The next stage of life is passed within the walls of Columbia College, where our student entered the Sophomore class in the fall of 1834. About the same time the entire family moved from Brooklyn to New York--except the fond mother, who had been called to go up higher.
College association begets congenial companionship. One of the intimate mates was John Jay, one year in advance of John I. Tucker, the former graduating in 1836. In later times John Jay became famous as lawyer and statesman, Minister to Austria, and Chairman of a Civil Service Reform Committee. A quartet of young men in New York were linked together in the bonds of especial friendship and in constant companionship. Two of these were Jay and Tucker, the others, Arthur C. Coxe--as his name appears upon an early Seminary catalogue--afterward the honored Bishop of Western New York, and John Henry Hobart, son of the former Bishop of New York. The members of this informal club were happy when they met together, severally or collectively. After their dispersal a diligent correspondence was carried on for a longer period than that devoted by most young-men friends to the service of the post office.
The class of 1837 graduated twenty-three in number. Samuel Blatchford was at the head, gold medallist by virtue of "general excellence." Later he rose from one judicial position to another, until he became Justice of the United States Supreme Court. John I. Tucker was among the elect; he was a double bronze medallist, receiving the two awards in special departments.
In an old scrap book, loaned for the purpose, I discover an undated cutting referring to the ceremonies of Commencement for the year. It will be worth while to see how they did these things sixty years ago; accordingly I venture to transcribe a portion of the article:
For the New York Daily Express.
By invitation of a friend, I attended the annual Commencement of this institution. St. John's Chapel was crowded with the youth and beauty of the city, and everything was as favorable as the most ardent wish of the young men who were to receive the honors of the day could have made it.
I was particularly struck with the dignity and urbanity of the President, whom I had never seen before. He appeared to me to be a model of what an instructor of young gentlemen should be--able both to command respect, and to win confidence and affection. The prayer, at the opening of the exercises, was beautifully appropriate.
The literary exercises of the day were generally creditable to the young gentlemen who performed them, and to the College. The Greek Salutatory Poem, by Samuel Blatchford, was very beautifully and forcibly pronounced, so much so, that although I could scarcely make out the sense of a single line, I should not have been weary of it had it been twice as long as it was. The Latin Salutatory, by Charles Aldis, was also very well spoken, though it did not sound quite so musical to my ear as the other. The English Salutatory, by Nathaniel W. Chittenden, was a good performance, but not so well pronounced as it might have been. Indeed, I felt during the performance, that the gentleman was not doing himself justice. He made too much effort, which led him often to an incorrect emphasis and an unfortunate intonation of voice. His subject was "The Influence of Woman upon the Destinies of a People," and to his credit be it said, he had the good sense--while elevating woman to her appropriate sphere in society, to steer clear of fulsome adulation and unmeaning flattery. The oration on "The Poetry of Life in Modern Times," by Henry B. Fessenden, was excellent both in composition and delivery. The whole was highly poetical, and his contrast between the ancient and modern "Poetry of Life "particularly beautiful. ..." The Limit of Civilization," by John I. Tucker, was very fine, one of the best performances of the day, both for sentiment and style of composition.
The Valedictory, by John Vanderbilt, Jr., scarcely equalled my expectations. By itself it would have been very creditable, but as the choice performance of so good a class, it did not appear so well. The farewell to his classmates was too cold and hortatory. An occasion which should have called for the expression of every kind and warm sentiment of the heart, was improved only as an opportunity of giving sound and wholesome advice to his classmates, whom he addressed as "gentlemen."
The music did not please me. It was a perfect chaos of sounds. It might have displayed great skill and science, but it did not touch the heart, neither did it well befit the sacred character of the place. If they would have the thing done as it should be, I would commend them to the Boston Brass Band.
According to the principles of internal evidence it may be determined that the critical writer of the article was a woman. She had an ear for music, for she liked the oratorical flow of the Greek verses, despite the fact, as she modestly phrases it, that she "could scarcely make out the sense of a single line."
Readers nowadays will be surprised to learn that the commencement exercises were held in a Church building belonging to the corporation of Trinity. From another article, printed soon after, it will appear that the occupancy of the Church was apparently unprecedented; it will be seen also that the music--at which offence was taken--found advocates in its behalf. An epistolary contribution is published in the Evening Star:
MESSRS. EDITORS:--Having observed no notice in your valuable journal of the late Commencement of Columbia College, and thinking that some remarks thereon may be as interesting to some of your readers, as they are due to the reputation and intrinsic merits of an Alma Mater, which has reared her head above all difficulties and discouragements among the prouder seminaries of our land, allow me, though it be with a feeble hand, to dwell for a few minutes on its late celebration. Some such notice appears to be the more needed as in one respect at least, unmerited censure has been passed upon it by many of your contemporaries. I refer to the music. It has been said that "a poor and meagre band "supplied the place of the "rich and powerful organ "of St. John's Chapel. Be it known to the good citizens, in extenuation of this, that it was with the greatest difficulty that the chapel could be procured at all for the exercises of the day; and that when procured, it was only given one short week previous to the anniversary, and even then with an ill grace unbecoming the grantor. Of course it was out of the question to suppose that an effective choir could be engaged and rich music prepared in the space of one week; and as the Church was again and again refused by the Bishop of the Diocese early in the month of August, the senior class were forced to turn their attention to other sources than the sacred music of the Church. Let the blame then, if any blame there be, fall upon those who refused the use of the Church until it was too late to engage music appropriate to the place.
