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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1858 Letter

A. Judd Northrup

Delivered: June 24 1908

We, a few survivors of the Class of 1858, have come home to our old Cherishing Mother to drop a tear to the memory of the dear fellows who have fallen out of the ranks; to revive memories of the blessed years we spent here; to recall what Hamilton was in the old days; to rejoice in what she now is and is doing; and to give you, of younger generations, the blessing of old men before we go to swell the ranks of Hamilton’s great host of stelligerents.

The Class of 1858 was graduated in good time to witness and take part in one of the most important periods in history. Measured by events, it was very long ago when we left the halls of what, even in those days, we called “Old Hamilton,” then only 46 years old. Lincoln, the Civil War, the passing of slavery and the sad, blundering days of Reconstruction were close before us, and the marvelous material growth, the new wonders of science, the development of the American Nation into a world power, came swiftly on. A new generation of statesmen engaged in the solution of new and grave problems — the question of whether a Republic can grow great and rich and still live, neared and is still nearing an answer. Sometimes our hearts grow faint, but we remember that God rules.

Fifty years of a life in such times is indeed a long period. Yet, as we come back today, the panorama rolls away from our vision, the years silently withdraw, and on this cherished spot, years, events, struggles — everything drops out, and for the day we are boys of 1858 again. We rub our eyes to be sure, to make certain that this is indeed College Hill. All these grand new buildings, large trees, ample boundaries of the campus, the athletic field, electric lights, flowing water and a hundred other things confuse us — yet the grandeur of the distant hills, the far off dreamy visions, the same overarching skies, the familiar Chapel spire, the old well and the few feeble surviving old poplars, these reassure us.

In the light of the present, it almost seems as if the times when we were here were primitive and in another age. As to the College itself, they were primitive. As I have said, the College was only 46 years old when we graduated. It was a college per se. Its educational system was the finished result of a growth through the experience of ages. It was of the well-tried old-fashion, and of its best type.

It sought not so much to inform as to educate; to lay broad and strong foundations, leaving it to other institutions to built thereon the superstructure of the different professions and callings. It believed in discipline for the sake of power as the principle object — the giving of knowledge its incidental object.

The curriculum embraced mathematics, of course, whose processes and demonstrations start with axioms and progress with inexorable logic and movement, as the stars move in their courses. This was the discipline of dealing with certainties. It included both Latin and Greek, which indeed opened a wide field of literature and also laid bare the foundations of the principle modern languages, but introducing a discipline supplementary to and differing from that of mathematics in that in the analysis and translation of those languages, the student dealt with probabilities instead of certainties — precisely what we are dealing with in our daily lives, public and private.

The old College stood for a particular thing, which for want of a better term, we call “liberal education.” It was not a school of law, medicine, theology, science, art, music or modern language, a school for defectives, or a kindergarten. Those are all good in their places, but not “The College.” It was a school to make men of power and breadth. The word “culture” had not then got a bad name, an education meant “culture.”

The boy who wants to have an easy time in college, and to be educated, “along the lines of least resistance” must not go to the old-fashioned college, for there he will get the discipline of doing hard things because they are to be done, and so will learn to do hard things in actual life because they are to be done — the best lesson a young man ever learns in or out of college.

To make tough fiber, to train up the fighter, to give a little touch of the heroic to a man, to make the mental vision clearly take in a sweep of 180 degrees, with now and then a quick glance over the shoulder — that is what old-fashioned Hamilton 50 odd years ago was trying to do.

The world needs all sorts of men of ability. But let us not break down and degrade the old college, which stood for ages as the Cherishing Mother of high scholarship in the liberal arts, the training school for power, the high place for broad vision, the home where in young hearts high purposes, noble aspirations and splendid ambitions were born and nourished in the four sacred years consecrated to learning. Just now our greatest need is broad men, idealistic men of true mettle. The narrow man, however acute, is a danger in public life and disagreeable in private life. The demagogue is his most conspicuous example.

Late be the day when the college proper shall become a caravansary or a department store, in aim, method or spirit!

All of us know very well that the increase of knowledge has been even greater than the increase of material development; that great enterprises and corporate industries require specialization of knowledge and skill in the worker; and that the pressure now is to make men efficient in particulars, each fitted to be a cog somewhere in the wheels of the great machine. This specialization of knowledge, of course, has been vastly beneficial, increasing the comfort and welfare of humanity in general, but in most instances it results in the narrowing of the man himself, unless already broadly trained. However, this is the demand of the age, and we must recognize it.

