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An account of the celebration of the first semi-centennial anniversary of the incorporation of Columbia college online

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roof they received instruction, was converted into a
receptacle for the wounded soldiery. Who that left
her halls, at that hour of darkness and peril, could
venture so much as to conjecture, what were to be
her fortunes in future days ? To us, however, be-
longs the privilege of looking back, and reading
the history of her triumphs. Soon after the peace,
our College attracted, in common with other semi-
naries of learning in the State, the attention of the



23

Legislature ; and was placed under the superintend-
ence of a board, entitled the llegents of the l^ni-
versity. Under this government she continued, until
that memorable day of which the present is our semi-
centennial jubilee. On the 13th day of April, 1787,
an act was passed, confirming, with the requisite alte-
rations, the original charter of 1754, granted in the
reign of George the Secondj appointing a board of
Trustees, who were, from that time, themselves to fill
the vacancies occasioned by death, or otherwise, in
their own body ; and leaving her free to pursue her
onward course of usefulness and honour. On that day,
our Institution may properly be said to have first ari-
sen, and "shaken herself from the dust," and stood upon
her feet. From that time she began her independ-
ent way : advancing steadily forward, under the new
name of Columbia College, to that elevated position
which she now occupies, as the accomplished, faithful,
and impartial dispenser of learning and truth.

Among the changes that have marked the progress
of these fifty years, many whom I now address will
not fail to be reminded of those transformations which
have taken place, in the exterior appearance of our
ancient College structure. The present speaker was
one of that graduating class of 1817, who were the
last to see yet untouched, on leaving the scenes of
their collegiate life, the old edifice erected in provin-
cial times. Let us imagine, for a moment, one of this,
or of some preceding class, travellins^ away, at that
period, to a distant quarter of the globe ; and, after an
absence of a few years, returning to the scenes of his
youth. The first spot to which he bends his steps, is
the well-remembered College Green. He approaches



24

it : and what does he see ? The whole enclosure,
with every thing that it contains, excepting the umbra-
geous trees, seems to him as if it had passed under the
influence of some enchanter's wand. He first looks
for the old janitor's lodge, that flanked the wooden
gate leading from the common, every-day world, into
the classic sanctum of the student. But it has gone.
He next turns his eyes to the College pile : but what
is here ? The dark gray front, with its dingy doors,
he can find no longer. It has put on the brightness
of second youth ; while, on either end, a stately wing
rises in fair proportions, casting the central edifice into
quiet distance. He then looks upward, to see if he
can descry at least one lingering remnant of other
days upon the roof But there, too, all is changed.
The ancient cupola, surmounted by the crown of roy-
alty, has vanished ; and, in its place, a majestic dome
presides over the scene. He passes onward, to seek
for the old Hall at the west end ; into the three reci-
tation-rooms of whose lower floor he had so frequently
been received with the companions of his sports and
studies, — and in whose upper room he had so often as-
cended the rostrum, and made his first experiments in
the science of elocution. But, to his astonishment, this
too is no more. All has been changed. — His first feeling,
on the sight of this substitution of new objects for old
ones, is that of painful disappointment. He cannot recon-
cile himself to such an obliteration of the ancient land-
marks, that connected the present with the past. But,
in another moment, he recovers himself He reflects,
that even the remains of antiquity are unjustifiably
spared, when to save them interferes with the ura^ent
wants of the present hour. He is content : and cheer-



25

fully sacrifices poetical association upon the altar ot"
utility.

On tliis festival of the renewal, half a century ago,
of our chartered rights, we are naturally reminded of
the many who, from that day to the present, have is-
sued forth, at successive j^eriods, from the walls of our
College, and been subsequently removed from the
stage of life. To sketch the character, and thus pay
a brief tribute to the memory, of some of these, will,
I trust, be deemed not inappropriate to the objects
of our present celebration. Assembled to testify our
generous attachment to the Institution, by whose fos-
tering hands we were nurtured, in what way can we
more successfully strengthen our gratitude for the bless-
ings she has conferred, than by surveying the line of
her illustrious children 1 To notice all those distin-
guished persons, whom, from the date of the confirma-
tion of the royal charter, she has sent forth to adorn
their country, until they were taken from the earth,
would be incompatible with the time to which I feel
myself restricted. I purpose to present before you
only a few ; — beginning with some of the earlier, and
ending with some of the later, deceased graduates of
the last fifty years.

