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“greeny” of the most verdant type. His clothes were homespun, and the idea of fitting him seemed never to have entered their maker's head. His language was marred by uncouth provincialisms. His face had a kindly and thoughtful expression, on which the struggle of boyhood had left little trace, but this could not save him from many a cut. To a coarser-grained man, the petty indignities, the sly sarcasms, the cool treatment of the Eastern collegians would not have been annoying, but there are traces of a bitter inward anguish in Garfield's heart at this time. To make it worse, he had not entered a lower class, where he perhaps might have had companions as green as himself, or, at least, comparative obscurity; but, entering an upper class, from whose members rusticity had long since disappeared, he was considered a legitimate target for the entire body of students.
But he had brains, and nowhere in the world, does ability rise to the top, and mediocrity sink to the bottom, so surely and swiftly, as at college. In a short time, his commanding abilities began to assert themselves. In the class-room, he was not only a profound and accurate scholar, but his large brain seemed packed with information of every sort, and all ready for use at a moment's notice. His first summer before the regular fall term he spent in the college library. Up to that time he had never seen a copy of Shakespeare; he had never read a novel of Walter Scott, of Dickens, or of Thackeray.
The opportunity was a golden one. On the shelves of the Williams' library were to be found the best books of all the ages. Plunging in at once, he read poetry, history, metaphysics, science, with hardly a pause for meals. He felt that his poverty had made him lose time, and that the loss must be made good. His powerful frame seemed to know no fatigue, and his voracious and devouring mind no satiety. Weaker minds would have been foundered. Not so with this western giant. Note-book in hand, he jotted down memoranda of references, mythologic, historical or literary, which he did not fully understand, for separate investigation. The ground was carefully gleaned, notwithstanding the terrific speed. This outside reading was kept up all through his stay at Williams,
Hon. Clement H. Hill, of Boston, a classmate of Garfield, writing of his studies and reading, says: “I think at that time he was paying great attention to German, and devoted all his leisure time to that language. In his studies, his taste was rather for metaphysical and philosophical studies than for history and biography, which were the studies most to my liking; but he read besides a good deal of poetry and general literature. Tennyson was then, and has ever been since, one of his favorite authors, and I remember, too, when Hiawatha was published, how greatly he admired it, and how he would quote almost pages of it in our walks together. He was also greatly interested in Charles Kingsley's writings, particularly in Alton Locke and Yeast. I first, I think, introduced him to Dickens, and gave him Oliver Twist to read, and he roared with laughter over Mr. Bumble.”
There are but few stories told of Garfield's life at Williams, and there is a reason behind the fact. The college “yarn” is generally a tradition of some shrewd trick, some insubordination to discipline, or some famous practical joke. Every college has a constantly growing treasury of such legend lore. There are stories of robbed hen-roosts, pilfered orchards, and plundered watermelon patches; of ice-cream stolen from the back porch just after the guests had assembled in the parlor; of mock processions, of bogus newspapers, of wedding invitations gotten out by some rascally sophomore, for the marriage of some young couple, who were barely whispering the thought in their own imaginations. There are stories of front doors painted red; of masked mobs ranging through town on Halloween, and demanding refreshment; of the wonderful theft of the college bell, right when a watchman with loaded revolver was in the building, of hairbreadth escapes down lightning rods, and of the burning in effigy of unpopular professors. There is a story told in nearly every college in the country, of how a smart fellow, to revenge himself, sprinkled several barrels of salt on the street and sidewalk in front of a professor's house; how he drove all the wandering cattle in the village to that part of the street, and how no digging, nor sweeping, nor scalding water, nor flourished broom handles did any good
toward driving away the meek but persistent kine, who, with monotonous bell and monotonous bellow, for months afterward, day and night, chose that spot for their parlor.
But no such legends hung round the name of Garfield at Williams College. He was there under great pecuniary pressure, and for a high and solemn purpose. He was there for work, not play. Every thing which looked like a turning aside from the straight and narrow way, was indignantly spurned. At one time he caught the fever for playing chess. He was a superior player, and enjoyed the game immensely. But when he found it carried him to late hours, he denied himself the pleasure entirely.
But he stepped at once to the front rank as a debater in his literary society. His power of statement, his grasp of facts, his quick repartee, combined to make him the leading orator of the college. His method of preparation showed the mind of a master. The subject of debate he would divide into branches, and assign a separate topic to each of his allies for investigation, distributing each topic according to their respective qualities of mind. Each man overhauled the college library, gathering and annotating all the facts and authorities upon his particular branch of study, and submitted his notes to Garfield, who would then analyze the mass of facts, draw up the propositions, which were to bear down like Macedonian phalanxes upon the enemy, and redistribute the branches of the question to his debaters for presentation on the rostrum.
