AS I think back, it seems to me that all my life I have been either the victim or the instrument of education. Yet I should probably never have become a schoolmaster if a huge, rather arrogant-looking Amherst College professor named George Bosworth Churchill, on a gloomy afternoon in November 1904, had not read to his English class in his deepthroated voice a poem beginning:
Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! And again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain springs
With a soft inland murmur.
I had come to Amherst in the autumn of 1901, a callow youth of sixteen, from a little village in the Mohawk Valley, intending rather vaguely to enter the law and succeed my father in his office. My scholastic career up to that point might well have been described as aimless; and when the imposing Churchill began to recite from "Tintern Abbey," I was in just the right mood to be susceptible to his own emotion and the magic of Wordsworth's verses. Then and there I underwent a conversion --- on a lower level like that which transformed Saul of Tarsus or John Bunyan. Suddenly, but irrevocably, I resolved that I must study English literature --- that I must dedicate myself to the pursuit of learning. In later life, I often listened to Robert Frost as he read his own lines:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I ---
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
At precisely that point in my undergraduate days the choice between two professions was made. The road which I took was one seldom traversed by my family, but it has indeed made "all the difference."
My education in Americanism began long before I came into the world, and the story will show how readily "foreigners" were assimilated in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. My grandfather, Jacob Fuess, was born in Annweiler, a small and ancient village located in the picturesque, semimountainous district of the Rheinpfalz, or Bavarian Palatinate, perhaps fifty miles north of Strassburg. When I paid it a visit in 1906, I approached by railroad from Speyer, twenty-five miles to the east across the Rhine Valley. It was then a provincial, hospitable, gossipy place, removed from the main currents of modern thought, in which at festivals the peasants still wore unashamed the quaint, traditional costumes handed down from their ancestors. The French border at Nancy was not far off, and many of the residents, like my own cousins, traced their lineage back to Huguenots expelled from France by Louis, the Sun King, in 1685, through the tragic revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
In 1906, however, the Fuesses still in Annweiler seemed thoroughly Teutonic in speech and appearance, with no traces of their French origin. But they were Bavarians, not Prussians, and were careful to explain to me the difference. Their private inclinations were clearly not militaristic. Rather they acted like a peace-loving folk, unambitious for themselves and with no desire for further Lebensraum. Like the Yankees of rural Vermont, they were happiest when left alone.
My grandfather might have dwelt there all his life if he had not been unexpectedly caught up in the whirlwind of a European popular revolt. Like many thoughtful Bavarian youths, he had a dream of a United Germany, with a constitutional government; and when a German parliament assembled on May 18, 1848, at Frankfort on the Main, he attended as a member, although he was only nineteen. Unfortunately this body, which had hoped to bring together all the German states, had no strong leader. Finally when in sheer futility it elected Frederick William IV, King of Prussia, as hereditary Kaiser, that timid and obstinate monarch, under pressure from jealous Austria, perversely declined the leadership of the new empire. Young Carl Schurz, at the University of Bonn, whose biography I was to publish in 1932, helped to organize a protest, and King Frederick William soon had on his hands the necessity of suppressing some other minor rebellions.
My grandfather died in 1891, when I was only six years old, and I cannot recall many of the stories which he told of his hazardous boyhood. His father, John, remained royalist in his views, as did the oldest son, my grandfather's brother, Philip; but Jacob and his younger brother, John, joined the revolutionists. Once when the old gentleman, my great-grandfather, was captured and condemned to death by a party of guerrilla insurrectionists, he was saved by the unexpected arrival of a troop in which his two rebel sons, Jacob and John, were soldiers. As the war turned inevitably against the poorly equipped rebels, the Rheinpfalz became less and less salubrious for Jacob, who fled across the border and ultimately made his way to America, disembarking at New Orleans and proceeding to New York City. As far as I am aware, he was the first member of my family and the first citizen of Annweiler to come to the United States from Germany. How he earned a living in those early days I do not know, but he did send for his sweetheart, Johanna Valeria Woerner, who came to join him, and they were married in New York City on September 14, 1854. Two years younger than he, she belonged to a wealthy and distinguished family which had lost its money when she was a girl of twelve.
After his marriage, my grandfather continued to live for some years in New York City, where his two oldest children, Jacob and Louis (my father) were born. He had neither the ability nor the inclination to enter political life, like his friend, Carl Schurz, nor did he join the Northern army, like so many of his compatriots. By that time he had his sons to care for, and he could not be spared. He was by every instinct a country man. His family for generations had been brickmakers and tilers in Annweiler, and he was unhappy in the bustle of a large city. About 1870, he purchased a farm just outside of Waterville, in Oneida County, New York, about twenty miles south of Utica, and there introduced the cultivation of hops, which he had seen in the Rhine Valley. Within a few years Waterville became, with Oregon and Kent, one of the world's great hop centers. Indeed the prosperity of that countryside was shortly to depend largely on the annual income from hops, and when in one golden year the price reached a dollar a pound, every farmer thought himself a prospective millionaire. As Jacob Fuess wrote back to Germany about his modest prosperity, other members of the family emigrated, and by the close of the century I had many second and third cousins in that locality.
My grandfather certainly did not become wealthy, but he soon was making an adequate income. His farm at Conger's Corners stood at the top of a moderately high hill, overlooking what was then called the Nine Mile Swamp, which filled the valley to the east with almost impossible underbrush and marshland and was the hiding place of the notorious Loomis Gang of horse thieves. The view, although attractive, was not as noble as that at Annweiler, where the pine-girt Trifels, sixteen hundred feet high, dominated the landscape. The soil, moreover, was not rich; and hard labor was required from each male child as he became physically strong enough to work. But Jacob Fuess was his own master --- a fact to him of immense importance --- and even as a child I learned from him the value of Freiheit.
Even when other Fuesses arrived with their families, they did not, like their fellow immigrants in Wisconsin and Missouri, keep up their Turnvereins and rural celebrations. The melting pot in their case very quickly transmuted them into Americans. They had found what they wanted. Their faces were turned towards the future, not backward towards the past. As soon as possible both my grandparents became American citizens. Jacob Fuess was known locally as "that Dutchman," as Schurz was among his Washington friends, but he himself had no doubt where his allegiance belonged.
As I recall him dimly, my grandfather was a tall erect man, of dignified bearing, and a rather unusual type of beard once known as an imperial. His eyes were those of a visionary, sunk rather deep in their sockets, and I was later told that in practical matters he was as guileless as a baby. Because he learned English so late in life, he always retained a foreign accent, and his speech was punctuated with interjections which sounded in English much more profane than they were intended to be in German. He died of pneumonia, when he was only sixty-two years old. He had never returned to Germany, and apparently had few regrets at having been exiled. My grandmother, who survived him twelve years, presents a much clearer picture to my mind. Although I was often told that in her girlhood she was the belle of Annweiler, I remember her as much wrinkled, with a white ruff around her neck and a lace cap on her head, looking very much like one of Rembrandt's portraits. To the end she still spoke German with some of her children and other relatives, and she taught me to say Gute Nacht and Guten Morgen. At Christmas she always prepared a gorgeous tree, decorated with ornaments brought from the Fatherland. In the kitchen were baked the well-known kuchen, filled with caraway seeds and cut into the shapes of animals. Holly and mistletoe were all over the home, and on Christmas Eve we sang carols very lustily. My first recollection of "O Tannenbaum!" is from my grandmother's gentle soprano. As she grew older, her thoughts turned more and more to the past, and she talked with nostalgic sentimentality of the Trifels and the impressive mansion which had been her home. Actually she never really wished to go back. Her children, when she would weep a little over her girlhood, accepted it as an elderly lady's transient weakness. They were happy enough where they were. So was she!
Jacob Fuess had naturally some problems connected with anglicization of his name. Originally spelled Füsz, it presented difficulties in both lettering and pronunciation, and finally he resolved to substitute ue for the unfamiliar umlaut. As for the pronunciation, it was certain that no American could reproduce the correct German sounds. The family seem to have wavered between Fease and Feece, with a preference for the former. My friends tell me that the two are equally bad. I have become accustomed to answering to Fuss, Few-ess, Fuse, Feis, and Foos. In fact, no pronunciation of the name has ever startled me very much. The following bit of doggerel, published when my Daniel Webster came out, will illustrate the difficulties in pronunciation:
He'll exclaim, "Oh, what's the use!"
My father, when he was enrolled in Columbia Law School, was tempted to alter the spelling, but finally through what he described as "sheer inertia" continued the accepted form. During World War I, when the feeling against Germans ran high, several of my well-meaning associates advised me to simplify my name, but by that date I was identified, for good or ill, with it as it stood. Furthermore the legal difficulties involved were considerable, and I had developed a strong sense of clan loyalty. After all, the name had been honorably held in Bavaria, and I did not wish to abandon what it represented there as well as here. It is interesting that although I was for several months in the army, nobody at any time commented on my conspicuously German name. Actually I was no more of a foreigner at heart than a Saltonstall or a Bradford or a Phillips, with their heritage of continuity.
As I have said, neither my grandfather nor my father kept in close touch with Germany. Of my seven Fuess uncles and aunts, not one as an adult had the faintest trace of an accent. My father, growing up in a household where German was habitually spoken by his parents, carried small acquaintance with the language into later life, while he employed English as if his ancestors had been in this country for nine generations. The rapidity with which the children adjusted themselves to the talk of their schoolmates was remarkable. Their French forebears had become Germans; now they themselves were becoming Americans. I cannot recall in my home as a child any pictures of German scenes, any books in the German language, any memorabilia of my grandfather's revolutionary days. Everything was "made in the U.S.A."
