IN THE FALL of 1866, at the age of eighteen, Mahlon Gilbert entered Hobart College. It was a great event in his life, one to which he had long looked forward with intense hope.
The journey of over one hundred miles was then made by stage north to Utica, and thence westward by the New York Central Railway, the road branching off after a time to the south. Of the series of long, narrow lakes, which give such distinction to central New York, one of the largest is Seneca. It extends north and south over thirty miles, the greatest width being about three miles. At the north end, the lake is two miles broad and at the northwest "corner" lies "the fair village of Geneva" (now an incorporated city), the seat of Hobart College. The original college grounds included only "the village lot on which stands Geneva Hall," but now the college owns over fifteen acres, on the west rising toward "The Ridge," and on the east sloping down, with fair prospect, to the lake.
The college which Mahlon's parents had chosen was naturally one under the care of their own Church. It was not a large institution, but it was one with a broad outlook and high standard, and had already educated a large number of able and distinguished men. Of its foundation, a recent graduate, a Presbyterian clergyman, has given a sympathetic and impartial narrative:
Hobart College was the joint product of a theological seminary and a village academy, united in a true chemical compound in which the characteristics of both elements were lost in a totally new creation. The agent which brought about this singular, if not unique, combination was a dash of rare genius on the part of a small group of men providentially at hand. Educational beginnings at Geneva are lost in the "backward abysm" of time, but within thirteen years of the close of the Revolutionary War, a public Academy had been established in the new community on the shore of Seneca Lake. In 1813 this institution was incorporated under the Eegents of the State of New York, and among those who are named as contributors to the Academy are found eight who formed [twelve years later] a part of the original Board of Trustees for Geneva College. . . .
Two qualities exhibited by the founders strike one as being remarkable. These two things are: 1, Their religious catholicity; 2, the breadth and originality of their educational policy. The college was founded under ecclesiastical auspices and its sponsors were zealous Churchmen. Yet nothing could be broader or more catholic than the spirit in which its purposes and regulations were adopted.
The "theological seminary" which was combined with Geneva Academy to form Geneva College, was originally a foundation in connection with Fairfield Academy. The transfer from Fairfield to Geneva was planned by Bishop Hobart, and in time the College came to bear his name. Its first class was graduated in 1826. [Among the noted Alumni are: "Father Gear," pioneer Episcopal Missionary of Minnesota; Senator Doolittle of Wisconsin; Hon. Charles James Folger; Bp. Neeley of Maine; Bp. Paret of Maryland; Bp. Welles of Wisconsin; Bp. Wotthington of Nebraska; Bp. Brewer of Montana; Bp. Graves of Kearney; Bp. Wells ol Spokane; Bp. Mann of North Dakota; Bp. Hale of Springfield; Bp. Graves of Shanghai; Dr. Wm. Watts Folwell, President of the University of Minnesota; Rev. Dr. Geo. Williamson Smith, President of Trinity College; Rev. Dr. Charles A. Poole, of Seabury Divinity School; Rev. Dr. Max L. Kellner, of the Cambridge Theological School; Rev. Dr. Alexander Mann, Rector of Trinity Church, Boston. Among the notable non-graduates are: Gov. Horatio Seymour; Dr. Andrew D. White, President of Cornell University; Rev. Dr. Austin Phelps, and the Rev. Dr. Wm. C. Winslow. Many other names of high distinction could be added.]
When Mahlon entered Hobart, the Rev. Dr. Abner Jackson was President, and Professor of Christian Evidences. He was a man of marked ability, and soon after became President of Trinity College, Hartford. Other members of the faculty were: Rev. Dr. William Dexter Wilson (Philosophy and History); Rev. Dr. Kendrick Metcalf (Latin and Rhetoric); John Towler, M.D. (Modern Languages, Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and Chemistry--a Master of Arts of St. John's College, Cambridge, England, he was evidently qualified to teach anything); Albert Sproull Wheeler (Greek); Rev. Dr. Francis Thayer Kussell (Rhetoric and Elocution); Rev. Dr. Pelham Williams, Chaplain.
