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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1846 Letter

Horace Lathrop

Delivered: June 1896

Circumstances having compelled my absence from your gatherings for so long a time, might occasion an appearance of neglect or indifference on my part, therefore I was greatly surprised upon receiving notice of your choice of myself for this service; and while realizing my unfitness for it in many respects, I have accepted it, largely because it seemed to afford me an opportunity to remove any such false impressions; and demonstrated to me that I had not, therefore, been wholly forgotten by yourselves.

Yielding to none in loyalty to alma mater, or to my class, I should most keenly regret having left an unworthy word or expression as to either upon your records; and should any such escape me, I beg you to overlook them as the fault of the head, rather than the heart.

The Class of 1846 was few in number, only 35 in all, of whom but 24 received the Bachelor’s degree; and of which last barely seven are believed to remain alive today. Few, perhaps none, of the entire number won a reputation for being a star actor in the drama of life, yet now 74 percent of the whole possess an undisputed claim to immortality, attested on the pages of your Triennial catalogue.

Of the faculty of our day, but one — the beloved and venerated Dr. Edward North — remains still connected with the college. Annalist Porter of the Class of 1895 kindly left Professor North “to the boy who would serve as annalist next year (1896)” — a consideration for which I, the said “boy,” am sincerely thankful, fully aware than anything I may suggest in the way of eulogy will have been anticipated by your own love and gratitude. I shall not undertake to “add new perfume to the violet” lest you charge me with “ridiculous excess” — out of respect for the well-known modesty of reverend age coupled with genuine worth. Reserving, however, the privilege, and professing the intention, to take further note of him later on.

I ask your indulgence if I overstep the prescribed limits of a half-century letter in this connection; though surely the name of John Finley Smith, the thorough scholar, cultured gentlemen, and devout Christian, can never be thought out of place in any assembly of the sons of old Hamilton. The name of Professor Smith, the beloved and honored predecessor of our own Dr. North, naturally thrusts itself upon my memory in his childhood and youth. I recall him as the worthy son of an able sire, Rev. John Smith, of the Presbyterian Church, who, in 1835, retired from the pulpit and assumed charge of the academy in Cherry Valley, this county, where the writer received his first lessons in Latin, as well a some very lively ones in school athletics, at his hands. He was a powerful man, mentally and physically, with a head and hair, which at this distance of time, remind me of a hayrick in a gale, and though then too young to comprehend the grasp of his intellect, I could and did appreciate the powerful a posteriori arguments of the pedagogic plan. While at that school I recall the fact of young Smith visiting his parents during the summer of 1836. “Father Smith,” as he was familiarly called, was shortly succeeded at Cherry Valley by Charles Kilbourn, Class of 1833, young, pleasing and energetic, and I may add, successful.

But I digress, and will return to my legitimate work. As to the other members of the faculty of our day, the lively annalist for 1895 has so faithfully and well portrayed most of them, that not to be outdone by him in courtesy, I shall heartily accept and with emphasis, what he has said, in behalf of my class; and supply omissions, by whatever thought may occur to me, and which the occasion may allow or require. Naturally, my first personal interview with them, was in connection with my entrance examination, and occurred somewhat after this manner, on the day preceding Commencement. The year 1844: I arrived at the Park House, in Clinton, in company with some others, over a dusty, country road, on a hot July day (Commencement occurred a month later then), in a heavy, comfortless wagon, drawn by a weary team, and conducted by a rough and profane driver. This was on Monday afternoon; having, in due time supped at the aforesaid inn, and “posted” myself somewhat by the kindly aid of a friend from his vicinity, I retired to dream of the morrow as a fateful day to myself and the College as well. Tuesday morning, I awoke in the same state of nervous expectancy of the bumptious candidate of the junior class, with a superadded headache.

Having breakfasted upon whatever the house afforded, forthwith began the ascent of “senior” upon “sophomore” — o me, Ossa on Pelion. Today, through the liberality of the board of trust, aided by the taste and skill of such men as the elder Root, Dr. D. Gridley, J.C. Hastings and others, I may continue the simile and crown the rugged, and well-nigh treeless, height of a 50-year-old yesterday, with the “shady Olympus” of the ancient poet; as realized in your classic campus and its historic surroundings.

