Fifty Years of Days Beyond Recall

Claudius A. Hand, Class of 1905

Delivered: June 1955

On this one hundred and forty-fifth Commencement of Hamilton College, momentarily I depart from the role of Half-Century Annalist, whose brooding words pertain only to the past, while I extend my commiserations to future Annalists, who doubtless will be told as I was, upon accepting this honor, to squeeze into a half-hour delivery, fifty years of history and reminiscences.

In the beginning when I glanced at the mass of collected data, I thought how useful it would be to edit, could I call in Bob Peck ’07, to assist; for Bob Peck, as most of you know, was born in Clinton and a graduate of Hamilton, who has recently resigned after forty-eight years of newspapering with the Tribune, and was then acclaimed in journalism as the greatest re-write man in America. He could have culled with ease from those records, into a few paragraphs, a brilliant narrative — but no such luck! But having been a lawyer all my life, and I add with all due respect, the legal profession is a verbose one, I will strive nevertheless to make it interesting with as little as possible of mere statistics.
What a panorama has passed before us!

We watched the Titanic go down in the winter wilderness of the North Atlantic; two wars strewed carnage across half the globe; prohibition came and went; Germany was destroyed and reborn; polio was conquered; we lived through the deepest depression and the highest prosperity; we saw power wrenched from the atom; men moving faster than sound, and we note with optimism that desire for freedom is kept burning throughout the world.

It was also in 1905, our graduation year, we heard the great genius, Einstein, postulated his formula, which indicated that small quantities of mass could be made to yield unbelievable amounts of energy.  That Einstein, who begat the atom bomb, had, too, a sense of humor, was evidenced when he laughingly illustrated “Relativity” in saying “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour it seems a minute, but let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour.” That’s relativity, Einstein declared.

While possibly not historical, a recent clipping from The New York Herald Tribune is at least eventful and I quote “Vienna, May 11: The Austrian State Treaty Conference has produced a new drink, which they christened, The Five Power Cocktail. It went on sale today in Vienna bars and consists of American rum, Russian vodka, French vermouth, British bitters, and Austrian white wine.”

This incident is unimportant as to whether this so-called Diplomatic Five Power Cocktail was potent — this we can assume — but it does illustrate humorously to what extremes diplomats see fit these days to extend their diplomacy: It is due to them that I now make appreciative and respectful reference to the faculty of our day — that great body of men whose eternal influence on our lives is immeasurable.

What Hamilton men of those days will never forget: Old Greek, Little Greek, Doc Ward, Square Root, Schnitz Brandt, Bill Nye, Bib Ibbotson, Bill Shep, Bill Squires, Pretty Smyth, Robby, Hank White, Woody, Bugs Morrill of biology, Stink Saunders of chemistry, Pill Saunders of Physics and, of course, our beloved Prexy Stryker.

Probably all have “gone to a better land,” but they are not forgotten.

Then followed other great leaders down to our distinguished President, Dr. McEwen, a man for whom every Hamilton alumnus has such deep affection, and who in the educational world stands out brilliantly as the leader in thought and practice of the pure liberal arts doctrine of college preparation for life. Our illustrious class of 1905 start out with about forty-five men, only half of us are left, which seems a fair` average for Hamilton men after fifty years.

Let’s, therefore, be happy that technology may change the way we live, but in this epoch, life expectancy keeps growing and women still outnumber men. Why, only last month, out in Iowa, Dr. Hullinger, a county doctor, was wed at 91 and was the father of a ten-pound second son at 94.

It would give me pleasure to tell you something of each of my classmates, but time will not suffice, for even a digest from Who’s Who? would leave time for little else, so we shall reserve classmate history for our class reunion tonight at Trinkaus Manor in Oriskany, where we can let ourselves go — with time unlimited — as we drink to the everlasting glory of the buff and blue.

It is interesting to turn back the pages of fifty years and recall the books we were then reading and the plays we were then seeing. In literature, among the bestsellers of our day were Beverly of Graustark by George Barr McCutcheon, The Bishop’s Carriage and The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come by John Fox, Jr., and Rebecca of Sunneybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin.

Among the plays we were then seeing, on the rare occasions when they came to Utica and our exchequer permitted, were: Raffles, The Admirable Crichton with William Gillette, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch with Mabel Taliaferro, The Fortunes of the King with James K. Hackett, The Duke of Killicrankie with John Drew, Becky Sharpe with Mrs. Fiske, Romeo and Juliet with Sothern and Marlowe,  The Taming of the Shrew with Otis Skinner, The Old Homestead with Dennan Thompson, and, of course, The Music Master with David Warfield.