At the head of this list of honored names, stands
that of De Witt Clinton.

In introducing this distinguished son of Columbia
College, among the graduates of our Alma Mater after
her final re-establishment by the Legislature, it is due
to historical truth to say, that the time when he left
these academic shades preceded, by a few months, that
act of the State government, by which she received
the confirmation of her ancient privileges. Strictly
4



26

speaking, therefore, he does not come within the num-
ber of those, who belong to the period of the last fifty
years ; but is one of a small and elder band of eight
persons, who were graduated under the provisional
superintendence of the Regents of the University.
Inasmuch, however, as the existence of our Institution
as Columbia College began immediately after the
close of the revolutionary conflict, and this illustrious
man was the first student examined for entrance sub-
sequently to the independence of this country, — I shall
make no apology for thus giving him a place among
those, whose remembrance, on this festal day, we de-
light to honour.

The impression still remains upon my mind, in all
its vividness, which I received, when yet a. boy, from
the first sight of this remarkable man. The fire of
his speaking eye, the whole expression of his grand
countenance, and the dignity of his movements, com-
pelled me to feel that I was in the presence of a supe-
rior being ; a being formed to conceive great designs,
and to pursue them with energy and decision. It was,
perhaps, not less from these dutward lineaments, than
from the indications which his early genius gave of his
future greatness, that his preceptor in this College,
Dr. Cochran, was led to regard him, during the days
of his academic life, as one destined "to counsel and
direct his fellow-citizens to honour and happiness."

To enter into any laboured eulogy of the talents
and public services of Clinton, even were such an at-
tempt consistent with the scope of the present address,
were altogether superfluous. His- character and la-
bours have been impressively commemorated by seve-
ral alumni of this institution : and most completely has
this work been performed by a distinguished member



27

of the medical profession, himself now numbered with
the dead, — who, with the pious hand of friendship, and
with such materials before him as long intimacy had
enabled him to possess, has drawn a succinct and glow-
ing outline of the career of this great statesman from
the cradle to the grave.* But it is not by the records
of biography that his name will be perpetuated through
coming generations. If it was with Clinton an object
of desire, — a question which we are not called upon to
agitate, — after he should have been consigned to the
tomb, to survive death in the second life of a posthu-
mous renown, we must admire the sagacity that led
him to give such a direction to his ambition, as to ensure,
to the fullest extent, this anticipation of his heart. For
we may boldly challenge all men to say, now that the
bitterness of party prejudice and violence has been buri-
ed in his grave, whether, if he did seek to enthrone him-
self in the future veneration of his native State, he did not
aim to found his claims upon the fact, that he was con-
stantly devising plans of the most enlarged character
for that State's glory and good ? In thus continually
identifying his own fame with the advancement of this
commonwealth, he has saved us the necessity of in-
scribing his panegyric upon marble. We need not
give his name " in charge to the sweet lyre." We need
not ask Sculpture to

" Give bond in stone, and ever-during brass,
To guard it, and t' immortalize her trust."

If the children of our Alma Mater shall ask for
Clinton's monument, we may point them to one of



* " Memoir of De Witt Clinton. Ry David Hosack, M. D., F. R. S."



which this College needs not to be ashamed, and than
which our distinguished elder brother can have none
prouder and better — our common Schools.

Another among the mighty dead, who deserves a
place in the recollections of every member of this
College, is the Rev. Dr. John M. Mason. This dis-
tinguished divine was graduated in the year 1789;
and in 1811, by a new arrangement in the government
of our Institution, was elected Provost. This situation
he continued to fill, until disease, and a meditated
voyage to Europe for the restoration of health, led to
his resignation of the office. It was not my own fa-
voured lot, as it was that of some who are now before
me, to pass through the senior year of the academic
course under his immediate instruction. Am I not
correct in saying, that those who did enjoy this privi-
lege can never cease to remember the taste, the criti-
cal acumen, the amazing vigor and originality of mind,
with which he illustrated, on alternate days, the pages
of Horace and Longinus 1

A tribute, just as it is eloquent, has been paid to the
memory of this great man, by one of our own gradu-
ates, who is distinguished far and wide in the world of
letters.* I cannot refrain, however, from giving utter-
ance, on this occasion, to my own fervent recollections
of one whom I well knew, and of whose surpassing
powers in the pulpit an indelible impression has been
stamped upon my memory. He was one whom the
Creator had endowed with natural gifts, that com-



* See " An Address delivered before the Philolexian and Peithologian Societies,
August 2d, 1830 ; on the evening preceding the annual Commencement of
Columbia College. By Gulian C, Verplanck."



