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and the general social life which they promote; of the “commons” and “combination rooms,” which give a still closer relation between those most directly concerned in university work; of the quadrangles, which give a sense of scholarly seclusion, even in the midst of crowded cities; and of all the surroundings which give a dignity befitting these vast establishments. Still more marked progress in my ideas was made during my attendance at the Sorbonne and the Coll<e!>ge de France. In those institutions, during the years 1853-1854, I became acquainted with the French university-lecture system, with its clearness, breadth, wealth of illustration, and its hold upon large audiences of students; and I was seized with the desire to transfer something like it to our own country. My castles in the air were now reared more loftily and broadly; for they began to include laboratories, museums, and even galleries of art.</e!>

Even St. Petersburg, during my attach<e’>ship in 1854-
1855, contributed to these airy structures. In my diary for that period, I find it jotted down that I observed and studied at various times the Michael Palace in that city as a very suitable structure for a university. Twenty years afterward, when I visited, as minister of the United States, the Grand Duchess Catherine, the aunt of the Emperor Alexander III, in that same palace, and mentioned to her my old admiration for it, she gave me a most interesting account of the building of it, and of the laying out of the beautiful park about it by her father, the old Grand Duke Michael, and agreed with me that it would be a noble home for an institution of learning.</e’>

My student life at Berlin, during the year following, further intensified my desire to do something for university education in the United States. There I saw my ideal of a university not only realized, but extended and glorified– with renowned professors, with ample lecture-halls, with everything possible in the way of illustrative materials, with laboratories, museums, and a concourse of youth from all parts of the world.

I have already spoken, in the chapter on my professorship at the University of Michigan, regarding the influence on my ideas of its president, Henry Philip Tappan, and of the whole work in that institution. Though many good things may be justly said for the University of Virginia, the real beginning of a university in the United States, in the modern sense, was made by Dr. Tappan and his colleagues at Ann Arbor. Its only defects seemed to me that it included no technical side, and did not yet admit women. As to the first of these defects, the State had separated the agricultural college from the university, placing it in what, at that period, was a remote swamp near the State Capitol, and had as yet done nothing toward providing for other technical branches. As to the second, though a few of us favored the admission of women, President Tappan opposed it; and, probably, in view of the condition of the university and of public opinion at that time, his opposition was wise.

Recalled to Syracuse after five years in Michigan, my old desire to see a university rising in the State of New York was stronger than ever. Michigan had shown me some of my ideals made real; why might not our own much greater commonwealth be similarly blessed?

The first thing was to devise a plan for a suitable faculty. As I felt that this must not demand too large an outlay, I drew up a scheme providing for a few resident teachers supported by endowments, and for a body of nonresident professors or lecturers supported by fees. These lecturers were to be chosen from the most eminent professors in the existing colleges and from the best men then in the public-lecture field; and my confidant in the matter was George William Curtis, who entered into it heartily, and who afterward, in his speech at my inauguration as president of Cornell, referred to it in a way which touched me deeply.[5]

[5] See Mr. Curtis’s speech, September 8, 1868, published by the university.

The next thing was to decide upon a site. It must naturally be in the central part of the State; and, rather curiously, that which I then most coveted, frequently visited, walked about, and inspected was the rising ground southeast of Syracuse since selected by the Methodists for their institution which takes its name from that city.

My next effort was to make a beginning of an endowment, and for this purpose I sought to convert Gerrit Smith. He was, for those days, enormously wealthy. His property, which was estimated at from two to three millions of dollars, he used munificently; and his dear friend and mine, Samuel Joseph May, had told me that it was not too much to hope that Mr. Smith might do something for the improvement of higher instruction. To him, therefore, I wrote, proposing that if he would contribute an equal sum to a university at Syracuse, I would give to it one half of my own property. In his answer he gave reasons why he could not join in the plan, and my scheme seemed no nearer reality than my former air-castles. It seemed, indeed, to have faded away like

“The baseless fabric of a vision”

and to have left

“Not a wrack behind”–

when all its main features were made real in a way and by means utterly unexpected; for now began the train of events which led to my acquaintance, friendship, and close alliance with the man through whom my plans became a reality, larger and better than any ever seen in my dreams –Ezra Cornell.


EZRA CORNELL–1864-1874

On the first day of the year 1864, taking my seat for the first time in the State Senate at Albany, I found among my associates a tall, spare man, apparently very reserved and austere, and soon learned his name–Ezra Cornell.

Though his chair was near mine, there was at first little intercourse between us, and there seemed small chance of more. He was steadily occupied, and seemed to have no desire for new acquaintances. He was, perhaps, the oldest man in the Senate; I, the youngest: he was a man of business; I was fresh from a university professorship: and, upon the announcement of committees, our paths seemed separated entirely; for he was made chairman of the committee on agriculture, while to me fell the chairmanship of the committee on education.

Yet it was this last difference which drew us together; for among the first things referred to my committee was a bill to incorporate a public library which he proposed to found in Ithaca.

On reading this bill I was struck, not merely by his gift of one hundred thousand dollars to his townsmen, but even more by a certain breadth and largeness in his way of making it. The most striking sign of this was his mode of forming a board of trustees; for, instead of the usual effort to tie up the organization forever in some sect, party, or clique, he had named the best men of his town– his political opponents as well as his friends; and had added to them the pastors of all the principal churches, Catholic and Protestant. This breadth of mind, even more than his munificence, drew me to him. We met several times, discussed his bill, and finally I reported it substantially as introduced, and supported it until it became a law.

Our next relations were not, at first, so pleasant. The great Land Grant of 1862, from the General Government to the State, for industrial and technical education, had been turned over, at a previous session of the legislature, to an institution called the People’s College, in Schuyler County; but the Agricultural College, twenty miles distant from it, was seeking to take away from it a portion of this endowment; and among the trustees of this Agricultural College was Mr. Cornell, who now introduced a bill to divide the fund between the two institutions.

On this I at once took ground against him, declaring that the fund ought to be kept together at some one institution; that on no account should it be divided; that the policy for higher education in the State of New York should be concentration; that we had already suffered sufficiently from scattering our resources; that there were already over twenty colleges in the State, and not one of them doing anything which could justly be called university work.

Mr. Cornell’s first effort was to have his bill referred, not to my committee, but to his; here I resisted him, and, as a solution of the difficulty, it was finally referred to a joint committee made up of both. On this double-headed committee I deliberately thwarted his purpose throughout the entire session, delaying action and preventing any report upon his bill.

Most men would have been vexed by this; but he took my course calmly, and even kindly. He never expostulated, and always listened attentively to my arguments against his view; meanwhile I omitted no opportunity to make these arguments as strong as possible, and especially to impress upon him the importance of keeping the fund together.

After the close of the session, during the following summer, as it had become evident that the trustees of the People’s College had no intention of raising the additional endowment and providing the equipment required by the act which gave them the land grant, there was great danger that the whole fund might be lost to the State by the lapsing of the time allowed in the congressional act for its acceptance. Just at this period Mr. Cornell invited me to attend a meeting of the State Agricultural Society, of which he was the president, at Rochester; and, when the meeting had assembled, he quietly proposed to remove the difficulty I had raised, by drawing a new bill giving the State Agricultural College half of the fund, and by inserting a clause requiring the college to provide an additional sum of three hundred thousand dollars. This sum he pledged himself to give, and, as the comptroller of the State had estimated the value of the land grant at six hundred thousand dollars, Mr. Cornell supposed that this would obviate my objection, since the fund of the Agricultural College would thus be made equal to the whole original land-grant fund as estimated, which would be equivalent to keeping the whole fund together.

The entire audience applauded, as well they might: it was a noble proposal. But, much to the disgust of the meeting, I persisted in my refusal to sanction any bill dividing the fund, declared myself now more opposed to such a division than ever; but promised that if Mr. Cornell and his friends would ask for the WHOLE grant–keeping it together, and adding his three hundred thousand dollars, as proposed–I would support such a bill with all my might.

I was led to make this proposal by a course of circumstances which might, perhaps, be called “providential.” For some years I had been dreaming of a university; had looked into the questions involved, at home and abroad; had approached sundry wealthy and influential men on the subject; but had obtained no encouragement, until this strange and unexpected combination of circumstances–a great land grant, the use of which was to be determined largely by the committee of which I was chairman, and this noble pledge by Mr. Cornell.

Yet for some months nothing seemed to come of our conference. At the assembling of the legislature in the following year, it was more evident than ever that the trustees of the People’s College intended to do nothing. During the previous session they had promised through their agents to supply the endowment required by their charter; but, though this charter obliged them, as a condition of taking the grant, to have an estate of two hundred acres, buildings for the accommodation of two hundred students, and a faculty of not less than six professors, with a sufficient library and other apparatus, yet our committee, on again taking up the subject, found hardly the faintest pretense of complying with these conditions. Moreover, their charter required that their property should be free from all encumbrance; and yet the so-called donor of it, Mr. Charles Cook, could not be induced to cancel a small mortgage which he held upon it. Still worse, before the legislature had been in session many days, it was found that his agent had introduced a bill to relieve the People ‘s College of all conditions, and to give it, without any pledge whatever, the whole land grant, amounting to very nearly a million of acres.

