Julius H. Seelye
Date of Birth: September 14, 1824
Date of Death: May 12, 1895
Birth Place: Bethel, CT
Date of Birth: September 14, 1824
Date of Death: May 12, 1895
Birth Place: Bethel, CT
from History of Amherst College during the Administration of its First Five Presidents, 1895
by William S. Tyler
Difficulties in Selecting President Stearns’s Successor — Professor Seelye’s Election — Successful Opening of His Administration — Additions to the Faculty — The Administration of President Seelye — Inauguration of the “Amherst System” — Remarkable Prosperity of the College.
There were several novel and important features in the accession of Professor Seelye to the presidency. He was the first and only alumnus of the college who has attained to that distinction. He was the first professor on the literary and philosophical side of the faculty to be elevated to that office. But aside from these incidental novelties a new question arose for the first time in connection with his nomination and election. In the appointment of his predecessors it was taken for granted, as a matter of course, that the president of Amherst College must be a clergyman—that he was to be the head of the college in its spiritual interests as well as in literature and science, and that he must be chosen with primary reference to his Christian character and his influence in the religious education of the students. When Professor Seelye was elected, there was a minority of the trustees, and perhaps a majority of the faculty, who were at first in favor of the appointment of a distinguished layman, who might give dignity to the office and bring reputation to the college. And this movement was prevented from being successful and becoming an accomplished fact by circumstances so remarkable that I cannot but regard them as special providences deserving to be recorded by the historian of the college among the magnalia of its early history.
I have therefore taken not a little pains to ascertain the facts from original and authentic sources, and put them on record till such times as they can be incorporated with the history of the college without injury to the feelings of any of the actors, which will probably not be until not only myself but they also have passed off the stage. Meanwhile the following general statements may perhaps be recorded without impropriety in this history.
In justice to those who favored such a departure from the precedents and traditions not only of Amherst, but of all our older colleges, it should be remarked that the recent establishment of a professorship of the pastoral care, whose incumbent should be the pastor of the College Church, or associate pastor with the president, doubtless seemed to them to render it less important that the president should be a clergyman and one who would be especially interested in the Christian education of the students.
President Stearns died suddenly, as we have narrated in a preceding chapter, on Thursday, June 8, 1876. He had fully determined to resign the presidency at the approaching Commencement, and had already written his resignation. He wished, however, and expected, to retain for the present the pastorate and the Samuel Green professorship of Biblical interpretation. This was the more natural and proper because the founder of the professorship had expressly provided in his will that Dr. Stearns should perform the duties of the office and have the income of the fund during his life. Only one week prior to his death he had an interview with his friend, Hon. Alpheus Hardy, in Boston, in which he disclosed to him his plan and purpose, and desired him to communicate the same to the trustees at their approaching meeting and carry the measure through the board, adding that it was with this view that he had induced the trustees not to accept Mr. Hardy’s resignation of his trusteeship tendered the year previous, and there was no other member of the board to whom he could so freely and fully confide a matter of so great importance. Mr. Hardy accepted the trust in the same spirit of confidence and friendship in which it had been committed to him, and then asked President Stearns if, in view of the trust thus reposed and thus undertaken, he would be willing further to make known to him his views in regard to the question who should be his successor in the presidency. President Stearns then expressed himself with great frankness to his friend, and gave him the names of three men, all clergymen and all alumni of the college, either of whom he thought would fill the place well, and one of whom he hoped might succeed him in the presidential office. One of those names was that of Professor Seelye. Just a week after that interview Mr. Hardy took up a newspaper in New York, and read of the sudden death of President Stearns.