Also, the cry is, “Get the young man out into the world’s work earlier! Utilize his college days directly for the special work he is to do!” This is not the time nor the occasion to make answer or to suggest and argue the best methods of meeting the new conditions, but men all over the country are thinking about them.

These conditions and demands have brought great innovations in education, some wise and some, as it seems to use of those ancient days, not yet satisfactorily demonstrated to be wise. The peremptory demand for quicker results and for what might be termed a handicraft education, for the merging of the college and the university, has pressed hard upon all the institutions of learning. The great colleges yielded first. Harvard, notably, scattered plentiful roses along the pathway of the student by her numerous and easy electives. What wonder that the smaller colleges, either under the fascination of new theories or the tremendous pressure of these examples, and the demands of prospective students, yielded to greater or less degree.

To the credit of old Hamilton, she has yielded less and stood more firmly for the ancient standards, and made even the innovations more strenuous in their application, than almost any other college in the country. There is no winding path of roses through Hamilton College through easy nonessential electives. Her elective work is solid, substantial and educative. With enlightened vision, she is faithfully fulfilling the ideals of the prophecy of her fathers, with a determination and a wisdom that will bring her even more success as the temper of the American people shall come again to its true poise.

This is the way, at least, it seems to a half-century graduate who has not been unmindful of the march of events and ideas, but has been observing and pondering these new problems in education.

But it is high time to tell you something about our Class of 1858 — brief glimpses at life histories.

When we entered in the fall of 1854, we numbered 48 members. Within freshman year a few fell out and others joined us. As sophomores we were 46; as juniors, 42, and as seniors only 27 were graduated, several of the class having gone for senior year to Union or other colleges. To our 27, four others, worthy men and all former members of the class, have been added, for merit, by the grace of College authorities. The total number of all who at any time belonged to the class is 62. It is not known how many of the non-graduating members are living. Of the class as graduated, 13 only are living; of the 31 as cataloged, 15 are living.

Of the 31 there have been 8 ministers, 12 lawyers, three doctors, one teacher, two businessmen, two farmers, two died early without fixed occupation, and one of the occupations is not known.

Fourteen at least have received the degree of A.M., five the degree of Doctor of Divinity and one the degree of Doctor of Laws.

Nine were soldiers or chaplains in the Union service in the Civil War, namely: E.P. Adams, S.F. Adams, Avery, Bates, Erdman, Macfarlane, Root, Thorpe and Wilson; and one, Ely, was in the Confederate service. Six or more, also of those not graduating with us, were in the Union service.

The class has given to the world men who, in their various callings and ways, have materially contributed to the welfare of their fellow man.

If it will not weary you too much, let me swiftly call the roll, and answer briefly for them.

Edward Payson Adams: Soldier and faithful minister of the gospel. Died aged 63 years.

Seymour Fenton Adams: Teacher for two years; lawyer, soldier, captain, assistant adjutant-general; after the cruel war was over, district attorney of Lewis County, N.Y.; went to Cleveland where he continues successfully to practice law, with a good Presbyterian conscience as partner.

Henry Newell Avery: Teacher for a short time; captain in the Civil War; physician, professor of physiology and hygiene in NY Homoeopathic Medical College in 1869; practiced in Minneapolis. Died April 17, 1898.

Lemuel Newton Bates:  Physician and surgeon. In 1861, appointed assistant surgeon in the U.S. Navy; rose step-by-step until he was appointed surgeon general of Navy, Oct. 1, 1897, and died in Washington Oct. 18 of the same year. He was the family physician and friend of President McKinley. He achieved eminence in his profession.

Willis Judson Beecher: Valedictorian. Doctor of Divinity; at one time acting president of Knox College; for many years professor of Hebrew language and literature in Auburn Theological Seminary; profound scholar — probably our most-learned man; a writer of power, wisdom and excellent ministry, and he himself has been the living example of what they ought to be. He has recently resigned his professorship to devote himself to literary and scholastic work. Resides in Auburn, N.Y.

William Lucas Bostwick: Businessman. Member of NY State Assembly; regent of the University of the State of New York; canal appraiser; cashier of NY Custom House. Died at his home in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1896.

William Hugh Bosworth: Principal of public schools in Rochester, N.Y., from 1863 to the time of his death, Jan. 15, 1885. A faithful and successful educator.

