1865 Class Annalist’s Letter
William Henry Bates
Delivered: June 1915
Isaac Watts, the great founder of Modern English Hymnology, has a hymn evidently not meant to be hilarious, which begins thus:
Hark! From the tombs a doleful sound!
Mine ears! Attend the cry:
‘Ye living men! Come view the ground,
Where you must shortly lie.’
This annalist letter may be considered a voice from the tombs, so to speak, in that when the writer was graduated 50 years ago it was freely prophesied — and he so thought himself — that he would be the first man in the class to die.
This sepulchral reference seems to require a word of explanation.
Back in those Civil War days there was a call for men to go into the army, under the auspices of the Christian Commission, to assist in the close of our junior year, for vacation occupation I essayed that good Samaritan act.
Just before starting, classmate Ostrander called upon me. “Osee” always was a whole-hearted, generous fellow, and his parting gift to me — all unwitting to us both — was the measles! I came down with them at City Point, on the James River, Virginia.
The measles belong to the category of “children’s diseases,” and they go hard with an adult. I once stated in the presence of my mother that the reason I did not get them when I was little was because I was so good I couldn’t. She replied with an emphasis that admitted of no argument: “That’s not so.” I am too well brought up to dispute my mother.
The sequelae, however, were woesome. First, temporary blindness, when I had to get a young professor from a Maine college to write to my best girl for me; then temporary deafness from abscesses in both ears; then, the second night after returning from college senior year, profuse hemorrhage from the lungs with repetitions later — a lifelong handicap.
It was common notion in those days that when one had pulmonary hemorrhages, all that remained was to say “goodbye.” Through the kindness of a Providence whose inscrutability is more apparent to your Annalist than his wisdom, he has continued to use a Pauline phrase, “Unto this present” (1 Cor. 15:6). Notwithstanding the profuse prophecies of 50 years ago, morituri te salutamus, “we” — the editorial “we” of course — “we who were too soon to die, salute you.” Though it is somewhat late in the afternoon and the sun is fast setting, it is in my heart only to say: “Hail, good morning to you, ye comrades on the journey of life.”
When I was informed by the secretary of the Executive Committee that I had been appointed an Annalist for this occasion, never having been at such a half-century stage before, and so far, therefore, as green as when I entered college; and also having lived in Missouri and consequently needing to be shown, I wrote him asking what would be expected of me. He replied: “Not class statistics and biographies, but reminiscences of college life in your day,” and, perhaps anticipating the proverbial garrulity of age, he intimated, not once only, that the story should be short. I recall Pat: he had a preferential choice of what should come to him, but he wanted “mighty little of that.”
But this prescription of reminiscence calls for what is repugnant to my taste and more yet to my modesty; for how can a person reminisce without personal knowledge of the events and scenes he talks about, and indeed in such case as this without his having himself been a part of them? Magna pars fui is not at all to my liking; so, if the personal element shall appear to you overweening in what is here presented, I beg you to charge it up not to me, but to necessities of the situation.
Roll Call of the Faculty
First of all, I would like to call the roll of the Faculty as it was 50 years ago.
Rev. Samuel Ware Fisher, D.D. President and professor of the evidences of Christianity and of intellectual philosophy
Charles Avery, L.L.D., professor of natural philosophy, chemistry and civil engineering
Oren Root, A.M., professor of mathematics, astronomy, mineralogy, and geology
Rev. William Stanton Curtis, D.D., professor of moral philosophy, and college pastor
Ellicott Evans, A.M., professor of law, history, civil polity, and political economy
Edward North, A.M., professor of the Latin and Greek languages
Rev. Anson Judd Upson, A.M., professor of logic, rhetoric and elocution, and librarian
Christian Henry Frederic Peters, Ph.D., director of the astronomical observatory
Oren Root, Jr., A.M., tutor in mathematics
Rev. James Avery Skinner, A.M., tutor in Latin.
Afterward were added Rev. William Neill McHarg, A.M., professor of the Latin language and literature; Isaac Webster Hall, A.M., and Rev. John McLean, A.M., tutors.
None of these are now living except Skinner and Westfall. De mortuis nil nisi fonum: speak only in complimentary terms. Fortunately there is no reason for speaking otherwise.
The Class of 1865 Enters
The Class of 1865 entered college 35-9. I will not say “strong,” for a reason that will appear directly. He seemed to me to be, for the larger part, representative specimens of what I may call — if I may turn a phrase — the bucolics of humanity. Nowadays they would call us “rubes.” But the hayseed was out of our hair. There were four from St. Lawrence County, one from Jefferson, and so on through the state more or less, although the attritions of city life had put something of polish on a few.
Professor North in his Annalist letter, 1891, says of his class “There is something of significance in the fact that every member of the Class of 1841 spent his early years on a farm or in village surroundings; yet fully one-half of the class were to do their professional work in our cities… Three-fourths of the students of Hamilton College still come from the country.” Farmer boys are pretty good stuff to make worthwhile men out of.