At the annual meeting of the trustees, June 27, 1876—only three weeks after the death of the president—a committee was appointed to take into consideration the presidential vacancy and report at a meeting to be held in Boston not later than the first week in August. This committee found themselves beset with difficulties. They differed among themselves, both as to the general question whether the president should be a clergyman, and in their personal preferences in regard to the most suitable candidate for the office; and this difference of wishes and feelings in the committee represented or reflected a corresponding difference in the whole board. The members of the faculty were officially consulted, and it was found that they were about equally divided, half of them favoring strongly the appointment of Professor Seelye, and the other half preferring some other candidate, the scientific professors, as a general fact, being unfavorable, and those in the departments of literature and history favorable to the appointment of Professor Seelye. Besides their fear that he would not do justice to science in the presidency, there were personal and general grounds of opposition both in the faculty and in the Board of Trustees. He would not be popular with the students. He could not sympathize with young men. He would be autocratic, overbearing, and severe in the administration of the government. He would not be, he could not be expected to be, impartial in his relations to the faculty. In short, it was a pity to spoil a good professor in order to make a poor president.
Political prejudices also came in to aggravate the difficulty. Professor Seelye was at this time a member of Congress, having been elected in 1874 over the nominees of both the great parties by the independent votes of republicans and democrats. He had already served through the first session of the Forty-fourth Congress with distinguished success, and was bound in honor to represent his constituents in the coming second session, and what further political possibilities, probabilities, temptations, and aspirations might lie before him in the future no one could tell. He had been suspected at one time, very unjustly, of aspiring to supersede Dr. Stearns in the presidency of the college. Now perhaps he would be tempted to aspire to the presidency of the United States. There was a strange fascination in the atmosphere of Washington which it was not easy for those who had once breathed it to resist. Professor Seelye would of course be solicited to be a candidate for a second term in the House of Representatives, and would naturally desire re-election, and this might open the way to the Senate, to a place in the Cabinet, to no one knew what honors. Under such circumstances it was not at all likely that he would accept the presidency of the college, if it was offered him. After much discussion, at the close of a long session which came perilously near to ending without anything being done, the committee at length agreed to open a correspondence with him and offer him the nomination on certain conditions. The correspondence was opened, but it only multiplied and aggravated the difficulties. The office of representative in Congress had come to him unsought and unconditioned; why should be submit to any conditions now? No pledges were required of him then; why should they be asked of him now?
The whole thing wore too much the aspect of a bargain, and a bargain for a place was to him an unspeakable abhorrence. He had never in his life lifted a hand or paid a penny for a place, and it would be soon enough for him to say whether he would accept the presidency of Amherst College when it was freely and fully offered to him. In the course of the correspondence, which was prolonged and some of it spicy, it became apparent that while the professor had little taste or inclination for politics, he had a positive dislike and disinclination to many of the peculiar and perfunctory duties of a college president, which nothing but a manifest call of Providence and an imperative sense of duty could induce him to undertake.
But I have already gone more into the details of this transaction than I intended, perhaps more than was prudent or necessary. Suffice it to say, that the committee was at length led, it is needless to say how, to offer him a unanimous call; the professor was led to see, it is not necessary to say under what influences, that it was a call of duty and of God; and at a meeting of the board held in Boston on the 28th of July, 1876, the trustees by a unanimous vote elected him president and professor of mental and moral philosophy in Amherst College. And it is now quite unnecessary to tell in detail how completely experience has falsified the fears and forebodings of those who opposed the election of Professor Seelye to the presidency. It was feared that he would be partial to literature and philosophy, and unfriendly to science. One of the first acts of his administration was to take measures for the purchase by the college of the Shepard cabinet and to raise by his own personal efforts the large sum of money by which it was procured. This was soon followed by the inauguration of the department of biology and the Stone endowment. It was feared that he would be partial to his particular friends in the faculty, and harbor resentment against those who opposed his election. So far from that, the language of the Tyrian queen would seem to have been his motto:
Tros Tyriusque mihi nullo discrimine agetur.
