0545C4B5-D365-8D6C-72AAFF815EB5E355
A51EF29E-C3AE-204E-84E497EEA9B7670B

Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1873 Letter

George H. Payson

Delivered: June 1923

We entered Hamilton College in September 1869, the Class of 1873, just 38 strong. We lost and we gained in the four years so that in June 1873, we graduated the same number, so that it might be said that we held our own. There have been graduated larger classes and smaller classes but, of course, none better than ours. Of the 38 entering with us, 14 are living; of the 45 who first or last belonged to the class, 16 are living. Our class secretary will tell what we have accomplished as the years have sped. It is mine, as I understand the duty of the annalist, to hark back to the good old days. I trust that our reminiscences will not prove reminuisances. I suppose, to the youngsters who graduate at this time, it seems a far cry from 1923 to 1873. But it depends on the standpoint. Sometimes a forward look is longer than a backward look and vice versa. Well, here we are. Two-thirds of the class finished their course in life’s larger school. “Here’s rosemary for remembrance” They are absent but not forgotten. “God be with us until we meet again.”

Now some might think that the most formidable thing for the freshman class to meet would be the sophomores. Not so with us. We feared them not. They outnumbered us 46 to 38. Yet in some respects honors were easy. It was 50-50. We had Wright on our side, so did they. We had Love with us, so did they. We had a Peck apiece. But the one thing we had that with them was lacking, we had the Lord on our side. He is with us today. For him the Sun has shone. Charge, Chester, charge!

Surely none of us will forget that night the sophomores tried to smoke out two of our class when Avery stood guard, shouting “a man’s house is his castle,” wielded his battle axe and drove them back and was called “Leonidas” from that time forth. No, it was not the sophomores that daunted us; it was the faculty. How formidable they looked as we heard their first announcements and we tried to look wise to what they said, while the rusty sophomores laughed us to scorn for our innocence. There were only 11 members of the faculty. Dr. Avery was professor emeritus and Dr. Goertner, College pastor, leaving but nine as the teaching force. But the nine muses did not compare with the nine professors who were to wave the torch of learning before our wondering eyes and lead us up the heights of wisdom. Now the roll of the faculty numbers 32. The total enrollment of the College then was 164. It has doubled now, with 321 enrolled. I note one coincidence, there are 111 freshmen and this is the 111th Commencement. Twice as many students now as then and more than thrice as many teachers! But I was speaking of the faculty of our day.

There was the President, the Rev. Samuel Gilman Brown, D.D., LL.D., dignified scholarly, refined who taught us in our senior year the evidences of Christianity, himself the highest type of a Christian gentleman.

Oren Root, LL.D., or as we called him “Cube Root,” was our mathematical professor. His son who succeeded him was called “Square Root.” But if ever there was a square man it was Professor Root, Senior. He surely knew mathematics and knew how to impart his knowledge into our unmathematical minds. I do not remember that he ever spoke of the fourth dimension, but sure I am that he took the measure of us all. How keen he was, how true, how fair, how discriminating, how thorough! Will any one of his students ever forget that little cough before he called a student, and the relief when it was not oneself? It did not take him long to find out how much or how little each one knew of the subject. Our class presented him with a valuable set of the Dublin Mathematical Journal as a token of our great esteem.

Christian Henry Frederick Peters, Ph.D., was professor of astronomy, who discovered several times as many asteroids as he had names. Here J.G. Porter was our star performer. He used to say that his idea of Heaven was to work out logarithms. He never cut Dr. Peters. He was himself a star of the first magnitude. Hi favorite song was Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  The rest of the class might have learned something from the learned professor if they had stayed in the classroom. But full oft was it true that only one remained whom Dr. Peters was questioning. As for the rest, “They folded their tents like the Arabs, and silently stole away.”

Ellicott Evans, LL.D., who taught law, history, civil polity, and political economy — we did not him have until senior year. I do not know as we exactly had him then, rather that he had us. You remember that a certain professor said in reply to a student’s remark that he took German of him, “Well, I don’t know has he took it but at last he was exposed.” I think it must have been Dr. Evans who marked some one zero and the fellow asked him if he thought he deserved it and he replied, “No, but that is the lowest mark we have.” Dr. Evans was a learned man as the titles of his chair would imply and thoroughly master in each line of his department.

What shall I say of Edward North, LL.D., “Old Greek,” as we called him? He was an ideal professor. None knew him but to love him. Silent, serene, quaint, learned, gentle and generous, he knew everyone of his pupils and never forgot them. At our 20th reunion, we called on him and he called us each by name.  When Skinner, who was with us only two years, said, “Professor North, you don’t remember me,” he replied, as he looked him over, “Oh, yes, you graduated early.” In class when he called Lansing Lee Porter, he would say with a humorous smile, “Double L. Porter.” No one who ever sat in his classroom could ever forget his teaching or the teacher. As for his lectures, we will remember them with delight while, “The mountains look on Marathon, And Marathon looks on the sea.”