None of the children of Jacob and Johanna Fuess had any interest in agriculture, and they all escaped from it as soon as they could, not forgetting to tell "tall stories" of their struggles and privations. My father, Louis Philip Fuess, is an interesting example of what happened to the second generation. As a small boy he attended intermittently the local "district school." Then he persuaded his father to allow him to enroll in the Waterville High School, two miles off, and walked back and forth each weekday, carrying his lunch with him. He did well there in his studies, but when he was graduated, further doors of learning seemed closed. There was no reason why he should not have settled down on some neighboring farm, like other boys whom he knew --- no reason but his driving ambition. When he reached the age of twenty-one, he quietly but firmly told my grandfather that he would stay at Conger's Corners no longer. Going to Waterville, the only metropolis in the vicinity, he studied law in the old-fashioned Websterian way in the office of "Squire Lamb"; and it was through the wise influence of this elder attorney that my father took the astonishing step of going to New York City to enter a law school. So it was that, at the age of twenty-six, after being admitted to the bar, this son of a German immigrant hung out his shingle in Waterville and waited for clients.
Meanwhile he had become engaged to my mother, Helen Augusta Moore, whose genealogical tree is rooted in New England magistrates and clergymen, so that I now belong to the Society of Colonial Wars. It was a strange whim of fate which brought together a man and a woman of such different origins---one all German, the other all Welsh and English. My mother was supposed to have married slightly beneath her in taking a husband with a name and family so clearly alien. Indeed her two sisters occasionally indulged in mild banter at the expense of her new "in-laws." But she had too much common sense and individuality to be sensitive to the critical comments of her own people. Lou Fuess may have been a "Dutchman," but he was also a promising young attorney, and she loved him. That was enough for her. My father used to enjoy the story of the inquisitive snob who once asked a man with a name much like my own, "Did your ancestors come over on the Mayflower?" "No," was the reply, "they arrived when the immigration laws were more stringent!"
My younger brother and I were brought up as American boys in the democratic atmosphere of a country village, and it never occurred to me that there was anything to be ashamed of about my name or antecedents. It is true that my playmates promptly nicknamed me "Dutch," in spite of my protests and my readiness to use my fists in warding off the inevitable. When I went to Amherst College, it was with the hope that I was at last rid of the obnoxious nickname; but my closest friend, who accompanied me there, saw to it that it was not forgotten. So it was that I was Dutch all through college --- indeed still am to my classmates when we assemble at reunions.
Once when Amy Lowell had been dining at my house after a lecture, with her companion, Ada Russell --- whom she commonly called "Peter" --- she turned to me suddenly and inquired, "What's your first name?" Just a little ashamed I answered, "Claude." Then Miss Lowell cried, "Peter, come here!"; and putting one arm around my shoulder and the other around Miss Russell she exclaimed gleefully, "Here we are --- the three worst names in the world --- Ada, Amy, and Claude!"
My first wife early in our acquaintance indicated a similar aversion to my Christian name and asked whether I would not choose a suitable nickname for her benefit. We shortly agreed that Jack was a name with good connotations, and almost from that moment I was "Jack" Fuess to everybody in Andover --- like "Peter" Higginson and "Dono" Minot and other Harvard celebrities who were rechristened. So it developed that I now, in different environments, respond to three names: Claude back in my home town; Dutch at Amherst reunions; and Jack with all my friends of post-collegiate days.
Not until I reached graduate school and had begun to spend my summers in travel did I develop any sentiment about Germany. In 1906, I deviated from the conventional tourists' route down the Rhine and spent three days with my relatives in Annweiler. Their hospitality was unbounded. They walked me at dawn to the summit of the Trifels, regaled me with the delicious vin du pays, and shouted German melodies to the accompaniment of the zither. From their conversation it was clear that the United States was to them a land of promise and that I myself, for the first and only time, was regarded as a man of wealth. They were simple people, with good taste in music and a cheerful attitude towards life; but I was even then conscious that the young men had always to be ready for war, like puppets waiting for the master hand. My male cousins showed me their orders in case of mobilization and talked as if conquests were in the air, and I didn't like it. They seemed bewildered when I pressed them as to what was impending, but they were resigned to whatever might happen. I enjoyed the beauty of the Rhine and the rustic charm of the Bavarian countryside. I could appreciate Bach and Mozart and Beethoven, Schiller and Goethe, Hauptmann and Sudermann, but my heart was not with the Bismarckian philosophy. I could feel no strong bond with a country so different from the one in which I had been born and of which I felt myself a part. Within ten years, many of those unbelligerent German youths had been killed in a war for which they could have had no desire.
With the outbreak of the First World War, I heard and read much of "hyphenated Americans" --- but there were none in the Fuess family. To them the Germany of Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm II was not the Germany of Luther or of Goethe. I had rather feared that my father, only one generation removed, might lean towards the Germans against the British. But not at all! His letters to me indicated that as soon as the German troops entered Belgium, his moral sense was outraged, and he would hear no more talk about the "Fatherland." He knew as well as I that millions of Germans were naturally peace-loving people, but he was equally convinced that they were misguided. If the Berlin government, even in those days, hoped that the descendants of German immigrants in the United States would be sympathetic with the Kaiser's policies, it was soon disillusioned.
I early reached the conclusion that the doctrine of a Master Race was sheer nonsense. In this connection I must relate a hitherto unpublished story. In my biography of Carl Schurz I referred more than once, in passing, to Schurz's marriage with Margarethe Meyer, daughter of a "well-to-do Jewish manufacturer of Hamburg." That Mrs. Schurz had Jewish ancestry was well-known in her family, and Schurz himself mentioned it frankly in his letters. In 1935, when Hitler had come to power, a letter arrived for me from the Carl Schurz Foundation in Berlin stating categorically that Mrs. Schurz was of pure Aryan stock --- dass Frau Schurz, geb. Meyer, rein arischer Herkunft ist. Evidently I was regarded as impertinent for having disclosed the facts. Even in dealing with the dead it was thought necessary to keep the legend of Aryan supremacy unsullied.
In my blood, I am sure, was a belief in the rights and privileges of all men, and a conception of the United States as a land of opportunity. These concepts were talked about in my home and perhaps account for my responsiveness when Professor Churchill read from "Tintern Abbey." I knew that because my grandfather had sought liberty in America, I could with freedom choose my own way of living.
AS I have explained, part of my education happened painlessly, before I was born. Even more of it came to me as a child in a small country village, where I formed my first conceptions of the universe. Waterville was on the D.L. & W. Railroad (known locally, and unjustly, as the "Delay, Linger, and Wait"), and trains rushed through it on a direct route to New York; nevertheless in preautomobile days it was isolated and had to provide its own industries and diversions. Why it was named Waterville I cannot explain, for it has no stream except what is euphemistically called Big Creek and no lakes except Dead Pond and Tower's Pond, two infinitesimal and by no means pellucid bodies of water. One mile to the south lies the hamlet of Sangerfield, on the Cherry Valley Turnpike, now a crowded cross-state motor highway, and Waterville is today within easy access of urban centers like Utica and Syracuse. In the 1890's when I was growing up it was in the midst of an agricultural community, and retired farmers moved to it in their old age to find solace and society.
My father was a country lawyer who worked hard and was in his later life a leading citizen. His wedding bells had hardly ceased to ring before he was beset by two misfortunes: he was sued for a note which he had endorsed for a friend to the amount of $1500---much more money than he had in the world --- and he came down with typhoid fever. While he was convalescing, his first son, named Claude Moore, was born. Having passed through these ordeals, he prospered and by careful living became well to do. His acquaintance with the financial difficulties, the marital differences, the pleasant vices of his neighbors was profound. He knew what farms were held on mortgages, what accounts at the bank were overdrawn, what the local minister had to pay to keep his brother out of jail, why one farmer committed suicide and another vanished into the unknown. He was the repository of countless secrets and kept them all to himself.
I should like, if possible, to present an accurate picture of that village as I remember it. It was a perfect democracy, with virtually no social distinctions, except for the "summer folks" who came for July and August; and even these notabilities put on no airs as they drove or walked about. At dancing school and church festivals and Grange Hall we were on the same level ---although my mother, who did not like what she called the "shanty Irish," frequently looked dismayed when she saw me dancing with a pretty girl of Celtic extraction. Senator Coggeshall's boys and the sons of the saloonkeepers were equally acceptable as waltz partners. Whatever some of the more opulent residents may have felt in their hearts, there was no recognized aristocracy.
The population was extraordinarily homogeneous, composed chiefly of Anglo-Saxon elements, descended from settlers who had migrated in the late eighteenth century from Connecticut. Among my boyhood friends were Wilsons, Terrys, Congers, Kings, Joneses, Bisseils, Mayers, Westcotts, Emmonses, Bennetts, Jewetts, and Brainards, with a few Ryans and Murphys; indeed my name was almost the only one with any exotic connotations.