It was said that be would be dictatorial and severe in his administration of the government, unsympathizing, and so unpopular with the students. “The New System” of self-government at Amherst, which is the admiration of Amherst students and the envy or the model of other colleges, is the best and the sufficient answer to this allegation. Indeed they who feared any such thing of President Seelye could have known little of Professor Seelye’s devotion of time, talents, attainments, and personal services to individual students. This grand secret of his power and usefulness as a teacher had only a freer scope and wider sway and higher appreciation when he became president. They had more reason who apprehended that his sovereign contempt and scorn for everything unworthy of a man and a scholar might make him impatient of the follies and imperfections of students. But responsibility brings patience and forbearance, and this fear proved to be utterly groundless. It was said that he would have neither talent nor disposition to raise money for the college. The Shepard cabinet, the Parmly Billings professorship of hygiene and physical education, the Chester W. Chapin endowment of the presidency, the Stone professorship of biology, the Marquand instructorship in elocution, the Winkley professorship of history, the rebuilding of Walker Hall after the conflagration, the Pratt gymnasium, the Henry T. Morgan library, the munificent donation of Mr. D. Willis James for the general purposes of the college coming into the treasury after his resignation, but given out of special regard to him, and hence named the Seelye Fund—all these and other gifts of which a more definite statement will be given on a subsequent page, rise up before us and testify how utterly without foundation, and diametrically opposite to the truth, this prediction was. True, several of these gifts, perhaps most of them, were not solicited, but the witness they bear is only the more unequivocal and the more eloquent because the gifts were the spontaneous expression of the confidence and good will of the donors.
In short, I believe that the same wise and kind Providence that has raised up his predecessors, all excellent men, and each with gifts and graces suited to the exigency, made President Seelye, and educated him, and sanctified him, and by all his antecedents prepared him, in the first place to be a great and rare educator, and then to be president of Amherst College and guide it in the accomplishment of its great work; and so God did not permit His plan and purpose to be thwarted by the disinclination of the candidate himself, by the doubts and mistakes of good men and friends of the college, or by outside temptations, however strong, to other spheres of action.
President Seelye’s election took place, as we have already said, in July, 1876, and he entered upon the duties of the office in September at the beginning of the next collegiate year. But in accordance with his understanding with the trustees he completed his term of service in Congress by sitting through its second session, leaving the acting presidency meanwhile in the hands of Prof. W. S. Tyler; and he was not inaugurated until the close of his first year. The inauguration took place at Commencement, June 27, 1877. The public exercises consisted of prayer by Rev. Edmund K. Alden, D. D., of Boston, the address on the part of the trustees and the delivery of the seal and the keys of the college by Rev. Prof. Roswell D. Hitchcock of Union Theological Seminary in New York, and the inaugural address of President Seelye. Dr. Hitchcock spoke with characteristic felicity, beginning as follows: “The whole college bids you welcome to its highest seat, trustees, alumni, teachers and students are all united and earnest in the persuasion of your eminent fitness for the new position, united and earnest also in the expectation of your eminent success. You are no stranger here, and nothing is strange to you. Made president of the college after eighteen years of constant and conspicuous service in one of its departments of instruction, the element of novelty is almost wholly wanting. Retaining the chair in which you have earned your fame, you now merely add to its familiar duties that general oversight of the institution with which you must be almost equally familiar.
“You are also well across the threshold of the new office. The class that graduates to-morrow carries with it the memory of your first presidential year. And neither you nor we have anything to ask for but repetition of the year’s record for many and many a year to come.
“The college is happy and proud to be led at last by one of its own alumni. Your four predecessors were all providential men. The four administrations lie in our history like so many geological deposits. The future need not contradict nor criticise the past, but a robust vitality instinctively asserts itself in better and better forms. We salute you, therefore, at once as the fifth and as the first of our Amherst presidents.”
The inaugural address is equally characteristic. Its subject is “The Relations of Learning and Religion.” It begins with stating the fact, that “Amherst College was founded by Christian people and for a Christian purpose. . . . From President Moore, in whose saintly zeal the earliest students of the college found both instruction and inspiration, to President Stearns, whose purity and faith surrounded his presence like a halo, ennobling him and enlightening and elevating all who had contact with him, the controlling purpose of the college has been to provide the highest possible educational advantages, and to penetrate these with a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and a supreme devotion to His kingdom. And in all this Amherst College is not peculiar. Other institutions of learning have been founded and carried forward with the same purpose. The schools of the Christian world trace their actual historical origin to the Christian church.”
