1887 Class Annalist’s Letter
Courtenay Hughes Fenn
Delivered: June 12, 1937
No one can regret more keenly than the writer of this letter that last year’s appointment of a half-century annalist came to naught and that a substitute had to be secured in the last weeks before this Commencement. The present writer was christened with the middle name of Hughes, but in early youth that name was changed to Pinch-hitter. From his precollege days of service in his father’s store, through his experience as pastor, missionary and board secretary, to the position which he holds here this morning, he has become a habitual “stop-gap.”
Though it is unusual, and may appear infelicitous, to open an annalist’s letter with a note of sadness, it seems inevitable this year. A year ago in view of the lamented death in 1925 of the valedictorian of our class, Charles Buckingham Cole, whose four-year college standing was the highest in the history of the College, you appointed our salutatorian, Frank Huson Robson, whose standing was only second to Cole’s in College history, to perform this honorable function, with our class secretary, Robert A. Patteson, as a protesting alternate. We have all been grieved and shocked by the sudden death of Frank Robson on March 21, less than three months before our anniversary. For reasons hard to fathom our secretary declined to perform the annalist’s function and conspired with our class president to insist that I should do it. Protestations that, having lived on the other side of the world for two-thirds of the 50 years, and having lost all his memorabilia of college days in the Boxer cataclysm of 1900, I am the least fitted of all our survivors for the office, were of no avail. Having, during college days, been the butt of much good-natured fun, I therefore once more expose myself to such attack by trying to recall for the class, and to describe for the alumni of all years, the Dark Ages of the Eighties, when our “famous class” set out to produce a new day by earnest devotion to the motto prophetically selected for us by dear “Old Greek:” Σοφ?α ε?ναι η αρχ? πρ?γμα (Wisdom is the principal thing). Unfortunately the mirror, with which I was expected on our Class Day to see myself as my classmates saw me, was lost with the other memorabilia, but you should now be able to see the class all the better for that fact.
Our sad regrets at this time are not confined to the loss of our honored and loved leaders, but include also that fine fellow John Pannett Reed, whose death we mourned in college days; our fellow freshman, Frederick V. Coville, who has just left a great record in the government and the Geographic Society after giving the world the modern blueberry; and the many who have dropped out of our ranks during these 50 years. Of these you will hear from our historian. Far be it from us to withhold the class’ wreath from our new-made grave of that best-known of our alumni, one of the most loyal and generous friends the College ever had, the many times Honorable Elihu Root.
And now, just as we were about to gather for the 125th anniversary of the College’s founding, has come the word that the one who has led trustees, faculty and students in building up and administering the College for the past 20 years, our greatly efficient and well-loved President Ferry, is determined to apply to himself the professorial rule for age-retirement and to turn over his great responsibilities and opportunities to another, yet to be sought and hard to find. The world demands such a variety of qualifications for that office! Fifty years ago a New York paper, reporting the election of Timothy Dwight to the presidency of Yale, remarked that “Dr. Dwight is said to be a man of considerable ability, but is entirely unknown in sporting circles.” Though not blessed with training under President Ferry’s administration, we have seen and heard of him as an all-around college builder and head, to whom the College owes much of its recent growth and present prosperity, and it is with sad regret that our class will welcome him to the ranks of the septuagenarians, well-knowing, however, that, never qualifying for superannuation, he will join the justices of the Supreme Court in further confuting certain foolish notions of our national president.