Fifty years ago, the induction of freshmen by the Sophs, into their four-year struggle was rugged. One instance will suffice, if you will pardon my personal torture in this respect. During the first week or so of college, if a freshman was without the immediate protection of an upperclassman, he could be captured and painted a vivid green.

Consequently, during my freshman year, my father was pastor of the Methodist Church in Clinton; so I lived home then and climbed the hill daily, sometimes walked and frequently drove Dad’s horse which I invariably tied to a tree near the old campus well. This particular day I rushed out after classes and was utterly astounded to find dad’s horse completely camouflaged with green paint in wide green stripes, so he had every appearance of a green-stripe zebra. Of course, I had heard of a purple cow; as a baby freshman, I knew first hand about pink elephants; but never before had seen a green horse.

In deep humiliation I drove the horse down the long hill, to the uproarious delight of the sophs and the dismal chagrin of my fellow freshmen; then through the village where I was followed by crowds of boys and girls who thought the circus had nearly arrived; and I must add that it took gallons of turpentine and a week’s scrubbing to bring the poor horse back into the semblance of a normal domestic animal.

Of course, some will remember on Halloween night, the cow we placed in the Latin Room of the Hall of Languages — the ducklings in the fountain — also that Sunday morning in the midst of the solemn observances, in this very chapel whose history began in 1827, when a big flock of chickens flew out in all directions from behind the pipe organ, to the consternation of all except to those culprits who had hidden them there the night before. Whether or not chickens ever returned to their more familiar roosts in neighboring farms was never disclosed.

One member of the Class of 1905 has been honored for his literary and intellectual achievements. I refer to Ezra Pound, who, in 1939 was honored by Hamilton College when it awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Literature, which citation read in part as follows:

Your range of interests is immense — your name is permanently linked with the development of English poetry in the twentieth century. Your reputation is international — for your achievements in poetry and prose, we honor you.

Few, if any sons of Hamilton had their literary and intellectual achievements accorded the praise given to Pound. Some illustrious authorities have recognized a link between Pound and Dante for it is well known that Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and possibly Yeats are the ones who, in the English-speaking world have most constantly insisted on Dante being the poet par excellence.

On March 30, 1954, Jose V. dePina Martins, Professor of Portuguese at Rome University, in his broadcast over the Vatican Radio, referred to Pound as the best poet of the United States and one of the greatest poets of the world, and whose authority gains weight that it was broadcast over the Vatican Radio throughout Europe, from the foot of St. Peter’s chair.

It was during his greatest hardships that Pound wrote his masterpiece The Pisan Cantos, for which he was awarded the Bollinger Prize for Poetry in 1949, and it was during the same period, under the burning sun, and with no philological works to assist him, that he translated Confucius into his mother tongue.

Furthermore, it was in homage to the universality of poetry that Columba University since September 12, 1953, devoted one of their lecture courses to The Pisan Cantos.

In college, Ezra Pound and I lived together in old South Dormitory. Some of the humor of our association was depicted a few years back in The New Yorker, in pure New Yorker diction. I now quote in part verbatim as it appeared:

Pound was already an inveterate versifier in college and would wake up Hand in the middle of the night to listen to something he’d just written. He’d shove a glass of beer at Hand, who was the son of a Methodist minister and didn’t drink, and declaim sonorously for as much as an hour or so. When he stopped, Hand would nervously say, “That’s wonderful, Ezra, wonderful.”

Ezra would invariably look at him, and, without a word, tear the manuscript into long strips and throw them in the wastebasket. Then he would take back the beer he had offered Hand, drink it, and go to bed.

Occasionally he’d break off in a mid-poem to ask “Claud, just how much of this stuff do you understand, anyway?”

“Not a word, Ezra,” young Hand would say meekly.

And Ezra would cry. “Oh, God!”

“It must have been pretty discouraging!” Hand told us.

Upon completion of this last episode, I note the sands of time in my hourglass have practically run out; so thus ends another cycle of fond memories of college days. In conclusion, may I ask you to join with me on this memorable occasion and solemnly rededicate our lives and devotion to God, our country and our alma mater. And I now leave with you the familiar lines of Browning from Rabbi Ben Ezra:

Grow old along with me
The best is yet to be.
The last of our years for which time was first made;
Our times are in His hand
Who saith: ‘A whole I planned — Youth shows but half; trust God, see all nor be afraid’.

Claudius A. Hand, Class of 1905

Claudius Alonzo Hand was born in Williamstown, N.J., and attended the local Clinton High School before enrolling at Hamilton. After receiving his bachelor of arts, he attended New York University Law School, where he received his bachelor of laws. In his law practice he specialized in legal transfer matters. From 1915 to 1920, he was counsel for John D. Rockefeller and various Rockefeller interests. In 1926, he was appointed general counsel for the Corporation Trust Co., where he served for 27 years.

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