The middle and main staple of the address is the author’s philosophy of the subject, which is briefly this: There is no inherent law of progress in human nature. Over by far the larger portion of the globe, and by far the larger portion of mankind, retrogression reigns instead of progress, and this is true as we look back through all ages. So far as records of history go, no nation ever originated its own progress. No savage has ever civilized himself. The lamp which lightens one nation in its progress has always been lighted by a lamp behind it. Civilization comes to a people not from itself, but from another, not from within but from without, not from below but from above, not from the many and bad but from the few and the wise and the good, ultimately from heaven and Christ and God. In the history of human knowledge science is always preceded and quickened by art, yet art does not spontaneously originate. While the mother of science, she herself is the child of religion. Architecture, sculpture, painting, poetry, music, it was a religious impulse which gave to all these their first inspiration. There is no high art, there is never a great genius, uninspired by some sort of a religious sentiment and impulse. As the seed whose growth shall fill the fields with plenty and also the earth with beauty, slumbers in the earth in darkness, and with no signs of life till the warmth of the sun comes nigh, so all the thoughts of men, with whatever capabilities of art and science endowed, lie dormant in the soul till some divine communication stirs the soul with the sense of its accountability and its sin and kindles it with a longing for the favor of its God.
And the conclusion of the whole matter is this: “A Christian college, if it is to be in the long run truly successful in the advancement of learning, will have the Christian name written not alone upon its seal and its first records, but graven in its life as ineffaceably as was the name of Phidias on Athene’s shield. It will seek for Christian teachers and only these—men in whom are seen the dignity and purity and grace of Christ’s disciples, and whose lips instruct while their lives inspire. It will order all its studies and its discipline that its pupils, through the deep and permanent impulse of a life by the faith of the Son of God, may be led to the largest thoughts and kindled to the highest aims with an energy undying, and an enthusiasm which does not fade. It will not be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ nor remiss in preaching that gospel to its students, ’till they all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man.'”
With such views of the relation of learning and religion, and fully believing, as he did, that the president of a college should be its religious as well as its secular head, it is not surprising that he chose to be the pastor of the College Church. He was installed in the pastoral office in June, 1877, even before he was inaugurated in the presidency, an ecclesiastical council, consisting mainly of the pastors and delegates of the neighboring churches, being invited by the College Church to assist in the installation services, and a sermon being preached by Rev. Dr. R. S. Storrs of Brooklyn, a graduate of the college, and a member of its Board of Trustees. At the same time, magnifying the pulpit and the pastoral office as an educating power, and feeling that there was work enough in that line to task the energies of more than one man, and that work could not be fully done without some one being charged with the special responsibility of it, he welcomed an associate pastor in the Samuel Green professor of Biblical history and interpretation and pastoral care. According to the will of the founder of this professorship, it will be remembered, its incumbent must be either pastor or associate pastor of the College Church, and, while it was expressly provided that Dr. Stearns should hold the professorship together with the presidency, it was required that after him the two offices should be separated, and during the presidency of Dr. Seelye he continued to be the pastor of the church, and the Samuel Green professor was the associate pastor. Besides the president and the professor of the pastoral care, several other professors who were clergymen occupied the college pulpit in turn, as they had been accustomed to do from the beginning, thus securing that variety which is so attractive to young men, and at the same time enlisting the professors directly in ministering to the spiritual welfare as well as the intellectual culture of the students. This arrangement may not be as acceptable to students as that which now prevails of inviting popular preachers from abroad to occupy the pulpit several Sundays every year. But it had its counterbalancing advantages. While providing a good measure of variety it did not minister to mere curiosity and love of novelty, and it did secure in a greater degree unity of instruction and impression, adaptation to the prevailing and changing wants of the audience, and concentration of the whole power and influence of the faculty upon the Christian character and life of the college. President Seelye believed in the formation of character and the education and training of the whole man as the chief end of the college, in the pulpit as a great power in such education, and in ministers as by their own training, character, and life an educating guild, class, or profession. He had no sympathy with the now prevailing and growing prejudice against clerical presidents and professors, still less with the clamor and outcry among college students against so-called compulsory attendance upon church and chapel services. Much as he enjoyed teaching his favorite philosophy to the senior class, he delighted still more in preaching the word of God and the gospel of Christ to the whole college. And he preached usually without notes, but never without much thought and prayer, the great central truths of Christianity with a depth of thought, a breadth of learning, a power of reasoning, a wealth of expression, and a fervor of feeling which lifted his hearers quite above themselves and the world into the very presence of God and of things unseen and eternal.
