Home > Amherst > History > A History of Amherst College (1894) > Table of Contents >
Chapter 7
from A History of Amherst College by William S. Tyler 1830

Presidency of Dr. Hitchcock --- The Faculty Manage the Finances --- First Foundations for Professorships --- New Buildings --- Restored Prosperity --- Dr. Hitchcock's Character.

[Edward Hitchcock.]The presidency of Dr. Hitchcock opened with auspicious omens.  The donation of Hon. David Sears, made the previous year (1844), was now just beginning to manifest its benignant influence, and, being the first large gift by an individual donor for the purpose of an endowment, gave promise of other donations for like purposes.  On the very day of the new president's inauguration, Hon. Samuel Williston of Easthampton, by a donation of twenty thousand dollars, founded the Williston professorship of rhetoric and oratory.  The plan for preventing any further increase of the debt which was formed before the retirement of President Humphrey, but was conditioned on the election of Dr. Hitchcock to the presidency, having received the sanction of the trustees and the written assent and co-operation of all the professors, went into effect at the commencement of the new administration.  According to this plan, the income of the college, administered and appropriated by the permanent officers themselves with all the wisdom and economy of which they were masters, after deducting all the necessary current expenses, was divided among them as their salary and means of support.  This, while it ensured economy and inspired courage at home, enlisted sympathy and restored confidence abroad; and a series of measures followed which, during the less than ten years of Dr. Hitchcock's presidency, extinguished the debt, added an astronomical observatory, a library, and two cabinets of natural history to the public buildings, secured the permanent endowment of four professorships, together with valuable books and immense scientific collections, and doubled the number of undergraduates.

These remarkable results, however, were not to be reached at once, nor without a previous season of trial and struggle, of disappointment and discouragement.  The immediate increase of numbers which was anticipated from a change of administration was not realized.  On the contrary, the year 1845-46, which was the first collegiate year of the new presidency, opened with the same number of freshmen as the previous year, and with an aggregate of one hundred and eighteen students instead of one hundred and twenty-one.  In 1846-47, the aggregate was only one hundred and twenty, and there was an increase of only one in the freshman class.  Meanwhile there was no further addition to the funds, and the president was receiving for his salary at the rate of five hundred and fifty dollars, and each professor at the rate of four hundred and forty dollars a year.  One at least of the trustees (one of the wisest and most honored, though not the most hopeful and courageous) was still doubtful whether it would not be wiser to turn the college into an academy (for a good academy was better than a poor college); and what was still more discouraging and even alarming, some of the most influential students were so doubtful of the perpetuity of the institution that nothing but the personal solicitation of the president induced them to stay and graduate.  No wonder if, under such circumstances, the president and professors were sometimes desponding, and the very lights sometimes seemed to burn blue at our faculty meetings!

We now resume the general history of the college.

Being in Cambridge at the inauguration of President Everett in January, 1846, Dr. Hitchcock improved the opportunity to call on Mr. Sears, in the hope of inducing him to erect a building for scientific purposes, which was greatly needed.  But he met with so little encouragement that he told Hon. Josiah B. Woods of Enfield, with whom he fell in on his return, that he had made up his mind to two things:  1. To go back to Amherst and labor on for the college, as long as he could keep soul and body together; and 2. Never to ask anybody for another dollar!  Mr. Woods told him that he was quite too much disheartened, and that he thought he could raise the whole or a part of the money needed for the erection of such a building.  Thus did hope and relief spring from the very bosom of despair; for this was the beginning of the effort which resulted in the rearing on "Meeting-house Hill" of the [Woods Cabinet and Observatory.]Woods Cabinet and Lawrence Observatory.  And the scientific reputation of Dr. Hitchcock, together with his self-sacrificing labors, and the self-denial of his colleagues, was the very fulcrum and standing place (the pou sto of Archimedes) by means of which Mr. Woods raised the money.  He went to Hon. Abbott Lawrence, and other men of like character and standing in Boston and Lowell, and told them it was a shame for such a man as Dr. Hitchcock, who stood at the very head of American savants, to toil and starve in Amherst.  They were at first inclined to doubt whether Mr. Woods had not overrated Dr. Hitchcock's rank and reputation among men of science.  But he quoted the authority of Mr. Lyell, whom he had heard say that the doctor knew more of geology and could tell it better than any other man he had met on this side of the Atlantic.  "If you still doubt it, however," said Mr. Woods, "I will bring him down here, and you shall see for yourselves."  It was with great difficulty that Dr. Hitchcock was induced to show himself under such circumstances.  But he went down; these gentlemen saw him, and were charmed alike by his wisdom and his modesty.  Hon. Abbott Lawrence subscribed one thousand dollars; the balance of the money was soon forthcoming; and by the removal of prejudice and the enlightening of the public mind in influential circles in and around Boston, the way was prepared for obtaining a grant from the Legislature.