Popularity of the Class
What impressed me most was the immediate popularity of the class. I had never dreamed of anything like it. The Sophomores — plague take them — seemed, for some unaccountable reason, to be our natural-born enemies notwithstanding we had never done anything to them; but the juniors, and even the grave and reverend seniors, just-coveted acquaintance with us. Those who had nice little pieces of Greek letter jewelry on the lapel of their coats or vests would escort us up and down the Hill, invite us to their boarding houses, and they jealously guarded us against any entanglements with undesirable acquaintances.
That jewelry was called a “badge,” and it was surprisingly noticeable when we came to wear one of those badges ourselves, though erstwhile so assiduous in cultivating those of us with a different badge would left us severely alone, and indeed would hardly recognize us. Strange, very strange.
The First Chapel Row
I declined to say “strong” a few moments ago, for while we — according to the catalog — were 35, the sophomores numbered 65. And there were sophomore giants in those days. There was Saul Sackett — no, Darius Carter Sackett — who, in the first “chapel row” seemed to loom up towards ten feet tall, and the sturdy, broad shouldered Morris Brown encroached upon the circumambient space in like proportion in the other direction.
When we came out of the Chapel the first Wednesday noon of chapel exercises in declamation, sophomores ahead and freshmen bringing up the rear, the sophomores seemed to want us to remain behind for meditation or prayer or something, and to forefend us against inclusion they sought to close and fasten the door, but I suspected a sinister purpose, for Professor Upson, behind us all, seemed from the reprehensive look upon his face, to be displeased, and indeed to be in no mood to lead devotions.
As befitting this first oratorical occasion, I had put on my best black broadcloth coat. In the sophomoric dissuasions of our efforts to get out of the chapel stuffiness to fresh air, two of those rascals tried to teach me the impossible stunt of going into two opposite directions at one and the same time, and, to make their instructions effective, they — each hold of a coattail — ripped the garment into two parts up the back from the waist to collar. Bifurcation may do for pants, but it is bad for a best coat or for any coat in fact. That was a sophomoric lesson whose sartorial tuition I could ill afford to pay.
I will not descant upon the sophomores’ painting the freshmen chapel seats green: That was, in a sense, beneath our notice.
College Church Organized
President Fisher’s incumbency was eight years, from 1858 to 1866. He introduced into the curriculum the regular study of the Bible. In his further ministering to the religious interests of the college, he planned to organize a College Church. The psychological moment for that even synchronized with the advent of 1865. Early in the term each of the four classes was asked to choose two of its men to cooperate with the faculty in this enterprise. Sixty-five selected Stratton and Bates.
The matter had been talked up among the students, and quite a number of them were suspicious of the scheme, fearing it might be made an engine of college discipline: they did not want to be hailed before the church to answer for their college pranks.
It is said, “Beautiful are the enthusiasms of youth.” I was an enthusiastic Congregationalist, having only a little while before uniting with a Congregational church. Knowing the student sentiment, I stood out against having a straight Presbyterian church, or the body of the church as in a Congregational church. With this proviso, the students pretty generally, I think, got their letters from the home church and united with the College church. The better plan of uniting, irrespective of denomination, with the College church and leaving the relation with the home church undisturbed had not yet been devised. George W. Sheldon of the Class of 1863, George Bayliss of the Class of 1864, and Dana Bigelow of the Class of 1865 were elected Elders, and in December 1861 was launched the Presbygational or Congreterian Church of Hamilton College.
But another chapter of history was soon enacted. It was found that candidates for the ministry were barred from getting aid from the Presbyterian Board of Education unless their application was made through a regular Presbyterian church in connection with the Utica Presbytery, and we all became straight Presbyterians before we knew it. I have never regretted the change.
In this connection it is pertinent to mention the Revival that occurred in the winter of the next year, remarkable for its power and pervasiveness. It was carried on without outside human agency, except that the evangelist, E.P. Hammond, who was conducting a campaign in Utica, came out for a noon service. At its close there were only two men in each class who were not confessed followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. The next term there was return of some who were not present in the winter, and there were alas, developments such as getting the chapel and burning its furniture, and other deplorable events, that recall and give point to the Bible thought, that when the sons of God gathered together Satan came also (Job 1:6).
Another thing occurred the night of the conference organizing the church.
It was a banquet planned, and carried out to a certain extent, by a part of the freshman class. I was invited, and, quite a bit against my will. I accepted the invitation because Starr of Rochester conditioned his going on my acceptance. From the church conclave at the President’s house I tried and hurried to the rendezvous, second front middle, South Hall, Middle College. The banquet was spread — roast turkey and all the sumptuous “fixins” traditionally supposed to go with such a feast. It was great. As the last act in furnishing the table, Hickok brought from the bedroom a crockery receptacle holding a gallon or so, filled with something about the color of cider, and he said it was cider.
There was a sound of revelry by night, for Hamilton College’s freshmen had gathered then.
And all went merry as a marriage bell. But hush! Hark! A deep sound strikes like a rising knell. (This with apologies to Byron and Childe Harold’s pilgrimage.) “But hark! That heavy sound breaks in once more. As if the clouds its echo would repeat; And nearer, clearer, deadlier than before! Arm! Arm! It is — the cannon’s opening roar,” or something about as ominous to the freshmen. Did our cheeks blanch? Perhaps.
