[Oration delivered at the Webster Special, 1889, by Goo. E. Stoker.]
The present century marks the greatest progress of any epoch of the world. The laborer has been lifted from serfdom, and our increased wealth has raised the poor to comfort. The scientific investigator has been released from the clutch of superstition, and the theologian and professor have been elevated to planes where their wealth of thought accelerates the tread of human progress. Prosperity has increased, and with it has come a flood of improvements which astonish the world with their marvelous results. Advancement is the universal law of humanity. Each generation begins the life struggle from a higher basis, because it has inherited experience. Two thousand years ago the strong in state were the men of physical power. Matters of the greatest moment were settled by the sword upon the battlefield, and the test of supremacy lay in one's power to destroy. War was the occupation of the race, and amid its tumults and carnage men sought glory and gratified their highest ambitious. The world has changed. Out of the darkness of the past we have emerged into the light of better day. The philosopher appears upon the stage, destined to rule the world by thought. This idea of growth by thought develops. Development has brought progression, until to-day the strong in mind are our heroes. The pleaders, the orators, the writers, the intellectual prize-fighters are the great men of our time. Thus we are inclined to boast of our phenomenal growth, yet we always look to the future for the "golden acre." We believe that there are greater victories to be won. We believe that through the coming centuries the wars that are waged by thought upon the intellect will be the means to a higher end for man. This is why humanity looks forward with a delightful charm to the conquests on the great highway of life, and from the elements of which there is no escape if any true citizen to his country wish to live. It is in the present stage of civilized life that the individual grows. It is now that the independent man enjoys his right to life, his liberty of conscience, his freedom from the burdens of cast and privilege, and the cruelty and injustice of despots and kings. Hereditary privilege has been ground to the earth by the march of mind, and in its place has sprung up liberty in thought and expression. Self-government has triumphed, and the sturdy and indomitable race that builded it are untiring in their efforts for future betterment.
It is this spirit of the American people that has given our nation its preëminence above all others. It is this spirit that united our people to put forth one mighty effort that broke the chains which fettered a million slaves, and with one voice proclaimed that every man should have the right to vote, and proved it. It is the same spirit that we see to-day in the demands of the masses The common laboring man with all his power asserts his right to a better recognition. The one great aim and end of his life is to become elevated in his race, and, seeing his employer with better advantages for gaining the same end, creates an inevitable conflict. This is a form by which the great problems of labor and capital take their rise, necessitating trades unions and labor organizations of every type for the protection and advancement of the laborer and artisan, causing strikes and riots and boycotts, and resulting in envy and hate and prejudice detrimental to the welfare, of all. It is a condition in our system that is a danger and a menace to society. But are these problems and difficulties to have a lasting existence? Reasoning from the past we should say, undoubtedly, no! Men of our day "have lived to see the laws repealed that had made outcasts of the noblest, the wisest, and the best;" they may see greater results. The doctrines of the anarchist and the diseases of the nihilist cannot long bear up against the obstacles they meet in this free country. Popular prejudice is against them, and even now we revert with distress to the gross injustices that have followed their course.
Science has done much, in many ways, to obviate these difficulties, and thus bears an important relation to the great industrial affairs of life. It has not been long since science was released from the clutch of superstition, but from that time man has progressed faster and reached greater eminence than at all future periods combined. By the illumination of the torch of science, man is able to make progression, able to become victor over nature. By its aid the once invincible problems of matter are now solved by the simplest arithmetical formula. It arouses by its presentation of ideas, its theories, antagonism with the theologian and the learned professor of the arts. It sets forth the theory of evolution upon a firm and reliable foundation. It has said that the fittest does survive, and with universal facts for reasons shows us how.
Thus how interesting to us becomes the struggle of modern times in thought. It awakens the world by its mighty forces in united action, and bewilders the mind with its marvelous achievments. The champions of the orthodox creed themselves, find ground for great dispute. Out of their sanctuaries have arisen the two theories of the old and the new schools of theology, yet the expounders profess alike to be the followers of the true reformers. They both alike abjure the doctrines of formalism, and adhere to the good of spiritual religion.
