THE class of 1825 became distinguished in the annals of Bowdoin for those of its graduates of that year who ultimately attained high rank in literature, theology, and politics.
Though the general reader may care little for any notice of the different individuals of this class, Bowdoin men will probably be interested in some account of its more noticeable members.
One of the youngest was Henry W. Longfellow, who entered college when only fourteen. He had decided personal beauty and most attractive manners. He was frank, courteous, and affable, while morally he was proof against the temptations that beset lads on first leaving the salutary restraints of home. He was diligent, conscientious, and most attentive to all his college duties, whether in the recitation-room, the lecture-hall, or the chapel. The word "student" best expresses his literary habit, and in his intercourse with all he was conspicuously the gentleman.
His studious habits and attractive mien soon led the professors to receive him into their society almost as an equal, rather than as a pupil; but this did not prevent him from being most popular among the students. He had no enemy.
Going forward for half a century after graduation, during which interval we met occasionally, but always cordially, the semi-centennial celebration of our class occurred, when he pronounced his famous poem, "Morituri Salutamus." At that reunion Longfellow was the central figure by reason of his eminence as a poet and scholar, his great culture, and his charming manners. The promise of the boy was more than fulfilled in the mature man.
Four years later I visited Longfellow on an interesting errand. The home of Miles Standish, at Duxbury, was burned the year before the "great Captain's" death; but the old cellar, filled with débris, was not thoroughly explored until a few years ago, when Mr. Drew, of Duxbury, and another gentleman gave much labor to its excavation. Among the articles found was a hoe, of such antiquated pattern as to leave no doubt of its having been used by the early Puritan. Mr. Drew was a great admirer of Longfellow, to whom he wished to send his Standish relic. Knowing that I was the poet's classmate, Mr. Drew begged me to convey the implement to him, which I did soon afterwards. Longfellow was pleased with the quaint offering, and at once acknowledged its receipt in the following courteous note:
"CAMBRIDGE, August 23, 1879.
"DEAR SIR,--My friend and classmate, Bridge, has been here and brought me your valuable present. It is a curious relic of the past, and I like to think that the hand of the brave old Puritan has often held it, and plied it in the cornfield. Be assured that I value it very highly, and fully appreciate your kindness in presenting it to me, who have only a poetic claim to such a gift. "With many thanks, yours very truly,
"HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.
"LYMAN DREW, Esq., Duxbury, Mass."
It was on this occasion that I last saw Longfellow. And, in reverting to my early acquaintance with the attractive boy of fourteen, it was pleasant to know that he had always been growing--intellectually and spiritually--until our parting at the age of more than threescore and ten.
Another of the remaining members of the class was Rev. Dr. George B. Cheever (the early and able leader in the cause of abolition and temperance), who attained high eminence as a theologian. Though one of the youngest of the students at Bowdoin, he was from the beginning very studious, and ambitious to excel as a scholar and writer. In character, conduct, and literary attainments he stood deservedly among the foremost. His death in 1890 left but four of the class alive.
Rev. Dr. John S. C. Abbott began his collegiate life with the definite purpose of entering the ministry, and he subsequently became a preacher of acknowledged ability in the Congregational Church. After a few years, however, he turned his attention to general literary work; and, as author of several biographies and other books, he had a reasonably successful career. While at college, he was industrious in his studies and exemplary in his habits, but he there took no leading place as a profound scholar or brilliant writer.
James W. Bradbury, one of the best scholars in the class, became a well-known lawyer; and he at one time represented Maine in the United States Senate with ability and credit.
Three others of our classmates--Cilley, Benson, and Sawtelle---were afterwards members of the United States House of Representatives.
