|Chapter 18 William Neill 1824-1828. |
WHEN Mason resigned in May, 1824, Professor McClelland was promptly elected to succeed him, but declined. In July of that year, William Neill, pastor of a Presbyterian church in Philadelphia, was chosen. Neill was born in western Pennsylvania in 1778, and had come up through great tribulations. While he was yet a babe in arms, his father was shot and scalped by marauding Indians. The mother, crushed by the tragic death of her husband, died shortly after, and her six children were scattered among relatives. The son William determined to secure an education, worked his way to Princeton, graduating in 1803, when twenty-five years of age. He served Princeton as tutor for two years, studying theology at the same time under a local Presbyterian clergyman. He was then pastor of Presbyterian churches in Cooperstown and Albany, New York, and in Philadelphia. In 1815, during his Albany pastorate, he became Moderator of the General Assembly of his church.
Cooperstown, the place of one of his first charges, was named for Judge Cooper, father of J. Fenimore Cooper, the novelist, whose tales of Indian life have delighted so many generations of young people. Young Cooper was Neill's private pupil for a time, and Neill said that he was "rather wayward, cordially disliked hard study, especially of the abstract sciences; was extravagantly fond of reading novels and amusing tales.... His 'Judge Temple' [of The Pioneers] personates his father."
Neill's experiences in the College were hard, but not unusual. One writing of him shortly after his death said that his college experiences had taught him three things at least:
(1) That teachers should discipline their students;
(2) that schools should be in the hands of one denomination; and (3) that state patronage is dangerous to a college. The first of these was aimed at the trustee interference in discipline, from which he had suffered; the second at the lack of unity growing out of the interdenominational pretense of the College; and the third, at the state supervision following the last grant of state funds a grant he himself, in the dire need of the College, had helped to secure.
During Neill's time attempts were made to secure the association of two theological schools with the College. In 1826, the Evangelical Lutheran Church was invited to locate its theological seminary in Carlisle in connection with the College, but chose Gettysburg, and thus probably became the basis for the college there. In June, 1820, the college trustees had learned that the German Reformed Church proposed to establish a theological seminary, and sought it for Carlisle in connection with the College. They offered a "suitable apartment in the college" for a term of ten years, and a part of the "college square," a hundred feet square, for the erection of a building, and admittance of the theological students to college classes without cost. Some other promises were made, one of them being house-rent for a professor, who was to do some teaching in the College. All this was conditioned on the use of English the language of the seminary. The seminary was not founded at once, but in 1825 the old terms were accepted, and Lewis Mayer, President of the new seminary, became Professor of History and German Literature in the College, being formally installed as Professor in the College, April 6, 1826.
German Reformed Church notices of this effort to locate its seminary in Carlisle say that. the arrangement with Dickinson College did not prove satisfactory, because the College was financially involved and found itself unable to provide proper accommodations for the seminary. Further, the college students did not desire to study German, and Dr. Mayer therefore found himself unable to make a proper
return for even the scanty favors which had been shown him. At any rate, the arrangement was soon modified, his Church assumed the cost of President Mayer's house-rent, and he himself tendered his resignation as Professor of History in the College. It was accepted by the Board, with the statement "that it is the desire of the Board that he retain his professorship of German Literature." He probably did so continue for a time, as his name occurs in college records of both May and July of 1828. The seminary itself continued in Carlisle till 1829, then removing to York, whence Mayer had come and whither he returned with it.
Reformed Church publications of the time suggest as reasons for the removal to York that the students of the seminary were spoken of as "plain people" and not at home in the cultured [English] atmosphere of Carlisle, therefore finding more congenial associations in York, with its predominantly German people; there was complaint also of unsatisfactory recitation rooms "exposed to the pranks of boisterous students" [of the College].
Efforts to secure other quarters in Carlisle for the seminary led to the erection of a new building by the German Reformed people, which was later bought by the College, and was long connected with college history. The Rev. John S. Ebaugh, pastor of the Reformed Church of Carlisle, erected this building without authorization of the Church at large, to provide suitable quarters for both his local church and the seminary. The general Church declined to share the cost, and as the local congregation was unable to carry the financial burden involved, the building was therefore sold by the sheriff in 1830. Ebaugh bought it; a year later he sold it to Henry Duffield for $1,500; and, in 1835, it was bought by the College for $2,050, becoming the home of the Grammar School. It was on part of the property now occupied by the Alumni Gymnasium, and was destroyed by fire in December, 1836.
