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Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York

by John H. Selkreg, 1894; D. Mason & Co., Publisher

History of Cornell
Chapter XXI.

At the meeting of the trustees of June 15, 1892, a committee was appointed to arrange for the appropriate observance of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the organization of Cornell University. It was decided to arrange for the celebration of the opening of the university on October 6, 7 and 8, 1893. Such an occasion afforded an opportunity to review the history, and to estimate the influence of the university as an educational force in the nation, in the twenty-five years of its existence, and for a reunion of former students and friends, who were present in large numbers. The exercises began on Friday evening, October the sixth, with a reception in the University Library, at which delegates from other universities, and invited guests were present.

Among the attractions of the library many recent additions were exhibited, among them the Zarncke library, previously one of the finest collections for the study of German literature and philology among the private libraries of Germany, which had been recently presented to the university by Mr. William H. SAGE; a rare Dante collection from Professor Willard FISKE ; several richly illustrated volumes upon events in Russian history, from the Hon. Andrew D. WHITE, minister to Russia; two portraits by the artist, Mr. J. Colin FORBES, one of the Hon. Ezra CORNELL, painted in accordance with a resolution of the Legislature of the State of New York, for the State Library in Albany, and a replica of a foot-length portrait of Mr. GLADSTONE, painted for the Liberal Club in London. The literary exercises in connection with this event were held on Saturday, October 7, in the lecture room of the library The oration upon this occasion was delivered by the Honorable Chauncey M. DEPEW. The address which the eloquent orator delivered upon this occasion was perhaps one of the most notable of his life; it glowed with the emotion which such an academic occasion suggests, and with the spirit of a scholar who is permeated with the thought of the glory of the history of universities in the past, and of their place in the world's progress, and who, at the same time, is full of memories of academic life which are at once tender and ennobling. The occasion, aside from politics and the fever of political life, was worthy of a celebration commemorating a university which has been representative in the history of the new learning. At the same time it was a glorious prophecy of the future, and of the influence which the university should exert in the coming educational life of the nation. Seldom, possibly never, has the province of the university been portrayed with more eloquence and beauty than was done by Mr. DEPEW on this occasion. One of the noblest passages of the address was, as was proper, a tribute to the memory of the founder, with whom Mr. DEPEW has been personally associated.

The life of Ezra CORNELL is a lesson and an inspiration. The study of his struggles and success is a liberal education. Our meeting would lose much of its significance if it failed to enforce the lesson of the career and commemorate the character of the founder. Sixty-five years ago young CORNELL, who had just attained his majority and started out to seek his fortune, after a walk of forty miles rested upon one of the hills overlooking this beautiful lake. This reticent Quaker was passionately fond of nature, and he was entranced by the superb panorama spread out before him. Few places on earth possess so many scenic attractions. The only view I know which compares with this, is the view from the Acropolis, at Athens, with the plain in front, the Pentelic mountains behind, and the blue Ζgean in the distance.

The young mechanic had neither friends nor acquaintances in the village which nestled at his feet, and his worldly possessions were all in a little bundle on the end of the stick which served for staff and baggage-wagon. He had no money, and only a spare suit of clothes; but with health, good habits, ambition, industry, and a perfect knowledge of what he intended to do, and an equal determination to do it, he entered Ithaca a conqueror. No delegation of citizens met him at the gates; no triumphal procession bore him in a chariot; no arches spanned the streets; but the man who was to make this then secluded hamlet known throughout the world had done for Ithaca the greatest service it could receive by deciding to become its citizen.Though poor, he was far removed from poverty. His situation illustrates one of the hopeful features of American conditions. Neither doubt nor despair was in his mind. He had found his place and he knew he could improve it. He saw his ladder and began to climb it. It is the genius of our people to get on, and it is the pleasure of the community to help and applaud. Occasional failures test the metal of the aspirant, and hard knocks develop grip or gelatin. There are, unhappily, suffering and helplessness incident to the practical workings of the doctrine of the survival of the fittest, but vigor and manhood win their rewards.

Faith and works were the principles of Ezra CORNELL, and the carpenter's bench a platform and preparation for larger efforts. . . As a carpenter he improved the methods of his village master; as a mechanic he devised machines which overcame unexpected difficulties; as an unprejudiced, practical man, he became familiar with the uses of electricity while the professor was still lecturing upon its dangers.

