University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The University and the Club

Volume XX · Winter 1965 · Number 2
The University and the Club

On the evening of July 13, 1854, a meeting was held at the house of Lewis Henry Morgan, for the purpose of establishing a literary club in the city of Rochester. Six gentlemen were present, including the first president of the University of Rochester, Martin B. Anderson. These gentlemen passed the following resolution:

That a Club be formed consisting of the persons present and those who, having received letters of invitation to this meeting, have signified their desire to become members.

The first meeting was scheduled for the first Tuesday of November, November 7, 1854. The Club met at the home of President Anderson to hear E. Peshine Smith, a lawyer, give the Club's first paper, entitled "The Gold Currency." In addition to President Anderson, three professors were in the original group, so that four individuals represented the University. Of the remaining five, three were lawyers and one a minister. Thus, the original Club consisted, with one exception, of individuals from the learned professions, half of them from the University. Such a large proportion was not desirable in a group that was to become representative of the best in the business, financial, and professional resources of the city, but in the beginning the large University delegation assisted in establishing the seriousness, stability, and continuity that have marked the Club throughout its history.

To these virtues two presidents of the University made contributions whose importance can scarcely be overestimated. Every president, in fact, has been a member of the Club. If we omit Ira Harris, who was chancellor of the University from 1850 to 1853 before the Club was founded, all six presidents have been active members, including Samuel Lattimore, acting president for two years, 1896-1898. Indeed, the record for the largest number of papers read by any single member of the Club is, I believe, still held by President Anderson. He was a man of remarkable energy and versatility, the range of whose interests and command of knowledge may be seen in the titles of his thirty-seven papers.

Before continuing with President Anderson's activities, let me review the interesting variation, offered by the Club's history, on the plan of giving papers in groups or series. In the early years of the Club, a number of practices were common which might in our period be revived with advantage. One of these was to have a series of papers dealing with a particular theme or subject which would continue from one meeting to the next, or be placed at intervals throughout the calendar. Thus, Mr. Smith's paper on "The Gold Currency" was continued at the fourth meeting, and Dr. Kendrick's paper on "The Greek and Latin Languages" was spread over two consecutive evenings, Numbers 10 and 11. At the third meeting, President Anderson was asked to give a series on the ethnology of Europe, which he did beginning at meeting Number 4, the same at which Mr. Smith completed his comment on gold. During the early Civil War a series of papers was read by a Colonel Gardner, reflecting the current, compelling interest in military subjects. This variation would allow a member to read again after a generation or similar long interval, one of his former papers, or to have the secretary read the contribution of a former member. Thus, at Number 592, March 26, 1895, the secretary read a paper by the late Calvin Huson, one of the six gentlemen at Mr. Morgan's house in July, 1854. It was a paper read to the Club thirty-four years before, November 16, 1861, on "Aaron Burr and the Law of Treason." At Number 713, Mr. Whittlesey again read a paper that he had presented at Number 366, March 5, 1877, on the interesting subject of "Vers de Société."

President Anderson seems not to have availed himself of such opportunities, nor did he have the habit of setting aside occasional evenings for general discussion of current topics or of some interesting subject agreed upon in advance. He gave a paper on ethnology at meeting Number 4; a second at Number 7 on the ethnology of France, and at Number 16 he read on "The Origin and Dispersion of the Celtic Races." Thus, of the sixteen papers given in the first year of the Club's existence, at least three were offered by President Anderson, and he read more than one paper in each of seven later years. From the first year to meeting Number 500, April 3, 1887, the name of President Anderson is seldom absent from the annual calendar. At Number 500, his last appearance, he appropriately allowed himself to reminisce on "The Origin and Early History of the Club." Even with this subject one could not imagine that he was speaking from the top of his head. Instead, one receives the impression of Dr. Anderson's careful study and preparation, as inevitably demanded by the immense variety of topics chosen from theology, history, literature, politics, and social affairs.