Having arrived at the summit, I proceeded at once to pay my profound respects to President North, for there was no time to be lost. All was bustle on the Hill, as the entrance examination of commencement week always is. He welcomed me with a gracious and stately smile, and comprehending my errand, at once proceeded to put a few preliminary questions, and then handed me a schedule card, indicating the place and hours for my formal examinations, and bidding me a polite “Good morning,” proceeded to meet the next caller. I felt, I suppose, much like a convict when he “stands up” for sentence. There I was “committed” to the tender mercies, or otherwise, of the examining board, which consisted, at the time, of Tutors Dwight and Bradford, Professors North and Catlin.

With a formal “Good morning, sir,” to the president, I repaired at once, as directed, to the Philosophical chamber, the very name of which filled me with wondering awe; and I fully expected to be received by the shade of Socrates, Plato or Diogenes. But no, there was not even the imp of a freshman, obsequiously playing the part of age and escort to the blooming stranger. So I boldly entered and seated myself in the first convenient place. Pending the opening of business, I occupied myself by “taking in” the surroundings, consisting of blackboards, etc., chairs, maps, tables, books, and various engines for intellectual torture, partly hidden in cases, as I very well knew, for the use of the coming inquisition. But I had not long to wait, for promptly on time, as I learned later was his habit, appeared the beaming face of Tutor Dwight, who with kindly particularity reviewed with me all the preliminaries from the cradle of freshman year. I was charmed by his friendly interest. He fairly “carried me off my base” — which was another habit of his — which lasted till the close of his useful life in his intercourse with all. Upon his retiring I drew my first calm, satisfied breath, since my advent on the Hill.

Theodore W. Dwight, as a young man, possessed an unusually attractive countenance, and pleasing address. His smile beamed ever on his face with the light of kindness, springing from its source — sincere good will within. Of a family of distinguished scholars and teachers — by choice and education a lawyer — he entered upon teaching as a temporary recourse. Nature, however, “claimed her own.” The College honored him and itself by making him professor of law, etc., thereby pluming his aspiring spirit for a higher flight and broader usefulness, and when a flattering career opened before him, while regretting his departure, she bade him Godspeed with a mother’s pride and blessing. Much has been well written and eloquently said to perpetuate the memory of this remarkable man, to which I can hope to add nothing, even in the way of approval; still, 1846 would gladly contribute its mite to the aggregate of love, respect and admiration, from thousands of pupils, scholars, jurists and good men, which is his rightful heritage.

Scarce had he left me long enough for me to reassure myself by the apocalyptic reflection, one woe is past, when the door again opened and a slighter form, with a somewhat pale, scholarly and studious face appeared, wearing an expression of satisfied resolve and firmness, which to our unspeakable joy has continued to this day (March 26, 1896). I at once recognize him as the young and newly appointed professor, Edward North, he having been pointed out to me on the preceding evening. And with all the assurance of a neophyte everywhere, from a schoolboy at college to the ambassador in “pin feathers” at St. James, I had, so I thought, considerately resolved to deal gently by him, and let him off lightly, without subjecting his Greek scholarship and literature to too severe a test. Accordingly I passed an hour or two with him quite agreeably, though too closely occupied with my own thoughts to even ask him how he enjoyed. But from his affable manner, I thought he bore it patiently. At length, having become satisfied that he was “well up” on third term soph. I dismissed him with thanks and such courtesy as I could and I calmly awaited further developments. I had several times reflected why I was receiving, apparently, so much attention to the exclusion of others, when it occurred to me that, being the only candidate unwise enough to seek an advanced standing, the others were having a more rational and sensible session in their future classrooms.

This solution suggested that a special trouble often proves a special nuisance. How the light of 50 years will open one’s eyes at times, and intensify his perceptions as to the past — revealing more mental defects in these fearful and wonderful bodies. The question of advanced standing with the boy is apt to be wholly one of youthful ambition to get through; while with parents, I am convinced, it is usually financial ability which in this case is a blessing to all concerned. To the student, because it sends him to one of the smaller colleges, where he is certain to receive more personal attention from his instructors; to the father and guardian, because he is less liable to contract vicious or thriftless and expensive habits; and to the college, because the very sacrifice, which both father and son must make to secure its advantages, sends to its halls a more determined, appreciative, orderly and industrious class of students.