The village was so democratic that everybody, old or young, was called by his first name, or a nickname. As a mere fledgling I used to speak thus intimately to "Lon" King, a veteran of the Battle of Gettysburg, and "Dan" Hill, a blithe spirit of not less than seventy. The Town Supervisor, "Mert" Felton, was at one time sent to Sing Sing Prison because of a slight error in his accounts. When he returned from his incarceration, he resumed his familiar seat on the front porch, living by the money which his faithful wife earned through dressmaking. Every morning he strolled to the post office to get the circulars which comprised his mail. Once as I was striding along sturdily by his side down Madison Street, I asked, "Mert, how did you like being in jail?" Quite unembarrassed, he replied, "Young fella, when I first came back I worried about it a lot --- couldn't sleep at night --- didn't want to see any of my old friends; but then I thought it over, and now I don't give a damn!"
Although the scale of living was not high, there was no dire poverty, and everybody could find work of some kind. In our community there were only a few servants, and we boys felt proud when mother engaged our first "hired girl," named Maggie, at the wages of two dollars a week. Even after that my mother, unwilling to let any one else take over, did most of the cooking, leaving it to Maggie to make the beds, sweep the rooms, and watch out for us children. Each housewife was locally famous for some special dish, like chocolate cake or doughnuts, and regularly made that her contribution to church suppers and Grange parties. My mother's was Saratoga Chips, and when these were being prepared, they took precedence over everything else in the home economy. There were no dinners, formal or informal, although we often had guests for Sunday luncheon. In the Fuess household, as in nearly every other, alcoholic beverages were taboo. Nobody would ever have thought of serving cocktails or wine at a meal. The saloon was the horrible place where that craving was satisfied. In the Fuess family one of the worst charges against a neighbor was, "He drinks!" Some experiments which I carried on with California Port ---twenty-five cents a bottle --- had to be planned surreptitiously, and the results were disastrous.
My father stopped smoking after his two sons were born, in order to set us a good example. The consequence of this sacrifice was that I smoked almost everything, beginning with tea and "doc" seed and corn silk, and continuing through old horsewhip (made of rattan), dried leaves, cubebs, Sweet Caporals, and Cycles --- twenty for five cents---the last unquestionably the rankest form of alleged tobacco ever placed on sale. But all our smoking was done stealthily, usually in the woods. Not until I returned from college as a freshman did I venture to light a cigarette in my father's presence. He then calmly but happily resumed the habit which he had abandoned fifteen years before.
It sounds like a dull community, but the members did not find it so. The Pickwick Club, for men only, offered relaxation to my father, who punctually returned to his office after supper to be available for business with farmers driving in for the evening. About eight o'clock, if clients were lacking or had left, he would stroll up the street to the club and there play pool, billiards, or hearts until just before ten. He was a first-class left-handed billiard player, and more than once a stranger, warned that Lou Fuess could beat him left-handed, would find himself after the game minus two or three cigars --- the stakes being small. My mother in the meantime, after the dishes had been cleaned up, would seek a table of hearts or whist with her women neighbors---of course not for money. Occasionally in those days before the movies, a troupe would visit the Opera House and present Uncle Tom's Cabin or Ten Nights in a Barroom or Fritz in a Madhouse. Less frequently local talent would stage a show for the benefit of some charity and the theater would be packed with parents eager to hear their children perform.
Through the winter the Grange, with its spacious hall, was the center of social activity, and we had card parties, dances, and other entertainments to our hearts' content. The popular dances were the Money Musk, the lancers, and the quadrille, but the returning college boys brought back with them the two-step and the waltz, which were regarded as very lively.
My father, perhaps as a result of his farm experience, had a very annoying conception of "the dignity of labor" for his children, and I was commissioned at the appropriate seasons of the year to spade the garden, mow the lawn, cut the asparagus, dig the potatoes, rake the leaves, and shovel snow. I began this as a small boy of six or seven, and always I had to complete my chores before I was allowed to play ---unless my merciful mother intervened when she thought her sons were tired. In Waterville the great period of the year was "hop picking" during the first two weeks of September, when virtually everybody except the housewives went into the fields for a few days to earn spending money. I started as a boy of perhaps seven or eight to pick hops, at the rate of forty cents a box. When I reached fifteen, I was promoted to box-tender, with the duty of pulling poles and supplying the pickers with vines for stripping. For this ten-hour-a-day job I received $1.75 a day, and earned it. We wore white canvas gloves to protect our hands from the rough vines and the almost ineradicable dark stain which the hop juices produced. There was a good deal of fun about it all ---some harmless kissing of the pretty girls and plenty of rough-and-ready repartee.
During the hop-picking season hundreds of people, mostly Italians and Poles, came to the little village for what might be called a "working vacation" from Syracuse, Rome, and Utica, and the evenings saw the saloons doing a rushing business. Those who had picked hops all day tested the brew of the hops at night. Fakirs, patent medicine sellers, evangelists, and vendors had their stands set up along Main Street, and sometimes the crowds would pack the square. How proud I felt when my mother permitted my brother and me to stay out after eight o'clock and watch what was going on! Sometimes a mouth organ or an accordion would start up, the ranks would part, and two or three "foreigners" would undertake a native dance, to the delight of the spectators. Most of the visitors spent in recreation what they had earned during a hard day's work: but the whole experience was to them a holiday, a relief from city pavements, a return to their peasant festivals, and they liked it! For them, and for us girls and boys, it had all the elements of romance, with its flaming torches, its color, its vibrant music, and its flirtations in the park under the stars.
One spectacle particularly absorbed my attention. A traveling preacher stood with a pointer in his hand, explaining a large strip of canvas divided into two sections, one depicting the successive steps in a modern "Rake's Progress," the other showing "Virtue Rewarded." On the left half at the top was a fine fresh-faced youngster following down the "primrose path of dalliance," being seduced into smoking his first cigarette; and below were crude drawings of him as he sank lower and lower, drinking his first glass of beer, then being enticed by a damsel clearly no better than she should be, stealthily robbing his employer's till, and finally in an ecstasy of viciousness slaying his employer, like Lizzie Borden, "with an axe." The last scene ending this "strange eventful history" revealed the sinner as roasting in what anybody could see was a well-heated environment, as a punishment for his wrong-doing. On the other side another equally attractive boy began by refusing to smoke a cubeb. Then he moved upward, declining to listen to profanity, rejecting an invitation to play poker, and resisting even the temptation to go swimming on Sunday. Eventually, as he drew near the top, he married the boss's blonde daughter and at last was disclosed in a place of pearly gates, playing an instrument of at least ten strings, and magnificently crowned. The lessons for us boys should have been obvious, but I regret to say that we were moved only to ridicule. At the end of an impassioned discourse, when the preacher called upon his audience to testify, more than one of us would have loved to step forward, but we did not quite dare. Some fear of being eternally damned held us back. Perhaps Hell might be a very real place!
These religious ideas were not remote to me and my childhood companions. From an early age I was accustomed to Sunday school and church; and as I approached adolescence the lure of girls drew me also to Christian Endeavor and evening service in the Presbyterian Church. I was received into the fold at the age of eight, following a recital of the Shorter Catechism. My father, slightly on the skeptical side, approved of the church as an institution and accordingly allowed himself to be made an elder, an office which did not require membership. He was a regular attendant and, with considerable dignity, passed the collection plate. He also disagreed almost audibly with those ministers who relied on orthodoxy to get them by. The visiting speakers from Hamilton College and Colgate University were much more to father's liking, probably because they were more ethical than theological.
On Sunday afternoons we were walked on a pious pilgrimage to the cemetery, my brother and I in front, wearing identical velvet suits and white Eton collars, both feeling uncomfortable and very much annoyed. In a photograph taken when we were about five and seven respectively we looked like two innocent cherubs, with our heads placed lovingly together; but I distinctly recall in my exasperation whispering to him at the moment, "Wait till we get out of this and I'll knock your block off!" Remember, he was younger than I! As we grew up, our parents weakened to the extent of hiring a surrey and going for a drive into the country. It was less gruesome than the procession to the cemetery and soon became, by common consent, our accepted pastime for Sunday afternoon. In the evening we gathered around the organ in the parlor to sing "Moody and Sankey" hymns, such as "Shall we gather at the river?"; "I am so glad that Jesus loves me!"; "God be with you till we meet again"; "Pull for the shore, sailor, pull for the shore!"; "Let a little sunshine in"; and "Jesus, Saviour, pilot me." Later on at Andover, when the school organist, Dr. Pfatteicher, a virtuoso and musical critic of eminence, would comment sorrowfully on my taste in hymns, I could only take refuge in sentimentality and nostalgia.
School for me was, of course, the public grammar and high school, preparing for the so-called New York State Regents' Examinations. Five of us, one girl and four boys, were the last pupils in the Waterville High School to take Greek. It is true that our teacher completely ignored the accents and the breathings, so that my indifference to them caused vigorous comment when I arrived in Amherst and had to compete with graduates of Andover and Exeter; but he did catch the spirit of Xenophon and Homer, even though our translations left much to be desired. As for Virgil, we accepted it frankly as a romantic adventure and, without paying too much attention to grammar, drove our way through book after book, reading entirely for pleasure. I hardly knew a caesura from an antepenult, but I loved the sound of the lines! We had mathematics, very badly taught, through plane geometry, but no science. Because I was a wide reader, with a quick, flexible mind and an excellent memory, I did well on examinations, with the result that I acquired a larger number of Regents' credits than any one had ever secured in the state up to that time and was in grave danger of being regarded as a prodigy. Fortunately I was enough of a hell-raiser to escape that fate; and when I arrived in college, my instructors soon discovered --- and told me --- how little I knew.
