Alexander McKenzie.

Address on some Cambridge men I have known online

. (page 1 of 2)
Online LibraryAlexander McKenzieAddress on some Cambridge men I have known → online text (page 1 of 2)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

F 74

CI M25
Copy 1




January 28, 1908



[Reprinted from Proceedings of The Cambridge
Historical Societv, HI]


Me. Chairman : I should like to have it understood at the be-
ginning that I am here to-night under protest; I am not at all
responsible ; I refused and protested and never consented, — unless
silence gives consent. I am especially sorry in regard to the
subject that was given me, because it almost makes it obligatory to
talk about myself. I have been asked to speak about some men
whom I have known. It so happens that if a person lives a con-
siderable time he comes to know a considerable number of people.
That has been my lot, and I have been especially favored in the sort of
people, or some of the people, whom I have known. I am some-
what oppressed when I think of those with whom my own life has
been brought in contact; when I remember that I came to Boston,


a boy, a stranger in this great city, — there was not a man in the
city whom I knew except in the very slightest way, — and yet
that I was permitted to know so many afterwards who have had an
active part,- here in the college and in the country.

What I shall say to-night, for I certainly must be limited, will
relate almost entirely to the men whom I have known in Harvard
College. The first great man I ever saw was John Quincy Adams.
He came to New Bedford when I was a schoolboy, and the boys
were allowed to shake hands with him. Then I came to Boston
and was thrown into connection with one of the leading families of
the city, the Lawrences, and with them spent four years. This has
always been a mystery to me, that they really took me in. I had
not been in their employ very long when the head of the firm, Mr.
Samuel Lawrence, asked me to his house for a Christmas dinner.
Why he selected me, the youngest boy in his employ, I do not
know ; but there came to be a real friendship, and he came almost
to 'be a father to me, — and that led on to other things. So when I
came to college, very much against his remonstrance, it was in part
through his instrumentality that I met the first eminent man of my
college experience, the Honorable Edward Everett, whom I came
to know very pleasantly, so far as a young man could, — becoming
more than a guest, a friend even, in his house, — and whose acquaint-
ance I enjoyed to the day of his death, and might have enjoyed to
this day if he had lived. Of course that was due to the fact that
his son William was my college chum, as he is my friend to this
hour. Mr. Everett is most highly esteemed as scholar and orator,
and statesman ; but when one came to be near him he was found a
very generous and companionable man. I had many delightful
hours in his house 1 I think you will agree with me that the
easiest man to get along with is a gentleman. One whom we call
a man of the people oftentimes does not know what to do and is
very awkward in doing it ; but a gentleman you can depend on for
his courtesy. Mr. Everett was one of the gentlest men I have ever
known ; he never made a noise. I remember going upstairs behind
him one day, and recall his saying: "Dr. Jackson says you must
go upstairs slowly." That has been a lesson to me. There was
nothing more impressive than to be with Mr. Everett at family
prayers. He would stand and read the prayers with all the rever-



ence and dignity befitting that solemn service. He was a man of
charming wit, with great resources in historical and personal inci-
dents which came constantly to his mind, and which he was very
glad to share with others. Now there is a point which I should
like to make because I think it needs, possibly, to be recognized.
Mr. Everett has always been called a cold man. It has been my
fortune to know some of those cold men, who keep one at a dis-
tance. They are as genial men as I have happened to encounter.
They are not men with whom you take liberties. They are reserved
towards those who intrude upon them ; but any one who has the
slightest claim has found them very kind, very approachable men.
Such at least has been my experience.