But to resume. The above and similar thoughts proved a timely preparation for the entry of my next interviewer. Rev T.T. Bradford, who advanced with a firm step and dignified manner becoming a successful “senior tutor.” Devotion to work and duty were visible in every feature and audible in every tone. It was apparent that once that he was no respecter of persons, and I felt that he, at least, meant effort.  Apparently he cared no more for my pretensions than those of the usual “smart boy” candidate.

He at once began a conversation which convinced me that he was quite as desirous to ascertain what I did not know, as whether I possessed the modicum of knowledge which was required and expected of me; probably because he perceived instinctively that it would be much easier, which to me was a novel “view of it.” Three minutes’ talk produced a surprising change in me. It was like the effect of hot water upon soiled linen; conceit “wilted,” giving place to respect, admiration and love, which never faileth for the sincere man and faithful teacher. Happy the youth who listened to his counsels, studied his example, and followed both. If I should endeavor to portray him in one word, it would be fidelity — fidelity to his pupils on the one hand; to his college on the other; binding us through him to alma mater’s girdle with links of steel, which none of us desire to break, and which death alone can sever.

The fourth seal was opened, the door swung back, and a somewhat tall, erect man entered the room; his complexion was swarthy, his hair dark and nearly straight, his cheekbones rather high, and his eyes dark and piercing, yet sparkling with native humor. I was something startled, and saw in him one of good Father Kirkland’s early parishioners, or a descendant. You will recognize him as Professor Catlin. I imagined that he observed and was inclined to humor my trepidation, as he advanced to a seat near me with a manner and gruff voice, which seemed to ask, “White man well? Ugh!” After having been assured of my comfortable physical state, he proceeded to lead me a short trip among the stars and planets, but soon began to look weary and discouraged, and thrust his hands under his coat after his “scalper,” which he produced in the form of a pencil, and proceeded to brandish it in the figure of an orbit over the card which he held in his left hand, which movement I naturally construed to indicate a zero rating in astronomy. (And at once with a clutch at my hair, to test the stability of my scholastic scalp, under pretext of a comfortable scratch, at the same time trying to put on the stoic firmness and indifference of an Indian victim and martyr.) Shortly I was bid, “Go to the board.” And as I stood, chalk in hand and in a tremor of apprehension, evolving every now and again some startling mathematical result which occasioned a suppressed smile upon the professor’s face, every time I heard his gruff voice I looked askance over my shoulder as expecting to see his hatchet miss my head and shatter the blackboard — heartily wishing it might.

Shortly after, his manner visibly softened.  I detected indications of his having other business on hand. His rather abrupt, “Good day, sir,” were to me the most grateful words which he had spoken during our somewhat prolonged talk. I looked upon his back when he turned to go with emotions, as I imagined, similar to those with which he himself would have regarded the moon’s “off side,” could he have transferred his point of observation to some outside planet.

Such are my recollections of and reflections upon the entrance examination of 52 years ago, which even then was more comprehensive than here made to appear though still much less so than that of today. Whether or not it is now conducted by better or abler men is not mine to enquire. However, it can hardly be regarded as an unpardonable or unreasonable skepticism to express a doubt. Strictly it is not part of the course, for which reason it has been often traversed by preceding annalists. I leave “the board” here, only adding that they impressed me as the most inquisitive party I ever had met together.

Professor Catlin’s facial expression suggests an attempt of a Tyro in mathematics to equate fun, dignity, and mystery — his inexpressible eyes, the algebraic symbol of infinity, and his mouth, the initial pucker of a whistle of surprised wonder. He, at times, manifested his liking for a skillful draughtsman, or demonstrator, in his department, though always impartially just. There were several such in our class, as well as two or three cartoonists; and now and then a striking, or kicking silhouette of “conics” would appear on the blackboard in place of diagrams for recitation.

Abruptly directing the classroom monitor to “turn comics out” — while he was hurriedly plying his eraser, the eye of the professor would photograph, mentally, every countenance with a speed to which the snap camera is no approximation; and the next instant, it was “B, C or D, take the board,” and a dozen to one the artist would try his hand at “sections” till, laughed down by his fellows, he would sneak to his place and get zero for his share of the fun. Poor, old “Conics!” He long ago reposed in some obscure corner of his master’s “gulf,” there to enrich the soil for Dr. Root’s future garden. Peace to his phosphates!