But again, when before was the rich music of Gambati's trumpet called "poor?" When before were the "Remembrances of Mozart," the "Overture to the Messiah," "Yon Weber's Last Waltz," and similar strains, as performed by a large and skilful band, censured as being "meagre and weak?" Surely some strange infatuation has taken hold of our New York critics. The music, for intrinsic beauty and execution, was rarely so effective as at the late Commencement.
Besides, an organ sounds very poorly unless accompanied by a powerful choir. To engage one which would do honor to the occasion would insure an additional expense of near 250 dollars, while the very finest instrumental music would not cost more than 100 dollars. This is some object when it is remembered that the expenses of Commencement are not less than $600, as we know by former experience, exclusive of the dinner of the senior class--all which expense is borne by the graduating class, with the pitiful exception of $140, which sum is presented by the College. Let them not censure, then, the seniors for inappropriate music, at least until the College increase their donation and pay their moiety of the expense.
Let us glance for a moment at a subject more pleasing--the literary exercises of the day. They were such as to do full credit to the untarnished fame of old Columbia. The example so nobly set forth to the other universities of our country, we believe for the first time, by the graduating class of 1836, in exhibiting their classical attainments by a Greek and Latin poem, was worthily followed up on Tuesday last, reflecting no less honor on Messrs. Addis and Blatchford, than exhibiting in a marked light, the abilities and attention of without doubt the greatest classical scholar of our country, Prof. Charles Anthon. Her classical advantages have always been the boast of Columbia College, and fully have they been realized.
Among the pieces exhibited were many that struck us as peculiarly beautiful both in thought and expression. . . .
An oration on "The Limit of Civilization." was happily conceived, beautifully written and feelingly delivered by Mr. John I. Tucker. We like to see young men carried away by the enthusiasm of their subjects. It shows that their hearts are not rendered callous to all noble excitement by contact with the world. Well may their Alma Mater be proud of her sons, if all she yearly sends forth from her venerable portals, advance upon the stage of life, with the talent and the feelings that were displayed on Tuesday. . . .
No reason has old Columbia to hang her head at her late anniversary. Long may her fame and the abilities of her graduates attract the attention of the fair, the venerable and the great. Long may she be honored and revered as the Alma Mater of names distinguished alike in the walks of private and public life--at the bar, in the pulpit--in the senate house.
Long may she remain the pride of our city, unsurpassed in the various departments of literature, unequalled for the reputation and abilities of its Faculty, and for its opportunities of a classical education.
It seems only rightful that the topic of music should be discussed in connection with the Commencement at which John I. Tucker was graduated.
As to the two opinions about the performance: "H "shows by his reference to the "rich music of Gambati's trumpet "that he was yet in a certain preliminary stage of musical development akin to that of parishes or concert audiences wherein the cornet is accounted the choicest instrument for solo use. So it was once with reference to the trumpet. Time was when the latter was called for on all occasions where music had high place. The hearers of stalwart nerve waived the objectionable blare, and considered themselves fortunate possessors and encouragers of lofty art. On the other hand, the independent thinker who writes the first article had nerves of her own, and so called for the Boston Brass Band itself.
Having graduated with credit, our young man begins to take a place in society, to make his mark in the social world, remembered to this day.
At the same time the attention is directed to topics higher and more serious. On the 23rd of September, 1838, his grandmother writes:
I believe my grandfather, John Ayscough, was the first Missionary that was sent out to this country after Quebec was taken by the English; after that he was Dean of Bristol. ... I see at times that his prayers were heard, at the throne of grace, in my behalf, and that I now receive a blessing from; I know of no other that ever put up a prayer for me. I hope my dear Son, your mind is fixed for the ministry. God intends you for it. You have my prayers for you. They may be heard when I am laid in the dust. May you, like me, look back and say--"My grandmother's prayer is heard in my behalf," as my dear old father's was for me. My father was a surgeon of the British service; was stationed on Governor's Island. He died in the year 1761. My uncle, Capt. James Ayscough, in the time of the revolutionary war, had command of the ship "Swan"; in an attempt to land on Long Island, he lost his leg. He retired; had a fine family. His son is now in the British navy. He had a daughter by the name of Harriet, about the age of your mother.