It is hard to understand the passage in Professor Morey's "Reminiscences of the Club," presented at Number 935, January 2, 1923, which states that the only two subjects excluded from discussion were "polemic theology and partisan politics." At various times three papers were given on the French Biblical critic, Ernst Renan, and his Life of Jesus, others on the Church of England, the Oxford movement, on ritualism, and of tantalizing interest, a paper on "The Hallucinations of Jeanne d'Arc," given at meeting Number 634, March 8, 1898. Certainly President Anderson did not avoid subjects with polemic possibilities, as witness his papers on revision of the Old and New Testament, on Bishop Berkeley, the Catacombs, and on the "Origin in the Mind of the Idea of the Infinite," a paper given at meeting Number 176, May 10, 1864.

The record would suggest that the first president of the University was the most important of the original founders of the Club, with the possible exception of Lewis Henry Morgan. The number and quality of President Anderson's papers has not been surpassed to this day, and his attendance at meetings was remarkably faithful. Of course, in the Club's first years, failure to attend a meeting was regarded with horror, an offense demanding expiation or at least some explanation acceptable to the group. More than anyone else, certainly, President Anderson established the inseparable and continuing connection between the Club and the highest responsible officer of the University, and did much to form the special character and distinction of this venerable fraternity.

Later presidents can hardly be blamed if they do not challenge the supremacy of President Anderson's contribution. Nothing comparable could be expected from President Hill during his relatively brief tenure of less than ten years, as distinguished from the thirty-three years of his great predecessor.

President Hill, however, contributed seven papers in his eight years of membership, ranging impressively from "The Inheritance of Acquired Characters" to "The Foreign Policy of England." The University's third president, Rush Rhees, surpassed even Martin Anderson in the length of his association with the Club. He was still listed as an active member in 1938, thirty-nine years after his election. President Rhees delivered his first paper at meeting Number 672, February 5, 1901, On a subject with the remarkable title of "Jesus' use of Hyperbole." He delivered more than twenty papers, drawing mainly on education and religion for his materials, and on one occasion that must have been of particular interest, he sent his paper from abroad in the form of a letter from Göttingen. It was read by Dr. Ely under the title, "Some German Experiences."

In more recent times, University presidents have exerted an influence less profound than was necessary or possible in earlier generations. Not only is presidential tenure less prolonged on the average, but the nature of the office itself has changed. The demands upon it have increased on such a scale that no contemporary president could attain the record of attendance and participation established a century ago. Now however, the president is augmented and sustained in the Club, not only by professors as in the past, but also by the enlarged participation of the Medical School, and by the membership of the Dean of the College. Deans Carmichael, Hoffmeister, Noyes, Hazlett, and now Kenneth Clark have taken their places with other University representatives, and we trust will continue to be prominent in the Club's history.

If we look back again to the origin and early progress of the Club, we must acknowledge the importance of what the professors were able to contribute, not only because of their numbers, but also because of their learning as shown in papers and discussion, as well as through their interest in the Club and zeal for its welfare. At first, the membership was bound to have a learned or academic flavor. In 1873, for example, there were eighteen members, thirteen of whom were eventually to have doctor's degrees of various kinds. In fact, the very name of "The Pundit Club" seems to have been inspired by this aspect of learning. Some women of the time, largely wives of certain members, were given to comparing these gentlemen to wise men of the East and facetiously called them, the "Pundits." In 1901, of fifteen active members, five were professors, in addition to President Rhees. The same proportion was true of the 1923 club membership. Later, with the addition of Dr. Whipple, the University had a total of seven out of fifteen active members. By 1947, however, the number had fallen to four out of sixteen members, but was increased, until at present, nearly one-half the membership is drawn from the University's faculty and administration.

Among the professorial names of great distinction in the past, that of William Carey Morey is marked not only for his valuable "Reminiscences" given at the end of his career, but also for his record of thirty-five papers over a period of forty-eight years, and his tenure as secretary for eleven years, 1877-1888. Professor Morey's long connection with the Club barely overlaps that of his only professorial rival for length and distinction of service, our present elder statesman and likewise historian, the beloved and admired Dexter Perkins.