There still stand side by side, on the broad main street, three substantial stone buildings which belong to Bishop Gilbert's time: Geneva Hall, erected in 1822; Trinity Hall, in 1837, and St. John's Chapel, of Early English style, completed in 1863. Some other buildings were then in use which time and fire have since destroyed. One was the venerable structure known variously as "Polydromous," "Jan's House," or the "Old Gym." Another was the "Middle Building," used for library, offices, and recitation rooms. A third was the large "Medical Building" which stood on the lake-side of Main Street."
The Class of 1870, which Mahlon entered, numbered twenty-two students, of whom only thirteen completed the course. In this class were seven who became Episcopal clergymen, seven who studied law, and two who became physicians. William Keith Brooks, who removed to Williams College, became a prominent scientist; Walter North and Charles Henry Smith have been since 1875 rectors of large churches in Buffalo; Cameron Mann is Bishop of North Dakota. In the Senior Class, always a group of great and awful dignity
"From 1834 to 1872 there was a College of Medicine which tor a long time was in flourishing condition and graduated over 600 physicians, to a Freshman, were three men whose fathers were, or were soon to become, Bishops--Southgate, Neely, and Bissell--and one who himself became a Bishop--Lemuel H. Wells. In all there were about eighty students, enough to assist in a young man's education.
The curriculum was chiefly of required studies, but it had long since passed beyond the conventional "Latin, Greek, and Mathematics," for it included the modern Languages and History, and something of Natural Science. While the flexibility of the Elective System was lacking, there was present a balance of studies which the Elective System has often missed. Mahlon's classical training had been encouraged by both his rector and the rector's wife. Mrs. Tuttle had tutored Mahlon faithfully in Latin, and all who know Bishop Turtle's happy facility in quoting the classics, notably Horace, will understand how strongly his influence would commend a classical education. Bishop Gilbert did not become an erudite scholar, but he was always a ready student and an ardent reader and lover of learning.
At Hobart, as at many favored colleges, a wonderfully subtle and inspiring element in the student's education is simply living where Nature has done so much to elevate and charm. The Hobart alumnus cited above has given an attractive picture of the "Campus" and its setting:
None of us can ever think of the college without calling to mind that noble row of buildings on Main Street, the broad campus in the rear, the observatory at one corner, flanked by whispering evergreens--at the other, the grove, with the wooded ridge of the "dream" closing in the western view, the broad opening across the street eastward, the steep plunge of the terrace to the edge of old Seneca, which on a misty day seemed as illimitable as the sea, changing with every change of earth and sky. Building, and street, campus and trees and far-stretching fields, lake, hills, sky, and water--all blend into one picture--with the splendor of the park and the inimitable memories of one's only college life resting upon it. [Louis Matthews Sweet, University Magazine, July, 1907, pp. 12,15.]
In most of our American colleges one strong influence, both social and educational, is the Greek Letter Fraternity. [A good description will be found In the article, "College Fraternities," In the Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopaedia, Britannica, Vol. XI., p. 40, 41.] There are several societies, designated by two or three letters of the Greek alphabet, which are represented at various colleges, the local society being usually called a "Chapter." Through the influence of their alumni, who usually continue their interest after graduation, these fraternities have attained a remarkable prestige in college life. As a rule, the faculty and trustees look upon them with favor, and give them both oversight and encouragement. In some colleges the fraternities take in part a literary character and uniformly they aim not only to give comradeship and a college home, but to develop good manners and bring out in every member, in scholarship, or oratory, or athletics, the best there is in him.
