Delivered: June 1926
Without a doubt, at least to us, the Class of 1876 was the most important and distinguished class ever graduated from the halls of Hamilton College.
Last year’s annalist tells us he has been present at every commencement, save four or five, so I conclude he must have the correct idea as to what a half-century annalist letter should be. I have been reading his again carefully, but, dear me, I cannot throw off classic references, Latin and Greek quotations, or post-prandial pleasantries with my eyes shut, as Dwight Holbrook can. Then I have been reading Breed’s bright poetic effusion as annalist for 1867, but that last style is more hopelessly beyond my reach. Dibble’s graphic picture of the Hamilton of 50 years back, as annalist for 1868, need not be duplicated so soon, even if it could be.
And so I fear you will have to put up with what may prove to be a little more than a reminiscent ramble over the campus from 1872-1876. I do not even intend to throw bouquets at the professors of our day, or at the then-president or his able successors, who have achieved so marvelously for Hamilton. I am not going to eulogize Elihu Root, though I am sure I can heartily endorse all that others have said of him. I wish, however, I could tell you at length of his dear sainted mother, who along with my own mother spent their girlhood in these wondrously beautiful and scholastic surroundings, and with whom it was my privilege and delight to spend a few moments nearly every Sunday during the latter portion of my course. Mrs. Oren Root, that dainty lady, “my mother on the Hill.”
I fear that naming of me as annalist for 1876 was unfortunate in that my freshman year was spent with the Class of 1875, and it was because my father, William DeLoss Love, Class of 1845, a congregational clergyman in Michigan who found it difficult to meet the expenses of three sons the same year in Hamilton, a senior, a junior and a freshman, that I decided to teach for a year and drop back into 1876. I have tried, however, to get the assistance of other members who were in the class the first year, two have rendered help as you will recognize, Beardsley, who left us the second term of sophomore year, and Professor George P. Bristol of Cornell.
I think 1876 was unusual because of the number who did not finish the course with us or who graduated with us after more or less time in other classes or colleges. Only 14 spent the entire course in 1876. This probably accounts for the subnormal class spirit, especially as over one-third of the graduates were not with the class during freshman year, when under the hazing system, the members are most closely bound together and class spirit engendered.
Because of my absence from the class the first year, I have asked Professor Bristol to jot down his impression of that period. We all regret deeply his inability to be with us as he has been confined to his bed since early in May. It had been his intention and promise to be here. Only this morning have I been told by one, who has had 46 years experience in teaching, that no other instructor in the state has been so universally and sincerely beloved by all educational workers or exercised a greater influence.
Bristol writes: “The work given us was not enough to keep anyone with a fair preparation at all busy, and much loafing went on in time that should have been given to study. This induced bad habits with great waste of time. The course of study as carried on offered little more than a continuation of the high-school work. There was little incentive to mental alertness and scarcely anything was offered us beyond the recital of memorized portions of textbooks. Today instruction is far better. I think, however, that we read more good and worthwhile books then than the boys do now, though in this I may be wrong. But the College library gave us little help. It was a particularly antiquated collection of books, and Dr. Mears who acted as librarian (part of the time) was hardly the man to see the needs of young boys in the reading line.”
I do not know just how the faculty of today looks upon the hazing of the incoming class by the already hard-boiled sophomores, but in our day I really believed it was not seriously condemned. Indeed it looked as though, within reasonable limits, the faculty approved of the procedure.
It seemed to the sophomore class that these newcomers were in need of having their conceit and egotism run through a process of shrinking. There was some unreasonable and abusive hazing in our day, which we all deplored. Remember that it is usually the extreme incidents that are recounted.
With us there was an unwritten code of laws under which hazing was carried on. The rough rowing must be confined to the first two weeks. After that there was to be no provocative holding back of the “fresh” by the “sophs” in exits from chapel, hence no more chapel rows. There must be no ducking of the “fresh” of ablutive retaliation on their part, and, again, there must be no ducking, if in so doing anyone not of that class would be included. There must be no breaking into a room shared by an upperclassman or a member of the hazing class.