The Rev. Anson Judd Upson, A.M., afterward D.D., Professor of Logic, Rhetoric and Elocution, completed his successful career as a teacher with the freshman year of the Class of 1873, having accepted a call to a Presbyterian Church in Albany, N.Y. It was his custom to give each prize speaker three drills, beginning with the juniors, then the sophomores, and last the freshmen, in alphabetical order. Our speakers were Avery, Lord, O’Brien and Payson. I remember very distinctly his saying to me after the last drill, “Payson, you have the honor of being the last young man I shall ever drill in Hamilton College.” There was pathos in the words. By coincidence, his successor, Samuel Darwin Wilcox, was present at that exhibition. My declamation was the same one by which he had won the first prize in his freshman year. That declamation sustained its reputation on this occasion.  Professor Wilcox’s course was brief but brilliant. During his sickness, Professor J.J. Lewis of Madison University, now Colgate, took his place and after his death Professor Frink succeeded him so that in this department we had four instructors. Perhaps that is the reason the Class of 1873 had so many distinguished orators.

Among our notable feats, it fell to our class to initiate into their professorial tasks, Professor Abel Grosvenor Hopkins as Latin instructor and Chester Huntington as tutor who strove to teach us Knox’s “A year with St. Paul” who did not “make a worse preacher by being brought up on at the feet of Gamaliel.” I remember one day Tutor Huntington asked our genial secretary, Mr. Miles, “Where did Paul go next?” Miles, who had been combing his side-whiskers, replied, “I do not know where he is now.” Moral: it is important to know where you are in order to know where you are going. This applies to the U.S. Government in its foreign relations.

Edward Walstein Root, whose name appears in the list of the professors, did not have the privilege of teaching our class.

But in our junior year Albert Huntington Chester, A.M., E.M., became Childs Professor of Agricultural Chemistry. Later he resigned to take the chair of chemistry at Rutgers College. Here he taught efficiently until his death in 1903, greatly beloved and sincerely mourned. My home in New Brunswick was next door to that of Mrs. Chester and their son, Albert Chester, of the Class of 1893 at Hamilton College.

The Rev. John William Mears, D.D., that same junior year became the Albert Barnes Professor of Moral Philosophy, whose teaching in classroom and preaching in the Chapel did much to develop the mental and moral giants who were to graduate in 1873 from old Hamilton.

Here’s to the faculty, “They do rest from their labors and their works do follow them.”

During our college course we were privileged to hear many notable lecturers such as Bayard Taylor, B.F. Taylor, Homer F. Sprague, Neal Dow and others. Nor should I fail to mention Professor Upson, whose lecture on “A plea for both sides” I distinctly remember. The spirit was memorable and appropriate to these times. One story I recall of boy who had left home and as a “boy’s will is the wind’s will” had changed from one thing to another until his mother wrote to him, “My dear son, a rolling stone gathers no moss. Your affectionate mother.” He replied, “My dear mother, a setting hen lays no eggs. Your affectionate son.” Dr. Sprague had a notable lecture on “Riches and what constitutes them. I remember that brains was one of the assets he claimed as true wealth. Lots of poor men in the world!

Apropos of prohibition, Neal Dow, the author of the Maine Law, a sort of forerunner of the 18th amendment, lectured in the old Stone Church one hot night. He was illustrating the difference between persuasion and prohibition. The church was lighted with oil lamps, and the insects gathered around the pulpit lights; he persuaded them away with his handkerchief; they returned; then he turned out the light and they flew away to return no more. That was prohibition without the Volstead Act.

Besides the members of the faculty, we recall Pete Blake, “professor of dust and ashes,” with his quaint and characteristic criticism of the boys; Dan Kelly, who kept the store opposite South College and dispensed hard cider in winter and cold lemonade in summer; Jack Keeffel, the barber who knew all the students thoroughly; and Barney Fay, the truck man. Then there was the College cat, called “Damn it,” a picture of which I have in our album. It usually roosted with Rewey. Norton says Rewey was a dreamer and anyone who has read Tom Norton’s Retrospetion, Introspection, Prospection, will admit that his life was no dream. He was a great “dig” in college, also something of an epicure for he “et Vincent.” He also played chess. Someone asked him if Payson was a good player. He said, “First class. It is all I can do to beat him.” When Professor Hopkins called Hal Bell one day, he arose with great dignity and answered, “non paratus” as though that was an unusual thing. Richardson, whom we called “Bitts” for he came from St. Louis and was forever talking bout two bits, had the time down to a nicety. He roomed in Middle College and when the Chapel bell range, he rose, dressed and stayed in the Chapel long enough to be marked present, then scurried over to Dan’s and, with a bit or a bite of breakfast, hied back to our recitation room in South College.

