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Book Review of Autobiography

Andrew Dickson White
The Michigan Alumnus

The Michigan Alumnus


The ALUMNUS reviews recently published works by alumni, former students, or member of the 
Faculty and world directly relating to the University. Copies of such books, sent tor review, are placed
 in the Alumni Library in the Alumni Room. 


S. S. McClure has made a magazine 
great and famous on the theory that the
 life story of any man is interesting if he
 will only tell the truth about it. If this 
is true of a commonplace life, how much 
truer it must be of the life of a man who
 has visited nearly all parts of the earth, 
 met most of the great men of his time, and
 who has taken part in some of the most
 memorable events of his age. In Andrew 
D. White we have one who has sounded
 all the depths and shoals of life, and who
 has given us a book recording the results 
with admirable simplicity and unquestion
able charm.

The book is divided into eight 
parts. The first tells of the author's early 
environment and education, and there follow parts devoted to his political life, his
 work as a University professor at Michi
gan, and as president of Cornell. A long 
and most interesting portion of the biog
raphy is given to the details of the author's
 diplomatic service, followed by a charming 
story of "sundry journeys and experiences."

The book closes with an interesting study 
of Mr. White's religious development. 
Nowhere is the story dull, and never is 
it undignified or egotistic. Upon all is 
the stamp of maturity and the evidence of 
that restraint that comes with great ex
perience acting upon fine sensibilities. 

The wonderful breadth of the author's
 experience can be realized only by the
 consideration of some of the facts of his
 life. If we think of him merely as a 
traveled man we are amazed at the extent
 of his wanderings. His native land he has 
explored in every nook and corner. Eng
land, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and
 Switzerland are almost as familiar to him
 as his native state, while Scandinavia, Tur
key, Greece and Egypt have served as fields 
for vacation travel.

Even this wide range, 
 however, might seem commonplace but for 
the fullness of his experience. In these sundry lands he has met and often been the val
ued companion of men like Bismarck, Tol
stoi, Pobedonstzoff, Emperors William 
I and II, the Czars Alexander III and
 Nicholas II, M. de Lesseps, Thiers, Henri
 Martin, Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil—
but one might go on for pages with a list 
of celebrated men with whom the author
 has hobnobbed, but of whose acquaintance 
there is no suspicion of a boast. At home
 he has been the friend and frequent guide
 of the great statesmen of his age. Nor 
have his friendships been solely with public
 men, for with Longfellow and other liter
ary men he has had warm friendships. Of 
no man in all his wide experience does he
 speak with greater admiration than of Pro
fessor Frieze, the beloved professor of 
Latin who was the author's colleague when 
he taught in the University of Michigan.

Besides the public services of Mr. White 
in the New York State Senate, as commis
sioner to Santo Domingo, to the Paris Exposition, and on the Venezuela Boundary 
Commission, as attache at St Petersburg 
(1854-55) during the Crimean war, as minister to Germany (1879-81), as minister to 
Russia (1892-94), again as minister to Ger
many (1897-1903), and as president of the
 American Delegation to the Peace Conference at The Hague—in addition to these
 great services, he has been ever alert to 
push forward great reform movements, 
from which too many public men have been 
ready to shrink.

He lived early enough 
to take a live interest in the Anti-Slaver) movement, he was active in reforming the
 New York Health Department, he fought 
long and hard for the Reform of the Civil
 Service, and has repeatedly been a strong 
force in fighting the financial fallacies to
 which our great Democracy is so prone. 
 This great work and his powerful influence 
in raising the standard of our American 
universities entitles him to a place among 
those who have served our country well. 

