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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1874 Letter

N. Emmons Paine

Delivered: June 1924

It is of more than ordinary interest to me that I return here to my birthplace after 70 years of life, and to my Alma Mater after the departure 50 years ago. Born in the adjoining village of New Hartford, my home not long afterward and for several years was in Clinton. It was in those days that a pageant in Utica celebrated the laying and operation of the first Atlantic cable. Toll gates were to be found on all roads. The surface of heavy planking from Clinton to Utica was then the highest development of road construction; and four-horse stages rumbled over it, carrying the traveling public to and from this village. When training day came, the soldiery paraded the streets, wearing the pot hats and uniforms of the Mexican War, and were preceded by fife and drum as had been customary from Colonial times. Candles lighted the rooms, and camphene lamps antedated those using kerosene. The successive presidents of the College were Dr. Simeon North and Dr. Fisher, and our most distinguished alumnus was a student in school and college.

Growing into consciousness as a child, with students passing our house daily, and with personal acquaintances of faculty and students, one develops naturally the intention of taking his place some day in that throng of splendid men. Every year the public exercises of Commencement in the old Stone Church in the village gave display to the gifts of oratory and to the tenseness of men, eager to grapple with their anticipated problems. In the same church, when the Union was in peril, thrilling speeches were heard and stirring actions took place. Those young men from the Hill, unafraid and uplifted, signed their names with the townspeople in the enlistment roster resting on the communion table. And in those stern days, the desire to do as they did, to get from books the knowledge they contained and to give one's self for the good of others, was a tremendous and inspiring influence. These were the impressions and thoughts of my childhood here in Clinton.

In 1870, when our class entered College, the Commencement exercises were held in midsummer, during the last of the month of July, as had been customary. In that year, the Civil War had ended only five years before, and there were veterans of that war in college with us. The men, who, like us today, came back to celebrate their semi-centennial were of the Class of 1820, only eight years after the College came into being. So that by such associations and contacts, we have been in touch with a full century and almost the whole life of Hamilton College.

Commencement Day was an important one for us, for we had passed our examinations, we were now a part of the student body, and we could listen to the Latin introductions and the marvelous oratory of our predecessors. We were watering the seedlings of our scholastic ambitions, and visualizing the fruitage of our four years of pruning and training. We went to our homes, jubilant and eager for active student life.

When we came together as a class, in September, we were 44 in number. Our pressing and immediate endeavor was to locate, furnish and make habitable our rooms, and in this occupation, we had the assistance, more expensive than valuable, of our predecessors who were practicing upon us the arts of salesmanship. When looking into our rooms, one realized there was "a place for everything and everything some place." Then came the first chapel exercise and the first recitation, when we could acquaint ourselves with our classmates; and the apparel of some testified to their anticipation of an immediate and entangling alliance. As we became acquainted with the sophomores, our salutations bore some resemblance to the boys in Mark Twain's story, when one called the other a "liar," and "you're another" was the response; but soon we settled into a live-and-let-live attitude. During the whole of our freshman year, however, our relations with the sophomores were rather distant and distrustful, and we preferred other intimates, due probably to our adopting and following the rule, "Always associate with your superiors."

At this early stage of class consciousness, there became recognizable a general inclination for testing those members of the faculty who were endeavoring to guide our minds in scholastic channels; but the resistant, not to say threatening, attitude of Professor Hopkins, with his robust physique, exerted a calming and acquiescing influence upon us, so far as he was concerned. Perhaps, too, our respect for him was increased by the rumor that he had been offered, at a large salary, the position of catcher on one of the leading baseball clubs of the country. It was a pleasure to watch his face in the classroom, with its appreciative and grateful expression when a translation from the Latin satisfied him; and no less an entertainment to detect his disappointment and disgust over the ill-prepared and stumbling efforts of some of us. The sermons he gave us occasionally in the Sunday services were fine productions and worthy of his parentage and early associations. The only surviving member of the faculty of our day is Professor Chester Huntington, who was married during our student days to a charming lady, and who celebrated their golden wedding last year. He met us on the first days of our college life and did his best to tame our irrepressible natures. His patience with us has been a pleasant memory; and his efforts arid those of his associates in the faculty were described by the woman at the laundry tubs, when she said:  "Well, I'm glad I ain't one of them college professors, having to use their brains every day."

