VI. June 28, 1864
GENTLEMEN: I congratulate you on being permitted, by a kind Providence, once more to meet together under circumstances so peculiarly auspicious and encouraging, amidst the desolating events which our country is at present suffering. It is a meeting, upon the results of which hang very great and important issues. I feel, therefore, that more than an ordinary weight of responsibilities rests upon us.
We are attempting by this day's consultation to give to the world a new moral, educational, and creative power. Any thing which possesses in itself a creative power or influence is intrinsically worth more than one which has merely a communicative power. So with a college, it should possess the germ of life within itself; something that will grow. Things made by human hands are generally without life; but educational institutions should be living entities, and rise in strength and grandeur by an inherent power. Inanimate things may be made complete by the ingenuity of man, but decay begins immediately when his work is finished. So does a tree grow through the same process, absorbing the elements contiguous for its development and life; and when these elements receive their right direction, they repair its waste, and bring out, at last, its strength and beautiful symmetry in magnificent proportions. A College should rise in power by a similar process. Much may be done by giving it a favorable planting, lopping off its redundant branches, and inserting fruit-bearing scions. So much may be done to plant and prune, and aid a college to absorb in itself the forces of society; but it will never become what we desire till those forces have produced their results. The old limbs will die and new ones will shoot up in their places, and perhaps give it a better form than anticipated. You can not make a plantation to-day as it will appear half a century hence. So of colleges; you can not tell at the start what they will be in the end. It is a necessary condition of success to have a large margin for changes.
How many officials, male and female, will alternately succeed each other, and become permanent, growing branches, no one can tell. When the life and energy is obstructed from any cause, it will be then time for others to take their places. We want no sinecures, no drones, to consume the stores of the working bees.
These are the curse of nearly all endowed institutions; and it is not a bad idea of the Germans, as Professor Fisher informs me, to make the income of teachers dependent upon their success. I hope excisions of this kind will not be necessary in our institution; nevertheless, it will do no harm to warn my friends in advance, and further, not to expect too much at first. Give the College a chance to grow by sources which neither money nor legislative aid can supply.
All great things are of slow growth; we have, therefore, much room for the exercise of the best of the virtues-patience. I say we have much room for that virtue. The natural impetuosity of American character renders patience one of the most difficult things to practice. We want to see things done at once. A day is a year, a week an age, in our headlong calendar. Our national education has been, until lately, all in the direction of haste -a quickness of action, a driving, impetuous performance. A hurrying toward the goal of ambition has been the salient point of our national character. This is not by any means a reprehensible peculiarity; but, unaccompanied by the necessary restraints of patience, it engenders a one-sidedness of character most unfavorable to a full development of individual or national strength. We have sadly witnessed, in the conduct of our national arms, a full illustration of this.
And now, gentlemen, with this general idea of caution, which I have suggested, I have to add that, as I have laid the foundation, it remains for you to rear the superstructure. The materialities are mine, but the life-giving spirit is yours, and in this, in detail, I have nothing to advise nor rower or ability to impart.
The time and manner of opening our institution rests with you; all I can do is to give you the facts, and then leave the subject to your wisdom and discretion.
The architect (Mr. Renwick) will inform you of the present advance of the edifice, and what remains to be done. The Secretary (Mr. Swan) will give you all the essential information in his department; the Treasurer, the state of your funds, disbursements, and liabilities; the Superintendent will impart to you what has come within his duties; and Professor Farrar the progress toward completion of the Astronomical Observatory. Professor Ward has completed the Geological Cabinet-room, and some advance has been made in fitting up the Library and, Art Gallery department. For the more full perfection and completion of the latter, I have purchased of the Rev. E. L. Magoon, D.D., the entire collection of his valuable gems of art ill oil and water-colors, with numerous specimens of ancient armor, coins etc., etc., for the sum of $20,000.