Aside from our interest in the writer as
 a man, we find his book a great piece of 
literature. On every page is displayed
 ample knowledge, wisdom, honesty and 
bravery. Learned, simple, delightful, mod
erate are the terms that best describe the 
style. There is not a trace of moral cow
ardice in the discussion of the most try
ing questions. No man can read without 
profit, and the story is so fascinating as 
to hold the reader from the opening to 
the closing page. The book is bound to
 take rank among the most interesting of 
that class of literary productions with
 which men have always shown the deepest 
sympathy—the lives of other men. The 
publishers have given to this truly noble 
work a very handsome binding and good 
paper and printing. A full table of con-
tents and a useful index makes it certain 
that the book will be used as a valued
 source by the students of history.

C. H. Van Tyne

Autobiography of Andrew D. While, hon. '67,Vols.
 The Century Co., N. V., 1905

The Alumnus
June 1905, page 410-414



Andrew D. White at the University
A Review of Portions of His “Autobiography.”

Aside from the general interest 
which Andrew D. White's Autobiography must have for all 
Michigan students and alumni, there 
are several chapters that have great 
local interest It was a missionary 
spirit that brought him to Michigan. 
 He did not come as a patronizing missionary—from the East to the West
—but as one with a message to stu
dents in general, and believing that
 Western students would be most receptive of his new gospel. His own
 words best tell the story. "My favorite studies at Yale had been history 
and kindred subjects, but these had 
been taught mainly from textbooks. 
Lectures were few and dry. Even 
those of President Woolsey were not 
inspiring; he seemed paralyzed by the 
system of which he formed a part. 

But men like Arnould, St. Marc Girar
din, and Laboulaye in France, and 
Lepsius, Ritter, von Raumer, and Curtius in Germany, lecturing to large 
bodies of attentive students on the 
most interesting and instructive peri
ods of human history, aroused in me a 
new current of ideas. Gradually I 
began to ask myself the question: Why
 not help the beginnings of this system 
in the United States? I had long 
felt deeply the shortcomings of our 
American universities, and had tried
 hard to devise something better; yet
 my ideas as to what could really be 
done to improve them had been crude
 and vague.

But now, in these great 
foreign universities, one means of 
making a reform became evident, and 
this was, first of all, the substitution 
of lectures for recitations, and the cre
ation of an interest in history by treat
ing it as a living subject having relations to present questions." While he 
was debating this theory "a most 
happy impulse was given to my think
ing by a book which I read and re-
read, Stanley's 'Life of Arnold.' It 
showed me much, but especially two 
things: first, how effective history 
might be made in bringing young men 
into fruitful trains of thought regarding present politics; and, secondly, 
 how real an influence an earnest 
teacher might thus exercise upon his

Soon after this he heard
 President Wayland of Brown Univer
sity say in an address "The best field 
of work for graduates is now in the
 West; our country is shortly to arrive 
at a switching-off place for good or 
evil; our Western States are to hold 
the balance of power in the Union, and 
to determine whether the country shall 
become a blessing or a curse in human 

"I went home and wrote to sundry-
friends that I was a candidate for the 
professorship of history in any West
ern college where there was a chance 
to get at students, and as a result re
ceived two calls—one to a Southern 
university, which I could not accept on 
account of my anti-slavery opinions; 
 the other to the University of Michigan, which I accepted."

"On arriving at the University of 
Michigan in October, 1857, although
 I had much to do with other students, 
I took especial charge of the sopho
more class. It included many young 
men of ability and force, but had the
 reputation of being the most unmanageable body, which had been known 
there in years. Thus far it had been
 under the charge of tutors, and it had
 made life a burden to them. Its prep
aration for the work I sought to do
 was wretchedly imperfect.

In her preparatory schools the State of 
Michigan took especial pride, but cer
tainly at that time they were far below
 their reputation."

"I soon became intensely interested 
in my work, and looked forward to it
 every day with pleasure. The first 
part of it was instruction in modern 
history as a basis for my lectures which
 were to follow, and for this purpose 
I used with the sophomores two text-
books. The first of these was Rob
ertson's 'Philosophic View of the
 Middle Ages,' which forms the intro
duction to his 'Life of Charles the 

"The next text-book which I took
 up was Dr. John Lord's 'Modern His
tory,' the same which President Woolsey had used with my class during its 
senior year at Yale. It was imperfect
 in every respect, with no end of gaps
 and errors, but it had one real merit—
it interested its readers."

