Project Canterbury

Life of the Reverend James de Koven, D. D.,
Sometime Warden of Racine College.

by William C. Pope, M.A.

New York: James Pott & Company, 1899.

III. St. John's Hall.

THIS institution is described in a letter of Mr. de Koven's, dated June 5, 1858. "St. John's Hall is now a chartered institution, under a board of trustees, who have placed it under the charge of a warden (myself) a sub-warden (Mr. Hodges) and a Board of Fellows, the first of whom is Mr. Shaw. Hereafter all preparatory students, who come to Nashotah, and have St. John Chrysostom's for their parish church, and their recitation-rooms will be on the land near the church, which was bought for the purpose. The course will be a full one, embracing, I think, for those who know no Latin or Greek, at least six years, and on those who are really worthy of it a degree will probably be conferred."

During the summer of 1858 he visited England, with his Seminary room-mate, the Rev. George F. Seymour, for the purpose of acquiring an insight into the educational system of that country. They went to Paris. On the day of their arrival Mr. de Koven came to Mr. Seymour, saying, "George, we will eat our last dinner on the continent to-day." "How is that?" enquired Mr. Seymour. Mr. de Koven explained that his knowledge of the French language and customs was limited, so that in reply to the questions of the keeper of the pension, as to what he would have, he had answered to everything, Oui Madame. The result was they were to have so grand a dinner they would in future be obliged to economize and lunch at restaurants. They were agreeably surprised to find that the cost of the meal was no greater than a lunch at an English chop house.

St. John's Hall was opened September 30, 1858, the Rev. Messrs. Hodges and Shaw in charge, as Mr. de Koven had not returned. St. Peter College, Radley, was the school in England after which St. John's Hall was chiefly to be modelled. One idea he brought back with him was that the students should sit at meals on "forms" that is benches without backs. The students were quick to perceive that this was a piece of primitive mediƦvalism, not proper to be transplanted to America. Consequently, one morning the forms were not to be found. Here was an act of open rebellion which must be punished. But who were the culprits? The whole school was placed under punishment, which was to last until the perpetrators of the deed confessed. The outcome was an act of contemptible meanness, and one of admirable heroism. He who did the act allowed another to suffer in his stead. George Vernor went to Mr. de Koven, and while asserting his innocence, offered himself to bear the penalty to be inflicted on the offender. The offer was accepted.

The students thought another mistake had been made, by a plan for the government of the students in part by certain ones of their own number. There was no overt act of protest, other than taking their revenge on the person of the senior prefect, for sundry tardy marks he had given them for lateness to Chapel. The system has since proved itself useful at Racine.

The chief amusement was boating. There were two six oared boats, the Minne Wa-Wa and the Winona. Many a distinguished ecclesiastic and fair damsel graced the boats, and honored the crew with their presence. These boats and the Nashotah barge, manned by Nashotah students, would meet in the middle of the lake, where the time would be whiled away, by the light of the moon, with song and jest and laughter and then each boat would pull away on its own course.

During the year Mr. de Koven frequently rang the changes on loyalty. He would place the long index finger of his right in the palm of his left and begin: "Now young gentlemen," and before he finished the students were apt to have a dose of loyalty. Little did he imagine his own loyalty was ever to be impugned, but in his letter of the Diocese of Illinois in 1875, he speaks of his own character "being assailed in that which is dearest to me, my loyalty to the Church of God." That the Church should affix on him the stigma of disloyalty with voice sufficiently powerful to three times defeat his election to the episcopate, undoubtedly hastened his death. "It is known," writes Dr. Dix, "that by the manipulation of a peculiar machinery, easily rendered subservient to political and partisan ends, James de Koven was pronounced to be unfit to be a Bishop in the Church of God. It is not so well known with what supreme disgust, with what deep indignation, great numbers recoiled from the sound of that lie and rued a decision so disgraceful. But since that day, reverence for his life and character has been deepening among us, and many have sought an opportunity to clear themselves of complicity with the unhappy transaction to which I refer. Wisdom is certain to be justified of her children, and the voice gathers strength from year to year, which reverses the decision of the series of petty tribunals before which the glorious servant of the Most High God, that peerless orator, that deeply read theologian, that saintly confessor of the faith was unhappily arraigned. The time is coming when men will wish that the thing were forgotten, and when it will be held infamous to asperse his memory with the old accusations, and dastardly to pursue him, as they did in his lifetime with epithets drawn from the vocabulary of partisan malice. Holy, just, wise, learned, eloquent; a 'LOYAL soul and true'; true to God, true to the church of his baptism, true to his sacred calling, he lived and died."

St. John's Hall lasted a year. In a letter dated August 27, 1859, Mr. de Koven writes: . . . While we were in this uncertainty, there comes a proposition which seemed to be of God's sending and a providential opening. Dr. Park of Racine College, makes to us a noble offer, noble for St. John's Hall and for each of one of its students, and for the church in Wisconsin. He offers to place Racine College in our hands, to be made a thorough Church College, and to be forever the Preparatory Department of Nashotah House. The faculty will join with our faculty, with myself as rector, making a stronger faculty than we have had before. Dr. Park, with the honorary title of Chancellor, will fill the professorship of Chemistry and Natural Philosophy, for which he is admirably fitted. . . . I feel that if my students will go there to work with me in this great work of Christian education, which God's providence opens, while procuring great advantages and blessings for themselves, they will be doing also a good work for the Church of God, by doing their part in building up a thorough Church College.

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