When I was coming to college Mr. Everett suggested to me,
what would have been presumptuous for a sub-freshman without
some such introduction, that I should call upon the President.
The President was by marriage a relative of JNIr. Everett. So I
ventured to call upon him, and the President, I am very glad to
remember, was James Walker. President Walker gave me a very
kind, cordial reception, and that was my entrance, my first step
into the college. There are those here to-night, I presume, who re-
member Dr. Walker. A greater man has rarely Avalked the streets
of Cambridge in this or any preceding generation. He was a man
of very sturdy character. He was very lame, and walked with
labor across the college yard. His hand was cramped and he had
to hold his pen in his fist, and push it up and down in a very
irregular style of writing. But his words told. His face was one
of those strong, massive faces. His preaching was of that strong
massive kind. 1 keep two volumes of his sermons at my hand
now. I wish we had such preachers in these days. We get too
little of that tremendous iron-bound truth which there is no p-ettino-
away from. He was very decided in his ways. We did not often
hear the President. But now and then he would lead the chapel
service, and the fellows went out and talked about it. It was
something to remember, to hear Dr. Walker read the Bible. He
liked those dramatic passages. He had one gesture, a sort of up
and down arrangement ; but that did not come into his reading. I
can hear him read now: Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin. Every
fellow felt that he was in the scales, and that the scales were turn-


ing the wrong way. Then in preaching he would come out with
some such thundering sentence as, " Young men, you have more
need of religion than religion has of you ! " Yet a kind man he
was, a courteous man, a man ever to be trusted. They had a report
in the class before mine that he once preached a sermon on Honesty
is the best policy, and proved it was not; but I think' that was a
student misconception. He was, on the other hand, a very honest,
straightforward man. I remember very well going to him one
day. The faculty — it was not this faculty but another — made a
rule that Class-day should be pushed up against Commencement.
In my time we used to have Class-day and Commencement about
three weeks apart, and the fellows who had parts were supposed to
be writing them. I do not know what the others were supposed to
be doing. Then the faculty put the two days near together, so that
we lost that three weeks' recess. Well, we had a class meeting
and remonstrated ; and they appointed a man who afterwards
became a prominent Boston lawyer, Frank Balch, and myself a
committee to wait on the President. We secured the interview
and stated our case. Our principal argument was that if they
moved Class-day they took it out of strawberry time, and what would
Class-day be without strawberries ! I presume that the President
saw the point. He heard all we had to say, and then quietly
remarked : " Young gentlemen, your feeling is better than your
argument." But he gave us what we asked for; they moved
Commencement, and let Class-day stand. So we prevailed. He
was that kind of man, — honest, steady, firm in his conviction, but
with a warm, generous, obliging heart. He said to me one day
after I came back here, " If I ever gave up being a Unitarian,
which I cannot imagine, I should become a Methodist." He liked
the Methodist spirit and emotion. That was in the old time ;
Methodists seem to have given up much of that feeling, but they
used to have a good deal of inspiring sound and glow ; they used
to sing ; they do not sing in that way now, — they have quartette
choirs. Dr. Walker knew the former days.

The preacher who came to the college at the same time with my
class was of a different type ; just as good a man as the President,
but not so well fitted for his position. He was the most popular
preacher in Boston, I think, when he came here ; but for some reason


he did not quite meet the student mind. He was not a graduate of
Harvard, which was a misfortune, and he did not get into the Har-
vard way. He was in a transition state ; nobody knew quite where he
was coming out. He was rather fond of ritual, which the Harvard
faculty disliked. He was fond of form in one way and another.
The students said that he talked too much about sin. Perhaps he
did. They said that he was wordy. He did drive a substantive and
six, as they said of Rufus Cho9,te. But it was all very good ; and
I think we never had a man here who cared more for our welfare
than Dr. Huntington. You know if a man gets an unfortunate
name in college he seldom loses it ; and Dr. Huntington made an
error in the beginning. He called us together and sought our
favor, and among other things said, " I have asked that I may not
be required to join the faculty ; I want to stand outside as your
friend." Well, we believed in that and rather liked it. Then
presently he was in the faculty. The fellows never understood
quite how he got there, what the change of mind was ; but it gave
rise to one of those college prejudices which you cannot reason
against. But he was one of the best of men. I think the hardest
contest I had in college was for him. It came time to get the bacca-
laureate preacher. We had a class meeting, and the class said the
Plummer professor should not preach that sermon. I thought that
he should, if I could bring it about. I made the best argument I
could and was beaten, as I have been many times since. They said
the President should preach the sermon. Dr. Walker was Avaited
on, and he simply remarked, " Whoever happens to be preaching
that day will preach that sermon." The Plummer professor preached
it. I had my way after all, though it was gathering victory out of
defeat. I have the greatest regard for Dr. Huntington. I think it
was unfortunate that he was here, but no man was ever more faith-
ful and loyal, and he did more in some ways than anybody else at
that time.