Grace had not been said, when there came thunderous wraps at the door
“Who’s there?” shouted John Holley.
“It’s me,” said a voice from without.
“Who’s me?” asked John.
“President Fisher,” was the reply.
“President Fisher be — !” returned Holley, decorating him with a couple of small “d’s” that did not stand for doctor of divinity, adding, “If it were President Fisher he would say ‘It is I.’”
First round for the freshman. Alas! The fight had only just begun.
But I shall need to go back a little and convey some information learned later.
Farmer Anderson, who lived just below the campus, had a flock of fine turkeys — you know the animal: a gallinaceous find belonging to the genus Melagris gallopavo — which, following their vagrant instincts, came up around the college buildings, and many a toothsome morsel they picked up from the remains of lunches thrown out of the windows.
One day Babcock dropped a baited fishhook from a fourth front corner window, South Hall, North College and dangled it before the choicest gobbler. You remember the ditty:
A grasshopper sat on a sweet ‘tater vine, on a sweet tater vine
When up came a turkey gobbler and yanked him off behind.
The yank that grasshopper got was not to be mentioned in the same day with the yank experienced by Gobbler Anderson when he nabbed the baited fishhook. Babcock proceeded to give him a lesson in aviation such as it is likely no turkey had before. Up, up he went until he disappeared through the fourth story window. There was the protoplasmic gem, so to speak, out of which the banquet grew.
Mrs. Fell, a delectable cook who kept a boarding house a little way down the Hill, was employed to roast the fowl and furnish the accompanying viands. At the proper time a squad of valiant knights of the trencher went for the feast. Arrison, on the return, wielding a huge carving knife, led the procession. Anderson, who was on the watch, spied his bird, and wisely forbearing to attempt a rescue against such odds, fled to the college and tipped off the students and the nearby faculty. Hence the gathering crowd, and the interruption before noted.
Dr. Fisher, gathering himself up after Holly’s unhorsing. Ordered the door opened. That door seemed constructed for “such a time as this,” being made of heavy, double, hardwood boards nailed together with wrought-iron nails, which were headed down, and besides having a strong lock was barred on the inside. So many minutes were given, and then if the door was not opened force would be used. The insiders, thinking the formidable barricade good for a siege, had no notion to show it.
Time was called. An axe having been procured, Tutor Root, with a vigor and skill that would have done honor to a frontier backwoodsman, laboriously chopped a hole through, reached in, removed the bar, turned the key and opened the door.
The banqueters were ordered out. They did not stand upon the order of their going, but went at once. Gerrit Smith, of the Class of 1818, is known in history as a philanthropist, a friend of the slave, and a leader among the then most unpopular set of men this country has ever known — the abolitionists. A meeting of these reformers was called in Syracuse in the fall of 1831. Frothingham, in his The Life of Gerrit Smith, says that “as they were winding their way along they street they were suddenly assailed by a mob who pitilessly pelted them with eggs in that melancholy condition of decay that qualifies them express derision” (p.164). As the banqueters filed out before the faculty and between two massed lines of students, the derisive epithets and phrases those pesky sophomores hurled at as poor freshmen were of a malodorousness that would make those super animated, anti-abolitionist eggs seem salubrious. I had never thought that the human mind could be so fertile and fructiferous of vituperative vocables. We sought our rooms, sadder if not wiser men.
But what of a feast? There was a board off between the two woodrooms, front and back, and it was reported that some fellows ¬— said to the juniors — crawled through the aperture and swiped the supper. It is no tax upon the imagination to picture what followed.
And there was no discrimination between hosts and guests in levying an assessment to cover damages and remunerate Farmer Anderson. Talk about the “high cost of living!” I will venture that never was turkey meat so fiscally attitudinous as then.
A Freshman and the President Become Chummy
One forenoon shortly after this episode, the Professor of Dust and Ashes — otherwise known as Pete Blake — came under my window and, prefixing to my name a list of variegated adjectives, not all of them complimentary as it was his wont under such circumstances, informed me that I was wanted in the president’s office in North College.
Helping to organize a church and banqueting on a stolen turkey on the same night made a combination that did not wing my feet thither. Instead, it tended very much to produce meekness and humility — yea, humiliation — of spirit. But I went, and of course told the exact facts so far as I was concerned. The president more than willingly conceded my innocence, gave me a comforting certification of good character, but suggested that I be careful in the future.
His confidence and kindness on this occasion produced an entente cordiale that lasted long, so that he even officiated at my wedding seven years later. It will be remembered that he was very bald, having only a fringe of hair around the base of his brain. Either then or some time after that, such was our chumminess so to speak, I ventured this: “Dr. Fisher, may I ask the cause of your exceeding baldness?” He replied: “Yes, Bates. I’ll tell you what it is: it is due to the expulsive power of expansive thought.” Always since then I have been glad to know the cause of masculine cranial barrenness, i.e.: if we may reason from the particular to the general.