At an unbelievably early age I was an indiscriminate and omnivorous reader, and that passion has not yet abated. The Count of Monte Cristo was my first and best-loved romance. I liked everything --- Horatio Alger and Oliver Optic, Louisa M. Alcott, and H. Rider Haggard, St. Nicholas, The Youth's Companion, Golden Days and (when I could find a copy!) the Police Gazette. I read all the volumes in the Sunday school library, from Raftmates to Queechy, until the librarian insisted that I could not possibly have gone through them so fast. Once---it must have been about 1895 --- I came home from the village library with a new novel called Jude, the Obscure. My Aunt Jennie Watson, who had been a schoolteacher, picked it up one evening and read the first three or four chapters. She then turned to my mother and asked, "Do you know what Claude has taken out of the library?" There was a family conference, at which I pleaded my innocence of wrong; but the book was confiscated and I never read it again until I reached college. I can to this day recall the circumstances under which I read for the first time David Copperfield, The Man Who Would Be King, Nostromo, Far from the Madding Crowd, and The Hound of the Baskervilles. I told my mother at the age of nine or ten that my main ambition was to write a book which somebody would buy ---although I never dreamed that such a desire could be realized.
In certain respects my early education was notably deficient. I took piano lessons as a child and acquired just enough proficiency to annoy the neighbors and not enough to please myself. I never heard a symphony concert until I went for the first time to Boston at the age of eighteen. I was never in an art gallery until I came to live in New York. And I knew nothing of poetry beyond Longfellow and Whittier.
The life which the Waterville boys enjoyed led them, without realizing it, to depend on themselves for their diversions. Not being regimented or guided, they developed an amazing degree of ingenuity and initiative. We made our own plans for our athletic teams, asking one of the two male teachers to coach us if he could, but carrying out the arrangements ourselves without their help. We created the first football eleven ever to represent the Waterville High School, managing to wangle enough money from our parents to buy a pigskin and some cheap uniforms. Our first game, against the nearby mill village of Oriskany Falls, was a victory by a score of 11 to 6, thanks to my picking up by sheer luck a fumbled punt and running the length of the field for a touchdown. After that our heads swelled to enormous size, and we began to dream of ourselves as the greatest schoolboy team east of the Alleghenies. Our next contest was with Colgate Academy, a preparatory school fourteen miles away. We drove there in a hay wagon, singing as we went and absolutely confident. The Colgate boys appeared with nose guards and shin guards, the first we had ever seen. When we kicked off, a massive Colgate backfielder caught the ball and started down the field, dodging, changing pace, and slipping through our players as if he had no opposition. Finally he had passed everybody except me, and I was directly in his path. The hour was ripe for heroism, and I prepared to stop him in his tracks. But almost before I knew what had happened, he had pushed me aside with a stiff arm, and I was lying, flat and ashamed, while he dashed on for a touchdown. The same thing occurred again and again and again, and the final score was 87-0. We returned home that evening, chastened and unmusical. It was only one of many times when my hope of becoming a Frank Merriwell was shattered. That defeat was definitely part of my education.
In one other form of athletics I was slightly more successful. We organized the first track team ever formed in the village, and some of us spent all one summer vaulting with bean poles over the clothesline, manufacturing hurdles, and earning enough money by odd jobs to buy a twelve-pound shot and a hammer. The bicycle races were my events, and I practiced diligently on the old dirt half-mile track, where the county fair was regularly held. I got into condition by making what were called "century runs" --- a ride, with several companions, of one hundred miles on a cinder path, laid out by the side of the customary dirt roads of those preautomotive days. In the triangular meet with Oriskany Falls and Clayville, I won the half-mile and the mile bicycle races, thus getting two prizes: a standing lamp, considerably the worse for the wear, and an umbrella discarded by a local store as too ancient to be sold. Encouraged by this success I entered in bicycle races at fairs in adjoining counties, and now and then was fortunate enough to win. When I entered Amherst, my reputation as a champion had preceded me, and I trained all through the fall to make the track team in the spring. In February, however, the New England Committee met and abolished the bicycle race as one of the regular events. Once again I had been balked of my athletic ambitions and having met with disappointment, had taken another step in my education.
It seems to me now that we carried normal boyish activities to abnormal lengths. There was a slack period in the winter when, debarred from many outdoor sports, we developed forensic ambitions. I asked some advice from my father, who as a lawyer naturally had practiced public speaking, and then we resurrected some antiquated oil lamps, cleaned and filled them, and begged from the principal permission to use a room in the school basement where we could carry on debates. For weeks I memorized long passages from Daniel Webster and Robert G. Ingersoll and Wendell Phillips, some of which I can still recite, and we carried on discussions with a fervor which astonished our parents. The light from the lamps was dim and the smell from the furnace pipes unaromatic, but our ardor did not wane. Then and there an interest was aroused which has lasted all my life. My biographies of Rufus Choate and Daniel Webster were largely the result of that early passion for oratory.
Not everything was joy during those hard Mohawk Valley winters when the earth was literally "a universe of sky and snow." Usually after Christmas I would pick up an ear infection and come home from school with an earache, spending agonizing hours until the abscess broke and I had relief. Everybody has his vulnerable physical spot, and there could be no doubt that the ears were mine. My mother used a "hop bag" to allay the inflammation; the local doctor, T. Z. Jones, commonly known as T.Z., tried modern methods of shrinking my tonsils and blistering my head to avert mastoiditis, but nothing worked as a preventative. It seemed to me that earache was an ordeal to which I was doomed by the nature of things. The wonder is that I was able to keep up with my classes in school when such long interruptions occurred; but even when I was suffering most I could still read. It was a great comfort.
Of all the older men that I knew, my father excepted, the outstanding figure was Senator Henry J. Coggeshall --- the Coggy of New York State politics, known as the "Tall Sycamore of Oneida County." That section had already produced Roscoe Conkling, Grover Cleveland, and James S. Sherman --- Sunny Jim --- not to mention other minor personages, but no one of these was more richly endowed by the gods than Coggy. More than six feet in height, slender and graceful in bearing, with a melodious voice which had about it a wooing, glamorous quality, he could move men as few speakers I have ever heard. He exuded charm. But Coggy was also easygoing, and in an era when "influence" was very widespread, he did not resist temptation. It was easy for him in those days to secure passes for his constituents on the New York Central Railroad, and I blush to admit that on my trips back and forth from Amherst I usually traveled on a pass signed by Chauncey M. Depew, and thought nothing of it.
Those were the days of torchlight processions and uniformed political clubs, and I well remember marching in a McKinley parade in 1896, when I was only eleven years old, absolutely certain that somebody called Bryan was as dangerous as the Devil himself. My father was a Gold Standard Democrat, who voted in 1896 for Palmer and Buckner, but evidently was not disturbed by my joining the Republicans. In the 1900's, Senator Coggeshall was a candidate for the gubernatorial nomination and was escorted to a special train from the Waterville station by virtually the entire population. But something happened at the Republican convention. His indiscretions may have caught up with him, or his money may have given out. At any rate, his followers came home bitterly disappointed, and he himself was never quite the same again. A little later he was repudiated by his Republican adherents, who gave another aspirant the nomination for state Senator; whereupon Coggeshall, with magnificent audacity, presented himself to the Democratic convention, was nominated, and elected. It is true that some damage was done to the slogan of his earlier days, "'Coggy' never wobbles!" but the Tall Sycamore did not mind that. He was in financial straits, and he wanted to keep on being Senator. For a year or two more he did retain his office. Then came the era of the "muckrakers" and reform movements and investigations, and Coggy's career was over. He was the product of his generation, attractive, tolerant, generous, not unlike Warren G. Harding, who found it impossible to say "No." For me no political candidate can ever have quite his magnetism.
Waterville was no Spoon River or Winesburg, Ohio, permeated by degeneracy and inhabited by frustrated spinsters and unedifying failures. It did, however, have its "crusted characters," its quaint personalities, whom everybody recognized as such; Ben Cady, the fat man, who always seemed kind and jovial but who one day drowned himself in a well back of his house; "Birdie" Mason, who had been jilted by one of the village beaux and after that went around languid and melancholy, like some modern Ophelia; "Toe" Casey, who was said, under our breath, to be a gambler and certainly looked like the romantic hero of Show Boat; Sheriff Filkins, who had years before rounded up the Loomis Gang and who was to me as fascinating as Superman and Joe Palooka have been to my grandchildren.
Of the several local inebriates, viewed always with charity by the more sedate citizens, Frank Thompson was perhaps the most engaging. Through the week he managed to keep relatively sober and to accumulate a small financial surplus, which on Saturday evening he dissipated royally. Close to midnight he would stagger by our house, yodeling his favorite ditty, "Roll on, silver moon!" on his way to a convenient haymow, where he would "sleep it off." He was the authentic originator of a story which I have often told --- and listened to from other after-dinner speakers. We all knew Frank, and both liked and pitied him. One morning my father met him on the street, lent him the dollar for which he asked, and then said in his friendly way, "Frank, why don't you cut out the booze? You're getting to be nothing but a bum, and before long nobody will even speak to you." Then Frank, who was by no means unintelliigent, answered, "Well, Lou, sometimes I do get to feelin' mighty mean, an' my stomach goes back on me, and I decide to swear off. I go for two or three days without touchin' a drop, and then one morning I wake up, and the sky is blue and the birds are singin' and the sun is all bright and warm ---and then, by God, Lou, I rally!"