The first incumbent of the Samuel Green professorship and the office of associate pastor with President Seelye was Rev. Thomas P. Field, who entered upon the duties of the office in 1878. Dr. Field had gained a wide experience and won an enviable reputation both in college and in the pastoral office, having been both a tutor and the professor of rhetoric and oratory in Amherst, and pastor of churches successively in Danvers, Mass., Troy, N. Y., and New London, Conn. By his attractive person, sympathetic nature, courteous manners, high scholarship, wide and varied culture, and his success as a teacher and a preacher, he was admirably fitted for the place. But to borrow his own language in his brief history of Amherst College written for the bureau of education, “as no more preaching was required of him than of the other preaching professors, as the president continued to be the pastor of the College Church, and as there were difficulties in the way of pastoral visitation not found in other parishes, the first incumbent of the professorship was a professor rather than a pastor. He gave instruction in the Hebrew language and literature, gave some lectures on Biblical history and on examples of Christian character, and taught classes in natural theology and the evidences of Christianity, devoting as many hours to such instruction as the other professors did in their departments. This did not seem to be precisely the original object of the professorship, but came as near to accomplishing the same as appeared to be practicable under the circumstances, with the continual consciousness, however, on the part of the incumbent that something better might be attempted and done. With that feeling he resigned the professorship in 1886, and after a few months Rev. George S. Burroughs, of New Britain, Conn., was appointed.” With superior talents, fine scholarship, courteous manners, an amiable spirit, Christian zeal, and a heartfelt desire for the temporal and eternal welfare of the students, Dr. Burroughs labored with rare fidelity, earnestness, and enthusiasm as pastor, preacher, and teacher, and accomplished much for the upbuilding of the College Church and the advancement of Christian learning. His success as a Bible teacher in inspiring even irreligious students with enthusiasm in the study of the Scriptures was remarkable. In the pulpit and the work of the pastor he found it more difficult to realize his high ideals, and when, in 1892, he was invited to the presidency of Wabash College, the consciousness of this difficulty perhaps conspired with the attractions of the new sphere of usefulness in inducing him to accept the call.
President Seelye was wise and happy in his choice of new professors. His first question in regard to a candidate was not, Is he popular, has he a high reputation and a great name, is he already distinguished as a scholar and a teacher? but, What sort of a man is he, is he a real, true, and complete man? He must be a Christian of course, for “the Christian is the highest style of man.” He must be a scholar, for how can he teach what he does not know? He must be apt to teach, for teaching, not discovery or original research, is the business of the college professor. It is well that he should be a discoverer, with a mind open to receive the truth, all truths whether new or old, although the man who knows the most, and has made the greatest discoveries, is not always the best teacher. But first of all, and above all, he must be a man, and full of a noble ambition to make others men, for to make men is the chief end of a college education. Or if, as the old Greek philosopher said of his countryman, the candidate is not yet a full-grown man, he must give promise of becoming such, and of being able, by precept and example, to make others such as he himself aspires and promises to be. Hence President Seelye sought his professors chiefly not among those who had done their work and won their reputation in other institutions, but among the graduates of Amherst, whom he personally knew and upon whom he had placed his own shaping hand, and let them grow under his own eye and influence from instructors to assistant professors, and from assistants to associates and heads of departments. Accordingly there was a time in his administration when the writer of this history could speak of all the faculty as having been his pupils, and the president could have said to his ablest professors, as the aged Phoenix did to the hero of the Iliad:
“Great as thou art, my lessons made thee brave.
A child I took thee, but a hero gave.”