I might turn aside just here, in view of these days of struggle for female suffrage and of apotheosizing women, to offer a disquisition upon the apparent lack of feminine baldness; but I will not for two reasons:
1) I am too gallant, and
2. You might put me to confusion with the cry “rats.”
A Reason Why Students Go to Hamilton College
President Fisher delivered an address at the commencement of the Hungerford Collegiate Institute, Adams, N.Y. That address won Butterworth of the Class of 1863 to Hamilton College. My blessed Methodist mother wanted me to go to Middletown, while my own predilection was for Yale. Butterworth, who had been my preceptor at the Pulaski Academy, visited my Jefferson County home and persuaded me to follow in his footsteps at Hamilton. This result is only a small fraction of results I personally know to have grown out of that beginning.
Fortunate is the College the eloquence of whose president is so persuasive and compelling as to lead embryo collegians willing captives to his institution, and it may be only just to add that never has Hamilton College been so fortunate in respect to captivating and capturing presidential eloquence as at the present time.
Dr. Fisher was a great preacher. His emotional appeals were effective and affecting. It will be remembered that his catarrhal affliction was an adjustment to his own lachrymosity.
It was reported that after an affecting sermon in the Stone Church downtown, part way up the Hill a student picked up the dropped manuscript, on the margin of which was penciled the directions, “cry here, cry here, cry here,” and so on until the peroration was reached, when it was written, “Cry like --!” Well, the word was the name of a place which a certain minister is said to have told his congregation their ears were too refined to hear and he was too polite to mention Billy Sunday — blessings on him — is restoring the word to our vocabulary, and it may be that not long hence it will come to have its aforetime proper place in our religious nomenclature.
I may say, privately, that I do not believe any such incident ever occurred; but such a story was current in those far off college days, reminiscent of which I am asked to give.
William Stanton Curtis
Among the remembered events occurring in our freshman year was the demonstration of Professor Curtis.
As a college pastor he was loved by every student for his splendid Christian character and admired for his intellectual abilities as a preacher, while as a teacher of moral philosophy he was probably unsurpassed. For some reason unknown to the students — but suspicion was placed on someone higher up — a movement was set on foot to oust him.
In the Class of 1862 were two seniors by the name of Henry Ward — Big Ward and Little Ward they were called. By his class, as an all-around out-and-out Christian man, was — well, like Ivory soap, 99 44/100 pure. And that is the kind of man he has been to this day. He commanded the unqualified respect of the whole student body.
An indignation meeting was called in the senior recitation room to protest against the removal of Dr. Curtis, and Big Ward was called to the chair. Student opinion was expressed in no measured terms. The last speech before the vote was taken was by Ward himself, and, waxing warmer and warmer, rising higher and higher, he reached his climax in the outburst: “If William Stanton Curtis is compelled to leave, senior year in Hamilton College won’t be worth a --!” Well, the word was one that the country was recently shocked to hear that President Thwing, as reported in the papers, has taught that young ladies may rise on particularly stressful occasions. And the house came down with thunderous applause. I do not think anyone ever laid it up against Ward, for all felt that that was just the word to fit the situation.
Dr. Curtis went, and afterward became president of Knox College, Galesburg, Ill.
William Neill McHarg
In our roll call of the Faculty, Professor North was assigned to the chairs of both Latin and Greek. But I suspect Latin was administered mostly by tutors. In the early 1860s endowment of a Latin professorship that she was privileged to nominate the first incumbent of it; which she did in the person of her pastor, the Rev. William Neill McHarg.
Professor McHarg entered upon his work our sophomore year. We being sophomores, and therefore more wise than a freshman, felt it incumbent upon us to “break in a fresh” professor. I say “we” simply out of regard to class solidarity; for be it known that the A’s and B’s who sat on the front seat — either because better dispositioner than those behind them or because the keen sunlight of the publicity constantly beat upon them — always behaved themselves properly. If there was anything that the rest of the Class of 1865 — i.e.: some of them — did not do to him, it must have been because it was not thought of.
Once a carpenter’s broad axe went sailing over our heads against the professor’s desk. The campus orchard generously furnished ammunition, and in the apple season after a recitation sometimes enough fruit could be picked up on that side of the room to suggest starting a cider mill. On one occasion, in sheer desperation, he closed his book, reached for his hat that hung on the wall, and departed, leaving the students to their wicked wantonness. It was just awful.
On the departure of that musical genius, Jonathan Seymour Slie of 1863, it fell to my lot to become leader of the college music. One Saturday I went to the professor’s house for a list of chapel hymns for the next day, as he was to be the preacher. He had now reached our junior year. He brought me to tell him why the boys treated him so. He was in a state of mind bordering on hysteria, for the limit had not only been reached, but passed. Said he, “Of all things, the rascals threw beans, beans, beans at me!” Broad axes, apples and whatnot other missiles could be endured, but there was an indignity about beans that was intolerable.
I assured him that there was not a man in the class that had a thing against him personally; that everyone respected him for his Christian character; that all were thoroughly satisfied with his qualifications as a teacher of Latin, as an instructor in the Bible and as chapel preacher; that he was regarded in every respect as worthy of all honor; and I knew that many, like myself, loved him. But the simple fact was, at the outset they found they could row him with impunity, and so they kept it up out of sheer frolicsomeness. I think I raised some other word then, time does soften things down. I am sure that I felt relieved by my assurances, and his life became less a nightmare.