At Hobart College two well-known fraternities, Alpha Delta Phi and Sigma Phi, were established in 1840. Kappa Alpha followed in 1844, but withdrew from 1854 to 1879. In 1857 the Xi Charge of Theta Delta Chi was established, and to this fraternity Mahlon Gilbert was pledged before he came to Hobart. Theta Delta Chi had been founded in 1848 at Union College, and had established chapters known as "Charges" at Bowdoin, Tufts, Brown, Harvard, Kenyon, William and Mary, the University of Virginia, and several other colleges, North and South. The Civil War, which broke out in 1861, put an end to several of the Charges. At Hobart a majority of the active members enlisted, three becoming officers in the United States Volunteers, and six entering the service of the Confederate States, brother against brother. Of the Class of 1863 no less than four "Theta Delta" fought on the Confederate side. With the loss of so many members, the Hobart Charge of Theta Delta Chi seemed near its end. How it was saved is told by the Rev. Lewis Halsey, of the Class of 1868, in an article "In Memoriam," written soon after the death of Bishop Gilbert, which gives many interesting particulars of his college life.
At this crisis two loyal fraters of former days sent to save the Xi two students who were easily among the best men in college--Mahlon N. Gilbert and Eichard E. Cornell. . . . This was the beginning of the renaissance of the Si. . . .
Mahlon N. Gilbert, though a freshman, and without extravagant tastes or means to gratify them, was at once recognized as a man. He was popular among his classmates and with the professors. Somewhat bashful and never ohtrusive, he was always ready to do his part and to give his opinion, with the generous self-forgetfulness and kindly sympathy which ever win the hearts of men.
He came to college an unsophisticated country boy, ready to trust any effusive friend, and to think others as truthful as himself. Here his fraternity helped him, shielding him from unpleasant experience, instructing him in the ways of the college world. He was an apt scholar, yet happily retained his love for and sympathy with his fellow men, which gave him such power and success in his ministry.
While in college, he roomed in old "Number Twenty," Geneva Hall, for years the headquarters of Theta Delta Chi. . . .
He was no ascetic, but loved manly sports and genial companionship, yet was a man who knew no guile. He was pure in heart. I believe that during his college life he would have been willing for his mother to have heard his every word, and for his father to have seen his every act. I know of no severer test of a student's Christianity and self-control."
There is no record, so far as known, of Mahlon's distinguishing himself in intercollegiate athletic contests. At that time such contests were only beginning to come into prominence, and more attention was given to the prosaic matter of routine studies. However, Mahlon's nephew, Mr. Edwin E. Carpenter, remembers his uncle as "a great athlete. I have seen him jump up to an apple-tree bough and pull himself up thirteen times in succession. When a freshman in college, he had his shoulder put. out of joint in a 'rush.' He had stood off half the sophomore class when he happened to fall over the root of a tree, and injured the shoulder. Quite by accident, also, they pulled the shoulder into place again." Another friend remembers that once, when being "hazed," Gilbert received a severe wetting, which led to a fearful cold. This may have been the beginning of his breakdown in health. It was in the middle of Sophomore year that his college course, which he was enjoying so intensely, and using so profitably, was suddenly cut short by a severe hemorrhage of the lungs, which threatened to cut short his life also.
In great disappointment, yet with that brave heart which never left him, young Gilbert went at once to Florida, apparently hoping against hope for recovery in that mild climate. But his friends and family soon received favorable messages, and his condition improved so much that he was able, while in the South, to act as tutor in a private family. After two years he returned home in fair health, but it was evident that it would be imprudent for him to remain in New York. With great reluctance he abandoned the hope of completing his college course. His classmate, Bishop Mann, wrote of this time:
He mourned over the separation from his friends.
He was back in Geneva on a visit at the Commencement when his class, the Class of 1870, graduated, and it was with a pang that he saw them receive their degrees. I well remember how, only a year or so ago, he said to me, "I never came nearer crying in my life than when I saw all you fellows go up to take your diplomas, and knew there was none there for me."
His college, however, did not forget him, and in due time, on three distinct occasions, conferred upon him well-merited degrees: in 1880, M.A.; in 1886, S.T.D.; and in 1895, LL.D. On his frequent visits to his Alma Mater he was welcomed with more than formal honors, and his affection for his college and his college friends was strong unto the end.