29

pelled attention. That intellectual forehead, that
eagle's eye, and the varying intonations of that voice,
who can ever forget ? Sustained by these great per-
sonal advantages, he carried every thing before him,
when standing as the messenger of God in his earthly
temple.

It can hardly be doubted, that, as an expositor of
the inspired volume. Mason's powers were unique.
He was not the wearisome pedant, making a pompous
and unnecessary parade of learning ; and encumber-
ing the sacred page with imagined difficulties, only
that he miojht exhibit the adroitness with which he
could clear them away. It was his object to make
Scripture speak for itself; and all the treasures of his
knowledge, and the full force of his intellect, were em-
ployed in developing the whole meaning conveyed in
the language, which was, at the time, passing under
his review. It was the eifect of his public ministra-
tions, therefore, to pour a flood of light upon the sub-
ject which he handled. I shall not venture to assert,
that these efforts were not occasionally marked with
those eccentricities and incongruities, so frequently
found to be the accompanying " infirmity of noble
minds." But who, that have ever heard him, do not
still see him before their eyes, standing forth confest,
in the majesty of his person, in the power and clearness
of his reasoning, in the alternate grandeur and tender-
ness of his appeals to the conscience and the heart,
the prince of pulpit orators ?

Among those charms of manner, which gave such
irresistible effect to the public efforts of Mason, may
be mentioned the inimitable beauty of his reading.
Nothing could be more finished, and yet, at the same



30

time, nothing could be more natural. The auditors
were never reminded, while this great speaker was re-
citing a chapter of inspiration, of the man who was
before them ; but were lost in contemplation of the
character whom he was personating, or the scenes
which his lips were presenting to view. There was
nothing, therefore, in his mode of performing this part
of his duty, inconsistent with the humility and single-
ness of mind, which befit the services of a human being
in the sanctuary of the Eternal. I believe it will be
admitted, by all who have enjoyed the opportunity of
judging, that to hear Dr. Mason read a portion from
the prophetical writings, or one of the speeches of St.
Paul, had all the effect of the most perfect commen-
tary. One instance of this kind now occurs to me, in
the striking alternation of power, pathos, and gladness,
with which he was wont to deliver the opening verses
of that sublime Chapter, the fortieth of Isaiah. The
impression it produced upon the feelings was of a kin-
dred character with that which we experience, when
listening to the glorious music, with which Handel has
illustrated this same passage of the prophet of Judah.
While he read, the soul was by turns soothed into
peace — awed into wonder — and lifted up with the al-
most uncontrollable emotions of gratitude and joy.

The reason already assigned, — the want of time, —
must be my apology for not dwelling, as their names
deserve, upon the character of some of those distin-
guished and departed graduates, who left this College
between the earlier and the latter days of the last half
century. Did my limits permit, I could wish to speak
more than a few words of Joseph Nelson : who,
amidst the calamity of blindness, made himself master



31

of the rich productions of Grecian and Roman anti-
quity ; and who spent his days in imparting his own
enthusiastic love for their beauties, to the minds of our
native youth. Were I allowed, personal respect and
friendship, not less than his own exalted character,
would lead me to expatiate upon the talents and the
virtues of Dr. John Watts, the late President of our
College of Physicians and Surgeons ; — a man, in whom
skill in the illustrious profession of the healing art
shone with the added lustre of Christian piety; and
who set the example of turning to advantage the abun-
dant opportunities which that calling presents, for
mingling, with its beneficent labours for the body, the
nutriment of instruction, and the cordial of celestial
consolation, for the immortal spirit. I would fain, also^
were space granted me, pay more than a passing tri-
bute to the memory of Bedell ; whose chaste and
effective pulpit oratory, while it adorned, for many
years, our sister city of Philadelphia, was occasionally
heard in this metropolis, and was known, equally with
his great usefulness, throughout the length and breadth
of our land. But I must hasten to a brief notice of two
or three of those, who issued, at a somewhat later day,
from these academic halls.