A class meeting was called right away, and it was unanimously voted that there should be not only no cause of complaint against us in the future, but we would do what we could to make amends for our past misdeeds. It was lovely. At our last recitation under him, he was asked if he would kindly shorten the exercises, as there was some business to be transacted. At the close he was requested to keep the chair. Bigelow, withdrawing for a moment to the adjoining room, returned and in a speech the grace and felicity of which must have continued on into his ministry in order that he could have so splendidly held a 40-year pastorate in an unpent-up Utica, presented him a beautiful ebony gold-headed cane as a “slight token of the affection and esteem of the Class of 1865.”
But, unfortunately, not our good but our bad example as followed by other classes, and after seven years (1862-1869) he gave up a position which there should have been no reason why he should not have held so long as he lived.
I feel that something more of tribute should be paid this excellent man.
In 1905, visiting Colorado, I became the minister of the Mesa Presbyterian Church of Pueblo. The first person that came down to the pulpit to greet me at the close of the first service was the widow of Professor McHarg – one of the loveliest Christian women I ever knew. The gentlemanly little boy, Charley, whom we used to see about the campus, had grown to be one of Pueblo’s substantial men, and with him his father and mother spent their last days. My predecessor in the church told me that the professor’s presence at his services was always a benediction to him, and that the rare Christian spirit and ripe scholarship of the man were a constant incitement to him to do his best. In the intimacy of the pastoral relation — let me say I did seek by pastoral devotion to make up to the good woman some amends for the wrong of college days — in that relation she told me of things too sacred for common association to hear. Oh, that my last days might be like his! Heaven came down the soul to greet. There were visions supernal, celestial visitants hovered over; the victorious exit and the triumphant entrance Yonder were all glorious.
‘Tis finished, all is finished
His fight with death and sin
(I had almost said, with apologies to Dean Alford, “His fight with Sophs and sin.”)
Fling open wide the golden gates,
And let the victor in.
I think that one of the earliest things 1865 men should do when they get to heaven, is to hunt up Billy McHarg and apologize for their college treatment of him, and in sonorous Latin say of their conduct, Non bene est.
Rev. Nicholas Westerman Goertner, D.D., came to the Presbyterians from the Lutherans. He became trustee and commissioner of the College. Some time after the departure of Dr. Curtis he was listed among the faculty as College pastor, i.e. raising funds for the College — he was often spoken of as College Beggar — was carried on largely as before. He was deaf in one ear, and it is said that it was this one he turned towards those whom he solicited when they said “no,” but his other was quick to catch a favorable response.
His only son, Joseph Mechlin, belonged to 1865. It is doubtful whether it was so much a lack of ability and disposition that he did not shine resplendent as a scholar. He left at the end of junior year — a step that was taken, as it was understood, with the advice and consent of the faculty. Joe would woefully neglect his studies during the weeks of hard advanced work, and then when it came to the review towards the end of term, he would attach himself to someone who had attended to business, and they would pony him through enough so he could pass quite a creditable examination provided he was so lucky as to be called early. Once his luck failed him. He was next to the last man, and as I was the last one, obviously I am the only one who can tell this story.
It was in Antigone. Joe would pronounce the Greek test — he could do that — and Professor North would translate it for him. So it went on in the pitiable way until they came to the place where Bo, pursued by the gadfly, was bewailing her sad fate, and she moaned: “Would that someone else had my part,” when poor Joe blurted out, “I wish the Lord they had,” slapped his book down on the “bear box” and left the room. I can still see and hear the convulsive laughter of dear “Old Greek” as Joe vanished through the doorway.
The Civil War
The Civil War claimed its sad toll of the Class of 1865. The amiable George Henry Allen, sergeant, was killed in the Battle of the Wilderness, and the conscientious Christian, William James Cosnett, fell at Fredericksburg. There comes to mind a stanza in Montgomery’s poem,
The Battle of Alexandria
Gashed with honorable scars
Low in Glory’s lap they lie
Though they fell, they fall like of stars
Streaming splendor through the sky.
There were artillerymen. Brewer and Taft, privates; Hunt and Mitchell, lieutenants; Sheppard and Stull, captains; and surgeon Kimball. We still claim Best, who was one of our best, though he was graduated with the Class of 1867 and also Holley who is listed with the graduates of 1866. All honor to the men who offered themselves a willing sacrifice on the altar of their country. Enfolded in Old Glory, let us hope they have attained unto “the glory that excelleth.”
At the outset of human life God gave the command, “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the Earth” (Gen. 1:28). When a Hamilton graduate receives his diploma, though not nominated in the bond, there is in its subconsciousness a content to the import that he should multiply and replenish the College with students.
The Class of 1865 has not been recreant. Holley (still ours) and Ostrander have each furnished three. Bates would have furnished three, only the third one, part way in his preparation, had a vision that he should turn aside and go into business to make money with which to take care of each other two in case of need, as it is popularly supposed college graduates will need. Sheppard has furnished two.