The youngest of the faculty (1844-1846) was Tutor Upson, of somewhat slender body, pale and thin of face, with which his keen, dark eyes contrasted strangely. He wore a nervous, restless, and aspiring look, not especially apt to attract the attention of strangers – though his very name Upson, suggested rise and advancement. Ere long it was “Professor Upson,” next “Rev. Professor Upson,” then “Rev. Dr. Upson.” He was architect of his own fortune; and like a humble artisan, he carried his stepladder with him. He was always ready and prompt to meet any opportunity that offered for either progress or useful work, till finally he is “Rev. Dr. A.J. Upson, Cancellarius”; an elegant casket of the rarest and choicest fruits, of his own cultivation — with fitting and merited “handles” on either end. He is known and honored throughout the country as an alumnus of Hamilton. His career should be an efficient stimulus to the youth of the present. Study it, emulate it, and if you cannot be energized by examples of men like Upson, and the venerable Dr. E. North, still your beloved instructor, I fear me your prospect is at best not flattering.

Personally, Dr. Mandeville was the opposite of Upson – heavy and portly, calm and dignified; both alike were good-natured and inclined to jocose sociably. In Upson, this, at times, appeared like levity — in Mandeville, it was always jollity. Dr. Mandeville could even enjoy a joke at his own expense, when he took the point, which, like a wily trout, he was at times slow to do. I recall an instance — having incautiously and unwisely interfered with the boys in the bell room in the small hours, he passed the balance of the night right there. When he next met the students at Saturday’s Chapel exercise in oratory. He said consolingly to one who had been guilty of some impropriety, “Never mind; we all do foolish things”; adding with a smile and twinkle and alluding to the above incident, “I have myself.” This sweeping assertion of the doctor, literally accepted, would have consigned all of us to the attention of the necrologist, “when the fools were all dead.” There is present comfort, however, in the reflection that in such an event, this will be a desolate, lonely world — assuming of course that we survive; for we could hope to make no more than a pitiful show, a sorry crowd in limitless space. On the whole, it would be better, perhaps, remain as in the past; for absurd people often make good entertaining, and if patiently received, instructive companions.

Professor Mandeville, during his eight years’ incumbency of the chair of moral philosophy and rhetoric, awakened a remarkable interest among the students, particularly in rhetoric and elocution, based upon his own somewhat peculiar “system” — of which he made a specialty. This interest was increased later on to enthusiasm on their part, under the that elegant writer and accomplished speaker, Dr. Upson, which, I am glad to know, still continues, encouraged by a series of awards from wealthy and generous alumni, and is one of the many points in which the college may excel the university; for eloquent men are rare everywhere, and sure to be relatively more numerous in the hundred than in the thousand, as shown by the general and changeless law of chances.

Professor Avert was a sedate, earnest man, with enquiring, thoughtful turn and anxious, equally, to impart instructions to his classes in whom he confided too much to be a good disciplinarian, so that hi s good nature, at times, hindered his worthy purpose. He was fond of scientific research, and so far as the scant means at hand enabled him, enthusiastic in it, though neither his own makeup nor his laboratory, but meagerly supplied with apparatus, would have suggested the title “wizard” as applicable to him to his works. He possessed a vein of humor, sometimes rising to wit, and sometimes warranting a broader name.

I recall an illustration: One winter’s morning, being desirous of exemplifying the explosive force of nascent hydrogen, liberated by the rapid oxidation of potassium, and in the presence of air, (he always sought to fix what he said and did by exhibiting the chemicals employed by the class), he accordingly passed the bottle containing the cabinet supply of the metal to one of the boys. It was rapidly circulated, each one filching a piece for private study, He then remarked that “the hotter the water the more satisfactory the experiment.” This was the one item of chemical knowledge, which John needed for a successful venture of his own. He quickly collected all the bits through the class, and dumped the contents of the bottle which remained, into his own hand, then slyly crept to the stove, on which was a large tank of very hot water, and into this he threw the whole; there was a startling report — a shower of hot drops and blinding steam filled the room, followed by shout. “There!” exclaimed the professor, in a culpatory tone, “I told you so.” “Yes,” coolly replied John, with an emphasis and “upward bend” which well expressed much of his impertinence and taxed his elocutionary powers considerably, “I heard you the first time!” The laugh was on the doctor, and the lecture closed.