But the man who came after him — now I am down to your
time — was a model man in many things, a man of great learning,
a man of an immense heart. I have seldom known a man who had
such a large heart as Dr. Andrew Peabody. It was big all through.
I meet a great many men whom I respect when I go away from
them more than I did when I came to them ; I do not think I ever


talked with Dr. Peabody that I did not think better of him ; but I
thought better of myself, too. He had that way; I would tell
him some little project I was going to carry out, some paper I was
writing, and he would express his great pleasure, " I am so glad
You are going to do that." I do not suppose he thought of it five
minutes after, but still it helped me over the hard places. Kind !
You could not get him to do anything against a student if he knew
that student's grandfather. He had a theory that a man might
have two inheritances. He cited the case of a man who was living
in the town here at that time who had been wild in his youth, but
who turned around and became a very sober citizen. He said,
" That man used his inheritance from his mother first ; that took
him some years, and he ran through that ; then he took up his
father, — it is his father you see now." The father was a minister
of good standing. There was a great deal of wit in the Doctor.
There was a great deal of severity when he was stirred up. I
have rarely seen a man who could be more sarcastic. I once asked
him about a minister who had come into this region, " Do you
know him?" He said, "Yes, I do; he was a business man;
he came to me and asked if he had better study for the min-
istry. I told him, no. He took my advice, and went into the
ministry without studying." He was somewhat uncertain for a
time, as many were, over some things in the matter of evolu-
tion, especially on that Simian line, whether we really do come from
monkeys. He said in one of his sermons, I remember, " The best
proof we have that men have come from monkeys is the desire of
some men to prove that it is so." He confessed to me one day a
certain relief he had received. It seems they wanted to put up a
new building in our ward here and there was opposition to it, and
a public hearing, and they got the old Doctor down to testify on
one side or the other. A foolish thing ! The Doctor did not know
anything about it, but he knew which side they wanted him to
testify on. But there was an Irish alderman there who handled
him, as they say, " without gloves " ; also used him very roughly
and rudely. I saw the Doctor shortly after, and he said, " I have
been in doubt about this matter of evolution, about our coming
from monkeys. My mind is clear now ; I have found the connect-
ing link; it is an alderman from East Cambridge." Well, that


was the sort of thing he could say ; and yet he would be so kind,
so patient, so generous. I have one or two letters from him that I
should think v^^ere extravagant if I did not know the sober mind
which was back of them. I think, on the whole, the most touch-
ing thing I ever heard from the Doctor was a paper he read at our
ministers' club upon the internal evidence for the authorship of the
Gospel of St. John, — that St. John wrote it. It was a delightful
paper, and one point which he made was, that it was written by an
old man. Dr. Peabody, I think, then was over eiglity. He said,
" There is this peculiarity about an old man : he notices little
things. Now you read that Gospel and compare it with the others
and you find it is full of httle things." I cannot give the in-
stances now, but you will remember that some were drawn out in
detail. He might have used, for example, the Cana of GaUlee
incident. A young man would have said, " There were some stone
water-jars there." The old man said, " There were six of them
and they would hold about two or three firkins apiece." Again,
by the Sea of Galilee, a young man would say, " They brought in
the nets with lots of fishes." There the old man would say, " There
were a hundred and fifty-three fishes, and big ones, too." This
course of argument, coming from this old man who said he remem-
bered the past now a great deal better than he did when younger,
became very impressive. A very rare, very choice character ! I
almost pity anybody who never knew Dr. Peabody. It seems there
must be something wanting in his life. He was not graceful. He
was reported to have said that he saw no good in going to dancing
school ; he never went. Tliere was no reason to suppose he had
gone. But his mind worked clearly, distinctly, and beautifully.
He was a man long to be reraembei-ed.