A study of Alumnus Eugenics, if the term may be allowed, would be interesting.
Cookingham of 1867 and Scovel of 1854 carry pennants, each being credited with four sons in college. I have neither the time nor you the patience for a catalog of names; but this much should be said: according to the list furnished me, 14 alumni have furnished three students each, and 45 two students each. But the excelsior banner has the not strange device, “Root,” inscribed upon it three sons of Professor Oren Root 1833; three sons of Professor Oren Root, Jr. 1856 and two sons of Elihu Root 1864, are graduates, making, all told, nine alumni. Professor Charles Avery, of the Class of 1820, comes next, the Avery name, in three generations, belonging to seven alumni.
Not all have been as dutiful to Alma Mater as they might have been. Many graduates — too many, shall I say? — Perhaps admonished by eugenic law against breeding in-and-in or for some other reason, have sent sons to institutions. But really, such law, as it bears upon Hamilton College, works the other way!
Those Atrocious Sophomores – Class of 1864
I have spoken of the atrocities visited upon us by the awful sophomores of 1864. Oh, the half has never been told! But it must be said that owing to their amenability to the ameliorating influences of college culture, or to the example of us sweet-spirited, forgiving freshmen, or to something else, when the passed out of the sophomoric stage they seemed really human not only, but actually humane, and through the operation of the aforesaid causes they came to such a gracious development that the Utica Herald the day after their commencement, June 21, 1864, was constrained to say: “The class which graduated yesterday combines more of varied and brilliant talent and high promise that any class Hamilton College has graduated in many years.”
If the Herald should in this June 1915, say that that high promise has been splendidly fulfilled, not the minacity implied in the last two words of Watts stanza quoted — “shortly lie” — but simple regard for the truth would compel me to give hearty assent, and the assent would be most willingly given.
I recall that back near those days some clergymen published a volume of sermons, and the only thing that I now remember is the title, “Roots and Fruits.” Not the Hamilton alumni family, but the best thought and feeling of the nation are surely declaring that the highest place in the gift of the American people is the fruit that most justly belongs to the Root – Elihu Root – of 1864.
To this appreciation may I, as a Christian minister, add an expression of sincere sentiment? In addition to his magnificent achievements as a jurist, statesman. publicist, patriot, I shall prefer to remember him as the man who on the sixth of last April, in the absence of clergy, himself opened the New York State Constitutional Convention with prayer — this fruitage of a spiritual life that had its first public expression in the old senior recitation room — I remember the scene as though it were but yesterday – back in the college revival of the winter of 1862-1863. The Congregationalist says: “We hope all the ministers may be absent another day” (May 13, 1915, p. 594).
Class of 1865 – Their Place and Work
It was among the common places of college talk in our time that the classes of even-numbered years were superior to the odd-numbered. As I remember 1863, 1865, 1867, I cannot deny that such is the case. Allowing this, or saying the deserved good things I have just said about 1864, is no disloyalty to 1865. Surely, the truth may be told.
I once heard a tourist say of a barren strip of land in South Carolina that all it was good for was to hold the earth together. Sixty-five has, I assure you, done a great deal more than to hold the college catalog together. A Scotch clergyman whom Hamilton honored with the degree of Doctor of Divinity shortly after we graduated, said in a public address that I heard: “I never knew a man to be an inmate of a state prison who had learned the Westminster Shorter Catechism.” The Catechism was in our curriculum. But soberly: we have had an honorable place, we have done a worthy work — i.e. it is nearly done — and the world is bettered for our having lived and wrought in it. Our class motto was (translated from the Greek) “faithful and stouthearted,” or, as Professor North rendered it, “fine and plucky fellows.” Our class tree down on the campus is a hickory — a timber noted for its tough fiber, elasticity and enduringness. What motto and tree signify, that, I think we have been.
If the roll were called today, of the 48 men listed in the catalog our senior year — the Yellow Book makes the graduates 30 and the non-graduates 14 — the fact that only few could answer makes our heartstrings vibrate with sadness. These: O.P. Allen, W.H. Bates, D.W. Bigelow, George Craig, L.A. Ostrander, LeRoy Parker, J.J. Reese, James Rodgers, M.F. Sheppard, J.P. Stratton, H.B. Tompkins, and George W. Wood. To these should be added Charles Starr of Rochester, who, after six terms, left us and was graduated from the University in that city; but he has been true to his first love and much to our pleasure, has always counted himself as one of us. Reese left at the end of sophomore year to till his patrimonial acres. So, then, today there are but 11 living alumni. Faithful and stouthearted are we still.
According to our class secretary, Tompkins, whose loving and faithful service has put the whole class under acknowledged obligation, the Class of 1865 is to be credited with 14 clergymen, three of whom — Ostrander, Bigelow and the Annalist — though having advanced many parasangs beyond the so-called ministerial deadline, are still on the job; nine lawyers, six physicians, three bankers; while several entered other callings.
I notice that a number of our names in the Yellow Book have the letter “t” appended. What some of our class have done, for a brief season as teachers, is worthy of mention, the more so because connection with one institution has a bearing upon the educational history of the world.