Cilley early gained a commanding position in the national councils; and his future was full of promise, when he fell in a duel with Graves, of Kentucky, whose challenge he accepted rather than be driven from his place, or be disgraced in the eyes of those of his fellow-Congressmen who held to the so-called "code of honor." A political conspiracy by prominent Whigs to put the brilliant young Democrat out of the way, or to destroy his influence, was successful, and Cilley was sacrificed to the ruthless demands of party. The following extract is from a letter that a United States Senator addressed to me on the day of Cilley's funeral, February 27, 1858; "Cilley was too promising and too independent to be allowed to remain in the way of the Whigs; and his death is the result of more deep and general policy than has been, and perhaps may ever be, made public."
As to the attributed influence of Hawthorne's example upon Cilley in the matter of his fatal duel with Graves, there is, I think, great misapprehension in some of the notices of that tragic event.
It was my fortune to be in Washington a month after Cilley's death, and to join the mess to which he had belonged. It was customary, at that period, for members of Congress to live in messes made up of political and personal friends. In one of these, on Third Street, were Senators Williams, of Maine; Pierce, of New Hampshire; and Wall, of New Jersey, with ladies of their respective families. At the suggestion of Mr. Williams and General Pierce, I was admitted to the mess, and I had the room that Cilley had so recently occupied. Of course I heard much of the origin and circumstances of the duel from the best authority.
It was charged by his opponents that General J. Watson Webb had changed the political character of his paper (The Courier and Enquirer) for a stated sum ($52,000). This transfer Cilley animadverted upon severely in debate, and for this General Webb sent him a challenge by Graves, of Kentucky. Cilley declined the challenge. Then Graves demanded that Cilley should say that he did so by virtue of his privilege as a Member of Congress (not to be accountable for words spoken in debate), and that he considered General Webb to be a gentleman. Upon Cilley's declining to make these admissions, Graves sent him a challenge by Governor Wise, of Virginia. To this Cilley replied that he had no controversy with Mr. Graves, whom he respected highly; but he refused to be catechised as to what he had said of Webb. Mr. Graves insisted upon the disavowal first demanded; and then Cilley, finding that the Whigs were determined to drive him to the wall, accepted Graves's challenge, and the tragic result followed.
The controversy was political, not personal, leading members of both parties consenting to and advising as to the course pursued by challenger and challenged respectively.
I never heard, at that time nor afterwards, that Cilley was in any way influenced by Hawthorne's example. Nor did Hawthorne himself ever intimate to me, by word or letter, that he considered himself at all responsible for Cilley's course in accepting Graves's challenge.
One of Hawthorne's most intimate friends was our classmate and my chum, William Hale, of Dover, afterwards a merchant of high standing and sterling integrity.
Another classmate and friend was Stephen Longfellow, a lad of great wit and natural genius; but, lacking the studious habits of his younger brother, Henry, he gained no high rank in college, nor afterwards in the legal profession.
There was also Edward Preble, only child of the renowned commodore, a boy of quaint humor and fond of curious literature, who, after graduation, led a life of learned ease in Germany and in his luxurious home in Portland, where he died early without distinguishing himself, as he well might have done had his ambition been commensurate to his talents and his advantages.
Josiah S. Little, a man of high character and great ability, who took the first honor in the class after a severe struggle, was another instance of the "young man's curse of competence." He practised law for a few years, then quit the profession, and gave his attention to local politics and the care of his large property, and he died without achieving any wide national reputation.
Gorham Deane stood next to Little for scholarship. He was excessively studious. He allowed himself but four hours for sleep, and took very little exercise. Consequently his consumptive tendencies developed into the illness that ended his life a few weeks before the Commencement, at which he would have graduated number two. The empty honor of a degree eluded his grasp; but the trustees and overseers, by special vote, inserted his name in the triennial catalogue as having actually graduated.
Alfred Mason, Hawthorne's chum, was the son of the distinguished lawyer Jeremiah Mason. He was a youth of noble and generous nature, who gained the esteem and respect of his fellows by his courteous bearing and exceptional ability. He devoted his efforts to the pursuit of natural science in preference to the routine studies, and after graduation engaged with enthusiasm in the study and practice of medicine. At the outset of a promising career he fell a victim to fever, at the early age of twenty-four, while performing his duties as assistant physician in Bellevue Hospital.
