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Introductory note
to A History of Amherst College by William S. Tyler 1830
by Richard S. Storrs 1839

Instances can never cease to be remarkable, if only for their rareness, in which a distinguished teacher, having been associated with one institution of learning for sixty years, is permitted at the end of that prolonged service to write the history of the institution, with the assured accuracy of an eye-witness, yet also with the easy force and vivacity of one still in his youth.  This has been, however, the unusual privilege of the honored scholar and the eminent teacher by whom this admirable history of Amherst College has been prepared.

Having been graduated with honor at the college in 1830, and having served in it as tutor for the two years from 1832 to 1834, he was appointed its Professor of Greek and Latin in 1836 --- the professorship being changed eleven years after into that of the Greek language and literature.  This professorship he held continuously until two years since, when he resigned it to get larger leisure for general studies and literary labors; and one fruit of this recent interval of comparative leisure appears in the completion of this detailed and comprehensive narrative of the inception of the college and of its subsequent development.

The exceptional qualifications of Professor Tyler for this particular work will be instantly recognized by those who know him, and who are themselves in any measure acquainted with that progress of the college which he so affectionately traces.  Himself educated in it, and the second of its graduates to be appointed to the chair of a professor, he has been personally familiar with each stage in its advance, while he has always represented, at least as fully as have any of the men from time to time associated with him, its special moral, literary, and educational tone.  He has borne his large share of the burdens which came with its former years of poverty and weakness.  He has rejoiced in the succeeding prosperities, to which he had himself effectively contributed.  He has lived to see it firmly established among those notable institutions for the higher education which the country cherishes with gladness and honor; and it is fitting that he should now bring to completeness his long, zealous, successful work on its behalf by making this enduring record of what he has seen of it, and of what it has become.  The only special limitation to be feared in his survey is that to which his modesty may constrain him, in preventing him from giving a sufficient account of what he himself has been in the college, and of what it owes to his spirit and his labor.  But many will be able from personal recollections to supply such defects, and they will not honor him the less for any omissions in this direction which they may find.

It was the happy fortune of the writer of this Note to be a member of the sophomore class at Amherst in 1836, when Professor Tyler first came to his chair; and, in common with those who had leadership in the class, he was thenceforth personally conversant with the work of the new teacher until the "Commencement" of 1839.  He felt, as did the others, the strong impulse which was brought by the then young professor not only into the department of classical studies, but into the entire life of the College.  It was an impulse to faithful work, to vigorous thinking, to investigation of subjects quite outside of customary text-books, to direct and energetic forms of expression.  It was an impulse, especially, toward a deepened and an invigorated moral and religious tone, in the classes which successively felt its force.  Some of the sermons then preached by the Professor are still remembered, in outline at least, by those who heard them; and the vital impressions left by them have never faded.  Above all, his keen personal interest in his pupils, his watchfulness over them, the excellent sense and practical wisdom which marked his terse and witty counsels, the manly and commanding frankness with which he exhorted, encouraged, or rebuked, as either was needed, left remembrances not to be effaced or forgotten.

The relation of the faculty to the students in American colleges was at that time more nearly a paternal relation than it has been in late years, or is likely ever again to become.  Possibly this was still more marked at Amherst than commonly elsewhere.  The college community there was never a large one, embracing at most not more than two hundred and fifty students and teachers.  The average age of those entering college was undoubtedly less than at present.  The modern scheme of elective studies was wholly unknown; and the emulation in athletic exercise between classes and colleges, which now fastens such eager attention, was then as much a thing of the future as were telephones or typewriters.  The governing aspiration of leading minds in the college was for success in studies, for enlarged thought-power, for a more facile and vigorous literary skill, and for ease and energy in debate.

The aim of those to whom were committed the various offices of instruction and discipline was therefore largely a moral aim --- not solely, or chiefly, to give particulars of knowledge in science, philosophy, or good letters, but to do this in constant subordination to the virile training of mental power, with the building up of symmetrical and strong character.  As President Stearns indicated, I think, in his inaugural discourse of forty years since, the accepted purpose of the college was to produce the highest manhood among those who came under its tuition; and every teacher was expected, and was inspired, to do his best work for those set under him through personal contact --- not only instructing them on themes and by text-books, but imparting from himself an immediate intellectual and moral vigor.