The American college in Constantinople founded in 1863 by that noble man of God, philanthropist and patriot, Christopher R. Robert of New York, is a notable — if not the most notable — gift of America to the Orient. To determine and set forth what has been its permeative and regenerative influence upon Turkey, the Balkan States, and other surrounding countries, will be an interesting task for the future historian. Madame Panaretoff, wife of the Bulgarian Minister of the United States, tells me that this year nineteen nationalities are represented among its students.
The first to go from America as instructors in that institution were the 1865 men Luther Allen Ostrander and James Rodgers, and for 50 years they have been followed by a steady succession of Hamilton College graduates, so that, all told, 23 of our alumni have in this way blessed the Orient.
The list is: (*now — 1915 — deceased)
1865 L.A. Ostrander
1865 James Rodgers
1866 Samuel D. Wilcox*
1869 Charles Anderson, now professor there
1872 Arthur S. Hoyt
1872 Lewis R. Heffer
1872 Hezekiah Webster*
1873 Lansing L. Porter
1875 Aeneas McLean
1875 Chauncey S. Truax*
1877 Charles S. Hoyt*
1880 Ward M. Beckwith
1882 Robert L. Taylor
1883 Clement S. Martin
1884 Harry K. Sanborn
1885 William T. Ormiston, now professor there
1888 Carl W. Scovel
1894 Leroy F. Ostrander
1897 Winthrop H. Hopkins
1912 Robert B. Warren
And at some time John A. Paine, Class of 1859, was professor there. And another enterprise, for similar reason, is worthy of record.
At the close of the Civil War, Mr. Robert in his philanthropic spirit casting about what he could do for the impoverished South, in the spring of 1866 founded the Lookout Mountain Educational Institutions, near Chattanooga, Tennessee. William H. Bates of 1865 was first to go as a teacher at the school, and as associate principal he had most to do with organizing it. He was followed by George Orton 1866, Charles K. Hoyt 1870; Robert L. Bachman, Charles G. Bachman, and Edwin C. Wright, 1871.
Starting the school as a first class Northern Academy, Mr. Robert’s purpose was to develop it into a full-fledged University and make it the chiefest educational center in all the fair Southland. But, alas, with the unfortunate turning of President Andrew Johnson, there arose what I am sorry to call the old “rebel spirit,” and it smote the hand that brought blessing. Disappointed, disheartened, Mr. Robert closed the Institutions in 1872, after having sunk $60,000 and then gave his undivided attention to Constantinople, his original bestowal of $30,000 being followed by the bequest of one-fifth of the entire estate at this death in 1878, amounted, in all, to $400,000.
This bit of history, it seems to me fitting to give here because of the station of Hamilton College and 1865 to these two institutions, and also because of Mr. Robert’s beneficences to our Alma Mater; and if it is not given here and now it probably never will be given.
There is a contribution of a member of 1865 to Hamilton College that must not be passed by unnoticed. In our day, the campus comprised 40 acres: now it has 95. Oh, the beauty of the place then! I have been wont to say, through the years, that if one were seeking the lost site of the Garden of Eden, when he struck Hamilton College campus he would think he had found it. If beautiful then, what now after the growth of 50 years and the increased skill in arboriculture and landscape gardening!
One day in New York, one of the best-known lawyers in the United States and a capitalist met on Nassau Street. They backed up into a protected doorway for a visit. The lawyer’s hands were busy with large memorial benefactors from Hamilton, and so he could with good grace say: “The Williams farm is for sale: Stryker wants it for the College, and I think that you ought to buy it.” The outcome was that the man who had founded the Tompkins Mathematics Prize put up for the farm, and gave it to the College.
You have heard of the company composed of different nationalities touring in Italy, that, becoming exasperated by the constant pro patria boastings of the American member of it, boozed him, bound him in a sheet, and buried him in the catacombs.
When it was about time for the inebriation to have worked off, they blew a tremendous blast on the trumpet, when constantly the sleeper jumped forth and shouted: “Gabriel’s horn! America first up in the resurrection!”
College endowments may be lost through failing investments; college buildings in the course of time may crumble; but lauded estate, real terra firma, abides. On, on, in the great future, when, to use the Addisonian phrase, “mature sinks in years…amid the war of elements and wreck of matter,” if anything shall be, not “first up” exactly, but if anything shall remain, our own beloved “Tommy’s” 55-acre addition to Hamilton College campus will be “thar,” and by him modest 1865 will, through class solidarity, come, though late, to the fore!
The Training Hamilton Gives—An Appreciation
It is a fair question to ask me, in conclusion, “What, now, looking back over 50 year, is your estimation of Hamilton’s training?”
First of all, I want to pay my sincere tribute of thanks for what was done for me. I have never ceased to feel grateful that instead of yielding to maternal wish or personal predilection, I came here.
Of the changes that have taken place, in beautiful and more commodious buildings, in enlarged and extended curriculum — all admirable and worthy of all praise — I would like to, but must not, speak.
The chiefest distinction for which Hamilton College is so widely known is its production of good writers and speakers — this because, I suppose, it pays so much more attention to this branch of culture than do others. There is a tradition — fortunately in this case true — that whenever Hamilton has entered into the intercollegiate contests in oratory she has always carried off the first prize.