Freshmen must not be allowed to carry canes — not unless in the cane rush of the opening week their class should be able to lift three times above their heads the great hickory pole eight feet long, symbolic of a cane. Very seldom was this done. The Class of 1875 achieved this victory, but it did not seem best to the upperclassmen advisors to make use of the privilege, even though according to the law it had been earned. Only for a day or two did a few of the victors tauntingly swing canes before the eyes of the sophs.
Tall hats, stove pipes of the day, were not to be worn by underclassmen until the junior exhibition at the end of the second term sophomore year. When this exalted glory came to our class, light-colored hats often of rough felt were in use. I had one, but somehow no one seemed to take it seriously. It was treated with great indignity, and numberless times was I forced to recover it from the gutter or the other side of a hedge where it had been thrown by members of my own class or upperclassmen. For the last two weeks of its career it was reduced to the horizontal rim.
Lastly, the most conspicuous and absolute law of our code was that the authority of the upperclassmen was beyond dispute. At any time, a senior could step up and tell the underclassman to stop rowing, and if there were no seniors present, then juniors were given the responsibility, and woe be to the one who ventured to question the authority.
This most important law of our code was essential to the system. When classes of from 30 to 50 men are suffered to come to a rough and tumble contest of physical strength, and garments and body are torn, it becomes absolutely necessary to have some outside authority which, at the point of danger, can put an end to the conflict, even as the salvation of public debate, with antagonistic parties and rising temper, is the unquestioned authority of the presiding officer. Again Bristol writes: “There was no discipline. This was noticeably true of the ‘noon chapels,’ which often represented a regular riot, in the midst of which Professor Frink sat apparently unmoved and evidently realized that he was helpless. After a particularly bad outbreak one Wednesday, I recall that a senior, Burnley, who was present although that class was not regularly in attendance on Wednesday, rose and demanded order. He got it. Student self-government evidently is not a discovery of this century or generation and was just as absurd then as now. I also recall this incident. It was the record day of our course, scurfing and catcalls abounded, even missiles were thrown at the declaiming freshmen. Pandemonium was gaining rapidly. At length Burnley stepped to the front and with a nod at the professor for permission, he said: ‘Fellows, I think it is the sentiment of the upperclassmen that this rowing should stop.’ He returned to his seat and not another call or act disturbed the peace.”
Oh, how Crazy Knox of the Class of 1874 could yell “fresh!” Under the nasal, raucous, rasping, long drawl of his, the word “fresh” embodied the maximum of disgust, contempt and insignificance that could be crowded into any word in the English language. I forget whether Knox was ever a prize speaker or not, but I know he was a prize drawler, a high master in “rubbing it in” to the freshmen. Next to him, I have the conviction that your humble servant, later honored with a doctorate of divinity by our alma mater, was a good undisputed second. I hope the members of 1877, after the lapse of these 53 years, have really forgiven me. I cannot forget the look of surprise and something akin to horror, that overspread the face of a certain freshman when, after a few weeks on the Hill, he was asked by me to join the force that conducted the Sunday School in Manchester, three miles distant. To him it did not seem possible that any pretense of religion could be compatible with such rowing as had been rubbed in by me.
Now and then, perhaps once a year, some venturesome fresh or soph would climb the Chapel lightening rod to enter the tower and ring the bell at an unseemly hour. Beardsley has confessed to three such attempts, but never could effect the passage around the network of iron rods and projecting points through which the lightening rod passed. Paine of 1878 was reputed to have succeeded. Oh that daredevil Paine, who just before sunset one spring evening climbed up the scaffolding erected for repairs or painting the Chapel spire, climbed out in to the extreme end of an overhanging board on edge, swung himself as on a trapeze 100 feet above the stone steps and deliberately suspended his body by his toes. He was a lad of great promise — of an early death — but I see he is still alive and more or less successful in keeping others alive as an M.D. in Glens Falls.