But even worse than this was another difficulty. In addition to the strong lobby sent by Mr. Cook to Albany in behalf of the People’s College, there came representatives of nearly all the smaller denominational colleges in the State, men eminent and influential, clamoring for a division of the fund among their various institutions, though the fragment which would have fallen to each would not have sufficed to endow even a single professorship.

While all this was uncertain, and the fund seemed likely to be utterly frittered away, I was one day going down from the State Capitol, when Mr. Cornell joined me and began conversation. He was, as usual, austere and reserved in appearance; but I had already found that below this appearance there was a warm heart and noble purpose. No observant associate could fail to notice that the only measures in the legislature which he cared for were those proposing some substantial good to the State or nation, and that he despised all political wrangling and partizan jugglery.

On this occasion, after some little general talk, he quietly said, “I have about half a million dollars more than my family will need: what is the best thing I can do with it for the State?” I answered: “ Mr. Cornell, the two things most worthy of aid in any country are charity and education; but, in our country, the charities appeal to everybody. Any one can understand the importance of them, and the worthy poor or unfortunate are sure to be taken care of. As to education, the lower grades will always be cared for in the public schools by the State; but the institutions of the highest grade, without which the lower can never be thoroughly good, can be appreciated by only a few. The policy of our State is to leave this part of the system to individuals; it seems to me, then, that if you have half a million to give, the best thing you can do with it is to establish or strengthen some institution for higher instruction.” I then went on to show him the need of a larger institution for such instruction than the State then had; that such a college or university worthy of the State would require far more in the way of faculty and equipment than most men supposed; that the time had come when scientific and technical education must be provided for in such an institution; and that education in history and literature should be the bloom of the whole growth.

He listened attentively, but said little. The matter seemed to end there; but not long afterward he came to me and said: “I agree with you that the land-grant fund ought to be kept together, and that there should be a new institution fitted to the present needs of the State and the country. I am ready to pledge to such an institution a site and five hundred thousand dollars as an addition to the land-grant endowment, instead of three hundred thousand, as I proposed at Rochester.”

As may well be imagined, I hailed this proposal joyfully, and soon sketched out a bill embodying his purpose so far as education was concerned. But here I wish to say that, while Mr. Cornell urged Ithaca as the site of the proposed institution, he never showed any wish to give his own name to it. The suggestion to that effect was mine. He at first doubted the policy of it; but, on my insisting that it was in accordance with time-honored American usage, as shown by the names of Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Amherst, Bowdoin, Brown, Williams, and the like, he yielded.

We now held frequent conferences as to the leading features of the institution to be created. In these I was more and more impressed by his sagacity and largeness of view; and, when the sketch of the bill was fully developed,–its financial features by him, and its educational features by me,–it was put into shape by Charles J. Folger of Geneva, then chairman of the judiciary committee of the Senate, afterward chief judge of the Court of Appeals, and finally Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. The provision forbidding any sectarian or partizan predominance in the board of trustees or faculty was proposed by me, heartily acquiesced in by Mr. Cornell, and put into shape by Judge Folger. The State-scholarship feature and the system of alumni representation on the board of trustees were also accepted by Mr. Cornell at my suggestion.

I refer to these things especially because they show one striking characteristic of the man–namely, his readiness to be advised largely by others in matters which he felt to be outside his own province, and his willingness to give the largest measure of confidence when he gave any confidence at all.

On the other hand, the whole provision for the endowment, the part relating to the land grant, and, above all, the supplementary legislation allowing him to make a contract with the State for “locating” the lands, were thought out entirely by himself; and in all these matters he showed, not only a public spirit far beyond that displayed by any other benefactor of education in his time, but a foresight which seemed to me then, and seems to me now, almost miraculous. He alone, of all men in the United States, was able to foresee what might be done by an individual to develop the land-grant fund, and he alone was willing to make the great personal sacrifice thereby required.

But, while he thus left the general educational features to me, he uttered, during one of our conversations, words which showed that he had arrived at the true conception of a university. He expressed the hope that in the proposed institution every student might find instruction in whatever study interested him. Hence came the legend now surrounding his medallion portrait upon the university seal: “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.”

The introduction of this new bill into the legislature was a signal for war. Nearly all the denominational colleges girded themselves for the fray, and sent their agents to fight us at Albany; they also stirred up the secular press, without distinction of party, in the regions where they were situated, and the religious organs of their various sects in the great cities.

At the center of the movement against us was the People’s College; it had rallied in force and won over the chairman of the educational committee in the Assembly, so that under various pretexts he delayed considering the bill. Worst of all, there appeared against us, late in the session, a professor from the Genesee College–a man of high character and great ability; and he did his work most vigorously. He brought the whole force of his sect to bear upon the legislature, and insisted that every other college in the State had received something from the public funds, while his had received none.

As a first result came a proposal from some of his associates that twenty-five thousand dollars of the land-grant fund be paid to Genesee College; but this the friends of the Cornell bill resisted, on the ground that, if the fund were broken into in one case, it would be in others.

It was next proposed that Mr. Cornell should agree to give twenty-five thousand dollars to Genesee College on the passage of the bill. This Mr. Cornell utterly refused, saying that not for the passage of any bill would he make any private offer or have any private understanding; that every condition must be put into the bill, where all men could see it; and that he would then accept or reject it as he might think best. The result was that our opponents forced into the bill a clause requiring him to give twenty- five thousand dollars to Genesee College, before he could be allowed to give five hundred thousand dollars to the proposed university; and the friends of the bill, not feeling strong enough to resist this clause, and not being willing to see the enterprise wrecked for the want of it, allowed it to go unopposed. The whole matter was vexatious to the last degree. A man of less firmness and earnestness, thus treated, would have thrown up his munificent purpose in disgust; but Mr. Cornell quietly persevered.

Yet the troubles of the proposed university had only begun. Mr. Charles Cook, who, during his senatorship, had secured the United States land grant of 1862 for the People’s College, was a man of great force, a born leader of men, anxious to build up his part of the State, and especially the town from which he came, though he had no special desire to put any considerable part of his own wealth into a public institution. He had seen the opportunities afforded by the land grant, had captured it, and was now determined to fight for it. The struggle became bitter. His emissaries, including the members of the Senate and Assembly from his part of the State, made common cause with the sectarian colleges, and with various corporations and persons who, having bills of their own in the legislature, were ready to exchange services and votes.

The coalition of all these forces against the Cornell University bill soon became very formidable, and the committee on education in the Assembly, to which the bill had been referred, seemed more and more controlled by them. Our only hope now was to enlighten the great body of the senators and assemblymen. To this end Mr. Cornell invited them by squads, sometimes to his rooms at Congress Hall, sometimes to mine at the Delavan House. There he laid before them his general proposal and the financial side of the plan, while I dwelt upon the need of a university in the true sense of the word; upon the opportunity now offered by this great fund; upon the necessity of keeping it together; upon the need of large means to carry out any scheme of technical and general education such as was contemplated by the congressional act of 1862; showed the proofs that the People’s College would and could do nothing to meet this want; that division of the fund among the existing colleges was simply the annihilation of it; and, in general, did my best to enlighten the reason and arouse the patriotism of the members on the subject of a worthy university in our State. These points and others were finally embodied in my speech before the Senate, and this having been published in the “Albany Journal,” Mr. Cornell provided for its circulation broadcast over the State and thus aroused public opinion.

In this way we won to our support several strong friends in both Houses, among them some men of great natural force of character who had never enjoyed the privilege of much early education, but who were none the less anxious that those who came after them should have the best opportunities. Of these I may name especially Senators Cook of Saratoga and Ames of Oswego. Men of high education and culture also aided us, especially Mr. Andrews, Mr. Havens, and, finally, Judge Folger in the Senate, with Mr. Lord and Mr. Weaver in the Assembly.

While we were thus laboring with the legislature as a whole, serious work had to be done with the Assembly committee; and Mr. Cornell employed a very eminent lawyer to present his case, while Mr. Cook employed one no less noted to take the opposite side. The session of the committee was held in the Assembly chamber, and there was a large attendance of spectators; but, unfortunately, the lawyer employed by Mr. Cornell having taken little pains with the case, his speech was cold, labored, perfunctory, and fell flat. The speech on the other side was much more effective; it was thin and demagogical, but the speaker knew well the best tricks for catching the average man. He indulged in eloquent tirades against the Cornell bill as a “monopoly,” a “wild project,” a “selfish scheme,” a “job,” a “grab,” and the like; denounced Mr. Cornell as “seeking to erect a monument to himself”; hinted that he was “planning to rob the State”; and, before he had finished, had pictured Mr. Cornell as a swindler and the rest of us as dupes or knaves.

I can never forget the quiet dignity with which Mr. Cornell took this abuse. Mrs. Cornell sat at his right, I at his left. In one of the worst tirades against him, he turned to me and said quietly, and without the slightest anger or excitement: “If I could think of any other way in which half a million of dollars would do as much good to the State, I would give the legislature no more trouble.” Shortly afterward, when the invective was again especially bitter, he turned to me and said: “I am not sure but that it would be a good thing for me to give the half a million to old Harvard College in Massachusetts, to educate the descendants of the men who hanged my forefathers.”