We found that Professor Upson, whose training had placed many men in prominent stations in life, had gone to a pastorate in Albany. Later, he became Chancellor of the University of the State of New York and held a commanding position over educational matters of the whole state. We had heard much of Mandeville and the superiority of his methods of writing and speaking before we went to college; and Dr. Upson was regarded as the best exponent of Mandeville's ideal, so we were all disappointed that we could not benefit by his instruction. Just before leaving my home in Albany, to begin college life, Dr. Upson, who had just then become pastor of our church, and had been previously our family friend in Clinton, told me to go to his library, still in his house on the Hill, and select any books for my own use. The books on the shelves, covering much of the wall surface of the room, amazed me by their number and variety; and out of them all, I chose a copy of Mandeville's book and used it during my first year. But while the master had given to me his magic casket, yet the rubbing my hands gave it brought forth none of the genie who had served him so faithfully and brilliantly.

The successor of Dr. Upson was Professor Wilcox; and we all enjoyed him thoroughly until failing strength forced him to resign his position.

One of the revelations that came early in College life, and with somewhat of a shock too, were the columns of figures visible on the backs of some of the seats. The items were in thousands and tens of thousands and then these were added and a rather large total underwritten. We discovered later that these were the thanks, given during each term in his prayers by the college pastor, Rev. Dr. Nerr, a favorite phrase being: "We give Thee ten thousand thanks, 0, Lord!" He was a fine and venerable man, but was rather hard of hearing in those days, and when going about the country and soliciting subscriptions for college expenses, he was credited with "selective hearing" and never hearing a no.

Professor Root, "Cube Root," was popular with us all, even with those who showed no interest or understanding of mathematics. Those called most frequently for recitations were those who could respond with satisfaction to him; and his kindly consideration of the incapables gave them seldom occasion for displaying their halting and inefficient demonstrations. Professor North, in a tribute to Professor Root, refers to this kind thoughtfulness in these words: "Professor Root was all the more honored as a mathematician because he allowed there might be a useful place in the world for students who had neither the heart nor brains for Newton's Principia." Professor Root's judgment of two members of our class, as delivered on one occasion, was that A could not get his lesson if he tried; and B could be recognized as having studied his lesson by giving the method or explanation of the book, while, if he had not studied, he gave a good but different and original method of solving the problem. The collection of geological specimens that he had made and given to the College was a fine one; and it could have been used to our advantage if more time had been devoted to the study of geology. His skill as landscape architect or landscape engineer, in the language of modern times, made our campus the admiration of all who behold it.

It was while we were in College that the Perry H. Smith Library was built and opened for the college use. At the dedication, Theodore W. Dwight addressed the assemblage, and stated that he had applied and had been appointed to care for the library in his student days, in order that he might have ready access to the books; and that during his college course, he had read all the books, about 4,000 in number. Some years prior to this dedication, Professor Dwight had been one of the faculty for several years, and had become widely and favorably known. In those years, the Columbia Law School was in a decline, and an invitation to Professor Dwight to take charge of it on favorable terms was made. It was said that he laid the matter before the trustees and assured them that, if he could have his salary increased from $1,200 to $1,800 a year, he would remain permanently at the College; but there was no money available, and he went to the School of Law, made it famous, multiplied the number of students, and had an income estimated at $30,000 a year, and a lucrative consultation practice in addition.

And what can one say of Professor North? Indeed it would be easy to say too much. Each one would describe his personality and his relations with us in various happy reminiscences. For one thing, his handwriting was characteristic, rounded and flowing, and was the imprint of a quill pen, a survival of the untold centuries of antiquity, most suitable for "Old Greek." Then there were times in the classroom, when some of us were endeavoring to convince him that we had given time to the preparation of the lesson, that he turned over pages with a puzzled and uncertain expression and evidently thought he must have lost the place. At other times, when he read the Greek lines to us, his pronunciation was so soft and fluent and tender that we felt he was caressing the words and thoughts he loved. And when he rendered into English those words, there dawned upon us a revelation of the grace and beauty of the original. So, too, when he favored us occasionally with one of his own lectures, we were fascinated by the beauty of thought and felicity of expression. Thus we were inspired by him in our freshman year, but in our sophomore year he was in Greece, in close and official relations with the United States Minister to that country, and with such advantages as gave him opportunity to speak the language and to identify the scenes with which his studies had made him familiar. Upon his return, his appearance on the campus was a triumphal march, with the whole student body his guard of honor, to the Chapel, where we all went, and where he gave some account of his experiences. Every word expressed deep emotion. Every word conveyed his thankfulness that he had walked in places that to him were sacred; and thankfulness that he had come back to his home and loved ones, and to the College that meant more than life to him. An aura of kindliness and sympathy surrounded him. And today it is fitting, and a comfort to us all, that his resting place is in the hallowed ground, where each day the sound of the Chapel bell can reach him, and where the morning sun comes to him after first greeting the distant land he loved so well.