Meanwhile, however, the president in his despondency and almost despair had discovered another and still richer mine.  He gives the following account of it himself in his valedictory address:

"In the discouraging circumstances in which I was then placed, I came to the conclusion that I must resign my place.  Yet I felt apprehension that in the condition of our funds no one worthy the place would feel justified in assuming it.  I therefore determined to make an effort to get a professorship endowed.  And where was it more natural for me to look than to one who only a short time before had cheered us by the endowment of a professorship?

"It had become so common a remark among the officers of Amherst College, that if any respectable friend should give us fifty thousand dollars, we should attach his name to it, that I felt sure it would be done; and I recollected, too, the last words of Professor Fiske when he left us:  'Amherst College will be relieved; Mr. Williston, I think, will give it fifty thousand dollars, and you will put his name upon it.'  I felt justified, therefore, in saying to him, that if his circumstances would allow him to come to our aid in this exigency by founding another professorship, I did not doubt this result was to follow.  He gave me to understand that in his will a professorship was already endowed, and that he would make it available at once, if greatly needed.  Nay, be offered to endow the half of another professorship, provided some one else would add the other half.  But as to attaching his name to the college, he felt unwilling that I should attempt to fulfill that promise, certainly during his life.

"The half professorship thus offered was soon made a whole one by Samuel A. Hitchcock, Esq., of Brimfield.  And, oh! what a load did these benefactions take from my mind!  For several years, each returning commencement had seemed to me more like a funeral than a joyful anniversary, for I saw not how the downward progress of the college was to be arrested.  But now, with the addition of thirty thousand dollars to our funds, I began to hope that we might be saved.  But the kindness of Providence had other developments in store for us.

"These events occurred in the winter of 1846, while the Legislature of Massachusetts was in session.  We had often appealed to them unsuccessfully for help; and I feared that, when the generous benefactions of individuals should be made public, we should seek in vain in that quarter for the aid which should in justice be given us.  I therefore requested permission of the trustees, by letter, to make one more application to the government.  They allowed me to do it, and the result was a donation from the state of twenty-five thousand dollars.  The passage of the resolve met with less opposition than on former occasions.  Perhaps the following incident, communicated to me by a member of the Legislature, may appear to the Christian to be connected with this fact:

"The bill for aiding Amherst College came up on Saturday, and met with strong and able opposition, so that its friends trembled for its fate.  On Saturday evening, a few members of the Legislature were in the habit of meeting for prayer.  That evening the bill for aiding the college formed the burden of conversation and of supplication, and each one agreed to make it the subject of private prayer on the Sabbath.  Monday came, the bill was read; but to the amazement of these praying men, opposition had almost disappeared, and with a few remarks it was passed.  How could they, how can we, avoid the conviction that prayer was the grand agency that smoothed the troubled waters, and gave the college the victory, after so many years of bitter opposition and defeat?"

It is hardly necessary to add, what Dr. Hitchcock believed as fully and insisted on as strenuously as any of us, that prayer, in this case, was accompanied by exertion, and faith by works; and "by work faith was made perfect."  In proof of this, we have only to notice the rare, and not accidental, number of distinguished graduates and other friends of the college who were at that time members of the Legislature.  Hon. Wiliam B. Calhoun was president of the Senate.  Among the senators, most of whom were friendly, it is not invidious to name Jonathan C. Perkins, an alumnus, and Joseph Avery, one of the founders and trustees of Mount Holyoke Seminary, as especial friends.  In running the eye over a list of the members of the House of Representatives, we notice the names of Henry Edwards of Boston, Otis P. Lord of Salem, Alexander H. Bullock of Worcester, John Leland of Amherst, John Clary of Conway, Henry Morris of Springfield, and Ensign H. Kellogg of Pittsfield.  Mr. Woods, who watched the bill pretty closely, said that to no one in the Senate was the college more indebted than to Hon. C. B. Rising, one of the senators from Hampshire County, who, when it was proposed unceremoniously to reject the petition, rose and spoke manfully and ably in defense of the institution.

In 1847, Hon. David Sears also made an addition, large, liberal, and unique, to the Sears Foundation of Literature and Benevolence.  By what considerations he was influenced may be seen from his letter, which was read at the dedication of the Woods Cabinet and the celebration which was connected with it:  "While the benefactors of the college are thus honored," says he, "the faculty of the college should come in for their share of gratitude.  I have been a silent, but not inattentive observer of them.  I have been informed of their devotion to their literary labors, of their self-denials, of their voluntary surrender of a part of their moderate salaries, reserving only enough for a bare subsistence, to relieve the college in its necessity.  Such disinterested zeal stands out brightly, and merits an honorable record."

