic lives of the sturdy, God-fearing first settlers; also with the infancy and youth of the college itself. Those time-worn walls had listened through many long years to the learned, devout, and faithful preacher, Asahel Norton, and had looked down upon the obsequies of Kirkland, Backus, Seth Norton and Skenandoah.
Thomas Williams Seward, Class of 1833
“President Davis was an excellent judge of men, and of the best means of influencing them. During his whole college experience — with the single exception of the troubles attending the cannon explosion in 1823 — he was always master of the situation; whether it was contending with a powerful faction in the board of trustees, quelling a riot, or imperturbably reading the entire first chapter of St. John’s gospel from a volume of the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, which, on a certain first day of April, was found to have usurped a place on the cushion of the Chapel pulpit.”