Again Bristol: “We had a good lot of fellows, well intentioned, and easily led for good or ill. Our class banquet, near the close of the year, was preceded by a long fight between “wets” and the “drys.” I have forgotten which won, but it was held at Bagg’s hotel in Utica (Baggses Tavern, we called it), the conventional place for such functions. It was a rather formal affair, cost more than most of us could afford, and I think, gave us little real pleasure.” Let me add — I was one of the “drys,” who were in the majority and refused to attend if wine was included on the bill, for which we helped pay; it was, however, suffered to be on the table as an extra, personal charge. The result was that so many were intoxicated that wine was not even permitted on the table sophomore year. But before our return to Clinton in the early morning hours, there were so many of the boys who evidently had been imbibing that we felt disgraced and refused to attend any more class suppers.
I wonder if coasting on the Hill plays as important a part in the life of today as of 50 years ago. It is a question in the minds of the men of 50 years ago, how boys of today can be judged properly educated and worthy recipients of a B.A. who know so little or nothing of sliding downhill on the foot-high, horned, long-frame sleds, with three or four fellows hanging on for dear life, leaning in on the curves at the top of Sophomore Hill with an occasional catapulting through Professor Greek’s high hedge, and, also, a too-frequent and not-always-successful piloting of the tangential sled between the trees at the top of Freshman Hill. Somehow I never had any serious accident when steering my own sled but have carried a dislocated thumb all these years as a memorial of the one time I suffered Cadwell to steer us down Freshman Hill, and he conducted our party through the hedge below Spencer’s house and left us scattered along his independently blazed trail. But, alas, for Deacon Billy Albright, who attempted to pass at one and the same time on both sides of a tree in front of Prex’s house and spent the next two weeks in bed in the effort to repair damages and have his divided limbs grow together as far as his creator originally designed them to be.
The annual baseball game of senior year when the prospective theological students were challenged by the more skillful embryonic expounders of law was the only baseball game in which I participated during the college cycle of my life. The site of the conflict was a little below Freshman Hill and on the left. Sometime in the game, a lawyer had batted the ball high into the air, and it was getting ready to land between second base and the left field. Albright and Love saw it coming and each started at breakneck speed to reach the spot in time to welcome its return to earth. Each was oblivious of all else, and both of us were there, coming together with such force that we were disabled for the remainder of the game and some days thereafter. I do not remember the score, but I do remember that concussion.
The expenses of 50 years ago – I cannot speak for others, but there was only one year, my senior, in which I had to secure so much as $400 for my expenses. True, I had some favor as a clergyman’s son in reduced tuition. I had no society expenses, being a neutral. I picked up a little money as janitor of the reading room, assistant to the librarian, etc. We impecunious boys, and there were a number of us, boarded together at the foot of Freshman Hill and regulated the expense and luxury of our table. Both were kept at the minimum.
In the alphabetical disposition of the class, dear old Pat Kelly “Requiescat in pace” bordered Love on the left. There may have been somewhat of variety in the earlier portion of Nick Goertner’s prayers. We never paid much attention to the stereotyped expressions, but, bless you, there was always found place for the undeviating petition for diving blessing upon the students of the four classes and that the almighty “Bless the ‘Col-lage’” at which they attend (rising inflection), and then when we got within sight of the end, I was sure to hear Pat Kelley in sotto voce, “Now we are off, Cupe- ‘With our hands in our mouth and our mouth in the dust crying unclean, unclean.’” And from there, on to the Amen and the anticipating shuffling of feet, the voice of Pat preceded by a syllable or two the unvarying, though no doubt devout, petitions of “Old Nick.”