"Once a fortnight through the winter, 
 the class assembled at my house
 'socially,' the more attractive young 
women of the little city being invited to meet them; but the social
 part was always preceded by an hour 
and a half's reading of short passages 
from eminent historians or travelers, 
 bearing on our class-room work dur
ing the previous fortnight. These pas-
sages were read by students whom I
 selected for the purpose, and they 
proved useful from the historical, lit
erary, and social point of view." In 
speaking of his work with the students, he says: "I say 'our studies 
together,' because no one of my stu
dents studied more hours than myself. 
 They stimulated me greatly. Most of 
them were very near my own age, 
 several were older. As a rule, they
 were bright, inquiring, zealous, and
 among them were some of the best
 minds I have ever known. From 
among them have since come senators, 
members of Congress, judges, pro
fessors, lawyers, heads of great busi
ness enterprises, and foreign ministers. 
One of them became my successor in 
the professorship in the University of 
Michigan and the presidency of Cor
nell, and, in one field, the leading
 American historian of his time. An
other became my predecessor in the
 embassy to Germany."

"After the fashion of that time, I
 was called upon to hear the essays and
 discussions of certain divisions of the
 upper classes. This demanded two 
evenings a week through two terms
 in each year, and on these evenings 
I joyfully went to my lecture-room, 
 not infrequently through drifts of 
snow, and, having myself kindled the 
fire and lighted the lamps, awaited the 
discussion. This subsidiary work, 
 which in these degenerate days is done 
by janitors, is mentioned here as 
showing the simplicity of a bygone 
period." Some very interesting light 
is thrown upon the early relations of 
the professors with the people of the
 state and with the students. "In ad
dition to my regular work at the Uni
versity," writes Mr. White, "I lec
tured frequently in various cities 
throughout Michigan and the neigh
boring states. It was the culminating
 period of the popular-lecture system, 
 and through the winter months my 
Friday and Saturday evenings were
 generally given to this sort of duty. 

It was, after its fashion, what in these 
days is called 'university extension;'
 indeed, the main purpose of those
 members of the Faculty thus invited 
to lecture was to spread the influence 
of the University. But I received from 
the system more than I gave to it; for
 it gave me not only many valuable 
acquaintances throughout the West, 
but it brought to Ann Arbor the best 
men then in the field, among them such 
as Emerson, Curtis, Whipple, Wendell
 Phillips, Carl Schurz, Moncure Con
way, Bayard Taylor.

It was at the 
beginning of my housekeeping; and
 under my roof on the University 
grounds we felt it a privilege to wel
come these wise men from the East, 
 and to bring the Faculty and students
 into closer relations with them. "
It is good for the Michigan spirit 
to read Mr. White's words of praise 
for its pioneer work and for some of 
its early teachers. "The more I threw
 myself into the work of the University 
the more I came to believe in the ideas 
on which it was founded, and to see 
that it was a reality, embodying 
many things of which I had previously 
only dreamed. Up to that time the 
highest institutions of learning in the 
United States were almost entirely 
under sectarian control. Even the
 University of Virginia, which Thomas 
Jefferson had founded as a center of 
liberal thought, had fallen under the 
direction of sectarians, and among the
 great majority of the Northern col
leges an unwritten law seemed to re-
quire that a university president
 should be a clergyman.

