Jacksonian Miscellanies, #17: May 6, 1997

Topic: Cyrus Hamlin, Bowdoin Class of '34

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

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Cyrus Hamlin was from a Huguenot family driven out of France in the late 17th Century. Two brothers settled in Massachusets. Cyrus' grandfather moved, with three sons, "down east" to Maine, where they were granted land for service in the Revolution.

His first cousin, Hannibal Hamlin, was Lincoln's first Vice President.

The following comes Chapter V of My Life and Times by Cyrus Hamlin, Missionary in Turkey; Author of "Among the Turks," (Congregational Sunday-School and Publishing Society, 1893).

It describes his experiences at Bowdoin College, where he graduated in 1834, along with Charles Beecher, a "Ben Tappan" (not the Ohio Congressman, brother of Arthur and Lewis, but probably related) and, he says, "Prentiss", which may mean George Lewis Prentiss (who was apparently really a year behind Hamlin, according to Concise D.A.B.). Prentiss' biography of his brother, Seargent S. Prentiss, was quoted in Issue #6.

Hamlin's years at Bowdoin almost exactly coincided with the years that Samuel Wordsworth Longfellow was professor of modern languages there. Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Seargent Prentiss would have been Bowdoin classmates or near classmates, graduating in 1825-6.

Hamlin is an enjoyable writer. He led his freshman class in putting down the practice of hazing by sophomores, and did the same in the sophomore class with good but imperfect success (there was one incident of spraying ink over the freshly papered wall of two freshmen's rooms, and leaving a dead dog's carcass there as well).



I LOOKED forward to the examination with fear and trembling. What would those learned professors' make of me or think of me? I passed through the Latin grammar and Virgil, here and there in the Aeneid and Georgics, without disgrace. When I came to Cicero's orations, I knew that I might fail in many places. But I had an astonishing piece of luck. In my hasty review I came upon a page of very long and difficult sentences that I had not fully mastered in the first reading. I said to myself, if I am taken up on this page in examination, I shall ignominiously fail. I gave myself to it, and wrote out a satisfactory translation, and said, "Now come on, Mr. Professor, and try me on this." To my amazement, the examining professor turned to that page and said, "You may pronounce the Latin first, and you will perhaps get hold of it all the better." I did so, and then gave him such a ready and smooth translation that he said, "That's quite sufficient," and closed the book. I blushed, for I knew I ought to say to him, "That is the only page in Cicero that I can translate in that way." But I didn't. With the exception of geography, my examination was less rigid than I anticipated. Geography was always a weak point with me, and the examining professor asked me just the questions that I could not answer. However, I received at once my ticket of admission; and behold I was one of about fifty freshmen of Bowdoin College! It was the largest freshman class that had ever been admitted.

On the way to Brunswick I fell in with Albert Cole, of Saco, who was to join the same class. We became friends at once, and for life; I trust also for ­eternity. He passed over after a short but blessed ministry. Edward Woodford, of Woodford (then Woodford's Corner), was another freshman, in delicate health,-a pure and noble spirit,-who still lives, having made the bravest and longest struggle for life against physical weakness that I have known. We three were a trio. Both of those choice friends supplemented me through the college course. Cole spurred me up to effort. Woodford was a young man of wise, considerate judgment. He had more of that mature, common sense that decides a thing once for all than any of us. Cole and I learned very soon to respect Woodford's judgment. He was out of college half his time from sickness, but he graduated honorably, and has outlived thirty of the thirty­five who graduated with him.

At ex­Governor Parris' special request, I took his son Albert as my roommate in my freshman year. I have always had the highest respect for the family, parents and daughters, but Albert was not the chum whom I wished to have after the first year.