Why did everyone love Cube Root and Old Greek? They were genuine men through and through with marked personalities but with no swagger of pretense, and were true friends of the boys. An interview with Cube Root – Uplifted finger and a gentle call on the campus. “Mr. Beardsley.” “Yes, Professor.” “Mr. Beardsley, you have two warnings, and I have 16 more counts against you. You know what that means?” “Yes, Professor.” Ten or 12 counts, or cuts, meant another warning and three warnings meant quit college. “Mr. Beardsley, can’t you give me some excuse I can accept?” “No sir.” “Why do you have so many cuts?” “It was impossible for me to be present, Professor.” Beardsley told me with moist eyes over 50 years after, “Cupe, I could not look that dear old man in his blue eyes and tell him a lie, so I had to tell him I had been in Utica. Soon after, Prof. Frink hailed him. “Mr. Beardsley you are due in chapel today for a declamation. I have given you no drill. Beardsley, I hope you will not fail to be on hand.” Interview ends.
Beardsley makes for his room, packs his belongings and takes the noon train for home at Auburn voluntarily shortening his course by two years and a term. Forty-five years and more are now to his credit in the employment of New York City. He must have settled down since the old days.
You old Beardsley, stand up! I am afraid Dr. Peters was not the only professor you provoked to mental if not audible profanity. We never really knew just who did that dastardly deed of obstructing the vision of the young ladies of Houghton Seminary who had come to behold the wonders of the heavens through our famous telescope. But, gentlemen, quite recently in an ante-mortem statement, Beardsley confessed to the perpetration of that deed by climbing up the outside of the observatory aided by a sophomore or two, members of his own fraternity. When at length the slot in the dome was reached, the end of the telescope was so far away that the bandbox had to be tossed over, and landed within the protecting rim about the choice 12-inch lens. For speed, Beardsley’s descent and disappearance through the bushes broke all records, while the irate professor with many expressive terms denounced the college students in general, opened the door and shot off his revolver over the heads of the students serenading their visitors from the seminary. My wife, Hattie Houghton, Mrs. Gallup’s niece, was one of the visiting body and thinks it were well not to put all Dr. Peter’s language in print.
Everyone on the Hill recognized the valuable work of Dr. Peters. We knew he was doing more than any other member of the faculty to bring distinction to the College through his tireless searching of the heavens and his frequent discoveries of asteroids, which before his death he had increased to about 50. Life was very serious to him with no room for recreation or flippancy.
Dear Old Greek — we all loved his quaint peculiarities and his sly wit. We will never forget the beauty and finish of his occasional lectures in place of recitations. Now and then, as we were leaving the classroom one and another, a chorus would call out “lecture, lecture” and in response he would announce hardly above a whisper, “we will have a lecture next Monday morning.”
Everyone had a sneaking but genuine affection for Old Peter Blake, the janitor. I hear him now muttering as he climbs the stairs with his two fragrant pails suspended from the neck-yoke and beginning his morning greeting as he lands on the floor. “Oh you rotten, nasty, stinking Love, open up.” I would not lay claim to any special measure of his affection, nor to distinction in his speech. This was his normal greeting to the student whose room he was about to visit in his daily morning rounds. It was a treat to listen to his quaint Irish wit, to his keen and strangely accurate estimate of students and professors, to his poetic philosophizing, to his original Peterine theology. “Oh, Cupid, there are two times in the year for a man to die. One is when the snow is leaving us in the springtime and the grass is getting green and the flowers are sticking up their heads. Then, if you have held out through the winter, it is a good time and a very easy time to die. But the best time to die of all year, Cupid, is at Chris-e-mas when the Savior was born and everybody is happy and giving presents; then the gates of heaven are open wide and everyone may freely enter in.” I hope old Pete died at “Chris-e-mas!”