The instruc
tion in the best of these institutions
 was, as I have shown elsewhere, nar
row, their methods outworn, and the 
students, as a rule, confined to one 
simple, single, cast-iron course, in
 which the great majority of them took
 no interest. The University of Michigan had made a beginning of some-
thing better. The president was Dr.
 Henry Philip Tappan, formerly a
 Presbyterian clergyman, a writer of 
repute on philosophical subjects, a
 strong thinker, an impressive orator, 
and a born leader of men, who, during
 a visit to Europe, had been greatly 
impressed by the large and liberal sys
tem of the German universities, and 
had devoted himself to urging a simi
lar system in our own country. On 
the Eastern institutions—save, possi
bly, Brown—he made no impression. 
 Each of them was as stagnant as a
 Spanish convent, and as self-satisfied
 as a Bourbon duchy; but in the West 
he attracted supporters, and soon his 
ideas began to show themselves effec
tive in the State University over which
 he had been called to preside."

"The men he summoned about him
 were, in the main, admirably fitted
 to aid him. Dearest of all to me, 
though several years my senior was 
Henry Simmons Frieze, professor of
 Latin. There was in him
 a combination, which at first seemed
 singular; but experience has shown
 me that it is by no means unnatural, 
 for he was not only an ideal professor
 of Latin, but also a gifted musician.

On our way to Italy, I observed 
that, as we were passing through
 Bohemia, he jotted down in his note-
book the quaint songs of the peasants 
and soldiers, and a few weeks later 
still he gave an exhibition of his 
genius. Sitting one evening at the 
piano on the little coasting steamer 
between Genoa and Civita Vecchia, 
he began playing, and though it has 
been my good fortune to hear all the 
leading pianists of my time, I have
 never heard one who seemed to inter
pret the masterpieces of music more
 worthily. A more lovely spirit never
 abode in mortal frame. No man was 
ever more generally beloved in a com
munity; none more lamented at his death."

Again he says: "I also found
 at the University other admirable men, 
 and among those to whom I became 
specially attached was Thomas M. 
Cooley. When he had become chief
 justice of the state, and the most emi
nent writer of his time on the Con
stitution of the United States, he was 
still the same man, gentle, simple, and 
kindly. Besides these were such well-
known professors as Fasquelle in
 modern literature; Williams, Doug
lass, and Winchell in sciences; Boise 
in Greek; Palmer, Sager, and Gunn 
in medicine and surgery; Campbell
 and Walker in law."

Of the character of the University 
of Michigan in those early days Mr.
 White writes: "The features which 
mainly distinguished the University of 
Michigan from the leading institutions
 of the East were that it was utterly 
unsectarian, that various courses of instruction were established, and that
 options were allowed between them. 
 On these accounts that University 
holds a most important place in the 
history of American higher education; 
for it stands practically at the be
ginning of the transition from the old
 sectarian college to the modern uni
versity, and from the simple, single, 
cast-iron course to the form which 
we now know, in which various 
courses are presented, with free choice 
between them.

It seemed
 marvelous that there were then very 
nearly as many students at the Uni
versity of Michigan as at Yale; and, 
 as a rule, they were students worth 
teaching—hardy, vigorous, shrewd, 
 broad, with faith in the greatness of 
the country and enthusiasm regarding 
the nation's future. It may be granted
 that there was, in many of them, a lack
 of elegance, but there was neither
 languor nor cynicism. One seemed, 
among them, to breathe a purer, 
 stronger air. Over the whole institu
tion Dr. Tappan presided, and his influence, both upon Faculty and stu
dents, was, in the main, excellent. He 
sympathized heartily with the work 
of every professor, allowed to each 
great liberty, yet conducted the whole 
toward the one great end of developing a university more and more 
worthy of our country. His main 
qualities were of the best. Nothing
 could be better than his discussions of 
great questions of public policy and
 of education."

The troubles of a college president 
in those days are well portrayed: 
"Every winter Dr. Tappan went be-
fore the legislature to plead the cause 
of the University, and to ask for ap
propriations. He was always heard
 with pleasure, since he was an excel
lent speaker; but certain things mili
tated against him. First of all, he had
 much to say of the excellent models
 furnished by the great German universities, and especially by those of 
Prussia. This gave demagogues in the 
legislature, anxious to make a reputa
tion in buncombe, a great chance. They orated to the effect that we
 wanted an American and not a Prus
sian system."

