University of Rochester Library Bulletin: David Jayne Hill

Volume V · Spring 1950 · Number 3
David Jayne Hill

A collection of the personal papers of David Jayne Hill was placed on deposit in the University Library by his grandson, Walter L. Hill, in November, 1949. Consisting primarily of manuscripts of addresses and articles, it presents the broad scope of Dr. Hill's thought and activities from the days of his presidency at the University throughout his years of public service.

During his years in Rochester, 1889-1896, his thinking centered about the problems of education. In an address on higher education delivered October 8, 1891, before the Query Club of Rochester, he expressed his philosophy of education in these words:

"Regarding the education of our own time, the great masses of mankind, for both intellectual and economical reasons, can only hope, even in those favored lands where this hope exists, to obtain a primary education. This is necessary for the ordinary business of life and includes such simple rudiments as reading, writing, arithmetic, and a little geography. A smaller number of persons, contemplating business of a higher order, teaching, or mere personal improvement, aspire after something better than this and find it in that academic instruction which is imparted by our academies and high schools. A still smaller number of persons seek a larger mental development and a fuller equipment of knowledge, such as our colleges and universities supply, and this is called, for want of a better name, the 'higher education.'

"It is this of which I am to speak.

"It may be defined as the adaptation of a person to comprehend and promote the higher interests of humanity.

"It is assumed that there are 'higher interests' than the getting of money and the enjoyment of bodily delights, these also being recognized as right in their place. Science, art, literature, and philosophy do not directly increase the wealth of the world, although they may incidentally do so, nor do they add to the pleasures of sense for pleasure's sake. Still, they are great human interests and without them we should relapse into barbarism. And barbarism is not national or tribal merely, it may be individual. Any man who, with leisure from work and profitable occupation, has no regard for any of these higher interests, is likely soon to show his barbaric nature by his sensuous indulgence, his gross display, his personal vanity, and his swagger of imagined superiority, - the truest marks of a barbarian which can be named. Whoever, on the contrary, is really touched in any degree by their inspiration, is elevated in thought, broadened in sympathy, and refined in intelligence. They are the foundations, with religion, of our civilization. It has always been felt that the theologian, the statesman, the lawyer, and the physician should enjoy this higher education as a prerequisite to these higher callings. So also in these present days it is believed that the writer, the teacher, the artist, the banker, the leader in commerce or industry, should avail himself of this superior learning. And why should they do so? Because these men are all leaders in the world's most important affairs, and men who are leaders should comprehend and promote the higher interests of humanity, that is, they should be liberally educated men. As the carpenter is lifted to the dignity of an architect by knowing the history and science of the building art, so the leaders in all the vocations of life transform their trades into professions by possessing that higher knowledge which interprets facts in the light of their origin, essential nature and universal principles."

An equal amount of his writing seems to have been devoted to the study of theological doctrines and to current theories advanced in the various sciences, two fields of thought considered by many at that time to be diametrically opposed. The Levering Lectures, which he delivered at Johns Hopkins University in 1894, provide a thorough discussion of his conclusions concerning the relations between religion and science. Among the manuscripts is a memorandum written at a later date, giving Dr. Hill's reasons for choosing the subject "Religion in the Light of Science" for those lectures. He wrote:

"What I had in mind in preparing these discourses was not a defense of the Christian religion, much less an attempt to offer a 'reconciliation' of its accepted doctrines with the conclusions of Modern Science, but to show that Religion, and especially the essence of Christianity, had a rightful place in human life and thought, and had received important enlightenment through the application of the method and results of scientific investigation.

"For Religion as conceived and taught by Jesus of Nazareth my personal experience revealed a distinct and, as I thought, a necessary place in human life. For me His teaching, as I understood it, was a true interpretation of the highest human values.

"If one could eliminate from thought all that had been associated with the teaching of Jesus by the theologians, in the endeavor to identify it with discarded philosophies and ecclesiastical interests, it appeared to me that there was in the new knowledge of that time nothing which his disciples should fear or wish to combat. On the contrary, I was convinced that, while strictly scientific method had not, and probably could not, itself supply any new basis for religious beliefs, it not only presented no obstacles to accepting the religion of Jesus but had rendered a conspicuous service in banishing ancient superstitions and in correcting errors of fact and judgment in religious experience.