About this time approaches were made to the College from three different and distant places to secure its co-
operation in the business of giving medical degrees. One of these, from Baltimore, offered ten dollars for each such degree granted by the College on the recommendation of the Baltimore parties. A second proposition came from Wheeling, West Virginia, then a part of Virginia, and the third was from the New York Medical Academy, whatever that may have been, to rent the college property. These offers were probably in the nature of the so-called "diploma mills" of our own recent past, and were all promptly declined.
Neill was probably not a brilliant man, and his only previous educational experience was two years as tutor at Princeton after his graduation therefrom. He seems, however, to have been a careful administrator, and might, with a fair chance, have had a successful administration but this no Principal had for fifty years. The founding of the College in 1783 may have been premature, but when Neill came to it there had developed a real need for it. Possible student constituency had greatly increased through the years. The student body grew to 125 under Atwater, but declined, following internal troubles and lack of support; in like manner, shortly after Neill's coming, the college classes numbered 109, fairly well divided among the four classes [23 Seniors, 27 juniors, 38 Sophomores, and 21 Freshmen], with 18 in the Grammar School. One year later the college enrolment was 106 [24 Seniors, 41 Juniors, 31 Sophomores, and 10 Freshmen], with 15 in the Grammar School, a total of 121. These records of college enrolment appear in two catalogues issued by Neill in comparatively modern form.
A report on this first enrolment of 109 indicates that 12 of them were "professors of religion," a strangely small number under present-day standards. The religious appeals of the time found little response among college men. This was true at Yale and Princeton., and one record of Princeton conditions states that "Religion was at a low ebb in the college and many of the students were dissipated and shockingly profane."
Every administration after that of Nisbet seems to have had serious trouble with students. Buchanan describes the lawless conditions of his own college time; Atwater complained of the difficulties of discipline; and, as previously recorded, two student duels occurred. During Mason's time a serious explosion of powder in the college building was followed by a fire, soon extinguished. Repeated attacks on a Professor's room and rebellions were the order of the day in Neill's time. There were endless restrictions and but little liberty. No student could leave Carlisle, or enter any eating-house, or "go into the town" at night [the College was beyond the town limits] without permission; and attendance on theatres, balls, or dancing classes was forbidden by the trustees, their yea and nay vote on the subject being 17 to 2.
Opportunities for recreation in the College had always been few, but apparently they were at this time reduced to the minimum. This ban on dancing in Neill's time shows the growth of prohibition of student opportunities for relaxation. Fifteen years before, dancing appears to have been tolerated; at least there was a commencement ball in 1812, and an old invitation to one Keener is yet in existence.
Keener was a member of the Class of 1810, but had not graduated. He was the room-mate of James Buchanan, and married the younger sister of the wife of Thomas Cooper.
There was then no playground, and no suggestion of any physical relaxation until "a ball alley" was finally erected
on the campus. There were innumerable "don'ts." If firm, decided discipline was ever needed, it was under such conditions, but there was no approach to anything of the kind.
From old records of Neill's administration, one example of disciplinary difficulty can be pieced together. Two students, Norris and Lyon, had been before the Faculty because they had been accused of breaking into the quarters of Professor Spencer and had joined in disorders in the dining-room. The Faculty began an investigation, but postponed final conclusion for three days. In the meantime they received notice from the trustees that they had taken summary action themselves and haled the students mentioned and another named Buchanan before a justice of the peace in Carlisle. On the facts developed before the justice of the peace, the Faculty recommended the expulsion of Buchanan and the dismissal of Norris and Lyon. The trustees expelled Buchanan but postponed consideration of the other cases for a later meeting. At this later meeting they dropped the Norris and Lyon cases entirely, apparently because the young men wrote them a diplomatic note and made promises for the future.
For once the Faculty asserted itself, insisting that the trustees were not keeping faith with them. Nothing came of it, however, and Norris and Lyon remained in College contrary to the judgment of the Faculty. Judgment of college matters by a final court not including any educators or anyone who knew the exact conditions in the College was bad, and subversive of good discipline. Of course, the Faculty would become hesitant in discipline under such conditions; and it is altogether likely that it let things get out of hand at times. It is even probable that the badgered Faculty was unsteady in its discipline, changing from laxity to severity, with actions at times inconsistent and hard to justify. The Faculty had a hard task. It was a sorry mess.
Buchanan's expulsion had not been a sufficient deterrent. Two students had beaten the Faculty in the case; other
disorders followed, especially in chapel, and every student was required to "solemnly promise that we will not participate in or countenance in any way or any time such gross violation of the laws of decency and religion." Seven students declined to sign this declaration and were sent home, and while five of them came back the general result was the further withdrawal of students.