I began, I tliink, about the President. Let me pass on to the
President who came after Dr. Walker. It was after my time ; my
whole college course was spent under Dr. Walker; and I am
grateful for that. But the President who followed was a professor
in my day, Professor Felton. We have recently heard an admi-
rable account of the man and his life from Professor Goodwin, and
I need not speak of him at any length. Those here who remember
him recall a man whose very presence was full of gladness and beauty.
A large man, a jolly man, with curly hair and a smiling face. I


know at the Phi Beta dinners we always expected something funny
from Professor Felton. He was not a great teacher, at least
according to ray standard. He undertook to read Demosthenes
with us but I think there was something wanting. I do not think
we entered into the spirit of Demosthenes as we might have done
if he had made us dig things out for ourselves. But he was
wonderfully popular. I remember very well our last recitation to
him It had been the custom after the last recitations to cheer the
professors. There was naturally a good deal of discrimination about
it and the faculty noticed that we did not cheer men equally, but
one more than another; so they attempted to stop the whole thing,
and they voted there should be no more of that cheering of the
professors. They wanted to protect the men who did not get the
applause. The Professor told us this as we went down under
Harvard Hall, and it must have been G. Lawrence who called out,
« Three cheers for Corny Felton !" We cheered him ; and nobody
enjoyed it more than he did, I think, if the sound went up into
his ears, and brought out that beautiful smile which we knew

so well.

In Greek we were singularly off, if I speak of men I knew. It
was pretty hard upon us freshmen to be thrown upon Sophocles.
Sophocles was a Greek right through. It was a current mystery
whether he was a monk, or soldier, or what. He was evidently a
Greek. He knew everything, that was understood; and he was
very quiet, as he walked about the streets with his head down,
meditating something. But in the recitation room it was simply
an impossibility to move with assurance. No matter how well you
got your lesson, he would take you off on some track you never
dreamed of. He would mislead a student; he would give a cue
which the poor fellow would follow and get into trouble. " Is
thatverbin the second aorist?" "Yes, sir." "It is not." And
he had one question, relating to something in Greece, — I do not
remember quite the point, something in regard to an old temple
and its fallen columns. " Why is that so ? How do you account
for that? " Well, the fellow had never heard of the thing, and he
gave a guess. "No, that is not it." The fellow who tried next
without success varied the guess. Another was inquired of. " No,
no ; what is the reason for that. " " I do not know, sir. " " That is


right, nobody knows." I think that particular adventure was not
tried in my class, but he would lead us along a good deal in that
way. He was in some ways a very good tutor. There was a
custom in that day that if you lived under a tutor you were liable
to be called on at any time for his errands. He had only to stamp
on the floor and you had to go up and do whatever he told you.
It was my luck to live under Sophocles, but never in the whole
3^ear did he stamp on the floor. He once came and tapped on my
door, and when I went there he said in his solemn way, " I should
like to see Bailey, if it is convenient ; if not, no matter." Well,
I did what I ought not to have done ; I should not do it now ; I
called Bailey. What the result was I do not know, but that is the
only application I ever had from Sophocles to do anything of that
sort. When I returned to Cambridge, as I did after a little absence,
I knew Sophocles very well. He was a delightful man to meet
anywhere, in his room, on the street. It was pleasant to ask him
questions. I remember there was a Greek word which, profession-
ally, I had some occasion to consider ; and there was some dispute
about its meaning; and walking down Garden Street one day I
said, "Mr. Sophocles, what does that word mean?" He said-
" What does Epiphanius say ? " That did not help me, for I did not
know what Epiphanius said. He went on and expanded it, how-
ever, and I found that I agreed with what he said. I have always
felt a little braver, for I hold the same opinion still, and if anybody
disputes me, I have Epiphanius behind me. I believe Sophocles'
chief diversion was keeping hens, which he quartered on some
neighbor's premises. You see that Sophocles was a pretty difficult
man to get on with as a teacher, especially for innocent, unsuspi-
cious freshmen. I had never read a line of lyric Greek poetry
until I came here for examination. To be tlu-own suddenly into
the Alcestis of Euripides was a little violent. Somehow I came
through. Then we were thrown into the hands of a magnificent
scholar, with all the learning of Germany in his brain. His name
was Goodwin. He was commonly known as John Goodwin. I do
not know why. I think that we all liked him. I believe it was
the Ajax which we read with him. We had difficulty with the
play. The text was corrupt ; but, corrupt or pure, it was a great
deal too much for us ; and Goodwin's hobby was to give us some