There was more than his usual quaint humor in this –there was that deep reverence which he always bore toward his Quaker ancestry, and which seemed to have become part of him. I admired Mr. Cornell on many occasions, but never more than during that hour when he sat, without the slightest anger, mildly taking the abuse of that prostituted pettifogger, the indifference of the committee, and the laughter of the audience. It was a scene for a painter, and I trust that some day it will be fitly perpetuated for the university.

This struggle being ended, the Assembly committee could not be induced to report the bill. It was easy, after such a speech, for its members to pose as protectors of the State against a swindler and a monopoly; the chairman, who, shortly after the close of the session, was mysteriously given a position in the New York custom-house, made pretext after pretext without reporting, until it became evident that we must have a struggle in the Assembly and drag the bill out of the committee in spite of him. To do this required a two-thirds vote. All our friends were set to work, and some pains taken to scare the corporations which had allied themselves with the enemy, in regard to the fate of their own bills, by making them stand that, unless they stopped their interested opposition to the university bill in the House, a feeling would be created in the Senate very unfortunate for them. In this way their clutch upon sundry members of the Assembly was somewhat relaxed, and these were allowed to vote according to their consciences.

The Cornell bill was advocated most earnestly in the House by Mr. Henry B. Lord: in his unpretentious way he marshaled the university forces, and moved that the bill be taken from the committee and referred to the Committee of the Whole. Now came a struggle. Most of the best men in the Assembly stood by us; but the waverers –men who feared local pressure, sectarian hostility, or the opposition of Mr. Cook to measures of their own– attempted, if not to oppose the Cornell bill, at least to evade a vote upon it. In order to give them a little tone and strength, Mr. Cornell went with me to various leading editors in the city of New York, and we explained the whole matter to them, securing editorial articles favorable to the university, the most prominent among these gentlemen being Horace Greeley of the “Tribune,” Eras- tus Brooks of the “Express,” and Manton Marble of the “World.” This did much for us, yet when the vote was taken the old cowardice was again shown; but several of us stood in the cloak-room and fairly shamed the waverers back into their places. As a result, to the surprise and disgust of the chairman of the Assembly committee, the bill was taken out of his control, and referred to the Committee of the Whole House.

Another long struggle now ensued, but the bill was finally passed in the Assembly and came back to the Senate. There the struggle was renewed, all kinds of delaying tactics were resorted to, but the bill was finally carried, and received the signature of Governor Fenton.

Now came a new danger. During their struggle against the bill, our enemies had been strong enough to force into it a clause enabling the People’s College to retain the land fund, provided that institution should be shown, within six months of the passage of the bill, to be in possession of a sum such as the Board of Regents should declare would enable it to comply with the conditions on which it had originally received the grant. The Board of Regents now reported that the possession of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars would be sufficient for such a compliance, and would insure the fund to the People’s College. Naturally we watched, in much uneasy suspense, during those six months, to see whether Mr. Cook and the People’s College authorities would raise this sum of money, so small in comparison with that which Mr. Cornell was willing to give, in order to secure the grant. But our fears were baseless; and on the fifth day of September, 1865, the trustees of Cornell University were assembled for the first time at Ithaca.

Then came to them a revelation of a quality in Mr. Cornell unknown to most of them before. In one of the petitions forwarded from Ithaca to the legislature by his fellow-citizens it had been stated that “he never did less than he promised, but generally more.” So it was found in this case. He turned over to the trustees, not only the securities for the five hundred thousand dollars required by the charter, but also gave two hundred acres of land as a site. Thus came into being Cornell University.

Yet the services of Mr. Cornell had only begun: he at once submitted to us a plan for doing what no other citizen had done for any other State. In the other commonwealths which had received the land grant, the authorities had taken the scrip representing the land, sold it at the market price, and, as the market was thus glutted, had realized but a small sum; but Mr. Cornell, with that foresight which was his most striking characteristic, saw clearly what could be done by using the scrip to take up land for the institution. To do this he sought aid in various ways; but no one dared join him, and at last he determined to bear the whole burden himself. Scrip representing over seven hundred thousand acres still remained in the hands of the comptroller. The trustees received Mr. Cornell’s plan for dealing with the scrip somewhat doubtfully, but the enabling act was passed, by which he was permitted to “locate” this land for the benefit of the university. So earnest was he in this matter that he was anxious to take up the entire amount, but here his near friends interposed: we saw too well what a crushing load the taxes and other expenses on such a vast tract of land would become before it could be sold to advantage. Finally he yielded somewhat: it was agreed that he should take up five hundred thousand acres, and he now gave himself day and night to this great part of the enterprise, which was to provide a proper financial basis for a university such as we hoped to found.

Meanwhile, at Mr. Cornell’s suggestion, I devoted myself to a more careful plan of the new institution; and, at the next meeting of the board, presented a “plan of organization,” which sketched out the purpose and constitution of such a university as seemed needed in a great commonwealth like ours. Mr. Cornell studied it carefully, gave it his approval, and a copy of it with marginal notes in his own hand is still preserved.

I had supposed that this was to end my relations with Mr. Cornell, so far as the university was concerned. A multitude of matters seemed to forbid my taking any further care for it, and a call to another position very attractive to me drew me away from all thought of connection with it, save, perhaps, such as was involved in meeting the trustees once or twice a year.

Mr. Cornell had asked me, from time to time, whether I could suggest any person for the presidency of the university. I mentioned various persons, and presented the arguments in their favor. One day he said to me quietly that he also had a candidate; I asked him who it was, and he said that he preferred to keep the matter to himself until the next meeting of the trustees. Nothing more passed between us on that subject. I had no inkling of his purpose, but thought it most likely that his candidate was a Western gentleman whose claims had been strongly pressed upon him. When the trustees came together, and the subject was brought up, I presented the merits of various gentlemen, especially of one already at the head of an important college in the State, who, I thought, would give us success. Upon this, Mr. Cornell rose, and, in a very simple but earnest speech, presented my name. It was entirely unexpected by me, and I endeavored to show the trustees that it was impossible for me to take the place in view of other duties; that it needed a man of more robust health, of greater age, and of wider reputation in the State. But Mr. Cornell quietly persisted, our colleagues declared themselves unanimously of his opinion, and, with many misgivings, I gave a provisional acceptance.

The relation thus begun ended only with Mr. Cornell’s life, and from first to last it grew more and more interesting to me. We were thrown much together at Albany, at Ithaca, and on various journeys undertaken for the university; and, the more I saw of him, the deeper became my respect for him. There were, indeed, toward the end of his life, some things trying to one of my temperament, and among these things I may mention his exceeding reticence, and his willingness not only to labor but to wait; but these stood not at all in the way of my respect and affection for him.

His liberality was unstinted. While using his fortune in taking up the lands, he was constantly doing generous things for the university and those connected with it. One of the first of these was his gift of the library in classical literature collected by Dr. Charles Anthon of Columbia College. Nothing could apparently be more outside his sympathy than the department needing these seven thousand volumes; but he recognized its importance in the general plan of the new institution, bought the library for over twelve thousand dollars, and gave it to the university.

Then came the Jewett collection in geology, which he gave at a cost of ten thousand dollars; the Ward collection of casts, at a cost of three thousand; the Newcomb collection in conchology, at a cost of sixteen thousand; an addition to the university grounds, valued at many thousands more; and it was only the claims of a multitude of minor university matters upon his purse which prevented his carrying out a favorite plan of giving a great telescope, at a cost of fifty thousand dollars. At a later period, to extinguish the university debt, to increase the equipment, and eventually to provide free scholarships and fellowships, he made an additional gift of about eighty thousand dollars.

While doing these things, he was constantly advancing large sums in locating the university lands, and in paying university salaries, for which our funds were not yet available; while from time to time he made many gifts which, though smaller, were no less striking evidences of the largeness of his view. I may mention a few among these as typical.

Having found, in the catalogue of a London book- seller, a set of Piranesi’s great work on the “Antiquities of Rome,”–a superb copy, the gift of a pope to a royal duke,–I showed it to him, when he at once ordered it for our library at a cost of about a thousand dollars. At another time, seeing the need of some costly works to illustrate agriculture, he gave them to us at a somewhat greater cost; and, having heard Professor Tyndall’s lectures in New York, he bought additional physical apparatus to enable our resident professor to repeat the lectures at Ithaca, and this cost him fifteen hundred dollars.

Characteristic of him, too, was another piece of quiet munificence. When the clause forced into the university charter, requiring him to give twenty-five thousand dollars to another institution before he could be allowed to give half a million to his own, was noised abroad through the State, there was a general feeling of disgust; and at the next session of the legislature a bill was brought in to refund the twenty-five thousand dollars to him. Upon this, he remarked that what he once gave he never took back, but that if the university trustees would accept it he had no objection. The bill was modified to this effect, and thus the wrong was righted.

During my stay in Europe, through the summer of 1868, under instructions to study various institutions for technical education, to make large purchases of books, and to secure one or two men greatly needed in special departments not then much cultivated in this country, his generosity was unfailing. Large as were the purchases which I was authorized to make, the number of desirable things outside this limit steadily grew larger; but my letters to him invariably brought back the commission to secure this additional material.

During this occupation of mine in Europe, he was quite as busy in the woods of the upper Mississippi and on the plains of Kansas, selecting university lands. No fatigue or expenditure deterred him.