Most of our class first climbed the Hill at the opening of the fall term in September of 1883, while a few came here for entrance examinations in June. I was favored in making my first visit in those “piping times of peace,” before hostilities had broken out on the Hill, though at either season I think the first impression received must have been that “everything was lovely,” and only later did we discover that “only man was vile.” As we came on the Hill, I am sure that the first thing for which some of us looked was that almost humanly attractive thing, boasted in the College Catalogue, “The Gridley Pinetum.” Before examining and admiring that, however, we were awed by the long row of stately poplars, which, unlike the “Marmorbilder,” of which we learned later as “stehen und sehen mich an, was hat Mann dir, du armes Kind, gethan?” seemed rather to be marching down the Hill to meet us, perhaps to suggest by contrast the humble spirit which becometh, but usually marketh not the freshman. And how blest we were in those days not to find the hilltop bare of tress, and almost bare of buildings, as it had been 50 years before! Not only were there specimens here of every New York State tree which could stand the subzero winters of Clinton, but also exotics from many lands, among which stands out in memory one’s first Chinese Ginkgo, a sacred tree with leaf like the maiden-hair fern. One evening as some of us were passing under that tree, the whole world was suddenly illumined as the most brilliant meteor we had ever seen passed over and was gone. Alas! The Hill was not always illumined. There were no lamps on College Street or campus, by which to pick our way over wooden walks unmended for 25 years, or over red-shale paths, beautiful when dry but slippery and sloppy to the nth degree after a rain. Long entreaty produced some wayside lamps, only to be smashed by vandal freshmen, not of our class.
And then our first sight of the Chapel, in its classic dignity and beauty, with its goose-quill weather-vane not only pointing the direction of Heaven’s winds, usually northwest, but delicately poised as if to write on Earth’s campus the words and the deeds of many generations of college youth and their instructors. The College attempted to do too many things in this one building in those days. Since then it has done less and done them better, and we may well be proud of this place of gathering, for the worship of God, for the maintenance of the old Hamilton religious and literary tradition, for the transaction of her business and the celebration of her unending anniversaries.
At the north end of the campus stood the Litchfield Observatory, protected on the west by a wind-break of tress, the felling of which during one of our great astronomer’s absences brought down more than the tress, even the outraged wrath of the famous Dr. Peters, not this time on students’ guilty heads, for they had not done it. Except for a visit to the shed-like chemical laboratory, the dilapidated Knox Hall, or the wonderful old well, it was not wise for a visitor to venture from the main campus, which had been pronounced “the handsomest college grounds in the country,” to inspect the region back of the Chapel and dormitories, for it was almost like straying from Paradise to Gehenna. The College toilets, all outside, were unspeakable, and even the gymnasium was but a barn, with little and crude equipment, no heat, no showers, no lockers and no trainers. Steuben Field was but a dream, to be realized in part, some years later, by the generosity of John Myers of our class, who also established a lectureship.
As to the dormitories, one wonders whether there could now be found, in this country, or even on the foreign mission field, such a lack of conveniences as was our common lot in the 1880s. What was provided was a bare room for study and a smaller one for beds for two. All furniture, including a stove, was supplied by the student. There was no running water anywhere, each man having to fetch and warm his own, unless he could work a freshman roommate. The only source of supply was a cistern near the dormitory with a square box-cover and a long pole beside it equipped with a wooden hook to engage the bail of the pail. With ice massed over and around the cistern, the mercury at -30º and a nor’wester blowing on a moonless night, the student in need of water was in good training for Antarctic exploits with Richard Byrd. As it was common to find one’s pail of water frozen solid in the morning, some preferred to defer the drawing of water until that time. Fortunately College exercises did not begin at six as they once did. Chapel came at eight, and an unheeded curfew rang at nine in the evening, a relic of early days.
For some of us freshmen, things were even more inconvenient. The poor College had found means to rehabilitate Knox Hall and North College, the most dilapidated of the dormitories, of which the name was then changed from Dexter to Skinner Hall. The closing of this dormitory made it necessary for many students to find quarters elsewhere, and for some of us the village of Clinton, a mile and a half away, afforded the only available rooms and board, a lunch of sandwiches and pie being carried to the Hill and the walk no doubt compensating somewhat for the lack of gymnasium facilities at the College. Our chief ailment was not the present “auto-intoxication,” but plain “shinfever.” In the dormitories, the halls, especially those making connections on the third floor, where wicked students delighted to place stumbling-blocks for the unwary and the impetuous, were long without lights. Our rooms were known by location rather than number. “North South Fourth Front Middle” was a description perfectly intelligible to the initiated. A naughty custom when we entered college, abolished when we became upperclassmen, was for one or more boys to yell “Heads Out!” when any woman was observed walking on the campus.