For myself it may be permissible to add that, after practising law for a few years, I embarked in a "great enterprise," as Americans would call it; to wit, the building a mill-dam across the Kennebec River, with the hope of seeing many mills and factories thereon, and of gathering in the gold predicted by the faithless old fortuneteller. The adventure turned out disastrously, for, after completing the work at a cost three times as great as the original estimate, a freshet--higher, of course, "than was ever before known "--swept away the dam and the mills, cut a new channel for the river, swallowed up our paternal mansion and grounds near by, and ruined me financially. I entered the navy as paymaster; and after sixteen years' service was made Paymaster-General of the navy, which office I held for fifteen years, including the whole period of the civil war.
Others of our number might be mentioned, but the class of 1825 will in future years be remembered mainly for having given to literature two such writers as Longfellow and Hawthorne.
Our associations were not confined to our own class. During the period from 1821 to 1825 inclusive this "country college" contained among its students, besides those just mentioned, John Appleton, afterwards the learned Chief Justice of Maine, and James Bell, United States Senator, of New Hampshire, both of the class of 1822; William P. Fessenden and Luther V. Bell, of 1823; President Pierce and Professor Calvin E. Stowe, of 1824. Later--in the class of 1826--came Sargent S. Prentiss, the brilliant orator of Mississippi, a native of Maine; and John B. Russwurm, Governor of Cape Palmas, Africa. The class of 1827 contained Alpheus Felch, Governor and United States Senator, of Michigan; and John P. Hale, United States Senator, of New Hampshire.
It is a noteworthy fact that one small class of thirty-eight--in a country college not a quarter of a century old--had among its members a romance writer and a poet, whose names stand among the foremost, each in his own branch of American literature.
The four classes (including our own) in college when we were freshmen, contained, at graduating, but one hundred and eight students in the aggregate; yet among them there were not only the writers just alluded to, but also a future President of the United States and four United States Senators--a creditable record for any college, however large.
Here it may be well to mention that Fessenden, while in college, was ardent, haughty, and defiant. Warm in his friendships, he was bitter and uncompromising in his hatreds. He was a good writer and an excellent debater, and he took high rank as a scholar. In later life he stood among the foremost in the United States Senate; and his leading position was readily conceded to him by his peers, in the trying times preceding and during the civil war.
Franklin Pierce, in the class next above ours, had many friends in our own, including Hawthorne, Cilley, and myself. These friends and others Pierce always remembered, even when occupying the highest place in the nation and burdened with its cares and responsibilities.
Indeed, he seemed to have much satisfaction in promoting the welfare and advancement of his college friends. To Hawthorne he gave the most lucrative foreign office in his gift, and I take pleasure in acknowledging that soon after his inauguration he--unsolicited--directed my recall from a foreign station, and appointed me to the highest place in my corps. I have reason to know that he never regretted his friendly course in either case.
It were foreign to the purposes of the present sketch to attempt an extended notice of President Pierce's life and character. Hawthorne's "Life of Franklin Pierce" gives an authentic biography of him previous to his elevation to the Presidency in 1852. His career afterwards is matter of history, and should be judged in the light of that day rather than by the changed conditions brought about by later national events.
I trust it will not be out of place for me to give my own early impressions of Pierce's character, and my recollection of his appearance in youth.
In person he was slender, of medium height, with fair complexion and light hair, erect, with a military bearing, active, and always bright and cheerful. In character he was impulsive, not rash; generous, not lavish; chivalric, courteous, manly, and warm-hearted; and he was one of the most popular students in the whole college.
The sketch of him in Professor Packard's "History of Bowdoin College" gives the following account of his standing as to scholarship and of his indomitable spirit, as shown in correcting the habits of idleness into which he had fallen, and in retrieving his early mistakes in that respect.