At various periods I passed much time with Mr. Cornell on his home farm. He lived generously, in a kind of patriarchal simplicity, and many of his conversations interested me intensely. His reticence gradually yielded, and he gave me much information regarding his earlier years: they had been full of toil and struggle, but through the whole there was clear evidence of a noble purpose. Whatever worthy work his hand had found to do, he had done it with his might: the steamers of Cayuga Lake; the tunnel which carries the waters of Fall Creek to the mills below; the mills themselves; the dams against that turbulent stream, which he built after others had failed, and which stand firmly to this day; the calendar clocks for which Ithaca has become famous, and of which he furnished the original hint–all these he touched upon, though so modestly that I never found out his full agency in them until a later period, when I had made the acquaintance of many of his townsmen.

Especially interesting were his references to the beginnings of American telegraphic enterprise, with which he had so much to do.

His connection with it began in a curious way. Traveling in northern New England to dispose of a plow which he had invented, he entered the office of a gentleman who had taken the contract for laying the first telegraphic wires underground between Washington and Baltimore, and found him in much doubt and trouble: the difficulty was to lay the leaden pipe containing the two insulated wires at a cost within the terms of the contract. Hearing this, Mr. Cornell said: “I will build you a machine which will dig the trench, lay the pipe and wires, and cover them with earth rapidly and cheaply.”

This proposal was at first derided; but, as Mr. Cornell insisted upon it, he was at last allowed to show what he could do. The machine having been constructed, he exhibited it to a committee; but when the long line of horses attached to it were started, it was so thrown about by the inequalities of the surface that the committee declared it a failure. Presently Mr. Cornell took them to the ground over which the machine had just passed, and, showing them a line of newly turned earth, asked them to dig in it. Having done this, they found the pipe incasing the wires, acknowledged his triumph, and immediately gave him and his machine permanent employment.

But before long he became convinced that this was not the best way. Having studied all the books on electricity that he could find in the Congressional Library, he had satisfied himself that it would be far better and cheaper to string the wires through the open air between poles. This idea the men controlling the scheme for a time resisted. Some of them regarded such interference in a scientific matter by one whom they considered a plain working-man as altogether too presuming. But one day Professor Morse came out to decide the matter. Finding Mr. Cornell at his machine, the professor explained the difficulties in the case, especially the danger of shaking the confidence of Congress, and so losing the necessary appropriation, should any change in plan be adopted, and then asked him if he could see any way out of the difficulty. Mr. Cornell answered that he could, whereupon Professor Morse expressed a wish that it might be taken. At this Mr. Cornell gave the word to his men, started up the long line of horses dragging the ponderous machine, guided it with his own hands into a boulder lying near, and thus deranged the whole machinery.

As a natural result it was announced by various journals at the national capital that the machinery for laying the wires had been broken by the carelessness of an employee, but that it would doubtless soon be repaired and the work resumed. Thanks to this stratagem, the necessary time was gained without shaking the confidence of Congress, and Mr. Cornell at once began stringing the wires upon poles: the insulation was found far better than in the underground system, and there was no more trouble.

The confidence of the promoters of the enterprise being thus gained, Mr. Cornell was employed to do their work in all parts of the country; and his sturdy honesty, energy, and persistence justified their confidence and laid the foundations of his fortune.

Very striking were the accounts of his troubles and trials during the prosecution of this telegraphic work– troubles from men of pretended science, from selfish men, from stupid men–all chronicled by him without the slightest bitterness against any human being, yet with a quaint humor which made the story very enjoyable.

Through his personal history, as I then began to learn it, ran a thread, or rather a strong cord, of stoicism. He had clung with such desperate tenacity to his faith in the future of the telegraphic system, that, sooner than part with his interest in it, even when its stock was utterly discredited, he suffered from poverty, and almost from want. While pressing on his telegraphic construction, he had been terribly wounded in a Western railroad accident, but had extricated himself from the dead and dying, and, as I learned from others, had borne his sufferings without a murmur. At another time, overtaken by ship-fever at Montreal, and thought to be beyond help, he had quietly made up his mind that, if he could reach a certain hydropathic establishment in New York, he would recover; and had dragged himself through that long journey, desperately ill as he was, in railway cars, steamers, and stages, until he reached his desired haven; and there he finally recovered, though nearly every other person attacked by the disease at his Montreal hotel had died.

Pursuing his telegraphic enterprise, he had been obliged at times to fight many strong men and great combinations of capital; but this same stoicism carried him through: he used to say laughingly that his way was to “tire them out.”

When, at last, fortune had begun to smile upon him, his public spirit began to show itself in more striking forms, though not in forms more real, than in his earlier days. Evidences of this met the eye of his visitors at once, and among these were the fine cattle, sheep, fruit-trees, and the like, which he had brought back from the London Exposition of 1851. His observations of the agricultural experiments of Lawes and Gilbert at Rothamstead in England, and his visits to various agricultural exhibitions, led him to attempt similar work at home. Everything that could improve the community in which he lived was matter of concern to him. He took the lead in establishing “Cascadilla Place,” in order to give a very gifted woman an opportunity to show her abilities in administering hydropathic treatment to disease; his public library, when I first visited Ithaca, was just completed.

He never showed the slightest approach to display or vanity regarding any of these things, and most of them I heard of first, at a later period, from others.

Although his religious ideas were very far from those generally considered orthodox, he had a deep sympathy with every good effort for religion and morality, no matter by whom made; and he contributed freely to churches of every name and to good purposes of every sort. He had quaint ways at times in making such gifts, and from the many stories showing these I select one as characteristic. During the Civil War, the young women of the village held large sewing-circles, doing work for the soldiers. When Mr. Cornell was asked to contribute to their funds, he declined, to the great surprise of those who asked him, and said dryly: “Of course these women don’t really come together to sew for the soldiers; they come together to gossip.” This was said, no doubt, with that peculiar twinkle of the eye which his old friends can well remember; but, on the young ladies protesting that he did them injustice, he answered: “If you can prove that I am wrong, I will gladly contribute; if you will only sew together all one afternoon, and no one of you speak a word, I will give you a hundred dollars.” The society met, and complete silence reigned. The young men of the community, hearing of this, and seeing an admirable chance to tease their fair friends, came in large numbers to the sewing-circle, and tried to engage them in conversation. At first their attempts were in vain; but, finally, to a question skilfully put, one of the young ladies made a reply. This broke the spell. Of course, the whole assembly were very unhappy; but, when all was told to Mr. Cornell, he said: “They shall have their hundred dollars, for they have done better than any other women ever did.”

But I ought to say here that this little episode would be grossly misunderstood were it supposed to indicate any tendency in his heart or mind toward a cynical view of womankind. Nothing could be more manly and noble than his reference to her who had stood at his side courageously, hopefully, and cheerily during his years of struggle and want of appreciation. Well might he speak of her, as he did once in my hearing, as “the best woman that ever lived.” And his gentle courtliness and thoughtful kindness were also deeply appreciated in other households. His earnestness, too, in behalf of the higher education of women, and of their fair treatment in various professions and occupations, showed something far deeper than conventional politeness.

From the time when I began to know him best, his main thought was concentrated upon the university. His own business interests were freely sacrificed; his time, wealth, and effort were all yielded to his work in taking up its lands, to say nothing of supplementary work which became in many ways a heavy burden to him.

During the summer preceding the opening of the university, this labor and care began to wear upon him, and he was attacked by an old malady which gave him great pain; yet his stoicism asserted itself. Through night after night, as I lay in the room next his at his farm-house, I could hear him groan, and to my natural sympathy was added a fear lest he might not live through this most critical period in the history of the new institution; but, invariably, when I met him next morning and asked how he felt, his answer was, “All right,” or “Very well.” I cannot remember ever hearing him make any complaint of his sufferings or even any reference to them.

Nor did pain diminish his steady serenity or generosity. I remember that on one hot afternoon of that summer, when he had come into the house thoroughly weary, a young man called upon him to ask for aid in securing school-books. Mr. Cornell questioned him closely, and then rose, walked with him down the hill into the town, and bought the books which were needed.

As the day approached for the formal opening of the university, he was obliged to remain in bed. Care and toil had prostrated me also; and both of us, a sorry couple indeed, had to be taken from our beds to be carried to the opening exercises.

A great crowd had assembled from all parts of the State:–many enthusiastic, more doubtful, and some decidedly inclined to scoff.

Some who were expected were not present. The Governor of the State, though he had been in Ithaca the day before, quietly left town on the eve of the opening exercises. His Excellency was a very wise man in his generation, and evidently felt that it was not best for him to have too much to do with an institution which the sectarian press had so generally condemned. I shall not soon forget the way in which Mr. Cornell broke the news to me, and the accent of calm contempt in his voice. Fortunately there remained with us the lieutenant-governor, General Stewart Lyndon Woodford. He came to the front nobly, and stood by us firmly and munificently ever afterward.

Mr. Cornell’s speech on that occasion was very simple and noble; his whole position, to one who knew what he had gone through in the way of obloquy, hard work, and self-sacrifice, was touching. Worn down by illness, he was unable to stand, and he therefore read his address in a low tone from his chair. It was very impressive, almost incapacitating me from speaking after him, and I saw tears in the eyes of many in the audience. Nothing could be more simple than this speech of his; it was mainly devoted to a plain assertion of the true university theory in its most elementary form, and to a plea that women should have equal privileges with men in advanced education. In the midst of it came a touch of his quaint shrewdness; for, in replying to a recent charge that everything at the university was unfinished, he remarked in substance, “We have not invited you to see a university finished, but to see one begun.”