other text, to amend that we had. Now for fellows who could
not manage one, it was worse than superfluous to give us two or
three more. But we came through, and had great and abiding
respect for our teacher. I hope it will be a very great while before
his epitaph is written, but one of my class wrote an epitaph as we
were sitting there one day and he was giving his versions of the
text. Dr. Huntington, now at Grace Church, New York, the witty
man of our class, drew a gravestone and wrote this inscription :

Here lies tutor G. ; read his epitaph straight,

Let no word, line nor letter be needing;
For should you make e'en the slightest mistake,

He will rise and propose the true reading.

That is the way in which we learned Greek. If we pass over
to other departments we had various experiences. There was no
man more generally beloved and trusted, no man more learned in
his own department, than Asa Gray. I esteemed him very highly
then, and afterwards as a parishioner. But, like other men, he was
not very successful as a teacher of undergraduates. Those men,
they knew so much they could not understand how it was that
we knew so little. If we had been proficient, with some enthusiasm
over Botany, which was a required study, we might have done better.
The only thing I remember learning was the difference between en-
dogenous and exogenous. I think I have still the substance of the
distinction. But the courtesy of the man ! He would call on a poor
fellow who would not know anything on the subject of liis inquiry
and whose remarks were inaccurate. But there was no sneer, no re-
buke. " Allow me to pass that " ; and the student, not to be out-
done in courtesy, would allow him to pass it. That was the end,
except it might have been noticed in the marks. We had marks in
those days. Apparently he was fond of argument. If you find a
quiet man you will generally find a combatant underneath. The blus-
tering man is apt to be a coward. Some of you may remember
Gray's dispute with Agassiz. He was very much displeased with a
popular lecturer who was around here after my college time, a Har-
vard man with the name of Joseph Cook. Cook's folly or foible was
omniscience ; he knew everything. When he talked on science he
made a bad piece of work of it. Dr. Gray was offended and com-
plained to me about it. I did not know much about the matter.


After a time this lecturer struck theology, and made as bad work
of that as he did of science. I met the Professor one day and said,
*' Dr. Gray, I see now what has troubled you about Cook." " Ah,
yes, yes, you see now, you see now," he said. I think there must
be some here who remember seeing him going up the street with
the Uttle dog behind him, in a quiet, meditative way. He had a
present of botanical specimens from a man in Maine ; 1 think his
name was Sparrow. When Dr. Gray wanted to acknowledge it,
he had lost the letter, but he remembered the name was the name of
a bird, and sent his acknowledgment to Mr. Swallow; it was in
the same department, so it did not make much difference. He had
the honor, so it is said, — I suppose it is correct, — of settling the
question of priority between Darwin and Wallace. It was disputed
which of them gave his great theory first. It so happened that
Darwin had written a letter which Dr. Gray was able to produce,
and which settled that question. He was a man that would give
you a great deal in a small compass. About the time that evolu-
tion was first talked about, he knew what authority I would ap-
peal to, as a minister, and to prove that evolution was true, he
referred me to the book of Genesis, and said, " There it is way back
there." There it was. People had not generally appealed to that
authority. They had looked down among birds, and bugs, and
plants. He knew that would not appeal to me ; he went back to
the creation. While I was talking with him one day, speaking of
a lecturer who had amazed his hearers because he knew so much
more than other people and had a right to know more, for he had


Online LibraryAlexander McKenzieAddress on some Cambridge men I have known → online text (page 1 of 2)