Professor Avery was a hearty man with some vanity (as who has not?), with paternal instincts for all his boys. And any of us who chanced to meet him after graduation were sure to receive a cordial handshake. He had a remarkable memory, and was more sure to recall our peccadilloes than we, I fear, were to remember his H20, N20 and other symbols.

I suppose every man sometimes questions himself and his past, as to the incitements and promptings which have guided him to the here and now. This review of my college life has very naturally led me to look back upon it as the period decisive of earthly career — to revisit, in memory, the same mysterious “chamber” in the rear of the chapel, to which I have already alluded, and to listen again to the quiet, soft voice of Panet M. Hastings of Clinton, timidly lecturing us as to the structure and care of our bodies, as if distrustful of himself and still more so of us. He was gentle, precise, unassuming and sincere — characteristics all of an educated and successful physician. The writer being one of but three of that profession in the class, cannot well omit to put on record this brief and imperfect recognition of a most worthy man.

Simeon North presided over this faculty. Physically he was slight, weakly, nervous, and timid; morally, strong, firm, bold and decided; intellectually, clear, logical, and systematic. A good practical teacher; a calm, prompt and discreet disciplinarian, with reserve of what is sometimes called personal magnetism, for want of a better term. He was well adapted to his office, only like a well-grown lad in his younger brother’s clothes, not perfectly “adjusted to his environment” for want of room to develop. I recall numerous instances, when, sitting with the faculty in the professors’ gallery at evening chapel, indications of a storm appearing among the body of students, by simply rising in his place, the commotion at once ceased while he stood “serene and motionless, and still and calm, and self-possessed.”

Looking over College Hill from distance of time and place, among much that is new, extremely desirable and admirable, we old fellows miss several things which young chaps were too late and too slow to share. Where are Terry O’Brien and his lodge on the hillside above Dr. North’s? Where are Quinn and hotel? Where is Austin — sole exponent of commerce and the tariff (outside the senior recitation room, where it was say and free-trade) and the store. They were all institutions in our day, though I presume all gone long since. Retrospection, in us, is replaced by prospection in you; still you will do well to bethink that “Bluecher or Night” will come, and that forethought and effort may either delay defeat, or convert it into success under GOD.

Old Terry was a jolly, good-natured Old Emeralder, though far from green; a man of many parts and functions — as factotum for the students, janitor for the halls, gardener for the walks and lawns, rough carpenter for the fences, assistant tutor when the classroom doors were reluctant to open, at which times he proceeded at once, in a businesslike way, to lubricate the hinges with his ready axe, and convert the entire structure into kindling-wood for the use of the regretful goodies, who waited outside to remove the debris. Besides all this, he was poulterer-in-chief for the community, knew the retiring hour of every fowl on the Hill. If ever “the boys” wanted a roast for supper, they had to leave word at his cabin door, and his sympathizing spouse, who was ready in her department, never failed to have it prepared in time; when Terry would gather up the fragments, that nothing could be seen, and in the morning no prying “hall officer” could get a smell.

Quinn was the special dread of every bovine for miles around, and even boopis Athena seemed to look with disfavor upon him. His dogs, pigs and fowls often died prematurely from a too liberal use of young beef diet. He furnished board — without lodging— to impecunious students for 75 cents per week, for which munificent sum might be reasonably sure of veal steaks for breakfast six days in the week, veal roast as often for dinner, with veal hash for supper on Sunday, potatoes with all. Others could save 75 percent of their paternal allowance for board to apply on their term bills at Austin’s for cigars and other stationery. This famous and convenient abode stood on the easterly side of the highway which formerly passed the college northwardly and between the grounds and the cemetery. It is now obliterated, and together with the latter, incorporated in the beautiful, capacious and tasteful campus, a little north of the Litchfield Observatory and nearly opposite the residence of ex-President Henry Davis.