At meeting Number 952, April 29, 1924, the election of Professor Perkins was announced, and shortly thereafter, the Club minutes contain a statement of terrifying importance, making one shudder to think what might have been lost to the Club's history if the outcome had been otherwise. At meeting Number 954, November 4, 1924, the secretary moved to send an expression of the Club's sympathy "to Dr. Perkins in the Homeopathic Hospital for appendicitis." Happily, the insolence of nature in attempting to strike down a gifted man was suitably rebuked by Professor Perkins' fabulous constitution which recovered to preserve him in his present happy and undiminished condition.

It is hardly necessary to enlarge further upon what has been most conspicuous in the University's participation throughout the Club's history. The learned world offers its stock in trade, which is learning, and so fulfills its function. But, other things emerge from a perusal of the old minutes, things of importance compared with learning, to which the University contingent also has contributed.

I cannot refrain from a brief digression on a highly amusing feature of the Club's debates, having to do with resignations or attempted resignations from time to time of individual members. If it was hard to gain admission, it was even more difficult to obtain release. When Ryland Kendrick accepted membership in 1909, he expressed astonishment at being invited to join, having understood heretofore "that none but angels were admitted…" Angels or only men, if they tried to resign, they would be opposed and urged to reverse the decision. The response to Mr. Eastman's "regretful" resignation in 1914 was typical. A committee was appointed "to arrange by force or otherwise or both" to secure the withdrawal of Mr. Eastman's decision, but the effort was in vain. One cherishes too, the dry realism of Augustus Strong who announced his resignation in 1918. "I resign," he wrote, "while I still have sense enough to retire." Even more candid was James Cutler, who resigned in 1910 on grounds of his own inadequacy, saying that the chief drawback to continuance "is the consciousness that I am a constant reminder of the one serious mistake of the membership…"

Far more frequent, pervasive, and amusing in the Club's records is the debate over refreshments-of what they should consist, when they should be served, and what in fact the relationship should be between the social and intellectual aspects of the Club. In the early days, refreshments might be of no importance, as when for example, a meeting might be held in a room on the campus, in someone's office perhaps, with crackers, cheese, and sandwiches at the most, and nothing but water to drink. In the course of time, however, meetings were held almost exclusively at the houses of individual members, so that we find the addition of lemonade and cold chicken and later, coffee, turkey, and ice cream. It began to seem that refreshments were the most important consideration, with the paper becoming just an excuse for indulgence in the good things of bar and table. Discussions went on endlessly, with various proposals being offered, ranging from the ascetic rule that no refreshment be offered, except for water to moisten the reader's throat, to Judge Danforth's notion that dinner and the paper be offered on separate evenings, "so that exact justice might be done to each." The water rule seems to have been buried by a loud, universal shout of dissent, dismissed in fact as suicidal, with the clergyman, Dr. McIlvaine, uttering his memorable axiom, "No supper, no Club!" This seems to have been accepted as early as 1858, when Mr. Morgan, commenting on various aspects of the Club's origin and history, remarked that "tall oaks from little acorns grow" and reviewed the charge "that this acorn, after all, was planted in an oyster bed; and still depends for its existence upon roast duck and chicken salad." In 1864, reporting on the tenth anniversary, Mr. Morgan again reviewed a number of questions. The Club finances he found in excellent shape, for "there is not a cent in the treasury to create temptation…As to the physical health of the members, dyspepsia is reported on a large scale."

A principal cause of the long debate under review was the early practice of having refreshment after the paper and discussion. Unless the meeting began early, the hour for refreshment might be very late, creating all sorts of questions and difficulties for the host of the occasion. If he were allowed to fix the time for refreshment, he might prefer dinner first and then the paper, or he might say that he preferred a late meeting, with light refreshments of cake and sandwiches at the end. Again, the time for assembly was hotly discussed, and repeatedly changed from six to six-thirty, to seven to seven-thirty and back again. At meeting Number 913, January 25, 1921, it was moved to change dinner from seven to six-thirty, a return to the position of meeting Number 582, October 23, 1894, at which time the secretary said that "The Club sat down to dinner promptly at six-thirty--an event to be recorded."