Poor Frank! He was a lonely soul, and found companionship in the bottle. But Lynn Perkins (this is not his real name) had a wife and attractive children and a comfortable home---yet he couldn't stay sober more than a week. He, too, was a "Saturday night drunk." But on Sunday morning some of the deacons of the Presbyterian Church would call on him, see that he had a bath, dress him in clean linen, and then lead him to the choir, where in a melodiously plaintive tenor he would sing solos: "Nearer, my God, to Thee!"; "Oh, Calvary!"; and "Lead, kindly Light." His features were strangely like those of Edgar Allan Poe, and his temperament was much the same, except that he found relief in singing, not in poetry.
Down the street on the corner lived Reuben Tower, an eccentric bachelor who resembled Mr. Pickwick, with a completely bald head and rimmed spectacles fitted to a rubicund and benevolent countenance. His home was a shapeless structure crowned by a bell tower in which he had installed a set of Westminster chimes striking the quarters and the hour, which could play tunes on festive occasions. His huge living room, with a gigantic fireplace at the end, must have been thirty by twenty feet. He once bought in New York City a magnificent rug for the floor, but it proved to be too long; whereupon, instead of cutting it off, he had an addition designed and built to meet the demands of the rug. Although he had inherited a fortune, he lived a hermit's existence, seldom appearing in public, but once in a while as I was passing he would call me in and give me oranges as big as my head. The tower is today a Masonic Temple ---a use for which it is perfectly adapted---and the bells still ring out, a foreign touch in a Mohawk Valley village. Later at Fiesole I was reminded of Waterville when I heard the tinkling of the bells from Florence in the valley.
In those days Waterville was regarded as something of a summer resort, to which each June would come the "rusticators" from the outside world: Charlemagne Tower, of the resounding name, Ambassador to Austria-Hungary and Russia, and later to Germany, who once when I was home from college invited me to lunch, recounted some of his diplomatic experiences, and said as I left, "Young man, get all the education you can --- it's the most valuable asset any ambitious fellow can have!"; William Cary Sanger, later Assistant Secretary of War under President Theodore Roosevelt and, like Tower, a Harvard graduate; and Earl B. Putnam, of Philadelphia, a very polished gentleman of the Old School, who occasionally invited me to dinner on a hot July or August evening. These and other summer visitors, most of them relatives of the Towers, took us out of our provincialism and made us feel that Waterville was something more than just another Mohawk Valley village. The big houses of the Towers and the Putnams and the Sangers were so massively opulent in appearance that I felt proud to be associated with them. After all, didn't my father do their law work when they were in town?
I did not feel unsophisticated. I had spent two or three weeks each summer in the Adirondacks --- at Cranberry Lake and Fulton Chain and the Adirondack League Club, and knew a good deal about what we called the North Woods. My longest trip away from home had been to the Buffalo Fair in 1901, just before going to college. The adventure was packed with romance and sensation, especially since President McKinley was assassinated there on September 6. I was staying with my family at a house in a Buffalo suburb, and the daughter of the family had, for some reason, a pass which admitted us to all the entertainments on the Midway ---the "Hoochy-koochy," the camel farm, the cyclorama of the Johnston flood, the Scenic Railway in all its primitive and spine-shaking allurement --- and we used to spend our days in sampling what was offered. When our week was over, Bessie Potter and I knew more about the danse du ventre and other even less refined diversions than anybody of our age on the grounds; but as I was only sixteen I regarded them as purely anatomical phenomena. Of the educational features of the fair I was almost entirely ignorant, for Bessie's pass was too seductive, and I was there for fun.
For the "lad I used to be" I have very little admiration, and I am sure that I was a poor example to others. At the other end of the village lived a classmate whom I shall call Ralph West --- a thoroughly good boy, not unlike the omniscient Little Rollo, who walked with his mother to church every Sunday morning, like Little Lord Fauntleroy and "Dearest." How I hated him, especially because my own mother was constantly drawing my attention to his virtues! One day a friend and I caught Ralph unaccompanied behind the high school outhouse. He was neatly dressed, looking quite angelic with his hair nicely parted and his shoes more than adequately shined. By incessant taunts we finally succeeded in getting him to "put up his dukes"; and then, with an occasional jab of assistance from my companion, I massacred the "sissy." The next day my mother had a call from Mrs. West, who described me as a fiend incarnate; and that evening I had a notable session with my father, who had Mr. West for one of his most lucrative clients. I was sore for a week---but it was worth it! The incident illustrates my lack of even a fundamental sense of sportsmanship. Ralph West was smaller than I, and we were two to one against him. The fight was too easy, but I had proved that he was not altogether superior.
In June 1901, I had graduated from Waterville High School, delivering the Valedictory Address in a cutaway coat with striped trousers and winning a prize of twenty-five dollars for my oration. My parents had long before decided to make the financial sacrifices necessary to send me to college. They were tempted, naturally enough, by both Hamilton and Colgate, but I secretly thought them too close to home. Moreover my father's former fellow law student, Frank L. Babbott, had been an Amherst man, as had his friend, Dr. Claude Wilson. The literature from Amherst seemed all right to me, and my high school classmate, Harold Coggeshall --- the son of the Senator --- decided that he would go also. There was little difficulty in securing admission, for we both had studied Greek and Latin, and our records as indicated by Regents' Examinations were good. So it was that in mid-September we took the train for Utica, Harold Coggeshall leading his white bull terrier, Euripides --- Rip for short --- on a chain.
My mother's able mind kept her sentimentality tempered by humor. She did not dare go to the depot with me for fear of breaking down; but as I stepped into the "bus," she kissed me good-by with her eyes brimming with tears, and then said, "Well, Claude, you are homely, but you may do well." It was a peculiar benediction, covering her very deep emotion, and even now it seems entirely characteristic of her thinking.
I was some months from seventeen when I set off for college, and of course very immature. Life in Waterville, however, had been healthful and normal. I knew nothing of phobias or inhibitions or sublimations. During those impressionable years, moreover, some ideas derived from my surroundings had sunk into my consciousness: the importance of self-reliance; the lesson --- learned from my father ---that hard work may be an acceptable substitute for genius; the feeling that discrimination because of race, color, or religion does not fit with our Declaration of Independence; and the conviction, absorbed from my parents and two or three inspiring teachers, that every human being has a moral obligation to become as intelligent as it is possible for him to be. I was blessed with a love of books, which has never left me. Although I was in many respects appallingly ignorant, I behaved at times like a smart aleck or a show-off. At the moment I was aimless, with no goal set for myself beyond the immediate desire to graduate from college. I was undoubtedly irritating and had been refractory. In after years, when I had become a headmaster and had to deal with students who were in trouble because of indiscretions, I remembered what I had been, and tried to deal with them patiently.
More than to any course pursued in high school I am grateful for my typewriter. When I was a lad of ten, my father was about to discard an ancient Smith Premier machine; but I begged him for it, carried it off to my room, and began practicing on it. Soon it had become almost as much a part of my body as my eyeglasses or my hands. Without it I should be hardly able to think, and I now have three: a gorgeous Smith-Corona, the Rolls-Royce of typewriters, presented to me by the faculty when I retired as headmaster; a portable Remington; and what is described as a "noiseless de luxe Corona." One of the two latter goes with me wherever I travel, and I should be lost without it. My handwriting, distorted by the so-called Spencerian system, is almost illegible, even to myself; and ideas transferred to the typed page seem to gain in clarity and logic. I am still a "peck-and-punch" operator, but my expert secretary once confessed that I could go along as fast with two fingers as she could go with ten. Every child should be given a typewriter as he is given a bicycle. The dividends will mount with the years.
My most recent visit to the village was about three years ago. My wife had never visited it, and as a Southerner had an intense curiosity about Central New York; so we motored down from the Au Sable Club, in the Adirondacks, to see "the spots which my infancy knew." The automobile has effected an amazing transformation by bringing the village into touch with the outside world. The tiny house where I was born was still standing on Tower Avenue. The larger residence where I spent my boyhood was still there also, its lawn decorated by an enormous doghouse. My wife constantly exclaimed at the beauty of the symmetrical maples, the broad lawns, and the rolling hills. But to me the memory was of people. Many of them, of course, have gone the way of all flesh, but here and there I met a boyhood crony, who hailed me as "Dutch" and let me understand that, although I had become a schoolmaster, that was no great distinction. My brother now holds the position of leading citizen, as my father had done, and is associated with many good works. My wife now understands, I think, my pride at having been born in the Empire State --- first in wealth, population, manufactures, and commerce. Long ago, of course, I was converted to New Englandism; but however much I may have become like the Late George Apley, deep in my heart is a love for the Mohawk Valley which can never be eradicated.
I AM still many months short of that decisive and dramatic moment when Professor Churchill's recital of "Tintern Abbey" accomplished my conversion. Into a college community which harbored graduates of Andover, Exeter, and other exacting private schools descended two very green and untrained freshmen from the public high school in a tiny Central New York village. In those days students arriving from the West changed trains at Springfield for Northampton, and there again for Amherst. When we stepped off at the Amherst railroad station, with Rip in the lead, we were greeted by pained, discordant cries from waiting sophomores, who clearly did not expect any such figures as we presented. "Fresh" we were dubbed, and "fresh" we were; and we were hazed properly for our presumption. Fortunately within a few days Rip met and engaged the Psi U bulldog in the lobby of the Amherst House, and won a noteworthy victory. By that date Cog and I were pledged to Alpha Delta Phi, and the triumph over the enemy mascot won us prestige on the campus.