While money was thus flowing in from individual donors and from the treasury of the state, Professor Adams presented to the college his great zoölogical collection, and Professor Shepard offered to deposit his splendid cabinet as soon as a fireproof building could be erected suitable to receive it.

"See now," says Dr. Hitchcock as he reviews this period in his Reminiscences, "see how altered was the condition of the college!  More than one hundred thousand dollars had flowed in upon it in endowments and buildings in a little more than two years, as follows:

Williston Professorship of Rhetoric and Oratory,$20,000
Graves Professorship of the Greek Language and Literature,20,000
Hitchcock Professorship of Natural Theology and Geology,22,000
Donation from the State,25,000
Sears Foundation,12,000
The Woods Cabinet and Observatory,9,000

"Along with the pecuniary aid there came also a rich profusion of specimens, either presented or on deposit, whose value is poorly expressed in money.  If only half their present value, we must add from thirty-five to forty thousand dollars to the above sum.  Was it enthusiasm in me to speak of the change as follows:  'Our debts were cancelled and available funds enough left to enable us to go on with economy from year to year and with increased means of instruction.  The incubus that had so long rested upon us was removed; the cord that had well-nigh throttled us was cut asunder, and the depletion of our life-blood was arrested.  Those only who have passed through such a season of discouragement and weakness can realize with what gratitude to God and our benefactors we went on with our work.'

"The great additions to our fund, made in the latter part of 1846 and the first part of 1847, were not made public till after a special meeting of the trustees, which took place July 6, 1847.  This was the most delightful trustee meeting I had ever attended.  Those venerable men, Drs. Fiske, Packard, Vaill, Ely, Ide, William B. Calhoun, and John Tappan, George Grennell, Alfred Foster, Samuel Williston, Linus Child, David Mack, Ebenezer Alden, and Henry Edwards, whom Dr. Humphrey and myself had so often met with a discouraging story of debt and an empty treasury, were now for the first time to be told of God's wonderful goodness in turning our captivity and answering their long-continued and earnest prayers.  They were to have a little respite, before they died, from the incessant demands upon their beneficence and labors with which they had ever been met.  It was a matter of high gratification to see how happy they were in their subsequent visits to Amherst, to see how everything was altered for the better as the fruit of their long toil, and sacrifice, and prayers."

The chief business of this meeting of the trustees was the appropriation of the newly received grants and donations, and the naming of the new buildings and professorships.  The first appropriation was for the payment of the debt, then amounting to twelve thousand four hundred and sixty-five dollars, for this was the sore and heavy burden, and Mr. Sears had wisely made it a condition of his donations that the college must pay its debts before it could receive the full benefit of his foundation.  The debt was paid partly from the funds of the college and partly from the grant of the state.  The remainder of the twenty-five thousand dollars granted by the state was appropriated to the endowment of the Massachusetts professorship of chemistry and natural history.  The term bills were reduced from forty-eight to forty-two dollars a year, and it was voted to remit the full amount of the regular term bills to indigent students preparing for the Christian ministry.  The new cabinet received the name of Hon. Josiah B. Woods, and the observatory that of Hon. Abbott Lawrence.  The professorship of natural theology and geology, endowed by Hon. Samuel Williston and Samuel A. Hitchcock, Esq., was named from the latter; the professorship of Greek and Hebrew, endowed by Mr. Williston, was named the Graves Professorship, with a double reference to the maiden name of Mrs. Williston and to Colonel Graves, one of the founders; and a new professorship of Latin and French, temporarily endowed, was called the Moore Professorship, in honor of the first president.  Arrangements were made for making up in full the deficient salaries of the president and professors, and the sum of twelve hundred dollars was appropriated for repairs and placing blinds upon the college edifices.

No man ever knew better than Dr. Hitchcock how to make the most of any success in the way of public impressions.  The placing of blinds upon the windows of the dormitory buildings was a stroke of policy for impression on the students, equal to Napoleon's gilding the dome of the Invalides for dazzling the eyes of the Parisians, although under very different circumstances.  Not less suited to please students was his policy of making to them the first formal and public announcement of all these donations and the action of the trustees.  The scene is thus described in the Reminiscences:  "The meeting closed in the afternoon, and as the students were yet ignorant of the whole matter in which I knew they felt a deep interest, I took the opportunity at evening prayers to read the votes, and I shall never forget the scene that followed.  At first they did not seem to comprehend the matter, and they gave no demonstration of their feelings, especially as two of the trustees were present.  But as the successive announcements came out, they could not restrain their feelings and began to clap, and by the time the last vote was read, the clapping was tremendous, and when they were dismissed and had reached the outer door of the chapel, they stopped and the cheering was long and loud."