By taking its teachers, for the most part, from the ranks of its own graduates, and paying, as a rule and a principle, the same salary to all regular professors after due trial and full approval, Amherst has escaped envyings and jealousies, divisions and contentions in the faculty, and secured a substantial unity, a fraternal sympathy, a hearty coöperation, and a steadfast adherence to the ideals of the college, which have contributed not a little to its peace and prosperity.
Elihu Root, professor of mathematics and natural philosophy; Anson D. Morse, professor of history; Henry B. Richardson, professor of German; John M. Tyler, professor of biology; Charles E. Garman, professor of mental and moral philosophy; David P. Todd, professor of astronomy; John F. Genung, professor of rhetoric; Henry A. Frink, professor of oratory; William L. Cowles, professor of Latin—all these were inaugurated in their professorships under the administration and on the recommendation of President Seelye. All but two of them are graduates of Amherst. Only one of them had been a professor in another college. All but one were men who, after having pursued studies preliminary to their professorships at home and abroad, began their teaching in Amherst, gained their experience and their reputation in Amherst, have been identified with Amherst in their own education and their education of others. All superior scholars, all consistent and devoted Christians, all students, workers, teachers, educators making a business of teaching and magnifying education as the highest calling, some of them known also as authors of text-books, writers for the magazines, and lecturers in the cause of university extension, they have all been a success, an honor to the college and an ornament to their profession.
President Seelye himself continued to teach for some years after his elevation to the presidency, in the department of intellectual and moral philosophy which he had so adorned as a professor. Finding his labors too exhausting, and seeing in Mr. Garman a philosopher of his own school and a teacher after his own heart, he at first divided the work of teaching the senior class equally with him, and ere long resigned it entirely into his hands. And he has been heard to say that, by introducing the spiritual philosophy into the college, and leaving the department in the hands of such a teacher, he has conferred a greater benefit on the institution than all his other services. And Prof. W. B. Smith, of Union Theological Seminary, gave the sanction of his great name to this high estimate of the value of this department as it exists in Amherst College.
President Seelye has always insisted that the strength of a college lies, not in magnificent buildings, elegant grounds, large endowments, or a large number of students, but in the high character and able and faithful work of its faculty. Hence his great care in the choice of professors, the weighty responsibility which he devolved on every teacher for the good order and high scholarship of his classes, and the kind sympathy and cordial support which he gave to every teacher in the faithful discharge of his duties. And the whole faculty in return, the older members as well as the younger men, were united as one man in love and loyalty to their president, sustained him in harmonious and happy faculty meetings, and stood by him, shoulder to shoulder, in the execution of measures which he perhaps had originated and they had approved.
Three professors of sterling worth died in office during the presidency of Dr. Seelye—Ebenezer Strong Snell, Elihu Root, and Richard Henry Mather.
Professor Snell was altogether a unique personage in the history of Amherst College, and deserves a fuller portraiture than can be given in this history. We can only refer those who wish for an outline sketch of his life and character to our original work. Here it must suffice to say that he was born in North Brookfield, Mass., October 17, 1801, and died September 18, 1876, and was therefore a little short of seventy-five at the time of his death; that he was the first student that was admitted and among the first that were graduated at the college, and the first tutor and the first professor among the alumni, and gave it more than fifty years of study and labor and care and painstaking, of the ablest instructions and the best services that have ever been given to Amherst or any other college; that, as professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, for exactness, clearness, and method in teaching, and skill as an experimental lecturer, he cannot be surpassed; that, by his own mechanical ingenuity and handicraft and his progressive mastery of the science, with a comparatively trifling expenditure of money by the college, he kept his cabinet abreast of the most costly apparatus of the richest colleges in the land, while, at the same time, he invented and constructed not a few machines illustrative of mechanics and physics which were not then to be found in any of them; that a vein of quiet humor and a felicitous turn of expression conspired with his modesty, simplicity, and kindness to make him one of the most genial of companions and colleagues, as well as one of the most admired and beloved of teachers, while his pupils felt the constant presence and power of something better than any teaching, lecturing, or preaching in his true, pure, and exemplary Christian life.