The “store” was just west of Professor Catlin’s house, since the house of Dr. Oren Root, on the southerly side of the highway, passing westward. Here Austin sold clay pipes, tobacco, cigars of two-horse power draught, apples, peanuts, secondhand books, quills, paper, ink, mince pie and sausage, with other luxuries (open at all hours by pull of the bell-rope). He sold no strong drink, whether debarred by his conscience or the college authorities, I do not know, and never enquired. He did furnish tea and coffee, but I feel confident that a rill of neither of them could have worked its way down College Hill, for sheer debility. The proprietor would often sit on the wood-box and munch peanuts or a cracker; but I never knew him to tackle a mince pie or a sausage, even at the close of the term when there was a surplus on hand, “to reduce stock.”

I find, Mr. President, in my attempt to present you and the Society a readable summary of things and events relating to the Class of 1846, that my recollections are — like the rubbish in an old, unused garret; or a lot of hungry and bored freshmen at the noon recitation-hour — somewhat disorderly. But I have concluded that, in the classic language of my matter-of-fact and somewhat fatalistic classmate, Johnson, I would better “let ‘em bob” than try to reduce them to rhetorical unity; and so, when you get more than a plenty, you can cut the least and “whistle me down the wind” like a homing falcon.

I have, as yet, said but little about my class, and that statistically. Like all with which I have been acquainted, which included a fair proportion of the “raw material” for divinity, there was rather a superabundance of fun and mischief; not always, I regret to say, of a harmless kind, if all the legends which float around college are to be credited. Fun seems to exude from them as naturally as pitch from a Southern pine, only to leave the heart whither and purer for future use. Other some of those manifestations were of a much more personal, or wholly selfish nature. In no single line was the class president; divinity, law, medicine, agriculture, science, politics, finance and commerce were each severally represented. There were, as usual, idle drones and lazy shirks, dull-plodding bookworms, harum-scarum care-for-naughts and ambitious zealots among us; but by far the larger portion of the Class of 1846, I can fairly rank in the golden mean of scholarship and attainment, so far as I have been able to recall.

Orderly in deportment; regular and faithful in attendance upon their various recitations and lectures, as well as excursions afield for botanical, geological and mineralogical research; men of good average standing, though not specially ambitious to excel in any one branch. Among these latter are usually found those who grow and develop into the more substantial, reliable, and useful members of society, equally successful, whether in professional or business life. But not to be boastful as to the individuality of the class, I am confident I may well call attention to several somewhat remarkable coincidences in the literary, artistic, political and scientific circles within the period of the curriculum.

First of these, soon after its organization, a bright object appeared in the literary firmament well to the northward, which has continued to shine with increasing luster till the present time, and which is now known and recognized by scholars throughout the land as Nu Hamiltonesis. In 1843, Edward North was made professor of the Greek language and literature, without specifically marked fitness or promise; but who has long since shown himself to have been a most worthy and fortunate selection for the class, for the college, and the cause of learning. In the second place, it is noticeable that during that remarkable period (1843-1846) the electric telegraph was perfected, to the glory of art and America. Thirdly and politically, “Uncle Sam” Polk-led his troops into foreign territory, and the nation into war; but inasmuch as I cannot felicitate you on this result, I will drop it, only repudiating the claim that it was “by the act of Mexico.” Fourthly, it is worthwhile to remark that the planet Neptune, which had for some time been prowling incog on the outskirts of the solar system, presumably waiting for the coming of the auspicious year (1846), and moreover respectfully delaying his debut until after Commencement week, when lo!, the glass of the astronomer was turned, as if by magic, to the very spot where the Stranger Star was shining. The unsolved mystery is — how did he ever “get onto it? In still another humble, but worthy way, has the Class of 1846 left its footprints on the sands of time.” Witness, Hungerford Hall and Perry H. Smith Library.

We had one merry, goodhearted, lazy, go-easy classmate, who was never a contestant for anything except the lowest rating, and even in that he had at least one active competitor, though he held a “poor first” to the end. After senior examination was concluded, we held the customary reunion, and before separating to meet finally at Commencement, the presiding genius (as were all such then) called upon each one for a brief statement of his plans, purposes, and prospects for the future, I have often speculated since as to how much of what was then said has been realized. When our friend’s turn came, he arose very deliberately, as usual, and after stating his boyish ideas of freshmen dignity, and the fearful ordeal of the entrance quiz, he philosophically added: “I have since learned, however, by experience, that I could obtain the first, and pass the second without omniscience, and graduate, a blanked fool!”

Shortly after this occurred, the annual parade day of the august General Comstock, and all was over.