At the annual meeting of the trustees in August, 1847, they appointed "a Committee to consider in what manner we should testify our gratitude to God and our benefactors, in view of recent favors to the college."  They reported that, "at such time as the president and professors shall regard as suitable, a public meeting be held in Amherst, with an invitation to the friends and benefactors of the college to be present, and that Hon. William B. Calhoun be requested to deliver an address on the occasion."  The meeting was deferred till June 28, 1848, in order to connect with it the dedication of the new cabinet and observatory, which would not be finished and filled with specimens at an earlier date.  The occasion was one of deep interest.  The president's address of welcome was in the same strain of wonder and gratitude to God and our benefactors which we have seen in the foregoing pages.  Mr. Calhoun in his address of commemoration and dedication said:  "The waning fortunes of this institution have for years brought to our hearts gloom, despondency, almost despair.  Heaven again beams upon us with blessings.  To Heaven let us not cease to offer the incense of thanksgiving.  We render our thankfulness and gratitude to all our benefactors.  We leave behind us the night of gloom through which we have passed.  We receive the college into the fellowship of new and animated hopes.  The massive structures upon which are inscribed the names of the generous donors, rising up in the midst of this landscape, these hills and valleys of unsurpassed grandeur and beauty, are now dedicated to the cause of science and truth.  Long, ever may they stand thus dedicated.  Here may science remain tributary to virtue, freedom, religion.  Here may there be inscribed on all these walls and in every heart, Christo et Ecclesioe."

In response to the call and remarks of President Hitchcock, brief addresses were made by Governor Armstrong, Mr. Woods, Mr. Williston, Professor Silliman, Professor Shepard, Professor Redfield, and President Wheeler, and letters were read from exPresident Humphrey, Prof. B. B.  Edwards, Mr. Sears, Mr. Lawrence, Mr. Gerard Hallock, and others.  It was a day of great rejoicing, and in the name of all who participated in this festival of joy and gratitude, in the name especially of the generous donors whose benefactions were thus celebrated, and whose names are inscribed upon those walls and tablets, the writer of this history here enters his public protest against any hasty or needless removal of these buildings.  Dedicated to science and religion, and inscribed with the names of the generous donors, we can not but say with the distinguished orator of the day, "Long, ever may they stand, thus dedicated, and thus inscribed."

At the dedication of the observatory, Presiderit Hitchcock remarked:  "We should be very faithless and ungrateful to doubt that the same Providence which has done so much for us the past year will send us a fitting telescope if it is best for us to have one, and send it, too, just at the right time."  In his valedictory address he was able to say:  "This prediction, through the liberality of Hon. Rufus Bullock, has been fulfilled, and a noble telescope has just been placed in yonder dome, which, through the great skill and indefatigable industry of Alvan Clark, Esq., who has constructed it, is one of the finest instruments of its size that ever graced an observatory.  In the hands of Mr. Clark it has already introduced to the astronomic world two new double stars never before recognized---one of which is probably binary."

After the first three years of his administration, having already succeeded beyond his most sanguine hopes in relieving the college from debt, and established it on a solid pecuniary foundation, while at the same time he saw it increasing in numbers, and enjoying a literary and religious prosperity corresponding with its financial condition, President Hitchcock might well have said, "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace."  He now began to press upon the trustees a wish to retire from the presidency.  But instead of listening to his suggestion, they pressed him to recuperate his health and spirits by a tour in Europe, and in the spring of 1850 he and Mrs. Hitchcock reluctantly set out on their journey.  He travelled through Great Britain, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and a portion of Germany; explored the geology of those countries, examined the agricultural schools, in the discharge of a commission unexpectedly received from the government of Massachusetts; visited and studied the scientific collections, the galleries, and museums; observed with equal interest the natural features and the moral and religious aspects of the countries; attended the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Edinburgh, and the Peace Congress at Frankfort-on-the-Main, and returned home, "having been absent one hundred and fifty-eight days, and travelled ten thousand six hundred and forty-seven miles" (these details are characteristic), and having expended for himself and wife less than two hundred dollars over and above what be received from the government and from individuals with whom he travelled, or fell in, and who insisted on defraying portions of his expenses.  On reaching Amherst, he was received at the entrance of the town by the students, who gave him an enthusiastic welcome, and in the evening expressed their joy by an illumination of the college buildings.