In the undergraduate life at Amherst, fraternities played a dominant part. During Rushing Week at the opening of the collegiate year the various chapters competed with one another to entice the more desirable freshmen. Cog and I had agreed that we would accept our bids together, and when several crowds pressed their importunities upon us, we had to retire for consultation. After an all-night conference in our room at Dr. Paige's we yielded to Jim Nelson's solicitations and allowed ourselves to be decorated with the "Alpha Delt" pledge pin. Up to that moment we had been treated by the upperclassmen like visiting royalty. But the minute that button was inserted in our lapels, we became, like other pledgees, the lowest of the low. Our former charm seemed to have vanished, and we were just common, or garden, freshmen. It was time, for the flattery had gone to our heads, and we had begun to think that the college could not get along without us.
What had actually been a casual and rather ignorant choice turned out to be a very good one. Alpha Delta Phi, the oldest of the Amherst fraternities, still maintained the literary and intellectual traditions which were the basis for its reputation. As freshmen, we found ourselves under the guidance of upperclassmen, who took their functions as our monitors very seriously. Seniors, who themselves had undistinguished records, urged us to do well in our studies and to conform to the regulations of the college and the chapter. After the dignified initiation ceremony, we found ourselves going on every Tuesday evening to what was colloquially called "Goat" ---the weekly meeting of the brothers. In the 1900's this was an impressive occasion, when all the members dressed up in dark suits with stiff white collars and went solemnly to the "Goat Room." The under classmen were obliged to participate early in "literary exercises" which were by no means perfunctory, and in which our attempt at essays and debates received an unaffectionate and often ferocious scrutiny. I do not exaggerate when I declare that I profited more by some of these criticisms than I did by many of the comments of my English professors in the college. The memory of the caustic adjectives of "Shorty" Ells (now a distinguished judge in Connecticut) and of "Colonel" Atwood (later the well-known free-lance writer) survives to this day.
Fraternities have been condemned for their alleged snobbery and absurd exclusiveness, and I have done my share of the censuring. But Alpha Delta Phi as I knew it was for me a very real spiritual force. It encouraged discussion, but it also reached deep into the heart, stirring latent loyalties and demanding devotion to its ideals. The members, varied in their backgrounds and sensitivities and ambitions, achieved almost in spite of themselves a kind of unity. They might wrangle over trivialities on their vacations, or even outside on the campus, but within the walls of the house these divergences were subdued, as communicants lower their voices in a church. Somehow it was easy around the wood fire to speculate on the universe, even to voice noble aspirations without being ashamed. It was an indirect method of education, difficult to measure at the moment, but as it turned out lasting far beyond the labored memorizations of the classroom. Even a Philistine yielded to the fascination of the ritual and could be heard mouthing some of the phrases, like a child repeating a psalm that he does not fully understand. Nowadays, in the late afternoon of life, I find myself returning to the familiar scenes in a mood which is supernostalgic. It is belated gratitude for all that I learned without knowing it at the time.
In the lecture rooms, meanwhile, I was confused and groping, too immature to appreciate the fare set before me. From my courses I derived very little during my first two years. Looking at a transcript of my record, I am amazed to note that my grades were all B's and C's, with the exception of German, in which I received a disgraceful D. The Bright Boy from Waterville had turned out to be a dullard. The fact was that I had acquired a new and wrong sense of values. Thrown among classmates with more money than I, who laughed at pluggers and bookworms, I longed to appear like a man of the world and foolishly took as my models more sophisticated campus figures who liked to sit up till dawn playing poker or spend their Saturday nights at Dick Rahar's Inn, in Northampton, drinking more beer than was good for them. It was a harmless form of dissipation, but expensive for a boy on a modest allowance and incompatible with industrious habits.
One manifestation of this change of heart was a desire to be a campus Beau Brummel, and this had amusing consequences. As winter turned to spring, I ordered a tailor-made suit from William K. Staab, of Northampton --- Calvin Coolidge's tailor, even after he entered the White House. The suit arrived in May, in time for the end-of-the-year festivities, and I wore it with satisfaction, even though it was not paid for. Shortly after I returned home in June, my father said to me, "Claude, I wish you would drop in at the office sometime during the day." That afternoon I stopped to see him, wondering what was up and fearful that he would comment adversely on my scholastic record. After some amiable preliminaries, he took up an envelope on his desk and handed it to me. It was, as I could detect at a glance, the excellent Staab's bill for $45. When it is recalled that I had always, like my father, worn ready-made clothes purchased in Utica, the situation can be imagined. "Is the bill all right?" asked my father, without a trace of irritation. "Yes, I guess so," I responded, "it is a good suit." "Of that I have no doubt," continued my father in an even voice, "but how are you going to pay for it?" "Well," said I in a nonchalant tone, "I thought you might make me a present of it." "No," responded my father, rather pensively, "I don't think your record quite justifies that. As a matter of fact, I've made arrangements with Fred Terry for you to begin work to- morrow on his farm. You'll ride three miles on your bicycle, getting there sharp at seven o'clock. You'll have an hour off for your lunch, which your mother will put up for you, and you'll be through at six. You'll be paid $1.25 for the ten-hour day. Maybe before the summer is over you'll have saved enough to settle Mr. Staab's account."
My father's decision, though offered calmly, was obviously final, and the next morning I was off at dawn for the Terry farm. The story of how I toiled pitching hay under the scorching July sun or unloaded from the fork up in the sweltering haymow until the sweat rolled in torrents down my face needs no amplification here, especially for my contemporaries whose boyhood was spent in the country. No forty-hour week for me! I worked exactly fifty-five hours each week, including half of each Saturday, at twelve and a half cents an hour, which gave me precisely $6.87 each Saturday noon, when I was paid off. It needs no Einstein to compute that it took me just about eight weeks to earn enough to pay Mr. Staab. I still had the suit, but at the loss of my summer vacation at Lake Woodhull.
That was a very important step in my education. I was rapidly discovering that not all knowledge was contained in the books which I so much enjoyed reading. I had heard that Cyrus, the Persian king, was taught in his childhood to ride, to shoot, and to speak the truth, which seems to have been sufficient for a monarch in those far-off times. The suit episode showed me the folly of extravagance. It made me realize how hard money was to earn. Furthermore it set my father up for me as a model of tolerance and wisdom. He handled me in my "salad days" exactly right, and I have always been grateful to him.
I wish I could honestly say that this summer experience turned me at once into a model of the Benjamin Franklin virtues. But although I had learned one lesson, I was still a candidate for improvement. As a sophomore I drifted along, never failing a course, and securing A's in German and history, but content with comparative mediocrity. Towards the spring I did show enough interest in public speaking to attract the attention of my instructor; and in the course in Biblical literature under the learned Professor Henry Preserved Smith (known to the undergraduates inevitably as "Pickles"), which I had chosen because it looked easy, I actually won two prizes of ten dollars each - the first for an essay on "The Religious Ideas of Isaiah, 55-59" and the second for "A Comparison of the Theology of Paul and James." It is not true, as some of my friends alleged, that I was the only competitor. The fact was that Professor Smith, a patriarch with a long white beard, had interested me in spite of myself, and I responded with something resembling scholarly ambition. I was discovering for myself the tremendous power of motivation.
The upperclassmen in my fraternity were by this time frankly disgusted with me. I had been heralded before I entered Amherst as a brilliant scholar, likely to win the Porter Admissions Prize and thus to reflect credit on the chapter. Actually I was only superficially clever and badly grounded in the subjects which counted, like Latin and mathematics. Unfortunately also I did not seem to be trying. More than once during my sophomore year a senior would take me aside and chide me for leaving undone the things I ought to have done. When Bob Maynard described me as "footless," he was using just the right adjective.
Matters came to a climax rather unexpectedly. During the winter we were supposed to perform physical exercise in the gymnasium four times a week; but for some reason I had obstinately decided that attendance was not necessary and had accordingly accumulated a rare collection of "cuts." When the spring term examinations were over, Dean Edward Hitchcock, the "Old Doc" of Amherst tradition, summoned me to his office and in his high-pitched voice told me what he thought of my behavior. His language was direct, uncompromising, and emphatic. He said, in substance, that I had ignored the regulations of the college and would not be allowed to return. He then proceeded to add in his kindly manner, that he was greatly disappointed with me. "The trouble with you, Fuess," he declared, "is that you're in with the wrong gang and haven't guts enough to break loose." If he had added that my aims were low, my ambitions vague, and my attitude perverse, he would not have exaggerated.
Back in Waterville that summer I said nothing about this interview, not even to my father, knowing that his heart would be broken. Fortunately no letter arrived from the college, and my marks, although far from distinguished, did not indicate failure. As a demonstration of contrition, I found a job in a canning factory, where I worked during speed-up periods sixteen or eighteen hours a day in the room where peas were steamed. I was earning very high wages but getting more and more bleached out. In early August I came home one night exhausted and was unable to rise from bed the next morning. Dr. T.Z. was called, took my temperature and diagnosed typhoid fever--- in those days a frightful scourge. For the next two weeks I was seriously, even critically, ill, with my mother as my nurse. Once the physician put me into our zinc-lined bathtub filled with ice to lower my temperature and nearly lowered me into my grave. But I did recover, and while I was convalescing, lying in a hammock on the lawn, had plenty of leisure in which to meditate. That meditation was my first significant approach to a stage resembling maturity.