We had hardly fixed up our rooms, and had our first recitations in each department, when a friend in one of the other classes enlightened me on the subject of hazing, and advised me to take it kindly and jocosely. My whole soul revolted against this, and I replied that I would certainly shoot the sophomore that should enter my room by force. It is true I had nothing but a bootjack and such other missiles as I might procure, but I was resolved not to disgrace my Revolutionary origin by basely yielding the right of self­defense. The class, conscious of being two to one, and indeed, against hazers, three to one, easily responded to the appeal to defend ourselves to the last. We really prepared no arms but scout heavy canes and such missiles as could effectively be hurled by the hand. Some, who roomed near each other, had watchwords by which any one too closely beleaguered could call out assistance. The other party wanted vulgar, brutal fun, without any danger of penalty. When they saw a fierce determination to turn their weapons upon themselves and make their violent dealing come down upon their own pates with a vengeance, their ideas of fun all vanished, and there was not an instance of hazing in our freshman year. Had the sophomore class been larger, and the freshman smaller, there might have been ugly encounters. But the sophomores, besides being few, had so many excellent fellows among them, as Allen (President of Girard College), Harris (President of Bowdoin College), John Pike, Ebenezer Parsons, James Means, W. T. Savage, Ben Tappan, S. H. Shepley, C. C. Farrar, and others, gentlemen and scholars, who were above all such brutal outrages, that the hazers found themselves in a contemptible minority, and concluded that "discretion was the better part of valor." The mischief was only adjourned. It will appear again.

I immediately found college study quite different from my fitting course. Not that I studied harder, but everything was regular and measured. Three recitations a day, with some stated variations; and then we must go thoroughly into a thing. Our professors were men of power. Shallow, surface work was their abomination. Professor Smyth took us in scientific arithmetic, and a great light dawned upon the science of numbers and the laws of notation. Latin and Greek grammar had to be studied anew.

Here I was very weak as compared with some of my classmates who had been in fitting schools from three to five years. I saw very soon that I was not armed for the strife. I went to Professor Smyth, who seemed to take a liking to me, and told him just what I thought and felt. He listened to me with a sober, thoughtful look and said, "It might have been well if it had been planned so in the beginning; but now you have entered college, you could not at once strike into a course of study or find a class just fitted to your plan in any academy. You had better continue where you are. You take mathematics easily. Make up your Latin and Greek grammar, and you will reach the sophomore year on a level with the rest."

It was, on the whole, wise advice. I had not the financial resources to take a different course without calling upon the church for help, which I was resolved not to do. Deacon Smith and Deacon Coe advised me to apply to the Education Society, which I did, and with the help from home I reached near the close of the first term very happily. I had formed some friendships in the class and out, which time has only made dearer; but now most of them have passed over to the other side. How few remain!

About three weeks before the close of the term I caught a bad cold, which resulted in a high fever and delirium. It was partly from the absurd supper which I cooked for myself out of materials which my chum brought me from the club, at my express order. I was destined to be a great bread maker, but I was not an accomplished cook. In the night I saw visions. I thought that the college was on fire; and that I must get my chum and all the furniture out of the window before I could escape. I rose, dressed myself, putting on my coat first and then buttoning my suspenders; my' coat tails were turned up against my ears. I pulled my chum out of bed but he was such a sleepy head that he went right back.

I moved the bureau against the window, but I could not get it out; I must have help. Taking a stick of firewood, I went to the next room to call upon my friend Cole for aid. I pounded on his door, and although it was midnight, he was still at his desk. He cried out, "Come." His look of terror and surprise is still vivid in my memory, for every part of that night's experience is as indelibly imprinted upon my memory as though it had all been stern reality. He sprang from his seat, and then checking himself, said, "Oh, yes; we'll do that right off. But here! we don't want that stick of wood. I'll see to it all;" and putting his arm soothingly round me, led me back, told me I was ill and needed a doctor and must lie still, and he would call Dr. Lincoln. Dr. Lincoln was the best physician in the place, but had retired from all night practice; and he positively refused to come, but Cole made him come. He had to come, to keep Cole from waking up his invalid wife and the whole household.

Dr. Lincoln talked pleasantly to me, took off three or four of the bed coverings, bathed my hands and face; and I was quite restored to reason. He gave me an emetic, after which I had some good sleep. Mrs. Lincoln was exceedingly kind in sending me nice things to eat, among which were enormous baked apples, as delicious as big.