And now, gentlemen, I, donate them all to our College. This valuable collection, as a whole, is not surpassed in this country, and must form a great attraction and powerful means of usefulness in our institution. Dr. Magoon has kindly consented to arrange them artistically in the gallery on or before the first of August. And now, gentlemen, having briefly alluded to the progressive matters of our College, allow me your patience a little, while I call your attention to some of the unpleasant incidents which have occupied the attention of our Executive Committee since our last meeting. Most of you perhaps are aware of the catastrophe which has befallen the builder, (Mr. Harloe,) and the generous and liberal course of the Executive Committee ill aiding him, to some extent, under his unfortunate circumstances. He has been relieved from the necessity of furnishing an important portion of the heating fixtures to the amount of some $9000 or $10,000. Mr Harloe further seeks to be released from his obligation to do the plumbing, etc., amounting to some $20,000 or $25,000 more; and if the difference between the contract price could be allowed him, he thinks he could manage to finish the building. The Gate Lodge and Astronomical Buildings are progressing under a written contract with Mr. Harloe, but at such advanced prices as will enable him to complete them. The report of the Treasurer will afford you every information concerning these matters. I will, however, remark, in connection with the College edifice, that we have already suffered largely in our means for want of patient and practical prudence and foresight on the part of those who were early intrusted with the superintendence and supervision of some specialties. There was from the first, and until quite recently, an urgent disposition to lavish means unwisely, with a misconception of the details necessary for practical results, which has led to much embarrassment and loss. It was impossible for me (from the state of my health) to guard against all mistakes, especially those the earliest made, which properly belonged to one who, by long experience, knew, as I supposed, what was wanted in the line of his practice, but which mistake was not, until too late, brought to my notice. Still, it is believed that these difficulties are now substantially surmounted and at last removed.
The gas building and steam-boiler house are in process of erection under the supervision of Messrs. Haughwout & Co., of New York, with all the apparatus. The contract covers all the appendages for heating and lighting the whole College edifice, excepting the gasometer and the boiler-house, which are now in process of erection at the expense of the College. The gas apparatus and steam-boiler and pipes for heating cost some $40,000. The Executive Committee has also made a contract with Messrs. Moneuse & Duparquet, New York, for the kitchen-ranges, steam-tables, etc. The astronomical clock and other apparatus are fitted up. After our adjournment, the Trustees will have an opportunity to visit the College and examine it and other buildings and appendages. I with great pleasure speak in this connection in honor and credit of Professor Farrar, who, by untiring zeal and energy, has completed his task of constructing and arranging the Observatory in a most satisfactory manner, so far as the Executive Committee can judge.
Gentlemen, although much has been done, much remains undone. The farm-buildings are to be erected; gate-lodge to be finished; boiler and steam-buildings to be constructed; and the entire plumbing and bell-hanging through the whole edifice, with the purchase of furniture for the apartments of the President, professors, and pupils. If all this can be completed within a year from next fall, I think not another instance on record may be found where so great an amount of work has been done in so short a period. The State Inebriate Asylum at Binghamton, of less magnitude than our College, and under the patronage of the public purse, begun at about the same time with our College, is yet incomplete, and requires some year or two to finish; so that, if it shall take yet twelve months longer, we shall have accomplished an amount of labor beyond that of any other college in America. Out of some 240 or 250 colleges there were 3 founded in 1600, 22 in 1700, and 215 in 1800, all requiring an average of some twenty years to get fairly at work.
There is every thing, gentlemen, to encourage our perseverance. The public feeling concerning the institution is with us; and we have every inducement to prosecute our work with vigor. We are daily receiving letters of inquiry when the College will open; and our Clerk and Book-Keeper (Mr. Schon) will inform you of the number of persons who have already applied for scholarship, which, of course, will be referred, with the numerous applications for professorships, teachers, etc., etc., to the proper committee. I have, gentlemen, the highly gratifying intelligence to communicate to you that the Rev. J. H. Raymond, D.D., has accepted the Presidency of our Col1ege upon terms mutually satisfactory to both parties and, with the blessing of God, we may now hope our College will be a complete success.
I will say in conclusion, gentlemen, that I have placed the foregoing remarks on paper, as I have all my former communications to yon, not because I could not speak of them verbally, but for the purpose of having them recorded by our Secretary in his minutes, so that hereafter there can not be any misunderstanding or doubt of the views 01' opinions of the FOUNDER; and moreover, to impart to you his views as to the time, considering all circumstances, of opening the College. Nevertheless, should you, after deliberating, and considering all the arguments pro and con, conclude to open it the coming winter, it has been suggested to me, by our President-elect, that so much of the building as would accommodate, say 100 to 120 pupils, might be made ready for opening on the 1st of January next.
President Raymond will explain to you more particularly this point; and surely no eyes will be more gratified, nor heart elated, than that of the FOUNDER, should that achievement be accomplished.
Vassar's Communications to the Board of Trustees