Meanwhile I had received no official communication from "Old Doc" or, indeed, from any one at the college, and my family of course assumed that when I was strong enough I would resume my studies there. Each morning I awaited anxiously the fatal letter, but it never arrived; and at the opening of the fall term of my junior year, very pale and thin, I appeared in the dean's office at Amherst. The kindly old man greeted me as if nothing untoward had happened, and then I explained that I had been ill. "You do look peaked," he said, "You'd better go slow for a while." "But, Dr. Hitchcock," I replied, "you told me I couldn't come back." "Did I? Did I?" he growled. "Let's look at your record." The report, which he had evidently forgotten, was brought to him, and he scanned it, whistling softly through his whiskers. "Pretty bad, pretty bad," I could hear him muttering. Then he looked up at me and asked, "Fuess, did that sickness do you any good?" "Plenty," said I, "I've made up my mind that I'm going to do a better job --- if you'll give me a chance."
So I was allowed to continue at the college, on condition that I make up each of my accumulated gym cuts by bowling in the basement of the gymnasium, at the price of twenty-five cents a string. It was expensive, but the mild exercise was beneficial at that point in my convalescence and I was soon back in excellent health. I did not reform my habits overnight, but from that date my record was almost straight A's, and I was elected to Phi Beta Kappa at the close of my senior year. There is no moral to this tale. The combination of Dr. Hitchcock's forgetfulness and a typhoid fever germ had given me the reprieve that I needed. Not every sinner can count on such good luck.
Of the Amherst which I attended from 1901 to 1905 I have written much. [NOTE: Amherst, the Story of a New England College (1935), and my Joseph B. Eastman, Servant of the People (1951).] It was a period of transition, when many of the distinguished professors of an earlier era were growing old and a brilliant younger group had either not yet appeared or had not reached their prime. The irresponsible President Merrill E. Gates of the 1890's had been followed by the urbane George Harris, who, rather easy-going and inclined to avoid trouble, symbolized the mood of the college. Professor William P. Bigelow, a vigorous critic of his faculty contemporaries, declared unreservedly that under Harris all emphasis on scholarship was lacking and that "any approach to an intellectual life was impossible." This is, in my judgment, too extreme a view. Nevertheless it is unquestionable that social and athletic interests did dominate undergraduate life and that outside activities absorbed the energies of some of the ablest students. Talking glibly of the importance of "all-round men," they made this an excuse for neglecting their courses. Their attitude was to some extent justified by the indifferent instruction in some of the important fields. On the other hand, a vigorous minority, among both faculty and undergraduates, looked upon the current trend with profound and unalterable disapproval.
The great Charles E. Garman, one of the most dynamic teachers of philosophy of his generation, was, when I sat under him, struggling constantly against physical weakness. He was still a mysterious figure in his black frock coat, with coal black hair, deep-set eyes, and gleaming white teeth, speaking with carefully articulated precision as if every word must count. I was affected, I think, more by his legendary reputation than by his living personality. Although, like Joe Eastman, I found myself resisting his efforts to guide us "willy-nilly" into the port of orthodoxy, I could not help admiring him. Towards the end of my course he sent me a little note inviting me to call at his house. It was a sultry afternoon in May, but he sat in his study with a muffler around his sensitive throat. Then and there in measured phrases he commented on my resistance, but also uttered words of commendation which I have never forgotten. I was so much disarmed that I became almost a convert.
Two upperclassmen whom I greatly admired --- although from a lower level --- were Stanley King, who was destined to become one of Amherst's ablest presidents, and Joseph B. Eastman, afterward Interstate Commerce Commissioner and Director of Defense Transportation. Stanley King, even in college, was the brilliant "white-headed boy" whose future seemed assured. Nobody was astonished when he graduated from Amherst in three years and from the Harvard Law School in two, and moved on to his fine record of public service. Eastman was slower in mind, more phlegmatic, and advanced less rapidly towards success. I debated with both of them and profited by the contact with very different but equally stimulating personalities who were throughout their lives intimate friends.
Garman was gone by 1907, and Professor Henry B. Richardson (Richie), a stimulating interpreter of Goethe's Faust, died a year earlier. Esty, in mathematics, and Morse, in history, were to retire in 1906. Not one of these professors was in good health or at his best when I was an undergraduate. Because I did not lean towards science, I missed some of the ablest men on the faculty: Emerson in geology, Harris in chemistry, and Kimball in physics. Fortunate I was to have come into contact with such teachers as John M. Tyler (Tip), in biology, with his radiant red whiskers and his bald skull of unusual shape and dimensions which, according to undergraduate legend, he had sold to a German museum; the urbane and fastidious William L. Cowles (Billie), who made Catullus seem very modern; John F. Genung (Nungie), stout of body and soul, a productive scholar who was a remarkable combination of epicurean and saint; and George D. Olds (Georgie), who lured me for a brief period into the mysterious world of logarithms and graphs.
There was, as in every college, some indifferent instruction, and certain courses were notorious among the undergraduates as "guts" or "soft snaps." It is my impression that it was relatively easy to secure passing marks without much cerebration. But the teachers and the material were there if a student had genuine intellectual interests. When I began to put time on my work, I found no lack of encouragement from the faculty. In most respects the standards were as high as those of other New England colleges of that period. My failures, such as they were, were not due to the professors or to the curriculum, but to myself.
As I entered my junior year, I happened to select by sheer good luck Professor William P. Bigelow (Biggie), in German. He was tough-minded and hard-boiled, contemptuous of idlers, and he discerned in me qualities of which I myself was unaware. The result was that I found myself so eager to win his approbation that I worked as I had never worked before. In the winter he assigned me the leading part in a five-act German play, which claimed all my energies for weeks and indeed brought me to the verge of collapse. The highest compliment he ever paid me was after the performance was all over, when he said quietly, "Fuess, you have never been as big a loafer as you pretended to be!" For me at that moment it was the equivalent of being decorated with the Croix de guerre.
I must also mention John Erskine, who came to Amherst in 1903 fresh from Columbia and gave a delightful course in seventeenth-century poetry, which introduced me to Herrick and Suckling and Carew. In his book, My Life as a Teacher, Erskine commented caustically on President Harris and the Amherst faculty as he knew them. He found the unproductive attitude of many of the professors unbelievable, and he described them as leading "a pleasant but lazy life," spending their evenings playing bridge and making excursions to neighboring taverns for jolly dinner parties. A scholar by temperament and training, he could not understand how or why so many of his colleagues appeared to have lost their ambition.
I am sure that I was much happier during that junior year when I first began dimly to realize the difference between ephemeral and durable satisfactions. I had never been a reprobate, but I had been wasting my father's hard-earned money. Now at last I was on the right track. I took an active interest in the public speaking and debating courses and practiced using my voice walking along country roads. Some modest successes gave me encouragement. But I really think that what cheered me most was my altogether unexpected election in the spring as president of my fraternity for the first half of the next year. There were nine men in my delegation, including Harold Coggeshall, who had become one of the outstanding athletes and, because of his magnetic personality, a leader in the class, and Edwin J. Van Etten, one of our most brilliant students. When I was chosen over these two, my morale received a tremendous boost. I was to profit on a small scale from the education which comes from responsibility.
After a long vacation in the Adirondacks, I came back to the college in a new mood, resolved to set an example for the younger brothers in the fraternity. It was obvious that I could not tell a freshman what to do without showing him the way. One result was that I received straight A's through the year in all my courses --- economics, history, English, philosophy, public speaking, and modern government. I was improving but was still uncertain about my plans for the future. At precisely the right moment, when I was developing high but unchanneled ambitions, along came Professor Churchill to set me right.
George Bosworth Churchill was decidedly a man of parts. I came across him first in his courses in public speaking, in which he showed himself to be an orator of the Websterian school. When he announced his course on the romantic movement, I could not resist enrolling. To those interested in the educational process, the influence which an older personality can under the right .conditions exert on a younger and malleable one is almost terrifying. Churchill, of course, had no idea of what he was doing to me --- that he was literally restoring my soul. Not altogether popular on the campus, he was thought by many to be cold and pompous and egotistical. But his brusque manner veiled a warm and sympathetic heart. In 1904, he was only fifteen years out of college and still under forty, but he seemed much older to a youth of nineteen.
Many years afterwards, when I had become an inveterate though not too skillful dry fly fisherman, I discovered that Churchill had written some delightful fishing yarns, especially a story entitled "Miramichi Days," published in Field and Stream for August 1924. He was also drawn into politics, serving his apprenticeship as moderator of the Amherst Town Meeting and later being elected to the Massachusetts State Senate and as a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention. He was ultimately elected to Congress, but died on July 1, 1925, just before he had taken his seat. A man of wide interests and exceptional ability, he was loyal to his friends and disturbing to his critics. A granite bench on the lawn of the Chi Phi fraternity in Amherst commemorates him suitably, and the inscription does not exaggerate in saying, "His love for Nature, Books, and Life was great." I never go back to Amherst without walking by it and taking off my hat in honor of a very gallant gentleman.