After a few days he said, "Go home to your mother. This is no place for you." After I had gone, he told Professor Smyth: "You must n't expect to see that student back here again."

I went by a pleasant stage ride to my sister Rebecca's in Portland. It was better than going into the best hospital in the world. Little Emily took to me wonderfully, and she was one of the most charming little girls ever born. I must have had characteristics then that have faded out, for children generally made friends with me right off. Old Mrs. Farley (Mr. Farley's mother) had a bottle of medicine half full. The other half had served her in just such a state as I was in, and now I must take it in the same way. It relieved my cough at once.

I took it home with me, and with mother's excellent care and the good, nourishing home living I rallied very quickly. I then thought I must teach school; but fortunately the schools were all supplied, and I spent a happy winter at home. It was well I did. My vocal organs were strangely affected. My voice was very weak and indistinct. Professor Smyth welcomed me back very warmly and told me what Dr. Lincoln had prophesied.

Professor Newman (of rhetoric) took me immediately into training for a voice and especially for distinctness of enunciation. It was of peculiar value to me. After some weeks of training, he told me there was no student in college with a more distinct enunciation than I had attained. Blessings on the memory of Professor Newman! He found my handwriting something like my voice. When I went over to his study to receive back my first "theme " with criticisms, he said to me: "Your style, Hamlin, has a Quaker­like simplicity and clearness. I only wish you would aim at a little more ornamentation; and your handwriting is often quite indistinct. There is a sentence-or rather that word-what is that ?"

"It is indistinct, sir."

"Yes," he said with some surprise; "that's what I complained of."

"Well, it is indistinct sir."

I saw he was about to be offended and I said: "That word which I have so badly written is the word indistinct."

He laughed heartily and added: "Make your handwriting as clear as your style, and I shall have little to say."

He knew how to encourage a poor, bashful, blushing freshman.

In the second term of the year we entered our chosen societies. The two leading literary societies were the Peucinian and Athenian. I chose the former. They were rivals and the rivalry bred certain evils, but they were fine training grounds for life.

There were two religious societies-the Praying Circle and the Theological Society. This latter was rather for cultivating some historical knowledge of the heresies and orthodoxies of the past ages and of the present times. We aimed at nothing above our reach.

The Praying Circle brought together the religious element of the college without any distinctions. In that there were neither Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists, nor Presbyterians. Its influence in college was unobtrusive, but was very great. There was a corps of earnest Christian students in college, whose influence was excellent and whose work in life has been blessed.

There was also a rough and rowdy element, possessed of the devil, who thought it grand and manly to destroy college property by bonfires, blowing it up with powder, etc. The faculty could only moderate the mischief. Where the authors were not found, the damages were averaged. Every student paid from one dollar to one and a half on each term bill -from three to five dollars a year. At length we rebelled, and formed a combination that for a time stopped it with a rough hand; and the faculty thanked us for it.

Not in my freshman year, but at a later time, I smashed a student's door all to pieces, and told him that was my first hint that the business he was up to in the night would stop; if it did not, I would try issues with him. I wrote the treasurer what I had done, and that I would stand for the damages. He never charged them to me. Of course I got the ill­will of some, but we had quiet times for study. There were always some splendid fellows, none superior to Charles Beecher and John Goddard, ready to put down lawlessness by force; but the rowdies never came to an open fight. "Conscience made cowards" of them all, and they knew that law, government, and public opinion were all against them.

When my freshman year closed, I had begun to know that by diligence I might have a fair standing in my class. Indeed I already had it. Before the close of the first term, I overheard some boys in rather loud dispute as to who was going to "lead the class." H. B. Smith, Mel Weston, H. T. Cheever were all mentioned. Moses McLellan with his magisterial voice said aloud, "You are all wrong, gentlemen; Hamlin is going to lead this class," and gave his reasons. I only noted that his interference was not scouted. It surprised me more than anything of the kind that had happened. Cole took hold of it and said, "Aim for the first rank, and take it for Christ and his cause." He may have stirred my ambition some, but I did not look upon it as either possible or desirable.