In our time Professor Upson had a call to another college which it would have been to his pecuniary advantage to accept it. He declined. When some 25 years later, he was a guest in my home, I asked him why. He said the reason was because the curriculum in that other college did not lay a sufficient foundation of scholarship on which to build such writers and speakers as he wanted to produce, and Hamilton College did; therefore he chose to remain where he was.
The big institutions — the universities — may give wider culture for specializing along scientific and some other lines; but to quote President Stryker’s volume — speaking epigram, while in the big institution a man may go through more college, in the small college more college goes through him. Hamilton culture is broad, and since it is a thoroughly live college (nothing dead here) its culture is being constantly and conservatively (no wildcat schemes allowed) broadened; but the training for that which she specially stands, is unsurpassed. Hamilton’s trick is turned thus: 1. By admirable and adequate scholarly discipline; 2. By the Mandeville elocutionary system; and 3. By her Upsonian et. al. matchless drill, drill, drill. There, I think you have it in a nutshell.
I was invited to preach to a church during my senior year in the theological seminary. I declined because I wanted to spend my time on my studies instead of writing sermons. Then I was asked to take charge of the pulpit and supply it by sending students to preach, which I did. I sent pretty much all my classmates and several others. Said one of the congregation to me: “He could tell as soon as he began to read a hymn whether he was a Hamilton College man or not.”
Two women, strangers, were sitting next to each other in the gallery of the United State Senate. Senator Root was delivering his speech on the Lorimer case. In the easy freedom that prevails there — conventionality giving way before interest in what is going on and the impulse to speak to ones neighbor in spite of no introduction is yielded to — one said to the other: “I have known him ever since he was a boy.” The other replied: “My husband was in college with him.” And they said to each other “Doesn’t Hamilton College training tell!” One was the wife of a college professor and the other was the wife of a clergyman.
I quote from my diary of Friday, February 3, 1911: “Busy until after eleven o’clock, when I went over to Congress. Senator Root made a masterly 2 hour and 5 minute speech on the Lorimer case, followed by Hale of Maine, Bailey of Texas, Heyburn of Idaho, with Paynter of Kentucky and Borak of Idaho firing in.”
Now, I am telling this not to praise anybody, but simply to illustrate and enforce my point.
As I listened, this is what I said to myself again: “How Hamilton College sticks out all over him.” I saw it in modulation, inflection, emphasis, indeed in all the delivery. Then as to the speech itself: it was a straight line from beginning to end, clean cut, logical, lucid — pellucid — no backing and filling, every word the right word and in the right place, sentences sounded and balanced with the most consummate rhetorical skill, yet nothing seeming forced or artificial, but all easy and perfectly natural — well, I guess that’s enough! Said the Washington correspondent of a great Western daily newspaper to me only recently: “We men in the press gallery regarded Root’s speech as the greatest one in that case.”
There are only two figures in the personnel of that scene that now remain in my mind; and they do remain; the New York senator and the senior senator from Idaho. To me it seemed pitiful. The difference was as the difference between a postgraduate and a kindergartner. And the contrast in the exhibit that day was due, I fancy, not so much to difference in ability as in culture. If the Westerner had had the training of an Easterner in “how to do it,” I apprehend that he might have been one of the commanding figures in that august body, --certainly very much more than he was.
Still again: only recently I heard a sermon by a professor of homiletics in one of our foremost theological seminaries. It was in thought, regal; in rhetoric, superb; in spirit, uplifting; but I could not help wishing again and again that he had the power of forceful presentation which he would have acquired if he had had his training in the College on the Hill that overlooks the Oriskany. And so it is almost constantly in the case of public speakers.
Now I am ready to give my estimate: If I were to have a vocation in which my success depended upon public address, I would go to Hamilton College before any other college in the United States, or for that matter in all the world.
In thus pushing Hamilton’s specialty to the fore, do not understand me as underestimating or discounting her training in other lines. Not at all. It is not only par, but a good way above par. Some twenty or more years ago when I was resident in Central New York, I heard of serious complaint at a Syracuse Teacher’s Agency because of difficulty in securing positions. Said the officer: “The trouble with you and a lot of others is, you did not graduate from the right college. Hamilton College is the college to graduate from in order to get good positions.”
Whether Hamilton has now the distinction of being a Christian college that it was had, I cannot say, having necessarily been out of touch with it so long. But I hope it has. Lawyer Charles Talbot Porter of the Class of 1845, in his annalist letter just 20 years ago, well said: “Education which does not comprehend conversion, which does not bring man’s spiritual matters into harmony with the Divine nature, lacks the most important feature, fails of the most important feature” (Fifty Years Ago, p. 252). True, most true.
Let dear, dear old Alma Mater go on her way adown the years, achieving, even more splendidly in the future than in the past, her high distinction of superiority in ratio et oratio, maintaining along therewith an equally exalted standard of Christian faith and life, leading her sons to lay all acquisition of culture and character loyally and lovingly at he feet of our adorable Saviour, Jesus Christ, crowning Him Lord of All.