Encouraged by the Sears foundation, a portion of whose income was restricted to the purchase of books, by a liberal donation from George Merriam, Esq., of Springfield, and by an informal meeting of a few friends of the college in Salem (Judges Perkins and Huntington, and Richard P. Waters, Esq.), Professor Edwards brought the subject before the trustees at their annual meeting in 1850, and they authorized an immediate effort to procure means for erecting a library, and increasing the number of books.  Professor Edwards was chairman of the committee on whom this duty was devolved.  The work of raising the money was commenced by Professor Tyler, who started a subscription (where subscriptions in behalf of the college have most frequently taken their start) in the town of Amherst.  Three thousand dollars were raised on the spot before any effort was made elsewhere.  Another thousand was raised in the vicinity, chiefly in the neighboring churches.  Mr. Merriam had already given his pledge of fifteen hundred dollars.  Mr. Williston, who, in this as in all the other efforts in behalf of the college, was the largest benefactor, stood ready with a donation of three thousand dollars.  But the larger and more difficult part of the work was done by Mr. George B. Jewett, who, when he commenced it, was a teacher of a private school in Salem, but soon after was made professor of Latin and modern languages.  Among the largest subscriptions out of Amherst were those of David Sears and Jonathan Phillips of Boston.  When the sum of fifteen thousand dollars was procured, ten thousand was devoted to the building, and the remainder to the purchase of books.  The building was planned by the same architect as the cabinet and observatory (Mr. Sykes).  It was begun in 1852, and finished in 1853.  Professor Edwards, alas, did not live to see it completed.  His friend, Professor Park, had the melancholy satisfaction of delivering an address at the dedication.  The erection of this building, which now contains only the reading room, the committee room, and the working rooms of the present library, introduced a new era in the architecture on the college hill.  Hitherto brick had been the sole material.  The library, according to the suggestion of Professor Edwards, was of stone, thus inaugurating what might be called the age of granite.  And it was scarcely less a new epoch in regard to the new books that were placed on the shelves, and the new facilities which were now afforded for reading and study.

At a special meeting of the trustees at Amherst, October 11, 1852, they established a scientific department, designed to meet the wants of graduates who wish to pursue particular branches of science and literature beyond the regular four years' course, and of other young men who desire to study some subjects without joining the regular classes.  This department grew naturally out of the rich and extensive cabinets and the valuable laboratory which the college possessed, together with the rare cluster of scientific professors gathered here under the auspices and guidance of a scientific president.  As adopted by the corporation and published in the catalogue for 1852-53, the department comprised nine branches, which were to be taught chiefly by the regular professors of the ordinary college course (although two or three other gentlemen resident in the town were called in to supplement deficiencies), as follows:  1. Geology by the President; 2. Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and Engineering by Professor Snell; 3. Chemistry by Professor Clark; 4. Agriculture by Rev. J. A. Nash; 5. Mineralogy by Professor Shepard; 6. Zoölogy by Professor Adams; 7. Botany, without any special professor; 8.  Psychology and History of Philosophy by Professor Haven; 9.  Philology by Professors Tyler and Jewett, and English Literature by Professor Warner.  The department was to be entirely independent of the regular college course, but students were to be allowed to attend any of the regular courses of lectures.

The plan went into operation in January, 1853.  In 1853-54, there were twelve scientific students; in 1854-55, there were seventeen; in 1855-56, there were none reported, and in 1857-58, the plan drops out of the catalogue.  In the triennial, only seven men are recorded as having so completed the course as to receive the degree of bachelor of science.

This experiment differed from that of the "parallel course" twenty years previous in that the scientific department was entirely independent of the regular College course, instead of being parallel and incorporated with it, and, not professing to be an equivalent for it, did not confer the same academic degree.  But it came to nearly the same issue, and that partly, if not chiefly, for the same reasons.  The work of instruction was devolved almost entirely on the professors in the regular course, who already had as many duties and responsibilities on their hands as they could faithfully and successfully discharge.  More money and more men were requisite to make it a success, and even with these the older institutions in or near the large cities have the advantage over Amherst in regard to purely scientific, as also in regard to professional, education.  The practical lesson of these experiments seems to be, let Amherst adhere to her original and proper work, the educational work of a New England Christian college.

At the annual meeting of the trustees in August, 1853, President Hitchcock offered to make a donation to the college of his collection of fossil foot-marks, valued by Professor Shepard at thirty-five hundred dollars, on condition that the friends of the college would raise five or six hundred dollars for the increase of the collection, and the trustees would make the necessary arrangements for the permanent exhibition of it in the geological cabinet.  Before the offer was made, the first condition had already been met through the agency of Dr. Hitchcock himself.  Of course the trustees were not slow to comply with the second condition, and thus the Doctor's private ichnological cabinet became the property of the college, just as his mineralogical and geological cabinets had been given to the college, fifteen years previously, on very similar conditions.  These cabinets are now of inestimable value, especially the ichnological, which is, perhaps, the choicest and richest of the kind in the world, and so, besides attracting thousands of ordinary visitors every year, has made Amherst a kind of Mecca to geologists and savants of all nations.  It would have been easy, and perhaps perfectly right, for Dr. Hitchcock to have kept it in his own hands, increasing it constantly by purchase and exchange and leaving it as his private property.  But that was not his way.  It was characteristic of him rather to give it to the college, without imposing any other conditions, except such as would make it more valuable and useful.