I closed the first year with gratitude and joy. My health was good, and I had learned to study. One habit was of great advantage to me in the languages. Immediately after recitations I sat down in my room and read over the whole lesson, so as to fix whatever light I had gained on any passage or word. This aided me to remedy, in some measure, the deficiency in my "fit."

Home at length, enjoying my first vacation; freshman year closed, and sophomore dignity already on my youthful brow. Everything about the farm wore a charm unknown before. My brother had everything in order, and I entered into his plans with enthusiasm. He had a "porcine" that he was proud of. He was going to fatten it. I had just read in The Oxford Democrat the advice to cut off an inch or two of a pig's tail on commencing the fattening process. The bleeding would be slight, but vastly beneficial. I advised my brother to do it. He would n't go into that pen for any such purpose. Opening the large blade of my pocketknife, I was in the pen instanter, and had hold of the quirl of the tail with my left hand. The wild beast plunged round the pen so that I could hardly hold on, but I gave the tail a slash and brought off triumphantly, not two inches, but five or six! The next morning the poor pig had bled so much he could only stagger about. We called one of our neighbors He said, "Kill it immediately; it will make good pork as it is." I felt awfully ashamed and conscience­smitten. I felt for the poor pig. He drank feebly the buttermilk I gave him, and I had to go and call a butcher, and we had fresh pork before the time. The joke was upon me decidedly. That was a specimen of my "college l'arnin'." My brother­in­law, Mr. William Stone, laughed and laughed immoderately over it. Two or three years more, he said, would make me the greatest farmer in New England. He thought everything of me, and could joke me without offense. I took my honor as meekly as possible.

In the vacation I earned something as a Sunday school agent, visiting remote districts and establishing Sunday­schools. I found the people generally ready and waiting, or I would have done nothing.

As I have mentioned above, I applied to the Education Society for aid, but my generous and noble cousin, Hon. A. D. F. Foster, of Worcester, was more to me than the society, and I drew aid from it only part of the time.

I was induced by Professor Upham to take the academy in Rochester, New Hampshire, the native place of the Uphams, for one term. He said that I could keep along with my class perfectly well, and earn fifty or sixty dollars besides. I had such confidence in his wisdom, and such want of the money, that I yielded, but it was a great mistake. As to the academy, I came off with honor, and made some friends dear to me still. It was, however, an injury to my studies, and I have always advised students never to drop out of their course for a single day. At the close of the academy term I walked from Rochester to Portland. One day I made thirty­seven and one­half miles, my greatest day's walk. My rule was twenty­five miles a day, and that I could keep up for any length of time. I had no desire to try that stint again.

On reaching Portland, I found my brother, Mr. Farley, with his sister, Miss Susan Farley, just stepping on board the brig Florida, Captain Stallard, for a trip to St. John, New Brunswick. I accepted their invitation to go with them and for the first time put to sea, and for the first time set my foot on the dominions of his majesty William IV. I saw the sea and felt its nauseating power; and I saw English colonial society in a most interesting manner. It was a very enjoyable excursion, treasured up in memory still. The coming in of the tide at St. John was worth going to see.

I returned in season for the term, and my examination, whether satisfactory or not, was accepted. I resolved to be absent from my class no more.

In our sophomore year there was no hazing, because we had set ourselves against it from the beginning, and as it was a monopoly of the sophomore class, the freshmen were safe. In the sophomore year I was one of Longfellow's assistant librarians, which brought very small pay, but always a word or two with him. Any inquiry about an author usually brought him out, but he was always busy with some investigation of his own, and we did not intrude upon him. He was universally liked, and no one wished to intrude upon him.

