1838 Class Annalist’s Letter
Parsons Clark Hastings
Delivered: June 1888
If your committee had named as half-century annalist of the Class of 1838 some of my classmates and not myself, they would have had my heartiest approval. I need not detain you with the reasons that nearly prevailed with me to decline the honor and the task. But at length it seemed in some sort a duty to respond to your call and render what humble service I could, in grateful recognition of the many benefits we owe to the care of our alma mater.
Following the precedent of the earlier annalists, I shall sketch as I may be able, the character and subsequent career in life of some of my classmates. The limit of time, my greater intimacy with some and better means of information as to others, must govern my selection.
Of the faculty in our College years all have now gone over to the majority. But for invaluable service in our behalf they still live, and ever will, in grateful memories.
Our president, Rev. Dr. Penney, was a graduate of Dublin University. He had been pastor of a large and influential church in Rochester, where, for learning and character and faithful service he was highly esteemed. From Rochester he was called to a church in Northampton. After some years of service he resigned his pastorate and accepted a call to the presidency of Hamilton College. His aims were high; his motives pure; his well-meant efforts to promote the interests of the college deserved greater success than he was able to achieve. In his management of students he expected greater regard for law and order than circumstances and the undergraduate nature would warrant. A few years after resigning his office he told me that in the University of Dublin, law was paramount and students had to conform to it. I took this as at least an intimation that when he was at the head of the College, he had not realized how different the situation was here. There in Dublin students inherited the calm, cool, composed, severe and unimpassioned nature of the race from which they sprang. There, how easy to govern, how easy to be governed.
It is with great respect and in no invidious sense that I speak of Professor Lathrop as the aristocratic member of the faculty. I think we all had that impression. But he was in no degree less popular on that account. We thought that he was to the manner born; that the aristocratic air and carriage and a certain hauteur became him extremely well. He had great ability and aptitude for his work as a teacher. He delighted in purely intellectual views of a subject. He would not suffer anything extraneous to such views to influence the mind or prevent it in its search for truth. Feeling, he once remarked, is blind. Yet great thoughts do spring from the heart, and the gospel itself is comprehended by the heart with luminous reason and clear, clean-cut ideas of a subject. He was impatient of the mental incapacity or the indolence that shrank from concentrated thought and study. As acting president during an interregnum, he discharged his official duties with great judgment and rare tact.
Professor Avery was connected with the College as long, perhaps longer than any other member of the faculty. From thorough, careful, laborious, unwearied investigation, and study of all questions pertaining to his department he never shrank. He was free to say that such application and labor were the condition of his service and his success. He was observing, shrewd, and keen in his discrimination of character, and was practical in affairs. The government does not know what to do with the surplus. Hamilton College does know what to do with a surplus when there is any in her treasury. If more money was needed, Professor Avery was the man to raise it. He was skillful and successful in that rather difficult work. I went with him once to Rochester for that purpose and saw how readily and happily he would adapt himself to the peculiarities of the men he wished to interest in his object. With all his shrewdness he had an attractive simplicity of character. He had abounding cheerfulness and good nature. He was very social in his disposition, always easy to approach, fertile in anecdote, quaint in speech. It was good fortune, when walking up the Hill, if we could overtake him. “Time does not exist for the happy.” It was a pleasing illusion while climbing College Hill to forget all about it and feel that we were still walking on a plain. Now that this friendly presence is withdrawn from us, it takes something from the brightness of these festive college days.
Professor Catlin was a born mathematician and became prominent in his favorite science. It astonished and delighted his pupils to see with what readiness and clearness he would relieve their difficulties and make luminous what was so dark to them. He was naturally reserved and taciturn, but when one came to know him he was found to be a man of kindly sympathies and a warm heart, and worthy of all men’s confidence and affectionate regard for his absolute integrity and pure character. Some people think that a mathematician is as dry as “the remainder biscuit after a voyage.” Professor Catlin was not that sort of a mathematician. At the annual alumni dinner he once indulged in the playful comparison: “Hamilton College had the patronage of a generous and high-minded North! Union College had Nott I As for Yale College it had had its Day! As for Harvard, it would be a long time before Everett could come up to Hamilton.”
We of the Class of 1838 had our Professor North, as the classes now have their Professor North. Comparisons are odious. To the later classes we say, your professor is the man for you. Our Professor North was the man for us — each for his time and place the best. Ours was fully equipped for the work he had to do in the department of classical studies. To the Greek language and literature he owed much. Their influence upon his mental discipline, upon his taste and general culture, was very marked. One saw the proof of this not only in his public discourses, but as well in brief informal remarks in the classroom, in the Chapel and in private conversation. He was very affable and cordial in personal intercourse with us all.
When he became President of the College we had calls from book agents and budding authors, ambitious and expectant of fame, chiefly of poetic fame. It was easier for him to grant than to refuse, he was so obliging and complaisant to all. Was a man to be dismissed without consolation, when kind words and a few dollars would make him happy and triumphant? So it was that the heart of the book agent rejoiced to find a purchaser in the President of Hamilton College. It was a recommendation of his wares of which he would make profitable use. The budding author fared as well. Each got what he wanted. There was money and “a card” for the one and glory begun for the other.
The president had other traits not so well known. He was astute, had good judgment and penetration of character. There was no marked or visible evidence of this. He appeared to students so unsuspecting, so credulous even, that it did not occur to them that he knew them much better than they knew him — much better than they knew themselves. He had that wise art of governing of not governing too much. We were always glad when we saw Professor North in the pulpit. We listened to him with such interest and delight, as young men in New York heard the late Dr. Hitchcock, and now hear Dr. Parkhurst, of Madison Square.
In preaching he was much confined to his notes, bending over them. But every few moments he would stand erect and turn upon us his glowing face and kindling, flashing eyes. The last time I was in Clinton I called to pay my respects to him. He was nearly approaching his eightieth year. I was most kindly received. His form was as erect as in his early manhood. His refinement, his courtesy and dignity were so marked and admirable that I felt it had never been my good fortune to meet with a finer example of the Christian gentleman and scholar.
In regard to Professor Root, I never found, never shall find, among the graduates of the College, any other sentiment than that of profound respect for his character and for his attainments as a scholar; with no fault of his own and with the best intentions, a professor may sometimes get the ill will of a student. The latter may think he ought to have a higher mark in his studies and more consideration generally, than the professor accords to him. It was the good fortune of Professor Root to be absolutely free from the least suspicion of unkindness or unfairness towards any one of all his pupils. He had admirable symmetry and balance of character. He had prudence, foresight, and sound — I had almost said unerring and infallible —judgment in all questions affecting the interests of the College. His deep and abiding interest in the progress and proficiency of his pupils was amply proved through all the years of his long professional service. He was an able and accomplished teacher of mathematics and was well versed in the natural sciences. The pleasant social intercourse in the hospitality of his own home, which I enjoyed on my last visit to Clinton, will ever have a place in my unforgettable memories of College Hill. May the mantle of the father fall upon his son and successor in the chair that for so many years he so ably filled.
Parsons Clark Hastings, Class of 1838
“In regard to Professor Root, I never found, never shall find, among the graduates of the College, any other sentiment than that of profound respect for his character and for his attainments as a scholar; with no fault of his own and with the best intentions, a professor may sometimes get the ill will of a student. The latter may think he ought to have a higher mark in his studies and more consideration generally, than the professor accords to him. It was the good fortune of Professor Root to be absolutely free from the least suspicion of unkindness or unfairness towards any one of all his pupils.”