Having passed entrance examinations, if required, and being duly matriculated, we understood from upperclassmen that, after our first morning chapel we must be prepared to fight for our lives. Aware of our greatly superior numbers, we did not fear the combat with the sophomores, which took place that morning and on numerous other occasions, especially when the snow was deep and soft. Later in the year came the cane rushes. When chapel rushes began before the doors had been cleared, stalwart professors like Dr. Hopkins exerted themselves vigorously to maintain order. Tall, dignified President Darling will be recalled as hastening to the vestibule, stretching out his hands imploringly and crying, “Cease, gentlemen, cease!” There were few “gentlemen” present. When the campus was reached, little effort was made to restrain the effervescence and belligerence of the lower classes. Torn garments, bloody noses, black eyes and slightly disabled limbs were no rarity even before the days of modern football. Someone remarked that “Sophomores are wicked, and juniors and seniors love to have them so.”
One of the outstanding features of freshman year was the mock-solemn cremation of a copy of Higher Algebra with which we had all wrestled for two terms under “Square Root.” An elaborate ceremony was held in the senior classroom back of the Chapel, with the professor’s Algebra, if available, in a coffin secretly smuggled on the Hill, and with costumed Pontifices, Vespillones, a poet and mourners, the class in procession marched to a funeral pyre heaped on the campus north of the Alpha Delta Phi House, where the Algebra was cremated. Normally the part of the sophomores had been merely to laugh, scoff and annoy. But the Class of 1886, tired of playing underdog to a larger class of freshmen, determined to discomfit us by the use of superior brains, so hatched a marvelous scheme. Luring our Pontifices to Dan’s, they abducted them to Deansville. Consternation, but no despair, in the freshman camp. A bribed hackman disclosed the place of detention; a large party of freshmen achieved the rescue, and the ceremony began at midnight. Meanwhile the sophomores had seized the guards at the pyre and touched it off. After a mad scramble to save part of the burning wood, we turned to our only resource, the material turn out in remaking North College, cremated our Algebra, and each member of the class was charged five dollars for wood in the next term bill. The sophomores should have paid that bill, but our triumphant cremation was worth the money. There was general regret when a later class dropped the old cremation custom.
It is needless to inform any Hamilton College man that one of our chief winter sports was coasting. In our day most of it was done on the narrow wooden sidewalk on College Street, which pedestrians avoided as far as possible. One winter we enjoyed 125 consecutive days of coasting. The long goose-necked sleds, carrying from two to six men seated upright, steered by foot pressure of the man in front, made those sharp turns in marvelous fashion, with exceptions. Men smartly dressed for an evening in the village were seen to land in six feet of snow in the ditch. Our John Peck was lamed for life by a tree at the foot of Sophomore Hill. Immaculate Professor Frink, dumped in the snow, is said to have cried, “I must say it — Damn!” The crust being fine one moonlit night, a small party tried the fields. Judson saw not the barbed wire at the bottom but was finally disentangled, scared but unscathed. Our moonlight coasts with the fair were private affairs and need only to be mentioned. It was a long pull up the Hill, but there were compensations.
We boarded wherever we could until President Darling’s dream of a commons hall materialized. We paid more than our predecessors of 50 years before, not $1.50 but $3.50 to $4 per week, with few porterhouse steaks in the menu. We ordinarily slaked our thirst at the Old College Well, but prizewinners were dragged over to Dan’s to set ’em up to lemonades made of whole lemons and well-shaken. As to stronger drinks, not many of the class wasted money, health and morals in that way, and several members were stalwart third-party prohibitionists. Football, except in very primitive, desultory fashion, was hardly known here. Each class had a baseball nine, and the College Nine contended with fair success with other Nines in the state, including Cornell. Track meets were in their infancy, and tennis was largely confined to our own club and to private lawns. But wheeling throve, with Prof. Borst as captain of the club. The old-fashioned high-wheeled bicycle, to mount which almost required a ladder and a header from which might prove fatal, was considered “the latest product of the world’s locomotive genius,” and someone said, “Wheels have revolutionized the world.”