The opening day seemed a success, but this very success stirred up the enemy. A bitter letter from Ithaca to a leading denominational organ in New York gave the signal, and soon the whole sectarian press was in full cry, steadily pressing upon Mr. Cornell and those who stood near him. Very many of the secular presses also thought it wise to join in the attack, and it was quickly extended from his ideas to his honor, and even to his honesty. It seemed beyond the conception of many of these gentlemen that a Hicksite Quaker, who, if he gave any thought at all to this or that creed, or this or that “plan of salvation,” passed it all by as utterly irrelevant and inadequate, could be a religious man; and a far greater number seemed to find it just as difficult to believe that a man could sacrifice his comfort and risk his fortune in managing so great a landed property for the public interest without any concealed scheme of plunder.

But he bore all this with his usual stoicism. It seemed to increase his devotion to the institution, rather than to diminish it. When the receipts from the endowment fell short or were delayed, he continued to advance money freely to meet the salaries of the professors; and for apparatus, books, and equipment of every sort his purse was constantly opened.

Yet, in those days of toil and care and obloquy, there were some things which encouraged him much. At that period all patriotic Americans felt deep gratitude to Goldwin Smith for his courage and eloquence in standing by our country during the Civil War, and great admiration for his profound and brilliant historical lectures at Oxford. Naturally, on arriving in London, I sought to engage him for the new university, and was authorized by Mr. Cornell to make him large pecuniary offers. Professor Smith entered at once into our plans heartily; wrote to encourage us; came to us; lived with us amid what, to him, must have been great privations; lectured for us year after year as brilliantly as he had ever lectured at Oxford; gave his library to the university, with a large sum for its increase; lent his aid very quietly, but none the less effectually, to needy and meritorious students; and steadily refused then, as he has ever since done, and now does, to accept a dollar of compensation. Nothing ever gave Mr. Cornell more encouragement than this. For “Goldwin,” as he called him in his Quaker way, there was always a very warm corner in his heart.

He also found especial pleasure in many of the lecture- courses established at the opening of the university. For Professor Agassiz he formed a warm friendship; and their discussions regarding geological questions were very interesting, eliciting from Agassiz a striking tribute to Mr. Cornell’s closeness of observation and sagacity in reasoning. The lectures on history by Goldwin Smith, and on literature by James Russell Lowell, George William Curtis, and Bayard Taylor, he also enjoyed greatly.

The scientific collections and apparatus of various sorts gave him constant pleasure. I had sent from England, France, and Germany a large number of charts, models, and pieces of philosophical apparatus, and regarding some of them had thought it best to make careful explanations to him, in order to justify so large an expenditure; but I soon found this unnecessary. His shrewd mind enabled him to understand any piece of apparatus quickly, and to appreciate it fully. I have never had to deal with any man whose instinct in such matters was more true. If a book or scientific specimen or piece of apparatus was necessary to the proper work of a department, he could easily be made to see it; and then it MUST come to us, no matter at what cost. Like the great prince of navigators in the fifteenth century, he was a man “who had the taste for great things”–“qui tenia gusto en cosas grandes.” He felt that the university was to be great, and he took his measures accordingly. His colleagues generally thought him over-sanguine; and when he declared that the university should yet have an endow- ment of three millions, most of them regarded him as a dreamer.

I have never known a man more entirely unselfish. I have seen him, when his wealth was counted in millions, devote it so generously to university objects that he felt it necessary to stint himself in some matters of personal comfort. When urged to sell a portion of the university land at a sacrifice, in order to better our foundations, he answered in substance, “Don’t let us do that yet; I will wear my old hat and coat a little longer, and let you have a little more money from my own pocket.”

This feeling seemed never diminished, even under the worst opposition. He “kept the faith,” no matter who opposed him.

An eminent and justly respected president of one of the oldest Eastern universities published a treatise, which was widely circulated, to prove that the main ideas on which the new university was based were utterly impracticable; and especially that the presentation of various courses of instruction suited to young men of various aims and tastes, with liberty of choice between them, was preposterous. It is interesting to note that this same eminent gentleman was afterward led to adopt this same “impracticable” policy at his own university. Others of almost equal eminence insisted that to give advanced scientific and technical instruction in the same institution with classical instruction was folly; and these gentlemen were probably not converted until the plan was adopted at English Cambridge. Others still insisted that an institution not belonging to any one religious sect must be “godless,” would not be patronized, and could not succeed. Their eyes were opened later by the sight of men and women of different Christian denominations pressing forward at Cornell University to contribute sums which, in the aggregate, amounted to much more than the original endowment.

He earned the blessing of those who, not having seen, have yet believed. Though he did not live long enough to see the fundamental principles of the university thus force their way to recognition and adoption by those who had most strongly opposed them, his faith remained undiminished to the end of his life.

But the opposition to his work developed into worse shapes; many leading journals in the State, when not openly hostile to him, were cold and indifferent, and some of them were steadily abusive. This led to a rather wide- spread feeling that “where there is smoke, there must be fire”; and we who knew the purity of his purpose, his unselfishness, his sturdy honesty, labored long against this feeling.

I regret to say that some eminent men connected with important universities in the country showed far too much readiness to acquiesce in this unfavorable view of our founder. From very few of our sister institutions came any word of cheer; and from some of them came most bitter attacks, not only upon the system adopted in the new university, but upon Mr. Cornell himself. But his friends were more afflicted, by far, than he; all this opposition only served to strengthen his faith. As to this effect upon him, I recall one or two quaint examples. At the darkest period in the history of the university, I mentioned to him that a fine collection of mathematical books was offered us for five thousand dollars. Under ordinary circumstances he would have bought it for us at once; but at that moment, when any addition to his burdens would not have been advised by any of his friends, he quietly said, “Somewhere there is a man walking about who wants to give us that five thousand dollars.” I am glad to say that his faith was soon justified; such a man appeared,–a man who was glad to give the required sum as a testimony to his belief in Mr. Cornell’s integrity: William Kelly of Rhinebeck.

Another example may be given as typical. Near the close of the first celebration of Founder’s Day at one of the college buildings, a pleasant social dance sprang up among the younger people–students from the university and young ladies from the village. This brought a very severe protest from sundry clergymen of the place, declaring dancing to be “destructive of vital godliness.” Though this was solemnly laid before the faculty, no answer was ever made to it; but we noticed that, at every social gathering on Founder’s Day afterward, as long as Mr. Cornell lived, he had arrangements made for dancing. I never knew a man more open to right reason, and never one less influenced by cant or dogmatism.

To most attacks upon him in the newspapers he neither made nor suggested any reply; but one or two which were especially misleading he answered simply and conclusively. This had no effect, of course, in stopping the attacks; but it had one effect, at which the friends of the university rejoiced: it bound his old associates to him all the more closely, and led them to support him all the more vigorously. When a paper in one of the largest cities in western New York had been especially abusive, one of Mr. Cornell’s old friends living in that city wrote: “I know that the charges recently published are utterly untrue; but I am not skilled in newspaper controversy, so I will simply add to what I have already given to the university a special gift of thirty thousand dollars, which will testify to my townsmen here, and perhaps to the public at large, my confidence in Mr. Cornell.”

Such was the way of Hiram Sibley. Upon another attack, especially violent, from the organ of one of the denominational colleges, another old friend of Mr. Cornell in the eastern part of the State, a prominent member of the religious body which this paper represented, sent his check for several thousand dollars, to be used for the purchase of books for the library, and to show confidence in Mr. Cornell by deeds as well as words.

Vile as these attacks were, worse remained behind. A local politician, who had been sent to the legislature from the district where the “People’s College” had lived its short life, prepared, with pettifogging ability, a long speech to show that the foundation of Cornell University, Mr. Cornell’s endowment of it, and his contract to locate the lands for it were parts of a great cheat and swindle. This thesis, developed in all the moods and tenses of abuse before the legislature, was next day published at length in the leading journals of the metropolis, and echoed throughout the Union. The time for these attacks was skilfully chosen; the Cr<e’>dit Mobilier and other schemes had been revealed at Washington, and everybody was only too ready to believe any charge against anybody. That Mr. Cornell had been known for forty years as an honest man seemed to go for nothing.</e’>

The enemies of the university were prompt to support the charges, and they found some echoes even among those who were benefited by his generosity–even among the students themselves. At this I felt it my duty to call the whole student body together, and, in a careful speech, to explain Mr. Cornell’s transactions, answering the charges fully. This speech, though spread through the State, could evidently do but little toward righting the wrong; but it brought to me what I shall always feel a great honor–a share in the abuse showered mainly on him.

Very characteristic was Mr. Cornell’s conduct under this outrage. That same faith in justice, that same patience under wrong, which he always showed, was more evident than ever.

On the morning after the attack in the legislature had been blazoned in all the leading newspapers–in the early hours, and after a sleepless night–I heard the rattle of gravel against my window-panes. On rising, I found Mr. Cornell standing below. He was serene and cheerful, and had evidently taken the long walk up the hill to quiet my irritation. His first words were a jocose prelude. The bells of the university, which were then chimed at six o’clock, were ringing merrily, and he called out, “Come down here and listen to the chimes; I have found a spot where you can hear them directly with one ear, and their echo with the other.”