Elihu Root, who succeeded Professor Snell in the professorship of mathematics and natural philosophy, was born in Belchertown, September 14, 1845, and died in his native place, December 3, 1880. He was only thirty-five at the time of his death, and had been only four years professor of mathematics and natural philosophy; and one of these years he was only assistant professor. But he had distinguished himself before his appointment by his high rank as a scholar in Williston Seminary, by winning several prizes in college and delivering the valedictory oration at his graduation, by his success as a teacher at Williston, and as an instructor at Amherst, by five years of successful study of philosophy and physics at Göttingen, Leipsic, and Berlin in Germany, and not least perhaps by his able thesis on dielectric polarization when he received the degree of Ph. D. at Berlin. And it is not easy to say whether he was more admired in college for his profound knowledge of physics and mathematics, or more beloved for his pure, beautiful, and noble character and life. But, alas, his bodily health and strength were not equal to his aspirations, and exertions and, like a flower nipped in the bud, he was cut down in the very beginning of his life-work.
“Oh, what a noble heart was here undone,
When Science’s self destroyed her favorite son!
Yes, she too much indulged thy fond pursuit;
She sowed the seeds, but Death has reaped the fruit.”
Professor Root was succeeded by Dr. Marshall Henshaw, not, however, with the title of professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, but only as lecturer in that department. He was graduated at Amherst with high honor in the same class with Prof. Francis A. March, the class of 1845. He had been a successful and highly honored professor of mathematics and natural philosophy in Rutgers College under President Frelinghuysen. He had been the principal of Williston Seminary fourteen years, teaching the senior class on the classical side in Latin and Greek, and lecturing to the seniors on the English side in physics with singular ability and success, and raising the seminary to a height of prosperity and renown which it has never before or since reached. In his annual report to the trustees in 1883, after Dr. Henshaw had, by the experience of two years, proved his rare ability and skill both as a teacher and a lecturer, President Seelye recommended that he should be appointed professor of natural philosophy, saying, “He has all of Professor Snell’s remarkable skill and ease in the handling of his apparatus in the lecture room, and a more extensive knowledge of the latest developments of the science of physics than Professor Snell in his later life was able to maintain; and while he does not equal Professor Root, as very few do, in the highest attainments of science, he exceeds him in clearness and interest and force as a lecturer.” But the trustees did not make the appointment, the professorship of natural philosophy was not filled during President Seelye’s administration, and Dr. Henshaw continued to do the work of a professor under the title of lecturer till, in 1890, increasing bodily infirmities led him to resign.
Richard Henry Mather was born in Binghamton, N. Y., February 12, 1835. The blood of some of the best families of New England—the Mathers, the Masons, the Whitings, the Edwardses—flowed in his veins. He was graduated with highest honors both at Williston Seminary and at Amherst College, delivering the salutatory oration at the former and the valedictory at the latter at his graduation. To the discipline of the preparatory school and the college, he added the culture derived from repeated travel and study in foreign lands—study in Germany and Athens, travel at different times in Italy, Greece, Egypt, and Palestine. An accomplished scholar, an inspiring teacher, an eloquent preacher, a skilful man of affairs, a delightful companion, neighbor, and friend, with a personality that charmed all who knew him or met him, and made them his friends and the friends of the college, he loved Amherst more than he loved himself, gave it thirty-one years of able, faithful, and devoted service, subordinated to it all his personal ends, consecrated to it all his gifts, graces, and attainments, procured for it donations, endowments, and educational appliances.