"The worst difficulty by far which 
he had to meet was the steady oppo
sition of the small sectarian colleges 
scattered throughout the state. Each, 
 in its own petty interest, dreaded the
 growth of any institution better than 
itself; each stirred the members of 
the legislature from its locality to op
pose all aid to the State University; 
each, in its religious assemblages, its 
synods, conferences, and the like, 
 sought to stir prejudice against the 
state institution as 'godless.' The re
sult was that the doctor, in spite of his 
eloquent speeches, became the butt of 
various wretched demagogues in the 
legislature, and he very rarely secured
 anything in the way of effective ap

Disgusted at 
the poor, cheap blackguardism, he 
shook the dust of the legislature off
 his feet, and said: 'The day will come
 when my students will take your 
places, and then something will be 
done.' That prophecy was fulfilled. 
 In a decade the leading men in the 
legislature began to be graduates of 
the State University; and now these
 graduates are largely in control, and 
they have dealt nobly with their Alma
 Mater. The state has justly become 
proud of it, and has wisely developed 

One of the professors, when over
come, fell back upon the church to
 which he belonged, and its conference 
was led to pass resolutions warning
 Christian people against the Univer
sity. The forces of those hostile to the 
institution were marshaled to the 
sound of the sectarian drum. The
 quarrel at last became political; and
 when the doctor unwisely entered the 
political field in hopes of defeating the
 candidates put forward by his oppo
nents, he was beaten at the polls, and 
his resignation followed.

A small 
number of us, including Judge Cooley 
and Professors Frieze, Fasquelle, 
 Boise, and myself, simply maintained
 an 'armed neutrality,' standing by the 
University, and refusing to be drawn 
into this whirlpool of intrigue and
 objurgation. Personally, we loved the
 doctor. Every one of us be sought
 him to give up the quarrel, but in vain. 
He would not; he could not. It went 
on till the crash came. He was virtu
ally driven from the state, retired to
 Europe, and never returned. To no
 man is any success I may have after
ward had in the administration of Cor
nell University so greatly due as to 

Of the home of the University he 
says: "The little city of Ann Arbor 
is a beautiful place on the Huron 
River, and from the outset interested 
me. But there was one drawback. 
 The 'campus,' on which stood the four 
buildings then devoted to instruction, 
 greatly disappointed me. It was a flat
 square enclosure of forty acres, unkempt and wretched.

out permission from any one, I be
gan planting trees within the Univer
sity enclosure; established, on my own 
account, several avenues; and set out 
elms to overshadow them. Choosing
 my trees with care, carefully protecting and watering them during the first 
two years, and gradually adding to
 them a considerable number of ever greens, I preached practically the doc
trine of adorning the Campus, and at my recent visit, forty-six years 
after their planting, I found one of the 
most beautiful academic groves to be
 seen in any part of the world."

The closing days of Mr. White's
 connection with the University are re
lated with pathos and evident strong
 feeling: "Three years after my ar
rival the Civil War broke out, and 
there came a great exodus of students 
into the armies, the vast majority
 taking up arms for the Union, and a 
few for the Confederate States. The
 very noblest of them thus went forth—
many of them, alas! never to return, 
and among them not a few whom I 
loved as brothers and even as my own

"My immediate connection with the
 University of Michigan as resident 
professor of history lasted about six
 years; and then, on account partly of business interests which resulted from 
the death of my father, partly of my 
election to the New York State Sen
ate, and partly of my election to the
 presidency of Cornell University, I
 resided in central New York, but re
tained a lectureship at the Western
 institution, at last my 
duties at Cornell absolutely forbade 
this, and so ended a connection which
 was to be one of the most fruitful in 
useful experiences and pregnant
 thoughts that I have ever known."

C. H. VanTyne, ‘96

The Century Co., New York City. Two Vol. 1200
 pp. 1905.