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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1819 Letter

John Barton

Delivered: 1869

When I entered college, the first term of the sophomore class, 1816, there was but one college building (Hamilton Hall) and the old Academy, in which were the Chapel and library. There were only a few small trees in the College yard, but tall and graceful poplars lined the road in front of the building. Since then there have been erected two College dormitories and an observatory, all of stone, and a building for the library, of brick. The grounds have undergone as great a change, being beautified and ornamented with trees, shrubs and flowers; and the whole has a neat and pleasing appearance. But I doubt if these improvements compensate for shutting out from sight one of the most splendid and magnificent scenes in the state, if not the world. I mean the scene that lies spread out along the valley of the Oriskany, and which used to call forth the admiration of all who visited College Hill. There is now and then an opening through which a small portion of the landscape can be seen. But to obtain a view of this panorama of nature, one must ascend to the upper windows of the North Hall. Here the whole scene lies spread out before him. At his feet is the beautiful village of Clinton, nestling among the foliage of trees and shrubs. Farther east are the slopes of Paris Hill all dotted with farmhouses, orchards and groves. A little north of east lies the village of New Hartford and the city of Utica, with a background view of the Deerfield hills, forming a scene of unsurpassed beauty and loveliness.

At the time I entered college, the faculty consisted of President Azel Backus, Professor Seth Norton, Mr. Theodore Strong, and Professor Josiah Noyes; men who filled with honor and dignity their various departments of learning. The first time I attended chapel services in the evening all the professors were present. President Backus was in the desk; the professors sat at his right hand, and the students sat on the elevated seats in front. The services were reading a portion of Scripture, and prayer. The deep and tender pathos of Dr. Backus' voice, the sober and intellectual faces of the professors, and the serious and deep attention of the students, accompanied with a solemn stillness, was well calculated to produce in the mind awe and reverence. And yet when one looked upon the kind faces of president and professors, he could not help thinking that all of those great and good men were his friends. And indeed they proved to be so through all his college course.

President Backus lived but a few weeks after I entered college. Of course I had no personal acquaintance with him. He was universally beloved by all the members of the College, and had by his kind and courteous manner won a large circle of friends in the neighborhood. His death was sincerely and widely lamented.

Dr. Backus was succeeded by President Henry Davis, of Middlebury College. His accession to the presidency of Hamilton College was hailed with great rejoicing. He had been invited to the presidency of Yale College just made vacant by the death of the great and good Dr. Timothy Dwight. When the news of his acceptance of the presidency of Hamilton College was made know in Clinton there was a wild and enthusiastic feeling expressed. Books were thrown aside, lessons forgotton, rooms deserted, and all rushed to the front of the college, to express their delight with tumultuous joy. His personal appearance was fine; rather tall and slender, with an intelligent, but sober countenance. In his intercourse with students he was distant and reserved. To strangers he was affable and polite, and displayed the manner of a perfect Christian gentleman. His conversation was extremely interesting; sometimes delightful and enchanting. Few persons could have any intercourse with him without feeling that he had fully learned the lesson of the apostle, "Be courteous." He died at his residence, a little north of the college, in a good old age, and was buried in the College cemetery.

Professor Norton had a mild and pleasing countenance. He was unsurpassable in his aptness to teach, thorough in the recitation room, taking great pleasure in giving the best rendering to every part of the lesson, in the most pure and classical language. He appeared to be wedded to his profession, and would sometimes be much amused at the curious renderings of some of the class. He was uniform and even in his temper. If he had any cause to give a rebuke, it was done so mildly and with so much evident pain and sorrow that it made the offender regret deeply that he had injured the feelings of so kind and good a teacher. He was universally loved and respected.

Professor Strong, true to his name, was a strong man. With an open and pleasing countenance, he carried the expressions of a fine and resolute mind. He loved his euclid; he loved his conic sections. He loved everything connected with mathematics. He took great pleasure in teaching and appeared as though he wanted to infuse into the minds of the students his own love and knowledge of mathematics. He had no fear that the scholar would excel the teacher, but would openly express his pleasure when one of the class in a clear and prompt way demonstrated some difficult problem. Free and easy in his manner with the students, lively and pleasant in his conversation, he commanded the respect and gained the confidence of all. He will ever be remembered by each one who sat under his teaching with love; and his recent death was mourned as the loss of a good man and sincere friend.

Professor Noyes was one of the best-natured men in the world. Of a mild and pleasing countenance, soft and winning manners, his kindness knew no bounds. He was too indulgent to secure the highest confidence of the students, yet every one loved him for his gentle and winning ways. Students who wished to be excused from recitations found little difficulty in persuading the good doctor that they were fit subjects for the invalid list. He was fully competent for all the duties of his department. His lectures were clear, and when accompanied by experiments were very interesting. He possessed a very superior inventive and mechanical mind, and though he might not himself have derived much benefit from his inventions, yet others have reaped a large reward. He is spoken of at this day, by all who were under his instructions, with kindness and love.

Besides these there were two tutors, Josiah Spalding and Zedekiah Barstow. Tutor Spalding was a fine looking man with a countenance rather proud and intelligent. He was reserved and distant, a fine scholar, and a gentleman in his manners. He evidently took no pleasure in teaching. His recitations were dry and uninteresting. It was a relief to himself, as well as to the class, when they were ended. He went West, settled in St. Louis, and was made judge in Missouri. He died some years ago.

Tutor Barstow was a good instructor, and was much interested in advancing the students in their studies. For some reason, I know not what, the class took a great dislike to him, and used to annoy and disturb him by their college tricks. When he left College he went to Keene, New Hampshire and became one of the greatest divines in the State.

Fifty years have passed away since I left Hamilton College. They have carried with them to their last resting place every one of the faculty. All but one or two of my classmates have ceased to be, and I am left alone to tell the history of the Class of 1819.