. . . The inventor needed an undaunted and indomitable man of affairs to demonstrate to capitalists its possibilities and to the public its beneficence, and he found him in Ezra CORNELL, who saw its future, and upon his judgment staked the accumulations of his life and the almost superhuman labors of a decade. He owned electric shares of the face value of millions and went hungry to bed because he had not the means to pay for a meal, and his family suffered because they could not be trusted for a barrel of flour. But neither want, nor debt, nor the sheriff, could wrest from him his telegraph stock. I know of no more dramatic scene in the lives of any of our successful men than the spectacle of this potential millionaire tramping through the highways and byways of penury, suffering, and sickness, upheld by his sublime faith in his work and the certainty of its recognition. Suddenly the darkness was dispelled and the day dawned. People woke up to the necessity of the telegraph for the government and for commerce, and CORNELL's faith had coined for him a fortune.

. . . A most noble and brilliant representative of this class was the founder of this university Prosperity made him neither an idler nor a voluptuary. It added fresh vigor to his work, enlarged his vision and broadened his sympathies. No mawkish sentimentality nor theatrical surprises were in his character. He determined to devote a portion of his fortune to the welfare of his countrymen and countrywomen, and decided that the best way was to give them the education and training with which to help themselves. He had the self-made man's belief that a successful career is possible to every one who tries, but he knew from sore experience how difficult is progress for the poorly equipped in the sharp competition of life. He did not give up money making. On the contrary, the more beneficent the purpose to which he found it could be applied, the harder he worked to gain more. His was the ideal of the divine injunction to be "diligent in business, serving the Lord."

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It was my privilege as a young man, and the youngest member of the Legislature, to sit beside Ezra CORNELL. I learned to love and revere him. In those days, so full of the strife and passions of the civil war, it was a wonder and inspiration to listen to the peaceful plans of this practical philanthropist for the benefit of his fellow men. The times were big with gigantic schemes for the acquisition of sudden fortunes, and his colleagues could not understand this most earnest and unselfish worker. To most of them he was a schemer whose purposes they could not fathom, and to the rest of us he seemed a dreamer whose visions would never materialize. These doubters of a quarter of a century ago esteem it a high privilege to stand in this presence, and an honor to have the opportunity to contribute a chaplet to the wreaths which crown the statue of Ezra CORNELL.

Other addresses were delivered by the Hon. Stewart L. WOODFORD, LL.D., who, as lieutenant-governor, had responded on behalf of the State at the opening of the university; by Chancellor UPSON of the University of the State of New York; by Professor G. C. CALDWELL in behalf of the original faculty; and by the Hon. Joseph C. HENDRIX, member of Congress from Brooklyn, one of the early students. An interesting feature of the occasion was the presentation to Dr. Burt G. WILDES, by Dr. Theobald SMITH, of a Festschrift, a volume containing contributions in science from his former pupils, designed to express their gratitude for his instruction and services to the cause of science; also of a manuscript history of the university, prepared by Professor Ernest W. HUFFCUT.

General regret was felt that President CLEVELAND, who, as governor, and at other times, has always manifested his interest in the university, was unable to be present, owing to the demand of important legislation in Congress.

At the dinner which followed congratulations were received from ex-President WHITE in St. Petersburg, to which a grateful response was sent, from General Meredith READ in Paris, the only survivor of the ten trustees named in the charter of the university; and a letter was read from Professor Goldwin SMITH in Toronto, who regretted his inability to be present. Speeches were made in behalf of the trustees by the Hon. S. D. HALLIDAY; the faculty, by Professor CRANE; the Commonwealth, by the Hon. Chauncey M. DEPEW; sister institutions of the east, by President Seth LOW of Columbia College; the earlier students, by Hon. Joseph C. HENDRIX; theosophy and education, by General A. C. BARNES; practical education, by Andrew CARNEGIE; sister institutions of the west, by President Cyrus NORTHRUP of the University of Minnesota; the university and the press, by St. Clair McKELWAY; the education of women, by President James M. TAYLOR of Vassar College; the college graduate and the men of affairs, by Hon. Oscar A. STRAUS, late United States minister to Turkey; the later alumni, by Seward A. SIMONS, A. B., "79.

On Sunday, the 8th of October, an impressive anniversary sermon was delivered in the Armory by the Right Reverend William Croswell DOANE, D. D., bishop of Albany and vice-chancellor of the University of the State of New York, thus closing this academic festival.

Carl Hommel donated this material and transcribed into digital format.
Thank you Carl Hommel.

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