Among the graduates of 1815, was Robert Charles
Sands. At the early age of thirty-three, this accom-
plished poet and scholar was summoned from the
world. His life and character have been delineated
in an exquisite biographical sketch, from the pen of
Gulian C. Verplanck ; preceding a selection from his
works, compiled by the united labor of this gentle-
man, and our distinguished poet Bryant. From these
volumes may be gained ample evidence of the extraor-



32

dinary and versatile powers of Sands ; though I must
ask permission here to express my regret, at the omis-
sion to insert, in this pubUcation, such a proportion of
his numerous productions on classical subjects, as
would have more fully shown him to this country, and
to the sons of our Alma Mater, to be that which he
truly was, — an extensively read scholar. It seems but
as yesterday, when, on first leaving this Institution, I
used to spend a few hours of every day in his com-
pany ; pursuing together with him the study of those
immortal remains, which have come down to us from the
ancient masters. He had, even at that early period of his
life, a keen relish for these studies ; and I can yet remem-
ber the susceptibility, with which, in turn, he sympa-
thized with the wild and lawless sublimity of Aeschy-
lus — and rejoiced in the humor of Aristophanes — and
lingered with delight upon the tenderness and simpli-
city of the honied Euripides.*

One of his most favorite Latin authors was Horace;
the lively portraits which that writer has given of hu-
man life and character, taking a strong hold of his own
quick and observant mind. Among the most finished
and powerful of his poetical productions, are some
imitations and translations of the writings of that bard ;
and, of these, an unpublished imitation of the cele-
brated Epistle to Maecenas appears to me worthy of a
place, among the finest specimens in that class to be
found in our language. I would gladly detach a por-



* To the last-named writer I recollect that he gave the decided preference over
Sophocles : sustained in this judgment, — whether himself aware of the circum-
stance or not, I pretend not to say,— ^by the illustrious Porson ; who, in his inaugu-
ral dissertation on Euripides, has thus struck the balance, in his own beautiful
Latinity, between him and his great rival. ". Hunc magis probare solemus; ilium
magis amare; hunc laudamus; ilium legimus."



33

tion of this from its connexion, and present it to this
audience, were such a separation practicable. In place
of it, let me be allowed to conclude this passing tri-
bute with a short sample of his powers in translation,
which, while it is complete in itself, is also worthy of
his fame. It is a published, but anonymous version of
those beautiful lines in the Metamorphoses of Ovid,
where Niobe, weeping for her slaughtered children, is
described as gradually transformed into stone. In
these English verses. Sands is faithful to his author,
and yet transfuses into our language, to a remarkable
degree, the rare beauty of the original.

Altogether desolate left.



Amid her sons, her daughters, and her spouse
She sate, the life blood curdling in her heart,
And her frame stiff 'ning : by the ambient breeze
No lock was lifted : on her bloodless cheek
The colour stood : her shining eyes were fix'd ;
Her form a beauteous, lifeless image left.
Cleaves to its frigid roof her tongue congeal'd ;
The torpid veins with life no longer beat;
Her neck inflexible ; no longer pliant
Her polish'd arms ; fast rooted are her feet ;
Within, the gradual change, with rigid art,
Turns all to stone — and yet she seems to weep.
Then the swift pinions of a whirlwind strong
Bore her from sight to her paternal land ;
There, planted on a mountain's topmost crag.
Left hex-, in tears deploring. And, even now,
Or fame is false — the conscious marble weeps.