At the close of the sophomore year, I was chosen secretary of the Peucinian Society, an office usually given to the member of the highest rank in his class. In the Athenaean Society the same position was given to H. B. Smith. Still Weston and Cheever were probably on the same plane in the books of the faculty. My studies in mathematics interested me intensely, and probably I stood as well in that department as any one, except J. H. C. Coffin, who was a mathematical genius, but remarkable in no other study.

I entered upon my junior year weighted down with too many society offices. We had a vigorous Temperance Society, of which there was need. Colonization in Africa was then believed by many to offer ultimate hope for the slave. We formed a new Natural History Society with great zeal. In all these I had rather a leading part. But hazing again came to the front in its most atrocious mode. The sophomore class, though a very excellent one, had a few fellows who determined to renew the discredited practice of hazing. A few moderate impositions upon the freshmen were borne with too much mildness. In the meantime two of the freshman class had fitted up their rooms in a style offensively neat. The room was newly papered, a carpet quite covering the floor was spread, some pictures adorned the walls, a nice center table with a handsome cover completed the outfit. I have no doubt their mothers had been there, and had done it with a mother's love. A brute by the name of D___ resolved to spoil that fun. He had a large tin syringe made with a jet, and filling it with a quart or two of ink, he and his fellows broke out a pane of glass, and injected the whole into the room with all possible force. That was bad enough. But after that the decaying carcass of a dog was thrown in. The poor freshmen declared they would leave college at once. Their beautiful room had become a horror. I exhorted them to stay and see what would come out of it. In the evening, I called together in Woods' room (for many years president of Western Pennsylvania University) some ten or a dozen of the most powerful fellows of the class, and exhorted them to inflict some penalty upon D___, the leader, that would stop such outrages in the future. I promised assistance if they would utter a certain call, and I went and engaged about twenty good fellows to answer the call, with shillalahs ready for use. I had my own ready. I was awakened that very night by a crash, and I sallied out with short preparation, and the first object I saw was D___, in his nightshirt, and in the hands of a band of stalwart freshmen.

"You hurt my right hand! "he cried." Let it go, and upon my word of honor I won't strike."

"Let it go," said the captain; and D laid one of them on the floor by a well­aimed blow.

He was paid in cold water. They hurried him out to the pump, and held him under the spout until he was well drenched.

"Oh ! oh ! oh !" he groaned; and they let him go.

It was a clear frosty night with a brilliant moon, and as he came trotting back over the frosty grass, the water dripping from him in the moonlight, I clapped from my open window**.

** Fifty years after I met George Woods, LL.D., in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the first words he said were, "Give it to him, boys! give it to him !" He said that I called out from my window those words, which I do not remember.

D___ complained of the outrage to President Allen; and the president, in his bland manner, said: "Yes, D___; the outrage shall be examined; but all the antecedents which may have led to it will also be examined. Knowing this, if you will make a written application, I will attend to it immediately."

It is needless to say he never made it.

The general sentiment of the college was "Bravo for the freshmen! served him right." But D____ his party planned an attack upon two of the more obnoxious freshmen's rooms. Rev. Dr. Rand, 150 Nassau Street, New York, knows about that and how it was thwarted.

After some days a more formidable plan was formed of carrying out a "bogus" freshman to the pump. He was to call lustily for help, and as we should rally out to his aid they had a dozen reserves in a recitation room who would rush upon us, catching us one by one, and give us a thrashing. The plot was revealed to me by one of their own number in season to enable us to thwart it and turn it into ridicule. I never could devise a reason for that treachery. That ended hazing for a year or two more. The reason why it has died so hard is the general cowardice of college governments as to punishing outrages by law before the courts. Such affairs in college soon pass, and they hardly disturb the current, except for a day.

One more event was destined to disturb my quiet for a day and to cause a great deal of amusement of a very transient kind; but first I must mention the antecedents.