All this reveals a story to the human race. We must unite in universal brotherhood to act out the drama that has been prepared for us. Behind us is a vast expanse of human effort and progress, mingled with atrocities and crime and bloodshed, emanating from darkness and gloom. The present with its achievement lies around us, majestic and proud. Before us, reaching out and on into the countless years of an unknown eternity, is the field upon which we are to conquer, or to be conquered by, the antagonists of time. There are fields of conquest for every human being. Responsibility rests upon the shoulders of the people of the present. Through them are to work the problems that will influence their future generations to worthy or ignoble purposes. Let us not be short-sighted to the position we occupy, but profit by the experience of the past. That there are conditions of injustice and depression we are all aware. In spite of our intellectual advance, there are traits and attitudes of conflict and crime, and the many have to suffer for the elevation of the few. But the hand upon the dial points towards a better future, and we are confident that through the never-ceasing efforts of the race, our path of progress will be upward.
AIR - HOME, SWEET HOME.
Home! home! college home.
Our hearts ever yearn for our old college home
'T was here too we found friends reckoned most dear,
Whose hearts to our own have seemed ever since near.
How we walked, how we talked, by moonlight and shade,
As unconscious of time, together we strayed!
Far brighter to us than palace or dome
Are these solid old walls - our loved college home.
But now our old home, as if not the same spot
Is the same in itself, though its inmates are not;
And we feel like strangers 'mid objects well known,
And nothing we see seems to be now our own'
Yet still to our hearts sweet memories will come
Of the days that we passed at our old college home.
Little oval goose-eggs,
Little tens, so rare,
Make a student homesick,
Make him almost swear.
When my winks in vain were wunk,
And my last stray thoughts were thunk,
Who saves me from a shameless flunk?
In filling out the blank pedigree during the examination for admission to the College, when I came to the line "school last attended," not even the excitement naturally attending the youthful granger's first examination could drive from my mind the many circumstances connected with that school. The inquiry was answered by the single word, distinct, but oh! the inadequacy of the word to convey an impression of my alma mater. The institution of learning and kindred sports of which I speak is like our country, on a hill and cannot be hid. I have thought it would be better if it could.
This hill is much like the one on which the battle of Gettysburg was fought. It has its seminary, innumerable little round tops, a peach orchard, and, scattered around among the peach trees, a cemetery. School was always dismissed for funerals, so the pang of losing a dear neighbor was not wholly unalloyed. Our school house stood remote from other buildings, surrounded by boundless stretches of rolling prairie, which offered no obstacle to the observation of its weather-beaten form, its broken siding, its dilapidated chimney and its general aspect of forlornness.
The building was a simple one; no paint, no plaster adorned its walls; no entry or cloak room had ever been built. Each boy brought his hammer and a ten-penny nail and manufactured his own hat-rack. A hitching rail was all the fence our school grounds ever had. It was put up one winter when a lyceum flourished on Gravel Hill. Alas! so prevalent were the answers, "Not prepared," that our little society died of innocuous deseutude, as it were, the hitching rail alone remaining for us boys to jump over and for the worms to feast upon.
There is a romance connected with our old school, and I was one of the romancers. The romancess was a little red headed girl by the name of Lucy, and I was mashed on her. We didn't call it that then, but that was what it amounted to. Well, it's the same old story. We romanced around there for three or four years and then I came to College. I hadn't been here six months till she eloped. What pains me most is that the fellow she eloped with wasn't I.
I well remember the last day I spent at "No. 15." We had a dinner. I graduated that day, although I didn't know it then. When dinner was over and the dishes were cleared away, we had our declamations. Oh! how my heart swelled with enthusiasm as I came to the front with "When freedom from her mountain height." But it was soon all over, and slowly we wended our way homeward across the prairie. I cannot boast of the size of our old school building, of the number of its students, or of the high positions that its graduates fill; but when I think of the many happy times I have there enjoyed, I feel that it shall ever be cherished in my heart and revered in my memory.
Brothers, once more we greet
Our learning's chosen seat -
Old College Hill.
Come sing a joyful song,
With voices deep and strong,
'Till the echo shall prolong
The Choral rill.
From wrestle, toil and strife,
In dusty streets of life,
We hither come.
Here in these calm retreats,
Brother with brother meets,
Our alma mater greets
Her children home.
At her domestic hearth,
That dearest spot on earth,
We take our cheer.
Feeding the holy fire,
That never shall expire,
But blazes purer, higher,
With every year.
It is interesting to notice how the progress of any given student in the College resembles the movements of the hands of a watch. As a member of a certain class, the student moves in an unvarying round of fall term, winter term, spring term, and then back to fall term again; while the class has moved a point, like the hour hand of the watch - the first-years becoming second-years; the second, third; the third, fourth; and the fourth-years, having attained to the required degree of 70, and having exposed their ignorance in a final oration, are ready for the "blind pig."