When I had come down, we first investigated the echo of the chime, which had really aroused his interest; then he said seriously: “Don’t make yourself unhappy over this matter; it will turn out to be a good thing for the university. I have long foreseen that this attack must come, but have feared that it would come after my death, when the facts would be forgotten, and the transactions little understood. I am glad that the charges are made now, while I am here to answer them.” We then discussed the matter, and it was agreed that he should telegraph and write Governor Dix, asking him to appoint an investigating committee, of which the majority should be from the political party opposed to his own. This was done. The committee was composed of Horatio Seymour, formerly governor of the State and Democratic candidate for the Presidency of the United States; William A. Wheeler, Vice-President of the United States; and John D. Van Buren, all three men of the highest standing, and two of them politically opposed to Mr. Cornell.

During the long investigation which ensued in New York and at Ithaca, he never lost his patience, though at times sorely tried. Various disappointed schemers, among these one person who had not been allowed to make an undue profit out of the university lands, and another who had been allowed to depart from a professorship on account of hopeless incompetency, were the main witnesses. The onslaught was led by the person who made the attack in the legislature, and he had raked together a mass of half-truths and surmises; but the evidence on Mr. Cornell’s side consisted of a complete exhibition of all the facts and documents. The unanimous report of the committee was all that his warmest friends could desire; and its recommendations regarding the management of the fund were such as Mr. Cornell had long wished, but which he had hardly dared ask. The result was a complete triumph for him.

Yet the attacks continued. The same paper which had been so prominent in sounding them through the western part of the State continued them as before, and, almost to the very day of his death, assailed him periodically as a “land jobber,” “land grabber,” and “land thief.” But he took these foul attacks by tricky declaimers and his vindication by three of his most eminent fellow-citizens with the same serenity. That there was in him a profound contempt for the wretched creatures who assailed him and imputed to him motives as vile as their own can hardly be doubted; yet, though I was with him constantly during this period, I never heard him speak harshly of them; nor could I ever see that this injustice diminished his good will toward his fellow-men and his desire to benefit them.

At the very time when these attacks were at their worst, he was giving especial thought to the problem of bringing education at the university within reach of young men of good ability and small means. I am quite within bounds in saying that he gave an hour to thought upon this for every minute he gave to thought upon the attacks of his enemies.

It was during this period that he began building his beautiful house near the university, and in this he showed some of his peculiarities. He took much pains to secure a tasteful plan, and some of the ideas embodied in it evidently resulted from his study of beautiful country-houses in England. Characteristic of him also was his way of carrying on the work. Having visited several quarries in various parts of the State, in order to choose the best possible building-stone, he employed some German stone- carvers who had recently left work upon the Cathedral of Cologne, brought them to Ithaca, and allowed them to work on with no interference save from the architect. If they gave a month or more to the carving of a single capital or corbel, he made no remonstrance. When he had thus secured the best stone-work, he selected the best seasoned oak and walnut and called skilful carpenters from England.

In thus going abroad for artisans there was no want of loyalty to his countrymen, nor was there any alloy of vanity in his motives. His purpose evidently was to erect a house which should be as perfect a specimen of the builder’s art as he could make it, and therefore useful, as an example of thoroughly good work, to the local workmen.

In connection with this, another incident throws light upon his characteristics. Above the front entrance of the house was a scroll, or ribbon, in stone, evidently intended for a name or motto. The words carved there were, “True and Firm.” It is a curious evidence of the petty criticism which beset him in those days, that this motto was at times cited as a proof of his vainglory. It gives me pleasure to relieve any mind sensitive on this point, and to vindicate the truth of history, by saying that it was I who placed the motto there. Calling his attention one day to the scroll and to the need of an inscription, I suggested a translation of the old German motto, “Treu und Fest”; and, as he made no objection, I wrote it out for the stone- cutters, but told Mr. Cornell that there were people, perhaps, who might translate the last word “obstinate.”

The point of this lay in the fact, which Mr. Cornell knew very well, that he was frequently charged with obstinacy. Yet an obstinate man, in the evil sense of that word, he was not. For several years it fell to my lot to discuss a multitude of questions with him, and reasonableness was one of his most striking characteristics. He was one of those very rare strong men who recognize adequately their own limitations. True, when he had finally made up his mind in a matter fully within his own province, he remained firm; but I have known very few men, wealthy, strong, successful, as he was, so free from the fault of thinking that, because they are good judges of one class of questions, they are equally good in all others. One mark of an obstinate man is the announcement of opinions upon subjects regarding which his experience and previous training give him little or no means of judging. This was not at all the case with Mr. Cornell. When questions arose regarding internal university management, or courses of study, or the choice of professors, or plans for their accommodation, he was never quick in announcing or tenacious in holding an opinion. There was no purse pride about him. He evidently did not believe that his success in building up a fortune had made him an expert or judge in questions to which he had never paid special attention.

During the last year or two of his life, I saw not so much of him as during several previous years. He had become greatly interested in various railway projects having as their purpose the connection of Ithaca, as a university town, with the State at large; and he threw himself into these plans with great energy. His course in this was prompted by a public spirit as large and pure as that which had led him to found the university. When, at the suggestion of sundry friends, I ventured to remonstrate with him against going so largely into these railway enterprises at his time of life, he said: “I shall live twenty years longer, and make a million of dollars more for the university endowment.” Alas! within six months from that day he lay dead in the midst of many broken hopes. His plans, which, under other circumstances, would have been judged wise, seemed for a time wrecked by the financial crisis which had just come upon the country.

In his last hours I visited him frequently. His mind remained clear, and he showed his old freedom from any fault-finding spirit, though evidently oppressed by business cares and bodily suffering. His serenity was especially evident as I sat with him the night before his death, and I can never forget the placidity of his countenance, both then and on the next morning, when all was ended.

Something should be said regarding Mr. Cornell’s political ideas. In the legislature he was a firm Republican, but as free as possible from anything like partizan bigotry. Party ties in local matters sat lightly upon him. He spoke in public very little, and took far greater interest in public improvement than in party advantage. With many of his political opponents his relations were most friendly. For such Democrats as Hiram Sibley, Erastus Brooks, and William Kelly he had the deepest respect and admiration. He cared little for popular clamor on any subject, braving it more than once by his votes in the legislature. He was evidently willing to take any risk involved in waiting for the sober second thought of the people. He was as free from ordinary ambition as from selfishness: when there was a call from several parts of the State for his nomination as governor, he said quietly, “I prefer work for which I am better fitted.”

There was in his ordinary bearing a certain austerity and in his conversation an abruptness which interfered somewhat with his popularity. A student once said to me, “If Mr. Cornell would simply stand upon his pedestal as our `Honored Founder,’ and let us hurrah for him, that would please us mightily; but when he comes into the laboratory and asks us gruffly, `What are you wasting your time at now?’ we don’t like him so well.” The fact on which this remark was based was that Mr. Cornell liked greatly to walk quietly through the laboratories and drafting-rooms, to note the work. Now and then, when he saw a student doing something which especially interested him, he was evidently anxious, as he was wont to say, “to see what the fellow is made of,” and he would frequently put some provoking question, liking nothing better than to receive a pithy answer. Of his kind feelings toward students I could say much. He was not inclined to coddle them, but was ever ready to help any who were deserving.

Despite his apparent austerity, he was singularly free from harshness in his judgments. There were times when he would have been justified in outbursts of bitterness against those who attacked him in ways so foul and maligned him in ways so vile; but I never heard any bitter reply from him. In his politics there was never a drop of bitterness. Only once or twice did I hear him allude to any conduct which displeased him, and then his comments were rather playful than otherwise. On one occasion, when he had written to a gentleman of great wealth and deserved repute as a philanthropist, asking him to join in carrying the burden of the land locations, and had received an unfavorable answer, he made a remark which seemed to me rather harsh. To this I replied: “Mr. Cornell, Mr. —- is not at all in fault; he does not understand the question as you do; everybody knows that he is a very liberal man.” “Oh,” said Mr. Cornell, “it’s easy enough to be liberal; the only hard part is drawing the check.”

Of his intellectual characteristics, foresight was the most remarkable. Of all men in the country who had to do with the college land grant of 1862, he alone discerned the possibilities involved and had courage to make them actual.

Clearness of thought on all matters to which he gave his attention was another striking characteristic; hence, whenever he put anything on paper, it was lucid and cogent. There seems at times in his writings some of the clear, quaint shrewdness so well known in Abraham Lincoln. Very striking examples of this are to be found in his legislative speeches, in his address at the opening of the university, and in his letters.

Among his moral characteristics, his truthfulness, persistence, courage, and fortitude were most strongly marked. These qualities made him a man of peace. He regarded life as too short to be wasted in quarrels; his steady rule was never to begin a lawsuit or have anything to do with one, if it could be avoided. The joy in litigation and squabble, which has been the weakness of so many men claiming to be strong, and the especial curse of so many American churches, colleges, universities, and other public organizations, had no place in his strong, tolerant nature. He never sought to publish the sins of any one in the courts or to win the repute of an uncompromising fighter. In this peaceable disposition he was prompted not only by his greatest moral quality:– his charity toward his fellow-men, but by his greatest intel- lectual quality:–his foresight; for he knew well “the glorious uncertainty of the law.” He was a builder, not a gladiator.