It is of course not possible to carry on this plan in the larger institutions, where the students are now numbered by thousands, each one being relatively more mature than before; where each is at liberty, within limitations, to select his own lines of study, and of course his own instructors; and where achievements on the ball-ground or on the boat-course are those which stir surpassing enthusiasms.  Perhaps the earlier scheme was too narrow in comparison, and failed to put a just emphasis on important matters.  But it had its own merits, and is still affectionately remembered by those who recall it, even while universities are becoming encyclopedic in character, and have it for their controlling purpose to give information on all sorts of subjects, with only slight occasional relations between the teachers and the taught.  The distinct personal and moral effects of the earlier plan were certainly in some respects more significant than those now contemplated.  Class-fellowship under it became more intimate and more animating than it now can be.  There was a common inspiriting college-life, which affected more or less each one brought within its range; while still the individuality of students was not destroyed or limited --- was only, in fact, cherished and re-enforced --- by this prevailing but unseen force.

It used to be thought, in some quarters, that the only or the chief design at Amherst was to train ministers for Congregational churches; yet in the particular class to which allusion has been made were those who after graduation became Episcopal clergymen, one of whom has been for twenty-five years an honored Bishop in that communion.  Another member of it became a very distinguished Roman Catholic priest and professor of theology, and now has a place of honor and power in the Catholic University at Washington.  The two sons of another, himself becoming a merchant, have since been graduated at Oxford University, and are both at this time members of the British Parliament; while others of the class have been eminent as lawyers, journalists, physicians, medical professors, or in other departments of civil life or educational work.  In the class which was in the senior year while this was in the freshman, such a fitness for various future work was still more strongly marked.  It was small in number, only thirty-eight being graduated in it:  yet of its members two became eminent as judges of the supreme courts in Vermont and in New York; two were speakers of the House of Representatives in Massachusetts, one of them becoming Governor of the State; others were medical authors and professors of high repute, and two were as brilliant and distinguished professors in theological seminaries, at the East and the West, as the half-century has known.  There was certainly no rubbing down of the human material in their time in college to a particular form or color.  On the other hand, whatever was central and characteristic in individual tendency and power was but brought out more fully by the moulding and impenetrating influence which pervaded the institution.

Under this general plan of education, none can anywhere have wrought more patiently, more faithfully, or, on the whole, with more signal success, than did Professor Tyler and those associated with him.  Of the group of those assembled in the faculty at that earlier time, he alone remains to see the college in its present conditions; and it can imply no invidious comparison to speak of his work as representative of that which was truest and best in the work of all.  While careful and critical in the details of scholarship, and by no means unduly tolerant of failure in these, especially when the failure had resulted from indolence or heedless inattention, his principal aim was, as was that of his associates, to make capable, robust, high-principled men, alive to truth, responsive to duty, ready for good work of whatever sort, able to endure hardness as he was himself, with a certain strong passion for usefulness in the world, and not afraid of what men might devise while they were seeking direction from on high.  If a lad of fifteen or sixteen years, finding himself suddenly in strange surroundings, failed to discern the larger opportunities thus opened before him, the professor was prompt and earnest in pointing them out and pressing him to improve them.  The sluggish were stirred, while those of keener aspiration were encouraged and rewarded.  If any one brought a persistently evil force into the community, remonstrance and persuasion, when found ineffectual, were followed by speedy and final removal.  The distinctly incapable, whom neither incitement could urge, nor sarcasm sting, nor special assistances set permanently forward, had leave to retire to other pursuits; while of the most brilliant and promising men punctuality, obedience and diligence were required, as surely as of the dull.  The supervision was quiet and not obstrusive, but it was constant, personal, efficient; and the impulses proceeding from it were inevitably afterward distributed afar --- not only in pulpits, courts, and counting-rooms, or in chairs of instruction in the older States, but along the frontiers, and on remote and dangerous missionary fields.  The effects of such watchful, kindly, and intelligent discipline have been really a nobler memorial to those by whom it then was exercised than would have been any surpassing fineness of scholarship in an elect few whom they had instructed, or any rare and famous achievement in scientific invention or research.