You all remember the custom of burlesque programs. Two skits have lingered in my mind. I will not mention the names. One was on a member of the class whose chum had smallpox and he had to leave his room:

The coward who deserted his cum and his duty,
When ‘tis plain that the smallpox would add to his beauty.

This was another:

If for silver or for gold,
You could melt ten thousand pimples,
Into half a dozen dimples,
We could then your face behold,
Looking doubtless much more snugly,
But e’en then t’would be d__ ugly.

Not only the students but also the faculty came in for these burlesques, which constituted vulgar wit in which college boys seem to delight and for which they sometimes paid dear. Their nicknames for the faculty were certainly not marks of the respect that was their due from the students.

As a class we played our pranks in order to keep up with the traditions. At the end of freshman year we buried “Paul and Silas” and after the first term cremated Perkins’ Algebra. Avery delivered the sermon with Bacon’s back for a pulpit desk. There was a mysterious secret society in our freshman year, the initiations to which in the third term took place after midnight in the woods, the chief paraphernalia being a coffin and a clanking chain. We had a fire and refreshments. Norton got sleepy and took a nap in the coffin while Rewey foraged for food and came back at dawn with a pail of milk. The coffin and chain were hidden in the woods but after vacation they were discovered and the Clinton Courier devoted several columns to the solution for the crime that was never solved.

When we became sophomores, we tried to make men of the newcomers with indifferent success. Junior and senior years passed without any unusual event, we studied, coasted, skated, visited Houghton Seminary, White and “Chip,” wrote our orations, passed our examinations and at last graduated, as the world waited for us and somehow stood the shock of our coming. Mr. Beecher once said to the graduating class, “Young men, remember that in whatever quarter of the globe you settle, the universe will not tip up.” As far as your annalist knows, there as been no disturbance of equilibrium of the earth, sun, moon or stars in the past 50 years on account of our presence.

In senior year, a reading room was established, largely through the efforts of dear old Jake Jones. In the same year the seniors were given an elective course in the history of civilization by the president, which aside from laboratory courses, essay and prize oration work, was the first elective move toward electives at Hamilton. When a professor failed to appear at recitation time, it was the custom to run all over the campus shouting “No Prof”, as though our main object in college was to get rid of recitations.

My experience as a professor in Rutgers College showed me that the present day college boy is about the same as the one of a half a century ago. Yet, with occasional exceptions, the pranks there and now are not so bad as in our day. Perhaps the reason is that athletics have become such an important factor now that the students do not have as much time for fool performances. A calf in the recitation room, a cow in the belfry, a bell on the rear seats, tearing up the benches and such like lawlessness are unheard of there. Nor do I intend to advertise them.

The moral tone of the College in our day, I should say, was above the average. Of course I did not hobnob with the high rollers such as Briggs, Goss, Huntington, Jones and J.G. Porter. There was a good religious spirit in the College. I do not think that Sunday Chapel fostered it very much. I never believed in compulsory religion. Of course, we had our choice of preachers. Some were better than others and so not so good. But as far as I know we never bet on the length of the long prayer or entered a pool as to the number of the first hymn. The morning Chapel exercises were short and simple and not at an unseemly hour as before our day. The noonday prayer meetings were helpful. They only lasted 15 minutes, which precluded prayer meeting killers doing their deadly work. There was also a Sunday evening service in the senior classroom, which was not very exciting or inspiring. The church organization, which still exists, though with an ever-changing membership, was a stimulus to the spiritual of the life of the College. I suppose few colleges have sent so many sons in to the ministry as Hamilton. About 14, or nearly half our class, became Christian ministers, six of whom are living. Whether any beside the writer are still in the active pastorate, I am not sure. Jones taught the Colgate theologies how to go to heaven and J.G. Porter, the youth of Cincinnati how the heavens go.

We who come back to our Alma Mater after 50 years are rejoiced to see the spirit of Hamilton is the same as of old. We are glad that the humanities have the right of way and the classical studies take the lead. We have no grief against science. Indeed we glory in her achievements. In our College days there were no telephones, no automobiles, no airplanes, no wireless, no radio, no electric roads, no power plants, no gang-plows, no reapers, no mowers, no cafeterias, no Piggly Wiggly stores, no phonographs, no movies no submarines, no smokeless powder, no typewriters, no bicycles, no machine guns, no parcel post, no Williams Jennings Bryan. But it is a significant fact that most or many of the inventions of science that were consecrated to the comforts of life and the progress of the race were desecrated to the destruction of life and property in the Great War. Men say that religion had failed, but it is not religion but science that failed. Religion bound up the wounds of war, alleviated its sufferings and is now devoted to the reorganization of human life. It is for science and religion to unite in the rebuilding of our broken civilization. And America must lead the way.

(The Annalist’s Letter concluded with an earnest appeal for our Nation’s entrance into the World Court and the League of Nations, and for the participation of the sons of Hamilton College in the reconstruction of the world, its progress, and its peace.)