During most of our course, we had the Bible or an allied subject for the first recitation on Monday mornings. Barnes's Notes on the Books of the New Testament continued for several terms. The author's efforts to explain the texts to suit his theology were so provocative of further inquiry and investigation, that through reading the Bible as literature, through the adaptation of the theory of evolution to religion, and through some acquaintance with other religions than the Christian, some of us laid a good foundation for an intelligent acceptance of the teachings of the Founder of the Christian religion.

Our professor of astronomy was Dr. Peters, known as "Twinkle." He was a man of renown: he had discovered more asteroids than any other man, and it was not unusual for students to risk a cigar in betting on his finding a new star on a night when his telescope was pointing out through the rotunda. The determination of the wager, on one such occasion, caused considerable discussion because he had discovered two stars and the winner demanded two cigars. His manner of calling for recitation was satisfactory to all. He put the names of members of the class on slips of paper, and then drew them out of a box, one at a time, until the box was empty. There was thereafter no danger of being called until the box had been emptied and refilled, for those whose names had come out early. One of the memories associated with Dr. Peters was when many were playing ball out in front of the buildings. We noticed the telescope pointing into the sky. Upon looking in the direction indicated, we recognized a star and were interested to identify Venus at noon and on a bright and sunshiny day. At another time, there was an evening when Dr. Peters was host to a class of girls from Houghton Seminary. The movements of the tower and telescope showed how the young ladies were becoming acquainted 'with wonderful sights. But to some of our class, it seemed a pity that they could see only stars on their visit; and it was decided that they should also see an eclipse. So, one of our number found a ladder and set it up against the observatory, climbed to the top and placed a hat box over the end of the instrument. He made no delay in getting down and away, just in time to avoid the ire and pistol fire of the outraged professor. It was never known that the young ladies were annoyed by such kind and helpful efforts.

We found the curriculum a simple one. There were mathematics, Greek and Latin for most of the first three years, followed by physics, chemistry, law and metaphysics. Declamations, essays and orations continued throughout the four-year course and were of surpassing benefit to us. Our class met all together in all these exercises. There were no elective studies in the regular course. There was the one, "classical," course, and one degree at the end, that of Bachelor of Arts.  While in the intervening years, there have been many changes in all colleges and much has been added to the old schedule, and while personal preferences have been favored, and postgraduate studies and the life-work considered, still we have found our Greek and Latin of daily usefulness and advantage to us. A life without acquaintance with those two sources of our English language as it already is, and without an instant insight into the daily coinage from those sources of new terms in science and other fields of learning, would be most undesirable and almost unthinkable.

We enjoyed the course in chemistry with Professor Chester. There was an undercurrent of good fellowship and sympathy in his relations with us. He showed a spirit of fun at times, as in offering for analysis an unknown mineral, which would not dissolve in any of our solvents and would not melt in our porcelain crucibles although they fused in our efforts, until it was realized that the specimen was asbestos, a fireproof substance under ordinary conditions. The final examination in chemistry for those doing extra laboratory work, was honored by the presence of Professor Avery, the previous and retired professor of chemistry, who asked some questions not in the books, such as: "Now, young gentlemen, are poisonous substances harmful to plants?" Also, "You may have noticed the swellings on the poplar trees along the walk on the way up the Hill, where the fence rails have been inserted into the trunks. What do you say caused these excrescences?" Later, some days after the examination, Professor Chester having been interviewed on that subject, said that Dr. Avery, in answer to his own inquiry, stated "Oh, I have thought about it many years, in passing up and down the Hill, and have not satisfied myself with any explanation, and I thought I would see what the boys would say."