The religious life of our day deserves special mention. There was the College church and perhaps half of the professing Christians transferred their membership to that body. Each class maintained its weekly prayer meeting and there was the noon-day meeting for all the students, lasting 15 or 20 minutes four days of the week, except Wednesday and Saturday, that time being taken by the rhetorical exercises. The YMCA had a functional, though by no means very vital or forceful, existence. Each class has its deacon. Albright was ours. How chosen, I do not know. Morning chapel was obligatory with allowance for a reasonable number of absences each term. Sunday morning services with sermon by clerical members of the faculty and occasionally outsiders were obligatory. There was a college choir which led us in our praise, but no special attention was given to its training. There were no such able training and artistic results as of today. One of the boys writes that of the College quartette two were members of our class, Albright and Elliott, and it was in our junior year that the custom of giving concerts in the region round about was instituted. This last winter or spring, I attended in New York City the recital by Hamilton’s choir of today. For artistic finish, for expressive modulation, for harmonious blending of voices, let me say I have never heard its equal. The presentation was a perfect gem never to be forgotten. We all who heard that and the singing on the Hill of last year want to express our keen appreciation of the valuable and artistic work of Prof. Fancher, largely or wholly a gratuitous work of love.
During our junior year there was what might be called a revival. Much personal work was done by certain active Christians, and about 30 decided for the Christian life. Among them was Potter of the Class of 1875, who, though conditioned at entrance, yet had at graduation the next to the highest mark recorded in the 60 years and more of Hamilton’s existence. His conversion made a profound impression and several followed his example. At graduation he entered Auburn Theological Seminary. I was glad to read in a recent letter that if life were again before him, his choice of profession would be the ministry as it was 50 years ago.
Again the following winter, a similar activity almost wholly on the part of the students resulted in as many more conversions, so that at the end of our course only five men in the entire student body were not professing Christians, and the following year one of them united with a church. I do not believe that at any other period in the life of the College a like proportion were avowed Christians. Three different groups of men conducted and taught in a many Sunday Schools in outlying districts.
It was in our senior year that the intercollegiate contests in scholarship and oratory had their short-lived boom. Our Jule Elliot in contest with representatives of, I believe, 17 colleges, took the first prize in New York City and the following year Laird of the Class of 1877, whom Elliot trained, took the same honor. Surely, this was high tribute to Hamilton’s claims and proficiency. Thereafter no representative was sent by us, and these contests were soon given up.
The only other contest in which Hamilton participated was mathematics. The unfairness of such contests quickly became evident as Hamilton was a purely classical college, with no electives by a uniform course of study for all students, every study obligatory. In Cornell and some other colleges, however, a student could devote all his time to a single department, and the other victor that year had confined all his attention to mathematics and in direct preparation for this conflict.
It was in our junior year that the abortive effort was made to acquire fame for Hamilton in the intercollegiate Boating Association. Professor Frink was the enthusiastic originator and financial promoter of his scheme. Dwight Holbrook, then as ever since devoted to the honor and glory of Hamilton, was Professor Frink’s understudy and go-between. To give the complete and pathetic story of this experience would require more time than I dare take. But mind you, it was a most heroic effort and would have achieved really remarkable results but for the mishap in the last half mile of a three-mile course, due first to the violation of a most absolute rule of “eyes in the boat;” second, the very rough water with flying spray wetting the hands and making the exact control of the oar exceedingly difficult; and third our very success since when Ed. Brown (not Mastodon as Holbrook records) saw in amazement that we were lapping Yale, his attention was distracted and he lost control of his sweep.
This, however, you must hear — In the race at Saratoga Lake, Cornell, the winner, should have been outlawed. Besides having two men of her six who were carpenters by trade, she had one (King by name) who had graduated the year before and should not have been allowed on the crew. Again, as already declared, the lake was very rough out in the center where were located Yale and Harvard, with Hamilton between them, while Cornell was in sheltered, placid water next the shore, along with Columbia who was second, Dartmouth fourth and Wesleyan fifth. Yale was sixth and Hamilton next as Cornell crossed the line, as shown by the photographs taken. In consequence of this rough water, we crossed the line with a dead weight of from 100 to 200 pounds of water in our shell — a handicap meaning many seconds in a race of 17 minutes.