But, although the class as a collection of individuals may change in a remarkable degree, yet any class, as the representative of a certain year's work is almost exactly the same as its predecessors have been since the College was founded. The fourth-years continue to look down upon The third-years with an air of condescension not entirely unmixed with jealousy, and the latter, in turn, view the sufferings of the second-years with exultant feelings which are total strangers to pity, even when the foremen, in order to keep the pay-roll well within bounds, work what is known as the "instructive racket." The same old ripple of merriment runs over the faces of the audience, when the president, at the beginning of each spring term, announces that the P. M. squads will be formed immediately. Even the task which the farm division is first employed upon seems still to be a bugbear to the P. M. boys, the only change being that the motive power in the wonderful feat of engineering is now a nobby span of horses instead of a pair of bony old mules.
And right here let me remark that in the death of those old mules the farm boys lost one of their best friends and allies. The P. M. squads for twelve years previous to '88 owe them a debt of gratitude which can never be paid. Thumped, hammered and cudgled, they still heroically held to their regulation pace, thus reducing the number of loads of non-commercial fertilizer necessary to be spread, to a minimum. They were poor and old, and possessed but few of the attributes of beauty, as we ordinarily understand the term, but as one of our assistants once said after riding one of them to water, they had plenty of backbone, and would not be bulldozed into more work than comported with their sense of dignity.
The same old jokes that were perpetrated upon the members of the faculty five or ten years ago, still do duty, although somewhat the worse for wear. For instance, that advertisement of patent hair renewer has lost the part which warrants it to grow hair on a billiard ball in thirty days, and it is confidently hoped that in the course of time the ad. will disappear altogether, and in consequence, people will be allowed to wear their cranial covering in any fashion they may see fit.
The brilliancy of their showing, however, is slightly dimmed by the manifest retrogression in other directions. For instance, in former years, when, after one of our tirades against the present text-book in Ag. Chem., we were asked to name a substitute, we were ever ready to suggest Webster's Unabridged, or Fairchild's Moral Philosophy, while the present third-year class have not as yet sufficiently recovered from the effects of its perusal to more than murmur, "Anything, Lord!"
I am beginning to fear that this article will hardly pass for reminiscences, from the fact that it contains so little that is suggestive of bygone days. However, I am consoled by the thought that it will be a little out of the ordinary line of reminiscences. In fact, I feel like the boy who was observed intently at work with pen and ink, and who, on being questioned as to what he was doing, replied, "I'm writing a comedy. I've got to the last act, and I'm killing off the characters."
"Killing off the characters, Willie! Why, they don't do that in real comedies at the theaters, my son."
"I know it, papa. That's where my play is just going to knock the socks off of most the plays you see in the theaters." P. S. C.
The prep stood by the class room door,
Whence all but him had fled;
Examination day had come
To aching heart and head.
Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
With manly form and pose;
An honest look upon his face,
A "pony" in his clothes.
We are often told how we may be as "fresh as daisies" on Monday mornings, but there are lots of blooming first-years who are fresh as daisies all the time. Won't someone now please tell us how to curb their freshness?
Oh, gracious muse, lend me thy art,
That I may fling a fiery dart,
At those whom preps and fourth-years shun,
They're called the class of ninety-one.
'Twas in the fall of eighty-seven,
There entered here two hundred eleven
First-years, that were as grassy green
As any afore or since were seen.
But when one year had rolled around,
Their praises loud they did resound;
And many a bright and boastful
Soph Thought himself wiser than a Prof.
Hard they worked at Algebra,
To make Prof. Lantz look wise and say
Of all the classes 'neath the sun,
The brightest is the present one."
At length, when P. M. days are nigh,
They all hard with each other vie,
The irksome task to barely shirk
And still get ten cents for their work.
Another summer now is passed,
When, 'round the College gathers fast
Freshmen, Sophomores, Seniors too,
But worst of all, the third-year crew.
Just one more glance before we pass:
Suppose it is the Ag. Chem. class.
We see Prof. Failyer scowling black
At the note that's passed behind his back.
Loud and deep then doth he roar,
"Never a junior class before,
In all the years of my long reign,
Have been so destitute of brain."
Another year, and now we see
This same old crew convulsed with glee;
For soon their college days are o'er,
With lessons they'll be bored no more,
Tom & Carolyn Ward