"I felt much distressed by the persistent efforts of certain pastors of churches and professors of theology to discourage an interest in scientific knowledge, and even to represent that the University of Rochester was giving too much attention to the natural sciences in its courses of instruction. 'What,' they were whispering, 'would be the effect of this new knowledge on the students for the ministry, who would be disturbed in their minds by these modern discoveries?' Why weaken their faith in the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for all the useful purposes of life?

"This attitude of the ministerial brethren toward scientific studies was the more disappointing to me because President Anderson had always held that the college should keep abreast of the times in its instruction, and had done everything in his power to carry out this intention.

"Personally, I had with perfect sincerity of purpose followed this plan. Moreover, at points of controversy, I had always regarded myself as a defender of the faith as much as any of these brethren. The difference between them and me, as I saw it, was that they were devoted to certain doctrines for ecclesiastical reasons, whereas I attached little importance to a crystallized system of theological doctrines as in any way essential to the Christian life. The Master had never even mentioned them. They were aftergrowths of ecclesiasticism.

"In the Board of Trustees there was never at any time any serious question raised on this subject. A few members were privately somewhat concerned about any possible defection on the part of the pastors of churches, but in the Board of Trustees itself there was no expressed difference of opinion regarding the course the University was pursuing."

Interest in the problems of university education appears to have been replaced in 1895 by an interest in the responsibilities which the university-educated man must assume in modern society. It was during this year that Dr. Hill began to choose topics of political and social relevance. The first paper of a political nature was given before the Pundit Club on the "Foreign Policy of Britain." Although Dr. Hill had spoken before many civic and church groups in the city of Rochester, there is no record that he had expressed himself politically during his first six years here. In 1896, however, all the papers in the collection are either campaign addresses or related to the issues involved in the election of William H. McKinley. Never again did the subjects of education, religion, and science draw his attention so far as the papers in the collection indicate.

The majority of the years following his resignation as President of the University and preceding his appointment as Ambassador to Germany were spent in government service as Assistant Secretary of State, Minister to Switzerland and to Holland, and the United States representative at the Hague Peace Conference. His writings were concerned entirely with governmental problems, primarily on the level of international law and diplomacy. During these years he was profoundly interested in the importance of the development by American people of a sense of nationalism rooted in their unique achievements and in their singular heritage. He felt that the American people had a definite responsibility to perpetuate the spiritual and political traditions of the founders of the republic in their purest form, unadulterated by what appeared to be the radical demands of a new age. He vindicated the Spanish-American War as another proof of our "Manifest Destiny." The political writings during these years were in complete harmony with the ideas of the era.

The highest post he was to receive in political life was granted to him in 1908 when he was appointed Ambassador to Germany, a position he held until 1911. The only manuscripts included for those years are the Carpentier Lectures, "World Organization as Later Affected by the Nature of the Modern State," given at Columbia University and later published.

When Dr. Hill returned to private life he was shocked by the indifference, if not disrespect, the American public exhibited toward the symbols which had made their country one of the greatest: mainly, the Constitution which had made the vague, idealistic word Democracy a living, working reality. He believed democracy would perish unless soundly and legally enforced and protected by the Constitution which had proved itself thoroughly satisfactory for over a hundred years. As a result of what he considered a dangerous national attitude, he was prompted, with the aid of friends, to establish the National Association of Constitutional Government, and was for a number of years its president. His writings from this period to the end of his life were almost entirely concerned with the defense of the inviolable authority of the Constitution.

The belief that Article X of the Covenant of the League of Nations jeopardized the absolute authority of the Constitution accounts for many of the papers written during the years following World War I. Dr. Hill also opposed the United States' ratification of the League Covenant on the theory that world peace could be amply provided for by a world court based on the work of the Second Hague Conference. In the final decade of his life his addresses and writings were concerned with the problem of international jurisprudence, and the study of the history of international relations, into which were gathered the final expressions of his life work and thought.