When our class entered college, the curriculum for each year was cut-and-dried, with no electives. After many appeals certain choices were allowed after second-term sophomore, and finally even freshmen were given some liberty of selection. There were no departmental buildings, rooms or honors, each class having its own recitation room. Departmentalization made a fair start during our college years, however.
A serious cause of complaint, among the students in the Literary Monthly, was the marking system. Modeled on that of Yale, the system itself was not the object of our abjurations, but the fact that no hint as to his standing, absolute or relative, was given to a student until just before graduation. The inequity of this was finally seen, and after our first year all standings were reported annually to all classes, and any surprises at the end produced no lasting depression, sense of injustice or blight on a future career. A difference of 4,000ths of one per cent for the four years relieved our third man of the necessity of delivering a Latin salutatory, yet did not deter him from compiling a Chinese dictionary.
Commencements, at the end of June or early in July, were festive times, as they are today, though the village was the scene of most of the festivities — the last chapel, the alumni meeting and the Tree Day exercises alone being held on the Hill. The alumni dinner was paid for by the seniors in their term bills, at $5 per senior, not per plate. Every member of the graduating class was on the commencement program, though fortunately many were excused from speaking, and it was no crime for visitors, with program and watch in hand, to drop in and out of the church, to hear this friend or that oratorical star, during the long service. Yet at least one man established a record by fanning his girlfriend without ceasing from the invocation to the benediction. Of course crowds came from Utica and beyond during that gala week, and Clinton homes were full as well as the hotels, so-called. No trolleys, no buses, no motor cars, but a much fuller train service to the old barn-like railway station, replaced by a new one early in our day. Whether by collusion with College authorities or for some other reason than student demand, the evening trains to and from Utica were cancelled for some time. It was in our day that the New York Central’s temporary rival, the West Shore Road, was put through, coming as near us as Clark’s Mills; and a rate war ensued, cutting the cost of travel to half-a-cent a mile. One day Frank Severance tried conclusions with an express at a crossing, almost to the conclusion of his earthly career.
Throughout that period in its history, Hamilton College maintained a very high reputation for rhetorical and literary work. With her semi-weekly chapel-hours for essays, declamations, debates and orations, her personal elocutionary drill by professors and upperclassmen, her prize contests in the composition and delivery of all these various productions, for all classes, especially the seniors, Hamilton became justly famous. And The Hamilton Literary Monthly. Edited and published by either members of each senior class representing the Greek letter and literary societies, for 10 months of each year, held high rank in the then-slowly developing field of college journalism. Most of the prize-winning essays and orations were published in full. Undergraduate and alumni poets were welcomed to its pages and one prize competition each in poetry and short stories enlivened its contents. Numerous editorial articles on College life, its outstanding events, needs, problems, reforms; on morals, religion and politics, predominantly Republican; biographical notes, culls from other college journals, “Pickings and Stealings” from their funny columns; brief news items and voluminous Alumina, completed the usual menu. The “pickings and stealing” were chiefly sentimental verse, with hugs and kisses as numerous as in modern movies. Most prominent in the original poetry were verses by Dr. Woolsey Stryker, Class of 1872, Clinton Scollard , Class of 1881, Channing Huntington, Class of 1884 and Hotchkiss and Mulligan, Class of 1886. Many of the essays were criticisms of the great writers from Shakespeare to Bret Harte.
The editorial attitude differed not a little from year to year. It was, perhaps, not strange that, from February to May of 1884, after the famous “College Bolt,” as to the justification for which opinions differed then and differ today, editorials were fiercely, bitterly, intemperately anti-faculty, insomuch that a faculty interdict was issued against any future reference to the faculty. That year’s Hamiltonian board sought to get even by omitting altogether the names of the faculty in its reprint of the College Catalogue. Although nominally representative of the whole College, the Literary Monthly sometimes did scant justice to that fourth of the student body which, by choice or necessity, did not hold membership in the Greek letter fraternities. In fact society feeling ran rather strong in the College during our four years, especially our senior year, even to the establishment of a rival Monthly and the threat of division on Class and Tree days. But the wounds were healed, the air was cleared, and, to my best belief, relations among the societies, while maintaining their rivalry, have almost altogether lost their acrimony, so that editorials such as appeared in 1887 would now be unthinkable.