At the next Commencement, another youth left these
peaceful shades, who, at the end of three short years,
terminated his earthly career. I shall not apologize
for here introducing: the name of the late Rev. James
Wallis Eastburn. For I feel the firm conviction,
that, while I am weaving a garland of fraternal aftec-
5



34

tion to hang upon a brother's tomb, I am performing
an office, in which many whom I now see would gladly
join me ; — many, in whose memory still dwells the re-
collection of his refinement, his various attainments, his
simplicity unfeigned; many, also, who, though they never
knew him, have seen some of the effusions of his ma-
ture and richly furnished mind. Congeniality of tastes
led him to the formation, during his college days, of an
intimacy with Sands, which lasted until death. It was
during the period of this literary friendship, that, as the
public already know, he formed, and, in company with
Sands, executed, the design of embodying in a poetical
narrative the fortunes of Philip, the Rhode-Island Indian
King. Pursuing his preparation for holy orders in the
immediate vicinity of Mount Hope, the residence of
this fated chieftain, he found in these scenes a strong
excitement for his imagination ; and was enabled to
give the most perfect accuracy to the local descriptions
of the poem. This work, completed and arranged by
Sands, after the death of his friend, is now before the
world; and, with all the defects to be expected from
the early age of both its composers, has acquired for
itself the character of an uncommon production.

The remains which Eastburn has left behind him
are amazingly voluminous. I will venture to say that
there are few, who, on arriving at the age of twenty-
two, which was the limit of his mortal career, will be
found to have accomplished so much literary composi-
tion. His prose writings, many of which appeared
anonymously in a series of periodical essays, conducted
by himself and some of his friends, take in an exten-
sive range of moral and classical disquisition ; and are
models of the purest Addisonian English. The great
charm, however, of all his writings, is the tone that



35



breathes through them. Whatever be the subject, the
reader is never allowed to forget, that the pages before
him are indited with a pen, dipped in the dew of hea-
ven. An illustration of this peculiar feature of his
productions, will form the most appropriate ending of
this brief offering to his memory. On one glorious
night of June, 1819, during his residence as a parochial
clergyman upon the Eastern shore of Virginia, and a
few months before his death, he sat up until the solemn
hour of twelve to enjoy the scene. The moon was
riding in her majesty ; her light fell upon the waters
of the Chesapeake ; and all was hushed into stillness.
Under the immediate inspiration of such a spectacle,
he penned the following lines, which he has entitled
" The Summer Midniorht." After havingr given them
to you, my fellow-collegians, I will leave you to de-
cide whether the character I have just drawn be a
true portrait, or has been dictated only by the natural
enthusiasm of a brother's love.

The breeze of night has sunk to rest,
Upon the river's tranquil breast ;
And every bird has sought her nest,

Where silent is her minstrelsy ;
The queen of heaven is sailing high,
A pale bark on the azure sky,
Where not a breath is heard to sigh —

So deep the soft tranquillity.

Forgotten now the heat of day
That on the burning waters lay,
The noon of night her mantle gray

Spreads, for the sun's high blazonry ;
But glittering in that gentle night
There gleams a line of silvery light,
As tremiilous on the shores of white

It hovers sweet and playfully.



36

At peace the distant shallop rides ;
Not as when dashing o'ei" her sides
The roaring bay's unruly tides

Were beating round her gloriously ;
But every sail is furl'd and still :
Silent the seaman's whistle shrill,
While dreamy slumbers seem to thrill

With parted hours of extasy.

Stars of the many-spangled heaven !
Faintly this night your beams are given,
Tho' proudly where your hosts are driven

Ye rear your dazzling galaxy ;
Since far and wide a softer hue
Is spread across the plains of blue.
Where in bright chorus, ever true,

For ever swells your harmony.

O for some sadly dying note
Upon this silent hour to float.
Where from the bustling world remote

The lyre might Avake its melody ;
One feeble strain is all can swell
From mine almost deserted shell.
In mournful accents yet to tell

That slumbers not its minstrelsy.

There is an hour of deep repose
That yet upon my heart shall close,
When all that nature dreads and knows

Shall burst upon me wondrously ;
O may I then awake for ever
My harp to rapture's high endeavor.
And as from earth's vain scene I sever,

Be lost in Immortality !

The time already consumed admonishes me to con-
clude this rapid sketch of some of those, who have
reflected honour upon our Alma Mater during the
period just completed. I must not omit, however, to



37

add to this list the name of the Rev. Edmund D.


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Online LibraryColumbia UniversityAn account of the celebration of the first semi-centennial anniversary of the incorporation of Columbia college → online text (page 2 of 4)