A striking case of discipline at the time was that of A. O. Hiester, a member of the Class of 1828. He refused in disrespectful and abusive language to remain in Carlisle and study during the Senior vacation before his graduation, and was thereupon refused graduation. His father espoused his cause, writing a letter to the Faculty on December 3, 1828, containing, as faculty minutes record, "so much scurrility, so many abusive and unfounded allegations, and such an amount of gross and palpable misrepresentation, that we deem it unworthy of an answer." The trustees attempted to secure a reversal of the faculty action, but failed. Three years later, however, Hiester made his peace with the later administration of How, and received his degree. More than that, after having made good as a distinguished lawyer and judge in Pennsylvania, he was for nineteen years a trustee of the College, of which, indeed, the father also had been elected a trustee almost at the time of the trouble.
On the expiration of the five-year grant from the state to the College, of February, 1821, another grant of $3,000 annually for seven years was voted. This grant was made on condition of a changed charter to limit ecclesiastical control, particularly specifying that not more than one-third of the trustee Board should be clergymen. The trustees showed their hearty acceptance of this change by resolving "That the names of all the members of both branches of the Legislature who voted in favor of the law passed, the 13th February A.D., 1826, making an appropriation to Dickinson College, be transcribed in a neat style, and suspended on the college library."
Years before the trustees had ordered a list of their
benefactors, those who had given as much as £10, to be displayed in like manner and read at every commencement! In 1827, on the decease of Robert Coleman, a member of the Board, the College received by his will stock in the Carlisle Bank, worth $1,000, with accrued dividends of $140. The Board then made a Coleman addition to the list of the "benefactors of the Institution." Benefactions were so rare that they were quickly recognized. This Coleman bequest was made the security for many subsequent borrowings from the bank, and was held by the Carlisle Bank as security for a loan of $800 when the later transfer of the College to a Methodist board was made in 1833.
State grants were about the only resource of the College at this time, and the College seemed in such a hopeless condition in 1832 that the last annual instalment was refused by the state. Nevertheless, the Board, in April, 1828, attempted to borrow money from the bank to erect a new building for the steward and for dormitory purposes, but the loan was refused.
At this time, as though its internal troubles were not enough, the College became the subject of an investigation, by the Legislature by which it was being subsidized. On December 11, 1827, the Board took notice of the fact that there was criticism in the Legislature of the conduct of the College, and requested the Senator and two Representatives from the district to ask for an investigation, in case the matter was broached on the floor of either House; and an investigating committee of the Senate resulted.
The lack of harmony between the Board and Faculty appears in an action of the Faculty on January 28, 1828, on this proposed investigation. "The Faculty met and appointed Professor McClelland to represent them before the Committee of the Senate of Pennsylvania during the investigation by that body, of the affairs of this College; and he was instructed to use all fair means to secure a decision in relation to the Faculty, distinct from that which may be had in regard to the Board of Trustees...." This of itself,
if known, would have shown the Senate committee that something was wrong. The investigation, however, resulted in no adverse findings, but its general effect was bad, for it brought the integrity of the College in question.
The year following this legislative inquiry, Principal Neill and his Faculty all left at practically the same time, as had been the case with Atwater's Faculty in 1815. The reason for this wholesale departure is uncertain, though a bitter anonymous newspaper article just before they left, and its reference to another, not available, suggest that the faculty members were at odds not only with one another, and probably uncertain as to their tenure, but that they were also at odds with the Board of Trustees, as might be expected.
Evidently there was much criticism of the Board itself during these later days. At least the Board was finally stung into a long and labored defense of its conduct of the College. In 1830, on the organization of the new Faculty, after Neill's withdrawal, it issued an appeal to the public "in refutation of the many malignant accusations and insinuations against the College, and especially the present Board of Trustees, made by their enemies [and] to unfold the real causes which have operated to the injury of the College and the disorganization of the late Faculty."
This defense of the Board covered the period of 1821 to 1830. It was long and labored, covering eighty-three closely printed pages. It does not seem to have made out a good case, at least Henry Vethake, who had served the College 1821-1829, made answer to it in a formal pamphlet, and apparently made good his contentions. Unfortunately for them the trustees had a poor case.
One of Neill's daughters married Dr. David Mahon of Carlisle, and their descendants have been outstanding people: among them is Stephen Vincent Benet, of the present generation, who wrote the great historical poem "John Brown's Body."