The Literary Monthly undoubtedly exercised a strong influence in accomplishing the numerous reforms which took place during our college years, although many were also the result of the current of the times and the movements in other colleges. It was not yet for Hamilton the era of building; the College was far too impecunious for ambitious enlargement and modern equipment. There was too little wealth in the hands of our alumni and too little appreciation of a college’s material needs. What had been good enough for the fathers should be good enough for the children. But it was certainly an era of intellectual building and change. The obsolete fixed curriculum gave place to elective courses. Our meager science laboratories led to what might be called laboratories for all departments, in which the several professors took pride and which they equipped and adorned to an attractiveness and convenience never known before.
Plagiarism, cribbing in examinations, the purchase of essays and orations — occasionally offered by self-styled, “literary bureaus” — and reckless use of “ponies,” were decidedly frowned upon, though not altogether unpracticed. Yet one of the strangest conceptions of the right relation between teacher and taught was long prevalent, mildly deprecated in the Literary Monthly of our first year, but scornfully denounced in our last year. One of the staple arguments with preparatory students for attending Hamilton had always been the intimacy of relations possible here between the fewer students and the professors. Yet the freshman who dared to act upon this principle and ask questions about the lesson after class, or even in it, was at once dubbed “supe,” and subjected to scorn and no little ostracism for his alleged “currying of favor.” Under editorial reasoning, aided by increasing efforts of progressive professors, a marked change took place in the student attitude toward familiar relations between teacher and taught, and those who were genuinely anxious to make the most of their college course gradually lost their fear of the charge of “supping,” consulted their teachers as helpful friends, and in so doing brought cheer and inspiration into the lives of the able men who had not formerly been allowed to do their utmost for their pupils.
I suppose that Hamilton College’s sturdy maintenance of the ideal of her founders to provide a sound and sufficiently broad education on a classical foundation has always been a subject for criticism on the part of some of her alumni as well as outsiders, yet there have always been enough men of a conservative type who have wanted just what Hamilton has been giving, and the list of our alumni with their achievements does not seem to indicate that they did not find here a full preparation for an efficient life and a valuable contribution to the world’s progress. Even 50 years ago there were American colleges which were dropping Greek and even Latin from their requirements for the A.B. degrees, but Hamilton students were as strong as the faculty against such surrender to the materialistic spirit which even then had begun to manifest itself in educational circles.
In those days of long ago, other questions were coming forward which have not yet ceased to be subjects of discussion, though general practice has greatly changed. In those days not even Harvard had done away with required morning chapel, while at Cornell its abolition had done away with all chapel services. The question of student government was coming to the front, and, however omnipotent the faculty may have been in theory, they were increasingly inclined to consider student opinion. One of our Monthly’s editors, while not above all suspicion of sarcasm in making the remark, was not far from the truth when he wrote, “Religion is the foundation of Hamilton’s fame.” Her founders were deeply religious in spirit and purpose, and most of the early contributors to her support and gradual endowment sought to provide young men with an education in a truly religious atmosphere. All of her presidents save one and very many of her professors have been ordained ministers. Long under the care of the synod of New York, she has maintained a regularly organized college church. A college YMCA was long a feature of college life, with a building unsuccessfully promoted in our day but later provided by the generosity of Mr. Silliman. In our day each class had its weekly prayer meeting and a brief general meeting was held in the Chapel four noons a week for those who cared to turn aside for a few moments from the day’s work to realize and express the higher relation. A larger fraction of each class had in view the christian ministry and a goodly number of graduates went to the ends of the earth as missionaries. To three of our class, and one of the Class of 1888, the privilege was given of attending D.L. Moody’s first Summer School of Bible Study for College Students, at Mt. Hermon, Mass. in 1886, where we saw the start of the great Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions. The following November, Robert Wilder and John Forman visited the College. The White Cross Movement for Social Purity also made quite a stir among us. It would take a long time even to name the strong men in the church’s history who were alumni of Hamilton. And which of us does not remember affectionately “Deacons” Miller, Wood, Niles, Colson, Haines and Scovel, not to mention their successors, who faithfully, if not always appreciatedly, tapped on our doors to remind us of class prayer meeting? For some of the class, religious activity was not confined to prayer meetings and occasional attendance at state YMCA conventions, but exercised the body and kept warm the heart with long wintry trudges over the Hill or along its foot to conduct Sunday schools and other services at Lairdsville, England, Kirkland and other villages. Our first classes on Monday mornings were always either in the Greek testament with “Old Greek,” in The Foundations (Christian evidences) with President Darling, or in some other religious textbook thought proper for preparation on Sunday if we must study on that day.