Again — Cornell’s quarters were on Snake Hill, and they kept accurate record of every shell that rowed over the course prior to the race, and they told me on two occasions that Hamilton had made the best record, the fastest time, of any crew on the lake! Once more — Our time at the closing, as Cornell crossed, even if we had not passed another crew, would have put us in fifth place in the regatta of the year before, the fourth place in 1873 and 1872, and the first in the regatta of 1871.
Cornell’s time, as she crossed the line, was 16 minutes 53 ¼ seconds, and at that instant we were next to and lapping midway Yale, whose time was 17 minutes 14 ¾ seconds, only 21 seconds behind Cornell, and we were rapidly overtaking her. And, lastly — If we had only held our own, our time would have been but six seconds behind Yale, and 12 behind Harvard. Think of it, and our first and only year at the oars. Princeton we had passed in the first half mile and never saw her again.
In short, let me tell you Hamilton has reason to be proud of her one-year experience in boating. I was asked to be captain of the crew the next year, but I refused, realizing that the time I had given in junior year had seriously interfered with my studies, and I knew that consenting to the plea would mean impaired results of my College course.
And now, before I close, permit me briefly to call attention to some convictions reached after many years of unprejudiced consideration. The value of a college education is fundamental foundation-laying; it is mental training and not acquisition of facts, however important. Therefore, it should be broad and inclusive. I earnestly plead for a classical college education with at least one, and better, two ancient languages and upon special culture in the expression of thought in writing and oratory. Of little value are your wisdom and discoveries if you cannot successfully express them and thus impress the public and render a social service. Never let Hamilton’s emphasis on composition and delivery be lessened. Even if one plans to be a specialist in some department of science, it were better to pass through the general college course before taking up the special study. A sober judgment, a surer and higher success, is more likely to be reached.
The narrowest men of education I have known have been specialists who from early years have devoted themselves to their one department. This is as true of theologians as of scientists. The only way in this day to save yourself from bigotry is to keep well informed in many branches of progress.
Again, let Hamilton be on guard against the aristocracy of wealth or society. Her chief emphasis should be on the aristocracy of learning.
The lasting success of a college depends largely upon the loyalty of her alumni. Zealously must it be guarded. No class should be needlessly antagonized by tampering with her memorials, much less by destroying them. No considerable body of men should justly get the conviction that they have no adequate representation in the administrative body.
Again, I plead for devotional exercises, and attendance as compulsory as upon recitations. The religious and devotional part of our being, which by no means insists upon acceptance of a particular creed, must not go undeveloped.
But, please remember, men of Hamilton, that this College is the child of the Congregational denomination, and that that body has ever placed social emphasis upon equal and fair representation by all its constituency, and has never insisted upon acceptance of a uniform creed. Religious liberty and freedom of thought do not mean absence of education in spiritual matters. Attention and instruction should be insisted upon in the affairs of the spirit, which as surely exists as does the mind. One may not believe in compulsory religion, but compulsory instruction should be insisted upon in the affairs of the spirit which as surely exists as does the mind. One may not believe in compulsory religion, but compulsory instruction in religion is quite another thing. The achievements under the name and inspiration of religion in human history may well be subject to enforced study; and a thoughtful inquiry into the true principles underlying this potent factor cannot safely be stricken from a college curriculum.
"The value of a college education is fundamental foundation-laying; it is mental training and not acquisition of facts, however important. Therefore, it should be broad and inclusive. I earnestly plead for a classical college education with at least one, and better, two ancient languages and upon special culture in the expression of thought in writing and oratory. Of little value are your wisdom and discoveries if you cannot successfully express them and thus impress the public and render a social service. Never let Hamilton’s emphasis on composition and delivery be lessened."