Cyrus Carpenter Camp: Lawyer and banker. Went to Kansas in 1859; prosecuting attorney of Doniphan County; superintendent of public instruction; member of legislature of Kansas; in oil business for a while; banker; wrote a book on economics and is revising it for a new edition. Resides in Troy, Kansas.

Samuel Abial Camp: Brother of C.C. Camp. Began studying for the ministry; health failed; in managing a mine he was killed by accident in 1862. He lived a spotless, upright life.

Edward Saltonstall Dakin: Son of Samuel Dana Dakin, a graduate of Hamilton in 1821 and the youngest of five brothers who graduated at Hamilton; lawyer in New York City. Died Dec. 6, 1888.

Foster Ely: Doctor of Divinity. Caught as a young lawyer in the whirl of secession while living in Missouri, he served in the Confederate Army, first as soldier, subsequently as chaplain during the Civil War. For 18 years rector of the old historic parish of Ridgefield, Conn.; resigned, made rector emeritus. Resides at Stamford, Conn.

Albert Erdman: Doctor of Divinity, chaplain in the Civil War for a year, then injured and resigned. Went though the fire, without damage, of courting and marrying one of his parishioners while pastor of the old Clinton church. For about 40 years he has been the honored and beloved pastor of the great South Street Presbyterian Church at Morristown, N.J. “Al Erd” is still young, genial, strong and loveable.

Harry Allen Grant: Studied law, had a business office in New York City but never practiced his profession; lived in Tarrytown; attended the 40th reunion of his class in 1898, and died on Aug. 20th of the same year. Scholarly, genial, upright and loved nature. We are wishing “Harry” could be with us today!

Charles Winslow Hamlin: Was a lawyer in Buffalo. I have no further information about him.

Henry Clay Howe: Was a prominent and successful lawyer in Fulton, N.Y., of marked ability and fine character; member of New York State Assembly. Died July 28, 1889.

Francis Henry Loomis: Admitted to the bar, but soon went into business; resided in St. Paul, Minn., from 1882 until his death in 1901. A man of admirable qualities and character.

Carrington MacFarlane: Physician and surgeon. While a student of medicine he was made hospital steward of 24th NY Vols., 1861; later, assistant surgeon of 81st. NY Vols.; in 1863, promoted to full surgeon; mustered out July 3, 1865. At the close of the war he was in charge of the hospitals at Wilmington, N.C., caring for the multitudes of prisoners sent there from Andersonville and other places in the south. For more than 20 years, practicing physician in Oswego, but retired from the practice because of impaired health and now lives on his farm within the Oswego city limits. “Carrie” was a favorite in College.

Horace Mack: From Ithaca, N.Y., where for many years he has served in the responsible position of assistant in the land department of Cornell University. Has written the history of Ithaca and a number of town histories. Mack enjoys all the love of all his old associates of the class.

Adam Martin: Born in Bavaria. Doctor of Divinity; in 1865, called to the presidency of Northwestern University, Wis.; in 1869 became professor of German language and literature in Pennsylvania College at Gettysburg; has since retired. No late information as to his residence.

Moseley Morris: Episcopal clergyman with churches in the western states. No information from him in years.

Ansel Judd Northrup: Lawyer in Syracuse, N.Y., since June, 1859; county judge 12 years; U.S. commissioner since 1870; for six years one of three commissioners of Statutory Revision and of Code Revision for the State of New York; appointed by the governor and Senate; probably because of his work in administering and “doctoring the laws,” the College, in 1895, graciously gave him the degree of LL. D. Class secretary for many years and published a class history in 1898. Has written and published two books of the vacation order, parts of other publications and special articles, also written and delivered lectures and many addresses; president of the Onondaga Historical Association and connected with various local institutions. Still practicing law in Syracuse.

John Norman Root: Of Little Prairie Ronde, Mich. Taught and studied law for two years, then retired to his farm; soldier in the Civil War for one year.

John Mitcell Roundtree: For a short time in college. Became a prominent lawyer in Chicago; was attorney for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway Co., 1860-67. Died in Chicago, April 12, 1886.

Frederick Dwight Seward: One of the youngest men of the class; a cousin of Professor Edward North and nephew of President Simeon North. He was singularly bookish in his tastes and showed intellectual ability of rare quality; his scholarship in both English and Greek was remarkable. As a writer he was without a peer in his class. When the class, at graduation, was forecasting the success of each other, it was the universal belief that Seward would win the laurels for 1858 in the department of literature. His death, May 8, 1859, closed, all too early, a most promising career.