In the latter part of the junior year there was an interesting state of religious feeling, and there had occurred some marked conversions. One of my classmates, John D. Smith, was in all things the antipodes of Henry B. Smith. He was of a powerful physique, of a rough wit, the leader of scrapes, and the president of "The Old Dominion," a society for joviality and practical jokes. He derided "the pious." "Go and talk with John D.," said some; "he always treats you well and you can talk with him." I was very unwilling to do it, but seeing his chum one day on the ball ground, I determined to see if he were in his room alone and have a talk with him. I found him, so I told him at once I had called to have a talk with him on personal religion, if he would; if not, I would retire.

"Sit down, Hamlin," he said; and then, looking at me with an impassioned and withering look, he said, "That holy Cole will lie ! "

"Suppose he will, Smith: what is that to you or me ? He has to answer for it, not we."

It disconcerted him a little, but he returned to the charge: "That pious Thomas Parnell Beach is a confounded hypocrite!"

"Well, Smith, I don't know but he is. What is that to you or to me ? Every man must give account of himself to God. But I want to ask you this, Smith: Are you content to live and die just as you are, and risk eternity upon it?"

"No; I am not. I know it's my duty to become a Christian, and if I am one of the elect, I am safe, and if not, I am damned and there is no help for me."

After a conversation of very deep interest, I proposed that we call upon God in prayer. We knelt together. I think the Holy Spirit was with us. The dinner bell rang. We went over together, and it seems to me now that we did not speak on the way. The "trio" made him a subject of earnest prayer. I feared it was all a momentary impression. I dared not seek an interview for fear he would explode it all. The next day but one I saw him coming across the campus, and I met him as though accidentally. He said "Good­morning!" so pleasantly I said:-

"How is it with you now, Smith?"

"Oh, I have made my peace with God!"

"When, pray? tell me about it!"

"When we were on our knees together before God in my room."

We did not believe in such conversions then, but it stood the test of time. It produced a profound impression upon college. It helped forward the spiritual work.

We feared that what occurred, which was called John D.'s first speech after his conversion, would injure the tone of things, but I believe it did not.

The Amherst students wrote a letter to the Bowdoin students proposing a united total abstinence society, with the idea of extending it to other colleges. As it was addressed to me, I placed the subject on the bulletin board, and proposed a college meeting in the chapel right after dinner Saturday. The chapel was quite full. I read the letter, after we had chosen Thomas chairman, and I made a few remarks upon the importance of temperance in college.

When I sat down W____ was up, and commenced a speech in ridicule of the whole thing. He had repeatedly pitted himself against me, with no very satisfactory results to himself. His remarks finally passed the bounds which even college students set to the grossly personal.

John D. sat at my right, in the next seat back. I saw his strong countenance working with some intent, and at length he arose, a good six footer, and putting one hand on my seat he lifted himself on his toes, and swinging his long right arm over his shoulder, he bent forward and pointing toward Thomas roared out, "Thomas, button up your vest!"

It struck Thomas like an electric shock. He sprang to his vest, but found nothing to do. There was a momentary silence of astonishment; and then the most astounding applause with peals of laughter. Little W___ stood sublimely unmoved until the noise subsided, when he recommenced his speech. The students did not relish this, and clapping, stamping, scraping, caterwauling followed; some jumped out at the windows and the assembly broke up. It mortified and embittered W___.

No effort was made at that time to renew the temperance movement, but the principle of total abstinence was strong in college. The drinking minority was small, and very few of them were men of any influence.

Our class was peculiar for its discordant elements. We quarreled over something at our first class meeting. I think it was about having a class uniformity of dress. As we began, so we proceeded through college. We never had one harmonious class meeting. Our last meeting in the senior year, to arrange for a class supper, broke up in disorder over the question of having wine.

H. B. Smith came to me and said, "This is too ridiculous. We have quarreled at every class meeting straight through for four years, and now we must quarrel over our farewell supper. We cannot even eat together."

I replied, "There is no class in college that has more real fellow feeling, only we can't do anything by vote. Let us start a subscription paper for a supper without wine, and propose in the heading three men as a managing committee."

So we did immediately, and every man but one signed it, and we had a grand good time. We proved that the class of '34 needed no wine to move its hilarity and wit.

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