The Mather Art Collection was his gift as well as his monument. He raised all the money and made all the purchases for the singularly rich and choice selection. The rare architectural perfection of the new library building was largely due to his excellent taste, sound judgment, and remarkable business efficiency in superintending the enlargement. The John R. Newton professorship of Greek was the gift of one whom he had attached to himself and to the college by his preaching and his personal attractions. But his most precious and enduring memorial was in the minds, and hearts, and life, and character of his numerous pupils. He taught them not merely the language, archæology, and art of the Greeks, not merely their poetry, and history, and philosophy, but their literature, and life, and morals, and religion. Nay, every lecture and recitation was a lesson in “the humanities,” in human nature and human life, in the art of living, and living well. Hence he was a power in the government of the college, as well as in its education. President Seelye loved him and leaned upon him, and it was a sad hour and a sore trial to the good president when, on returning from a voyage to Europe for his own health, his first news was the death of his friend and brother, and his first public service was in officiating at his funeral. It was an irreparable loss to the college, a profound grief to troops of friends, and a sore disappointment to himself. He had spent the previous year in travel and study, partly in Germany, but chiefly in Greece and the island of Sicily, amid the monuments of Grecian architecture and sculpture and the scenes of Grecian life, and returned enriched with new materials for his work, inspired with new enthusiasm for his calling, fondly hoping, fully expecting to begin a new epoch, and that the most fruitful and brilliant in his life. Alas, he came back to suffer in a prolonged and painful sickness, to die a lingering and living death. But in that sickness and death he taught us lessons of resignation, fortitude, patience, and faith more impressive and more sacred than he could have taught in all the lectures and sermons of a long life.
We cannot conclude these sketches of the Amherst faculty under the administration of President Seelye without alluding to the somewhat tragical but truly heroic element which Professor Crowell has contributed to our history in his blindness. A distinguished graduate of Phillips Academy, Andover, in 1849, and of Amherst College in 1853; teacher of Latin and Greek in Williston Seminary from 1853 to 1855; tutor in Amherst College in 1855-1856; student of theology at Andover in 1856 to 1858; professor of Latin and instructor in German at Amherst from 1858 to 1864, professor of the Latin language and literature from 1864 to the present time, and dean of the faculty since 1880, he has given to the college more years of able, faithful, and acceptable service than any other professor, except Professors Snell and Tyler, and his name now stands, next to that of the president, at the head of all the active members of the faculty. Meanwhile he has been representative in the Massachusetts legislature one year, and for very many years the compiler of the triennial catalogue and the obituary records of the college. He prepared also the “Roll of Members of Amherst College serving in the Army and Navy of the United States during the Rebellion,” wrote the “History of the Town of Essex,” and edited school editions of “Cicero de Senectute et Amicitia,” “Cicero de Officiis,” “Cicero de Oratore,” the “Andria and Adelphi of Terence,” and “Selections from the Latin Poets.” In 1885 Professor Crowell, after prolonged and acute suffering, lost the sight of both his eyes. Yet he has not only continued his instructions with unabated ability and success, but is now preparing new and improved editions of his classical text-books which give no evidence of impaired vision, enters new fields of study and teaching such as law and patristic Latin, keeps himself and his department fully abreast of the learning and spirit of the times, and, what is perhaps most wonderful of all, maintains his cheerfulness, humor, and buoyancy of spirits, and mingles in society and walks the streets, guided, of course, by the same eye and hand of wife, or daughter, or colleague, which have helped him in his literary labors, with an erect attitude and a quick and firm step which suggest to a stranger no thought that he is bereft of sight. Well might the trustees, at their annual meeting in 1886, express to Professor Crowell by vote, and put it on record in their minutes, “their gratification that he has been able to resume and carry forward so successfully through the year the duties of his department,” a resolution which has been more than justified every year of the seven years that have since intervened.
The college is indebted to President Seelye for the selection and appointment of a model librarian in the person of Mr. William I. Fletcher, who is perfect master of his art and profession, and knows how to teach it both by precept and example, who has rendered a service of inestimable value to all libraries and all colleges by preparing and printing an index of general literature corresponding to Poole’s index of periodicals, who has made himself useful and agreeable not only to his own guild and college, but to the college church, the town of Amherst, and the cause of education and religion generally, and yet seems to be always at his desk, always at the service of every officer and every student, and always able and willing to assist every reader, so far as it can be done by books, in his investigations.
[Son of Seth Seelye SGS # 2056 – Seth; Nathan; Seth; Nathan; James; Nathaniel; Nathaniel; Robert]