There was no system of water supply or of sewage in those days. The water came from a well and was carried by the janitor, Peter Blake, of whom we all have pleasant memories. His ability to keep his many accounts in his head, for his daily services and for laundry work, when he could not read or write, was remarkable.

The heating of our rooms depended upon stoves. The severe cold and the strong winds of winter proved too much for comfort, and more than once, in N. N. 3rd Front Corner, the stove was red hot and yet the water pail behind and close to the stove was covered with ice. A stove under such conditions has been described as "a unit of reluctant heat entirely surrounded by zero temperature." Also, that "dressing in such a room, in the early morning of a winter day, is simply exercise."

The hallways were never lighted at night except as some beams appeared on the hall ceilings after passing through the transoms and, of course, that could occur only when the rooms were occupied. There were no lawn lights either, and the walks were often quite dark at night, as no gas plant was near us, and electric lighting was not developed until after our student days. It remains a marvel always that no dormitories were burned under those conditions. Often lamps flamed up to the ceiling unexpectedly and then it was not unusual to see such a lamp flung from the window blazing to the ground.

We had little of athletics. Baseball was practically the only one of the intercollegiate contests in which we participated. Golf, tennis, basketball, hockey, and football had no followers, a half-century ago, and the spectators in a stadium numbering 50,000 or 75,000 were as unknown as the electric light, the telephone, automobiles and the recent marvel, the radio. We did have some apparatus in the gymnasium, and it was a benefit to the limited number who chose to use it. Our professor of law, known as "Gouty" Evans, visited the gymnasium occasionally and put on boxing gloves with some one of the students. His skill in the exercise added considerably to the esteem and popularity in which he was held.

One of the advantages of our day and generation was the necessity of going down the Hill to our meals. The walk of two to four miles a day, compulsory as it was and regarded with disfavor by many, was in fact a distinct advantage and benefit to us. It would surprise anyone unaccustomed to gauge the appetite of growing and active young men, to see what an amount of food was consumed for breakfast, and then to watch the pile on the side table disappear into the baskets for the mid-day luncheon. And yet it was no uncommon sight to observe one disposing of his noonday meal while on his way up the Hill to Chapel, directly after breakfast. After the graduation exercises, after the "tumult and shouting" were over, a dear classmate went with me, late in the day, to "God's Acre" on the campus. Surrounded there by those who had gone before, we looked at the valley and the hills beyond; and the beauty of the scene filled our hearts as we communed with each other. We talked of our four years of preparation and of our classmates, and we saw visions of the future and what we were going to make it. We stood on the educational height where a decade and a half of student life had placed us. We saw the valley below, the likeness of the immediate years of professional study and work ahead, of foundation laying and a low, unrecognized place in the world: then, the slopes beyond were the upward progress of succeeding years; and still higher we saw the bright and sunshiny hilltops, with success and rewards, the goal and realization of our day dreams. One becomes inspired with the courage and "high resolve" that Abbey portrays in Sir Galahad when his sword is in his hand, when the prayers have been said, and he is starting forth on his Quest. Such an hour is the consummation of College life.

And today, after 50 years, more than half of our class are living, belligerents, not stelligerants; and, as expressed by Kipling: "Fifty years between 'em, and every year of it fight." We have passed the 70 years, which men look forward to as the limit of their expectations. None of us have needed to go to the ant for our wisdom; and none of us have suffered the self-suffocation of success. But, as we look about us and the roll call is sounded, we find that some of our classmates are not in our company, and that they have been unable to travel the long distances that have separated us. To them we send loving messages and brotherly sympathy. And to you, the President and faculty members, who are seated in the chairs once filled by the noble and devoted men, our friends of long ago, we extend our heartiest greetings. We feel proud of you and the great good you are accomplishing. It is your privilege to live and to work under conditions today that we never dreamed could become realities. And we feel assured that your goal is still higher; and that the steps you and your successors may take, during the coming half-century, will carry you to heights which are entirely beyond our present-day imagination. And now, we men of 1874, have felt through this half-century the constant and increasing devotion of loyal sons: we have rendered such support and service as we could; and we have gathered here today, from near and from far, with hearts full of gratitude and love, to pledge anew the loyal service of our remaining years; and, mindful of the salutation of the commander of our forces in France, at the tomb of Lafayette, we say, "Alma Mater, we are here!"