At the same time Mr. Edward Hitchcock, Jr., presented to the college his collection of Indian relics, the fruit of half a dozen years' industry, and then consisting of seven hundred and twenty-one specimens, stipulating only that the collection should be placed in suitable cases, and should never be merged with any other collection.  Thus was the foundation laid for the Gilbert Museum of Indian Relics.

At a special meeting of the trustees at Amherst, November 21, 1853, Professor Aaron Warner resigned the professorship of rhetoric and oratory, and Rev. Thomas P. Field, then pastor of a Presbyterian church in Troy, N. Y., was elected to fill the vacancy.  Three days after this meeting of the corporation, President Hitchcock addressed a letter "to the Hon. Nathan Appleton and other executors of the will of the late Hon. Samuel Appleton," rehearsing the donation and growth of the zoölogical collections of Professor Adams, describing the history and value of his own collection of fossil foot-mnarks, which he further enforced by the testimonies of Dr. Gould and Professor Agassiz, explaining the inconvenience, the utter inadequacy, and also the insecurity of the rooms in which these collections were now deposited, and modestly inquiring whether the erection of a suitable building to receive and protect them all would not come within the scope of the liberal bequest of two hundred thousand dollars which Mr. Appleton left for the purposes of literature, science, and benevolence.  For an entire year Dr. Hitchcock received no answer to this letter, and he had relinquished all hope that it would meet with any response.

Meanwhile his health and spirits, somewhat recruited by his foreign tour, had relapsed to such a degree that be felt he could no longer endure the burden of the presidency, and must insist on being relieved.  With this view he summoned a special meeting of the trustees in Boston on the 11th of July, 1854, and there resigned his office into their hands, assigning as his only reason "the inadequacy of his health to sustain the labors, especially those pertaining to the government of the institution."  It was voted "that the resignation of President Hitchcock be accepted, to take effect when a successor can be appointed, and that his services be retained in the professorship of natural theology and geology."  At the annual meeting of the board, August 7, 1854, Rev. William A. Stearns was chosen president and professor of moral philosophy and Christian theology.  On Tuesday evening, November 21, 1854, Dr. Stearns was installed pastor of the college church by an ecclesiastical council of which Rev. Dr. Vaill was the moderator, and Rev. Dr. Blagden scribe.  The sermon was preached by Rev. Dr. Leavitt of Providence.  Dr. Hitchcock gave the charge to the pastor.  The right hand of fellowship was presented by Rev. Mr. Paine of Holden, and an address made to the college by Rev. Dr. J. S. Clark of Boston.  On Wednesday, November 22d, the inaugural services were held in the village church.  After singing by the college choir and prayer by Rev. Dr. Clark, an historical address was delivered by the retiring president, including the ceremony of giving the college seal, charter, etc., as an act of induction to his successor, and closing with the announcement of a donation of ten thousand dollars to the college from the trustees of the late Samuel Appleton, for the erection of a cabinet of natural history.  Dr. Hitchcock had relinquished all hope of such a donation.  He had written his farewell address in this state of mind.  After describing the rich zoölogical collections of Professor Adams with the testimonies of Professor Agassiz and Dr. Gould to their unequalled scientific value, he had written:  "Yet this fine collection is spread into three apartments and is imminently exposed to fire.  To secure a new building to receive it, with the still more exposed collection of fossil foot-marks, has long been with me an object of strong desire and effort; and it is among the deepest of my regrets, on leaving the presidency, that it remains unaccomplished."

"Thus had I written," he continues in the address as he delivered it, "thus had I written only a few days ago, and thus had I expected to leave this subject to-day.  But a kind Providence has ordered otherwise.  Last evening a letter was received, announcing the gratifying intelligence that the trustees under the will of the late Hon. Samuel Appleton of Boston had appropriated, only ten days ago, ten thousand dollars of the sum left by him for scientific and benevolent purposes to the erection of another cabinet---the Appleton Zoölogical Cabinet---by the side of the Woods cabinet on yonder hill."  Thus he, who in his experiments in the chemical laboratory was always expecting to fail, but never did fail, was now successful beyond his most sanguine expectations, for as usual he had asked for the smallest sum that could possibly answer the purpose, and he received nearly twice as much as he asked; and the close of his administration was marked, like its beginning, by donations that surprised himself scarcely less than they delighted the friends of the institution.

Dr. Hitchcock's address was followed by a few beautiful and appropriate remarks from Col. A. H. Bullock of Worcester, communicating the doings of the trustees in reference to the aforesaid donation.  Mr. Bullock's remarks on the reception of this gift were received with universal and hearty applause.  Two or three degrees were conferred by the retiring president, among others one on Alvan Clark, Esq., of Cambridge, maker of the magnificent telescope recently presented to the college by Rufus Bullock, Esq., of Royalston, Mass.  After a few minutes' recess, a Latin oration of a congratulatory character was delivered, according to appointment, by Hasket Derby, a member of the senior class.  The closing exercise was the inaugural address by the new president.