There resulted from these qualities an equanimity which I have never seen equaled. When his eldest son had been elected to the highest office in the gift of the State Assembly, and had been placed, evidently, on the way to the governor ‘s chair,–afterward attained,–though it must have gratified such a father, he never made any reference to it in my hearing; and when the body of his favorite grandson, a most winning and promising boy, killed instantly by a terrible accident, was brought into his presence, though his heart must have bled, his calmness seemed almost superhuman.

His religious ideas were such as many excellent people would hardly approve. He had been born into the Society of Friends; and their quietness, simplicity, freedom from noisy activity, and devotion to the public good attached him to them. But his was not a bigoted attachment; he went freely to various churches, aiding them without distinction of sect, though finally he settled into a steady attendance at the Unitarian Church in Ithaca, for the pastor of which he conceived a great respect and liking. He was never inclined to say much about religion; but, in our talks, he was wont to quote with approval from Pope’s “Universal Prayer”–and especially the lines:

“Teach me to feel another’s woe,
To hide the fault I see;
The mercy I to others show,
That mercy show to me.”

On the mere letter of Scripture he dwelt little; and, while he never obtruded opinions that might shock any person, and was far removed from scoffing or irreverence, he did not hesitate to discriminate between parts of our Sacred Books which he considered as simply legendary and parts which were to him pregnant with eternal truth.

His religion seemed to take shape in a deeply reverent feeling toward his Creator, and in a constant desire to improve the condition of his fellow-creatures. He was never surprised or troubled by anything which any other human being believed or did not believe; of intolerance he was utterly incapable. He sought no reputation as a philanthropist, cared little for approval, and nothing for applause; but I can say of him, without reserve, that, during all the years I knew him, “he went about doing good.”



Although my formal election to the university presidency did not take place until 1867, the duties implied by that office had already been discharged by me during two years.

While Mr. Cornell devoted himself to the financial questions arising from the new foundation, he intrusted all other questions to me. Indeed, my duties may be said to have begun when, as chairman of the Committee on Education in the State Senate, I resisted all efforts to divide the land-grant fund between the People’s College and the State Agricultural College; to have been continued when I opposed the frittering away of the entire grant among more than twenty small sectarian colleges; and to have taken a more direct form when I drafted the educational clauses of the university charter and advocated it before the legislature and in the press. This advocacy was by no means a light task. The influential men who flocked to Albany, seeking to divide the fund among various sects and localities, used arguments often plausible and sometimes forcible. These I dealt with on various occasions, but especially in a speech before the State Senate in 1865, in which was shown the character of the interested opposition, the farcical equipment of the People’s College, the failure of the State Agricultural College, the inadequacy of the sectarian colleges, even though they called themselves universities; and I did all in my power to communicate to my colleagues something of my own enthusiasm for a university suitably endowed, free from sectarian trammels, centrally situated, and organized to meet fully the wants of the State as regarded advanced education, general and technical.

Three points I endeavored especially to impress upon them in this speech. First, that while, as regards primary education, the policy of the State should be diffusion of resources, it should be, as regards university education, concentration of resources. Secondly, that sectarian colleges could not do the work required. Thirdly, that any institution for higher education in the State must form an integral part of the whole system of public instruction; that the university should not be isolated from the school system, as were the existing colleges, but that it should have a living connection with the system, should push its roots down into it and through it, drawing life from it and sending life back into it. Mr. Cornell accepted this view at once. Mr. Horace Greeley, who, up to that time, had supported the People’s College, was favorably impressed by it, and, more than anything else, it won for us his support. To insure this vital connection of the proposed university with the school system, I provided in the charter for four “State scholarships” in each of the one hundred and twenty-eight Assembly districts. These scholarships were to be awarded to the best scholars in the public schools of each district, after due examination, one each year; each scholarship entitling the holder to free instruction in the university for four years. Thus the university and the schools were bound closely together by the constant and living tie of five hundred and twelve students. As the number of Assembly districts under the new constitution was made, some years later, one hundred and fifty, the number of these competitive free scholarships is now six hundred. They have served their purpose well. Thirty years of this connection have greatly uplifted the whole school system of the State, and made the university a life-giving power in it; while this uplifting of the school system has enabled the university steadily to raise and improve its own standard of instruction.

But during the earlier period of our plans there was one serious obstacle–Charles James Folger. He was the most powerful member of the Senate, its president, and chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He had already won wide respect as a county judge, had been longer in the Senate than any other member, and had already given ample evidence of the qualities which later in life raised him to some of the highest positions, State and National. His instincts would have brought him to our side; for he was broad-minded, enlightened, and earnestly in favor of all good legislation. He was also my personal friend, and when I privately presented my views to him he acquiesced in them. But there were two difficulties. First, he had in his own city a denominational college, his own alma mater, which, though small, was influential. Still worse for us, he had in his district the State Agricultural College, which the founding of Cornell University must necessarily wipe out of existence. He might rise above the first of these difficulties, but the second seemed insurmountable. No matter how much in sympathy with our main aim, he could not sacrifice a possession so dear to his constituency as the State College of Agriculture. He felt that he had no right to do so; he knew also that to do so would be to sacrifice his political future, and we felt, as he did, that he had no right to do this.

But here came in to help us the culmination of a series of events as unexpected as that which had placed the land- grant fund at our disposal just at the time when Mr. Cornell and myself met in the State Senate. For years a considerable body of thoughtful men throughout the State, more especially of the medical profession, had sought to remedy a great evil in the treatment of the insane. As far back as the middle of the century, Senator Bradford of Cortland had taken the lead in an investigation of the system then existing, and his report was a frightful ex- posure. Throughout the State, lunatics whose families were unable to support them at the State or private asylums were huddled together in the poorhouses of the various counties. Their condition was heartrending. They were constantly exposed to neglect, frequently to extremes of cold and hunger, and sometimes to brutality: thus mild lunacy often became raving madness. For some years before my election to the Senate the need of a reform had been urged upon the legislative committees by a physician –Dr. Willard of Albany. He had taken this evil condition of things much to heart, and year after year had come before the legislature urging the creation of a new institution, which he wished named after an eminent physician of Albany who had in his day done what was possible to remedy the evil–Dr. Beck. But year after year Dr. Willard’s efforts, like those of Dr. Beck before him, had been in vain. Session after session the “Bill to establish the Beck Asylum for the Chronic Insane” was rejected,– the legislature shrinking from the cost of it. But one day, as we were sitting in the Senate, appalling news came from the Assembly: Dr. Willard, while making one more passionate appeal for the asylum, had fallen dead in the presence of the committee. The result was a deep and wide- spread feeling of compunction, and while we were under the influence of this I sought Judge Folger and showed him his opportunity to do two great things. I said: “It rests with you to remedy this cruel evil which has now cost Dr. Willard his life, and at the same time to join us in carrying the Cornell University Bill. Let the legislature create a new asylum for the chronic insane of the State. Now is the time of all times. Instead of calling it the Beck Asylum, give it the name of Willard–the man who died in advocating it. Place it upon the Agricultural College property on the shores of Seneca Lake in your district. Your constituents are sure to prefer a living State asylum to a dying Agricultural College, and will thoroughly support you in both the proposed measures.” This suggestion Judge Folger received with favor. The Willard Asylum was created, and he became one of our strongest supporters.

Both Mr. Cornell’s financial plans and my educational plans in the new university charter were wrought into final shape by him. As chairman of the Judiciary Committee he reported our bill to the Senate, and at various critical periods gave us his earnest support. Quite likely doctrinaires will stigmatize our conduct in this matter as “log-rolling”; the men who always criticize but never construct may even call it a “bargain.” There was no “bargain” and no “log-rolling,” but they may call it what they like; I believe that we were both of us thoroughly in the right. For our coming together in this way gave to the State the Willard Asylum and the Cornell University, and without our thus coming together neither of these would have been created.

But in spite of this happy compromise, the struggle for our university charter, as has already been seen, was long and severe. The opposition of over twenty sectarian colleges, and of active politicians from every quarter of the State where these colleges had been established, made our work difficult; but at last it was accomplished. Preparations for the new institution were now earnestly pressed on, and for a year I gave up very much of my time to them, keeping in constant communication with Mr. Cornell, frequently visiting Ithaca, and corresponding with trustees in various parts of the State and with all others at home or abroad who seemed able to throw light on any of the problems we had to solve.

