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Presidency Of The University Of Vermont

( Originally Published 1911 )



THE University of Vermont, founded in 1791, though a small college, had an honourable history. Its standard of work compared favourably always with the better New England colleges. Eminent scholars had held places in its Faculty. President James Marsh, one of the first Americans to commend Coleridge to us, was one of the most gifted philosophers this country has produced. President Wheeler, Professor Joseph Torrey, the translator of Neander, Professor Shedd, afterward a member of the Faculty of the Union Theological Semi-nary in New York, and Professor George W. Benedict, a most energetic administrator, had given to the college a reputation which attracted students from beyond the boundaries of the State. It had a good proportion of eminent graduates.

The Civil War, however, had broken its strength. A large number of its students entered the army, and the boys in the academies were diverted from college to the public service. The resources of the institution declined. Its friends became despondent. Some thought it must die.

But when the so-called Morrill Bill, establishing Agricultural Colleges, was passed, the trustees decided to accept the endowment offered to Vermont and to organize the college in connection with the University. Senator Morrill became one of the trustees. Some of the old classical graduates feared the result.

My task was to organize the Agricultural College and effect a harmonious union with the old college, to aid in raising funds which it was clearly seen were needed, and to in-spire the public and especially the alumni with the confident belief that the Institution really had a future.

This required all the energy and enthusiasm which I could command. In some measure the college had drifted away from the people in Burlington, owing to their despondency about it. One of the first steps my wife and I took was to bring the citizens into close social relations with the college. The addition of cultivated young men to the Faculty made this easy. I then improved every opportunity to visit schools, to lecture in many towns, to address the county and state fairs on agricultural education, in fact to beat the bushes from one end of the state to the other in order to convince the public that we were alive and were especially desirous to do something for the farmers. I need hardly add they were the hardest class to convince that we could be of any help to them. With an associate from the Trustees or from the Faculty, I visited Boston, New York, and Washington, to obtain subscriptions. I remember with pleasure as soon as we reached Washington, Henry J. Raymond, who was an alumnus, gathered five other alumni in Congress in front of the Speaker's desk, before the session opened, and after making a handsome subscription himself, induced them all to subscribe. Thaddeus Stevens was one of them.

As we had not funds enough to complete our Faculty, I set myself to teach the branches not provided for, namely, Rhetoric, History, German, and International Law.

The persons who were of the most assistance to me in this work of raising money and awakening the state were Grenville G. Benedict, Secretary of the Corporation, and Professor Buckham, who filled the place of President after I left, until his death in 1910.

In all that strenuous life there were some amusing experiences. I was speaking one day at the State Fair at Brattleboro. As I sat down, a gentleman planted himself squarely before me and exclaimed, "Sir, how old are you?" I was a little surprised at being accosted thus by a stranger. Suddenly it occurred to me that the State Luna-tic Asylum was in that town, and I said to myself, "This is some harmless patient to whom they have allowed liberty." So I said to him, "Sir, how old are you?" He replied, "I am thirty-eight." I then said, "That is exactly my age." He went away satisfied. I learned on inquiry that he was pastor of a church in the town.

Afterwards in Vermont, I was repeatedly asked when introduced to a stranger, how old I was. I know of no explanation, out of China, for such a usage, except that some of the recent Presidents had been advanced in years and infirm, and there was genuine surprise at seeing one so young as I was.

I also once learned how much it was worth to attend the funeral of a relative who was a benefactor of the college. A man who had given his little property to endow some scholarships on condition the college should pay his board with a nephew and niece so long as he lived, finally died. I attended the funeral. The nephew and niece accompanied the body some miles with me to the burial. I told them to send me the bill for the funeral expenses. When it came it contained a per diem charge for the time consumed in going to the burial. I ordered the treasurer to pay that bill, since it was worth the price to learn what one can earn in attending a relative's funeral.

When I went to Burlington, I found in force a rule that any student who in his whole college course should have ten unexcused absences must be expelled. I said at once, "That is a foolish rule. What will happen is that you will excuse the tenth absence. However, until we change the rule, I will enforce it."

A rather slack, self-indulgent boy came to me to be excused to attend his grand-mother's funeral. He had nine unexcused absences. But of course I excused him. In two weeks he came to be excused to at-tend another grandmother's funeral. As he might have two grandmothers, I excused him again. Judge of my surprise when in two weeks more he came to be excused to attend another grandmother's funeral. "How is this," I said, "You have been to two grandmother's funerals." "Yes." he replied, "This is my step-father's mother." "I see," said I, "but mark my word, if you have another grandmother's funeral, you will leave college." He graduated.

The administration of a college with a small number of students taught me certain lessons. It gave me peculiar pleasure from my intimate personal acquaintance with each pupil and in many cases with his parents. Since I also taught every one in more than one branch, I was able to guide and impress them all, to direct their reading and writing and help shape their character and their plans as would have been quite impossible in a large institution. The relations thus established between me and them have been a source of permanent gratification to me and I trust to not a few of them.

Nor can I refrain from recalling the friend-ship formed with two eminent citizens of Burlington, which proved of lasting pleasure and service to me. I refer to Senator Edmunds and the Honourable E. J. Phelps, afterwards Minister to Great Britain. They were the leading lawyers of Vermont. Senator Edmunds showed in his long public service the powers of a great statesman, and to the great regret of the nation withdrew too early from official life. Mr. Phelps was one of the most brilliant minds whom it has been my fortune to know. Unhappily during most of his life he was on the wrong side in politics to be called into public service. They both lent a charm to social life in Burlington, which makes me look back on it as a good fortune to have dwelt there with them.

Though I lived in Vermont only five years, I formed a wide acquaintance in the State, and became strongly attached to the people. They were an agricultural community of the best type. Serious, earnest, industrious, frugal, they formed their opinions with deliberation, and adhered to them firmly. Their moral and religious ideals were high. The sons of Vermont, scattered far and wide through the land, reflect great honour upon her.

The university has received generous gifts from its alumni and other friends and has enjoyed great prosperity under President Buckham.



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