If Dr. Humphrey was our Moses, the giver of our laws and institutions, Dr. Hitchcock was our Joshua, who led us into the promised land, conquered our enemies by making them friends, and gave us secure and permanent possession of houses that we did not build, vineyards and olive-yards that we planted not.  It is not difficult to discern the distinctive features of this portion of our history.  It was in many respects a new era, and that in no small measure the result of a new policy.  It was the end---forever, let us hope---of living beyond our means and running in debt.  Dr. Hitchcock had seen and suffered the effects of that process---some of the most impressive pages in his "Reminiscences" are those in which he describes the Sisyphean labor which it imposed, and the fatal consequences to which it led; and he adopted at the outset the rule to which he rigidly adhered, and which be earnestly recommended to all public institutions, to erect no buildings and make no improvements until the funds were actually obtained.

It was the end of general subscriptions to meet current expenses.  It was the beginning of endowments by large donations from individuals.  It was the beginning of grants by the state.  It was the age of growth and expansion in cabinets, collections, and materials for the illustration of the physical sciences.  Our archæological museums also owe their origin to this administration.  At the same time---and this fact deserves the attention of those who may have supposed that Dr. Hitchcock was a one-sided president, and gave the institution growth and impulse only in one direction---it was the period in which the library building was erected, and new books were placed on the shelves of such a kind, and to such an extent, as to make it almost a new library.

Last, not least, it inaugurated the reign of comparative peace.  From the commencement of Dr. Hitchcock's presidency, there was less of hostility abroad than there had ever been before, and more than for many years previous of peace, quietness, contentment, and satisfaction at home.  This was partly the result of a change of time and circumstances, and partly of a more paternal, perhaps we might say fraternal, administration suited to the times.  While he was true and faithful to the faculty and government under his predecessor, and bore with the spirit of a martyr the opprobrium and harm of measures and methods of discipline which he did not approve, it was no secret that he preferred a more conciliatory policy.  During his own presidency, the majority of the faculty were often inclined to a more rigid discipline.  And the trustees were unanimously of the opinion that, if the administration could be improved in any particular, it was by greater firmness and strictness in the enforcement of the laws.  Yet President Hitchcock continued to the last to believe in and rely on moral suasion, and personal, social, and Christian influence, as the sceptre of his power.  Perhaps he had no more faith than his colleagues in the good sense, right disposition, and honorable purpose of the students, or in the goodness of human nature generally, for he was a firm believer in the doctrine of total depravity.  But he certainly had less faith in the efficacy of the rod, either in family or college government.  He could give as many reasons as Plutarch for "delay in the punishment of the wicked," and not the least among these was that therein he imitated the patience and forbearance of the Deity.

He magnified the civilizing and refining influence of the family upon students.  He did not believe in the dormitory system.  If he had been called to establish a new institution, he would have had no dormitories.  Having dormitories in Amherst College, he did all he could to counterbalance their evil influence.  To this end, as well as for the increase of personal acquaintance and influence, he introduced the custom of inviting the freshmen, soon after entering college, to meet the families of the faculty and others from the village, at his own house; and although the sophomores sometimes surprised and grieved the good man by improving the opportunity to enter their rooms and turn them topsy-turvy, and perhaps pile up their beds in his own front yard, yet he never gave up his faith in the "freshman levee," or in the influence of cultivated Christian families in town over college students.  In accordance with this same general idea, the senior levee, which under the presidency of Dr. Humphrey was only a collation at the president's house at noon, immediately after the close of the senior examination, was at once changed by Dr. Hitchcock into a social party in the evening.

The Professors and tutors who were associated with Dr. Hitchcock in the government and instruction were, for the most part, one with him in aim and spirit---some added much to the lustre of his presidency; and were he to write the history of his own administration, be would ascribe a large share of its success to their hearty and able co-operation.  Aaron Warner, Nathan W. Fiske, Ebenezer S. Snell, Charles U. Shepard, William S. Tyler, Charles B. Adams, Henry B. Smith, William A. Peabody, Joseph Haven, George B. Jewett, William S. Clark, and Thomas P. Field, make up the entire list of the professors who at different times composed his faculty.  The list of the tutors comprises Rowland Ayres, David Torrey, Lewis Green, Marshall Henshaw, Francis A. March, Albert Tolman, Leonard Humphrey, William Howland, Henry L. Edwards, William C. Dickinson, John M. Emerson, Samuel Fiske, George Howland, and John E. Sanford---with Lyman Coleman, Jabez B. Lyman, instructors; William B. Calhoun, James L. Merrick, and John A. Nash, nominally lecturers or instructors, and Lucius M. Boltwood, librarian.