Your affectionate grandmother
So good "Saint Ann" patron of the Brooklyn parish, makes her petition. It is well known that the mother also had hopes that her boy would enter the ministry. One of the pet names chosen by her to designate him will show the constant wish of her heart.
It will appear, however, that the young man had not yet made up his mind. Doubts must intervene, uncertainties about his vocation. There was to be a balancing of many questions before a decision could be reached.
The father said, "Let the boy go out and see the world. Let him judge for himself and then decide."
With brief delay the parental prescription was carried out with a completeness unusual in human experience, whether of earlier or later times. Even now, when Americans are on the move continually, when a considerable fraction of them cross the great water every spring or summer, it is not customary to undertake a tour so grand that it shall occupy two years in the doing.
Preparations were in progress. It was agreed that young Samuel B. Whitlock, a college classmate, should be a travelling companion, but the father wished that some older head should be in the party, to act as adviser of the little company. Dr. Seabury and others were approached with the inquiry whether one or another would care to undertake the trip. Among the rest Dr. Muhlenberg was asked. His reply is at hand:
MY DEAR JOHN:
From my continued connection with the Institute--which probably you have noticed in the papers--I fear you and our friend Whitlock have inferred that my going to Europe has been all a jest. Such, however, is not the case. I scarcely hoped at any time to sail this fall; and my renewed superintendence of the Institute (in which I have engaged rather than allow the school to be disbanded, to the disappointment of a number who calculated on its continuance until the opening of the College) will last no longer than the spring, when I hope to be able to realize the pleasure so long desired of seeing the old world. This, however, will still depend upon the contingency of my success in regard to the erection of the College. I expect to see the building resumed early in the spring, so that it may be continued and finished in my absence. In this I may be disappointed, and my voyage again be postponed--for I could not leave the country until things were in train for the completion of the College. Too much time would be lost if that were to be begun after my return from Europe. I am in great hopes of being" able to get off in the spring, but I cannot speak with any more certainty. I have thought it proper to state the case to you, in order that if you are in earnest in wishing to accompany me, you may calculate accordingly. If you meet with an earlier or more certain opportunity, I would advise yon to take it; but you must not misunderstand me in saying this, to imply that I should not regret the loss of your company--on that point yon need have no doubt. If you are satisfied with my company, I certainly shall be with yours; but the former, I suspect, requires a little more consideration than you have given it. Two gay young fellows going to see the world, under the conduct of a parson, are not likely to have all the enjoyment they anticipate. Not, of course, that I would expect you to restrict yourselves in the way of amusements, etc., to what I might think proper for myself: but still, I fear that we might differ sometimes on questions of propriety. But of this we can talk more, when we meet, should you still think of waiting my uncertain movements.
Remember me kindly to Sam, and believe me Sincerely, with much affection, yours
WM. AUGUSTUS MUHLENBERG.
Sept. 4, 1837. I expect to reach Flushing by Wednesday next.
The revered instructor and friend was sorely disappointed. He had to abandon all thought of travel on account of the death of his only and beloved brother, who had become his coworker at Flushing. Dr. Muhlenberg had to wait six years before he could find realization of his hope to visit Europe, and then he went abroad only for a brief summer holiday.
The Tucker contingent intermitted not their preparations. No co-traveller, who would at the same time fill the place of director, could be found. At last said the father: "Let these two boys go by themselves; if they are not now old enough to take care of themselves they never will be." So it was determined.
While the plans were making, the attention of the future voyagers was directed to the possible benefits and satisfaction to be derived from the keeping of a daily journal. To Mr. Tucker a connection writes at length upon the topic, giving explicit suggestion. One part of his letter runs thus: "Keep a journal of everything you see and hear. Let this be done every day. Do not postpone it from day to day with the hope of posting up at the end of the week. If you do so, the interest and much of the benefit to be derived from it will be lost. The advantages of keeping a journal are so great that I would urge you particularly to attend to it. It will improve your habit of observation."
The date of the letter, April 31, 1838, will help to fix the time of the commencement of the grand tour as presumably in the spring of that year. Then began the long-continued wanderings over the continent of Europe, including the less frequented pathways in the Holy Land, in Egypt, and wherever there was something to be learned. Mr. Tucker made a temporary residence in Paris, and again in Italy, that he might study the languages of the respective countries under competent instructors. In the former capital he paid attention to the cultivation of the voice, under the tutelage of Lablache. So impressed was the instructor with the ability of the pupil that he urged the young man to prepare for the operatic stage.
The suggestions about a journal were remembered and reduced to practice. By way of witness we find two fragments, portions of journals of travel, among the manuscript papers now preserved. Would that there were more!