It is one of our wonders in these later days how our college generation ever produced so much good literature as it did with so poor a library as we then had and such inadequate facilities for its use. We had a good building (now the infirmary), though far too small for the present day, but it had only 20,000 volumes to house and those but slightly classified and incompletely catalogued. The library was open but two afternoons in the week, afterward increased to four, and was served by students in their spare hours, with Prof. Burdick in responsible charge. The rhetorical library was long kept in a separate building. Most of the societies had small collections of books of their own, to the cataloguing of which, and the clipping of periodicals, odd hours were devoted by studious members. The libraries of most students were meager, though frequently enlarged by the book-bargains, good and bad, offered by John B. Alden’s American Book Exchange and the book auctions of Bangs & Co. of New York, who sent us catalogs regularly. We had a small College bookstore, long presided over by our genial Harlow Loomis.
Our Sunday chapel preachers were almost all members of our own faculty, not imported men of mark. Some students were quite regular in attendance on the evening services and prayer meetings of the village churches, which were also attended by girls from the several seminaries then in Clinton, connection between the two facts being sometimes suspected. The minister of one of the smaller churches was quite given to graphic descriptions. Samson was once depicted as returning from the lion’s carcass with a great sticky mass of honey in his two hands for his parents, the moral of the sermon being, “When you have any honey, pass it around.” The church sociables, sometimes at the hospitable home of Dr. and Mrs. Hudson, attracted college boys and seminary girls.
Biographical notes on the members of our class, surviving or gone before, fall rather within the functions of our class historian. As to the Hamilton faculty of our day, such fine tribute was paid to them by 1886’s annalist last year that the present writer refrains from the inevitable repetition of any extended presentation of the various professors for your admiration. This is especially true of President Darling, whose later years the former dean could describe accurately from his own association with them. The president was a man of great dignity and of great benignity; he also possessed a fine sense of humor which often took the edge from assertions of authority and manifestations of erudition otherwise perhaps trying.
What can one possibly say of Dr. Edward North, our “Old Greek,” which has not already been said in dozens of annalists’ letters? Every student admired and loved him, whether he took other Greek with him than the New Testament or not. His beautiful, classical face spoke benediction, and there was no one of us for whose welfare he did not take personal thought.
Dr. Christian Henry Frederick Peters, familiarly and admiringly known as “Old Twink,” was not an intimate with many in the class, whose members took with him no more than the required term of apogees and azimuths, but we all saw in the College Catalogue the annually growing list of 44 or more asteroids, with a superficial area of 267,000 sq. miles, in which he claimed a special proprietorship as their discoverer, and we realized his prominence in the celestial sphere. And none of us will ever forget his “star chart” of his recitation room, on which every member of the class had his reserved seat, much better known to Dr. Peters than the face of the student, who was marked “present” from the fact that someone occupied that seat when the roll was checked. Many, after memoriter recitation, vanished unnoticed through an open window.
Dr. Abel Grosvenor Hopkins was almost equally dignified with the president, but he also often had a merry twinkle in his eye. He knew his Latin and meant that we should know it. His humor was inherited from his father, Dr. Samuel Hopkins, professor of church history at Auburn Theological Seminary, who once, presenting to us the attractions of that School of the Prophets, cautioned us as to Auburn’s social allurements in the words, “Not a few students come to us as strangers and are taken in.”
Of Professor Frink we all recall the aesthetic daintiness, while we also remember his intimate acquaintance with English literature and his discriminating elocutionary criticism and drill. A classmate, writing an essay on Shakespeare for Prof. Frink, was accused by him of having spelled the name of the Bard of Avon in 15 ways, none of which was any of the 25 spellings already given the class. Professor Frink’s successor, Dr. Arthur S. Hoyt, later professor of homiletics at Auburn Seminary, ably carried on the good work of the man who left us for Amherst.
