College Life in the Seventies

The University of Rochester in 1875 was a small, classical college. The campus had been tastefully chosen, in the most beautiful portion of that beautiful city. The buildings were excellent and for modest aims ample, including a laboratory and recitation building with chapel, and an excellent library building for those times, with space for one of the best collections in natural history then in the country. Other tasteful and costly buildings have been added since.

The students numbered about forty in each of the four classes, nearly all pursuing a fixed but well-balanced classical course, with few electives. But there was no gymnasium, no instruction in physical culture, no organized athletic sports of any kind, and no dormitories. All the students roomed in private homes, and boarded, often in groups, at boarding houses, in convenient parts of the city. The recitations of one hour each were preceded by a compulsory chapel service of fifteen minutes. They began at nine and closed at twelve. On Saturdays we had a lecture on Art by the President. This course in Art was voluntary, open to all students and also to the townspeople, by whom it was largely attended. The afternoons and evenings afforded opportunity for continuous and uninterrupted study. This was a great boon for studious men.

The students belonged to a single social class. Apart from the local Rochester residents, they came from Baptist homes, widely scattered throughout the North. They were usually poor, a year or two older than college students generally, serious in purpose, studious and of excellent character. They were of good intelligence, but among them in my time were no men of commanding talent. Nearly all then in college have made good in life, and those who are still living stand out prominently in their respective communities.

The not very long list of instructors contained no tutors. All were men of full growth, many of mature years and much experience. A few had attained eminence. The President, Martin B. Anderson, unlike the college President of today, was more, far more than the business manager, presiding officer, and public representative of the institution. He was the very life and soul of it. Every teacher and every student was thrilled with the contagious enthusiasm and omnipresent life of this remarkable man. So, dominating, so all-pervading was his personality that the University was often humorously dubbed “Mr. Anderson’s School.” And it was indeed the man and not the institution that from near and from far attracted the students. Even in his lifetime he won the name of “Prince of College Presidents.” Sometimes he was called “The American ‘Arnold of Rugby,’” but he was a far broader and greater man than Arnold of Rugby, as I now know, though never so widely celebrated. He aimed to know personally every man in every class, to plant in every one of them right moral and intellectual ideals, to illustrate the best methods of work, and to impart to every one his own intense zeal in all forms of political and social advance. To attain this end, he gave all his waking hours wholly to work with the students. The senior class he personally taught for one hour every day. His instruction covered a wide range of practical counsel and was by no means confined to the formal subjects of the curriculum. In the morning chapel service, he would twice or more a week address the assembled student body, often on themes suggested by current events that he thought of high significance. These talks would sometimes extend to twenty minutes. He was a powerfully built man. His face was leonine. His voice was deep and far reaching. He would begin in a firm, low tone, deliberately, hardly moving a muscle. Gradually his face would kindle and insensibly his voice would become vibrant and penetrative, until at length with whole being aflame he would speak with overwhelming passion and power. I used to sit before him at such times with thrills chasing each other from the soles of my feet to the roots of my hair. I never saw a student whose feeling was not the same. “Dr. Anderson’s Chapel Talks” became celebrated in his own life time and are today spoken of by many an aged alumnus as among the memorable experiences of life.

But these public ministrations, effective as they were, did not exhaust or satisfy the zeal of Dr. Anderson. Hours of every day he spent with individual students in his private study in intimate confidential intercourse. He took every man to his heart. He learned to know his students through and through, their family history and their essential character. He became the intimate confidential friend of every man of them. I personally, for illustration, was often called to his study. At first I felt quite erroneously that my intimacy with him was a peculiar favor, not shared with others. I doubt not all the others felt peculiarly favored in the same way. His was by far the most powerful influence for good that my college life afforded. We were extremely fortunate. Among many college presidents whom I have since known, none has approached him in power to mold the character and conduct of young men, and none has used his power with more unselfish zeal.