His mind never seemed foggy. Odd scraps of information, which ordinary men would have been unable or afraid to use, he wielded like a club about his adversaries' heads. In a public debate in his junior year, the preceeding speaker had used a lengthy. and somewhat irrelevant illustration from Don Quixote. When Garfield's turn for reply came, he brought down the house by saying: “The gentleman is correct in drawing analogies between his side of this question and certain passages in the life of Don Quixote. There is a marked resemblance, which I perceive myself, between his argument and the scene of the knight attacking the
windmill; or, rather, it would be more appopriate to say that he < resembles the windmill attacking the knight.” At the college sup
per, which followed the public entertainment, Garfield's extensive acquaintance with standard literature was being talked about, when he laughingly told his admiring friends that he had never read Don> Quixote, and had only heard a mention of the tournament between the crazy knight and the windmill.
His classmates, in writing of the impressions made on them by their college chum, speak much of his warm, social disposition, and his fondness for jokes. He had a sweet, large, wholesome nature, a hearty and cheerful manner, which endeared him most closely to the men among whom he spent the two years of college life. By the poorer and younger students he was almost worshiped for his kindliness and encouragement. He was a warm friend of every boy in the college; but for the weak, or sick, or poverty stricken, his heart overflowed with generous sympathy.
His morals were as spotless as the stars. A classmate, who knew him well, writes: “I never heard an angry word, or a hasty expression, or a sentence which needed to be recalled. He possessed equanimity of temper, self-possession, and self-control in the highest degree. What is more, I never heard a profane or improper word, or an indelicate allusion from his lips. He was in habits, speech, and example, a pure man.”
Williamstown, Massachusetts, where the college is located, is one of the most beautiful spots on the continent, and its magnificent mountain scenery made a deep impression on the mind of the tall Ohioan, who had been reared in a level country. It is only to people who live among them that mountains are unimpressive, and, perhaps, even then they make their impress on the character, giving it a religious loftiness and beauty.
An old institution of Williams College was “Mountain Day”- – an annual holiday given for expeditions to some picturesque point in the vicinity. On one of these occasions, an incident revealed the courage and piety of “Old Gar,” as the boys lovingly called > their leader. They were on the summit of “Old Greylock," seven miles from the college. Although it was midsummer, the mountain top was cool; and, as the great glowing sun sank behind the western range, the air became chilly. The group of collegians
were gathered about a camp-fire that blazed up briskly in the darkening air. Some were sitting, some standing, but all were silent. The splendor and solemnity of the scene; the dark winding valley; the circling range of mountains; the over-bending sky; the distant villages, with the picturesque old college towers; the faint tinkle of the cowbell; the unspeakable glories of the sunset,
"As through the West, where sank the crimson day,
Meek twilight slowly sailed, and waved her banners gray,"filled every thoughtful heart with religious awe. Just as the silence became oppressive, it was broken by the voice of Garfield: “Boys, it is my habit to read a chapter in the Bible every evening with my absent mother. Shall I read aloud ?” The little company assented; and, drawing from his pocket a well-worn Testament, he read, in soft, rich tones, the chapter which the mother in Ohio was reading at the same time, and then called on a classmate to kneel on that mountain top and pray.
The two months' vacation of Garfield's first winter at college was spent at North Pownal, Vermont, teaching a writing-school, < in a school-house where, the winter before, Chester A. Arthur had
been the regular teacher. But, at that time, Garfield only knew his predecessor by name, and the men whose destinies were in the future to become so closely intertwined did not become acquainted.
At the end of his junior year Garfield's funds were exhausted ; but, after a consultation with his mother, he resolved to borrow the money to complete his course, rather than lose more time. His first arrangement for the money failed; but Dr. J. P. Robison, of Bedford, who, five years before, had prophesied so much of the widow's son, readily assumed the burden, asking no security but his debtor's word, but receiving a life insurance policy which Garfield, who seemed to inherit an apprehension of sudden calamity, insisted on procuring.
At the beginning of his senior year, he was elected one of the editors of the Williams Quarterly, the college paper. His associates in the work were W. R. Baxter, Henry E. Knox, E. Clarence Smith, and John Tatlock. The pages of this magazine were