Dr. Oren Root, Sr. commonly called “Cube Root,” had ceased to teach and, during our day passed to his reward, but Dr. Oren Root, Jr. was very much alive, an effective preacher as well as a master of mathematics. If most of us do not now know the difference between a cosine and an asymptote it is not his fault. It was one of the anomalies of our time that the only person who carried away a permanent souvenir of participation in the math prize examination was the man who stood third and received a gold medal instead of money. The United States Navy Department became generous in the early eighties and loaned the College Lieut. Denig, under whose guidance our class resurveyed the line fixed by the original treaty between the whites and the six nations of Indians, and erected the square stone on Freshman Hill where the line crosses College Street, which seems even more our class stone than the one on the campus under which repose our memorials.
Professor Herman Carl George Brandt was a pioneer, not only with us but also in other colleges, in a thoroughly scientific, etymological study and teaching of modern languages, and greatly did we profit by his introduction to Grimm and Brachet and Skeat, who opened our door to fascinating researches in philology which have made our own English a more facile instrument of expression. Having refused a tempting call to Johns Hopkins, he gave to Hamilton the glory of his own up-to-the-last-minute German Grammar, enthusiastic reviews of which adorned our Alumina for years. And Prof. Brandt built him a famous house on the hillside, over whose door he inscribed, “Das liebe Haus, das beste Haus,” profanely translated, “The expensive house is the best house,” to be indignantly corrected by the owner as “The loved home is the best home.” Over a mantel was written: O Gott, ich bitt; Bewahr mein tritt, So fall ich nit.”
Many of the class would agree that we never had a more inspiring teacher than the young man who left us too soon for Cornell, Professor George P. Bristol, under whom we read much of our Greek and some Anglo-Saxon or Sanskrit. He loved the books he taught and made dead languages live. He laid well the foundations for Prof. Brandt’s courses in philology.
Cornell also carried off the strong man of the Maynard-Knox Law School, our brilliant teacher of history and the elements of constitutional and international law, and our patient and suggestive librarian, Professor Francis Marion Burdick.
I fear that our training in philosophy would hardly be considered adequate in these days, though perhaps as practical and wholesome as much of the post-impressionist philosophy and psychology of recent times. On account of personal peculiarities, Dr. Edward John Hamilton was not always treated with the reverence due to the author of a voluminous treatise on the human mind, an alarm clock once being set off under his platform in the middle of the recitation.
In those days of no electives, or of few, and in our own uncertainty as to the future current of our activities, some of us made very poor use of the opportunities afforded us in college. The writer, for one, enjoyed very little advantage from the courses in natural history offered by Professors Kelsey and Chester, even though he did take laboratory chemistry with Prof. Chester and Fred Cairns clear through senior year. No biology, zoology, botany or geology was forced upon him; he elected none, and has always felt the handicap. Yet he carried extra hours. Again it was a case of too little consultation with intimate, wise teachers.
And so our teachers turned us out,
But some have lingered near,
And waited busily about
Til this half-century year.
And some have wandered far afield,
Borne truth to distant lands,
Or forced resourceful earth to yield
Rich profits to their hands.
And some have taught and made their mark,
Some, preaching, cast a spell;
And some have made cold juries hark,
And some have made folks well.
O alma mater, mother dear!
Our anniversary’s yours.
We’ll greet you with a ringing cheer.
As long as life endures!
Courtenay Hughes Fenn, Class of 1887
“Hamilton College maintained a very high reputation for rhetorical and literary work. With her semi-weekly chapel-hours for essays, declamations, debates and orations, her personal elocutionary drill by professors and upperclassmen, her prize contests in the composition and delivery of all these various productions, for all classes, especially the seniors, Hamilton became justly famous. And The Hamilton Literary Monthly. Edited and published by either members of each senior class representing the Greek letter and literary societies, for 10 months of each year, held high rank in the then-slowly developing field of college journalism.”