"In 1820 Franklin Pierce," says his old teacher, "entered Bowdoin College. He was then sixteen years old. As yet he had formed no literary tastes or habits of study, and the first half of his college career was idled or played away. But he suddenly woke up to a sense of duty to a true manhood. When the relative standing of the members of the class was first authoritatively ascertained in the junior year, he found himself occupying precisely the lowest position in point of scholarship. In the first mortification of wounded pride he resolved never to attend another recitation, and accordingly absented himself from college exercises for several days, expecting and desiring that some form of punishment, such as suspension or expulsion, would be the result. The faculty of the college, however, with a wise lenity, took no notice of his behavior; and at last, having had time to grow cool, and moved by the grief of his friend Little and another classmate, Pierce determined to resume the routine of college duties. 'But,' said he to his friends, 'if I do so, you will see a change.' Accordingly, from that time forward he devoted himself to study. His mind, having run wild for so long a period, could only be reclaimed by the severest efforts of an iron resolution; and, for three months afterwards, he rose at four in the morning, toiled all day over his books, and only retired at midnight, allowing himself but four hours for sleep.
"From the moment when he made his resolution until the close of his college life he never incurred a censure; never was absent but from two college exercises, and then unavoidably; never went into the recitation-room without a thorough acquaintance with the subject to be recited, and finally graduated the third scholar of his class."
Pierce's classmate Calvin E. Stowe was a man of mark in college, and was universally esteemed and respected. He was an untiring student and a deeply religious man, yet full of wit and quaint humor, which he strove to subordinate to his graver thoughts, that he might the better qualify himself for the important life-work in which he so eminently excelled. It was doubtless an heretical opinion, but when Mrs. Stowe's great work, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," first appeared, I felt confident that my old friend had lent a hand in the humorous portions of that wonderful book.
Stowe, though usually calm and unruffled, did, on rare occasions, show that the old Adam in his nature could be provoked to wrath. In my freshman year, prompted by the spirit of good-natured mischief, I blackened my face one night, and assuming the air of deference befitting a colored messenger-boy, I entered Stowe's room holding out a letter. He was deeply engaged with a book, but he rose to receive the letter, remarking, "Oh, it is from Mr. ------," at the same time taking out a piece of money to pay me for my trouble. This unexpected boon so upset my gravity that I laughed outright. Stowe was first surprised, then provoked by my impertinence, and he seized the tongs and cried, "You black rascal!" Whereupon I beat a hasty retreat, closing the door behind me just in time to escape the tongs, which came clashing against my guardian shield.
I think that Stowe did not suspect me, for we never spoke of the silly prank for more than fifty years. But after that long interval, having received a kind message from him, asking me not to pass through Hartford without calling, I went to see him, and we had a pleasant talk about old times. Then I made my tardy confession, to which Mrs. Stowe was an amused listener, and she seemed to enjoy hearing this proof of her husband's ebullition of temper in his early manhood, which I thought it safe to divulge after the lapse of so many years.
Governor Russwurm--the first and only colored graduate of Bowdoin, except in the medical department--was a diligent student, but of no marked ability. He lived at a carpenter's house, just beyond the village limits, where Hawthorne and the writer called upon him several times, but his sensitiveness on account of his color prevented him from returning the calls. Twenty years later I renewed the acquaintance pleasantly in Africa, where--as Governor of Cape Palmas--he received, with dignity and ease, the Commodore and officers of our squadron, myself all the more cordially because we had been college associates and fellow-Athenaeans.
John P. Hale, it is hardly necessary to say, was one of the earliest and ablest advocates of abolition in the United States Senate, fighting its battles fearlessly and almost alone, for several years. He was not studious in college, but, by his remarkable talents and his great natural aptitude for learning, he maintained a respectable rank in his class. He was distinguished mainly for his ready wit, his great fund of anecdote, his genial disposition, and his kind heart.
I mention these men in this cursory manner, at the risk of being tedious, and chiefly to show that Hawthorne, when in college, had around him many students who, in after years, attained honorable distinction and place.