I pursued, as I said above, the regular classical course. I was now, however, in the junior year, and had done nothing in Greek since my entrance examination as a freshman. Meanwhile, for two years my class had kept on with Greek. It was arranged that I should make up the Greek I lacked, by private study and special examination. This I did in the junior year. I took no tutor and got on, I am sure, quite as well, saving both time and money. This solitary work on Greek confirmed me in the belief that with modern textbooks a man with reasonable independence and self-reliance need not be dependent on a college classroom. I got my Master’s degree with the full Greek credit, wholly acquired by solitary work. I never in my life studied Greek with a tutor, and never was in a Greek classroom. Anyone can do what I did, and many could do more and do it better. But the discipline of that unassisted and self-reliant work has been useful to me throughout my life.

Apart from the Greek which I needed later in my New Testament studies in the Theological Seminary, the studies of the classical curriculum have been to me mainly a diversion. I have since reread and multiplied my Latin classics, but only as an inviting relief from more serious duties. These classical studies were not intended to be of any direct service. They were regarded purely as disciplinary. No doubt the disciplinary studies do contribute to the formation of good intellectual habits. But I have never seen a man naturally stupid, made bright and alert and keen by the discipline of the classics. My college course simply confirmed me in habits of study, reading, and reflection. I can truthfully say little else for it. I was a hard student. I was at my work nearly the whole of every afternoon and evening. I took almost no exercise, certainly too little, and too little recreation of any kind, being in these respects under special limitation on account of having two years of Greek to make up. Occasionally I went to a professional ball game, once to a horse race and saw Robert Bonner’s Dexter beat the world’s record. But I never went to a dance or to a students’ card party or to a theatre. With my early training, these in fact were taboo. And so, by various self-denials and in other negative ways, my habit of hard and continuous mental work became a joy to me and so deeply in- wrought as to last me through life.

Apart from these disciplinary values, my college life in Rochester was useful to me in various subordinate ways. I heard many orators of national distinction: McKinley, Roscoe Conklin, George William Curtis, Wendell Phillips, Henry Ward Beecher, John B. Gough, and others. A regular attendant at church, I heard the excellent preaching regularly of the Rochester pastors, and often very distinguished and eloquent visiting preachers from other cities. My musical taste was chastened and developed by not a little good music. I was able to spend many hours with the pictures in the Powers Art Gallery, a fine selection of paints open to the public. I was invited into the choir of the East Avenue Baptist Church, and there learned a little more of music. Our old friend, Dr. Morehouse, was then pastor. I did not go into society, too rarely accompanying classmates on evening calls on their lady friends, though sometimes very kindly invited. The Greek letter secret fraternities in Rochester were then a better influence than they are now and were encouraged by Dr. Anderson. I joined the Alpha Delta Phi, the oldest and best at Rochester. I found it highly useful in literary criticism. The social element that since has become dominant in the Greek letter fraternities was in Rochester in my time subordinate to helpful mutual criticism, mainly literary, addressed by the higher classmen to the lower.

Student prizes and honors at Rochester in the seventies were few. Dr. Anderson did not value them much as incentives. Hard workers do not need them, and laggards do not respond to them. His work was constant and personal on every man, like a sculptor with infinite pains slowly molding the plastic clay into a work of art. Students and faculty alike were in my observation very fair. Certainly, they gave to me my full share of honors, as they always and everywhere do to hard workers in any of the college activities, whether in the classroom or on the athletic field. Such as came to me were wholly unsought and unexpected. I have never enjoyed physical labor, but mental work I have never been able to do without. I have had an eager appetite for it all my life. I love it for its own sake. It is its own sufficient reward. The honors that fell to me in college, while gratifying at the time, were with me, as I think with all college students, lightly held and soon forgotten. Mine certainly had no place, helpful or otherwise, among the formative influences that I have been naming in these reminiscences.

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Dr. Anderson and His Talks