Of the history of the institution, as sketched in this volume by an experienced and an accurate pen, it is of course no part of the office of this Introduction to give even a summary.  But one thing must be noted, in justice alike to the living and the dead.  Almost every American college has had its special heroic period, when means were scanty while aims were high, and when narrowness of resources with meagerness of equipment combined to lay oppressive burdens on the heart and hope of those laboring in it to accomplish great ends.  In the older institutions, such periods came in what is now their distant past.  In those more recent they have come in the experience of men still living, by whom the stress of them is still vividly remembered, one might almost say is still painfully felt.  At Amherst the time of the heaviest burdens was no doubt in the two decades between 1836 and 1856, and it seemed now and then as if the college itself must sink under the strain.  Humanly speaking, only the faith and the steadfast fortitude of those then holding office in it sustained its life, and enabled it to come up from the bogs and out from the shadows with fresh hope and a renovated strength.  The history of those years may be glanced at in this volume; but the reserve of the author has no doubt imposed restraint on his pen, and the full story can hardly be written while he is among us.

There was nothing unnatural in the crisis, severe as it was.  The college had been founded without wealthy patrons, by many people of moderate means subscribing small sums, in the midst of a frugal agricultural district, when its remoteness from centers of population and power was vastly greater than it since has been.  It had been founded especially to furnish education to those not rich in this world's goods, and founded in the impulse of a fervent and expectant evangelical faith, which knew little of what was needed for the complete equipment of a college, but which felt itself to have all the promises on its side, and which took small account of the difficulties that must come --- difficulties only to be augmented by the increasing repute of the institution.  So it was as certain as is the operation of any natural law that times of sore struggle and poverty must be encountered, before it could attain a position of comparative security and ease.  It has not yet reached that, so far as to be beyond the need of the constant aid of its alumni, its friends, and of all who honor it for its work's sake.  But the period of its desperate strait is over.  Its funds and its equipment are not now wholly inadequate to its work.  Its buildings, libraries, collections of art, and general apparatus are not undeserving of respectful regard when matched against those of older institutions.  It has a distinguished and numerous faculty, and the prospect before it was never larger or brighter than at present.  The lovely natural amphitheater in one of whose foci it fortunately stands, between responsive ranges of sentinel hills, and with the unsurpassed western outlook which it always commands, seems to offer the parable and the physical prophecy of its sure foundations, and of the still expanding influence to go forth from it in centuries to come.  As Mr. Webster is reported to have said of Dartmouth College at the close of his great argument on its behalf before the Supreme Court in Washington, in 1818:  "It is a small college, but," as he added, "there are those who love it!"  May their number always increase, and their labor in its service be crowned with ever richer results!

However long the college may continue, however far its influence may reach, and howsoever rich it may become, in accumulating funds, in a generously enlarged physical equipment, in the men who as teachers give it grace and renown, in the fame which shall draw to it students from afar, it may safely be predicted that none will ever have done more to determine its character, to invigorate its life, or to give tone to its widening influence, than did those who were early associated in it as teachers and guides; and it may with equal assurance be added that of all those thus associated none will be remembered with a more affectionate honor than will be given to him who came to the college in his young manhood, who faithfully wrought in it till fulness of years gave him right to retire, and who now becomes, with the assent of all, its most fitting historian.

He has nothing either tragical or splendid to relate in this volume.  His story moves along common levels of life and experience, appealing to the memory in some, but not at all to the general imagination.  The story is set forth with an engaging sincerity, to which any impulse of literary ambition would be utterly foreign.  It does not aspire to attract multitudes of readers, or to take a place among brilliant and famous histories of the time.  Yet an old-time pupil, following attentively its reflective and stimulating pages, remembering the strong personality behind them, and indulging a reminiscent mood, may not be criticised if now and then he catches in his thought a self-repeating echo of ancient words, once familiar, describing that great master of historians whom the author of the narrative before us long ago studied with enthusiasm, and whom he has delighted to help many others fairly to interpret:

"Qui ita creber est rerum frequentia, ut verborum prope numerum sententiarum numero consequatur; ita porro verbis aptus, et pressus, ut nescias, utrum res oratione, an verba sententiis illustrentur."

Richard S. Storrs.

Brooklyn, N. Y., Nov. 27, 1894.

 

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