We would expect that so much discussion and ferment would at some point lead to a committee being appointed to investigate. And, finally one was. It issued a report that still exists in the Club records, a manuscript of three sheets, covered in long hand on both sides, undated and unsigned, except by the "Committee on the Regulation of Supper." Four possibilities were reviewed, as follows:

  1. The meetings should be entirely intellectual, with no refreshments served.
  2. Refreshments might be served, but kept to a minimum of sandwiches and beverages.
  3. Dinner should be served early, after which the Club should proceed to paper and discussion.
  4. To continue as at present, with the paper and discussion first, followed by supper, with the understanding that members agree "to restrain extravagance by certain regulations."

On the whole, the committee favored the last of these possibilities with the paper first and refreshments later, on the ground that "the bland and soothing influence of supper is necessary to smooth off the asperities of debate and always seems to close it peremptorily at a certain point-a consideration not to be forgotten."

No doubt Professor Samuel Lattimore had many distinctions, but he rendered himself immortal in the Club's history by demonstrating once and for all what he judged to be the ideal relationship between the intellectual and the gastronomic activities of the Club. At meeting Number 295, March 26, 1872, after Mr. Whittlesey read a paper on "Savings Banks," Professor Lattimore was host at a dinner in the Osborn House, beginning at ten p.m. It was a banquet of such stunning elegance and grandeur that the secretary felt obliged to preserve a copy of the menu in his minutes. In his paper of reminiscences on the fiftieth anniversary of the Club, February 9, 1904, Mr. Whittlesey gave a delightful account of this great dinner. It began with oyster soup and included thirty-nine other items, a catalogue as Mr. Whittlesey said, "of all that swims, flies, or walks wild or tame accompanied with adequate samples of the whole vegetable kingdom, concluding with plum pudding, brandy sauce and indiscriminate pie."

Let us modestly claim that the relationship between the University and the Club has been a happy and profitable one. Although the stress has been upon one side of the union, the University, it is only fair to remind ourselves that the profit has been mutual. Members from the learned world have derived as much intellectual and social benefit as they have conferred, and they who spend their lives instructing others, have themselves been instructed. They have been removed from the self-centredness and complacency that afflicts an academic life too narrowly lived, and have become aware of the impressive resources of the industrial, legal, financial, and political areas of modern American life. In the sharp and extended practice of debate on large issues, the discussion of books and human affairs, the University's trained professionals have found themselves fully matched by qualities of mind and character otherwise inaccessible to them. They often have come away with an enlarged respect for the range and cultivation of the Club's membership, realizing that the life of the mind is not their exclusive possession, and that they must look to the world of their time as a whole within which to live and to execute their profession. They have felt themselves enriched by the Club as a society with a certain style and urbanity, having the tone and accent of a group representing the larger stage of the world. Not the least, they also have enjoyed the warmth and good fellowship, the tolerance and generosity of men assembled to discover what they have in common while restraining their differences, and curbing the eccentricity and self-assertion so frequent in men removed from life in the world. Their hearts have indeed been warmed by the unspoken but none the less genuine loyalty of their companions to the Club as a whole and to each other.

This sentiment of loyalty remains undiminished after 110 years of the Club's existence, and helps to account for the unbroken continuity to which the University's association also has contributed. It is easy to forget how unlikely this energy of continuance appeared to the original members. Only four out of nine members came to the first meeting at President Anderson's house, and one of them expressed the hope that the Club would last through the Winter. At meeting Number 6 no one appeared at Professor Dewey's house, so that "on motion of Dr. Dewey the Club adjourned to meet there two weeks hence." But, with the aid of Mr. Morgan's leadership and the steady presence of the University and its representatives, permanence was achieved and now seems to us beyond fear of interruption. Let us be sure then, so long as the University remains, its responsible officers will offer as always a steady fund upon which the Club may draw, insuring into any foreseeable future the seriousness, stability, and continuity that have distinguished its history.