Churchill's literary tastes were comprehensive and his enthusiasm was infectious. He liked Cowper and Byron and Shelley and Keats, but his superlatives were reserved for Wordsworth, and he centered his own theories of Romanticism around that poet's work. When he read from "Tintern Abbey," he was restirring my own love for outdoor life. Without being able to express it, I knew that Nature "never did betray the heart that loved her" and I had already felt that the forests "haunted me like a passion." It is not strange that I was so susceptible to the noble lines when I listened to them from Churchill's lips.
At Christmas, Professor Churchill and I had a conference, in the course of which I rather timidly outlined my hopes. He advised me to enter the Senior Essay Contest on the subject, "Nature in the Poetry of William Wordsworth" ---surely a broad topic! I did my best, but I had had no real training in organization, and the prize of $100 was won by my classmate, Ned Gardner. I found my production the other day in our cellar, its pages yellowed with the years. It is crude, carelessly written, and poorly constructed, but the enthusiasm still glows under the bad grammar and the platitudes. On the back, in Churchill's precise handwriting, is his friendly comment, "The intentions are better than the achievement but don't let that discourage you."
Although Churchill must have been impressed by my boyish hero worship, he was not unreasonably skeptical about my staying powers. "Try a graduate school for a year," he said. "It can't do you any harm, even if you eventually follow the law. And if you do decide to become a teacher, a little more knowledge won't hurt you a bit." It was sound advice, which he implemented by recommending me for a scholarship of $250 at the Columbia University Graduate School, and also urging my father to finance me just a little longer.
It will not be difficult for any one who has read thus far in my confessions to see why my father should hesitate about investing any more of his savings in such a dubious venture. But Professor Churchill was very persuasive. Furthermore at commencement I had enjoyed some minor triumphs, and had won prizes in debating and essay writing. By this date also my younger brother had shown sufficient excitement about the law so that my father could count on him as a future partner and successor. It was, therefore, decided at a family conference that I should pursue my studies further, and under the inspiration which came from Professor Churchill, I was ready to take all knowledge for my province.
Probably I have forgotten, or omitted, many of the incidents which had an influence on my development. Frances Lester Warner, in her book On a New England Campus has described how, in a mood of bravado, I joined with a very charming young lady in starting dancing at Mount Holyoke College; and the curious may read the story in that volume. I recall many drives with three of my classmates in a surrey through the Connecticut Valley countryside, and I remember also my first automobile ride in Sid Bixby's dos-à-dos Locomobile --- a very unreliable means of transportation. There were no long week ends as there are now, and the students, except for some mild dissipation in "Hamp," remained on the campus. Chapel and church were compulsory, but not disagreeable, and there was no agitation for their abolition. For the majority of us those were carefree days, and at luncheon or dinner, indeed wherever we met in groups, somebody would always start a song.
We were not altogether provincial. One day there arrived in the Alpha Delta Phi House the Reverend Frederick J. Bliss, '80, a specialist in oriental archaeology, who was convalescing from a broken leg and wished to settle down for a few weeks in a quiet spot. My roommate, now the Very Reverend Edwin J. Van Etten, Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Boston, invited him to occupy an extra bed with us, and there he stayed for a month. He was a man who had roamed and read widely, and who could talk delightfully about his experiences and ideas. His passion for the moment was George Meredith, and so strong was his influence that I purchased a set of that author in red leather binding on the installment plan and was still paying for it two years after I had left college. I can even now feel the eagerness with which I read for the first time Richard Feverel and The Egoist and Diana of the Crossways, and quoted the brilliant epigrams to "Brother" Bliss as we sat around in the evening before the fire. What Bliss did most for me was to show me the fun which anybody can have from testing his intelligence. The idea is exemplified in the instructional methods of many teachers, from Socrates to Mark Hopkins, and it is fundamental.
During my Amherst days I had four unusual roommates. As a freshman I lived with Harold Coggeshall, my Waterville friend, who made the touchdown which beat Harvard in 1904 and was after that a campus celebrity. Within a few years after his graduation he died of pernicious anemia. The second was Ed Van Etten, whom I have already mentioned. The third was Ernest G. Draper, who after a distinguished career in public service became a member of the Federal Reserve Board in Washington. The fourth was Bruce Barton, the man everybody knows. Some of my education must have come from association with these very different personalities.
We had plenty of guests in the Alpha Delta Phi House. William Butler Yeats came back to us after delivering a lecture in College Hall, and a little group sat up with him literally all night, listening to his comments on literature and life. James K. Hackett, the actor, drove over one Sunday from Northampton and danced for us in his stocking feet. Sir Chentung Liang Cheng, Chinese Ambassador to the United States, appeared one Sunday and amused us by asking politely the cost of everything in our room. All these are memories, vague but very pleasant.
Writing as I do in a time of doubt and despair, when like a doomed race we speak casually of the Decline of the West and the Twilight of the Gods, I find it difficult to recapture the ingenuous optimism of the 1900'S. We really believed that the time would shortly come when the war-drum would throb no longer and the battle flags would be permanently furled. We saw nothing startling in the prophecy of John Addington Symonds:
Nation with nation, land with land,
Unarmed shall live as comrades free;
In every pulse and brain shall throb
The pulse of one fraternity.
It is doubtless a mistake to attempt to generalize too far regarding any period. My class at Amherst contained all sorts and conditions of men, some boisterous and some melancholy, some dynamic and some lethargic. But despite their differences, almost none of us was cynical, skeptical, or frightened. In retrospect that generation seems either simpleminded or blind. It has been called by Henry S. Canby, one of my contemporaries, The Age of Confidence --- and this unquestionably it was. As a group we had ideals and hopes, and expected somehow to fulfill them. We looked forward after graduation to an agreeable job, a moderate amount of happiness, and not too much suffering.
Our mood of buoyancy was neither thoughtless nor stupid. If we were unaware of the disasters which were to follow in the train of Bismarck and Karl Marx, so were our elders and superiors, Josiah Royce and William James, to say nothing of Professor Garman. If we missed the early rumbles of the storms which were to shake civilization, so did nearly everybody around us. There were not even Cassandras who later could cry, "I told you so!" Where was the evidence to make us pessimistic? We could, if we pleased, travel anywhere without passports, and many of us did so. Although the Japanese had just finished defeating the Russians, that was on the other side of the Pacific, and the atmosphere elsewhere seemed peaceful. The United States, fresh and flushed from the comic opera war with Spain, was espousing the New Imperialism, and historians were not lacking to tell us that we were on the verge of an American Elizabethan Era. College graduates like us did not hunt for jobs ---we chose them! If there were economic evils, was not the doughty Teddy Roosevelt out on the rampage against them? If there was crime, was it not being punished? If my education up to 1905 taught me anything, it was that we were marching towards the millennium. As it turned out, we were like people planting their rose gardens over a powder magazine. But we were not conscious of impending perils. It could have been said of us, as of the "little victims" in Gray's "Eton College":
If we were naïve, so was the Amherst faculty. They taught us very little about the world into which we were going. Their science, it is true, was adequate, but our philosophy had been stereotyped, our economics had been shallow, and our history had no bearing on the present. When I left, I knew nothing about the Balkan States or socialism or Thorstein Veblen. Some of the men in my class, like John Morris Clark and Walter Palmer, became fine scholars in their respective fields. But they had little awareness of things to come. Those of us who were graduated in the Class of 1905 have had to learn much through bitter experience.
At the time of graduation and for fifteen years afterwards I felt no especial gratitude to Amherst, but after the First World War I suddenly and inexplicably found myself remembering it again. I had a modest part in the Centennial Drive for $3,000,000 in 1921; I prepared, at the request of President George D. Olds, the Amherst Memorial Volume in 1926; and before long I was returning almost automatically to fraternity initiations and alumni gatherings. I took very keen pride in my first honorary degree, a Doctorate of Letters awarded me by my alma mater in 1929, with the following citation from President Arthur Stanley Pease:
Claude Moore Fuess, for over twenty years a successful teacher of English, editor and writer in your professional field, yet more widely known by your historical writings in which you have traced the part played in the World War by your town, your college, and your state, as well as of the ancient academy which you serve, and most notably the lives of those distinguished Massachusetts jurists, Rufus Choate and Caleb Cushing; careful in research, discreet in judgment, and felicitous in expression, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Trustees of Amherst College, I confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Letters.
In 1935, I published my Amherst, The Story of a New England College, the research for which taught me much about the evolution of educational thought. More recently I have been Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Alumni Council and President of the Society of the Alumni. For two years I was National President of Alpha Delta Phi, and at this writing I am President of the Amherst Corporate Chapter of that fraternity. I mention these things not in a spirit of boastfulness but to indicate how closely I have been identified with the college and its welfare.
Many autobiographers, including Henry Adams, have asserted that they derived very little out of their college experiences. I have none of this feeling. If I missed something, the fault was largely mine, for being too immature and unresponsive to profit by what was offered. But I have long since concluded that I absorbed unconsciously more than I may have indicated. I held no important offices in my class or in the college. I had no athletic successes. Indeed I was a very inconspicuous member of my class. Yet somehow I emerged after four years less provincial, more tolerant, and more eager for enlightenment. Although I knew very little when I was graduated, I had developed a passion for knowledge. My affection for the college, my devotion to it, is more than mere sentimentality, more than just joining in the familiar songs and cheering the teams. For me Amherst is still an important element in my life, and I am proud to be one of her sons. For me, as for Calvin Coolidge, "Amherst's a good college!"