Three of these professors died, still in office, during the presidency of Dr. Hitchcock.  One of them was the ripe scholar and veteran professor who, almost at the beginning of that presidency, went up from the city where our Lord was crucified to walk the streets of the New Jerusalem.  Professor Fiske was an accurate and refined scholar, a deep thinker and clever reasoner, a powerful preacher, a patient and thorough teacher, an acute metaphysician, and a profound theologian, whom God did, and man did not, make a doctor of divinity.  He was not a popular preacher.  But no man has ever preached to the reason, the conscience, and the hearts of students in Amherst College with such overwhelming power as Professor Fiske, especially in times of deep religious interest.  Another who seemed born for a collector and classifier of all facts in natural history, the youthful Aristotle of our lyceum, went to the West Indies partly for his health, but chiefly to enlarge his scientific collections, and there fell a sacrifice to his zeal for science when he had only just commenced his career of discovery, though he had already achieved more for his favorite studies than many a savant accomplishes in a long life.

A third, scholarly and refined, full of hope and promise, had just entered his professorship, and just begun to inspire his class with his own enthusiasm for the language and literature of the old Romans, when he was suddenly stricken down by the destroyer.

The value of Dr. Hitchcock's presidency to the institution can not be overestimated.  His weight of character and his wise policy saved the college.  Having accomplished the object for which he accepted the office, he resigned the command with far greater satisfaction than he took it, and fell back again into the ranks---rose again, let us rather say, for so be viewed it, to those unclouded heights of science and religion on which he had before delighted to stand, but which now appeared to him more beautiful than ever as be looked back upon the region of clouds and storm through which he had passed.  At the request of the trustees he retained the professorship of natural theology and geology.  According to his own proposal, he received only half the usual salary of a professor.  He held this professorship almost the same length of time as he had occupied the presidential chair, between nine and ten years.  For some years he lectured on his favorite themes with his characteristic ardor bordering on enthusiasm.  He delivered lectures before lyceums and addresses on public occasions.  He revised his principal works and published new ones.  The second edition of his "Religion of Geology," considerably enlarged, was issued in 1859; the thirty-first edition of his "Elementary Geology," re-written, appeared in 1860, and the third edition of the "Phenomena of the Seasons," with additions, in 1861.  In 1859, the faculty and students presented him with a beautiful service of silver plate, which gratified him much as an expression of the gratitude and affection of those whom he had so tenderly loved and so faithfully served.  The same year he was brought to the borders of the grave.  Physicians and friends despaired of his life.  If he had died then, the world would have said, it was a completed life.  But not so heavenly wisdom.  Before Heaven could say to him, "Servant of God, well done," he must live on through five more years of suffering, years of dying they almost seemed to him, still writing and publishing, still, like the aged Athenian sage, learning many things, still interpreting nature and studying his own frame so fearfully and wonderfully made, still lecturing to his classes even after he was too feeble to go to them and therefore invited them to come to him, still making large and choice collections for his cabinets, still caring and planning for his beloved college, still toiling to enlarge the boundaries of science, still watching with jealousy his own heart, the spiritual condition of the college, and the interests of evangelical religion, all the while battling heroically with death and "him that has the power of death," and nobly illustrating the triumph of mind over matter, of faith and philosophy over all the powers of darkness even in the last extremity.  All his life-time he had been more or less subject to bondage through constitutional depression and fear of death.  But he died leaning his head on the Cross of Christ almost visibly present by his side, and wondering at the riches of redeeming and sustaining grace.  At the time of his death, which was on the 27th of February, 1864, he had not quite reached the age of seventy-one.  On the 2d of March, a great congregation, consisting of the faculty and students, trustees and alumni of the college, scientific men and clergymen from every part of the state, together with great numbers of people of all classes from Amberst and the neighboring towns, assembled in the village church to attend his funeral and thence followed the body to its last resting-place in the cemetery.  The spot is now marked by a plain granite obelisk bearing, together with the dates of his birth and death, this simple and truthful inscription:


But his best and most enduring monument is in his work in the college which he restored, and in the influence which he exerted upon the church and the world by his tongue and his pen, and through the life and character of his three or four thousand pupils.  Nor can the history of Mount Holyoke Seminary, any more than that of Amherst College, be written without large reference to Dr. Hitchcock, of whose family Miss Lyon was a member when she was laying broad and deep her plans for founding it, and whose tongue and pen were among the chief organs for communicating those plans to the public.  These two institutions will perpetuate his name and his influence so long as they faithfully represent that idea---science and religion---which was the motto of his life.


Next chapter...

Back to the table of contents of A History of Amherst College...

Page last updated: 16 August 1999
©1998-2000, Richard J. Yanco