George James Sicard: Lawyer in Buffalo; was assistant U.S. attorney for about four years; formed a law partnership in 1881 with Grover Cleveland and Wilson S. Bissel, which continued until Mr. Cleveland was elected governor. Mr. Bissel subsequently became postmaster general under the administration of President Cleveland. Sicard was worthy of such good company. His life was an active one, crowned with success in his profession and in his domestic life. He died Aug. 26, 1904.

George Root Slack: Of Mexico, N.Y.; farmer. In his private and uneventful life, by his character he exerted a helpful influence in the circle in which his quiet life moved. Died Dec. 9, 1875.

Alonzo Emmett Stebbins: Went South, and his life after he left college is not known to the writer. Died in 1874, aged 39 years.

Wallace Walter Thorpe: Presbyterian clergyman; was chaplain of 3d NY Vols. in the Civil War. Fought as well as prayed, but refused a commission as a fighting soldier; has had a varied and successful career as a preacher, chiefly in the western and southwestern states. He is remembered as a forceful and eloquent speaker. Address, Lestershire, Broome Co., N.Y.

James Ausburn Towner: Of Washington, D.C.; admitted to the bar but never practiced. The bent of his mind was toward literature; wrote for magazines, then for newspapers as correspondent and editor; delivered poems on important occasions; wrote histories and several novels of merit. His first novel, Chedayne of Kotono, was a fine literary success and most interesting in substance. Towner is the chief literary light of the class, and the most fruitful in literary production. When he dropped into the warm nest of a responsible position in one of the government departments, which he still occupies, and the years began to accumulate, he seems to have let the fire go out — more’s the pity.

William Henry Webb: Doctor of Divinity. We old fellows call him “Bill” Webb — a sure sign that he is a good fellow yet. He has successfully filled several important pastorates, always beloved by his people, but is now in ill health, residing in West Springfield, Mass.

Oliver Morris Wilson: Lawyer, soldier, legislator, politician. He saw hard service in the Civil War and was commissioned major; was assistant U.S. attorney for the district of Indiana; published a book on parliamentary law and delivered many lectures on that subject; was reporter of the Superior Court in Indianapolis. He died July 19, 1907. Wilson was one of the youngest men of the class, full of life and enterprise. He and the faculty disagreed sometimes, and he occasionally “withdrew” from the College for a period. He was a brave, strong man, a generous friend, a good fighter and when he died, an unusual force went out of the world.

So much for the Class of 1858. Nearly all have done something worthy of their alma mater, and a few remain, who, although age is creeping slowing upon them, hope to do a little more.

I have time only to mention the members of the faculty of our day. They were President Simeon North, scholarly, grave, dignified, modest, kind. Dr. Charles Avery, genial, witty, a man who in his day did a good work for the College. Dr. Oren Root, senior, a mathematician of the highest order of ability, a rare instructor. Theodore W. Dwight, a masterful man as a teacher, whose reputation, as a law professor in Columbia has seldom been surpassed. Edward North, the inspirer of youth, the revealer of hidden wealth in ancient literature, the exemplar of beauty in human life, he of the golden tongue. Anson Judd Upson, the creator of the far-famed Hamilton oratory. Rev. William S. Curtis, who taught us the old-fashioned moral philosophy. Our tutors were Benjamin Rush Catlin, late of Washington, and Thomas Boyd Hudson, now the venerable and honored survivor of all this company of instructors of our class. Dr. Peters was gazing through the telescope picking up new asteroids, but gave no instruction. Last of all was Peter Blake, the inimitable, professor of dust and ashes, and the College wit.

Rubbing my old eyes again as I come out of the gray and misty past, I see a new Hamilton, richer, stronger, in every way; keeping pace with the progress and demands of these strenuous times; vitalized with the energy of this electric age. I see an intellectual workshop in which the foremen and then apprentices and the workmen are in deadly earnest to turn out brains fit for the great world market waiting for the best. I see at the head a superintendent with keen, vigilant, but kindly eyes, with the ruddy glow of sturdy health of both body and brain — a man of power and vision, indomitable, hopeful, determined hat the work over which he presides shall be the best work that can anywhere be done — a man indeed, who wills that the new Hamilton shall stand as the type of all that the American College of the 20th century should represent.

Let us help him to win! The grand centennial Commencement is near. Complete victory is then due.