The question now arose as to the presidency of the institution; and, as time passed on and duties increased, this became more and more pressing. In the previous chapter I have given some account of the circumstances attending my election and of Mr. Cornell’s relation to it; but this is perhaps the place for stating one of the difficulties which stood in the way of my acceptance, and which, indeed, greatly increased my cares during all the first years of my presidency. The death of my father and uncle, who had for many years carried on a large and wide-spread business, threw upon me new responsibilities. It was during the Civil War, when panic after panic ran through the American business world, making the interests now devolving upon me all the more burdensome. I had no education for business and no liking for it, but, under the pressure of necessity, decided to do the best I could, yet determining that just as soon as these business affairs could be turned over to others it should be done. Several years elapsed, and those the busiest so far as the university was concerned, before such a release became possible. So it happened that during the first and most trying years of the new institution of Ithaca, I was obliged to do duty as senator of the State of New York, president of Cornell University, lecturer at the University of Michigan, president of the National Bank of Syracuse and director in two other banks,–one being at Oswego,–director in the New York Central and Lake Shore railways, director in the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal,–to say nothing of positions on boards of various similar corporations and the executorship of two widely extended estates. It was a trying time for me. There was, however, some advantage; for this epoch in my life put me in relations with some of the foremost business men in the United States, among them Cornelius Vanderbilt, William H. Vanderbilt, Dean Richmond, Daniel Drew, and various other men accustomed to prompt and decisive dealing with large business affairs. I recognized the value of such associations and endeavored to learn something from them, but was determined, none the less, to end this sort of general activity as early as it could be done consistently with justice to my family. Several years were required, and those the very years in which university cares were most pressing. But finally my intention was fully carried out. The bank over which my father had presided so many years I was able to wind up in a way satisfactory to all concerned, not only repaying the shareholders, but giving them a large surplus. From the other cor- porations also I gradually escaped, turning my duties over to those better fitted for them. Still many outside cares remained, and in one way or another I was obliged to take part in affairs which I would have gladly shunned. Yet there was consolation in the idea that, as my main danger was that of drifting into a hermit life among professors and books, anything that took me out of this for a limited length of time was not without compensating advantages.

Just previously to my election to the university presidency I had presented a “plan of organization,” which, having been accepted and printed by the trustees, formed the mold for the main features of the new institution; and early among my duties came the selection and nomination of professors. In these days one is able to choose from a large body of young men holding fellowships in the various larger universities of the United States; but then, with the possible exception of two or three at Harvard, there was not a fellowship, so far as I can remember, in the whole country. The choosing of professors was immeasurably more difficult than at present. With reference to this point, a very eminent graduate of Harvard then volunteered to me some advice, which at first sight looked sound, but which I soon found to be inapplicable. He said: “You must secure at any cost the foremost men in the United States in every department. In this way alone can a real university be created.” Trying the Socratic method upon him, I asked, in reply, “How are we to get such men? The foremost man in American science is undoubtedly Agassiz, but he has refused all offers of high position at Paris made him by the French Emperor. The main objects of his life are the creation of his great museum at Harvard and his investigations and instruction in connection with it; he has declared that he has `no time to waste in making money!’ What sum or what inducement of any sort can transfer him from Harvard to a new institution on the distant hills of central New York? So, too, with the most eminent men at the other universities. What sum will draw them to us from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, the University of Virginia, and the University of Michigan? An endowment twice as large as ours would be unavailing.” Therefore it was that I broached, as a practical measure, in my “plan of organization,” the system which I had discussed tentatively with George William Curtis several years before, and to which he referred afterward in his speech at the opening of the university at Ithaca. This was to take into our confidence the leading professors in the more important institutions of learning, and to secure from them, not the ordinary, conventional paper testimonials, but confidential information as to their young men likely to do the best work in various fields, to call these young men to our resident professorships, and then to call the most eminent men we could obtain for non-resident professorships or lectureships. This idea was carried out to the letter. The most eminent men in various universities gave us confidential advice; and thus it was that I was enabled to secure a number of bright, active, energetic young men as our resident professors, mingling with them two or three older men, whose experience and developed judgment seemed necessary in the ordinary conduct of our affairs.

As to the other part of the plan, I secured Agassiz, Lowell, Curtis, Bayard Taylor, Goldwin Smith, Theodore Dwight, George W. Greene, John Stanton Gould, and at a later period Froude, Freeman, and others, as non-resident professors and lecturers. Of the final working of this system I shall speak later.

The question of buildings also arose; but, alas! I could not reproduce my air-castles. For our charter required us to have the university in operation in October, 1868, and there was no time for careful architectural preparation. Moreover, the means failed us. All that we could then do was to accept a fairly good plan for our main structures; to make them simple, substantial, and dignified; to build them of stone from our own quarries; and so to dispose them that future architects might so combine other buildings with them as to form an impressive quadrangle on the upper part of the university property. To this plan Mr. Cornell gave his hearty assent. It was then arranged, with his full sanction, that the university buildings should ultimately consist of two great groups: the first or upper group to be a quadrangle of stone, and the second or lower group to be made up of buildings of brick more freely disposed, according to our future needs and means. Although this plan has unfortunately been departed from in some minor respects, it has in general turned out well.

Having called a number of professors and seen foundations laid for “Morrill Hall,” I sailed in April of 1868 for Europe, in order to study technical institutions, to purchase needed equipment, and to secure certain professors such as could not then be found in our own country. Thus far my knowledge of higher education in Europe had been confined almost entirely to the universities; but now I went carefully through various technical institutions, among them the English Agricultural College at Cirencester, the Agricultural Experiment Station at Rothamstead, the French Agricultural College at Grignon, the Conservatoire des Arts et M<e’>tiers at Paris,
the Veterinary School at Alfort, the German Agricultural College at Hohenheim, the Technical School and Veterinary College at Berlin, and others. As to equipment, wherever I found valuable material I bought it. Thus were brought together for our library a very large collection of books in all the principal departments; physical and chemical apparatus from London, Paris, Heidelberg, and Berlin; chemicals from Berlin and Erfurt; the only duplicate of the royal collection of cereals and grasses and the great collection of British patent-office publications from the British imperial authorities; the Rau models of plows from Hohenheim; the Brendel plant models from Breslau; the models of machine movements from London, Darmstadt, and Berlin; the plastic models of Auzoux from Paris; and other apparatus and instruments from all parts of Europe, with diagrams and drawings from every institution where I could find them. During three months, from funds furnished by the university, by Mr. Cornell personally, and, I may be allowed to add, from my own personal resources, I expended for these purposes over sixty thousand dollars, a sum which in those days represented much more than in these.</e’>

As to non-resident professors, I secured in London Goldwin Smith, who had recently distinguished himself by his works as a historian and as regius professor of history at Oxford; and I was successful in calling Dr. James Law, who, though a young man, had already made himself a name in veterinary science. It seemed to many a comical juxtaposition, and various witticisms were made at my expense over the statement that I had “brought back an Oxford professor and a Scotch horse-doctor.” But never were selections more fortunate. Goldwin Smith, by his high character, his broad and deep scholarship, his devotion not only to his professorship but to the general university work, his self-denial in behalf of the university and its students, rendered priceless services. He bore all privations cheerfully and braved all discouragements manfully. Never were there better historical lectures than his. They inspired us all, and the impulse then given is still felt. So, too, Dr. Law, in his field, was invaluable, and this was soon felt throughout the State. Of him I shall speak later.



On the 7th of October, 1868, came the formal opening of the university. The struggle for its charter had attracted much attention in all parts of the State, and a large body of spectators, with about four hundred students, assembled at the Cornell Library Hall in Ithaca. Though the charter had required us to begin in October, there had seemed for some time very little chance of it. Mr. Cornell had been absent in the woods of the upper Mississippi and on the plains of Kansas, selecting university lands; I had been absent for some months in Europe, securing plans and equipment; and as, during our absence, the contractor for the first main building, Morrill Hall, had failed, the work was wretchedly behindhand. The direct roads to the university site were as yet impracticable, for the Cascadilla ravine and the smaller one north of it were still unbridged. The grounds were unkempt, with heaps of earth and piles of material in all directions. The great quantities of furniture, apparatus, and books which I had sent from Europe had been deposited wherever storage could be found. Typical was the case of the large Holtz electrical machine from Germany. It was in those days a novelty, and many were anxious to see it; but it could not be found, and it was only discovered several weeks later, when the last pots and pans were pulled out of the kitchen store-room in the cellar of the great stone barrack known as Cascadilla House. All sorts of greatly needed material had been delayed in steamships and on railways, or was stuck fast in custom-houses and warehouses from Berlin and Paris to Ithaca. Our friends had toiled heroically during our absence, but the little town–then much less energetic than now–had been unable to furnish the work required in so short a time. The heating apparatus and even the doors for the students’ rooms were not in place until weeks after winter weather had set in. To complicate matters still more, students began to come at a period much earlier and in numbers far greater than we had expected; and the first result of this was that, in getting ready for the opening, Mr. Cornell and myself were worn out. For two or three days before my inauguration both of us were in the hands of physicians and in bed, and on the morning of the day appointed we were taken in carriages to the hall where the ceremony was to take place. To Mr. Cornell’s brief speech I have alluded elsewhere; my own presented my ideas more at length. They were grouped in four divisions. The first of these related to “Foundation Ideas,” which were announced as follows: First, the close union of liberal and practical instruction; second, unsectarian control; third, a living union between the university and the whole school system of the State; fourth, concentration of revenues for advanced education. The second division was that of “Formative Ideas”; and under these–First, equality between different courses of study. In this I especially developed ideas which had occurred to me as far back as my observations after graduation at Yale, where the classical students belonging to the “college proper” were given a sort of supremacy, and scientific students relegated to a separate institution at considerable distance, and therefore deprived of much general, and even special, culture which would have greatly benefited them. Indeed, they seemed not considered as having any souls to be saved, since no provision was made for them at the college chapel. Second, increased development of scientific studies. The third main division was that of “Governmental Ideas”; and under these–